Clegg a hypocrite? Nick’s critics are “playing the man, not the ball” says BBC’s Mark Easton

The right-wing press was today in full self-righteous cry, accusing Nick Clegg of ‘hypocrisy’ for seeking to ensure fairness on internships when he’s stated in interviews before he benefited from family connections. Their argument is comprehensively refuted by the BBC’s home editor Mark Easton, who points out here quite how spurious such attacks are:

The charge is that he is a hypocrite – trying to deny to others what he enjoyed himself. But does the accusation really hold water? Are we saying that no politician can ever pursue reforms to a system because he or she is a consequence of that system? …

David Cameron has never denied that he was hauled before the headmaster at Eton having been caught smoking cannabis in 1982. I don’t know whether the would-be PM derived any pleasure from his encounter with illegal drugs, but it would surely be perverse if that incident prevented him from campaigning against pot-smoking today.

Similarly, until (as he tells it) 1.45pm on the day in March 1980 that he married Cherie Booth, Tony Blair smoked cigarettes. Should such a past have excluded him from any political activity designed to reduce cigarette smoking among others?

What hypocrisy cannot be, surely, is a charge against anyone whose past contradicts their views in the present. If that were so, no-one would ever be able to change their mind or challenge the circumstances of their upbringing.

… it would be tempting to suggest that the accusations of hypocrisy over his internship come from some of those who would rather not see that particular route of middle-class privilege closed: a case of playing the man, not the ball.


A number of Lib Dem bloggers, by no means all of them uncritical of Nick Clegg, have also been quick to point out the absurdity of the right-wing media’s ‘playing the man’:

George Potter:

As you may know, I’m not Nick Clegg’s biggest fan. However, on this case he’s actually doing the decent thing for once. At the moment MPs from all the major political parties rely on unpaid interns to run their offices. The only way for most people to get a foot in the financial sector is by doing an unpaid internship. And of course, these internships are mainly in London. And since the employers only cover basic travel expenses (and lunch if the intern is lucky) then the only people who can afford to do them are middle class young people living in London. So when someone like Nick Clegg – having seen the benefits of nepotism and ‘who you know rather than what you know’ – decides to try and put a stop to it then he should be applauded. Who better to stop it than someone who’s experienced this unfair advantages first hand?

Mark Pack:

… if wanting to change something you’ve benefited from, or stop something you’ve done, means you are a hypocrite, it also means… You are a hypocrite if you once caused a traffic accident and now are a campaigner for road safety. … And if that’s hypocrisy, let’s have plenty more of it please.


Part of the hypocrisy claim is that he himself advertised for unpaid help two years ago and the Lib Dems routinely have 15 three month unpaid internships – which is similar to all other political parties. They are screaming hypocrisy because he wants to change it, despite the fact that most of the people on the offensive have also benefitted from it (whether to get a lucrative journalism internship or their foot into a political party) and make use of it, at least he is trying to change it. Others have spent years talking about reducing inequality, making society fairer, the living wage etc where as Nick Clegg has managed to get the Liberal Democrats into a power sharing position and within a year is trying to do something. I think they are the real hypocrites.

Charlotte Henry:

Clegg’s intentions on social mobility are not just well meaning, but could have a really positive effect on society, particularly at a time with soaring youth unemployment. He is not advocating a policy of just throwing money at a system to take people out of the unemployment figures, he is asking employers to think again about how they value new recruits. Clegg has now gained a position with which he is using to try and enact genuine progress and change in society, and there is nothing hypocritical about that.

Richard Morris:

I am a man, have been all my life. Yet I would like women to share equal pay, enjoy equal opportunities and the same life chances as me. Indeed, as the father of three girls and husband to a fantastically brilliant Doctor, I think this is incredibly important. Apparently this makes me a hypocrite. … No wonder everyone’s having a go at Nick Clegg for trying to change the status quo.

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  • It is pretty hypocritical that you advertise for a number of unpaid interns on W4MP who are given specific tasks and the adverts state particular dates that are to be worked. Whilst these internships are at least ‘competitive’ rather than being awarded to friends and family they can only be done by those who can commit to often working long hours, undertaking important tasks. This is why the Liberal Democrats look very hypocritical. I would venture that some of those adverts sail pretty close to the wind at the very least in regards to employment law and the statutory minimum wage.

    I am not arguing against you offering these internships per se. I’ve undertaken internships, and on the basis of work got from those, also offered internships. But it really does make my blood boil when a significant part of LibDem campaigning machinery or the work of your MPs appears to be run by unpaid interns. Whilst ‘daddy’ might not have got these for people they are generally only really open to those who can afford to live off their parents for a while or live where internships are available (often London).

