18 December 2007

And so begins the Clegg era

Nick Clegg is the new LibDem Leader at Westminster, by virtue of just 511 votes more than his rival, Chris Huhne. The main division of the campaign was on personality rather than policy, so we can see this result as a grudging support for Clegg rather than a ringing endorsement.

If I recall, however, most of the MSPs came out for Huhne, though most of the Scottish LibDem MPs preferred Clegg. It will be interesting to see how the MSPs' relationship with the MPs develops, particularly at a time when the MSPs are seen as far, far too close to Labour.

So is Clegg the right choice? No. A quick synopsis of his acceptance speech shows that it could have been uttered by either Gordon Brown and David Cameron. That is the problem: this means he is fighting on their ground. Brown is the PM; Cameron is the Leader of the Opposition and a PM-in-waiting, perhaps. Clegg is neither of those things. Brown and Cameron will get the attention for being who they are. Clegg can only stand out in two ways: by offering something different - which he isn't - or by saying things in a way that makes people listen. Vince Cable had a way of doing that, and it remains to be seen if Clegg can do the same. One problem is that those who seek to run him down already have their nickname, coined by a Huhne supporter: "Calamity Clegg".

One of the things Clegg had going for him was youth and vibrance. Nicol Stephen was supposed to have the same things, but he lacks charisma and at his first major electoral test in May, saw his party slip back. He simply failed to make an impact. And his judgment since then has been questionable: he had policy dictated to him by Tavish Scott and Mike Rumbles; his Parliamentary performances have been relatively weak; his line of attack on Trumpgate appears to be backfiring as the local press fear that his approach could jeopardise the golf course ever coming to Aberdeenshire and cause the local economy to lose out; even his attempt to get an independent inquiry about the Trump Affair has failed and he will have to content himself with the Local Government & Communities Committee looking at the issue. One of the members of that Committee, David McLetchie, did more than anyone to secure Henry McLeish's resignation. Nicol Stephen will not be anywhere near as successful.

Now, Clegg has more personality than Stephen ever will, or that he will perform as badly as the Scottish LibDem Leader, but the former Deputy First Minister's experience shows that youth and vibrance isn't always enough: you have to make people notice you, and give them a reason to support you. Clegg has opted to run with the Labour/Tory herd, which means his personality has to shine out more than ever.

Unlike his predecessor, Clegg will see out an election. But his target of 150 seats after two elections looks quite ridiculous at the present time, much as Nicol Stephen's ambitions to be First Minister caused people to snigger. It could happen, but people have to have a reason for voting Liberal Democrat and not anyone else.

And I am not convinced that Clegg will supply those reasons.

1 comment:

Richard Havers said...

Good old Norman Clegg....we can hardly wait for the first gaff. I'm not sure that even Dave or the Gorgon would have made quite such a lame acceptance speech....and that's saying something especially in the case of Manse man.

Clegg a man who doesn't believe in God, let's hope his party believe in miracles