Here is Nick’s first tv interview since the election:
It’s worth watching the whole 20 minutes.
I am firmly of the opinion that Nick Clegg is a decent human being who did his best in government to introduce practical, liberal policies that were consistent with our values. His support for improvement of mental health services and his policy of ensuring that extra money was given to disadvantaged kids in school showed that he wanted to give opportunities to those people who were let down most by the old way of doing things.
I think that he has always conducted himself in politics with honesty and integrity. I suspect that when we look back at the things he said in government in decades to come, we will wish we had paid more attention.
He knows perfectly well that he made some absolute howlers in government. I doubt he and I would agree what they were is a moot point. From my point of view, the limitation of sickness benefits, the Bedroom Tax and secret courts were three of the biggest. The AV referendum was another. Nobody loved AV as a system enough to fight for it, but even if we did, holding it in Year 1 when everybody hated us because of the cuts was never going to be a good idea.
My worry about yesterday’s interview is that he doesn’t seem to realise the flaws in our election campaign. I think the party is fairly universally agreed that our messaging was terrible at the start of the campaign and just got worse. I also wonder whether we made a strategic mistake by failing to take on the Tories about this nonsense they were spouting at the SNP. In effect, we legitimised their appalling scaremongering. I mean, they were practically making out that Ed and Salmond would relocate Trident to the children’s play park at the bottom of your road. The whole thing was ridiculous and they were allowed to spout it unchallenged for weeks on end. No wonder it worked.
Our Stronger Economy, Fairer Society messaging was weak to start with, but we even undermined that by coming out with this “Look left, look right then cross” garbage. And as for “Unity, Stability, Decency” in the last few days. Seriously, it was Kremlin 1978 stuff.
By the middle of the campaign we almost had enough body parts for a whole mixed grill, but maybe not one you’d actually want to eat. Spine, heart? No thanks.
All the other factors Nick mentioned, like the very fact of being in coalition and tuition fees were relevant, but they were all just individual notes. We didn’t have an appealing melody to take people along with us. The SNP did, and so did the Tories. Both were negative, but they applied them relentlessly and consistently to great effect and out-campaigned us comprehensively. Tory canvassers would ask “Do you want David Cameron or Ed Miliband as your PM?” Nothing else.
What strikes me is that so many people seem to be criticising the campaign after the event. Jenny Willott told Wales Online that Nick Clegg’s opening statement in the Leaders’ Debate was awful. Norman Lamb has been telling us that his heart sank when he was told to use the body parts stuff. The review which is currently being undertaken will, I hope, recommend tighter accountability for decision making. If MPs were concerned about the messaging, were they saying so? The problem is that we were aiming our messaging at a tiny amount of people when we should have been trying to grow the pool of people who would vote for us. In a way we admitted defeat before we started.
I raised it several times at Federal Executive and was always told that it was tailor made for our “electoral market.” In fact, the Federal Executive raised concerns about many aspects of the campaign which later proved to be entirely valid.
While Nick has taken responsibility for the election disaster by resigning, he does, I think, need to look more deeply at what he and those working for him could and should done differently and where he should and could have listened to people who knew better than him. The next leader needs to remember that he has two ears and one gob for a reason.
We did a hell of a lot of good in government, but we also made mistakes. I certainly don’t think we should go about for the next five years with our heads down, but we should be able to talk sensibly to tv interviewers about where we got it wrong.
Away from the election debacle, Nick talked about Osborne’s budget, saying that if he were a Tory strategist he’d be worried at what was going on:
I think this nakedly political pattern of short-changing the young while cosseting the old really won’t serve either the country or the Conservative Party well. I know plenty well-tpaddling pollo-do elderly folks who are embarrassed that their Winter Fuel Allowance is paid for by poorer people.
He also said he was keen for the Eurozone not to cut Greece adrift, and to be alive to the potential, if it left the Eurozone or even the EU, to become under the malign influence of Russia.
Nick is an extremely able and likeable man who has a great deal to contribute to our public life. The good guys don’t always get the results they deserve as we know only too well.