Clegg’s banker bashing leaves him dangerously exposed

The Lib Dem leader was foolish to declare he wanted to “wring” the bankers’ necks.

If there is a non-aggression pact between the banks and the government, someone forgot to tell Nick Clegg. In an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield earlier today, the Lib Dem leader said of the denizens of the Square Mile, "I want to wring the neck of these wretched people." It's a rather graphic example of his pledge to use a "different language" from David Cameron and an obvious sop to his party's grass roots.

But the remarks also leave him dangerously exposed. Clegg's insistence that he wants to "wring" the bankers' necks invites an obvious response: why haven't you, then? The failure of Project Merlin to take effective action on bonuses and lending levels means that he sounds like an impotent opposition politician.

Should the coalition fail to prevent another bumper round of bonuses in 2012 (as it undoubtedly will), Clegg's words will be played back to him by every hostile journalist and Labour MP in the land. Like his pledge to vote against higher tuition fees and his description of the Alternative Vote as a "miserable little compromise", this is one line that Clegg's political opponents will never tire of recycling.

His comments also remind us of the divisions between the Lib Dems and the Tories on the banks. The Deputy PM has aligned himself with Vince Cable, who recently condemned large bonuses as "offensive" and said the banks needed "fundamental surgery". Once the Vickers commission on banking reports to George Osborne, the coalition will need to decide whether to split retail and investment banking.

Cable and Clegg are convinced of the need for reform, but many Tories remain sceptical at best. Should the Lib Dems fail to win the argument, Clegg will once again be accused of talking tough but acting weak.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I'm a Remain voter who feels optimistic about Brexit - here's why

Take back control is more than just a slogan. 

Most politics geeks have found themselves deliciously sucked into a soap opera over the last few days. It’s fast-paced, personality-based and ripe for speculation. But underneath it all, the deeper, harder questions remain – what does Brexit look like, and how can we make it work?

When news of Leave’s victory broke in the early hours of Friday morning (is it possible that was just a week ago?) I felt like the only Remain voter who had some kind of optimism. Fellow Remainers still reeling from the result berate me for it, but I continue to find two reasons for hope.

First, leaving gives us a chance to build a different type of economy. I don’t wish to belittle the recent economic fallout, but with the right leadership and negotiations, we could use this moment to push for an increase in trade with the Commonwealth and beyond. A fall in the pound will disappoint many, but it could help with a much needed rebalancing of our economy, moving from one predominantly based on financial services in London to manufacturing across the regions. 

Second – and perhaps more importantly – leaving is a chance to rebuild our politics. For too long, millions of people in this country have felt ignored or exploited by those who call themselves democratic leaders. In protest, they have left mainstream parties to join UKIP or the hordes of non-voters. In winning this referendum, they have finally been listened to. Perhaps the pressure cooker of discontent can finally be taken off the boil. Perhaps parties can use this result as a chance to rebuild trust and shake up some of our other institutions that are badly in need of reform. 

This point was really brought home to me by a student in the school where I teach. The morning of the referendum she told me that she didn’t think we’d leave the EU, even if the people voted for it. Her friends agreed, saying it was “weird you have to vote in pencil”. They were scared the people’s voice could so easily be rubbed out. When I saw her the next day, a small part of me was relieved that these students had seen that people can genuinely trump the establishment. 

If you’re not convinced, just imagine the backlash if Remain had won by a point or two. We almost certainly would then have voted in an extremely right-wing government, much the same way that the SNP saw a boost after they lost the independence referendum last year. 

Of course, a positive path for Brexit is far from guaranteed. Any leader that goes back on the vote, or tries to fudge it by saying that open borders are a price worth paying, is going to do worse than plummet in the polls - they are going to undermine our entire democracy. And a whole generation’s trust in politicians is already dangerously low.

But this doesn’t have to be a moment for the right. Good leaders understand that Leave’s “take back control” message was about a genuine concern with our borders. Great leaders will acknowledge that it also reflected a deeper concern about the need for agency. They understand the vote was a rejection of a neoliberal approach to the economy that fails to make space for well-paid work, family and community.

The public voted for decreased pressure on public services and a Britain that would negotiate as hard in India as it would in Germany for trade deals. They voted to end a perceived overcentralisation of power by elites, and create a more democratic Britain that gives more dignity to its people. I might not have believed that leaving the EU was the best way to achieve these things, but I’m on the left because I believe we are best placed to make these desires real.  

The vote to Leave or Remain was a binary decision. But Brexit is not. What type of path we take now depends entirely on the direction we choose, and the perseverance we show along the way.

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham