LibLink: Nick Clegg: The honeymoon will be short if Theresa May can’t tame the Tory right

In his regular column for the Standard, Nick Clegg predicts that the current harmony in the Conservative Party will be short-lived and they will soon be just as divided as Labour again as the dogma of the Brexiteers gets in the way of what is actually good for the country.

The signs of trouble are already there.

Stories have emerged that the awkward squad on the Tory backbenches are organising themselves to oppose anything other than a “hard Brexit”, whatever that means. And their outliers in the press, such as columnist Melanie Phillips, are already issuing breathless warnings that there will be a “revolt” if May doesn’t do exactly as they say.

He describes an encounter with two of the main proponents of Brexit.

When I recently bumped into Douglas Carswell and Daniel Hannan — two arch-Brexiteers — I pointed out that they are now key members of the new Brexit elite which runs our country. They both looked startled.

They have spent so long acting as anti-establishment insurgents that they are clearly unprepared for the responsibility that comes with actually getting their way.

This mirrors the ashen faces of Gove and Boris on 24th June.

She can’t get away with “Brexit means Brexit” for much longer. As soon as she says what that means, she’ll annoy the right.

At some point in the autumn we need to know what she prefers: to protect British jobs and investment by accepting the rules of the single market or to bend to the threats and imprecise ambitions of her hardline Brexit backbenchers. Her new Foreign Secretary may famously have a policy on cake that is pro-having it and pro-eating it, but it’s not a policy a government can deliver.

For the Conservatives, the sabre rattling of the hardliners is ominous. The schism over Europe that has claimed the scalps of three prime ministers — Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron — is unbridgeable.

There are two sides to the Tory brain: the desire for untrammelled economic liberalism that created the City’s Big Bang, embraced globalisation, sold off numerous state assets and drove the creation of the single market in the first place and the socially conservative, village-green Englishness that values tradition, defence of the realm and a 19th-century view of parliamentary sovereignty.

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26 Comments

  • Bill le Breton 31st Jul '16 - 12:30pm

    There is some good stuff here: good to see his realization that , “Brexit is real, we actually have to do it. That means grappling with the challenges and dilemmas it presents …”

    My one concern is that he continues to suggest that becoming a member of the EEA as a non-EU member (the Norway model) means that we have no say in EU rules and regulations. First, there is scope for the UK not to agree certain rules and regulations, therefore, second, not only does the EU have a duty to consult EEA non-EU members, it would have a considerable motive to ensure that the UK signs up to new rules and regs and laws and this therefore that means that consultation will be have real force.

    Britain is seen as a counterbalance to Germany by many EU states – it’s influence from outside may actually be stronger than from inside. Germany will not want the UK to become a rallying point for other members and other members will want to keep the UK in the new ‘community’ that its membership of the ‘EEA but not the EU’ will establish.

    You have to let go of the love affair with the old ideals of the European Community to see the potential – the Liberalizing potential – of what Britain’s ‘exit’ makes possible.

    Also there is no need for the UK to see EEA non-EU status as the end destination. It is a good place to start establishing new and truly free trade relationships and it will put pressure on the EU both to reform generally and also be much more flexible in its relationships beyond the EU customs Union.

    We have had no success reforming the EU from within – we can have far more success in that venture from out new status. And it is clearly in everyone’s interest for the Eurozone to be transformed as well as the EU.

  • I don’t know how much of this is reality and how much is politically motivated conjecture and given this is about our future lives I’m not feeling very tolerant of party political gamesmanship.

    Assuming some truth there is clearly a majority for a soft EFTA/EEA Brexit, being the Plan B for 48% Remainers and a decent chunk of Brexiteers who disliked the political aspect of the EU or who are now regretting a mistaken protest vote. It shows that post-referedum there is still a need for the cross-party Remain alliances to ensure that the hard right / hard left hard Brexit favoured by probably no more than 20% of voters is not what comes to pass. I hope this party will pledge to support May should she go for a soft landing.

    Ms Sturgeon is the key here. If there’s one thing that might keep the Conservative & Unionists from rebellion it is that hard Brexit almost certainly leads to Scottish independence. May will not want to be remembered in history as the PM who broke up the UK. Nor will any of her far right would be challengers.

  • Neil Sandison 31st Jul '16 - 1:39pm

    Steven Rose .Found a lot of support for your view locally .real concern over break up of UK and lack of clarity of British and European nationals .Soft Brexit EFTA/EEA could heal the divisions but will never please the hardliners but most rational people want a pragmatic response. Equally they should have some means of registering their support for such a package.

