If you’re going to suggest that Nick Clegg isn’t the answer, you need a plan B ready…

Lord Matthew OakeshottFollowing the interventions of Matthew Oakeshott and Trevor Smith, there will be those both inside and outside the Liberal Democrats, who will be looking forward to next month’s Federal Conference with an eye to a future. Not necessarily the future, but a future nonetheless.

But before anyone gets terribly carried away, there are two key questions that need to be asked and, ideally, answered.

What are you changing the Leader for?

There are probably two potentially credible reasons for doing so:

  • as an initial step towards abandoning the Coalition and leaving the Conservatives alone to do their worst;
  • because Nick Clegg will act as a lead weight against the Party’s recovery prior to 2015

There is no doubt that, were the Party to conclude that the Coalition was too much to bear, that the cost was too high, it is hard to envisage the circumstances whereby Nick could stay as Leader. If, on the other hand you take the view that Nick’s approval ratings are toxic, and likely to remain that way, you need to address the question of why that might be so. Is it Nick himself, or is it the fate of any generic Liberal Democrat as Leader?

So, if not Nick, then whom?

In our first scenario, with the Coalition at an end, but the likelihood of more than two years of a minority Conservative administration – I take it for granted that Labour would rather see them twist in the wind until 2015 than have to take over as a even more vulnerable minority administration – could any current senior member of the government credibly take over as Leader, or would a fresh face be required, perhaps someone with a record of opposition to some of the Coalition’s more controversial acts? Is there someone with the credibility both amongst the Parliamentary Party in the Commons, and amongst the activists around whom Party support can be rebuilt? Both a gamble and a potentially poisoned chalice, it might be one for the genuinely ambitious to sit out.

In the second scenario, you would need to be pretty confident that any replacement, having to deal with the same issues as Nick has to as Leader, in an environment where further public spending cuts are inevitable, and just as inevitably unpopular, could somehow persuade the British public that it was at least partly necessary and desirable. Given the crisis in the Eurozone, and the lag before infrastructure investment might bear fruit in terms of growth, it begins to look like a tough ask.

One assumes that the noble Lords Oakeshott and Smith have someone in mind, and there will be plenty out there who will have their suspicions as to whom that might be. But until such time as a group of party grandees start to turn their minds to the nature of the message they might deliver, and get their grey suits dry-cleaned, any talk of a change of leader is almost certainly just that, talk.

* Mark Valladares has a habit of voting for the candidate who doesn’t win in leadership elections, but then, you never see a Party leader in Creeting St Peter

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50 Comments

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Sep '12 - 11:09am

    @geoffrey – you are always on LDV saying the economic policy is a Tory one but ignoring the fact that we are borrowing £120bn a year. Government debt will increase by £500bn over 5 years – do you really think it is either credible or responsible to say we should borrow yet more money ?

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Sep '12 - 11:18am

    Some good analysis in there Mark, but not, I think, this bit:

    “In the second scenario, you would need to be pretty confident that any replacement, having to deal with the same issues as Nick has to as Leader, in an environment where further public spending cuts are inevitable, and just as inevitably unpopular, could somehow persuade the British public that it was at least partly necessary and desirable.”

    The job of a new Lib Dem leader would be to deal wit the issues which Nick Clegg has not dealt with, as well as some of the ones which he has dealt with.

    The crucial one would be to continue with the Coalition but to present it (and ensure its is!) as a hard-fought negotiation, not a ‘love-in’.

    Certainty about the replacement should not be an issue. Since our party still has some semblances of democracy, whoever you or I think would be the best replacement might not be the verdict of our fellow members, so we cannot be prescriptive on the outcome of any election, however strongly we may feel there is a particular ”obvious answer’. Having said that, it really might well have been best to leave Charles Kennedy as Leader and support him to get the help with his disease which he clearly needed.

  • Chris Stanbra 2nd Sep '12 - 11:18am

    In recent times getting rid of a party leader to improve popularity does not have a good track record. The Tories dumped Thatcher for Major and ended up with a slim parliamentary majority. We got 5 years of a lame duck Tory government in hock to their Euro rebels and then 13 years of Blairism as a result. The other recent example is Gordon Brown. That switch didn’t do Labour any good at all.

