Today’s Call Clegg highlights: Mental health, Benefits Street, getting more women into politics and Rennard

Call Clegg took place today because Nick is heading off to Davos. He could have easily invented some reason to get out of it but you have to respect his courage in going ahead given the furore over the past week. We’re going to start with the most important thing he talked about and work back from that

Improving mental health care for young people

He was asked about whether it was surprising that young people’s mental health was suffering when they faced low wages and not being able to find affordable housing and about mental health provision itself.

He replied:

 I announced on Monday that we’re seeking to remedy,it’s actually almost a form of institutionalised cruelty, the way that if you turn 18, if you’re a child with mental health problems…you might be given good care, good help, develop important relationships with people who are giving them support and treatment in the children’s mental health system.  And then, the moment they have their 18th birthday all of that falls away, and they’re suddenly having to deal with other people in different institutions, travel to different hospitals or clinics.

I last week spoke to a number of incredibly articulate, bright, young people who had been through this and some of them said that the feeling of isolation and rejection they felt, exactly at the time when they needed more rather than less support was devastating to them.  And, that’s why I’m changing that.

And on the cost of living point, signs of improvement:

 I accept the big decisions you need to take at a vulnerable, often anxious age, if I can put it that way, about what job you might do, what study you might pursue, how you’re going to get your feet on the first rung of the property ladder, all of that I acknowledge.  And, I can go into some of the detail, but all I would say is we cannot provide opportunity to our young people without a strong growing economy, you know, there is no magic wand in Whitehall that can act as a surrogate for a stronger economy.  And, that’s why, yes I know many of the things we’ve done over the last few years have been difficult, controversial, and in some cases downright unpopular.  But, the fact that we’re now seeing, for instance this week, the IMF saying that our economy will grow faster than any other European economy. The fact we’ll hear later this morning, actually in a few minutes time, new unemployment figures, so far at least youth unemployment is still too high, but it is starting to come down. All of that, I hope, points towards a brighter future for youngsters looking for work in our economy.

Why are you so unpopular?

How do you answer a question like that?

Look, firstly it’s a statement of the flamingly obvious there are many more Conservative and Labour voters around if you put them together than there are Liberal Democrat voters, so I guess if you tot those up together you’re going to get a fair number of people say, oh we’re not very keen on Nick Clegg and his Party…

…I will carry on doing what I’ve always done, which is patiently and firmly explain that I think what we have done is the only way that we can get to creating a stronger economy and building a fairer society too.

A guest appearance on Benefits Street?

“D” from Benefits Street phoned up to ask Nick if he thought it was a fair reflection of people on benefits:

The impression I’ve had is that you have one side of the argument saying, this just shows that the whole benefit system is rubbish, and we should withdraw all benefits.  And, all people are scroungers and living off the state.  And, there’s another extreme of people who are saying, it’s outrageous that Benefit Street was ever made, and it’s demonising people on welfare. I strongly suspect in the nature of these things, both of those caricatures are wrong.  I think, and I’m assuming you’d agree with this, Dee, we want a welfare system which is compassionate, something we should be proud of, that we have something where taxpayers put money into a pot which is then used to help people who are vulnerable, who need help, who need help with their daily lives where they can’t help themselves., or need help to get back into work.  But, that receiving help from the generosity of others shouldn’t be a permanent way of life, and that the incentive to work is the most important one of all.

“D”, by the way, had voted Labour because he was annoyed with us for joining the coalition. He was open to being won back, though.

The macho culture of politics

Asked about the lack of women in politics. Nick didn’t duck that our party needs to do more:

I think there is a much wider problem about the political class, and Westminster not being representative of modern Britain, and by the way, I’m not saying this in any pious way, that’s most certainly true of my own Party which is not reflective, if you look at our Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons of the diversity, not just on gender but on ethnicity as well, of modern Britain.

The culture can be off-putting, though:

I think the way in which politics is conducted, this endless macho, kind of, to and fro across the House of Commons, do you know it’s not only off putting to women, it’s actually quite off putting to a lot of normal people who just cannot believe that in this day and age we’ve got this kind of 19th Century institution which people just yell…we’ll see it by the way later today no doubt at Prime Minister’s questions.  And then, there’s the whole issue about how people get selected to Parties, local Parties and constituencies, the many, many years of often tireless and thankless campaigning they need to do before they even get a chance of getting elected.

