Clegg criticises May on Brexit, talks about defeat and the Westminster culture that enables bullying and harassment

Nick Clegg gets loads of column inches this weekend.

He has a long interview with Camilla Cavendish in today’s Sunday Times magazine (£). They discuss Brexit, Parliament, sexual harassment and his son’s Blood Cancer.

He describes the serendipitous series of events that meant that he took Antonio to the GP:

To this day, I don’t know what possessed me to take him to the GP. It was those early days in September, you know, when you have to get kids ready for school. Miriam had to work very heavily that week, so I was at home most of the time, helping to do the preparatory things, buying clothes for the new term — and Antonio said he had this thing. We had an afternoon, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I just take him, and he’ll stop going on about it.’ ”

This was quite out of character, he says. “Normally, I’m quite brutal. My Dutch mum regarded going to doctors and hospitals as something one should avoid at all costs.

Thankfully, Antonio is now well on the mend.

Nick spoke about what he’s up to now he’s out of Parliament. He’s taken up drumming and tried (unsuccessfully) to learn to surf.

The interview was conducted just around the time that sexual harassment hit the headlines. Nick slammed the culture at Westminster which created the environment for this abuse:

No party, including the Lib Dems, is free of the taint of sexual harassment and bullying. This behaviour is totally unacceptable and it should be stamped out hard, because no one should be made to feel uncomfortable or threatened while going about their work.”

The peculiar environment of Westminster, he says, contributes to what he calls “some nasty behaviour by unscrupulous types” who have authority over others. “People are locked up night after night away from their families, they feel they should be running the country and most don’t run a whelk stall. They are like Sunday pantomime actors, desperate to put on the make-up and get the applause.”

In terms of Brexit, he reckons that if Theresa May had only communicated better about what she needed from the EU, they would have shifted their position on things like freedom of movement.

Clegg makes a surprising claim — that the British government has never raised the issue. “Theresa May, unforgivably in my view, made no attempt whatsoever in the wake of the referendum to reach out privately to European power brokers and see whether there was some way she could finesse this.”

He has also  been speaking to the Yorkshire Post about his predictions for how Brexit will turn out and why he thinks he lost his Sheffield Hallam seat in June.

He reckons there’s about a 25% chance that Brexit could be stopped:

“It’s been so badly handled, it ‘s been sold on such a pack of lies and people’s expectations are running so far ahead of what is realistically possible, that you would’ve thought at some point there’s going to be a major collision which may allow us – particularly young people who didn’t vote for this at all – to say ‘hang on a minute let’s think again’.” “I still put most of my money on there just being a bad deal,” he adds as a caution. “A rotten deal in which we end up coughing up money, still abiding by European rulings and have a rubbish trade deal in return.

He defends his strong language about the rhetoric of the Brexiteers:

The problem is there is no soft, gentle way of doing this,” he says. “We’ve been lied to. There are some very powerful vested interests in Britain… pumping out all this anti-European propaganda. “I have no argument at all with the people who voted Brexit for perfectly understandable reasons because they were told a bunch of really good things would happen. I have nothing but contempt however for the people who should’ve know a lot better and chose instead to save their own political skins by fibbing to the British people.”

When did he realise that here might be a problem during the General Election?

“It was when I was speaking to a very nice lady from Totley who was traditionally Conservative but has always lent me her vote because she preferred me and the Liberal Democrats to Labour,” he recounts. “She said ‘hello, thank you for everything you’re doing for us. I’ve voted for you before and I’ll vote for you next time, but not this time because you’re being far too beastly about Brexit’. “It’s always been… very important for me to persuade Conservative voters to, in a sense, continue to vote for the devil they knew. And I could feel that was unravelling.”

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  • Richard Underhill 10th Dec '17 - 11:55am

    On BBC Radio 4 Any Answers on 9/12/2017 there was a British citizen who was passionately angry that his vote had been “stolen”, and the vote of many other people he knows had also been stolen. There is a simple issue of principle here – ALL British citizens should have been allowed to vote. If David Cameron is offered a peerage at some stage this failure should be held against him.
    David Cameron has entered a period of Trappist silence, consistent with Harold Wilson’s statement that “I do not spit on the deck” after resigning from the premiership.
    David Cameron and George Osborne are among those whose brevity is being quoted, for instance on the Andrew Marr Show on 10/12/2017 and previously on the Daily Politics. Either or both of them should clarify the obvious point that THEY WERE CAMPAIGNING TO REMAIN IN THE EUROPEAN UNION. Therefore the risk to business and the UK’s prosperity in general was that votes to Leave would have consequences such as being taken out of the Single Market (Mrs Thatcher’s greatest achievement as Michael Heseltine has said) and out of the Customs Union. Therefore vote Remain.
    AS Prime Minister David Cameron was campaigning for the national interest as he saw it. He has made a rushed statement which can be reduced to a soundbite or a headline.
    George Osborne has not made a vow of silence. I regret that out here in the exurbs I do not see the London Evening Standard. Maybe he has already said this. If so the reputable Andrew Marr has slipped up. If not, bring on John Cleese for comment on a statement of ‘the bloody obvious’.
    Keir Starmer is admitting to being “lawyerly” in his language. Ed Milliband has said that “nobody voted to be poorer”, well maybe Nigel Farage did but it is not turning out that way.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Dec '17 - 12:07pm

    In his book “All Out War” Tim Shipman, the political editor of the Sunday Times, gave a list of factors affecting the outturn of the 2016 referendum, including the very heavy rain in identifiable parts of London, but no one of these was sufficient on its own to affect the result. Are there psephologists who can add them up?

  • “who was traditionally Conservative but has always lent me her vote because she preferred me and the Liberal Democrats to Labour,”

    Always? Hallam was never a Lib Dem/Labour contest until 2015 so this is an odd pattern of tactical voting.

  • Laurence Cox 13th Dec '17 - 9:13am

    Thanks to Mark Pack and his inestimable LDN, I came across this blog posting (which I had missed first-time round when Caron included it in her Golden Dozen on 3rd December) :

    What Nick is essentially saying is reframe the argument by treating the referendum result as finished and talk about the consequences of it. Issues like the Irish border and peace in Northern Ireland, or EU citizens working in the NHS and how we can ensure that they want to stay here, are ways to get people to think about what they have done without bringing the Remain/Leave divide to the fore.

    As he says: ” The only way to stop Brexit is through votes that are yet to take place. They might be in Parliament, in an election or even at another referendum, but if we want to win those votes then we need to be thinking now about how we persuade people to side with us when they come about.”

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