Clegg: People don’t vote for economic self-harm

Nick Clegg talked this morning with Robert Peston about Brexit and the Richmond Park by-election. Here’s a transcript of the interview:

Robert Peston: Last time I looked the bookies actually I think put you just as favourites to win Richmond Park. Are you going to win?

Nick Clegg: Well we’re the underdogs, he’s obviously the, Zac Goldsmith’s obviously the establishment candidate, he has the sort of glamour of minor royalty in Richmond, he has the support of the Conservative Party, of UKIP, of a lot of the papers and so on, he’s poured a lot of time and money in to establishing himself in the constituency. But, I’ve never dared differ, disagreed with Allegra but I disagree in one very important respect which is that Heathrow is of course the reason this by-election’s being held, Zac Goldsmith failed to do what he said. He said he’d stop Heathrow and he as a Conservative would make representations to the Conservatives, to Conservative ministers to stop it. We’ve had this by election, we’re having this by-election because he failed in that task and so…

RP: But you’re also, you’re also anti-Heathrow

aren’t you?

NC: Yes we are… [unclear]

RP: But actually this is not going to be a by-election about Heathrow at all, is it.

NC: Well I think the fatal logic in his approach is if he failed to persuade a Conservative government not to go ahead with Heathrow as a Conservative MP, he’s going to have considerably less influence by flouncing out as an independent.

RP: So are you going to make this a by-election about Europe?

NC: No, look, a by-election’s about lots of things, about local hospitals, about…

RP: Because Richmond Park was a very strongly pro-remaining in the EU constituency.

NC: Yeah, sure and that should be one of the issues.

So not only has Zac Goldsmith proved to be ineffective in defending the interests of his constituents as far as Heathrow is concerned, he’s been unrepresentative in fact woefully unrepresentative of their views on the most important issue of the day, on Brexit.

These things are curiously enough linked of course, ‘cause in my view, having spent years discussing Gatwick versus Heathrow when I was in government, I’m absolutely convinced the thing that tipped the scales in favour of Heathrow in the end was all to do with Brexit because Theresa May and others quite rightly are starting to panic about the perception of this government among the business community. They thought, the shorthand way of assuaging concerns in the business community is to say, ‘Look we’re open for business, we’re going to go ahead with Heathrow,’ which has always been the business community’s and the Treasury’s preference. So oddly enough – great irony this, by advocating Brexit, people like Zac Goldsmith made it more likely that the decision eventually would go in favour of Heathrow, as it has done.

RP: Now you’ve devoted your entire life, almost, to the European cause. Was there a single thing that Tony Blair wrote and said last week on what a disaster the vote was and how we should as a nation keep open the possibility of a second vote. Was there anything that he said that you disagree with?

NC: No. I agree with every single word of it. I could have said it, in fact I think he said it extremely well. I think, I think one of the points that he made and that I make is that of course the Brexit press is trying to rewrite history. They’re trying to pretend that everybody voted for Brexit. In fact there were two massive votes. There was a massive vote in favour of leaving, and there was a massive vote – 16.1 million people, that is more people than any number of voters have ever voted for a winning government in the modern era – so you had two massive votes going in diametrically opposite directions. It is a woeful rewriting of history to claim that the country expressed one single opinion, or even worse still, which is now the additional rewriting of history, that they knew exactly what Brexit meant. Given the Brexiteers, this sort of motley crew of Farage, Gove and Johnson didn’t bother to tell people what it meant it’s quite right now that people like Tony Blair say, ‘Hang on a minute, yes of course now we’re heading towards the Brexit, the exit door, but since we don’t know what the destination is of course the country should have another opportunity in one shape or form to make a judgement on the final package.’

RP: But his, I think, fundamental point, is that British people did not vote for what people now characterise as hard Brexit. What Boris Johnson and Michael Gove sold was what is now characterised essentially as soft Brexit, which is more or less full access to the single market, not out of the customs union,

not out of the single market. If we get hard Brexit, should there be a second referendum?

