Leaders: Nick Clegg doesn’t show much promise

Nick Clegg looks on as David Cameron and Ed Miliband talk before the Queen's Speech last week. Picture: Getty
Nick Clegg looks on as David Cameron and Ed Miliband talk before the Queen's Speech last week. Picture: Getty
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One prediction about the next UK general election can be made with absolute certainty – there will not be a Liberal Democrat government with Nick Clegg as prime minister.

But assuming that neither Labour nor the Conservatives wins an absolute majority in 2015, will the Lib Dems be in any position to form a coalition with either party?

On current evidence, the answer is a resounding no. The Lib Dems came sixth in the Newark Westminster by-election, lost more than 300 seats in the English council elections, and surrendered all but one of its 11 MEPs in the European parliamentary elections, finishing fifth behind the Green Party.

After these quite disastrous results, Mr Clegg managed to see off a half-hearted putsch. Now he has come out of the rather tight corner he is still in to make his first major speech since these humiliations and to lay out a programme to try to restore electoral belief in his party.

In a nutshell, he says he is going to fix the roads and sewers. That will take a lot of money, which the country doesn’t have, so he says he will borrow it. It is a pretty blatant signal that he recognises the electoral damage that being the spear-carriers for Conservative austerity has done to his party. But will it do the electoral trick?

Scots, we suspect, will take a serious interest in these questions only if there is a No vote in the 
independence referendum. Then, although the UK government has no responsibility for Scottish roads and sewers, implementation of such a policy would have the knock-on effect of increasing the capital spending ability of the Scottish Government.

It would also postpone the day when the UK government’s annual spending deficit turns into a tax revenue surplus, presently forecast to occur in 2018-19. Mr Clegg’s judgment is that the increase in economic activity that would come from the extra capital spending would create enough tax revenue to keep the deficit reduction schedule more or less intact. It is a reasonable hypothesis, but it needs testing before it becomes credible.

At a more fundamental level, Mr Clegg is saying “vote Lib Dem and put an end to Tory austerity”. That would have some obvious appeal were it not for the fact that the austerity many voters want to see the back of is depressed incomes, unemployment and squeezed welfare payments. Filling in potholes and constructing motorways comes lower down the priority list. And given Mr Clegg’s cheerleading for the austerity policy, it seems odd to hear him want to borrow vast sums.

It is just jam tomorrow. But whether Mr Clegg, assuming he gets to be in another coalition, gets to spread any of it, would depend on whether the coalition partner accepts it. And there, we suspect, many voters will not forget the abandonment by him of the promise to scrap student tuition fees, which was the centrepiece of his last manifesto.

Mayall leaves rich comedic legacy

To those now in middle age, and a few who are older than that, Rik Mayall, who played Rick in the television sitcom The Young Ones, was a defining character. Rick was an utterly obnoxious, self-obsessed person whose name, one of the other characters memorably said, was spelled with a silent “p”.

The show ran for only 12 episodes but appearing as it did between 1982 and 1984, its ground-breaking and utter anarchy became the perfect comedy antidote to Margaret Thatcher’s lectures to the nation on the need for belt-tightening responsibility.

It also brought alternative comedy to the big screen. It did so by using and lampooning traditional comedic devices – ridiculous head-bashing with frying pans, ludicrous trouser-dropping, massive explosions – and marrying that with the alternative comedy of extended observation taken to absurd extremes and even the occasional beheading.

The real Rik Mayall was utterly unlike the character he co-wrote for himself with fellow star Adrian Edmondson which, if that was not enough to prove his acting skills, he went on to show again and again with such roles as Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman. But although he was naturally quiet and reserved, he enjoyed a lot of fun, such as quad-biking. An accident that he suffered in 1998 on his quad-bike left him with injuries from which he never fully recovered.

He has, however, left an envious legacy in not just a particular and new style of comedy, but (and particularly with The Young Ones) in shows that opened the door for all sorts of different and innovative comedy.

Television comedy would have been much the poorer and paler without him.