Alex Massie

Hating on Clegg? Why?

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The left can't forgive him and the right still can't quite take him seriously but it seems to me that Nick Clegg is playing his hand with some gumption. Plenty of pundits and political enthusiasts - on all sides - still can't quite take the Liberal Democrats seriously but the days when the party was happy with the comforts of opposition have passed. Clegg, like it or not (and some Lib Dems, being children, don't) has made his choice and made his party make choices of real consequence for the first time in at least thirty years. That is, and regardless of whether you agree with his choices, no small thing. It could even be considered courageous.

And what part of this is incorrect?

The Labour Party has become consumed by collective bile towards … the Liberal Democrats. That portrays a rather nasty arrogance. They can’t believe that [we] could have done anything but fall into line with them. I get the impression, listening to the juvenile vitriol of the leadership candidates, that they can’t believe the Liberal Democrats decided to make up their own minds. I just think their leadership contest has been very dull and very dispiriting. You get the impression that none of them is up to the task of asking what’s happened to them as a party and to Britain. They seem strangely conservative, if I dare say it.

Seems pretty accurate to me. For years now the Labour party has treated the Lib Dems as though they were nothing more than Labour's nice-but-dim younger brother. That was, as we see now, never quite fair. And when Miliband says, with some reason admittedly, that it would be difficult for Labour to work with the Liberal Democrats while Clegg remains leader he's confirming the increasingly tribal drift of this Labour leadership contest. The best and sometimes even the most successful pols are not held prisoner by their party - they reach beyond it.

In that respect, the idea that Labour should choose the candidate most in tune with "Labour values" may be a terrible idea. All political parties, and perhaps even political persuasions, are minority tastes these days. Selecting a leader on the grounds that he is most faithful to the tribe is a strange idea indeed since, almost by definition, most people aren't part of that tribe and aren't sure they ever want to be.

That is, running against the grain of the party  -and the electorate's presumptions about your party - may be a vital part of political success in modern Britain.

True, the Lib Dems poll ratings might at present suggest otherwise. But the current polls don't mean much and, anyway, there are other things that explain the Lib Dem decline. But those are matters for another post, another time.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticsliberal democrats