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Who Is Nick Clegg? Left-wing, Anti-Brexit Former UK Deputy PM Hired as Facebook’s Global Comms Chief

Clegg
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Sir Nick Clegg, the left-wing former Deputy Prime Minister hired as Vice-president of Global Affairs and Communications by Facebook, has a long history public controversy, and has previously had harsh words for his new paymasters.

Clegg has had something of a chequered past, to say the least, with Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to award the polyglot public schoolboy a knighthood triggering at least two major petitions opposed to the move, one signed by more than 50,000 people and the other by more than 60,000 people.

He was briefly a media star during the General Election campaign in 2010, being hailed by the commentariat for a supposedly standout performance in Britain’s first true television leaders’ debates alongside then-Tory leader David Cameron and then-Labour leader Gordon Brown — who had dominated British politics alongside ally and rival Tony Blair since 1997, but was on his way out of government office at last.

In the end, Clegg’s centre-left Liberal Democrats actually lost seats in the House of Commons following the election, but found they still held the balance of power in a so-called hung parliament — rare in British politics — in which the Tories were the largest single party but did not have a parliamentary majority on their own.

Clegg made the risky decision to go into a coalition with Cameron — the Lib Dems and their predecessor parties had not entered any government since Churchill’s wartime coalition — and become Deputy Prime Minister, but found few opportunities to impress supporters, given the necessity to impose “swinging cuts” in the wake of the financial crisis.

Indeed, the highlight of his government career was probably his decision to back a vote tripling university tuition fees — despite having toured campuses around the country posing with a signed pledge to vote against any increase prior to election day.

His party was badly punished for its apparent untrustworthiness in the 2015 General Election, falling from 52 Commons seats to just eight, and Clegg himself resigning the leadership.

He attempted to play a leading role in the subsequent EU referendum, having been an employee of the European Commission before being elected to the European Parliament as an MEP at the start of his political career.

This, too, turned out to be a disaster, with the Leave campaign dealing the establishment a surprise defeat, and Clegg losing his parliamentary seat in the snap election which followed.

He refused to accept the result, however, campaigning openly for a second referendum alongside other high-profile has-beens such as Tony Blair and Sir John Major, even going so far as to pen a book titled How to Stop Brexit.

Clegg found himself constantly embarrassed during his anti-Brexit activities by reminders of a speech he had given during the referendum, when — expecting an easy victory for the Remain campaign — he had mockingly predicted that some diehard Brexiteers would become “like Japanese soldiers who continued fighting the last war because no-one had told them it had ended, in some Pacific island, who will carry on arguing and arguing and arguing, [while] the rest of us will just move on, carry on with the rest of our lives.”

Despite his status as an electoral failure, Sir Nick nevertheless remains extremely well-connected among Europe’s political, bureaucratic, and corporate elite — Goldman Sachs paid the left-liberal £22,500 for a speech on the EU in 2015, for example, despite his having condemned the banking giant’s “recklessness and greed” just five years previously.

It is likely Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg hopes to leverage Clegg’s many contacts in London and Brussels in his new role as global lobbyist — a role for which he will reportedly be rewarded with a salary in the region of a million pounds per year.

The 51-year-old has certainly not been hired for his social media savvy, having been branded a “snake” by Twitter users for following and then following large numbers of people on the on micro-blogging platform in an apparent bid to increase his own follower count in 2016.

Nor has he always been such the staunch defender of Facebook and Mr Zuckerberg which he has become in recent months — many outlets have highlighted a newspaper column prior to his hiring in which he asserted: “I’m not especially bedazzled by Facebook. While I have good friends who work at the company, I actually find the messianic Californian new-worldy-touchy-feely culture of Facebook a little grating. Nor am I sure that companies such as Facebook really pay all the tax they could”.

However, right-leaning members of the public worried about the growing power of tech giants over the public discourse — and their apparently increasing willingness to actively shape it, sometimes in concert with globalist-leaning national governments and inter- and supranational bodies — might be more concerned about where the direction Sir Nick hopes to guide the platform in terms of free speech, especially as he has already boasted that he sees it as his duty to help Facebook “navigate” the “balance between free speech and prohibited content” in his new role.

“I think [the social media giants] now get that they’ve got to do much more to verify what’s circulating,” Sir Nick told Wired last year, referring to the so-called ‘fake news’ blamed by some for Britain’s vote to Leave the European Union and America’s election of Donald Trump.

The well-connected globalist is a founder-member of the new Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, which he claims seeks to answer the question: “Are we sufficiently protected against the bots, the trolls, the hackers and fake accounts who wish us harm?”

Working alongside other members, including former U.S. Vice-president Joe Biden, former Prime Minister of Denmark Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, Clegg said the group hopes to commission “research into the changing nature of election meddling… and, most importantly, give countries under attack a toolkit with which they can help protect themselves.”

How this rhetoric will translate into policy proposals at Facebook, with the U.S. midterms and the European Parliament elections next year looming and an increasingly censorious atmosphere at Silicon Valley’s left-leaning tech firms, remains unclear.

Follow Jack Montgomery on Twitter: @JackBMontgomery
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