Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

History Will Be Kinder to Nick Clegg

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th June, 2015

Nick Clegg 6There’s a poignant piece in tomorrow’s Guardian revealing that Nick Clegg seriously contemplated resigning as Leader of the Liberal Democrats following last year’s disastrous European and local election results as he feared he had become a liability. Reportedly he was told by senior colleagues that he had to hang on in there until this May’s equally disastrous General Election, when the number of LibDem MPs was slashed from 56 to just 8. I understand the angst he went through and can only applaud the vivacity with which he bounced back after May 2014. It was true that he had become toxic on the doorstep in many Labour-facing areas, thanks to the tuition fees shambles, but I think that history will be a lot kinder to him than the electorate has been. He was undoubtedly right to take the LibDems into Coalition in 2010 (despite what my dear, late friend Charles Kennedy thought), though a bit less of a bromance with David Cameron in the Rose Garden would have been a good idea. I wonder if Nick really realised just how brutal the Conservatives (including Cameron) can be, as witnessed by their tactics re the AV referendum and the 2015 General Election. Whoever wins the current LibDem leadership election (and as I have said I will be happy to serve under either, as I admire both, though I will give Norman Lamb my first preference) is going to have to rebrand the Party on the basis of its core values. Having known Nick Clegg for many years, I do not doubt his sincerely held belief in those values. But the European elections and the General Election were not really fought on those values, and had some very iffy messaging. I said at the time that I thought the slogan “We’re the Party of IN!” for the Euros was misguided; it should have been “We’re IN it to Fix It!”. Similarly, the bizarre late leitmotif of “neither left nor right” in the General Elections was unlikely to inspire anyone other than someone whose job it is to paint those white lines in the middle of the highway. There is currently a profound review of the General Election taking place, and I hope that as a (new) member of the Party’s Federal Executive I can have some useful input into that. But one thing I am certain is that Nick should not be the token fall-guy. Yes, he was party Leader and had to fall on his sword after 7 May. But he will be seen by historians as a man of decency and of courage.

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2 Responses to “History Will Be Kinder to Nick Clegg”

  1. David Evans said

    Was this the decency to ignore two votes in conference over secret courts, to undermine trust in the entire party over tuition fees, introduce a “Shirley Williams motion” to undermine the party’s massive concerns over the NHS reforms or the deliberate demeaning of concerned party activists by referring to “grown up politics”?

    If history is kind to him, it will be because it has been written by those who were glad to see 50 years of Liberal progress consigned to the rubbish bin.

  2. Alex Macfie said

    Whether you are pro or anti EU is a domestic issue, not a European issue, so “party of IN” was the wrong campaign message for the European Parliamentary election. Even “In to fix it” is wrong for the same sort of reason. What we should have done was exploit the fact that the European Parliament was a Coalition-Free Zone: a forum where our elected representatives were supporting the undiluted Lib Dem position on issues affecting the whole of the UK. We should have had a campaign led by our MEPs, not our leader, and focusing on what they had done AS LIBERALS to shape EU policy. And I don’t mean just on the big constitutional issues, but bread-and-butter issues that are decided at EU level and affect people’s daily lives, like consumer protection, trade, environment and intellectual property law. And we should have targetted the Tories rather than UKIP, and drawn attention to the company they keep (in the ECR group). We missed an opportunity to begin our differentiation strategy.

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