Nick, we’re not a bunch of unrealistic hippies desperate for opposition, you know…..

While I broadly agree with Stephen Tall that Nick Clegg’s speech to the Liberal Democrat local government conference in Manchester yesterday had much that was on the right track, I do wish Nick could frame his remarks without it looking like he’s taking a good old swipe at Liberal Democrat members and activists. Stephen says that’s how you get the journalists interested. The trouble is that some of the people who are offended by that kind of talk may be too angry to read behind the headlines – and these are exactly the people that Nick needs to help him in the next two years.

Look at this:

But I also know that if we try and turn back the clock…

Hankering for the comfort blanket of national opposition…

Seeking to airbrush out the difficult decisions we have had to take…

We condemn our party to the worst possible fate:

Irrelevance; impotence; slow decline.

And this:

Our party is at a very real fork in the road – with very real consequences, depending on which way we turn.

One way embraces the future:
Where the Liberal Democrats seek to become a firm party of Government…
Striving to govern at every level in order to make Britain a better place.

The other clings to our past:
Limiting our ambitions and our prospects;
Consigning ourselves to be “the third party” forever;

So where exactly are all these people who hanker after the cosy life of opposition then? There’s not very many of them that I know – and I know an awful lot of Liberal Democrats. We all know that we’re fighting this election on our record in Government and our plans for the future.

I get annoyed with SNP politicians up here when they take the merest hint of criticism of their policies as talking Scotland down, or scaremongering about independence. I really don’t want to hear the same sort of thing from my leader. Questioning some of the decisions that our party has taken in Government is not the same as being some sort of undisciplined hippy rabble who don’t really want to see our ideals put into practice.

I don’t know anyone who seriously wants to be back in opposition. We’ve been on that journey in Scotland, after delivering truly great and radical things in Government, and its not fun. It’s hard to look on while problems in the health service build up, or as social housing is cut, or as the SNP centralises anything that sits still for more than 5 minutes while they put all their energies into their campaign for independence. In the same way it was awful to look on while Labour took us to war in Iraq or the Tories did their worst in the 80s. We certainly don’t want to have to be bystanders while the Tory right enact their revenge for the Coalition or Labour flexes its authoritarian muscle by snooping on all our emails and websites visited.

I wrote the other day in the wake of the Donside by-election that it’s so important for us to be out on the doorsteps with a smile and a bit of confidence behind us. People are willing to listen to us now and they’re willing to come back and vote for us – but we need to talk to them to seal the deal. And in his speech, yesterday, Nick made exactly that point, telling us the sort of conversation we should be having:

I’m from the Liberal Democrat Party.
When the country needed it, we stepped up to our responsibilities…
Entering into Coalition with our opponents for the sake of the national interest.
We have taken some difficult decisions, but by doing so the country’s battered economy is on the mend.
Well over a million jobs have been created…
As well as record numbers of apprenticeships…
And we have managed to cut taxes for the vast majority of British taxpayers.
Here in this neighbourhood we have also protected vital services that matter to you.
Vote for us again and you will get more of the same.

Nick ought to realise that if he wants us to do something for him, then inferring that we need to grow up and get real is hardly the best motivational tool, especially when it’s not even accurate. Activists, who are already working hard, are going to think “Is that how little he thinks of us?”

What he said on the development of our manifesto was bang on. Too many of our manifestos in the past have been long lists of policies without any thread going through them telling who we are and what we stand for. Saying that is not particularly new. Ross Finnie based his whole campaign for leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats in 2008 around exactly that theme. I know, because I was part of that team.

In general, though, and I take the point that Stephen made about tuition fees, it’s not like our manifestos have been full of the wild flights of fancy that he seemed to suggest. There was always a pressure, because we hadn’t been in Government, to show that we could govern responsibly, hence our manifestos were costed to the nth degree.

There was a lot in Nick’s speech that was eminently sensible, though – and there was one big relief for me. I had been worried that our manifesto for 2015 would be bland and risk averse. Nick says no:

That doesn’t mean “pre-negotiating” our manifesto – producing a bland, generic set of plans we know either of the other parties could sign up to.

Far from it.

We can and must fight the next election on a platform of distinct, forward-looking, liberal policies.

We must not stifle our vision, our creativity or our boldness with either political or technocratic excuses.

We’ll need to make sure that the Manifesto Working Group delivers on that. Send your ideas to David Laws….

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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72 Comments

  • paul barker 23rd Jun '13 - 5:27pm

    If you want to know where the members who long for opposition are just read the comment columns, they may be a small minority but they are pretty vocal, if you assumed that LDV comments were representative othe membership you might well believe that Anti-coalition voices were the majority.

  • “I do wish Nick could frame his remarks without it looking like he’s taking a good old swipe at Liberal Democrat members and activists. ”

    Walks like a duck…. quacks like a duck….. sinks in the dock like a DUWK?

    http://cdn3.warhistoryonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/66690914_sink.jpg 🙁

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Jun '13 - 5:33pm

    Not everyone who posts negative comments on here is a member of the party, though. Nor are the comments threads on here particularly representative – the ratio of male:female commenters certainly doesn’t reflect the make up of the party or wider society.

    And even if people have argued against some aspects of coalition policy, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t working hard for the party.

  • As you say Caron, what’s particularly odd about the Lib Dem members Nick Clegg keeps on setting out to attack is that they don’t exist – http://www.markpack.org.uk/43775/nick-cleggs-weekend-speech-the-good-the-bad-the-reassuring-the-instructive-and-the-new/

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Jun '13 - 5:46pm

    But the problem is, Mark, that when he does make those attacks, members think he is talking about them, that that’s what he thinks of them and it just makes the disconnect worse. Why ruin a perfectly good speech with stuff like that?

  • Paul Barker is spot on. Too many of the comments that appear in Lib Dem voice are anti coalition voices wanting us to commit political hari kiri by pulling out of the coalition now because we are all becoming Tories or something similar. To read Lib Dem voice you WOULD assume the majority of our party are anti coalition.

    Gareth’s point is wrong. It’s precisely because the audience was councillors that he made the speech there and he called on those present to help him in formulating a radical liberal manifesto for 2015. We should take up the challenge.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Jun '13 - 6:21pm

    I really hope that Nick and his team don’t base his speeches by what they read in our comments threads:-).

  • Mark Pack:

    “what’s particularly odd about the Lib Dem members Nick Clegg keeps on setting out to attack is that they don’t exist ”

    “These images unwind…….

    Like the circles that you find….

    ….in the windmills of your mind.”

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jun '13 - 6:32pm

    I think Nick is talking about a few groups of people:

    1. Those who want to pull out of the coalition.
    2. Those who try to disassociate themselves from the national party (I’ve been guilty of this too).
    3. Those who keep suggesting unpopular policies, but don’t care because they are “liberal”.

  • Tony Dawson 23rd Jun '13 - 6:34pm

    @mickft:

    “Too many of the comments that appear in Lib Dem voice are anti coalition voices wanting us to commit political hari kiri by pulling out of the coalition now.”

    I suggest a quick count would produce a different assessment. We get a number of Labour voices on here, not all of which are trolls but I doubt very much whether Lib Dems posting on herewanting us to leave the Coalition nowwould go beyond fingers and toes. In fact, I’d be surprised if a single toe would be needed.

