Lib Dem members split 47%-46% on whether Nick Clegg should fight 2015 election as party leader

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum recently to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 500 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.


47% say Nick should stay to fight 2015 election; 46% say he shouldn’t

LDV asked: Thinking about Nick Clegg’s position as Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Lib Dems, which of these scenarios do you want to see happen?

  • 47% – I want Nick Clegg to continue both as Deputy Prime Minister and to lead the Lib Dems into the next general election
  • 23% – I want Nick Clegg to continue as Deputy Prime Minister but stand down as leader at some point (eg, in 2014) before the next election
  • 9% – I want Nick Clegg to stand down both as Deputy Prime Minister and as leader at some point (eg, in 2014) before the next election
  • 5% – I want Nick Clegg to continue as Deputy Prime Minister but stand down as leader this year
  • 9% – I want Nick Clegg to stand down both as Deputy Prime Minister and as leader this year
  • 4% – Other
  • 3% – Don’t know / No opinion

These are findings which will make deeply uncomfortable reading for Nick Clegg. While 47% of Lib Dem members in our survey say they want Nick Clegg to lead the party into the next election, almost exactly the same proportion – 46% – want him to resign as Lib Dem leader before then. It will be scant consolation that a large majority – 70% – want him at least to continue as Deputy Prime Minister until May 2015.

Even three months ago, Nick Clegg’s leadership wasn’t seriously being questioned by many within the party, with calls for his resignation mostly confined to mavericks like Lembit Opik. Two factors have, I think, changed the equation.

First, the Coalition’s troubles — from the unravelling of George Osborne’s budget to the collapse of Lords reform — means many more Lib Dems are increasingly unhappy about being in alliance with the Tories, even though few reckon there’s an immediate alternative. For many, in our party and beyond, Nick Clegg personifies the Coalition. And just as party members are now starting to look ahead to post-Coalition times, so are folk also starting to think whether life would be any easier for the party without Nick at the helm.

Secondly, Nick Clegg is more exposed now than he was in May because of Vince Cable’s recent hints that he is limbering up for the leadership. Vince is staggeringly popular within the party, as our surveys show, and he has made no bones about the fact that he sees the Coalition as a necessity of the electoral maths, not a natural partnership of like-minded souls. In short, there is a plausible alternative to Nick — unlike David Cameron, whose only leadership rival (Boris Johnson) isn’t even an MP.

There is an upside for Nick, though. The survey also shows he’s in little immediate danger, with only a small proportion of party members (14%) wanting him to stand down any time soon. That means he has time to win back discontented party members over the next year or so. The party conference, which starts in Brighton in a month, just got a whole lot more important for the Lib Dem leader.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 500 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 3rd and 6th August.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQ: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate?
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    62 Comments

    • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 22nd Aug '12 - 7:50am

      I think the last paragraph is the most important. I’ve been a supporter of Nick’s since he was first a candidate way back in 1998. He has shown immense political courage to take the party into government for the first time in 8 decades. He has understandably been too busy running the country to concentrate on his relationship with the party. Given that he’s won a fair few battles with the Tories (making sure benefits went up in line with inflation, a faster raising of the tax threshold to help people on low incomes sooner, biggest state pension rise ever, ending child detention for immigration purposes in awful places like Yarl’s Wood, making sure Tories didn’t introduce draconian web snooping powers this year and promising that we won’t vote for a bill we can’t live with), that’s in some ways a good thing.

      However, he has made some mistakes. The email which went out in his name after the local elections this year was a slap when the party needed a cuddle and did not reflect Nick’s views. He was phoning candidates behind the scenes and showing much more empathy, but whoever wrote that let him down badly.

      He made a couple of silly comments at Conference in Spring – first when he said “Who do you trust – Andy Burnham or Shirley Williams?” That lost him the vote the next day in the NHS debate. It really annoyed people. Then there was a disparaging comment in the rally about having to go leafletting when he first joined the party. These are just a couple of examples.

      The party is understandably anxious as the poll ratings remain stubbornly low. People who have spent their lives slogging their guts out worry that all their hard work is going to be thrown away. I think we would have already suffered a bit of a wipe out if we hadn’t gone into government – if we’d bottled it when the country needed stable government, we’d now have a Tory Government with a whacking great majority, able to do what it liked. All the stuff you hear Cameron talking about when he complains that the Lib Dems are holding him back.

      I think Nick deserves much more credit than he gets for the things he’s done in Government. Part of the reason he doesn’t is because his best work is only applicable in England and Wales (thanks to Kirsty Williams and the electoral arithmetic in the Assembly). The pupil premium and his excellent work on mental health don’t apply in Scotland. I think we need to get him up here much more often – and stop just taking him to businesses because it’s safe. We need to get him talking about the these issues up here too.

      At the same time, I feel that Nick needs to sort out the growing disconnect between him and the members. A relationship needs both parties to work at it for it to succeed. Both need to try and walk a mile in the other’s shoes.

      The disconnect isn’t unusual – we’ve been through it in Scotland when we were in Government – and our coalition with Labour had the best of circumstances. stacks of cash and some game changing reforms. We also were in a better proportion within the Government. If we’d had the Parliament the British people had asked for, we’d have around 140 MPs – and the economy we inherited was already up the creek with a hole in the bottom of the boat before the global firestorm hit it.

