Nick Clegg is a bore - and he’s wrong about the state
Neil Clark: Clegg is a perfect example of Homo politicus - earnest and deadly dull
Nick Clegg is the man of the moment, the politician who has risen from nowhere to lead the Liberal Democrats into power for the first time in the modern era. What a pity he has turned into such a crashing bore.
Yesterday, our earnest and humourless deputy prime minister outlined his plans to "transform our politics". He was not, he assured us, talking about "the odd gimmick or gesture here or there" to make us feel involved, but "the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great reforms of the 19th century". Wow!
Are you excited? No, me neither.
Part of the problem was the subject matter - constitutional reform is a sleep-inducing topic at the best of times. But a large part is Clegg himself. Firstly, there's the big-headedness. Other politicians have introduced significant reforms in the past - but did any of them make such a song and dance about it as Clegg did yesterday?
Clegg's style is horribly didactic. In effect he is saying, "Listen to me and I will tell you why what I'm proposing is going to be good for you".
Then there's the dreadful earnestness. People are never so silly as when they take themselves too seriously and the Lib Dem leader is a case in point. Apart from a feeble line about wearing a purple tie, yesterday's speech was devoid of humour. Constitutional reform is a very serious matter. Repeat after me.
The problem with Clegg is that the more we see of him the more we realise he is not like the rest of us. Can anyone imagine having a pint with Nick, discussing the FA Cup Final? Clegg is the perfect example of 21st century British Homo politicus: earnest, hard-working but deadly, deadly dull.
And is what he is proposing - in his oh so significant reforms - actually such a big deal?
Scrapping ID cards is welcome because it will save us all money. But the idea that having ID cards automatically makes a country less free is absurd. Nearly all countries in continental Europe have ID card systems - the likes of Belgium, Spain and France could hardly be described as repressive police states.
The premise behind Clegg's reforms - that people want the state to withdraw from our lives, and that if it does withdraw we'll all be better off for it - also needs to be questioned. While the state can be overly intrusive - who wouldn't want to see CCTV cameras taken down? - it does provide us with free at-point-of-use health care, reasonable roads, street lighting and law and order.
The other side of Clegg's ambition to roll back the state is further privatisation. Only today it has been revealed that the new coalition intends to sell off the Royal Mail, in state hands since 1516. There is no evidence that the public wants more sell-offs - in fact, they desire the opposite. They want the state to return to running services such as the railways which they did at a much lower cost than their privately-run successors.
The idea that constitutional reform can transform Britain into a fairer society is naïve to say the least. Thirty years of neo-liberalism have transformed Britain into the most unequal society in western Europe.
As the Guardian reported earlier in the year, we live in a country where the richest 10 per cent of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10 per cent. It's difficult to see how having fixed-term parliaments are going to change all that.
The reality is that whoever holds economic power in any given society, holds political power. If Nick Clegg was really serious about transferring power to the people, his primary focus would be on changing Britain's economy - and not its constitution. ·