As soon as the Liberal Democrats bravely stepped in to coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives we knew tough times may lie ahead. Whilst the coalition’s majority party has sailed through relatively unscathed, the junior partner has suffered an incessant flow of unfair and unjust criticism. Just as we thought this was beginning to wane, this month has witnessed an increase in anti-Clegg rhetoric.
First to weigh in was the Lib Dems’ very own Lembit Opik (as eccentric and publicity-seeking as ever), who has outlined in his new book a plan for a Lib Dem resurrection. He states that Clegg must immediately stand down as leader of the party and allow a more left-leaning individual – such as Simon Hughes or Tim Farron – to take over the mantle. This, he says, will enable the party to regain a distinct voice in advance of the 2015 general election. This sentiment was echoed by ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomery, who asserted that Clegg “should resign as party leader with 12 to 18 months to go before the election”.
What both men fail to comprehend is the potential damage such a hasty move could trigger. Cleggmania undoubtedly played a crucial role in pushing the party towards its current position in government and has made it possible for Lib Dem principles and policies to become reality. His performances in the TV debates were nothing short of first-class and there is no reason to believe he cannot repeat that in 2015. Too much emphasis is being placed on issues such as tuition fees. Times have moved on.
Instead, if the Lib Dems are to maintain a forward momentum, we must focus on the positive side-effects of coalition. Unashamed promotion of our achievements should not be deemed meaningless or tedious. Taking many of the lowest-paid employees out of income tax is quite an achievement; one we placed at the head of our manifesto in 2010. Our pupil premium has helped the most deprived children gain greater investment in their education. We have also helped reform the reforms of the NHS; something the electorate will come to appreciate in the long-run.
It appears that knocking the Orange Bookers is in vogue at the moment; both outside and inside the party. The formation of Liberal Left at spring conference will only add insult to injury. They propose that we return to our social liberal tendencies – seen throughout Ashdown and Kennedy’s tenures – and consider befriending Labour once more. They clearly have short memories. Labour may boast of being progressive, but the facts tell a different story. Surely making the case for the Liberal Democrats as a stand alone party is more important than illustrating our similarities with other left-of-centre political parties.
Whilst the Conservatives have proven responsible on the economy, they remain regressive on civil liberties. Meanwhile, Labour is anything but credible on the economy and, with ID cards a recent pipe dream, cannot claim to be champions of civil liberties. We, on the other hand, can proudly – and uniquely – claim to be responsible on the economy and radical on civil liberties; a slogan that needs to be utilised as often as possible. We have stepped up to the plate and proven that we can govern professionally and responsibly.
This sentiment needs to be brought forward to the party’s overall campaign effort across the country. Leaflets, door-to-door conversations, e-communications and broadcast performers should be carrying forth the message that the Lib Dems, under Clegg, can deliver good government whilst standing up for the principles and ideas that form the foundations of this wonderful party. The country is safe in our hands, and we have demonstrated that with Clegg at the helm. Why ditching him is even being discussed is beyond me; it is time to stop the apologies and reflect positively on our national contribution.