Nick Clegg: Ambition Without Talent or Principle 24


At 2am I watched a repeat of Nick Clegg’s conference speech in full on the Parliament Channel. The Liberals and the Lib Dems always had a knack of producing leaders who were liked and respected. Jo Grimond, Jeremy Thorpe, David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Charlie Kennedy were all among the first rank of effective and charismatic parliamentarians of their day (I am not here discussing the merits of their policy positions or extra-parliamentary activities).

But in Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg the Lib Dems have produced two total duds. Both have the same leaden delivery and both are self evident preeners with an opinion of themselves which far outstrips their talent. I am not sure I have ever seen any conference speech by any leader of any party as devoid of charisma as Nick Clegg’s was yesterday.

You can’t replace charisma, but there are some things which can compensate for its absence. Heartfelt sincerity is the most important of these. That was particularly lacking, too. The only bit of Clegg’s speech that came across as compellingly believable was when he declared that he wanted to be Prime Minister.

I am sure he does. I want to bat at No 3 for England.

But why? There were two areas where the insincerity was so evident that it made my flesh creep. And they were areas where the Lib Dems should be making the running – on Afghanistan and Trident.

On Afghanistan, Clegg started his speech with an attempt to invoke the glib patriotism of The Sun, with a heartfelt tribute to our boys and girls fighting over there. Except they were, of course being let down by the government. They needed more helicopters and equipment to kill Afghans more effectively, (he left out the last phrase).

We should do the job properly or not at all, Clegg declared in a truly pathetic attempt to appease neo-imperialists and anti-imperialists both at the same time. It was a sickeningly cynical bit of politics from someone who was masquerading as a Liberal.

Clegg spent the entire conference attempting to appeal to Thatcherites by proposing cuts in public spending, including in public service pay and pensions. But on the obvious and largest waste of public money he offered only a completely meaningless formula. There should be “No like for like replacement of Trident”, he intoned with a constipated look on his face that was meant to indicate statesmanship. The remarkably small conference audience duly applauded.

“No like for like replacement of Trident”. How can people who are supposed to be thinking Liberals applaud such a transparently meaningless phrase? What a pathetic ducking of the issue. It could mean that the UK retains and pays for a submarine based offshoot of the US nuclear deterrent, but configured differently. It could encompass Brown’s three submarine proposal. It could mean – and this seems to me the most likely meaning – that we should keep and pay for an offshoot of the US based nuclear deterrent but it should not be submarine based. But as with the support for the occupation of Afghanistan, there was no underlying rationale; just a burning desire to try to appeal to all shades of opinion at once.

I shan’t bother to try to deconstruct Clegg’s “Progressive austerity”, which might be the worst political slogan ever conceived. His abandonment of the Lib Dem commitment to abolish univeristy tuition fees is shameful. To pretend that what happens in Scotland is impossible for England is foolish. To prioritise a pointless nuclear deterrent and an imperial war over social progress and mobility is not, in any sense, liberal.

The problem with an increase in the tax threshold to £10,000 is that, while it does lift the low paid out of income tax, it provides precisely the same cash tax cut to everybody earning £10,000 or over. Someone on £10,000 a year will get exactly the same cash boost as the banker on £5 million a year. Both will get a bigger cash boost than someone on £8,000 a year. How is that progressive?

At the last general election the Lib Dems under the excellent Charlie Kennedy offered a viable, radical alternative. At the coming election they will offer Clegg’s carefully crafted attempts not to offend Tory England. As the party has grown, and as the allowances of public money for MPs’ and MEPs’ staff have created a parisitic army of the paid ambitious, the Lib Dems have become merely slaves to the worship of power. I can think of no reason to vote for a party led by Nick Clegg.


24 thoughts on “Nick Clegg: Ambition Without Talent or Principle

  • kardinal birkutzki

    If you really think trident is the largest waste of public money then you are further away with the fairies than I thought you were. There is a coherent argument for ditching trident (or not replacing it), I am sure, but in fact it constitutes a tiny percentage of public spending and represents a drop in the ocean compared with the cuts that will be required over the coming years. Argue for the elimination of our nuclear deterrent if that is your belief but don’t try to imply it would have a huge impact on the disastrous state of our public finances.

