Daily catch-up: Nick Clegg blames the media for the Lib Dem wipeout

The Liberal Democrat leader’s pre-conference interview was revealing

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“I’ll be very careful to say this in a way which doesn’t sound whingey, because I’m not,” said Nick Clegg in his interview with Duncan Brack and Toby James for the book, British Liberal Leaders, extracted in The Independent yesterday.

I thought the interview was fascinating because if you say you’re not whingey it is a bit like saying, “I’m not racist but ...” Clegg then went on to whinge about the press, who were always against him, and his party, which failed to stand up for him.

He is right, of course, that the Liberal Democrats did not have many cheerleaders among what he called “the vested interests in the press”. But to complain about it is futile, and the way Clegg complained about it makes him seem paranoid:

“If you are the editor of the Daily Mail, or the Daily Mirror or whatever, you can afford to ignore us when we are nowhere near power. When we’re near power, we are deeply offensive to their business model, so they have to turn on us – and boy, did they.”

What is he on about? In what way does having Lib Dems in a coalition government affect sales of the Mail and the Mirror?

The churlish tone was made worse by Clegg going on to blame his party for colluding with media criticism:

“That was supplemented by the endearing, if somewhat slightly unwelcome, tendency of Liberal Democrats to, when any critic said anything about us, instead of doing what the other parties do, which is to reject them outright, we’d say: ‘Well, they might have a point actually!’”

He even appeared to resent his parliamentary colleagues – Malcolm Bruce and Paddy Ashdown exempted by name – for failing to do enough to draw some of the fire away from him:

“Don’t ask the leader always to be the person who fronts up the rubbish – because then the public associate the leader with negative news.”

I can understand that he was hurt by the vilification he received as a result of the tuition fees U-turn, and upset by the huge loss of seats at the general election, but this seems to be an exercise in blame displacement.

The tuition fees disaster was of his own making, and its unpopularity had nothing to do with media bias or the failure of his party to support him. And the Lib Dems lost seats because they went into government as junior partner and failed to persuade the people to change the voting system in the 2011 referendum.

He admits that the only thing the Lib Dems could have done to try to save some seats would have been to rule out supporting a Labour government. I doubt that even that would have made much difference: if people wanted the coalition to continue, why wouldn’t they have voted Conservative anyway, just to make sure?

Blaming the media, or blaming politics for being a rough old trade, is like a sailor blaming the sea.