Jasper Gerard writes… The Clegg Coup – and the serialisation horror

To those who fear the future marching over the horizon, this must feel suspiciously like enemy occupation. Liberal Democrats, with their new and sinister continental ways, have seized power. If conservative opinion believed it had the measure of Labour, it can’t quite get to grips with Britain’s newest rulers. For not only are Liberal Democrats in office for the first time, they have given us an apparently foreign form of government, a coalition.

Traditionalists have to trawl back more than a century for the homely comfort of precise precedent. Such has been the opposition to peacetime partnership, where two united parties put aside past perfideries. All has now changed, yet few seem to grasp why our coalition has come about, how it works, or even quite who half the axis is. This ignorance needs to be challenged because, whatever the public thinks of the Liberal Democrats, they do need to think of us.  And with the once impregnable fortress of the two-party system reduced to a smouldering ruin, the Liberal Democrat standard could be flying for some time.

Which is why I wrote a book about the resurgence of Liberalism, The Clegg Coup. It is a remarkable story, how Nick went from being unrecognised in his corner shop to the most popular leader since Churchill and the most powerful Liberal since Lloyd George. The way he transformed his party and the way we do politics was at least as dramatic as the revolutions wrought in the Labour and Conservative parties – yet it has been ignored by the media. To find the last really serious study of the party and its place in society you have to trawl back to the cheerily titled The Strange Death of Liberal England; three quarters of a century on, I felt it could use an update.

My intention was to be supportive, offering an insider-ish account of how Nick turned the party into an electable, genuinely liberal centre party (as well as being a journalist I’ve been an active supporter and occasional worker for the party since I joined aged 14). But I’ve been reminded all over again how challenging it can be to get across a positive message about the Lib Dems through mainstream media.

My agent sold serial rights to the Mail. (They are, I was informed, the only newspaper left who pay commercial sums and I had worked full time on this project for a year, securing interviews with all the leading players). I was wary but reasoned “an extract is an extract – how much could go wrong?”

Quite a lot, I discovered. The Mail, apparently, had the right to trawl the book for the handful of negative comments and then drip them into a narrative of its own writing. Looking in horror at the serialisation I had the strange sensation of wondering if I was reading someone else’s book.

That is now behind me. I have apologised to Nick, who is very grown up about these things and knows the Mail’s agenda. Positive reviews of the book, rather than of the serialisation, are soon to emerge. I hope Lib Dems will read it – not because I’m desperate to sell copies but because I want them to fully understand the job Lib Dem ministers are doing to put our values into practice. The story that emerges is one of quite extraordinary culture clashes with the Tories – one minister even asked Nick Harvey if he could borrow his top hat – but ultimately one of Lib Dems punching way above their weight to get a whole raft of policies enacted. The Clegg Coup ends by explaining where the Lib Dems will go from here, revealing their plans for a second stage coalition agreement, and what is likely to happen to the Lib Dem vote after five years in coalition. In particular, a searching interview with Nick answers many of the questions that Lib Dem members have been asking.

You can buy The Clegg Coup by Jasper Gerard from Amazon here and watch out on this site in future days for further posts from the author about his book.

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37 Comments

  • So many questions and reactions are prompted by this short piece and the book it features, but I`ll stick with one, encapsulated by just one word taken from this sentence, “My intention was to be supportive, offering an insider-ish account of how Nick turned the party into an electable, genuinely liberal centre party…”

    The word is, of course, ‘electable’. I refer Mr Gerard and all readers to the local election results earlier this year.

    That is all.

  • In reply to Mike Cobley, its bad science to base a theory on a single set of Data, lets at least wait till we have 2 lots of results.
    Theres a further problem with Local Elections, most voters dont think they are important & feel free to use them for Protest Votes.
    Most of the people who study Polls think that Leadership ratings are the best predictor of future General Elections & on that basis we are level with or ahead of Labour.

  • “To find the last really serious study of the party and its place in society you have to trawl back to the cheerily titled The Strange Death of Liberal England”

    It’s bad news for everyone who has written books about the Liberal party since then. I suppose the way to we sure they aren’t serious is that they didn’t get serialised in the Daily Mail.

  • Goodonya Jasper. Although i’m a little surprised you didn’t foresee how the Mail might fillet your book to its own agenda …

  • Tony Greaves 19th Oct '11 - 12:22pm

    “To find the last really serious study of the party and its place in society you have to trawl back to the cheerily titled The Strange Death of Liberal England”

    Anyone who thinks that Dangerfield’s book was a “really serious study of the party” is not to be taken seriously in my view, and to suggest there have been no serious studies since is extraordinarily arrogant of an author of a new book.

    So I am inclined not to take this man too seriously.

    Tony Greaves

  • Daniel Henry 19th Oct '11 - 12:36pm

    What about our new book, Peace, Reform and Liberation?
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1849540438/?tag=libdemvoice-21

    Anyone read this one yet?
    What do people think?
    Good reviews might place it on my Christmas list! :)

  • Norman Fraser 19th Oct '11 - 1:20pm

    I can assure Paul Barker that the local government elections in Scotland next year will provide a second massive indication of voter rejection of Clegg and all his works.

  • “Quite a lot, I discovered. The Mail, apparently, had the right to trawl the book for the handful of negative comments and then drip them into a narrative of its own writing. Looking in horror at the serialisation I had the strange sensation of wondering if I was reading someone else’s book.”

    What sort of journalist (or person with knowledge of politics, or a passing acquaintance with the Mail) is surprised at this?

  • James Sandbach 19th Oct '11 - 1:54pm

    Thanks Jasper will buy the book, but your summary seems a bit far off the mark..