  • Craig

    kardinal

    The government admits Trident II will have a capital cost over 20 billion pounds. All experience of large defence contracts shows you can triple that. Greenpeace reckon that including operating costs a Trident II will cost 79 billion. I reckon that is an underestimate.

    I think it is arguably the single largest waste of public money (after the Iraq Qar and bank bailouts, which are passed). Scrapping Trident would certainly fund niversity tuition.

  • richard hannay

    I dont think that its necessarily Tory England that the object of Nicky’s affections, rather a clandestine (or not so) attempt to appease the finance and corporate sector. Notice how neither of these come in for any serious attention, apart from mention of the banks and their naughty ways (carefully omitting the names of any CEOs or companies).

    This country is crying out for a real, progressive left-of-centre force in politics. Yet here’s Clegg and his Orange Book minions insistently keeping the Libdems from straying towards offering real solutions to the public’s real problems.

    Without a doubt, the majority of the problems that we face as a nation are the direct result of the policies and actions of the right – 30 years of Blatcherism has turned us into an offshore adjunct of the American consumerist hegemony. If the Liberal Democrats won’t nail their colours to the centre-left mast, who will?

  • amk

    “[raising the tax threshold] provides precisely the same cash tax cut to everybody earning £10,000 or over”

    In absolute terms yes, but in proportion to their income those on low pay get far more than those on high pay. Sounds progressive to me.

  • paul foster

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  • Woody

    “…the excellent Charlie Kennedy”

    O please!

    I agree with the rest though. Clegg went on for far too long and didn’t cover the things that matter to me… e.g. a fair return for savers who are currently having to subsidise the reckless spenders, and justice in the Holy Land/breaking the Gaza siege – surely a moral and legal responsibility. (Or did I miss something?)

    Style over substances, heavily laced with some childish scriptwriting, is what I remember most. In that sense he’s just like Cameron. Their foolish infatuation with Europe ensures the LibDems will never pull more than 20%, so are hardly worth supporting.

  • mary

    I agree completely with Craig’s analysis of the Cleggover speech apart from his comment on Kennedy as being excellent.

    From a reading of his speech to the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel in 2004, you can see that he was, and probably is still, a fervent supporter of that gallant little state. There is no mention of the Occupation or of the plight of the Palestinians.

    http://www.myreader.co.uk/message/582839.aspx

    Why are there these Friends of Israel lobby groups for all three parties in the so-called mother of Parliaments?

    There is not a cigarette paper’s width between Clegg and Cameron. Whoever ‘wins’ we are in for an even nastier time of it after next May.

  • George Laird

    Dear Craig

    I have to agree that Campbell and Clegg aren’t leader material.

    I always thought the Lib Dems treated Charles Kennedy who is related to a friend of mine rather shabby.

    The guy had a problem and the troops should have rallied round him.

    If it wasn’t for Simon Hughes acting like a total arse; I suspect Kennedy would have kept his job but Hughes wanted to be leader.

    And he is decent material either.

    Good post, pulles no puinches like it, back to form.

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird

    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

  • Bill

    The three main parties are indistinguishable from each other. I used on vote Lib Dem becuase of their anti war stance but now that policy along with tuition fees has been aligned with the establishment they are nothing more than a wet blanket.

    In fact many governments in the western world are now indistiguishable and it is the lack of real debate between opposing views that really concerns me.

    Dare I say UKIP provide the only real alternative to the policies of a political class so bent on warping tried and trusted values into a homogenised global agenda where the diversified rights of individuals all over the world are nullified for the sake of a majority that is only conceived by state controlled mass media broadcast.

    The fact is we are all different and we should celebrate our differences not abolish them for the world will be a very dull place. But this is turn means we need to stand up for who we are, what we beleive in and where we come from and to do this we don’t have to be a jingoistic, nationalist or facist.

    From looking at the results of recent elections and their political stance following the conference, Lib Dems are facing complete annhiliation as a political party as I’m very confident that swathes of voters will turn to UKIP not because of their policies but because they are the only party that offer any real opposiing view that can stimulate the democratic process of debate!

  • Bill

    The three main parties are indistinguishable from each other. I used to vote Lib Dem becuase of their anti war stance but now that policy along with tuition fees has been aligned with the establishment they are nothing more than a wet blanket.