  • Alan Depauw 31st Jul '16 - 1:49pm

    The MPs who “desire untrammelled economic liberalism” are the majority in the parliamentary Tory party and therefore it is likely the government will push towards a soft Brexit. The question will then be, what can the hard-liners, who have never been closer to their goal, do about it?

    Once Article 50 invoked, they may seek to block any legislation designed to move towards an EEA or EFTA solution. But to be successful, they’d need the support of all of the opposition; which seems unlikely.

    Or they may hope that Brexit-Lite will merely be a staging-post towards a hard Brexit destination. But the road there would be long and uncertain.

    The only real power they have is to force a general election by voting for two successive no-confidence motions, knowing it is inconceivable the opposition would back a Tory government. They would then extort commitments towards a hard Brexit from Tory candidates at constituency level, supported by a virulent media campaign. The objective would be to return a Tory majority of their ilk.

    One thing is for sure; whilst the rest of us (who can) will be enjoying August holidays, they will be plotting feverishly about how to use this moment of greatest leverage to subvert their colleagues.

  • Richard Underhill 31st Jul '16 - 4:42pm

    John Major had a majority of 21. We forecast in Liberal Democrat News that he would lose it and he did. He withdrew the whip from 8 MPs, but a ninth joined them. He stood for re-election as Tory leader against John Redwood MP, former S of S for Wales (before devolution) and won.

  • Stevan Rose 31st Jul '16 - 5:22pm

    “The only real power they have is to force a general election by voting for two successive no-confidence motions”

    What is inconceivable is that a Tory MP should instigate or vote for no confidence in their own Government. That’s expulsion territory. Labour MPs might be ripping their party to shreds but they aren’t going to vote for their own destruction so there will doubtless be lots of influenza going around on the day of the vote. It’ll be positioned as not being used as pawns in an internal Tory Party battle.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Aug '16 - 6:11am

    good to see his realization that , “Brexit is real, we actually have to do it.”

    Actually, we don’t. It’s the government’s decision to press ahead with the “advice” from voters to do it. We should hold the government to account for the decisions it makes in implementing this advice, but this does not mean we should accept that “There Is No Alternative”.

  • grahame lamb 1st Aug '16 - 8:41am

    I have a question for Nick Clegg.

    In his article he makes reference to “untrammelled economic Liberalism”. On “Call Clegg” on the Nick Ferrari show on LBC radio I have heard him to say on several occasions that he is “an old-fashioned Liberal”

    May I assume that you, Mr Clegg, are not an economical Liberal? Are you perhaps, as I am inclined to infer from your article as represented here, a social Liberal ?

    I should very much like to know.

  • Bill le Breton 1st Aug '16 - 8:42am

    Alex, “Actually we don’t (have to do Brexit)”.

    Of course you are right, we don’t have to. I don’t agree with that strategy. It is good however to know that Nick Clegg is now of the same opinion as me in this.

    These nine words do indeed set the challenge for all of us. To repeat what he is saying, ““Brexit is real, we actually have to do it. That means grappling with the challenges and dilemmas it presents …””

    My concern is that Clegg has always been a child of the Thatcher era – a fan. Wasn’t he 12 in 1979 when she came to power? Thankfully, there is a real chance that that era has passed – blitzed by the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 and the period of stagnation that has followed.

    Whether May will hold to it or not, the new PM has set out a path for a new era. Here is how Branko Milanovic describes what this new era will be about , “…the changes in the internal structure of capitalism: reintroduction of workers’ and consumers’ representatives on management boards, limits on the executive pay, reduction of job insecurity for the young people and much greater access to top jobs for those coming from less privileged backgrounds.”

    The new era requires a similarly radically changed way for the UK to relate to all possible trading partners – and it will require the EU of 27 to change too.

    People who were 12 in 1979 may not be the best people to shape this era. Hopefully younger people than the 50 years olds will be free of the Thatcherite infatuation and will provide the creativity to change the internal structure of capitalism.

    One thing is for certain it won’t be orange.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Aug '16 - 9:30am

    “Sovereignty belongs to the people, a third chamber of parliament”. Sadly, “The status of EU citizens in the UK is not widely recognised the way it is in some other countries.”

  • Bill le Breton 1st Aug ’16 – 8:42am………… Thankfully, there is a real chance that that era has passed – blitzed by the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 and the period of stagnation that has followed……..

    I disagree! There has been an entrenchment of the Thatcher values…More incentives for ‘Buy to Let’; more deregulation, more privatisation, enshrining the ability of employers to have a “flexible” labour force, further regulation of trade union activity, anti-EU feeling, etc., etc……..

  • @ Bill le Breton

    And this a tad over fifties person will be cheering them on. Well said, Bill.

