Nick Clegg: ‘I was one of the most vociferous advocates against another coalition’

In an interview with The Independent Mr Clegg says the general election is a 'huge opportunity' for his successor Tim Farron to capitalise on the on the transformation of the political landscape in Britain over the last two years

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Indy Politics

Nick Clegg says he has been passionately advocating against a second coalition in Liberal Democrat circles, insisting there is “no glue” to hold together another government with either the Conservatives or Labour.

Mr Clegg, the former deputy Prime Minister, who took a leap into the political unknown seven years ago to enter, with David Cameron, into the first coalition government since 1945, now believes such an alliance with Theresa May is “nonsense” and his party would never dignify the current “collusion” between the Tories and Ukip regarding Brexit.

In an interview with The Independent on the day before Parliament was dissolved, the former Liberal Democrat leader, who led the party to a calamitous near-wipeout at the last general election, said the forthcoming vote was a “huge opportunity” for his successor Tim Farron to capitalise on the transformation of the political landscape in Britain over the last two years.

Asked whether he was optimistic about the prospects for a revival of the party, he said: “We can’t do much worse than 2015. So I think the only way is up.”

He believes – barring a dramatic event in the next four weeks – Ms May will remain in Downing Street on 9 June.

But he criticised the Conservative party for treating the general election as a “regal procession” and a “coronation rather than a contest”.

“It’s an odd election,” he added. “The question really isn’t who is going to be in government, it’s who is going oppose them [the Conservatives] and who is going to oppose them well.

“They have this praetorian guard in the right-wing press that will sort of kneecap anybody who stands in their way and Jeremy Corbyn is helping tremendously with this hapless leadership of the Labour party. It’s very, very likely Theresa May will be Prime Minister and then the question really becomes what kind of majority does she get, what kind of mandate does she get and how will she continue to be held to account for what I regard to be a series of very bad choices in terms of the future that she wants to impose on this country.”


Asked whether Mr Farron was right to categorically rule out entering another coalition after the election, should the situation arise, he responded: “Quite right too. In the discussions we had amongst ourselves as Liberal Democrats, I was probably one of the most vociferous advocates of that because times have changed completely.

“When I was leader a long time ago now, prior to the 2010 election, the essay question for the Liberal Democrats was 'Would we step up to the plate in the wake of the terrible financial crisis in 2008 to provide responsible government for the country?' Now the essay question is entirely different – it is 'Will we stand up to the plate to provide effective opposition?'”

The “big prize” for the Liberal Democrats, he added, is to “return back into the hands of the British people the right to decide their own future once we know what the Brexit deal is” in the form of a second referendum. “That of course is best done by reinforcing presence on the opposition benches,” he said.

“You have now a Government with some very powerful vested interests, some of these moneyed, rather shadowy elites that have financed the Brexit campaign in the first place.

“The idea the Liberal Democrats are going to participate in that is of course a nonsense. It is diametrically opposed to everything we believe in, it is a very odd union of this methodical Prime Minister and rather shadowy, unaccountable elites, who have managed to shape the public debate in a way in which pursues their ends: not only the United Kingdom leaving the European Union but doing so in order to covert the United Kingdom thereafter into a sort of low-tax, offshore economy. That is an ideological journey that is absolutely contrary to everything that liberalism and the Liberal Democrats stand for.”

Mr Clegg said in 2010 there was a “meeting point” for a coalition. “We needed to do something exceptional to pull the country back from the economic brink and that was something which, in a sense, the glue that held the coalition together,” he added.

“There’s no such glue at all.”

But the former leader of the Liberal Democrats refused to choose whom he would he would prefer as Prime Minister in four weeks’ time. “It’s such an invidious choice I couldn’t possibly choose,” he laughed. “I think the sort of slightly self-indulgent nostalgia you’ve got in the leadership of the Labour party is as damaging as the sort of divisive, Ukip-lite approach to life that we now have from the Conservative party. There are millions of people in the country who I suspect feel pretty hopeless at the moment politically."

Mr Clegg was last photographed with his old coalition partner Mr Cameron at the Ivy Brasserie in Kensington, west London, as the pair had breakfast together. But he refused to divulge in any details of the conversation. “We had a cup of coffee and a light breakfast if you really must know,” he said. “Much though we disagree on all sorts of things, not least Europe, we had worked together for many years so we were just catching up.

“Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a get-together for public consumption.”

Asked if the coalition he agreed to enter seven years ago had been a mistake, he replied: “Clearly not a mistake from the country’s point [of view].

“The record shows it was a remarkably stable and moderate government compared to what we now have. It was a remarkably stable government compared to all the governments that were toppling in the rest of Europe – and we did some really big, progressive things.

“The tragedy is, we were hardly thanked for it, to it put it mildly. The moment the reins came off the Conservatives they screwed it all up again. Having worked so painstakingly to put Humpty Dumpty back together again after the economic damage of 2008, they’ve now gone a blown a £59bn further Brexit black hole in our public finances.”

But the issue of tuition fees remains something that has tarnished his record and still continues to blight the prospects the Liberal Democrats, especially among younger voters.

At the beginning of this month, Mr Clegg faced a grilling from the ITV Good Morning Presenter Piers Morgan over the coalition’s decision to treble fees for students – and became visibly infuriated, describing Mr Morgan as “pompous”.

“To be honest, he likes the sound of his own voice too much. I was more sort of thinking 'Am I ever going to have a minute to say anything?'” added Mr Clegg.

Nick Clegg calls Piers Morgan 'pompous' and 'extraordinary' during interview

“He’s like a lot of self-absorbed people, he loves the sound of his own voice. To be honest I was just reacting to the idea that we had a few precious minutes together on television and it was taken up by the sound of his own voice.”

The former Lib Dem leader, however, concedes that the decision was something “immensely damaging to us politically”.

“We had choices to make,” he adds. “There just wasn’t enough money to do everything we did, so the choices we made, I think will stand the test of time. We chose to invest in the poorest kids at the youngest point in their lives.

“Here’s the really uncompromising truth: I am not the first and I won’t be the last politician who found he couldn’t do exactly what he wanted in power than he had hoped in opposition."