  • I do agree with Geoffrey Payne. I know its history now and it irritates most Lib Dem supporters, but I still can not forgive Nick Clegg for doing a U turn with students after promising to change politics and challenging both of the other main parties. This coalition is considered by most outside of the Lib Dem party, as a Conservative government. The only glimmer of hope I have had in this sea of blue for real change is via Vince Cable and his stance with the banks. But overall sadly I think the party is heading for the rocks.

  • paul barker 2nd Sep '12 - 12:20pm

    The real problem is that we, the members were not ready for government & its come as a horrible shock. For years we have been saying “if only we were in power/Coalitions are the grown-up way to do politics” but in reality we were quite comfortable where we where.
    In fact Clegg is both very unpopular & very popular – 28% & 31% in the last 2 surveys. The voters who hate Clegg would mostly never have voted for us anyway & so are irrelevant. If we are actually going to do stuff we have to get used to some people hating us – we arent going to change the tribal culture of british politics overnight.

  • Brighton Beach 2nd Sep '12 - 12:42pm

    Ps: Let’s just cut to the chase, Clegg’s appeal (& therefore the Lib Dems) was that he promised something fresh – no more of the old kind of politics. Immediately in Govt he broke a cast-iron election pledge on tuition fees. He will never recover from this, his brand his broken and he is toxic. End of.

  • Well firstly I don’t think anyone (even Oakshott who I agree is being a bit of a loudmouthed prat at the moment) is talking about replacing Nick NOW, or indeed pulling out of the coalition prematurely. Rather, the question is whether we want to go into the next election with Nick as our leader. So you’re right – ditching Nick now and pulling out of government would be a daft idea, but that’s a bit of a strawman because it’s not what the current debate is about.

    Secondly, you make the very good point that any leader who had had to deal with all the issues of the past 2 years would probably have ratings just as low as Nick’s are now – or worse. But again, that’s a strawman, because if we change leaders in, say, late-2014 / early-2015 as is being suggested, the new leader would by definition NOT have to deal with all that stuff, and would go into the election with a reasonably clean slate.

    So the answer to your first question is that we would be changing leader so that:

    1) The new leader wouldn’t be too closely associated with the Conservatives, or at least wouldn’t have given the appearance of having a preferance for coalition with the Tories rather than Labour, as Nick has done (probably unintentionally and unavoidably as a result of circumstances, but nevertheless most people think he wouldn’t want to work with Labour). If we go into the next election with Nick at the helm, the public will assume that we will form another post-election pact with the Tories almost regardless of the election result.

    2) The new leader wouldn’t be personally identified with the tuition fees debacle. We can argue for years to come about whether we actually broke our pledge (for the record, I don’t think wer did) and whether the new system is better and fairer than the previous one (which I think it is). But like it or not, the communications were handled so catastrophically badly that the public believes we – and Nick personally – shamelessly broke a solemn pre-election promise. While Nick remains leader that’s just not going to go away.

    For the record, I have great admiration for Nick as a person and as a leader, but unless he can drastically turn around his personal image in the next 2 years, I think we sadly have little choice but to replace him.

  • paul barker 2nd Sep '12 - 1:37pm

    Can I suggest that people read the archive for UK Polling Report, they have run a series of articles on “would you be more likely to vote for party x if it was led by Y ?” questions. The media love this sort of thing but the results are pretty useless because voters lie, they claim that a change of leader will make them more likely to vote for a party that they have never voted for & never will vote for.
    There is evidence linking voting intention with feelings about party leaders & it mostly shows what you would expect, voters think “their own” leaders are doing a good job & the others are rubbish. Thats why those “Net” figures for leaders are so silly, they will nearly always be negative & the smallest party will have the worst figures.

    We need to get our heads round how little we actually know about voters intentions, mid-term polls are useless as are local elections. We will get a good idea of the results of the next general election in march 2015 & letting ourselves get drawn into the media frenzy about leadership is stupid. Its Clegg this month, its been Milliband & Cameron at various points & will be again.

  • Andrew Suffield 2nd Sep '12 - 1:55pm

    We need a fiscal stimulus to get out of recession

    But that’s exactly what the government’s been doing for the past two years – tens of billions of pounds of deficit spending have been poured into fiscal stimulus.

    And you said:

    The real problem is that the economic policy of the government is not working

    So you are both for and against fiscal stimulus?

