Cleggmania is sweeping Britain. On the basis of his performance in the first two televised debates between the three political party leaders, Nick Clegg is the new golden boy of British politics. People are talking of him as the leader Britain needs.
Most watchers of the debates — the first in British electoral history — scored the contests as a surprise victory for Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, over Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron.
Expenses scandals have left electors deeply contemptuous of parliamentarians. Clegg, as the outsider, managed to convince the audience that he was one of them and not part of a cozy old political machine.
His big problem is his name. Clegg.
Britain has come a long way from the noblesse oblige era of aristocratic, Eton-educated political leaders, but not quite far enough for the Cleggs, I fear.
It was a sure sign of the times when the Right Honourable Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, 2nd Viscount Stansgate, renounced his peerage in the Sixties and reinvented himself as man-of-the-people ‘Tony Benn’ to pursue a career in British politics. It was said he had his shirt collars specially frayed at Harrods for the role.
And Eton-educated* Anthony Charles Lynton Blair led ‘New Labour’ out of the political wilderness as plain Tony Blair.
But Nick Clegg has no where else to go.
What’s wrong with Clegg might not be apparent to America ears, but to the British there is plenty wrong with it, although people probably wouldn’t say as much. Clegg is brass-necked working class, a clunkingly Anglo-Saxon, irredeemably Northern, below the salt name.
Clegg is, in fact, one of the oldest Anglo-Saxon surnames on record, pre-Domesday Book and all that, but it doesn’t count for much in modern Britain. Clegg would be the name of the dunderhead in a TV sitcom, or the feckless foot soldier in a Shakespeare historical drama.
Gordon Brown can’t be anything other than he is – all Brown, no gloss. Eton-educated David Cameron hasn’t yet reduced himself to ‘Dave’, but he might still before Election Day on May 6 if the Clegg continues to live up to his ancient family motto:
“Let him take what he is able to take”.
*Tony Blair was educated Fettes College and not Eton. I am indebted to Alan Stephen for pointing out the error.