Opinion: Cameron’s lurch to the right is Clegg’s opportunity

Party conference seasons are rarely memorable. Apart from Cameron’s “call that election – we will fight, Britain will win” bluff, which prompted Gordon Brown to call off the “election that never was” in 2007. Apart from a few leadership shocks – Ed Miliband’s pipping of his brother to the line on the shoulders of the trade unions in 2010 and the foundering of David Davis’ leaden leadership bid in 2005.

It may be premature to pass judgment on this conference season just yet. But it is a season that will be remembered for three things. Nick Clegg was sorry. Ed Miliband found his voice and earned a hearing. David Cameron and the Conservative Party became trapped once again in a right-wing spiral to the next General Election.

The Conservatives have chosen to respond to Ed Miliband’s audacious “One Nation” raid into the Tory wardrobe with the following headlines: abortion reform; ruling out the mansion tax; £10 billion welfare cuts; curbs on the unions; vetoes on the EU budget; restrictions on EU migrants.

Cameron is being dragged decisively to the right by his restive backbenchers, resurgent UKIP and by Tory grassroots who never truly bought into de-toxifying the Tory brand.

So this Conservative conference will deliver the most significant portents for the next half of this parliament. A truly right-ward shift by the Conservatives, proving that the Cameron post 2005 reforms were skin deep in a way that Labour’s post 1995 reforms were not. This week confirms that Cameron’s leadership is the most threatened of any of the three party leaders.

It is a moment that should offer the Liberal Democrats an opportunity. It shows that Nick Clegg’s call in Brighton for the Liberal Democrats to keep the coalition anchored in the centre ground was the correct one. It must become the defining mission of the Liberal Democrats in the next half of the coalition. While we must not petulantly oppose for opposition’s sake, we should campaign within government for policies of the centre ground as loudly and constructively as a centre ground party would when seeking election.

On Sunday, the Tories revealed that a countdown clock sits in CCHQ. There are 940 days to go until the next election. Just as the Conservatives are now clearly associated with a lurch to the right, the Liberal Democrats will need to work every one of those days to demonstrate that their purpose in government can be as guarantors of centrist, liberal politics with which the key battleground electorate in the UK agrees. As much as Liberal Democrat policies that have been delivered, it is vital to have a record of Conservative right-wing policies that have been scuppered.

The Conservatives are probably waking up to the fact that they are on the way to losing the next General Election. Liberal Democrat poll ratings are awful, but should be ignored. Poll ratings are not kept for posterity or as museum pieces but are the basis on which political parties can achieve things in government.

942 days is a long time in politics. Labour was out of power for 18 years. The Tories were sidelined for 13 years. The real figures Lib Dems should be worried about are not the opinion poll ratings, but the 900 days left in government to build Nick Clegg’s brand of a centrist, grown-up, liberal party of government keeping right wing Tories and deficit denying Labour Party in check.

He said he was sorry, so, so, sorry – but at conference, he was also right. As The West Wing’s Leo McGarry said of Bartlet’s team when contemplating 365 days left at the White House – the Lib Dems must leave it all out on the field.

* Rob Murphy lives and works in Kenya and blogs at Binned Bowler

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70 Comments

  • Good article but you left out the most disturbing lurch-to-the-right items announced so far by the Tories – trade your working rights for shares, give people the right to give burglars a “good hiding” to use the Sun’s vocab, and giving victims of anti-social behaviour the right to choose punishments. The most worrying thing about all 3 is that they seemed to be announced as government rather than Tory policy. It could just be conference season sabre rattling but frankly if any one of those gets our go ahead that’d be the end of my membership.

  • Geoffrey Payne 10th Oct '12 - 12:33pm

    Whilst I accept that the lurch to the right by the Tories give us an opportunity to differentiate ourselves from them, I also think it is a very serious threat as well. The question I would like to know the answer to is what happens next to all these policy announcements by Tory ministers that are not in the Coalition agreement? Did these ministers make these announcements knowing that Nick Clegg would agree to them? Or will he block them, and will they block what we want to do? The problem I have is that I do not know what the red lines are as far as Nick Clegg is concerned. Before the last general election I went on a demonstration with him to end child poverty, a policy that is legally binding on the government by 2020, so it is disappointing to see the welfare cuts that he has already agreed to, let alone what is to come.
    So if the Tories lurch to the right how can we be sure we will not be dragged along with them?

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Oct '12 - 12:40pm

    @Rob Murphy: ” Nick Clegg’s brand of a centrist, grown-up, liberal party of government keeping right wing Tories and deficit denying Labour Party in check.”

    In my view, there is no such thing as pure centrism in British politics. We have a choice : centre-right or centre-left.

    This coalition has produced a right of centre Government. We are a left of centre party. It’s not comfortable. The Tory Party conference speeches show that the Tories are lurching even further to the right (Cameron’s speech was awful) and we need to differentiate ourselves by returning to our left of centre base as soon as possible.

    We can be grown up and centre-left you know. Don’t believe the right wing press and Tory propaganda.

  • Keith Browning 10th Oct '12 - 12:42pm

    Are the Lib Dems still part of a Coalition? By their words and deeds over the past few days the Tories are proclaiming they are THE party of government. Not a mention anywhere of their partners.

    Strategy – ‘if they ignore us then we might go away’.

