Coffee House

Three things we learnt from Nick Clegg’s comeback speech

9 June 2014

Nick Clegg gave his mop-up speech today after the European elections. It was an attempt to reassure his party that he has listened to their concerns, and to tell everyone else watching that he’s nowhere near giving up. Alongside his new budgetary rules, there were also three very interesting aspects of the speech worth considering:

1. The Lib Dems believe they have the moral high-ground.

There is something fascinating about the mindset of a party leader who thinks that calls to set out his core beliefs can be satisfied with the following platitudes:

  • You can be fair but responsible with it.
  • You can be credible without being cruel.
  • You can free our children from our debts while investing in their futures too.
  • We don’t write off anyone and we don’t think that politicians and governments know best.

I’ve yet to hear a politician who says ‘actually, I don’t really believe in people’ or ‘wouldn’t it be great if we were honest that being unfair is fun?’ Yet Clegg is setting up a divide with the other parties that is essentially ‘as Lib Dems we care about people, and the rest of you don’t’. It might be quite appealing to some voters who hold themselves in similar high esteem, but it’s not really a core belief. Unless you are a particularly self-loathing politician, you’ll argue from whatever ideological standpoint that you’re in politics to help people and increase opportunity (even if the truth is rather more complicated than that).

Clegg sketched out where the other parties stand – ‘Labour think that good things are done to people, not by people’ and the Conservatives ‘basically believe in conserving the pecking order as it is’. But when he got to arguing that the Lib Dems ‘just see the world differently’ and are not a ‘split the difference’ party, his definition of what it means to be a Lib Dem slipped back into platitude, not something that offered a particularly strong whiff of an underpinning philosophy. He listed the policies his party has prioritised in government, and said these priorities were ‘because the Liberal Democrats believe that every boy and girl has something to offer, someone just needs to give them a chance to shine. Because we never fail to be amazed by the things that people are capable of when they’re given half a chance’. Buried in this could be a reference to the ‘enabling state’ that Clegg’s camp likes to talk about, especially when trying to defend his pet free school meals policy. But it’s not quite clear.


At times his party’s Twitter feed resembled a collection fortune cookie messages as it churned out some of his platitudes:

2. Clegg does realise his problems go beyond Lord Oakeshott

There was fury in the anti-Nick camp when Lord Oakeshott bungled his coup, because the Deputy Prime Minister’s more reasonable critics feared they may no longer get a hearing with what were genuine concerns about the party’s strategy and the willingness of the leadership to listen to feedback. So his acknowledgement that there are lessons the party needs to learn from the European and local elections and his decision to conduct a review into the campaign is an attempt to answer some of those concerns.

He also referred to the concern he has expressed in private: that his campaign in the European elections came across as too ardently pro-European. Clegg said:

‘I’ve heard people say that, in the European elections, our campaign as the Party of IN was too blunt: that we allowed our opponents to suggest that we think the status quo in Brussels is just fine. We don’t think its fine. I’ve been a pro-European reformer my whole political life. It’s precisely because I value Britain’s place in Europe that I’ve not only campaigned for reform, but in the ten years I spent in Europe I’ve probably done more to make Brussels less bureaucratic, more open and more in line with Britain’s interests than any other party leader. And I fully accept that, as this debate rumbles on, the Liberal Democrats must campaign as the Party of IN and the party of reform.’

3. The Lib Dem persecution complex is still at work

One of the ways the Lib Dems band together as a party uniting two reasonably different creeds is by repeatedly asserting that the world is against them. Clegg deployed that persecution complex again today, saying:

‘From the moment we entered government, Labour, their supporters in the trade unions, their friends in the press, the Conservatives, their financial backers and their powerful friends in the press have all sought to caricature the Liberal Democrats as a party that has traded in what we believe for a whiff of power.

‘And it’s worth remembering why they do this. Because they hate the fact that we’ve got a foot in the door. Because the Liberal Democrats in government is the biggest threat to the establishment in a generation – the cosy stitch up between the red team and the blue team.’

His passage refuting these claims was one of the better bits of his speech, mainly because he dropped the fortune cookie platitudes for a little bit. He said:

‘After election night Miriam and I travelled down to London on the first train from Sheffield and, if you ask me what I was thinking about, it was the good, hardworking Liberal Democrat MPs who’d lost their seats; it was my old friend Paul Scriven who, despite winning an extra 9000 votes for the Liberal Democrats, had just lost out to Labour in Sheffield Central – the neighbouring constituency to mine.

