At the tail end of the leadership campaign, I wrote for Lib Dem Voice about what our new leader should do during his first 100 days. That boiled down to a media blitz – hitting the ground running, etc, etc. Never mind shadow cabinet appointments or internal party anorakking, the new leader had to be on the front foot with the media before he got consumed by them.
I am delighted to report that I think Nick Clegg deserves 10/10 in the hitting the ground running/media blitz stakes. Therefore by the key measure I set (and still set) Nick Clegg has started his leadership brilliantly. He and his team deserve pats on the back and triples all round.
For evidence to back up this, I could do no better than point you to Fraser MacPherson’s excellent round-up of positive coverage for Nick. There was also a glowing leader article in The Guardian.
Basically, Nick has shown that he has sharp elbows and has managed to wedge himself into many media stories on an almost daily basis. Just take the last week. He championed the cause of the Gurkhas. This almost brought tears to my eyes. Normally, championing the cause of veterans would be the exclusive preserve of the Tories. That well known too-smooth operator and law-breaker David Cameron would normally have been presenting the Gurkhas’ case. So well done Nick for turning that old paradigm on its head.
Then, later in the week, Nick managed to get liberally quoted on the subject of Derek Conway MP and the scandalously lax House of Commons expense rules. Another example of sharp elbows. It looks easy, but I am sure there have been sleepless nights and long hours for Nick and his team in order to achieve his high level of media visibility (for a Lib Dem leader).
Of course, the Lisbon treaty thingy has been the main test of Nick’s leadership. Call me an old-fashioned leader sycophant if you like, but I think he rode out that storm with considerable élan and skill. All party leaders face that sort of week. The crucial test is how they handle it. Nick handled it on the front foot, with considerable grace, humour and equanimity. I was particularly impressed that he did the media rounds on the day of the vote (eg, a particularly energetic appearance on Channel 4 News) and appeared relaxed, rational and human.
You only have to look at what hasn’t happened to see what a great success Nick’s first 100 days have been.
The “Charlie Lazarus” (ie, Charles will become leader again) story is now six feet under and pushing up daisies. The “Vince Cable should be leader” story has been replaced by “Vince Cable probably shouldn’t be leader but is brilliant all the same” story. There is no “leader in waiting” (partly by the happy chance of the other leadership contender, Chris Huhne, having said that he was running his last leadership campaign).
No one – apart from Michael White (a prank) and the Norfolk Blogger (it was only a light suggestion of a recall vote and anyway it’s traditional for Nich to do this) – has called for Nick to resign as leader. The “Cameron clone” stories have also quietened down.
On that last point, if anything the Tories took a leaf out of the Lib Dem book when they elected a 40-ish leader. Jeremy Thorpe, David Steel, Charlie Kennedy – they were all at or younger than 40 when they became leader, while Paddy was not much older, at 48. So the “copy cat” accusations are not valid, particularly as Nick has proved himself to be an indisputable and muscular liberal.
Do I have any criticisms of Nick ? – I hear you yawn. Well, he must have had one too many post-Chrimble sherries when he wrote in his New Year speech that the party would campaign on television advertising directed at children. And he needs to sort out Nick Harvey. What on earth is a liberal doing defending the damnable status quo as the spokesperson of the Commons Commission ? It is ludicrous and abominable.
And now that the critical first 100 days have passed, I would like to see Chris Huhne taken out of the cupboard inside which he appears to have been padlocked, and celebrated as the leading party figure he undoubtedly is. Nick now has no reason to be scared of a “leader in waiting” story.
Lastly a word about Ming. In all my observations of politics from the marginal sidelines over 38-odd years, I have rarely come across such a decent man as Ming Campbell. He has been an outstanding servant of liberalism in this country. I feel quite awful that he had to go as leader. However, he has had the last laugh, I believe. The dignity with which he left the leadership and with which he has conducted himself since, has been an example to us all. Well done Ming, and best wishes to you and Elspeth.
By the way, I’d like to get my prediction in early. The next leader of the LibDems will take over as Prime Minister from Nick Clegg in 2037. It will be Jo Swinson.
[Nurse pulls back screens] Wake up Mr Walter, it’s time for your medication.
* Paul Walter blogs at Liberal Burblings.