In full: Nick Clegg responds to the Queen’s Speech

The Liberal Democrats worked hard to ensure that the coalition government’s agenda had a clear thread of liberalism running through it – from the priority we gave to mental health and the green agenda, to creating the pupil premium and protecting our civil liberties.

So it is dispiriting – if pretty unsurprising – to see how quickly, instead of building on those achievements, the new Conservative Government is turning its back on that liberal stance.

The human rights we hold dear, our right to privacy in an online age, our future as an open-minded, outward-looking country, are all hanging in the balance again because of the measures announced today.

It is clear, too, that the previous Government’s commitment to fairness is also weakened.

There was little in today’s speech to help the poorest and the most vulnerable; not enough to improve social care; and no plan to build the Garden cities and 300,000 new homes a year our young people need for the future.

And we will see in a few short weeks, when the Chancellor unveils his Emergency Budget, if he intends to follow through with the £12bn in welfare cuts he has promised that will hit the poorest and the weakest in our society.

That budget, not this Queen’s Speech, will be the moment we can judge whether the Conservative belief in One Nation is for real.

My party’s parliamentary presence may be much reduced in size, but our mission is clearer than ever.

As we did in the Coalition Government, we will fight any attempt to weaken the fundamental rights of our citizens – whether it is those enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and our own Human Rights Act, or those threatened by a turbo-charged Snoopers’ Charter.

We will stand up for the poorest and the most vulnerable.

And we will always defend a Britain that is at its best when it is open-hearted, open-minded and outward-looking.

Of course, I welcome those measures that build on the work we did together in coalition.

The expansion of childcare is a good thing – though the Government will need to do a lot more to help working parents with the crippling costs of childcare once their parental leave ends but before the Government’s scheme for three year olds begins.

And, of course, I welcome the Government’s continued commitment to raising the personal allowance, started by Liberal Democrats in Government, although I’m not sure what kind of comment it is on the Government’s confidence in itself if it feels the need to pass a law for a tax change it can implement anyway.

EUROPE

With so much at stake, the United Kingdom needs a Prime Minister who is absolutely clear about what he wants and why he wants it.

But instead, this must be the first time in living memory that a country’s citizens are being asked to support the outcome of a renegotiation on a matter of such importance to its place in the world without the government of the day setting out in this House what it wants to achieve.

And because we do not know what the government considers a successful negotiation, we do not know for sure which side the Prime Minister will take in a referendum.

That is a precarious position from which to persuade millions of people in a referendum who are indifferent or sceptical about the European Union.

Imagine the circumstances in which the referendum is likely to be held:

Years of denigration of everything the EU does, followed by months of interminable wrangling over this renegotiation, with a divided cabinet and a Prime Minister who still appears ambivalent about our role in Europe.

In recent days I sense a slight swagger in the Government’s confidence that it will secure a good deal in the EU and then go on to win the referendum.

But having witnessed two referenda spin off in entirely unpredicted directions in recent years, I would strongly counsel against any complacency.

So my advice to the government is this:

Pursue your renegotiation with the EU, but spell out exactly what you hope to achieve, so that people understand the choice that’s in front of them.

Be careful not to string it out so long that there is not enough time to make the wider case to the British public.

And above all, remember that the referendum will be won through conviction, not ambivalence. Ambivalence will not succeed in a negotiation and it will absolutely not win a referendum.

The benchmark for reform must be what is in the long-term interest of the United Kingdom, not the short-term interest of the Conservative Party. One thing we already know is that whatever deal the Prime Minister agrees will not satisfy significant parts of his own party.

That is why he must not overstate what he can deliver.

And, when the moment of truth comes and the Prime Minister presents his deal to the country, he must advocate it with real conviction and make a clear and unambiguous argument in favour of our membership of the European Union, warts and all.​

Because, in the end, there is no surrogate for a full throated and sustained advocacy of Britain’s continued membership of a European club which, while undoubtedly imperfect, allows us to tackle crime, address climate change and provide jobs and economic security in a globalised world in a way we never could on our own.