If I was marking him, he’d scrape a B for that. He could have added that that half hour is not representative of what politics is actually like, and talked of some of the rewards of making people’s lives better. Maybe next time. Also, I did laugh at the irony of him joining the party and quite quickly finding himself both selected and elected as an MEP.  I helped in that selection and am proud to have done so, so it’s not a complaint.

Rennard

This dominated, understandably, throughout the programme.

Why had he demanded an apology? Basically, he said, because you had to respect due process. He was the leader, but not the judge and jury and he had to go along with the investigator’s recommendations.

In all of this I have a simple set of duties: to…the women, and to uphold due process. We have now had a thorough, independent, meticulous inquiry, and just imagine if I had turned round and said, “sorry, I’m going to shelve that independent report and ignore it’s recommendations”. There would rightly be outrage….This week there was one judgement I had to make. Alistair Webster QC assessed all of the facts and evidence, and the only thing we had to decide as a party was: do we agree with his recommendation?

He added that Lord Rennard’s refusal to apologise wasn’t fair to anybody, including him:

..this had been looked meticulously by an independent character, (who)  said that he felt that an apology was necessary, and Lord Rennard, for the reasons his legal representatives have set out, doesn’t want to do that.  And, I don’t think that’s fair to the process, I don’t think that’s fair to the women concerned.  Actually, in the long run, curiously enough I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to Lord Rennard either, because this is a man who gave his life to the Party, and I’ve always been the first to acknowledge that he, as a political operator, was a huge, huge figure in the Liberal Democrats.  But, the fact that he’s refusing to apologise I think is, from his point of view, of course overshadowing all of those other wide achievements.

What did Nick want for the future?

It’s messy and difficult to turn a page and introduce a new culture, but there’s just no way round it. I want people in my party – the party I lead – to treat each other with respect and civility, and there’s a special burden to do so on those in a position of power. There’s a wider debate to be had, but we’ve seen a person in a position of authority causing distress to others and that person should apologise.

You can watch the whole thing here.

 

 

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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33 Comments

  • “D” of Benefits Street is “Dee” – short for Deirdre, and not a “He”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25840761

  • The problem with what Clegg says about “upholding due process” is that the party constitution makes no provision at all for the investigator to make recommendations in the event that there is insufficient evidence to proceed. So it’s very difficult to see how the recommendation for an apology has anything to do with “due process”, or how Rennard’s failure to comply with it can be any basis for further disciplinary action.

  • I think it would be a good idea for Clegg to visit James Turner Street (aka Benefits Street) – it would do him good to see the issues and how badly portrayed the Street and residents are. It also wouldn’t hurt and be a good bit of publicity.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Jan '14 - 4:44pm

    I liked Nick’s middle way comment about the furore around Benefits Street. I don’t agree with the middle way on everything, but I think he was right here. I think we are lucky to have him as leader, even if at times I’ve thrown a fit and demanded the perfect politician to drop from the sky and create a liberal wonderland.

  • Clegg says. –” And then, there’s the whole issue about how people get selected to Parties, local Parties and constituencies, the many, many years of often tireless and thankless campaigning they need to do before they even get a chance of getting elected ”

    What about those of us in the Richmond Park constituency who put in many, many years of often tireless campaigning before getting Jenny Tonge elected to Parliament? Just so that Clegg could give her an ultimatum to do what he said or resign the whip. Clegg talks the talk on women,but check out how many women he has appointed to The Cabinet. In fact check out the proportion of women to men amongst Clegg’s appointments to the House ofLords.

    I hope he has a lovely time in Davos and maybe chats to a local estate agent there with a view to making it his permanent home.

  • Clegg says — ” I want people in my party – the party I lead – to treat each other with respect and civility, and there’s a special burden to do so on those in a position of power. There’s a wider debate to be had, but we’ve seen a person in a position of authority causing distress to others and that person should apologise. ”

    I look forward to his immediate apology to Jenny Tonge for his (Nick Clegg’s) behaviour towards her.

  • Tony Dawson 22nd Jan '14 - 6:13pm

    @JohnTilley :

    “I hope he has a lovely time in Davos”

    A good place if one enjoys heading downhill fast. 🙁

  • Wasn’t Jenny Tonge made to resign the whip because of completely unacceptable comments she made, that were (really were) bringing the party into disrepute, and that she refused to retract or apologise for?

  • Paul In Twickenham 22nd Jan '14 - 7:26pm

    @Chris – So it’s very difficult to see how the recommendation for an apology has anything to do with “due process”, or how Rennard’s failure to comply with it can be any basis for further disciplinary action.

