Liberal Hero of the Week #57: Nick Clegg

by Stephen Tall on January 31, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero - nick clegg

Nick Clegg

Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister
Reason: for liberal intervention on Syria, and liberal non-intervention on smoking in cars

This is the first time I’ve nominated Nick Clegg as a Liberal Hero (though he’s previously shared the accolade of Liberal Villain). There are reasons why he shouldn’t this week.

After all, we’ve seen the passing of the ‘gagging bill’ through the House of Commons, legislation with legitimate intentions and undemocratic effects.

And yesterday saw the approval of the Immigration Bill which gives the home secretary the right to strip terror suspects of UK citizenship even if it leaves them stateless.

Nick Clegg bears responsibility for both these illiberal acts, even if he didn’t personally initiate them.

However, I’m still going to give him the nod this week.

First, because of his pivotal behind-the-scenes roll in ensuring the UK fulfils its humanitarian duty to take in some of the most vulnerable refugees fleeing Syria: “We are one of the most open hearted countries in the world and I believe we have a moral responsibility to help. The UN High Commission for Refugees – which backs our new resettlement programme – has said the highest priority should go to women and girls who have experienced or are at risk of sexual violence; the elderly; survivors of torture and individuals with disabilities, so that’s who we’ll target.”

And secondly, for his liberal, reasoned opposition to a proposed new law which would outlaw smoking in cars in the presence of children. This Telegraph report has the key quotes from his ‘Call Clegg’ radio show yesterday:

Mr Clegg said as an “old fashioned liberal” he believes laws should only be passed if they will “make a difference”. Liberty must be balanced with responsibility, he said, and instead of passing laws the State should expect parents to “act like adults”.

“I kind of think you shouldn’t legislate unless you think it’ll make a difference and I don’t see how this is going to be enforced,” the Deputy Prime Minister said. “It’s a stupid thing to do to smoke in a car with kids in the back, in the same way you shouldn’t give you child a can of coke just before they go to bed, or only feed them crisps for breakfast, lunch and supper. The question is, is it right to always have a law to fix something you don’t like.”

“I just think it’s basic common sense: don’t do it. We know it is bad for children’s development to spend six hours of the day in front of the television. Do the police go into people’s homes and turn people’s televisions off? We know it’s bad to feed children large volumes of soft drinks. Do we now have the State going into kitchens saying, no, that’s one coke can too many?”

Mr Clegg said his views may be seen as “unfashionable” and he would face a “barrage” of claims he does not care about children. But he said: “I just think we’ve got to say, hang on a minute, laws and legislation are not always the solution.” He said society should expect “adults to behave like adults” and make responsible decisions when looking after children. “You can’t sub-contract responsible parenting to the State,” he added.

Too many laws are passed to ‘send a message’. Laws are serious business and should be used only when they can be shown to reduce harm to others in a workable way, not as an extension of the politician’s bully pulpit.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.