Leading article: Finished? Clegg's future revisited

Related Topics

The conventional wisdom in Westminster for the past two years has been that Nick Clegg is finished. He lost nearly half of his party's supporters the moment he went into coalition with the Conservatives, so the theory goes, and has spent much of the time since trying to offend those who remain. He switched sides on the question of how quickly and how deeply to cut the deficit; he sold out on tuition fees; he made a mess of the chance to reform the voting system; he allowed David Cameron to isolate Britain in Europe; and in last month's Budget he put his name not just to a tax cut for people on top incomes but to a series of apparent blunders on taxes on pasties, pensioners and charity.

The fashionable consensus is that the Liberal Democrats will lose a lot of seats at the next election, and that Mr Clegg will hand over to a new leader to try to rebuild the party – if he has not already defected to Brussels as the UK's commissioner, a vacancy coming up in 2014.

In his interview with this newspaper today, he rejects this last option, declaring that he will fight the 2015 election as Deputy Prime Minister. And, although there is a hint of the valedictory in his tone, speaking of how history will judge him and what he hopes that his legacy will be, he makes a passionate case: that if it were not for the Liberal Democrats, this Government would be much worse.

After two years of coalition and on the eve of the big mid-term test of local elections, it is a good time to assess that case. The Independent on Sunday takes the view that the received wisdom is likely to be wrong. In the past month, too, the Conservative part of the coalition has suddenly suffered serious turbulence, while the Liberal Democrats have sailed serenely on.

Mr Clegg had a good Budget. He secured much of the credit in advance for its most popular measure, the raising of the income tax threshold. He seems to have avoided most of the blame for the unpopular measures, even if, as John Rentoul points out today, he was largely responsible for the capping of tax relief on charitable donations.

Indeed, a striking change in recent weeks has been the virulent hostility towards Mr Cameron personally of the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph. Where Mr Clegg had been the Prime Minister's crumple zone, now the Conservative press seems to be going for Mr Cameron himself.

In addition, Mr Clegg seems to have adjusted his pitch to the voters. Rather than emphasising Liberal Democrat policies that are distinctive and irrelevant, such as House of Lords reform, he now seems to have found a theme – childcare – that means something to the many, not the few. At last, he seems to be close to achieving the right blend of the self-interest and altruism that could appeal to large numbers of centre-ground voters. The cost of childcare is a pressing issue for many middle- and lower-income families, while good quality preschool care is also one of the most important ways to break the transmission of poverty through the generations.

The Liberal Democrat leader achieved something similar in his speech on the green economy last week, in which he sought to blend this country's opportunity as a leader in low-carbon technology with the global cause of mitigating climate change.

There remains much to criticise this Government for, and The Independent on Sunday disagrees with its policy on tax and spending, higher education, the NHS and much else besides. But there was no possible government after the last election that could have delivered all that this newspaper wanted. The effective choice was between a Conservative minority government and a coalition, and the latter has given some stability.

We give Mr Clegg credit for two things. One is that neither he nor Mr Cameron has sought to blame the other for decisions in which neither side got all that it wanted. The other is that the Liberal Democrats have made a positive difference. This Government is more concerned with social justice, civil liberties and the environment than it would be if it consisted wholly of Conservatives.

What if the conventional wisdom were wrong? It would not be the first time that someone whose career had been written off came back. Those who are prepared to keep an open mind should at least consider the question that Mr Clegg poses in his interview. If it were not for the presence of Liberal Democrats, would this Government not be much worse?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading indepen...

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Systems Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre Scho...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, arrives with his son Prince George at the Lindo Wing to visit his wife and newborn daughter at St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, west London, Britain, 02 May 2015  

Prince George's £18,000 birthday gift speaks volumes about Britain's widening wealth inequality

Olivia Acland
Nicky Clarke has criticised the Duchess of Cambridge for having grey hair  

Letting one’s hair turn grey would be the most subversive Royal act

Rosie Millard
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'