  • grahame lamb 1st Aug '16 - 11:36am

    I have been rather pre-occupied this morning with the delivery of some furniture but I am now returning to the discussion.

    Now, where was I?
    Oh yes. I should very much like to know whether Nick Clegg is an economic Liberal or a Social Liberal. Or something else. This is rather important for the future (if any) of the Liberal Party. Is anyone listening? Bye for now.

  • @ Grahame Lamb

    Nick Clegg is an economic liberal, and like you, he had every reason to be anxious about losing seats.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Aug '16 - 2:14pm

    This distinction between economic Liberal and social Liberal is nonsense !

    There are Liberals that lean left , others more in the centre. Some are even centre right.

    In this country nearly all who call themselves Liberals are in the centre left and or radical centre. Many are also happy to be considered in part social democrats as well.

    Nick Clegg is social Liberal and economic Liberal and in the moderate centre and sometimes radical centre. He is quite happy to see changes in our economy in a centre left direction compared to where we are at . He would , as Prime Minister to Vince Cables Chancellor , not have blocked any of the more centre left aspects but supported them.

    Keynes was a social Liberal and an economic Liberal. He was not the only one but was a more centre left one . That doe not mean that because Asquith was more free , genuinely free trade , and yet was a social reformer , that he was less or more of anything .

    There are many varieties of political ideas . All Liberals today are social Liberals to a significant degree. In every case even the centre right parties of Liberal International.

    If not , they are neo liberals only . In that case they are libertarians or conservatives.

    The denegration of people , or categorisation of them is either vindictive or pointless .

  • grahame lamb 1st Aug '16 - 5:13pm

    David Raw and Lorenzo Cherin have commented above about the distinctions of economic and social liberals.

    I would suggest that an economic liberal could be described as a Tory. (Not a Conservative I should say, for the avoidance of doubt).

    An economic Liberal of the 19th century kind believed in the smallest possible State and the greatest discretion to those fortunate enough by means of wealth to sustain and magnify that wealth.

    A social Liberal has the view that the State needs to be no bigger than necessary and that there is an ambient balance between the individual and the State, whether that State is a mediaeval monarchy, a liberal democracy, a theocratic State or something else. You name it.

    My own view is that whilst we should leave many things to the private sector there can be, and should be, a role for the State (which is to say the community) in the provision of core services such as Health, Education and Welfare and also of course public security including defence and the intelligence services.

    In a liberal democracy we all have a say. Does Mr Clegg believe this. I believe he does. Though it would be nice if he were to say so on this website.

  • Bill le Breton 1st Aug '16 - 9:31pm

    Expats – “There has been an entrenchment of the Thatcher values…More incentives for ‘Buy to Let’; more deregulation, more privatisation, enshrining the ability of employers to have a “flexible” labour force, further regulation of trade union activity, anti-EU feeling, etc., etc……..”

    What you are describing here is The Cameron/Clegg era – both Thatcher’s children – 2010 to 2016.

    The point of May’s speech outside No10 Downing Street, as Branko Milanovic is saying, is that there is a seminal shift away from the Thatcherite consensus: 1979 – 20216.

    Clegg felt at home with Cameron because they were both economic liberals in the sense that they pushed market solutions and individual choice.

    Anyone who doubts this needs to read at the very least Clegg’s interview in 2005 with the Independent – http://web.archive.org/web/20110904103503/http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/nick-clegg-the-future-of-british-politics-will-inescapably-have-to-be-liberal–with-a-small-l-507402.html

    And of course they should be reading Branko on Inequality and globalisation.

    The PM has laid down a gauntlet – we need to pick it up. Keep her to her word and find a new Liberal Democrat expression of a post Thatcher era.

  • grahame lamb 1st Aug '16 - 11:16pm

    Bill le Bretton’s attachment is most interesting. Thank you.

    There is some time for thought. But not a lot. A decision is not far away. I hope that we’ll be ready. Perhaps the leadership of the Liberal Democrat party is taking notice. We will get an idea if they join in this discussion.

  • Stevan Rose 1st Aug '16 - 11:26pm

    Well said Lorenzo.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Aug '16 - 12:27am

    Grahame Lamb

    Indeed an economic liberal could be described as a conservative and even a liberal conservative or a conservative liberal , look them all up on Wikipedia and throughout the internet and have plentiful sleepless nights !

    Similarly and frequently , and usually , an economic liberal is a Liberal and a Liberal Democrat !

