The General Election of 2017 saw a Labour gain from the Liberal Democrats in the constituency of Sheffield Hallam – one which now previously housed the former Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats – Nick Clegg.
Okay, okay. Fine. Quite a lot of people tonight have taken a schadenfreude out of all of this, and to be honest, it was shocking and overwhelming. I often feel quite ostracised at university because I’m a rare species of Liberalus democratus, but it was obvious that I was the only one in an entire bar of students who was actually devastated. In my opinion, Nick Clegg is a remarkable man – a one of a kind. His exquisite intelligence on complex topics (such as EU trade), his ability to speak five different languages, his and his consistent passion will be solely be missed in Parliament.
But on a more personal note, Nick Clegg made me realise I was a liberal, and from then on, I felt like I wanted to do something about it to show I care for my country. I remember writing an essay in A-Level French about ‘your values’. Initially, I was confused, mostly because I hadn’t bothered to think about what my values were; I’m more into plants than policy, after all. This essay forced me to research and articulate what I truly stood for, but I was struggling. And then, I stumbled across a video of Nick Clegg on the LBC, talking about the devastating attacks of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and my goodness, his compassion and intelligence on the subject was outstanding. A beautiful balance of logic and emotion.
Now, this realisation of ‘I am a liberal’ was not an instant one. In the run-up to the General Election of 2015, I was still debating my values, despite not being old enough to vote at the time. However, I found myself constantly agreeing with Nick, while acknowledging he definitely made mistakes in coalition. However, seeing as I am now nearly twenty years old, I never felt the ‘betrayal’ factor of voting Lib Dem in 2010 with the promise of tuition fees and then being stabbed in the back. By the time I was eighteen years’ old, I had already decided to attend university even with the burden of student debt. I still stand firmly by the belief tuition fees (although not at £9k/year) are more progressive than no tuition fees at all, but I’m aware it was more the act of betrayal which damaged the party beyond repair.
Unfortunately for the Liberal Democrats in this case, coalition does mean compromise, and the issue of tuition fees was just one of the many painful compromises, in which Lib Dem influence got practically no media attention. That’s the downside of British coalitions – the country is simply not used to them. In many ways, Nick just wasn’t suited to British politics per se, and his lenience towards healthy, grown-up coalitions is a very European style of thinking, which of course comes as no surprise when the subject of the matter is Nick bloody Clegg. The thing is, I greatly admire that difference of thinking – it reminds me that this unfathomably flawed voting system isn’t the way things have to be. It gives me hope, and therefore, Nick Clegg also gave me hope (and still does, by the way).
And of course, his patent dedication to internationalism, evidence-based policy, climate change, and an economically sensible and fair society simply cannot be failed to mention. The Liberal Democrats – despite being a junior partner under a coalition – implemented a hell of a lot of their manifesto, including progressive policies such as the Pupil Premium. I am so proud of what the Liberal Democrats achieved, but I am especially proud that it was Nick Clegg who lead that charge. I hope this surge of progress is replicated in characters such as Emmanuel Macron after the recent French election.
Often I feel like other ideologies assume they have the absolute moral high ground, just because they’re more popular. It’s all too easy to leech on to a successful party but not actually work and fight for its values. Now, I feel it’s more important than ever that I am proud to defend the ideas of centrism, liberalism, progress, rationality, and science. These are values which – in my mind – are fair, sensible, and sustainable, which is ultimately beneficial for society. Nick’s rise to power was a demonstration that these seemingly status-quo values can be radical and ultimately make society better off as a result. He was incredibly underestimated. In fact, I would go as far to say that he did not deserve the level of punishments he has received.
Nick Clegg, you have dedicated years of your life to making Sheffield Hallam and the United Kingdom a fairer, more liberal society to live in. I’m going to put my neck on the line here, but I strongly believe that your dedication to liberalism is one of – if not the most patriotic values I can imagine. And just like you said in 2015 as you resigned as leader:
“I will always give my unstinting support for all those who continue to keep the flame of British liberalism alive.”
And you know what? I certainly will. Thank you, Nick Clegg. Now get some rest.