Smug Elitist Who Hates Democracy; A Referendum on Europe? Human Rights Reform? Cuts in Welfare Handouts? an Increasingly Puffed-Up Nick Clegg, like the EU Commissars He So Admires, Holds the Views of Ordinary Britons in Contempt; SATURDAY ESSAY

Article excerpt

Byline: by Quentin Letts

THERE is still something of the pretend politician, the student on work experience about Nick Clegg.

This week our Deputy Prime Minister visited RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire.

Outriders, saluting flunkeys, bodyguards bristling with guns and electronic earpieces -- all the trimmings of high office were in attendance.

Mr Clegg, whose party trailed a poor third in last year's general election, swept into the air base like the President of the United States.

He was dressed in a boxy-shouldered suit, shoes even shinier than his sixthformer chin. Despite the outward pomp there was no disguising the callowness. Item: his unconvincingly husky voice, more squeaky door than stentorian grandee. Item: that shaving rash under his gullet. Alongside the uniformed men and women who recently conducted air sorties over Libya, Mr Clegg looked teenagerish, spongy-palmed.

Then, without a scintilla of self-knowledge, he made a patronising speech, describing the airmen as 'the guardians of freedom'. Coming from the politician who is opposed to giving British voters a referendum on Europe, this took some chutzpah.

But then, for all his adult life, Nick Clegg has been not only a zealot for Europeanism (albeit consistently myopic about all its faults and follies) but has also made significant personal financial gain from the Euro-bureaucratic structures -- more of which later -- that have this week thrown Western economies into crisis.

But then life for Nicholas William Peter Clegg is, at present, one long limo ride. He stretches out his spidery legs in the back of an official BMW, and is conveyed from undemanding engagements to creamy compromise in backroom deals while enjoying all the juicy appurtenances of executive power.

Wherever he goes, at home and on foreign freebies, the Union Flag is unfurled, a lectern with HMG's motif is erected, and civil servants bow and scrape.

Material consolations of high office are, perhaps, of minor significance. But is Nick Clegg starting to believe his own publicity? Significantly, he has taken to filming his own regular website mini-sermons which have the flavour of the Queen's Christmas Day broadcasts.

Meanwhile, his recent conduct certainly suggests a cocooned, pampered foot-stamper quite out of touch with political reality. Each day brings a fresh opportunity for him to screw the taxpayer and confound his Conservative partners.

Each day, without pause for longer-term considerations for the benefit of Britain, it is greedily seized.

In the latest example of this, cynically leaked to the Left-leaning media by Lib Dem spin doctors, Mr Clegg is being depicted as the champion of benefit recipients. He has allegedly decided to stop George Osborne saving the taxpayer [pounds sterling]10 billion a year by freezing the level of certain state handouts.

AND on Monday, Mr Clegg was in his Sheffield constituency announcing a [pounds sterling]36 million loan to an engineering company in the city.

With one hand he takes from the taxpayer. With the other he dispenses tax money to his own constituents. Pure pork barrel politics.

The sight of Mr Clegg throwing his weight around, vetoing Government action here, grooming his personal vote there, may be maddening. For the man himself, however, it is all immensely satisfying.

He has become the embodiment of coalition politics: in office yet -- because of his party's minority status -- also able to absolve himself of its more awkward consequences.

How pleasant it must be for him. Commissionaires give juddering salutes wherever he goes. Doors spring open not just for him but also for his Spanish lobbyist wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez. But might he come to rue all this swanking? Will we look back and reflect that he was undone, like so many politicians before him, by hubris? A year ago Mr Clegg, whey-faced with exhaustion, was a source of national concern. …