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Sep '12 - 1:56pm

    @Paul Barker:

    “Can I suggest that people read the archive for UK Polling Report, they have run a series of articles on “would you be more likely to vote for party x if it was led by Y ?” questions. ”

    Why? People who make important decisions because of polls don’t deserve to be involved in politics. The decisions about the Lib Dem leadership need to be made in terms of how the Lib Dems feel about their leader as well as how the public feel, which is evidenced by a lot more than polls. By definition (since Lib Dem MPs get hardly any media coverage) most voters wont have a clue about whether or not prospective leaders A, B or C would be better or worse than the present one. As shown in the Lib Dem surveys over several months, the present Lib Dem membership are highly polarised to the extent that the much-diminished party can not be effectively led into the next election by the present leader with any prospect of having a half-enthusiastic workforce/campaign team.

    The capacity for self-delusion and wishful thinking in this party is phenomenal. The only potential saving grace is that it is not totally widespread. But the damage being done to the Party by the wishful-thinkers is more geometric than arithmetic in its progression and needs to be stopped in its tracks pdq.

  • Oh dear. This all reminds me of Labour in the ’80s agonising over whether to keep Michael Foot.

  • Daniel Henry 2nd Sep '12 - 2:25pm

    I agree with Geoffrey on economics but can only see a leadership change do more harm than good.

  • Liberal Democrats should not make the same mistake as Labour.

    If a leadership challenge is going to be made it should be earlier rather than later.

    I voted Libdem at the last election purely because I wanted Charles Clarke out of my constituency as I believed his constant back stabbing and mud slinging at Brown was having a serious detrimental effect . I believed for Labours sake he needed ousting from the party, hence the reason i voted for Simon Wright.

    Labour should have held a leadership contest a couple of years before the 2010 election with David Milliband at the forefront, if they had done so, I believe we would have ended up with another Labour government, or possibly Lab/Lib coalition.

    Charles Clarke and his co conspirators, continued with their campaign right up to the election and this caused a lot of unease with the electorate, Nobody is going to vote for a party that looks like it is crumbling from the inside.

    That was Labours biggest mistake.

    Nick Clegg is as toxic for Liberal Democrats as Brown was for Labour.
    If the Liberal Democrats left it until 2014/15 to hold a new leadership election, the party would look even more fractured than it already is, It would look weak and desperate and it will most certainly not have given the new leader enough time to distant himself from the previous administration and set out a clear direction for which the party is being taken and the electorate would believe in.

    Keeping Nick Clegg to fight the next election would be insanity, not outing him soon enough would be foolish.

    Changing leadership a good 2 years before the next general election would give the new leader an opportunity to set out the boundaries between coalition partners and the opportunity to show the electorate once again who they are and what they stand for, because at the moment, Liberal Democrats have lost their identity and even some of the policies they trumpet as successes are somewhat farcical due to the Tories deification all over them

  • Mark – neither of those questions were answered in January 2006 or Oct 2007.

    As for “Whom” – who had heard of John Major in August 1990?

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Sep '12 - 3:30pm

    Although they were not answered in 2006 and 2007, Mark sets out the possible reasons for a change in leader well.

    My reasoning has been that Nick Clegg is and will remain ‘a lead weight’ acting against *both* the Party’s survival as a political force in this country and the country’s economic recovery.

    One only has to hear the mockery in the audience that greeted mentions of him during Any Questions this week to know that the polls don’t lie. There really is no way back for him and therefore for us under his leadership.

    I agree with Stephen, elsewhere, that the time of his leaving should be his decision. (Though as Hywel infers, I am not so sure people were so generous to Charles and Ming.)

    In that decision he should listen to his conscience and not to those who depend on him for patronage, position or employment. Their advice and his acceptance of that advice have brought him low.

    All this would be bad enough, but politicians find U Turns very difficult, especially when they are have been fundamental personal positions. Therefore, he isn’t the best person to navigate the delicate task of implementing a change in economic policy based on significant monetary and fiscal stimulus. A change that is actually within grasp.

    There is a great Liberal Democrat leader’s speech waiting to be given in Brighton, It would give the country hope, it would inspire, it would place the country on a footing that we have not seen since the 1940s with each and every person working for a common purpose to a plan – an economic plan – that they can have confidence in, that they have a role in, that they can demand from their Government and that will give every person in this land a better chance.