      Nick needs to get some people around him who really have their fingers on the pulse of the party – and he needs to synchronise his own heartbeat to it in the way Willie Rennie has done in Scotland. This poll is a warning but it’s nowhere near endgame.

    • OK, Nick’s opponent at the leadership election “is not available at the moment”, but it will be remembered that that election was very close. It was even voiced (perish the thought!) that with the lost Merseyside votes, Chris Huhne might have won. So there has rarely been overwhelming support in the party for him, certainly not in the same league as Paddy, or even Charles. So this 47 – 46% finding doesn’t surprise me one bit.

    • Robert Carruthers 22nd Aug '12 - 8:11am

      Nick Clegg has handled some things spectacularly badly, in particular signing up to an impossible to deliver commitment on student fees and then failing to apologise or explain how he came to agree to the current solution. Nor am I convinced that he did the right thing in agreeing to such radical changes for the NHS.

      But it has to be said that most of his unpopularity stems from him – and by extension the Lib Dems – becoming the whipping boy for both right and left in the press and the resulting continuing character assassination he has undergone on a constant basis ever since the first leadership debate in 2010. No person on earth, whatever their strengths, could have emerged with their reputation in tact under that kind of onslaught, not even Saint Vince.

      I say, let’s wait and see. Until there is a convincing alternative, he’s the only leader we’ve got.

    • Tracy Connell 22nd Aug '12 - 8:16am

      As your disclaimer says, these results only represent a very small sample of the party’s membership. 500 members out of 45,000?

      The collapse of Lords Reform is hardly Nick’s fault. Yes the Tories are to blame, but I think even Labour is more so, because they actually support Lords Reform but prefer to play political games.

      What we need is for Nick to lead the way on the economy. We need to lead on banking reforms, and not water them down to appease the Tories, but have a solid policy that Labour would be willing to support and that the public could see would vastly improve the position for preventing more bank crashes, increasing help for small businesses and personal finance and mortgage lending to get the wheels of the economy moving again. Nick needs to be tough and not take any rubbish from the Tory right.

      We need a clear message of what the party stands for and a clear list of objectives and for Nick to lead us through these successfully.

      In my opinion we are better off united than apart. It’s no good creating factions, or leaving the party as you can’t change things from outside it and there’s no need to call for Nick to stand down. Unite, sing from the same sheet, and go forward with some strong policies and get them through Parliament.

    • Dennis Brown 22nd Aug '12 - 8:59am

      Mark may be right on the numbers for a semi-statistically sensible result. But as they are “self-appointed” respondents this is not a “random sample” and, presumably, is therefore not representative of the remaining membership….. (Sorry, I have not yet read his “fuller explanation”.)

    • Richard Shaw 22nd Aug '12 - 9:02am

      I began supporting the party because of Paddy, but it took Nick to persuade me to finally join. Of all the leaders and acting-leaders since the merger, I still think Nick is the best leader in terms of wider appeal to the electorate. I think any change of leader before the election will only damage the party, not help it. I think those who think that somehow, after 5 years in coalition government, and the decisions we’ve had to make, changing our leader will not improve our fortunes. I would rather go to ‘defeat’ in the next GE under Nick, and then consider changing leaders, than change leader now and then go to ‘defeat’, in which case the newly appointed leader would probably have to resign anyway…

      A recent article on this site implored us to “stay true to our traditions” – I agree, but in-fighting, disunity and the tendency to want to be ‘right’ rather than to win are traditions I’d rather we left back in the 1920s; because that worked oh so well for the Liberal Party didn’t it?

    • Richard Shaw 22nd Aug '12 - 9:05am

      The above should have read “I think that, after 5 years in coalition government, and the decisions we’ve had to make, changing our leader will not improve our fortunes.”

    • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Aug '12 - 10:16am

      Caron Lindsay

      He has shown immense political courage to take the party into government for the first time in 8 decades.

      Statements like this are immensely damaging to our party. If it really did take “immense political courage” to join the coalition the implication is that there are easier less courageous options that could have been chosen, and therefore that the coalition exists in its current form because the Liberal Democrats chose it to be that way.

      We are getting hammered in the polls because people have been led to believe this. We have lost half our supporters and even many of active members because people have been led to believe this. We have been accused of being people who lack principles and would say anything to get “power” because people have been led to believe this. So why, Caron, do you want to lead people to believe it when it isn’t actually true?

      The main reason for forming the coalition was that there was no other stable government arrangement that could have been made given the balance in the 2010 parliament. Whoever was leading the party at the time would have taken the same route. That indeed is why the party’s membership in the special assembly gave the coalition overwhelming backing. I wasn’t there, but if I was, I would have supported it. Not because I believe the policies of the Conservative Party are the right ones – my belief is that the country is in a mess because governments of both colours have pushed these sort of policies since 1979, so electing one which is determined to push them even more strongly than any government before was a huge mistake. I would have supported the formation of the coalition simply on the grounds it is what the votes of the people and the electoral system gave us. That is not much different from the fact that I would have “supported” a purely Conservative government had the Conservatives won a majority of MPs, where “support” means acknowledge its legitimacy and let it govern rather than cheer it on as if it were my ideal.

