Nick Clegg – hero or villain?

This post is reserved for new and infrequent commenters. “Infrequent” is defined as having post less than five comments in the last month

Nick Clegg is someone who evokes strong opinions – for and against. Last week we wished Happy Birthday to him and listed 48 (to match his age) good things he has done. I won’t recite the list. However, I’ll just set out two reasons why I am currently in the pro-Clegg camp.

Firstly, he is a passionate liberal. One recalls his animated criticism of ID cards. In the last week we saw his remarkably articulate and sincere defence of free speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. We don’t have a right not to be offended – was the gist.

I’d also cite his remarkable speech to the York spring conference last year. It included an exceptional and liberal paean of praise to Britain, proud of its tolerance, it’s welcome to immigrants and it’s outward looking demeanour.

Secondly, he has managed the remarkable feat of leading a Liberal (Democrat) contingent in government for the first time in 65 years – and to do so with stability for five years. Despite, to use Paddy Ashdown’s phrase, having “seven buckets of s***” dumped over his head, Nick has trundled on like the Duracell bunny.

Nick Clegg’s detractors have a well established litany of gripes, which has been well aired on this website. Tuition fees. NHS reforms. The rejected AV referendum. The failure of Lords reform. The bedroom tax. The debates with Farage. Et cetera.

Each of those can be debated and are not clear cut. We’re rescuing the bedroom tax scenario, the new tuition fees regime is not bad, despite our self-flagellation on the topic. Nick showed great courage in taking on Farage, but unfortunately came a cropper in the second debate.

Even so, the litany of charges laid against Nick Clegg is fairly weighty. I just happen to think that his plus points currently outweigh that litany.

Under our “new and infrequent commenters” scheme, it will be interesting to read what you think about this.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • It doesn’t matter what we think, it is what the voters have observed and the decisions they have made on how to vote in May.

  • David Evans 14th Jan '15 - 9:59am

    Nick may be a passionate liberal, but as a leader he has been a total disaster for Liberal Democrats and liberal democracy.

    Councillors down by half; activists likewise; MSPs down by two thirds; AMs by nearly 20% (well done Wales); members down by nearly a third; all but one of our MEPs lost.

    These are the people who really deliver liberal democracy in a practical way to ordinary people and in many parts of the country there are now none.

    The man is a total failure, and those who need to justify their past faith by continually bigging him up are just condemning the party to even more decline before we can start to turn things around.

  • Shirley Evans 14th Jan '15 - 10:19am

    So protecting Nick by promoting him in threads that not everyone can comment on is the new way to stifle dissent in the Lib Dems.

    I have never posted here before, but my husband has pointed this out to me and we both object to this censorship.

    Nick may be a passionate liberal, but as a leader he has been a total disaster for Liberal Democrats and liberal democracy. Our support in many areas has collapsed and we now get less than 1% in a parliamentary by-election. Our councillors are down by half; activists likewise; MSPs down by two thirds; AMs by nearly 20% (well done Wales); members down by nearly a third; all but one of our MEPs lost.

    These are the people who have delivered liberal democracy to the people of this country for decades and now in many areas they are gone.

    Nick has failed to protect Liberal Democracy, and those who need to justify their past faith by continually fawning about him while closing their minds to those who disagree with them are just condemning the party to even more decline.

  • Paul Griffiths 14th Jan '15 - 12:13pm

    I completely agree with Paul Walter’s assessment of Nick.
    Next question?

  • London Liberal 14th Jan '15 - 12:22pm

    Frankly, the arguments about his plus points are moot in the face of opinion poll ratings of 6% and being outpolled by the Greens (for heavens’ sake). I wouldn’t call going into coalition a success – that was the easy part. The litany of tactical (farage debates) and strategic (co-ownership of all government policies, anyone?) errors since going into coalition is enough to sink HMS Clegg many times over. His leadership of the party, one that I joined in 1992 and supported, canvassed, worked and stood for in the years to 2010, has made WW1 look like a series of inspired and enlightened decisions by farsighted generals. I don’t even think its about him anymore – he and the (mostly) nodding donkeys that have made up the party’s MPs in the last 4.5 years have pretty much killed the party’s chances for a generation and taken it back to 1970s levels of relevance. Thanks for nothing, guys. What a total waste of time the 90s were.

  • OK here goes, head above the parapet!

    I know there are polar differences of opinion over Nicks leadership, but I for one agree with your fundamental opinion that positives outweigh the negatives in the context of where we were at the time of the last election.

    We were faced with issues that had not been seen for a generation. A meltdown in the banking sector, spending and debt accretion that could not be sustained, and the economy both here and around the world descending into free fall.

