Mumsnetters still hate Nick Clegg - even if they do find him sexy

The former Lib Dem leader's bruising Mumsnet Q&A shows just how far his party has to go before it escapes the legacy of coalition.

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Thatcher stole our schoolkids’ milk, Brown sold our gold, and Nick Clegg broke his promise not to raise tuition fees. Once a story like any of those stops being news and becomes immutable popular legend, there’s no going back for a politician: a critical mass will always believe that Thatcher was heartless and gratuitously cruel, that Brown was a spendthrift goon incapable of managing the public finances, and that Nick Clegg was a spineless turncoat who sold out his principles for power.

But is that really still true of Clegg? He might have led the Lib Dems into coalition with the Tories and off a cliff, but has his rebirth as the de facto leader of Remoaners everywhere saved his legacy and made him cool to like again?

The short answer: no. Not if Mumsnet’s militant tendency have anything to do with it. The site’s biscuit-obsessed members are frequently – and not always unjustly – mocked. But their grilling of the recovering former deputy prime minister this afternoon can actually teach us a lot about how soon the Lib Dems might emerge from their Coalition-inflicted electoral penury. And on this evidence, the answer is not very - though Clegg's apparently still got it at 50.

Posts like these – and there are dozens of them (in one reply on tuition fees, Clegg plaintively noted: “Lots of you are asking about this”) – are a prime illustration of the Lib Dems’ nightmare position. As George pointed out today, a majority of the public are predisposed to dislike their anti-Brexit message, and fewer still like the messengers. Clegg’s YouGov approval rating, despite having crawled up since his unhappy term in government ended and Brexit began, is still a lowly minus 7 per cent. Things are even worse for Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron: his is a subterranean minus 30 per cent – a figure dwarfed by the number of people who don’t know who he is.

It’s also clear that, despite tentative steps back towards their customary berth as Britain’s default party of protest, the Lib Dems’ five testing years in government cast a much longer shadow than many of them would care to admit. For every Mumsnetter prevaricating over whether to convert to the Lib Dems over Brexit, another was attacking the party's - and Clegg's - conduct in the Coalition years. That Clegg still serves as the lightning rod for the anger the coalition provoked while remaining the Lib Dems' most recognisable public figure makes this all the grimmer. 

Yes, the Lib Dems may have provided a valuable check on the Tories’ more deleterious impulses in government, but nowhere near enough people seem to have noticed. Saying you ensured only five puppies – or none at all – were thrown off a bridge when the nastier kids wanted to throw twenty off won’t wash: the Mumsnetters are angry that you entertained the idea of puppies being thrown off that bridge at all.

No matter how patiently Clegg points out the advantages of post-2012 university funding mechanisms and the positive externalities of the Pupil Premium, too many voters still see a grubby patina of betrayal. Better news for Nick, though – plenty of mums out there still find him sexy.

You win some, you lose some. 

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.