Thursday, 30 April 2009

A Good Day for Nick Clegg..

I voted for Nick Clegg in the 2007 Liberal Democrat leadership election and, as readers of this blog will know, it was a far from easy decision. I voted for Nick not because I thought he would make an impressive Party Leader from day one but because I suspected he wouldn't.

However, what I did see was a work in progress and a man with the potential to become an outstanding political figure.

And it was a shaky start - misjudged interviews about his sex life was a novice mistake. His refusal to support a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was foolish and wrong and I said so at the time and since. The Tory bloggers on have had plenty of opportunity (and have used it) to make fun and to snipe and struggling poll ratings haven't helped.

And yet...

It's slowly coming together and has been for a few months. In partnership with Vince Cable, Nick has sounded strong on the economy and keeping out of the whole "smeargate" episode was tactically astute. Yesterday, however, was probably one of Nick's best since becoming Party Leader.

His intervention against Gordon Brown at PMQs yesterday was as stunning as it was devastating and joining with David Cameron and Joanna Lumley at the rally outside Parliament was good politics at a number of levels. To be fair, the Liberal Democrats have been campaigning in support of the gurkhas for some years - I believe Paddy Ashdown raised it a few years ago - but it was good politics to be seen as part of the ongoing "change narrative" and to have Cameron there as well emphasised to voters that voting Liberal Democrat can also be a way of marking the end of Labour and can be a vote for the future.

One of the criticisms of Nick and indeed the Liberal Democrats is that we have attacked the Tories too much and Labour too little. Now, of course, there are many Conservatives who rightly fear any serious scrutiny of their policies and I have often asked questions about what a Conservative Government would really do. However, that's not to underestimate the crass, incompetent, inept, illiberal shambles currently in office.

I do agree with those who say Labour should go and the sooner the better. I've never liked Labour or its centralising authoritarianism but it has attracted people of great individual conscience and dignity in the past and Labour did carry the banner of progressive politics at times when Liberals had let it go.

That was then...after twelve years in power, the current Labour Party would be abhorrent to its principled past. It can rediscover its principles but never in Government. The Conservatives might privately agree they had also lost their way by 1997 and have needed time to rediscover who they are and what they believe in.

To be fair, there have been those on who have praised Nick's efforts yesterday and for that I thank them. It may well be that positioning the Party nearer the Conservatives will do us no harm at the next election but it also offers the Liberal Democrats the huge opportunity of reclaiming the progressive banner and taking the fight to the Conservatives when they run into trouble.

Maximising the Liberal Democrat representation in the next House of Commons is a huge part of it and holding the new Government to account will also be critical. I think Nick Clegg can do this and yesterday will hopefully be the start of the next phase of his leadership.

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