    Well, quite. It isn’t. As David Howarth eloquently observes, Mr. Clegg has simply decided that he can suspend people as and when he sees fit. The rules of the party provide clear and specific circumstances under which such severe sanction can be applied (presumably with the exact intention of preventing its abuse) and none of them fit here. Mr. Clegg has broken the rules of the party he leads and presumably should be sanctioned for bringing the party into disrepute by behaving as an authoritarian.

    And surely no Liberal would say “but that doesn’t matter because most members would agree with what he did”.

  • Strictly she wasn’t made to resign. She decided to resign the whip having been asked to apologise for the unacceptable comments she made in 2012

    So she was made to choose between apologising and resigning, and she chose to resign.

    The point was that she was hardly victimised by Clegg; she made a number of completely unacceptable comments which she refused to withdraw or apologise for, and finally Clegg acted correctly in causing her to resign.

    That is how a party leader is supposed to act, and if Clegg had acted as decisively (and if the structures of the party had allowed him to act as decisively) when the allegations about Rennard first came up, or even last year when they resurfaced instead of starting an inquiry to kick the can down the road, then a lot of problems for the Liberal Democrats could have been avoided.

  • re: Jenny Tonge

    Yes Clegg dug himself a nice hole over this on Radio 4 on Monday morning, being unable to provide a credible explanation as to why it was appropriate for him to get involved and directly talk to Jenny but that it was unthinkable that he should directly talk to Chris Rennard.

    As to whether her actual comments really were unacceptable or just upset those of a delicate disposition is up to debate…

  • Tom 22nd Jan ’14 – 6:32pm
    Simon Shaw 22nd Jan ’14 – 8:43pm

    You are entitled to our opinions about hat Jenny said, as is Clegg. But it was not wrong for Clegg to issue an ultimatum with the threat of expulsion from the party,. If you read The Guardian report that Simon has provided the link to you will see that is exactly what Clegg himself did. Compare that ith the farce over Chris Rennard . The women involved in making complaints against Chris Rennard might have good reason for believing that the treatment of Jenny Tonge was of an nit rely if fervent order.
    Please read what David Howarth has written and consider what sort of party we are becoming if the Leader can summarily suspend or expel members at will.

  • Responsibility for maintaining order in the House of Commons ultimately belongs, I think, to the Speaker. If he wished, he could order than any person interrupting the MP with the floor be physically removed from the chamber. A few such events and things would drastically quieten down. I assume he does not do so because the major parties prefer an atmosphere of combativeness and heckling. Perhaps leading figures in Labour and the Conservative Party should be asked why they tolerate it.

  • “it’s not only off putting to women, it’s actually quite off putting to a lot of normal people”

    This bit made me very cross. Talking as if “women” and “normal people” are two distinct groups does nobody any favours

  • “This bit made me very cross. Talking as if “women” and “normal people” are two distinct groups does nobody any favours”

    That really is a gem. Not only women but also normal people. Maybe he’s going for the UKIP vote.

  • @Simon
    Yes there were differences between the two cases, which is why I say Clegg dug a hole. As you say in the case of Jenny there was clear evidence and she didn’t dispute what she was reported as having said, so no reason why a formal disciplinary process wasn’t possible. Yet Clegg for whatever reasons bypassed all that and spoke directly to her to effect her resignation? But yet is unable to do so in the case of his friend Chris Rennard…

    Is it because he got his knuckles wrapped (in private) for the way he handled Jenny, ie. outside of the normal party process, and hence is now trying to be a ‘good boy’ and letting the party process do its job? This certainly would explain why he squirmed so much when questioned on his differing behaviours…

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Jan '14 - 10:02am

    Jennie, it sounded better than it looks in writing – it was an expansion, not a distinction. To be fair to Nick, he gets a lot more than many men in this party.

  • Roland 23rd Jan ’14 – 9:49am
    @Simon As you say in the case of Jenny there was clear evidence and she didn’t dispute what she was reported as having said, so no reason why a formal disciplinary process wasn’t possible. Yet Clegg for whatever reasons bypassed all that and spoke directly to her to effect her resignation? But yet is unable to do so in the case of his friend Chris Rennard…

    Roland is correct. And nobody disputes the point that Simon repeats that Jenny has spoken out for years on the appalling treatment of Palestine . Jenny resigned the whip in the Lords because she refuses to do other than tell the truth.

    Clegg’s actions towards Jenny were to issue an ultimatum and a threat. Nobody denies that is what he did.

    That is why I find it odd to see his latest pious words — “In all of this I have a simple set of duties: to…the women, and to uphold due process. “.

