Nick Clegg prior to giving a television interview during a visit to Hughes Safety Showers on May 21, 2014 in Stockport, England. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Clegg should tell the rebels to "put up or shut up"

The Lib Dem leader should seek a renewed mandate from his party.

"I intend to march my troops towards the sound of gunfire" is a famous quote much loved by all Lib Dems from one of our most revered leaders, Jo Grimond. Right now, the gunfire is not coming from the right or left or ahead of the party leader. It’s small, but it’s none the less significant. And it’s coming from behind him. And so the question is, what should Nick do about it?

Can I suggest Nick considers whether the best course of action is to march towards the sound of gunfire, and if he should be saying "put up or shut up". The received wisdom is that this is naïve politics at best, a suicide mission at worst (and folk in Great George Street are already yelling, "you’re an idiot", as they read this no doubt).Why on earth would a party leader do this when he doesn't "need" to?  Certainly, it seems unlikely that any of the party’s constitutional triggers for an election are going to be met. But never the less, that drip drip drip of poison is going to keep seeping away at Nick’s leadership.

But, if he called for an election - what then? We’re a one member one vote party, with the election decided by STV. So there’s no possibility of a stalking horse candidate coming forward, eliminating Nick in some first round before bowing out gracefully. No – there’s just one round of voting, so it really is put up or shut up. And I don’t think anyone will put up.

And then it’s done. There’ll either be no other candidate – and Nick goes forward with clear mandate. Or there is – and there’s a contest over the summer and we come back with a leader who the whole party has had a chance to (re)elect – which I suspect will still be Nick Clegg. And the boil is lanced.

There are many in the party who say that latter scenario is the nightmare one, where the party spends several months fighting itself. That’s probably true. So, a bit like...well, right now really. But I don’t think the summer of infighing will take place. Because I don’t think anyone will stand against Nick. So Nick – may I recommend another military quote to you: "My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking."

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.