Was Nick Clegg a student Tory?

by Stephen Tall on April 15, 2008

That’s the vital question zinging across the political blogosphere today, following the shocking revelation by Tory MP Greg Hands on ConservativeHome this morning that the Lib Dem leader may have been a member of the Cambridge University Conservative Association in his first year at Robinson College, 1986-87.

Nick’s spokesman has categorically denied it: “Nick is one hundred per cent adamant that this isn’t true”.

Undoubtedly the public will be dismayed to discover that a 19 year-old may have changed his mind about politics since growing up; and/or may have entirely forgotten about membership of a student club during the two decades which have intervened.

Thank goodness for Mr Hands’ crusade, and the exhaustive research he has conducted – and how disarming of him to confess to his bemusement at the media interest: “imagine my surprise when Jonathan Isaby of the Daily Telegraph took an interest in the matter”. Yes, just imagine!

Of course, this storm is not concerned with Nick’s disputed membership; it’s the subsequent alleged ‘cover-up’ which will give journalists the excuse to string this out journalists are duty-bound to investigate. Watergate had nothing on this.

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Stephen,

If Clegg is denying something that is true then he looks a fool for denying it. Haven’t most MPs signed up for parties/ campaigns that look silly with the passage of time? Like all Labour MPs who were former Marxists or members of CND.

Having been a member of the CP is not the most heinous crime – I signed up for a few months in 1991/92 – and I wonder how many N Cleggs there were at the college Greg Hands went to. I hope it isn’t true as denying something essentially harmless is feeble.

by LiberalHammer on April 15, 2008 at 1:11 pm. Reply #

Stephen, if it’s not an issue then why are you posting on it? The point is the appearance of deception. If he genuniely didn’t know, then why didn’t he say so?

by PB on April 15, 2008 at 1:32 pm. Reply #

Con-Lib defections are the way.

by Julian H on April 15, 2008 at 1:45 pm. Reply #

I don’t know what it was like in the 80s at Cambridge, but in Oxford atm it’s quite normal for students to join the Labour Club, Conservative Association and the student branch of the Lib Dems, all at the same time – and none of them require you to be a member of the national political party. Most politically-minded students want to hear the guest speakers from all the parties, not just the ones they support; I’ve got quite a lot out of going along to Tory and Labour events and listening to, and asking questions of the MPs or other party figures.

by Jonny Wright on April 15, 2008 at 1:50 pm. Reply #

I know that I got signed up to CUCA without any input or desire from myself as part of one of their periodic membership scams

(IIRC, to get onto the committee, ambitious young Tories need to recruit a number of members to the gang, so they, er, allegedly just trawl the lists of freshers from their own collage and add them to the lists)

by Richard Flowers on April 15, 2008 at 1:55 pm. Reply #

Can I run ‘Left Wright Left; Lib Dem Wonderkid Jonny is Secret Tory Socialist’?

The only issue here is Nick’s denial; is it correct and if not, is there a mitigating factor (such as his name being put on the list without direct consent)?

This is the reason why I tend to be upfront about my own journeying (given that there’s roughly equal media interest in myself and Nick).

by Julian H on April 15, 2008 at 2:11 pm. Reply #

I was a member of CUCA, CULC (Cambridge University Liberal Club) and on the mailing list for University Left.

Joining CULC didn’t mean you had joined ULS or the Liberal Party – only about 10% of us were actually party members.

Joining the University Left contact list certainly didn’t mean you had joined the Labour Party – COLS was completely separate.

As Greg Hands states, joining CUCA didn’t mean that you had joined the Conservative party. Since the Conservatives were in Government, they had a very good programme of speakers (about one Government minister a week), and, if interested in politics, it was worth being a member. They had about 1,500 members at the time and used to get considerably fewer votes than this in student elections!

I fairly quickly resigned/got thrown out (can’t remember which – I think the former). I think it was after a very funny incident with the calling notice for a CUCA election. But that’s another story.

by Martin Tod on April 15, 2008 at 2:23 pm. Reply #

When I was a student at Cambridge, there was a bit of a scandal about Conservatives stumping up the £5 or so for their friends up to the Conservative Club (possibly bribing them with a few pints as well), so that they could win the elections.

Everyone knew this was an ancient tradition.

Perhaps it happened in 1986?

by Chris Keating on April 15, 2008 at 3:04 pm. Reply #

I don’t like the insinuation that 19 year olds don’t know their own mind and that it’s a normal practice for them to change parties. The large majority of our young members are nothing like as fickle.

Suggesting that joining other parties youth and student groups is also normal Oxbridge life really doesn’t play well to the ‘masses’, especially at around this the Federation of Conservative Students were in favour of hanging Nelson Mandela.

