Rethinking Europe

Nick Clegg: Facebook’s New Lobbyist

Former British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been bought up by the Silicon Valley giant to mollify the EU.

Credit: www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • Facebook, the tax-dodging purveyor of pro-Brexit social media messages, has a new lobbyist.
  • Former British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been bought up by the Silicon Valley giant to mollify the EU.
  • When Cameron announced his Brexit referendum, Clegg did not protest -- even though there was plenty of evidence that the referendum would turn on immigration and result in a decision to quit Europe.
  • At one time, Nick Clegg was the closest Britain had to an Emmanuel Macron. It is indeed a sad end to what was once a career of hope and promise.

The tax-dodging purveyor of pro-Brexit social media messages Facebook has a new lobbyist. The former British Deputy Prime Minister and then-leader of Britain’s Liberal Democratic Party, Sir Nick Clegg, is joining the Silicon Valley firm, in what appears to be its latest effort to put lipstick onto a pig.

For his troubles, Nick Clegg will be paid an estimated annual package of $4 million to be the global public relations huckster for the leading firm of the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) conglomerate.

That money, while considered unappetizing for a politician in Europe, is pocket change for Facebook.

After all, Facebook is keen on stopping the European Union’s demand that it pay some taxes and stop the dark advertisements promoting noxious politics on its social media outlets to 2.23 billion users worldwide and more than 40 million in Britain – just short of the entire voting population.

Mr. Clegg’s path

Fifteen years ago, Clegg was a clever young Member of the European Parliament. At the time, he was hoping for a home-coming of sorts, by landing a seat in the British House of Commons as a Liberal Democrat MP in Sheffield.

As a neighboring MP, although one representing the Labour Party, I urged voters to send him to Parliament. My motivation was two-fold: I wanted to reinforce the broad left-liberal alliance in UK politics that was in favor of Europe and that was also pro-market, but socially progressive – i.e., the forces led by Tony Blair.

In 2005, Clegg thus became one of 62 LibDem MPs – the biggest representation of liberalism in the House of Commons for 80 years.

Clegg was smart, fluent, cool under fire on television, the closest Britain had at the time to an Emmanuel Macron. He eviscerated David Cameron’s Conservative Party and its steady drift to anti-Europeanism. These qualities helped him rise inside his party fast.

Motivated by turn-coat careerism — or pragmatism?

In a 2010 election television debate with Cameron, Clegg said Cameron had linked the Conservative Party to rightist populist parties in East Europe – “Nazis, antisemites and homophobes.” (Cameron had taken his Conservative Party out of the European People’s Party – the pan-European federation of center right parties).

It was a cruel jibe that left Cameron reeling. But then, to everyone’s astonishment, Clegg decided to join Cameron’s team as Deputy Prime Minister. In that capacity, he co-presided over the harshest austerity politics seen in post-war Britain.

During the Cameron-Clegg government, which lasted from 2010-2015, millions were plunged into poverty as social programs, policing and health care were cut as the rich enjoyed tax cuts.

During the campaign, Clegg had promised to cap the fees university students paid at £3,000 a year. But once enjoying his minister’s car and salary, he increased student fees to £9,000 provoking massive student demonstrations against the Liberal Democrats.

Clegg and Brexit

Far more crucially yet, when Cameron announced his Brexit referendum, Clegg did not protest — even though there was plenty of evidence that the referendum would turn on immigration and result in a decision to quit Europe.

Little wonder then that, in 2015, voters, especially young ones, punished Clegg and reduced the number of LibDem MPs to just eight. That was a truly disastrous turn of events.

In exchange for a few years as decoration on a Tory government, Clegg had destroyed decades of hard work by his predecessors to build up the LibDems.

As his personal recompense, Clegg took a knighthood and the usual consultancies. He did TV interviews and wrote comment columns against Brexit. But he had lost his audience, especially among young people in Britain.

Serving Facebook as a result of political failure

Now, Mr. Clegg disappears to California to make money. Facebook may hope that he can influence his fellow Liberal, Margarethe Vestager, the EU Commissioner from Denmark who has oversight of Facebook and other GAFA firms. Fat chance!

Once again, Mr. Clegg is selling out his reputation to a dubious cause. There are facts he cannot square.

For example, there is real anger that Facebook had £1.3 billion in revenues in the UK last year — but paid just £7.4 million in taxes.

Facebook undermines the EU

The European Commission is targeting the tax-dodging Facebook, which has also unhelpfully been at the center of accusations against Cambridge Analytica.

The net effect of Facebook’s “oversight” – read: Revenue-seeking complicity — was strong interference in the 2016 Brexit campaign. The fact that this was done on behalf of American right-wingers opposed to the European Union regulatory approach to modern capitalism makes the whole maneuver all the more detestable.

Now, there are reports that Facebook is at the heart of a new secretive campaign of so-called “dark ads” reaching 10 million Facebook subscribers to urge them to support the campaign from the hard Europhobe right in Britain opposing any compromise with the EU and seeking a full amputational Brexit.

700,000 marched in London Saturday against Brexit. Once upon a time, Sir Nick Clegg would have headed the march. Now, with his new paymasters, that is inconceivable.

He has made his choice. He has been bought up by an outfit that more than any other was a vector of Brexit lies and disinformation. That is the very sad, but perhaps fitting coda to a British Liberalism that has been all but destroyed during the decade of Clegg leadership.

It is indeed a sad end to what was once a career of hope and promise.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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