    Clegg should cease cosying up to the Tories and make sure everyone knows this is a business partnership and no more. The next election campaign has already begun in earnest.

  • Regardless of which party wins the 2015 election, the Liberal Democrats are going to be in opposition after it; the 2010 fluke was a once-in-a-lifetime event. That’s why it’s necessary that they start re-learning the skills of being in opposition sooner rather than later. It’s merely a question of whether they leave government as the result of a drubbing at the polls, or whether they leave on their own terms at a time of their own choosing, on an issue they can be proud of defending.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Oct '12 - 1:45pm


    Cameron is being dragged decisively to the right by his restive backbenchers, resurgent UKIP and by Tory grassroots who never truly bought into de-toxifying the Tory brand.

    This makes the assumption that he wasn’t very much to the right in the first place. The claim by Cameron or his media supporters that he had made his party more “moderate” was largely propaganda anyway, and we should not go round repeating Tory propaganda as if it were truth.

    The claim to have “detoxified” the “Tory brand” amounts to a shift of position on a few issues which may be totemic to old school Toryism, but are pretty much fringe to what the Tory Party is about now i.e. defending the wealth and power of the super-rich. On the core economic issues, the Tory Party is probably further to the right than it has EVER been, the dropping of old-school Tory paternalism is a shift to the right in economic terms as it involves dropping the notion that the aristocracy (old style or new style i.e. City fat cats) has some sort of duty of care to the nation and its people which goes along with its wealth.

  • paul barker 10th Oct '12 - 3:00pm

    On the question of whether 2010 was a “once in a lifetime event”, the combined vote of the Big 2 parties has been falling steadily since the early 1950s. If a week is a long time in politics then 60 years must be an eternity. Its likely that the decline of the labservative vote is linked to other long-term trends, the lessening of party loyalty, the steep fall in party memberships & the slow growth in numbers identifying themselves as middle class.
    With such long trends the safest assumption is that they are continuing & that makes Hung parliaments more likely over time.

  • You may have noticed that there was only one mention of the LibDems in Cameron’s conference speech, and that was to reproach this party (along with Labour) for not having made a pre election commitment to protect the NHS from spending cuts.
    Well, that’s one broken pledge we won’t have to defend before the next election.

  • “Its likely that the decline of the labservative vote is linked to other long-term trends, the lessening of party loyalty, the steep fall in party memberships & the slow growth in numbers identifying themselves as middle class.
    With such long trends the safest assumption is that they are continuing & that makes Hung parliaments more likely over time.”

    If we had proportional representation, then you would be right in saying that the declining Con/Lab share of the vote makes hung parliaments more likely. As we don’t, and as no other party but the Lib Dems has a realistic chance of significant parliamentary representation (at least in England), then it’s actually the Lib Dem share of the vote that is the relevant factor. If the Lib Dems remain around 10% in the polls, then the fact that there’s another 15% shared out between UKIP, the Greens, the BNP et al. doesn’t make a hung parliament one iota more likely.

  • Helen Tedcastle “In my view, there is no such thing as pure centrism in British politics. We have a choice : centre-right or centre-left.
    This coalition has produced a right of centre Government. We are a left of centre party. It’s not comfortable. The Tory Party conference speeches show that the Tories are lurching even further to the right (Cameron’s speech was awful) and we need to differentiate ourselves by returning to our left of centre base as soon as possible. ”

    It may be your view but its not correct.

    Centre – yes; centre left – no.

    Our trajectory is away from the narrow left-right axis, and unashamedly Liberal.

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Oct '12 - 6:08pm

    @Tabman: ” Our trajectory is away from the narrow left-right axis, and unashamedly Liberal.”

    Liberal yes, radical, yes. Centre – no. This Government is centre-right and veering to the right at a rate of knots. Our party is not a go-between, managerial party like the German FDP. We have always had a radical heart.

  • HT – we as a party stay where we are; in the centre. We should under no circumstances lurch leftwards; that way socialism lies.

  • @ Rob Murphy – lol, yes sorry I should have considered that you probably wrote this in advance of the publication date!

    As for pure centrism, I would have thought Tony Blair provided a reasonable example of centrism in action? Sadly on the liberal-authoritarian axis he was well off to authoritarian end, but on the economic left-right axis he was usually parked right in the middle.

    Surely centrism is the opinion that both public and private sectors have value and neither is automatically better than the other? Both can perform well (or cock up royally) and are good at different things. I remember Blair giving a very good speech on that in his earlier years, about how he didn’t understand why politicians wanted everything run either by the state or the markets and why couldn’t we have a bit of both. He sounded quite sensible – pity he hadn’t got a liberal bone in his body…

  • It is quite simple: the party needs to be avowedly Liberal and particularly socially Liberal, a party that stands up for civil liberties and individual rights; the party needs to be avowedly pro democracy,fair representative democracy at the ballot box and in the work place. In short Liberal Democrat.

    The party needs to be defined by itself, rather than by others, so notions of ‘the centre’ are off target as they are determined by other parties, the media and interest groups with big money and power to wave around.

  • Simon Titley 10th Oct '12 - 7:17pm

    Every time I hear someone use the words ‘centre’ or ‘middle’, I want to reach for my revolver.

