The undead Nick Clegg starts to stir…

by Dan Hodges

Ed Miliband has a nightmare. Forget the sleep apnoea;  this is what really keeps him awake at night.

He is walking along the corridor of a dark, abandoned castle. He turns a corner into an imposing room. Like the rest of the castle, the room has been ransacked by  angry villagers determined to wreak revenge for the evil that once dwelt amongst them. All that is left is a large black table. Upon the table sits a coffin, lid open.

Ed inches closer, torch flickering. He peers in. Inside there is a pale figure, eyes closed, dressed in a dark morning suit. It wears a gold tie.

Ed is initially gripped by fear. But as the moments pass the fear recedes; replaced by a strange feeling of empathy. Then sympathy.

Poor Nick Clegg. What he did was wrong. So very, very wrong. But he has paid the price. The price exacted from all politicians when their public turns upon them. Now, at last, he has found peace…

“Hello, Ed. I’ve been waiting for you”.

Dear God, he’s alive! He’s sitting up! He’s…

“You’ll find it’s not so bad in there. You have time to stop and think. To come to understand where it all went wrong”.

Ed turns, tries to run. But his feet are like clay. Clegg is out of the coffin now advancing towards him, cape spread wide. He can see razor-sharp teeth glinting in the moonlight; a cold, piercing stare reaching out from dark, empty eyes.

And somewhere in the distance he hears a laugh. A cruel laugh. He knows that laugh. It is David Cameron’s. Then there is silence.

OK, it’s only a dream. A fictional dream at that. The fevered imaginings of a tortured soul. Mine that is, not Ed Miliband’s.

But nightmares do sometimes come true. Just ask Sarah Teather’s speech writer.

What if the Lib Dems aren’t really dead? What if, like the Tories before them,  they’re only sleeping?

Nick Clegg truly believes they can rise again. What is more, he has a plan for ensuring their resurrection. It  involves crossing his fingers and clinging like a limpet to David Cameron.

That’s because David Cameron has his own plan. And it’s a good one. Cut hard, cut early. Absorb the blows; take the criticism. Then wait for time to act as the great healer.

2013. The economy is expanding, the deficit finally reducing. Tax cuts are in the offing. “We took the tough decisions”, says prime minister Dave, as he prepares to fly out to Washington for the signing of President Obama’s historic treaty on something or other. “We were told to change course. Labour said we needed to introduce a  Plan B. We did neither. We stuck to our guns. And we have come through. Now we are well placed to enjoy the fruits of our recovery”.

A figure stands by his side. The dusty old cape is gone. So too the waxy complexion, and haunted expression. ”Tough decisions”, says the deputy prime minister. “I know about tough decisions. I was being burnt in effigy. I had dog excrement shoved through my letterbox. But I did not waver. I didn’t do what was right for me or my party. I did what was right for my country”. Hard bitten hacks burst into spontaneous applause. Kevin Maguire is seen to dab away a tear. Even Quentin Letts is seen swallowing hard, though he later claims this was a final remnant of Sally Bercow.

Far fetched? Possibly. To date no one has ever seen Kevin Maguire cry. But politically it is not an implausible scenario.

Ed Miliband and his team are certainly alive to the risks, hence the videos, letters and speeches that constituted their love bombing of Lib Dem supporters early in his leadership. “What if Clegg recovers”, one aide once told me warily, “that would be a disaster”.

It would. The problem is, there’s very little Labour can actually do about it. Ed Miliband’s insistence on focusing on disillusioned Cleggites was working beautifully until the local elections. Then the country went to the polls, gave David Cameron a pat on the back and stuck two fingers up to the alternative vote. The progressive majority existed all right. The problem was, it lived in an electoral cul-de-sac.

Since then, Ed Miliband has had no option. Tortuously and tentatively he’s started to edge back towards the political centre. Benefit scroungers have been  given a symbolic slap. After some hesitation, rapists have been  told they would not be given early release under his premiership.

But although the early ardor has faded, Labour’s leader cannot help casting a covetous eye in the Lib Dems’ direction. When you hear his conference speech next week, you will hear much about the “middle ground”. But Ed Miliband will place it significantly closer to Sheffield Hallam than to Basildon.

Partly, this is instinct. Ed Miliband is at heart a liberal intellectual, and, to be fair to him, in the twelve months since he was elected he’s done little to hide the fact. He’s also acutely aware of the tactical implications of a Lib Dem revival. Labour’s own recovery in the polls, however cosmetic,  is almost exclusively at the expense of Clegg and his party. And every point Clegg recovers will be picked from Miliband’s pocket.

But there is also a hugely significant strategic issue at play. For the past thirty years Labour politics has been dominated by the dream of the historic centre-left progressive realignment. For many, on both left and right of the party, it represented the holy grail. This, we were told, was the magic bullet that would put the Conservatives out of power for a generation.

Then came the election, and its aftermath, and the dream was shattered. To underline the point, Nick Clegg made great play in his speech on Wednesday of gathering up the shards and emptying them into the dustbin.

Now there is a new dream. A dream that is shared between  a select few within the Lib Dems, and even more select circle within Tory party. Nick Clegg will not acknowledge its existence. David Cameron would place a pearl handled revolver to his temple before admitting he had even allowed it to enter his consciousness.

