UK deputy PM: From hero to 'villain'

2010-12-08 16:11
British Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg. (Ben Stansall, AFP)

British Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg. (Ben Stansall, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

London - He's had dog poo shoved into his letter box, he can't cycle to work for fear of attack and students hang his effigy in the streets. Britain, it might seem, has fallen out of love with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Seven months after joining a coalition government forcing through deep austerity cuts, the 43-year-old Liberal Democrat leader is no longer the pin-up for change in British politics.

In charge of Britain's third party, Clegg outshone his better known rivals in TV debates before the May election and "I agree with Nick" became an unlikely political catchphrase.

Now policy reversals on the pace of spending cuts and university fees have angered supporters and weakened his party's standing. Its opinion poll rating has halved since the election.

Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are in danger of suffering lasting damage which may translate into election losses and even spoil the party's appetite for its role as junior partner in David Cameron's Conservative-led coalition.

"Nick Clegg was a bit of a hero, if only because he wasn't from the two old parties - he was something new," said Joe Oliver, a student union officer in Sheffield - the northern English city where Clegg has his parliamentary constituency.

Campaign promises

"People have stopped trusting him. He just seems to be one of the most hated people in Sheffield, if not the country."

Students, who have protested in their thousands over a government plan to raise tuition fees, feel especially aggrieved with Clegg, who campaigned on a pledge to abolish the fees.

Clegg, an expensively-educated linguist, stands accused of promising much in bringing his party back to government after 60 years, but lacking the clout to deliver.

"This is very much what was feared when the coalition was created," said Simon Lee, a politics lecturer at the University of Hull in northern England.

"It suits the Cameron agenda to put forward, because of the fiscal situation, proposals which will appeal to the economic liberals in the Liberal Democrats but which will also alienate the social liberals - we're seeing those divisions."

Clegg has secured heavyweight backing from former party leader Paddy Ashdown.

Strong opposition

"I personally think that Nick has handled this with great wisdom and a good deal of courage," he told BBC Radio this week.

More student demonstrations and anti-Clegg gestures are expected across England on Thursday to coincide with a parliamentary vote on the university fee increase.

It will be the first test of Clegg's ability to take his party with him on unpopular measures. Some Liberal Democrats have pledged to abstain or even oppose it, although not enough to scupper it.

It is a far cry from May when the former EU lawmaker whizzed around Britain in an orange bus wooing voters with a vision of a new, honest politics that would fix a system soiled by a lawmakers' expenses scandal.

The party he has led since 2007 is now facing the brunt of public anger over a Conservative-led austerity plan which it didn't campaign on.

"If you stand up before an election and you sign and defend a specific pledge and then, purely because you form a coalition, you argue the circumstances have changed... In the eyes of the electorate, why should they trust you again?" Lee said.

Looming battle

Aides to Clegg argue that the party would rather be involved in making policy than not. They dismiss rumours of fissures in a coalition that is barely seven months old.

"The markets are responding to the stability and collegiate policymaking that the coalition has offered," one aide said.

Clegg's party looks set to cope with the thorny tuition fee vote, but a referendum on the voting system in May 2011 will prove a far stiffer test for the coalition, given the Liberal Democrats want to change the way Britons vote and the Conservatives do not.

If the Liberal Democrats lose the referendum - the main concession they won in the coalition agreement - the party may begin to seriously question what is getting out of government and what kind of leader they have in Clegg.

Read more on:    nick clegg

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Miley Cyrus can’t get enough of her new puppy

Miley's new dog is too adorable.



13 guilty pets
Meet SA's top poacher-catcher
The unusual pets of Instagram
Bertie sets a new world record!

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts

The Leo moon adds an element of drama and entertainment. A significant person that you may consult or confide in may play more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.