Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nick Clegg: I could work with Labour, just not Gordon Brown.

Nick Clegg has now revised his position from yesterday to say that he would do a deal with Labour, but not if Gordon Brown remains Prime Minister.

His clarification marks a shift from the weekend when he appeared to suggest Labour would have forfeited the right to govern if it came third on 6 May. His remarks had alarmed some on the progressive left who argued that he was in danger of reducing the anti-Tory tactical vote.

Labour and the Conservatives condemned Clegg on the issue today. One cabinet minister said he was over-reaching himself and had become intoxicated with his own publicity, and the Tories said he was holding the country to ransom with his demands for electoral reform.

Clegg, however, has not been deterred from trying to set out the Lib Dem stance. He said: "I think, if Labour do come third in terms of the number of votes cast, then people would find it inexplicable that Gordon Brown himself could carry on as prime minister. As for who I'd work with, I've been very clear – much clearer than David Cameron and Gordon Brown – that I will work with anyone. I will work with a man from the moon, I don't care, with anyone who can deliver the greater fairness that I think people want."

Asked if he could work with the "man from the moon but not Gordon Brown", he said: "I just don't think the British people would accept that he could carry on as prime minister, which is what the convention of old politics dictates when, or rather if, he were to lose the election in such spectacular style."

The journalists have now dragged him into a corner where he appears to be stating that he can decide who can or cannot lead the country.

I personally do not believe that the man has become so intoxicated by the publicity surrounding him that he thinks he can state such things, but I do think he has fallen into a trap. It's why I have always said that silence would be the better choice for Clegg when it comes to this issue.

Tory journalists have been out to get him ever since he beat Cameron in the first debate. One of the easiest ways to get him is to lure him into this prediction game, which is a game he loses no matter which way he plays it. He should have stuck to the line that it is for the public to decide and that he had no intention of second guessing the electorate.

He wants proportional representation, it's been a desperate wish of the Liberal Democrats - for the most obvious reasons - for years and years. This election has put him in the most perfect position to demand that one of the other parties agree to this as the price of his support.

However, what he is not allowed to do is say that loudly, so that he appears to be putting the needs of his party before his country.

That was why he was so wildly successful in the first debate. He appeared to be beyond the usual political wheeling and dealing and came across as a plain speaker who wanted an end to the usual politics represented by Labour and the Tories.

Since he committed the error of leaning towards the Tories, no doubt in an attempt to pressure both of the other parties to reconsider their views on PR, he put himself in danger of becoming the "vote for me, get Cameron" candidate.

He is now desperately trying to readjust that position by stating that he would do a deal with Labour... simply not with Brown at the helm.
Lib Dem officials confirmed that Clegg was singling out Brown as the man the country would not tolerate if Labour dropped to third in share of the vote.
That doesn't simply look like an over-reach, that is an over-reach. It's not for any party leader to state who should lead one of the other parties.

As I say, I don't think that he is suffering from hubris, but I do think he has fallen into a well laid journalistic trap. As I said the other day, he should never have gotten into the prediction game, he should have sought to remain always above the fray and above the political wrangling which the public associate with the other two parties.

The longer he remains in the mire, battling in the same way as the other two parties do, the more he will tarnish his brand.

He started out sounding like the candidate for real change, it now appears that he is really the candidate for PR. We all knew that anyway, but he used to sound as if the country was more important than that narrow political aim.

He's allowing them to box him in. That's a mistake.

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