Without clear leadership there’s no guarantee that a referendum on such a contentious subject can easily be won.

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM

It is clear that this Government has been elected, above all else, because English voters did not believe a combination of Labour and the SNP would be good for our country or our economy.

It was a divisive campaign – a victory of fear over hope.

The greatest risk now is that the rise of nationalism and the politics of grievance cause the fractures in our United Kingdom to grow until we splinter entirely.

The warning lights of a full-blown constitutional crisis are flashing.

Yet it is telling that this Queen’s speech contains a plan to weaken our human rights but not to strengthen our constitution.

The Conservatives are understandably cock-a-hoop at their victory, yet they achieved a parliamentary majority with just 37% of the vote.

The SNP has very nearly turned Scotland into a one party state on 50% of the vote – a position of disproportionate power they will no doubt use to further the case for the break-up of our union.

4m people cast a vote for UKIP and more than a million for the Greens, and yet they return to parliament with just one MP each.

And my party has just eight MPs when under a proportional system we would have 51.

I learned the hard way of the difficulties of reforming our creaking political system.

But surely no one needs any more evidence that our British constitution is well past its sell by date?

The general election result may have delivered the Conservatives a majority in parliament but it has left them in charge at a time of great political fragility.

The Prime Minister is quite rightly proud that five years ago, after an uncertain election result, he was able to swallow his pride, act boldly and put the national interest first.

He has an opportunity to do so again now.

If the Government wants to keep our country united – to truly act in the interests of One Nation – then now is the time for him to act in a big and bold way to reform our constitution, our institutions and address the rising tide of nationalism.

Yet all we’ve heard today is a self-absorbed plan to replace one bill of rights with another weaker one, some fiddling with Parliamentary Standing Orders and a welcome but insufficient commitment to devolution to the North.

This sort of piecemeal tinkering does not go nearly far enough.

The time has come for a major, cross-party Constitutional Convention, to find a new federal settlement in which power is devolved to our nations, our regions, our cities and our people.

This Parliament could be the one that creates a new settlement for our country.

This Parliament could be the one that saves our union and renews our democracy.

That should be the legacy enshrined in this Queen’s Speech.

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24 Comments

  • Good response. In a way, it’s a shame that you guys are out of power. If the Lib Dems had held onto all their seats then we wouldn’t have undiluted conservative polices. But in the long run, the Lib Dems losing almost all their seats is a good thing. Because it means that politicians will, from now on, be fully aware that if they lie to their core voters about a core area of policy they will be several punished by the electorate and rightly so. Hopefully, in the long run, all this will work out for the best. Right now thought things look rather dire.

  • I’m not sure what kind of comment it is on the Government’s confidence in itself if it feels the need to pass a law for a tax change it can implement anyway.

    Absolutely, and I hope (and both don’t hope as it will mean a big problem has arisen) this nonsense comes back to bite the government. Lawson dismissing it as electoral flag waving today is completely right.

  • Richard Underhill 27th May '15 - 7:44pm

    Our biggest promise was on standard rate income tax, on which we delivered more than we promised.

    On tuition fees, check the voting records of individual MPs such as Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell,

  • Great speech which must have been hard to give on a personal level

  • Tony Dawson 27th May '15 - 8:00pm

    I thought the Speaker was rather nastily making a point when he did not call Privy Councillor Nick Clegg directly after he called the Leader of the SNP.

  • He Speech is very good. But unfortunately I find it hard to believe anything Nick Clegg says any more. And lecturing David Cameron, who has (sadly) increased his party’s seats , on leadership when Nick has had his party decimated is a bit rich.

  • @phyills. Cameron might be not very nice in our opinion, but he largely did what he said he’d do and looked after his core voters (the rich and the elderly) so they became even more enthusiastic and backed him even more. The lib dems let their core voters (students, the young and the liberal centre left) down so they lost them. I don’t believe the lib dems have fully accepted where they went wrong and why yet though.

