Donald Macintyre's Sketch: We heard Nick Clegg’s apocalyptic rhetoric on Europe loud and clear

 

Nick Clegg’s first words were “I hope you can all hear me”; puzzlingly, since he was speaking through a microphone and there were only a couple of dozen of us in the audience.

Indeed, we were in an East London machine tool factory so clean and under-populated that for a wild moment you wondered if the Liberal  Democrats had suddenly come into the money and splashed out on a pop-up shopfloor just so its leader could look visionary in front of something European called an optical sorter.

But fine a setting as the Buhler Sortex plant was for spelling out why we need the EU, why was he so far from base, since he had to hasten back to a Cabinet meeting?

Come to think of it, was that it – a convenient way of avoiding too many questions on Norman Baker’s conspiracy theories? Or could he have wanted somewhere conveniently out of the way to road-test his rhetoric?

Which he certainly needs to do. Mixed metaphor alert! “This idea that we pull up the drawbridge, drift away from our neighbourhood….. only to float around in some new network of relationships, is a nonsense.” Better – just – to have stuck to the script which said “pull up the anchor”. Instead, we thought, not for the first time, of Clegg building castles in the air.

“Let me be absolutely clear: leaving the EU would be economic suicide,” he said before adding: “You cannot overstate the damage it would do to British livelihoods and prosperity.” Hang on, Nick, you can and you just did. We’re totally on your side, but isn’t “suicide” just a teeny weeny bit exaggerated?

That said, the sound bytes were pretty good: “Ludicrous mythmaking of the isolationists”; “Politics masquerading as patriotism”; “Criminals cross borders. So must we”.

And he was saying what Ed Miliband and David Cameron almost certainly think but dare not say at present – even if he had an apocalyptic way with the words:  “The day I dread–the day I never hope to see – is a time when it is all too late: Britain has stumbled out of the EU, and we look back at those days and say we should have done more.”

Can it be long before we see pro-European Liberal Democrat posters modelled on the old World War I recruiting ads: “Daddy, what did you do in the run-up to the Great Referendum?”

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