Saturday, 3 September 2016

Nick Clegg has got a book to sell

The former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has a book to sell.

Some of the criticism of Tory politicians that Clegg and his fellow Lib-Dems enabled into power is quite extraordinary, and raises the obvious question of why on earth he didn't speak out at the time.

Take this extraordinary quote as an example:

"Welfare for Osborne was just a bottomless pit of savings, and it didn't really matter what the human consequences were, because focus groups had shown that the voters they wanted to appeal to were very anti-welfare, and therefore there was almost no limit to those anti-welfare prejudices"
George Osborne repeatedly inflicted harsh welfare spending cuts (especially on disabled people, the working poor and children) whilst simultaneously handing out tax breaks to corporations and the super-rich. Between 2010 and 2015. He could only do this because Nick Clegg and his fellow Lib-Dem MPs voted in favour of one savage piece of Tory anti-welfare legislation after another.

Clegg now admits that he knew all along that George Osborne's cuts to social security were not driven by necessity but actually by a desire to appeal to a small savagely right-wing demographic of voters.

He also admits that the cuts were made without regard for the catastrophic human consequences of huge numbers of vulnerable people and children being driven into absolute destitution.

Clegg has openly admitted that he and his party voted in favour of policies despite knowledge that they were being implemented without regard for the human consequences.

Between 2010 and 2015 Nick Clegg could have spoken out at any time; He could have taken a stand and instructed his MPs to vote against some of Osborne's most brutal welfare cuts; He could have said tax cuts for the rich were completely unacceptable in the same budget as harsh welfare cuts for the poor; He could have crossed the floor and opposed Osborne's socially and economically destructive austerity agenda at any time - but he chose not to. He chose to go along with things that he knew to be wrong so that he could stay in power for a bit longer.

Clegg also laid into Theresa May accusing her of pandering to "the cardboard-cutout prejudices that large parts of her party have about Europe" and repeatedly trying to insert false statistics into official reports (tampering with official reports is Clegg has accused her of in the past too).

Nick Clegg and the so-called Liberals had plenty of opportunities to actually stand up to Theresa May by refusing to vote in favour of appalling illiberal legislation that came out of the Home Office. Some of the most egregiously illiberal things that Clegg and the Lib-Dems helped Theresa May to impose were Secret Courts (so a person can now have their fate decided in a courtroom they are not allowed to enter, on charges they are not allowed to know, based on evidence that they are not allowed to see), DRIPA (hastily covering up the unlawful activity that the UK secret services that was exposed by the Edward Snowden leaks) and minimum income thresholds for UK spouses (extremely discriminatory legislation designed to rip apart thousands of British families from poor and ordinary backgrounds).

Had Clegg and the Lib-Dems rebelled against any of this appallingly illiberal nonsense from Theresa May instead of actively voting in favour of it perhaps Theresa May's coronation as Prime Minister wouldn't have been such a foregone conclusion? 

In the Guardian article publicising his book, the three main regrets that Clegg has about his participation in the coalition government are detailed as the "punch in the face" he delivered to Lib-Dem voters by helping the Tories to erect a massive social mobility barrier by hiking  tuition fees (aspiration tax) to £9,000 per year, his appallingly pally press conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street when the Coalition deal was announced and his agreement to sit next to David Cameron during Prime Minister's Questions.

The first regret is so obvious that even someone like Clegg had to admit it. Stabbing one of your most loyal core demographics in the back is such a staggeringly inept move that it's extraordinary that nobody in the Lib-Dems (barring a tiny minority like Charles Kennedy) tried to stop it.

The other two regrets appear to stem more from Clegg's own vanity than any real introspection about what went wrong. Of course the gleeful press conference is excruciating in hindsight. Of course it was embarrassing to have sit next to David Cameron every week as he evaded questions, regurgitated scripted put-downs and lied incessantly. But the idea that these are two of the most important things he got wrong is ridiculously self-absorbed.

  • Clegg and the Lib-Dems didn't just vote through a load of George Osborne's savage welfare cuts, they also worked as ministers in Iain Duncan Smith's DWP. Anyone who witnessed the Lib-Dem MP Steve Webb's excruciating performances trying to defend Bedroom Tax will know how much damage that did to the party. 
  • The failure of the Lib-Dems to challenge Theresa May on savagely illiberal legislation like Secret Courts, her toxic anti-immigrant ranting or her track record of incompetence was completely unacceptable. Had the Lib-Dems tried to hold her to account for her extremism and incompetence instead of biting their tongues for five long years, perhaps this inept and fanatically right-wing authoritarian woman wouldn't now be considered "a safe pair of hands" by quite as many people.
  • Anyone who started following the Lib-Dems because of Charles Kennedy's principled opposition to the invasion of Iraq must have been horrified by the Lib-Dems involvement in the mess in Libya. Imagine the levels of delusion necessary to believe that Libya is now better off now that it's civil society has been reduced to ruins and the country has been overrun by ISIS.
  • Andrew Lansley's top-down reorganisation of the NHS designed to carve it up into little pieces and then give them away his private sector mates (who donate hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Tory Party) was only passed thanks to Lib-Dem votes in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The facts that such an NHS privatisation-by-stealth policy was not included in the manifesto of either coalition party, and that David Cameron had explicitly ruled out a top-down reorganisation of the NHS didn't bother the Lib-Dems at all. Handing huge slices of the NHS to a bunch of Tory donors was part of the price they were willing to pay for a tiny taste of second hand Tory power.
  • Before the 2015 General Election Vince Cable was popular because he talked a bit of economic sense. After the General Election he switched to parroting George Osborne's austerity gibberish. Switching from talking sense to repeating the exact kind of rubbish he was criticising before the election was one of the most infuriating U-turns I've ever seen, and clearly motivated by political expediency rather than any genuine conversion to austerity fetishism.
The betrayal over tuition fees was clearly the most visible of the Lib-Dem sell-outs, but it was far from the only one they needed to do in order to keep their six figure ministerial salaries and their chauffeur driven cars. They sold out on pretty much all of their core principles. They betrayed the students, they shafted the political reformers, they abandoned economic sense to endorse Osborne's destructive austerity agenda, they drove away the anti-imperialists that Charles Kennedy attracted to the party, and they assisted Iain Duncan Smith in his mission to trash the welfare state that was originally envisaged by the Liberal MP William Beveridge.

It's incredible that the Lib-Dems betrayed so many of their core demographics, drove away two thirds of their voters and pretty much wiped themselves out in their traditional strong areas of Scotland and the south west of England, yet Clegg is so self-obsessed that he cites that excruciatingly chummy press conference with David Cameron as one of his biggest regrets.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.