Monday, March 15, 2010

 

Crucial for Clegg to Navigate Next Few Weeks Successfully

I recently had to deliver my inaugural professorial lecture at my university and, even though the consquences of failure were no more than disappointment and mild personal humiliation, I spent much time making sure I would not mess up in front of colleagues, my Vice Chancellor, Dean, head of department and all my departmental colleagues. Yes, that 'mild personal humiliation' was a consequence I was very, very keen to avoid. So how much more worried must Nick Clegg be that he doesn't 'fluff his lines' in the upcoming TV debates as Rawnsley asked yesterday?

Clegg is right to be nervous that he doesn't fluff his chance to shine in the TV arc lights. This general election is a golden opportunity for him and his party. A whiskery government asks for a fourth term under a disliked prime minister who has presided over the deepest recession since 1945. An unconvincing Conservative party hasn't persuaded the country that its air-brushed leader can be trusted with power. If not now for the Lib Dems, when?

When indeed. Having said that, it's been a pretty good weekend for the Lib Dems. Edward McMillan-Scott, the senior Tory MEP, decided to desert his party of 40 years for the Lib Dems, disgusted with Cameron's preference for racist Latvians and anti-semitic, homophobic Poles as partners in the European Parliament. And there's been their spring copnference which has attracted more attention than the yawns such events usually evoke.

The big debating point, of course, is what they would do if they held the balance of power. Glegg has assured us he does not want to be 'king-maker' but will allow voters that privilege. Easier said than done as if niether big party wins a majority he might find both of them knocking at his door bearing gifts and inducements, just as Ted Heath wooed Jeremy Thorpe back in 1974. Thorpe was quite willing to be be wooed, if I recall (I know, I know, dodgy metaphor etc) but it was his party's opposition to the Tories which scuppered any deal. That opposition still very much remains as Andew Adonis yesterday told Andrew Marr:

"I cannot conceive of the circumstances where the Lib Dems could support the Conservatives in government. I think it would destroy their own party. The issue they have to address is: are they basically on the centre-left in politics ... or are they going to try to shift to the right because they sense that may be a short-term populist strategy, but which would betray their own principles and destroy their party?"

Clegg says the party with the 'strongest mandate from the voters will have the moral authority to be the first to govern', allowing him to delay defining such a mandate in terms of votes or seats. My feeling is that coalitions are not likely anyway. I can't se Labour becoming the biggest party and current polls, while not suggesting an overall Conservative majority, do suggest they will be the biggest party, both in votes and seats. When we consider the SNP in 2007 were seen as 'winners' even though they only had a one seat advantage over Labour in the Scottish Parliament, then Cameron would clearly lead a minority government in such circumstances, hoping to consolidate power with a working majority at some early but later date. Even if Brown somehow fluked it to lead the biggest party, I still think Clegg- and his party- would hesitate before enabling Brown to continue in power.

Personally, I think a narrow defeat for Labour, rather than a wipeout, would be a creditable result for Brown. But I would like to see Lib Dems do well, partly because, I feel they are pretty close to the left of centre pro EU positions I favour myself. So it's crucial Clegg doesn't fluff his lines. On this point I do have one slight worry: Clegg's voice. Rather like Osborne's it lacks gravitas and sounds too much like a flutey teenager. His conference speech was made worse by a slight cold:

Happily, the speech was warmly received with rapt applause of the Lib Dem party faithful managing to drown out some of their leader's more hoarse and whimpering crescendos.

I fully expect the nation to be watching the first ever prime ministerial debate in some numbers so Clegg will need to have cleared up his hoarseness by then. And he needs to be on top of the detail as Gordon was yesterday on the Politics Show in front of a group of non-aligned Stourbridge voters. And my lecture? As with so many things one agonises over in advance, it went fine.

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