Clegg and Alexander are pioneers for global Liberal Democracy

Let us put aside for a moment the cries of greed, hypocrisy and astonishment at Nick Clegg’s decision to take his job at Facebook and examine what it means for the cause of liberal democracy.

Facebook, together with other social media outlets, is one of two new forces upending the world order and the way we think.
The other is authoritarianism, led by China, where many countries now see government not accountable to an electorate as preferable to the muddled unpredictability of Western-style democracy.

The Liberal Democrats have two of their most senior figures in each of those camps.

Two years before Nick Clegg joined Facebook, Danny Alexander, formerly number two at the Treasury, took the job as Britain’s representative at the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a new vehicle that is central to the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s expansionary global building project,
Both Clegg and Alexander are uniquely qualified for their roles because of their five years in coalition. They have long, gritty, front-line experience in stopping policies of extremism go too far. Both are men of integrity whom I expect to walk if they felt they could no longer influence policy and stop bad things happening.

In Clegg’s case we should see Facebook act against social media hate posts and the like as well as paying more tax. In Alexander’s case, China is learning to adhere to banking and development standards that match international criteria, with less corruption and cutting corners and tighter due diligence.
Liberal Democrats have a tendency to beat themselves up too much when things go wrong, and much of it is to do with how stories are told.

On the one hand, the two architects of the disastrous coalition have abandoned Britain to take the high-income non-liberal shilling. On the other, Clegg and Alexander are embedding their values, which are our values, into two of the world’s most powerful institutions, and if they were not well-paid, they would not earn enough peer-level respect to get their seats at the top tables.

When finished, they could return to Britain, refreshed with new experience, and rejoin the fray here.

Liberal democracy is being battered on many fronts. There are hundreds, if not thousands, to fight the Exit from Brexit campaign, but only a handful qualified to sit at tables of power within Facebook and China.

* Humphrey Hawksley is an author and journalist, specializing in international affairs, and on the executive of the Hammersmith and Fulham Party

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53 Comments

  • ……………….Both are men of integrity whom I expect to walk if they felt they could no longer influence policy and stop bad things happening…………..
    ………………Clegg and Alexander are embedding their values, which are our values, into two of the world’s most powerful institutions, and if they were not well-paid, they would not earn enough peer-level respect to get their seats at the top tables…………….

    Just when I thought all the fairy stories were confined to ‘Brexit’

  • David Evans 29th Oct '18 - 9:49am

    Oh dear. Just when I thought that the party had come to terms with the wanton destruction done to the party by those two.

    Generations of Liberals and Lib Dems spent 20, 30, 40 or in a few cases 50 years fighting day in day out to build up a party and give them the chance to prove to the British people that Lib Dems could make a difference in government.

    What did they prove to the British people – that if there was one thing they didn’t want in government it was Lib Dems.

    Fifty years of hard work squandered.

  • nvelope2003 29th Oct '18 - 9:49am

    Clegg stayed until he lost his seat which must have took some courage with all the hostility to him from the massed ranks of pseudo leftist bigotry. He made mistakes like we all do. The political parties are not not exactly overflowing with talent and those who are are rigourously excluded by the pygmies.

  • nigel hunter 29th Oct '18 - 10:23am

    Alexander did run away but ,hopefully, has learnt from the past. For all Clegg’s faults he has stuck around campaigning for remain. Yes the party is down, we are rebuilding I sense our rise in our council results.Our ignorance of the EU is well ingrained, thanks to the right wing press who have helped us get to the present debacle we are in. Clegg with his knowledge of the EU will be an asset to both Facebook and the EU. Alexander can teach China how to behave in the modern World.

  • Martin 29th Oct ’18 – 9:53am……

    You use the word ‘dysfunctional’.

