Opinion: dark Tory reasons surround Clegg for Commission idea

The Sunday Times(£) has played echo for anonymous “Downing Street sources” briefing that “if it looks like he [Nick Clegg] will lose his Sheffield Hallam seat, there will be an emergency exit strategy which could see him land one the big jobs in Brussels” namely becoming a Member of the Commission.

The “Downing Street source” behind this must not have Nick Clegg’s or the Liberal Democrats’ interests at heart. It feeds the narrative of “Nick Clegg under siege” of which “Nick Clegg may lose his seat” is the hyperbolic epitome.

Nick Clegg would be extremely well qualified for the Commission, although his appointment would be contrary to Graham Watson’s call for future Commissioners to be drawn from the membership of the Parliament, just as UK Ministers are drawn from the UK Parliament. I would be excited to see Nick Clegg answering questions in the Parliament as a Commissioner or even Commission President.

Anyone who wants a new Liberal Democrat Leader for the next General Election would find the timetable helpful. A new European Parliament will be elected in June 2014. The Commission, likely including a new President, would be appointed over the summer depending on Parliament’s reaction to the names put forward by the member states. The election of a new Liberal Democrat Leader could be completed in time for the Party Conference in September 2014 and the General Election in Spring 2015.

It seems unlikely, however, that David Cameron would put Nick’s name forward rather than a Conservative unless he obtained an important political concession in return and was sure that a new Liberal Democrat Leader would not cause him significant problems. Commissioner Clegg creates various political risks for Cameron without obvious benefits.

In the Sunday Times report, it is striking that the journalist makes no mention of approaching Nick Clegg’s office for a response, which ought to be “Nick Clegg is totally committed to delivering fairness and Liberal Democrat values in government” or “we don’t comment on anonymous gossip”.

Not offering Nick Clegg a right of reply suggests three possibilities: the journalist is lazy, the journalist is especially willing to be helpful to the Conservative briefing him, or his anonymous source was a Liberal Democrat in such a position that approaching the Leader’s Officer seemed unnecessary.

This anonymous story may be the first drop of a sprinkle of Tory stories to undermine a possible new Leader in advance of their accession. Rational Conservative and Lib Dem strategists would ‘horizon scan’ and plan for the possibility of a new Lib Dem Leader. There are imaginable circumstances where would be clearly right for Nick and/or the party for him to pass the baton on before the next General Election (such as a senior EU or UN appointment that gives Nick a greater chance to change the world). A new Leader opens numerous possibilities that may threaten Conservatives. Establishing a media narrative of “deep party crisis may cause Nick Clegg to go” (instead of “really good opportunity to change the world may cause Nick Clegg to go”) will serve as a prelude for “new Liberal Democrat Leader is only Leader because of a deep party crisis” (instead of “new Leader offers exciting choice for next General Election.”)

It’s clear than some Conservatives, and perhaps some people in our own party, are already working to limit options for how Liberal Democrats may approach the next General Election and they will even damage Nick Clegg to achieve their aims. It’s important we assert our own frames for our party’s future.

Antony Hook stood for the European Parliament in 2009 for South East England.

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24 Comments

  • Quite right, Antony. Nick Clegg is perfectly capable of shooting himself in the foot (usually both feet) without needing any help from the Tories.

  • @Duncan Stott
    ” Big chunks of the public liked what they heard – it was new and refreshing”

    It’s such a shame that so little has materialised. We still have Ministers saying one thing to the public and another in private, they’re just Lib Dems instead of Labour. We have tripled tuition fees, we have faster deficit reduction than over 50% of the public voted for etc etc…

    The public are not fooled by the media, nor are they fooled by half hearted experessions of regret, they feel lied to and will remember this whatever the media says unless the Leadership canges tack (and preferably changes leader).

  • Isn’t this all a bit of a product of 24 hour rolling news? More than ever politicians have to learn to look beyond the next headline and keep their nerve. Although I’m not a great fan of Clegg’s he seems to be standing up well against the barrage of hatred directed at him If a week is a long time in politics then four years is an eternity, but at the moment I see no reason to suppose that he will not be leading us into the next election, and I would also anticipate that he would hold his seat at that election.

