LibLink: Nick Clegg: The EU is facing a liberal insurgence. Now is not the time for Britain to leave

Nick Clegg has been writing for the Independent in the wake of the Dutch elections in which the racist populist Geert Wilders didn’t do as well as expected. He recounted a family gathering in the Netherlands at Christmas time.

What was striking when we were talking about the Dutch elections, however, was almost everyone around the table wanted to cast a vote that provided the best guarantee of keeping Wilders out of power. For most, that seemed to point towards supporting Mark Rutte, the affable and skilled Dutch PM, even if they’d never voted for him before.

It worked and the lesson, he finds, from D66’s success is not to pander to populism. Be yourself.

The polarisation of politics along new lines – no longer left vs right, but now open vs closed – is mobilising voters against right-wing populism. We are witnessing the beginnings of a liberal backlash against the backlash against liberalism. Of course, it wasn’t just Mark Rutte’s VVD which benefited, but other parties too.

D66, the second Liberal party in the Netherlands (lucky Dutch to have two liberal options) did well, surging to almost level pegging in the polls with Geert Wilders and adding seven seats to their tally in the Dutch Parliament. D66 are, ideologically, most similar to the Liberal Democrats in Britain. Alexander Pechtold, their experienced leader, told me when we met how he was going to run an unapologetically pro-European campaign. He was not going to bend to the populist times. His decision paid off handsomely.

And he sees the chance of reforms that would make British voters want to stay in the EU.

But just imagine if Emmanuel Macron, a truly internationalist politician, won instead? And what if Martin Schultz, who unlike Angela Merkel appears to be wiling to entertain radical reforms to strengthen the Eurozone, were to win in the German elections in the Autumn? Then the assumption of Trump/Farage/Gove that the EU will collapse like a house of cards will look like a spiteful delusion.

What’s more, if the EU were to regroup and reform – sorting out the Eurozone, straightening out its external borders – then the balance of power in the Brexit negotiations would shift sharply in the EU’s direction. That, in turn, might prompt some British voters to think again about the wisdom of flouncing out of a club which is successfully standing up to the regressive chauvinism of Trump, Putin and Erdogan.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • The EU had its chance to reform: when Cameron went and asked for powers to be returned to the UK. It basically told him to get lost.

    If it wouldn’t do that in order to stop one of its biggest members, and main contributors, leaving entirely, then what threat is going to be great enough to get the EU to return powers to its members and abandon the idea of ever closer union?

  • And just imagine if this happened or that happened, then this might happen.
    But it didn’t did Nick!

  • Nick Clegg’s conclusion is right, but I would like to add that the perceived, now seemingly reversing trend towards illiberalism in the EU was to some degree also a UK-projection magnified by a horrible campaign.

    Inversely, the obvious failure of Brexit and Trump, visible to everyone except hardcore extremists, might well accelerate the swing back.

    Setting “EU-reform” as a condition for this is, however, a grave mistake:
    whatever may be wrong with the EU today, it is the result of a consensus of 28 independent countries. Evidently, they are much further apart today than they were 2006 when the Lisbon treaty was written and agreed (ratification on the eve of the financial crisis almost failed). Does anybody believe a better consensus could be reached today?

    Specifically, what does strengthening/sorting out the Eurozone mean? A US-created global credit-crisis exposed the imprudent policies of some poorly-run countries. They are (too) slowly fixing them. Should the taxpayers of better-run countries fund this forever? Devaluing an own currency would only help the only meaningful exporter, i.e. Italy. Italians wanted the Euro, because they were sick and tired of continually and superficially inflating themselves back to some, nevertheless declining, competitiveness.

