Vince Cable, the presumptive next leader of the Liberal Democrats, has given an interview to the New Statesman. As I have written before, I have held some hope in reserve for the possibilities of Vince’s leadership. However, before he has even actually taken up the leadership, he has dropped a clanger, unfortunately. Asked about Theresa May’s phrase about “citizens of nowhere”, Vince said:
“I thought that particular phrase was quite evil. It could’ve been taken out of Mein Kampf.”
Right, where to begin with this. First, bringing Hitler into any political conversation is almost always a bad idea (Godwin’s law, if you will recall). I can accept that there may be times when comparisons with the Nazis are valid; if the Assad regime at some point in the future assembles death camps and starts killing off Sunnis en masse, then yes, I think Hitler comparisons would be warranted at that stage. But it would take something that extreme to validate Nazi collation. Because, let us remind ourselves of this important fact, the Nazis set a very high bar for evil. Anything short of attempted genocide falls well short of the mark.
Second, while I detested the “citizens of nowhere” line as much as anyone in the country (it actually offended me, which is rare), saying it was like something from “Mein Kampf” is just wildly inaccurate. The sentence “If you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere” would make absolute no sense whatsoever plopped into the text of “Mein Kampf”. For a start, it contains nothing about Hitler’s imaginary suffering at the hands of the Jews, which is pretty much what every sentence in Hitler’s badly written, self-pitying, horrible in every possible sense autobiography is about. But further, the whole trope of “citizen of the world” is entirely a 21st century one. It would have made no sense at all had anyone written it in 1925, never mind Adolf Hitler.
Why are Lib Dem leaders and leadership candidates prone to this sort of thing? I despair. I still hold out hope for Vince’s leadership – I don’t think this is on par with the “homosexuality is a sin” debacle – but it’s still not a great start.