Nick Cohen

Nick Clegg and the Jilted Bride

Nick Clegg and the Jilted Bride
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The Lib Dem press office is one of the sorriest sights in Westminster. A handful of untrained party officers are dealing with a wave of hostility nothing in their right-thinking, left-leaning lives has prepared them for. They thought that they were good. For as long as they can remember everyone they have met has assured them that they were good. Tories were mean and greedy, New Labour was authoritarian and war-mongering. They, by contrast, had always been the nice people in the nice party – maybe a little silly, maybe a little naïve, but fundamentally decent.

Now they are hated. As my colleague Julian Glover reports in the Guardian today:

'While 91 percent of the 2010 Conservative voters would vote that way again, and 93 percent of 2010 Labour voters, only 47 percent of 2010 Lib Dem voters plan to do the same.The impact of the party's U-turn on tuition fees is clear. Lib Dem support is now lower among voters aged 18-24 than among any other age group. By contrast, in the final election Guardian/ICM poll Lib Dem support was highest among young voters.'

Conservatives may find the great hatred of Nick Clegg baffling. The haters are my people, and I can explain. Buried deep in the English psyche is the notion of the gentleman: a well-educated, well-born man, but decent, honourable, considerate and a protector of those less fortunate than himself. It is very easy to mock the Richard Curtis view of England, not least because good manners can hide many a scoundrel. But I would be foolish to deny the myth’s potency. I feel it myself.

My people actually believed Nick Clegg when he said that it was wrong to yank money out of the economy in a recession. The young thought his promise on tuition fees was just that. I’ve had 18-year-olds come up to me, who voted Lib Dem and campaigned for the Lib Dems, and who have yet to quite believe that Clegg could have performed such a smart U-turn. “But, but” said one “I thought they were the party for the young people.”

I tell them they should have known that they were about to receive a rough lesson in political cynicism early in life, but too many mainstream commentators have yet to realise that in a democracy politicians cannot say the same. They cannot call the voters idiots and expect to get away with it. The Lib Dems are like cads posing as gentlemen who have got a girl into bed with a promise of marriage, jilted her at the church and told her it was her fault for trusting them. Maybe it was, but the Lib Dems cannot expect her to trust or vote for them again, particularly when demands for student debt repayments will be landing on her doormat for decades to come to remind her of her folly - as surely as the cries of a neglected child whose father has vanished.

Or to put it another way, the average Lib Dem voter thought she was voting for Hugh Grant in Love Actually…

and now she feels like Tess of the d’Urbervilles...

Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

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