Friday, April 30, 2010

Election Points: Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Percy Harris

My column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Clegg-lite Cameron

A colleague at work made an intelligent remark the other day. He said something like: "David Cameron's problem is that Nick Clegg really is what Cameron has been pretending to be." I was impressed - even when he admitted that that he was reading it off Facebook.

Because whoever made that comment is right. When he became Conservative leader David Cameron saw at once what he had to be like to revive his party: modern, socially liberal, egalitarian, environmentally concerned.

He grasped it intellectually, but nothing in his background or his career before 2005 gives you any sense that that the real David Cameron is like that. By contrast, "modern, socially liberal, egalitarian, environmentally concerned" is a very good description of Nick Clegg.

And this need to be something he is not has been at the root of David Cameron’s troubles in this campaign. While Nick Clegg has simply been himself, Cameron has had to work hard to keep his inner Flashman in check. The poor man must be exhausted.


Longstanding and improbably attentive readers of this column will remember Sir Percy Harris. He was briefly MP for Harborough, an MP in the East End of London for much longer and was recently revealed to be the great-grandfather of Matthew Taylor.

Harris held Harborough for the Liberals at a difficult by-election in 1916. It was difficult because, though there was a wartime truce with the Conservatives, he faced a popular Independent, Thomas Gibson Bowles, who was being bankrolled by the press baron Lord Northcliffe.

Harris recalled the campaign in his memoirs:

The hoardings were covered with Daily Mail posters, “Buy Daily Mail and vote for Bowles,” and a special edition of the Daily Mirror, then in Northcliffe’s hands, was published and distributed free to the electors.

To outsiders it did not appear that I had a ghost of a chance, and the seat looked good as lost ... before ever the fight started. But I was young and energetic and kept to the front the query: “Were the electors to select their won M.P. or have one dictated to them by the Yellow Press?” and a very effective question it was.

And it may prove as effective in 2010 as it did in 1916.

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