Clegg: refusing to discuss the euro is a “failure of political leadership”

Cast your minds back to the Lib Dem conference, and you may recall a coordinated drive by Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne to signal that the Lib Dems’ attachment to the Euro was no longer a top priority. Nick said the party needed to recognise that the debate had been “neutered”, while Chris declared:

The truth is, within the British debate, it’s completely off the radar and there is simply no point in regarding it as a runner worth investing political time in.”

Their stance was welcomed by significant majorities in both LDV’s online poll of readers, and our exclusive party members’ survey.

But, as President Obama commented just yesterday, “the world has changed, and we must change with it.” For today, in the wake of the financial crisis, the party is signalling a new tune, trailed by Nick Clegg in today’s Financial Times in which he argues that the refusal of politicians to discuss the Euro is a “failure of political leadership”:

“The strict rules attached to the euro could emerge as one of the best ways to persuade the markets that we will put Humpty Dumpty back together again, put the public finances in order. The euro is no magic wand, the eurozone is not immune, but it is irresponsible not to appreciate the new vulnerabilities to the British economy, which are huge, which are immense. “People will be asking themselves questions about the footloose, fancy-free world of City banking, but also whether it is right for the UK to be in quite such an overexposed environment where the currency is bobbing up and down violently.”

Two other significant statements from Nick to note:

1) his strongest attack yet on the excesses of the City:

… Mr Clegg slammed the “shameful elevation of greed and corporate overreach”, with chief executives hypnotised by the “vain belief that size matters. It makes you livid, it beggars belief that the one industry that is supposed to count your money in and out cannot say how much money it has lost.” … He accuses governments since the 1980s of being “abject in their obsequious desire to do what the City needed”. Pandering to these vested interest, he says, created a flawed economic strategy that “made the rest of the British economy wholly subservient to the gravity-defying, golden-egg laying potential of the City”


2) the declaration that he is hungry for power “under almost any circumstances”

Any deal with a larger party would focus on implementing core Lib Dem policies, which Mr Clegg said he would identify over the next months. These could include cutting taxes for low and middle-income families, ambitious green policies, better childcare, further education reform, opposition to identity cards, and internationalist policies. “I’m hungry for power,” he said. “I would be delighted to have the opportunity under almost any circumstances to make sure those policies and changes occur in Britain.”

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19 Comments

  • David Morton 21st Jan '09 - 11:08am

    Everyone should read the full thing and have a think about it. My spider sense tells me its quite signifigant.

    1. Its the first act of his Leadership that is towards the sound of gunfire. The Euro is no more popular today than it was when the party started shifting away from it last Autumn. While this interview leaves him some wiggle room he has used fairly strong language which can quite reasonably be summarised as ” Lib Dems put Euro membership back on the agenda” or some such headline. As a former MEP he can’t have failed to appreciate the signifigance of doing this in a Euro Election year.

    There are absolutely no votes in this per se. One can only assume that its time for a bit of defination from the managerialist mush, a bit of straight talking about what the country needs and possibly accepting that Euro phobes hate us what ever we say but that we might just get our core out to the polls if we argue the case.

    And there might just be votes in that.

    2. The other crucial move this represents is a first stumbling step towards charting a post apocalypse world. To date the party has dinned out very well on Vince Cables ” We told you so” routine. However that has run its course and the gap in the market is now for solutions and “never agains”. Whether you agree with ii or not Camerons cut in savings tax is a first stab ( Debt got us into this, Thrift will get us out). Now we are responding.

    Fascinating stuff.

  • Alix Mortimer 21st Jan '09 - 12:14pm

    Cor, someone clearly got out of bed on the determined side yesterday – the whipped no vote, the euro, the “hungry for power” line.

    This may mean everything David M says PLUS some or all of:

    - he is setting a bullish pro-European tone for the Euro elections campaign.
    - he is galvanised by Obama’s inauguration.
    - he wants to provoke the newly reshuffled Tories on Europe, for obvious reasons.

  • Simon Titley 21st Jan '09 - 12:20pm

    Nick’s statement on the euro is a welcome move. In my article in December’s Liberator, I predicted that last September’s pre-emptive ditching of the euro would eventually be reversed but I did not expect it to happen quite so soon.

    Last Thursday (15 January), a new campaign was launched by John Stevens (Lib Dem and former Conservative MEP) to promote the case for Britain joining the euro – details at: http://e4u.org.uk/

    A booklet was published, containing 31 essays by such luminaries as Will Hutton, Peter Sutherland, Dick Taverne, Stephen Wall and the FT’s Wolfgang Munchau. You can download the booklet here: http://e4u.org.uk/?page_id=46

  • “I’m hungry for power,” he said. “I would be delighted to have the opportunity under almost any circumstances to make sure those policies and changes occur in Britain.”

