Nick Cohen

The Illiberal Democrats

The Illiberal Democrats
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I would be taking high-mindedness too far if I were to say that the press is missing the real point of the Mike Hancock story. I cannot blame editors for falling to their knees and thanking whatever gods there may be for giving them the tale of how a bearded old man hired a gorgeous Russian assistant, whom MI5 now believe to be a Kremlin spy. Editors are only flesh and blood, after all, despite appearances to the contrary.

So I will just say that, when they have finished feasting their eyes on Ms Zatulitever and the other East European lovelies Mr Hancock has found himself obliged to assist in the course of his Parliamentary duties, they should ask a pointed question.

What does it say about Nick Clegg that he is happy to have an admirer of Putin’s Russia in a party that calls itself the Liberal Democrats?

That his support for the oligarchy has been slavish is beyond doubt. Matyas Eorsi, a Hungarian member of the Council of Europe, said, “He is the most pro-Russian MP from among all of the countries of Western Europe. You just have to read his speeches.  When it came to debates on Putin, freedom of the media or the war with Georgia, Michael always defended Russia. Among the Liberal bloc in Strasbourg we were all stunned by his position. According to him, Russia really is a fully-fledged democracy.’

Just so. Real liberals and real democrats in Russia and the former Soviet empire need support from privileged men and women who have never known tyranny in the past and have never had to live with the fear that it may return. Yet when they turn to the British Liberal Democrats for solidarity, they find a man who indulges and promotes the mafia state that harasses liberals in the democratic opposition and murders journalists who ask too many questions. They have a right to expect better.

My Guardian colleague Julian Glover reports that Nick Clegg, is reading Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies, and now wishes to defend “the liberal idea of individual human advancement”. His conversion comes a little late in the day to my mind. But let us give the deputy prime minister the benefit of the doubt.

If he is serious about defending liberalism and democracy, he should withdraw the whip from Hancock. If he is not, he should change his party’s name, and stop trading under a false prospectus.

Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

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