    Firstly, that coalition is completely alien in Britain and not seen in action for “more than a century” you say …err not so..

    – we had of course Lloyd George’s coalition with the Tories which continued on into the 1920s untill the, disasterous for the Party though which split (plus questions over DLG’s probity), then became overshadowed by Labour picking up progressive votes and opinion (ironically trade unionism which developed into an organised labour political movement etc was facilitated by pre WW1 liberal legislation)
    – we had Ramsey McDonald’s National Government during the great depression (1930s), Loyd Geoege unable to serve due to ill health, but had liberal support and involvement of Samuel and others..similarly disasterrous for Labour which split and never quite forgave McDonald for all the cuts and austerity measures (“the Geddes Act etc”)
    – we had Churchill’s wartime coalition including Atlee and Bevan in Cabinet as well as liberal leader Archy Sinclair..outcome ended better for Labour which swept the country in the post-war election, but then they had been using the coalition to lay the groundwork for the welfare state which was huguely popular at the time (and subsequent ‘butskellite’ consensus which saw successor tory governments persuing one-nation/progressive policies…much input from leading liberals of the day like Beveridge)
    – we had the Heath/Thorpe coalition talks in 1974 with offer of Home Secretary to Thorpe who had carried 20% of the vote..collapse of this and subsequent victory for labour saw the liberals fall back and then engulfed in leadership crisis
    – we had the Lib-Lab pact (77-79) – a coalition of sorts but without Cabinet representation, purpose was to continue to provide a viable centrist progressive Government during a time of industrial and economic crisis and nascent shift to the right within the opposition
    – we had the Alliance in the 80s, a political rather governmental coalition of liberals and social democrat labour seeing the centre movement grow to over 60 mps and on standby as an alternative government – led eventually to merger and birth of libdems (and some potential for co-opreration with social democrats remaining in Labour)
    – in the 1990s we had the Blair-Ashdown talks, the Cook-Maclennan package on constitutional reform and the plan/deal which utlimately Blair did not honour to bring libdems into Cabinet and turn ‘new labour’ into new coalition and new politics..an unspoken deal on tactical voting also saw libdem representation more than double in Parliament in 1997..one of the most successfull outcomes in our history
    – we had Libdems in coalition Governments in Scotland and Wales (including Jim Wallace as first Minister)
    – in the late noughties after Blair’s exit we had Brown’s offer to Ming Campbell for Libdems to join the Cabinet – it’s pretty clear that Ming was tempted, then bottled out
    – we’ve had coalitions in local government pretty much everywhere..
    – finally we had the coalescance of tory soft rightists and liberal orange-bookers, eventually leading to the so called “Clegg Coup”..(but was it really Clegg coup or a Cameron coup?)

    My general reading of this history is that coalition government concept works better in action, especially for lidems, on the centre-left progressive state-building territory rather than state-slashing right-wing territory.

    Secondly, you seem to say that liberalism was irrelevent until Clegg and the 2010 election, and refer us to Dangerfield’s ‘the strange death of liberal england” argument;..I’d say you should look at the counter-argument penned in the 80s by Ian Bradley on ‘the strange rebirth of liberal england’. True liberalism may not have succeeded politically, despite the popularity of its advocates like Jo Grimmond. But culturally it’s been a different story, small l rather than big L liberalism (what Bradley calls old fashioned values based liberalism) has found expression through community politics, through changed social attidudes in the 60s which saw landmark pieces of liberal legislation (on abortion, discrimination, race and gay rights), through an active voluntary sector as well as through church social action (especially methodism), all hapenning at a time when Grimond and Thorpe were at least growing the Party from it’s low watermark in the 50s and winning byelections etc.

    ..so let’s not get so Cleggista about the current coalition that we attempt to rewrite history and ignore our social, political and cultural roots and how we got here..it’s been a long march rather than a continetallist coup and most of us still march to a very different drum than Mr Cameron’s…I’ll be looking out for these nuances when I read your book

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Oct '11 - 2:53pm

    I very much agree with the dismissive comments on Jasper Gerrard. From what is written here, he seems to be a man whose knowledge of the Liberal Democrats is based largely on what is printed in the (mostly hostile and almost entirely ignorant) press, rather than on the reality of the Liberal Democrats as a nationwide party.

    It was always likely at some point, following the February 1974 general election which was probably the real turnaround point which established that third party politics was here to stay in the UK, that the Liberal Party, Liberal/SDP, LibDems would hold the balance of power after a general election. There was nothing special about Nick Clegg which caused it to happen under him. So to say that he “turned the party into an electable, genuinely liberal centre party” is rubbish. It has not in any particular way become more that under Clegg’s leadership than it was before. If it were not for the accident of the way the votes turned out in May 2010 – which is actually more due to the Conservatives remaining deeply unpopular across much of the country so they still couldn’t get a majority even when the disaster of new Labour was obvious than due to the Liberal Democrats – Clegg would probably have been written off as a poor leader, someone who threw away the initial optimism at the start of the general election campaign and so became the first third party leader in decades who ended the general election with no higher a share of the actual vote than the party had in the polls when it started.

    Curiously, the best leader of the Liberal Democrats turned out to be Charles Kennedy (a man I had no time for before he was elected as leader). He was the best leader because for personal reason we now know about he left a lot of the leading to other people, so enabling the Liberal Democrats not to be seen and written up as a one-man band. Now THERE’S something a good and REAL liberal lesson can be learnt from.

    What actually helped the party was the way local campaigning developed so that its vote clumped together instead of being evenly spread. That is why it had many more MPs in 2010 (though not quite so many as in 2005), on a share of the vote about the same as it had in 1983 and not that much more than in 1974. It really is nonsense to use flowery language like “And with the once impregnable fortress of the two-party system reduced to a smouldering ruin, the Liberal Democrat standard could be flying for some time” when the vote share in the last general election was not that much above what the party obtained 36 years earlier – and when it has dropped hugely in the polls since.

