Pack off Nick Clegg and send for Vince! Only a total Cleggectomy can save the Lib Dems now

Now that muted public contempt has mutated into raucous public derision, the moment is surely ripe for the Lib Dem musical. Charles Hawtrey can play Lembit Opik


The clock is ticking towards the 2014 Academy Awards, and the pressure is on.

Within six months, the movie we have craved for a while, but for which the appetite is suddenly insatiable, must be written, shot, edited and put on general release to have a chance of Oscar glory. So in a bid to kick-start the process, I offer this idea for the pre-title sequence in  Scandals In Sandals: The Lib-Dem Musical, with casting suggestions as appropriate.

The year is 2006, and at a karaoke party at the home of Lembit Opik (Charles Hawtrey), fiancée Gabriela Irimia and twin sister Monica (Jedward) reprise a poignant ballad. “I never ask where do you go/ I never ask what do you do,” they trill, “Come and smile, don’t be shy/ Touch my bum, this is life.” Encouraged to shrug off the coyness of which so much has been latterly been heard, Lord Rennard (Richard Griffiths) swigs deeply from Charlie Kennedy’s intravenous drip for Dutch courage, and takes the Cheekies’ invitation at face value.

When he touches Gabriela’s bum, mayhem ensues. A chivalrous Lembit swings a punch at him, but slips on an Airfix model of an asteroid, and catches a dozing Sir Menzies Campbell (JR Hartley) on the temple. “Mark, Mark, help me, Mark!” cries the stricken leader as he collapses to the shagpile. “Where’s Mark Oaten?” “In the bath,” mutters a peevish Nick Clegg (Paul Rudd). “Nick? Is that you? What happened? Tell me it wasn’t Chris Rennard again.” “I have been made indirectly aware of a non-specific incident, Ming, but I was playing Blind Man’s Bluff with Sarah Teather (Wee Jimmy Krankie) when it all kicked off, and never saw a thing. Besides, I never ask where does he go, I never ask what does he do. Chris is Chris, this is life.”

Maybe it is political life, Nick, but not as anyone sane would know it, and seven years on from that flashback scene we find Ming’s successor mercilessly stalked by political death. The whiff of late-stage terminal crisis settles over him, as it does whenever muted public contempt mutates into raucous public derision, and he stands before us naked and exposed.

After tuition fees, failing to deliver House of Lords reform, learning of David Cameron’s European “veto” only after the event, and the other humiliations which have steered the Lib Dems towards electoral oblivion, what were the remaining threadbare garments preserving this emperor’s modesty? In reverse order, as favoured by the late Eric Morley, those rags were as follows: 3) appearing to be a semi-competent party manager; 2) seeming about as honest as our atrophied expectations of politicians suggest is feasible; and 1) being a modern metropolitan guy, committed to equality of all types and a sworn enemy of retrograde nastiness of which his portly friend is accused by a burgeoning catalogue of Lib Dem women.

Gone, gone and gone again. With not a stitch left, he stands before us nakedly revealed as cowardly, duplicitous and sensationally feeble, though he is not wholly impotent yet. Far from it, he has developed a superpower. He is now Captain Logicide, Slayer of Words. People have been chipping away at “specific” for ages, by confusing it with “pacific”, but without his intervention it would have survived. Now specific means “far, far less specific than non-specific”, and the paradox renders it extinct.

A glance at a rare unredacted portion of Jeremy Paxman’s testimony about the Jimmy Savile debacle clarifies this. When Merion Jones told him he was investigating Savile for Newsnight, he replied “Oh well, I don’t think I need to ask you any further what that’s about.” Mr Jones could not have been more non-specific, and Paxo instantly and entirely grasped the point.

In defence of his apparent mendacity, I suppose Clegg might argue the “non-” in “non-specific”, as with the P of Pfeiffer, is silent, and that he actually meant “specific”. But he may feel his jester’s bells are at enough risk of metal fatigue as it is. Asked in a pre-Rennard questionnaire what he might do for his next career, he had a dig at his karaoke host by implying that ex-Lib Dem MPs and stand-up comedy make unnatural bedfellows. But even if a full-on coupling is out of the question, on this form he’d be mad to rule out at least playfully tweaking the bum of mirth with the one-man show Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves: How I Destroyed My Party In Two And A Half Years. You’d buy a ticket for that.

My own preference, however late in the day it is for retraining, is for a crack at medicine. Clegg has always struck me as a breathily concerned, over-sincere chap bizarrely misrouted to Brussels and Westminster en route to a fine career as a rural GP. He’d be great at that. Who would break distasteful news more sensitively? “Now it’s nothing to worry about,” he’d reassure unsnapping a latex glove, “but you picked something up in Bangkok. The antiobiotics will quickly clear up the discharge, and you should be fine to resume, er, nocturnal relations in six weeks.” “Yes but what have I got?” “Frankly, it beats the hell out of me.” “ But Dr Clegg, you must have some idea.” “I’m sorry, but I don’t. Not the foggiest. You see, it’s non-specific urethritis.”

The STD ailing the Liberal Democrats today is so far beyond the efficacy of antibiotics that any MP, peer or activist unable to identify a radical Cleggectomy as the only solution clearly shares his capacity for willful blindness. If only there were a recent precedent – such as, ooh, I dunno, toxic fall-out from a leader ignoring persistent and detailed claims of a senior colleague’s misdemeanours – to offer guidance about the perils of the ostrich position.

The best possible result for the Lib Dems in Eastleigh is a third place finish behind Ukip – a scenario taken from the silver linings playbook, since it would clarify that the party is threatened with extinction, and oblige Clegg to confront the hopelessness of his position. The danger is that they will cling on, as the odds suggest, which would leave them dithering over whether to remove their heads from the sand, and remove him in Vince Cable’s favour. Whatever the consequences of that for this wretched Coalition, Clegg has now progressed from a liability into an existential threat. If they wish to avert it, time is short. As with Scandals In Sandals, there is not a moment to lose.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pack of seagulls squabble over discarded food left on the beach at St Ives on July 28, 2015  

Number of urban seagulls in Britain nearly quadruples: Hide food and avoid chicks to stay in gulls’ good books

Tom Bawden

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen