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.