Six years ago, Nick Clegg was not the most popular politician amongst students. Now, things have changed as many young people find that he speaks for them as the Government hurtles towards a hard Brexit which will blight their future and opportunities. The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour watched him speak to a crowd of students last night:
Heard Nick Clegg speak on Europe at a very large student event in London last night. No question on tuition fees. Huge applause at close.
— Patrick Wintour (@patrickwintour) February 10, 2017
In his Standard column this week, Nick described another student debate, in his Sheffield constituency, where he had a few words to say to the Labour MP on the panel:
I was on a platform with other politicians taking questions from a student audience. A local Labour MP was having the normal go at me about tuition fees. Fair enough — though I noticed he omitted to mention Labour’s own role in introducing tuition fees, and then trebling them on its own watch.
No, the moment Labour’s malaise really struck me was when this MP started speaking about the vote last week in the Commons on Article 50. He displayed none of the intelligence or humility of Keir Starmer, the shadow secretary for exiting the EU, who disarmingly confessed to the gathered MPs how difficult the issue is for Labour. Instead, in Sheffield this MP started to deliver a sanctimonious lecture to the Ukip and Conservative panellists, berating them for placing immigration above the economy in the Brexit talks.
I couldn’t contain myself. Irascibly, I interrupted his pro-European sermon to remind him that he’d just got off a train from London having voted with Douglas Carswell, Michael Gove, John Redwood and other zealous Brexiteers. How could he claim he was representing the interests of the youngsters in the audience having given his support to Theresa May’s uncompromisingly hard Brexit, yanking the UK out of the single market altogether?
I don’t believe that it would have been a betrayal of democracy if MPs had voted against the Government last week. All that would have happened, once the splenetic outrage of the Brexit-supporting press had passed, is that the Government would have been forced to come back to MPs with a more moderate, workable approach to Brexit which would then have received their support. MPs would not have blocked Brexit but they would have blocked hard Brexit. So it is pretty rich for Labour MPs to deliver pious homilies to other parties about the dangers of hard Brexit.
Nick then went on to talk about catching up with new Liberal Democrat Councillor for Brinsworth Dr Adam Carter, who won with a colossal 2000 votes – more than the Lib Dems managed in 2015 in the entire Rotherham constituency:
When I asked the jubilant Lib-Dem councillor what his explanation was for his victory, his answer was simple: “People round here just feel totally taken for granted by Labour.”
This is absolutely nothing new. I worked on by-elections in the 90s in places like Chesterfield, where Labour had taken people for granted for decades and lost their seats to the Lib Dems. In 2015 in Scotland, places where Labour didn’t think they needed to bother working saw massive majorities melt away in an SNP surge.
In places like Stoke-on-Trent Central, Labour now faces an electorate it has been neglecting for decades. They have learned nothing about serving the people in the last 30 years. Their fiefdoms look like they are about to crumble around them. It’s up to us to make sure that they crumble in our favour rather than the scapegoating nationalistic populism of the far right. Brinsworth shows that we can do it.
Young people and working class communities like Orgreave and Brinsworth are now turning to the Liberal Democrats to fight for them. They like what we have to say. The party now has the colossal job of developing a strategy that puts us in a position where we can seriously challenge in terms of numbers of MPs. We can’t afford to fail.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings