The heady days of Cleggmania must feel like a different world back in April when the British public discovered Nick Clegg. He shone above the weary politics of the well-polished Tory David Cameron and the dour and depressing Gordon Brown. His brand was new and fresh, it was bringing an air of novelty, credibility, liberalism and shades of the “third way” or possibly the “fourth way”.
What was there not to believe about the youthful, well-spoken, and articulate politician who spoke with conviction about his vision and with disdain about his opponents. They, he claimed, were taking us the wrong way, they had bad ideas, they had no creativity, or vision about how to lead the country to a better place. He monopolised the moral highground, he could attack – Brown had failed in power, he was down and out, and Cameron was days away from being Prime Minister and had to deliver. Clegg was in the fortunate position of someone who could criticise and maintain lofty ideas in the full knowledge that they would never be called upon to execute and deliver.
Or so he thought!
The wave of enthusiasm for his liberal policies brought people out to vote with unprecedented numbers – queues so long that some were unable to vote.
As the days unfolded after the election, Clegg was fed the first grains of the hard-drug that is power. He was courted by the faltering and desperate mainstream parties; he had been referred to throughout the campaign as the “King Maker” – he was enjoying the headrush of power never experienced by any other Liberal leader for generations. In the long days of negotiating the coalition agreement, more of the drug was being fed to him, as powerful as the “seduction of the temptress”, a pact of Mephistphelean proportions, a soul sold to a man with a covert Macchiavellian mind. The marriage was granted – and the fate that was Clegg’s future was sealed.
Before May was out, his first ally was gone in David Laws – possibly a more capable architect of the Treasury spending review than Danny Alexander. Then the relative plateau of the next five months up to the point of Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR)when the true perils of power began to grip. The initial power highs were turning into the nightmare payback – the contradictions, the ambiguities, the conflicts of interest, the hard decisions that meant upsetting someone, somewhere, somehow. The difficult decisions that when in eternal opposition you never have to take, for which you are never accountable – having tasted from the cup of power, the stark and harsh reality of life is menacing.
Within a month of the CSR, the furore over University fees, was country-wide. This was not just a debate with the Tories or the Coalition – this was personal. Clegg promised to get rid of fees – he “sold his soul to the devil” in return for the power, he said anything to pay for that trip…and now it is payback time.
His soul and conscience are rent asunder, torn between supporting a government that gave him his drug, and the loyalty to the Party of which he is leader. A fiendish trick played on this naive politician. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
The students are protesting, and they want Clegg – he promised, and he has reneged on that in the most public way. He can’t make up his mind, the party are at war, his trusty Cable is giving mixed messages – they now want to defer the vote on 9 December 2010 because they can’t decide.
Somewhere, someone is laughing with a devlish cackle, as “Old Nick” is playing with “Young Nick”, like a cat with an injured rodent -can he be redeemed?