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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Maintenance Person

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent