Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thank you, Nick Clegg

It's been 10 days since Nick Clegg upset British politics with a strong performance in the first of the leaders' debates. At this moment, he appears to have lifted the Liberal Democrats from their traditional poor third place in British politics to a close second. In addition, he's changed the nature of the debate: young people, normally the least likely to vote, are chatting eagerly about politics at work, in universities and online. A lot more of the discussion is positive.

Most importantly, from my point of view, Clegg appears to have done what no other politician has managed in recent years: he's finished off Gordon Brown as a political force.

And you can't deny he has sex appeal. I was speaking to a young lady (remember I am over 50, so anyone under 30 is young) the other day and she was singing Clegg's praises. She'd never talked about politics before. I don't recall her exact words but in essence she said that previously she hadn't intended voting but now she was going to vote LibDem. Clegg, she felt, would make a great prime minister: well-spoken, clear ideas, representing real change, fresh, and so on. "What do you think of LibDem policies?" I asked. With a slightly embarrassed smile she admitted she didn't know much about the policies.

Actually, at this stage, that's OK. The important thing is getting young people interested and involved. Over the next ten days they will learn a lot about politics. Some will stay LibDem; others will find that once that first glow of romance dies out then they'll choose another party and I expect they will see a lot to encourage them in the Tory Party: sound finance, green policies and genuine caring about the individual. No party gets everything right but the Tories do more than most.

Democracy is at its best when it's vibrant and ideas and ideals are debated with good-natured passion. There are many young people who will become Young Conservatives who might never have shown any interest without the debates and the change they have brought to British politics.

So, indeed, I would like to thank Nick Clegg today for the change he's made in politics.

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