    In fact many governments in the western world are now indistiguishable and it is the lack of real debate between opposing views that really concerns me.

    Dare I say UKIP provide the only real alternative to the policies of a political class so bent on warping tried and trusted values into a homogenised global agenda where the diversified rights of individuals all over the world are nullified for the sake of a majority that is only conceived by state controlled mass media broadcast.

    The fact is we are all different and we should celebrate our differences not abolish them for the world will be a very dull place. But this is turn means we need to stand up for who we are, what we beleive in and where we come from and to do this we don’t have to be a jingoistic, nationalist or facist.

    From looking at the results of recent elections and their political stance following the conference, Lib Dems are facing complete annhiliation as a political party as I’m very confident that swathes of voters will turn to UKIP not because of their policies but because they are the only party that offer any real opposiing view that can stimulate the democratic process of debate!

  • Stevie

    Bill,

    from my contact with UKIP members in Norwich during the recent byelection, some of them appear to be much more right wing that is often officially presented. I would be wary of this, especially in light of one of their members I was talking to who appeared to speak positively in reference to the BNP candidate. Jump on that bandwagon if you want to travel with companions like that. Unfortunatley, in the vast majority of cases, voting for a strong, local and independent candidate is the only way your vote can make a real difference.

  • terrene

    MI5 need to send Clegg back to the tavistock for more acting lessons, the guy is a complete joke.

  • Keith Tully

    So all of the above think Cameron and Brown are better then..Just remember that leaders come and go,but the only main party that believes in a fair voting system are the Liberal Democrats. The only way Greens Ukip Independents etc will ever get any real representation in the commons.

  • Bill

    Stevie

    I have great admiration for people like Craig who stand as independents for local issues/just principles but in a scenario where independents are voted in on every seat and providing that they’re not all Esther Ranzens, how on earth will Government work?

  • CanSpeccy

    I fail to understand why anyone would object to raising the basic exemption from income tax to ten thousand pounds or even more. In what decent society would you impose on poor working people not only VAT on just about everything plus excise taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, petrol, etc., but also a tax on their incomes? That millionaires will benefit from a rise in the basic exemption, is not a problem, since it is a simple matter adjust the income tax rate to make the overall effect revenue neutral.

    Although it would be better simply to forgo some revenue. It can, after all, be in only a very sick society that the people vote for fuckers like Blair and Brown to piss away half the national wealth on their loony schemes of social control and corporate welfare.

    The near total futility of the welfare state was brought home to me a year or so ago when I sought to obtain the services for a few minutes each day of an in-home carer for my mother, a perfectly rational person who had opted to die at home rather than at great public expense in hospital, and one who had been a taxpayer from the age of 14 until her death at 96. Only by a star performance by my more talented sister, involving tears and recriminations at the many local offices of the healthcare bureaucracy, did we manage to gain for our mother this minor assistance from the vastly tax-engorged welfare state.

    As for Trident, it is a waste of British taxpayers’ money because it is not a British deterrent, but a system under the ultimate control of the United States. In a world in which the great powers possess weapons of mass destruction, an independent nuclear deterrent may not be a bad thing. In fact, a truly radical party in Britain might reasonably propose scrapping all branches of the military except those responsible for providing a U.K.-controlled nuclear deterrent. Thereafter, Britain would be saved the expense of participating in America’s colonial wars, yet would remain able to deter any existential threat.

    Lastly, if I may take up so much space here, why the seemingly instinctive revulsion to the BNP that is expressed here from time to time? I know little about the party’s platform other than that among its major planks is the termination of mass immigration, a reasonable policy it would seem for one of the world’s most densely populated countries, where the state religion is threatened by that of many of the mass of philoprogenitive immigrants.

    I understand that the BNP is represented by a bunch of old Nazi’s, which suggests that it may be run by the security services, just as Germany’s neoNazi party was run by MI6. But in that case, should one not at least consider the merits of the BNP’s main policy, if not its leadership?

    One need not hate Pakistanis or Poles to oppose the inundation of British society by a Pakistani or Polish immigrant wave. To wish to see immigration curtailed is merely to assert that Britain’s immigration policy should serve the interests of most Britons, and I doubt if most Britons support the existing policy of allowing more rapid immigration to Britain than is allowed to Canada, a country thirty times as large.

