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Nicholas William Peter Clegg (born 7 January 1967) is a British Liberal Democrat politician who was the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdomand Lord President of the Council from 2010 to 2015 in the Cameron coalition ministry. Clegg was the Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2007 to 2015 and has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Sheffield Hallam since 2005.
Clegg was educated at the University of Cambridge, the University of Minnesota, and the College of Europe, before becoming a journalist for theFinancial Times and a Member of the European Parliament (MEP). In 2007 he was elected Leader of the Liberal Democrats, leading his party into a coalition government with the Conservative Party in 2010. In 2015, he resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats following that year’s general election at which his party was decisively defeated and lost 49 MPs, moving from 57 MPs to eight.
Clegg is a fluent speaker of five European languages.
Early life and family
Clegg was born in Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire, the third of four children of Nicholas Peter Clegg, CBE, chairman of United Trust Bank and a former trustee of the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation (where Ken Clarke was an adviser). Clegg descends from “Russia’s old Tsarist nobility”: his paternal grandmother, Kira von Engelhardt, Baroness von Smolensk, was a Russian noblewoman, and the granddaughter of Attorney-General of the Russian senate, Ignatiy Platonovich Zakrevsky. His English grandfather was Hugh Anthony Clegg, editor of the British Medical Journal for 35 years.
Clegg’s Dutch mother, Hermance van den Wall Bake, was interned, along with her family, by the Japanese military in Batavia (Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) during World War II. She met Clegg’s father during a visit to England in 1956, and they married on 1 August 1959.
Clegg is multilingual: he speaks English, French, Dutch, German, and Spanish. His background has informed his politics. He says, “There is simply not a shred of racism in me, as a person whose whole family is formed by flight from persecution, from different people in different generations. It’s what I am. It’s one of the reasons I am a liberal.” His Dutch mother instilled in him “a degree of scepticism about the entrenched class configurations in British society“. He has said of languages that “The danger is that we [in the UK] can afford to be lazy about languages, because they all want to speak English – English is the most useful, the global language bar none. But I don’t think we should allow that luxury to be a sort of alibi not to learn languages.”
Clegg was educated at two independent schools: at Caldicott School in Farnham Royal in South Buckinghamshire, where he was joint Head Prefect in 1980,and later at Westminster School in Central London. As a 16-year-old exchange student in Munich, he and a friend drunkenly set fire to what he called “the leading collection of cacti in Germany”. When news of the incident was reported during his time as Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Clegg said he was “not proud” of it. He was arrested and not formally charged, but performed a kind ofcommunity service.
He spent a gap year working as a skiing instructor in Austria, before going on toCambridge University in 1986, where he studied Archaeology and Anthropology atRobinson College. He was active in the student theatre at Cambridge, acting in a play about AIDS and under directorSam Mendes. He was also captain of his college’s tennis team, and campaigned for the human rights organisationSurvival International. Clegg spent the summer of 1989 as an office junior in Postipankki bank in Helsinki.
It has been alleged that Clegg joined the Cambridge University Conservative Association between 1986 and 1987. Clegg has maintained he has “no recollection of that whatsoever”. However, Conservative MP Greg Hands has a record of CUCA members for 1986–1987, and Clegg’s name appears on the list. Hands noted that “for the avoidance of any doubt, there was only one ‘N Clegg’ at Robinson College … [he] is listed in the ‘Robinson College Record’, under ‘Freshmen 1986’. He graduated with an upper second class honours (2:1) degree in social anthropology.
After university, he was awarded a scholarship to study for a year at the University of Minnesota, where he wrote a thesis on the political philosophy of the Deep Green movement. He then moved to New York City, where he worked as an intern under Christopher Hitchens at The Nation, a progressive liberal magazine, where he fact-checked Hitchens’s articles.
Clegg next moved to Brussels, where he worked alongside Guy Spier for six months as a trainee in the G24 co-ordination unit which delivered aid to the countries of the former Soviet Union. After the internship he studied for a master’s degree at the College of Europe in Bruges, a university for European studies in Belgium, where he met his wife, Miriam González Durántez, a lawyer and the daughter of a Spanish senator. Nick Clegg is an alumnus of the “Mozart Promotion” (1991–92) of the College of Europe.
Careers outside politics
In 1993, Clegg won the Financial Times’ David Thomas Prize, in remembrance of an FT journalist killed on assignment inKuwait in 1991. Clegg was the award’s first recipient. He was later sent to Hungary, where he wrote articles about the mass privatisation of industries in the former communist bloc.
In April 1994, he took up a post at the European Commission, working in the TACIS aid programme to the former Soviet Union. For two years he was responsible for developing direct aid programmes in Central Asia and the Caucasus, worth €50 million. He was involved in negotiations with Russia on airline overflight rights, and launched a conference in Tashkentin 1993 that founded TRACECA—an international transport programme for the development of a transport corridor for Europe, the Caucasus and Asia. Vice-President and Trade Commissioner Leon Brittan then offered Clegg a job in his private office, as a European Union policy adviser and speech writer. As part of this role, Clegg was in charge of the EC negotiating team on Chinese and Russian accession talks to the World Trade Organisation.
