LibLink: Nick Clegg – Brexit is proving that the Tories are no longer the party of business

Writing in the Evening Standard, Nick Clegg argues that the Conservative party poses a serious threat to the long-term health of the British economy:

May’s party is now poised to inflict more damage on the British economy in one Parliament than John McDonnell could manage in a decade.

The evidence accumulates by the day: just this week the Conservatives announced a sweeping increase in business rates for many high-street companies, especially in London, having buried the business rate review initiated by Danny Alexander in the last Government. The Financial Times has reported that the Government is poised to decide in favour of Heathrow expansion but will then, weirdly, refuse to advocate it in Parliament, preferring the lottery of a free vote instead. Since when was building a runway equivalent to matters of conscience such as abortion or war, the subjects normally reserved for free votes? And Government ministers have pretty well confirmed that they’ve given up seeking to protect the “passporting” rights of the City of London in the EU’s Single Market when we quit the EU.

A Government that whacks up London business rates, fudges airport expansion again (Gatwick, incidentally, remains by far the most deliverable option) and kicks the financial sector — which has provided it with most of its donations — in the shins is not, you would have thought, a natural “party of business”.

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24 Comments

  • I would be more impressed if Mr Clegg took an even handed view on the definition of a so called “party of business”.

    It’s time to take a hard look at business practices in the field of employee welfare, job security and proper remuneration. The ‘business employment practices of the Mike Ashleys and Philip Greens of this world, as well as the tax avoidance activities of such global players as Amazon and Google need tackling. I don’t know whether Mr Clegg understands this or not but the issues of zero hours contracts, wage levels and big business practices are some of the reasons why many people voted the way they did in the EU referendum. The so called ‘free market’ needs regulation in a dog eat dog world. Classical liberals who worship ‘the market’ please not.e

  • “May’s party is now poised to inflict more damage on the British economy in one Parliament than John McDonnell could manage in a decade.”

    I’ed rather people didn’t set these types of people a challenge. Both are capable of doing catastrophic damage as both are demonstrating regularly.

    Passporting question should always be made with reference to the impact on the tax base and how the Tories are looking like they will see a dropping tax take once this kicks off, and seem oblivious to this.

  • Richard Underhill 4th Oct '16 - 11:14am

    Zac Goldsmith MP has pledged to vote against Heathrow expansion (presumably both options, both considered credible by the current S of S for Transport).
    Boris Johnson is now MP for Hillingdon, which may have caused the free vote, failing which he would be bound by collective responsibility, or need to resign.
    Local MPs in other parties are well aware of the opinions of their electorates.
    Lib Dem federal conference voted against Gatwick, ably debated by Duncan Brack.
    Tory controlled Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is also against Gatwick expansion, primarily because of excessive noise pollution. Local MP Greg Clark is in the cabinet.

  • It’s bizarre that someone still thinks it’s a smart move, to wheel-out the irrepressible Nick Clegg as the voice of the Lib Dems, to pontificate on where we are all going wrong. It’s another good reason to walk past the store headed Liberal Democrats. Haven’t you noticed the cobwebs over the entrance door.? A 6% footfall,… with more browsers than buyers.?
    Don’t you sense yet, that Lib Dems are becoming the British Home Stores of the political landscape. Everything Lib Dems are selling is well past its sell date,.. last year’s fashion,… or being provided better and with a higher spec., by political parties elsewhere.?

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th Oct '16 - 12:03pm

    @ Simon Shaw.
    John Dunn has described himself as Red Ukip.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Oct '16 - 2:21pm

    David Raw

    Yes to everything you said , but do not forget that there are those who mainly identify as classical liberals , in our party , who are few and far between , but we should all identify with the phrase , as we are all successors to it or kin. It is like classical music being loved or liked or respected by a composer of show music or mainstream balla based popular music.

    We are all social liberals , even those on the centre right of the party on economics , they are not Sir Keith Joseph followers, more keen on Sir Vince Cable !

    But every word of what you wrote is correct , we need a radical centre narrative on business , not more Thatcherism, but Nick aand co., would , probably agree.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Oct '16 - 2:22pm

    p.s.

    Ballad . Not balla .

  • “…no longer the party of business”.

    That presupposes that they ever were. Clegg evidently thinks so – hence his earlier soundbite along the lines of “I’ll be the Tories heart and Labour’s brain” implying what he thought each lacked. He was and is dead wrong about this.

    In reality the Tories have always been the party of ‘rent’ extraction using ‘rent’ here in it’s economic sense to mean income of any sort (and not just what we normally call ‘rent’) arising when things are priced above their actual fair cost (including a reasonable allowance for profit). Before the industrial revolution Tory landowners, because of their political power, could charge excessive land rents. That’s continues (but is now mainly on housing rather than agricultural tenancies) but trade and industry create vastly expanded opportunities – for example via monopoly, oligopoly, patents, financialisation and so on. None of these do the Conservatives find objectionable; most they have quietly enabled year by year, greatly assisted by the clueless in other parties.

