Over the course of the two and a half year coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg has cast an increasingly downtrodden figure as his political ambitions have been met with failure after failure. This week saw another of Nick Clegg’s pet projects, the House of Lords reform, bite the dust and I can’t help but think; How much has he actually achieved for his party?
Firstly, I should at least congratulate him for managing the impossible, (for a Lib Dem) of actually getting into government. Through his excellent debating skills he forced the country to look at the Lib Dems as a serious alternative to the main two parties and as a result the Lib Dems became a power broker, somebody the two main parties could woo, somebody who could be a thorn in your side. A somebody. This allowed Clegg and his party to attain a comprehensive deal which enabled his party to take power for the first time in a generation.
It started so well for Clegg with the famous appearance in the Downing Street rose garden and the promises of long overdue reform to the voting system and the House of Lords, but any good feeling soon soured as University tuition fees were increased. Clegg became public enemy number one because he and his party made an unrealistic and undeliverable “promise”. His only chance of redemption in the long-term would be to deliver voting reform.
However, the promised referendum on the voting system was a damp squib, “a miserable little compromise”, a system which no-one wanted and fewer understood. AV predictably failed to win support. It is unfair to blame Clegg entirely for the poorly run campaign, however he must take some of the blame as he was supposed to spearhead the campaign, but as a deeply unpopular figure he was in no position to do so. This left the campaign with no discernible leader and no coherent message; only undistinguished politicians backing the cause including the one man personality vacuum Ed Milliband, the campaign was always doomed to failure.
After this setback Nick Clegg put all of his resources and (meagre) political clout into House of Lords reform but like many would be reformers of the past he was met with stiff opposition from Tory back-benchers and the Labour benches. Unfortunately for Clegg the issue was going to be constant pain for the government with the potential for endless filibustering and then little prospect of a result. It is an issue which provokes strong and varied views and which is never deemed important enough to push through parliament, consequently the bill was dropped and Nick Clegg’s final project was over. Now he is left with nothing. He has no chance of re-election and he has ran out of ideas. The only question left for Clegg is when will he step aside for Vince Cable to assume the Lib Dem leadership?
Clegg knows this and will spend the next year or so trying to win back political credibility for himself, but ultimately the damage will be too great and he will go down in history as the golden boy of the first television debates who broke his promise on tuition fees, but he should probably be remembered, as the man who took the Lib Dems to power, but failed to achieve anything.