Opinion: What does Nick do next?

Given our new position in parliament with eight MPs, we’ll be handing out multiple portfolios to whoever can possibly take them – and I suspect, Lords, AMs and MSPs as well, where necessary. This is by no means a bad thing. We have fantastic members in all parliamentary institutions, and the devolved ones in particular could do with being taken more seriously. The only issue being they cannot then hold their respective ministers to account. The main question that strikes me now though is with a more or less inevitable EU referendum and being the most unapologetically pro-EU party – who takes the EU portfolio?

It has been suggested that Nick could lead the ‘In’ campaign in such a referendum, I assume doing a similar job as Alistair Darling did for Better Together. On paper, I can’t imagine anyone more qualified despite the fact I don’t think any such unified campaign being a good idea. For the purposes of this article however, I’ll work with the idea. For the merits that are pointed out in the above article;

Throughout his time in government he was an enormous asset to Cameron in international diplomacy, especially – but not exclusively – with Europe. Foreign policy was never Cameron’s forte, either as leader of the Opposition or during his first term as PM. “Abroad” was where Cameron made most of his misjudgements – all by himself.

There are few people better qualified on foreign policy and in particular Europe than Clegg. I’m hesitant to mention Tony Blair, setting aside one major caveat, perhaps a close rivalry. For obvious reasons, Blair doesn’t even make the short list for such a hypothetical position.

The issue we must address though for Clegg, is can the nation trust him again? The intellectual capacity for speaking up for Europe I believe exists, without any doubt. He clearly can win over people exemplified by pre-2010 levels of popularity and the fallout of his brilliant appearances on The Last Leg. However, as a spokesman for our party, if not for a nationwide campaign for ‘In’ – would he win over voters? Reassure them of our place at the heart of Europe? Or would he polarise them, bring in the dirty laundry of coalition politics and tuition fees into a debate entirely independent of such issues.

I firmly believe with the pressures that face us now, Clegg’s unmatched charisma and political instincts are needed now more than ever. I believe to let Clegg sit on the backbenches silently would be a grave mistake but we must be realistic about possible repercussions in public perception in him remaining a visible part of the party.


* Jonathan Waddell is a History and Economics student at the University of Aberdeen and President of the Aberdeen University Liberal Democrats.

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  • Joseph Toovey 20th May '15 - 2:46pm

    If Nick Clegg leads the In campaign, it will just turn into yet another referendum on Nick Clegg instead of a discussion of the actual issue. Like the AV referendum (which we lost). And the European Parliament elections (which we lost). And the general election (which we lost). Clegg is an intelligent politician with real conviction on Europe, but for someone with “unmatched charisma and political instincts” he seems to get outplayed quite frequently – including on the very issue of Europe by Farage.

  • Malcolm Todd 20th May '15 - 2:49pm

    Do you WANT to lose the Referendum? I believe Clegg is a smart, decent man with much to offer — and that he is, as a result of the last five years, poison to the public and to any campaign he is associated with.

  • Nick Clegg has a job. He is the MP for Sheffield Hallam.
    Understandably over the last seven and a half years his attention has been elsewhere.

    The next thing Nick should be doing is spending a bit of time in Sheffield.

    Spending a bit of time in Sheffield and working on behalf of the communities there is surely not too mundane a task ?

  • I meant to add to that last comment of mine that I do not think it helps Nick Clegg to speculate on what he does next.

    He has just resigned as leader of the party for very obvious reasons. Give him a break, move on. That period is over and he needs to recover from it like the rest of us.

    Trying to build him up as some type of ‘Prince over the Water’ will backfire badly. He needs a break from pundits and commentators and the rest of us (outside Sheffield) need a break from him.

  • Steve Baines 20th May '15 - 2:58pm

    JT is right, it would be a disastrous idea. Sections of the party still have a good deal of respect for him but to the country as a whole, Clegg is a busted flush.

  • Kevin McNamara 20th May '15 - 2:59pm

    I agree, and this is probably a first, with John Tilley. Nick should take on a less senior frontbench role (as all our MPs will be frontbenchers…) and spend most of his time in Sheffield.

  • Nick Clegg has been pilloried by many people on this forum for daring to take the party into government. Mistakes were made along the way, but that is how we learn how to deal with the situation if it arises in the future. As for Nick’s role in the party, it is clearly as Foreign Affairs / Europe / International Development spokesman. There is nobody else better suited to undertake this role.

  • Matt (Bristol) 20th May '15 - 3:42pm

    No, Nick should not ‘lead’ the EU referendum in campaign. Because:
    a) The ‘In’ campaign should be led by a charismatic non-politician or a retired politician or a combination of both (my dream partnership is Richard Branson and Ken Clarke – assuming Branson is in favour of in). Referenda polarise, and cut across party boundaries. Very few sane modern political parties want to split their core vote on a single issue – look at what has happened to Labour after the Scottish election.
    b) Labour and the Conservatives will not team up behind Clegg. The campaign needs Labour votes. It does not need UKIP imitating the no-to-AV campaign and hovering up Labour votes arguing that Clegg represents the ‘westminster’ elite and going on about broken promises. This is what they will do if he leads.
    c) Clegg should be involved in the campaign, maybe even ‘leading’ the ‘LibDem campaign’ (which might be a wates of time and money, but is envisagable). That does not require him to lead it.
    d) We will have to watch over and over again the clips of Nick being ‘beaten’ by Farage, combined with the clips of him losing his seat, and the simplistic narrative will be being built up that he is – and we are – a ‘failure’.

