The Foolishness of Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg


He’s done it again. The latest, desperate Sun-approval-seeking initiative from our restless Deputy Prime Minister and his fellow Liberal Democrats is this – let’s make “drunk louts” pay for their A&E and jail costs.

The Daily Telegraph reports:

Mr Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said he supported the idea of imposing levies on people who get “blind drunk” and end up in hospital or at a police station…

“I’ve actually got quite a lot of sympathy with the basic principle that says why should someone that goes out and gets completely blind drunk, behaves appallingly, gets themselves into trouble and a scrap – why should other people always have to pick up the tab to help them out?” Mr Clegg said.

He said it was unacceptable for the taxpayer to continue to pick up the bill for the National Health Service to treat patients whose injuries were caused as a result of excess alcohol.

Oh dear. If you are going to discuss the implementation of new policy, shouldn’t you at least make it sound as though the idea had not been concocted a mere 30 seconds before you gave it voice on national radio?

At least Nick Clegg still has that minimal level of self-awareness which allowed him to make the disclaimer (not a tremendously encouraging one for a deputy prime minister to make, though) that he hadn’t really thought the policy through very well, and that it might be quite hard to implement:

Speaking during his weekly Call Clegg programme on LBC Radio the Deputy Prime Minister admitted it would be “tricky” to implement the fines but that he has “quite a lot of sympathy with the basic principle”.

Shall we count the ways in which his latest policy idea is particularly stupid? Okay, let’s.

1. It’s quite clear – Clegg admits as much himself – that his policy is focused on what he calls “drunken louts”. But how to classify who and who is not a drunken lout without resorting to the type of class assumptions or profiling that a man of Clegg’s liberal credentials would surely abhor? I’m guessing that if I was a young man wearing a hoodie who tripped on the kerb after a few too many pints of beer of an evening, I might be a prime target for this fine. But what about a smartly dressed young barrister who tripped on her heels after a few too many glasses of port at a company dinner? Still a lout? What does one have to do, or be, to get whacked with the fine?

2. While consuming excessive levels of alcohol is clearly irresponsible, so are many other actions that humans take all the time. Extreme sports. Smoking. We all pay our taxes (well…) so who is to decide which activities will cause us to forfeit the right to the treatments and services that our taxes have paid for?

3. Some people have jobs or participate in activities that have mostly or only positive externalities. Fitness instructors, gardeners, marriage counsellors, drug caseworkers, physical therapy workers. By performing these activities they actually serve to lower the costs that the government would otherwise have to pay in a myriad of ways. Should these people get a small bonus cheque if they find themselves in the hospital? Or are we just going to punish the bad behaviour but not reward the good? Can taxes only ever go up, and not down?

4. If you engage in violent behaviour and end up in a jail cell, should it not be the case that the criminal justice system works effectively enough that if you are found guilty, you are liable for the legal and policing costs that your actions incurred? We all know that the criminal justice system  in our country is laughably broken, but is creating a separate mechanism outside of the criminal justice system to recoup costs from offenders really the way to go, Nick?

In other words, does our deputy prime minister really have nothing better to do, no more pressing matters to fill his day, than sitting in an LBC radio studio and making up demonstrably bad policy on the fly? He gets paid his ministerial salary to do this?

The next election is still two years away. I was hoping that we might be able to squeeze maybe one more year of at least aspirationally real, serious policymaking and governance into this parliament before we had to start listening to nonsense ideas like this one.

2 thoughts on “The Foolishness of Nick Clegg

  1. semipartisansam April 19, 2013 / 6:25 PM

    Well said! Your trip to A&E sounds as though it was quite unpleasant.I can actually empathise with your experience. A couple of my friends and I were attacked several years ago in Harlow while walking back home from the pub, and I ended up in hospital overnight, having shards of glass plucked out of my eye and my face. It was bad enough dealing with the scorn and contempt of the attending doctor (who only belatedly came to be on my side and understand that I hadn’t been bottling people in the face outside Wetherspoons myself), but to think that Nick Clegg might also want to slap me with a fine, despite the fact that I had already effectively pre-paid for my treatment through taxes, almost beggars belief.

    I have difficulty understanding why Clegg would even propose something like this. Normally his liberal credentials are fairly strong, and in terms of civil liberties and matters social and moral his party has normally been quite good at advocating keeping theocratic ideas and prejudices off our statute books. But I guess three years as Deputy Prime Minister can change a man, and now he is every bit as happy to chase a positive headline or win the approval of a focus group as Cameron, Miliband or anyone else.


  2. Angharad Lois April 19, 2013 / 2:49 PM

    Oh, Nick. Poor Nick. No-one agrees with Nick any more.
    This is a very good analysis of the key problems with his ‘idea’ (which sounds like something that might be thought up in a 6th form Politics brainstorming session).

    A few years ago, I broke my toe during an accident at work, but tried to ignore the pain and keep on working; that evening, I went on a date, drank some wine, got a little tipsy… and realised when I tried to stand up that my whole foot was swollen. That visit to a Central London A&E on a Friday night was a horrible experience. I was constantly shouted at and berated on the assumption that I was just another drunk who had caused her own problem – an easy assumption to make. I wonder, if Nick had his way, whether I would have been presented with a bill alongside the results of my x-ray.


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