    I will say what I have always thought – Nick et al, did the right thing in entering into the coalition. The country at the time needed a formal and stable Government to alleviate the concerns of people and also the markets.

    OK, yes there have been major issues:-

    Tuition Fees, which no doubt the election broadcast of Nick walking through sheaves of paper with ‘Broken Promises’ blowing in the wind will come back to haunt him, but here he was honest – He said that it had been a mistake to sign the pledge and he apologised. This at the time when it was found that the debt pile was actually more than what had been admitted too by the outgoing ‘There’s no more money left’ Labour Government! It was that Government that had introduced the fees, and which would have probably seen as an easy choice to increase without building in ‘minimum income’ thresholds, while the Tories if they had been in Government on their own would have probably increased the fees to such a level that only those from privileged backgrounds could have afforded to go to University.

    NHS changes would I believe have been far worse under a Conservative majority Government, and with all due respect and trying not to sound ‘tribal’, the mess of PFI initiatives introduced under Labour had, and have left many NHS Trusts saddled with debt for decades.

    The Bedroom Tax/Subsidy, while in principle I can see the reasoning behind, in reality was ill thought through and the implementation has been a shambles. I fully understand the concerns of those working who have seen their incomes fall through inflation, wage freezes and in some cases wage cuts, and who have had to down size their homes either to reduce mortgage or rent costs, yet who see those not working living in homes bigger than they need. I think the biggest issue was the rhetoric used by some within the Government to attack those in receipt of Housing Benefit etc. I think Nick could have distanced himself more from such use of language.

    House of Lords reform, with all due respect was a non-starter. Although lip service was paid to it in the Coalition Agreement neither the Conservatives nor Labour wanted it.

    As for the AV debacle, it was highly unlikely to succeed as again the Conservatives and Labour did not want to lose out on their cosy ‘status quo’ cabal of power sharing. I believe Nick should have just made the decision PR or nothing as it was quite apparent that although people understood the straight forward prospect of PR, the alternative AV system just did not ring a chord with people. Also the timing of the referendum was a negative. If it had been held within 6 months of the General Election, then the tide of public opinion may have carried it, but because it was left so long, and so much negativity was played out it was I believe doomed to failure. And to be completely honest, had it carried it is debatable if we would have held Eastleigh at the By-Election!

    Overall, with the increase in Tax Free allowance, the Pupil Premium, tempering Conservative excesses in cuts which I believe would have been far worse; I think Nick has walked a fine and difficult line.

    I’m not naive and I know we are going to lose seats at the next GE. I also know we will carry this for some years to come, as we will no longer be viewed by many as the ‘cosy’ party to vote for as a protest. However difficult choices have had, and will have to be made over the next few months and probably years, and I have to ask the question; Do I want to be a member of a party that is a receptacle of protest votes, and a party happy to be in perpetual opposition, yapping from the sidelines? OR a member of a party that IS willing to make and take difficult decisions, and willing to make those decisions in Government and accept the consequences?

    I know which I want to be a member of and I believe there are voters out there, who will view us differently now that he have shown we are able to be a party of Government, and are willing to make difficult choices and decisions.

    Regardless of what opinions people have of Nick in the current climate, I believe that he has shown that we are capable and able to govern, and all this despite as Paddy eloquently put it, having “seven buckets of s***” dumped on him!

  • “So protecting Nick by promoting him in threads that not everyone can comment on is the new way to stifle dissent in the Lib Dems.”

    Is Paul expressing his view and not aiming to stifle debate, just a fair idea to give some space for non-regular postrers without the regulars piling in and (often and myself included) expressing views we have repeated many times and end up bickering amongst ourselves.

  • Shirley, can I ask whether you have read this site regularly? We have carried thousands of comments which are critical of Nick Clegg. Only yesterday we had a post on him which received numerous negative comments.
    We have had feedback that new and infrequent commenters feel drowned out by frequent commenters, hence we have started this occasional series.

  • @Shirley Evans

    I think this format is a good idea, you registered to comment and we have heard your point of view as a result.

    So many times, particularly on the topic of Clegg’s [imho disastrous] leadership the posts are dominated by the same people and the too-ing and fro-ing between them can be intimidating for those less involved with the party’s inner circle.

    Agree with much of your post but not ‘Nick has failed to protect Liberal Democracy’.
    Nick {& Danny, Vince, et al] have failed to protect vulnerable people, our NHS & public services.
    That’s why the vote is down.