    What is dysfunctional is believing that, whilst Osborne, Blair, Cameron, et al are ‘in it for the money’, Clegg and Alexander are somehow engaged in ‘Liberal’ missionary work.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 29th Oct '18 - 12:54pm

    Thank you David Evans. You raise the question of durability. If Clegg and Alexander alone were able to carry out such wanton destruction, then those Party institutions built up over decades must have been a pack of cards that risked collapse anyway under a different set of circumstances. Governing is tough and riddled with unpalatable compromises. The vilification leveled against those who joined the coalition shows a critical mass of Party members who prefer purist activism to messy front-line grit of national government. I stand on the other side of that divide with tens of thousands of members who would prefer Liberal Democrats in government than waving placards from the sidelines. In that respect, men of the calibre of Clegg and Alexander are better involved in China and Facebook than not. They know their jobs are filled with thorny moral choices and, I suspect, they know the lines they will not cross.

  • Sue Sutherland 29th Oct '18 - 1:18pm

    I sincerely hope that Nick and Danny are spreading their Lib Dem beliefs around the world. I don’t know either of them, but I think they are decent people. The trouble was, they were not as great at politics as they thought they were, and when you’re involved in politics it’s political skills that are needed. You can’t just get by on beliefs and intellect. Being in Coalition should have been a massive exercise in PR for the party but it just wasn’t, and neither man seemed to understand the reality of politics which is that if you start haemorrhaging councillors and MEPs you are doing something wrong and you need to change.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Oct '18 - 1:27pm

    Is this Sir Humphrey, Yes Ministers’s main writer, Jonathan Lynn is alive and well and might be interested in his fiction made into fact!

    I admire positive vibes, few on this site have them, where they do, we must welcome them.

    Yet this is stretching the truth to a limit not very believable. Clegg is a very amiable and eloquent proponent of values we adhere to, as does he. In coalition he both defended them and offended them too. We can be oppressed by nostalgia bordering on fantasy, or by bitterness nearly meanness. Neither are my thing. Clegg might do at Facebook the best of what he did in coalition. Or the worst. If he brings Liberal Democrat values to them, good. If he brings values we do not like from them to us, bad. He did both in coalition so the jury is out.

    Alexander lacked any of Clegg charisma and was seen, correctly, as the monkey on the organ grinder, the other over promoted figure of coalition mistakes, Osborne. He might have financial ability, but his ability to, co pun intended, trade off it, now, is not something again, to praise e or criticise without detailed understanding of his approach in his role.

    All I know is I and many like me, with degrees as good, values better intact, talent a plenty, struggle to even get a look in, something these two did nothing much to improve in or out of our party or government, so their salaries are of little interest to me and those of us struggling to be heard.

  • Adrian Sanders 29th Oct '18 - 1:40pm

    I’m afraid Humphrey Hawksley that it is today that we wave placards from the sidelines against a Brexit our leadership’s approach to Coalition made more likely.

  • Are you equally scathing about the 700,000+ who gave up a weekend to spend it ‘waving placards’?

    But if, as you imply, Clegg and Alexander weren’t responsible for such changes (for the worse) in a small political party, why do you suppose they can change the culture of not just one the largest companies in the world but also a country with the largest population?

  • Innocent Bystander 29th Oct '18 - 1:42pm

    I know I speak as a renegade but my own view is that those who load all the blame for the demise on Clegg are so doing in order to avoid facing the reality of politics in the UK.
    As I read the graphs in the HoC UK Election Statistics 1918-2017, the Liberal vote is the exact anti-phase of the Labour vote. Virtually peak for peak, trough for trough – the exact opposite for a century.
    The graph looks like the Tory vote remains the same, decade after decade and about 30% of the electorate always vote Labour. There seems to be a crucial 10-15% who swap Lib to Lab and vice versa over 20 year cycles. Clegg was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
    source UK Election Statistics: 1918-2017 – Parliament UK

  • Innocent Bystander 29th Oct ’18 – 1:42pm………….. Clegg was in the wrong place at the wrong time…..

    So was the ‘Titanic’!

  • paul barker 29th Oct '18 - 2:10pm

    I really welcome this article as talking about our Planet as if it was one, looking at Britains troubles from a wider perspective.
    In the last 24 Hours both Brazil & Sri Lanka (Ceylon) have taken real steps towards Civil War, in the latter case with China backing what may be an unconstitutional change of government.
    I believe that The Coalition was a mistake, prioritising “Doing Stuff” over long-term strategy but if Clegg & Alexander can do some good in the wider World then we should cheer them on.

  • David Evans 29th Oct '18 - 2:14pm

    Humphrey, thank you for your response.