But Ed Miliband thinks about it, come the witching hour. The historic centre-right re-alignment.

He knows that at the time of  the next election the Tories and Lib Dems will be forced, at a minimum, into a de-facto electoral pact. Like it or not, they will both be defending the same record, and faced with a common enemy. He knows too that whatever posturing is in play at the moment, come election time survival instincts will take over. Tory and Lib Dem MPs in marginal seats will not allow pride to come before them and their own majorities. And he’s well aware that were such a re-alignment to occur the political space open to the Labour party would be so narrow there would be next to no chance of him, or any future Labour leader, squeezing through the door of Downing Street.

Of course, it’s just a nightmare. Nick Clegg is still dressed in his morning suit. The coffin lid remains closed. The townsfolk remain fearful and resentful.

Ed Milband can rest easy. Can’t he?

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

Tags: , , ,

8 Responses to “The undead Nick Clegg starts to stir…”

  1. Nick says:

    Here’s a more likely nightmare.

    The PIIGS go down the toilet. There are already there. End result is that lots of the unemployed there move to the UK looking for jobs, because there are none at home.

    They compete against the working class Labour voter. Capable of moving, living off floors and sofas, they win out because their costs are lower.

    End result the BNP end up benefiting.

  2. The Future says:


    Do you actually follow politics these days? Or do you just have a fixed set view of how things are and try and recycle that as much as possible?

    If this is all David Miliband supporters had to offer, the same recycled rhetoric then we had a lucky escape in him not being leader.

    You may not want to win the next general election under Ed but the rest of the party outside your mates do. So I suggest you try and be positive, instead of the bitter person you clearly are.

  3. Dan Hodges says:

    The Future,

    “You may not want to win the next general election under Ed but the rest of the party outside your mates do. So I suggest you try and be positive”

    I know what, why don’t I just make my next piece about how Labour won the 2010 election with a majority of 50, and just be done with it….

  4. Gareth C says:

    Nice bit of horror fiction there Dan. Seems like the ridiculous stories you made up for the No2AV campaign weren’t just a one off!

  5. Robin Thorpe says:

    I think that the comments from Nick and the Future are a little unkind on Dan; the nightmare scenario was intended as a lighthearted metaphor for the resurrection of the LibDems, and accurately depicts Cleggs strategy as outlined in his conference speech. The main theme running through his speech was the long history of the Liberal party and the beliefs and aspirations that go with that history. Several times he mentioned the history of Liberalism and each time he did this he referred to the Liberal party. None of the mainstream commentators seemed to have picked up on this deliberate phrase but I think it is revealing of his strategy. The surprisingly aggressive attack on Labour further defines his intention to move away from the social democratic element of the LibDem party to a stance more closely aligned with the liberal element of the Conservative party. Clegg and Cameron form a Gladstone mutual admiration society; it has been well reported that they enjoy a closer relationship than Cameron does with other members of his own party. They are both distinclty Whiggish in their outlook.

    Dan Hodges is right to point out that Clegg will try to ensure his own survival by attaching himself to Cameron. The centre-right realignment is very plausible; they see Lloyd-George and Churchill as other liberal politicians straddling the divide between the old Tory and Whig factions. He is also right to point out without either Lib Dem collapse or Lib Dem support, Labour are unlikely to regain control of parliament. A rainbow coalition maybe Labour’s best hope, with a Ed Milliband spearheading a social democratic alliance of red, green and orange. With Clegg leading the LibDems this won’t happen; many people voted LibDem at the last election because they live in strong Tory seats. The challenge must be to mobilise the social democratic vote to recognise that the LibDems are no longer an anti-tory vote.

  6. swatantra says:

    My advice to Ed would be to forget any thought of a coalition with the Lib Dems.
    There has been a realignment, the Lib Dems are now whether they like it or not, firmly in the Tories pocket, bringing to mind that infamous cartoon of Owen and Steel. Their futures and destnies are tied Dan is right there will be an electoral pact.
    What then for Labour? it could muster up a coalition of the Regional Parties and Greens or if lucky enough form a minority Govt.
    The trouble with Labour was that it never could get its head around ‘Coalitions’. Brown and the rest thought they could just give the crumbs to the Lib Dems and be satisfied., But the Lib Dems wanted virtually half the cake, and they got it with Dave. Thats why the Coalition is working so well despite the mutterings from some wishy washy Lib Dems who would always prefer their Party in Opposition. We’ve got a few like that on the Left in Labour as well. They can’t face up to any responsibility at all.

  7. BenM says:

    “That’s because David Cameron has his own plan. And it’s a good one. Cut hard, cut early. Absorb the blows; take the criticism. Then wait for time to act as the great healer.

    2013. The economy is expanding, the deficit finally reducing. Tax cuts are in the offing.”

    Oh, I see.

    This is a comedy!

  8. AmberStar says:

    @ Dan, I laughed. 🙂

    But I don’t think Clegg is the nightmare; I think it’s the boundary changes that will be keeping Ed awake at nights. Can you write something funny about that to lighten the load?

Leave a Reply