‘So our mood was not one of carefree opportunism. Instead the decision we took was a gritty, grown up decision based on what was needed for the country. We didn’t go into government because it was the easy thing to do, we went into government because it was the right thing to do. Because the country was teetering on the edge. The biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Rioters and flames on the streets of Athens. Crisis meetings in Brussels as Europe’s leaders tried desperately to keep the continent afloat. We knew we would pay a price for working with the Conservatives. We knew we would have to do controversial things to clean up Labour’s mess. We knew we would lose the support of the people who had only ever voted for us to stick two fingers up to the other two. But we did it anyway. This plucky, bold, courageous party, which had never been in power in Westminster before, put the country’s interests before our own interests and we gave Britain a stable government in extraordinarily insecure times. And in providing that stability we’ve helped millions of people keep their jobs. We’ve helped businesses across Britain stay afloat. The country’s shattered economy, now finally back on track.

‘So don’t let our critics rewrite history. We went into government for good, decent, honourable reasons and no one should be allowed to take that away from us.’

As for what the Lib Dems plan to do after 2015, Clegg’s plan for a Lib Dem ‘balanced budget rule’, as well as a new debt rule, is being compared to Labourish thinking on the economy and therefore read as a sign that he’s mulling the possibility of working with Ed Miliband’s party in 2015. It might be an attempt to reassure his party that he would not automatically jump rightwards if he had the opportunity to choose between the two main parties. But the rest of his speech may not do much to reassure those in his party who fear he doesn’t have a strong definition of Liberalism.

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    i’d like you to prove his persecution complex isn’t actually cemented in some reality? I’m sorry but the way the media have vilified him (far more than Blair over Iraq…which was shameful..!) over the fees thing is ridiculous. They would never do that to any other politician. And plenty have broken promises, pledges and done big u turns and they’ve been in one party gvmt. No sorry, there’s some truth in what he says…the Lib Dems are an enormous serious threat to the status quo. Unlike UKIP which actually in reality is there to try and push us back to the status quo duopoly of old. (think about it?!!!)…..And the way the fees thing is now caricatured is appalling too….the reality is not actually conveyed…ie no upfront costs, few pay back much at all……..but no matter how much you say this and prove it, the damage has been done because people can’t get away from the media narrative. You can see it their eyes when you point it out…well done media, your job of brainwashing is working

  • Mr Creosote

    When will politicians stop saying “grown up..”?

    It makes me want to chuck up.

  • Tim

    When are you going to cover something relevant like the Monster Raving Loony Party’s thoughts and beliefs.

    Clegg is a waste of space, a dishonest Euro fanatic, careerist.

    Much like all the others unfortunately.

  • Tony_E

    You must either believe in a shrinking state and the liberalisation of the economy, allowing people much more control over their own earnings, or you must believe in the expanding state – interventionist and removing personal control over one’s earnings and choices.

    There isn’t some magical ‘middle way’ – once you create a state machinery, it will expand into whatever gaps it can find, the lesson of even the Thatcher era is that if you don’t actively cut it, it grows like ivy due to the number of people who have a vested interest in it doing so.

    The Lib Dems, whether they like to admit it or not, are socialists. They want a larger state, more redistribution, more state control in people’s lives, more supranationalism, more enabling rights law (rather than the negative law pattern of the common law, thou shalt not).

    None of these things are truly liberal in any sense. By compelling people to certain choices, you don’t enrich their lives, nor do you give them more freedom. Surely the overriding concern of a Liberal party is to ensure that a citizen is free to pursue his own wealth, health and happiness in whatever manner he so chooses, so long as it brings no harm or detriment to others?

    • Andrew Chamberlain

      The radical form of liberalism that developed in the first half of the twentieth century sought to use the state to redistribute wealth so that every citizen would have enough to stand on his own feet. The state could then “wither away” (to borrow a phrase from Marx). It’s an ideology that aims at greater redistribution, but not an expanding state or greater interference in the economy.

      • Tony_E

        It’s also total bunkum. Once the state tries to redistribute then it simply creates a market for itself to continue to do so. Radical Liberalism as you describe is simply ‘socialism’ with an expiry clause that will never be met.

        When will the state decide it has ‘redistributed enough’ or ‘equalised’ enough? The answer is simply that it never would, and never will.

        • Andrew Chamberlain

          If you take housing as an example, by using the state to subsidise mortgages rather than rents for people in need of affordable housing you set up a natural cut off point. The state stops paying out Housing Benefit once the mortgage is paid off. People can then stand on their own two feet without having to go cap in hand to the state.

          The Tories had echoes of this liberal approach with their “property owning democracy” rhetoric. The Right To Buy was a half-arsed attempt at a radical liberal policy.

          • Tony_E

            I can see the point, and the right to buy was a radical Liberal policy (though its aims were not as pure as you described in some ways, but a political tool to offer people a larger social stake in the idea of ownership and against collectivism) . However, it’s not without its own consequences.

            Whenever the state intervenes in a market, it distorts it (usually by priming price increases through increased demand). So therefore then for as many people are advantaged through state assistance, many others are priced out of the market if they are not subject to the same help.

