“Who is Nick Clegg?” I hear you ask? Well, actually I don’t really hear many of you asking at all. And you may be forgiven. Until a week ago he was the scarcely known—even in Britain—leader of the third party, the Liberal Democrats. And then he appeared on Britain’s first televised ‘Leaders debates’ something of course that Americans have been used to for years, but up until now resisted in Britain.
Clegg is a former European Member of Parliament, before that he was briefly a lobbyist and before that he briefly worked for the European Commission. In a party short of talent, and in a country where age and maturity count for less, Nick Clegg became leader of the third party, and the story would have probably ended there had it not been for that televised debate. Appearing as an equal to the Leader of the Opposition, and until last week probable next Prime Minister of Britain David Cameron from the Conservatives, and the hulking, brooding Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, Clegg played his hand well. Children watching at home liked him, and more to the point those talking to pollsters did too. Despite the fact that his party can trace its beginnings back to 1688, thus making it the oldest party in Britain and possibly the World, Clegg batted away at the other two attacking the ‘old parties’. He was pronounced the winner by the pollsters, who have miserably failed to make any common ground in actually reporting the national mood with any accuracy at all.
In fairness, Clegg probably did win on the first bout of televised debates, and did pretty well in the second. A third is yet to come before the polls close on May 6th. The scenario therefore, and this is still two weeks before voters are forced to make up their minds, is that Britain will have a hung Parliament, and some power sharing deal will be hammered out with Nick Clegg by either Cameron or Brown. How can that happen you may ask if the Liberal Democrats are so popular? Well, the answer lies in Britain’s antiquated ‘first past the post’ system of elections, and the fact that old class loyalties still stack the votes in the red corner (Labour) and blue corner (Tory) constituencies, so the Liberal Democrats have a bigger mountain to climb.
So the British election which a week ago looked as dull as ditch water has fired into life. And with the emergence of Clegg—some of the aforementioned polls have his party ten per cent in the lead—comes another interesting development. Britain’s press barons, foremost amongst them Rupert Murdoch, had for the most part shifted to Cameron and the Conservatives, as ever taking the position as king makers. Except that they have so horribly misjudged the mood, they appear to have lost both their bearing and influence. When one independent national newspaper—yes, The Independent—had the temerity to point out that Rupert Murdoch's newspapers wouldn’t decide the election, his son James Murdoch and News Corporation executive, Rebekkah Wade, stormed into Editor Simon Kelner’s office demanding to know, “What the f***k do you think you are doing?”
Kalner and The Independent of course know exactly what they are doing, and as longstanding sympathisers for the liberal cause may yet have the most to smile about in a fortnight’s time.
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, user Geoking66.