James Forsyth

Did Clegg pick the least worst option?

Did Clegg pick the least worst option?
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Nick Robinson has a good post up at the BBC explaining why Nick Clegg got himself into such a mess on the Lisbon Treaty. The whole thing is well worth reading but here’s the most important section:

“So why did he order his MPs to sit on their hands, to vote neither yes nor no in this week’s referendum vote in the Commons? That is the question being asked not least by those heading today to the Lib Dem spring conference in Liverpool.

The answer is that he feared something much worse. Given a free vote, a vast majority of his MPs – some suggest as many as 50 - would have voted with the Tories to try and force a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and to defeat the government.

The problem is that a number of key figures would have refused to join them. The former leader Charles Kennedy, the man Nick Clegg narrowly beat, Chris Huhne and above all, Mr Clegg himself.

All passionate pro-Europeans, they believed it would have been irresponsible to risk derailing the EU treaty by forcing a referendum which the government might well have lost.

There was one other big problem. Those voting with the Tories may well have been led by one Vince Cable. The man who made his name thanks to Northern Rock, to Strictly Come Dancing and to being acting leader and who’s proved such a hard act to follow.

So Nick Clegg couldn’t vote Yes to a referendum on Lisbon and most of his MPs wouldn’t vote No. So the parliamentary party agreed to vote neither and to live with the consequences.” The next question for Clegg is what to do about the Lib Dems in the Lords where it is expected that many of their peers will vote against the referendum rather than just abstaining. 

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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