    Sadly the points you make are common misconceptions by many in the party and deserve a clear rebuttal.

    Firstly you say “If Clegg and Alexander alone were able to carry out such wanton destruction,” but as you know, I didn’t say that and I doubt if anyone else did. Of course there were many people involved, be they MPs like David Laws, figureheads like Paddy, or just members. The simple facts are that when Nick became leader he inherited 62 MPs, 12 MEPs, 16 MSPs, 6 Welsh AMs, 4700 councillors and over 65,000 members. By the end of the destruction he left us with 8MPs, 1 MEP, 5 MSPs, 5 AMs, less than 1900 councillors and only 46,000 members.

    Secondly you say that “those Party institutions built up over decades must have been a pack of cards that risked collapse anyway under a different set of circumstances.” You appear to be unaware that one of the first things Nick did as leader was to initiate the Bones Review which centralised power in the party more than ever before. Your so called ‘pack of cards’ was in fact Nick’s creation. Of course there were parts of the party unaffected by this (most noticeably the councillors), and they were not a ‘pack of cards’ but a strong fighting force built on sound foundations. However, even they found that when their foundations were undermined, life was much more difficult. But at least they survived.

    You say “Governing is tough and riddled with unpalatable compromises.” But in truth, everyone knows that if compromises are unpalatable you shouldn’t be compromising.

    Next you come out with the totally groundless “The vilification leveled against those who joined the coalition shows a critical mass of Party members who prefer purist activism to messy front-line grit of national government. ” It shows no such thing! It shows party members whose activism over decades got themselves and many other Lib Dems elected, Who over the years of catastrophe first pointed out the problems, then lobbied and finally shouted out loud that the party’s future was being destroyed for a few baubles in government. Now we have a Tory party taking us out of the EU, an extreme left wing Labour party waiting for their turn, and a Lib Dem party ignored as totally irrelevant.

    Perhaps you think “they know the lines they will not cross,” but there was no line they were not prepared to cross on their road to near destruction.

  • Paul Pettinger 29th Oct '18 - 3:07pm

    What’s so admirbale about the Party getting trashed and creating the conditions for the Brexit vote Humphrey? We have been hijacked by a small group looking for a mid-career boost. If we really want to sustain influence over the long term we shouldn’t normalise and accept this, as your piece risks.

    “and if they were not well-paid, they would not earn enough peer-level respect to get their seats at the top tables”

    People who pursue less personal reward aren’t lower status. This is a toxic recipe for self seeking and inequality.

    “a critical mass of Party members who prefer purist activism to messy front-line grit of national government.”

    There isn’t a critical mass of such members – this is a massive straw man. What does seem apparent Humphrey is you are easily impressed by status. We need to be much more impressed by creating and safeguarding a more liberal society.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Oct '18 - 4:02pm

    I agree with the views of David Raw , expats and those who think it frankly rising above the usual cheerleading or accepting or understanding, to deluding, to wreck the income of poorer uk folk, then take a million pound salary, is the problem.

    Being rich as a result of work or effort, paying in to the social pot, is admirable, if as a result of harmless work or work that is honest.

    These tow did that and more. It is the more, as in more of the same, worries us.

    The ongoing efforts of David Raw and expats, who misunderstand my criticisms which are against old ideas that have often not worked or might not in future, in favour of newer or bolder ideas, should see my praise and respect too, for them in their calling the coalition also, what it was, a missed opportunity to put to bed the inequality that is the blight of society.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Oct '18 - 4:06pm

    These two, I refer to, Clegg/ Alexander, could also, from their centre right economic stance matched one likes to think, by a not so centre right social liberal view, have started their own initiatives, with their connections, to help our country and our humanity.

    David Raw does better things with his foodbank.