NC: Ye-well, I think there should be. George Osborne put it very well, here’s an odd consolation… [RP – Say again?] George Osborne put it rather well, here’s an odd consolation, Tony Blair, George Osborne and Nick Clegg all agree that the country voted for Brexit not for hard Brexit. People don’t vote for economic self-harm, yes they vote on immigration, identity, they don’t like fussy bureaucrats in Brussels, I get all of that, they’re not happy, many people weren’t. I met many hundreds, thousands of Brexit voters who said, ‘I’m going to vote Brexit because I’m really just simply not happy with the way sort of life is panning out at the moment.’ I get all of that, but to somehow translate that into saying and people now want to quit a British created single market, the largest of its kind anywhere in the world which has provided immense economic and positive economic transformation for our country, I think is a woeful misreading of people’s intentions and rewriting of history.

RP: But so just very briefly though, isn’t your position just a bit too nuanced? Shouldn’t just all of you get together, you know, Tony Blair, George Osborne, and say actually the vote was a terrible mistake, we need another vote.

NC: No because there is a way forward for, for the government [RP – Is there?]. Well I think the only way forward is for Theresa May and Philip hammond to pluck up the courage to face down Liam Fox, to face down the Daily Mail, to face down all these sort of headbangers on the back benches [RP – And allow some immigration] and to say listen, and to say to people, and she [RP – And to pay into the budget?] yes, I think that might have to be one of the requirements. By the way, if we want to do what the government says, which is to remain a full leading member simply of some of the security-related arrangements in the European Union, Europol, for instance, the things that keep us safe from cross-border crime, you can’t do that just on those narrow terms without paying some money into some kind of institutional EU budget. So at some point people are going to have to come clean with the fact that there aren’t simple either/or choices…

RP: Would you like Keir Starmer and the Labour Party to be bolder and clearer on this?

NC: I do wish, I-I, would like Keir Starmer to be a bit more Blairite, put it that way.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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27 Comments

  • John Boylan 30th Oct '16 - 3:53pm

    “They’re trying to pretend that everybody voted for Brexit. In fact there were two massive votes.”

    And the vote to Leave was bigger than the vote to Remain! Accept the UK will leave the EU because the majority voted for Leave.That’s democracy.

    Of course argue about Hard v Soft Brexit and the terms of departure. But depart, we must.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Oct '16 - 4:20pm

    Why doesn’t Nick Clegg challenge publicly the continental hard brexiters and the remain hard brexiters who think if we leave the EU then we deserve a hard brexit?

    I’ve challenged plenty of these remain hard brexiters on Twitter and they say things like ‘well what did we expect?’, ‘we can’t expect something for nothing’, ‘the EU are within their rights’, ‘we don’t have a negotiating hand’, ‘we can’t have a better deal than members’ – the list goes on.

    So in summary Nick Clegg and others like to criticise Theresa May for being a bit of a hard brexiter, but what about the EU and remain hard brexiters? There is hardly any moral pressure being put onto the EU over this and it is wrong.

  • paul barker 30th Oct '16 - 5:05pm

    @Eddie Sammon. I think the reason Nick doesnt criticise people in the rest of Europe is that it would piss them off, generally criticism or advice from foreigners is unwelcome. Added to that is the fact of our Government planning to leave The EU, you cant announce that you are leaving a club & then start giving the other members advice on how to run it.
    As a fanatical Remainer I cant recall anyone saying that Leavers deserve what they get. I am however, annoyed that we Remainers will also get it. Burn down your own house if you want but dont set the fire to mine as well.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Oct '16 - 5:29pm

    Paul Barker, we don’t need to criticise per se, just make the case to Europe in a positive manner via an open letter. There should be lots of these to the people of Europe but I am seeing hardly any. I saw one from the Guardian, which was a bit mild for my liking, but the right idea.

    But when you’ve got people like François Hollande trying to get re-elected partly by promising “firmness” with the United Kingdom, then if they ignore the polite pleas then the tone should begin to change.

