The British began to make the big subconscious assumption that there would be a change of government in 2010
I am certain that the Tories will win
What crouton of substance did Nick Clegg offer last Thursday?
It must have been a couple of years ago that I was having dinner with the great Max Hastings, former editor of this paper, and he was being so gloomy about Conservative prospects that I scented a financial opportunity. Tell you what, I said, let’s have a bet. A thousand pounds says the Tories will win the next election. How about that?
“Done!” said my old mentor, with the wolfish gleam of one taking candy from a baby. And from that moment on, of course, the Tories started to soar in the polls. Gordon Brown lurched from one disaster to the next. The British ruling class – the BBC, the NHS senior managers, the university vice-chancellors, those kinds of people – began to make the big subconscious assumption that there would be a change of government in 2010.
At last the matter came to seem so settled that Max decided to run up the white flag. When David Cameron started to record poll leads of 20 per cent, a cheque arrived in the post for a thousand pounds. I promptly cashed it, and (to my shame) forgot to thank Max for being both so sporting and so realistic. It was big of him to acknowledge the way history was moving and even bigger to cough up before it was strictly necessary to do so.
It would only be human, after all, to start to wonder. Will he win that grand after all? Will this amazing and ludicrous burst of Cleggophilia keep the Tories from government?
Watching that debate, I had the clear impression that Cameron aced every question. His answers were clear, concise and knowledgeable.
Gordon Brown seemed stale and deeply unconvincing in his core assertion, that it was necessary to keep wasting exactly the same amount of money in order not to stall the recovery.
As for Clegg, I remember thinking that it was indeed a historic debate – the moment when the idea of a third force in British politics finally shrivelled under the Manchester TV lights. He was by far the worst. And so you can imagine my amazement when those polls started to come in, and the news that the punters overwhelmingly scored it for Cleggie. It was one of those times when there seems to be only one solution to the problems of British politics, and that is to dissolve the electorate and summon a new one.
What has happened to us all, when serious papers can start raving about “Prime Minister Clegg”? Has someone put something in the water supply? Has some sulphur yellow cloud descended imperceptibly from Iceland and addled our brains? These are Lib Dems we are talking about! They go around every university campus promising to abolish “Labour’s unfair tuition fees” – while dear Cleggie tells his party conference that this policy, this cardinal Lib Dem policy, would cost £12 billion and that the country can’t afford it. In the north of England you will find plenty of Lib Dem literature extolling their “mansion tax”, a proposal on which they remain deafeningly silent in places like Richmond and Kingston.
Everybody treats Vince Cable as a semi-holy Mahatma Gandhi of British politics, because he is supposed in some way to have anticipated the financial crisis. Actually his most notable recommendation before the crisis was that Britain should join the euro – a move that would gravely have worsened our current position by leaving us in a Greek-style straitjacket.
What crouton of substance did Clegg offer last Thursday, in the opaque minestrone of waffle? He wants to get rid of Trident. Great! So Lib Dem foreign policy means voluntarily resigning from the UN Security Council, abandoning all pretensions to world influence, and sub-contracting our nuclear deterrent to France! The worst of it is that if you do vote Lib Dem in the demented belief that there could ever be such a thing as a Lib Dem government, you won’t get Prime Minister Clegg. You’ll get Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for five more holepunch-hurling years, because the Lib Dems almost always vote with Labour.
That is why the current madness cannot last. The Lib Dems are everywhere today, like the orange spores of an exploded puffball. Next week they will be gone with the wind. Clegg is the beneficiary of cunning Labour spin, bigging up the third party in order to take the shine off the Tories. But when people understand that a vote for Clegg is a vote for Brown, they will stay their hands, and they will see that it is only by voting Tory that they can give this country the change it needs.
For a fuller version of the above see The Daily Telegraph here