  • paul barker 29th Oct '18 - 4:36pm

    The article was an attempt to take a wider view, to look at the other 99% of Humanity & the very real risks facing them. Its not just Trump or Bolsonaro, its the very real threat that the 19th Century style Imperialism being pushed by the present Russian & Chinese Regimes.
    Just today we see in Sri Lanka a situation where both The PM & the President claim to be the legitimate Government, with one side backed by India & the other by China. If Danny Alexander can persuade cooler heads to prevail then Millions will have cause to thank him.
    The comments thread has, as so often, degenerated into an exercise in mutual blame & nostalgia, dominated, as usual by a very small number of commentors, nearly all men.
    The Coalition was a Strategic mistake not some sort of moral failing. It was a collective mistake by most of us & we meant well. Blaming ourselves or each other is not helpful to our recovery Now, its simply self-indulgence.

  • David Evans 29th Oct '18 - 5:34pm

    Paul, I’m afraid you are only half right when you say “The Coalition was a Strategic mistake not some sort of moral failing.” It was a strategic mistake, but the failure was that of the leadership, failing, indeed being unwilling, to listen to others even when the catastrophe was plain to see. I distinctly remember a Q&A session with Nick in Bedford where, about three quarters of the way through, he was asked very politely about the unfolding problems of coalition and whether he would look to get advice from those in local government who were very aware of the real problems of working with other parties.

    Suffice it to say we got a very crisp answer saying his team were working very, very hard and little more. Then in a trice he was off stage and the session was cut short. To a liberal like me that was a moral failing.

    As you say “We meant well”, but as we all know, The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and until we *all* learn that hard lesson, we will just let people down again.

    That is why it is not mere self self indulgence, it is trying to learn from our mistakes so we don’t make them again.

  • John Marriott 29th Oct '18 - 6:07pm

    “Return to Britain, refreshed with new experience, and rejoin the fray here”. Oh yeh? How long to you think we could persuade them to stay away? I wondered what had happened to Sir Danny. Did he take his yellow Budget Box with him? A good colour for the Chinese, considering what the Kaiser said. The red rodent meets the ‘yellow peril’?

  • Paul Pettinger 29th Oct '18 - 6:30pm

    Success/ an ability to fail upwards is being quite narrowly personalised and you seem to be wanting to collectivise failure Paul. There is an accountability deficit in what you are suggesting. Many of us repeatedly warned that we needed to change direction and, largely because it didn’t suit the aspirations of people in leadership positions at the time, we were ignored and so the Party had to sail into an iceberg. If we want to move forwards then we should look at the wider picture, including addressing the massive reputational damage that has been achieved amongst millions of culturally liberal voters who we remain estranged from.

  • I think we shouldn’t re-write history too much. The decision to go into the coalition on the basis of the coalition agreement – was taken firstly by the parliamentary party with only 1 or 2 voting against and secondly by the party as a whole at the special conference.

    One can argue that our ministers and indeed MPs didn’t handle things well – particularly as regards presentation. It was always though going to be tough for a junior partner with public finances some £100 billion a year worse than today, unemployment haven risen substantially and people in employment both having their wages and hours cut.

  • In the US, the First Amendment protects the right to free speech.

    How annoying it must be to the oligarchs who increasingly purchase US elections (one $, one vote) that impudent campaigners for political, environmental and community causes and the like can use social media to reach a wide audience and, because of the First Amendment, there’s nothing they can do about it.

    So, what is to be done? Simples! Privatise the censorship.

    While government is legally barred from restricting free speech, social media companies aren’t. In fact, they’re perfectly positioned to make an end-run around the First Amendment by outright banning where they and their collaborators can whip up a modicum of outrage (e.g. the Alex Jones case) or shadow banning (which restricts audience and hence reduces funding) on trumped-up excuses soundly-based liberal and reformist voices that question their actions and challenge their power.

    Lest we forget, fascism is the system of government where state power and corporate power merge into an unaccountable and impenetrable swamp.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_banning

  • David Evans 29th Oct '18 - 8:10pm

    Michael 1 – I think you may be inadvertently re-writing history a bit yourself, or at least missing a key bit. The party held a special conference which but only four days after it had been announced that David Cameron was the Prime Minister and that Nick was DPM, and after the infamous Rose garden love in. There was no chance of the members rejecting it. They had been boxed into a corner by our leaders with a bad deal (the coalition agreement) and a decision already made. What would the headlines have been if the members had rejected it “Lib Dems bottle it”

    However, that pales into insignificance when compared with the total mess Nick and Danny (our half of the infamous quad – not what had been agreed by the party) made of the management of the coalition thereafter. Emergency budget, austerity, Pickles in charge of DCLG, NHS Reform, Secret Courts, Tuition fees – all easily foreseeable disasters.