When in a hole stop digging.

by Reality alert on April 15, 2008 at 3:06 pm. Reply #

The issue is not whether or not Clegg was a member of the Conservatives but over his lying about it. It’s hardly as remotely embarassing as his Cleggover admittance (although if he’s lying about past memberships what else is he lying about…?) so what has he got to hide with such a flat out denial in spite of the evidence?

by Tim Roll-Pickering on April 15, 2008 at 3:08 pm. Reply #

A wholly irrelevant non-story. I hope you’re ashamed of having posted it.

by asquith on April 15, 2008 at 3:34 pm. Reply #

Asquith – I agree it’s an irrelevant non-story (I thought that was obvious from my tone: clearly I forgot to switch the irony font on).

But I’m not sure why I should be ashamed of having posted it?

by Stephen Tall on April 15, 2008 at 4:15 pm. Reply #

Stephen was right to post it; silence arouses suspicion, and / or suggests we have no answer to the allegations. This thread has allowed us to respond, mainly with the point that temporary membership to these university clubs is virtually meaningless.

by Julian H on April 15, 2008 at 4:23 pm. Reply #

Well, yes, it is not a hugely significant story but I think it is churlish to criticise Stephen for posting. LDV has a reputation for being a bit blinkered as it is, and if you start censoring gossip like this then how can you even start to develop a balanced view of serious topics?

What stuns me about this non-story is Clegg’s reluctance to just admit the truth. After all, if you can’t experiment a bit at Uni then what’s the point? However, Clegg clearly has a chip on his shoulder on this issue which is what risks turning an idle piece of bar gossip into something much bigger.

by passing tory on April 15, 2008 at 4:23 pm. Reply #

Well, reluctant though I am to labour this any further, it seems highly probable to me that he quite honestly thinks he is telling the truth. Hands says he was a subscribing member for his first year only. Freshers’ Fair chaos anyone? God knows what I was a member of in my first year.

by Alix on April 15, 2008 at 4:43 pm. Reply #

I too was a member of CUCA (the Catholic association, not the Conservative one I hasten to add), where I got to meet a number of interesting people including Pope Benedict.

by Laurence Boyce on April 15, 2008 at 4:48 pm. Reply #

Laurence, did you join the CUWAA (woodland animals association) as well to discover if bears did indeed defecate in their arboreal locales?

Ahem. Sorry.

Back when I was the Communications Officer for LDYS we would regularly beg the Campbridge and Oxford branches to actually recruit people into the party rather than just their student society. No such luck. One of the reasons for this was precisely the sort of political cross-dressing outlined above.

The issue isn’t the membership; it’s the denial. I’m really starting to get weary of the fact that seemingly every time Nick Clegg talks to a journalist there is an evens chance it will throw up a silly season story like this one.

by James Graham on April 15, 2008 at 5:03 pm. Reply #

It is hearthwarming to see such trust, Alix. I think it is reasonable to assume, however, that politics was of slightly more interest to Clegg than random Uni clubs, so you would kinda expect him to keep track of what he had done. I mean, how many of the posters here can NOT recall their first election campaign, even if it was some tiddling little by-election in the middle of nowhere?? Plus all the results too (complete with a swing to your party that slowly increases over the years)

by passing tory on April 15, 2008 at 5:05 pm. Reply #

James: Except in this case, as far as I can tell, this hasn’t blown up because Clegg said anything. It’s the result of some Tory attempts at muck-raking.

by Andy Hinton on April 15, 2008 at 5:28 pm. Reply #

No, it’s blown up because his office issued a categorical denial. To quote: “Nick is one hundred per cent adamant that this isn’t true”.

by James Graham on April 15, 2008 at 5:30 pm. Reply #

“…especially at around this the Federation of Conservative Students were in favour of hanging Nelson Mandela.”

Nowhere is it suggested that Nick was a member of FCS.

by Hywel on April 15, 2008 at 5:36 pm. Reply #

From Nick’s usual routine about how Cameron was a paid up Tory while he was shocked by the worst excesses of Thatcherism, this doesn’t fit. Then again, smashing up cactuses isn’t a million miles away from the Bullingdon club..

