Clegg’s hocus pocus…..
Nick Clegg wants to be Prime Minister; he wants to lead a Liberal Democrat government and really change this country. Kudos to him, this is a laudable ambition, and one we would all like to see realised but the long and short of this is that this has been a dreadful conference. The opening lines of his speech regarding Afghanistan show where the problem lies;
“After nearly 8 years, victory not only seems more distant than ever, failure seems inevitable unless we change course.
I know some of you believe we should call for British troops to withdraw now.
If things continue on the present disastrous course, then sooner or later that is a judgement which we may need to make.”
Clegg has claimed our party will be ‘open and candid’ but how open and candid is this;
“The threadbare legitimacy of the government in Kabul must be strengthened by reaching out across ethnic and tribal divisions.”
No mention of electoral fraud; no mention of the shameful laws passed by the Karzai government regarding women; no mention of the links to warlordism. Instead what it needs to do is merely be more ‘touchy-feely’ and this indeed is the crux of the problem, why I so often find myself at odds with the current leadership and Clegg as leader. The conclusion Clegg should be drawing from all this is that the sacrifices he rightly highlights are in vain; that they are for a government that is not worth a drop of blood shed in its defence instead he concludes that Gordon Brown isn’t doing enough to ‘sell’ the war to the British public. He actually wants Brown to do what Blair did and try some of the ol’ smoke an mirrors to make British people deny what they can see with their own eyes and convince them that somehow their perception of how things are is totally wrong (it isn’t) and that somehow Clegg’s and Brown’s is much better (it isn’t).
He does not ‘speak out on Afghanistan’ at all; he equivocates and lends dangerous weight to the opinion that actually what guides him is focus groups not conviction. Clegg’s ‘I want to be Prime Minister’ line seems to be an attempt to address the perception that Clegg is a lightweight but it does little of the kind when it is preceded by the remarks above. It actually makes a mockery of his promise that;
“I am never going to duck asking the important questions, however difficult they are.”
No doubt he will have felt the party splintering under him to a large degree this week as his personal preference to equivocate on Afghanistan and scrap tuition fees received sharp rebuttals in the form of motions and amendments passed by conference. I feel some sympathy for him as he is trying to straddle the tensions that are always inherent in parties and present some kind of united platform but lose that when I remember that he is the one who started all this with that famous ‘aspirational’ interview in which he effectively briefed against his own Federal Policy Committee.
After the chickens come home to roost, when we are staring at how little we have advanced ‘carrying the torch of progress’ this is what people will remember and it is only right that they do so; of course, for now despite the policy differences people will say how wonderful they think Clegg is but there is no way that will survive a bad set of election results. His defence of his ‘savage cuts’ remarks were totally unacceptable and the notion of ‘progressive austerity’ is right up there with the ‘third way’ in the league of all time intellectually vapid concepts.
In his defence his speech wasn’t all bad, he raised some fundamental issues and rounded well on both the Conservatives and Labour (the bare minimum you’d expect from your leader to be fair) and he isn’t wholly responsible for the underlying tensions that exist but the salient truth remains; the only reason changing leader is not an issue in this party currently is because there is an election approaching. After the electoral dust settles everybody will be gripped by the thunderbolts shooting across Labour’s sky as it struggles within itself, the similar process we undergo will go unnoticed which may well be a small blessing in disguise. Clegg won’t survive such a bitter exchange, and his conduct with regard to the ‘aspirations’ ultimately means to me he won’t deserve too.