Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nick Clegg on Cyril Smith: "It was like that when I got here"

Asked at his press conference yesterday about the allegations of serial child abuse against Cyril Smith, Nick Clegg said he had known nothing of them when he paid tribute to Smith on his 80th birthday as a "beacon" and an "inspiration" on his 80th birthday in 2008:
"Cyril Smith stood down as an MP 13 years before I became an MP. Many of the actions, the repugnant actions, which we now learn about took place well before the party I now lead even existed – in fact, took place before I even existed.
"Given those facts and that chronology, it is – as my party has made quite clear – not surprising that the Liberal Democrats, who were founded in 1989, two or three years before Cyril Smith stood down, were not aware."
Personally, I have known about the allegations against Smith since a considerably milder version of them appeared in Private Eye in 1979. As I once wrote, I have always assumed they were true.

Nick says he never heard them, and we must believe him. But the fact that there was no one in his inner circle to mention it to him does support the view (held by old farts like me) that he has surrounded himself with a group of bright young things with no great knowledge of the party.

I don't think Nick's response on Cyril Smith is successful, and the reason it doesn't tells us a lot about the problems he now faces.

During the television debates in the last general election campaign he could present himself as a young outsider without political baggage. He tries to do it here, but it does not work.

Nick Clegg is seen as a politician like any other who makes compromises and does not always tell the truth. The mishandling of tuition fees - I could never quite work out whether he was apologising for making that promise or for breaking it - hastened the process, but it was inevitable that it would take place.

And those of us who still like Nick now expect a bit more from him. He is a longstanding party leader and deputy prime minister. Answering with a touch of the petulance he is prone too and modelling your reply on Homer Simpson - "It was like that when I got here" - won't do any more.

Nick's failure to come to terms with this change in the way he is seen by the public was one of the reasons he did not do better in his debates with Nigel Farage. And unless he does come to terms with it, he will struggle if there are televised debates at the next election too.

As to Cyril Smith, it is not Nick Clegg who has hard questions to answer but David Steel, who was both chief whip and leader of the Liberal Party.

Over to you, Dave.

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1 comment:

Frank Little said...

it is not Nick Clegg who has hard questions to answer but David Steel
Not to mention Rochdale Labour Party, for whom Smith was a councillor and latterly mayor (1952-1966) when most of the alleged offences took place. But I guess that none of the Labour hierarchy of those days have survived, which is why Danczuk feels safe in publishing his book now.