      The more courageous action would have been for our party leader to have refused to join a coalition with the Conservatives. It would have been more courageous since it would have been attacked as irresponsible and damaging by almost all public commentators. It would have led to our party being wiped out in the next general election, which the leader of the minority Conservative government would have called very soon afterwards. And actually, though it would have been more courageous, I do not think it would have been the right action to take.

      I do not believe Nick Clegg has been particularly courageous within the coalition. I appreciate it’s very easy to criticise from outside when one does not know all that happens inside, which is why my criticisms of the leadership since the general election have been almost all directed at what I believe is poor understanding and presentation of our party’s position in its publicity, and not what it is actually doing in government. Still, it seems to me Clegg had always chosen the immediately easy options, the ones the commentators have been urging him to take. The fact that this may lead to deeper criticism later does not mean it was “courageous” to act that way. Consider suggesting that a boy gives into the demands of a bully and hands over his new watch is being “courageous” because he does so knowing how he will be punished by his parents for doing so. It may indeed have been the best action to take, it may have been silly to have stood and risked being stabbed, but it is not “courageous”. Sometimes what is the best action under the circumstances is not the one we would call “courageous”. However, there are times when an action which will not bring one immediate popularity and is not the most obvious one to take either is nevertheless the right one to take. I have never yet seen Clegg take such an action – when he does so, then he will deserve the term “courageous”.

    • “He has shown immense political courage to take the party into government for the first time in 8 decades.”

      Even if this was true (which I doubt – the options were coalition or a second general election in 6 months when we were broke) it isn’t a reason for Nick remaining leader. He has made numerous tactical errors in the coalition from day one which have put us in a worse and more vulnerable place than we needed to be in (and the 2010 results were bad enough from that point of view.

      As leader Nick has delivered fewer elected representatives at every tier of government in the UK – and this had started before 2010 – so judged on that basis his leadership was a failure even before the coalition.

      The key pledge on which he was elected (doubling the number of MPs over two elections) has now been abandoned and most of the organisational things necessary to deliver on that have never been implemented.

      These are a dreadful set of polls for Nick. Despite the loyalist attempts to rally people about unrepresentative samples the LDV polls have consistently come back with quite a strong pro-leadership leaning and when there have been outcomes to test them against they’ve been shown to be pretty accurate.

    • Well it was a short stay after leaving labour, and joining the Liberals not because it was left, but because basically the Liberals seemed like the party to protect what is left of the NHS, education and tuition fee’s, sadly turns out today voting would be worthless three parties basically all the same.

      Boy politics has become so dam boring

    • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Aug '12 - 1:30pm

      Robert

      Well it was a short stay after leaving labour, and joining the Liberals not because it was left, but because basically the Liberals seemed like the party to protect what is left of the NHS, education and tuition fee’s, sadly turns out today voting would be worthless three parties basically all the same.

      If more people had voted LibDem the party would have been in a position to protect what is left of the NHS, education and tuition fees. But how is it supposed to do this with less than 1 in 10 MPs? The only choice it was left with was to have a minor influence on these things, or none at all. It chose minor influence, and it has indeed amended slightly what the Tories wanted on all these things. On tuition fees, for example, it pushed to get a scheme which actually means no-one can get turned away from university because they can’t pay and the actual costs anyone will pay are less than what Labour was proposing. I don’t at all like the fact that it gets reckoned up as an individual loan, but if it were paid instead by general state borrowing, it would still be the next generation paying back the same money.

    • When you hear Nick speak to party members or the public, you cannot but be impressed by his relaxed and attentive style. I am sure he will weather this storm by turning on this charm and “working” the membership, particularly at conference.

      But the way the Health motion at the last conference was stage managed, and the way the Quad are making policy beyond the coalition agreement, I personally hope Nick steps aside and lets us get back to being Lib Dems. He will do a great job in Europe.

    • Daniel Henry 22nd Aug '12 - 2:06pm

      I’m a critic of Nick and tick the “not satisfied” box on these surveys, but I think it would be madness to drop him before the election, not least because the incoming new leader would have to fight the election on his record, rather than being given a chance to shape the party towards a campaign that suits them.

      Also, I think Nick deserves a chance to finish his project.
      What was it Nick said during the summer of 2010?
      That we should judge him on 5 years rather than 100 days?
      A lot of mistakes have been made but coalition is a learning curve and it’s still possible to turn things around. So I think we should allow Nick to finish his fight and then wait until after the election before deciding his fate.

    • “Also, I think Nick deserves a chance to finish his project.”

      If we were considering the best interests of Nick Clegg then that would have some validity. But we aren’t.

    • BTW – what is “Nick’s project”?

    • Paul Pettinger 22nd Aug '12 - 2:56pm

      If you were to survey a representative sample of people who were Party members in 2010 then Nick Clegg would have got even worse figures.

    • Oh Dear! To think the happy smiles of Nick and Dave in the Rose Garden were but two-and-a-bit years ago. It seems to me that most LIbDems still don’t ‘get it’. The truth is that LibDem voters (like me) watched time and time again, in disbelief, as Clegg embraced policies enthusiastically that they, the voters, loathed – and wouldn’t vote for in a 100 years. So, surprise, surprise – after seeing that happen for over two years these same voters end up loathing Clegg. It is very simple.