    They went like lambs to the slaughter. It’s just that the troops got slaughtered year after year, not the generals.

    We had choices. Our leaders just made the wrong choice, time and time again.

  • The decision to go into the coalition went through the democratic processes of the party – the parliamentary party, the federal executive and the special conference. At each stage there was minuscule opposition – and some of the reporting from Lib Dem bloggers from the time is at https://jonathanfryer.wordpress.com/2010/05/16/the-liberal-democrats-special-conference/ and https://www.markpack.org.uk/10781/the-mood-at-birmingham-conference/

    Mark Pack reported: “people I met at Birmingham, just like those I had talked to in the preceding week, were overwhelmingly pleased with the coalition government’s policy agreement.”

    From Jonathon Fryer: “What was particularly interesting about today’s special conference was that people from across the party spectrum spoke — often movingly (Simon Hughes got a standing ovation) — of why and how they had realised that going into an arrangement with the Conservatives was the best thing both for the party and for the country. Only about half a dozen conference reps voted against the motion endorsing the deal”

    I didn’t attend the special conference. But clearly it was a decision – on the basis of the agreement – that had very widespread support. And I would have voted for it if I had attended the conference – and my memory of the time was one of some excitement that we would entering Government after some hundred years. I did believe at the time that it would have been far better for us to have had a coalition with Labour – but firstly they weren’t playing ball and secondly the numbers weren’t there.

    Any Government is a “balance sheet” of the good and the bad. There was, for example, some that was good about the Labour Government – minimum wage, some investment in public services, devolution. And some that was bad – dropping bombs on Iraq, tuition fees (!), and very, very slow on extra investment in public services – essentially doing what the Tories would have done for 2.5 parliamentary terms.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Oct '18 - 9:23pm

    I’m with the moderates and the outward-looking here. Nick Clegg didn’t just ‘scarper off to America’: he stayed for more than three years, fighting to retain his seat and fighting Brexit. But he needs an international job, and as a man with strong Liberal values, it’s good to think of him trying to instill those values in directing communications at one of the world’s most important communication channels, as Humphrey suggests.

    We still have leaders not entirely free from having shared the failures of the Lib Dem ministers in the Coalition, who are still working to restore us. But I think it should also be remembered that we had a recent leader under whom the 46,000 members left after the Coalition rose to more than 100,000, and who led the brave anti-Brexit stance that now looks as if it may at last be succeeding.. Tim Farron is still an MP, and may yet prove to have an important role when we regain a share of power, as Clegg and Alexander could no longer have.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Oct ’18 – 9:23pm………..I’m with the moderates and the outward-looking here……………..

    That, obviously,isn’t intended to describe me, and those like me.

    Strangely, when the ‘moderates’ were all contemplating their navels I was one of those who was looking outward; we heard what the electorate were saying, we watched as we lost hard working councillors, MEPs, MPs, etc. (as eloquently put by David Evans 29th Oct ’18 – 2:14pm), we spoke out against what was happening but the ‘moderates’ told us to be quiet, to stop rocking the boat and the party’s mantra went from “Too early for change” to “Too late for change” without ever passing the “Right time for change”.

    Now the two who did the most damage are to be feted and applauded for their’strong Liberal values’ and service to the party. Arrrrrgh!

  • Ed Shepherd 30th Oct '18 - 6:37am

    It is interesting to consider whether a massive salary is needed in order to earn respect. When I think of the people who have most influenced human development and continue to inspire people today, I note that most of them lived lived austere lives and many of them died in poverty.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 30th Oct '18 - 7:01am

    Many thanks for all the contributions, insightful and revelatory. I appreciate Paul Barker’s clarification that my piece was an attempt to take a wider view of where ‘liberal democracy’ stands in today’s world, within that what the Liberal Democrats are doing to underpin these values. The detail from David Evans is interesting. I became active in 2013 when, for the first time in my experience Britain enjoyed democratic accountability within cabinet. Even though, flooded with Lib Dem literature and with a keener antenna on British politics, I picked up very little of the internecine friction mentioned here — apart from tuition fees. While my piece attempted to look to the future, like a tongue on a sore tooth, the debate swirled around the past and none of us know how much shredding might have befallen the Party had we stood aside in 2010 and done nothing.

