Does Clegg have the x-factor?

So the Lib Dems have finally got themselves a new leader – but can Nick Clegg really make them electable?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In the second highest-profile vote of the week, Clegg narrowly triumphed over rival Chris Huhne to claim the top job – though unlike Saturday’s X Factor final, the favourite actually won (albeit only just). Clegg, who describes himself as ‘a Liberal by temperament, by instinct and by upbringing’, now faces the challenge of reviving his party’s fortunes after a dismal couple of years, in which Charles Kennedy was forced out due to his fondness for a wee dram, and Ming Campbell was forced out due to his rapidly-approaching old age. It’s no easy task – with the Tories’ star apparently in the ascendant again, he’ll have a hard job convincing the public that his party is the most viable opposition to Labour.

Born to a half-Russian father and a Dutch mother, married to a Spanish woman and having spent a decade working in Brussels, Clegg’s pretty cosmopolitan by the standards of most politicians – he speaks about 346 languages and hangs out with film directors in his spare time. He’s had also the best education money can buy: exclusive public school Westminster, followed by university in Cambridge. And unlike most young politicians these days, he’s actually had a proper job – at least, if being a journalist, lecturer and Eurocrat actually counts as such…

As yet we have very little idea what his policies on business are – as with most leadership elections, the contenders didn’t get too bogged down with that boring policy stuff. But we do know that he made the Munich front pages when he was 16 after being arrested for a ‘drunken prank’, which involved setting fire to a rare collection of cacti. We’re not sure what the plants did to deserve that, but maybe the Lib Dems should dig out the lock they used to have on Charles Kennedy’s drinks cabinet…

Clegg has spent the last few weeks furiously denying that he’s a Cameron clone, but it’s clearly his media-friendly schmoozing and communication skills that have won him the vote. However, it remains to be seen whether these will stand up to the increased scrutiny that leadership will bring – already his admission that he doesn’t believe in God (on BBC radio today) is currently the third most popular story on the BBC’s website. Good job he’s not standing for election in the US...

Of course, the sceptics will say that none of this matters anyway – that the Lib Dems are an irrelevance in British politics, that they’re never going to challenge the two main parties and that they missed their window of opportunity by squabbling amongst themselves while Labour was reeling over Iraq and the Tories looked dead in the water. And of course, they might be right.

But you never know, Clegg might surprise a few people. Though he needs to start by working on building his public profile – perhaps he could take on X Factor winner Leon Jackson for the Christmas No.1 slot?

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