He calls for moderation, but other Liberal Democrats have fiercer ideasby Miranda Green / October 10, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
What is the opposite of populism? When it comes to the Liberal Democrats, crueller readers will be tempted to say unpopularity. But for Nick Clegg, like many other mainstream politicians now stranded in a raging electoral storm, the antidote is liberalism and rediscovering a rational approach to making democratic choices.
“Populism,” he writes, “offers anger without solutions.” Meanwhile, “liberalism may not be the loudest voice in politics… but it is a voice of calm reason, which—once lost—would be much missed.”
A year ago, recently ejected from government and one of only eight remaining Lib Dem MPs, his days as both party leader and deputy prime minister over, Clegg was once again the relaxed and blooming star turn at his party’s conference. He basked in the Bournemouth sunshine and the slightly unexpected congratulations of a crop of new Lib Dem members: many of them had joined the party in response to his resignation speech, a Liberal call to arms. Both Vince Cable and Clegg himself—so miserable on the government benches during most of the Coalition—have seemed like souls released from torment since the 2015 election.
Clegg has spent the time searching for deeper lessons in his vertiginous journey from little-known fresh face, to the heights of Cleggmania, to whipping boy for almost everything that has gone wrong in British public life. He has been reflecting at length on a country that has only recently rejected his entire worldview in the Brexit vote—and reflecting, too, on how the “intriguing experiment” of coalition government went sour.
The result, in this book, is a mix of avowed optimism—that a liberal worldview can and must survive—with a hugely gloomy analysis of British political culture. Politics: Between the Extremes is part memoir of the Coalition years, part meditation on the rebellious spirit of the post-crash period (to call it an age seems premature). Its balance can be uneasy, but Clegg’s book is a necessary contribution to a pressing current debate: how much and for what reason are liberal values, in the broad sense, at bay? And can any moderate politician find a way to turn the tide of resentment against the political system and its practitioners?