    This flowery language about this being a new politics and all that guff ignores the complete failure of someone sold to us as a “great communicator” to establish in the minds of ordinary people why we have this coalition and what the Liberal Democrats can do in it. The foolish mistake at the start of selling it as if it was almost an equal partnership has been so immensely damaging to us, if latest polls are to believed it has lost us two thirds of our vote. Yet Jasper Gerrard is still using this “great influence”, “punching over our weight” language. The result is that most people who used to support us, seeing a thoroughly right-wing government, feel they were tricked by a bunch of unprincipled liars, who have now revealed their true colours – just another bunch of out-of-touch politicians with policies that suck up to the super-rich and send the rest of us to hell. I don’t myself see it like this, because I fully accept the electoral balance in 2010 left us with little alternative but to form a coalition where we would be able to fill in some of the details, but the Conservatives would paint the big picture. However, I find it is almost impossible to get this message across. The general public seems to believe that we had a choice and chose to “put in” the Conservatives, and even more weirdly that somehow we are to blame for the extreme right-wing economics of the government. So many times I have heard this line “Well, they don’t have to keep their manifesto promises as its a coalition”, as if we had a majority Tory government instead (which is what the “never vote LibDem again” people would have us have) it would somehow not be so awful.

    The AV referendum where millions of people voted “No” in protest against the weakness of the third party and over-dominance of the majority party after a campaign where the “No” side said the best thing about their system was that it weakened third parties and strengthened the biggest really shows how we have failed to communicate under our current leader. Effectively, people were voting for something (FPTP) in protest against the results of that same something. To me that was as stupid as kicking the cat to protest about cruelty to animals. So why could we not get that message across?

  • Cllr Colin Strong 19th Oct '11 - 5:48pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    The AV referendum was an opportunity to get rid of tactical voting. That was about the only good reason for AV over FPTP given neither voting system is proportional. But the voters saw it as an easy opportunity to kick Clegg and took it. Fair enough – that is what democracy is all about.

    @Non-Lib Dems
    Don’t blame Liberal Democrats use of bar charts in pointing out that Labour/Tories/SNP/Plaid cannot win the Parliamentary seat here*!

    [* note that the Lib Dems were first or second in 299 seats in the 2010 General Election]

  • Bill le Breton 19th Oct '11 - 5:53pm

    Risible.

    Clegg’s luck was to have a Prime Minister’s Debate. Steele, Ashdown and Kennedy would each have had a similar boost in the polls.

    The inexperienced Clegg and his equally inexperienced campaign manager then froze and like a boxer trying to protect a lead from an early knock down of his opponent sought refuge on the ropes taking punishment hoping the bell would ring before the advantage had dissipated. The inaction that followed the first debate made the Party less rather than more electable.

    Steele, Ashdown and Kennedy would each have taken on the counterattacks that came at us because they were experienced politicians. With the resulting hundred seats in this Parliament, two fronts would have been opened up for them to negotiate with.

    Nor would Steele, Ashdown and Kennedy have been comfortable with Cameron and so compliant on Conservative core policy. As irritants and insurgents Liberal Democrats would have represented and spoken for the ‘unconservative’ among the British people.

    What Clegg could not win in Conference he was offered by and accepted from the Conservative leader. He gambled and used as his stake the reputation and public position built up by hundreds of activists over fifty years.

    My first council nomination form (in 1979) was signed by a man who with one other at a Liberal AGM in 1954 moved and carried an amendment to the proposition that the Party in that constituency be wound up, handing the seat forever to the Conservatives and Labour to play Buggin’s turn with. That was a humbling experience.

    There is still time and power to lead the insurgency against the forces of privilege, of exploitation and of contempt so recently manifest in the person of the very close friend of the Prime Minister, the former Secretary of State for Defence.

  • I think this speaks for itself:
    British Government seeks to ban legal principle which led to release of torture evidence in Binyam Mohamed case
    http://www.reprieve.org.uk/press/2011_10_19_Government_seeks_to_ban_evidence/

  • Ruth Bright 19th Oct '11 - 6:09pm

    Tony – agreed that the Dangerfield book is cobblers.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Oct '11 - 6:42pm


    The AV referendum was an opportunity to get rid of tactical voting. That was about the only good reason for AV over FPTP given neither voting system is proportional. But the voters saw it as an easy opportunity to kick Clegg and took it. Fair enough – that is what democracy is all about

    Sure, but with the removal of the danger of the split vote, independent challenges to complacent main party MPs and candidates become far more viable, that would be a serious advantage and maybe end some of the current political blockage. I think people would have gone for this if it was explained to them, but it wasn’t. Also, the “No” vote is being interpreted as a rejection of any form of electoral reform for the foreseeable future. That is why though its effect would be minor it was important to win as it then opened the possibility to more radical reform later. No-one in the “No” campaign was saying “Vote No because AV isn’t sufficient reform”.

    I appreciate many voted “No” to spite Clegg, but that is just a mark of his failure as an effective communicator that they did this. Because in voting “No” they voted for they very system which by its distortions gave the LibDems little choice but to enter a coalition with the Tories in which they would have only a small influence. That is, a “No” vote in the referendum was an endorsement of Cameron as PM and Clegg as ineffective DPM. People who vote in a referendum not on the question but on something else are fools – and in this case they need to have their noses rubbed again and again into just what they did by voting “No”. OK, maybe do it a little more delicately, but rubbish communicator Clegg can’t do this, can’t even think round the way this tactic could be used to our advantage.

