On September 2nd, Liberal Democrat Voice co-editor, Stephen Tall, strongly supported Nick Clegg’s leadership of the Liberal Democrats, in his piece, Nick Clegg’s leadership: 3 thoughts from me.
Giving one other side of the debate, Monday editor of LDV, Paul Walter, here explains why he cannot support Nick Clegg as leader any more. Below Paul’s piece, fellow day editor, Nick Thornsby responds.
Against – by Paul Walter
This week I have had a peculiarly “beard and sandals” type of personal crisis.
I heard that Jeremy Hunt had been promoted to run one of the largest and most cherished government departments – Health. This is the man who wondered out loud to Danny Boyle why the NHS featured in the Olympics opening ceremony. …The man who should have been referred to the Ministerial Commissioner over his handling of the BSkyB issue. Unbelievable.
I am happy with David Laws coming back wearing a hessian shirt to count paperclips in a locked room in the darkest recesses of Whitehall for a year or two. But I cannot stomach him having a roving brief and attending cabinet. That is too far too soon, even if it sounds a bit “picky” on my part. What astounded me is that the party leadership appeared to assume that the party membership would, to an extent, “defend” David Laws against the wide attacks this week, concerning his expenses history.
I’m sorry. David Laws is very talented but not talented enough for us to have to “defend” him for the next two and half years. His job could be done by numerous other MPs. The only difference is that the Tories like him more than the others.
But then we came to the “final straw” which caused my existential “beard and sandals” crisis at 4am on Thursday morning.
“Lord Ashcroft is appointed to the Privy Council”. Those tweeters love having a laugh don’t they? Oh, but no, this comes from ITV’s Laura Kuenssberg, a serious lady not known for larking about. But surely this is another Lord Ashcroft, I thought. I checked. No, it is Baron Ashcroft (“of Belize”) of Chichester and it was serious.
So this government has now entered “you couldn’t make it up” territory. Lord Ashcroft, known for massive financing of the Conservatives, unelected, who has spent a lot of time in Belize and has a controversial history revolving around tax, has been promoted to one of the most honoured (though pointless) ranks in this country.
I’m sorry (again) but this is all simply unconscionable. I cannot support a government which rewards such people to such an extent. I cannot continue, therefore, to support Nick Clegg as leader of the Liberal Democrats. I feel he has made a habit of misjudgments, e.g AV referendum, NHS reform, tuition fees, House of Lords. While I have great respect for him, the latest reshuffle, coming on top of everything else, is something I cannot stomach and I would be betraying my core beliefs if I continued to support him.
By way of analysis I would offer this. Nick Clegg is an extremely good talker. But I think he makes reckless misjudgments in the belief that his “gift of the gab” will allow him to talk himself out of the resultant tight corners. Perhaps even, as the David Laws episode, and the acceptance of the Hunt and Ashcroft promotions potentially shows, he is resigned to ending his leadership tenure in 2015 and has now passed the point of wanting to do anything to avoid that demise.
As one would expect from a fully paid up beard and sandals Liberal, I don’t have a firm plan to offer as an alternative – I cheerfully admit. This is a matter of conscience. I can go no further as a passenger on this government’s journey.
For – by Nick Thorsnby
Paul, You raise three main objections to events this week – let’s call them Ashcroft, Laws and Hunt.
Your criticism of the leadership (or rather Nick himself) on Laws is perfectly understandable. However, I profoundly disagree with it. David Laws made a mistake. He apologised. He resigned. And more importantly his story was materially different from all those other expenses tales, because his actions were not motivated by greed. They were motivated by a profound desire to protect his privacy. One can say that that was foolish, but to put him in the same category of the duck-ponders not only does Laws a disservice it lessens the terrible actions of those politicians who abused the system in such a cynical way simply to increase their take-home pay.
On Ashcroft and Hunt, I’d say this. These were Conservative decisions. The involvement of the Lib Dems was indirect in the sense that they were only possible because of our being part of the coalition, but they were nevertheless decisions taken by a Conservative prime minister that didn’t need the explicit approval of Nick Clegg. On both decisions I agree they were wrong and they were stupid. But I don’t blame Nick Clegg. They were David Cameron’s wrong and stupid decisions and it is up to him to defend them.
It seems to me that to take your argument to its logical conclusion would be to end up in a situation where each coalition party has a veto over the other’s appointments (to both the government and privy council). That’s a legitimate line to take but I think it’s one you need to explicitly argue, because you must also defend the consequences which would probably flow from it. If the Tories had a veto over Lib Dem appointments, would Vince Cable be business secretary? Would Ed Davey be energy and climate change secretary? I doubt it.
I personally think that to have such a veto system would make coalition government impossible. The very nature of coalition involves doing a great many number of things that we don’t like, particularly as the junior party, which in my view includes tolerating as ministers people who we find deeply unsavoury (to say the least!).
In other words, I think you have to make the case that follows from your arguments, and in my view when you do so I don’t think you can hold Nick accountable for what are undoubtedly objectionable appointments.
That leaves the question of strategy/decision-making, where there has clearly been failures. My response to that would be that I don’t think anyone else would now do a better job than Nick (given that past failures are now water under the bridge).
After taking us into government for the first time in decades, Nick Clegg deserves the opportunity to see this through. What that will mean in 2015, nobody knows, but I, for one, am ready to take on the fight and find out.
We welcome other contributions to this debate.