Nick Clegg: it's the Daily Mail that really hates Britain

"It seems to me that if anyone excels in denigrating and often vilifying a lot about modern Britain, it's the Daily Mail," says Clegg on his LBC show.

One of the ironies of the Daily Mail's smearing of Ralph Miliband - "the man who hated Britain" - is how vulnerable the paper, with its loathing of multiculturalism, the BBC, the welfare state and immigration, is to the same charge. On his LBC phone-in this morning, Nick Clegg became the first politician to make this point, and did so brilliantly. 

He said

My honest reaction was that when I heard the Daily Mail accusing someone of saying that they did not like Britain, I'm not a regular reader of this newspaper but every time I do open it, it just seems to be overflowing with bile about modern Britain. They don't like working mothers, they don't like the BBC, they don't like members of the royal family, they don't like teachers, they don't like the English football team. The list goes on. So talk about kettles and pots ... It seems to me that if anyone excels in denigrating and often vilifying a lot about modern Britain, it's the Daily Mail.

The Lib Dem leader and the Mail have, of course, never seen eye-to-eye. At the height of Cleggmania, the paper ran a memorable hit-piece accusing him of a "Nazi slur on Britain". 

The smear was based on a 2002 Guardian piece written by Clegg in which he wrote: "All nations have a cross to bear, and none more so than Germany with its memories of Nazism. But the British cross is more insidious still.

"A misplaced sense of superiority, sustained by delusions of grandeur and a tenacious obsession with the last war, is much harder to shake off. We need to be put back in our place."

In the case of Ralph Miliband, the paper similarly misrepresented his words, in this instance an adolescent diary entry, to claim that he hated Britain (the similarity between his and Clegg's observations is striking). As a 17-year-old Jewish refugee, Miliband wrote: "The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world…You sometimes want them almost to lose [the war] to show them how things are. They have the greatest contempt for the continent. To lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation."

The earlier Clegg affair is a reminder that the paper has form in this area and that its past support for fascism has never restrained it from lecturing others. 

Nick Clegg speaks at the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2013 in New York. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era