    It seems difficult to square that with the previous line that the Lib Dems wouldn’t go into a formal coalition with another party.

    I really don’t think “I’m hungry for power” is the most intelligent thing to say, especially coupled with “under almost any circumstances”, but I suppose we should be used to these “Cleggisms” by now …

  • Oh no! Bad call. This is not political leadership, it is an utterly disastrous move. The Lib Dems have just lost a further 5% points at the European Elections and an extra 10 seats to the Tories at the next general election.

    The only circumstances under which joining the Euro will become a reality is if Sterling collapses further i.e. there is a complete UK meltdown and we are forced to do so. The British public in their current mood would see Euro membership as a final, colossal humiliation heaped upon them and will not thank anyone for it. They would only accept it as a matter of grave necessity, even if the rest of the Eurozone would accept us.

    This is a colossal hostage to fortune, as is the “hungry for power” quote, which will be used mercilessly by the Tories. Instead of getting a coalition government after the next election, we are now consigned to five years of Tory misrule under Camoron’s old-Etonian dictatorship. Aargh! Thanks for nothing, Nick!

  • I predict a riot

    of comments saying that NC is “cozying up to Cameron”.

    :(

    As it happens I think we’re unlikely to see anything other than a Tory majority government, but if the elctoral dynamics doesn’t produce that we need to be able to work with whomever the electorate deem.

  • David Allen 21st Jan '09 - 1:36pm

    I am fascinated by Nick’s peculiar decision to launch two separate major policy initiatives – the euro and the “hungry for power” – in the same interview. It’s almost as if he wants to bury his own bad news. What is he up to this time?

    Re the “hungry for power”, as Anonymous points out, this is a bit of a handbrake turn. Still, if it gets the car facing in the right direction, it can perhaps be pardoned.

    As Steve Richards pointed out at last Saturday’s conference, we only get properly reported when people think we might actually achieve power. So if we can persuade people of that (and not just attract cruel jokes along the lines of “Hungry, is he? Sorry Nick, there’s a recession happening, we can’t afford to feed useless hangers-on”), then maybe – maybe – it’s a good move.

    The immediate pitfall is obvious. Many people assume we would prefer Labour. The FT suggests we would pick the Tories. Any journalist worth their salt will now be planning to ask Nick the “who’s your lucky Valentine” question, preferably in the way that causes us maximum embarassment. Nick must pre-empt that by making his own answer – in his own way, but soon.

    Vince Cable said something recently along the lines that in a hung parliament we would expect to work with whichever party won most seats. That, or something like it, would seem reasonable. But does Nick agree?

    I don’t think we can just evade the question. If we do that, people will think we have a hidden agenda.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 21st Jan '09 - 11:47pm

    “Any deal with a larger party would focus on implementing core Lib Dem policies, which Mr Clegg said he would identify over the next months. These could include cutting taxes for low and middle-income families, ambitious green policies, better childcare, further education reform, opposition to identity cards, and internationalist policies.”

    Of course, the other point is that so much of this stuff is so vague as to be almost meaningless. Which party doesn’t support “green policies” – even “ambitious” ones? Is there a party that stands for worse childcare? Or against “internationalist policies”? I don’t believe so.

    I’ll wait patiently to find out whether “further education reform” means “further reform of education” or “reform of further education”. Whichever it turns out to be, are the proposed policies likely to be distinguishable from those of the Tories? Ditto for identity cards.

    Obviously electoral reform is off the agenda. (Didn’t someone once get sacked for suggesting that might be the case?)

    But there’s always “cutting taxes for low and middle-income families” to fall back on. But perhaps a mistake to give too much prominence to that in the same interview where he advocates a policy of strict fiscal rectitude in order to convince the markets that we are serious about setting things to rights.

    Then again, I like the reference to Humpty Dumpty. I’ve often thought the pen of a Lewis Carroll is required to do justice to the bizarre gyrations of modern-day “Liberalism”.

  • Andy

    Well, of course, nothing is easier than opposing things when you’re in opposition, and there’s no political cost in campaigning against something unpopular.

    But when it comes to doing things that might be unpopular themselves – raising green taxes or spending money on the development of renewable energy – the party’s plans seem unambitious in the extreme.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '09 - 10:14am

    Yes, I agree. “I’m hungry for power” paired with “under almost any circumstances” makes Nick seem the typical politician who is only interested in power for himself. It’s what the punters who slam the door in our face think of us – power-mad, just wanting to take control, driven by hungry egos, will say anything to satisfy that basic hunger urge. Ugh.