  • Sammy O'Neill 27th May '15 - 10:52pm

    Nothing on the lack of a tax avoidance bill and nothing on the NHS (have we given up on our mental health policy?), yet masses on the EU. If this is a taste of the parties future focus then I think we’re in more trouble than people realise…

  • I listened to Today in Parliament on Radio 4 last night. The very brief coverage of the person who spoke well down the list, after Labour, after the SNP, after the DUP was a little sad but it spoke the reality of what Clegg’s leadership did to our party.

    Listening to him speaking we would understand if many of those Liberal Democrats who over the last five years have had to make speeches like this as former councillors, former council leaders, former MEPs and now former MPs might secretly be thinking to themselves —
    “Well, Nick Clegg, now you know what it feels like!”

    There is an huge irony within the text of this speech by Nick Clegg.
    When he said —
    “..And above all, remember that the referendum will be won through conviction, not ambivalence. Ambivalence will not succeed in a negotiation and it will absolutely not win a referendum.”
    And later —
    “..Without clear leadership there’s no guarantee that a referendum on such a contentious subject can easily be won.”

    I wonder if either he or his speechwriter momentarily applied those words to the leadership of The Liberal Democrats up to and during the Geeral Election of 2015.
    Without clear leadership of our party in recent years there was indeed no guarantee that during such a contentious General Election the party would even survive.
    8 MPs did survive but no thanks to the leadership or the national campaign, they survived despite it.
    There is a big lesson there for all Liberal Democrat members voting in the leadership election. We cannot survive ‘more of the same’.

  • John Roffey 28th May '15 - 7:42am

    Having watched three hours of the QS yesterday – it become clear that the HofC is going to be a far different place with the new mix of MPs and a Tory majority government. This House is not going to be for the faint hearted.

    The Party is going to need just a few key policies – that have real appeal to the voters – just to make any impact. Any attempt to present the Party as a mainstream party will spread its resources and limited exposure far too thinly.

    Hope those key policies are chosen wisely.

  • @JohnTilley

    For comparison, on the TV news Nick was third – the broadcast I saw didn’t include the SNP or DUP. Not saying this is some sort of triumph but worth noting all the same.

    @MrWallace

    I’d say the party is learning by the way Tim Farron looks almost certain to become the next leader, which is not meant as a slight to Norman Lamb who has done so much good work in implementing Liberal policy.

    @Sammy O’Neill

    Fair points – I read the speech and thought it was all good pleasing Liberal content, but you are right to spot those ommissions. We should think much more about what people want to hear from us and not just stay on pet subjects. For one, I utterly despise FPTP, unelected Second Chamber etc – but it seems the vast bulk of voters don’t give two hoots.

  • @John R. The party will have to campaign on those policies too in order to have an impact. If you campaign on those policies areas where most people don’t believe in those things will reject the party and in other areas it might be accepted and elected. Therefore if you get into power again and implement those policies you would keep your voters.

    But this is not how the lib dems behave. The lib dems tell voters in one area that the Tories can’t win here so if you hate labour vote for us. In another area it’s labour that can’t win. And in another it’s a straight choice between us and the snp.

    The result is a base that isn’t so much enthusiastic about the liberal policies as they are disgusted by another’s and different bases in different areas at that. Try and actually implement anything and a base like that will collapse.

  • @ATF. I see no signs that the party is learning and this is pretty fundamental.

    A party needs to have a base that elects it’s MPs and puts it in power. One a base puts a party in power the MPs will be beholden to that base, because that base put them in power and that base either keeps them in power or throws them out. It is fundamental, the only way a liberal party can succeed is by having a voter base of liberal voters, anything else will collapse at the first difficult decision.

    This is categorically NOT the type of voter base that the party has sought to build. Do you understand the problem, I have seen no signs of the party facing up to this.

  • peter tyzack 28th May '15 - 11:59am

    it saddens me that individuals, who clearly get their opinions from the two-party conspiracy which control the UK press, still want to scapegoat Nick. We chose him(thankfully the one I voted for didn’t become leader), we gave him the job to do, and the 2010 electorate gave him the hand of cards. He played it extremely well, a few mistakes(he is human) but exceeding expectations in some areas. What is so astounding that he is still able to stand up in such ignominious circumstances and make such a stirring speech. Sad that our, so balanced, broadcasters couldn’t play more of it.

