Is there no containing the Mortimer Posty Finger today? Sorry.
A-while-a-back I wrote about the important political concept of “wetting oneself”. I’m not sure that anybody cared, mind.* So to avoid your having to wade through it all again, political self-wetting is when you care about something so much that you abandon the nappy of spin and the incontinence pad of cynicism and just let your opinion flush itself out, probably angrily and publicly and in a way that it is going to be very difficult to retreat from (because you can’t simply sidle away from a pool of urine). Revolts and successful demonstrations are instances of communal mass self-wetting. They’re rather thrilling and make people feel important in the same way any performance art does, and they don’t happen very often.
But when I conceived of this important political meme I was of course thinking about the little people. The sans-culottes, the revolting peasants. It’s comparatively rare that actual real-life politicians, let alone of the top flight, are willing to be seen with properly wet trousers. And so one is all the more impressed with Nick Clegg for the conviction pant-pissing that has gone on today:
If the government seeks to make ID cards compulsory on every British citizen, I will lead a people’s campaign to thwart the programme.
I, and I expect thousands of people like me, will refuse to be forced to register.
This is an issue that is so contrary to the spirit of British liberty and privacy that I would not be able to stand by.
I am willing to do everything in my power to stop this intrusive, expensive and unnecessary imposition on the liberty of the British people.
Reactions have, on the whole, been unsurprisingly positive. It confirms the Cleggery of Andy at Wouldn’t it be scary…, Jeremy Hargreaves is palpably jumping up and down a bit, and the ickety-pickety little dissentient posts at LibDemVoice are overridden (insofar as anyone is ever overridden by anything on that august organ) by the orators.
The excitement and wet pants are owing to the fact that this is not really gesture politics. There is some prospect of its actually being tested. Everyone accuses the Lib Dems of saying what the hell they like because they know they’ll never get into power and have to stand by it. Not applicable this time. If when push comes to shove the Cleggster doesn’t follow through on this one he’s going to look a silly crumbly tart indeed.
With my wise onlooker hat on (for I’m still firmly undecided) I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to mark the real turning point - as opposed to the media-sponsored turning point - in the leadership race. I have not bought into the Cleggarchy so far, nor am I bought into the notion that everyone else is buying into it – I just think those that are tend to be noisier about it. And I am still, I guess, a more natural Huhney Monster** and I might yet vote that way. Moreover, I am fully cognisant that Huhne’s response to the above notion was, essentially, “What a good idea! Yes, so would I,” and, if you’re a grown-up, this is something to admire in itself.
But it seems to me that I cannot escape the implications of my own pant-wetting theory. Secretly, nothing turns Lib Dems on more than the idea of wetting themselves (but in the right causes, obviously, and only after the whole thing has been thoroughly thought through) and the Liberal tradition has been in the care of the terminally continent for a long time. Continence and common sense has been the Lib Dem calling card, the thing that marks them out from the pop-eyed shouty plonkers and undead tight-bottomed control freaks. So it’s not surprising there’s an inner liberal marcher bursting for release on a subject that’s directly germane to the whole concept of liberalism – which Iraq wasn’t, not really. Not like this is.
Civil liberties, leader-sanctioned peaceful protest and that racy edge of danger give off a heady niff for any romantic old liberal - for in a sense, we’re all old romantics. And Nick Clegg is now officially the man with the wet trousers.
* Least of all my brother, who was really quite dismissive of my harmless little flight of fancy at the last Chapter Meeting of the Equity Rich Parents Assassination Club (ha! I thought vengefully to myself, you’ll be sorry when I blog about your dismissive attitude, won’t you!)
** I do wish we could stop all this, by the way. But it’s too late now.