Is Nick Clegg standing on a dishonest "anti-politics" platform?
It's a superficially compelling thesis. After all, there was Clegg in those television debates, presenting himself and his party as somehow above the fray of traditional grubby party politics, seeming to suggest that there are easy answers to difficult issues, when there simply aren't. Isn't it all a triumph of style over substance? And aren't the public being led down a dangerous path?
I'm far from convinced by this critique. I'm willing to accept that the Liberal Democrats are too shy of discussing the major challenges facing Britain - from how to reduce greenhouse emissions, to dealing with the deficit, to extricating our forces from Afghanistan. And there are elements of their policies which are not fully formed (as John has pointed out here in respect of Trident). But are they any worse than the other two parties in this respect? To accuse the Lib Dems of lacking substance, while failing to mention the shortcomings of Labour and the Tories, is surely a case of double standards.
And as for Clegg posing as being above the fray of normal politics, this is one of the oldest tricks in the political book. What does David Cameron's "vote for change" slogan amount to except a vacuous appeal to kick out Labour because they've been in power for a while? What about Gordon Brown's sporadic and rather unsuccessful attempts to pose as the "father of the nation"? Again, to present the Liberal Democrats as uniquely disingenuous in this regard is surely nonsense.
Isn't Clegg's real crime in the eyes of many of his critics not the fact that he is some sort of "anti-politics" demagogue, but that he is rather too successful a politician for their liking?For me, this somewhat prissy and one-eyed response to the surge in Liberal Democrat support suggests an unarticulated underlying attitude: that the Liberal Democrats have got above themselves and should leave power to the big boys.