Nick Clegg’s Strong Hand

A family member who was deeply in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy did not share my sense of panic at his upcoming meeting at the bank. He informed me, with complete equanimity, that “When you owe someone a thousand dollars, they have power over you. But when you owe someone a million dollars, you have power over them — they can’t afford to let you go under.”

After the thrashing the LibDems took in the UK election yesterday, I offer this anecdote as advice to the embattled Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat now serving as Deputy Prime Minister. He outraged his party by supporting the recent university tuition rises, and seems even more a persona non grata after his party’s drubbing in local elections and the resounding defeat of alternative vote (which wasn’t proportional representation but would still have augmented LibDem influence in Parliament at the expense of the Tories and Labour).

Clegg’s saving grace is that David Cameron desperately needs him. Those LibDems who might replace him as party leader would be nowhere near the good sport Clegg has been (I don’t think the PM will be having Liberal Democrat Vince Cable round for tea anytime soon), and many of the rank and file would just as soon bring the government down as continue in the coalition. Clegg’s thus never had as strong a hand to ask for something he wants and to be given credit for getting it. I’m betting it will be dramatic reform of the House of Lords, including an end to hereditary peer membership. Some of Cameron’s party will object, but the PM has the perfect answer: We can’t afford to let this man go under.

[Cross-posted at Same Facts]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.