Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats were the clear losers from the five-year coalition government. In his recent book “Politics: Between the Extremes”, readers are given an invaluable insight into the machinations of Westminster, No.10, and the games that were played during those turbulent five years.
The book does an excellent job of explaining to the unfamiliar how Westminster works. What MPs do for fun when not being scandalous (Clegg duly informs readers that MPs can release some anger in the firing range beneath Parliament, a perk of the job). But what struck me the most about this account was how naive the Lib Dems were, reaching its zenith in Clegg. Reading the book, I was struggling at times to work out if Nick is indeed politically naive or if it is just part of the game? I’m still struggling to determine this and as such, another read is definitely required.
The book flits between years and in places is chaotic. Rather than unravelling chronologically, the reader finds themselves going back to 2010 “Cleggmania”, through to the reneging of Lib Dem promises on tuition fees. Do not be fooled. This is very much a memoir of his time in office albeit a rather succinct version. And I think it also serves on a visceral level to help Nick and the Lib Dems confess their sins and explain the actions they took based on the cards they were dealt by two evil princes: David Cameron and Gideon Osborne. Looking back, however, I must admit, it seems like the Lib Dems were always doomed to failure. They are, and history has shown us, simply too principled. Clegg’s never-ending sermon on “pluralism” is how the Tories were able to effectively manipulate the junior coalition partner.
Nevertheless, if Clegg had been more seduced by the trappings of power and of patronage, things would have turned out significantly different. Examples of his naivety are littered throughout, but by acquiescing so easily set the tone for the sharing of power. Firstly, there’s “desk gate”. Clegg opts to take his desk away from the corridors of Downing Street. Secondly, when David Cameron hastily invites Clegg into his office for a “chat”. This is serious. Gideon wants to swap his Kent weekend retreat with the Deputy PM. Clegg agrees. It is examples like these which make me question the rationale of a man who constantly inserts his prestigious education, research stints and time at the EU.
Nick and the Lib Dems were ousted from power and reality being what it is, are very unlikely to gain significant seats in Parliament in the near to mid-term. The UK is not ready for liberal Labour dissenters nor are they ready for industrialised pluralism. The latter two chapters are more coherent and worth reading for they set out the politics of today and GE2017 rather well.