Monday, August 30, 2004

Modest aspirations

According to The Times today (actually, a re-run of a story published by the Guardian three weeks ago) Nick Clegg, the former Lib-Dim MEP – described as “one of Charles Kennedy's brightest politicians" (but let's face it, he doesn't have a great deal of competition) - has urged the Liberal Democrats "to adopt a more critical tone towards the European Union".

If they do not, Clegg warns, they risk being seen as out of touch with ordinary voters.

Showing how much he himself is in tough, he notes that the Lib-Dims "are too easily caricatured as doctrinaire supporters of the EU who are unwilling to admit its failings". Apart from the "caricatured" bit, he is spot on.

Clegg's recipe for success is that his Party should "listen to and articulate the doubts and complaints of the majority of people who are neither for nor against but agnostic about Europe". The party should be as critical of decision-making in Europe as it would in any other forum.

However, this is not being "Eurosceptic" – oh no… "Being pro-European is perfectly compatible with legitimate doubts", says Clegg (tell that to MacShame), who then goes on to argue that some powers should be returned from Brussels to Whitehall: chiefly responsibility for social policy and labour market regulations, regional aid and the Common Agricultural Policy.

All this and more is set out in a book due to be published next month, called "The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism", written by party frontbenchers. Amongst other things, it stresses the importance of voluntarism, self-help and self-government above that of the state. The aim is also to show that the Liberal Democrats are now a grown-up force in British politics.

Amazingly, the idea is also to demonstrate that the Lib-Dims have "a front bench that is the intellectual match of the Conservatives".

We knew things were bad in British politics, but even we had no idea that the Lib-Dims had such modest aspirations.

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