    Many who comment here seem to think liberalism is a sort of generalised do-goodery defined by triangulation against others’ positions. It isn’t. It’s a iron-cored political philosophy and it would be helpful if we had a leader able to articulate its very different vision.

  • “Since when was building a runway equivalent to matters of conscience such as abortion or war, the subjects normally reserved for free votes? ”

    Why not? There is an iron-clad defence in “runway means runway” democracy that the Tories seem to favour now. It doesn’t matter at all whether that is the sensible decision based on the evidence or whether what they say after is a million miles away from what was argued at the time, “runway means runway”.

  • Hurray.

    Some proper political history from Gordon.

  • Clegg is correct as ever. Why would foreign investors want to go near an isolationist flag waving nation?

  • Bill le Breton 5th Oct '16 - 9:23am

    Another impressive contribution, above, from Gordon.

    However, in regard to the fact that May (see her Sunday speech to the Conference) has chosen ‘hard brexit- – a country “independent and sovereign”, Clegg is right with this criticism.

    But where does this leave the country? There is no Party, no Leader, no concentrated voice or campaign for an EEA/EFTA (four freedoms) solution that can impact decisions in the existing Parliament – what one might call the Sense and Sensibility position.

    Such a line exists and has been articulated by the LSE team, as I linked to before, here http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2016/08/29/europe-after-brexit-a-proposal-for-a-new-continental-partnership/

    By clinging to a negative campaign, we are forsaking the opportunity to provide positive leadership that can actually make a difference.

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Oct '16 - 10:44am

    Bill,
    The reality is that since May is particularly keen on curbing immigration, an EEA deal with the 4 freedoms seems just as unlikely as a second referendum.

    I know you see it as positive, but most pro-EU people would see it as the best of a bad job – all the perceived disadvantages of full EU membership (migration and a large contribution) but without the advantages of actually having some influence over events.. “Government by fax” as the Norwegians have called it. Many Leavers would see it as even worse than where we are now.. But the poll this week did show a narrow majority prefer soft Brexit to hard Brexit. A large majority of the “soft Brexiteers” would no doubt like to stay in the EU, so I would say keeping that possibility on the table is a good position for us to take

    I think in our campaigns to keep many of the good things about the EU such as Erasmus and EU science, we are showing how we want to influence the Brexit deal. Meanwhile saying “we want a second vote once we know what Brexit actually will mean” had the support of 29% of people in July which is not too bad a position to support when you are on 8%..

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Oct '16 - 11:48am

    David Raw

    I don’t know whether Mr Clegg understands this or not but the issues of zero hours contracts, wage levels and big business practices are some of the reasons why many people voted the way they did in the EU referendum.

    They voted Remain because they supported the way the EU can agree common standards on this sort of thing?

    No, what I think you mean is they voted Leave. Yet those who funded the Brexit campaign did so precisely because what they dislike about the EU is the way it imposes some regulation on the free market. When they go on about the EU taking away our sovereignty and leaving it being “independence” what they actually mean is freedom for those at the top of our country to take away any protection of workers rights and so on.

    The Brexiteers kept going on and on as if everything that happens in our country is determined by the EU, yet never gave much details. Well, if what they were saying was true, how come political debate is mostly on decisions made by the UK Parliament? It wasn’t the EU that tripled tuition fees, etc, was it? So doesn’t that suggest the Brexiteers’ claims were somewhat porky?

    When I’ve pushed Brexiteers for actual examples of legislation forced on us by the EU, often they do end up with the Working Time Directive. Well, did people who voted Leave do so because they were against that sort of thing?

  • Gordon

    I agree with your comment but I think the point Clegg is making is perception not about the reality of the situation.

    The Tories manage to sound sympathetic to business as they listen and don’t rush to bash them. The reality is that they are very comfortable with policies that restrict markets that skew firms to get bigger and provide barriers which enables rent seeking. The LibDems often sound like they are bashing business, when the focus should be on removing the barriers that cause the uneconomic concentrations of market power, bashing the firms exploiting the failing system may feel good but it is not the right approach (rather like the overly complex tax system). Liberals should be pushing for the system to be fixed that breaks up the power and removes the rent seeking opportunities.

    It is the same with how the LibDems speak to those concerned about immigration or social change, the way the LibDems have approached it looks judgemental and confrontational.

    Approaching both groups with a less judgemental tone and a more listening attitude helps getting them to be more open to being persuaded by liberal ideas as they can see how the liberal solutions can address their concerns when Tory rhetoric is superficially appealing but actually provides no solutions.