    It is rank defeatism. Has it ever occurred to Rob Murphy that it is possible to express one’s own values or change public opinion? To define yourself as ‘centrist’ does the opposite; it allows rival parties to define you. Worse than that, both the Tory and Labour parties have moved steadily rightwards over the past twenty years, in the (mistaken) belief that neoliberal economic dogma is the only game in town. If we try to be ‘between’ these parties, we are allowing ourselves to be ratcheted rightwards. In any case, the argument for centrism assumes that most voters share the same sweet spot, which is why mainstream parties have tended to converge on the same territory instead of offering voters a real choice. In reality, public opinion is varied and the ‘average voter’ doesn’t exist.

    Contrast the centrists’ fatalism with the debate started here by Mike Tuffrey earlier this week (http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-the-making-of-a-manifesto-why-this-time-its-about-gut-instinct-not-policies-30637.html). This is a much more hopeful outlook, demonstrating that Liberal Democrats should be defining themselves in their own terms and stressing their unique values, instead of allowing themselves to be wafted by every passing breeze.

  • “It is quite simple: the party needs to be avowedly Liberal and particularly socially Liberal, a party that stands up for civil liberties and individual rights; the party needs to be avowedly pro democracy,fair representative democracy at the ballot box and in the work place. In short Liberal Democrat.”

    The only snag is that the electorate may expect you to have an economic policy as well. And as things stand at present people will get the impression that it’s identical with Conservative economic policy.

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Oct '12 - 8:53pm

    @Tabman: ” HT – we as a party stay where we are; in the centre. We should under no circumstances lurch leftwards; that way socialism lies.”

    I am describing Liberalism as radical. It is not socialism and it is not centrist or centre. The nearest main party description of it is left of centre but this does not really do justice to the philosophy. This is the problem – use the term left and some think it means socialism. There is more than one radical tradition in this country.

    Simon Titley – 100% right in his analysis.

  • Robert Carruthers 10th Oct '12 - 9:00pm

    We are a reformist, progressive and egalitarian party. Centrism and “splitting the difference” doesn’t enter into it.

  • HT – I am avowedly antithetical to leftery and dislike the description. Liberal; social and economic, personal and cultural. Never left.

  • RC – egalitarian? Equality of opportunity not outcome.

  • Cameron hasn’t lurched to the Right. He was just the right sort of age not to be a social conservative on some issues. . Blair for all the faults changed the political rule book on openness about sexuality amongst other things. But economically Cameron , is and always was a right-winger . He just learned to hide his Party’s agenda by using friendly sounding phrases like The Big Society (sack people and force them to do their old jobs for free). “fairness ( make the disabled and unemployed equally poor). ” Aspirational” ( talk about the politics of envy the minute anyone suggest tax reform or wonders why exactly someone whose ancestors bopped the right person over the head 400 years ago should keep the accrued assets in perpetuity )..

    Can the Lib Dems benefit from this. Not if they keep trumpeting Conservative policies as joint ventures and refuse to see that the Coalition wasn’t a grand meeting of minds, but the result of a hung parliament and a Tory leader needing more seats than he had and who, didn’t think he would win a snap election with a minority government. To be fair to Clegg. I genuinely believe he thought he could deliver stability and moderation, whilst giving a practical demonstration of how an alternative to FPTT might work. But. me personally. I think the plug needs to be pulled ASP before another clobbering in the local elections. The other thing to learn from the conference is that Boris Johnson really is an amusing fella, but even the Tories now know that he is no leader in waiting.

  • @Tabman: ” Our trajectory is away from the narrow left-right axis, and unashamedly Liberal.”

    Yes, but this raise the question of what this means in practise.

    ‘Liberalism’ is the product of a balanced viewpoint which encompasses centre-right, centre-left and extreme centre perspectives, among others, providing merely the outside appearance of ‘centrism’. It is of course nothing of the sort, it it far more comprehensive and profound.

    The problems is in deciding the correct balance according to the situation and finding effective ways to apply it.

    Given the utter failure of Labour’s policies and the economic devastation wrought on the country by the two Eds it is only natural and sensible that the balance will temporarily shift away from the left. We should not be unhappy with this, rather we should seek to ensure this isn’t permanent.

    I don’t like it when governments fail, but they only fail when they aren’t liberal – and that means ackowledging there is a correct representative balance to be struck.

  • Maggie Smith 11th Oct '12 - 5:01am

    Reading the above your problems as Liberal Democrats becomes glaringly obvious.

    If you people don’t know what you are and where it is exactly that you stand, and in many cases what you stand for and what you will not tolerate from your coalition partners, then how on earth do you expect people who may vote for you to know?

    With all due respect (and I do have some) best get to defining yourselves PDQ, you only have 2 and a half years to work this one out.

  • The Liberal Democrats have always been tolerant of diversity, open to listening to ideas, and big on self-determination (as a party, and for individual human beings as a right), this discussion is therefore not an identity crisis , just Liberal Democrats being themselves .

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Oct '12 - 10:12am

    Rob Murphy

    Certainly an interesting discussion which reflects the broad church that the Liberal Democrats have become – the effects of the merger still lingering.

    In what way? Were you involved with the Liberal Party or the SDP at the time of the merger, or are you relying on what you say here on the Orwellian attempt to rewrite history by right-wing fringe infiltrators we have seen in recent years?

  • Maggie Smith – “If you people don’t know what you are and where it is exactly that you stand, and in many cases what you stand for and what you will not tolerate from your coalition partners, then how on earth do you expect people who may vote for you to know?”

