EXCLUSIVE: Clegg re-writes Lib Dem constitution to show that party has “learned the lessons of power”

by Stephen Tall on April 1, 2013

Nick Clegg is set to mount his most audacious attempt yet to persuade sceptical voters that the Lib Dems have learned the lessons of being in power by embarking on his own ‘Clause 4 moment’ to re-write the party’s constitution.

In a deliberate echo of Tony Blair’s famous ditching of Old Labour’s out-dated attachment to nationalisation, Nick will make it clear to the party that it needs to “grow up and grow out of its obsession with old-fashioned minority interests, such as natural justice, free speech and free movement of labour” and instead “grow into accepting majority views even if, at first glance and then on closer inspection, they turn out to be both wrong and illiberal”.

The gauntlet will be laid down by the Lib Dem leader when he personally tables an amendment to the party constitution which will see the current ‘Preamble’ dropped in favour of a new ‘Foreword’, or ‘Forward’ as his aides have re-styled it. The text has, I understand, already been the subject of many revisions in the light of private polling funded by a new donor.

I’ve obtained a copy and reproduce it below (the current ‘Preamble’ is reproduced at the foot of this post for comparison):

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a strong economy and a fair society in which we seek to balance the fundamental British values of liberalism, illiberalism and compromise, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity without good cause. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals insofar as they meet popular consent, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience subject to statutory underpinning, and their right to develop their talents to the full so long as it is in the pursuit of economic growth. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals within the constraints of deficit reduction, to contribute fully to their communities by pointing at pot-holes and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives unless national security is at stake.

“The trick,” confides one of Nick’s advisers, “has been to retain 85% of the language of the Preamble while changing 100% of its meaning.”

He continued: “Basically we realised that on any number of policies recently we’ve been driving a coach and horses through the ‘Preamble’. Secret courts, state-backed regulation of the media, cracking down on immigration. None of it’s in any way what could be called liberal. All Nick’s new ‘Forward’ seeks to do is recognise that fact. This is our opportunity to prove to the British public that, after three years in government, the Lib Dems are capable of being much more than a liberal party — that we are also a party capable of setting aside our true values for the sake of the national interest.”

Buoyed by the Lib Dem victory in the Eastleigh by-election, and bolstered by the party reaching double-figures in three consecutive YouGov polls, Nick Clegg is confident now is the moment to seize the momentum. The party has even released a mock-up of the new-look membership cards to demonstrate Nick’s personal identification with his ‘Forward’:

nick clegg lib dem membership card - 2013

Nick Clegg has told close friends that the time for apologising is over; now is the time to assert his own belief in jettisoning inconvenient liberal values for the sake of expediency. Asked by some MPs if he had been forced to support ‘secret courts’ as part of a secret deal with the Prime Minister, Nick replied: “It’s worse than you think. I really do believe in it.”

Critics, within the party and beyond, will seize on today’s revelation as further proof that the Lib Dem leader has drifted from his original mission of re-claiming a Liberal Britain. For Nick Clegg such accusations are further proof that the party has yet to understand that such sacrifices are necessary if the party is serious about governing.

He made his intentions clear a year ago to the day when he spoke up for ‘Lidl Britain’; today’s announcement is simply a logical continuation.

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Here’s the first paragraph of the current Preamble to the Lib Dem constitution:

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.