    Sorry, but the man has been a disaster for our party, and we will get nowhere until we accept that.

  • Sounds an interesting book. I’ve always enjoyed Jasper’s intelligent and engaging writing. Hopefully it will provide light rather than heat!

  • Alex

    “Why exactly would Lib Dems have wanted to be in Cabinet with a Labour government that had a thumping great majority?”

    I agree – but there was an idea to “reunite the forces of the left” around a programme of real constitutional reform. It’s easy to forget the significant reforms that came in under the 97 Labour government (devolution, Human Rights Act, Freedom of Information etc). A lot of that was a common programme (see the Cook/Maclennan agreement) as it was things both parties had been committed to for many years – and there was a joint cabinet committee to oversee its implementation.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Oct '11 - 9:49am

    Bill le Breton

    Clegg’s luck was to have a Prime Minister’s Debate. Steele, Ashdown and Kennedy would each have had a similar boost in the polls.

    It was also the case that Clegg was a complete unknown amongst ordinary people at the time, I suspect if you had asked almost anyone not actively involved in politics “Who is the leader of the Liberal Democrats?” they would have replied “Don’t know”. So the first leaders’ debate put in many people’s heads the idea their was a third choice, one they had not thought much about before. I don’t think you would have seen quite the same had Clegg been leader for longer, certainly not if it was his second general election campaign, and actually I rather feel not if he had made more of an impact between the period he was elected leader and the leaders’ debate.

    I agree with your assessment of what followed. I’m not a television watcher so I did not see the first debate, but after what was said about it I did watch the other two, and I was just not impressed by Clegg in them. I make no secret of the fact that I never liked the man and thought him ludicrously over-promoted in the way he emerged as “obviously the next leader”, but I wanted him to do well in the debates because I wanted us to do well in the election – I was certainly not watching them in the hope of seeing him founder. Yet it seemed to me he kept missing obvious lines which someone with more experience in our party and a more deeper instinct for what it stands for would have got. His performance was wooden. To me Clegg has always come across as the boy from a public school picked to play the Liberal Democrat in the school’s election debate, he has some sympathy with the party, has mugged up on it, but he just hasn’t got the deep links and feelings for it that would mark out a real leader of the party and he falls down constantly because of misassumptions that come if you have grown up in a very wealthy and privileged background.

    What particularly concerned me, in the last debate, was that I was expecting some sort of barnstorming rallying call, but we didn’t get one, he just sort of fizzled out. I though perhaps he was saving it for an eve-of-poll speech, but nothing like that came. I’m aware of the Sheffield Rally symptom, so not like that, but we needed something really to call us up and enthuse our supporters at the end and we didn’t get it.

    I have said this many times, but I will say it again – the extent to which the initial opinion poll boost was down to Clegg’s performance in the first debate was very much over-emphasised in the media. The problem is that media people don’t know us and don’t want to know us, so they will write everything up in politics, particularly when it comes to our party, as if it’s all down to the national leaders and what they say and do. The reality was that as the election date had been left to the point it could go no further we all knew when it would happen. So there had been a massive effort to distribute literature just before it was initially announced – all of us activists were out on the streets doing that. That must surely have contributed much to the opinion poll boosts seen at the time, yet the national media made no mention of it, putting it all down to “Cleggmania”.

    The usual way general elections work is that as we keep on working, people who started off thinking of politics as a two-player game see more of us and realise there’s a third option, because we’re actively working on the streets and the media are forced to give us more coverage than they usually do. In 2010 it did not work that way, we gained no campaign boost. I am sorry, but I do think much of this comes down to the over-focusing on Clegg due to the misassumption that the original poll boost was due to him, and then to the fact he did not inspire in the way he was written up initially suggested he should.

    Our disappointing performance was a key factor in why we were weak following the election. Because we had ended it on a downward trajectory we were not in the position to be forceful and if necessary push for another early general election, because we would be the main losers in another election. It is for this reason that I reluctantly accepted the coalition was the best next step, as the alternative was a minority Tory government which WOULD have called a general election in months asking for a majority and would have got it – at our expense.

    This is why I have no truck with those who moan about us “propping up the Tories”, “selling out our principles” etc. Had we not done what we did, right now we would have a pure Tory government. Do those who abuse us really think such a government would be more pleasant than what we have now?

  • @ huntbach
    Disliking the Leader is one thing but to suggest that we shot to top of the national opinion polls in a few days because of activists delivering leaflets is frankly ridiculous!

  • Jasper Gerard 20th Oct '11 - 12:48pm

    Many thanks for all the comments (including the critical ones).

    It is tricky in a few hundred words to sum up quite a hefty book so many of the points raised are dealt with. James (good to hear from you BTW) there is a chunky chapter on coalitions and I do argue strongly in The Clegg Coup that partnership governments are not as alien to Britain as conservative opinion would have us believe (quite the reverse). However, in going through all the examples in the book I also point out the differences (Lib-Lab was just a pact, Heath talks didn’t get anywhere, Churchill coalition was during war-time, thirties was technically a “national” government, even the Lloyd George coalition wasn’t two united parties going into government as LG had less than half the Lib Party behind him, Asquith’s coalition was again in wartime. Before that Asquith used the support of Labour members and also Irish nationalists but led what was very much a “Liberal” government. Perhaps the nearest example to the present day is the Conservative/ Liberal Unionists, though of course the Liberal Unionists were a break-away from the Liberal Party and were swallowed up by the Tories in 1912. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that though Britain is familiar with partnership government, this type of coalition is ground-breaking.