Clegg has written extensively, publishing and contributing to a large number of pamphlets and books. With Dr Richard Grayson he wrote a book in 2002 about the importance of devolution in secondary education systems, based on comparative research across Europe. The final conclusions included the idea of pupil premiums so that children from poorer backgrounds receive the additional resources their educational needs require.
He wrote a controversial pamphlet for the Centre for European Reform advocating devolution and evolution of the European Union, and contributed to the 2004 Orange Book, where he offered market liberal solutions for reform of European institutions. He co-authored a pamphlet with Duncan Brack arguing for a wholesale reform of world trade rules to allow room for a greater emphasis on development, internationally binding environmental treaties, and parliamentary democracy within the WTO system.
Member of the European Parliament (1999–2004)
Clegg was selected as the lead Liberal Democrat euro-candidate for the East Midlands in 1998, and was first tipped as a politician to watch by Paddy Ashdown in 1999. On his election in 1999, he was the first Liberal parliamentarian elected in the East Midlands since Ernest Pickering was elected MP for Leicester West in 1931, and was credited with helping to significantly boost the Liberal Democrat poll rating in the region in the six months after his election. Clegg worked extensively during his time as an MEP to support the party in the region, not least in Chesterfield where Paul Holmes was elected as MP in 2001. Clegg helped persuade Conservative MEP Bill Newton Dunn to defect to the Liberal Democrats, with Newton Dunn subsequently succeeding him as MEP for the East Midlands.
As an MEP, Clegg co-founded the Campaign for Parliamentary Reform, which led calls for reforms to expenses, transparency and accountability in the European Parliament. He was made Trade and Industry spokesman for theEuropean Liberal Democrat and Reform group (ELDR). In December 2000, Nick Clegg became the Parliament’s Draftsman on a complex new EU telecoms law relating to “local loop unbundling“—opening-up telephone networks across Europe to competition. Clegg decided to leave Brussels in 2002, arguing in an article in The Guardian newspaper that the battle to persuade the public of the benefits of Europe was being fought at home, not in Brussels.
In 2004 Clegg explained to the Select Committee on European Union that the aim of MEPs like himself, who had been active in the debate on the EU’s negotiating mandate, was to obtain the right to ratify any major WTO deal entered into by the European Union. The same year Clegg chaired a policy working group for the Liberal Democrats on the Third Age, which focused on the importance of ending the cliff-edge of retirement and providing greater opportunities for older people to remain active beyond retirement. The group developed initial proposals on transforming post offices to help them survive as community hubs, in particular for older people. He served on Charles Kennedy‘s policy review, “Meeting the Challenge”, and the “It’s About Freedom” working parties.
Whilst an MEP Clegg, for four years, wrote a fortnightly column for Guardian Unlimited. One particular article in 2002 accused Gordon Brown of encouraging “condescension” towards Germany. In an article, Clegg wrote that “all nations have a cross to bear, and none more so than Germany with its memories of Nazism. But the British cross is more insidious still. A misplaced sense of superiority, sustained by delusions of grandeur and a tenacious obsession with the last war, is much harder to shake off”. The article was dusted down during the 2010 general election campaign when the Daily Mailinterpreted the article as being a “Nazi slur on Britain” and Clegg had begun to feel the full heat of the British tabloid press following his success during the first leaders’ debate.
On leaving the European Parliament, Clegg joined political lobbying firm GPlus in April 2004 as a fifth partner:
|“||It’s especially exciting to be joining GPlus at a time when Brussels is moving more and more to the centre of business concerns. With the EU taking in ten more countries and adopting a new Constitution, organisations need more than ever intelligent professional help in engaging with the EU institutions.||”|
In November 2004, then Sheffield Hallam MP Richard Allan announced his intention to stand down from parliament, Clegg was selected as the candidate for Sheffield Hallam constituency. He took up a part-time teaching position in the politics department of the University of Sheffield, combining it with ongoing EU consultancy work with GPlus. He also gave a series of seminar lectures in the international relations Department of the University of Cambridge.
Member of Parliament (2005–present)
Clegg worked closely with Allan throughout the campaign in Sheffield Hallam – including starring in a local pantomime – and won the seat in the 2005 general election with over 50% of the vote, and a majority of 8,682. This result represents one of the smallest swings away from a party in a seat where an existing MP has been succeeded by a newcomer (4.3%) – see Sheffield constituency article. Before becoming Leader of the party in 2007 he also served as treasurer and secretary of theAll-Party Parliamentary Group on National Parks, a particular interest given that his constituency includes part of the Peak District National Park.