    And even in Canada, opinion surveys show a majority favor reduced immigration, this notwithstanding Canada’s wide open spaces, and the fact that Canada’s immigration policy insures much greater ethnic and cultural diversity among immigrants than does Britain’s, a condition that limits the threat of ethnic nationalism to the national culture. And even with that safeguard, one ethnic group, the Zionists, who can claim to represent only about 3% of population, a have a vastly disproportionate influence over Canada’s national policy and communications media. It is surely only sensible, therefore, for British citizens, of whom at least a few are adherents of the state religion, should be concerned that perpetuation of current immigration trends will insure Islamists having, in the future, a powerful influence over British national policy?

  • Abe Rene

    The Lib Dems were formed by a merger of the Liberal Party, enthusiastic about reform, and of the SDP which wanted to be a Labour Party without the extreme left. These two groups merged presumably because they could find sufficient common ground. But, as I see it, they have failed to clarify a common ideology, lacking which their stances will not be principled, but simply whatever they consider to be expedient, and therefore they will always appear to lack direction. That would be a tragedy, because some Lib Dems have been brilliant people. Lord Jenkins, for example, was a Bletchley Park cryptanalyst!

  • Clark

    Craig:

    “I can think of no reason to vote for a party led by Nick Clegg.”

    I will probably cast my vote, tactically, for the Lib Dem candidate, as I did last time. Not because I support that party, but because

    1) they stand the biggest chance of returning a non-Tory MP in my constituency,

    2) they offer the best hope of electoral reform,

    3) I cast my vote against any overall majority in the House.

    These may not be good reasons, but they are reasons.

    I’d love to vote for an independent candidate, but I have to be realistic about who stands a chance of being returned. So I see the Lib Dems as a stepping stone to a more representative democracy.

    CanSpeccy,

    if you lived here you’d understand the revulsion. A core of violent racist skinheads, led by an inarticulate ignoramus, gaining the support of gullible voters by banging on the (justifiable) anti-immigration drum. Check some of their videos on YouTube; they’re frighteningly popular. Read the comments there, too.

  • Dean Clegg

    Interesting piece, Craig, as always, and interesting comments that followed (some more sane than others). Not sure I’ve too much to add, but I’ve just watched the speech on YouTube, and I thought it was a good speech. ‘Progressive austerity’ aside (woeful phrase), and a strange beginning by starting in Afghanistan, I thought he delivered well, and maintained at least some principle by holding to their tax pledges, and, crucially, the commitment to electoral reform. The about-turn on tuition fees is unfortunate, but is surely realistic in the current climate? Come to think of it, I can’t see what is so liberal about subsidising the advanced education of a proportion of population who will generally go on to earn significantly above the national average anyway? Well there you go, my thoughts in brief, for what they’re worth. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not a LD voter. Please keep up the thought provoking blogs, Craig.

  • Jon

    Regarding the BNP, I’d add to Clark’s comments. Here in Birmingham we’ve had two racist groups (Casuals United and English Defence League), each with links to the BNP, organising anti-Islamic marches. They have been pushed back by left groups and the local Muslim youth, but they have not gone away.

    Some of the Casuals United – which thankfully the original organisers have abandoned after it became too racist – have been on the white power StormFront website asking for more thugs for marches (with the request that racism be kept to a minimum). The white nationalists generally responded that they would not help (I’m paraphrasing here) on the basis that Casuals United are not racist/supremacist enough.

    Meanwhile I have posted on the recent Baroness Scotland thread my position on immigration control. I think insufficient root cause analysis is being undertaken – it would be better if we could reduce the desire for people to migrate to wealthy first-world countries. Only a small percentage of people would migrate away from their homeland unless there is a lack of opportunity at home, coupled with the hope that they can provide for their families better if they go abroad.

  • Neil Craig

    A few months ago on the Marr show he was asked why people should vote LibDem & replied “renewables” now it is, at least in appearance, the opposite & you should vote for them because they will cut taxes on most people while spending more. Kennedy would never have so cynically gone back on the constitreaty promise. The FDP in Germany have just done extremely well standing on sensible principled traditional liberal free market policies. All we know about our LibDems is that they they are opposed to liberalism, but willing to lie a bit if there are votes in it.

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