Monday, 17 December 2007

Nick Clegg and the Liberal Left

One of the hard lessons of leadership contests is that you get nothing for coming second, even a very close second in the case of Chris Huhne, the candidate I voted for. I remember the same feeling when Charles Kennedy beat Simon Hughes in a previous contest, but at least I knew Simon would stand again (unfortunately I did not know he would cock it up, but that is another story).
Even so, Chris Huhne has won some notable victories. Nick Clegg has clarified that he does not support US education vouchers for school allocations. By coming a close second, Nick knows that Chris will have to be an integral part of the Liberal Democrats for many years to come.
Of course it may well be the case that the course Nick intended has not changed anyway. As in the previous leadership elections, the Liberal Left vote was split. Those closely associated with Simon Hughes in his last leadership election bid are the ones I would identify as Left Liberals, although many, including Simon, would not use that description. Some of these MPs are so studied in collective responsibility it may well be that they are no longer on the Left anyway.
It was with mixed feelings that I noted that most of Simon's MP supporters backed Nick Clegg. On the one hand, they may have handed him victory, given the closeness of the contest. On the other hand, Nick may have made committments to them on issues to do with public services that reassured them that "Top down privatisation" is not on the agenda.
I think there will at least be a change in the rhetoric which will not be welcome. Ming Campbell and Chris Huhne accused Labour and Conservative parties of being "The conservative parties". Nick Clegg accused them in a more apolitical sense of being "Tweedledum and Tweedledee".
Comments like these say a lot about the politcal instincts of the leadership candidates. Clegg's position betrays a fear of the Lib Dems being perceived as on the left of Labour, but if on the other hand we are position ourselves as a centre party, how does such a party put across what it stands for in the middle of "Tweedledum and Tweedledee"?
So the concern is will the party make enough sense to the electorate that we can persuade people to vote for it?
Nick Clegg will hopefully come up with some answers to that over the next few months.

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