And so the media conference meme – Lib Dem leadership faces revolt – begins…

The Independent this morning reports:

Nick Clegg is facing a growing grassroots revolt as Liberal Democrat councillors quit the party in protest at the decision to form the Coalition with the Conservatives.

This follows the news that three Lib Dem councillors in Cheshire have resigned, apparently in protest at the cuts being introduced by the Coalition Government.

This brings to a grand total of eight (8) councillors who have defected from the Lib Dems since the special conference in Birmingham, where activists voted by an overwhelming margin to approve the Coalition deal. Or to put it another way, 99.8% of the 3,900 Lib Dem councillors across the UK have chosen not to defect, even though the party has embarked upon an incredibly risky venture, one it knows may cost it votes and seats at the next election.

The paper quotes the Lib Dems issuing a staunch response:

Although about 600 members have left since the general election, the party says another 4,500 people have joined. The Liberal Democrats now have about 65,000 members.

The Indy also cites the Lib Dem Voice survey this week showing that 84% of party members we surveyed continue to support the Coalition, exactly the same as supported it in July.

But it’s clear the story journalists will seek to run at every opportunity for the next fortnight: SPLITS! TENSION! REVOLT! SPLITS! This is just a foretaste. We have been warned… just ask Will Howells, who tweeted this overheard comment from a political hack recently:

The news media’s stories are filed, the conference is merely a formality.

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This entry was posted in Conference and News.


  • Sunder Katwala 4th Sep '10 - 8:12am

    Yet of course this framing will prove very much to the party – and specifically Nick Clegg’s – advantage, so I wouldn’t complain too much about it.

    Yes, the media will take that approach. there is some genuine dissent/anxiety – and they will report, magnify and exaggerate it.

    Which means that the Sunday papers and broadcast previews, etc will very excitedly ramp up and preview the Clegg keynote to conference as “the speech of his life” … his toughest test yet … how will party respond to falling poll ratings, unhappiness about issue X and should they be challenging the Tories …. will he be heckled, in first signs of mass defections/party split/leadership challenge/revolt as party prepares to exit the Coalition.

    And what will happen? Not much – and the opposite.

    The LibDem delegates will be being scrutinised for signs of dissent, and will get annoyed with the media. What will they do? As Nick Clegg comes out, he will get a standing ovation before he speaks. There will be no heckling. The party will respond warmly to a Clegg-Cameron joke (breaks the ice … what a pro) and greet the argument about how the LibDems should be proud of the decision they have taken and the difference they can make warmly.

    (Wow. Survival! This will be described as a remarkable show of fortitude, loyalty, party unity … Talk of splits/divisions seen off by decisive leadership).

    That might all sound too Tory/New Labour for you LibDems – but I predict it is what will happen …. cf, every recent Blair/Brown, Cameron/IDS and indeed Ming Cambell, etc speech to their conference in recent years. Quite why the media are stuck with this, I don’t know, though I suspect one part of it has something to do with the “grammar” of 24 hour news channels, and other broadcast outlets like Today, especially the amount of time spent excitedly previewing a major event which hasn’t happened rather than reporting on what is/has … It means they much exaggerate and then miss the story – for example, IDS’ conference speech which led to his defenestration was also reported on this standard “toughest test” … “relief as test passed” model.

    (There will of course be proper debate on the fringe and on the conference floor over policy and strategy, though I expect it will all be quite restrained, somewhat along the lines of your off-camera conference to join the Coalition, certainly that is what your LDVoice polling of members and activists suggests).

  • When I telephoned Cowley Street on Thursday to renew my subscription, I asked about the current retention rate. I was told in a very upbeat fashion that there are ten renewals/new members for every one resignation.

