Why Nick Clegg is wrong about Brexit

Nick Clegg’s comments about stopping Brexit in his new book are the sort that would have a civil servant muttering, ‘That’s a little unhelpful’.

Not this time because of his approach to political communications. Rather, because of his encouragement of people to join Labour or the Conservatives to stop Brexit. Not to vote Lib Dem or join the Lib Dems, but to join Labour or the Conservatives. Said a former leader and current member of the Liberal Democrats.

At first when I saw the headlines I wondered if the fuller context was more nuanced. But it’s not:

Join the Labour Party and make your voice heard. It may seem odd for a former leader of the Liberal Democrats – and someone who has fought against the illiberal habits of Labour all my political life – to advocate joining the Labour Party.

And, as a lifelong card-carrying member of another party, I won’t be doing so myself.

But if you are someone who has never joined a party, or perhaps has been inclined to join Labour but has never got round to it, or if you are simply someone who recognises that the importance of Brexit is far greater than individual.

At a time of national emergency, and for as long as Parliament is dominated by Labour and Conservative MPs, it is undoubtedly true that what happens within the two larger establishment parties is of the greatest importance.

So if you can’t stomach joining the Labour Party, if you are ideologically inclined in a Conservative direction in any event and if you also believe that Brexit is the issue of our times, then joining the Conservatives is another route to make your views felt.

Leaving aside his decision to diss his own party in this way, as a simple matter of the best anti-Brexit tactics, he’s wrong.

Labour is awash with unprecedented numbers of pro-European members who hugely outnumber Euro-sceptics in Labour’s ranks. The views of their party leader (he who took a holiday during the referendum campaign rather than campaign flat out against Brexit) is another matter. But it’s not a shortage of pro-European members which Labour suffers from.

Nor is Nick Clegg’s backup plan of joining the Conservatives much cop either given the party’s record of not paying attention to the views of grassroots members on policy.

Yet there is one thing which has successfully moved both of those parties on Europe: fear of the electoral success of another party. Alas, that other party was Ukip, an anti-European party. But it shows that the way to influence the Conservatives and Labour on Europe isn’t to join them, it’s to scare them by joining a clearly pro-European party and helping it achieve greater political success. You could even pick Nick Clegg’s own party.

14 responses to “Why Nick Clegg is wrong about Brexit”

  1. Frankly I’m shocked and disgusted at Nick’s comments / view.
    This is a first, as I have always had great respect for him and can only assume this is some sort distorted reaction to losing his seat in the G.E.!
    Get a grip Nick 😡

  2. Well said, Mark. Nick is a politician not an analyst. His role is to convince voters that the Liberal Democrats can prevent Brexit, not give up and lead them to the enemy camp. Nor is Brexit a national emergency. It’s a logistical conundrum, laced with unsavoury extremism.

  3. Completely agree, Mark.

    The only way to defeat Brexit and the two “mad” Parties is a strong and vibrant Liberal Democrats.

    Clegg’s comments were too clever by half. Yes, appeal for more people to get into Politics but this intervention has been read very differently by Journos.

    We need to be much more direct, clearly articulated and much less “nuanced”.

  4. *facepalms* It had the ex-Labour comms guy who sits next to me at work chortling into his brew as my head hit the desk. Repeatedly. I see what he’s trying to do, but holy guacamole, he’s really not making our lives or doorstep message any easier. *rolls eyes*

  5. Since joining the Lib Dems a few months ago, it seems to me that many members live in an orange bubble, thinking that we are a party in waiting, and when the moment is right, off we’ll go to government. Nick is more realistic. For many outside the party, the Lib Dems are still ‘toxic’, and I think NC recognises that he had a hand in making it so. And if you don’t think that Brexit is a national emergency, you’ve not been paying attention.

  6. I have been, and still am a fan of Nick Clegg, BUT this is plan stupid. I along with many thousands of others havn’t slogged away during the last few years to read this!! I spend alot of time on various web sites/blogs urging ANTI brexit people to join/campaign for the Lib Dems, i don’t wanna read this.

  7. As someone who has been a party member since joining the Liberals in 1964, I am surprised that Clegg has not yet learnt that neither Labour nor the Tories can be trusted an inch.

    Look at all those false dawns of Labour promises to support voting reform, of the way the Tories sabotaged the Lib Dem elements of the coalition agreement, of how Labour is now using three line whips to prevent dissent over Brexit.

    The real concern should be about how we have recently seen a return to two party politics, with the June election showing 83% of the vote going to Conservatives and Labour. To suggest in these circumstances that any further membership increase for the two old discredited parties will do anything to change their monolithic unshiftable positions is surprising coming from someone as intelligent as Nick.

  8. We shouldn’t want our natural followers to join other parties – we need to encourage them to build our own membership and voter bases. However, we should be making alliances with people who don’t share LibDem views but agree with us on the range of reasons to stop Brexit. So Nick needs to have a jolly chat with Vince Cable and join those of us who agree with Vince.

  9. I think there is an over reaction to Nick Cleggs advice. Its aimed primarily at non-liberals, people we wouldn’t welcome to our Party as they don’t share OUR values. Brexit, leaving EU, as we believe, is huge and much bigger that narrow Party affiliation.
    It’s time, maybe overdue, for a grown up debate between Parties. Talking to like minds is narrow, insular, and frankly tribal so grow up and join the “real world” as Nick Clegg advises.

  10. I don’t doubt Nick Clegg’s commitment or integrity. Certainly not his intellect.
    Unfortunately he is demonstrably deficient in political judgement. David Laws’ book on the coalition, including his promotion of Danny Alexander who ended up as an enthusiast for welfare cuts provides a fine examples.

  11. One thing that did not come out of the Strategy Review session at Conference is that the electorate is extremely volatile. Nick seems to have forgotten how well he did during 2010 following the tv debates. If we stick to our guns under our new leader, I still think there is a possibility the British public will see us as the country’s best chance.

  12. I think Galen Milne above has got it right. Nick is trying to influence non-liberal remainers. I need to see the full wording in the text but it looks to me that Nick needed to say something like – “The Liberal Democrats are the consistent opposers of Brexit and need all the members they can get to carry on the fight. But if for some reason you think my party is not for you and yet you recognise the seriousness of the threat to the future of our country that Brexit represents, then join the Labour Party or even the Conservative Party and do your level best to influence them in the right direction.”

  13. I have to disagree with a lot of comments here. I’m a ‘died in the wool’ Lib Dem and an member since 2004 but I think we all need to take our Party Hats off for a moment and think about what Nick Clegg was trying to achieve with this book – which is to stop Brexit.

    I read the book on one coach journey last Friday, and although there are placed where I think his text could have been beefed up a bit (as in the section on the ‘Brexit elite’ which I think could have given more detail on what these people are doing and less on who they are)… on the controversial section under discussion here, I think he had a strong point

    I know we would all like Anti-Brexit campaigners to join the Liberal democrats… and vote for us too.. and he does give a page to mention – look we are here! But the section we are discussing is aimed at people who are not going to do that – and its NOT aimed at the two big parties either. Its aimed at people who tend to those parties and want to stop Brexit as much as we do. Its a call to infiltrate those parties, to influence them and turn them. AND to leave them if that plan doesn’t work.

    One of the big arguments against Brexit is we can’t influence the EU from the outside. Nick is just saying to Labour voting Anti-Brexiters to use what influence they have. I think that is a brave thing for a leading member of another party to say, and I applaud him for it

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