I guess it depends which Nick we are talking about…

Well, Nick Clegg has changed British politics for ever (according to the newspapers). It’s a bit ironic that the Tories are calling for ‘a change’, but obviously didn’t expect the people to be offered a real change. And, while we are at it, how did they come up with such a contentless slogan – Vote for Change – as if change of itself was a good thing? I always thought that change for the sake of change was unwise.

Meanwhile Labour have sunk into third place, yet Brown is playing the ‘Don’t Change – it’s too risky’ card at the same time as saying that lots of things require urgent and radical change… such as politics and the economy.

But both parties seem to be missing the mark in attacking the Liberal Democrats on the basis of their policies when what is evident is that post-debate Cleggmania has caught a mood – one in which people might prefer a risk and a change just to get away from the old ‘slagging off the opposition’ politics. (I also wonder if it is wise for the politicians to use the language of fear on people who have been living through the banking collapse, a prolonged recession, the threat of climate change and now a nuisance volcano stopping air travel… and yet are still here. Has the elctorate been ‘feared out’ and is now responding to the offer of some positive ‘hope’?)

I have to admit a respect for Clegg, but for an unusual (and probably unpopular) reason. I have written before about Helmut Schmidt‘s belief that no politician should enter Parliament if they don’t speak at least two foreign languages. The 91 year old former German Bundeskanzler says this in his wonderful book Ausser Dienst. His point is that we can only really understand our own culture if we first have looked at it through the lens of another culture. In an earlier post I wrote:

To learn a language is to enter beneath the surface of a people, their history and their culture. It is necessary to learn a language in order to understand how relatively limited is your own culture and understanding of the world.

Nick Clegg speaks fluent Spanish and – apparently – several other languages. This inevitably gives him a cultural and intellectual ‘hinterland’ which will make him more interesting than those who only know English (as a language) and Britain (as a place to live). As Brown becomes more gravely authoritative and Cameron sounds more shrill and hectoring, Clegg might just want to express some breadth and depth.

I know that correlations don’t make for explanations, but I do wonder if Clegg might just offer what people want – just as the other leaders are looking and sounding ‘old’.

Mind you, I still haven’t decided which way I will vote on 6 May. I know which ways I will not be voting. But an election that made me yawn at the beginning has now come alive. And it is possible that the real bonus of a potentially higher turnout than was originally feared will be the marginalisation of the extremist parties (who do well when moderate voters stay at home).