  • David Evans 23rd Jun '13 - 7:15pm

    Sadly, Nick loyalists like Paul Barker and mickft are, like Nick, totally wrong in their analysis. Very few Lib Dems are anti-coalition. Most are in despair about the mess Nick has made of being in coalition. There is a world of difference.

    The problem is Nick, not the coalition.

  • David Allen 23rd Jun '13 - 7:25pm

    Nick Clegg is indulging in his favourite style of debate – attacking the straw man, insulting those who disagree with him, and thereby trying to intimidate his critics into silence. It doesn’t work.

    Opposing this particular coalition – whether because we struck such an unacceptably one-sided deal in the first place, or because it tramples on our centre-left principles, or because we failed to achieve the declared objective of turning round the economy, and/or because we now need to reclaim our independence – does not, of course, mean being opposed to being in government. It is offensive for Clegg to say that the massive numbers of activists and voters who are appalled at what Clegg and Cameron have done in government are political babies who need a “comfort blanket”, or charlatans who use an “airbrush”.

    Clegg now argues that our overriding priority must simply be to get into government and stay there. As an afterthought, he argues that the Coalition’s triumphant performance in reviving the economy, creating jobs, cutting taxes and protecting services is a Lib Dem triumph. Since nobody will recognise this as a triumph, the afterthought will be ignored. So, what Clegg is effectively asking the public to vote for is unprincipled careerism, for a “centrist” block of power brokers who embed themselves permanently into the core of government, who become the kingmakers who all kings must placate.

    And strangely enough, I don’t think Clegg is actually quite as unprincipled as he is pretending to be. His attachment to government is Tory government. He has actively rebuffed Labour at every turn – which is not what a pure pragmatist would have done.

    If Labour are the only party capable of forming a government in 2015, falling just a few seats short as Cameron did in 2010, what will Clegg do then? My bet is that suddenly everything will change, and reasons will hurriedly be found to explain why a deal with Labour would be anathema. Suddenly, the noble thing for all good Cleggies to do will be to abandon their ministerial limos and walk away alone into the sunset, with their heads held high, and their so-called “centrist” principles intact…..

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Jun '13 - 7:37pm

    David, I’m what you would broadly describe as a “Nick loyalist” and I don’t actually think he’s made a mess of being in coalition. I think he was dealt a pretty rough hand but has played it generally quite well. He doesn’t make any more mistakes than you or I do.

    If you look at it in the round, this is the best government of my lifetime. No illegal wars, no section 28, a tax system helping those with least. When did you ever see that before? It’s not an easy time to be in Government, and we’re bound to have to take decisions that we don’t like, let alone anyone else, but we’ve done lots of real good, too.

  • paul barker 23rd Jun '13 - 7:48pm

    On the point of Nicks leadership – we have to ask why Nick is so hated by The Media, Labour & The Tories. Hatred stems from fear, nobody Hates Milliband because he doesnt frighten them. If Nick really does such a terrible job why are our Enemies/Rivals always advising us to ditch him ?

  • David Allen 23rd Jun '13 - 8:08pm

    Which enemies of the Lib Dems are urging us to ditch Clegg? Sure, they’re slagging him off, but I don’t hear them demanding we get rid of our electoral liability.

    Unless, of course, you mean those members of the Labour Party who would like a Lib Dem alliance, and would therefore encourage us to find a leader more amenable to that option?

  • Paulbarker

    I don’t know if people hate Clegg but I see him as another rich boy who has never had to worry where the next pound comes from (he is not alone in that) who has hopelessly managed Coalition and through his actions in 2010 has made the situation more difficult than it should have been.

    I don’t remember you decrying the vitriol thrown at Brown during the last days of his premiership with a focus on problems resulting from his semi-blindness

    I don’t think Labour want you to ditch Clegg – I think they would love him being you leader in 2015. At any sign of a Lib Lab coalition though he would be called on to go I imagine, just as he apparently said the same about Brown.

  • The problem is not coalition – the problem is Clegg and his style of leadership.

    He has alienated a portion of the activist base to the point where many of us can barely hold our nose and vote Lib Dem, let alone get out and campaign for the party.

    And the likelihood of us being marginalised and irrelevant is greatest whilst he leads – since he is as unpopular with the public as he is with many members.

  • We have all seen comments of the type “if Lib Dems (or some deliberate mangling of the name) wanted to gain the slightest shred of credibility, they would…. Blah, Blah Blah”. Usually from someone who hitherto never had a moments concern for the Party nor its antecedents. These sort of comments do get spread widely around the web and generally end with a confident prediction that Nick Clegg will lose his seat and then mysteriously re-emerge as an EU commissioner (but it is never explained how this out come might happen, when according to them the Lib Dems will have been annihilated). Unfortunately this sort of talk does have an effect, often to shout down those who would defend the Party, however, having got past the point where most had predicted the demise of the coalition government, I do detect that this tendency is starting to blow itself out

    On the other hand many actual Liberal Democrats are pleased if they have a Lib Dem MP (I am – even though he does not respond when I have a question), who is able to have influence on government.

  • bcrombie: I do not think Labour would insist that Clegg go. They could insist that he is not deputy PM but they would surely want him in Cabinet. To have the parliamentary leader of one side of a coalition on the back benches would make cabinet government unworkable. How could Lib Dems in cabinet agree measures without reference to the parliamentary leader?

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jun '13 - 9:00pm

    There is such thing as being too loyal and going down with a sinking ship. I think cutting benefits for people who are earning more than £26,500 per year is a fair policy and getting rid of the spare room subsidy is right in principle, but we have been hitting all of the poor due to the benefits freeze and the council tax benefit cuts.

    I would get behind someone else other than Clegg, but I don’t see anyone else ready for leadership or who I think would do a better job.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jun '13 - 9:05pm

    Not to mention the sanctions!

  • Martin

    I t seems Clegg demanded Brown step aside as PM and I know from some Labour activist friends he is loathed by the party so I don’t think his presence would be popular

    I think him and Alexander would be incapable of taking a role in a Labour cabinet after there high profile (and very cosey) relationship with the Tories. It would also not be credible.

    Cable has managed to stay army’s length and would be a far more credible choice.

  • bcrombie: Clegg is not PM so the situation is not parallel: in any case I really do not know how Brown stepping aside would have worked. He would surely have to have remained in cabinet. My point is that a coalition would simply not work if a leader of one of the components was not at the centre of decision making.

    Otherwise there would be situations where agreements were negotiated but the leader outside the room might reject the outcome. Cabinet collective responsibility could simply not be extended to the excluded leader. If such an arrangement did come about, the Labour group would find that it would have to run parallel negotiations inside and outside cabinet.

    In fantasy politics it would be quite fun as Lib Dems could continually play one side off against the other

  • Martin

    I think it is a moot point – I would be surprised if any Labour administration would accept Clegg as he is so much implicated in the Tory coalition.

    If he took this position as you say then the only losers will be the LD party.

    Clegg has little credibility outside some parts of his own party and if the vote drops back to a 97 sort of level or worse he would struggle to maintain his position anyway

    I find some of these introspective debates within the party are not taking into account the position of the party in the outside world.

    I see an onslaught on Clegg from the right wing press ( if you sup with the devil….) will be vicious but will not help get back the defectors to Labour – a perfect storm brought on by your leadership

  • I have a certain amount of respect for Oakshott, he thought Clegg was the wrong leader & tried to begin the process for sacking him. I dont have much respect for Libdems who constantly run Clegg down but never do anything about it.

