Monday, December 24, 2007

Liberal Democrats in the Sunday papers

Thanks to Pete Roberts for pointing us to Nick Clegg's brief question-and-answer session in The People. Here is Nick's answer to a question about whether he favours a referendum on the EU reform treaty:

I Want the referendum that matters - on whether we stay part of the European Union. Our involvement aids our businesses, boosts jobs and helps keep us safe against new threats like climate change and international crime. Some people disagree, so let's have the real debate, in or out.
I have moaned about this policy before, but the more you think about it, the sillier it gets.

Let's imagine that we have a political earthquake in Britain and that Nick Clegg finds himself at the head of an incoming Liberal Democrat administration. Would he really devote parliamentary time to putting through a referendum on British membership of the EU? And if that referendum were held and the vote went in favour of withdrawal, would he really devote the remainder of his first term to the horribly complicated process of negotiating that withdrawal?

Of course, Nick would do no such thing.

This referendum policy is really about disguising out support from the EU. If we come across voters who are against the Eu then, rather than engage with them, defend our views and try to convert them (which, in my experience as a councillor, was how you won public respect) we shall say that we want a referendum, so they can vote for us even if they detest Europe and all its works.

If there was one clear outcome of the leadership election it was that the party is agreed that we need to stop trying to be all things to all people. This EU referendum policy is a prime example of that, and it should be quietly dropped.

Elsewhere, the most interesting coverage was the Sunday Telegraph's interview with David Laws:

David Laws, the party's new head of public service reform, told The Sunday Telegraph that the new Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was determined to take his party in a radical and daring direction.

He said 2008 would be the "year of living dangerously" for the Liberal Democrats. "For too long the party has not thought radically enough," he said.

Mr Laws said he wanted to extend private provision to allow parents and patients more power and choice where the state sector was failing them.

The examples Laws gives are perhaps a little tame. I have written in favour of sending children in sate care to private schools myself, but it is very much a special case and more to do with the awfulness of the care system than the virtues of private education. And the freedom for NHS patients on long waiting lists to seek treatment elsewhere is coming from Europe in any case.

But Laws's interview is a sign that the party is starting to think again and, I think, moving in the right direction.

How far party activists will like the direction in which we are moving is another matter. There was precious little said about policy during the leadership campaign, and it is hard to resist the feeling the Liberal Democrats have elected a leader about whom they know remarkably little.

1 comment:

GaffaUK said...

Asking for a referendum on Europe is a blatant and dishonest smokescreen from Clegg (inherited from Ming) to distract from the issue of a referendum over the Lisbon Treaty. I agree this is a foolish tactic that fools no one.

Instead he should revert back to the original LibDem manifesto promise to hold a referendum on the Treaty (or Constitution as it was called then).