    Re point about the relative contribution of Clegg: yes he was massively helped by the TV debate. Also if you read the book there is a large section on the social and political forces that have been pushing towards just such a moment for a half a century – so plse don’t for a minute think that I attribute everything to Nick. However, just as in football, after good, patient approach play you need someone to stick the ball in the back of the net – and the fact remains that despite those forces (breakdown of class loyalties, unhappiness with the two party system etc etc) being evident for many years the third party had not made a breakthrough. I accept there is a large element of “luck” in that the relative positions of the two other parties is as significant (perhaps more so) than our own showing to gain a balanced parliament, but I think it would be a major mistake of any Lib Dem to under-estimate Nick’s achievement. You might not like his prospectus (that is a different argument) but the book sets out to explain what he did behind the scenes to bring it about. Without that it is very unlikely that the party could have gone into coalition with the Tories (many made the point to me that it would have been impossible after the “tick box” 2005 manifesto of unaffordable promises, which even figures on the left compared unfavourably to me with Nick’s workable programme for government). Some might decry that, but it ultimately depends on whether you want the party to be a centre left protest movement that might one day get into coalition with Labour – or a genuinely centrist liberal party who is prepared to work with either of the other two parties and thus likely to be in power more often.

    Tony: you are absolutely right about the other books and I apologise if I came across as dismissive (not my intention). But I stand by the point about Dangerfield’s book (a point made to me by Chris Huhne, who said that both for the beauty of its writing and the way it placed the Liberal Party in a sociological context, no other book since then on our party can be talked about in quite the same breath. Am not BTW claiming mine is anywhere near as good!)

    Re our electoral position: yes accept it is difficult but the book talks to lots of psephologists who also offer grounds for optimism. Also, those on the oppositionist left of the party have to spell out what their alternative is: the Grayson position of wanting the party to be somewhere to the left of Labour doesn’t look very promising with Labour now pushing more that way itself.

    Re comments about the Mail: all fair and the mistake was mine. Apologies. I was prepared for a few scratchy headlines etc but I believed a serialisation consisted of actual extracts taken from the book. Perhaps I am naive but would it occur to you that a so-called “serialisation” would be entirely re-written so virtually none of the original remained?

    Anyway, all I am asking is that you read the book and then judge (before anyone asks I think it would have to sell some vast number before I would earn royalties, so that is not my motive). The simple truth is, like all of you, I care very deeply about our party. Perhaps this exchange shows the difficulty of trying to sum up any book. By all means lay into me – but plse read the book first. Many thanks for taking the trouble to follow this debate.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Oct '11 - 1:16pm


    Disliking the Leader is one thing but to suggest that we shot to top of the national opinion polls in a few days because of activists delivering leaflets is frankly ridiculous!

    Why is it any more ridiculous than suggesting we shot to the top of the national opinion polls solely because of one television appearance?

    In fact the opinion polls were already showing a significant rise in the LibDem share before the television debate happened. One may argue about the contributory effects of both, but I think to entirely neglect what has happening on the streets at the time – as most national media commentary did – was to miss an important factor.

    If, as you are suggesting, activists delivering leaflets contribute little to our vote share, then how do you account for the uneven distribution of the LibDem vote? How come you can find one place with a large LibDem vote and another close by with a small LibDem vote, though the two places are similar in most respects? The reason is almost always because one has an active team of LibDem members working it, the other does not.

    Indeed, the reason our party was much more successful in the last two elections, in terms of seats won, than it and its predecessors were in previous elections where they won a similar share of the vote is because the vote depended more on local activists and so was more clumped together in places where there was intensive activity. The 1974 elections for the Liberal Party, and the 1983 election for the SDP part of the Alliance in particular proved disappointing because their vote was very evenly spread out and so gave little in terms of seats for the share of the vote. A very hard lesson was learnt in the 1980s, when the SDP came along and told the Liberals “you are just sleepy people who don’t know how to win votes, you and your silly door-knocking amateur leaflet-pushing activists – we are going to show you how to do it with a glossy national campaign and professional PR people doing it all from the top”. It did not work, we had to let the SDP get on with it and fail to get them to see that. Our party has always done best when it has run a people-centred campaign where ordinary activists are in charge, and done badly when it listens to the poor advice from professional PR people who think politics can be sold like a consumer product.

    Look, throughout my adult lifetime, in all of which I have been an active member of the party, we have had this message pushed at us by clueless elitists: “party activists are an old-fashioned way of doing things, we need to become more professional and modernise” – by which they mean have a top-down campaign, and a model of political party which, to be frank falls somewhere between fascism and Leninism. That is NOT true liberalism, and it does not even work.

    After decades of all the parties “modernising” and becoming “more professional” because “that’s what wins votes”, we have politics and politicians hated in general more so than ever. So it has achieved the opposite effect to that claimed.

  • > Why is it any more ridiculous than suggesting we shot to the top of the national opinion polls solely
    > because of one television appearance?

    Because that’s what actually happened?

    However active we might have been in our limited range of target seats, the vast majority of the country would have received nothing from the LibDems in the week of the TV debate. It takes years to build up target-level support, as most of us know. In the large majority of seats we are told to go and work elsewhere, after all. Whereas in the few days after the first debate the level of interest we got in the party locally was unprecedented.

    The debate about long-term campaigning and targeting is a different one altogether.

  • A couple of points, Jasper.
    I think your attempt to distinguish between the various coalitions, national governments, who was in who was out cases etc, was a bit contrived. The fact is, that the party has lost many members, supporters, and activists, and others are in various states of inactivity. This may not be a formal “split”, but it is the nearest thing to it. Many of those who have left / become inactive take a Grayson – ish approach. I am not quite sure from your title what you mean by the Clegg “coup”, but if you mean the triumph of the economic right of the party over the radical / green / left (or however you wish to characterise it) then it is clear that there would be (and is) a de facto party split. It is noteworthy how many of the LD members of the Govt and among the coalition negotiators come from that wing of the party. I somewhat doubt that the Tories would have accepted the sort of coalition policies that the left of the party would have aimed for.