  • Conservative 4th Sep '10 - 9:06am

    I would not want you to forget the lib dem who defected to the tories in North Norfolk as well…I am sure things can’t be quite as bad as the media say but neither do i believe that are as fine and dandy as the Lib Dems make them out to be…Let’s see the Norwich by-elections first and then come to some conclusions

  • Anthony Aloysius St 4th Sep '10 - 9:21am

    “The paper quotes the Lib Dems issuing a staunch response:
    Although about 600 members have left since the general election, the party says another 4,500 people have joined. The Liberal Democrats now have about 65,000 members.”

    Except that from the previous discussion, we know that the figure of 4,500 _doesn’t_ relate to new members “since the general election,” but to new members since the start of May. It therefore includes those who joined in the final week of the campaign, with “Cleggmania” still in full swing (and perhaps those who applied earlier in the campaign, depending on how fast Cowley Street was processing applications).

    And of course you _still_ haven’t corrected the headline on that previous thread claiming the figure referred to new members “since election and coalition agreement”:

    If you’re really so sanguine about things, why the need for misrepresentation?

  • Independent Newspaper rocked by mass defections from Lib Dems as readers seek a more balanced coverage, following the newspapers drift towards the Labour Party.

  • Tahira Mughal 4th Sep '10 - 10:51am


    Your party is in a coalition with the Conservatives.

    Accusing the Independent or Guardian of shifting position, is like going on a boat trip and complaining that the land is moving further away.

  • I was at the conference held shortly after publication of the Orange Book and watched a BBC reporter do a piece to camera about how the book was the hot topic of conversation among the delegates. This piece was being recorded before most delegates had arrived.

    We can at least hope that our role in government might lead to our conference getting more media attention than it usually gets.

  • ‘Lib Dems perfectly ok with things’ isn’t news.
    ‘Split, scandal, crisis” is news.
    Previous conferences barely got a mention, unless something deemed radical or weird was debated.
    You can’t fill pages/hours of airtime with “nothing happened today”.
    Simples. 😉

    There’s also a certain expectation of things following a pattern. X has happened (coalition) so Y is bound to happen (unhappy people defecting). Just as death crashes are followed by calls for speed to be cut on that road, or a couple of knife attacks are followed by calls for new laws. Journalists anticipate what seems likely to happen – what the obvious reaction is going to be – and then look for the story to prove it has.

  • Olly, I didnt say the Indy was rubbish, but I I no longer agree with it’s fawning over the Labour Party. We havent changed our principles just because we are part of a coalition. And you well know that there is no Lib Dem supporting newspaper, it’s a question of balance.
    Tahira, accusing the Indy of changing position is a bit like the truth actually.

  • kevin I know some in your party luke Clegg Laws et al. haven’t changed their principles – thet were always Tories. Clegg has told you that you are going to loose seats at the local elections but what in terms of a percentage will constitute a crisis?

  • paul hunt wrote –
    ‘When I telephoned Cowley Street on Thursday to renew my subscription, I asked about the current retention rate. I was told in a very upbeat fashion that there are ten renewals/new members for every one resignation’.

    This may very well be true but it doesn’t tell the whole story of what is happening to the party. The Lib/Dems are shifting to the right politically, those new members are very unlikely to be ‘left wingers’, they are the ones who are leaving, soon the tag ‘mini tory party’ may well fit better than it does now, many long term members especially those on the left of the party won’t be happy being known as a ‘conservative mini me’
    There may be a surge in numbers at the moment but the numbers leaving, although slower, will probably be steady and over a longer period of time.

  • Nige and all the other Labourites, is the leadership election so dull that you must spend your spare time fretting over another party’s membership?

