Tuesday 20 August 2013

Has Nick Clegg lost the plot?

The detention of David Miranda at Heathrow Airport has turned into a major news story, and rightly so.

The story has revealed dangerous levels of state power, as the Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger explains in an account of the assorted threats he received from “shadowy Whitehall figures”, culminating in a raid by GCHQ on his offices and the destruction of computer hard drives.

Also in the Guardian, columnist Simon Jenkins (who can hardly be dismissed as a dangerous lefty) explains how the term ‘terrorist’ is being applied loosely by the state to hoover up any person or data it wants, under the catch-all justification of the ‘war on terror’. Jenkins concludes, “It is simple harassment and intimidation”.

The question now for Liberal Democrats is why the reaction of their party has been muted, to put it mildly. After all, this is the sort of civil liberties issue that would normally unite the party from left to right.

On his blog, Mark Pack asks this very question. Mark bends over backwards to be fair but nevertheless finds the leadership’s muted response strange.

The likeliest explanation is that this non-response is all of a piece with the narrative Nick Clegg has constructed about being ‘grown up’ and his repeated (and unfounded) attacks on party members as allergic to power, which Alex Marsh analysed on his blog and I analysed here. After all, if civil liberties were considered a ‘grown up’ issue, Clegg would have been quick to take a stand. But if raising such concerns does not fit with Clegg’s tendentious definition of political maturity, then he will steer clear. We should not forget that Clegg is building up to a series of stage-managed confrontations with the membership at next month’s party conference, and events must be considered in this context.

If you find that analysis unconvincing, consider a report in today’s Independent, where the remarks of one anonymous ‘ally’ of Clegg are reported:
One said there were now some “totally irrational people” in the party who would not accept another coalition with the Tories under any circumstances.
The leader’s overriding consideration appears to be a desire to maintain a coalition with the Tories after the next general election. Abandoning the party’s traditional concerns for civil liberties can therefore be justified in terms of a muscular pragmatism. But maybe Clegg or Jeremy Browne could surprise everyone by remembering why our party exists, condemn the tactics of the police state, and prove me wrong?

In the meantime, Sarah Ludford MEP has just announced on Twitter (@SarahLudfordMEP) that she is gathering support for an emergency motion at September’s party conference.

Postscript: More on this topic from Jonathan Calder.


  1. Good posting... the main responses I have seen reported on the Guardian site included a sound comment from Julian Huppert and an inscrutable one from Ming.. stony silence from most of the rest of the crew. Time for an MPs revolt.. this is exactly the type of issue we can differentiate on (though I suspect more than a few Tory MPs were equally dismayed at the Miranda incident)... they may be hogtied by a discipline as senior partner in the coalition, but why should we be?

    In making a stand though we should be prepared to take on the implications which include a stand on the NSA snooping, on Snowden as a "Public Enemy" and on the NSA "buying" USD100mn worth of GCHQ intelligence bandwidth, indeed. All events on which their has been equally "mature" response (read deafening silence). If a majority of MPs take up the cudgels then it will be harder for Clegg to throw charges of immaturity at the rank and file.

  2. Now its revealed that May and Cameron knew in advance of Miranda's planned detention.. Was Clegg privy to this info?? and if so what was his response? "Mature", we presume?

  3. I agree with Antiochian - time for an MPs revolt, or perhaps a Conference revolt if Sarah Ludford can get her motion on the agenda.

  4. Clegg's actions make sense if he is driven to a highly unusual extent by a narrow perception of self-interest where everything else is subordinated to the primary goal of personal advantage and ambition with any sort of political principle coming a very distant second.

    In this interpretation, advancing in the Lib Dems would involve adopting liberal positions because that is what the environment in this rather small pond requires. Also a small pond with only a limited number of big fish might be an attractive career path.

    Then, when the vagaries of FPTP voting delivered a hung parliament and coalition, he found himself in a very different environment - that of a candidate member of the establishment. In this position some people would take the opportunity to shake things up but, as far as I can tell, Clegg sees his best path to further personal advancement as joining the establishment, hence adopting the ruling philosophy (neo-liberalism) and joining in circling the waggons against attacks from disruptive influences.

    From Clegg's perspective this would be a natural evolution of policy (a growing-up as it were) while dissenters would be dismissed for being juvenile or inveterate oppositionists. The real programme is about advancing Clegg with liberal principles as just a convenient stepping stone along the way.

    See Wikipedia on narcissism, especially Hotchkiss' seven deadly sins.


  5. Well, he has finally arrived at the church....


    congregation are already on the third hymn but if he slips in quietly no-one will notice him..


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