    Until Nick and his coterie go, and the party as a whole shows contrition, the future looks poor.
    Wanting to be eternally in coalition is understandable but many will ask why a party so kicked in the teeth by voters should be allowed to wag the political dog in perpetuity.
    But we will see in May.

  • Glenn Andrews 14th Jan '15 - 2:41pm

    Isn’t this thread four months too early for a review of whether Nick Clegg has been a sound and successful advocate of Liberal Democrat policy… and let’s face it, do we have any other Liberal Democrat leader of one seventh of a government to compare him to? Under those circumstances the Liberal Democrats have certainly done well to legislate as much of our 2010 manifesto into government policy as we have – but anyway; perhaps the time for reflection should be in May when we are all likely to be in the process of thinking about the qualities of our next leader.

  • Jonathan Pile 14th Jan '15 - 3:08pm

    Clegg IS a villain – but he’s OUR villain. We will find a better leader in due course (I can think of 3), but right now – he’s a better choice as party leader and Deputy PM than Nigel Farage or Alex Salmond. Surely that’s the point . I would wish it wasn’t. Unless we put up a strong showing – it’s goodbye Liberal Democracy, Europe, the UK and Tolerance if UKIP or the SNP hold the balance after 2015 . Fortunately Ed Miliband is crumbling before our eyes.

  • Thanks to Paul and LDV for starting this series. 🙂

    As someone who joined the party post-Coalition, I have to say that I’ve generally been very impressed by Nick Clegg. Particularly when compared to the leaders of the other major parties, and the leaders of smaller ones, he is on the whole a far better and more powerful speaker, and far more rational in the comments he makes and the rationale he provides for them. I was disappointed by his apparent ignorance of the Raif Badawi lashing case in Saudi Arabia in a recent Today Programme interview, but generally he comes across far better than his immediate competition. His conference speeches and LBC interviews in particular have shown him to be an exceptionally gifted speaker, and it is therefore a shame that he has not been able to participate, for instance, in Prime Minister’s Questions during the current Parliament.

    I think Shaun Young has the right of it in his policy analysis. I have gone through about a dozen typings and re-typings of this paragraph, but I have to say it: the abyssal negativity (and I do mean abyssal, though abysmal applies too) of some commentators, frequent and otherwise, never ceases to astound me. I am a relatively new member of the party, but if anything were to make me consider leave it, it would be their behaviour, particularly online. Relentless, overwhelming negativity which fails to engage in any attempt at reasoned debate is a thousand times more repellent than even their worst characterisations of the current party leadership and those of us that happen to think that Nick Clegg is not, in fact, the root of all our ills. Noses and faces spring to mind (and the cutting thereof).

  • @Jonathan Pile

    Miliband may be crumbling before your eyes Jonathan, but Labour still ahead in most polls and likely to scrape a majority.

  • Phil Beesley 14th Jan '15 - 4:46pm

    I was around before and when the Liberal Party and SDP united. The wife of the interim party leader generously fed me with tea (for a Lancashire lad) and croissant after putting me up for the night. Kensington by-election, 1988?

    The electoral catastrophe in 1988 was err… If you didn’t have an electoral story to tell people, it might be better to not turn up. Some people in those years had a good story, and won elections. My thanks and best wishes to them.

    The LibDems are way back in time electorally, Back to 1988, with adequate or great people in parliamentary seats , nowhere mostly.

    What is to be done?

    How about convincing liberals to vote Liberal?

  • Elizabeth Patterson 14th Jan '15 - 7:59pm

    I mostly agree with your thesis especially with the one beginning “SECONDLY—”

    The job of steering this party through productive five year coalition is an extra-ordinary feat.
    Facing down the Tories in rejecting the boundary changes was I think one of the bravest things.

    This party is very difficult to lead, I think “herding cats” is the phrase used; 40,000 individualists.
    As this website daily illustrates with the group of lads who regularly post; they rarely agree with each other about anything, but love arguing. And Nick is useful as a common enemy.

    I would also add, as a regular watcher of Nick’s LBC phone-in that I like his manner,, grace and humour in dealing with the mostly hostile or loaded questions that he gets.

    It is difficult to think of anyone in the parliamentary party who could match him as leader. I would give Tim Farron about 70% against Nick. Jeremy Browne has gone, Some have been good as Ministers but are not quite leaders. Maybe we will have to rely on the older wiser Simon Hughes when the time comes? Or perhaps we will have to wait for a woman!!

  • Paul Griffiths 14th Jan '15 - 9:30pm

    At the risk of undermining my infrequent status, I have to say how much I empathise with John Grout’s comments, particularly the “relentless, overwhelming negativity” which I also find so tedious and enervating.