    For some weird reason the left have taken to task those who support a market economy , yes, a social market economy really , backed by most liberals, capital letters or not , attacked as if they , the same liberals ,say there is only one kind of version of it and it is “Thatcherite”. I disagree , with the critique and the ideology of Thatcher !
    Hence why , despite some good analysis , my reaction to Bill le Breton on Clegg is one of disagreement too.

    I am exactly the same age as our ex leader and not on the left , per se , not even within Liberalism , but I happily describe myself as centre left on many things , especially economics .Change towards greater participation, for profit sharing , and responsibility on the part of companies , for decentralisation of decision making , involvement of individuals throughout,and the like , is what I support in business.

    Funny , when some of us support the same for our public institutions , from the NHS to the BBC , we are accused of attacking them and being right wingers !

    Stevan Rose

    Thank you!

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Aug '16 - 8:12am

    Matthew Green has been doing some very interesting thinking on the whole subject of where next for the Liberal Democrats, at his blog – ‘thinking liberal’. I recommend people to have a look – here is his latest post: http://thinkingliberal.co.uk/the-liberal-democrats-a-rebirth-not-a-fightback/

    A number of points need our thought.

    1. In a society in which media coverage is sovereign, is the leadership of a party chosen by its members or the main stream media? If the latter, we have a new leader since a week or so ago: Nick Clegg. He will dominate coverage for at least the year to come and perhaps up to an including the time from here to a triggering of Art 50 and the following two years.

    2. This makes grahame lamb’s questioning of him all the more apposite.

    3. Does he still represent continuity Thatcher – the small state – the dominance of market solutions in public service provision – the under-resourcing of regulative scrutiny – individual choice as paramount? To some extent social liberalism is defined these days as motherhood and apple pie – a definition that hides the opportunity of and need for a real alternative to the last 37 years.

    4. What will the new members expect their party to deliver? What kind of Liberalism, if any, will Millennials create? The children of Thatcher have been very good at deflecting blame from themselves – really 2010 to 2016 was ‘the children of Thatcher’s government’ and are responsible for so much that has cramped life chances for Millennials – and directing their anger at their grandparent’s generation.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Aug '16 - 8:22am

    Lorenzo – interesting that you should put Clegg and Cable in the same sentence, as if they were fellow travellers along the same road – the tension between them has always been palpable.

  • Helen Tedcastle 2nd Aug '16 - 11:44am

    @ Bill le Breton

    ” People who were 12 in 1979 may not be the best people to shape this era. Hopefully younger people than the 50 years olds will be free of the Thatcherite infatuation and will provide the creativity to change the internal structure of capitalism.”

    This has nothing to do with age. Plenty of fifty year olds are not infatuated with the Thatcher era. In fact they spent their youths fighting Thatcher.

    That Nick Clegg is infatuated with her philosophy was and is his problem, and it led to his downfall and our temporary demise, ultimately.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Aug '16 - 12:12pm

    @Bill le Breton “If the latter, we have a new leader since a week or so ago: Nick Clegg.”
    It seems apposite to bring up the Private Eye piece reported here (http://liberalengland.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/private-eye-story-on-moves-to-oust-tim.html):

    As the other two parties went into meltdown, senior Lib Dems took to the phones to sound out members on whether the time was ripe to ditch Tim Farron and replace him with, er, Nick Clegg. … In last July’s leadership contest, Clegg allies came out firmly for former minister Norman Lamb, the standard-bearer for the party’s libertarian right. When Lamb lost by a wide margin, one former Clegg special adviser told colleagues the Cleggies should wait 18 months for Farron to fail, then depose him and “Bring back Nick”.”

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Aug '16 - 12:32pm

    I agree Helen, and realise that I was applying short hand. Hence ‘may not be’. What I was trying to suggest is that the tide of a generation who politically came of age during the 1980s and whose political ‘leaders’ were infatuated by Thatcherism may have lost their grip on political ideas.

    We really do need to be looking at what the PM is doing and particularly her major adviser Nick Timothy.

    “That Nick Clegg is infatuated with her philosophy was and is his problem” Yes, Helen, but it was ‘our party’s problem’ 2007 to 2015 – and therefore mine – and I dare say yours too.

    That he is going to be a major influence on the Party’s policy on the key challenge it now faces – and who therefore has become again, in the eyes of the mainstream media, our main spokesperson means he returns to being ‘our problem’.

    Peter Watson – perhaps there was a leadership challenge and perhaps the ‘appointment’ of Clegg as our Brexit spokesperson is a sign of the success of that challenge. He is de facto our leader once again, in my opinion.

    I also worry that there is still much talk around Westminster about the formation of a “new Party” and that senior Lib Dems are involved in those talks – and I do not mean by that the initiative that Paddy has recently signed up to.

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