To deepest Cleggland last night, and if Mark Mardell thinks Barack Obama has disillusion problems, he should get himself to Sheffield for some of the real thing.
I was speaking at the University Students’ Union, as part of Sheffield’s Off The Shelf Literary Festival. To be fair, one or two in the audience stuck to the Clegg line that the deputy PM was doing his best to repair the mess left by Labour (line to take Numero Uno in all coalition speeches and interviews).
But majority opinion seemed to be elsewhere. At the book-signing afterwards, he was variously described to me as toast, a traitor, and a lost cause.
I was asked during the q and a what I would do if I was Clegg’s PR advisor. Interesting question. First I made a crack about tie selection – the Cameron blue, Clegg yellow/orange thing is beginning to grate. More seriously, I said he had to stop bleating, and start wising up to how he is being used as a kind of human shield for Tory ideology.
People understand that politicians have difficult decisions to make and defend. But all this ‘I lie awake at night wondering if I have done the right thing, and I say to Miriam how torn I am about having to stand on my head every time I stand up in public’ is not going to endear himself to people.
Likewise over time, provided Labour starts to push back against the coalition line to take Numero Uno, it will become clear just what nonsense it is that all these difficult decisions arose from them finding hitherto undisclosed economic problems when they ‘looked at the books’ blah. Given how had they said the books were going to be, when they were campaigning, they have given no evidence of any major surprises when they arrived.
As we were at the university, tuition fees were a big problem for Clegg. As I have said before, I have some sympathy with the need further to revise tuition fees, not least as a way of ensuring we do not go back to making university education an elite activity.
But Clegg and his fellow Lib Dems all stood waving their placards with their pledges and he should not be surprised to take a hit.
So stop bleating. Be clear with people that the coalition was the only way that the Lib Dems were going to get their hands on (limited) power. Explain more clearly why that matters. Be honest about the bits you like and the bits you don’t, but stop expecting people to believe you like it all. And stop swallowing the Tory line on everything.
He needs a bigger sense of who he is and what he is for and how he thinks the kind of politics his supporters voted for is influencing the government. It is not there at the moment. The public will give them a bit of time, but if they sense Tory ideology is behind these cuts, and he is the political cover, he will pay a big price.
One of his former voters told me she felt he would see the writing on the wall closer to the election, and get DC to find him a safe Tory seat, which he would take on the grounds that his party was not prepared to take the really tough decisions required for government.
Might sound a bit far-fetched. But not that long ago so would the idea of Clegg and Cable slashing public services left, right and centre.