  • @Eddie Sammon – The rest of the EU is waiting for us to express a preference as to what, if any, future relationship we wish to have with the EU. Obviously, if we are not members then we are not going to be at the decision table when the EU makes decisions in future that impact us, either directly (if we “soft Brexit” and are members of EFTA/EEA) or indirectly (if we “hard Brexit” and find that EU/EEA decisions impact us when we interact with the EU & EFTA member states). The other member states are stating the obvious when they point this out. If we not a
    member of the EU then the EU will act in the interests of its member states, not us.

  • “People don’t vote for economic self-harm”

    We keep hearing this from Clegg and others, but many people don’t believe there will be “economic self-harm”. The Ashcroft poll in Sep showed 59% think the country is going in the right direction post-brexit – even 42% of Lib Dems thought this. If you can’t take Richmond Park – you’ve won 3 of the last 5 elections there – with it’s 70% plus remain vote, you may need to think of a new approach.

  • nvelope2003 30th Oct '16 - 8:51pm

    People do not think there will be economic harm in leaving the EU but why is this ? Is it because almost all the experts say this and they do not trust experts or want to hear what they say ? I guess if they do not believe their doctors or dentists, lawyers or accountants it is generally because they do not like what they hear or do not want to hear it. Many people are like this but normally this only affects themselves, although the costs fall on the rest of us. In the case of the EU their views affect everybody, either for the good in the case of the wealthy who are mostly for Brexit, or not so good for many of the rest. There is a problem for democracy here when wealthy people are using the media to convince people to vote against their own interest and in favour of the interests of the wealthy. How are we going to deal with this ?

  • Paul Kennedy 31st Oct '16 - 8:10am

    “These things are curiously enough linked of course, ‘cause in my view, having spent years discussing Gatwick versus Heathrow when I was in government, I’m absolutely convinced the thing that tipped the scales in favour of Heathrow in the end was all to do with Brexit because Theresa May and others quite rightly are starting to panic about the perception of this government among the business community.”

    I agree about Brexit, but it shouldn’t be a question of Gatwick v Heathrow should it? Lib Dems have consistently argued against imposing any new runways on communities in the South-East, reflecting our commitment to localism, the environment, and the importance of rebalancing Britain’s economy away from the overheated South-East to other areas which actually want to expand.

    The only people claiming it’s Gatwick v Heathrow are the London Tories saying we should expand Gatwick, and the Surrey/Sussex Tories saying we should expand Heathrow. It’s the worst kind of Tory Nimbyism, demanding we build in somebody else’s back yard. We’re better that.

  • Malc …. the combo of Blair, Osborne and Clegg sharing the same anti-Brexit song – the Lib Dems need a new approach regardless of the result at Richmond!

  • David Pearce 31st Oct '16 - 10:30am

    People keep arguing there was a vote to Leave and thats it. They are wrong. The Leave campaign touted at least two mutually exclusive outcomes to leaving, soft and hard for the sake of argument, and did their best to fail to explain that the benefits of one would not apply to the other. There were at least three different groups voting, soft, hard and no brexit, but the votes of two somehow got muddled together. I would suggest reapportioning them half each to soft and hard Brexit, and then we see remain won.

    No, not a joke. Its the truth. It is quite possible soft Brexit voters would prefer Remain to hard Brexit, or even hard Brexiteers prefer remain to soft. The different options have different pluses and minuses. If Remain had obtained an outright majority then it would have answered the question, we prefer the status quo. But with the answer we do have, we are still none the wiser which of the three mutually incompatible solutions voters prefer.

    Leave are seeking to push the lie that voters have made clear their choice, but they have not.

  • Nick has chosen a fine turn of phrase when he says “People don’t vote for economic self-harm” and he is absolutely right in that. It is something we must hit the Conservatives hard with over the months ahead.

    Of course it was absolutely the same in coalition where the Lib Dems didn’t vote for electoral self-harm at the special conference. However, I have lost count of the number of senior people who have told me that the party voted for coalition at the special conference as if that excused them from their responsibility when coalition delivered a whole heap of things that conference didn’t vote for, including near total electoral suicide.