  • Tony Dawson,

    If you don’t think coalition should end now, when do you think it should end?

    If you say 2015, or late 2014 (when Scotland will have a stranglehold on the political news agenda), do you believe we will have time to establish an independent voice? Won’t any new policy stances then be universally dismissed as a last-minute panic attempt to save our skins?

    I grant you that if we end coalition too early, we have a problem with what happens in government until 2015. That’s why Clegg has tactically adopted a more belligerent stance towards the Tories over the last six months. His objective has been to make it harder for anyone to advocate pulling out and letting the Tories govern alone. A year ago, the Tories on their own would have been little different from the Coalition. Now, Clegg has positioned himself to claim that if the centre-left demand a pull-out they would be shooting themselves in the foot. His objective, as ever, is to play whatever game he has to play to keep his Tory coalition in perpetuity.

    Nevertheless we need to regain our independence. If now is a little too early, now is when we should start to plan. A Lib Dem revival as an independent party under new leadership must happen before early 2014, or not at all. Any later than that, and it won’t work.

    And then Clegg will ease his way toward a Tory alliance out to 2020 and beyond, and the Lib Dems will finally become less independent than the German FDP.

  • “The problem is Nick, not the coalition.”

    I disagree. I think it’s the other way round. I speak to a wide spectrum of people, and the impression I get from those who were once sympathetic to us or would have voted for us tactically, is that we’ve sold our principles down the river and are little better than the Tories. Those who cling to the belief that a more competent leader and better presentation would make a haporth of difference are kidding themselves. A change of leader is unlikely to make any difference whatsoever. What would, or could, Vince Cable do differently? Scowl at Osborne in public? I think David Allen’s analysis is right. The coalition is exactly what Nick Clegg and his group wanted. And they want it to be permanent. They aspire to share a little bit of power with the right and marginalise the progressive side of British politics in perpetuity for the benefit of the ultra-rich elite. That isn’t why I joined the party, nor a good many others, which explains the catastrophic loss of activists and the demise of many local parties. But it’s an adventure doomed to failure. I suspect that our representation in the next Parliament will be so diminished that the largest party simply won’t need us. Please stop this obsessing with the leadership. X attacks Nick. Then Y comes along and tells X how beastly he’s being to poor Nick. It gets us nowhere and sidesteps the real issue, and cause of our woes, which is the coalition, or more accurately, the propping up of Cameron’s awful Tory government. That’s what has to stop, and it has to stop yesterday.

  • I have never been for an immediate end to the coalition — though I have often criticised coalition policies and think that the Lib Dem-Tory relationship has been badly mishandled, both in itself and in communication with the media and with party members — but I have said from the very beginning that the Lib Dems will face disaster if they try to fight the 2015 election from within government. If they do it will doom the party to marginalization on the national level for a generation. Those who want to keep Cameron in power will vote Tory. Those who want him out of power will hardly vote for a Liberal Democrat party that is shackled hand and foot to a Tory-dominated government. The Lib Dems cannot get votes without attackin the Conservatives, and if they do that while in government they will appear to be attacking themselves. The only way to effectively campaign as an independent party is to do so from outside government. I don’t say that this in itself can stave off severe losses at the polls, but I believe it can mitigate them.

  • Caron, I may be unusual, but I have argued against many aspects of coalition policy, and especially that “founding principle”, ie that we “needed to work together to save the country economically”. I thought that was particularly melodramatic or stupid, and certainly didn’t justify the volte face on the economy. And I voted for the coalition at Birmingham (perhaps gullibly, believing that all those amendments passed to the main coalition-supporting resolutions would be followed). And I am still working for Lib Dems locally to be elected. Many on here (of the Clegg loyalist stripe) seem to view people who think like me, as supporting Labour. So let me say immediately that I don’t. Not because they are “irresponsible” economically, but they are so timid. Ed Balls’s recent statement just goes to emphasise their timidity.

    I do believe in a better world – not overnight – we are not going to achieve it by instant revolutions – but we should be working towards it, not using anti-Labourism to condemn that party as irresponsible, and accepting policies around the economy which might (just about) have been appropriate in the mid 19th Century. We are hammering full tilt into environmental armageddon, and we are ….ing around thinking that less government is the right answer! Note, by the way,for those Lib Dems who are primarily in the party to oppose centralisation, but believe that democratic control is still the best form of government, that a large part of the cuts are being exacted on local government. We were supposed to be moving towards local government having more say – well that is, as has been seen over 40 years now, so much rubbish.

    By accepting right wing Tory approaches to the economy we (sorry, the Orange Book set) have set back the fight for a new system, a new politics, by many years, just as NuLabour did 20 years ago. This leaves those who recognise that major change is necessary isolated, with a mainstream group of parties stuck in the past (centrist, in the way Clegg himself describes it, although I might choose other words!) Now we are left with a group who would go for a more extreme form of 80s politics (UKIP), and various parties with certain hang-ups which will never persuade the electorate that change has to come (Greens, Respect, various left factions), and fascists of more or less extreme type, who operate outside what Clegg describes as the Centre.

    Clegg’s central assertion – that we don’t achieve anything by being in opposition – is plainly untrue, as has been argued here earlier. The problem seems to have been that some of our parliamentarians became impatient (greedy?) for quicker power than was possible – and have been locked into a trap where they can only accept more of the same old, same old. I think if they had looked at what had happened to some of our groups in Councils, eager for early power before they had bedded down some basic philosophy, they might have held off.

    Clegg has, for a long time been in the ranks of the too timid, and his apparently long term flirtation with Tories (think Leon Brittan – a Thatcher Cabinet Minister, after all) and his widely suggested, but personally denied, membership of the party for a short while as a student, has given him a very different perspective to the majority of long term Liberal and SDP activists who formed the backbone of the Lib Dems 20 years ago. Was our phenomenal success in local elections in 1993 and 1995, and our push to build for the 1997 breakthrough election the foundation of our decline now? Were too many people who were not basically of a similar political persuasion allowed into powerful positions, partly because people saw us as “the local choice”, irrespective of ideology?

  • Chris Randall 24th Jun '13 - 8:55am

    I am not at 60 years a sandal wearing hippie, What I am is a Liberal Democrat who likes being in power but would like some sense and would like not to hear we are doing this in fairness, there is nothing fair in stickin it all over the poorest in society .

  • Those members do exist who would like to pull out of the Coalition, be they a very small minority, but not only that, there is a large group of the electorate that would like us to pull out before 2015. I took Nick’s comments on this as being directed partly at them too.

  • David Evans 24th Jun '13 - 9:33am

    @David Allen
    “And then Clegg will ease his way toward a Tory alliance out to 2020 and beyond, and the Lib Dems will finally become less independent than the German FDP.”
    Worse than that, the Lib Dems will become as independent as the National Liberals did after the last major coalition in Britsh politics.

  • Caron,

    “the best government of my lifetime. No illegal wars, no section 28, a tax system helping those with least.”

    I’m afraid you must have been wearing your coalition special Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses for so long, you have become oblivious to the realities of coalition.

    No illegal wars – I’m sorry but most governments of the last 50 years other than Blair’s gets a tick in that box, and of course we are still in Afghanistan – the best government of my lifetime?
    No section 28 – wasn’t that repealed in 2003? – one vote for Tony Blair’s government being the best government of my lifetime?
    A tax system helping those with least – Actually those with least are on benefits and rarely pay (income) tax, or at least they used to be on benefits until the coalition’s recent changes. Now some of them are verging on destitution – the best government of my lifetime?

