Who will respond to Nick Clegg’s call to arms by being our Gladstone?

by Jonathan Todd

“All the kindling is lying around, it just needs a spark to light it.”

Thus, concluded Nick Clegg’s weekend interview with the Times. It is a long time since we all “agreed with Nick” at the 2010 election. The AV and EU referendums failed to go his way, while five years of coalition with the Conservatives diminished his party such that they were wiped out at the 2015 election, with Clegg’s seat, on the back of a student vote, angry about tuition fees, turning Corbynite two years later.

With such a record of failing to read or move public opinion, we should take with a pinch of salt Clegg’s expectation that we are on the cusp of something big.

“There will be some kind of realignment. I think it is inevitable … British liberalism should get off its knees.”

This is striking: something that happens very rarely (realignment) is said to be inevitable; British liberalism depends not on his Liberal Democrats but upon this realignment; and its form is vaguely presented – “some kind of realignment”, while elsewhere Clegg repeatedly refers to “a new political entity”, not “a new political party”.

Enough is enough. Not just for the Jewish community with Labour. The security services must also have misgivings about Jeremy Corbyn as he seems less prepared to believe them than Putin’s Russia on attempted murders on British soil. As with the Jewish community and the security services, pro-Europeans now strain to see friends in a Labour party with undiminished reverence for the 2016 referendum.

But where is the extra £350m each week for the NHS? On no Brexit scenario does HM Treasury anticipate a “Brexit dividend” that would extend to this. Quite the opposite. And where are all these Turkish immigrants that we were warned about? Turkey, predictably, is no nearer joining the EU, as Brexodus continues, with talented and hard-working people taking their skills and endeavour elsewhere.

While the grubby web of connections between Cambridge Analytica and Vote Leave stinks more than Nigel Farage’s discarded fish, we don’t need to untangle them to know that the prospectus sold in June 2016 is rotten.

When Liam Fox calls for coordinated European policy to tackle Donald Trump on steel tariffs, when Theresa May appeals for European unity in the face of Putin, Brexiters confirm that if the EU didn’t exist, we’d reinvent it.

When the most difficult decisions about Brexit are pushed beyond the end of Article 50 window, they no longer want to lead the UK but to defer to our EU partners the trade-offs enforced by the EU referendum.

When Pied Piper of that referendum, Dominic Cummings, calls the Brexit that we are getting “a grotesque uselessness”, the game should be up.

Despite voting against Cummings in June 2016, May doesn’t call time on it – the first prime minister to obstinately pursue a course they don’t believe in. Nor does Corbyn.

MPs, led by Damian Collins, as chair of the DCMS select committee, bizarrely, think it useful to belittle a national hero, Bradley Wiggins, for not breaking any rules. If they want to unpick a recent summer, it shouldn’t be 2012 but 2016.

The unease with 2016 extends from Labour to Conservative benches. Nick Clegg tells frustrated Labour MPs:

“Your acid test should be ‘will a new entity appeal to One Nation Conservatives?’ If it doesn’t, it won’t work. It’s got to appeal across the political spectrum.”

Macron succeeded where the SDP didn’t not just because of the French presidential system but also because he appealed to centre right as well as centre left. And because he placed speaking his truth before fidelity to the French socialist party.

The combination of economic and social liberalism, with a recognition that this is secured by our international alliances (both NATO and the EU), unites the centre of British politics. Those with these instincts in Labour and the Conservatives are liberals outside the Liberal Democrats. With open minds and hearts, they should go further to speak their truths.

“It’s amazing,” bemoans Clegg, “how MPs now talk about public opinion like you or I would talk about the weather – ‘might perk up on Sunday’ – but they’re not just there to reflect opinion, they’re also there to shape it and lead it.”

Another past Liberal leader, William Gladstone, did so with his Midlothian campaign of 1878-80. Financial incompetence, neglect of domestic legislation, and mismanagement of foreign affairs – like echoes from our times – were the charges levelled against prime minister Benjamin Disraeli.

As much as Corbyn likes campaigning, he doesn’t appear to want to be our Gladstone. They are still to emerge, to spark the kindling is lying around. Even if MPs lack Gladstone’s campaigning verve, they should think carefully about voting for the Brexit of today’s Disraeli.

Securing a meaningful parliamentary vote and voting against May’s Brexit may contain the seeds of Clegg’s new entity. More importantly, it would point toward a new direction for our country. Which should be remade, by those with ideas big enough and moves bold enough, with Gladstonian vigour.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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9 Responses to “Who will respond to Nick Clegg’s call to arms by being our Gladstone?”

  1. John P Reid says:

    As if anyone annoyed about the anti semitism problem,or the Russia appeasing is a remainers, and labour has changed its policy on Brexit from Thornberry saying we’ll vote with May on the final deal last night, to Starmer saying we won’t this morning

    Where’s the 350m? We haven’t left the EU yet.

    Although labour was finished in 1983 people new labour would lose so still voted for them, and the SDP didn’t have the reputation, that labour did, as peole were still voting labour as they recalled the Attlee gov’t, also they liked their local Mp

    Does Jonathan want a desertian to the libdems, or isthis a Empty threat,either way, it seems unlikely any one will

  2. Anon says:

    Jonathan, the kindling has been lit – we are seeing the people reclaiming democracy from the established order.

    But we are talking past each other – it seems that Jonathan has been pumping out the same message on a regular basis, and others making their same comments in reply.

    All the things that Jonathan lists are just how he sees things from his bubble; this inability to accept that things like Brexit, Farage, and Trump – Corbyn also – happen for a reason.

