Clegg's not-so-liberal stance

The Lib-Dem leader has pulled off a coup but much of what he says is laughable


By the time you read this, the third and final television debate between the leaders of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties will have taken place.
Whatever else happens on polling day, it is clear that these debates have changed the terms upon which political discourse is conducted in this country.

To some extent, the outcome of the poll is going to be decided by the public's perception of the party leaders based on how they have performed in these debates.

There is no point in regretting this. When Gladstone conducted an unprecedented public campaign against Disraeli in the 1870s, some in the political classes were scandalised. But Gladstone was nothing if not a great orator, and his oratory won the day. Another turning point came in the 1930s, when Neville Chamberlain exploited the power of the cinema newsreel to explain the fiscal policies that pulled this country out of the Depression. Here was the Chancellor of the Exchequer talking directly to the nation. It was a brilliant strategy.

It is clear that Nick Clegg, the Lib-Dem leader, has also pulled off a coup. Given the electoral system we have for parliamentary elections, third parties face an uphill struggle to get anything approximating to their fair share of seats. Clegg has exploited the power of television to turn next week's election into a genuine three-horse race. It is entirely possible that those of us who decide not to stay awake as the votes are counted will wake up next Friday morning not merely to the reality of a "hung" parliament but to another reality, that the number of Lib-Dem MPs is so great that this party can dictate - or at least strongly influence - who forms the next government, and who is in its Cabinet.

Would Nick Clegg oppose peace plans not admitting Israel’s Jewishness?

In last week's JC, Jewish Lib-Dem politician Lynne Featherstone appealed to Jewish voters in an attempt to counteract the notion that her party is indelibly biased against Israel and Zionism.

Nick Clegg's record in this regard is undeniable. In January 2009 he called for EU sanctions against Israel, including an arms embargo. In December 2009, he publicly condemned Israel for having caused a "humanitarian crisis" in Gaza, and again called for EU pressure on Israel (and Egypt) to lift restrictions on imports into the area.

May I also draw your attention to the address given by Mr Clegg to the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism last June? Fielding questions after that lecture, the Lib-Dem leader seemed to question the idea that Israel was, or should be, a Jewish state.

Added to which, we must recall his foot-dragging over the maverick Baroness Tonge, whom he has disciplined in the mildest way possible but from whom he has not withdrawn the Liberal whip.

Some of you may say that, whatever his views on Israel, Nick Clegg is nonetheless a firm friend of the Jewish people, and that it is dangerously simplistic to judge him, let alone his party - from a Jewish perspective - on his remarks during the Gaza crisis a year and more ago.

Some of you may say (and I would agree with you) that there are plenty of committed Jews and committed Zionists in the Liberal Democrat party. Indeed there are. But all I have upon which to judge its leader are the pronouncements that he has made and that he has not made. For instance, I have not heard Mr Clegg condemn Hamas's prejudice against Jews. Yes, he has condemned Hamas rocket attacks upon Israel. But not Hamas's refusal to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

If Mr Clegg were in government, would he oppose any Middle East peace plan that did not recognise and protect the Jewishness of this Jewish state?

When, during the TV debate last week, Nick Clegg had the chutzpah to accuse David Cameron of consorting (in Europe) with "nutters" and "antisemites", I laughed out loud.

It would do no harm if the committed Jews and Zionists in his party were to remind Nick Clegg that his party was the party of the Zionist David Lloyd George as well as of the antisemite W E Gladstone, and that this self-same party, which now numbers Jennifer Tonge in its ranks, was once proud to have chosen Herbert, Viscount Samuel as its leader.

    Last updated: 10:49am, July 9 2010

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