    • Ray North. In my opinion your analysis is spot on.

    • I’m also in the wait-and-see camp, but ironically my opinion is pretty much the exact mirror of @Daniel Henry’s. I’m a big admirer of Nick’s and think he has been our best leader since (and including) Paddy (previous leaders were before my time so can’t compare him with them).

      However, rightly or wrongly Nick has become symbolic not only of many of the government’s most unpopular measures but also of the Lib Dems biggest mistakes. I agree completely with the direction in which Nick has led the party and think his personal qualities make him a great leader, but fighting the next election with a leader who is SO unpopular and who personifies the tuition fees “betrayal” would be stupid IMHO. Especially with a competent and likeable alternative in the shape of Vince (I’d be a whole lot less tempted by the prospect of replacing Nick with Farron, Huhne or Hughes).

      However (#2), there are still more than 2 years to go before the next election, so there’s still time for Nick to turn things around. I’m not hugely optimistic that he can, because he may have been too badly damaged by now, but it’s too soon to write him off, hence I’m in the wait-and-see (and work hard and cross our fingers) camp. If we get to mid-2014 and his ratings are still on the floor then I would vote to replace him, albeit with a heavy heart.

      A lot will also depend on how effectively he can distance himself from Cameron and regain his equidistance. We can’t go into the next election giving the impression that we’re determined to re-form the coalition with the Tories regardless of the result.

    • Tony Dawson 22nd Aug '12 - 3:47pm

      @Caron Lindsay:

      “Nick needs to get some people around him who really have their fingers on the pulse of the party”

      Which is, sadly, about as likely as is David Miliband’s leadership of the Tories into the next election.

      Caron’s excellent response above reflects the considerable imbalance of Nick’s skill-mix as a manager and as a politician. I would agree with other commentators that she overdoes the ‘bravery’ bit but there is some solid stuff in the remainder. Because we Lib Dems are generally a generous lot and reasonably altruistic, we tend to be prepared to alllow a lot in terms of our own suffering, if we feel the overall effect for the country is a ‘net positive’. The trouble is, if there are no Lib Dems left standing in large swathes of the country in two years’ time as a result of political mismanagement, is the overall, long term effect on the country going to be ‘net positive’ whatever happens in the next couple of years?

      I also do not see any real point in Nick ‘winning over members’ this year with his obvious charms. The value of happy smiles on your faces as you march towards the edge of the cliff eludes me.

    • If the Lib Dems want to have any chance of resurrecting themselves before the next general election, they’d better kick Clegg, Alexander and Laws into the long grass.

      These three represent the Tory face of the Lib Dems and no floating voter will ever fall for their spin again.

    • David Allen 22nd Aug '12 - 6:11pm

      Clinging on to Nurse for fear of something worse is not a political position that is likely to endear itself to the electorate. It is what Labour did in the last parliament. The more Brown was vilified in public, the more determinedly Labour clung on to its rose-tinted spectacles, told themselves that the public had got it wrong, and that something was sure to happen which would turn public opinion round. It didn’t happen, of course. Labour could have drawn level with the Tories simply by sacking Brown – as they found out when they eventually did – but they passed up the opportunity. They passed it up because they hated the idea of truly listening to public opinion, when that opinion was an inconvenient truth.

      Clegg’s public standing is terrible. From the latest Ipsos Mori survey, only 6% of the electorate intend to vote Lib Dem and are satisified with Clegg. Most of the small fraction of people who do say they are satisfied with Clegg (it is 31% of the total) are Tory voters. They are satisfied with Clegg, because he put their party into power. They rightly fear that another Lib Dem leader could change that. But they are not going to vote Lib Dem.

      The 58% of the public who are dissatisfied with Clegg (a worse score than Cameron or Miliband) do of course include a lot of Labour supporters. That encourages our own rose-tinted-spectacles crew to write Clegg’s opponents off as a bunch of Labourite trolls who are a lost cause in electoral terms. Sadly, the 58% also includes half the people who voted Lib Dem in 2010, and most of the floating voters we might hope to attract in 2015.

      How do these people view Nick Clegg, and why do they hate him so much? I think that first of all, it is because Clegg made a great pitch for a new and better kind of politics, and then happily cosied up to Cameron to get into government. He bragged about the massive constitutional reforms he was going to achieve for a grateful nation, and then it turned out he couldn’t keep a simple promise. Now, loyalist Lib Dems may think, as the Labour activists thought about Brown, that the public are cruel and unfair. But they should realise that, just as the public had a very settled view about Brown that they were not going to change, so they do about Clegg. There is nothing he could now do to redeem his reputation, or to increase our vote share from the 10% or thereabouts which it has settled at.

    • Dear Sir,

      I was a member of the Liberal Democrats for years & have spent hours & walked many miles promoting the Liberal Democrats.
      I resigned immediately after the Coalition was formed & even appeared on BBC Spotlight, such was my disgust at this move.
      Nothing that has happened since has enticed me to re join the Party.
      I feel deeply let down as the Party has sacrificed many of its principles.
      Better to have had another General Election in 2010 & lived with the consequences than to prop up a ruthless Tory Administration.
      Regards
      Mark Rowe, Newton Abbot

    • paul barker 22nd Aug '12 - 8:51pm

      This is a dispiriting result precisely because it shows how much we are listening to the voices of the establishment/media. All the labour/tory papers keep telling us how bad for the party Clegg is, is that because they want us to do well ?
      Lets remind ourselves that Clegg lead this party to its best General Election result ever & then into Government for the first time ever.
      Lets remember that we voted overwhelmingly for the coalition, we “own” it just as much as Clegg does.