    It is because Clegg can’t give that speech that he should listen to the voice within and go now so that someone else can.

  • Andrew Suffield 2nd Sep '12 - 3:47pm

    One only has to hear the mockery in the audience that greeted mentions of him during Any Questions this week to know that

    …you can generate any impression you like with a couple of well-placed partisans in the audience. That really doesn’t prove anything; the jeering is a mainstay of Labour and Tory strategy and they’ve forever been doing that to each other.

    There is a great Liberal Democrat leader’s speech waiting to be given in Brighton, It would give the country hope, it would inspire, it would place the country on a footing that we have not seen since the 1940s with each and every person working for a common purpose to a plan – an economic plan – that they can have confidence in, that they have a role in, that they can demand from their Government and that will give every person in this land a better chance.

    The fact that you haven’t written or referenced it suggests that, in fact, it does not exist.

    If you want to make arguments like this, then you don’t need lyric descriptions of how beautiful a speech it would be. You just need to show us the speech.

  • Simon McGrth 2nd Sep '12 - 4:53pm

    @george “The difference being that a potential Clegg successor wouldn’t be seen as the personification of a politician who lied and betrayed his voters over a key political promise. A lot of the anti-Clegg sentiment is because he is viewed as being dishonest and lacking integrity.”
    We would replace Clegg with Cable -the man who actually decided to triple tuition fees.

  • Rabi Martins 2nd Sep '12 - 5:05pm

    @Catherine
    “If we go into the next election with Nick at the helm, the public will assume that we will form another post-election pact with the Tories almost regardless of the election result” NOT Necessarily
    As you will recall in the run up to the last election Nick was let it be known that he would work with the Party that won the greatest number of votes That just handed to be the Tories.
    If the next general election produces a hung Parliament Nick (or any other leader) will have to first try and agree a program with the largest Party Only if that failed would he/she open dailogue ith the other major Party
    Our team did talk to Labour but came to the conclusion they could not do business with them
    Nick and his team acted in the intetrest of the Country and not the Party. We anticipated some negative fall out but not as much as we are experiencing
    Needless to say if the global economy had started to turn round by now the country’s fortune and mood would be very difference. And in all probability Lib Dem and Nick Clegg’s poll rating would be higher
    Would then still have been calling for him to go ? Of course not

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Sep '12 - 5:18pm

    @Simon McGrth

    “We would replace Clegg with Cable -the man who actually decided to triple tuition fees.”

    From where do you get such certainty of outcome? You may be right – you may not. But tuition fees, though the worst example of a massive PR mistake, is by no means the only thing which the Leadership have been responsible which has turned huge chunks of the electorate off us. The biggest one, for genuine liberals/social democrats who have abandoned supporting us (and in some cases caused them to leave the Party), was the very public claim to be different, fairer and more honest than other parties – which is probably still (just!) true but the leadership has actually managed to put us on the negative side of this question in the minds of many decent honest people who are not ‘fair weather socialists’ at all.

  • @ Rabi Martins

    As you will recall in the run up to the last election Nick was let it be known that he would work with the Party that won the greatest number of votes That just handed to be the Tories.

    Oh, I agree completely, but I’m talking about public perception not reality – the public isn’t always (even usually) rational or fair, especially to politicians. At the beginning of the coalition, the initial “Rose Garden” approach led to the impression that Nick Clegg’s heart beat as one with David Cameron’s. We both know that’s not true, but like I said it doesn’t matter what the reality is, it matters what the voters think.

    That’s why I said Nick’s ratings slump was probably unavoidable, because in a country which was so unused to coalitions he had little choice but to go down the “bromance” route initially, otherwise the media would have been in a permanent feeding frenzy over when the coalition was going to break up, with every little disagreement being siezed on as evidence that coalitions just don’t work in the UK.

    The other thing that didn’t help was both Nick and Danny stating repeatedly that the economic mess was all Labour’s fault. The upshot is that at the next election, however many times Nick says he will negotiate first with whoever gets most seats, the public will not be inclined to believe he is genuinely willing to work with Labour. And if he contradicts that assumption, the clip of him saying “never trust Labour with our economy again” will be played time and again.