Following his election to parliament, Clegg was promoted by leader Charles Kennedy to be the party’s spokesperson on Europe, focusing on the party’s preparations for an expected referendum on the European constitution and acting as deputy to Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Menzies Campbell. Clegg’s ability to articulate liberal values at a very practical level quickly lent him prominence, with many already seeing him as a future Liberal Democrat leader. Following the resignation of Kennedy on 7 January 2006, Clegg was touted as a possible leadership contender. He was quick to rule himself out however instead declaring his support for Menzies Campbell ahead of his former colleague in the European ParliamentChris Huhne, with Campbell going on to win the ballot.
Liberal Democrats’ Home Affairs spokesperson
After the 2006 leadership election, Clegg was promoted to be Home Affairs spokesperson, replacing Mark Oaten. In this job he spearheaded the Liberal Democrats’ defence of civil liberties, proposing a Freedom Bill to repeal what he described as “unnecessary and illiberal legislation”, campaigning against Identity Cards and the retention of innocent people’s DNA, and arguing against excessive counter-terrorism legislation. He has campaigned for prison reform, a liberal approach to immigration, and defended the Human Rights Act against ongoing attacks from across the political spectrum. In January 2007, Clegg launched the ‘We Can Cut Crime!’ campaign, “proposing real action at a national level and acting to cut crime where the Liberal Democrats are in power locally”.
Sir Menzies Campbell’s resignation
Clegg caused a degree of controversy when at the Liberal Democrat party conference in 2007 he admitted his leadership ambitions to journalists at a fringe event. The admission followed a period of increased media speculation about SirMenzies Campbell‘s leadership, which the admission by Clegg did nothing to reduce and resulted in a rebuke by some of his frontbench colleagues. This followed a report from the Daily Mirror’s Kevin Macguire that Clegg had failed to hide his disloyalty to Campbell’s leadership. Eventually on 15 October 2007 Campbell resigned saying that questions about his leadership were “getting in the way of further progress by the party”.
Leader of the Liberal Democrats (2007–2015)
Election to the leadership
After the resignation of Campbell, Clegg was regarded by much of the media as front-runner in the leadership election. The BBC’s Political Editor Nick Robinson stated the election would be a two-horse race between Clegg and Chris Huhne who had stood against Campbell in the 2006 election. On Friday 19 October 2007, Clegg launched his bid to become leader of the Liberal Democrats. Clegg and Huhne clashed in the campaign over Trident but were largely in agreement on many other issues. It was announced on 18 December that he had won. Clegg was appointed to the Privy Council on 30 January 2008 and affirmed his membership on 12 March 2008.
In his acceptance speech upon winning the leadership contest, Clegg declared himself to be “a liberal by temperament, by instinct and by upbringing” and that he believes “Britain [is] a place of tolerance and pluralism“. He has stated that he feels “a profound antagonism for prejudice of all sorts”. He declared his priorities as: defending civil liberties; devolving the running of public services to parents, pupils and patients; and protecting the environment.
In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live on the morning after his election to the leadership, Clegg stated that he does not believe in God, but that he has “an immense amount of respect for people of faith“. In 2010, Clegg elaborated on this question, stating: “I was asked a question once in one of those questions where you’re only allowed to answer “yes” or “no”, and I was asked “Do you believe in God?” As it happens I don’t know whether God exists. I’m much more of an agnostic.”
He resigned as the leader of the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 general elections. He says he always expected it to be difficult but it is “immeasurably more crushing and unkind than he feared”. As a result, he is resigning and a leadership election will take place.
GQ magazine interview controversy
In March 2008, GQ magazine ran with an interview conducted by Piers Morgan in which Clegg admitted to sleeping with “no more than 30” women. Senior Lib Dem MPs defended his comments; Lembit Öpik said it showed “you can be a human being and a party Leader”, and Norman Lamb that “Nick tries to be absolutely straight in everything that he does, and that might sometimes get him into trouble but he will build a reputation for being honest and straightforward.” Speaking to the BBC about the interview Clegg said “wisdom with hindsight is an easy thing” as what had been a split second response had been “taken out of context, interpreted, over interpreted and so on”.
Relationships with the frontbench
Upon his election Clegg appointed leadership rival Huhne as his replacement as Home Affairs spokesperson and following his strong performances as acting party leader, Vince Cable was retained as the main Treasury spokesperson. Media commentators noted that the Clegg-Huhne-Cable triumvirate provided the Liberal Democrats with an effective political team for the coming years. On 5 March 2008, Clegg suffered a real test following the resignation of three of his front bench team. David Heath, Alistair Carmichael and Tim Farron had been told to abstain in the vote for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty but had wanted to vote in favour and so defied the whip. In addition to the three frontbenchers, a further 12 more backbench LibDem MPs also defied the whip and voted “yes”. Clegg said “though we have disagreed on this issue I fully understand and respect their strongly held views on the subject…. However, as they have recognised, the shadow cabinet cannot operate effectively unless the principle of collective responsibility is maintained.”
The resignations happened not long after the Commons Speaker Michael Martin on 26 February 2008 had blocked calls by the Liberal Democrats for an “in or out” referendum on Britain’s EU membership. The Speaker’s authority was called into question when, led by Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats marched out of the House of Commons, calling the Speaker’s decision a constitutional “outrage”. Just moments before, frontbench foreign affairs spokesman for the party Ed Davey had been expelled from the chamber by the Speaker’s deputy Sir Michael Lord for further challenging the ruling.
