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Clegg no longer the third man in politics

world Updated: May 05, 2010 23:31 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

When the leader of the group that has long struggled to shake off the dismissive tag of Britain’s ‘third party’ burst into the pre-election scenario last month, all hell broke loose.

Suddenly, befuddled strategists of the two dominant parties, Labour and the Conservatives, were scouring for ways to contain Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, while at the same time courting him – in case of a hung parliament.

Whether or not the Lib Dems manage to upset everybody’s election calculations by snatching a large number of seats from both Labour and Conservatives, one thing is certain in this most uncertain of British general elections: Clegg is here to stay.

For that Clegg has to thank the poor record of the other two parties in power and increasing public disenchantment with their corrupt MPs, but most of all the power of the television and — quite frankly — his good looks and easy charm.

Ever since the start of pre-election television debates last month, Clegg, 43, has had audiences in studios and young voters outside eating out of his hand. With a stance of ‘plague on both your houses’ with which to corner Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron, Clegg has managed to offer himself as a credible, fresh-faced alternative to what he calls “the same old politicians”.

Unlike his somewhat stiff rivals, Clegg is a natural performer on live TV — he addresses audience members directly and always by their first names. So steep was his rise in the polls following the first debate that it was the Tories and Labour who briefly looked like being consigned to the position of ‘the others’ of British politics.

Now things have settled down again in the polls. But this nation of over 60 million has warmed strongly to Clegg, a former journalist.