The Deputy Prime Minister himself, Nick Clegg, spoke at the joint Hansard Society, Political Studies Association meeting last night in the Attlee Suite at Portcullis House. But not until he - or, rather, the Political Studies Association - had been properly introduced by its chairman. Professor Vicky Randall proudly informed us that the Political Studies Association exists to promote.....political studies; a helpful clarification. Nick Clegg, by contrast, got the most cursory of introductions, and then spent some of his time laboriously commending former Times political editor Peter Riddell on his recently acquired Privy Council membership. The distinctly un-Privy Councilled Michael Crick, Newsnight's unruly political editor, sat with pursed lips at this evidence of a fellow journo entering the hallowed realms of the establishment. Anyway, commendation over, the Deputy PM got down to the brass tacks of giving us a fluent account of the Constitutional Reform Bill which we all know so well by now.
Nick is going to 're-wire' the British political system, as he twice informed us. It is currently "closed, remote and elite", so perhaps a good thing that the lads from Eton and Westminster are here to open it up a bit. Mr. Clegg saw his proposed reforms in the light of earlier great liberal achievements, although whether changing the size of constituency boundaries really is as big a deal as giving people the vote is at least moderately debatable. Of course the Bill contains other measures - a referendum on AV as a new Westminster voting system; Lords reform; fixed-term parliaments; re-wiring; decentralising some local government funding; more re-wiring; dealing with party funding; individual electoral registration in schools; another bit of re-wiring - this is all heady stuff, and some of it is necessary, but it is also in danger of looking like a collection of nice ideas devoid of an overarching theme. Clegg, to be fair, tried his best to give us that, but is telling that his finest moment - in the impeccable judgement of Dan, JJ and Jamie, the three L6th students in attendance - was his defence of his tuition fee decision. This wasn't about constitutional reform, but about hard political reality, and Clegg's rationale that he didn't win the election, and had no mandate for all, or any, of his election pledges, coupled with a clear and convincing explanation of the new loan policy, suggested that he actually has a story to tell, but needs to tell it more clearly and distinctly.
Oh, and it was a loss to us all that Michael Crick, who switched between looking either disdainful, or peering disappointingly into his empty wine glass, was never called on by the Hansard Society chairman to ask his question. These academic types - no respect really.