    The simple fact is that we have to win in Richmond Park to show we are back in business, and that means every MP, ex-MP, MEP, AM, MSP, councillor, activist and supporter who cares for the future of our party has to turn up and help, at least once, preferably two or three times, so we can make the sort of impact we made in the 1980s and 1990s. Those lessons have to be relearned and quickly. Witney was the dress rehearsal and a good first night. We have to make sure that Richmond Park is a superb finale.

  • David Evershed 31st Oct '16 - 10:51am

    “People don’t vote for economic self-harm.”

    People voted to leave the EU.

    Therefore, leaving the EU is not economic self-harm.

    QED

  • Denis Loretto 31st Oct '16 - 12:15pm

    @David Evershed

    Smart point for a college debate but as you are well aware Nick is saying people don’t knowingly vote for self-harm. That’s the whole point. We don’t know yet and will not know for some time to come. I cannot envisage any outcome as good as staying in the EU but it is possible to envisage an outcome that would not be a complete disaster for the UK or for Europe – there may even be some inkling of that in what Greg Clark is saying about Nissan and beyond. On the other hand there could be an appalling outcome. That’s why both parliament and people need to have a decisive say when the “package” is known.

  • Tony Dawson 31st Oct '16 - 2:00pm

    There can be few Party Leaders who describe themselves as ‘economic self-harm’. 😉

  • ethicsgradient 31st Oct '16 - 3:12pm

    I approach the brexit topic from a pro-leave position. I sometimes feel that the remain side underestimates the strength of feeling of disillusionment with the EU and the strong feeling that the EU is cannot reform. I can think of 2 examples (lib dem specific) of where this jumps out at me.

    1. During the European election Farage/clegg debates, Cleggs answer to how he saw the future of the EU question; with the answer ‘broadly the same’ was met with an almost primitive outcry… This demonstrated the deep seated frustration and despondency felt by those who voted remain.

    2. During a question time debate during the referendum debate, Paddy Ashdown asked the audience (paraphrasing this as I an’t remember the exact words) ” are you really willing to take a gamble with the country that could make us poor rather than sticking with what we know?”. The audience roar backed “yes!”. He was I think rather surprised.

    So how does this play into the idea of people not voting for economic self-harm and therefore changing their mind on brexit (which is substantively what Clegg is saying here).

    Firstly. Most of those who voted to leave have accepted (explicitly or implicitly) that there ‘might’ be some economic downsides for the short to medium term.

    Secondly: Most look at the economic damage done by the Euro to Greece, Italy, spain and many other Eurozone counties , they look at how Greece was treated, italy no grow for 15years. They conclude that the EU is unreformable and in the long term that will be economically damaging.

    Thirdly: Most leave voters thing the UK will do very well trading with the rest of the world, rather than through the EU.

    I still think the idea that vote-leave voters have regretted their decision and are just waiting to have a chance to effectively vote to remain is a fallacy.

  • ethicsgradient 31st Oct '16 - 4:01pm

    just to add on…..

    I think remainers should continue to put their arguments forward and make their case. Its good to have dialogue, discussion and debate.

    I think I am saying that don’t expect a short term economic downturn which may or may not happen (all predictions made about what would happen after a brexit vote (the leaving ‘thanks Andrew Neil’ have proved not to be accurate) to then lead directly to a mass swell of opinion to look to reverse/ change the vote leave result.

    The fundamental problem to the EU-UK relationship actually always goes back to Edward heath going into the Common market on a false perspective. i.e. this is a trade deal only with no loss of sovereignty/ability to govern ourselves. And slight pooling of sovereignty would be arcane and apply to a few limited areas of trade.

    If it had been put to the UK that the EU was essentially a political project using economics to entangle countries together then the UK would never have joined or would have voted to then leave in the 1975 referendum. It was heath thinking ‘he new better’ and the country would come to agree with him, that caused this. UK was in for trade only, Everyone else was in for politics (no more european war).

  • The Professor 31st Oct '16 - 5:58pm

    “People don’t vote for economic self-harm.”

    Southern Rhodesian general election, 1980
    Mr Mugabe wins and becomes Prime Minister.

    Perhaps your title should be:
    “You can fool some of the people all of the time into voting for economic self-harm but this is only apparent many years after the vote.”

  • ethicsgradient 31st Oct '16 - 7:19pm

    @ the professor…

    What an absolutely insane compassion to make. There is no analogy between the two.

    Rhodesia/Zimbabwe moving out of post colonial rule is never going to be voting on the land redistribution/land-grabs of year 2000 (to shore up a rocky elected/forced dictatorship) that sent Zimbabwe to the road of economic ruin.

    The UK has voted to leave a political union to free and move towards global free trade while returning political sovereignty to the country with a democratic developed world history

    there is no comparison to make. truly a bizarre distraction to through into a debate.

  • I voted remain purely because the alternative seemed to be hard brexit. If soft brexit had been on the table I would have voted leave and I’m sure others would have as well. It’s not just the the leave side that is split, if soft brexit is on the table I’m sure many remainers would be in favour of leaving the EU.

  • John Peters 31st Oct '16 - 8:33pm

    @The Professor

    “You can fool some of the people all of the time into voting for economic self-harm but this is only apparent many years after the vote.”

    I don’t know how many years after 1975 that it became apparent the EU was harmful. But we eventually worked it out. That is why the majority voted Leave.

  • Ethicsgradient: I absolutely agree with your postings, particularly the first one which describes how I also feel as a Leave voter.
    I got so fed up with the Lib Dem leadership bleating on about the referendum result not being fair, suggesting Leave voters had been lead to the slaughter with false promises blah, blah and still suggesting we will change our minds, that I terminated my membership to this party.
    Not that I’ll be missed …. just a well-educated 71 year old who weighed up the pros and cons of continued membership of the EU and made a considered, informed decision to vote Leave about which I have absolutely no regrets.

  • People don’t knowingly vote economic self-harm; but it is amazing how they can tie themselves up in knots justifying why they did and how because we are exceptional and the world loves us they actually didn’t. I’m afraid at this moment in time, for lots of people who feel let down the stop the world I want to get option is becoming more and more appealing, unfortunately the world doesn’t stop and it will end badly; it always does.

  • Jayne Mansfield 1st Nov '16 - 9:23am

    @ Pat
    As a similarly well -educated 71 year old, I found weighing up the pros and cons an impossible task because I was in no position to know what they were. We were treated to the facts that were chosen to bolster the case of the competing factions. There were the obvious lies but `I think that people took those into account when they made their decision.

    My vote to remain was swayed by my sixteen year old grandson, it is he and his contemporaries who will reap the whirlwind of any consequences of the vote, and on a personal level, I believe that on balance we achieve more as a whole when we co-operate rather than compete. This still holds, unattractive as the EU looks to me at the present time.

  • john stevens 1st Nov '16 - 9:28am

    The national interest is clearly that the LDs win Richmond and the current national disarray over Brexit affords a solid platform to do so. However, the LDs must decide very soon thereafter whether they are seeking to soften Brexit or reverse it. Persisting in evading that choice will strangle any proper revival of public trust at birth. Incidentally, I like Martin’s suggestion re Turkey very much.

  • Given the disaster of the remain campaign was based on the idea that people won’t vote to be worse off, Clegg is simply wrong again.

    Another poll today with the Lib Dems flat lining at 8%, no boost from Witney what so ever. As long as Clegg is trotted out to remind people of his shameful record, things will not improve.

  • Caracatus

    “As long as Clegg is trotted out to remind people of his shameful record, things will not improve.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Richmond Park is there for the taking, it has a fresh young candidate, a great Lib Dem base to start from and the activists will most likely out number the voters! However, if they start wheeling out Clegg and Ashdown they could blow it and it might be a long time before they get another opportunity like Richmond Park.

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