If Nick Clegg truly wanted to save the reputation of the Liberal Democrats he would have resigned in 2010 after the government voted to increase university tuition fees.
Two years on, a broadcast apology that was ripe for mockery by internet satirists only serves to demonstrate the desperation of a party whose political morality is all but obliterated after two years in Coalition government.
…saying “sorry” is not going to save the face of a party…
The rationale behind Clegg’s decision to back the Tory policy has been much analysed in the last two years. Whether it was political pragmatism or immaturity that forced Clegg’s hand, the decision was made and the damage done. So in all honesty, what on earth was Clegg hoping to achieve by releasing his apology? Saying “sorry” does not reverse the fact that students now have to pay £9,000 per year just to attend university. Saying “sorry” does not reverse the fact that thousands of Lib Dem voters were betrayed by a party they trusted. But most importantly, saying “sorry” is not going to save the face of a party that will surely now face certain ruin in the 2015 General Election.
Clegg might argue that he has learnt from his mistakes and “will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it.” But he is not a five year old child. This is not someone learning to behave and therefore rightly afforded leeway. This is a man who was the hope for many thousands of young people across the country, alienated by the political mainstream and looking for fresh direction and new political leadership. Clegg’s apparent genuine liberalism was deemed to mark a new stage in the political development of the United Kingdom, breaking the dominance of New Labour and ambiguous Conservatism. But as the Liberal Democrat party conference begins in Brighton this weekend, who knows what the Lib Dems truly stand for?
He is damaged goods, and while he remains in post, so is his party.
They have been tainted by their association with the Tories and used as publicity scapegoats at convenient moments. Their presence in the Coalition government has undoubtedly softened the hard demands of right wing Tory bank benchers, but the electorate are oblivious to the positive impact of the Liberals in government. Instead, we see Hughes, Alexander or Cable thrown as lambs to the slaughter to be grilled by Paxman or Snow as they defend yet another unpopular Coalition policy.
There is no way that Clegg can mount an election campaign that gets remotely close to the successes he enjoyed in 2010. He is damaged goods, and while he remains in post, so is his party. And the tragedy is that we are all going to suffer as a result.
…responsible for the political alienation of a generation.
Rather than having the relative pluralism enjoyed in 2010, the next General Election looks set to be a contest between an incumbent whose government never fails to point out how genuinely out of touch it is and a weak, characterless opposition. Andrew Mitchell’s “pleb” outburst is the latest example showing how badly David Cameron fails to surround himself with popular figures. The names Obsorne, Hunt, Hammond and now Mitchell are tainted with poison. The nation detests them and therefore again, by association, it detests the Tories. And what of the other option? I wouldn’t blame you for asking “which one?”, such is Ed Miliband’s anonymity, Ball’s clear economic naivety and David Miliband’s blatant absence. Labour currently offers nothing but a modified interpretation of coalition policy and lack a leader that can inspire.
So what hope have the young electorate, so willingly behind the Lib Dems in 2010, got now? Where can they turn for political leadership and direction? It is a tragedy that there is nobody to meet their needs, but the real tragedy is that increasingly, people just do not care. If Nick Clegg is to apologise for anything, it is not for defaulting on his tuition fee pledge. That is in the past and, while not forgotten, is long gone. But he should broadcast an apology for being responsible for the political alienation of a generation. He has removed the political empowerment he so brilliantly gave to the electorate in 2010, instead allowing us to be abandoned to the same old polarisation of petty Tory/Labour rivalries. It will be a miracle if more than a third of the population vote in 2015. For that, Nick Clegg should be sorry.