In ‘Between the Extremes’ Nick Clegg offers readers an insiders guide to the coalition government and provides a convincing argument for a centrist path in the future. He stresses the need for rational debate following the divisive EU referendum campaigns.
Clegg starts the book by providing an overview of his spectacular rise and fall, from the hero of the inaugural leaders TV debates (aka Cleggomania) to the Cenotaph, the day after his party were trounced in the 2015 general election and he was forced to resign. Following the TV debates Clegg was heralded as the face of a new centre-left politics, gaining legions of fans and bringing a swell of support for the Lib Dems, leading them to form the coalition government with the Conservatives in 2010. The Lib Dems entered the coalition full of optimism, yet its clear that this experience paved the way for a frustrating experience for the party. Here Clegg is particularly sincere, explaining the mental and physical tole a leadership role takes on an individual. After this begins a section of Clegg justifying his political decisions whilst in office, with particular attention paid to the student tuition fees issue. Here it feels relatively self indulgent, with him often claiming that events were completely out of his hands. It appears that narratives of his lack of power seem all too convenient. This section feels politically motivated and is out of character with the more objective stance taken in other parts of the book, wherein he is candid about the naivety of his party. In this section you get the sense that Clegg is trying to right the wrongs of the coalition. He persistently states that the sentiment that future will look back on the coalition far more positively, but if the last five years proves anything, it is that this is not the case, where the Liberal Democrats appear to ignore the coalition years entirely.
Clegg then presents his vision of a centrist political future, wherein politics is dominated by compromise. Indeed, Clegg feels that in the future coalitions will be far more regular, forcing intra-party concessions. As a result he see’s the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition as something of a game-changer in the UK. Clegg foresees the fragmentation of politics as a reason for coalitions as the rise of third parties continues in the form of UKIP. Clegg then makes a compelling argument for electoral reform to combat this new political environment and better reflect the voting choices of the electorate.
A large portion of the book deals with Europe from Clegg’s pro-European stance and the issue with the EU referendum campaigns. He explains how the discourses created in the campaigns are dangerous and that the divisive messages were damaging to British politics. Here he argues that there is a need for more rational debate in the political sphere, which was missing in the EU debates. Here is Clegg at his idealistic best, arguing from his Rationalist-Liberalist beliefs but it seems fairly far removed from the reality of contemporary political discourses. Clegg’s analysis is thus an counterpoint to modern political campaign strategies and offers a reasoned critique of the way that political communication is going.
To conclude, Between the Extremes is a candid and timely autobiography that provides an insiders look at the coalition years. The book provides perspectives on the future of politics and critiques of the increasingly partisan political system. If you are looking to understand the Lib Dems role in the coalition or feel that post-Brexit politics is alienating you, it is definitely worth a read.