    Like I said, I agree it’s not Nick’s fault and he’s doing a good job in almost impossible circumstances, but politics ain’t fair.

    @ Simon McGrath

    We would replace Clegg with Cable -the man who actually decided to triple tuition fees.

    Granted, but again it’s not reality that matters it’s public perception. It wasn’t Vince’s effigy being burnt in the street by student protesters, and for whatever reason (probably simply because he’s not leader) it isn’t Vince who has become the personification of tuition fees.

  • David Allen 2nd Sep '12 - 6:07pm

    At last, the skids are under Clegg’s disastrous leadership, and his days are clearly numbered. Good.

    But – for those who are still reading – We also need to think very hard about what we want to gain from a change in leadership. We need nothing less than a sea change in what the public think of us. We will not get that unless we make a sea change in our own political position. We will not get that if we rush through a leadership change and botch it.

    We could quickly install a fresh new face – someone like Ed Davey – with a few novel soundbites and one or two “second rank” political initiatives such as an expanded house building policy. The Press and our opponents would harry our new leader relentlessly from the start with derisive questions about how he/she was going to turn around our fortunes. We would have squandered a vital opportunity.

    Andrew Rawnsley thinks 2013 would be a better time for a change, and I agree. That gives our next leader 12 months to develop a coherent narrative about how our policies and stance will change fundamentally. It is that process on which we should now be firing the starting gun.

    If we hold a leadership election now, our next leader will face two tasks, which are almost incompatible: first, to present a credible approach to the remaining 30 months of this parliament, and second, to offer a strategy for 2015 and beyond. If we were to hold a leadership election now, both of those tasks would clearly be critical. Our next leader would inevitably be saddled with the need to present a confused project: for example, helping Gove set up free schools until 2015, and then, helping Labour to shut them all down again, perhaps? Not an easy brief. A recipe for presentational disaster, in fact.

    A leadership contest in Autumn 2013 would be quite different. With only 18 months of the parliament left to run, it would by then become clear that strategy for 2015 and beyond had become the key issue. Our leadership candidate would be able to present a single, unified, and coherent policy position.

    (With regard to the ongoing Coalition, a social liberal contender for leadership in autumn 2013 could simply press for very much more far-reaching concessions from Cameron. By that time, there would be no question that the stability of Conservative-led government was in any way still crucial, or indeed that within that last 18 months, there would be any insuperable objection to making support contingent on key policies, or backing a temporary “rainbow” coalition. )

    But we must also resist the siren voices calling for delay until late 2014. That idea only makes sense if the aim is to enable Clegg to survive by stealth. By late 2014, it will be obvious that it is too late to make a change. A change at that stage would be seen by the public as insincere, as a desperation tactic in the face of imminent defeat. It would leave a new leader no time to make a mark. So if we leave it until the last 6 months, then we shall assuredly leave it until after the 2015 election. That is what Labour did with Brown before 2010. They convinced themselves that they could make a late change of leader. Then they found that they could not. So Brown survived. Clegg and his allies on the right know the score on this, which is why they will no doubt be delighted to hear talk of a leadership election in 2014/2015. They know that it is a chimera and will never happen, which of course suits them down to the ground.

    So let’s follow Rawnsley’s comments, and change our leader in 12 months time.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/02/andrew-rawnsley-nick-clegg-safe-for-now

  • Peter Watson 2nd Sep '12 - 9:46pm

    @Catherine: “We can argue for years to come about whether we actually broke our pledge (for the record, I don’t think wer did) and whether the new system is better and fairer than the previous one (which I think it is).”

    I don’t think that there can be any doubt that Lib Dem MPs who abstained or voted for a rise in tuition fees broke their promise when they had previously said,“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”. I don’t see any grey area in that at all. Furthermore, those who honoured their pledge and voted against the rise in tuition fees broke the coalition agreement long before that charge was levelled at tories during the debacle over Lords reform.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Sep '12 - 9:52pm

    Is the debate simply about whether Clegg should go before or immediately after the 2015 election, or is there a wing of the party that believes he could/should lead us into the 2020 general election?

  • what a lot of blather.

    If anybody wants a new messiah then they should abandon politics and find religion.

    Policy reversals are a simple consequence of electoral reality, so complaining about ‘betrayal’ it to confess ones own mistaken belief.

