There are two rules for politicians during a period of economic uncertainty. One is not to claim to have seen “green shoots” too early; the mistake made by Norman Lamont (and arguably by Shriti Vadera). The other is not to talk the economy down even further.
Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, today referred to the strong possibility of “a prolonged recession, with a long period of youth unemployment.” He may be correct, of course, but the comment did not show the most deft of political touches.
Nick Clegg with Herman Van Rompuy
Nick Clegg’s advisers like to call him the “Heineken” of British politics, because he reaches the parts of Europe that other British politicians can’t reach. Clegg, who trained at the College of Europe, learned at the feet of Leon Brittan, the famously pro-European Tory, became an MEP and speaks to leaders across Europe in their own languages, is ideally placed to try and win back some goodwill for the UK among European leaders.
And that is what he will try and do over the next few weeks and months. He told cabinet this morning that he now wants to focus on how to re-engage with Europe after David Cameron’s treaty veto, which has clearly angered many on the continent. Vince Cable specifically raised the issue of business fears about being cut adrift.
Tomorrow, the Lib Dem leader will host a series of meetings with business leaders to try to soothe any worries they have on the UK becoming isolated from the rest of Europe, and to ask their views on Europe more generally. He will also attend a business breakfast arranged by Business for New Europe, a pro-EU group of corporate representatives.