Perhaps it’s a pre-Leveson softening up exercise. Or perhaps we’ve activated a Lib Dem sleeper agent at the heart of Wapping. Whatever the explanation, Nick Clegg has been awarded the accolade — for the second time in three weeks — of being The Sun’s Hero of the Week. I’m not sure the reasons for which the paper has saluted him will do him many favours with all Lib Dems, but (simply in the spirit of sharing) here goes anyway…
Notwithstanding the fact that he was our Hero of the Week just three weeks ago, we have rarely been slow to criticise Nick Clegg. His slavish devotion to the EU, his potty support for the Alternative Vote and his obsession with House of Lords reform have all, quite rightly, seen him pilloried on here over the last couple of years. But credit where it’s due. On Radio Five Live today, the Deputy PM was asked to support a campaign – which is backed by his Lib Dem colleague Lynne Featherstone among others – to have The Sun’s Page 3 banned. It would have been easy for him to score an easy political point in front of a live BBC audience by saying he backed it. But he didn’t. Indeed, he went further by pointing out that it was not the Government’s role to tell editors what they should put in the pages of their newspapers. He even said he was relaxed about his children looking at it when they’re older. Mr Clegg’s advice to those eager to have it scrapped was simple: “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.” Ms Featherstone et al – please take note.
For more than two years, Nick Clegg has been a political punch-bag And not without good reason. His humiliating U-turn on tuition fees, the national rejection of his plans to change the voting system and his petulant rejection of boundary changes after the Tories blocked House of Lords reform have all been worthy of scorn. Even his attempt to say sorry for trebling rather than scrapping tuition fees backfired when it was set to music and became a YouTube hit. So it’s to his enormous credit that despite all the setbacks, the Lib Dem boss delivered such a powerful speech to his party’s conference this week. Challenging his delegates to get used to the hard choices of Government rather than the comfort of opposition, he insisted that spending cuts were vital to the UK’s long-term economic health. It may not have been the message his delegates – many of whom wish the party were in coalition with Labour rather than the Conservatives – wanted to hear, but it will have played well in the real world. Nick Clegg’s political obituary has already been written by many, but his speech suggested he could still be alive and kicking after the next election.
* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from May 2007 to Jan 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.