Last week, right-wing Conservative papers including the Sun (also owned, of course by Conservative supporter and owner of Sky, Rupert Murdoch), the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph launched attacks on Clegg. Clegg’s election co-ordinator has said it appeared the Tory high command had orchestrated a campaign of negative stories in the run up to the debate in an attempt to neutralise his surge in the polls.
BBC political editor, Nick Robinson (himself a former president of the Oxford University Conservative Association) claimed on his blog that: “political reporters from the Tory-backing papers were called in one by one to discuss how Team Cameron would deal with “Cleggmania” and to be offered Tory HQ’s favourite titbits about the Lib Dems – much of which appears in today’s papers.”
The frequency and ferocity of the criticism has become so extreme over the last week that it has had the unintended and unexpected effect of making Clegg the underdog. While the two main parties were trying to find ways to undermine him, Clegg was talking policy, giving reasonable answers, and, perhaps most importantly, refusing to rise to the bait, in short, he was doing what we all want from an election candidate.
The hysterical spin against Clegg has only served to raise his profile. Search for #NickClegg’sFault in Twitter or visit the Cleggified daily mail headline generator to see how the anti-Clegg campaigning has itself become the butt of the joke.
Britain’s partisan press is so intrinsically involved with the parties it supports it has lost any separation or distance from them, as David Yelland points out, it has lost its ability to ever stand back and criticise the parties it supports. Not so with the Lib Dems; no media organisation ever thought they had a shot at power so they never bothered to involve themselves with them. Up until the first TV election debate, few people other than Vince Cable and (probably) Nick Clegg’s mum even knew who Clegg was, now his party’s popularity, inadvertently spurred on by the right wing press’ mud-slinging, could result in a hung parliament for the first time since 1974.
A hung parliament could be a very good thing, at least for a little while. One of the most “radical” (and I use this in the watered down sense of the word that we have come to expect from the thin sliver of middle ground the three parties represent) suggestions from the Liberal Democrats is to scrap the first past the post system of government and replace it with proportional representation.
In a recent poll by the Daily Mail 64% of people said they were in favour of the move. Although I can’t vouch for the poll’s veracity, proportional representation does appeal.
Proportional representation would mean that smaller parties would get seats in parliament (as long as people voted for them). This would widen the spectrum of views heard in Government. It could be the chip in the dam which lets in a flood of different political views in the future.
A vote for the Liberal Democrats, or Green in some constituencies, would signal to Labour and Conservatives that people have had enough of them – a nasty shock, but perhaps necessary.
The Liberal Democrats are in the charmed position of not having been in power in living memory, so they can propose policies on a clean slate. The down side is they haven’t really had much practice at running the country (neither have those new Conservatives by the way), but with enough votes for a hung parliament they could bring about genuine change.
And who’s fault would that be? All together now #nickcleggsfault.