    It hasn’t stopped Labour or the Tories garnering millions of votes over the years. New Labour, Vote Blue Go Green …

  • LibDems never ‘became’ a broad church, it’s what we’ve always been – since before the Whigs, Radicals and Peelites joined forces, not just since the days of the Alliance!

    Liberals are defined as a ‘broad’ democratic non-conformist mix, compared to the narrow tory ‘high’ church, the base ‘low’ church of Labour and the occasional firebrand preachers with fringe appeal.

    We’re a broad church because we want the broadest mix, we have the broadest representative foundations, and are most broadly representative of the country as a whole.

    We don’t need to discover who we are, we know, we need not to forget.

    I’d like to know, what do the other parties stand for?

    Labour are nothing but the anti-tory party, Conservatives are nothing more than the anti-Labour party, and all the smaller parties are none-of-the-above parties. They are simply inverted reflections of the other, and none offers anything new in substance or substantially new.

    The only difference between them is that one must be more awful than the rest at any particular moment in time.

  • Richard Dean 11th Oct '12 - 11:36am

    LibDems are a church? I was looking for a political party!

  • I agree with Geoff Payne’s questions. Unless Nick Clegg changes his approach we will be dragged with the Tories as far as the public is concerned. Nick needs to up his game against them even if it risks the coalition. Why, for example, has Nick Clegg and David Laws capitulated ( a word publicly used by others in our party) over Gove’s exams policy ? Why did Nick give the impression that we could be proud of the budget in March when he should have been saying it was one that we had influenced but it was not a Liberal Democrat budget ? Why did he give the impression that he was willing to give in on more welfare cuts (possibly £8bn) so long as the Tories agreed the £2bn for a mansion tax ?
    We are likely to have reduced MPs next time, but I would rather that happen because we are fighting for our basic principles than because we are simply moderating a right wing government and loosing our identity.
    I felt from the moment that Cameron did his reshuffle, that the Tories are set on a path against us and their conference confirms that. This means that although we have achieved much so far, we are unlikely to achieve much more and even what we do achieve will be at a very high price in terms of what we stand for.
    Cllr. Nigel Jones

  • Maggie Smith, a very silly comment if I may be so bold. You look at discussion among members of any of the political parties and you will find exactly the same thing. Or are you trolling on behalf of one of them??

  • Maggie Smith 11th Oct '12 - 1:02pm

    Tabman- Ah that’s OK then, do what they do. Just keep the talk of a different politics quiet, because that will invariably lead to voter disappointment and frankly voter disappointment is something you may not wish to increase any further this side of the election.

    No one should suggest that you plant a flag in the political spectrum and form a circle around it. As has been pointed out the middle of this spectrum is a mess, New Labour overlapping with socially aware conservatives , a mess to the point that it almost becomes meaningless, but even accepting that, the discussion about what is party policy, what Nick and the MPs “wing it” as policy in the secrecy of the coalition and what message this sends to the voting public is not clear. Proven (as if any further evidence were needed, by these type of discussions and their frequency).

    The country is crying out for an alternative and you find yourselves in the interesting position of actually being a credible alternative to the government in which you are part, IF you can get a clean message out to the electorate.

    It would be nice if the party could stop acting (to a degree) like a group of very talented teenagers who want to form a band and them get to the age of 65 still squabbling about what to call it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Oct '12 - 1:41pm

    Rob Murphy

    @ Matthew Huntbach No, I wasn’t involved in the merger, but I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that the Lib Dems have always been a broad church. We have the Orange book economic liberals (which some might consider right wing) and social liberals (which some might consider left of centre).

    Yes, so why did you write “the effects of the merger still lingering”? What you have written above has nothing to do with the merger. If you believe that “economic liberals” correspond to what the Liberal Party was about at the time and “social liberals” correspond to what the SDP was about at the time, you have it wrong. It was generally accepted then that the SDP was somewhat to the right of the Liberal Party. Many of the Orange Book contributors were former SDP members, and so far as I am aware, not one of them was a prominent member of the pre-merger Liberal Party.

    This is why I used the word “Orwellian”. Orwell wrote about political fanatics who tried to change the way people thought by using their power to change what words mean and to erect as “history” something that is actually fiction. There has been an attempt in recent years to steal the word “liberal” and get it to mean what in the days of the Liberal-SDP alliance we would have called “Thatcherite economics”. As part of this propaganda effort, there have been attempts to rewrite history and make our the pre-merger Liberal Party stood for this sort of thing. It is a matter of historical record that it did not. So, if you believe it did because of what these propagandists have done, now you know – you have been fooled.

  • Maggie Smith – mea culpa, I like a good debate as much as the next member, but we know what we have in common and we know that we have more in common with each other than with Labour or the Tories.

    We are all Liberals. Against the power of vested interests, for the freedom of the individual.

  • It would be nice if the party could stop acting (to a degree) like a group of very talented teenagers who want to form a band and them get to the age of 65 still squabbling about what to call it.

