Nick Clegg's boyish good looks and silver tongue have been compared to former Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair. But the more appropriate comparison is with U.S. President Barack Obama. For the unexpected surge in popularity of the neophyte leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats is proving to be transformative. British politics, it seems, will never be the same again.
Until the first televised leaders' debate in the current electoral season, Clegg's party was unable to break through the 20 percent barrier in the polls. Within hours of that first debate, the Lib Dems had catapulted to more than 30 percent. And now, the polls that show Clegg to be more popular than Winston Churchill also show his party running a close second to David Cameron's Conservatives, leaving Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labor Party languishing in third place. Such findings represent no less than an earthquake in British politics.
Labor has been traditionally regarded as the party of the trade-union left, and the Conservatives as the preserve of the privileged right. The Lib Dems offered a largely irrelevant, ideological-lite center -- a receptacle for the disenfranchised protest vote. While pundits once considered that the party is "all things to all people," the major parties confidently scoffed that "a vote for the Lib Dems is a wasted vote." No more.