Sunday 23 June 2013

Something is shifting in attitudes to Clegg

It's a strange thing, but something about Liberator magazine seems to be shifting in the zeitgeist (is that an expression?).

Liberator has become something of an institution.  I like to think it was started and run by people a little older than I am, but I fear it is actually my generation.

Now, decades later, there is a sort of exhausted pessimism about it - but you have to admire its staying power when everything else has gone online.  It is still anti-centre ground strategies, still holding firm to the way that 'radical Liberalism' used to be interpreted circa 1982 - which is the year I went to my first Liberal conference (Bournemouth it was).

It hardly needs saying that Liberator has been predictably sceptical about the coalition, and about centrism generally.  Much more sceptical than I am.  And predictably critical of Lib Dem leaders, and especially perhaps of Nick Clegg.

But I found a strange change of tone as I leafed through the latest edition.  It is no less irritable, no less pessimistic, but the emphasis is changing about the leader.

"Nick Clegg has proved he can be a Liberal, loud and proud..." says the commentary.

Even Michael Meadowcroft declares himself "more of a Nick supporter".

This isn't quite the moment to talk about the idea of the 'centre ground', because I tend towards Liberator's position on that.  We don't want Liberalism to look like a mere compromise between two realities.

I also agree with Jonathan Calder that the way the media is briefed to regard party activists as fodder to be told off by leaders is pretty exhausting, and extremely misleading.  As if the Lib Dems who played a leading role in being the second party of local government somehow preferred protest to power.

But it also seems to me that this awakening of sympathy for the leader might be significant.

It coincides with a series of conversations I have had with people, from across the political spectrum, who happen to express admiration for what Clegg has achieved - and how he has survived everything that has been flung at him.

I have a feeling that we will see more of this, and that it may form the basis for the way history categorises the years we are living through.  That the Lib Dem leader has played an extremely tough hand with great skill, concentrating on the very limited number of things that can be achieved, and holding the Liberal line in highly challenging times.

Of course he hasn't called it right every time - that would have been superhuman - and I am only too aware having just conducted a government review, just how difficult it is to change anything, even when you are the government.  But my admiration of how he has conducted himself, and his everlasting stocks of dignity and good humour, grows all the time.

And I don't think I'm the only one who notices it.

Quite apart from anything else, it appears he has saved the country from abolishing the BBC, bringing back hanging and from 'Margaret Thatcher Day'.  A blessed relief.


Left Lib said...

But what do you think of the benefit cuts? Cutting money from the poorest people in society at a time when food and fuel prices are rising more than inflation is surely beyond the pale for a party that believes that "none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity"?

KelvinKid said...

"...the Lib Dem leader has played an extremely tough hand with great skill"

That must be happening in an alternative universe. The Clegg in this one is a self-justifying whiner, patronising Lib Dem members at the same time as ignoring conference resolutions and giving the Tories a virtually free run because he hasn't done his homework before policies are launched.

Daniel said...

It's not that we agree with everything the government is doing, it's just recognising that Clegg was played a really bad hand.

Lib dem MPs are outnumbered 6 to 1 by the Tories, with Lib dem poll ratings suffering the most so they had the most to lose from the coalition falling apart, (weakens our negotiating hand) an almost entirely hostile media almost constantly giving us the worst spin possible, labour and left wing organisations blaming the coalitions ills on the Lib dems, with particular venom aimed personally at Clegg himself.

Add to that that coalitions are always difficult for the smaller party and that we've little experience of them in the UK so there's been a lot of "learn as we go".

So while Clegg's called a lot wrong, said and done a lot of things that have made me angry, given the bad hand he was dealt and the abuse and pressure he has had to put up with, and the resilience that he's approached his job with, I've got a lot of respect for that.

And even without that, I still prefer him to the leaders of the other parties...