To those who fear the future marching over the horizon, this must feel suspiciously like enemy occupation. Liberal Democrats, with their new and sinister continental ways, have seized power. If conservative opinion believed it had the measure of Labour, it can’t quite get to grips with Britain’s newest rulers. For not only are Liberal Democrats in office for the first time, they have given us an apparently foreign form of government, a coalition.
Traditionalists have to trawl back more than a century for the homely comfort of precise precedent. Such has been the opposition to peacetime partnership, where two united parties put aside past perfideries. All has now changed, yet few seem to grasp why our coalition has come about, how it works, or even quite who half the axis is. This ignorance needs to be challenged because, whatever the public thinks of the Liberal Democrats, they do need to think of us. And with the once impregnable fortress of the two-party system reduced to a smouldering ruin, the Liberal Democrat standard could be flying for some time.
Which is why I wrote a book about the resurgence of Liberalism, The Clegg Coup. It is a remarkable story, how Nick went from being unrecognised in his corner shop to the most popular leader since Churchill and the most powerful Liberal since Lloyd George. The way he transformed his party and the way we do politics was at least as dramatic as the revolutions wrought in the Labour and Conservative parties – yet it has been ignored by the media. To find the last really serious study of the party and its place in society you have to trawl back to the cheerily titled The Strange Death of Liberal England; three quarters of a century on, I felt it could use an update.
My intention was to be supportive, offering an insider-ish account of how Nick turned the party into an electable, genuinely liberal centre party (as well as being a journalist I’ve been an active supporter and occasional worker for the party since I joined aged 14). But I’ve been reminded all over again how challenging it can be to get across a positive message about the Lib Dems through mainstream media.
My agent sold serial rights to the Mail. (They are, I was informed, the only newspaper left who pay commercial sums and I had worked full time on this project for a year, securing interviews with all the leading players). I was wary but reasoned “an extract is an extract – how much could go wrong?”
Quite a lot, I discovered. The Mail, apparently, had the right to trawl the book for the handful of negative comments and then drip them into a narrative of its own writing. Looking in horror at the serialisation I had the strange sensation of wondering if I was reading someone else’s book.
That is now behind me. I have apologised to Nick, who is very grown up about these things and knows the Mail’s agenda. Positive reviews of the book, rather than of the serialisation, are soon to emerge. I hope Lib Dems will read it – not because I’m desperate to sell copies but because I want them to fully understand the job Lib Dem ministers are doing to put our values into practice. The story that emerges is one of quite extraordinary culture clashes with the Tories – one minister even asked Nick Harvey if he could borrow his top hat – but ultimately one of Lib Dems punching way above their weight to get a whole raft of policies enacted. The Clegg Coup ends by explaining where the Lib Dems will go from here, revealing their plans for a second stage coalition agreement, and what is likely to happen to the Lib Dem vote after five years in coalition. In particular, a searching interview with Nick answers many of the questions that Lib Dem members have been asking.
You can buy The Clegg Coup by Jasper Gerard from Amazon here and watch out on this site in future days for further posts from the author about his book.