Metro event with Nick Clegg

I have to say that I enjoyed last night’s event with Nick Clegg at the Associated Newspapers head office in High Street Kensington.

I found Nick Clegg likeable and personable, even if some of his mannerisms were a bit animated. It was certainly clear that he was at home speaking in front of 70 odd people in a small lecture-type room (he did have a previous life as a university lecturer). It’s hard to imagine Nick Clegg thumping away at a rally in Trafalgar Square, nor does he feel particularly comfortable with the formalities and traditions of Westminster politics, as he told the audience last night (he’s a call me “Nick” or “Mr. Clegg” kind of bloke).

I managed to squeeze in two questions. One, very early on, asking Nick Clegg to comment on the irony that the Lib Dems receive far less popular support in PR elections than at elections fought under FPTP. Nick dodged this by focussing specifically on the European Elections, to which he blamed the distance and lack of affinity voters have with Europe. This was of course a very reasonable answer but unsatisfactory.

My other question, which came later in the evening, was actually the last question Nick Clegg answered. We naturally came to the issue of a hung parliament and which way the Lib Dems would swing. Nick answered this as he always does: “We will go with the mandate of the people.” (Apparently voters have to tell Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems what they want before the Lib Dems will ever do anything). As things were about to come to an end, I spoke up, I asked Nick Clegg to clarify on what he means by “mandate of the people.” I quizzed him on what the mandate will look like, will it be that party which wins the most number of seats (potentially Labour), or the party that wins the greatest share of the popular vote (probably the Tories). Nick gave a very roundabout answer and didn’t really address my point, he brushed this off as an unlikely and once again made reference to the “mandate of the people.” I was left unsatisfied by Nick Clegg’s response.

But, even if Nick Clegg thought my point was a very unlikely situation, it will be a disaster for the Lib Dems. No wonder Nick Clegg didn’t want to answer it, what will they actually do? For a party that holds proportional representation so dear to their hearts, a situation that sees Labour win the most seats, but the Tories take the popular vote, will be a conundrum of epic proportions. The truth is that the Lib Dems will be far more likely to see much of their agenda implemented by a sympathetic Labour Government, of which many Lib Dems were once fellow travellers in the same party, however, because of the Lib Dems faith in PR, can they really go through with this?

The period after the General Election, if resulting in the situation I’ve described, could be the most delicate time in the Liberal Democrats political lives, if they swing the wrong way, they could see themselves annihilated at the polls, thus setting the party back a whole generation. This, I believe, is Nick Clegg’s greatest fear. It is no wonder that he will be trying to tell voters to vote for one of the main two parties, to ensure that the Lib Dems don’t end up in the kind of situation that I’ve described.

What Nick Clegg is after is a clear mandate from voters about the Government they want, be it Labour or, regretfully, the Conservatives. A hung parliament is Nick Clegg’s worse nightmare.

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