    I remember your speech at Brighton when Jo Shaw left. To quote you then

    “Yes, the leadership will ignore it. Yes, the Liberal Democrats against secret courts campaign will continue and yes, I and others need to have a think about how to heal the widening disconnect between leadership and activists before it turns toxic. But Jo Shaw’s resignation from the party hurts.
    Jo Shaw is the sort of strong liberal voice this party should be championing, not losing. She has put so much effort into encouraging diversity and encouraging women in the party.”

    Caron, how long will it be before you realise that many of those people who made our party great are being driven out one by one, until the hollow shell being created by Nick finally implodes? Will you fight back before you leave?

  • Steve Griffiths 24th Jun '13 - 12:25pm

    This is the opening salvo from Nick in that “battle for the soul of the party” predicted by many, including on the LDV. Nick is using a classic device (used by many politicians), which basically says my ideas are right and will ensure success and yours are wrong because they will not. The problem for a Nick Clegg lead Lib Dem party is the numbers of activists that have left because of the party’s current direction and policies, but at the same time it has a real need for ground troops in so many constituencies and wards. The majority of those members (like me) that have departed, hold a vision of Liberal Democracy that Nick says “would be turning back the clock”. I don’t know how the party is going to square this circle.

    I was never a ‘beardie’ in sandals; I was a hard working deliverer, canvasser, councillor, agent, campaigner and party member for decades, like so many that have gone. Surely the art of leadership is to bring the party together and go forward as a ‘broad-church’, rather than divide, lose members and narrow the party’s viewpoint?

    By saying in effect “my way or oblivion” he is demonstrating he is a conviction politician in the Thatcher ‘there-is-no-alternative’ mould. I also think he would be very happy in a National Liberal party, which seems to be only a general election away. I predicted it would in my resignation letter in 2010. What odds would people give me on that happening now ; 10 to 1, 5 to 1 or maybe evens?

  • Julian Critchley 24th Jun '13 - 12:52pm

    @David Allen
    “Clegg now argues that our overriding priority must simply be to get into government and stay there. ….. So, what Clegg is effectively asking the public to vote for is unprincipled careerism, for a “centrist” block of power brokers who embed themselves permanently into the core of government, who become the kingmakers who all kings must placate.”

    Spot on. I am reminded of Cromwell’s exchange with the Earl of Manchester at Newbury, over the conduct of the war. Manchester was arguing that because nothing fundamental could change, even if Parliament won, then peace should be sought immediately. Cromwell took the view that change was the whole purpose of the fight.

    Earl of Manchester : “The King need not care how oft he fights… If we fight 100 times and beat him 99 he will be King still, but if he beats us but once, or the last time, we shall be hanged, we shall lose our estates, and our posterities be undone.”

    Cromwell : “If this be so, why did we take up arms at first? This is against fighting ever hereafter. If so, let us make peace, be it never so base”

    A political party which claims that there’s no point fighting because everything will stay fundamentally the same has no purpose. Politics is about change. Not a tendering exercise for different teams of management consultants to run the same fundamental policies.

  • Julian Critchley 24th Jun '13 - 12:59pm

    @Caron Lindsay
    “If you look at it in the round, this is the best government of my lifetime. ”

    This invites a list of flaws several feet long. However, let’s restrict ourselves to this :

    Half a million people are now being forced to use food banks to avoid going hungry.

    If you tried to explain to any voters in my home town that the Government was the best in your lifetime, by reference to “No illegal wars, no section 28, a tax system helping those with least.”, then the politest response you’d get would be a bitter laugh.

  • A Social Liberal 24th Jun '13 - 1:07pm

    I am not a Labour activist on here to sow dissention in the Lib Dem ranks, neither am I a Conservative making similar mischief.

    I confess, I am also no longer a Lib Dem, although my heart is breaking for the path my party has followed in coalition. I cringe as I see people I admired defending the indefensible, I find myself articulating the ‘not in my name’ defence when people in conversation start talking about the iniquity of policies enacted with the support of the Liberal Democrats.

    I would take David Evans’ point further. The best government in my lifetime that :-

    *Is overseeing the demonisation of the countries disabled, taking away much needed benefits and forcing them to seek employment that is not forthcoming.

    *Signs a military covenant and then treats its serving and ex-servicemen and women in such a risible way.

    *Caps the much needed benefits of families both working and not. Forcing many of them out of their homes and, on occasion, into homelessness.

    I could go on (and on, and on), but I presume you all get my point.

  • David Allen 24th Jun '13 - 1:15pm

    David Evans at 10.09 prompts the reflection that we do have a somewhat unhelpful conflict between the absolutists, like myself, who have had it up to here and are “on strike” for fundamental change, and the relativists, like Caron, who seek change through critical support.

    The relativists are probably inclined to see absolutists as intellectually lazy Luddites and cop-outs, oppositionists, antisocial destroyers who do not build. Those of us who spent decades patiently building local campaign teams and council groups would indignantly reject the caricature, but it may contain an element of truth. We do also have to take time to put forward positive alternatives. We have to find ways to bring others with us and seek consensus.

    The absolutists are probably inclined to see relativists as self-deluding activists with rose-tinted spectacles, an excessive sense of loyalty to the Lib Dem “family”, and an inability to see the wood for the trees. Those of them who work hard to make real incremental changes to our policies, and know that critical support is what (sometimes) gets listened to, would indignantly reject the caricature. Again, though, it may contain an element of truth. Sometimes, you have to accept that when you have painstakingly bargained the double glazing salesman down from a gargantuan price to a high price, you should still pull out of the deal.

    Let’s keep talking. None of us wants oblivion.

  • Paul Pettinger 24th Jun '13 - 1:24pm

    Clegg is the most unpopular Lib Dem Minister in the Commons among activists, as LDV surveys show, while a recent opinion poll showed his fitness for governing rating at minus 47! He is inventing macho narratives to make himself look like a leader. It’s emperor’s new clothes and pretty desperate stuff. Blame the media; blame the activists; blame the (protest) voters; blame those who said he knew about the Rennard accusations, and blame Labour for anything else.

    He was elected to be a leader in opposition, not a deputy prime minister. He has gambled the house on the Tories economic policies, with no mandate and lost. Most people have already long made up their mind about him – for many he has become an icon of what people don’t like about politics. Free schools, the health and social care bill, tripling fees, when we might have instead just negotiated a freeze – he does not represent me, or many people who formerly voted Lib Dem. Had we lost Eastleigh or had Huhne not been arrested then I don’t think he would still be here. He is our version of Gordon Brown, suffocating the Party with hunger to cling on to (fleeting) power.

    The next election is likely to produce a result that means his position is untenable, and if the numbers meant a coalition with Labour could work they would demand that he resigned anyway, just (ironically) as Clegg did to Brown in 2010, thereby setting this as a precedent in UK coalition negotiations! I wish he would go, and with some of the grace that Ming showed, taking Danny Alexander with him.

  • Steve Griffiths – you mention a resignation letter (in 2010). Did you have an acknowledgment of your resignation? The same applies to others, of the very many who have taken that route. It has seemed to me that hardly anyone who has taken the positive step of resigning has actually been credited with that by HQ Membership Dept. They do not seem to regard anyone as leaving membership of the party until they receive the kick in the bank account. OK, this may not add up to huge numbers, but all the time there is an overestimate of the number of party members. This makes a case better for the leadership 365 days in every year. For a party which prides itself on fairness and honesty in politics this is hardly cricket. It would be interesting to know if my take is widely shared, and if so, what justification, and under whose instruction this miscounting, and failure to properly describe people’s relationship with the party, has happened.