    The fact that the Parliament was hung is entirely due to the relative balance of Tory and Labour. In the run up to the removal of Charles Kennedy, he was reported to be blamed by some for “poor results” in the 2005 GE. How much more, then, should NC be blamed for the poor outcome in 2010 with the huge advantage of the TV debates?

  • “Without that it is very unlikely that the party could have gone into coalition with the Tories (many made the point to me that it would have been impossible after the “tick box” 2005 manifesto of unaffordable promises, which even figures on the left compared unfavourably to me with Nick’s workable programme for government).”

    Two points – that tick box manifesto delivered a bigger increase in vote share and an increase in MPs. The fact that we had a hung parliament post 2010 is a mathematical quirk and owes nothing to anything Nick did or didn’t do.

    As to a workable programme for government, this is the manifesto which included a spending commitment on tuition fees which was described as undeliverable a few months later (even though economic circumstances were slightly better than when the manifesto was launched.

  • Tony Greaves 20th Oct '11 - 10:44pm

    You can think that Dangerfield’s book is “beautifully written”. I might disagree but that is not my argument.

    The problem with the book is that the content is complete tosh.

    Tony Greaves

  • Jasper Gerard 21st Oct '11 - 8:02pm

    Tony: surprised you don’t find the book well written – that is down to taste – but yes, if you do read my book you will see that I take issue with its arguments.

    Hywel: you are right about the 2005 result, though if you won’t give Nick credit for 2010 (because according to some it fell into his lap due to the TV results) then by the same token you have to recognise that in 2005 Charles had the massive help of Iraq. You can promise anything you like in a manifesto and win votes on the back of it – my point is, if the party had have gone into government in 2005, how would they have enacted any of their economic/ public sector programme?

    Tim: you say “I somewhat doubt that the Tories would have accepted the sort of coalition policies that the left of the party would have aimed for.” I agree with you: that is precisely my point. Nor, incidentally, would Labour have accepted a certain number of those policies because, although they sound nice, are not a serious programme for govt. You say the party is split but not a single MP has rejected the coalition agreement. The only figure who voted against was the (ex MP) David Rendel. Negotiators included Andrew Stunnel, hardly a member of the Orange Book wing. One of the points I bring out in the book is the number of people traditionally seen as on the left (eg Norman Baker) praising Nick and the negotiating team for pulling off such a fantastic deal for the party.

  • Hardly surprising, Jasper, that Labour would not accept those sort of policies – nuLabour had already drifted well to the right. It maybe yourview that it “was not a serious programme for Govt”. For many on “the long march” (since the 60s / 70s) that was why we belonged and worked passionately for the party. This is why some have said that the Lib Dems in recent times have beome indistinguishable from the other two large parties. The world is in a new place – this is why we need a new politics. The irony is – just when the Lib Dems could be even more relevant to people’s needs, we become more like the others.

  • “………….Nick and the negotiating team for pulling off such a fantastic deal for the party”. Liberal Democrat voters, including me, do not see anything remotely like a ‘fantastic deal’. I know of no LibDem voter who is remotely happy with this ‘coalition’ outcome. That doesn’t mean that people don’t like, or will never like coalitions, it means that a large proportion of voters do not likeTHIS coalition and its works; or the people involved in it. This doesn’t mean such voters are “left wing”, it probably means they are just decent (L)liberals.

  • Cllr Colin Strong 23rd Oct '11 - 8:52pm

    @Matthew Huntbach said “In fact the opinion polls were already showing a significant rise in the LibDem share before the television debate happened. ”

    I disagree with this assessment.
    I rely on ICM to give me good reliable polling. Here are the actual ICM figures

    24Jan2010 Con 40% Lab 29% LD 21%
    21Feb2010 Con 37% Lab 30% LD 20%
    14Mar2010 Con 40% Lab 31% LD 20%
    31Mar2010 Con 38% Lab 29% LD 23%
    3Apr2010 Con 37% Lab 33% LD 21%
    11Apr2010 Con 37% Lab 31% LD 20%
    15Apr2010 First debate
    18Apr2010 Con 33% Lab 28% LD 30% (fieldwork 16-18 April after the debate)

    The debate had a MAJOR effect on the Lib Dem opinion poll rating.

    At this point the gloves came off and tabloids/right-wing papers savaged Clegg every day.
    And Liam Fox thinks the media are vindictive! Really? What was Liam Fox reading during the 2010 GE? The Beano, probably.

  • +david thorpe 23rd Oct '11 - 9:40pm

    ” mike cobley the local elecitons reuslts this year represented at 165 a reuslt which at least three generatiosn of liberal could only have dreaed hof achieving, that it was in thew wider context undoubtedly a poor result, is a sign of just how far nick has taken the party.
    Blair lost a far graeter proportion of his council seats after two years of labour in power, he went on to win tow more lections at Gneral election level.
    Recent poll of polls has us at 12%, which the media can legitmaterly say is half our general eleciton score, and it is, nbut its also higher than we were under ming campbell.
    At one tim ein 1990 we were on 2%.
    So llast Mays local election results are all right by me

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Oct '11 - 11:15am

    Colin Strong – I did not write that the debates had no effect, my point was that to say they were the ONLY thing leading to our opinion poll rising at that time is wrong. Our opinion poll rating does tend to rise as general elections approach because it means there is more party activity in general and people who aren’t politically involved and tend to think of politics in two-party terms get reminded there’s a third option.