  • Clegg, a villain? I wish he was that effective. No, he made himself a pantomime villain long ago. However, the opinions of party members like me don’t matter any longer. The public have stopped listening to Clegg. End of story.

  • PBBrown
    “Labour still ahead in most polls ”
    In Scotland?

  • A financial crisis that will take years to recover from.
    A resentful inward looking electorate.
    A lack of a Liberal newspaper and its equivalent on the internet.
    History will be much kinder to Mr Clegg. Lets hope there is not a repeat of the 1930s to come.
    The Liberal Democrats are most needed.

  • I agree 100% with John Grout – and Manfarang. Clegg has done his best in incredibly difficult circumstances and shown real resilience. How would the rest of us cope with being hung in effigy, dog poo through our letterbox and kids bullied?

    I also joined since 2010 and will stay in part because of Clegg. And for what he has tried to deliver: policies that are evidence-based, rational, green, pro-equality, internationalist, pro-growth, pro-fairness and not for the benefit of city donors, the unions or nasty little Englanders!

  • PS I don’t find the most regular commenters intimidating, just tedious

  • peter tyzack 15th Jan '15 - 9:43am

    no question, no doubt in my mind, Nick has been an absolute hero, achieving what he has and remaining positive despite all the flak he gets(and that’s just from his so-called supporters).
    If we get poor press that is solely because we have a poor press in this country. Because we have a bad press the country take the lead from them, being as we are a very superficial society.
    Nick, keep going, you are doing fine… You lead and some of us, who can see through the fog created by our opponents, will be with you.

  • As a new member of the Lib Dems, I thoroughly enjoy reading the thought provoking comments on LDV.
    @ Nick Evans. We are all entitled to our opinions (Je suis Charlie) but to say of Nick Clegg that ‘the man is a total failure’ is total rubbish.
    I completely agree with Shaun Young’s excellent response to Paul Walter’s post and, like John Grout, I find the ‘abysmal negativity’ of some commentators astounding.

  • Pat Thomas – perhaps some of us express ‘abysmal negativity’ because, not for the first time since I joined in 1979, we are experiencing an utterly ineffective leader of a party with an appalling general election strategy, seemingly determined to drive our party to the brink of oblivion.

    Back in 1988, and at other elections, it mattered little in the grand scheme because none of us seriously expected real power beyond local government. The 2010 general election would have been seen as a failure by the party had it not been so rare, almost freakish. Liberals holding the balance of power. For the first time in a generation, Liberals had the chance to change the UK for the better. We failed utterly. Now, thanks to the ineffectiveness of both leader and party machine, we face the very real prospect of being out of power and influence for another 90 years.

    Negative? No, I am very angry at the sheer waste of the hard work and talent of very many good Liberals.

  • Chris Burden 15th Jan '15 - 3:45pm

    Pace @John Grout (Grtr Reading LDs?): I am not a ‘Nick hater’, just profoundly dissatisfied with Nick Clegg’s approach. There, I’ve said it. But, now, I suppose, I’ll have to ‘fess up: I voted for Nick. I thought he was a better communicator than Chris Huhne, and he is. He was, and remains, a very able and decent man, which matters.

    Dismal poll ratings don’t help, but like a trouper I wouldn’t mind, much, if I thought he and we were going in the right direction. I will overlook the completely avoidable Lansley NHS reorganisation coup. No, bizzarrely, Nick disappoints me for one of the same reasons that Tony Blair might have done if I had been a Labour supporter. Here was a another able man and also utterly conventional in political outlook.

    Nick Clegg talks about capturing the centre ground when we are not a party of the centre. I would not, ever, want to be some concoction, some ‘muddle in the middle’ and yet that’s where we seem headed under Clegg. Why on earth do we support TTIP (TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership)? Research shows that it won’t deliver any of the claimed benefits (jobs, investment etc.) – ‘cos that’s not what’s it’s for. See George Monbiot’s comments about the ISDS (Guardian, 14 Jan. 15) A totally unnecessary secret, unnaccountable mechanism for corporations to sue governments when laws, passed by sovereign parliaments, affect their ability to make money. And yet, adopting our by now characterisitic ‘Tory Mild’ approach, we lamely go along with it instead of say Stop! No TTIP!

  • Phil
    There was a lot of change in East Asia after the 1997 financial crisis.Was it for the better?
    Well the banks in Thailand were reformed.

  • Nick Clegg isn’t marmite. People who don’t like his leadership can be persuaded. This post doesn’t do it.

