Clegg forgets own article calling for EU Referendum


8:40 am - January 16th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    


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Yesterday on the Today Programme, Nick Clegg was asked about the EU Referendum.

Clegg said the coalition had already legislated for a referendum if powers were to be transferred from Britain to Brussels: “I don’t think it’s wise to add to that with a degree of uncertainty which will have a chilling effect on jobs and growth.”

Jobs were more important than an “arcane debate” he said, and even questioned whether a referendum was necessary.

Today presenter Justin Webb then referred to a Lib Dem election leaflet calling for an in/out referendum on the EU.

Here it is (via George Eaton)

Clegg dismissed this leaflet by saying he couldn’t remember it and it didn’t take away from his point that it was the manifesto commitment that was key, not the leaflet.

But Nick Clegg didn’t just conveniently forget that leaflet, but an article under his own name unambiguously calling for an EU Referendum.

In an article titled ‘Ask the under-50s‘ he wrote in 2008:

It’s time we pulled out the thorn and healed the wound, time for a debate politicians have been too cowardly to hold for 30 years – time for a referendum on the big question. Do we want to be in or out? Nobody in Britain under the age of 51 has ever been asked that simple question. None of them were eligible to vote in that 1975 referendum. That includes half of all MPs. Two generations have never had their say.

That’s why the Liberal Democrats are putting down amendments in the Commons this week to provide the real referendum on Europe that people have been denied for too long. A national debate would show that Britain is immeasurably better off in the EU. We want a referendum on Europe with substance. This generation deserves its chance to say where we stand on Europe – in or out.

Nick Clegg now thinks having this referendum and a debate is a bad idea. Fair enough.

But isn’t it disingenuous to pretend that he was never unambiguously in favour of an EU Referendum in the first place?

This isn’t the only such case

On Friday last week, on Any Questions, Simon Hughes said the Lib Dems had “never believed” that membership of the Euro was right for the UK. (hat tip Tom Bailey)

Listen here (46 min in)

But that is also rubbish. The Lib Dem 1997 manifesto says:

Lower inflation and greater exchange rate stability can be better secured by working with Britain’s European partners. The best framework for this is a single European currency and it is in Britain’s interests to take part in this.

Seriously guys – get your story straight at least!

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


I am shocked that the Lib Dems are trying to be on both sides of an issue.

2. Richard Carey

Good work, Sunny.

I think it would be good to print off a few of those leaflets and hang around Westminster, see if I can get any Lib Dems to sign them.

Apart from the Yes/No referendum there is the euro question:

“Lower inflation and greater exchange rate stability can be better secured by working with Britain’s European partners. The best framework for this is a single European currency and it is in Britain’s interests to take part in this.”
With hindsight, those words sound terrible. Eurozone inflation is real (ask any consumer) yet lost in statistical translation. Exhange rate stability is bought thanks to the low deficit dogma and sometimes merciless austerity.
To be fair, I was also for the euro before and when it was introduced. But… “When the facts change, I change my mind.” Those words from Keynes are maybe on Nick Clegg’s mind.
A referendum is needed. And the sooner the better.

but the important thing the electorate want to know is did he leave home without his f**king onsie

5. Richard Carey

“When the facts change, I change my mind.”

A clever turn of phrase to avoid admitting he had no sound basis for his polemics. Facts don’t actually change.

Simon Hughes, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, informed Friday’s Any Questions audience that his party had never been in favour of joining the euro at the given time rather than merely in principle, and that “We are a lot better off with our own currency, thank you very much.” But then, he abstained on Maastricht, while Sir Nick Harvey, as he now is, went so far as to vote against it.

I am not convinced that most Lib Dems are all that pro-EU at all. I have a strong suspicion that they are more like the characters in Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. One by one, each of the members of an anarchist cell turns out to be an undercover policeman.

Vicious campaigners though they undeniably are, there really are Lib Dems, doubtless clear majorities of their members and voters, and probably even of their MPs and Peers, who believe profoundly in the election, appropriate or otherwise, of pretty much everything that exercises any sort of power.

In absolute openness and freedom of information, prudent or otherwise. In the highest possible degree, sensible or otherwise, of decentralisation and localism. In the heritage of uncompromising opposition to political extremism everywhere from Moscow to Pretoria abroad, and from the Communist Party to the Monday Club at home.

In (unlike me) the tradition of anti-protectionism against everyone from nineteenth-century agricultural Tories to 1970s industrial trade unionists. In the rural Radicalism that has always stood against the pouring of lucre into the pockets of the landlords. And in the interests of the arc of Lib Dem fishing seats from Cornwall via North Norfolk, Berwick, and North East Fife, to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

Mild to strong Eurosceptics, including a goodly number of the latter, probably keep quiet within the Lib Dems because they assume that they are a tiny minority. But I bet that they are not. In fact, I bet that they are not really a minority at all. And now, they have to make legislative and executive decisions.

Ed Davey is in the Cabinet, while the similarly non-Eurofanatical David Heath and Norman Lamb are on the cusp of it, with Alistair Carmichael as the party’s Chief and the Government’s Deputy Chief Whip. Heath, as Deputy Leader of the House, also has an important role in progressing business.

The Party President, Tim Farron, is very much of the same mind as Simon Hughes, on this as on most other things. Longstanding readers will be aware of my view that David Laws belongs in the same prison as anyone who had stolen that much in Housing Benefit. But the fact remains that he is not.

And Vince Cable has proposed an industrial strategy wholly incompatible with the Eurofederalist project, as in fact any industrial strategy is; it has only taken the SDP 30 years to catch up with the Labour right-wingers, for want of a better term, whom they left behind.

7. Richard Carey

@ David,

you’re wrong, I fear. If you showed the average Lib Dem a book by Sir Ernest Benn or another old-school liberal they’d recoil in horror at such reactionary ideas as personal integrity, morality and opposition to government intervention.

They may believe in principle in democracy, which could lead them to oppose the Brussels project, but they delude themselves that the answer to this massive contradiction is to democratise the EU – which ain’t gonna happen.

8. Chaise Guevara

@ Richard Carey

“A clever turn of phrase to avoid admitting he had no sound basis for his polemics. Facts don’t actually change.”

New facts arise, and the available information changes. It’s not just a clever turn of phrase, it’s a vital attitude if you don’t want to spend your entire life bullheadedly wrong about almost everything.


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