    Simon seems to be saying that due process was not necessary in Jenny’s case because she was being entirely open and honest. It has come to something when the Leader can summarily threaten to throw someone out of the party for being honest

  • @Simon
    Another reason why I confidently say that Clegg dug himself into a hole on Radio 4 Today on Monday is he squandered over 7 minutes of prime time radio being lead by the interviewer to talk about Rennard when he could of played the politician’s trump card: “sorry you may wish to talk about but I want to talk about …”

  • David Allen 23rd Jan '14 - 1:12pm

    “It’s not only off putting to women, it’s actually quite off putting to a lot of normal people”

    Destined to become a classic, I fear!

  • re: Roland 23rd Jan ’14 – 11:06am

    The last line should of read: “sorry you may wish to talk about ‘Rennard’ but I want to talk about ‘our new initiative on mental health’…”

    Obviously, I need to remember to use quotes that don’t upset the commenting system.

  • @Simon Shaw – massive differences
    Yes massive differences in the substance of the complaints made against Jenny and Chris, but both involving members of the upper house and having largely the same effect “bringing the party into disrepute”, hence both could be dealt with in the same way by the party. However, you effectively admit that something has changed between the two cases, as it was obviously okay for the Party Leader’s to directly discipline someone in the recent past, outside of any formal disciplinary process, but not now? …

    As for whether Jenny should of been subject to a formal disciplinary process or not, I would of thought that as a liberal (and a member of the RFC), you and others in the party would of demanded it at the time, rather than meekly go along with Nick!

  • Simon Shaw 23rd Jan ’14 – 12:10pm

    Simon are you suggesting to Roland and the rest of us that Nick Clegg has handled things well in the media over the last few days?
    If so, I think you probably need to escape to Davos for a few days rest as well. I do not think that there is anybody, on any side of the argument, in the party, in the media or anywhere else who thinks that Nick Clegg’s media performances over the last few days have been exemplary.
    As David Steel said —
    It used to be “I agree with Nick”, Now it is only ” I FEEL SORRY FOR NICK “.

  • Differing opinions here in LDV about how well Nick Clegg has done in the media this week.

    This is how Cathy Newman of Ch4 News sees it —

    Last February, Nick Clegg spent days denying he was aware of allegations against Lord Rennard until Channel 4 News broadcast them. He then admitted that he was aware of “indirect and non-specific concerns” about the peer.

    So the suggestion is that the Lib Dem leadership had every opportunity to deal with Lord Rennard years ago, but failed to take that opportunity. Hence my demands for an interview to ask Mr Clegg about his and his colleagues’ failings.

    If there were questions 11 months ago, though, there are many more today.

    Mr Clegg’s handling of the inquiry by Alistair Webster QC into Lord Rennard’s conduct and the subsequent fall-out has raised serious questions about his leadership. In fact, I think it’s no exaggeration to say this is the biggest crisis of his political life.

    Why, when he ensured the Lib Dem peer Baroness Tonge left the party because of offensive comments over Israel, did he allow his chief whip in the Lords, Dick Newby, to shake hands on a deal to return the party whip to Lord Rennard today?

    Why, when Mr Webster was given the remit for his inquiry, did the leadership allow the defining issue to focus on whether the peer had “intended” to behave inappropriately – something that’s clearly impossible to prove to any standard – criminal or civil – without venturing inside Lord Rennard’s head?

    – See more at: http://blogs.channel4.com/cathy-newman-blog/lord-rennard-question-nick-clegg-booed/331#sthash.spB61Dtx.dpuf

  • @Simon 23rd Jan ’14 – 12:10pm
    You’re misreading my words. I didn’t suggest that Nick should “avoid giving a straight answer” only that he ‘squandered’ a significant amount of time (over seven minutes at prime time) being ‘lead’ by an interviewer on a topic I suspect he could of given a reasonably full and frank answer to in the first 30~60 seconds and encouraged the interviewer to move on.

    Not once in the entire interview did Nick given any indication that he had any other topic that he wished to put before the public at this time – something that probably encouraged to interviewer to persist with Rennard rather than move on… But then was Nick only expecting to talk about Rennard as no had briefed him on “Closing the Gap”?

  • Oh my God, I agree with Simon Shaw! There is no way Nick could have avoided talking about Rennard. Anything else and it would have sounded as though he was scared to ‘go there’. It’s good he communicated his view, that’s what politics is about. To those who say Nick (I’m not a fan btw) messed up this week in hs media performances this week I disagree. To me he came across as sincere and perfectly reasonable.

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