My Dad retired as a GP in the late eighties. He’s a lifelong liberal , his politics grounded in Methodism, the protestant work ethic and a sense of public duty.
As a County Councillor with time on his hands, he fell into the role of Leader of Dorset Liberals… a title with “impotence” escutcheoned ” above it- the Dorset Liberals had been out of power since Local Government began in the 1800s.
Strange things happen and by a series of happy chances the Liberals were within a few months in command of an overall majority on the County Council. Dad became leader of the council and to quote a phrase from the then Liberal leader he “became the most powerful Liberal since Lloyd George“.
The parallels with Nick Clegg are interesting. Both then and now the Liberals are benefiting from disillusionment with the major parties and profiting from an absence of mistakes rather than any great understanding of policy.
Cameron and Brown are constrained by the burdens of what they have done and said they will do before, shackled by the expectations of parties with entrenched views and the funding of powerful vested interests. Clegg is unconstrained and it shows in his light and easy manner. It is not just that he has less to lose, he has the freedom to say and do what he considers right.
Dad didn’t pursue a radical agenda when he assumed his position. He formed a voluntary alliance with the conservatives from whom he took over and was prepared to include them in decision making for the first years of his administration. Like Clegg, he was familiar with the infrastructure of government and was able to be accepted by the council officers who perform the function of the cicil service- at a local level.
Over time he introduced his more radical ideas, concentrating particularly on the needs of the elderly and isolated in a very rural constituency. He retained his position for many years without scandal or major contention.
There is a very real possibility that Nick Clegg will become our next prime minister albeit with no overall majority. Whether he will or not comes down to whether voters will retain their current sense of adventure or take fright at the prospect of something quite new.
Now Dad writes poems and he’s proud to have won a Spectator poetry prize with this bit of Hardy inspired whimsy.
Dear Tess, you modest maid of Marlott,
When I created you I thought
Of you as virtuous, not a harlot.
Dear Tom, my life was always fraught.
I gave my all to Angel Clare,
But shared my favours everywhere.
I wish, dear Tess, your soul to rest
In peace. But Clare no angel seemed,
To me at least. I wrote with zest
The story of a doomed affair.
Throughout it all your beauty gleamed.
Although I had to change the plot,
I never lost it totally.
Dear Tom, your novels hit the spot,
If only anecdotally.
Dr G.W. Tapper