Friday, September 07, 2012

Nick Clegg needs an occasional kick up the backside...

Ooh, it's all kicking off at Liberal Democrat Voice today as two daily editors, Paul Walter and Nick Thornsby debate the Coalition, the reshuffle and Nick Clegg's leadership. Paul argues that he can't support the Coalition or Nick Clegg's leadership any more because of David Laws' renewed high profile role and the Tories' promotion of Hunt and elevation of the notorious Lord Ashcroft to the Privy Council. 
I've made a comment there that I thought was worth re-posting here. Do come and join in the debate
Here's what I think about Nick and his leadership:
Ok, I’m going to stick my oar in and say that I am 100% behind Nick’s leadership.
That’s not to say that I think his performance has been flawless. Mistakes have been made that could and should have been avoided and he needs to make the effort to re-connect with his party’s activists. I had my own moment of fury on the reshuffle – I am severely unimpressed that our white, middle class, male, privileged team decided just to hand the equalities brief, from which Lynne Featherstone was doing such marvellous work, to the Tories. That ranks high on my short but significant FFS list – the things the Coalition has done that I can’t live with.
We are in Government at a really rubbish time. Even at the best of times, when we were in Government in Scotland, when we were implementing stacks of ground-breaking Liberal Democrat policy and had shedloads of money, the Party and the Holyrood team’s relationship was fraught with tension. Now we’re in Government during the worst period of economic trauma since the 1930s. I’ve recently read Alistair Darling’s book Back from the Brink and while I disagree with some of the decisions he made, I’m not sure I could have come anywhere close to coping with the dire economic shockwaves which were and still are going around.
I just think what would have happened if we hadn’t gone into coalition. We’d have had another election within 6 months which the Tories would have won and they would right now have already done things like cut housing benefit for all under 25s. The Human Rights Act would be in tatters and heaven knows what our relationship with Europe would be like. And children would still be locked up in Yarl’s Wood. Oh, and all the nasty web snooping stuff that the Liberal Democrats have insisted on further scrutiny under the liberal-hero eye of Julian Huppert, would le law now. Probably with Labour support.
When there’s no money, we have given low earners a tax cut, when the Tories would have prioritised rich dead people, Nick has led magnificently on mental health and the pupil premium, We’ve had the biggest ever cash rise in the state pension and Nick personally insisted on benefits going up in line with inflation last year.
On David Laws, one of the values we hold dearest is rehabilitation. David has taken his punishment, acknowledged and shown remorse for what he did – which was motivated purely out of a desire to protect his privacy rather than for personal gain. Never forget that had he been open about the relationship at the time, he could have claimed pretty much double the cost. He has atoned and is not going to re-offend. Is it therefore the liberal thing to keep him out in the wilderness? Every Lib Dem who’s gone on the media this week, on any phone in, has had a hard time from the tabloid reading public about David. We should not give a monkey’s. It may not be the popular thing, but it’s the right thing to do. He’s done his time and he clearly has the skills to do the job that he’s doing, however weird the combination of nukes, kids and jobs in his portfolio.
I am very encouraged by Ryan Coetzee’s appointment to replace Richard Reeves. This guy is a political street-fighter, not a policy guy and I expect a much more robust media strategy.
We Lib Dems are in a tough place at the moment. We aren’t making the most of our leader’s talents as I wrote last week. I was livid that we didn’t play to his strengths when he came to Scotland.
Nick Clegg’s current approval ratings are nothing to write home about, especially in Scotland. If we keep wasting opportunities to show off the real Nick, he will continue to be depicted as the bogeyman in London. Scotland has two young, talented, passionate, radical Liberal Democrat leaders. Scots know that Willie Rennie has not been shy in taking on the SNP establishment, supporting equal marriage and highlighting Alex Salmond’s links with Murdoch and how he’s panda-ed to China over human rights. It’s important they have the chance to learn more about Nick’s progressive, liberal, ideas and actions. They will find more common ground than they expect.
I’ll also leave you with some advice I had for him in March about how he needs to reconnect with the party.  More than any other, we rely on our activists being motivated enough to get out on the doorsteps. 
The last thing on earth I can imagine they want to do is to come out and soothe a scratchy party that they think doesn't understand them, but the more remote they become, the wider the gulf will get. Certainly, they can't be telling us the awful internal secrets of day to day Government life, but they can reassure us when we get a bit worried. For our part, we need to show them that we appreciate the things they are getting through and imagine what it must be like to have to deal with the likes of Eric Pickles, Theresa May and IDS on a daily basis.

In turn, we activists need to try to walk a couple of miles in his shoes. He spends his life doing the best he can to make Liberal Democrat values happen while having eyes in the back of his head to check that the Tories aren’t doing silly things.
If we change leader now, I’ll bet you anything that within 3 months, even the most well loved party darling would not have as high approval ratings. Being in Government is tough. We’re only going to make it tougher if we dump Nick. He needs the occasional kick up the backside, as all leaders do, but he deserves his position.


Hywel said...

"I expect a much more robust media strategy."

That's the problem We think this can be addressed by better media/presentation. The problem is what is the political strategy underlying it all for surviving coalition.

That's what has failed - and that is Nick's fault. A lot of the defence being offered at the moment is "he's a nice guy and a lot of this isn't his fault".

Sorry a lot of it IS his fault. We could have said "no way" to the NHS bill. We could have handled fees in a much better subtler way (even given the limits of the CA). We could have stopped bonkers ideas like forest privatisation from ever seeing the light of day.