  • Jayne Mansfield 30th Oct '18 - 7:52am

    Sorry Humphrey,

    I fail to understand how Alexander and Clegg are pioneers of Liberal Democracy.

    Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg have done what many politicians from all parties have done before, collected their awards and taken high paid jobs.

    Nothing extraordinary there. What is extraordinary is that their career moves are packaged and sold as some high moral endeavour. Nauseating.

  • In David Law’s book on the Coalition he stated that Danny Alexander was keen to continue with Welfare cuts in 2015. Do we really want him back?

  • I would like to comment on the special conference in Birmingham which approved the coalition. I attended. I voted for. What I thought I was voting for was a government focussed totally upon the financial problems of the country – which in my opinion was caused by the power of international finance. There had been, and of course continue to be, well publicised examples of failures because of relentless greed pursuing short term profit. I remember reading about for example Long-Term Capital Management, whose collapse in 1998 was well publicised. It was alleged that the intervention of the Federal Reserve in the US with what they claimed was voluntary assistance by financial institutions, saved the world financial system from collapse. I hoped against hope that we would get a government focussed on the real problems of the financial system both at home and internationally.
    Instead there was a determination to behave as if there was somehow a mandate to act like a government in non crisis times. To me the referendum on the Alternative Vote was a slap in the face. A distraction from what should have been a determined effort to ensure that those who could afford to pay did pay, that those who couldn’t didn’t and most of all that there was a real effort to deal with the underlying causes of the problems.
    To me and, it seems, the majority of our fellow citizens this did not happen.
    Maybe it would have helped if there had been a bit more openness at that conference in Birmingham about the real intentions of our leaders. Always assuming they had any of course.

  • John Barrett 30th Oct '18 - 10:37am

    One quote from the article, (admittedly taken completely out of context), for me, sums up the position up well, “the two architects of the disastrous coalition have abandoned Britain to take the high-income non-liberal shilling”

    It is worth looking at the work experience and track record of both Nick and Danny, prior to their time in the coalition, to see exactly what their skills and experiences were to qualify them for their present positions. If the time in the coalition is added, many would argue that there are as many, if not more, negatives as positives from that period.

    It certainly appears that neither would have been given their present jobs in an open selection and interview process against other suitably qualified candidates and that both relied on personal contacts and a lack of a transparent and genuine process in order to land their well paid posts.

    Considering the amount of time, effort and energy the party has given to ensure such processes have no place in our party, especially in employment at any level, or the selection of candidates at all levels, I am amazed that there is anyone in the party who is impressed by the road both have taken to secure their futures.

    The thought of either returning “refreshed with new experience, and rejoin the fray” leaves open one option for both Nick and Danny and would fit with the prospect of those who support non members electing a new leader, who is not an MP.

  • @David Raw

    I am sure Nick Clegg as well as Danny Alexander and the others would concede that they made mistakes during the coalition. And I am critical of Clegg. But I think that the coalition agreement did set out what happened in the coalition and it was something that was agreed by the party as a whole with only minimal opposition – whether from MPs or the party as a whole.

    On deficit reduction the agreement stated: “We recognise that deficit reduction, and continuing to ensure economic recovery, is the most urgent issue facing Britain. We will significantly accelerate the reduction of the structural deficit over the course of a Parliament, with the main burden of deficit reduction borne by reduced spending rather than increased taxes.”

    Most Governments have mid-term blues. And the hope was that having taken tough decisions because as Labour said “there was no money left” and got Britain on the right track, our support would improve from the mid-term. Indeed it did for the coalition as a whole – but for the Conservatives! I remember canvassing two probable Lib Dem households in 2015 and the first were Labour leaning and understandably weren’t supporting us, the second liked the coalition and as a result were supporting the Tories!