  • Bill

    I think you are right on the EEA/EFTA position, it is a positive position and frankly having a position is better than those who won the referendum.

    Matthew

    “When I’ve pushed Brexiteers for actual examples of legislation forced on us by the EU”

    Purely for humour value in case you missed it this is a response to Grayling’s answer to that question:
    http://barristerblogger.com/2016/10/03/mr-grayling-wrong-brexit-dividend-station-platforms/

  • Bill le Breton 5th Oct '16 - 1:55pm

    Psi – thank you.

    And you are right that it is all about perception.

    However, a danger in all this is that Clegg is the de facto leader of the Party. He has more traction in the media who take their lead on the Lib Dems from him and therefore the general public do so too.

    Yet his private target reputational base is London – and actually the City of London. Add to this his channel of communication is the Standard and what we as a Party get from these relationships is a seemingly uncritical pro-business (so-called) free market stance.

    Ask the general public what they think of business and they see people like Green. They see their own and their family’s employers and their use of zero hour contracts. They see the cult of management and the over payment of executives. They see complex pricing systems that they feel cheat them.

    So – we are perceived as the Party of [the City of] London, of the metropolitan elite, of the Establishment, of a small and weakened State, of the worst aspects of business all with a definition of the centre (see The Social Market Foundation) that is completely at odds with where the actual centre of politics is.

    All at a time when the new Conservative Leader is positioning herself on a lot of our (former) geographical and policy territory, leaving us with what? Actually classical liberalism and libertarianism, support for a weakened state and the EU sans opt-outs + the Euro.

  • @Psi – Liked the humorous article about platform height, as they say the devil is in the detail… 🙂

  • Bill

    I agree that there is an issue of Clegg being seen as the leader in the press, though it is a hard line to tread as he has a lot of technical knowledge on trade negotiations. But a little more comms coordination would help to stop the actual leader getting drowned out.

    However I think the point about the type of media targeted is not just a Clegg thing, the Party does seem to focus far too much on London based media and I can’t imagine that is just due to the former leader basing his family there, it must be a mindset.

    As to people view of business, I’m not sure so many people only see business as Philip Green and Sports Direct. Most people will have at some point worked for businesses where they liked those running it or know business owners they like. The current tendency us to focus or slagging off a few (which everyone does) then nothing happening only to have a blitz of slagging them off a couple of years later. If the LibDems could have a positive message of we would loike to do X to specifically benefit the many smaller Y firms and prevent abuse by the small number of Z firms. The current approach is to focus on negative, when I find people more persuaded by offering something positive.

    I’m not sure what you mean by May positioning on our former Geographic and policy territory? I can see that she will say a few things about providing more opportunity for people but isn’t that just a variety of what every new party leader says (I’m just waiting for her to also suggest “more constructive, less Yah Boo politics” to complete the new leader bingo).

  • Am I the only one getting rather fed up with the army of Brexiteers posting on this site day in, day out, their aim being to sow seeds of doubt about our policy on Europe and to undermine our leader?

    If there was something seriously wrong with our policy on Europe and the way in which Tim is doing his job, then I would expect these folk to be less vocal in their sophistry.

    Tim took a courageous decision, and he did it quickly. In fact, he did it so quickly that the surrender faction had insufficient time to mobilise. That is a demonstration of leadership, and we should be congratulating him for it. When Brexit fails, the Lib Dems will stand out as the one party that refused to abandon its principles and put the national interest first. Theresa May is quite transparently putting her party’s interest first, and that will become obvious to all when she is forced to tell us that Brexit cannot happen without massive economic damage (or we have to settle for some kind of not quite interim non-Brexit).

    As for those who say they are opposed to Brexit but nonetheless support it. Sorry, I cannot get into that mindset. If something is disastrously wrong, you fight against it.

    A simple resolution of both houses of our sovereign Parliament could kill Brexit stone dead. That is what should have happened immediately after the Referendum. (For the uninitiated, in Britain we have a Parliamentary democracy, not a manipulated plebiscite democracy.)

  • Sesenco

    I’m not sure I see an “army of Brexiteers” most people who are suggesting accepting the result of the referendum were for remain. I do see see people who want to get what is the best available solution, even where people have different ideas about what that looks like.

  • Paul Kennedy 6th Oct '16 - 11:44pm

    I thought it was a great article, apart from the promotion of Gatwick, which goes against the party’s debated and agreed view that we oppose any expansion of Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick because of our concern for the environment, localism and re-balancing our economy away from the overheated South-East. Nick is entitled to his views, but mixing his personal (non-party) views on Gatwick with his official party spokesperson views on Brexit is unhelpful. Apart from anything else, he prevents those of us in constituencies affected by Gatwick from promoting a great article.

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