    OK, he actually tempered it with “to make sure those policies and changes occur in Britain”, but I don’t think those words will get heard.

    Regarding the Euro, my feeling is we are better for not being in it right now. We can devalue and become more competitive. This does require that we can spark up all those industries which got run down when the pound was high and imports were cheaper than making our own. But, oh, thinking about that over the last thirty years would have been regarded as unacceptable “socialist” planning.

  • David Allen 22nd Jan '09 - 6:45pm

    On the Euro: Yes, there may be a case to be made, by economists and disinterested commentators, as to why joining the Euro might help us in our current difficulties. But is it a case WE should be promoting?

    We know what many of the public will think. They will think “Those Libs are at it again! Diehard Euro-enthusiasts with their heads in the clouds! They’d use any excuse to push their pro-Europe agenda, wouldn’t they? That’s one party I can’t vote for, whatever sense they might make on other issues.”

    So sadly, this is one more presentational disaster by Nick Clegg. All the more sad when you read what he wrote about Europe in the Orange Book – which was certainly one of the better chapters! What we need is a robustly sceptical pro-Europe policy. We are the guys who want to change Europe, cut out the gravy train, and make Europe work properly in Britain’s interests. That’s how to “detoxify” our image on Europe. Not by relentlessly plugging the Euro!

  • Danny Finkelstein of the Times thinks this is a ploy to expose Tory divisions on Europe:
    http://timesonline.typepad.com/comment/2009/01/why-has-nick-cl.html

    Considering that Clegg went out of his way to distance himself from supporting the Euro only four months ago, and seeing that he’s hardly a man to take principled stands that are unpopular with anybody – let alone a majority of the electorate – I wonder whether there’s some truth in that. I can’t really think why else he’d be doing it.

    Finkelstein adds:
    “If they are going to try this strategy they better hope it works. Because it has a price tag attached.”

    If that is what’s going on, I can only marvel. Embracing a policy that was previously seen as too unpopular to mention, in the hope of provoking a Tory split that may never happen? Is that really a good idea?

  • CCF: The Tories have no party policy on ID cards. The Lib Dems (and Greens) have committed to scrapping the cards and the National Identity Register, and to repealing the Identity Cards Act 2006.

    The best the Tories can offer is some vague unwritten statement from Cameron saying he’d “get rid of the cards”. He’s also said that he doesn’t think it’s appropriate for Tories to join the cross-party NO2ID campaign (though the head of Conservative Future evidently disagrees, given that all the CF stalls at Freshers’ Fairs were given NO2ID leaflets to distribute).

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 24th Jan '09 - 12:32pm

    David:
    “CCF: The Tories have no party policy on ID cards.

    The best the Tories can offer is some vague unwritten statement from Cameron saying he’d “get rid of the cards”.”

    That’s absolute nonsense.

    You have only to look at the Conservative Party website to see a perfectly clear written statement:
    “We will scrap the ID cards scheme, and use some of the savings to build more prison places, provide more drug rehabilitation for those in custody and create a dedicated Border Police Force.”
    http://www.conservatives.com/Campaigns/ID_Cards_Labours_Bad_IDea.aspx

  • Perhaps today’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme shed a bit of light on Clegg’s latest manoeuvre:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00h6v3m/b00h6t00/The_Andrew_Marr_Show_25_01_2009/

    By Clegg’s standards it wasn’t a bad performance, though he really needs to stop prefacing his every remark with “it sounds perhaps glib” or “it sounds trite”.

    But when asked about his “hungry for power” remarks, and in particular how his policies differed from those of Cameron, the first thing he blurted out was “Do you think David Cameron would start talking about the Euro?”.

    Is that all there is …?

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Jan '09 - 10:45am

    The obvious question is:

    “If you thought it was good for the pound to be fixed into the Euro at 1.50, how can you now think it to be good to be fixed at 1.00?”

    Either we would have made a mistake to have fixed it at too high a rate in the past, or we are now making a mistake in wanting to fix it at too low a rate.

  • David Allen 27th Jan '09 - 1:00pm

    “Is that all there is …?”

    Well Anonymous, we’ve seen recently that if you are a natural conservative with a few liberal leanings, and you are prepared not to press your pro-European views, then you can be welcomed to work with the Tory leadership.

    Mind you, Ken Clarke does genuinely have a few liberal leanings!

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