Clegg a hypocrite? Nick’s critics are “playing the man, not the ball” says BBC’s Mark Easton

by Stephen Tall on April 6, 2011

The right-wing press was today in full self-righteous cry, accusing Nick Clegg of ‘hypocrisy’ for seeking to ensure fairness on internships when he’s stated in interviews before he benefited from family connections. Their argument is comprehensively refuted by the BBC’s home editor Mark Easton, who points out here quite how spurious such attacks are:

The charge is that he is a hypocrite – trying to deny to others what he enjoyed himself. But does the accusation really hold water? Are we saying that no politician can ever pursue reforms to a system because he or she is a consequence of that system? …

David Cameron has never denied that he was hauled before the headmaster at Eton having been caught smoking cannabis in 1982. I don’t know whether the would-be PM derived any pleasure from his encounter with illegal drugs, but it would surely be perverse if that incident prevented him from campaigning against pot-smoking today.

Similarly, until (as he tells it) 1.45pm on the day in March 1980 that he married Cherie Booth, Tony Blair smoked cigarettes. Should such a past have excluded him from any political activity designed to reduce cigarette smoking among others?

What hypocrisy cannot be, surely, is a charge against anyone whose past contradicts their views in the present. If that were so, no-one would ever be able to change their mind or challenge the circumstances of their upbringing.

… it would be tempting to suggest that the accusations of hypocrisy over his internship come from some of those who would rather not see that particular route of middle-class privilege closed: a case of playing the man, not the ball.

Quite.

A number of Lib Dem bloggers, by no means all of them uncritical of Nick Clegg, have also been quick to point out the absurdity of the right-wing media’s ‘playing the man’:

George Potter:

As you may know, I’m not Nick Clegg’s biggest fan. However, on this case he’s actually doing the decent thing for once. At the moment MPs from all the major political parties rely on unpaid interns to run their offices. The only way for most people to get a foot in the financial sector is by doing an unpaid internship. And of course, these internships are mainly in London. And since the employers only cover basic travel expenses (and lunch if the intern is lucky) then the only people who can afford to do them are middle class young people living in London. So when someone like Nick Clegg – having seen the benefits of nepotism and ‘who you know rather than what you know’ – decides to try and put a stop to it then he should be applauded. Who better to stop it than someone who’s experienced this unfair advantages first hand?

Mark Pack:

… if wanting to change something you’ve benefited from, or stop something you’ve done, means you are a hypocrite, it also means… You are a hypocrite if you once caused a traffic accident and now are a campaigner for road safety. … And if that’s hypocrisy, let’s have plenty more of it please.

Radar:

Part of the hypocrisy claim is that he himself advertised for unpaid help two years ago and the Lib Dems routinely have 15 three month unpaid internships – which is similar to all other political parties. They are screaming hypocrisy because he wants to change it, despite the fact that most of the people on the offensive have also benefitted from it (whether to get a lucrative journalism internship or their foot into a political party) and make use of it, at least he is trying to change it. Others have spent years talking about reducing inequality, making society fairer, the living wage etc where as Nick Clegg has managed to get the Liberal Democrats into a power sharing position and within a year is trying to do something. I think they are the real hypocrites.

Charlotte Henry:

Clegg’s intentions on social mobility are not just well meaning, but could have a really positive effect on society, particularly at a time with soaring youth unemployment. He is not advocating a policy of just throwing money at a system to take people out of the unemployment figures, he is asking employers to think again about how they value new recruits. Clegg has now gained a position with which he is using to try and enact genuine progress and change in society, and there is nothing hypocritical about that.

Richard Morris:

I am a man, have been all my life. Yet I would like women to share equal pay, enjoy equal opportunities and the same life chances as me. Indeed, as the father of three girls and husband to a fantastically brilliant Doctor, I think this is incredibly important. Apparently this makes me a hypocrite. … No wonder everyone’s having a go at Nick Clegg for trying to change the status quo.