    In essence, the Eurozone must do the same as the Poundzone: become more productive and reduce the deficit.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 22nd Mar '17 - 1:13pm

    Mark Wright, You defend Mark Rutte for his “hard” line against migrants who “refuse to integrate or live according to Dutch Social norms” I admit I don’t know a great deal about the current situation in the Netherlands, but some of Mark Rutte’s reported remarks seem highly unpleasant and illiberal.
    He seems to have told migrants to “behave normally or go away”. Possibly “normally” is a poor translation, but this really is extremely illiberal. What does he mean by behaving “normally”? The context suggests that by “normal”, he means the typical behaviour of the average Dutch person. But I’m sure Dutch people living outside the Netherlands do not necessarily abandon Dutch customs and behave identically to the people of the country in which they are living. British people living abroad certainly do not usually integrate completely.
    In fact the phrase “behave normally” seems to show unpleasant intolerance not only towards migrants, but towards anyone who is “different” in some way.

  • Mark Rutte was utterly correct in what he was saying. It’s about time the liberal left acknowledged that the hard fought rights and freedoms we take for granted need protecting from the regressive left and Islamism. You think that was bad try looking up what the socialist muslim mayor of Rotterdam said:

  • “Of course, it wasn’t just Mark Rutte’s VVD which benefited,”

    Well if losing roughly 20% of your vote and seats is a benefit…..

  • Lib Dems just don’t get it. People don’t want to capitulate to Islamism. If he hadn’t had said those things what do you think would have happened? When you’re culture is under some sort of attack people want their leaders to speak out. If he hadn’t had spoken out it would have been about even stevens Wilders about 16% Rutte 17%.

    Or are the Lib Dems now a party of the regressive left?

  • james
    When I worked in the Middle East I didn’t see my fellow expats “capitulating” to Islam. In fact many expats in the Gulf states started going to church.

  • Catherine
    “British people living abroad certainly do not usually integrate completely.”
    It depends where. In North or South America maybe. In Africa or Asia westerners don’t integrate completely.

  • Let’s be honest the problem British Ex pats get drunk and say stupid things. They are not ploughing people down in trucks, or killing journalists or blowing up night clubs.

  • Bill le Breton 22nd Mar '17 - 7:50pm

    Well said Hywel. And if saying things that aren’t accurate in the hope of making them true is a definition of populism, then, Nick Clegg is engaging in populist politics here.

    Rutte stepped into the gutter during that campaign.

    And there are people here who appear not to value diversity and freedom of expression.

    As I suggested, this Party is now closer to VVD than it is to D66.

  • I don’t think people not integrating is really a big problem. It’s actually pretty natural for migrants to recreate bits of their culture where they’ve settle. It’s why you end up with Chinese shops in areas, or English chip shops in Spain or whatever.

  • Glenn
    Nearly every foreign jail has a British inmate.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Mar '17 - 2:19am

    This thread needs some unity and perspective.

    Nick is right , Rutte is terrific if compared with Wilders so why not back him in that fight between the two ?!

    Catherine is right from our own point of view to be concerned about language and comments by Rutte.

    Mark is correct to say that in the actual Dutch scenario Rutte was stating what was , as has been pointed to above, moderate compared to some to the left and right of the man !

    Bill is wrong about this party , which is , if compared to the Dutch , two thirds D66, one third, VVD .

    Both parties are our friends as allies in ALDE and the terrific Liberal International.

    And there I rest my case but would accept nominations for Diplomat of the year !

  • Lorenzo
    Interesting enough Wilders’ mother is an Indo (mixed race Indonesian/European).

  • Manfarang,
    I never said they didn’t. And as I said, I do not have a problem with people not integrating. I merely pointing out the context. I perfectly understand that people who are being bombed by us, the Americans and Russia might not view Western beliefs that favourably even when most of us do not really support these actions, but I also understand the opposite. To me it’s as pointless pretending that Wilders is capitalising on a non existent fear as it is pretending that recent M;E adventures do not fuel IS.