    @ Maggie
    While I don’t agree that we don’t know what we stand for, I have to admit you do have a point when it comes to messaging, which we’ve always been pants at. Stephen Tall wrote and insightful, if depressing, article earlier this year about the Lib Dem core vote and why we have some pretty fundamental problems with building one that go beyond tactical or strategic mistakes. Questioning everything is part of our identity, which includes questioning ourselves and each other – not always politely 🙂

    For me – as I suspect for many (most?) Lib Dems – that constant dissent is part of the enduring appeal of our party. In my experience, people who are really 100% sure what they believe in have probably failed to grasp the true complexity of the issues, and people who can reduce their principles to a soundbite probably haven’t thought them through. But you’re quite right that that outlook presents big problems when it comes to settling on a campaign message. “We believe in never being completely sure” probably isn’t most people’s idea of an inspiring slogan!

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Oct '12 - 2:00pm

    Maggie Smith

    It would be nice if the party could stop acting (to a degree) like a group of very talented teenagers who want to form a band and them get to the age of 65 still squabbling about what to call it.

    So what would you prefer? A political party on the Stalinist line, where the Leader (supposedly elected by the party’s democratic mechanism, so it’s still “people’s democracy”) just tells everyone what they must think, and everyone forgets what they used to think and just follows the Party Line – and changes what they think to the new Party Line if next week the Leader tells them to?

    The reality is that people do think their own way, and political parties have to be broad collections involving a variety of views. The real lingering remnants of the merger in the Liberal Democrats are not the economic v. social liberal differences, but differences on how the party should be structured. The SDP wanted a centralised leader-oriented party, many Liberals had a vision of a looser network of community activists. The SDP vision won out, perhaps inevitably because we seem to live in an age where this sort of top-down view of the way things should be run has become so ingrained people can hardly even conceive of anything different.

  • Oranjeban,
    the two Eds were not in charge of the economy in the last Labour Government. Ed Balls was, I believe the education secretary and Miliband was basically a junior minister. Also when Labour left office there was a tentative growth in the economy.
    I don’t trust Labour, but the current economic mess is the result of a mixture of global factors (as it was in 2008.) and poor Conservative policies. The problem with the economic legacy since the Thatcher era and adopted by New Labour has been Economic Liberalism, which with all due respect to its advocates and without suggesting they are not proper Liberals looks increasingly wrong. The problem with Labour isn’t that they are into collectivism and glorious five year plans, it’s that they couldn’t tell the difference between a bubble and real growth if it bit them on the bum., so kept doing the same thing. Tax Credits glossed over the fact that a lot of British companies didn’t and don’t pay a living wage, whilst borrowing filled the gap left by an unwillingness to Tax properly. For me the problem is that every time anyone suggests anything but pure market lead economics they’re accused of being a closet Red and so the cycle continues.

  • “We believe in never being completely sure” – but we’re not sure about that!

  • Just one problem with communicating a clear message to the wider public – the message is filtered through the rabidly tribal corporate media, and this makes us dependent on organisations set against us (or at least in the case of the national broadcasting corporation biased towards an artifical appearance of balance)… in other words towards the status quo.

    Sometimes it’s a surprise that we even survive in the face of all the odds stacked against us, but our resilience is a remarkable testament to the strength of our politics!

  • Orangepan – “I’d like to know, what do the other parties stand for?”

    Cons – staying rich themselves, no one else matters , nothing else matters.
    Lab – being angry with the Cons for being rich, solving that by making everyone poor.

    Smaller parties – I think more about highlighting local special interests than “none of the above”, but the nature of the special interest depends who the smaller party is. Also, especially in 2010, smaller parties in electable positions gained tactical votes from people who were hoping a Hung Parliament would lead to PR, as did some electable Lib Dems.

    Liberal Democrats – stand for Liberalism and Democracy (it says says that on the tin). A freer and fairer society.

    To me personally – Cons = giving m the creeps, Lab = giving me a headache, Lib Dems = the only people who could run this country without needing half of it to hate the other half.

  • Maggie Smith 11th Oct '12 - 3:25pm

    Matthew Huntbach-

    “So what would you prefer? A political party on the Stalinist line, where the Leader (supposedly elected by the party’s democratic mechanism, so it’s still “people’s democracy”) just tells everyone what they must think, and everyone forgets what they used to think and just follows the Party Line – and changes what they think to the new Party Line if next week the Leader tells them to?”

    Not at all, and the fact that you seem to offer that as the only other solution is a little telling, I suggested no such thing. How you arrive at the message is for the party to decide by the means they have at their disposal and yes discussion and representation is a good thing, dissent is a good thing, ideas are good things. The delivery of that message to the wider populace is the issue. I don’t consider it at all Stalinist (as you put it) for the party to arrive at policy by the methods of their choosing (by whatever internal wrangling they may deem appropriate) and then distilling that into a clear statement of position on a number of issues. Sometimes the message is clear, child detention for example, I have no doubt where the party stand on that issue, I might wonder if it’s over, but I am in no doubt of the intent and passion to bring about it’s end.

    The trouble with the politically minded (and I mean no insult) is that they are politically minded. When you interact with others its often the case that indecision can be off putting. You wouldn’t return to a dentist who couldn’t decide a course of action while you sit numbed up in the chair, yet you could respect his decision if he left the room to consult with a colleague before coming back to you with a definite plan shortly after.

    I have read enough of your posts on here to know that you should be aware that you don’t have to sell out your party to sell your party to the electorate. How you get to a position/policy is the area with the widest possible choice of method, how you present that information and appear supportive, passionate and enthusiastic is key. Even changing position is good, policy has to move, times change, the world changes, you have the discussion, you make the change if it’s agreed you present it and you move on.