  • paul barker 24th Jun '13 - 2:30pm

    Most of this comment thread has been taken up with fighting the Coalition argument all over again which, in itself, demonstrates that the Anti-coalition group is not a tiny minority. I dont remember the exact figures from the last LDV survey but there was a big chunk who wanted to pull out of the Government well before the Election. Thats an argument we have to go through so whats wrong with The Leader raising it ?

  • Steve Griffiths 24th Jun '13 - 2:31pm

    Tim13

    I sent my resignation (after more than 30 years of membership and active campaigning) to Nick Clegg, the Deputy Leader and the local constituency party, and did not receive even an acknowledgement from any of them. I received a thanks for service from an activist colleague and friend that stayed in the party (and who blogs here from time to time), but nothing from the main party. I believe he also copied my letter to Vince.

  • A Social Liberal 24th Jun '13 - 2:37pm

    Tim

    I also did not receive an acknowledgement of my letter of resignation from (then)Cowley Street in 2010. I did get one from my local branch as I handed my resignation of chair to the chairman of the local constituency party personally.

  • paul barker 24th Jun '13 - 3:40pm

    Sorry if this sounds picky but I do object to the use of “Hippy” as a put-down. My beard is mostly white now & my hair short but I still think of myself as a Hippy/Freak. In the words of the song” Whats so funny about Peace, Love & Understanding” ?

  • David Evans 24th Jun '13 - 5:55pm

    Paul,
    Your comment

    “Most of this comment thread has been taken up with fighting the Coalition argument all over again which, in itself, demonstrates that the Anti-coalition group is not a tiny minority. I dont remember the exact figures from the last LDV survey but there was a big chunk who wanted to pull out of the Government well before the Election. Thats an argument we have to go through so whats wrong with The Leader raising it ?”

    shows that again you are getting it wrong, even when it is explained to you. As I have said before in this thread and you seem to have missed – Very few Lib Dems are anti-coalition. Most are in despair about the mess Nick has made of being in coalition. There is a world of difference.
    The problem is Nick, not the coalition.

    The problem with the argument Nick repeatedly chooses to raise is that it is simply a straw man to avoid answering the real question which is what is he going to do to put things right?
    Let me quote a few facts

    Over the period Nick has been leader of our great party,
    Our MPs have fallen from 62 to 57 down 8%
    Our councillors have fallen from 4,420 to 2,576, down 41 %, the lowest since 1985
    Our councillors in Sheffield have fallen from 39 to 23; the lowest since 1994
    Membership has fallen from 65,000 to 49,000; to Dec 2011, and probably even lower now.

    Any chief executive of a company would have been sacked years ago. Why do you support such failure?

  • David Allen 24th Jun '13 - 7:07pm

    David Evans said: “The problem is Nick, not the coalition.”

    Sesenco at 12.15 said: “I disagree. I think it’s the other way round. …Those who cling to the belief that a more competent leader and better presentation would make a haporth of difference are kidding themselves.”

    I would suggest that we’re arguing about a chicken-and-egg problem here. If we decided to abandon Nick’s beloved coalition, for which he is fighting tooth and nail, then he would be humiliated by defeat, and his position would become untenable. If, on the other hand, we started by deciding to sack Nick (or even if Nick just fell under a bus), then our new leader would indubitably be the person who could best show us how s/he could turn the party’s fortunes around. That would be an unmissable opportunity to end the Coalition.

    So, should we go David Evans’s way, and strangle the chicken, or go Sesenco’s way, and smash the egg? Does it matter which comes first?

    The pragmatic answer is that when besieging a medieval castle, you attack whatever you see as the weak point. If the Tories demanded to nuke Iran, we could and should demand to leave the Coalition. If instead it was Clegg who did something new and idiotic, we could concentrate fire on Clegg. It doesn’t matter which comes first. Pragmatism, in these circumstances, is no vice. All evil empires fall only when the right pretext comes along.

    Our failure to recognise that several valid pretexts have already come along saddens me. Tuition fees should have been the death of Clegg, very early on. The NHS saga, when Cameron’s bogus “pause” turned out to be a ruse to rescue rather than revise the Lansley plan, might have seen the end of Coalition. In each case our party seethed, vented anger internally, then lost the nerve to do anything effective. Instead, we saw people arguing for pulling the plug on totally unsuitable issues such as Lords reform (imagine fighting a General Election having continually to explain why abolishing Lord Bonkers was the crucial reason why they should vote for us!)

    What will be the next valid pretext for change? We can’t guess. If the Party does not have the nerve to act on it, nothing will be.

    What else might affect events? Well, the manifest difficulty of fighting an election from within Coalition is something that will certainly worry people. The closer things come, the more it will worry them. That does give me hope. “David”‘s 6.41 am posting speaks eloquently, both to the many strong opponents of Cleggism, and to the many in the wider membership who are reluctant to go against their leadership, but do want to see a viable strategy for survival.

    The principles which now make sense are therefore:

    We must stop being joined-at-the-hip with the Tories. We must break away from Coalition, and renew ourselves as an independent Party. We must give ourselves at least a year to do that effectively, before the 2015 election year.

  • shirley Campbell 24th Jun '13 - 10:55pm

    Thank you Geoffrey Payne, 23rd June @10.47 pm, for saying what many feel.

  • “Steve Griffiths: “This is the opening salvo from Nick in that battle for the soul of the party” .

    Battle? Steve, Nick Clegg IS our soul!

  • Liberal Neil 24th Jun '13 - 11:54pm

    I supported going in to the coalition, I support staying in the coalition, I think we’ve got a lot out of the coalition and I think it’s a good thing that we have a share of power and are able to implement some of our policies.

    However I very much dislike Nick’s tendency to set up and then knock down ‘straw men’, and to lecture a room full of people, many of whom have themselves exercised power and know how hard it is.

    Even worse, though, is that this speech was a complete missed opportunity. Our party message at the moment is supposed to be about how we are creating jobs and apprenticeships and campaigning for more. He could and should have used a speech at the party’s local government conference to set out how Lib Dems in Government are doing this, and his intention to work with Lib Dem councillors to deliver more. Instead he talked about the manifesto process.

  • Steve Griffiths and A Social Liberal – I am so sorry that you have only been very locally acknowledged. I think those ofus who are left fighting this lonely corner should say a massive “thankyou” to what is clearly thousands of ex-members, and no doubt ex-activists who were never members, too. I feel so helpless to rebuild a structure, an organism, even, that has taken something over 50 patient years building (I date this from Jo Grimond becoming Leader of the Liberal Party, because that seems to be where we started once again having electoral and some media success.

    Members of the Lib Dems generally do accept coalition in theory. This coalition however results from a weak deal made on “our” side by people at one extreme of our party. Had we negotiated strongly from a radical, or even a real “centre” position (not Clegg’s description of centre!) we could have had a better coalition. You cannot form coalitions with diametrically opposed forces, and I suspect the Tories would not have gone along with Lib Dems who were prepared to compromise, but on the condition that in key policy areas we were making some advance towards what most of us would think of as a better society. The team at the top has to change, as well as pulling out of the coalition, at least by the end of the year. We are rapidly running out of reasons the electorate would take seriously as pulling out issues. We have already let so many things go unchallenged that they are liable to see it as self-interest / preservation.

