Sunday, 28 August 2011

Things are Looking up for Nick Clegg...

It's been a tough year and a half or so for Nick Clegg. From pre-election obscurity to the triumph of the election debates, then to the disaapointment of the election itself and the formation of the Coalition and all that has followed, it's fair to say Nick has had more publicity than any third-party leader since David Lloyd George.

Government too has been tough - the tuition fees debacle and the anger of those on the Left who had naturally assumed we would back Labour come hell or high water and then discovered that the Liberal Democrats weren't the left-wing patsies they had assumed.

For senior Party members becoming Ministers has been tough - a steep learning curve and coming into office with an economy in trouble and public finances ruined by the outgoing Labour administration. Some have suffered, others have thrived.

The Party has faced a mixture of reactions from the Conservative side - some Tories have been supportive and friendly but others have been downright hostile and there is a large-section of the right-wing media which hates the Liberal Democrats and the Coalition with a healthy passion.

The Party has at times looked lost and broken and suffered badly in the May elections especially in the Scottish heartland.

And yet, throughout this pounding and the most vicious media onslaught suffered by any politician since Neil Kinnock, Nick Clegg has remained resolute, prepared to argue his case and that of the Government and not afraid to face down the Tory critics.

It has been the making of him as a leader and no one seriously believes he won't lead the Party into the 2015 election. The experience of Government at both local and national level has changed the party into a serious force which, although diminished, is more credible and is paid more attention than at any time since the 1920s.

There are for the first time in many months encouraging signs on the horizon - a couple of strong by-election wins off the Conservatives in local contests and a clutch of polls showing the ludicrous 9-10% rating of the useless daily YouGov poll to be well off the mark. MORI put the party on 15% and ICM on 17%. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats are establishing a clear identity as a modifying force to the hard-right neo-Thatcherism of the hardline Conservatives.

Far from the Coalition splitting the Liberal Democrats, I believe it is the Conservatives who will face the tough questions as 2015 approaches - will the Right try to break free or will Cameron hold his army of the frustrated and the disgruntled together and what if they fail again to achieve their goal of an overall majority and what if they do and scrape home with a majority of 1-5 seats ?

Nick Clegg still faces a deal of anger out there but he can afford himself a smile as the Party Conference season approaches.

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