Did someone make this National Nick week?

by Stephen Tall on March 11, 2010

This morning, up with the larks, LDV covered Nick Clegg’s feature interview in The Independent. But we’ve been hard-pressed to keep up with the Lib Dem leader’s media appearances: Nick is also in this week’s Spectator, as well as The Economist. That, plus a forthcoming one-hour ITV special and the leaders’ debates: truly, the media are spoiling us with this surfeit of Cleggyness.

The Spectator interview has stirred up Sunder Katawala at the left-leaning Liberal Conspiracy, who speculates that Nick’s comments will “be a major talking point at the LibDem spring conference in Birmingham this weekend, where it may not meet with universal acclaim among party members.”

Well, I won’t pretend to be able to speak for party members – y’see, part of the point of being a liberal is that we’re all individuals – but I’m wholly relaxed that Nick has spoken approvingly of the significance of Margaret Thatcher’s actions in taking on the vested interests of overwheening trade union powers in the 1980s. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the Sectator interview:

Age, he claims, has taught him the point of Lady Thatcher. And, indeed, he now seems to see her as something of an inspiration. ‘I’m 43 now. I was at university at the height of the Thatcher revolution and I recognise now something I did not at the time: that her victory over a vested interest, the trade unions, was immensely significant. I don’t want to be churlish: that was an immensely important visceral battle for how Britain is governed. And what has now happened to the British economy? It has gone belly-up because, once again, we have allowed a vested interest to run riot.’ He is talking, of course, about the banks. ‘They represent a vested interest. This is what I sometimes don’t understand about the Cameron-Osborne act. A real liberal believes in genuine competition, a genuine level playing field and he is unremittingly hostile to vested interests.’ As Thatcher was to Scargill, so Mr Clegg intends to be to the banks. ‘What I find so striking is that the spirit — dare I say it — of the battle against the dominance of one vested interest, the trade unions, is exactly the same spirit we need now.’

I can see why some Labour party members might not like Nick’s statement; but I can’t see why liberals (with small l’s and big L’s) would have a problem with it. That’s why we’re in rival parties, after all.

As for creating a fuss among the party membership, today’s Lib Dem blogs have scarcely been buzzing with discontent. If anything, I think most of us are rubbing our eyes in amazement to see the party leader attracting such a high profile even before the general election campaign kicks off.

I still think Nick is wrong not to rule out a coalition: the Lib Dem position, as I’ve stated on LDV before, should be cooperation not coalition. But credit where it’s due. Nick’s interviews suggest a confident, dynamic leader who’s campaign-ready, and eminently comfortable in his own skin. So let’s leave the last word to him, from the Economist interview transcript, in which Nick makes his ‘elevator pitch’:

Everyone’s talking about change; everyone’s talking about fairness. What we’re trying to focus people’s attention on is these very hard, concrete pledges we’re making on tax reform, on pupil premium, on reforms of banking, on a new politics, to get people to ask themselves the question we really want them to ask themselves: ‘What’s in it for me and my family?’ We think and all our research suggests – it’s amazing how much research goes into something which is, in a sense, as simple as that – that the more people asks themselves those questions, the more you get a dramatic falling away from the Conservatives and it benefits us enormously. People think, ‘Actually I don’t want the blather of change; I want something that really works for me’.

That’s it, really. It shows, I hope, a combination of two things. Firstly, that in as much as elections are about a very crude question – do you want change or not? – we are unambiguously on the side of change from the Labour status quo, but that we think we contrast ourselves very favourably with what is a rather vacuous pitch for change, one without sincerity, one without authenticity from Cameron.