6. Will Nick Clegg more fully establish himself as party leader, recognised both by the public and media as someone to be listened to?
Even Nick’s fiercest critics, inside and outside the party, would have to admit that the Lib Dem leader enjoyed a pretty good 2009. First, Nick found an issue that he was able to make his own – justice for the British Gurkhas – and then he raised its profile at Prime Minister’s Questions to devastating effect, before leading a Parliamentary defeat of the Government with Tory support. Perhaps even more important than the public perception of Nick’s role was the media perception: this was the moment they realised Nick was a political figure to take notice of. There has been little mocking of Nick since, and far fewer suggestions that the party was foolish not to pick Vince.
Nick also performed well as leader on the story of the year, MPs’ expenses, acting swiftly to ensure both the public and Parliamentary party realised that he ‘got it’, that he understood voters’ disgust at MPs approving extravagent expenses for themselves which – in the case of Labour and Tory MPs ‘flipping’ their homes to avoid capital gains tax and claiming ‘phantom’ mortgages – teetered on the illegal. Nick also led the way in calling for the House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin to quit, following his botched handling of the issue.
Nick’s personal poll ratings have been considerably boosted as a result. This time last year, Nick’s personal net satisfaction ratings, as measured by YouGov and Mori (which use different question wording, producing different results for each of the main party leaders), stood at -6% and +7% respectively. Spool forward 12 months, and both companies give Nick positive ratings, +15% and +13%. In each case, that’s better than David Cameron’s personal ratings.
7. Will the Lib Dem Spring 2009 conference decide to scrap the party’s current policy of abolishing university tuition fees?
Ah, tuition fees. Just a week into January, and it looked as if this question might become redundant, after the Lib Dems’ Federal Policy Committee voted 14 to 5 to keep the party’s policy to scrap university tuition fees. As a result, there was no vote on the issue at the spring conference. But, as we all know, the party leadership did not leave it there.
On the eve of the autumn conference, Nick decided to go a little off-piste, and raise the prospect of the Lib Dems back-tracking, much to the chagrin of many party activists. After a bit of a row, the party decided in December to phase in the abolition of tuition fees by 2015.
It was, to be blunt, a rather unhappy and messy way to come full circle. (And, for the record, I still think the party is focusing on the wrong barriers to educational equality.)
8. Will Tavish Scott re-establish the Lib Dems as a major force in Scottish politics, vying with Labour and the SNP?
It’s been a busy and at times difficult year for Tavish. In February, he leveraged the Lib Dems’ voting power to wring extra concessions from the SNP minority administration before a budget could be set. Meanwhile Tavish continues to take a firm line that the Scottish Lib Dems will not back a referendum on independence, a policy supported by the party’s Scottish members.
The party’s poll ratings north of the border continue to disappoint, though, with both the Lib Dems and Tories seemingly squeezed as Labour and the SNP tussle for power. In the only real electoral test in Scotland, the Glasgow North East by-election, the party finished with a disappointing 474 votes. Fraser Macpherson’s assessment struck a realistically upbeat note:
Our priority must be to hold our current 12 Scottish Westminster seats and if that is achieved – and further gains are possible – there’s a good chance we’ll be second in terms of Scottish seats at Westminster after the General Election.
9. Will Kirsty Williams revitalise the Welsh Lib Dems, and establish herself and the party as the major opposition to Labour and Plaid?
A work in progress, seems the fairest summary of Year 1 of Kirsty’s leadership. The party suffered the disappointment in June of not achieving their target of electing a Welsh Lib Dem to the European Parliament; though the constituency breakdowns showed the party continuing to poll well in its strongholds (Cardiff, Newport, Swansea, Ceredigion).
Kirsty herself has said that her greatest achievement of 2009 was to ensure the six-strong Welsh Assembly group becomes a cohesive, performing bloc. There is little polling data to indicate how the party is doing, though a poll in October indicated the Welsh Lib Dems’ support has dropped since the 2005 general election, at 12% (down from 18%).
10. Who will be crowned Lib Dem Blogger of the Year in 2009? And will we have to set up a new award for Twitterer of the Year?
The pseudonymous ‘Costigan Quist’, who dwelled permanently at his Himmelgarten Cafe blog, took the main prize at this Blog of the Year awards – and promptly closed down his gaff, lending further credence to the alleged ‘Curse of the BOTYs’. Mark Thompson (of Mark Reckons fame) won the best new blogger award, not least thanks to his seminal post proving a statistical link between MPs with safe seats and the likelihood of their being implicated in the MPs’ expenses scandal.
We didn’t – quite – launch a new award for Twitterer of the Year, but the winner of of our award for ‘Best use of blogging/social networking/e-campaigning by a Liberal Democrat’ was indeed Jo Swinson MP for her live-tweeting from Parliament, plus engaging with the public through Facebook and her website.
The essential Lib Dem Blogs Aggregator listed 176 active blogs at the end of 2008; we finish this year with 226 blogs. Some have disappeared, or at least gone into abeyance; others have been started afresh or re-invigorated. All are welcome at the blogging party.
And what of Lib Dem Voice itself? Well, in the final month of 2008 we welcomed over 19,000 ‘absolute unique’ readers; in the final month of 2009, we’ve been read by over 25,000 of you so far. We loook forward to seeing you back here in 2010.