Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Can anyone explain what Nick Clegg thinks he is doing?
The root of Nick Clegg's troubles is his failure to quietly drop Ming Campbell's policy of demanding a referendum on Britain's continuing membership of the European Union when he became leader.
As I have often said, it is a policy calculated to prevent what is probably the majority view of the British people - supportive of European cooperation, sceptical of ever-closer union - being expressed.
Nor has this week's argument that the majority of the British people support the policy been terribly edifying. Presumably, most of the people who want a referendum on membership of the EU want it so they can vote to come out? Are they the people we now think the Lib Dems should appeal to?
Gordon Brown's accusation in the Commons today that it would involve going back to the 1970s was exactly right. It is a point I have made myself - once seriously and once satirically.
Having a three-line whip to enforce abstention confirms every prejudice that our opponents have about the Liberal Democrats. Given that most of our MPs believe that there should not be a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, why did they not vote that way? And why didn't we make it a free vote?
Does Nick Clegg think today events make him look "tough"? That is not the adjective I would chose.
Nick has not yet served 100 days as Lib Dem leader, but he has already lost three front-bench spokesmen. Moreover, he has lost them over such an obscure point that it is hard to see what he imagines he will gain by it.
All in all, it is not the most encouraging start.