  • John Roffey 23rd Dec '10 - 2:53pm

    I would have thought this is simply an attempt to determine the agenda by the Tories which is almost certain to succeed. Gives Cameron a cast iron ally in NC for the majority of his current term in office and delays the appointment of new leader until it is too late to rebuild the Party for the next GE.

    Likely to work because the Party’s opinion formers will convince themselves that NC will remain essentially a Lib/Dem and stay true to a Lib/Dem agenda once a Commissioner.

    I commented previously that NC may have been offered a safe Tory seat at the next election – this is far more subtle.

  • “It’s clear that … some people in our own party, are already working to limit options for how Liberal Democrats may approach the next General Election”

    Indeed.

    And quite a few of them post here about how they are going to do it. No names, no pack drill, but I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.

  • Yes, this is just Westminster gossip designed to harm Lib Dems.

  • John Roffey 23rd Dec '10 - 3:50pm

    @ Dane Clouston

    Ha, ha – I am still trying to find out why the Party supports our membership of the EU. If ever there was a big vote winner, it would be to include an in/out vote on our membership in the next manifesto – it had been promised!

  • @Anders Hanson 23rd December 2010 at 2:41 pm who stated: (although it will of course be a different set of students by then)

    Quite correct Anders – the set of students by then will be paying £9k a year in tuition fees.

  • Probably not at Sheffield they won’t.

  • Eco Jon – “the set of students by then will be paying £9k a year in tuition fees.”

    No, they won’t be paying tuition fees. They will be incurring a potential future liability that will only become payable should ther income rise above £21k p.a.

    Unlike the present situation given to us by Labour, of course, where fees ARE paid (and up front to boot).

  • @Tabman, but students will pay more eventually, or else the whole system will collapse like a deck of cards, this income has to be generated.

  • David Butler 24th Dec '10 - 10:14am

    Are you not missing something more fundamental here?

    ‘Exit strategy’ for Clegg to become a Commissioner in the EU. Knighthood for the favoured. Seat in the Lords for our best mates. The odd job here and there in the IMF , J.P. Morgan or HBOS.

    Always, always jobs for the boys. Let’s not worry about the fact that the country is doing a Wile Coyote with spinning legs just beyond the cliff edge. As long as another millionaire can be shoehorned into another cushy job post UK apocalypse, then why should we worry?

    Can’t think why cynicism about politics is already at fever pitch ?

    I ‘unjoined’ from the LibDems many moons ago. Given recent events I think that was a good choice. I think the next step is to ‘unjoin’ from the very notion that there has, or will be any worth in voting ever again.

    Cheers
    David.

  • David B – the fact that you and others have left the party makes it even more certain that it will come still further under the sway of the Clegg leadership. The courageous thing to do would be to stay and speak out and fight. If Clegg is not forced out BEFORE 2015 and the coalition ditched, there will be no party left to speak of. As for Duncan Stott’s laughable assertion that currently we are the primary enemy of both Left and Right…sorry, what planet is he calling in from? How can we be the enemy of the Right when – yes, thats correct! – our votes are keeping a Tory government in power! Because that is the bottom line – it doesnt matter a damn what we say and what we claim as OUR policies, since the ultimate truth is that we are enabling a Tory government hell bent on propagating Thatcherism on steroids. The thousands who have already lost their jobs and the 100s of thousands still to come know this, and the avoidable suffering that will result will be laid at our door because we would have the power to pull the plug at any moment.

    We have for years put ourselves forward as a virtuous party on the side of ordinary people, but our actions since the GElection have contradicted it (spare me the ‘oh we toned down the nasty’ – 5 slaps in the face is less than 10 but they are still slaps in the face). And for a lesson on what happens when a people’s champion is shown to have feet of clay, just look at the sorry tale of Tommy Sheridan. That’s the verdict that’s waiting for us in 2015, unless we act.

  • @ Mike Cobley

    I think I read recently that scientists had discovered that the ‘rush’ obtained from obtaining power is equal to or greater than a heroin ‘rush’.

  • John Roffey 24th Dec '10 - 1:18pm

    @ Dane Clouston

    No not chapter and verse, but it seems Daniel Hannan does:

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100069452/the-revelation-that-truly-humiliates-the-lib-dems/

    From the time:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7201881.stm

    God loves a repentent sinner! D:

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