In November 2008, Clegg suffered more allegations of difficulties with the front bench following an article in the Daily Mirrorwhich reported that Clegg had criticised senior members of his front bench whilst on a plane journey. He told the BBC’s Politics Show that “a lot of it is, frankly, fiction”.
“I believe every single person is extraordinary. The tragedy is that we have a society where too many people never get to fulfil that extraordinary potential. My view – the liberal view – is that government’s job is to help them to do it. Not to tell people how to live their lives. But to make their choices possible, to release their potential, no matter who they are. The way to do that is to take power away from those who hoard it. To challenge vested interests. To break down privilege. To clear out the bottlenecks in our society that block opportunity and block progress. And so give everyone a chance to live the life they want.”
Liberal Democrat Manifesto Launch, 14 April 2010
Attitudes to other parties
In the Commons Clegg initially concentrated most of his fire on Labour and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, but in the autumn of 2009 began also focusing on Cameron and the Conservatives. Clegg rejected an appeal from Cameron for their two parties to work together. Clegg argued that the Conservatives were totally different from his party, and that the Lib Dems were the true “progressives” in UK politics. At the 2009 party conference in Bournemouth he accused the Conservatives of “simply believing it is their turn” and claimed that come the election the “choice before people is the choice between fake, phoney change from David Cameron’s Conservatives, and real change the Liberal Democrats offer”.
Clegg became the first party leader in modern political history to call for a Speakerto resign following his handling of the expenses scandal, describing Michael Martin, the Speaker at the time, as a defender of the status quo and obstacle to the reform of Parliament.
In response to revelations about MPs’ expenses, Clegg set out his plans for reform of Parliament in The Guardian. Speaking about the plans, he said: “let us bar the gates of Westminster and stop MPs leaving for their summer holidays until this crisis has been sorted out, and every nook and cranny of our political system has been reformed.” He argued for the “reinvention of British politics” within 100 days, calling for a commitment to accept the Kelly expenses report in full; the power to recallmembers suspended for misconduct; House of Lords reform; reform of party funding; fixed-term parliaments; enabling legislation for a referendum on AV+; and changes to House of Commons procedure to reduce executive power.
Shortly ahead of the election, Clegg was asked about his own expenses by Andrew Neil of the BBC. Clegg allegedly claimed the full amount permissible under the Additional Cost Allowance, including claims for food, gardening and redecorating his second home. The Telegraph also said Clegg claimed £80 for international call charges, a claim he said he would repay.
Clegg has aimed to modernise the Liberal Democrat Party at the same time as maintaining its traditions of political and philosophical Liberalism. In 2011, he told a party conference that the Liberal Democrats were radical centrist in orientation:
Our opponents try to divide us with their outdated labels of left and right. But we are not on the left and we are not on the right. We have our own label: Liberal. We are liberals and we own the freehold to the centre ground of British politics. Our politics is the politics of the radical centre.
Since becoming leader of the Liberal Democrats, Clegg has called for more choice for patients on waiting lists in theNational Health Service (NHS), giving them the option to go private and to be funded by the NHS if they wish; a substantial tax cut to “put more money back into the pockets of people”, better action on the environment, the abandonment of Britain’s Trident missile-defence system, fixed-term parliaments; devolving more power to local councils; giving constituents the power to force a by-election if their MP was found responsible for serious wrongdoing; and a slimming of government across the board. Clegg campaigned to cut spending on defence projects such as Eurofighter as well as the UK Trident programme. As regards public spending, at the party’s 2009 conference in Bournemouth Clegg argued for “savage” spending cuts and said politicians need to treat voters “like grown ups” whilst accusing the Labour and Conservative parties of indulging in “childish games” over the “c-word”.
On 29 April 2009 the Liberal Democrats proposed in the House of Commons to offer all Gurkhas an equal right of residence; the motion resulted in a defeat for the Government by 267 votes to 246. It was the only first day motion defeat for a government since 1978. On speaking about the result Clegg said “this is an immense victory […] for the rights of Gurkhas who have been waiting so long for justice, a victory for Parliament, a victory for decency”. He added that it was “the kind of thing people want this country to do”.
On 21 May 2009 the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that all Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years service could settle in the UK. The actress and daughter of Gurkha corps Major James Lumley, Joanna Lumley, who had highlighted the treatment of the Gurkhas and campaigned for their rights, commented: “This is the welcome we have always longed to give”.
Deputy Prime Minister (2010–2015)
Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Lord President of the Council on 11 May 2010 through a coalition with the Conservative Party under Prime Minister David Cameron.He has also been made Minister for Constitutional and Political Reform, which was a key point for the Liberal Democrats during the creation of the coalition.
