I am really, really grateful to Nick Clegg.
This startling, counterintuitive thought popped into my head as I sat in my first local Labour Party AGM for about thirteen years. (Yes, I’m sorry, thirteen years. How lame is that?)
Meetings tend to take me into a world of my own. I can never shake free of that cartoon which says “Feeling lonely? Arrange a meeting.” How had I got here? Why wasn’t I at home watching Corrie, or doing something useful like grooming the cat?
In part, it’s the Tories. I loathe them. And every day that loathing grows. The veneer of Cameron’s PR makeover has long gone. Behind the gloss of husky rides and cycling to work, the Nasty Old Tories are emerging.
This was exemplified by two incidents this week:
Cam losing his temper at PMQs and Osborne stooping to a new low during Treasury Questions as he sneered at Ed Balls’ stammer. There are, of course, more serious matters than manners, which, clearly, they don’t teach at Eton: most notably the lack of understanding for what their reckless and unnecessary cuts mean for local communities. In my city, we are losing 70 of our 79 youth workers; around half of our libraries are being cut; all of our youth clubs are being shut. And that’s just for starters.
All this is despicable and distressing, but it’s what I expect from them.
It’s Clegg’s role in this that’s acted like a boot up the backside and which had propelled me into a stuffy room above a local working man’s club for a meeting after a day being paid to sit in - you guessed it - meetings.
I well remember Clegg’s visit to my university before the election and his wooing of my students who were not, I suspect, aware that they were signing up to a host of cuts that would disproportionately affect them and their life chances. As one student has since said to me, “lie to the adults by all means, but not to the young uns.” They deserve credit for their refusal to descend into cynicism, taking to the streets instead.
As the AGM moved through its business, the vision of Clegg appeared, like Banquo, dripping in blood. Not really. His spectre shuffled about looking embarrassed in a Hugh Grant kind of way.
Without Clegg, I suspect I wouldn’t be doing this. If you’d told me this time last year that the Lib-Dems would be forming a government with the Tories, I’d have laughed.
But they did, and here I was, having slunk into the meeting after an absence that makes that of the prodigal son look like a matter of minutes.
I felt like I’d come home.
That sounds romantic. It is. I am sure that, as with my family, there are people in the local party who will drive me mad in the coming months and years (and if push came to shove I could probably have gone round the table and identified those most likely to take up that mantel). But it felt good to sit with a group of people who shared the need for a powerful response to the cuts being introduced; who are trying to find ways of working for and representing their local community.
There’s a weight of responsibility on Labour now that we are the only progressive party. For me, that means putting my money where my mouth is and getting involved.
There’s a cheesy 1980s film called Re-Animator, in which a student and his girlfriend seek to reanimate the dead. If I think about my activist past – or the lack of it – the role assigned to Clegg could not be clearer.
Thanks, Nick. I would be so much the poorer if I weren’t doing this.
Now, if Clegg is the Re-Animator, does that make me the undead cat?