Why 'Calamity Clegg' is likely to be the leader who rose without a trace
Published 05/05/2015 | 02:30
At the last UK election, he was hailed as the most popular party leader since Winston Churchill, an unexpected star who upstaged the two dominant parties. Some even wondered whether he was the "British Obama".
Nick Clegg had a meteoric rise that transformed him from a relatively obscure leader of the Liberal Democrats - the perennial "also-rans" - into deputy prime minister. Five years on, he may be headed for the political graveyard - paying for his decision to enter a marriage of convenience with the Conservatives.
Clegg's party are bracing themselves for a disastrous election, and the 48-year-old faces the humiliating prospect of losing his own seat in parliament. Many have not forgiven him for breaking his pre-election pledge to oppose any increase in university tuition fees. Just months after the 2010 election, the coalition announced those fees would triple to £9,000 per year. "He didn't stand by his guns. Now he's gone to government, people have seen the other side of him," said Tony Lamb, a 57-year-old butcher in the constituency of Sheffield Hallam, where Clegg is fighting to keep a seat he's safely held for two terms. "People think he's just somebody's puppet, making up the numbers. That's all he's done." That harsh judgment sums up the views of many voters who have turned their backs on Clegg, whose fall from grace has been as spectacular as his rise was sudden. In 2010 the field was much less open, and Mr Clegg appeared the fresh, authentic outsider as he took on his more established rivals.
A standout performance in a TV debate brought unprecedented support for Clegg and the Lib Dems, and when the Conservatives failed to win a majority, Clegg became kingmaker. But being the junior partner in the ruling coalition - the first since World War II - meant the Lib Dems had to go along with Tory-led austerity policies, a move that alienated supporters and tarnished Clegg's reputation. Soon, the man who sparked "Cleggmania" became "Calamity Clegg".
"People were queuing around the block voting for him the last time," said Sam Matthews (22), a recent graduate. "I don't know how any student can vote for him again," he added. "He's saddled all of us with debt, thousands and thousands of pounds." The Lib Dems are expected to lose as many as half of their 56 seats.
Polls suggest that Clegg is in danger of losing the race in his own constituency.