            Once you look at it that way, it looks less liberal and more like picking winners, for whatever even well intentioned reason. I.e., my friends who could buy council houses they inherited from their family were at an extreme advantage to us who had to use the open market.

  • Conway

    We are not the Tories. We don’t believe in an ever shrinking state” “We are not Labour either” He forgot to add “We are neither Liberal nor Democratic.”

    • CraigET

      I think the “Lynchable Demagogues Party” would be a more apt name.

    • Maidmarrion

      He forgot to add ,” Although we have been in coalition with both ”
      maybe the could try the Greens or UKIP next.

  • pinkgunnergirl

    Clegg is living in la la land. He really has no clue what is coming down the tracks for the Lib Dems. The public want to give them a political beating they will never forget & at every opportunity so far, they have done just that.

  • CraigET

    I don’t understand how Nick Clegg managed to attain the position of “Deputy Prime Minister”, I am genuinely dumbfounded. I have never heard him speak anything other than platitudes and pathetic maxims, and he is definitely not alone. I get exactly the same banality from Obama, the man could speak for 30 minutes without saying anything relevant, and still convince you he knows what he is talking about.

    • sfin

      Hear! Hear!

      Obama won the presidency by saying things like “Change we can believe in” over and over again – a bit like Blair’s “Schools ‘n’ ‘hospitals” – the gap in intellect between the elite and the electorate is undermining the concept of universal franchise…but, maybe that’s the point?

      • Wessex Man

        I blame the Education system.

      • Tony_E

        It’s been more and more like this since JFK – a politician whose lionisation only really started when he was assassinated. People want to feel optimistic, and Obama sells hope. JFK sold hope too, telegenic and young (for a US president). He became a blueprint for political success. At the same time he was also a deeply dishonest and dishonourable man with a string of mistresses and links to less than upstanding individuals.

        The problem is that personality has become politics, to the great detriment of true political discourse amongst the masses.

    • Rossspeak

      I would suggest that, like Barack Obama – in an age of media coverage being dominant in shaping the Voters’ perception- that Clegg was “made” by the 2010 TV debates – as Obama was “made” by his populist speeches.
      Both have been found wanting under the spotlight of power and responsibility. To paraphrase an old truism – those who are made by the media will be destroyed by the media.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        It might help if Barry’s opposition put up somebody other than the obviously insane John McCain.

  • sfin

    One thing I learned from Nick Clegg’s “comeback” speech…

    Any politician who sprays the, completely subjective, word ‘fair’ around as though it is morally sacrosanct and only applies to his political party, has spent his entire life on planet politician.

    In brief – the one thing I learned from Nick Clegg’s “comeback” speech…is that he ain’t coming back!

  • Smithersjones2013

    1. Any parties that prostrates itself at the altar of ever closer union clearly cares nothing for people because it cares nothing about democracy. Not only that but ever since they took Michael Brown’s donation and kept it despite the likelihood of where it came from their sanctimonious Ivory towers have sunk to the lowest levels of the Westminster Cesspit!

    ~ On man’s ‘Fairness’ is another man’s injustice. Fairness is an unprincipled political lie and is justification for politicians to behave in what would be in other walks of life might be considered criminal.

    ~ Being cruel is not the test of credibility, being honest and realistic is the test of credibility and the duplicitous, ‘facing both ways simultaneously’ zealotry driven delusions of the Libdems are neither honest nor realistic

    ~ The debts that our politicians are piling up through their derelict profligacy will be a burden for generations to come (see whhat I mean about the delusional lying? Clegg couldn’t tell the difference between debt and deficit 2 years ago and clearly he still can’t tell he difference

    ~ Hmmmmmmmm? Brown, Oakeshott, Tonge, Rennard, Opik, Oaten, Hancock, Huhne, Price, Laws……..

    2. Bullshit. The EU is unreformable. Unless it carries along its current disastrous course it is superfluous and unnecessary.

    3.yeah right those cheap political whores will not think twice before fornicating with Labour next year if the opportunity arises!

  • The Commentator

    Clegg’s radical new idea: borrow and spend more money. This by the way comes after he and Cameron will have doubled the national debt in five years. Here is a radical idea. Abolish the DFID, privatise the NHS sell the BBC, cut the welfare bill by 75% and stop all funding of the European Union.

  • TrulyDisqusted

    I didn’t learn anything new from Nick Clegg’s (don’t, Please) come back speech.

    If the good people of the UK had wanted Nick Clegg as UK Prime Minister and the Lib Dems as our Government, then more of us would have voted for him/them and they would have won by a majority in May 2010.

    We did not, because many of us suspected he was an even bigger parse than the other idiots on offer.

    Nothing in the last four years has convinced us we were wrong.