The Coalition Agreement
The morning after the 2010 general election presented the country with no one political party able to form a government that would command a majority in the House of Commons. In light of this reality the Conservative leader Cameron went public and gave a “big, open and comprehensive offer” to the Lib Dem leader and said that he wanted to open up negotiations with the Liberal Democrats to form Britain’s first coalition government since the second world war. Replying Clegg said that he had always maintained that the party with the most seats and the most votes should have the right to seek to govern. Speaking to the press he said: “It seems this morning that it is the Conservative Party which has more votes and more seats – although not an absolute majority – which is why I now think that it is the Conservative Party which should seek to govern in the national interest.”
Following the announcement, teams of negotiators from both parties formulated what would become the Coalition Agreement which would form the basis of their partnership together. Gordon Brown’s resignation on 11 May 2010 meant that Cameron was invited by the Queen to form a government and a coalition with the Liberal Democrats was agreed with Nick Clegg as the Deputy Prime Minister.
Plans for electoral reform
Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill
On 5 July 2010, Clegg unveiled plans to have fewer MPs and to hold a referendum on the voting system so that the next general election would be contested under the Alternative Vote system. In a statement, he said UK democracy was “fractured”, with some votes counting more than others. As part of the statement he also changed initial plans requiring the number of MPs needed to vote to dissolve Parliament from 55% to 66%. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill was presented to parliament on 22 July 2010 for its first reading which if successful would see the date of the referendum on changing the voting system from the current ‘first past the post’ system to the Alternative Vote (AV) system set for 5 May 2011.
The bill also introduced plans to reduce the number of MP’s in the House of Commons from 650 to 600 something which the Labour party attacked as gerrymandering as to do this there would need to be boundary changes. Clegg told MPs: “Together, these proposals help correct the deep unfairness in the way we hold elections in this country. Under the current set-up, votes count more in some parts of the country than others, and millions feel that their votes don’t count at all. Elections are won and lost in a small minority of seats. We have a fractured democracy, where some people’s votes count and other people’s votes don’t count.” On 22 July 2010 the question for the referendum on AV was published asking voters if they wish to “adopt the ‘alternative vote’ system instead of the current ‘first past the post’ system” for electing MPs”. The question required a yes or no answer. The Act received Royal Assent on 16 February 2011. The result of thereferendum was that the alternative vote proposal was defeated by a margin of 2:1.
Fixed-term Parliaments Bill
Clegg also confirmed that the government planned to introduce legislation for five-year fixed-term parliaments, with elections to be held on the first Thursday in May of the fifth year after the previous general election, starting with 7 May 2015. The corresponding bill was presented to parliament on 22 July 2010 and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011received Royal Assent on 15 September 2011.
Prime Minister’s Questions
On 21 July 2010, Clegg became the first Liberal Democrat leader to answer forPrime minister’s questions. He courted controversy during the exchange when at the despatch box he attacked the shadow justice secretary Jack Straw for the decision to invade Iraq saying “perhaps one day you could account for your role in the most disastrous decision of all, which is the illegal invasion of Iraq.” Despite having long held views about the issue, the comment was controversial, as it did not reflect the policy of the government which was that the legality of the war in Iraq was currently being studied by the Iraq inquiry.
Clegg next stepped in for Prime Minister’s Questions on 8 September 2010 following the news that Cameron’s father had taken very ill. Standing in for the Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, Jack Straw challenged Clegg on the allegations of phone hacking against Downing Street’s director of communications Andy Coulson. Responding, Clegg claimed that the allegations dating from Coulson’s time at the News of the World were a matter for the police to investigate. On 10 November 2010, as Cameron was making a trade visit to China, Clegg deputised for the third time, meeting Harman across the despatch box. On a day that coincided with violent student protests against tuition fees in London, the Labour deputy leader chose the same subject to quiz Clegg, accusing him of a U-turn on pledges made before the election. Responding, Clegg accused Harman of trying to re-position the Labour Party as the party of students when the party had previously campaigned against fees only to end up introducing them.
The issue of student financing had been considered one of the flagship policies of the Liberal Democrats with all of the party’s MPs, including Nick Clegg, signing the Vote for Students pledge to oppose any increase in student tuition fees prior to the 2010 general election. As part of the coalition agreement the Lib Dems abandoned their pledge to oppose any increase in tuition fees but gained permission to abstain on any vote relating to the increase of tuition fees. The Browne Review recommended that the present cap on student fees be lifted, potentially paving the way for universities to charge much higher fees in the future.
Clegg wrote to his MPs saying that he had “struggled endlessly” with the issue and said that departing from the pledge he had made prior to the election would be “one of the most difficult decisions of my political career”. Defending recommendations of the review Clegg said that poorer students would pay less since the income level at which students needed to earn before beginning to pay off their student loan would rise from £15,000 to £21,000.
During an interview on 24 October 2010 with the BBC’s Andrew Marr Clegg said that he “regretted” not being able to keep his pre-election policy to scrap tuition fees but claimed that this was a result of the financial situation the country had found itself in.
