Lib Dem leader's lesson for the US in politics of co-operation

It is a long way from Liverpool, but New York was not the escape Nick Clegg might have hoped for. First he had to perform Vince Cable damage control before speeding to a New York University town hall event to tell of strange things going on in Britain: opposing parties talking to each, governing together even.

All that was before most of Manhattan had had breakfast. Only much later was the Deputy Prime Minister released into the baffling maze of the United Nations to tell other people about other strange things going on in Britain: an austerity government willing, nay eager, to increase spending on aid abroad.

Mr Clegg might make a decent American politician – he has the town hall format down pat and some say he wasn't bad in the election leaders' debates. On the other hand, he wouldn't last five minutes here on account of his frankness about the lapses of the country he co-governs. Not patriotic enough.

There is, Mr Clegg told NYU, much "uncivilised and irrational debate" going on in Parliament "every day". The way in which power is centralised in Britain "beggars belief", and voters at home are burdened with a political system that is "creaky and clapped out". With good old English irony, he also quipped: "Personally, I like democracy. I think we should start practising it in the United Kingdom."

The discussion, of course, was about the voting reform to be put to a referendum next year. But the students were gripped most by this notion that rival parties can co-operate. The language of "someone's up and someone's down" is giving way, he said, to a "more complex idiom where people are open to all kinds of difference and are grown-up about the differences".

His argument that sustaining Britain's commitment to foreign development aid is about "enlightened self-interest" – his most frequently uttered phrase of the day – was uncontroversial at NYU, at least. Some at the UN, who have not matched their rhetoric on the Millennium Development Goals with cash, might think "pious" while smiling and shaking his hand.

What left the students puzzled, perhaps, was his analysis of shifts occurring in politics not just in Britain but everywhere. Whether he cheered or scared them was hard to tell. But the old status quo, he said, is crumbling. "Something seems to be going on in political democracies and we don't where it is going to evolve," he offered. "The old tribalism is collapsing. All democracies are dealing with this."

If old orders are indeed on their way out, whither Democrats and Republicans? Is America ready for its duopoly of political power finally to falter? Could an independent rule the country, say, with a Tea Party deputy leader or the other way about? Mr Clegg may have just suggested a ticket for 2012: Bloomberg-O'Donnell. Those crazy, naive British. Don't be fooled by this clean-cut leader comes here all sane, sensible and "grown-up". Unhinged.

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits