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Profile: Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg
Multilingual Mr Clegg is a former MEP

Nick Clegg likes to portray himself as a thoroughly modern political leader.

Following the resignations of Charles Kennedy - over his drink problem - and Sir Menzies Campbell - amid questions over his age in late 2007 - the Liberal Democrats wanted a fresh face in charge. And they got one.

Previously little-known outside Westminster, Mr Clegg has made his own mark on the party leadership.

A telegenic, 43-year-old multilingual father-of-three he is - by a few weeks - the youngest of the main party leaders. And he is nothing if not modern.

He is probably the first senior British politician to give a public tally of his sexual conquests, having admitted in an interview that he had slept with "no more than 30" women.

On another occasion, he said he was not an "active believer" in God - another subject leading politicians tend to to avoid, while he has also explained how, as a 16-year-old exchange student in Munich, he was sentenced to community service after setting fire to a collection of rare cacti.

Married to Spanish commercial lawyer Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, he counts TV presenter Louis Theroux and film director Sam Mendes among his celebrity friends. He took paternity leave when third son Miguel was born last year.

Yet Mr Clegg is sometimes seen as "modern" in another way - part of a political elite with little "real world" experience.

Family concerns

After attending the exclusive Westminster public school, Cambridge University and colleges in the US and Belgium, he worked as a lecturer and journalist.

He moved to the European Commission, managing aid projects and trade negotiations.

While there, commission vice-president Leon Brittan, a former home secretary, tried to recruit him to the Conservatives, but he refused.

Instead, Mr Clegg chose the Lib Dems and, in 1999, was elected a Member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands.

He stood down after five years, saying the job was "difficult to reconcile with a young family".

Mr Clegg did not have to wait long before becoming MP for Sheffield Hallam in 2005. He was immediately touted as a future leader.

Nick Clegg with wife Moriam and son Miguel
Mr Clegg took paternity leave when son Miguel was born

When Mr Kennedy quit in late 2005, Mr Clegg, by now Europe spokesman, did not run to replace him.

Instead, he backed his boss in the foreign affairs team, Sir Menzies Campbell, reportedly on the understanding that the support would one day be reciprocated.

After Sir Menzies won, Mr Clegg was promoted to home affairs spokesman, beefing up his reputation by taking on ministers over ID cards and anti-terror plans.

Mr Clegg was the clear favourite to succeed when Sir Menzies stood down in late 2007, following months of criticism that he was too old for the job.

Although his perceived early large lead in the contest was cut during the campaign, he succeeded in beating his rival in the contest, Chris Huhne, to the leadership by just 511 votes.

PR coup

Since then Mr Clegg has had to adjust Lib Dem policy to deal with the economic crisis and burgeoning budget deficit.

The party has shelved "priorities" such as extending free childcare, free personal care for the elderly and ending higher education tuition fees.

Mr Clegg said at last year's Lib Dem conference that "savage cuts" to spending would be needed - angering some in his own party, including his predecessor Charles Kennedy.

Arguably his biggest PR coup was supporting actress Joanna Lumley's successful campaign to give former Gurkhas the right to live in the UK.

He also broke with party leader convention to call for Commons Speaker Michael Martin to quit, following a row about his handling of the expenses crisis.

That all helped raise his profile and he will be hoping that his equal billing for the prime ministerial debates will help him meet the challenge all third party leaders face of getting his message across to the wider public.

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