  • Phil Rimmer 28th May '15 - 2:00pm

    @ Peter Tyzack: ” the 2010 electorate gave him the hand of cards. He played it extremely well, a few mistakes(he is human) but exceeding expectations in some areas.” I supported the Coalition at first but turned against it precisely because Clegg made a complete and utter mess of playing the cards he held. I do not scapegoat Clegg though, I also blame Laws and the narrow group of people whose opinion he appeared to rely on.

    Having led to party to decimation at the polls, It astounds me that he had the bare faced cheek to stand up and make that speech. Our party has to move on and quickly.

  • David Allen 28th May '15 - 5:15pm

    Phil Rimmer – spot on. Sadly we are proving less adaptable than that dinosaur, the Labour Party. No doubt there are plenty of mixed feelings within Labour about Ed Miliband, a decent human being who did his best – but Labour have at least now recognised the need to move on quickly. It seems the Lib Dems have not.

  • Jonathan Pile 28th May '15 - 5:34pm

    @ David Allen
    “Phil Rimmer – spot on. Sadly we are proving less adaptable than that dinosaur, the Labour Party. No doubt there are plenty of mixed feelings within Labour about Ed Miliband, a decent human being who did his best – but Labour have at least now recognised the need to move on quickly. It seems the Lib Dems have not.”
    David I think you have it there. Too many people right now don’t want to grapple with the difficult issues, just buckle up and move on. That’ s exactly what Labour did after 2010 and look where that got them. We can’t afford the luxury of not getting to grips with how we disconnected with 4.9m of our voters and lost 85.9% of our MPs. It’s a biggy and not easily covered by a simple #libdempint or even #libdemfightback – needs some sole searching.

  • John Roffey 28th May '15 - 5:44pm

    David Allen 28th May ’15 – 5:15pm

    “but Labour have at least now recognised the need to move on quickly. It seems the Lib Dems have not.”

    Move on to what? It seems to me that if the Tories successfully complete the majority of their program – by the time that the next election arrives – we will be close to a revolution!

  • Tony Dawson 28th May '15 - 6:33pm

    “peter tyzack:

    , we gave him the job to do, and the 2010 electorate gave him the hand of cards. He played it extremely well,”

    I would LOVE to be in a high-stakes game of whist in which Peter Tysack was a constituent!

  • Tony Dawson 28th May ’15 – 6:33pm
    “…..I would LOVE to be in a high-stakes game of whist in which Peter Tysack was a constituent!”

    Don’t get me wrong — I admire loyalty. Peter Tyzack is clearly the most loyal of loyalists. He sees the worst General Election result for 45 years, the party almost destroyed, and shrugs his shoulders and says of Clegg that he had-
    “…the hand of cards. He played it extremely well,”. 8 MPs lost, over 300 deposits lost, all but one MEP lost, thousands of councillors all lost and Peter describes that as playing his hand well. How lucky we are that he did not have a bad day at the card tables.

    Maybe the card game Peter had in mind was not whist but snap.
    Every time Cameron played a Conservative card, Clegg shouted “SNAP !”.

  • Kevin McNamara 29th May '15 - 12:29am

    It’s all well and good to talk about people being in denial, but those saying this should say what we need to soul search for and the conclusions we need to come to. Was the manifesto wrong? The campaign? Both?

  • Tim Bannister 1st Jun '15 - 5:50pm

    Some people might feel that Mr. Clegg played the hand he was dealt badly, and hope for a better outcome.

    I know if I put myself in those shoes I’d have struggled even to stay at the table, let alone see the game out. Yes, it’s reassuring to identify and blame on individual but the reality is that millions of reasonable, sane people chose to vote for MPs from other parties – and it’s also very true that a party that got more votes than this one find themselves with only one MP.

    Plenty of people will have not voted Lib Dem because they did so in 2010 and weren’t pleased with the government that resulted. Simple stories like that are more easy for me to believe than anything about a particular policy or person.

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