      To think about dropping a leader who is, according to all the polls, vastly more popular than his party ( 3 times more according to Angus Reid polling) shows how scared we are, the rest of us need to develop the toughness that our leadership have displayed.

    • David Allen. A very good piece. I voted LibDem for (I genuinely believe) positive reasons. By that I mean I liked what the LibDems ‘were about’, I still like what I believed — in the past tense — what the LibDems stood for. There is no doubt, however, that I, like many voters, was influenced with Mr Brown’s strange attitude, personality and (in my view) unsuitability for public life; as well as Labour’s defence of him. His lack of popularity was well deserved. I think that Mr Clegg is a far more amenable political leader and person. He is, however, for various reasons very unpopular with voters. The ball is firmly in the LibDem party’s court.

    • Mark Rowe. I think that nobody is listening Mr Rowe. It’s all the fault of the press, the Tories, Labour, or the electorate. Nobody realises just how good the LIbDems under Mr Clegg really are!

    • I’m one of the 23% who think Nick needs to stay until the next election and then stand down in favour of someone like Tim Farron: a proven Tory-slayer, a man of his word, the only member of our leadership team who can smile in public, and the only Lib Dem leader our opponents are really afraid of, yet at the same time a staunch defender of the coalition and Nick’s role in it.

      I used to think Nick should go at once, but I don’t think so any more. It’s not a matter of clinging onto nurse, it’s just that we need Nick to continue to draw the fire/poison of coalition with the Tories, and he needs to be given a chance to prove that coalitions can work – which would be fatally undermined if he were to leave now.

      I also find increasing numbers of people on the doorstep (including lots of disillusioned Tories) who are prepared to support us with Nick as leader, and even some who support us because of him, so I wouldn’t rule out a recovery in his (and our) fortunes, and it’s important to remember we are up against the Tories in most of our existing/target seats – but I’m afraid he is still too damaged at this stage to lead us into the next election.

    • Alun Griffiths 22nd Aug '12 - 9:33pm

      Why wasn’t ‘stand down as DPM (at some time eg. 9 months before the election) but continue as leader’ given as an option? how many of the ‘other’ choices reflected that? how many more would have chosen i t if it had been prompted for?

    • Paul Pettinger 22nd Aug '12 - 10:39pm

      Paul Barker said “This is a dispiriting result precisely because it shows how much we are listening to the voices of the establishment/media. All the labour/tory papers keep telling us how bad for the party Clegg is, is that because they want us to do well ?” You must think Party members are pretty stupid if they can’t make up their own mind.

      “Lets remind ourselves that Clegg lead this party to its best General Election result ever & then into Government for the first time ever.” We lost five seats in 2010!

      “Lets remember that we voted overwhelmingly for the coalition, we “own” it just as much as Clegg does.” A majority voted for coalition based on the often flouted Coalition Agreement, not Nick Clegg.

      “To think about dropping a leader who is, according to all the polls, vastly more popular than his party (3 times more according to Angus Reid polling) shows how scared we are, the rest of us need to develop the toughness that our leadership have displayed.” To quote Tony Bliar, I think you may find your self on the wrong side of history.

    • Hove Howard 23rd Aug '12 - 1:21am

      Clegg is the worst Liberal leader since Clement Davies. Apart from fighting a general election on an economic policy that he did not believe in, thereby deceiving not only the voters but activists too, he has blown a historic chance of achieving electoral reform by settling for a referendum that he was bound to lose (and yes, I did say so at the time). So, ideologically dishonest, as well as strategically and tactically inept. What’s not to dislike?
      There is also the point that he is a racing certainty to lose his own seat at the election, which those who have stuck with the party seem reluctant to envisage.
      He may well be charming in person but really, is that enough?

    • There is a myth perpetuated by Liberal Democrat coalition supporters / cheerleaders that there was no choice but to join the Conservatives or be wiped out when the Conservatives called a quick second election.

      There is no evidence for this. If the Liberal Democrats had stuck to its mandated election platform , the electorate would have respected that. The Conservatives did not get a majority, because many voters did not trust Cameron and the Conservatives (with good reason as it turns out), that they had turned into the nice party. A second election would have shown their true colours on tuition fees, NHS, schools, outsourcing of everything and the free market agenda.

    • I don’t think the Government would act substantially differently in practice with Farron, Cable, or any other person at the top. So really this is a pragmatic question of how to improve the long term electoral prospects of the party. Lib Dems are getting slaughtered in 2015 whoever’s in charge. So keep Clegg on for the election, let him take the blame, resign after the election, and let someone else provide a clean break with the Coalition.

    • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Aug '12 - 12:16pm

      Growler

      When you hear Nick speak to party members or the public, you cannot but be impressed by his relaxed and attentive style. I am sure he will weather this storm by turning on this charm and “working” the membership, particularly at conference.

      Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve never been impressed by Clegg’s style. It’s always struck me as the sort of artificial charm school stuff that good salesmen learn to do. Sorry, but apart from disliking his politics, lack of real experience in our party, lack of personal background that would enable him really to appreciate how the average person thinks, and incompetence at leadership, I’ve also never been able to “get” his supposed charm and “good communication skills”, which others seem to find so attractive in him.

    • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Aug '12 - 12:20pm

      Jack Timms

      A second election would have shown their true colours on tuition fees, NHS, schools, outsourcing of everything and the free market agenda.

      Nope, absolutely not. The obvious tactic for them would have been to have kept all this hidden, let the markets panic a bit after not making any cuts, say “that’s all due to the instability because we lack a majority to govern properly”, and only after that let rip with what they are doing now, but without the moderation we are able to exert.

    • If Clegg leads us into the next election I’ll probably have to resign my membership – I’ve been a member for over ten years and worked for the party for two of them.

      It’s not just a matter of difference of ideology and whether or not you accepted going into coalition (for the record, I did as I can do electoral maths) it’s the catalogue of strategic errors and poor bargaining which have made me angry.

      A new leader with social democratic principles would be better – that was what was popular with voters and it is our only chance of rehabilitation.

    • Matthew Huntbach. I take it you are not really a fan then Mathew!!

    • Sorry, I mis-spelt ‘Matthew’.

    • David Allen 23rd Aug '12 - 1:38pm

      BrownE said:

      “I don’t think the Government would act substantially differently in practice with Farron, Cable, or any other person at the top. …. Lib Dems are getting slaughtered in 2015 whoever’s in charge. So keep Clegg on for the election, let him take the blame, resign after the election, and let someone else provide a clean break with the Coalition.”

      Well, I do see your point, but it’s a counsel of despair. We would have no clear programme, no settled direction for the next three years to 2015, and no seats after that. There has to be a better way.

      A leadership contest would force the contenders to put forward credible plans for the future. These could range from a pledge to abandon Coalition to a pledge to follow faithfully in Clegg’s footsteps. Or, a leadership candidate might propose to negotiate changes in the way the Coalition operates, or put forward a new policy agenda for the rest of this parliament and beyond. None of this would be easy, and the obvious charge that Cameron will just go his own sweet way regardless would have to be addressed. However, the prize would be that we could elect a new leader who successfully tackles this challenge, makes the break with our recent past, and sets us on a new course.

      Oh, and we might then, of course, regain a bit of our credibility with the public before 2015, rather than some indeterminate time, if ever, after that. This might help us stay ahead of UKIP, and indeed parties such as Plaid Cymru, when the next Westminster elections come around.

    • John Roffey 23rd Aug '12 - 1:58pm

      Although I broadly agree with Ray North’s analysis, as a lapsed member I see the main problems – with regard to the next GE – as being:

      1] The Party has moved to the right. L/D supporters have always been, in the main, of the left. Labour’s surprising return to favour has not been as a result of any fundamental change in the Party, although Ed Miliband has led them shrewdly, but because those who have stopped supporting the Lib/Dems now support Labour – who now have no competition for the left wing vote.

      2] The right is now rather overcrowded with a, much improved UKIP, taking an increasing share of this vote. If anyone is interested in how this came about – this is very informative:

      http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/ukip-rise-farage-labour-stuart-wheeler-dorries/

      3] Nick Clegg is not a natural leader, he may be popular because of his easy manner – but this is not the quality that voters are looking for at a time when the nation is enduring economic crisis.

      If Party members are concerned about its success at the next GE, NC needs to step down asap and be replaced with a leader who is clearly of the left and has some grit to them, as PA & CK had/have.

    • Tony Dawson 23rd Aug '12 - 2:49pm

      @paul barker:

      “Lets remind ourselves that Clegg lead this party to its best General Election result ever …….”

      Why would we want to remind ourselves of something which is self-evidently not true? Did we not lose seats in 2010 which we should not have done?

      “To think about dropping a leader who is, according to all the polls, vastly more popular than his party…….” would be madness. But then our Lib Dem leader is nowhere near as popular as his party is. That is, if you can call our present ratings ‘popular’ at all.

    • Anne Forgettable 23rd Aug '12 - 5:52pm

      I’ve said it before, but I think Clegg’s exit will come in the autumn of 2014, and Cameron will appoint him to the UK’s seat on the European Commission. The Lib Dems would be sensible to leave the government at the same time and spend the remaining months of the Parliament, under a new leader, offering confidence and supply but establishing themselves as a unique party once again. 2015 will still be hard but this would minimise the damage.

    • “If Party members are concerned about its success at the next GE, NC needs to step down asap and be replaced with a leader who is clearly of the left and has some grit to them, as PA & CK had/have.”

      As someone who’s voted libdem previously and consistently for over a decade, and would struggle to imagine doing so again, I think this is the very least that needs to happen. The problem is more than NC; the Lib Dems now have the label ‘untrustworthy’ in the way the Tories have carried ‘nasty’ for so long. If the status quo continues until the next election I suspect Labour will win, a vastly reduced L/D presence at Westminster will be able to have as leader who they like, announce policies as sensible, radical and centre-left as they desire, and when the election after comes round will still be viewed as ‘untrustworthy’ by a large – very large – section of the electorate. The party has dug itself into a very large, visible hole – you need to get out and fill it while you’ve got the opportunity, not change your shovels for trowels and applaud the fact that the walls of the pit are far more stable than they might have been otherwise.