At any rate, this is a ploy by the Conservatives to try to lend the impression that Nick Clegg is a right-winger and hence drive a wedge between him and the party’s more left-leaning membership.

by Leo Watkins on April 15, 2008 at 5:58 pm. Reply #

I joined CUCA because they had a fierce elderly lady who came to Cambridge every week from Central Office to train members to speak in public. She did her best with me, but had rather more success with Howard Flight and David Mellor. I was never in any doubt that I was a Liberal and was active in CULC and ULS – and for ‘Passing Tory’s’ benefit my first by-election was Warwick and Leamington where we increased our vote by a very encouraging 3.2%!

by tony hill on April 15, 2008 at 5:59 pm. Reply #

My humble apologies, Stephen. I understand what you were saying now. I spend a lot of time on right-wing blogs read by Daily Heil readers, so my instinct is always to bitch about a story like this 🙂

by asquith on April 15, 2008 at 6:48 pm. Reply #

See – while we hustings-goers were all worrying about green policy or whether they supported the disestablishment of the Church of England what we SHOULD have been asking is:

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Conservative Party?”

by Benjamin on April 15, 2008 at 7:03 pm. Reply #

Can’t get excited about this, but I think Nick should consider changing his story.

Tory squeeze leaflets saying “I was once a tory but saw the error of my ways…” will be fine.

by Peter on April 15, 2008 at 7:50 pm. Reply #

As we used to say – half a mind to vote conservative – that’s all you need!!

I can’t see how that at Univesity young Clegg may have gone to a few meetings arranged by the Tory students gives them any claim on an MP who is NOT ONE OF THEM now by any scale of judgement…

I remember my grandmother who living in the west country always used to phone the Tories for a lift to vote. She always voted Liberal / Lib Dem – she told me she did it for two reasons – one they had nicer cars – two – why waste the time of the Liberals – just cause she took a lift from them didn’t mean sghe was going to vote for them ever in a million years!

by Paul L on April 15, 2008 at 8:08 pm. Reply #

People go through many evolutions and changes to how they see the world as they learn through experience…i myself have been active on the far-left in the past and dont mind admitting it. I really dont think it matters if Clegg was a ‘Student Tory’ to be honest. I think that if he is being evasive then the reason is that the public mood can be so puritanical and judgemental of politicians.

by Darrell on April 15, 2008 at 8:16 pm. Reply #

Tim Roll-Pickering : “The issue is not whether or not Clegg was a member of the Conservatives but over his lying about it.”

Do you have evidence that he is lying, and if not, aren’t you lying yourself? See the comment of Richard Flowers above. It seems, that the CUCA has listed members without their consent, and that would mean he actually, legally and morally wasn’t a member, even though his name might appear on their membership lists.

by Anonymous on April 15, 2008 at 8:38 pm. Reply #

Passing Tory…I disagree, I don’t actually remember when I joined the Liberal Democrats…I can pin it down to sometime in a 3 year period but anymore than that is beyond me; mainly because politics wasn’t even remotely the most important thing in my life at the time.

And I certainly couldn’t tell you which clubs I had joined at University, apart from the Italian Society (and I only remember that because my Italian lecturer used to use it as an opportunity to lech at me) and the Drama Society – which I remember because I still have friends from those days and we ‘did’ the Edinborough Festival.

I joined loads of societies during freshers fair though….I dread to think what could turn up!!

by Jo Christie-Smith on April 15, 2008 at 8:59 pm. Reply #

I don’t seem to be able to spell this evening, sorry.

by Jo Christie-Smith on April 15, 2008 at 9:00 pm. Reply #

My guilty secret is that I actually *did* pay a fiver to join the Tory association (though not Tory party) in my final term at the other place. I did it specifically to vote against someone whom I thought might be dangerous if he were to succeed to their presidency. As a poor misguided soul, at the time I thought that would count for anything.

OTOH I did help a friend of mine (now a Labour party member) campaign in the OUCA elections – and it was pretty common then for wannabe candidates to pay the minimum sub to sign up people they knew, often without their knowledge. “All part of the game, Old Boy”.

Says rather more about the Tory party that it does about Nick, imo.

by Dominic on April 15, 2008 at 10:08 pm. Reply #

My two Euro Cents

I find it somewhat disconcerting that even though he flat out denied it (rather than *cough* ‘dithered’ on an answer /*cough*) some members above feel that he is lying. What does it say about politics in this country when even paid up members of a political party think that their own party leader is lying?

by theChristophe on April 15, 2008 at 10:24 pm. Reply #

The odd thing about this tale is the lack of detail. Robinson is a small college, Greg and Nick were there at the same time, Greg was chairman of CUCA, and Nick was supposedly one of 40 CUCA members at Robinson. You would have thought that Greg might have made the effort to get to know them a bit, and that Nick would have left some impression. Instead, Greg hardly seems to know the first thing about Nick – “he was a good guy” is all Greg has to tell us, and then produces some records, more to prove to himself than to us, that Nick was theoretically in CUCA. Hardly adds up to much.

by Laurence Boyce on April 15, 2008 at 10:56 pm. Reply #

When my father was at Cambridge he joined both the Labour Club AND the Socialist Society (though he was never at any time in his life a member of the Labour – or any other – Party).