    There are many things Nick can do, things that play to his talents and don’t trap him in the narrative of the last 5 years. If it has to be a campaign, Nick as a key player in a cross-partry campaign not to scrap the Human RIghts Act would be far, far better, and also play into a narrative that casts the wider party in a positive light – imagine in your mind’s eye him talking about how hard he fought to hold the Tories back on this, and how he won’t see that wasted, in front of a panel of, I don’t know … Harriet Harman, David Davis, Nicola Sturgeon, Shami Chakrabarti … maybe a bishop or someone in there, too? That would be a campaign worth him fighting.

  • Matt (Bristol) 20th May '15 - 3:45pm

    It’s Typo Time — ‘hoovering’ NOT ‘hovering’.

  • David Allen 20th May '15 - 3:59pm

    Jonathan Waddell has misread his reference to Mary Dejevsky in the Independent. Dejevsky does not propose Clegg for a re-run of the disastrous “Party of In” campaign. She thinks Clegg could be Cameron’s negotiator in Brussels.

  • Bryan Morton 20th May '15 - 4:09pm

    Just to chime in with what others have expressed: this is too important an issue to become another referendum on Nick Clegg’s (un)popularity. Best to keep him out of the public eye when the time comes.

  • I almost hesitate to suggest, but has anyone thought to ask Nick himself?

  • David Allen 20th May '15 - 4:27pm

    Dejevsky’s actual suggestion seems a much more plausible idea than asking Clegg to lead a public campaign!

  • Jonathan Pile 20th May '15 - 5:26pm

    Peace envoy to the Middle East?

  • Neil Sandison 20th May '15 - 6:45pm

    Agree with the majority in this stream Nick would be a bad choice given the results we had in both the European and General Election .Its time for a fresh face to stand up to the plate .perhaps someone who can take on a snarling ,thin skinned and grumpy UKIPPER . We have some outstanding female voices in this party who can argue clearly for reform and renewal of the EU and are not tainted by the past.

  • Please, please, give Nick and me a break.

  • John Minard 20th May '15 - 7:52pm

    we should have every interest in a pro-Europe Tory leading the stay-together campaign!

  • Bryan Morton 20th May '15 - 8:50pm

    @John Minard
    “we should have every interest in a pro-Europe Tory leading the stay-together campaign!”

    Calling Ken Clarke, calling Ken Clarke…

  • This article is a recipe for the UK withdrawing from the UK and our party never getting the chance to recover from the last 5 years and the election result.

  • Alun Williams 20th May '15 - 11:09pm

    As much as I admire and respect Nick, I don’t think he’d be the right person to lead the ‘in’ campaign (which isn’t to say that he couldn’t have any role). I do hope, however, that he takes on an important role – defence or foreign affairs being sensible examples cited here.

  • Jonathan Waddell 21st May '15 - 12:04am

    @David Allen – it was brushed upon, i don’t claim the whole article was built solely on the suggestion.

  • Well Jonathan Waddell, I do claim the whole article was not built on the ludicrous suggestion, which I’m afraid is all your own, that Clegg should do for Europe what Darling did for Scotland.

    I do love your phrase “brushed upon”, though!

  • Passionately pro EU as I am, there are reasons that we may do well to keep this referendum at a distance. It is primarily an internal Conservative Party debate; the renegotiated terms could easily be not something we would wish to put our name to; a win would create a backlash that we can do without; Cameron’s record on referendums is that they go his way; we are in no position to afford the expense; and lastly but no means least we need to articulate our own position on the EU and Europe.

    Nick Clegg? – I would like to see him using his multilingual skills discussing the future of the EU from a Liberal (Lib Dem and ALDE) perspective across the member states. Adding his voice across the EU could influence the course of Cameron’s ‘renegotiations’ in a direction that is more attuned to the Liberal point of view. Nick Clegg has recently adopted a more detached stance to the political scene with a tendency to be more of a commentator. I think there could be benefits if he is able to establish himself as someone whose opinion is consulted by the media and political groups outside the UK. I thnk this could be a route towards a more influential voice.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st May '15 - 12:41am

    I trust Nick to come to a good decision by himself, but my advice to everyone is to not start the campaign properly until after the renegotiation. I joined British Influence the day after the election, not really because it made sense, but because I got excited at the prospect of campaigning against something that shouldn’t really be on the table at this moment in time.

    However, don’t underestimate the ability of the out-ers to come up with some resonating arguments.

    And whatever people do: don’t come across as an EU fundamentalist! 🙂

  • Let’s not allow Nick to be used as shield
    Let Cameron design his Referendum on European.

    They want the Lib Dems to think for them and have a social perspective.

  • peter tyzack 21st May '15 - 8:49am

    and don’t hold your breath for our wonderful press to explain how EU works or to help make any case for staying in..

  • John Minard 21st May '15 - 1:05pm

    Sadly Cameron + Murdoch out-spent us from the AV campaign onwards – we only realised when it was too late. There was little we could do after that but wait for the axe to fall.

  • Roxanna Arif 21st May '15 - 1:45pm

    Since his resignation speech, I suspect that many have more respect for him. This is reflected in the membership numbers.

    If Gordon Brown can talk about the Scottish Ref. successfully and legitimately, Nick can do the same for the EU ref. I expect John Major and even Blair (given the speech he did in the campaign) will be doing the same.

  • matt (Bristol) 21st May '15 - 2:09pm

    Roxanna – I totally agree. But that is not the same as ‘leading the campaign’.

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