Nick Clegg didn’t exactly come across as coherent in last night’s debate between party leaders when David Cameron challenged him on the fact that the Lib Dem manifesto still calls for the UK to join the euro.
This was the exchange:
David Cameron: "people need to know that the Liberal Democrats, in their manifesto, are still in favour of joining the euro...if we were in the euro now, your taxes, your national insurance would not be going on hospitals and schools and police officers, they would be going to Greece, and possibly other countries as well, and that's why I say one of the lessons to learn is let's stay out of the euro, let's keep our own currency and let's recognise what a massive strategic error the Liberal Democrats would have made."
Nick Clegg: [nervous laugh] "No I'm not advocating entry into the euro, I would only ever advocate it by the way, if ever, if the economic conditions were right. If it was good for your jobs, good for pensions, good for savings, and of course it always has to be only decided, if we were ever to do that as a country, on a referendum where you can vote on it." The Lib Dems' manifesto states: "We believe that it is in Britain's long-term interest to be part of the euro."
Say what? Since when, exactly, is Nick Clegg in the "No I'm not advocating entry into the euro” camp?
The Lib Dems' manifesto clearly advocates UK membership of the euro stating: "We believe that it is in Britain's long-term interest to be part of the euro."
And Nick Clegg himself has in the last decade repeatedly called for UK membership. A few examples:
When he last year said the Euro would "anchor" the economy against the "vulnerable exposure to international financial markets".
Or that "The strict rules attached to the euro could emerge as one of the best ways to persuade the markets that we will put Humpty Dumpty back together again, put the public finances in order".
(So strict that Greece managed to fudge its statistics to bluff its way in?)
Or when he said that refusing to discuss the euro was a "failure of political leadership"
(Financial Times, 21 January 2009)
Or perhaps, back in the days: "If we remain outside the euro, we will simply continue to subside into a position of relative poverty and inefficiency compared to our more prosperous European neighbours."
(Prospect magazine, 20 January 2002)
Or, in the same article: "We will gain greater control over our own affairs by joining the euro. By pooling sovereignty, we will be able to extend sovereignty over economic forces which have long moved beyond the reach of national monetary policy”.
“The single currency, far from being an agent of continental style corporatism, is probably the greatest export vehicle of Anglo-Saxon economics. The euro has done more to enforce budgetary discipline, to promote privatisation and force through labour and product market liberalisation in the rest of Europe than any number of exhortations from the IMF, the OECD, or the editors of The Economist."
(There are so many flawed predictions in that last statement that it's almost painful)
The Lib Dems insist that it is in the “UK’s interest” to join the euro. However, at the same time Nick Clegg a) recently admitted that being in the euro would have made the UK’s current economic situation worse b) now says that he’s “not advocating entry into the euro”.
Anyone else confused?
The truth is that the Lib Dems' mixed messages on the euro undermine the credibility of the entire party. Advocating a policy in their manifesto that constitutes such a fundamental change, and then not having the courage of their convictions to back it up, smacks of ‘old politics’ and dishonesty. It’s difficult not to draw parallels to their flip-flopping on the question on whether a referendum should be held on the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty.
If he was serious about his euro pledge, Nick Clegg would spell out exactly under what conditions he would take the UK into the euro – which would be far more honest to voters. Nick Clegg’s confusion on the euro is at best folly, and at worst a threat to the health of the UK’s economy should he get near power.
Is this what we should expect from someone who could become Britain’s next Foreign Secretary?