There is no doubt that we are going to see a lot more of Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrat leader's youthful charm, easy looks and approachable style won him plaudits during the first of the three leaders' debates of the British election campaign. Yet, slowly but surely, British voters began to see the lack of substance under the style, proving themselves cannier than the lovestruck media. Far from gaining seats, Clegg lost them. He and the Lib Dems were regarded as a risk too far in these risky economic times.

Yet, as irony and luck would have it, despite his electoral disaster, Clegg once again finds himself in a key role. The trouble for Clegg is that his pitch of "change" and "hope" are not a policy. He may find himself poised as kingmaker, but he could also be torn between principle and power, neither of which is electorally advantageous.

"Change" has become the official mantra of opposition politicians since Barack Obama made it so fashionable. Eamon Gilmore has started to build his oratorical flourishes around it – and it's creeping into Enda Kenny's speeches too.

But as Nick Clegg is finding to his cost, political leaders should be careful that they don't damage their own reputations by hitching a ride on the coat-tails of the master of both style and substance.

Obama, for all his faults, is demonstrating that his politics are serious and attainable: health care reform and a radical shift in foreign policy are now being added to a major overhaul of banking regulations in the United States.

Without credible policies and the stamina and mental toughness of a real leader, young pretenders tend to get found out.