    • ” If the Liberal Democrats had stuck to its mandated election platform , the electorate would have respected that.”

      What was that? We said we would give first opportunity to the party with the strongest mandate.

    • daft h'a'porth 24th Aug '12 - 12:44am

      @Matthew Huntbach

      “On tuition fees, for example, it pushed to get a scheme which actually means no-one can get turned away from university because they can’t pay ”

      Except that’s not even remotely true, is it?

      So why say it?

    • Ed Shepherd 24th Aug '12 - 1:03am

      I am sure that Nick Clegg is a pleasant enough chap but he just does not seem to “get it” about the Conservative Party. The Tory Party is mistrusted and feared by many people in Britain. Many people remember the 1980’s as a time of fear and conflict. Many people remember the early 90’s as a time of stagnation and corruption. Nick Clegg just does not share those memories. I suspect it’s because he grew up in a comfortable environment that also seems to have been “non-political”. He just does not understand the fears that many British people have about issues such as unemployment or health-care. He does not understand many people’s suspicion of the EU. You only have to listen to his appearance on Desert Island Discs to pick up on how he must appear almost “other-wordly” to most British people: his favourite book is a complex foreign language novel, he had “fags” to work for him at school, his dad got him a job at a European bank, he is terrified of discussing drug-use etc. He doesn’t ever seem to have had a trade or profession except politics. Only Tim Farron in the Lib Dem leadership seems to have any understanding of the dislike that many British people have for the Tory Party. Plus, Clegg said that he would vote against tuition fees then voted for them. He will forever have to end up explaining that act. Well, at least until he gets appointed an EU commissioner in 2015.

    • The first time I met Nick Clegg in person – at an informal “meal with politics” session here in Devon, he was fired a couple of questions requiring him to comment about the Tories (can’t remember what they were, but the questioner clearly took a negative view of Tories generally, which is widespread among Lib Dems here). His answer was something like “I really don’t think the Tories are that bad”, and my wife and I found that very difficult to deal with, so we spoke to him at the end of the evening, giving him a few local examples of the sort of thing Tories had done, but it was pretty clear that this was like water off a duck’s back! I feel we have understood since where he is coming from, and why, for us, he is unlikely ever to fully comprehend the Lib Dem mainstream.

    • I must add that the evening referred to above was after he became an MP but before he was leader.

    • John Roffey 24th Aug '12 - 8:43am

      @ Ed Shepherd

      ‘Other-worldly’ I believe is a very accurate description of the impression that NC gives.

      In the run-in to the last GE, when both Labour and the Tories were keeping tight lipped over the economic challenge ahead, this other-worldliness and relaxed easy going manner were an advantage. However, now that we are so clearly in a deep economic crisis, these qualities are quite the reverse of what are required.

    • John Roffey 24th Aug '12 - 7:06pm

      @ Edward Thompson

      ‘Unpopular decisions had to be made by virtue of being in government, so he’s unpopular to some extent.’

      Whilst it could be argued that Osborne’s strategy would be successful – this was a reasonable stance. Now that it is clear that his strategy was flawed – NC’s unpopularity has been compounded by the recognition that he is also out of his depth.

    • Matthew Huntbach 24th Aug '12 - 11:07pm

      daft h’a’porth

      @Matthew Huntbach

      “On tuition fees, for example, it pushed to get a scheme which actually means no-one can get turned away from university because they can’t pay ”

      Except that’s not even remotely true, is it?

      So why say it?

      I am saying it because my understanding is that anyone who gets a university place is entitled to a loan to pay the fees. Repayment of the loan does not start until after the person has graduated and has earnings enough to pay it. This seems to me to suggest no-one can get turned away because they can’t pay.If your claim that this is not “even remotely true” is correct, then I must be very much mistaken, the scheme must work in a completely different way to this, one which means it is not open to most undergraduates. Well, you seem to be very certain that I am wrong, so please, tell me how I am wrong. Seriously, I am just following what I have been told elsewhere, so if I a very wrong, I would like to know.

    • Matthew Huntbach 24th Aug '12 - 11:19pm

      Ed Shepherd

      Only Tim Farron in the Lib Dem leadership seems to have any understanding of the dislike that many British people have for the Tory Party.

      Tim Farron was one of the main people urging us to use the line “75% of our manifesto implemented by the coalition”. This was from some back-of-an-envelope calculation which someone made and has now retracted. It is bad enough us giving the impression that we are equal partners in the coalition, but this message gave the impression that the coalition is more Liberal Democrat than Conservative (I appreciate this isn’t what it actually means, but most people aren’t mathematical enough not to see it that way). This was a DISASTROUS message to put across – we have an extreme right-wing Tory government, which we can temper just a little having just one sixth of the coalition’s MPs, so much of what it is doing is still very much right-wing Tory and very much NOT what we would want to do if we ran the government.People read this “75%” message that Tim Farron was so keen on and think we support most of the horrible right-wing stuff coming form this government, that is why so much of our former support is deserting us. Mr Farron should hang his head in shame for his part in this. Any leader of our party with any sense would have realised the best strategy would have been to be more honest and admit we have only a minor influence in this government.

