The last time I took any interest in the figures, the Lib Dems had around 100,000 members. It would probably be fair to say that I’m in the top 1% of those people with regards to my support of the former leader and Deputy Prime Minister. I have written many blog posts defending Nick Clegg but the moment I saw the words that he’d typed out in his Financial Times column, I knew it was going to be a lightning rod for criticism.
The premise of the piece is that freedom of movement within the European Union shouldn’t be a given. An unchallenged principle. He puts forward that this is the right time to look at reforming both internal and external immigration. If they did this then it would grease the wheels between the UK and the other 27 states.
It is probably accurate to say that immigration played a significant role in the outcome of the EU Referendum in 2016. If being part of the EU came with an opt-out of freedom of movement then I suspect that would be sufficient for enough people who voted Leave to have actually voted Remain. The problem in this scenario is that this option wasn’t on the table and is goes against a fundamental principle of the modern EU.
When Nick Clegg penned the article, he knew it would fly in the face of what many grass root Lib Dems believe. He’s never been one to be overtly political when it comes to appeasing the members, so putting forth such an opinion shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. With his political ambitions seemingly in his rear view mirror, it has allowed him to be even more bold in airing his points of view.
When I first read the piece and saw some of the responses from the Twitterati, I thought back to how Labour members now view Tony Blair. It seems that political parties are broad coalitions of people who generally have similar views but don’t always think the same. When one leader comes then a significant number of the membership will shy away. When they go these people may come back and get more involved with those that strongly supposed the previous leader stepping back. Tony Blair is a swear word within Labour at the moment and Nick Clegg isn’t too far away from that within the Lib Dems.
This is why Tim Farron probably got more leash than he arguably should have had. The membership after 2015 didn’t want another Centrist and instead wanted someone untainted from the coalition. Had Nick Clegg had such a gay sex issue that Tim Farron seems to hold then the clamour to remove him would’ve been far more fierce than it was for the leader who led the party into the 2017 General Election.
Still, Clegg’s name is far more muddied than Farron’s. This column will not have helped. On one hand you can put your own views to one side and understand that maybe it is a debate worth having. I wouldn’t personally say it was but you can at least understand that point of view. Well I can anyway. Yet all that will come about from this piece is more Lib Dems will deride Nick Clegg and look forward to him leaving the party. If he resigned then many would rejoice. This is part of the problem within political parties, many people only want those who agree with them on every issue to be fellow members. If you have a differing position to the majority then you are pilloried.
The truth is across Europe, more people are questioning both the internal and external migration situation. On a personal level, I believe migration across the Globe should be far more open than it is. We are but one race and are all supposedly born equal. Should where you are a born give someone more of a birthright to live and work somewhere? Should an Englishman have more or less of a right to live and work in England compared to someone from say Nigeria or Costa Rica? It may sound a bit Utopian but I believe borders should be even more open.
Yet even though I believe in that, I can understand that the majority of people disagree and that the idea of Freedom of Movement within the European Union shouldn’t be unchallenged. I can disagree with Nick Clegg without hating on the man. Sadly we are at the point where discussion and nuance has become a tiny part of political discourse. Now we only see headlines and compare them to our personal beliefs.
Politics is poorer these days and the reaction to this article is a prime example of why. On a day when Theresa May promised £20bn for the NHS but pretty much refused to say how she’d pay for it, the Lib Dem membership are concentrated on an article from their former leader about how to make membership of the EU work better for those that are sceptical. Kicking Nick Clegg has become a comfort blanket, just like Labour members love kicking Tony Blair.
Disagreement is normal in both life and politics. Just because someone floats an idea different to what you think doesn’t make them bad. It means they are tackling an issue from a contrasting angle and that is rarely a bad thing. If we all had a hive mind, we’d be a cult and UK politics already has one of them, it doesn’t need another…
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