Labour depending on 'politics of fear'

Andrew Alexander
Dec. 01, 2006

Labour will make itself unelectable by resorting to "the politics of fear", according to Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg.

Speaking at the Sovereign Debate in London on Wednesday, Clegg said the threat of terrorism had allowed the government to "rediscover legitimacy by corralling the electorate towards the strong, protective arms of the state".

But he said that relying on the politics of fear could be "an error as fatal as the wrong turn taken by Labour in the 1980s, or the Conservatives in the late 1990s".

He argued that while voters would rally for a time to those parties which "beat the drum of fear most loudly", they will come to resent those which do so for political reasons and which fail to match the unrealistic expectations they have set.

Clegg said: "Trust, not fear - nor, for that matter, a content-free Cameronesque appeal to 'hope' - is the only sustainable basis upon which a new relationship between the state and the individual citizen can be founded."

Arguing that "political reform is now the major modernising challenge for progressive politics in the UK", he said giving the electorate more say in how they are governed and use services would make them "more insulated from the anxiety of powerlessness".

"The public is not stupid. They understand that the nature of the new terror threat is more deadly, and more protracted, than anything we have faced before," he said.

"They are rightly entitled to expect that the government will act in a decisive, rational and steadfast manner in dealing with the new threat.

"What they will not tolerate is an erratic approach shaped by political expediency rather than the national interest."

Clegg said a liberal approach to the criminal justice system which espouses "engagement as well as exclusion" in dealing with offenders was coming into its own.

And he said that while debate about the future of the European Union had stalled with the rejection of the EU constitution, liberals must argue "that the exercise of economic and, yes, political decision making authority at EU level is one of our most potent weapons in making politics relevant to a globalised world".

He said the government is in danger of leaving the mainstream of progressive politics and accelerating "the loss of legitimacy of politics as whole".

Clegg, who was moved to the home affairs job in March, has dropped the "tough liberalism" slogan used by predecessor Mark Oaten.

He has previously been seen as eurosceptic by Lib Dem standards, arguing against an uncritical approach to the EU and talking about repatriating powers from Brussels.

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