One of the most striking (and, for a time, stirring, at least while the Liberal Democrats were continuing to hold the Tories to ransome over electoral reform, before the cop-out that was William Hague’s announcement of a referendum on AV) images to come out of the last few days’ events was that of Nick Clegg addressing protesters from a range of electoral reform pressure groups outside the building in which coalition talks were being held between his party and David Cameron’s Conservatives on Saturday afternoon (video here). Speaking through a megaphone, Clegg’s rhetoric (both visual and verbal) pitched him very much as a protest leader, an image which is distinctly non-canon in the contemporary presentation of senior elected politicians. In the current context, it is the polar opposite of an image such as this one.
Doubtless the real picture is a lot fuzzier than it appeared at this moment in time: policy convergence has been the priority in these talks, with Andrew Neil and Nick Robinson emphasising on this morning’s ‘Daily Politics’ the extent to which Clegg and Cameron share not only a common background but also a common pool of core beliefs and values. One can only hope, however, that this consensus is not the be-all-and-end-all. Put otherwise, one can only hope that there is some truth behind the above image; that Clegg, from his priveliged position as Cameron’s Deputy, can rally forces to oppose some of the Conservative’s more dubious policies. There’s already a sign that this relatively unscripted role could bear real fruit: the Lib Dems have so far managed to grind down Tory will on proposals concerning tax breaks for married couples and the raising of the Inheritance Tax threshold. Yesterday’s guardian.co.uk editorial was maligned by loyalists from Labour, and no doubt from the Lib Dems too, but its assertion that this coalition ‘sweetens the pill’ that is a new Tory government is, I want to believe, essentially correct. Hopefully, Nick Clegg will be taking his megaphone to Downing Street.
by Luke Healey