  • Well, the problem that nobody would want to read his article outside Libdem voters because after the Coalition he had no credibility left, unlike someone like Farron.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 23rd Mar '17 - 9:20am

    Mark Wright, When I said that British people living abroad do not usually integrate completely, I wasn’t particularly referring to British people abroad who behave badly. Obviously anyone living abroad should respect the laws of the country they are living in, and most British people living abroad do so, as do the vast majority of migrants in general. But British people living abroad do not usually behave identically in every way to the people of the country in which they are living, and there is no reason why they should. Migrants should not be expected to abandon their own culture and customs, just because they are living in a different country. That is why Mark Rutte’s remark seems unpleasant and illiberal.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Mar '17 - 9:23am

    Those of us who heard the speech from the D66 guest at our conference are unlikely to forget it. At zero percent in the opinion polls they were told that campaigning on Europe would lose votes. She said “Which voters are those?” They campaigned on Europe and topped the poll.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 23rd Mar '17 - 3:01pm

    Mark Wright, I realise that integrating into society need not mean abandoning one’s culture, but Mark Rutte’s unpleasant remark about “behave normally” implied that he thought migrants should abandon any customs that made them “different” in any way.

  • Glenn
    A fear of robots!

  • Manfarang.
    I’m afraid you’ve lost me, do explain.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 23rd Mar '17 - 4:24pm

    Lorenzo, I will nominate you for diplomat of the year!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Mar '17 - 12:47am


    An honour , thank you , to be nominated by one of my favourite of all our LDV associates!

  • Glenn
    The port of Rotterdam no longer needs stevedores. The unloading can be done by someone young from a computer control room. Voting Wilders is not going to stop this.

    As regards integration Adrian Elms was probably as integrated as anyone born in Britain can get. It seems he was jailed for attacking someone outside a nursing home in Eastbourne. Eastbourne isn’t exactly a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. A so called English teacher, I can’t see him doing such a job with a criminal background. A Seconder.

  • Manfarang,
    And what this has to do with anything I said is? Coz, I’m pretty convinced that you haven’t actually read what I posted.

    Now what I would say about your Rotterdam stevedore example is that you could look at it and concluded that importing cheap labour is short-sighted because automation means the work will disappear very quickly.

  • Rotterdam is a place where Wilders seeks support and plays on fears of job loses there.

  • Manfarang.
    I’m pretty certain Wilders mostly plays on the fear religious extremism and I’m even more certain that was what I was saying.

  • Now what I would say about your Rotterdam stevedore example is that you could look at it and concluded that importing cheap labour is short-sighted because automation means the work will disappear very quickly.

    Alternatively, you could conclude that by importing cheap labour you are in denial about what is actually happening in the world. This is probably a major factor in why UK productivity is so much lower than elsewhere. With cheap migrant labour business can find lots of excusses as to why they don’t need to make prudent investments. I saw this in the 80’s with UK manufacturing, it was so far behind the curve that we (and the DTI) whilst promoted the vision of CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing) – as being used by the Japanese and others, we were actually only implementing MRP (Materials and Resource Planning) because the gains being made just by this level of investment were transformational…

    It is therefore saddening that T.May has, after 7 years, yet to do anything about addressing a real mindset problem we have in UK industry and it’s addiction to cheap migrant labour.

  • Roland,
    I pretty much agree.

  • @Glenn – The trouble is that ‘business’ also includes the workers. Remember just how many of trade union call to arms has been about the introduction of labour saving/changing technology… So Manfarang has a point in that Wilders has been playing people’s fears to to vote for him and thus enable him to further his agenda, however, voting for or against Wilders, won’t change the fact that further automation will happen.

  • Roland;
    I misunderstood you chap. I don’t agree. Germany, France and even Italy all had and have stronger trade unions. Unions have not been that strong in Britain for the best part of 40 years now. The basic problem is we do not value labour and so we don’t like paying for it. The result is deindustrialisation. over reliance on imports and wages that need propping up by the public purse. plus debt through the roof because no one seems to understand that money in banking terms is debt because that’s how banks make money. mortgages, interest, loans and so on

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