I have returned to Britain to find the place in the grip of Clegg-mania. In some polls, the Lib Dems are now actually ahead. The Sunday Times has claimed that Clegg is now more popular than Churchill. Today’s Guardian compared him to Barack Obama. Now I know Nick Clegg, Nick Clegg is a friend of mine – and Nick Clegg is no Barack Obama. (That is a subtle reference to the Lloyd Bentsen-Dan Quayle debate, not an outrageous name-drop.) Mind you, I think even Barack Obama isn’t Barack Obama, if you know what I mean.
How to account for Clegg-mania? Well, the Brits have a stolid reputation. But actually the population is prone to bouts of contagious hysteria. Remember Diana mania? Clegg may be the beneficiary of a similar fickle, but powerful, public shift. He just has to hope that it lasts until the election.
It all sets things up for Thursday’s debate nicely. Obviously, the other two leaders are now going to have to go for Clegg. And given that the debate is on foreign affairs, there are some juicy targets. I’m sure that David Cameron will attack Clegg on Europe and on immigration – both issues on which the Lib Dems are well to the left of the electorate.
But the other leaders have to be careful. Clegg is charming and has the gift of sounding reasonable. If they really try to beat up on him, it could even work in his favour.