Four years ago today, Nick Clegg was unveiled as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats. In a closely fought contest, Clegg defeated Chris Huhne in a postal ballot of Party members by a mere 511 votes (20,988 votes to 20,477).
As I’ve argued elsewhere, Liberal Democrat (and, before the merger of the two parties in 1988, Liberal and SDP) leadership contests have tended to be low-key and ‘gentlemanly’ affairs, sometimes to the point of utter banality – or, as my colleague Matthew Francis has put it, ‘blandness’.
Not so in 2007, which turned out to be a singularly ill-tempered affair, with Huhne’s office compiling a lengthy document entitled ‘Calamity Clegg’; for his part, Clegg accused Huhne (on live TV) of ‘the politics of innuendo’. Four years on, Party members remain divided on whether they made the right choice. On the one hand, there are those who look back on the ‘Calamity Clegg’ episode and have (apparently) few regrets, if any. ‘This was the moment I knew I was voting for Nick as leader’, said one. Others have seemingly changed their minds. As one disillusioned Lib Dem commented on YouTube, after watching the televised footage again this time last year:
Huhne was right. Clegg may be Deputy PM, but he has turned out to be one big calamity; his Toryism will put the nail in the Lib Dem coffin. Clegg is nothing but a puppet to the Conservative Party and his party has become nothing but stooges for the Tories. WHAT A BIG BLOODY BETRAYAL. I wish I had voted for Huhne to be leader.
But are such people right: is the LibDem leader ‘Calamity Clegg’? As we tell our students in exam questions: Discuss.