  • @LDK
    You are assuming it that I’m a Labour supporter, which I am not, I have never voted Labour in my life.
    Please remember that there are many within the Lib/Dems who do not like the direction which the party is on and can see huge problems in the future, does that make them all ‘Labourites’?
    It’s probably reactions such as yours above and the obvious contempt you have to those with concerns that will cause a spilt or at least ‘oil the wheels’ of one

  • Tahira Mughal 4th Sep '10 - 1:35pm


    The Independent and the Guardian are not the ones who have changed position since the election, if LibDem members are having to read Tory newspapers to get the coverage that they want, then that says it all does it not?.
    When i say the party has changed position i am talking more about the leadership/ MP’s than ordinary members, whom let’s face it have about as much influence on this government as the poor members of the Labour party had on the last one.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Sep '10 - 9:55pm

    I appear to be writing much the same thing again and again in these columns, but here we go again.

    We are being criticised for forming a coalition with the Conservatives but I have yet to see anyone making that criticism who has offered a workable alternative as to what we should have done following the 2010 general election. It really is very simple – if we are dirty rotten scoundrels with no principles for having agreed to this coalition, what would those who throw this accusation say we should have done which would not cause them to regard us as such?

    If someone is accused of acting very wrongly, then those who make that accusation have a moral duty to say what they should have done instead. If there is nothing that could have been done that would be judged better, that person cannot be accused of acting wrongly.

    The balance in Parliament meant there was simply no viable alternative coalition. If the Labour Party accuses us of doing wrong by being in this coaltion then they have a simple remedy – offer NOW a workable alternative coalition. They can’t, because they don’t have the numbers in Parliament, they don’t want to anyway, and they are bloody relieved they are in opposition because they would be facing hard choices were they in government – thanks to their poor economic policies when they were in government.

    We haven’t chosen the government we have now, the electorate did. They put more Tory MPs into Parliament than any other party. The number of Tory MPs was twisted upwards and the number of LibDem MPs twisted downwards thanks to our only-local-majorities-get-representation electoral system – but the Labour Party supports this system BECAUSE it thinks this twisting of represenattion in favour of the largest party is a good thing. We were left with the choice either of going into coalition with the Tories, or supporting a minority Tory gvernment. Quite clearly the government we have at present is not implementing the Liberal Democrat manifesto because it is not a majority Liberal Democrat government. We can no more make it implement all our policies than Labour can. Our influence is small because there is no other viable coalition and because if we said “we’ll pull out of the coaltion” the Conservatives woud say “Go ahead, make our day” as we would be the biggest losers in the general election it would cause, and they would be the biggest winners, most likely getting an outright majority.

    The line which Labour critics throw at us now makes out as if we had the opportunity of forming a coalition with Labour but turned it down. We did not.

    Now, saying this does not mean I am happy with how the coalition has been handled since it was formed. Accepting it was the only realistic way forward does NOT mean one has to think Nick Clegg has done a good job. I regret he has done a bad job – he has looked too smug as if this is what he wanted all along, he has not managed to get the message out which properly explains our position as having limited influence, he has not seemed concerned to give reassurance to those of us who aren’t on the right-wing of the party and so are finding this coalition hard to accept that our continuing support of him is valued.

    So, I am glad I shall not be at the Liberal Democrat conference. I am afraid I would want to sit on my hands in response to Clegg, not to give him a standing ovation. I hate all that stuff anyway, why can’t we have grown up politics which is more honest and admits sometimes there are difficut choices, and that political parties here aren’t about North Korean style worship of the leader, or USA style replacement of thought by silly razzamatazz?

    I want to give Clegg a chance, so I wouldn’t back any moves now to break the coalition or directly to challenge his leadership. But what the party OUGHT to be doing is drumming its fingers and making Clegg look uncomfortable, not cheering him on as if he is our salvation.

  • Speaking to a colleague who was at a very well attended event for new members in Cambridge yesterday. He said he was very impressed with the people who attended as they were enthusiastic, energetic and had joined having thought about our principles and beliefs i.e. they are liberals!

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote –
    ‘But what the party OUGHT to be doing is drumming its fingers and making Clegg look uncomfortable, not cheering him on as if he is our salvation.’

    Agreed, but be careful, not cheering him on may cause LDK to call you a ‘Labourite’ 😉

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