  • @David Allen:

    “Tony Dawson,If you don’t think coalition should end now, when do you think it should end?”

    I think it needs to run its course. I just think it needs to start being a proper coalition. Not a horse-trading arrangement between a couple of blokes who make excuses to their Parties about what they couldn’t get’. . And it needs a clear minimalist agenda instead of permitting Michael Gove to play around with billions on any silly egotistical game which crosses his mind today .

    Leaving the coalition early would hand over the entire’credit’ for eventual deficit reduction to the Tories. We may as well get something back to make up in some very small way for the damage we have taken till now.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '13 - 12:12am

    jedibeeftrix

    Being in government is difficult, David, it comes loaded with a whole array of challenge

    But the Liberal Democrats are not “in government” as the term is conventionally understood. If we were getting all the benefits of being “in government” as well as the drawbacks, this point, which Clegg and the Cleggies are fond of making, would be a worthwhile one to make.

    But we are not getting all the benefits of being “in government”. We are not able to dictate what the government does and shape it all in the way we want. As very much the junior partner of the coalition, all we can do is influence it a bit, while leaving the senior party to set the main policy direction. We are suffering the penalties of being “in government” without much of the balancing rewards.

    This is what Clegg and the Cleggies are doing by going on an on about how wonderful it is to be “in government” and saying nothing that indicates what we have is far from our ideal because we are only a small part of that government.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '13 - 12:27am

    Tim13

    Members of the Lib Dems generally do accept coalition in theory. This coalition however results from a weak deal made on “our” side by people at one extreme of our party. Had we negotiated strongly from a radical, or even a real “centre” position (not Clegg’s description of centre!) we could have had a better coalition

    Perhaps, but we should also be pointing out that our long-standing support for proportional representation goes along with our support for the idea of coalition government – we believe the power of the parties in a coalition should be in proportion to their share of the vote, and that can only be achieved if their seats in Parliament are in proportion to their share of the vote.

    So we should have made clear from the start that this coalition is NOT the sort of coalition that we have been long-term advocates of, because it is not based on a proportional representation of the parties which form it. We should have said that the huge distortion of representation in favour of the Conservatives and against us inevitably means the coalition is much more towards the Conservative way of thinking than ours. We should have said that, yes, we accept it because Britain needs a stable government, but that it is NOT our ideal, and that if people want something closer to our ideal, we need many more Liberal Democrat MPs to achieve it.

    Clegg and the Cleggies putting forward this government as the fulfillment of our dreams, what we have longed for, are essentially saying to the public “Don’t vote Liberal Democrat”. Because if we don’t need many LibDem MPs to fulfill our dreams, if it doesn’t bother us that there are so few of them due to the distortional representation system, why should anyone be motivated into putting in any effort to getting more of them?

    I want a leader of our party who ISN’T so satisfied with just 57 MPs compared to 306 Tory MPs. I want a leader of our party who promises something radically different when we have 306 MPs and the Tories have 57, not one who seems to give the impression that it doesn’t matter much whether your MP is Tory or LibDem, because it’s all the wonderful lovely Coalition that he’s so proud of. That is, I want a leader of our party who puts forward the case for voting for it. A leader who can see nothing better than a coalition in which we are a small element is a defeatist leader.

  • So what was the logic of the mass abstention on the Jeremy Hunt vote? Slightly off-topic I admit, but if we’re discussing compromises that have to be made in coalition, I’d really quite like a proper answer to that one at some point

  • Nick always does the tedious straw man thing.

  • Matthew Huntbach
    I am not sure that Lib Dems have ever set out that “the power in a coalition should be in proportion to their share of the vote”. Not saying you’re wrong, but just don’t know where to find that principle. In reality, of course, that principle, if indeed it exists, plays into my continuing view of what should have happened in May 2010, ie that the two parties who took the largest shares of the popular vote in that election (and had the vast majority of the MPs) should have formed an arrangement. As it happened, the NuLabour policies and governing principles were also closer to the Tories than were we at the time. I can see some of the “on the ground” reasons why that didn’t happen, but we have played to all the negative stereotypes held, both by the other two bigger parties, and by many on doorsteps around the country, ie that we will trample on anyone, say anything, do anything to be in power. This, we know has happened in many local areas, and has now, courtesy of our leadership group, transferred to being much more widely held in the electorate, and specifically by people who were most supportive, and keen for us to succeed. People who really did believe we were campaigning for a new politics, however unrealistic etc, the likes of Nick Clegg, Paddy Ashdown etc may think that was. The damage this has done, I would contend, is much worse than the damage Matthew perceives from a second General Election called by the Tories in the scenario of a minority Tory Government in 2010 bringing Lib Dem parliamentary losses. In the latter situation we would have kept principle intact, and could have continued to argue for real change. In the current situation we find it difficult to be believed, or taken seriously.

    David Allen introduces the terms “relativist” and “absolutist” to this debate, where the relativists are prepared to accept that the leadership made the mistake accidentally, or for good practical reasons, or had not handled things well after the coalition was formed. For me, it was the period leading up to 2010, with the ousting of Charles Kennedy as a key public event, but the slow accretion of power by Orange Book economists in the party more generally which allowed the alignment of Lib Dem with Tory. Did grassroots Lib Dems take their eye off the ball?

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '13 - 12:55pm

    Tim13

    I am not sure that Lib Dems have ever set out that “the power in a coalition should be in proportion to their share of the vote”. Not saying you’re wrong, but just don’t know where to find that principle. In reality, of course, that principle, if indeed it exists, plays into my continuing view of what should have happened in May 2010, ie that the two parties who took the largest shares of the popular vote in that election (and had the vast majority of the MPs) should have formed an arrangement.

    It seems to me that our support for proportional representation indicates that we hold to the principle that the power in a coalition should be in proportion to their share of the vote. It also seems to me to be a good defensive line for us, to defend ourselves against critics who complain about how weak we have been in the coalition, and how we seem just to have given in to the Conservatives, to point out that the distortion of the electoral system – which so many Labour heavyweights explicitly supported when they joined the “No to AV” – lead to this.

    Perhaps if we had a tougher leader, we could have got more from the coalition, but given the balance of seats and the fact that the distortions of the electoral system ruled out an alternative coalition with Labour, I think we were fairly weak in the bargaining position. I think it would make sense for our leader to say that, rather than imply the opposite, since giving the impression we are almost equal partners in the coalition just gives ammunition to our critics who can then say bad things about us when they point our how very different this government’s policies are from those set out in our manifesto.

    A “grand coalition” of the two biggest parties is not the usual situation following an election, I think the idea that the people in general indicated they wished to get rid of Labour has to be taken on board, and that therefore the coalition that was formed was what people did actually vote for. A year later, they voted against even minimal electoral reform, supporting a “No” campaign which stated that the greatest virtue of our current electoral system is its distortion in favour of the largest party and against third parties. As far as I am concerned, that was a fairly explicit endorsement of the government we had now. If people didn’t like the over-dominance of the Conservatives greatly in excess of their share of the vote, and if they didn’t like the weakness of the Liberal Democrats, they had the chance to vote to change the electoral system that led to it.