    • Matthew Huntbach 24th Aug '12 - 11:41pm

      Tony Dawson

      @paul barker:
      “Lets remind ourselves that Clegg lead this party to its best General Election result ever …….”

      Why would we want to remind ourselves of something which is self-evidently not true? Did we not lose seats in 2010 which we should not have done?

      I suppose it was the largest share of the vote the Liberal Democrats as currently constituted has won, but the Liberal-SDP alliance won larger shares in the 1980s, and the 22% won in 2010 is not a huge jump from the 19% won by the Liberal Party in 1974.

      2010 was probably the first general election, at least for a long time, when our standing in the opinion polls fell during the campaign. In previous general elections it has tended to rise. The fall this time does seem to be connected to the way attention was turned to its leader.

      We did indeed lose a few seats in 2010, so it was not our most successful campaign in terms of seats either. The much higher number of seats than similar shares of the vote gave us in the 1980s was due to our vote being more concentrated in particular areas. This is down to local campaigning strength, it is not down to the leader.

      It is a weird aspect of the First-past-the-post electoral system that whether we have a single-party government or a coalition depends not so much on share of votes for the third party, but whether those votes clump together or are evenly spread out. Clegg did nothing special to cause us to be in a coalition situation, it was always something that would happen eventually since the big turnaround in 1974 where it became established that the Liberal Party was nit just a vanishing historical relic. The great clumpiness of our vote in the last few general elections has made a coalition situation more likely, but it was still pretty random that it happened in 2010 and not at an earlier general election, so it was not some special Clegg triumph that caused it.

      Had the Tories won a few more votes, we’d have had a majority Tory government, and Clegg would probably have been thrown out in disgrace for leading a notably poor general election campaign.

    • David Evans 25th Aug '12 - 4:19am

      @Matthew Huntbach

      “Tim Farron was one of the main people urging us to use the line “75% of our manifesto implemented by the coalition”.

      I must admit, I didn’t hear him coming out with this much at all. Indeed, the one occasion I remember him mentioning it, I pointed out that if people hated us so much with 75% of our manifesto implemented, imagine how bad it would be if 100% had been implemented. He didn’t argue the point. Do you have any evidence to corroborate your point, or is it mainly your perception?

      Occasional use by the party president to encourage the troops and cement loyalty to the leadership when we had just had an appalling set of council election results is one thing, and may also have a downside, but it isn’t “hang your head in shame time,”

    • Matthew Huntbach
      Surely the comparison that matters most for 2010, is what happened in 2005. The increase in vote share from approximately 22% to 23%, accompanied by the fall in seats already mentioned, in no way justified or vindicated the enforced change in leadership in 2005/6 (which led on automatically to the 2007 change in leadership). I know you have a fixed view that there was no alternative to a Tory Lib Dem coalition, but part of the background was a perceptible move to the right in the leadership, and part of the trap at present is nothing to do with “being in Government”, but more about being seen as a party that chops and changes its leaders, in stark contrast, of course, to the situation over many years, when changes every 10 or 12 years had been the norm. It would have been very strange if 2010 hadn’t seen a vote share increase for the Lib Dems, with the two huge advantages of Gordon Brown’s unpopularity and the TV debates, which gave us massive exposure.

      Now I am not going to open a debate about Clegg and Kennedy’s comparative leadership or management skills, or about the objective specifics of each man’s positioning on any political scale(s). But there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Kennedy represented more of what they saw to be good Lib Dem characteristics and politics than does Clegg. And the main reason that people have moved away from the Party is down to the story you hate so much, Matthew, ie that the party has “sold out to the Tories”. Without an actual move back to a more mainstream (caring, environmental, radical) position, which would necessarily be accompanied by changes at the top, this story will continue. If everyone in the party is comfortable with a position where we can be a minor coalition partner for some of the time, then we can maintain the present leadership economic line (see the FDP in Germany), but even then without PR it would be a struggle, but for anyone who seriously wants to return to building up towards a new politics, we are in a hopeless position.

      I think that where people’s mistake in considering what should be done is by regarding 2010 as “Year Zero”, not looking at the 2005 – 2010 period as the issue, and post May 2010 as the public realisation of what was happening in the Lib Dems. It is not coalition which is wrong, it is the easy acceptance of Tory positions without acknowledging that Lib Dem mainstream may be totally against them.

    • Mike Falchikov 28th Aug '12 - 5:05pm

      I’m fairly agnostic about how long NIck should stay as leader. However, on a personal basis, I like him. LIke “Tim” I too met him at a dinner when he was still just an MP and found him congenial company. Since we both have Russian
      ancestry on one side, this led to some interesting conversation. He may not have had much of an employment record
      beyond politics or European institutions (in this respect little different from Cameron, Osborne, Brown, the Millibands and numerous other frontbenchers of both parties) his family background – on both sides – involving immigration and persecution, must give him a rather different insight from most of his contemporaries in Parliament. I missed the Desert Island Discs programme, so don’t know what the “complex foreign novel” was, but I can’t see why that should be held against him, especially given that he’s fluent in 4 languages other than English,a comparative rarity for any British politician

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