On 14 October 2010, Clegg delivered a speech at a school in Chesterfield, at which he announced the government’s intention to spend £7 billion on a ‘fairness premium’ designed to see extra support going to the poorest pupils over the course of the parliament. Clegg claimed that the funds for the scheme would be “additional” to the current education budget and this view was backed up by a Number 10 aide who when interviewed by The Guardian said “the money for this will come from outside the education budget. We’re not just rearranging furniture – this is real new money from elsewhere in Whitehall.” The package announced would provide 15 hours a week free nursery education for the poorest two-year-olds and a ‘pupil premium’ which would be given to schools to help those pupils eligible for free school meals worth £2.5 billion a year.
The announcement by Clegg ensured that two elements of the government’s Coalition Agreement had been fulfilled, that of the promise to support free nursery care to pre-school children and that of funding a ‘significant premium for disadvantaged pupils from outside the schools budget by reductions in spending elsewhere’. For Clegg the announcement was an important one politically coming two days after the publication of the Browne Review into the future of university funding which signalled the reversal of the long cherished Liberal Democrat policy of opposing any increase in tuition fees. The pupil premium announcement was important as it formed one of the four key ‘priorities’ on which the party had fought the last election. On 20 October 2010, the plans for the ‘fairness premium’ were introduced by the Treasury as part of the spending review which said that the money would be introduced over the period of the review which “will support the poorest in the early years and at every stage of their education”.
In June 2011, Clegg proposed that more than 46 million people would be handed shares in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group under the “people’s bank” plan. The plan proposes that ordinary voters would be able to profit from any increase in the value of their shares once the Treasury has recouped taxpayers’ money used for the bail-out – an offer that could eventually be worth up to £1,000 to householders. Clegg said that it was “psychologically immensely important” for people to be given a stake in the banks in the wake of the financial crisis. “Their money has been used to the tune of billions and billions and billions to keep the British banking system on a life-support system,” he said. The taxpayer owns 84 per cent of RBS and 43 per cent of Lloyds after the Government spent £65.8 billion buying shares at the height of the financial crisis. The share price of both banks has fallen sharply since the bail-out.
Aides close to Cameron and George Osborne warned that the Liberal Democrat scheme could cost £250 million to establish and would prove an “administrative nightmare”. However Stephen Williams said “We are absolutely convinced it (standard privatisation) would not be cheaper, we are absolutely convinced of that.” A Downing Street spokesman said that the Liberal Democrat plan was “an option”. “The Treasury has said it is going to look at all the options and this will be one of those options,” the spokesman said. “We will be driven by making sure that we deliver the best value for the taxpayer.” The Treasury also played down the likelihood of the proposal becoming reality. A source said Mr Osborne was “happy to listen to ideas” but the “issue doesn’t currently arise”.
House of Lords reform
In August 2012, after reform of the House of Lords was abandoned, Clegg said the Conservatives have defied the Coalition agreement by trying to “pick and choose” which items of Government policy they support. The row marks one of the most serious crises for the Coalition since the 2010 general election. Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, said he was “very disappointed”, describing the decision as a “great shame”. Clegg said that favoured by the Conservatives to make sure the Coalition is a fair and equal partnership. “My party has held to that [Coalition] contract even when it meant voting for things that we found difficult,” he said. “But the Conservative party is not honouring the commitment to Lords reform and, as a result, part of our contract has now been broken.” Clegg also revealed the Conservatives rejected his suggestion of a “last ditch” compromise to save both policies. “Clearly I cannot permit a situation where Conservative rebels can pick and choose the parts of the contract they like, while Liberal Democrat MPs are bound to the entire agreement,” he said.
In September 2012, Clegg formally announced that he was “regrettably” withdrawing proposals to reform the Lords in the face of overwhelming opposition from Conservative MPs. He signalled he would exact his revenge by refusing to sack any Liberal Democrat minister who voted against changes to MPs’ boundaries – which is Government policy – in retaliation over the Lords reform débâcle. Traditionally party leaders are offered peerages when they leave the House of Commons. When asked by Labour MP Dennis Skinner if he would take a seat in the Lords, he said: “No”, adding: “I personally will not take a seat in an unreformed House of Lords. It just sticks in the throat.”
Cash for honours
In 2011, Clegg spoke out against the practice of parties putting forwards nominees for royal honours in return for campaign contributions.
Cyril Smith child abuse allegations
In April 2014, Clegg refused to hold an inquiry into what he called the “repugnant” actions of former Rochdale MP Cyril Smith. Greater Manchester Police have stated that Smith, who died in 2010, abused young boys. Clegg said: “My party, the Liberal Democrats, did not know about these actions.” Clegg stated that the child abuse allegations were a matter for the police.
Calls for resignation
Following poor results in the 2014 local elections, two parliamentary candidates suggested Clegg should resign. Party activists launched an online petition urging him to quit. MP John Pugh argued: “We have just lost 72% of the council seats we were defending and 91% of the Euro seats. The vast majority of the UK this morning is without Lib Dem representation at any level. If that does not prompt a serious, sharp review focussed view both of strategy and leadership, then whatever will!” These calls were dismissed by senior party members and former leader Paddy Ashdown. The party went from 57 seats to 8 in the 2015 General election. Clegg resigned later that day.