    I keep saying this because to me it is such an obvious line, yet no-one else seems to be saying it. Why do we pretend the AV vote never happened? Why do we not keep pointing out to anyone who complains about the power of the Tories ion the coalition that this is a logical consequence of the electoral system which we oppose, but Labour and the Tories support, and the people of this country voted to keep by two-to-one?

  • David Allen 25th Jun '13 - 1:39pm

    “It seems to me that our support for proportional representation indicates that we hold to the principle that the power in a coalition should be in proportion to their share of the vote.”

    There are a number of problems with this. First, the oft-quoted example of the pure PR system used in Israel, which can give one single swing party MP with 1% of the votes the power to decide who governs the country. Power does not align with the percentage of seats. That’s why practical “impure PR” systems, including STV, usually allocate far less than (for example) 10% of the seats to a minority party which gets 10% of the votes. To allocate more would, in fact, be unfair to the big parties.

    In fact, although we only got 57 seats to the Tories’ 306, we got into a very powerful position. We were in the driving seat. We could have ended Cameron’s career, had we chosen to. Given that massive sword we had suspended over Cameron’s head, why did we not force a better deal?

    When you are fighting on a high wire, you need to think about how scared you are about falling off into the pit below. If you’re any good at it, however, you need to be thinking equally hard about how scared your opponent is, and how you can exploit that fact. All we ever hear from our coalition apologists is how scary it was for us to maybe get forced into a fresh election, at which we would again come third. We didn’t hear about how scary it would have been for the Tories to call a fresh election, at which they might not again have come first.

    So I don’t think we should let the Cleggies get away with this false alibi to the effect that they were in too weak a position to argue with anything much. The truth is, a rightist coalition with a rightist programme was what they wanted. The day when Shirley Williams staggered away exhausted from the Lansley plan negotiations, with what she thought was a just about acceptable compromise, was the day when Clegg joined the Tories in great whooping cheers of delight around the Cabinet table.

  • Matthew, essentially I agree with your argument about the AV referendum. What the No campaign majored on, and what I think the public therefore voted against, was the idea that somehow 2nd could come first, ie the transfer of votes. This, I believe condemns STV as well as AV (STV for one winner) for some time to come. I am less sure that that meant those who voted No were necessarily anti-LibDem.

    We have of course, had the discussion before on what was needed after May 2010. I disagree about Labour – Tory for a number of reasons. The public voted in less numbers (vote share, anyway) than 2005. However on GE Day, it was they who were improving their position with the public, and the Lib Dems who were on a downward trend, with Tories flatlining. We had benefited with a huge spike of support because of the shock effect of Clegg’s high profile through the widely watched first TV broadcast. When it became apparent that he wasn’t winning the argument with Cameron, Brown, and especially the media, people drifted away. Another few days and we would have been lucky to get 40 MPs.
    So Labour were both ahead of us in crude numbers, and in trajectory of their support. And as I have oft repeated, many nuLabour policies were aligned better with Tory policies than wee Lib Dem ones. So it was clear that there would be serious differences in the coalition if it had been a serious attempt to bring together policies. It was sold to LD party members on the even then dubious premise that “David Cameron was a Liberal Tory”. It is clear now that this is not the way things are.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Jun '13 - 11:28am

    David Allen

    “It seems to me that our support for proportional representation indicates that we hold to the principle that the power in a coalition should be in proportion to their share of the vote.”

    There are a number of problems with this. First, the oft-quoted example of the pure PR system used in Israel, which can give one single swing party MP with 1% of the votes the power to decide who governs the country. Power does not align with the percentage of seats.

    Yes, this is the line used by our opponents to argue that we should have been able to achieve much more from the coalition, so therefore either we are weak and incompetent, or closet Tories for not doing so.

    Underneath, you see, I am still being the party loyalist here. I am suggesting what ought to be a sensible defence against those attacks. My line all along, since the coalition was formed, has been that the party leadership has played it all wrong by saying things which fit in with and support the attacks made on us by our opponents. Every time Clegg opens his mouth and gives us his usual line about how wonderful the coalition is, the fulfilment of our dreams, and the party is achieving so much from it, our opponents can point out – truthfully – that this looks pretty much like a right-wing Tory government doing right-wing things, so if the LibDems are so happy with it, either they are weak, easily fooled, or were not telling the truth in their 2010 general election campaign and actually were secret Tories from the start. I believe that had Clegg underplayed what the LibDems could achieve in coalition, we would be in a better position to counter such attacks.

    Now, when you talk about small parties being kingmakers in no-majority situations, you are raising what was often raised in the years before we had this coalition, and how the LibDems were supposed to be if they ever did hold the balance. So, because people believed all that, they suppose there’s something wrong with the LibDems for not being able to be massively powerful kingmakers now – or that they don’t want to be because they are really just Tories all along.

    I disagree, and I think the example you give shows why you and those who hold to the “kingmaker” position are so wrong. Parties which are able to play this kingmaker role have ultra-loyal “tribal” support which is only really interested in a limited agenda. So their voters are not going to desert them whoever they form a coalition with, so long as they get some of that limited agenda put through. The Liberal Democrats are not like that, in fact we are the opposite of that. Our vote tends to be people who aren’t strongly committed to us, and tends to be people who don’t have some strong ideological agenda they wish to push through. So we’re simply not in a position to act like those Israeli religious parties you are raising as how we ought to be. As a contrast, the Ulster Unionists ARE very much that sort of party. Their voters are not going to desert them and go running off to the SDLP or SF if they form a coalition with the “wrong” major party, and their voters aren’t going to be bothered much what any government they support does in terms of general policy, so long as it throws the odd “Ulster is British” bone to them. If we had a small but very firm bunch of ideologically committed voters, and an electoral system which meant such a vote could give us seats, we could play the game of being in whatever coalition we liked, and doing OK so long as we threw those voters the odd ideological liberal bone – being tough on snoopers, gay marriage etc. … Oh, actually it looks like Clegg is doing that, but go back to what comes after “If” above – we don’t.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Jun '13 - 11:49am

    David Allen

    So I don’t think we should let the Cleggies get away with this false alibi to the effect that they were in too weak a position to argue with anything much.

    But they aren’t using this line. I think it would be a very sensible one for them to use, but they aren’t. Instead, they’re using the very foolish line of exaggerating the influence they could have had and denying that we were in a weak position that forced our hand after the general election.

    My own view remains that had the party tried to force more out of the coalition agreement in 2010, and delayed agreeing to form a government or pulled out because it couldn’t get more, we’d have been massively punished by the electorate. As we have already seen on issues we hold dear and think important, such as AV and Lord Reform, most of the rest of the country don’t see them as important, and would think of us as typical politicians playing political games over irrelevant issues while the country was in crisis. I think you can also see from the ranting and raving of the Conservative right, that if the Tories had been pushed much further, they might not have supported a coalition – they have a sword over Cameron’s head as well. I’m afraid that to me, us holding out for more in the coalition would have been like that famous front page of Liberator, with David Owen standing in the toilet saying, well I can’t remember the details but I think it was at the time of the merger, and it was something like “Agree with me, or I pull the flush”.

    I was absolutely sure in my head in May 2010 that if we had an early general election, we would be the biggest losers and the Tories would get a majority. We were already on a downward slope, after the Cleggmania bubble burst. We had no money left to fight another election soon. The Tories were in a win-win situation, because if the economy went bad under their minority government, they would blame us. Labour would definitely have gone along with them using the line “Get rid of the Liberal Democrats and restore the two party system and this country’s stability”. We don’t have to speculate about that, because it is precisely the line they used in the AV referendum, or at least the Labour heavyweight who said anything used it, and all those Labour people who in their were in the Yes side just stayed very, very quiet.

