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.


  1. Your latest of your many wearingly mean-spirited attacks highlights your own ignorance.

    I agree with you on the old Lib Dem immigration policy - I can see why it was abandoned (it was the single thing that most damaged us in the last election), but I'd still support it.

    But aside from your off-putting never-ending negativity towards your own party, you're entirely ignorant and UK-insular in knowing nothing about US politics. But I suppose that doesn't matter to you, as any stick to beat Nick rather than finding a solution.

    Yes, Obama's not standing again. But it's more than that. If you'd spent more than a second glancing at the headlines, you'd know that immigration is a wholly different issue in the US to the UK. Put simply: what Obama proposes is very, very popular with the Democrat base, fairly popular with the middle, and hated by the Republican base. Democrat demographics are hugely strengthened by this, while Obama dares the Republicans to look extreme so their base will be more fired up but narrowed still further.

    There is zero comparison with the unpopularity of a similar policy in the UK. In the US, it's the right thing to do... But it's also laser-targeted power politics. It's not brave. It's not in advance of public opinion. It's advantageous to the Democratic Party.

    Your constant, wearying, mean-spirited attacks and inability to ever say anything positive while wallowing in your own ill-informed conception of purity don't do anything to persuade others in the party who might agree with you, you know.

    1. Well, you clearly feel strongly about this: ”Your constant, wearying, mean spirited attack. . . . ” Ouch!

      I’m sorry you see it that way. I’m merely trying to be honest, which is something Liberal Democrats have in the past promised for the future of our politics.
      I think your reaction is rather extreme. For example, you say you actually agree with me on the “old Liberal Democrat immigration policy” so the only difference between us is that I think we should stick to it and explain it more clearly, repeatedly and forcefully, and you feel it is right to drop it for the pragmatic reason that it is electorally unpopular.
      Both are perfectly reasonable positions, but I stick to my belief that in a healthy democracy parties will try to lead rather than follow. I take your point, however, that Obama’s stance in the American context may not be as politically difficult as a similar stance here. I remember we Liberals stood up for the Kenyan Asians in the 1960s and didn’t get much thanks for it. Nevertheless I think it was right and it was one of the issues which made the party attractive to me (and many other “idealists”). Our firm self-identification as “the party of IN” re Europe, and Nick’s courage in being the only party leader prepared to take on Nigel Farage may eventually pay dividends. It certainly should when other convince prop Europeans realise on which side their bread is buttered.

      I think that to claim I have a “never-ending negativity” towards [my] party is unfair. My major, and constant, disagreement is that we have supported the Tory’s policy of economic austerity: quite the opposite of what Keynes, a Liberal, would advocate, and which is totally against our traditions. The policy has clearly failed, and that’s not just my view but one supported by a pantheon of distinguished economists – Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Martin Wolf, Larry Elliott, Simon Wren-Lewis, Jonathon Portes, David Blanchflower, for example, in no particular order. I’ve made it clear in various posts that such growth as we have is probably due to the mildly expansionary measures introduced by Vince Cable.

      On this and other key issues (top down “reform” of the NHS, for example) I believe the line we should have taken was that the Tories have 300+ seats and we have only 57, so we can’t stop everything, or even most, of what they do, but were we the majority party in the coalition our policies and priorities would be different. I’ve also suggested (particularly in my article in Liberator 365 )that, should we be in a position to form part of a future coalition, we should negotiate for that kind of flexibility
      I’m strongly of the view that Nick Clegg is subjected to far more opprobrium than he deserves, is a personable and convincing advocate (his responses to phone ins on a London radio station seem to come over very well – I wish I could hear them) and I simply wish that the people who advise him had rather more courage of our Liberal convictions.

      But thanks for your detailed criticism, Anonymous. In my book democracy means “government by discussion” and that means frank and open discussion within parties as well as between them.