    Clearly tuition fees were a fiasco – although what is now forgotten a highly complicated one. And Clegg and co were too keen to make the coalition work and remain in place. But we don’t as others have said have counterfactuals to know what would have happened if we hadn’t gone into coalition or had withdrawn The balance sheet as with Labour is mixed one – indeed I am more critical of Labour has having had a good economy not having put more into public services sooner.

  • Both strands of liberal Democracy are under attack. I suspect there is more interest in preserving liberalism than furthering democracy. However, they are two sides of the same coin and both need advancement. There is more need for improved democracy in the UK, partly because it does not demand much public and media attention.

  • Michael 1 – I don’t know where you get the idea that “I am sure Nick Clegg as well as Danny Alexander and the others would concede that they made mistakes during the coalition.” The closest I have heard is Nick owning up to ‘Sitting in the Wrong place’ in parliament, which ‘gave the wrong impression’. A consummate political answer to deflect attention from a real issue. I haven’t seen or heard of any other and this is the nub of our problem.

    I agree with you totally when you say “And Clegg and co were too keen to make the coalition work and remain in place,” but again I have never seen a clear public acceptance of that by Nick or anyone senior in the coalition or even any of their cheerleaders – ever.

    If you know of any more admissions of mistakes, please let me know and I will add it to the list. When it gets close to explaining how the party was electorally destroyed in just five years, I will know that, as the party that says believes in education, we have finally realised it applies to us as well, and have started to learn the lessons of what went wrong, so we don’t make the same mistakes next time.

    Until then, I am afraid all the “I am sures” don’t add up to a hill of beans.

  • paul holmes 30th Oct '18 - 2:47pm

    @Humphrey Hawksley. A look at 1974 gives a good clue to what may have happened if we had declined to enter Coalition in 2010.

    In Feb 1974 Ted Heath (economic crisis, 3 day week, miners strikes, who governs Britain? -so hardly a tranquil time) was very keen to get the Liberal Party signed up to a coalition. Jeremy Thorpe by all accounts was equally keen to get himself the Cabinet position and Ministerial Limo he thought his talents deserved. As the Tories refused to give way on introducing PR (despite the absolute travesty highlighted by the election result) wiser Liberal heads prevailed and the Liberals did not enter Coalition. Result, some drop in their vote and seat share in the following Oct 74 General Election but nothing remotely like the wipe out that all but destroyed our Party in the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 elections. A wipe out from which we barely show any signs of recovery so far and indeed we did even worse in the 2017 GE.

    Regrettably Nick Clegg had abandoned PR as a ‘Red Line’ in any future Coalition negotiations well before the 2010 election. The rest as they say is history -much as we may well be.

    We did not have to go into Coalition simply because the random roulette of FPTP made it possible. We could have declined to do so as in Feb 1974. We could have negotiated a looser Pact as with the Lib/Lab Pact of 1977/8. We could have negotiated an enhanced ‘Confidence and Supply’ arrangement on the lines the DUP did in 2015. Professionally negotiated Coalitions worked well for the LD’s for 4 years in the Welsh Assembly and for 8 years in the Scottish Parliament. Instead ‘we’ jumped into the Rose Garden ‘Love In’ and went on to support hook line and sinker much that was not in the original Coalition deal. The naive architects of all that have gone on to lucrative posts elsewhere leaving an all but destroyed Party behind.

  • Steve Trevethan 30th Oct '18 - 3:39pm

    Might the attributes which enable a person to rise in an organisation sometimes make that person less than well suited to lead that organisation?

  • @David Evans

    Clegg said the coalition was wrong to cut capital spending at the start of the coalition https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21190108

    At https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/ministers-reflect/person/nick-clegg/

    He said “[at the beginning] we were a bit too immersed in policy rather than politics. So we in a sense got the policy bit of the formation of that government right, but not the politics. And we were wholly un-acclimatised to what it meant to operate in government.

    “…Just being wildly overstretched, under-slept, under-resourced. It didn’t do my health much good, I don’t think. It meant politically that I was invisible, and it meant that in Whitehall I simply wasn’t in a position to really anticipate a lot of the things that were being thrown at me.

    And he said: “letting Andrew Lansley bog us down in that evermore circular reform of the NHS was a huge mistake”

    And he has said sorry for tuition fees and acknowledges in that interview that they should have been rebranded/changed to be a graduate tax. Personally I would go further than Clegg in his self-criticism on that!

