Clegg gives ‘highly personal’ leader’s speech

British deputy prime minister says his views forged by family trauma

Wed, Sep 18, 2013, 15:56

Nick Clegg revealed how his family history shaped his political views and priorities for Government in a highly personal leader’s speech.

His address to the Liberal Democrat conference reflected on his own “privileged” background and his desire to live a normal family life away from the Westminster spotlight, indicating that he “won’t be in politics forever”.

Mr Clegg highlighted the political achievements of his wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez’s father, and his own increased focus on education and social mobility as a result of having three sons.

In a speech billed by aides as his most personal yet, the British deputy prime minister said he was determined that Westminster would not take over his family life in Putney, south west London.

He said: “Miriam and I chose not to live behind the Government battlements in Whitehall, so we live in the same home we’ve been in for some years.

“We try very hard to keep our family life normal and private - we keep our children away from the cameras. We don’t pretend we’re a model family - we are who we are. We try to make sure that Westminster doesn’t take over our lives.

“I know I won’t be in politics forever. What I will be is a father, a husband, a son, an uncle to all those I love in my family for good - just like anyone else.”

Mr Clegg’s mother, Hermance van den Wall Bake, was born under Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia and was interned by the Japanese during the Second World War and his father, Nicholas, was the son of a Russian immigrant mother.

The Lib Dem leader said: “My upbringing was privileged: home counties; private school; Cambridge University. I had a lot of opportunities. But I also had two parents who were determined that my brothers, my sister and I knew how lucky we were. On both sides, their families had experienced huge upheavals.

“My Dutch mother had spent much of her childhood in a prisoner of war camp. My dad’s Russian mother had come to England after her family lost everything in the Russian Revolution. So our home was full of different languages, relatives with different backgrounds, people with different views, music and books from different places.

“And my mother and father always told us that people’s fortunes can turn quickly - that good fortune should never be assumed and misfortune can occur suddenly, without warning.

“I think because of the traumas their parents had been through, while they wanted to give us everything, it was so important to them that we didn’t take things for granted.

“My brothers and sister and I were always taught to treat everyone the same, not to judge people by their background. We were raised to believe that everyone deserves a chance because everyone’s fortunes can change, often through no fault of their own.

“And now, as a father with three children at school, I have come to understand even more clearly than before that if we want to live in a society where everyone has a fair chance to live the life they want - and to bounce back from misfortune too - then education is the key.

“The gifts we give our children - self-confidence, an enthusiasm to learn, an ability to empathise with others, a joy in forging new friendships - these are instilled at an extraordinarily young age.

“That’s why I made social mobility the social policy objective of this Government - and I will want it to be the same for any Government I’m in.”

The Cleggs regularly holiday in Spain, where Ms Gonzalez Durantez is from, and the deputy prime minister said his sons Antonio (11), eight-year-old Alberto and four-year-old Miguel had been told about the political exploits of her father Jose Antonio Gonzalez Caviedes, who died in 1996.

Mr Clegg said: “After Spain moved to democracy in the 1970s, Miriam’s father was the first democratically elected mayor in a small agricultural town in the middle of the countryside.

“He single-handedly brought better schools, more jobs and better housing to his community. He was hugely proud of being the first mayor to serve his community through the ballot box. He sadly died some years ago, and there’s a small statue of him today outside the church in Miriam’s village.

“Our small boys see that statue every holiday and Miriam tells them of the wonderful things he did. And they always ask about why he was elected and no one before him. We teach them that democracy and freedom are a fragile and recent thing in many parts of the world.

“We teach them - just as my parents taught me - that rights and values should never be taken for granted, and if you believe in them, you should stand up for them.”

PA