Cathy Newman checks it out
It’s tough at the top – as Nick Clegg is beginning to find out. Since being elected leader in 2007, the Liberal Democrat leader has struggled to get noticed.
No longer. But his newfound celebrity has a downside. His past is coming back to haunt him.
Things that might have gone unnoticed when the Lib Dems were trailing in third place suddenly assume a new importance now he’s the kingmaker, or even the king.
Today, FactCheck has put some of the Clegg claims under the microscope.
“The travelling life of an MEP was difficult to reconcile with a young family and in 2004 I stood down as an MEP. I lectured part-time at Sheffield and Cambridge Universities before being elected as Member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam in 2005.”
Nick Clegg biography, Liberal Democrat website
Despite his promise to clean up lobbying and offer the British people a “new, different politics”, Channel 4 News has learnt that something is missing from Nick Clegg’s official biography on the Lib Dem website.
In 2004, the Lib Dem leader spent almost a year as a partner for a European lobbying firm, GPlus, yet no mention of it appears on the site.
But in a press release issued by GPlus in April 2004, Clegg is quoted as saying:
“Its especially exciting to be joining GPlus at a time when Brussels is moving more and more to the centre of business concerns. With the EU taking in ten more countries and adopting a new Constitution, organisations need more than ever intelligent professional help in engaging with the EU institutions.”
The firm says it helps clients that want to “shape policy thinking” and have their “voice heard in Brussels or in the European capitals”.
Clegg has tried to position himself as a different type of politician. He says his party offers something new – a break from the old, tired politics of Labour and the Conservatives.
“We will stamp out big donations, clean up lobbying …and you will once again be able to look at our Parliament with pride, not contempt,” he said at the launch of his manifesto last week.
Clegg’s aides at the Liberal Democrat headquarters insist he’s not embarrassed by his lobbying past. They say his role with GPlus was part time, and lasted only eight and a half months representing clients including the car rental company Hertz and the BG Group.
A partner at the firm told Channel 4 News “in so far as Nick was involved in lobbying he was definitely at the completely above board clean end of it”.
In a statement, an aide to Clegg told us: “GPlus was a job he did for eight and a half months for two days a week. It doesn’t form a significant part of his career and that’s why it isn’t on his CV. But we are very happy to answer any questions about it. Nick has long believed that the lobbying industry should be properly regulated and that remains his view. He is committed to build a new kind of politics in Britain.”
Update: Cathy questioned Nick Clegg about his past at this morning’s press conference. Watch the video below. 21 Apr 10
“It’s a modest, semi-detached, pebble-dash home.”
Nick Clegg, 20 April 2010, Liberal Democrat press conference
The Lib Dem leader faced questions about his second home expenses today, which totalled more than £80,000
in the past four years.
During his answer to the assembled press, he claimed his constituency house in Sheffield was “a modest, semi-detached, pebble-dash home”. But just how “modest” is Clegg’s Sheffield pad?
FactCheck learned the 43-year-old’s house is in the Ecclesall ward of the city, which according to the local council is “ranked within the 10 per cent least deprived wards nationally” – so appears to be in a sought-after area.
Indeed, Google Street view (see below image) shows that Clegg’s constituency home is on a pleasant, tree-lined road in Sheffield’s suburbs
A property website shows that semi-detached houses sold on Clegg’s street have ranged in sale price from £325,000 to £420,000 in the past year.
Tidy sums, and therefore even at the lowest price have sold for £105,000 more than the current average house price of £219,832.
It should also be noted – although he did not mention his other home today – that Clegg also has a £1m plus house in Putney, south-west London.
Clearly there is no duck house in the grounds of Clegg’s Sheffield home, but a property worth £100,000 more than the national average, in one of the country’s least deprived areas, might not be considered “modest” by many voters.
“Of course, not all bankers are greedy. In fact, my father was in banking, sort of old fashioned banking. His generation of bankers are much more radical than Vince [Cable] and I are, they are furious, they are incensed. Because they think the traditional role of banks to keep people’s money safe to lend on a prudential basis was turned upside down and inside out by a rush to short-term gain.”
Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader, 20 April 2010
Nick Clegg vowed to get tough on the banks today, and called for a return to the “traditional” banking of his father’s day. But the Lib Dem leader’s father, now in his mid-70s, is actually still in banking.
Sir Nicholas Clegg is chairman of the United Trust Bank. The bank describes itself as one of the UK’s leading suppliers of funding for property developers based in the UK.
The bank’s annual report for 2008 – the report for 2009 is still not available FactCheck was told – actually shows an overall loss of £371,000; so it seems even Nick’s “old fashioned” dad has seen his bank lose money.
The 2008 report also shows the bank’s highest paid director got £235,000; not “greedy” in the grand scheme of multi-million pound bonuses of course, but not bad in the midst of the collapse of the property market upon which the bank’s business was founded.
Sir Nick’s banking history also includes being director of one-time merchant bankers Hill Samuel Co Ltd, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Lloyds TSB’s Offshore Private Banking unit – given the Lib Dems’ stance on tax havens it is perhaps a relief for Clegg junior that his dad no longer works there.
Clegg senior was also co-chairman of Daiwa Europe Ltd; and chairman of Daiwa Europe Bank plc – where he worked with former chancellor and Tory heavyweight Ken Clarke.
Aside from chairmanships, he has also served as a director of the International Primary Markets Association, and a senior adviser to the Bank of England on banking supervision, where he was hired as a so-called grey panther to shake things up via his commercial sector background.
He was also a member of the supervisory board of Bank Insinger de Beaufort NV and a Director of Insinger de Beaufort Holdings.
It’s difficult to know just how “old fashioned” Nick Clegg Snr is in his banking approach, but it’s clear even his prudent approach has not spared his bank losses, although they do seem rather modest.
Update: Cathy Newman talks to Ken Clarke about when he worked with Nick Clegg’s father. Could he envision working with the father’s son?
Cathy Newman’s verdict
Nick Clegg’s claim he represents a new type of politics was always going to be a hostage to fortune. How “new” can someone who’s been an MEP and MP for over a decade be?
The Lib Dem leader’s aides seem surprised at all the scrutiny their party’s being subjected to, now their man is out in front. They shouldn’t be. Politics can be a brutal business.
And the risk for Clegg is that – while the public has embraced him as the new kid in town – his political opponents will be trying to exposing him as a chip off the old Westminster block.