Small-minded ‘free traders’ should stick to the EU if they know what’s good for them, says Nick Clegg in his new book How to Stop Brexit.
Proof copies are not yet available from publisher Random House Penguin, but I’m guessing Clegg might quote heavily from his apparent political role model, Albert Steptoe. The former Lib Dem leader, who inherited a vibrant party and left it in tatters, has some advice for those sons of Britain who aspire to a better way of trading life: Don’t you dare go beyond our stagnant home environment and try to embrace new worlds and emerging opportunities. ‘You’ll never come to anything,’ says Clegg, ‘what do you want to go out into the world for? You’ve got everything here. Besides, who’s going to look after me?’
Close your eyes and you can almost hear the legend of the West London rag-and-bone business talking.
In his latest fascinating collection of patriarchal metaphors, Clegg could compare Britain to Steptoe, and the EU to a thriving recyling enterprise in the heart of Shepherd’s Bush’s teeming business district, Oil Drum Lane.
Britain, by choosing to leave the EU, is akin to a ‘dirty little bleeder with ideas above his station,’ Clegg might say.
There are many parallels between Clegg’s Brexit-thwarting ambitions and Steptoe’s similarly inward-looking philosophy. The most obvious are the insulting low expectations, the controlling behaviour and the attempts to frustrate and manipulate his junior partner.
Britain’s traders and their ambitions to better themselves and widen their horizons are constantly undermined by the narrow-minded, cantankerous Clegg, who only ever seems motivated and energetic when he’s thinking of ways to undermine his nemesis. Clegg is at home in the scrapyard that is the EU, and he’s desperately afraid of being left behind as the Harold Steptoes embrace the new world.
Each episode of the Clegg story revolves around disputes between him and the Brexiters, often about something that they have picked up on their rounds – of talks. With great cunning and deviousness, Clegg undermines any plans for leaving the fold or improving life. Much of the humour and pathos derives from the fact that one party puts so much effort into undermining the other and stopping them getting away.
If the same energy was dedicated to positive actions, who knows what might be achieved? Clegg could have used his low cunning and competitive instinct to, say, go over to Europe and negotiate better deals on our behalf. But he never did – no, he stayed at home in his comfortable armchair, surrounded by his media family, and settled down for a good grumble.
A typical episode might see a typical British importer and exporter – let’s call him Harold – attempt to get into bed with some exotic partners from foreign lands. As with much British fiction, the pathos in Clegg’s book derives from the protagonists’ struggle, with Harold’s efforts to better himself continually thwarted by a curmudgeon whom he desperately wants to shake off. It breaks your heart to witness these forlorn attempts to improve his situation. You want to weep at the unresolvable love/hate relationship that exists with Clegg, who needs the main breadwinner but takes endless pleasure in undermining him.
The Harolds of international trade are infuriated by these persistent frustrations and defeats, even going to the trouble of partitioning the yard in The Referendum so that they don’t have to share with the selfish, uncultured and negative patriarch. Clegg, a devoted student of the philosophy of Albert Steptoe, will have recognised this as a replay of Divided We Stand, a classic episode of the Galton and Simpson comedy.
History has repeated itself, first as tragi-comedy, then as Nick Clegg.