LibLink: Nick Clegg: Beware the brash bluff and bluster of the Brexit sharks

Nick Clegg has taken prominent Leave campaigners to task over their recent pronouncements in his latest Standard column:

He draws an analogy from the iconic tv programme Happy Days:

As the writers of the TV show Happy Days approached their fifth season they were running out of ideas for storylines. So, in the season premiere, they sent the Fonz to Los Angeles where, in a bid to prove his bravery, he put on a pair of water skis and jumped over a shark.

That moment spawned a phrase — “jumping the shark” — which is used to describe the moment when something is taken too far, loses all credibility and makes everyone involved look silly.

In recent weeks, the Brexit campaign has jumped the shark.

He then looks at the wilder pronouncements of Boris, Farage and Penny Mordaunt before turning on an old adversary of his, Dominic Cummings. Nick and Cummings have some pretty serious history. I doubt that they are on each others’ Christmas card lists.

Dominic Cummings, a senior figure in Vote Leave, has suggested that those who believe we should remain in the EU are like the appeasers of the 1930s. Wearing the slightly crazed look of someone who jumps sharks for a living, Cummings told the Commons Treasury Committee that the “conventional wisdom” of today is as misguided as it was then. The fixation with the Nazis among Brexiteers is as historically illiterate as it is revolting.

Cummings has asserted that the Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood, is running an intimidation scam out of the Cabinet Office, threatening people to toe a pro-European line. I saw the Cabinet Office at work for five years. It is a slightly herbivorous part of the government machine. The notion that it is the Whitehall equivalent of the Sopranos is laughable.

The EU is not perfect, but that’s not an argument to leave:

I am highly critical of much of the overcentralised and unaccountable way in which Whitehall and Westminster operate — unelected peers, big money funding parties, a lopsided electoral system and so on. But I would never advocate razing them to the ground as a solution.

All political institutions are imperfect. Politics is about improving what we have. Religion aspires to perfection but politics is about making things better, not making things perfect.

That is why the Brexiteers are sounding increasingly zany: their belief that life’s imperfections will all be cured if only we quit Europe is a kind of theology, an unquestioning leap of faith into the unknown.

He outlines the uncertainties of leaving the EU and goes on to make the point that the rich men arguing for leaving would barely notice the impact. It’s the poorest who would suffer the consequences.

It’s all very well for Peter Hargreaves, a billionaire Brexit backer, to declare that if we quit the EU “we will be insecure again. And insecurity is fantastic”. Millionaire Leave.EU founder Arron Banks described the loss of thousands of pounds of income per household if we left the EU as “a bargain-basement price” which would be “worth paying”. He might find it a price worth paying, but it will be paid by poorer households, not people like him.

Boris Johnson’s chief economic adviser (who favours Brexit) has warned that “leaving the EU would be an economic shock”. Nigel Lawson has loftily dismissed the higher taxes on UK exports if we left the EU as “trivial”. But there’s nothing “trivial” about losing your job.

And that’s the problem when people become so sure of their cause — against all evidence and logic — they start to assert that they are right even if the consequences for normal people are bad. The needs of normal people are soon sacrificed on the altar of unwavering belief that their way is the only way.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • Laurence Cox 25th May '16 - 3:32pm

    I think that both the Leave and Remain camps have been guilty of ‘jumping the shark’. If the Remain campaign had been serious about making the positive case to remain in the EU, rather than re-running ‘Project Fear’, they should have asked Nicola Sturgeon to front it. Whether you support the SNP or not, there is no doubt that she tops the approval ratings for party leaders and it would have enabled Cameron to stand back after making the Government’s formal recommendation to accept the result of the negotiations. As it is, I suspect that when the historians come to write about this period they will probably compare it with the Tory party split caused by the Corn Laws.

  • Conor McGovern 25th May '16 - 4:24pm

    Laurence – “I suspect that when the historians come to write about this period they will probably compare it with the Tory party split caused by the Corn Laws.”
    One can only hope!

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th May '16 - 4:48pm

    My personal fear is that the Tory split (if it comes) will turn out to be more like the Chamberlain-inspired Unionist Free Trade / Imperial Preference split of the edwardian era – the party temporarily loses some oomph, becomes more angry and less manageable, a few key people are temporarily detached from the leadership, but there is no long-term realignment of parties that is directly traceable to this argument.

    In the case of the Unionist Free-Traders, really only Churchill made the jump into another party, and then jumped back about 2 decades later when that one subsequently split asunder.

  • Just for the record, although very few Conservative Free Traders jumped ship to join the Liberal Party – Churchill is certainly the only one that springs to mind – the Free Trade/Imperial Preference debate did have the effect of drawing back into the pre-1914 Liberal Party a significant number of Liberal Unionist Free Traders who had not been associated with the Liberal Party since the Liberal/Liberal Unionist split in 1886, and that was certainly an useful contributory factor towards the great Liberal victory of 1906.

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th May '16 - 5:55pm

    Hugh, I have just fact-checked myself and the Liberal Unionist free trader MPs who defected appear to have numbered 6 out of 670 MPs in the then Britain-and-Ireland house of commons; I think the reaction of the Duke of Devonshire, who sat as a cross-bencher having fallen out of love with all the parties, was rather more common.

    Anyway, my point was there was no long-term realignment of parties, which was I think what was being implied by the Corn Law analogy.

    Flippin’ eck, I’m dull.

    …pedants revolt, we have nothing to lose but our sense of self-parody.

  • Thanks, Matt. I should have made myself clearer. It was the movement of rank-and-file Liberal Unionist Free Traders (not just MPs) back into the Liberal Party before 1906 which had some degree of impact on the result of the 1906 election. And there was a further trickle of Liberal Unionist Free Traders into the Liberal Party as late as 1910-2.

    By contrast, there was virtually no movement of Conservative Free Traders into the Liberal Party either before or after 1906, apart of course from Churchill himself.

  • Conor McGovern 25th May '16 - 9:13pm

    I’m doubtful as to whether the Tories will split in two – the party looks too power-hungry for that particular act of blatant self-harm – but it could prove ungovernable and appear toxic in the process. I don’t think we should assume the Lib Dems or Labour will automatically sweep to power in the event of a Tory crisis though: the public see the Tory party as a safe party of government and we need a distinctive, quite radical vision to beat that.

  • nigel hunter 26th May '16 - 12:17am

    Conor, I agree.The Tories will not split,it is about power, for them only, nobody else. There will be no resignations from their cushy seats. Yes the public do see them as a safe party of government. We must build up on the ground and become radical again.

  • nigel hunter 26th May '16 - 12:19am

    The poor always get it in the neck when the arrogant, powerful throw their weight about.

  • Nick Clegg makes the point that few others do. If one looks at the people fronting up the leave campaign they have all got something in common. If Brexit does cause even short term turmoil in the economy these people, made up of tax exile newspaper proprietors and assorted millionaires, predominantly Tory MPs with safe parliamentary seats and attached salary and expenses packages along with characters like Nigel Farage, a 16 year long EU establishment politician with a nice tax payer funded pension pot to look forward to. In other words all these people have a Plan B and what we should be asking ordinary people on the doorstep is “what’s your Plan B?”

  • Robert. your point is largely true, but you could also say that all the people fronting up the Remain camp come into that category as well. Whatever the result of the referendum, both sets of leaders have a plan B which will see them quite nicely off thank you.

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