Andrew said...

I'm afraid I'm with Hywel.

There are many positive things can can be said about Nick Clegg. His strategy, however, has been utterly deficient throughout.

I don't doubt he's a decent man, and that a lot of the coalition's failures are not Nick's fault. Then again, John Major was also an inately decent man let down too often by his ministers, but I wouldn't want him leading the country again.

But so much IS Nick's fault, as Hywel outlines above. Add to that his unhelpful interventions on Scotland, his determination to recreate us as a devolutionist rather than federal party, his patent inability to see that social mobility cannot be achieved without increased social equality, the fact that he is so easily outmaneouvred by the Tories at every turn, that he has failed to see the ramifications of key decisions at crucial times...and you have to ask should he really stay as leader? I haven't even yet mentioned the obvious - that he's an electoral liability - and far more so than Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell to whom the party showed less patience.

That said, the difficulties we are facing are wider than a loss of confidence in the leader. Focusing on the very narrow matter of Nick's continued leadership is unhelpful. I'm past defending him, but it's difficult to imagine any incoming leader being able to make much impression on the coalition. Even Tim Farron, likeable and not tarnished too much by association with government, would find it a struggle to tackle the sometimes hostile attitudes of our Tory partners while simultaneously rebuilding our credibility among voters.

The real challenge is in rebuilding our party. Concentrating our attentions on the leader and becoming more inward-looking isn't going to help.

Mcrosby18 said...

I support Nick Clegg, but I think his team has a big disadvantage, compared to both Labour and the Conservatves. David Cameron and his ilk have been involved in the workings of government for years - he himself advised Michael Howard in the 1990s when the Tories were last in power. Ed Miliband worked in the Labour government for at least as long and many of their colleagues can claim the same political longevity.

No LibDem has worked in government like this, so straight away, we're at a disadvantage. Add to that, the battles with the Sir Humphreys of the Civil Service, and it becomes apparent that Nick was always going to be catching up as far as strategy is concerned. What we need most is experience.

Anonymous said...

An admission that the previous Lib Dem economic position was a nonsense and that Conservative policy was the only thing you could do at the time!

Nick has been a great coalition partner for the Conservatives and has successfully neutralised the threat of the third party, something that nobody else has been able to achieve. He will be remembered as the person that got the Lib Dems to abandon their principles and do exactly the opposite of what they believe in, and in so doing assured that they would be left voiceless and discredited for a generation.

History shows that being "100% behind" any politician is a dangerous position. Your support can be co-opted to push forward things in your name that you would never subscribe to. A few months after fighting against tuition fees, they fought for them; a legacy that is proof that "if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything".

Galen10 said...


Re-arranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic is one thing, having abstruse debates about the patterns to arrange them in is another.

THe LD's problems are not presentational, they are by this stage existential. Nobody FORCED the LD's into Coalition during the 5 days of May in 2010, and even if you argue (wrongly I believe) that there was no alternative, the current leadership team bear the responsibility for securing a poor deal from the Tories.

What is even worse they have abandoned the principles of the party, and (as others here have already said, effectively committed electoral suicide thus returning the UK to the sterile to and fro of Tory and Labour rule.

Although I lent my support and vote to the LD's for many years, I will never do so again. Nick Clegg isn't only inadequate as a leader, he lacks a clear strategy or any vision of how to bring about the fundamental and progressive reform this country so urgently needs. Instead, he and his team have sacrificed their party, and the chances of obtaining such reform, on the altar of the Coalition.

The so called achievements of the LD's since 2010 represent pretty thin gruel, particularly when seen against:
-the failure to secure constitutional reform (both PR and Lords reform)
- the failure to secure cancellation of Trident,
- lining up with the Tories and Labour in Scotland on the Referendum issue,
- the failure to have ANY noticeable impact on stopping Tory attacks on the NHS and the disabled,
- signing up for Plan A and swallowing the Osborne line that there was no alternative economically,
- university tuition fees.

Nor can you try and wriggle out of this fiasco by claiming as Mcrosby18 does that it was due to inexperience. How many years do you need to prepare for government? It was supposed to be the LD's raison d'ĂȘtre to go into coalition with one of the 2 main parties, and ensure real change.

You and your party have abjectly failed to deliver, and none of the apologias presented thus far serve as a get out of jail free card which will encourage people to return to the fold, whether you try and blame the leadership, the economic crisis, the presentation of policy or whatever else.

There is no silver bullet or magic wand to wave. The 50% of former LD voters who have abandoned you since 2010 are not likely to return in any significant numbers, whether Clegg and his immediate cronies are booted out or not.

So where do we go from here? The LD's are now reduced essentially to the rump Liberal party of old. You face losing a significant number of seats at the next GE, probably doing even worse in Scotland assuming they don't vote YES in 2014 (which LD policy also appears to have made more likely rather than less!).

Even if you do manage to hold the balance of peer again in 2015, who is going to trust you? Having secured such a terribly bad deal in 2010, how much less influence can you expect in any new Coalition?

I actually feel quite sorry for a lot of the well meaning and hard working folk in the LD's; they have been desperately let down, and now seem to have nowhere else to go.

Rebuilding your party isn't going to be easy, but it is by no means impossible given the fact that New Labour remains essentially unreformed, and little better than under Blair and Brown. Whether the rump of the party can rise to the challenge is another question, but I won't be holding my breath.



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