    All I say in defence of the formation of the coalition does not mean I agree with it lasting the full five years. In fact, as I’ve said many times, we should have left it open for us to be able to withdraw early, and should by now have found a pretext to do so. The main pretext is an easy one – it hasn’t worked, the instant economic turnaround we were promised hasn’t happened, and actually many who supported the austerity plan back then are in reality saying the alternative plan that was in our 2010 manifesto would have been the better one in the first place. So Clegg COULD be jumping up and down and saying “See, I was right all along”. He ought to be doing just that, and if he had any loyalty to the party and those who put him where he is , that is what he should be doing now.

    It is because he has shown no loyalty to the party that I show no loyalty to him, I remain on strike, I shall do no work for the party and pay no more than the minimum membership until either he goes, or until he rejects the line he has been using since May 2010.

  • Sesenco,

    I can see your point, and agree with a lot of what you have said, but I think you are missing mine. When you say

    “I speak to a wide spectrum of people, and the impression I get from those who were once sympathetic to us or would have voted for us tactically, is that we’ve sold our principles down the river and are little better than the Tories.”

    So do I, but if you ask yourself why do people believe this, it is not because we are in coalition, it is because of how Nick and his acolytes behave in coalition.

    There are a million and one examples that any one of us could suggest, but the one that summed it up for me was when David Cameron and Nick were doing their “Let’s be seen together with you following me around various places, Nick – UK Tour” and Nick said “If we keep doing this we won’t find anything to bloody disagree on in the bloody TV debate.” That is the man not the coalition.

    You ask what anyone else could do differently. Well they could do what they say they are going to do. As opposed to Nick who sadly comes over as someone who says what he would like to do but can’t deliver. Less than two weeks ago Nick clearly said on the Marr Show “I don’t think on welfare, you can have a debate about the welfare that is provided to people at the bottom if you’re not at the same time prepared to have a debate about the welfare that is provided to the wealthy at the top. That isn’t fair and that’s why I will only proceed with further welfare reform if it is done fairly.”

    Fast forward to Osborne’s spending review this week and he announces more cuts on welfare for the poorest and nothing on Winter Fuel Payments, Free TV licenses etc.

    Need I say more?

  • Gerry McMullan 30th Jun '13 - 7:45am

    Where do I start.
    At long last I now know there are other Liberal Democrats thinking along the same lines as me. There is certainly great confusion on the Referendum from all parties and as a Scottish Liberal (note the omission of Democrat) I want what is right for the people of Scotland and the future of our country. My opinion is that the SNP spoke about Independence far to early in their terms of government. It takes decades of building a credible parliament which is recognised on the global stage.
    However, establishing once more a new Scottish Parliament gave Scotland an opportunity to build the foundations of a strong nation.
    It was Scots who were the great thinkers, scientists, philosophers, writers, artist’s and visionaries. This free thinking and our educational system has been deliberately eroded over many generations and as we know it does not take long for the people to forget exactly who we were, what we did in the world and how we achieved it.
    Now we are faced with a great dilemma, do we take this opportunity to stand up once more and fight our own corner or do we continue while tip our caps and thank London for our hand out.
    My views on Independence were strongly for a NO vote until recently when I wanted to know what we were putting in place if it was a YES vote. I was informed this would have to be discussed after the results. This in my mind is unacceptable.
    As Liberal Democrats we were a major part of building the foundations of our new Scottish Parliament and government and we gave it up through narrow minded thinking from soft a tired and soft leadership.
    I could go on and highlight the implications of our coalition at Westminster but for the meantime I will focus on what I want as a Liberal here in Scotland. These past weeks I had two letters published in my local paper. From these, I received concerns from my own party and many positive comments from others. In similar fashion before Bill Clinton’s speech, I said next years vote is more important than a YES-NO result. I continued to say this football style mentality of supporting political parties has to stop if we are seriously wanting the best for Scotland and our people.
    Getting the best minds together to discuss the implications of any result should have started ages ago.
    As a Scottish Liberal I am sick to my stomach of the negative impacts fed to us through our media and our own senior party members. Looking at the political greed and corrupt financial crisis we have had to endure, together with a London Government who are part responsible for false conflicts around the world I am now saying as a Scot, I would rather stand alone and work for a better vibrant Scotland than sit back and take the scraps and corruption from London and the negativity from our own leadership.
    Having a YES vote does not mean we are going to have a sole SNP Government, saying YES highlights the people are now demanding that Scotland stands up as a strong forward thinking nation. Vote NO we continue down the harsh road to poverty. Vote YES and we walk along the tough and difficult road to an opportunity to once more be free thinking Scots with vision for the future.
    It certainly won’t be easy but I would rather try than sit back and take more of the same from the greed of any Westminster Government.

  • David Allen 2nd Jul '13 - 11:33pm

    Matthew Huntbach, if you’re still reading this thread:

    “I think the example you give shows why you and those who hold to the “kingmaker” position are so wrong. Parties which are able to play this kingmaker role have ultra-loyal “tribal” support which is only really interested in a limited agenda. So their voters are not going to desert them whoever they form a coalition with, so long as they get some of that limited agenda put through. The Liberal Democrats are not like that, in fact we are the opposite of that. Our vote tends to be people who aren’t strongly committed to us..”

    Sorry, I’ve only just found these remarks of yours!

    I’m afraid they don’t make much sense to me. I am arguing that the Lib Dems in 2010 could and should have been able to get a better deal than they did, simply because Cameron will have been desperately scared of what could happen to him if no deal was achieved – that is, a rapid end to his political career.

    That calculation has very little to do with the longer term popularity of the Lib Dems in 2015. It is enough that we had Cameron by the throat in 2010. If and when we had driven a harder bargain in 2010, we would then have had another five years before the electoral consequences came home to us.

    And what would those consequences have been? You rightly point out that much of our support is soft. That’s why, after we struck a weak bargain, half of that support has melted away. If we had struck a harder bargain, and therefore had more to claim credit for, surely we would be better placed electorally, not worse?!

  • David Allen 2nd Jul '13 - 11:38pm

    Matthew again: You quote my remark:

    “So I don’t think we should let the Cleggies get away with this false alibi to the effect that they were in too weak a position to argue with anything much.”

    and you comment:

    “But they aren’t using this line. I think it would be a very sensible one for them to use, but they aren’t. Instead, they’re using the very foolish line of exaggerating the influence they could have had and denying that we were in a weak position that forced our hand after the general election.”

    You’re right. I mis-spoke myself there. The Cleggies themselves are not using that alibi.

    However, you believe it is a good alibi, and you are using it in partial defence of what they did. I am arguing that it is a rubbish alibi, and that you would help your cause (and mine) if you were to drop it!

  • Simon Banks 4th Jul '13 - 9:33pm

    I am always suspicious of someone exhorting me to “embrace the future”, or using similar terms like “transformational”. A transformation can be from very good to very bad. The future is not of itself either good or bad: it’s what we make of it. When people urge us to “embrace the future”, usually they mean “embrace my version of the future”. As Peter Sellers put it, “We must look to the future, which is to be – and not to the past, which is gone!” It can also mean to stop worrying about some damaging aspects of the emerging future, stop striving to change them, and just enjoy it.

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