    I am not sure that we are thinking enough about hung parliaments and indeed coalitions or pacts and indeed some of the lessons of the coalition from both the nuts and bolts side and the politics of it.

  • @David Raw

    I appreciate the point. This thread is turning a little into a witch-hunt. In that Clegg is either condemned for saying that he didn’t make mistakes or condemned for the mistakes he does admit to. Just as witches were innocent if they drowned or guilty (and so put to death) if they didn’t!

    He goes on to say in the interview that he improved his physical health, increased his staffing and did things like the LBC phone-in to improve his visibility.

    The overall point of this sub-thread was the contention that it was Clegg’s decision alone to go into coalition when actually there were very, very few dissenting voices.

    Personally I would rate the Lib Dem part of the coalition as highly as any Government since 1979. I am not a Thatcherite so that rules out the first 18 years. And I feel that Blair squandered massive political capital and inheriting a booming economy.

    For me, the balance sheet of the Lib Dems in coalition is mixed but has to be viewed against as Labour said “sorry, there’s no money left.”

    Clearly most political careers and indeed most Governments end in tears. While it is tough and I would prefer it not to be the case, we need to grow up as Lib Dems and realise that our political rating is going to have downs as well as ups – just like all the other parties. And especially if we enter Government – and I don’t believe that we should be forever on the side-lines in British politics.

  • nvelope2003 30th Oct '18 - 9:03pm

    A few more acres of repetition but still no mention of Dame Laura Cox’s report into the actions of certain MPs and senior officials of the House of Commons.
    For the record I opposed the coalition but to be fair whilst the membership rightly disliked many of its policies and the part the Liberal Democrats played in it the party was rejected by many voters for what good Liberal Democrats wanted to achieve in Government when they found out what it was. The protest vote can be very fickle and unforgiving and they soon found UKIP more to their liking and have now moved on to Jeremy and Theresa according to taste.

  • Matt (Bristol) 31st Oct '18 - 10:42am

    I’m not surprised or resentful that Nick Clegg has a posh job. He won’t be the first Cabinet Minister to take that route.

    At a PR level, I’m a little alarmed for the party that a) Nick is still perceived by many beyond politics as a key leader and influencer in the remaining party; and b) that his job at a firm that has had its Ratner’s moment, is perceived with suspicion and is on the way down in public estimation (ubiquitous thought it still is in many circles).

    As I’ve said elsewhere, it confirms for me that if we had a European system with multiple Liberal parties, Mr Clegg and me probably wouldn’t be in the same one (though I might slip his lot a vote sometimes).

    I feel utterly no compulsion to sign up on a crusade for ‘global Liberal Democracy’ through the corporate halls of power led by these two. I am not their cheerleader, and they are not my leaders.

    Good luck to them, I hope they don’t cause collateral damage or recur in our lives with unhelpful political interventions now they’ve decided to be businesspeople.

    Now let’s work out whether those of us who are left can reach agreement on what our principles are.

    I hope we can go on to keeping fighting for democracy, human rights, what remains of the post-war international order, reform the party and the nation, in the context of the Tory dystopia we are left with.

    We’re in the fight of our lives and we’re losing. What Nick Clegg does with his life is a distraction.

    End of.

  • David Allen 2nd Nov '18 - 8:12pm

    The 64,000 dollar question is – Why did Facebook give Nick Clegg this job?

    Did they think Clegg was uniquely well qualified to work alongside a self-centred, conservative organisation with a controlling leader, and persuade that organisation to change radically for the better? Did Facebook think that the Coalition period showed that Clegg was the right person to drive through a culture change against the strong resistance of its leadership?

    Or alternatively, did Facebook think that Clegg had demonstrated unique capabilities for putting a bogus liberal gloss onto the face of a conservative organisation? Did they think that they could avoid real change by employing a public figure who would do his best to present them in a “liberal” light? Is Clegg’s job, as public spokesman, to defuse the pressure for change, and thus to allow Facebook to go on getting away with it?

    I know which of these two possible explanations makes better sense to me! But not, I suspect, to the denialists here….

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