Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Nick Clegg: Utterly Useless

If the Liberal Democrats had any powerful men-in-grey-suits they should be striding towards Mr Clegg's office tonight to give him the roasting of his political life. His populist position on the Lisbon Treaty has failed on all fronts and now he must face the public backlash and the political crisis within his own party. How has it come to this?

Well, for reasons best left to Mr Clegg he decided against sticking to his 2005 election committment and backing a public poll on the Lisbon Treaty. Quite why is beyond me, but never mind. He then thought up a huge wheeze - go for the big referendum on the "in-out" question; he'll look mildly euro-realistic, it'll be an elephant trap for the Tory right and gets him out of his Lisbon hole. One problem - it was a rubbish plan.

Immediately people like me, who want Britain to say in Europe but don't see the need for a constitution/treaty would be disenfranchised. It's like saying if you won't play football then you won't play any ball game at all. Europe-with-Lisbon or no Europe at all. Actually, Mr Clegg, I want to be in Europe but without Lisbon. I want to play Rugby (if you follow my point).

Now Mr Clegg could have hidden behind political obscurity and hope nobody noticed this blunder, but then a dozen or so of his parliamentary party promised their electorate they'd vote for a referendum and this blew the lid off the plan. Again, Nick Clegg could have dealt with this - but he insisted on having a massive LibDem frontbench (half his party count as such) and so consequently a few of them held important posts and so having them resign looks bad.

He might still have escapes, but then he went on Newsnight last night and totally humiliated himself; firstly by being savaged by Paxo and then saying that Brown was u-turning but, of course, he wasn't at all... And then he chose the most barking of views; that he should three line whip his MPs into abstaining! So he's prepared to force his own side to resign over not making up their mind!

And today three senior members of his party quit and, from what I hear in Norwich, his party grassroots are in uproar. Not helped by the fact that 63 will be his magic number - the number of votes that the referendum was defeated by and also the number of MPs in his party.

So, Nick Clegg is utterly humiliated in a political crisis entirely of his own making. He could have avoided this at several points and didn't.

This issue is no longer about Europe, it's about Clegg's judgement. He should go home, learn the lessons, make up with his own party ... then start working on his reshuffle. Because I'm pretty sure a few LibDem MPs will be going to home to think about their future under Clegg.

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