Clegg deserves the chance to finish what he's started

Despite what some on the left of the Lib Dems claim, we’re living out our principles in government.

Mathew Hulbert's piece calling for Nick Clegg to stand down is as wrong as I've ever seen any Lib Dem be. Mathew has badly interpreted the party and shown ignorance about its history and politics.

He states that that he is "in mourning" for a party that "believes in very little that it once held dear" but his examples aren’t just weak, they’re plain wrong. He mourns that the party did not vote for the 50p tax rate at conference, which present as totemic of our history. But while Mathew is technically correct that we have never believed in a 45p rate, the 50p rate hasn’t been in a manifesto for nearly 10 years. Our policy has traditionally been maintaining a 40p top rate, whilst shifting taxes to wealth. He also rails against the party for supporting a replacement for Trident. Except Lib Dem policy in 2010 was to find a smaller, cheaper Trident – we've never been anti-nuclear weapons.

Next, Hulbert argues that Nick Clegg wants to turn us into a British version of the German FDP, who he describes as a "parasitical attachment" to Merkel's CDU. He goes on to say that this must not be the aim of the Lib Dems. But this is a straw man; I don’t know a single Lib Dem who’d agree with him. Yes, we’re pitching for another term in government but we’ve said we’ll talk to whoever the public wants us to. If we aren’t aiming for government, there’s even less point to our existence than many of the commentators on the piece will claim.

Finally, Hulbert cites Clegg’s answer to Linda Jack during his Q&A at conference. Jack is one of the awkward squad, a lady for whom I have much respect, but we agree on little. Her group, Liberal Left, of which Mathew is a member, seeks permanent realignment of the Lib Dems with the left. Put simply, they want to be a "parasitical attachment" to Labour.

Every day we’re living out our principles in government. We’ve curtailed the worst of Tory excesses whilst lowering tax on the poor, introducing the pupil premium, attempting to reform our broken political system and so much more. We haven’t got everything, but that’s because we only have 57 MPs. We’ve accepted some bitter pills, but then so have the Conservatives.

What stands as a testament to Clegg’s character is his continuing leadership. He has lead us into government for the first time in decades and withstood the barrage of hatred directed at him from both left and right. His value is again growing with many recognising the strength he has shown throughout his leadership.

We have achieved so much so far, whether it's the fantastic free school meals policy, or raising the tax threshold for the poorest workers in society. There’s so much more still to push for. 

Clegg has some of the sharpest liberal instincts in politics, there’s no one ready to replace him yet and to do so would be foolhardy. He deserves the chance to finish what he’s started.

Andrew Emmerson is a Liberal Democrat activist and Liberal Youth Non-Portfolio Officer

Nick Clegg delivers his speech at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.

Andrew Emmerson is a Liberal Democrat activist and Liberal Youth Non-Portfolio Officer

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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.