Watching these scenes of Nick Clegg receiving supporters of electoral reform one could easily think the Lib Dem leader — described on Radio 1’s news bulletins as ‘the most powerful man in Britain’ — had won the election.
For the avoidance of doubt, I guess I need to make clear that my support for comprehensive constitutional reform including a new voting system has always been strong and remains so. Nevertheless, Clegg’s antics leave me ever more convinced that any opportunity is fading quickly.
Nick Clegg appears to be more convinced by his own hype than by the election result. That result would have been disappointing for the Lib Dems even if their expectations hadn’t been raised after Clegg’s victory in the first Leaders’ Debate sent them surging in the polls. They lost five MPs and their share of the vote remained static. They also lost control of four local councils and gained none, while Labour gained five and lost none and the Tories gained three and lost seven.
Nevertheless, Clegg has managed to dominate the news not just because he is seen as this hung parliament’s king maker but because David Cameron is wisely keeping quiet.
Rather than encourage Labour and the Tories to enter into a bidding war for his support, Clegg immediately made his preference for the Conservatives clear. This should not have been a great surprise — Clegg first pledged his support to the Tories in May 2008 — but it greatly strengthens Cameron’s hand in the negotiations.
Clegg then raised his supporters’ expectations to fever pitch setting out his four priorities — ‘firstly, fair tax reform; secondly, a new approach in education to provide the fair start that all children deserve in school; thirdly, a new approach to the economy so we can build a new economy from the rubble of the old; and fourthly, fundamental reform of our political system’ — as if Cameron has no option but to concede.
Yet with more than five Conservative MPs for each Lib Dem, the Tories polling 36.5 percent of the vote to the Lib Dems 23 percent and a Lib-Lab pact adding up to less than an overall majority anyway, Cameron will feel entitled to wonder why he should give the Lib Dems anything at all.
Having promised so much, Calamity Clegg can only fail.