Saturday, 22 November 2014
Obama's amnesty for migrants highlights Liberal Democrat cowardice.
It was in the first of the Leaders' Debates before the 2010 general election that Nick Clegg's reputation reached heroic proportions and "I'm backing Nick" became a catchphrase.
The issue which made me proudest of Nick's performance was his brave defence of the Liberal Democrat policy to grant an amnesty to long term migrants in Britain illegally. This was by no means a general amnesty: to be eligible for recognition as legally here the migrants had to have been in Britain for a minimum of ten years, had a job, paid taxes and have no criminal record.
The policy was ridiculed both be David Cameron and the then prime minister and Labour leader Gordon Brown, but Nick robustly and repeatedly defended it, not least by demanding of the other two how they expected to find those illegally here.
This was Liberal policy at its best: humane, rational and boldly unafraid of any adverse reaction in the chauvinist popular press.
Alas, this admirably liberal policy has now been quietly dropped from the Liberal Democrat lexicon as unrealistic and too far in advance of public opinion.
As the Rochester and Strood by-election demonstrates we are badly in need of a party prepared to speak out for decency. Yet both Tories and Labour now compete to outdo UKIP in nastiness.
As Theresa May, home secretary and therefore minister responsible for immigration and migrant affairs was once brave enough to point out, the Conservative party is regarded by many as the nasty party. Now we are rapidly degenerating into nasty Britain.
I suppose it will be argued that President Obama can afford to be in advance of public opinion as America's rules forbid him from standing for election again. But it is my belief that a healthy democracy needs parties prepared to lead public opinion rather than cravenly follow the prejudices revealed in their focus groups.
Here's a wonderful opportunity for Liberal Democrats to resume the lead in restoring decency to our political debate.