With Mr. Clegg’s Liberal Democrats coming — at last — under some closer scrutiny, there have been predictable claims that a smear campaign is underway, pure chutzpah given the Lib-Dems’ long association with distinctly uncouth campaigning, a tradition that appears to be alive and well today.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Andrew Gilligan, an investigative journalist best known for his examination of the way that the British government “sold” the Iraq war, gives some instances from various local campaigns, and adds this:
Lest we think these merely local excesses, it may be worth quoting from an official Liberal Democrat election manual, Effective Opposition, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, published by the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors in 2002 and still in use, judging by the techniques seen around the country. On page 21, it instructs Lib Dems to “be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly”. Page 23 advises: “Don’t be afraid to exaggerate. For example, responses to surveys and petitions are always ‘massive’. If a council is doing something badly, public expressions are always of ‘outrage’.” Page 4 advises: “Positive campaigning will NOT be enough to win.”
Of course, other politicians play dirty tricks too, though not as many. But the Lib Dems are promising a “new politics”. The available evidence suggests that they behave much like the other parties, or perhaps even more cynically, when given the chance.
And what of Mr Clegg personally? Well, he has fiercely condemned the influence of lobbyists as part of the “old politics” and called for “reform on lobbying”. But he has been distinctly coy about his own two past spells as a lobbyist, leaving them off his official biography on the Lib Dem website. Most interesting and recent is Mr Clegg’s high-level stint, in the middle of his political career, with GPlus, the influential and controversial Brussels company . . .
GPlus often practises “revolving-door” recruitment, taking people straight out of the European institutions to lobby their former colleagues, a practice banned in America. One such recruit was Nick Clegg. Immediately after he left the European Parliament – he was a Lib Dem MEP from 1999 to 2004 – he became one of only five partners in GPlus. He did the job for just under a year, until elected to Westminster in May 2005, describing his work as giving businesses “intelligent professional help in engaging with the EU institutions”.
In a press release, the lobbyist said Mr Clegg would “focus on developing GPlus’s service to UK clients”. Among GPlus’s most important UK clients at the time was the Royal Bank of Scotland, then lobbying furiously to water down a string of EU directives regulating the financial services industry. Among the key targets were the Investment Services Directive (ISD), which would have forced the big banks to be more transparent about their trades, and the Capital Requirements Directive (CRD), which would have made them hold more money to cover their risks. Partly with the help of GPlus, RBS and its fellow banks succeeded in weakening the ISD. They also persuaded Britain’s Financial Services Authority to implement the CRD in a “flexible” manner, arguing that otherwise it risked “crossing the line into internal management and governance”. We know now that crossing the line into “internal management and governance” on the key issue of capital adequacy was very much needed. But it didn’t happen, capital ran out, the crash followed – and RBS, now nationalised, became a byword for bad banking.