Will history be “very, very kind” to Nick Clegg?

PM and Deputy PM outside Number 10

The electorate was unkind to Nick Clegg’s party, reducing them to just eight MPs, but in years to come how will Clegg be judged?

According to Buzzfeed, the Lib Dem leadership hopeful, Tim Farron, said this about his party’s ex-leader:

History will be very, very kind to Nick Clegg, kind to the Liberal Democrats these last five years.”

Will this be the case?

Overall, I think it would be very black or white to say Clegg’s time in was successful or not. His time as Deputy Prime Minister was a mixed one.

Tuition fees will continue to taint Nick Clegg’s name. He and other MPs made a pledge to abolish tuition fees, something they campaigned hard on, but once in coalition tuition fees were trebled. For this Nick Clegg will be looked back on unkindly by most, but the entire party will be remembered differently. On this issue, 27 MPs voted for the trebling of fees, whilst 21 voted against (including Tim Farron) and the rest abstained. If Tim Farron leads the party this will likely help the Lib Dems, but Nick Clegg will likely be remembered unkindly for this action.

However, as stated already the party’s time in office was a mixed one. They managed to make some difference. For instance, writing for Lib Dem Voice Stephen Tall looked at how much influence the party had in the coalition agreement. He pointed out that evidence suggests that the Coalition Agreement in 2010 was 40% Liberal Democrat, a figure quite impressive as their proportion of MPs in the coalition was far less than that.

Furthermore, Nick Clegg’s influence resulted in the coalition raising the income tax threshold to above £10,000. For this the party will be remembered positively as it helps the lowest paid in society. Additionally, the Conservatives pledged to build on this in 2015, showing how influential Nick Clegg was on this. He and his party also got through equal marriage, set up the world’s first Green Investment Bank and managed to introduce the Pupil Premium.

For these Nick Clegg will likely be judged less harshly. Furthermore, with the Conservatives set to scrap the Human Rights Act and reintroduce the snoopers' charter, many on the liberal-left side of the political divide will reassess their attitude towards the party and see that it was a force to moderate Conservative policy. But of course, the party and Nick Clegg made other mistakes.

Nick Clegg failed to get a referendum on a real proportional representation system. AV is not proportional and the failure to get a better system will be blamed on Nick Clegg as it might have resulted in the opportunity for change disappearing until the next generation. Furthermore, on the left the party will be continually criticised for the bedroom tax as well as for the Health and Social Care Act (2012). Some will also judge Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats harshly for their decision to enter into a formal coalition with the Conservatives, but others will see it as a bold choice, providing a period of stable government.

Overall, it will likely be a matter of perspective with people being divided over Nick Clegg for years to come, but after five years of Conservative majority government, those who abandoned Clegg after the coalition might just forgive him over his decision. He will likely not be forgiven for his U-turn on tuition fees but on entering into coalition and providing stable government Tim Farron might just be right: history could be kind to Clegg.

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