    If internships are so terrible for social mobility I look forward to seeing all those adverts being withdrawn from W4MP.

  • @Greg
    Well said – what needs to happen is an all party agreement to pay at least minimum wage – otherwise it looks like another bad call by Clegg – by all means raise the issue but think through the possible ramifications – besides isn’t this what the unpaid interns could be thinking about?

  • The hypocrites are those who pretend that a system is working and try at all costs to protect it when the evidence points in the opposite direction.

    The media and those that have been attacking Clegg on this issue are like a pack of wolves baying for blood and unable to see that the *old boy network* has created many problems in society today and that the only way forward is to try and increase opportunity for those that have the skills but not the contacts.

    Let us build a society based on merit rather than one based on nepotism or have we fallen into the same trap as civilisations before us so that in the future they will be looking at the reasons for the decline of western civilisation and say it was due in part to the inability to allow fresh thinking into the corridors of power so that we became stuck in the thoughts and attitudes of the past.

  • I agree with your defense of Nick (in this particular instance), but I think the Cameron drugs issue you mentioned is a little different. Of course, I don’t know exactly what he did back then, or what the applicable drugs laws were at the time, but he was clearly involved with crime to some extent and would now pursue the prosecution (i.e. life-ruining) of others involved with the same/related crimes, having got away with it himself – presumably while knowing full well that actually a bit of harmless pot smoking isn’t really a bad thing at all. This is beyond hypocrisy.

  • I’m curious, when exactly did Nick Clegg have his damascene conversion to meritocracy? Presumably fairly recently given the number of Lib Dem MP’s who have unpaid interns.

    In any case don’t you sense a problem with people like Clegg and Cameron who apparently believe that social goods are best secured by competition and free markets doing all they can to avoid competing openly in the marketplace themselves?

  • I have to say I admire Nick for what he has said – Initially I was a little sceptical, but the fact that he must have known that he had probably set himself up as a duck in a shooting gallery, he still went ahead.

    He maybe accused of being hypocritcal, but then he was in a no win situation – If he had said and then followed up with no tangible ideas, he would have been accused of being a hypocrite. So whichever way he could have just said and done nothing!

    I note that there has been very little said from the MilliBalls contingent of any worth.

  • I think he should have pre-empted the negative press with a strategy stating how he was able to gain from it in the past – “Yes it was unfair and thats why it’s been playing on my mind and I’ve decided to do something about it.”

    Instead he’s left himself wide open to a multiple barrage from the rabid press, which is fuelling Cleggpression. It’s a worthy issue that’s unfortunately now been tainted by association. He just seems to have a serious case of the “Anti Midas Touch” with anything.

    In short I don’t think he is a hypocrite on this issue – He’s never stood up and campained for the status quo in social mobility so it’s unfair to label him as such.

    On the other hand, the overall balance of the man is that on other issues he most definitely is hypocritical especially in areas where he has actively campaigned and has now performed a volte face:

    Refusal to meet Garry Mckinnons Mother when he said Labour Ministers should have.
    Tuition Fees
    AV – “A miserable little comprimise”
    Campaining against imeadiate Spending Cuts and VAT rises
    Campaining against MP profits on 2nd homes when he made £250k on his Brussels home when an MEP

  • Judith that is a poor excuse. If a company was making a loss and decided to pay below minimum wage or take on a load of ‘volunteers’ to do paid work then we would rightly call for this to be stopped. Why should the LibDems be able to use the excuse we have no money.

    No one is arguing that volunteers are central to politics with all the parties dependent on a small army of deliverers, canvassers, organisers etc. These are substantailly different to the kind of internships being offered by the party in certain circumstances.

  • Paul McKeown 7th Apr '11 - 1:58pm

    Nick Clegg is spot on with this initiative.

    Those trying to undermine him in this really ought to examine their consciences.

    Clegg ought to get some time in front of the camera on this one, but obviously he needs to spend lots of time and take lots of advice in preparing how to respond to all the obvious barbs, it would be disastrous if he left the impression of hypocrisy in doing something so obviously of value to out society.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Apr '11 - 11:06pm

    The right-wing have two ways of fighting back against anyiobne who attacks privilege.

    If the person who makes the attacks has benefited from the privilege being attacked, the person is a “hypocrite”.

    If the person who makes the attacks has not benefited from the privilege being attacked, the person is “jealous”.

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