Friday, August 6, 2010

You're Nicked (2010)

From the August 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Until recently we were required to know him as plain, unthreatening, monosyllabic Nick Clegg – even if his ancestors were aristocrats in Imperial Russia and he was educated at appropriately expensive schools, which may explain his fluency in four foreign languages but not, perhaps, a perceived problem with maths which, when asked by the odious Piers Morgan to enumerate the women he had had sex with, prevented his reply being more exact than “no more than” thirty. But he has moved on, to the point of surviving the unnerving experience of hearing both Gordon Brown and David Cameron declare in public that they “agreed with” him. Now he is Nicholas William Peter “Nick” Clegg MP, PC, Deputy Prime Minister, Lord President of the Council, Minister for Constitutional and Political Reform, with duties extending beyond robotically nodding at David Cameron's back during Prime Minister's questions. Clegg now has the job of finding out what people think about changing the law – abolishing some laws, making others. In this matter, he says, “ is people, not policy-makers, who know best...It is a radically different approach. One based on trust. Because it isn't up to government to tell people how to live their lives”. This will have come as a surprise to a lot of people who are losing their jobs while Clegg's government orders them to run their lives to an intensity of poverty incurred by trying to exist on the dole, or on reduced benefit or pension. But there is more to him than that.

To begin with there is the matter of Clegg's persistent self-concept as a statesman rare enough to be changing the face of British politics: “What I find especially exciting about this project is that, now we have got the ball rolling, the debate is totally out of government's control”. But like most conceits this was unhelpful and distorting. Closer to reality were the responses to a website provided by the Telegraph:

  • “Start with the prisons! Criminals are invited into luxury, paid for by the tax payer...”
  • “I would dilute Scottish input here in the UK!...”
  • “I would repeal the hunting act, and also criminalise any hunt protest activities that sabotages the hunt...”
  • “...the legislation we want repealed is the European Communities Act 1972...”
  • A more useful suggestion, was: “Hey! Don't you guys trust Cleggie & Co. I voted for them and they've sold out their principles for a handful of government...”

    Crucially, Clegg's “debate” is based on the misconception that laws can be changed by popular demand because they are laid down to protect the safety and well-being of the majority of people. In truth the whole massive, overbearing, legal and judicial system with its intimidating institutions, its uniforms, its wigs and gowns and its impenetrable precedents composed in archaic verbiage, was conceived and developed in order to perpetuate the standing and privileges of the dominant minority class in society. Politically organisations like the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties (and any combinations between them) exist to promote that outrage through their propaganda – their lies, distortions and false promises.

    A Tory Past
    Buried in Clegg's past is his membership, while at Cambridge, of the University Conservative Association. In spite of the written evidence, Clegg has denied all knowledge of this, perhaps through embarrassment after those fervent denunciations of the Tories in the TV election debates. Then there is the fact that among his jobs after leaving university he worked in the private office as a speech-writer for the Vice President of the European Commission – Leon Brittan who, apart from other achievements in an infamous career, assured himself a reputation as a Home Secretary to satisfy the Tories' most passionate advocates of harsh sentencing.

    But by 1998 Clegg had changed his mind – if that is what happened – enough to be a Liberal Democrat candidate for the European Parliament. By 2005, already spoken of as a future party leader, he was informing Brittan that while he fancied Kenneth Clarke in that year's contest for the Conservative leadership – he was “quite a personal fan of Ken” – he had reservations; the Lib Dems should be on their guard against Clarke moving the Tories into traditional Lib Dem territory – “this big bruiser ...somehow muscling in on our territory”. (Now that Clegg and Clarke sit beside each other on the same Front Bench it is fair to ask what Clarke thinks of the Tories being “muscled in on”). And Clegg was once opposed to a formal alliance with the Tories because “...the deeply illiberal bent of the Conservative Party over the last 10 years” had made co-operation between the two parties “genuinely impossible”. But diplomatically keeping his options open, he did not rule out joining a coalition in principle “if a more liberal Tory philosophy emerged”. Was he just being cautious? Or confused? Or cunningly ambitious?

    All these characteristics would have been useful to a political leader trying to defuse the recent crisis over MPs and their expenses; true to form, Clegg played to outbid the others. Shouting at an interviewing TV camera, he threatened to “come down like a ton of bricks” on anyone found to be fiddling the system. Among these brave words there was no mention of the Lib Dem MPs who were exposed as having overclaimed. And Clegg did not promise to bury himself beneath some conveniently loose bricks because of his own claims, which included monthly interest payments of £1,018 on his constituency home mortgage, £2,600 for a new kitchen, £680 for gardening, £760 to repair a path, £2.49 for a cake tin and £1.50 for paper napkins. Neither did he say whether he was talking about himself when he raged that “People will simply just despair that all politicians look either ridiculous at best or corrupt at worst.” Take your pick. And while you are about it you can contribute to Clegg's “consultation” by asking what penalties there are for politicians who are repeatedly and blatantly dishonest. But don't wait for an answer.