Electoral performance and standing in the polls
Standing in the polls
After Clegg became leader, the polls were mixed; the Liberal Democrats occasionally polled above 20 points, averaging around 19%. In May 2009, the party overtook Labour in an opinion poll (25%–22%) for the first time since the days of its predecessor, the SDP–Liberal Alliance, in 1987. Clegg thus became the first Liberal Democrat leader to out-poll Labour in an opinion poll. After Clegg’s performance in the first of three general election debates on 15 April 2010, there was an unprecedented surge of media attention and support for the Liberal Democrats in opinion polls. ComRes reported the Liberal Democrats at 24% on the day, and on 20 April in a YouGov poll, the Liberal Democrats were on 34%, one point above the Conservatives, with Labour in third place on 28%. This success was described as “Cleggmania” by journalists.
Following the formation of the coalition, support for the Liberal Democrats has fallen. On 8 December 2010, the eve of a House of Commons vote on changes in the funding of higher education, an opinion poll conducted by YouGov recorded voting intention figures of Conservatives 41%, Labour 41%, other parties 11% and Liberal Democrats 8%, the lowest level of support recorded for the Liberal Democrats in any opinion poll since September 1990.
Parliamentary by-elections (2008 to 2010)
Five parliamentary by-elections were held during Clegg’s leadership prior to the 2010 general election. At Crewe and Nantwich the party’s share of the vote decreased by 4%. In the subsequent Henley by-election the party achieved a 1.8% increase in their vote. At the Norwich North by-election the party came third with a 2.2% fall in their vote share. The two Scottish by-elections, Glenrothes and Glasgow East, saw decreases in the Liberal Democrat vote, 8% and 10% respectively.
2008 and 2009 local elections
The local election results for the Liberal Democrats during the same period have been mixed. In the 2008 local electionsthe Liberal Democrats took second place with 25% of the vote making a net gain of 34 councillors and took control ofSheffield City Council, but their share of the vote was down 1%. The next year the Liberal Democrats gained Bristol but lost both Somerset and Devon producing a net loss of councils and a net loss of one councillor. The party however did increase its share of the vote by 3% to 28% beating the Labour Party into third place. In the European Parliament electionsheld on the same day, the Liberal Democrats gained a seat but had a slight decrease in their share of the vote, staying in 4th place compared to the previous European elections, behind the two main parties and UKIP.
2008 London elections
In the 2008 London Assembly elections the Liberal Democrats were the only one of the three main parties to see a decrease in their share of the vote, and in the mayoral election the Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick came third again with a decreased share of the vote.
2010 general election
At the 2010 general election, the Liberal Democrats won 23% of the vote, an improvement of 1%, however they only won 57 seats, 5 fewer than in 2005. No political party had an overall majority, resulting in the nation’s first hung parliament sinceFebruary 1974. Talks between Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, and Clegg led to an agreed Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, enabling the Queen to invite Cameron to form a government.
Parliamentary by-elections (2010 onwards)
Since the 2010 general election, Clegg’s Liberal Democrats have contested 13 by-elections in Great Britain (as of 2 March 2013). The party scored their first by-election win of Clegg’s leadership at Eastleigh in 2013, with Mike Thornton holding the seat for the Liberal Democrats, despite a 19% swing away from the party. Clegg described the result as an election in which Liberal Democrats “overcame the odds with a stunning victory.”
Earlier by-elections in the parliament had proven less successful. They failed to win Oldham East and Saddleworth in January 2011, after they had successfully petitioned to overturn the general election result. They polled 32% of the vote, a small increase on 2010, but lost out to Labour whose vote was up by 10 percentage points. The Liberal Democrats also came second at Leicester South (which they had held between 2004 and 2005) in May 2011 with 23% (down 4% on 2010), and at Manchester Central in November 2012 where they polled 9% (down 17%).
In the remaining nine contests, Liberal Democrats have finished no higher than third place (and in Rotherham finished in an unprecedented 8th position, with just 451 votes, or 2% of the total). In every by-election except Oldham East and Saddleworth their vote has fallen, with decreases of over 10% recorded at eight of the contests. In six of the 13 by-elections, the party have lost their deposit after failing to poll 5% of the vote – an unusually high number of such lost deposits for a major party.
2011 local, Scottish and Welsh elections
A year following the formation of the Coalition Clegg’s Liberal Democrats faced poor results in the local elections. InScotland the party lost all its mainland constituency seats, holding only the Shetland and Orkney islands. Their constituency vote share also fell from 16% to just 8% In the Welsh elections the party held just one of its 3 constituency seats, that of Welsh leader Kirsty Williams, but gained a regional seat. In the 2011 local elections, the Lib Dems lost over 700 councillors, and slumped from 25% to 17% in the share of the local council vote, also losing control of Sheffield City Council with the LibDems dropping to the lowest number of councillors in more than 20 years.