The Programme for Lent Term, 1936, lists inter alia a talk in the Masonic Hall (surely not?!!) entitled “The Case for the Miners”, another on “The Labour Party and the Communist Party”, and one on “Dialectical Materialism”.

I note that the college rep for Queens was one “A S Eban”, who went on the become Israel’s foreign minister.

by Sesenco on April 15, 2008 at 11:19 pm. Reply #

A thought: Grant Shapps would have been a student at around the same time (albeit at Manchester Poly). Is it possible he came down to Cambridge and impersonated Clegg? Maybe the combination on Nick’s locker was 1234?

by James Graham on April 15, 2008 at 11:57 pm. Reply #

I don’t know either, but I do know that Stephen Carter – Gordon Brown’s new PR man – was President of Aberdeen University Liberals in 1986-87.

by Dan on April 16, 2008 at 12:10 am. Reply #

He’s issued a denial. end of story unless the denial turns out to be untrue, in which case I would be concerned.

Otherwise I think you’ve all got far too much time on your hands discussing unfounded rumours – get back to work! (which is what I should be doing)

by Andy on April 16, 2008 at 10:07 am. Reply #

But it isn’t an unfounded rumour – it is a specific allegation backed up by evidence. Surely expecting an explanation is not unreasonable?

by James Graham on April 16, 2008 at 10:08 am. Reply #

It does of course also depend what question was asked to provoke the denial… “Were you a member of the Tory party as a student?” is – as is clear from the above discussion – a very different question from “Did you ever sign up to the Cambridge student Tory association?”

by Stephen Tall on April 16, 2008 at 10:12 am. Reply #

Good point, Stephen.

by Peter Welch on April 16, 2008 at 10:53 am. Reply #

Stephen Tall wrote:
“It does of course also depend what question was asked to provoke the denial… “Were you a member of the Tory party as a student?” is – as is clear from the above discussion – a very different question from “Did you ever sign up to the Cambridge student Tory association?””

.

Well, according to the Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow, Clegg’s spokesman issued a further statement yesterday morning:
“Nick has never been a member of the Conservative party. He has no recollection whatsoever of ever having joined CUCA and he does not know how is [sic] his name is on the list.”

It seems to me that he initially denied it because he didn’t remember having been a member of CUCA, not because he was asked a misleading question.

The problem is the “one hundred per cent adamant” denial, when in fact he evidently didn’t remember whether it was true or not. How much better it would have been if he’d said that he’d attended some of their speaker meetings out of interest, but had no recollection of having paid a membership fee.

Chris Phillips

by cgp on April 16, 2008 at 12:06 pm. Reply #

James Graham wrote: “But it isn’t an unfounded rumour – it is a specific allegation backed up by evidence. Surely expecting an explanation is not unreasonable?”

The “evidence” I have seen is that Nick Clegg’s name was on a list, and that Greg Hands delivered him some mail of CUCA. Does this mean, that all the people who have been canvassed by your local association and have been delivered a Focus leaflet by you, are members of the Lib Dem party?

by Anonymous on April 16, 2008 at 12:15 pm. Reply #

cgp: “The problem is the “one hundred per cent adamant” denial, when in fact he evidently didn’t remember whether it was true or not.”

I don’t see a problem. Maybe the reason why he doesn’t remember joining (and who wouldn’t remember, if indeed joined) is that he didn’t join, but was added to this dodgy list by some young Tory who wanted to the committee, like Richard Flowers suggested in his message 15th April at 1:55 pm.

by Anonymous on April 16, 2008 at 12:25 pm. Reply #

Anonymous wrote:
“The “evidence” I have seen is that Nick Clegg’s name was on a list, and that Greg Hands delivered him some mail of CUCA. Does this mean, that all the people who have been canvassed by your local association and have been delivered a Focus leaflet by you, are members of the Lib Dem party?”

.

If you have read Greg Hands’s blog, you know very well that the list indicates more than that.

Clegg’s name on the list is followed by an “A” to indicate he had paid an annual subscription to CUCA.

Of course, people can suggest the entry was faked, either then or now, but to my mind that smacks of desperation. The point is that Clegg clearly _isn’t_ sure whether or not he was a member of CUCA. If he were sure, he would have persisted in his “one hundred per cent adamant” denial, rather than switching to “having no recollection”.

That’s the point I’m making. It was stupid to say so emphatically that it wasn’t true if he wasn’t sure that was the case.

Chris Phillips

by cgp on April 16, 2008 at 2:13 pm. Reply #

The story itself is piffle.

The denial is yet more evidence that Clegg is unable to handle any media attention.

Increasingly, Clegg is looking like a leader in trouble. Thank the Heavens Brown is going through the mangle at the same time.

by Liam Pennington on April 16, 2008 at 4:13 pm. Reply #

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