Tag Archives: Liberal Democrats

A Discussion with Nick Clegg

26 Sep

Today, I went to Event 52 of the Hay Festival en Segovia, which was held in the beautiful, old church of the monastery of Santa Cruz Real (which now forms the Aula Magna of IE University), to hear Nick Clegg in discussion with one of Spain’s pre-eminant journalists, Pedro J. Ramírez.

Clegg told the packed hall that he took full responsibility for the current state of the party and that he had learnt a lot. He regretted that what he saw as “compromise” so quickly was taken as “betrayal” by both left and right – but apparently without any inkling of the betrayal his own LibDem voters felt (and still feel) at his propping up a Tory government.

In his view, much of the problem stemmed from there not being any understanding or history of coalition politics in the UK.  This view is obviously fallacious in the case of Scotland, where he apparently had forgotten that his own party had been in coalition, first with Labour (1999 – 2007) and then with the SNP (2007-2011) – the proportional vote system being designed to exclude outright majority government – or, perhaps, he was doing as so many English politicians do, merely using “UK” as a synonym for England.

Furthermore, he claimed that as he goes round the country (has he been in Scotland since the election?) people are saying to him that they now see how the LibDems were protecting them from the full force of Tory government. Maybe, because I no longer live in the UK, I’m missing something as I cannot see any significant difference between the ConDem coalition and the current Tory government.

While he spoke engagingly, it is clear that he does not understand what has happened in Scotland (claiming it is nothing more than identity politics, which are the politics of grievance without responsibility as everything is someone else’s fault) and claimed (as did Ramírez) that the UK electoral system was unfair (which, of course it is) as the LibDems only got 8 seats when the SNP got 56 on a far smaller share of the vote (the exact same argument as used by another fringe party, UKIP!).

I challenged him afterwards (they ran out of time just before my question) for a) referring to the SNP as the “Scottish Nationalist Party” –  his lame excuse was, “Well, they are all nationalists”; and b) being disingenuous as the Lib Dems only had 7% of the vote to the SNP’s 50% in Scotland, given that the the latter only contest seats in Scotland. His response was that his using the UK vote share was justified as the SNP “disingenuously claimed to represent the whole of the UK” in the TV debates (which they did not). He had to concede, however, that the SNP had, thus far formed a strong opposition that has fought for all parts of the UK as promised.

I handed him an envelope, which he accepted, containing a printed copy of my open letter to him from 8th May.  I doubt he’ll like the content or pay the slightest heed to my views, but at least I know he is now aware of them.

I found him urbane, charming, engaging and likeable despite our not finding any common ground and I wish him well (which I could not on 8th May).

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An Open Letter to Nick Clegg

8 May

Dear Nick

I suspect you were surprised by the results of the 2015 General Election.  I wasn’t.

Many of us who voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2010 did so to help keep the Tories out.  Consequently, we were delighted when the outcome was a hung parliament and horrified when you blythely went into coalition with David Cameron.  We, many of whom had voted Lib Dem for many years, simply felt betrayed.  But you never even showed any inkling of understanding this in your stampede to become “Deputy Prime Minister” –  an artificial position that is bestowed at the whim of a Prime Minister.

I said then that, had I been a Scottish LibDem MP, I would have immediately renounced the Whip and become an independent Liberal on the grounds that had my constituents wanted a Tory government they would have voted Conservative.  It is striking that not one of your Scottish MPs had the integrity to do so.

While we are on Scotland, you had ample warning of what was to come as, in the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections, your MSPs were reduced by 2/3 to just 5.  Of course, you compounded your crime, as far as Scotland was concerned, by joining in with the Tories in the very dirty “Better Together” campaign and did nothing to counter the triumphalist breaking of the vow, which you (along with the Prime Minister and Ed Miliband) supposedly had signed up to, the moment the vote went your way.  This made many in Scotland believe that you (and your party), if not explicitly, tacitly approved the Tory policy of treating Scotland as a colony rather than as the co-equal partner in Union that the Treaty and Acts of Union legislated.

But let us return to England.  As I said at the outset, many of your voters felt betrayed by your coalition and were far from convinced by your claims that the Lib Dems were ameliorating Tory excesses – especially when you glibly cast aside manifesto promises to appease your new boss, David Cameron.  To many of us, you appeared less a restraining force than a pampered lapdog: Cameron’s pet Yorkie – all yaps and no bite.

The electorate showed their disdain in 2014 when you lost all but one of your MEPs in the European Parliament elections.  But you blindly clung on to the vain hope that we would all come round and forgive you, rashly trusting in the predictions of forecasters like Iain Dale and the personal popularity of your Lib Dem MPs to save their seats.  In the end, not even you were able to hold your seat on that basis but had to rely on tactical voting from your Tory pals to save your skin!

But that proved a forlorn hope as the electorate gave vent to their lack of trust in you and your party and left you with the worst election results since Jeremy Thorpe in 1970 and the loss of your coveted, long-held 3rd Party status.  Congratualations!  In the course of a single parliament you have reduced the Liberal Democrats from the third force to a fringe party.

You might have stood a chance of holding some of the seats you lost to Labour had you not made the foolish promise not to be part of any coalition that involved nationalists, thus joining Ed Miliband in rushing headlong into the trap the Tories had set for both of you.  That for me was the final nail in the coffin of any lingering pretence that the Liberal Democrats were a progressive party – you had become nothing more than a right-wing lickspittle.  And that is why you could not save any of the seats you lost to the Tories – why would anyone settle for pseudo-Tory when one can have the real thing?

As noted earlier, you had already decided to sacrifice your Scottish MPs on the altar of a wee bit of power – if you did not realise that at the time, it should have become clear to you in 2011 and 2014 – not having listened carefully enough to the electorate to realise that you might desperately need those 11 seats to retain any credibility.

I hope you enjoy your time on the backbenches watching your party either condemn itself to another 5 years of oblivion as it plays second fiddle to the Tories or languishes in splendid isolatation from any real opposition role through your refusal to work with those parties which are truly progressive (two of which are nationalist and have formed an anti-austerity alliance with the Greens) that, given Labour’s track-record in the last Parliament of being little more than nodding donkeys, will form the true opposition to the new Tory government.

Regards

W R B Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore