Clegg’s verdict on Labour in opposition: “Collective bile is not a political strategy”

There’s an in-depth, wide-ranging and pretty frank interview with Nick Clegg in The Guardian today, in which he defends the coalition, assures those Lib Dem activists worried by the budget cuts that they are “not driven by some ideological zeal”, and attacks Labour for its failure to recognise that coalitions are here to stay: “Something very, very big is happening in politics.”

Here are some of the juiciest Clegg-bites:

On the coalition:

[it] is not an aberration, but a natural consequence of what has been happening for years, which is a loosening of the old tribal ties between the old parties and their supporters. Something very, very big is happening in politics. I think what we are entering into is a permanent move to greater pluralism, diversity, and fluidity in politics that does not settle down to one associated pattern between parties”

On Labour’s tribal knee-jerk to the coalition:

There is a Labour assumption that this coalition is an unnatural act, and all we have to do is put it back in a box, and carry on as before. I really think they are missing something much more profound. That is why people out there, as opposed to the Westminster village, are warming as much as they are to the coalition. That is a deep change in the way people regard politics psychologically. … Collective bile is not a political strategy. Labour has been enveloped by a synthetic rage about spending cuts.”

On the spending cuts announced in the coalition budget:

We will have to explain to the public over and over again that this is not driven by some ideological zeal. The idea that this is some libertarian drive to destroy the state is completely absurd. … You have a choice at the end of the day: do you want your government to try and sort out this mess or do you want faceless people in the bond market to force it upon you?… [it would have been an] act of cowardice, socially deeply unjust and an abdication of political and moral responsibility not to have gripped the crisis.”

On the Alternative Vote referendum campaign:

I will not be the lead proponent or figurehead in the referendum. I hope it is something that will excite people from beyond politics – academics and celebrities, but also people from all different parties.”

There are further quotes in Patrick Wintour’s blog account of the interview for the paper …

On the coalition government’s liberal-progressive direction:

Civil liberties, political renewal, devolution of power, green sustainability: all are being achieved at a pace, and with a radicalism, that Labour did not manage in 13 years.”

On the Labour leadership contest:

A leadership contest for any political party, especially a political party that has just lost an election, should be a time of great creativity, asking very difficult questions, reconciling a party to why it has failed, thinking the unthinkable.

“Instead what has happened, it seems to me, is that all the leadership candidates have rushed to a comfort zone of collective bile and vitriol. Collective bile is not a strategy, collective vitriol is not a means to political renewal. I know they want to vilify me and the Liberal Democrats, but they have got to understand something very, very big is happening: a very big shift in politics is going on.

“I know it is a comforting thing to yell at your opponents, but the Labour party needs to ask itself some searching questions about what has hapened to itself, and why it is appearing as a backstop to progress in so many issues of progress. I hope the Labour Party realises that it is at a fork in the road.”

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  • Ian mitchell 10th Jul '10 - 12:31am

    This appears however to be a tory not a coalition govt.

  • Andrew Suffield 10th Jul '10 - 12:54am

    I’m not sold on the notion that big changes are happening – so far it just looks like putting right all the things Labour did wrong, and getting back to business as usual – but I’d be quite happy to see him deliver on that one.

    He’s right about Labour though.

  • john martin 10th Jul '10 - 8:32am

    Nick Clegg’s article in the Guardian is highly revealing. It is a case of, ‘Goodbye Lib Dems!’ Members will be interested that – it would appear – there are no big differences between the party and the Tories; or, to be fair, no difference that cannot be bridged over a cup of tea with your chums.
    There is a history to formal Coalitions and the lessons are always there: the Tories have no difficulty in assimilating the views of Liberals when they feel a need to broaden their appeal but when the need passes it is a case of ‘Goodbye chums except for those who know us best. Do feel free to join the Liberal Conservatives.’ This i a title that lasts for a Parliament. Nick is very, very ambitious. Why should he not lead a Liberal Conservative Party? Can you imagine him the leader of a Coalition Government?
    In the House of Commons Nick is treated with a degree of contempt. Members know where he has come from and where he hopes to be. Move over David?

  • Labour deserve to be out of power for a generation. They show no remorse for what they have caused, they actually have the audacity to blame others for what is happening. For so many Liberals the idea of any deal with these people was absolutely unthinkable, and will remain so for many years until the current generation is passed.

  • The recent u turn on dissolution holds a clue here, it is the supremacy of parliament that was asserted here parliament did not allow for a right it had to be taken away, it did this through forcing the coalition to back down, the argument won the day.

    Except there was no u-turn. The original proposal was actually strengthened by (rightly) raising the dissolution threshold from 55% to 66%. It was never the intention to change the threshold for votes of confidence and although timeouts weren’t explicity mentioned in the coalition agreement they were certainly implied. I don’t think much of the media or many MPs really understood this. Despite the fact that this is the way fixed term parliaments work the world over – including in Scotland.

  • but the fact thaty as an intended consequance a de facto disolving of parliment is obtained by a clear application of the constition

    …unless an alternative government could be formed from the current parliament, as was the case in 1924 after confidence in Baldwin’s government was withdrawn. Only the Prime Minister can advise the Queen to dissolve parliament and the Queen should not act without his advice. Parliament has never had the power to dissolve itself.

    It will be interesting to see the constitutional mechanism by which this is implemented. It’s not clear that this will be a new power for parliament to dissolve itself, or whether it will simply be a restraint on the prime minister. I.E will the prime minister have to seek the permission of parliament to dissolve or can parliament initiate a dissolution vote and bind the Queen? I think it’s most likely to be the former as it requires the least constitutional upheaval.

  • Paul Griffiths 10th Jul '10 - 11:43am

    @tony – “Now it is difficult with parties that have leaders and this is made harder when you have a queasy presidential system.”

    I think you try to sound queasy intellectual, but are let down by being seamy literate.

  • The combined vote of the two big Parties has been in steady decline for 60 years. Unless that trend goes into reverse then the chance of getting a one-Party majority goes down with every Election. If Labour really want to be in Goverment they need a two-track strategy, winning the most seats & making themselves an attractive partner to the Libdems, more attractive than the Tories.The longer that Labour keep up their present strop the harder their task will be.

  • I’m still waiting for an example of bilious and unbridled hatred from the leadership contenders. Nearly 300 replies in that thread and not one example.

    And I really don’t think Clegg should be lecturing the Labour party. He’s flying high from being allowed to sit at the big boy’s table for a change but his arrogance now will look like a bad joke in two years time.

  • Pots and Kettles!

    Nick Clegg said at the Yorkshire Post question Time event (19 March 2010):

    “The decision on how we govern this country and how people vote shouldn’t be driven by fear of what the markets might do. Let’s say there was a concervative government, right, and let’s say the conservative government announced in that sort of macho that they like ‘We’re going to slash public spending by a third, we”re going to slash this, we’re going to slash that, we’re going to do it tomorrow’ because it has to take early, tough action. Just imagine the reaction of my constituents in South West Sheffield. I represnt a constituency that has more people working on public services as a proportion of the workforce than any other constituency in the country. Lots of people work in the universities, the hospitals and so on. They have no conservative councillors, they have no conservative MPs. There are no conservative MPs or conservative councillors for as far as the eye can see in South Yorkshire. People like that are going to say ‘Who are these people telling us that they’re suddenly going to take out jobs away? Who are these people suddenly… What mandate do they have? I didn’t vote for them and no one around here votes for them.’ I think, you know if we want to go the direction of Greece where you get real social and industrial unrest, that’s the guaranteed way of doing it, the thinking that the old tub-thumping way of conducting politics is the way that you bring people along with you…”

    Has he forgotten? The web will be there when ever he needs reminding.

    What anyone with a shred of morality would do is take every single one of the financial market guys and take every penny, any asset from them to pay for this mess. What the spineless do is thump the have-nots.

    Labour stopped being a labour party a long time ago.
    The conservatives have been what they’ve always been during my lifetime
    The Liberal Democrats remained an unknown quantity.

    The Liberal Democrats joined the club, so Clegg has failed already.
    The failed club of Neoliberalism, and like any party following failed ideologies, really shouldn’t be in power.

  • Paul McKeown 20th Jul '10 - 12:08pm

    It would appear that bile is Labour’s only strategy: long may it continue. The rest can get on with governing.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 20th Jul '10 - 1:10pm


    The budget changes were fair and progressive – and didn’t unduly penalise the less well off, especially the rise in VAT
    It is now appropriate to start cutting spending before the recovery is entrenched, and to cut the entire deficit over one parliment.
    The proportion of expenditure cuts to tax rises should be 4:1
    The above weren’t any different from what the LibDems said in their manifesto
    The proposals re free schools are well thought out and not being introduced too quckly.
    Ditto the proposals re transferring budgets and responsibilties to GPs
    The oriignal proposals re the 55% rule didn’t reduce the power of parliment to force elections in a deadlock situation (well they did so after receiving a bit of bile we changed our minds).
    Having 5 year fixed parliments rather than the 4 years previously proposed makes no difference.

    Of course if you wish to take a differing view on any of the above it is just because you are full of bile and because you don’t understand that there is no alternative (copyright Saint Margaret)

  • toryboysnevergrowup 20th Jul '10 - 1:11pm

    Oh and the meaning of the Big Society is clear to everyone!

  • Paul McKeown 20th Jul '10 - 1:20pm


    If those are the arguments you are going to put to the electors, please feel free!

  • toryboysnevergrowup 20th Jul '10 - 3:23pm


    I think you will find they are your own arguments – and if you can rise above you usual poodle like behaviour you will find that they are being opposed in detail. The fact that you and your master wish to typify any counter arguments to your own position as bile and with other such abuse says more about you than your opponents I’m afraid. For example you really think that proper arrangements for governance and accountability can be established for free schools in the space of 2 months so that they are ready to commence operations in September?? If GPs are going to be made responsible for purchasing decisions within the NHS how do maintain the purchasing power and discounts that go with bulk buying, how do you prevent the corruption of individual GPs by the pharmaceutical companies, what controls do you put in place to prevent idiosyncratic GPs.

    You have noticeably failed to address the Keynesian arguments as to why the UK economy may not go the way of Ireland and Japan by cutting before growth is established. Happy to engage in arguments any time – I’ll leave the yapping and the bile to others.

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