    The fact is that we ended the general election campaign with a disappointing result, and if the party is to prosper it needs to be honest about why that might be. I do think that “Cleggmania” was part of it, and as such I think that if the party is led in its opinion by those who claim Clegg is some sort of wonder-worker who has completely changed the party, it is pushing itself to disaster. As I’ve said, I have myself always accepted that the coalition was necessary after the election because the party balance in Parliament left little alternative. So I would like to make it clear my dissatisfaction with the party now is not due to the fact of the coalition but rather due to the poor way it has been handled, not just by Clegg but by those responsible for our national publicity. I am really sorry I am detecting so much complacency about how our party is being damaged now by poor leadership, and unwillingness to face up to it, and I do see the message of Jasper Gerard’s book as very much part of this. Regrettably, those who can see this seem to be leaving the party silently rather than standing up to the nonsense.

    Ian, in response to your message of 20th October, I was a Liberal Democrat councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham, from 1994 to 2006, and leader of the opposition in that borough 1998-2004. Lewisham was traditionally a black hole for the Liberal Democrats, an area where the party always came a poor third, squeezed between the other two. During the time I was involved, the party rose to become the major opposition party across the borough, it came second in the three Lewisham constituencies 2010 general election. I certainly do not claim this was all my work, there was a whole team involved, I just played one part of it. However, I hope you can see it does mean I know what I am talking about. This rise did NOT come about due to the party nationally – if it did, how come no such similar rise was seen in the neighbouring London Borough of Greenwich? It WAS down to local effort, and to write off such local effort as insignificant is clueless.

    Sadly, I see this sort of clueless leader-worship growing in this party, and the reaction I have got to my questioning it means I too am considering whether just to leave it silently – if people like Ian and Jasper Gerard are its future, then it has no future and I do not want to throw any more of my time and money into it. I hate to be like this when up till recently I was always using the line “stay in even if you don’t like everything the leadership is doing, because the party is more than the leadership, and it is all we have in this country to stand up to the anti-democratic forces in the other two parties”.

  • Jasper Gerard 24th Oct '11 - 11:02pm

    I think Colin has shown there pretty conclusively the importance of Nick’s performance in the leadership debate but the key point I would like to try to understand from those who are so criticial of the leadership is “why”? I suspect a fair amount of this growling opposition is based on a misunderstanding, namely that the Orange Book movement was some kind of right wing plot to make our party less “progressive”. This is the argument that The Clegg Coup attempts to challenge.

    The central ideal that Clegg-ites pushed was social mobility. They wanted to tackle the scandal that you can still largely determine the economic and social success of an individual according to the chance of birth. The trick, if you like, of Cable/ Laws/ Clegg and others was to show how you could use so-called “right wing” techniques and language to bring about what might, equally crudely, he called “left wing” outcomes: that is, improved life chances for those most shut out of the system. The poster who complained the party has becoming like the other two was right in one respect: in the past the Lib Dems, though brilliant on many other issues, often didn’t have a very clear strategy on how to tackle the central domestic problem of Britain’s underclass. Clegg gave them a set of policies on this vital area that not only enabled them to enter the debate with the other two parties on this but actually gave them the more compelling case.

    I for one don’t think there is anything “progressive” in either the Gordon Brown or – sorry tho’ I am to say it – Charles Kennedy approach of arguing that social problems could all be overcome by chucking another billion or two from Whitehall (starved of resources tho’ the public sector had been under the last Tory government). The public services have to be made more responsive to those who use them, particularly the least advantaged. I would fully accept, as discussed in the book, that the Orange Revolution is an incomplete revolution, and although the book flags up certain areas where the leadership has squared the circle, there are other areas where it is still a work in progress.

    But I would hope those who denigrate the leadership would first stop to understand what motivates it, what it is trying to do and how it is doing it. Nick Clegg may be many things but he is not a Tory-clone – and anyone who tries to level that charge at him hasn’t – I would respectfully suggest – even begun to understand what the Lib Dems are about in govt.

  • Don Lawrence 25th Oct '11 - 7:17am

    @Bill le Breton

    Agreed wholeheartedly. But what will lose us his stake is the poor way (at best) the leadership has handled being in coalition – appalling policy decisions; disasterous loss of finance, loss of trust, leading to a massive loss of councillors in May. Although a new narrative (muscular liberalism) is being talked up, it is clearly insufficient to turn the tide as without any indication of a willingness to accept massive mistakes were made and real change, including personal acceptance of blame by the leadership, we are still being dragged down.

  • Cllr Colin Strong 25th Oct '11 - 9:00pm

    @Matthew Huntbach – I agree with much of your sentiments but not all of your analysis.

    My position is that I am broadly supportive of the Coalition. I was very angry over the tuition fees debacle (and still am angry to a slightly lesser degree). If it wasn’t for the party policy of ABOLISHING tuition fees then I would have left already.

    I am not a supporter of Nick Clegg who is NOT a great communicator. (The debate had a major effect in our rating and then our rating fell rapidly from 30% in ICM’s poll to 23.6% actual.). He and the rest of the HQ/Parliamentary team should have had the foresight to recognise those issues, like fees, that are VERY dangerous areas and act accordingly.

    I am one to stick my head above the parapet and say that Nick Clegg should NOT take us into the next General Election for two very good reasons
    1. His record 2010 to 2015 will be used against him and rightly so.
    2. He cannot front party policy, e.g. to abolish fees, with any credibility.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Oct '11 - 11:39am

    Jasper Gerard

    The trick, if you like, of Cable/ Laws/ Clegg and others was to show how you could use so-called “right wing” techniques and language to bring about what might, equally crudely, he called “left wing” outcomes: that is, improved life chances for those most shut out of the system.

