Hello! Here in Smolensk butcher shop, we read Nick Clegg interview in Volga News (English language edition).
Nick Clegg on why Liberals hate him for seeming Tory
On a recent appearance in a rose garden in Westminster, I was delighted when a special adviser came over and gave me a bottle of champagne.
‘This is from the captain — he wants to welcome you on board and hopes you have a great time today,’ he explained.
You’re probably thinking ‘what a lovely surprise’. But while it was lovely, it wasn’t a surprise. At least, not for me.
Up to that point in my adult life, I regularly had tokens of affection given to me by people I don’t know. Once, two well-dressed chaps stood either side of me in a television studio and agreed with everything I said, while on other occasions charming students asked for my autograph on petitions in many university towns. Another time, as I was walking through the beautiful streets of Sheffield, I was tapped on the shoulder and presented with a beautiful set of opinion poll numbers. Even bar tenders frequently shooed my credit card away when I tried to settle my bill and asked Michael Brown to pay instead.
And whenever I asked what I’d done to deserve such treatment, the donors of these gifts always said the same thing: my liberal appearance and pretty face made their day.
While I’m no William Gladstone, I’m tall, slim, blond(ish) and, so I’m often told, a good-looking fellow. I know how lucky I was. But there were downsides to being pretty irrelevant — the main one being that main parties used to mock me for no other reason than my liberal views.
So, if you’re a lefty reading this, I’d hazard that you’ve already formed your new opinion about me — and it won’t be very flattering. For while many doors were opened in the past as a result of my old views, just as many have been recently slammed in my face for my new ones — and this is entirely my own choice.
For I’m not now liked and I’m no star, for in recent years I’ve dropped the countless views that felt useful if I was ever in the presence of some protest voters. Now if the British people care to actually think of me, a sudden chill of unelectability descends on the room.
And it is not just the general public who have frozen me out of their lives. Insecure liberal colleagues have also barred me visiting their homes.
And most poignantly of all, not once did Vince ask me to go and cheer for him on Strictly.
You’d think we liberals would applaud each other for taking sides in Coalitions.
I work at mine — I do drink and smoke, I speak out, even when I don’t feel like it, and very rarely succumb to nonsense. Unfortunately liberals find nothing more annoying than one of theirs being the most active Tory in a room.
Take last week, dropping off the kids, Chris Huhne zoomed past in his car. I waved — he blatantly blanked me. For this is someone whose sacking was enjoyed by the Right, and welcomed by the PM on countless occasions.
I approached a former friend and discreetly enquired if I’d made a faux pas. It seems the only crime I’ve committed is not leaving the House with a bag over my head. No one likes me, I discovered, because they view me as a flop. The friend pointed out I am duller, slighter, more easily led than before.
Some former friends are adamant that something could happen between the other party and me, ‘were the right circumstances in place’. Yet I’m happily married, and have been for the past two years.
This isn’t the first time such paranoia has gripped the people around me. In my early 20s, when I started out in politics as a Tory researcher, one female boss in her 60s would regularly invite me over for dinner after a long day in the office.
I always accepted her invitation, as during the 80s we got along famously. But one evening the Opposition leader came round. We were all a couple of glasses of whiskey into the evening. Then he and I said we both were worried by the Poll Tax.
She laid into her bewildered opposite for ‘fancying’ me, then turned on me, calling me unrepeatable names before ridiculing me for changing my views and moving leftwards. I declined any further invitations.
Psephologist Peter Kellner, author of self-help poll Yougov, says that liberals have always measured themselves against each other by their books rather than achievements — and it can make the lives of the time-server very difficult.
‘Many of my clients are liberals, yet people are always astounded when I explain they don’t have it easy,’ he says. If you are liberal other liberals want you to be perfect — which simply isn’t fair.
They don’t realise just how vulnerable they are. It’s hard when everyone respects you for your views. Voters think “what’s the point, they’ll never be in power” and don’t vote you in. But liberals don’t want to hang out with someone more pragmatic than they are.
I certainly found that out the hard way, particularly in office.
One health bill I accepted was blighted by a zealous female peer. It was the heat of battle and I’d opted to stay the course with some amendments. They were modest and vapid; more Kate Middleton than Polly Toynbee.
But the peer pulled me into her office and informed me that this style was disgusting party members. She didn’t dare point out that really she was doing something similar at the time.
Rather than argue, I followed the rest of the bill’s progress wearing sombre, resigned and serious faces. It was clear that when you meet a liberal peer, it’s best to let them moan, but when you have a Tory boss, it’s a different game: I have written in the past on how I have flip-flopped to get ahead at work, something I’m sure many deputies do.
Liberals, however, are far more problematic. With one phenomenally ageing boss, I eventually managed to carve out a positive working relationship. But a year in, my attitude towards him changed; the deterioration began when he started to lose his way.
We were both leaders after the alkie bought it. Some of the classical liberals recommended I take us on a different leadership course, which meant doors would open for me now on the right.
All I needed was for the boss to retire for me to be eligible . As everyone in the office agreed he was crap at his job, I didn’t think this would be a problem.
But while Vince and the young executive signed the death warrant without hesitation, the party faithful wanted a vote. When I asked Dr Evan Harris why, he pulled me to one side and explained activists were wary of me.
Things of course then rapidly improved. Whenever I campaigned against him, Chris Huhne would sneer at me in front of other colleagues that he was the star, not me.
Six months later I was elected. Privately the party stayed uncertain, blaming Huhne’s nasty comments for my victory. I was in my early 40s and obviously having ideological problems. But some had had enough of opposition. I find the Orange Bookers are quite hostile to normal liberals — perhaps because they’ve had their own beards shaved.
Because my partner is a bit posher than me, his social circle is that bit posher too.
Son of Thatcher, he takes great pride in hearing other men declare that I’m a son of Thatcher too and always tells me to laugh off bitchy comments from other Tories.
Yet I dread the inevitable sarky comments. ‘Here she comes. We’re in the village hall yet Clegg’s dressed for his Bully chums,’ was one I recently overheard. As a result I find all the David Davies and Nadine Dorries fraught and if I can’t avoid them, then I’ll disguise myself in jodhpurs, check waistcoat, and a pretty riding crop.
But my ploys now mostly work. Take last summer and the rioters out on the streets of London. At one point the leader, who was acting fair and tough, decided he wanted interviews by all the liberals too. Positioning us, he cautiously suggested I stand immediately to his right and demand the rioters be shot.
Another liberal Simon Hughes pushed me out of the way, shouting it wasn’t fair on all the other liberals if I was dominating the press. I shed tears as he called for baton rounds. In my own interviews this liberal privately consoled me — well out of synch with his old friends.
So now I’m 45 and probably one of very few liberals entering their fifth decade welcoming their decline to the Right. I can’t wait for the meanness of my spirits to help me fall into reaction.
Perhaps then Nadine Dorries will finally stop judging me so harshly on what I looked like, and instead accept in their party as I am.