|(source: Labour List)|
“I agree with Nick.” – the catchphrase of the 2010 TV election debate between the then-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the Conservative’s David Cameron, and, of course, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats. 2010 saw the rise in popularity of the Liberal Democrats, and with a 23% share of the vote (and 56 seats) they entered into a coalition with the Conservatives as the junior partner with great promises of making Britain more democratic. However, since stepping into the role of Deputy Prime Minister, this certain “Clegg mania” has officially fallen flat on its face and, following a series of broken promises, it is no surprise that, with just under two months to go until the 2015 General Election, recent YouGov polls have shown the Liberal Democrats are set to win only 8% of the popular vote, placing far below the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP.
I don’t have any strong party affiliations and therefore view all party leaders with scepticism and distrust; however Nick Clegg is definitely the worst of a bad bunch. Upon entering the coalition, he effectively discarded the Liberal Democrat manifesto in favour of compromised Tory-LibDem policies, which, despite there being no strong mandate for either party, have significantly damaged the Liberal Democrats rather than the Conservatives, who are still polling neck and neck with Labour. Clegg’s most notable failure is the raise in tuition fees following Labour’s introduction of them in 1998. After signing a pledge to not raise fees prior to the election, Clegg agreed just six months later, in November 2010, that universities should be allowed to charge up to £9,000 per year- talk about stabbing his own party in the back! However, this is just one of Nick’s many empty gestures. There was the promise of electoral reform, flawed by a compromised referendum in 2011 on an AV electoral system that had only existed as a theory, and the childish refusal to support constituency boundary reforms, although pledging to do so in their manifesto, due to the Conservative’s refusal to pass through reforms to the House of Lords. As a politician, Clegg is weak and disrespected- I personally would not trust him with running our country.
However, as a linguist, I must hold up my hands and admit I have nothing but respect for Nick Clegg. Being almost fluent in five languages (English, Dutch, Spanish, French and German), his skills are greatly envied amongst many who struggle getting to grips with one foreign language, let alone four! It also puts Cameron’s sole O Level in French to shame.
Clegg not only uses these languages for personal use (he has a Spanish wife and Dutch mother) but also effectively in international government duties – he once held an entire meeting at the cabinet office with Herman Van Rompuy in Dutch and upon a visit to Germany in 2010 conversed easily in German whilst William Hague, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, held fast to his translation headphones.
Clegg’s ability as a polyglot is often unknown and although rightfully overshadowed by his political blunders, it is important nonetheless. Language is a key communicative skill and to have the ability to converse in any number of languages is a true gift. Clegg’s ease and willingness to talk to people in their native tongue shows his own appreciation of different languages and proves he is not as narrow minded as other politicians are perceived to be.
Nick’s approach is a breath of fresh air among the only too common and single-minded idea that “everyone knows English” (they don’t). Therefore, although he may have little respect as a serious politician, I ask you to give Nick a second chance, not in the world of politics, but in the world of languages where you’ll find yourself agreeing with Nick too.