Alex Massie

Operation Kneecap Clegg Begins

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Ah, the majesty of the British press!

The Telegraph splashes on the fact that various Lib Dem donors funded a researcher and that these funds were paid into his own bank account.  A curious, perhaps even sloppy, arangement that may do Clegg some damage but that does not seem to be especially venal not least beacuse the contributions were declared to the fees office and the Electoral Commission. "Stuff and nonsense" declared Paxman on Newsnight and I doubt the story, while not good for Clegg, has anything more than dwarf legs.

Then the Mail splashes on Nick Clegg in Nazi slur on Britain as he claims 'our delusions of grandeur' at winning war are more a cross to bear than German guilt. This, dear reader, relates to a piece Clegg wrote for the Guardian in 2002 in which he recalled the embarrassment he felt on a school* exchange to Germany during which his classmates made Hitler salutes and generally acted like oafs. The Mail story is a bit like watching a Killer Whale go after a kitten and miss.

As a reader writes:

I don't know whether this would be good political strategy or not, but it sort of appeals to me in a John McCain On A Good Day way: There's a strong strand of thinking that the Tories need to not hit out at the Liberals in order to leave the door open to post-election coalition. I'm not entirely sure about that. First, I think there are weak points:  there's more in the Lib Dem platform that hasn't been addressed and should be. Second, I actually think the onus is going to be on the Liberals to co-operate with the Tories, not vice versa.

But how about this: Cameron should go on the telly or the Today programme or whatever and say something like "It's come to my attention that there's been a lot of scumbag horseshit going round about Nick Clegg's family background and general loyalty to this country. This needs to stop. Nick Clegg is as British as anyone else and his family background is not an issue. I want you to vote Tory. I think the Liberals are wrong on the issues because a, b and c and we're right because x, y, z. But Nick Clegg is as loyal to this country as anyone else and people who suggest otherwise are disgracing our politics." It's the right thing to do. It would make him look good. And it represents a big of an olive branch without conceding ground to the Liberals on policy.

Arguably it also makes Clegg look good in that Cameron bigs up his character. But fuck it. I want a Tory majority but I don't want it because the Mail and the Sun have convinced people in middle England that Clegg is some sort of dago-loving, kraut-licking fifth columnist.

I suspect there's something in this and that Iain Dale is right to say that these attacks are likely to prove counter-productive. The Mail's most especially. It's so ridiculous that, if pushed, even its author might concede its absurdity. Fun to write, of course, but nonsense nonetheless and, let us be kind, of dubious honesty.

Still, welcome to the Big Leagues, Nick. These stories are a compliment to be worn with pride and not something to get too shrill or upset by.

What next, however, a Zinoviev-style letter endorsing Clegg "found in a London taxi" and "apparently" written by Osama bin Laden? Or George W Bush?

*Clegg gives the impression that the school might have been an inner-city comprehensive. Of course it was actually Westminster.

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.

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