Clegg, Nick

Clegg, Nick
▪ 2009
Nicholas Peter William Clegg 
born Jan. 7, 1967, Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire, Eng.

      In 2008 Nick Clegg, the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), faced the task of reviving the flagging fortunes of the smallest of the U.K.'s three main political parties. At age 41, however, he knew that unless the political climate changed drastically for the worse, he would have at least two general elections in which to make an impact and “establish three-party politics for good.”

      Clegg and his wife, attorney Miriam González Durántez (the daughter of a conservative senator in Spain), were possibly the most nationally diverse couple to have reached prominence in British politics. He had a Dutch mother and a half-Russian father (whose aristocratic mother fled to Britain after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution); he grew up bilingual, speaking English and Dutch, and later became fluent in French, German, and Spanish. Clegg was educated at Westminster School, London, and he studied anthropology (M.A., 1989) at the University of Cambridge, political philosophy (1989–90) at the University of Minnesota, and European affairs (M.A., 1992) at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belg. He traveled extensively and worked at various jobs in Germany, Austria, Finland, the U.S., Belgium, and Hungary.

      In 1994, after having briefly tried his hand at journalism, Clegg became an official at the European Commission in Brussels, where he progressed to become adviser to Sir Leon Brittan, an EU commissioner and former Conservative Party cabinet minister. Clegg helped to negotiate the admission of China and Russia to the World Trade Organization. Brittan regarded his young adviser as one of the brightest future politicians of his generation and urged him to pursue a career as a Conservative MP. Clegg, however, felt that the Liberal Democrats reflected far better his own internationalist outlook. In 1999 he was elected as an LDP member of the European Parliament.

      Clegg was widely tipped as a future party leader. He paved the way by leaving the European Parliament in 2004 and winning a seat in the 2005 British general election as MP for Hallam, a suburb of Sheffield. In January 2006, when Charles Kennedy resigned as LDP leader, Clegg felt that he was too new to Parliament to stand for leader and backed 63-year-old Sir Menzies Campbell, who appointed Clegg as the party spokesman on home affairs. He quickly made his mark as an eloquent critic of the Labour government's curbs on civil liberties. Less than two years later, amid harsh media criticism of his elderly appearance, Campbell was forced to resign. This time Clegg did decide to stand. On Dec. 18, 2007, he defeated 53-year-old Chris Huhne by a margin of just 511 votes in the balloting of more than 41,000 party members. After becoming LDP leader, Clegg sought to streamline the party's process of decision making and policy formulation; previous leaders had expressed frustration because they were required to consult members more widely than leaders of other major U.K. parties.

Peter Kellner

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Universalium. 2010.

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