Paddy’s advice to Nick: “Be patient”

by Stephen Tall on January 6, 2009

Today’s Financial Times has an interesting enough article by Alex Barker analysing Nick Clegg’s first year (and a bit) as Lib Dem leader. Noting some of the tougher moments, it also highlights Nick’s achievements (albeit by resorting to the usual, simplistic right/left labels so likely to irritate Lib Dems):

His authority has also proved strong enough to oversee a fundamental shift in direction. Under him, the party has pivoted to the right, shedding decades of dogma on tax and public services. Clegg is for tax cuts and a smaller state.

On the offensive, the political focus has turned from marginal Tory seats to the soft underbelly of Labour’s support in the north. Insiders say Mr Clegg’s travelling tour of town hall meetings closely aligns with the party’s electoral priorities.

Polls show a modest improvement. Frontbenchers carrying scars from years of infighting say the party mood is “much more settled”.

“None of the slip-ups have undermined a real sense of permanence and progress,” said one. “We’ve made the definitive choice for a generation.”

However, two character traits within Nick are placed under close scrutiny: his tendencies to impatience and tetchiness…

Those close to Mr Clegg concede that his style must change. While his impatience has helped to stamp his authority within the party, it has not helped some public appearances, where he has at times seemed tetchy and snappy.

“He can be a super public speaker. But he needs to get rid of that sense of irritation,” said one colleague. “That will help.”

A baby Clegg will arrive next month, which some supporters hope will help to introduce him to the nation. Whether the sleepless nights will help his temperament is another matter.

His predecessor-but-two as leader, Paddy Ashdown, is quoted offering this advice to Nick:

It is a very tough job. My first year was a complete disaster. I was regularly hand-bagged by Thatcher but there wasn’t a journalist interested enough to write about it. I scored an asterix in one opinion poll, because there was no detectable support. What does he need to do? Be patient. Nick like me is rather impatient.”