News that former Member of Parliament and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has taken a job with Facebook, as Head of Global Affairs, has raised a few eyebrows as he has, in past times, been critical of the company and social media generally. The only really surprising thing about this is that Facebook could not find a more suitable press and public relationship professional to be their new spin-doctor.
Clegg has u-turned, flip-flopped, done a volte-face here, another there, and changed his mind and, while leading it, his party’s policies more than almost any other politician (or former politician) in living memory.
The most notorious of Clegg’s about-faces was over tuition fees; having promised to get rid of them, he then voted in favour of the increases imposed when he was Deputy Prime-Minister of the UK government formed out of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition in 2010. That one single act probably doomed him and the Lib-Dems thereafter although it is also worth pointing out that he broke his word to the Conservatives over the proposed reforms to the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies during his term in government.
Nick Clegg’s habit of being economical with the truth also extends to the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU; a decade ago, Liberal Democrat publicity could be found across the country, saying, ‘It’s time for a REAL referendum on Europe’. On all of it was a big photo of Clegg himself along with the words ‘Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg: It’s time to give the British people a real referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union’.
When his demand for an in-or-out referendum was rejected, he led his MPs out of the House of Commons in protest. Having subsequently got that ‘people’s vote’ and to his complete astonishment, lost it…he now wants another one so the ‘right’ result can be acquired.
Clegg was not on the march in London supporting another referendum on UK-EU membership but his former colleague and current Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable was one of the keynote speakers. To the cheering crowd, Cable said, ‘There is no better deal than the one we have now: it is better for Britain and better for Europe’.
This is the same Vince Cable who last year, having lost his Commons seat in 2015, only to regain it in the 2017 general election, said: ‘It would be disrespectful to voters and politically counter-productive to call for second referendum on the EU’.
Like Nick Clegg, Vince Cable as an interesting record of changing his mind. After winning back his Twickenham seat in 2017, he said: ‘I specifically support the aims of the single market and its four freedoms: free movement of goods, capital, services and labour’.
A few months earlier however, he told the New Statesman magazine this: ‘There is no great argument of liberal principle for free EU movement; the economics is debatable and the politics is conclusively hostile’.
All that said, Clegg might be good at the job after all since Facebook’s mainstream media profile has taken something of a battering lately as, in some cases (although not all) the first job of a spin-doctor is to disassemble, distort, obfuscate and generally paint an entirely false picture of whoever or whatever pays their usually impressive salaries.
Perhaps Clegg should appoint Cable as his deputy spinner-in-chief. Such a pair of highly principled individuals would make a great team for somebody, although it might not go down too well with some of Facebook’s users.
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© Kevan James 2018