The Week in Review: The death and resurrection of Nick Clegg

Back from the dead: Nick Clegg's life has more ups and downs than a roller coaster.
Back from the dead: Nick Cegg's life has more ups and downs than a roller coaster.l
Ian Dunt By

You have to hand it to him.  Nick Clegg goes through more in a week than the rest of us do in a lifetime. He manages it fairly well, except that he often appears on the verge of tears.

The deputy prime minister is partly to blame for his troubles. With the Lord Rennard scandal bubbling away for a few days, he chose Sunday evening to release a statement seemingly designed to work press journalists into a frenzy. It contradicted his previous statements about what he knew and when. It used staggeringly vague terms like "indirect and non-specific". It was, frankly, a disaster. Crisis management is relatively simple: Get everything out quickly, have a simple narrative about what you're doing and get your main media players to stick to it. The Lib Dems did the precise opposite.

It didn't help that Rennard's eventual comments on the scandal incorrectly insisted the matter was sub-judice (not reportable for legal reasons). Journalists know what sub-judice means and they knew this wasn't it. Later in the week, Clegg did his weekly LBC radio phone-in. He must have been regretting this fixture and certainly his body language during the interview suggested he was quite prepared to jump out the window if it all continued much longer. "I can only tell you the truth as I can recollect it now," he said, in a quote which must surely go down as one of the shiftiest in political history. By the end of the half hour he had not-so-subtly moved his position on Rennard's resignation. Earlier in the week it was for health reasons. Now the sexual harassment concerns were "in the background". When asked to clarify this he kept saying "of course", which was particularly grating.

Westminster was working itself into a frenzy. But back in Eastleigh, no-one seemed to care. The only thing the good people of Eastleigh really wanted was for everyone to leave them alone so they could enjoy the various delights of their questionable town. While everyone was hyperventilating about the Rennard scandal, Lib Dem campaigners were quietly and diligently working the seat. They weren't alone. Ukip went into Eastleigh with an impressive strategy, an effective organisational structure and a highly electable candidate. By the end of the campaign, the Tories' Maria Hutchings looked like the fringe candidate and Ukip's Diane James looked like a Tory.

The Lib Dems took the seat, with Ukip second and the Tories third. Labour were well out in fourth place. Hapless Conservative chairman Grant Shapps tried to put a brave face on it by highlighting how rarely governing parties win by-election seats. That did not quite explain why they came third.  There were pluses: The Ukip vote is soft, with most of it intending to return to the Tories when 2015 comes along. But that won't stop David Cameron's partially mad backbenchers going the full monty.

In a cruel but enjoyable irony, the Lib Dem victory wasn't even that vast - it relied on Ukip splitting Tory support. But it allowed Clegg to do a victory dance, albeit a rather mundane one, in the Hampshire seat.

A week in the life of Nick Clegg. It's like Shakespeare, without the drama or resonance.


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