During a long drive on Thursday, I listened to Richard Bacon interviewing Paddy Ashdown about his new book and current LD politics.
There was the usual absurdity of comparing the UK with Greece. That the UK had the same level of debt as the Greeks but by going into coalition with the Tories, the LDs had ‘put the national interest first’ and ‘succeeded’ in keeping our interest rates low. The fact that the UK is not at all like Greece; that the UK is not part of the Eurozone, and has its own currency and central bank, was never mentioned or even questioned. The perpetuation of this mythology is economically illiterate and/or profoundly economical with the truth.
I was, however, astonished to hear that Nick Clegg is by far the most talented of our political leaders; that he is enjoying every moment of being in government, and that he was courageous in having apologised for pledging to abolish tuition fees.
Additionally, Nick Clegg just loves the spoof video clip of his ‘saying sorry’, just as Paddy had loved his ‘Spitting image’ puppet (!). This was followed by a great deal of the usual nonsense about the LDs having shown that Coalitions ‘do work’, and even though the LDs loathe the Tories, they had put that to one side in order to rescue the UK in its hour of crisis. A crisis entirely created by the irresponsible government of Gordon Brown … a risible contention on a par with the UK being like Greece, or Nick Clegg being by far the most talented of our political leaders.
The conversation then moved on to the new book but as a final question, Richard Bacon asked about the possibility that there might have been some sort of coalition with Tony Blair in 1997, and that Gordon Brown had offered Paddy Ashdown the chance to be Northern Ireland Secretary of State.
“Yes’ said Paddy Ashdown. He’d had a lot of discussions with Tony Blair. They had agreed on a great deal but when it came to it, Tony Blair had wanted to amalgamate the LDs into the LP and that was something that Paddy Ashdown would never do because British politics would be the poorer without the LDs.
Richard Bacon expressed great surprise that Paddy Ashdown had not taken the opportunity to be a Minister, a last chance to be in government. “No” said Paddy Ashdown. He would never have compromised his principles by being in a Gordon Brown government with which he fundamentally disagreed. The problem for him was ‘collective responsibility’. How could he have been put in the position of appearing to support policies that violated his political beliefs?
Which rather begged the question as to what Nick Clegg is up to?
Is Paddy Ashdown calling the ‘talented’ Mr Clegg, a hypocrite, who has compromised his principles by accepting ‘collective responsibility’ from the loathed Tory Cabinet. A step, which would be going far too far for Paddy Ashdown to contemplate?
Or is Paddy Ashdown implying that Nick Clegg substantially agrees with Tory policies and economic strategy? In which case why does he maintain that Nick Clegg loathes the Tories?
And why exactly does Paddy Ashdown favour coalition government and PR?
Given that the very essence of PR is that most governments would be coalitions, how does Paddy Ashdown reconcile that, with his strongly stated position about the impossibility of working with governments that do not reflect his own principles…?
And if that government does reflect his own views (as he said Tony Blair’s did), then why wouldn’t he join together with that political party? Are we to understand that British politics would be the poorer without the LDs because it would diminish the opportunities for a third grouping of political careerists to enjoy ministerial power/cars?
As they say ‘Give a Liberal Democrat grandee enough rope, and they may hang their whole party by disclosing its innate contradictions and opportunism’.