By Karis Pearson
Nick Clegg. We all know that name. For most people in their twenties he’s the devil who made a promise to give students free university; a promise that now seems hilarious as the £9000 we currently pay looks only to be going one way, up. Admittedly that’s not very hilarious, but if we don’t laugh we’ll probably cry, so just stick on the “I’m sorry” video and let it go. This week, I look at how, despite facing (at times rather savage) criticism during the coalition years (and probably forever), Nick Clegg has still managed to secure one of the highest paid and most esteemed jobs in communication. He is not alone, many ex (and even current) politicians dip into careers with a lucrative spin, despite major issues of hypocrisy and conflicts of interest.
Nick Clegg’s rise and fall is an infamous one. The promises the ex Lib-Dem leader made and eventually broke will have him remembered as one of the biggest political traitors of our generation. If you remember the coalition years, then you’ll remember the moment Clegg went from a political martyr for young people, to one distasteful word: liar.
Personally, I have never been a particularly harsh critic of Clegg. A Lib-Dem sympathiser throughout my years studying government and politics A Level (during the era of Ed Miliband’s fateful bacon sandwich), I tended to focus on the fact that ultimately, had the Lib-Dems’ been in government alone, things would have turned out very differently. Perhaps I was too young to feel truly betrayed at the time, or maybe my reluctance to let go of Cleggmania was because once I was old enough to understand and appreciate politics, I was floating around the Lib Dem camp ideologically. By mid 2015, when the Lib-Dem’s were decimated at the general election, the media, as well as the voting public, still very much remembered Nick Clegg’s betrayal. Call it naivety, stupidity or maybe just being a big softy, but I was always pretty sympathetic.
Fast forward three years; a Brexit referendum, another election and some very sad pictures of Nick Clegg losing his seat in Sheffield Hallam, and things are quite different. The latest news filling my screens has been Clegg’s most recent career venture and this is where my sympathies have wavered. I always thought, despite all that went down, that Clegg ultimately lacked enough power to keep his promises (it was a coalition after all), and at the end of the day, he still broke the mould of self-interested political liars. However, in light of accepting a job with the most lucrative and morally questionable social media giant around, Clegg has been accused of taking on a new name: hypocrite.
The former Lib-Dem leaders’ new position, as Facebook’s Vice-President of Global Affairs and Communications, is a rather large step away from martyring the remain cause, towards a more lucrative lifestyle. While the annual basic salary for an MP is seventy-seven thousand pounds a year, during his years as the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister, Clegg was earning upwards of one-hundred-and-thirty thousand pounds. Sounds like a nice cheeky pay packet, right? Well, consider this, in his flashy new role with Facebook, it has been reported that Clegg will be earning no less than one-million pounds a year. For a man who claimed to be a champion of equality; criticised big businesses (such as Facebook) for not paying their taxes; and, during his time in office, called repeatedly to raise taxes on the rich, a salary of that measure seems excessive to say the least.
It’s not a crime to chase money, but there’s an element of dishonour in going to work for the very giant you’ve publicly shamed. Rumour has it that Mark Zuckerberg spent months schmoozing Clegg to get him on board. According to The Guardian, last year Facebook’s UK operations paid just £5.1million in corporation tax, despite revenues jumping to an extortionate £842.4million.
Politicians get a step ladder into careers once they depart politics, even if the career is in a discipline in which they have little to no experience. Imagine the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the second highest political body in UK office, steps down from their position, merely hours after an unexpected (and quite frankly embarrassing) referendum result; then, despite lacking any journalistic or editorial experience, walks straight into a position editing one of London’s most influential daily newspapers.
Hang on, anyone remember George Osborne? It was big news at the time, that following stepping down as Chancellor following the 2016 Brexit referendum, Osborne’s career took a swerve in an entirely new direction, when he was appointed as editor of the The London Evening Standard, a decision that was highly criticised. His residual political power propelled Osborne into a job that he lacks qualification for, not to mention, his strong and obvious political bias being sure to affect his editorial gaze. But, I’m sure those concerns are the least of his; as of last year, Osborne was paid over £1million for giving after-dinner speeches to financial firms.
Many politicians have followed similar paths. Believe it or not, Tony Blair does more than just poke his nose into the Brexit debate. Having made a handsome fortune over the years in the after dinner speaking circuit, Blair runs a consultancy business and, modest as ever, has set up a myriad of foundations in his own name, including the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. It’s not only former politicians who cash in while they can. Alongside his duties as an MP, Boris Johnson writes a weekly column at The Daily Telegraph. This, along with George Osborne’s role, are among positions which stand out as infiltrating the public interest. There’s a clear conflict of interest when ex-politicians, who have explicitly expressed a political stance their entire career, secure positions of power and influence in industries which are not traditionally understood as having clear political bias.
A while back, I came across a quote in Nick Clegg’s political autobiography, Politics Between the Extremes. While he quotes it as an example of profound wisdom he learnt to be true throughout his political career, it did not come from Clegg himself, but instead from a man who shares the experience going from hero to zero in the public eye; Tony Blair. The quote reads as follows:
“I learnt a lot in government, and I’ve learnt a lot since leaving government. The kind of journey of being in government is that you start at your most popular and least capable, and you end at your most capable and least popular.”
What that quote fails to add is that if you find your political career coming to an end, don’t fret, your lack of popularity won’t hold you back from making millions, raking in on the aftermath of all your empty promises and moral guise. Well Nick, in securing your new money-spinning position in Silicon Valley, you’ve achieved new heights in your unpopularity, and I for one will no longer be defending you.