Profile: Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg

Profile: Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg
By Chris Harris

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s entry into the higher echelons of British politics was more turbulent than an out-of-control elevator.

A strong performance five years ago in the country’s first televised election debates had given his popularity a shot in the arm.

But the unprecedented peak was not to last.

He led the liberals into a coalition with the Conservatives after David Cameron’s party failed to win a majority in 2010.

But in a matter of months his popularity nosedived when he supported a rise in students’ university tuition fees, something he had opposed prior to the election. He was called a traitor, an insult that has endured.

What’s his background?

In the 2010 televised debates, Clegg had presented himself as an anti-establishment figure. Yet he was privately-educated at Westminster School, a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament.

He has a cosmopolitan background: his mother is Dutch and his father half-Russian. He is married to a Spanish lawyer.

After a stint in journalism, then the European Commission, he became a Lib Dem MEP in 1999.

Six years later he swapped Brussels for Westminster, becoming an MP for Sheffield and then party leader two years later.

Political performance?

His party has plummeted in the polls, from 23 percent in the 2010 election to around eight percent now.

Clegg, sitting with the Conservatives in the House of Commons, has often looked lost and forlorn over the last five years.

His coalition and election narrative has been to claim the Lib Dems have acted like a handbrake on the Conservatives, toning down the worst of their policies.

Worst moment

Clegg’s U-turn on university tuition fees was undoubtedly his worst moment, which saw students burning effigies of him.

But, if the polls are right, will the election result prove to be a new low?

How do voters perceive him?

Everything still points back to the tuition fees controversy.

Clegg, 48, has apologised for the U-turn and insisted compromise is a part of coalition-building.

Has saying sorry helped? Possibly – he performed strongly in the recent televised election debates.

But as well as issues around his own popularity ratings, Clegg also faces the challenge of politics fragmenting in Britain. The liberal vote is under threat from the burgeoning Green Party and left-of-centre nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales.

You might also like