    I think he has had his victories but at the cost of a resounding defeat of what it meant to people to be a liberal democrats.
    – universities have never felt like such a no-go zone for working class people like me. Social mobility is in reverse.
    – civil liberties matter. Privacy should be safeguarded. Yes, the snoopers bill got blocked but RIPA is being used improperly, data was being sold by the nhs and minorities feel under surveillance
    – communities are dividing. Grassroot libdems are losing out on the doorstep to the far right in areas. Who is standing up to say One England, Many People’s. Not someone jumping on the anti-immigration bandwagon
    – lastly, leaders set examples. People need to renew trust in politicians and don’t want to pay for their mates. Yet, the spad bill skyrocketed and peers were appointed in a way which other parties were renown for doing.

    Nick sat on key cabinet committees at the heart of government. His energy seemed spent on fighting battles which could have been better dealt with through parliamentary leadership in the commons and Lords. I feel he should have dealt directly with things which lib dem grassroots cared about early like mental health much earlier.

    The trade-offs this government has made to stay cohesive have led to almighty botches like the Health and Social Care Act. Former libdems were isolated campaigning for the nhs.

    The libdem tent for those who share those believes feels smaller. The party used to have a compelling reason for membership. Now, that’s lost its purpose.

    I feel I personally do not belong in a party led by him currently. I don’t think i’m the only one.

  • In response to Shaun. I do not wish to abuse you. I just don’t agree with you. For a lib dem, it matters to make and set the argument. That feels lost beyond the Orange Book. There’s an element of not listening till its too late. For example, using only your examples

    1. Moving low-paid people out of income tax makes sense. Without it the poverty trap would be starker. But if you’re in that income bracket in a full-time job or underemployed, then the real issue is creating jobs, investing in basic skills and taking account of services which help low-income people like childcare.

    2. House of Lords Reform – it mattered to be in the vanguard of the right side. Like any issue divided by politics, it doesn’t matter if the libdems were offering something other parties didn’t. Without their support, it can’t be achieved and so what mattered was having a compelling vision for the second chamber.

    3. Free school meals. Again, the policy is right but the delivery of it really mattered. Local authorities felt ignored and many are dipping in their own budgets to pay for it. Local leaders were marginalised and it’s cost them.

    To me, this is about a whole attitude of doing government as a minor partner in a coalition. The lib dems in scotland were very different when they were in the same spot. Being loathed (openly) by your coalition partners and your backbench is not a sign of success here.

  • Max Wilkinson 15th Jan '15 - 9:11pm

    My answer: neither.

  • sfk
    The notion of class is to some extent nonsense. It reflects backwardness. Which progessive person in India defends the caste system? And yet in England poeple stick to beliefs in class which are as rigid as the caste system.
    Getting a degree has long since ceased to be a passport to a good job. Graduate unemployment as it was called started back in the 1970s but no one is stopping young people going to a university. Fees do not have to be paid upfront and a student loan does not have to be repaid if someone does not get a well paying job.
    The causes of inequality start very early in life. Skills in such subjects in Maths need to be obtained early in school.

  • Bill Chapman 16th Jan '15 - 12:44pm

    Now is the time to be discussing who will take the place of Nick Clegg after the May election.

  • Shaun Young 16th Jan '15 - 1:36pm

    @sfk, I can assure you I don’t feel abused! 🙂 – You have drilled down into some of the points I raised, which I understand, and accept. In my post, I was taking a ‘broad-brush’ approach trying to cover areas, while at the same time trying not to ‘bore’ people into a stupor!

    As to your point about being ‘openly’ loathed, well I am pretty sure whether openly or not, we were going to be loathed by our coalition partners, as no doubt also within the party to many it was and is an anathema that we should be coalition partners.

    I would also, like to thank @John Grout and @Pat Thomas for their comments, it has given me some confidence in that what I feel is not completely against the grain! I hope that I will have the courage to post a bit more regularly! 🙂

  • Nick Clegg is the leader of our Party, a Party that in terms of discipline is second to none in relation of giving the leadership 2 finger salute. I for one foresaw that the feint hearted in our ranks would find government difficult as most of the designers seem happiest in a protest group rather than in a government that under the circumstances of a broken economy was always faced with huge challenges and very difficult choices.

  • London Liberal 20th Jan '15 - 9:59am

    Galen – calling those who disagree with the litany of errors, misjudgements and botch jobs that have characteristic the party’s actions over the last 4.5 years ‘feint hearted’ and members of a protest group suggests that you’re not really serious about reaching out the natural liberals that have been lost. It rather sounds like you’re happy to be the Milwall of UK politics, whereas i think you’ll find we should aiming to be the Chelsea of UK politics.

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