The word Faust is latin for ‘lucky’. Nick Clegg at this moment in time most probably thinks himself to be incredibly lucky. He has managed to secure a coalition with the Conservative parliament for the first time in over sixty years, has been promised a referendum on the alternative vote and has even blagged himself the role of Deputy Prime Minister. There is no way more apt to describe the Liberal Democrat in the current political climate than as the German scholar who sells his soul to the devil.
Of course, this description will only fit if your political leaning is towards the left. Amongst his own party though, it seems that Mr Clegg may soon become known as the man who “sold out”. Liberal Democrat policies were thrown out of the window at even the smallest whiff of power and it seems that we will have to wait until at least 2015 before any form of decent electoral reform comes into place.
It is likely that most of you know the story of Faust, but for those who aren’t quite so au fait with their German legends, here’s a quick summary. In the legend, Faust is a scholar who seems to have it all. He is gifted with wealth, knowledge and wit, but yet still wants more. So far, so Nick. Faust has his own view of the world, and sees that working in black magic may give him the extra bit of power that he wants. He then makes a pact with the Devil’s messenger, Mephistopheles. Placing David Cameron in the role of the Devil and the overseer of the Lib Dem/Tory talks William Hague as Mephistopheles, the allegory of Nick Clegg as Faust holds even more weight.
Here’s the crux; Faust is only allowed this elevated power for a temporary period. The length of time varies from version to version, but it may as well be five years. After this time he is escorted to hell by the Devil’s associates and forgotten by everyone. All because he wanted some extra power.
In order to sign the pact with the Devil, Faust sells his soul and thus the essence of who he is has gone. Essentially, the Liberal Democrat party is one whose primary policies are based on electoral reform. In making a deal with the Conservatives, Nick Clegg has given up this fundamental part of what it is to be a Liberal Democrat; “Building a fairer Britain”.
When we look at Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, there are even more points on which we can draw allusions. In this version, Faustus is stuck between a Good Angel and an Evil Angel. One imagines many of Clegg’s party members telling him to, I paraphrase obviously, “leave that execrable art” of losing sight of progressive politics. The Evil Angel is represented by Danny Alexander telling Clegg to “think of honour and wealth”.
The scholars are the voice of reason in Marlowe’s version, and there seems to be no more fitting candidate for these roles than Vince Cable. Reportedly the nation’s favourite choice for chancellor, he could well have said “Oh [Nick], I fear that which I have long suspected, that thou art fall’n into that damned art”. It’s possible.
Obviously, this is mere speculation, and time will tell whether or not Nick Clegg has done the right thing. As things stand, however, the Liberal Democrats have given up a lot of their core policies in order that they are able to have a few seats in the cabinet. As with the legend of Faust, however, it could just be that the leader of the Liberal Democrats is forgotten. In five years time we may once again be saying those immortal words: “Nick Clegg. Who?”