Nick Clegg has stepped back into the limelight today and he’s been pretty chirpy about his party’s time in government – and its prospects for recovering from its election downfall. In his speech to the Liberal Democrats annual conference in Bournemouth, the former Deputy Prime Minister was full of happy thoughts about his party’s time in government — which resulted in 49 MPs losing their seats and its vote share to just eight per cent:
‘Those achievements in Government, in turn, wouldn’t have happened without you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Each and every one of you. Whether you liked or loathed the coalition. Whether you were exhilarated or exasperated by my leadership. Thank you. Your resilience, good humour, decency and unity throughout everything we’ve gone through together has been truly humbling.’
The Lib Dems are hard to keep down and despite the lack of media interest in their gathering, the #LibDemFightback is clearly underway, at least in their psyche, if not elsewhere.
The party’s record in government is not one all members would agree is positive; it would be much easier for Tim Farron to do a Jeremy Corbyn and trash his party’s legacy in office. Clegg isn’t being naive and ignoring his party’s failings: in particular he accepted that the strategy of fighting the general election from the centre ground was flawed. But unlike Labour’s post-election direction, Farron and Clegg are attempting to rebuild the party based on its record in government, not in spite of it.
For now though, Clegg is staying out of frontline politics and is focusing on winning the EU referendum for the In side — and even then he is not seeking a major role:
‘My involvement is the involvement of someone who believes passionately that it’s not right for not only Britain today, but for future generations for us to sort of retreat into an isolated corner’
Whatever you might think about Clegg and his record as Lib Dem leader, it’s hard not to have some admiration for how he has handled a catastrophic defeat. Although his party now has as many MPs as the DUP in Westminster, it has added 20,000 members since May and Clegg appears to be letting the new leadership get on with it.