It’s not outright hostility, but pity. Once upon a time it was an unwritten rule that Labour party activists, particularly at a local level, avoid openly begrudging their Liberal Democrat opponents too much because the day could come when they come running to us to form a government.
Now, to pour warm pity over Clegg is a positive boon. No more is it seen as a potentially awkward thumb-bite towards all of the Liberal Democrats, more of a strategic gesture towards the man who is seen to have sold his party short of all principle.
As Sunny Hundal recently reminded us, before 2010 Clegg was worried that Gordon Brown lacked credibility. The shoe is on the other foot. Even during the discussions between Clegg and the other players, Ken Livingstone rocked up to point out Brown was elected as Labour leader by the PLP, and besides, nobody won a majority so Brown holds just as much credibility to lead the country as Cameron.
Though for Clegg to be accusing people of lacking credibility, then, is as offensive as it is now. Advocates may say Clegg brought the Liberal Democrats electability, but as Labour know themselves only too well, the balance between electability and political integrity is often hard to come by.
Paddy Ashdown admitted during the Labour years that Blair turned up, only to fill “the space I have been aiming at for the last seven years”. After Blair took the country to Iraq it was Charles Kennedy who made the Liberal Democrats a social-democrat party in distinction to Labour. Clegg was riding the coattails of Kennedy’s success, but did the impossible: allowed Cameron’s Tories to fill the vacuum that had been left by the electorate choosing nobody outright.
Further back, noted Ian Burrell, Clegg was the man who had been “rapped” in the MPs’ expenses scandal for claiming £910 for gardening and £1.50 for napkins, took money from Michael Brown, a fraudster, and represented Gaddafi in Libya as his first real job. For Clegg to wax lyrical about credibility, he has enough skeletons in his own closet.
As for now, well just look at the record he leaves behind. No sooner that George Osborne fumbled around with his own financially illiterate policies, Clegg decided that he’d also join him in thinking cuts were the way forward to reducing the deficit. We now stay settled in a double-dip recession as GDP shrinks by 0.7%.
On top of that he turned his back on tuition fees, screwed up his chance to reform the voting system and let Cameron isolate Britain despite being recently described as “an even bigger Europhile than Ken Clarke or Michael Hesletine” – these issues are what stood the Liberal Democrats from the other parties, and what made splitting in the early years worth all the fuss.
Clegg is the man who reversed all that hard work. Liberal Democrats themselves should be fuming.
Of course we in the Labour party wouldn’t want to write off a coalition with the Liberal Democrats if no majority is reached come 2015. It looks unlikely of course. A recent YouGov/Sunday Times poll showed a 10% fall in support, to 35%, for the Prime Minister since January, while Miliband has shot up from 18% to 34%.
But if the worse happens Labour would do its duty, too. Though a caveat should be drawn up. You’ve probably guessed it. Labour ought to be worried about Clegg’s credibility. Therefore if there is to be a good government formed Clegg must cede power to Vince Cable.
The worship of youth, Cable said recently, has diminished in recent years (around the time of Menzies “Ming” Campbell, perhaps?). This may well be true, benchmarking against Cameron.
Cable is not perfect, and though he is also in this coalition of fools he has come out the other side fighting. He was vindicated over Murdoch, opposes moves to make it easier to sack workers, and maintains a good relationship with Ed Miliband – and most importantly obviously feels some acrimony towards Chancellor Osborne.
Clegg is a failure. Nay, he is an exceptional failure. He hides behind the duty to form a government line, which in itself is noble, but he is an oily fellow himself. He is the face of destruction of his party’s independence, and all those hard years of activist work. For this he ought to pay the highest price, and his own party members should be the ones with the muskets.