    What will baffle the electorate is a party that has been around for as long as this one has still asking the question “What are we?”. What will worry the electorate is a party that has been in government for two years asking the question “What are we?”.

    I say the same of the Conservatives and Labour, but in truth, I don’t even consider them an option any more, they have the (dubious) benefit of having some kind of fixed position in the public awareness (rightly or wrongly), for the rich, for the unions, whoever. If the Conservatives and Labour were shops, I would never go in them again, the reason why I even bother to comment on here is that I see some hope. You have the most difficult message/concept to get across, made doubly so by the faux centre claims of the other two creating this illusionary middle ground where (it is claimed) that the voter tree grows. Yes you are a broad party and that is a selling point, not being constrained or in thrall of unions or the city or some other vested interest, but being broad does not necessarily mean the message, the direction and the position need be any less clear. More difficult yes but it can be done, your successes in the past at a local level prove that.

    I would also like to clearly state, just so you don’t misunderstand, that I do not think that top down diktats on the party line is the way to go. You might like to direct that a little higher when the leader makes one of his unannounced policy statements “on the fly”.

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Oct '12 - 5:54pm

    @Matthew Huntbach: ” As part of this propaganda effort, there have been attempts to rewrite history and make our the pre-merger Liberal Party stood for this sort of thing. It is a matter of historical record that it did not. So, if you believe it did because of what these propagandists have done, now you know – you have been fooled.”

    Quite right. The Liberal Party was a radical party and as a member, we regarded the SDP as somewhat to the right of us. The rewriting of history is convenient for the press who have latched on to the Orange Book and as they do not understand the Lib Dems construct a narrow, binary view of the party.

    For those who don’t know, the merger expunged the Owenite element, which later dissolved between the Tory and Labour Parties. It always amuses me to watch Danny Finklestein, ex-Owenite and now a Tory insider. It reminds me of those heady but painful days.

    The people who are leading the party now were not around at this time (certainly not in the youth wing). They would do well to learn something of the party’s history.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Oct '12 - 6:00pm

    @ Maggie Smith

    I was arguing by taking things to extremes, reductio ad absurdum. Now actually I know very well what I do want from the Liberal Democrats, otherwise I would not have given so much of my own money and time to them during the 34 years I have been an active member of the party and its Liberal Party predecessor. On the whole I have found other members of the party want similar sorts of things to what I want. That’s why I’m happy for us to work together so that by pooling our resources we can get some of our number elected to public office. That, at the heart of it, is what a political party is for. Without political parties we would have rule only by those already famous and wealthy, because only they would have the resources to be able to campaign in large scale elections. I’m somewhat to the left politically, so I tend to find what members of the Conservative Party want to be pretty different from what I would want. With Labour Party members my differences tend to be less, but I actually don’t like the way the Labour Party does things and the attitude it has. One of the reason I’ve given so much of my time and money to the third party movement over the years is a strong belief that there should be more than two choices in politics, and a strong belief in opening up politics so that ordinary people want to use it to make their lives better rather than see politicians as some sort of alien species – there was a time when that was very much what the Liberal Party was about.

    I would hope that as part of politics being more open and more human, we might be accepting that if one joins a political party one does not have to give up one’s own humanity and become some sort of brainwashed alien. I am sad that this now seems to be how members of political parties are seen by most people. People are afraid to join and get involved, as they think that means they will no longer be allowed to think for themselves. As a consequence, with fewer active members, politics is becoming more controlled just by wealthy donors, and politicians are becoming more out of touch as the only people left doing it are those doing it for sheer power reasons, or out of fanatic attachment to some ideology.

    Now, the point is I see my party leader moving my party further and further away from what it had that made me want to become involved with it. In fact he does seem to have a very clear idea of what he wants the party to be, of the message he thinks it should be putting it. It was put most succinctly by his outgoing Director of Strategy in the New Statesman issue of the eve of the Liberal Democrat conference. The trouble is, it’s so far removed from what I want that if that’s what it’s to be, I’d rather not be involved.

    So, what should I do? Fight for my different vision from within, but then people like you will accuse us of not having a clear message, of behaving like squabbling teenagers. Or just accept what my leader tells me, on the grounds that gives a good clear image, and having a good clear image is what wins votes?

  • @jedibeeftrix – ok, so what do you want? To get elected despite being wildly misrepresented yourselves by two other parties, both better funded and marketed than yourselves, by a public who see your leader as a power hungry traitor, and who now see a vote for you as a good way to let the “Nasty Party” in? From this position do you expect to come up with a way to present yourselves to the electorate with a clear message about how lovely you are, but no criticism of the opposing Party’s ?

    Most Conservative voters that I meet are interested in one thing, it is less taxes for them personally, and most Labour voters that I meet are angry and think that everything that is wrong with the world is because of the rich. That is my personal experience of thirty years talking about politics to other people who vote and talk about it, you know, just out here in everyday life Great Britain. They do not talk about what it says in the Party’s Constitutions, and the people who want to vote for what is best for everyone are actually looking something “fairer than the Conservatives, and reliable with the economy (unlike Labour)” . Do you want my vote at the next GE, or do you not want it because I don’t love the LabCon as much as I like you ?

