Nick Clegg has put himself in something of an impossible situation leading the Lib Dems into the next general election. Over recent years they’ve done (modestly) well by being the voice of opposition – able to criticise incumbents and opposition alike and to put forward policies that are idealistic, unworkable or popular (or even unpopular). Now where does he go when he is part of government and has had to renege on some major promises in order to get his seat at the Cabinet table?
So we get a quick one-two. Sensitive side with an apology followed by his version of strong leadership in his party conference speech. The apology was cringeworthy and misguided. Oh and he didn’t actually apologise for the thing that people were most unhappy about.
Then the speech, which I can only assume was Clegg’s version of Thatcher’s famous ‘U-turn’ speech…but it came out sounding vaguely ridiculous. He told the party faithful ‘there’s no going back to the past, it’s gone and it’s not coming back’ and that they would not be a party for people who want the world to slow down so they can get off.
This is likely to have alienated conservative leaning voters who actually quite like to think the past is a place we can return to – restoring traditional values. And I also suspect there are plenty of people who, in the current climate are very keen to ‘get off’ the world given all that’s happening around them.
It’s a tough corner that Clegg has backed himself into, but I can only see electoral disaster ahead for the Lib Dems.
[This first appeared in the Evening Standard on 27.9.2012]