For anyone who has yet to see the story, the Sunday Mirror is running an exclusive regarding comments that Nick Clegg made on an internal flight from London to Inverness. In a conversation with Danny Alexander, our leader has managed to patronise and insult three of the the most high profile members of the party's shadow cabinet. The full story can be read here http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2008/11/29/lib-dumb-liberal-democrat-leader-nick-clegg-slags-off-his-own-party-colleagues-on-packed-plane-115875-20934579/
Let me first clarify my own position; I have no vendetta against Nick Clegg. I believe that he has made an assured start as party leader; he has been confident and incisive at Prime Minister's Questions and he has begun to shape a policy agenda that will ensure we provide a distinctive and real alternative at the next election.
My feelings about Nick Clegg's leadership to date aside, I am deeply troubled by this story. To casually insult three of the party's most prominent spokesman on a flight to Inverness is appalling in a number of respects. Principally, Clegg is guilty of sheer carelessness. To make such inflammatory comments when surrounded by members of the public is grossly naive. Perhaps it was bad luck that a Mirror correspondant was sitting in the next row, but this is a leak that cannot be attributed to misfortune. If Clegg wanted to air such personal views to Danny Alexander, it should have been done behind closed doors.
Now that these views are in the public domain, we have every right to assess thier significance. What troubles me, is that Clegg was criticising his colleagues on a personal as opposed to a professional basis. Most damining was his pronouncement that Steve Webb is, "a problem...I cant stand the man". In the same vein he claimed that Chris Huhne lacked 'emotional intelligence'.
Such personal attacks are inherently damaging in themselves; but even more worrying is that Clegg was seemingly using these views to justify a shadow cabinet reshuffle. From what little we know of this conversation it would appear that Clegg's views of personality are playing an important role in shaping the make-up of the next Lib Dem shadow cabinet. This is not an acceptable state of affairs; professional relationships are obviously important, but I would like to think that our party leader appoints his shadow cabinet on the basis of ability. I would hate to think that admirable and effective performers such as Steve Webb and Chris Huhne are facing the prospect of demotion because they have personal differences with the leader.
I would like to see this story diffused in the most efficient and responsible manner possible. I am certain that this can best be achieved with Clegg issuing a full, formal apology. I fully hope and expect that there will already be conversations going on behind the scenes. I feel that party members deserve more; we need reassurance that our leader has faith in the abilities of his team.
Nick Clegg should apologise to our party, reassert his faith in the MP’s concerned and allow us all to move on.
Please feel free to comment, particularly if you agree with me that party members deserve an apology.