WDP comment: Nick Clegg prevails in problems of his own making
Of all those senior politicians – Tories and Lib Dems – who put their necks on the line to create a Coalition government back in May 2010, Nick Clegg has suffered more than any other for daring to share the reins of power.
The Deputy Prime Minister has been floored by some powerful blows – tuition fees and then apologies for tuition fees to name only two – and he must be forced to concede that he is partly the architect of his own problems.
With the Lord Rennard scandal having simmered away for a few days, he released a statement which seemed destined to whip journalists in to a frenzy of interest and fresh scrutiny.
What he said contradicted his previous statements about what he knew about the Lord Rennard allegations and when. It used dangerously vague terms like “indirect and non-specific”. It was an blunder of some magnitude and it brought the story right to his doorstep.
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A few days later, Mr Clegg presented his weekly LBC radio phone-in. He must have been regretting this commitment to openness and transparency with the public via the airwaves – a good idea at the time – and it seems, going by his body language during the interview, that he was close to despair. His utterance, “I can only tell you the truth as I can recollect it now,” was unfortunate, to say the least.
By the end of the half hour he had not-so-subtly moved his position on Rennard’s resignation. Earlier in the week it was for health reasons. Now the sexual harassment concerns were “in the background”.
He seemed to be digging himself deeper into a hole – and all of this on the eve of a by-election where defeat – the bleakest of scenarios for the Lib Dem leader – might possibly trigger a leadership challenge.
Except that in Eastleigh, with everyone predicting meltdown for Mr Clegg in the wake of the Rennard scandal, his party faithful had been quietly and diligently delivering victory in the seat. The Lib Dems took it, with Ukip second and the Tories third. Labour were well out in fourth place. Conservative chairman Grant Shapps tried to put a brave face on it by highlighting how rarely governing parties win by-election seats. That did not quite explain why the Conservatives came third. And Mr Clegg, proving yet again that he is if nothing else, resilient, was able to enjoy a victory jig. Quite right to. He deserves credit for toughing out some testing times for him and his party, and for giving Lib Dems everywhere new hope.