  • Cameron’s shift isn’t an opportunity, it’s a threat. He is saying that he no longer needs the Lib Dems, he will now just do what he likes, and if the Lib Dems protest, he will just show the nation that the protest can be ignored.

    Clegg will probably deal with the threat by asking Cameron to drop some crumbs from his table. Cameron will tell him about all the things he wants to do that are not blatantly right-wing, and Cameron will allow Clegg to make speeches in favour of those things. Cameron will then declare that he is generously going to concede Clegg’s demand. The quid pro quo for this will be that Cameron will never make a genuine concession and agree to do something that he would really have preferred not to do.

  • @david allen

    Absoulutely agree with your analysis. Clegg’s previous weakness in not drawing red lines on issues (where he could easily have done so, such as NHS reforms) means that he is in exactly the position you describe. A large part of the electorate see him now as irrelevant (whether that is fair or not is besides the point), Cameron has pounced on that and at the same time gained time and space with his own party. I’m afraid that our leadership’s love affair with being in government is being exploited by a party which we know is always ruthless to hang onto power.

  • It’s important to remember that every threat is an opportunity and vice versa.

    Libs don’t draw red lines, we draw golden ones – it’s nonsense to say Clegg was weak not to identify any red lines, as I’m sure you’ll recognise a prize demonstration in his experience of doing exactly that over the pledge on tuition fees – it was nice, but impossible, and we were forced through necessity to arrive at a better policy which we delivered as a result. Win, win, PR disaster.

    Setting out ‘red’ lines without the votes to back it up is simply pointing out areas where opponents can screw you in the press.

  • Steve Griffiths 12th Oct '12 - 12:18pm

    I really do get depressed with the increasing ‘centrism-wash’ that seems to abound in several subjects and threads on the LDV website. Helen Tedcastle is right about how things were seen at the time of the merger. I was there and we voted against merger, as we saw the SDP to the right of the then Liberal Party. David Steel I recall around that time said he wanted to avoid becoming “a party of fudge and mudge”, but the subsequent moving away from the left of centre has given you just that.

    Those of our long held beliefs, thos of us who consider themselves NOT social democrats, but the Libertarian Left, will not come and fight and campaign for this party with it’s current positioning, despite tramping the streets for years to get it where it is today. I was particularly saddened to read in an earlier topic thread (begun on the 1st October) of a regular contributor to LDV and with similar views to mine, recounting that he had been advised to join Labour for holding those views. There currently sees to be a sort of ‘apartheid’ coming from the top and regularly spouted in LDV which is driving the left of the party out.; there is no percieved inclusiveness coming from the leadership. Surely the maximum inclusiveness is the mark of a good leader? At the time of the merger debate Roy Jenkins said he wanted yto see a braod based party formed and did not want a “tight little right little party” emerge after the process. Well that’s what the Lib Dems are becoming and a centrist one at that.

  • Steve,
    you say you want inclusiveness, but that you’re worried about a ‘subsequent’ shift in positioning consequent of involving more people.

    Then you repeat the worry that the party will become a ‘tight’ clique either on the right or in the centre.

    Please, can you explain what you mean in a bit more detail?

    If you want inclusiveness then you’re saying you want a broader balance, which may involve a shift. But if you reject any potential shift you’re saying either you don’t want inclusiveness or that you’re happy to abandon ship and leave things to the clique you disagree with.

    Personally I want inclusiveness, which forces me to accept possible shifts within the wider balance. As a democrat I accept I won’t win every debate.

  • Steve. Griffiths 12th Oct '12 - 3:31pm

    Oranepan,
    I’m glad you wish for inclusiveness. I campaigned for the Liberals and Lib Dems for decades and was a district councillor for 8 years. I am also a democrat and many times found myself on the loosing side of debates, within the party and within the council chamber. I fully accept that as a consequence of democracy.

    I recall Paddy once said when when calling for those who voted against merger to return and join the new party, that the Liberal Party had always been a place for non-conformists, radicals and eccentrics as well as libertarians and he said there was a place for all. However in all my 40 odd years as fighting under the ‘orange or yellow banners’ I have never known such a time when those of my views are so not welcomed. I have already given an instance of this above and I have seen othersimilar instances in the pages of LDV and reports from members and former members made to me outside and like me are simply giving up helping. The leadership does not even seem to want to give even a nod in our direction and LDV seems not to give a great deal of ‘air time’ to those of non-centrism views.

    I am not particulary happy leaving the party direction to “the clique you disagree with” as you put it, but I percieve an intollerance within the leadership and those that surround it, that I had never seen bfore in all my years of campaigning, beginning at aged 10 telling at a polling station at a 1960s bi-election.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Oct '12 - 12:23pm

    Oranjepan

    Steve,
    you say you want inclusiveness, but that you’re worried about a ‘subsequent’ shift in positioning consequent of involving more people.

    Then you repeat the worry that the party will become a ‘tight’ clique either on the right or in the centre.

    If our party had shifted to the right due to a big influx of new members who supported those sort of policies, you would have a point. But there has been no such influx – although perhaps an influx of funds from big business willing to support “think tanks” who are pushing it that way, even if it is at the expense of membership loss (look at the corporate sponsors of Centreforum, bottom of their page, to see what we are up against – that group is now routinely reported as if it has some sort of official Liberal Democrat position, looking at the bottom of that page suggests why it and those involved with it seem so effortlessly to have risen to being treated as important people, always being quoted in the media, a revolving door with positions offered by the leadership etc).

