Nick Clegg's kindergarten moment

Nick Clegg's tantrum is not only pathetic from a Deputy Prime Minister, but has no cause, based on analysis of the coalition agreement

Poor baby Nicky
Peter Botting
On 8 August 2012 09:45

When I was a young, small, spoilt boy in Africa, I was given a two inch penknife with a tortoise shell handle.

I clearly remember playing with it in the sand pit next to the swing in the garden - I clearly remember it because there was blood. I was obviously doing something stupid because I cut my hand with the penknife. It was sore. I cried. And I was angry. It wasn't my fault!

I was so angry at the stupid, mean, nasty penknife for hurting me that I got two rocks, balanced it on one of them and smashed it repeatedly with the other. Until it was in pieces. Then I buried the pieces. So there!

Later I grew up - more or less.

Clegg’s kindergarten moment reminded me of my childish outburst in my sand pit at home. The difference is that I was a child in a sand pit - not the leader of a political party or indeed, Deputy Prime Minister.

I don’t care that much about what he does as Leader of the Liberal Democrats - but I do care deeply about what he does as Deputy Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Not that long ago, this man was bizarrely compared to Churchill. He even invoked Churchill in the House of Lords debate.

Let’s get things straight - I don’t like coalitions. They are compromises. But I was in favour of this one because, due to the inherited debt and the financial insecurity in the world, it was in the national interest. I like politicians who act in the national interest. Politicians who say country first, then party, then themselves. The public like those politicians too. They thought Clegg was one for a while.

What was extraordinary was the initial lack of spin - the brazen childishness of Clegg’s hysterics and his claimed intention to tell his MPs and ministers to vote against something he had spoken for only weeks before. A change that would actually make the country more democratic. How liberal democratic. Is Clegg against “fairer votes” this week?

Tit for tat politicking. Does this mean that he doesn’t care about people thinking he cares about the country anymore? Probably.

So he is either doing this to keep his party together or to keep his leadership position. Or maybe because, like me aged 7, he is a spoilt brat. It wouldn’t have looked out of place if he had stuck his tongue out.

Then, starting to spin like a child’s top, he rewrote history. Like I did with that nasty penknife that attacked me. It wasn’t tit for tat. It was more like tit for making me look like a tit and I will rewrite and retell the story the way it suits me. For clarification, here is an excerpt from the coalition agreement:

Section 23 of Coalition Agreement covers Boundary Reviews:

“We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies….

These two things are directly linked - Cameron delivered, Clegg reneged.

….We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers."

Cameron delivered this - Clegg screwed it up. The motion was defeated. Simples.

Unlike many conservatives, I don’t mind politicians going on a “journey”. A political journey is normal if you have a brain, expose it to experiences and let it work. Nicholas Soames described the journey that Winston Churchill went through as “growing up” when rebuking Clegg for invoking Churchill in the debate on the House of Lords.

I like thoughtful politicians like Portillo who are nuanced and worth listening to - even if I do not always agree with them. Rigid, copy-and-paste politics rehashed and re-mouthed by robotic politicos ignore the fact that the world and its people and its politics change.

But this wasn’t a journey, a considered change of mind or growing up. This was a tantrum, a hissy fit, an ejection of toys from a political cot. This would have been embarrassing and childish for any politician in any democracy.

For a man bearing the title of British Deputy Prime Minister, it was a disgrace.

For the leader of a British political party, even a minor political party, it was, spun to the very limits, extremely immature. Compared to the gracious behaviour of losing Olympians - it was juvenile.

Nigel Farage has glorious rants. Caroline Lucas, Alex Salmond and Nigel Dodds all speak from the heart. They all are passionate but not petulant.  

Clegg’s extraordinary follow-up claim for the moral high ground by saying that the Conservatives had betrayed the coalition agreement was shown to be untrue by Guido here.

He clearly has also forgotten the coalition’s total amnesia on the introduction of the right of recall - perhaps because over ten percent of the population of Clegg’s constituency cot are reformed Lib Dems aka students.

His second tippy-toed lunge for the moral high ground was even more laughable. “Any legislation that can create growth, generate jobs, particularly for young people out of work is a real priority for me...” Clegg claimed, saying that the resulting parliamentary time could be used for new legislation on banking, the economy and social care.

Surely he should have been focusing on that from the beginning?

How much time and momentum has this coalition lost due to the AV referendum and the House of Lords shoddily cobbled together and badly named 'reform'? Maybe now the Liberal Democrats can get a grip, grow up and get on with creating the frameworks and security needed so that businesses can get on with growing their businesses and creating jobs. 

Peter Botting is a professional corporate, political and personal messaging strategist. He was integraltotheNO2AV campaign and helped put the UK Anti-Slavery Day into law. He tweets at @PeterBotting and you can find more of his work at

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