    Jonathan – and ‘the establishment’ – aren’t aware that they are victims of their own insularity. Now, like new born babies, they are being forced to come to terms with the world around them.

    Nowhere is Jonathan’s lack of a democratic radar as well summed up as by the inference that people like Nick Clegg embody some sort of superior democratic morality – and that we should be led by the principles of such an odious creature.

    This is the man who, when in a balance-of-power position in the run-up to the infamous Lisbon Treaty, chose to distract away from his own political cowardice.
    He didn’t have the guts to stand up for his EU buddies – and support a position of denying the UK people a vote – and he didn’t have the democratic morality to fight for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
    Clegg ordered his MPs to abstain, and he distracted by – and here’s the money shot – proposing an amendment suggesting that we have a referendum on EU membership.

    I repeat – ad nauseam, it seems – I am wholly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn, but I also hate this ghastly New Labour, pro-EU, Fabian, ‘progressive’, IPPR, Common Purpose, NGO abomination that has hijacked a party that I once believed in.

    The working class people of the UK need a new party.

    We don’t want “political entities” – we want proper, morally and democratically decent representatives to represent the people of this country in the UK Parliament.

    And if we, ‘The People’, see it as necessary to create new parties to achieve proper representation in our Parliament, we will create them.

  3. paul barker says:

    The idea of a new Party that would somehow absorb The Liberal Democrats is a non-starter, however if any Labour MPs/activists have the guts to set up a new organisation Im sure most Libdems would be open to a New Alliance/Electoral Pact.
    Its really up to Labour Centrists to do something, no-one else can do it for them.

  4. Anne says:

    Mrs May has been visiting the four corners of the U.K. to canvass the perceived benefits of Brexit, which is something she should of done post referendum. She says Brexit will mean more money for the nhs – now wasn’t this the lie that was posted on the side of a red bus. She also says Brexit will be good for business, but where are these so called emerging markets, instead we will become dependent on the USA for trade and accepting their terms and standards. There is no guarantee we will get free trade with the EU.
    Amber Rudd has admitted that the Cabinet has not held any discussions on immigration plans post Brexit despite it being a key issue during the referendum.
    The question of how Britain intends to avoid the imposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit is still not resolved.

  5. Tafia says:

    But where is the extra £350m each week for the NHS?
    As even he most stupid dullard knows (but not you apparently), there was never a promise that the 350M would go to the NHS, just that it could – but not untill after we finish paying in. Which won’t be for several years yet.

    On no Brexit scenario does HM Treasury anticipate a “Brexit dividend” that would extend to this. Quite the opposite.
    The Treasury has produced two major foorecasts. The first was during the campaign and was hopelessly wrong. In fact politicians that believed it should be thrown out for incompetnce. You would have to have been some kind of clown to have believed it. The second – from a few weeks back, was written largely by the same clowns that wrote the first. After much trumpeting by the likes of Coco Umanna and the Guardian, it quickly became apparaen that the base data was wrong and therefore the entire forecast was – hence why after a week or so those Remainers with a modicum of ability shut up about it. The odd half wit brings it up now and again. Why, when they must know its wrong, is anybody’s guess.

    And where are all these Turkish immigrants that we were warned about?
    Again another vacuuos statement made by people of low intellect. Turkey has to be a member of the EU first. It was denied repearedy by Remain that this would ever happen. Merkel stated three months ago that Germany would push for accelrated membership for Turkey. So what Remain said wouldn/’t happen, not only will but will be accelrated.

    Bradly Wiggins? National hero? The bloke is a cheat. Are you seriously saying its perfectly ok for non-asthmatics to use asthmatic medications, a side effect if which is to expand the airways?

    Ahhh Cambridge Analytica. You conveniently overlook the fact that Christopher Wylie is a Lib Dem member and activist, was so at the time, that he helped develop the programme used to do exactly what it did, that the SNP used similar 5 years ago, that Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems have used similar as di Obama in both his elections and as did Hilary Clinton. You akso omit to mention the Guardian has been harvesting the facebook data if it’s app users for years and that even this site has third party trackers all over it. You aso omit to mention something rather crucial – a couple of days ago Wylie admited that thee isn’t actually any evidence to support is claims.

    And your stupid idea of halting Brexit. I voted Leave. I used to be a member of Labour and am currently a member f Plaid Cymru. I literally know dozens and dozens of Leave voters. If you thwart Brexit they will all do something they have never ever done before – they will vote UKIP to deliberately destroy Parliament. The people voted Leave. Accept it or face the wrath of the Leave vote and the destruction of your party.

  6. Dave Roberts says:

    What exactly is the point of this article?

  7. Rob says:

    I just think the author is so wrong-headed. It’s as if he thinks that the failures of Vote Leave somehow invalidate the Leave vote, or that May is pursuing Brexit out of dogmatic righteousness or fear of her backbenchers. Neither is true. We are leaving the EU because the British public voted to leave the EU. I don’t know how more simple it can be; yes it’s not a decision I wanted but in a national referendum, that was the option chosen. I can see no basis for opposing Brexit. Yes it’ll cause harm but that argument died on 23rd June 2016 when the public decided to press ahead regardless.

  8. Dave Roberts says:

    Is this it or are you eventually going to post another article?

  9. Tafia says:

    Anne – now wasn’t this the lie that was posted on the side of a red bus.

    Oh dear Anne. Wha was on the siden ofnthen red bus was what COULKD be done, not what WOULD be done. In addition, it was made plain that it would be AFTER we cease paying in, not after we voted to leave. And we won’t finish paying in until 2022 at the earliest.

    Which actually makes you the liar – unless you are playing devils advocate.

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