Mark Argent
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Politics:: articles since 2015 General Election
An open letter to Nick Clegg

3 August 2015, first published in Liberal Democrat Voice

Dear Nick

I delayed writing this letter until the leadership election was past, so it didn’t get lost in that campaign, but want to write to thank you for your rich contribution to the Liberal Democrats.

We owe you a great deal, not least for the wisdom, statesmanship and tenacity you have shown. It is a tribute to you and the colleagues who you led that you stepped into ministerial roles with a naturalness and fluency that belied the fact that we had not formed a majority government in living memory. It is a tribute to you personally that you withstood so many brickbats from so many quarters with such dignity.

In forming the coalition we knew we would take a pounding. You led us in putting the national interest ahead of party interest of which we can be justly proud, and which stands in stark contrast to the cynical view of politicians, then at a particularly low ebb because of the concerns over MPs expenses prior to the 2010 election.

For as long as I can remember the strongest argument against electoral reform has been that it would lead to coalitions, which were assumed to mean unstable government. One of the great, and unsung, achievements of the coalition is to trounce that argument, opening the door to a fairer electoral system far sooner than people assumed after the AV referendum was lost.

Coalition was new territory. Our media, used to speculating about splits in governments, struggled to recognise two parties working together. At the start it was essential to show unity, as you did, but I was impressed by the dignity with which you also marked out difference when that was possible — you and David Cameron gave very different responses to the Leveson report was a shining example. This raises the possibility of future coalitions happening differently, not because we got it wrong in 2010, but because the experience of that coalition will make it easier to do things differently next time.

We are now getting scary evidence of what the Tories do when left to their own devices. People had forgotten what life was like in the days of the Thatcher and Major governments. The dignity with which which you and your colleagues moderated them is a credit to you. In the short term, not trumpeting your achievements may have harmed our electoral result, but as people are shocked by what the Tories now do, their respect for you, and for the Liberal Democrats, will rise. The membership surge since the election is only the start of this.

In the television debates earlier this year, I was struck by how much more credible you were as a potential Prime Minister than either Ed Milliband or David Cameron. Sadly that was not to be. I believe history will view your contribution warmly and see you as the Liberal Democrat leader who showed that coalition is possible, opening the door to electoral change and the sorts of collaboration many of our European partners take for granted.

I suspect that your experience of collaborative working in the EU, honed by your time as an MEP, was a significant, if unacknowledged, gift to the British political process. As we think ahead to the EU referendum and putting the case for an open and internationalist engagement, we can be glad to have had in you a Deputy Prime Minister whose understanding of European culture and institutions is the polar opposite of the ’Little Englander“ mentality of so many eurosceptics.

People will not forget your resignation speech and its powerful argument for Liberal values, even as the electorate realised their mistake in stepping away from them.

I am profoundly sorry that your time as leader should have ended as it did, and hope that this is not the end of your rich contribution to the life of the country and the party.

Best wishes

Mark Argent