In the AV referendum, the Yes vote, supported by the Liberal Democrats, was defeated by 67.9% to 32.1%. In the face of the election results, Clegg told the BBC that Liberal Democrats must “get up, dust ourselves down and move on”.
2012 local and London elections
Local elections were held in May 2012 to 185 local authorities in Great Britain, including all 32 councils in Scotland and 21 out of 22 in Wales.
Results again proved poor for the Liberal Democrats, as they won 431 seats in total, a loss of over 300 on the pre-election position. They also lost overall control of one council (Cambridge, though the Liberal Democrats hold 21 out of 42 seats, so they exercise control with the mayor’s casting vote). They retained control of the other six councils they were defending in England. Despite the losses, the Liberal Democrat vote share saw a modest increase compared to 2011.
In London, elections were held to the London Assembly and Mayoralty. The Liberal Democrats again selected Brian Paddick as their Mayoral candidate. He polled just 4% of the vote (down from 10% in 2008), and finished fourth behind theGreen Party. In the Assembly, the Liberal Democrats also finished behind the Greens across London, and failed to win any of the individual constituency seats. They polled 7% of the vote on the London-wide list (which elects “top-up” candidates to the assembly under a form of proportional representation), which represented a decline of 5% on the previous contest. This meant that the party lost one seat, and was reduced to just two assembly seats, their smallest representation since the formation of the assembly in 2000.
In the aftermath of the results, Clegg again faced calls to quit as leader, with former MP Lembit Öpik suggesting that Clegg retain his Cabinet position while relinquishing leadership of the party, saying “My empirical view is that we would have done better with a different leader”.
2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections
As part of the Coalition Agreement, directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners were introduced to replace Police Authorities. Elections to the new posts took place in November 2012. Liberal Democrats contested 24 of the 41 police force areas, and failed to win any of the contests (and in fact never progressed to the second round of the two-stage count in any of the elections they fought). Their best performance was in Cumbria, where they polled 22%, while their worst was Surrey where the took just 6% of the vote.
Despite not winning any contests under their official party label, one Liberal Democrat, Winston Roddick was elected as Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales having stood as an Independent. Roddick claimed that he had never hidden his party membership and that his campaign was “financed by himself with no donations or backing from any political party and he was an independent candidate in every sense of the word”. His campaign also dismissed as “sour grapes” claims from the Labour Party that “the only way in which the Lib Dems thought they could win the election was by presenting themselves as independent.”
2015 general election
In the 2015 general election, the Liberal Democrats were reduced from 57 seats to 8. Clegg held his Sheffield Hallam seat with a reduced majority, contrary to polling that said he was vulnerable to Labour, but resigned the leadership the day after.
Broadcasting and media
Since January 2013 Clegg has presented a weekly radio show on LBC called Call Clegg. Initially broadcast in the London area, the programme went national along with LBC in February 2014. The programme was nominated for twoRadio Academy Awards in 2014.
A party political broadcast in which Clegg apologised for the Liberal Democrats breaking the promise over tuition fees was remixed into a song, “Nick Clegg Says I’m Sorry” by The Poke and Alex Ross, and sold on iTunes as a charity single. The song charted on 23 September 2012 at number 143 in the Official UK Singles Charts before climbing to 104 the following week. In his 2010 production Dandelion Mind, comedian Bill Bailey sang “Nick Clegg you don’t have to wear that dress tonight, walk the streets for money, you don’t have to sell your body to the right” to the tune of “Roxanne“.
In September 2000, Clegg married Miriam González Durántez, from Valladolid, Spain. They have three sons. While Clegg has stated that he does not believe in God, his wife is a Roman Catholic and they are bringing up their children as Catholics. On 16 September 2010, during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United Kingdom, Clegg attended the State reception in the grounds of Holyrood Palace and was introduced to the Pope by Her Majesty the Queen. Clegg identifies as a feminist.
Clegg lives in Parkfields, Putney, south west London. He also has a house in his constituency close to the Peak District and often walks with his wife near Stanage Edge, which he describes as “one of the most romantic places in the world”. In May 2010 Downing Street announced that Clegg and the Foreign Secretary William Hague would share use of Chevening, which is typically the official country residence of the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom.
When he appeared on Desert Island Discs in October 2010, his choice of discs included Johnny Cash, Prince andRadiohead and his luxury was a “stash of cigarettes”. In an interview in April 2011, Clegg stated he dealt with the pressures of political office by reading novels late at night and he “cries regularly to music”. He supports Arsenal F.C.
Styles of address
- 1967–1999: Mr Nicholas William Peter Clegg
- 1999–2004: Mr Nicholas William Peter Clegg MEP
- 2004–2005: Mr Nicholas William Peter Clegg
- 2005–2008: Mr Nicholas William Peter Clegg MP
- 2008–present: The Rt Hon Nicholas William Peter Clegg MP