    Perhaps Nick should retrain as an Imam and live out the rest of his days enjoying his only realistic chance of a captive audience who hang onto his every word?

  • Holly

    Off topic.

    So sorry to hear about your bee-stung face.
    I have an irrational fear of being stung, needles, or anything that bites.
    It wouldn’t be the sting that kills me it would be the heart attack bought on by hyperventalation & sheer PANIC!
    I hope you are okay.

  • James S

    He wants to make a big deal of the fact that the LDs decided to go for the responsible option as opposed to continuing with wonton overspending. and he expects credit for this “brave” decision. Except of course, the Conservatives were already there, already trying to get to grips withe the economic mess. The Liberals simply joined them.

  • Chris Morriss

    He does sound so very last century now, doesn’t he?

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Is it a Boy? Is it a Plane? NO! It’s Equidistance Boy!

  • Grey Wolf

    The delusional leader of this party actually thinks that vapidly platitudinous statements can bring back voters. Dream on!

    • LunarCity7

      It reads like a motivational self-help handbook Clegg has written for himself. I imagine he listens to it through headphones whilst fruitlessly attempting to visualise his “happy place”.

  • global city

    god! I hope this silly party is wiped out for good at the GE.

    • Grey Wolf

      Its already been wiped out. 2015 GE will be its cremation.

  • misomiso

    All the Lib Dems had was economic responsibility. Now they thrown that away for the terrible phrase ‘Borrow to Invest’.

    • TrulyDisqusted

      No quite, let’s not forget their biggest liability – Ed Davey at the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

      You remember, the man who negotiated the contract for the WORLDS most expensive nuclear power stations ever to be built at £16 Billion (with UK taxpayers providing £10 Billion up-front) with an index linked strike price of £94 per KWH.

      Both Finland and France have recently agreed to build new nuclear power stations with agreed strike prices of £43 and £47 PKW respectively.

      Before anyone suggests that we are getting two – the UK strike price is for each (Not for both) and is indexed linked so could easily rise to say £160 PKW over the project lifecycle.

      Where is the outrage? There is none of course because to draw attention to what our government have signed us up to would blow the whole Climate Change SCAM into the stratosphere if the sheople ever bothered to analyse what this is going to cost us.

      Not a word from the opposition, because as usual, there is none!

  • Robert_Eve

    Selfrighteousness rules!!!

  • Lady Magdalene

    Where’s the twitter feed saying that the LibDems believe the country should be governed by the EU?

    • global city

      What country? they would reply….’there is only the People and the High Authority!

    • Conway

      Clegg thinks not wanting to be ruled by the EU is unpatriotic!

  • manonthebus

    It has always been the problem with the LibDems. They have no idea what they stand for. They are a Party of permanent opposition.

    • LunarCity7

      Of course. It fits their obvious victim complex perfectly to perpetually play the goodguy underdog whilst never actually delivering more than vague whines and sighs about unfairness and how everyone’s got them all wrong.

  • Hello

    Hmmm…I thought their twitter account had been hacked. What on earth does this one mean:

    Just to clarify: We don't construct sentences because we can, we construct sentences, because we can.— Liberal Democrats (@LibDems) June 9, 2014

    • LunarCity7

      That one sounds like the desperate conclusion of an undergrad’s first essay on literary theory.

  • anyfool

    The Lib Dems are finished, he has not realised that his poor showing had nothing to do with coming across as too pro Europe.
    In the debates he came across as a liar, his party keeps repeating the same lies about how without Europe we would all starve and millions of jobs would be lost.
    But the main reason they are finished is that the two sections of the party cannot co-exist, they want to be ideologically pure on one side and the other including Clegg want hang on to power and are prepared to prostitute any semblance of ideological rigour to keep it.
    Time for them to split and go their separate ways, back to oblivion.

  • Andrew Chamberlain

    I think Clegg’s written quite persuasively about liberalism in the past. See here:

    Probably thought it better to start setting out plans for the future rather than discuss ideology.

  • DaveTheRave

    No conviction.
    No vision.
    No instinct.

  • Andy

    One thing we have learnt from Nick Clegg’s speech on liberalism. Clegg, like most ‘liberals’, is no Liberal. He is a bloody Socialist.

    • telemachus

      We live and breathe the Socialist creed
      Clegg is not even a pretender

      • Wessex Man

        do one slimeball.

      • Inverted Meniscus

        Oh I think Clegg is definitely a socialist nutter like yourself. The only issue here is whether or not he is as preposterous, arrogant, economically incompetent, hypocritical, sanctimonious, inexperienced and dishonest as Miliband, Balls, Balls minor, Hunt etc etc. In my view he enjoys the same qualities and is a fully fledged socialist nutter bent on destroying Britsin.

      • Andy

        You live and breath the National Socialist creed.

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