    Well, here we go, this illustrates well the heart of the problem. Throughout this debate you have pumped out propaganda and wanted us to accept it as fact. Another way you do that is by misrepresenting in a derogatory way the opinions of those who do not share your views on directions for the party, shown by the words you used about Kennedy just now and Grayson earlier.

    What you write is indistinguishable from what a Tory would write. Your opinion seems to be the closer the Liberal Democrats come to the Tories on economic policy the better, but you have the damned cheek to present it as if it were indisputable fact rather than just the opinion of you and others, mainly people who are very wealthy and so tend to be clueless of how these fine policy ideas don’t work so well with real people.

    Tories would say that their neo-liberal economic policy will improve life chances for the poor and enhance opportunity – I don’t doubt they really believe this. So when you say Cable/ Laws/ Clegg are saying much the same, don’t expect me to say “Wow, what a wonderful insight, I never thought of it this way”. Sorry, but I say “Here’s a Tory spouting Tory propaganda at me”. Now, there may be, I fully accept there is, subtle differences in the way Cable/ Laws/ Clegg approach it, but I don”t think they are so huge as to make a fundamental difference, I also don’t accept that these opinions are so fundamentally true that they can be written up in the way you do which suggests they are indisputable fact and anyone who doesn’t hold to them is a fool who can be rudely dismissed. If you want to win me over, your sheer arrogance is having entirely the opposite effect – maybe you should think about that.

    The reality is that these neo-liberal arguments have been slopping around for years now, they certainly needed to be made when Hayek made them in “The Road to Slavery” as they were so against conventional thinking then, and they were still fresh and interesting when Thatcher and Reagan picked up on them. But now they are stale, they have become the conventional thinking, they are made in various forms again and again and it is not a mark of any sort of cleverness to make them again. I can go to any young fool who thinks he is clever in blogs all over the place to see these same ideas boringly put again, I can go to any of the many think-tanks paid for by the wealthy to pump out these ideas, and hear much the same. They are now the convention, so what we need now is the equivalent of Hayek to put the case against, not more “me too”s in favour.

    The case against is so urgently needed because as time goes on it is becoming increasingly clear that these theories don’t work as their propagandists say they would. We have not see the great increase in opportunities and social mobility that we should have seen if these ideas really worked since they have become orthodoxy, endorsed by Blair in New Labour as much as by the Tories. Now, of course, people like you will say the problem is they weren’t properly implemented and all we need is more of the same only in a more extreme form. Well now, if that’s your line it’s no different from the line of the socialist I argued with in my younger days whose response to any criticism of socialism or note that socialism in practice seemed to give the opposite to what it claimed to give in theory was that true socialism was just round the corner, all we needed was more and more extreme forms of what hadn’t worked so far.

    Well, it was in response to these people and their shallowness of thought and argument that I decided to join the Liberal Party. And I shall leave its successor if I see much more of this brain-dead approach to politics amongst those who claim to be working in it and close to its leadership – rehearsal of conventional and becoming more obviously failing orthodoxy put forward by people who think they are SO clever to put it forward and are actual so illiberal in their arrogance and refusal to accept they do not know everything and may not always be right.

  • Jasper Gerard 3rd Nov '11 - 12:15pm

    Matthew: firstly apologies if you think I am being arrogant. I said in my last post I was trying to understand – I don’t think that is the voice of an arrogant person, but if it is, I am sorry. More seriously, you are using the classic debater’s trick of foisting a set of beliefs on me (and by extension others in tthe party) that I and as far as I understand they simply don’t hold.

    Where does Hayek suddenly come from? You seize on the “right wing” bit but blithely ignore the “left wing” bit. Having as your starting point that the biggest political scandal in Britain is a) the lack of equality of opportunity and b) the lack of equity of outcome and c) how we need to help the poorest out of poverty is a million miles from the Thatcher/ Reagan strategy. Their approach was to reduce labour costs and force workers into low-paid, low skilled jobs. No one (as far as I know) in the Lib Dems has anything but revulsion for such strategies. A quote in the book from Paul Holmes, very much on the left of the party, strongly undermines the argument that “Orange Book Liberals” are crypto Tories – as he admits, if they really were, why wouldnt they all have joined the Tory Party, where political advancement is a million times easier?

    To say there are only “subtle differences” between the Vince Cable approach and the Hayek/ Thatcher one is extraordinary. Although Thatcher did some things for those on low incomes her primary concern, clearly, was to give tax breaks to the already very wealthy. The Lib Dem appoach, across the party, is exactly the opposite of that.

    I also notice the comments in other posts from people saying they joined in the sixties and feel the party is betraying those ideals. Actually, if you read Jo Grimond on economics, he was far more of a classical liberal than Clegg – he really did have sympathy for Hayek and quoted him at length.

    Re Cllr Strong’s point on tuition fees – I interviewed all the major players at length on this in the book and as you will see if you read it (for what my opinion is worth) I agree with you that it was a massive blunder. Much as I admire Nick even now I sense he doesn’t quite grasp why it was such a blunder – but all this is discussed.

    But a point I emphasise in the book is that at least since Asquith/ Lloyd George (or you might even argue back to Chamberlain/ Gladstone) there have always been two traditions within Liberalism – one more trusting of big state intervention than the other. Under Steel and Kennedy and with the emergence of the SDP the party certainly went through a big-state Lloyd George phase. Now it is more in an Asquith phase (not classically liberal, but more focused on freeing and helping the potential of individuals). One is not, I humbly suggest, more “true” Liberalism than the other – we need both these traditions to be strong and vocal in our party.

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