    I’m not sure if when Steve wrote he meant Richard Reeves’ article in the New Statesman on the eve of conference, to which I’ve referred, or something else – but that article actually did say that anyone who did not like the way the party has shifted under Clegg’s leadership and more so after the coalition was formed should get out and join Labour. Reeves is give the title of “Director of Strategy” for Nick Clegg, and has moved to a top position in Centreforum. Even so, how come a supposedly leftist journal like the New Statesman chooses to run a big article from him on the even of our conference rather than someone with a more balanced view of the party?

    If Clegg had any feeling for inclusiveness he would have made sure to disown what was written there, by not doing so it suggests he approves of it. It is very obvious that the appointments Clegg makes are very much biased to the right of the party – he has made no attempt to be inclusive of all streams of opinion in it. Much of what he says when reported shows this lack of inclusiveness towards the party as a whole. In the Independent newspaper as conference started, he accused anyone who was unhappy with his leadership as showing a “lack of nerve”, which was arrogant and contemptuous. The reappointment of David Laws I am afraid shows this as well – while out of office Laws has written a series of articles which if one looked at them with seeing the author one would assume were written by a Tory, including a staggeringly ignorant one on education which was offensive to those in the party involved in education – yet he was appointed to an Education post in government. Clegg’s speech to conference showed no understanding of the concerns of many members of the party over where he is taking it. If he wanted to be inclusive he would show this, instead of painting what has happened to the party as having reached the promised land we’ve been working hard for over decades. In my case, even though to this today – yes, even today – I’ve been defending the party against its attackers, pointing out that it has been pushed into a difficult situation by the party balance in the 2010 Parliament, and though what it has achieved there seems limited, it is worthwhile, I find almost everything Clegg says make my task in trying to defend the party more difficult.

    I’ve no problem with the party having an economic liberal right-wing – that position is a valid one, it has a place within liberalism. However, as Steve says, that was NOT the mainstream position of the Liberal Party before merger, in fact it was the view of a very tiny minority. So it is a matter of concern that suddenly people with that view have somehow made their way to the point where they now get quoted as if they are party mainstream, and write articles which suggest their politics IS liberalism, whereas those of us who proudly called ourselves “liberal” in the days of the Liberal-SDP alliance are called by the “social democrats”. There has been no vote in the party to agree to this, neither so I see such people having git to where they are by working their way through the ranks as local activists and councillors. If these people were wiling to accept their position as one of the many streams within the Liberal Democrats, fine. But when one finds they want to make everyone else in the party so unhappy that they leave, that they want to dominate all positions of power in it and give no space to anyone else, not fine at all.

    As Steve put it, Clegg is the leader, and a good leader has to bring all he leads together. Exercising blatant favouritism to those of his own view, and making speeches and being quoted making remarks dismissive of all other streams in the party is poor leadership, unless his real aim is to destroy it. At least his outgoing Director of Strategy was honest in this – his New Statesman article made quite clear he wanted to see the Liberal Democrats destroyed, most of their votes and members “returning” to Labour, and supposing somehow a new party would arise from this.

  • Steve Griffiths 13th Oct '12 - 3:59pm

    Matthew

    I was refering to that article. Fully concur with your comments.

  • @ Jedibeeftrix – ok the Conservatives are small government, lower taxes, and traditional values, Labour are big to help you, and trying to share the values of perceived “masses”, and Liberal Democrats are pragmatic, original and value peace and mutual tolerance.

  • @Matthew,
    “If Clegg had any feeling for inclusiveness he would have made sure to disown what was written there, by not doing so it suggests he approves of it.”

    Um, it doesn’t make sense to say that if you want inclusiveness you must therefore exclude, reject, and disapprove, now does it?

    Those demands that are most redolent of intolerance are coming from portions of the membership, not the leadership – I’ll add the note that I see no leadership cabalist commenting here, nor has any contacted me personally to disengage.

  • Steve Griffiths 15th Oct '12 - 4:17pm

    @Oranjepan
    “I see no leadership cabalist commenting here, nor has any contacted me personally to disengage.”
    They don’t need to when they have LDV putting up subjects like this one for discussion threads.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Oct '12 - 4:38pm

    Oranjepan

    “If Clegg had any feeling for inclusiveness he would have made sure to disown what was written there, by not doing so it suggests he approves of it.”

    Um, it doesn’t make sense to say that if you want inclusiveness you must therefore exclude, reject, and disapprove, now does it?

    Yes it does. We are talking about the leader of the party here, not any party member. I’ve no problem with an ordinary party member having and publicising the point of view given by Richard Reeves in the New Statesman, but I think the Leader must take a more balanced view and not show, or act in a way that could be interpreted as showing, favouritism to a particular viewpoint, particularly one which is so extreme – as this one was. Given the fact that Reeves was headlined as Clegg’s “outgoing Director of Strategy”, it was particularly important that Clegg distanced himself from the views.

  • Peter Watson 16th Oct '12 - 11:42am

    @ Matthew Huntbach
    “I would have thought this is exactly what a leader should be doing – who, as you say, is not any party member but the one responsible for setting direction for party policy.”
    Should the leader be “responsible for setting direction for party policy” or should a leader reflect the direction the members of the party want to go?

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