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Jonathan Isaby: If Nick Clegg venerates Shirley Williams so much, why couldn't he remember voting for her?

By Jonathan Isaby

Picture 4 With the Queen having just turned 85, this week's Spectator contains tributes to a number of the country's "most inspiring and influential over-80s".

Peter Hoskin reproduced two of the political tributes on Coffee House yesterday: David Cameron pays tribute to Margaret Thatcher, whilst Nick Clegg writes in praise of Shirley Williams.

Williams, at the moment, looks like causing the Deputy PM more than a headache or two from the red benches of the House of Lords, yet here's what he has written about in the Spectator: 

"Shirley Williams is a Liberal Democrat legend. She is that rare thing in politics: both an intellectual and a force to be reckoned with. It is extraordinary to think that she has reached octogenarian status, that she can talk of her childhood experience as a wartime evacuee — and still cause a stir today. No one would deny that she remains a formidable figure in the politics of 2011, from European affairs to education and NHS reform. Thirty years ago, she wrote that the old politics was dying. She was right. It has taken a while, but the battle to decide what the new politics will be like is beginning — and, at 80, Shirley is still firmly on the front line."  

That's all very well, but is he really as long-standing an admirer of hers as he would have us believe?

Cast your mind back to last year's general election and the interview which Dermot O'Leary conducted with the Lib Dem leader on BBC3. You probably don't remember it, so here's how Paul Waugh transcribed it at the time:

Dermot: You were a first time voter in '87. What inspired you? Presumably you voted Liberal in '87?
Clegg: Yeah I've always - I'm just trying to think um.
Dermot: Just clear that up, you have always voted Liberal?
Clegg: I've always voted Liberal, absolutely. Um.
Dermot: What was it in '87 that inspired you to vote?
Clegg: Well you’ve got to remember I was at university then and it was very much sort of the height of the Thatcher revolution and I - God I don't remember that much...

At the time many of us (like Iain Dale here for example) wondered whether Clegg's hesitant answers belied the fact that he might have voted Conservative at that 1987 election - he was, after all, a member of the Cambridge University Conservative Association at the time.

But wait, what's this: the Alliance/SDP candidate in Cambridge for that first general election at which Clegg had a vote in June 1987 was none other than, er, Shirley Williams.

I can certainly recall the identity of every candidate I've ever voted for at a general election - and none of them has legend status (sorry, Zac - not yet, anyway).    

But if Clegg thinks Shirley Williams is such a legend, don't you think he would have vividly remembered casting a vote for her?


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