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Did you ever “agree with Nick”? It seems a long time ago since he stared lovingly through those cameras, pierced our naïve young hearts with his arrows of hot political love. He was going to change everything. No more broken promises. A new, fairer politics.
Well, a year has passed since then. Nowadays he doesn’t stare into our home through television cameras, but into the abyss. Have you seen him recently? He’s sad, lonely, and cries himself to sleep at night. And unfortunately for him, some sort of political time dilation has meant that he has aged thirty times quicker than the rest of us over the past year.
But there’s some hope. You’re not alone, Nick. I still agree with you.
A quick glance at the statistics suggests a lot of you disagree with me. The Liberal Democrats suffered an embarrassing defeat in the recent local elections, especially in Lancaster.
But I like Nick Clegg. In fact, I like him even more now than I did originally. Before his polished debate appearances, he always came across as skittish – the typical Lib Dem full of promises but not so hot on the delivery. Over the past year he has proved himself as a real politician, capable of working well in Government. His party have done an equally stellar job as proving themselves as very capable parliamentarians, truly putting to bed the pathetic pre-election jibes that the Lib Dems “aren’t capable of being in government”.
They’ve also done an excellent job of implementing their manifesto pledges. Raising the income tax threshold to bring poorer people out of tax; Introducing the Pupil Premium; Capital gains tax is up for the highest of earners; No like-for-like replacement for Trident; An end to some of Labour’s ridiculous anti-terrorist laws. I would like to go on, but I have a word limit to abide by.
Of course, some of their manifesto pledges had to go – let’s not forget they’re in a coalition here. They hold 57 seats. The Tories have 306. That’s a pretty whopping difference – the Tories have a bigger mandate and more influence in what goes through parliament.
Which brings me to my next point; they’ve also played an important moderating role in what might have been an incredibly radical Tory government. And whilst the Lib Dems might not be trumpeting this fact themselves, you only have to glance at a copy of the Telegraph to see how successful they’ve been in the capacity. The right wing press are absolutely seething – in the political cartoons of the right-wing media Cameron is Clegg’s whipping boy, not the other way around.
Any an article on Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, especially one in a student paper, wouldn’t be complete without a mention of tuition fees. I don’t think that they don’t deserve half the opprobrium that’s been heaped on them. If the Lib Dems had been elected with a majority and then went on to do this I would have very probably decapitated my life-sized cardboard Clegg. But the fees have a cap (albeit a high one) and a moderately progressive repayment scheme. It could have been worse, and if anyone is getting the criticism for the decision it shouldn’t just be the Lib Dems. The Conservatives introduced the Bill, Labour introduced the review, some Lib Dems voted for it. Everyone is to blame.
But, like I said, they are in a coalition. Compromise was necessary. If the Conservatives had their way fee caps might well have been lifted altogether. I also struggle to believe Labour would have failed to act on Lord Browne’s report after they commissioned it, especially when you consider their past record on fees. After all, if you want to talk about broken promises, we only have to go back to Labour’s 2001 election manifesto. “We will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them”, it proclaimed. Surely, for a government with a 167 seat majority, they would have been able to keep this promise?
My bank balance suggests that this wasn’t the case.
The Liberal Democrats have a important place in British politics as a party that believes the state can be progressive without being intrusive. If you agree with these ideas too, then I wouldn’t write the Liberal Democrats off just yet.
A year ago I agreed with Nick. I still do.