    Economic policy has changed, and the changes are working through the system – it is impossible to say whether thay have worked yet or not, which means it is irresponsible to pass a judgement and stop trying to influence the actual situation for the positive. In hindsight is is obvious a confused response would follow the shock.

    The biggest change is that labour market is buoyant, following falls in national output. This suggests earlier volatility has been removed and stability regained. Meanwhile Government financed are tightly stretched in the interim causing audiable pain. There are plenty of positives alongside plenty of negatives.

    We are in a period of rebalancing the economy and things are very much still up in the air.

    Individuals can either take a blinkered view or a rounded view.

    Do you support short-termism, or long-termism? Frills or fundamentals?

    You decide.

  • – well said Orangepan. The fact that our opponents and their media friends are cranking up the anti against our Leader is clear evidence that we are getting things right and threatening their cosy arrangement of two-party take-turns politics. We are in a new scenario, we have an excellent leader whom we elected, one member one vote, and we are moving forward. Our Party is a democratic body, our Leader is the personification of the Party, changing a leader might change direction for other parties, but in our case a new leader would change nothing.
    Yes there are a few with inflated egos and hyped opinions who would rather see us disappear in a mire of splits, self doubt and back stabbing, and whilst we should listen to their point of view, however jaundiced, we need to be confident in our leader and our policies and see our opponents for who they are.

  • @David Allen
    “At last, the skids are under Clegg’s disastrous leadership, and his days are clearly numbered. Good.”

    Sorry but this is ridiculous wisdom with 20/20 hindsight. What imaginary better deal would you have negotiated over tuition fees? What imaginary leader would have done a better job than Clegg while being trashed by the media for two and a half years? Which leader could have turned the situation we faced in May 2010 into some kind of glorious victory where all our policies were implemented and none of those belonging to our fellow Coalition party with almost six times as many MPs.

    I am deeply saddened at the thought that Liberal Democrats can be so weak minded as simply to roll over and accept this preposterous idea that somehow there was some miraculous leader out there that we never had who could have made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

    And precisely who do you think could replace Clegg without being slaughtered by the press in precisely the same way?

  • @ Oranjepan and Peter

    Totally agree with your points.

    Why should we listen to some imaginary press panic that has been whipped up out of nothing to try and destabilise the part?. Nick Clegg is our democratically elected leader and since there is no one else out there with a realistic chance of doing a better job than him, all this intriguing and speculation is doing nothing other than furthering the interests of our political enemies.

  • @ oranjepan :-
    “ Policy reversals are a simple consequence of electoral reality, so complaining about ‘betrayal’ it to confess ones own mistaken belief.”
    Oh Dear can I be the first to confess? What is the point of democracy if you cannot expect the politicians you elect to stick to a signed pledge? It was not just a policy change! Why bother to vote at all? You may call me naive and gullible but I actual believed that honesty and integrity was part of the party’s DNA. It was, and in my own experience still is, at the local level. Treat people with contempt and do not be surprised when they treat you the same. I hope whoever suggested to Nick that breaking the pledge could be “spun out of” is no longer suggesting anything to the party.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Sep '12 - 11:40am

    @peter
    ” The fact that our opponents and their media friends are cranking up the anti against our Leader is clear evidence that we are getting things right”
    Nonsense. The simple situation that our opponents oppose us is no evidence at all that we are “getting things right”. They oppose Labour, we oppose BNP, some of us oppose the tories, so on that silly basis everybody is getting it right.
    A growing economy would be evidence that we are getting things right. Or maybe you can point instead to an improving NHS, a better education system, a more democratic parliament. Or maybe not.

  • “We are in a new scenario, we have an excellent leader”

    I’ll ask you – ask I ask when others make similar claims – what is the backing for this claim?

  • @Dave W
    democracy requires that those in the minority concede a decision, so insisting on enacting a pledge which cannot command a majority is to betray the democratic principle.

    Thatwithstanding, the student pledge was horrendously composed by the NUS (you’d think they knew better), so that the two halves were essentially conflated in order to attempt to hold LibDems hostage. We had no option but to sign it, even though we could only possibly enact either of the two halves at any one time – as we are doing.

    The expansion of higher education meant it had been facing a funding crisis even before the financial crisis hit, as Blair recognised when he contradicted his own statement that he had legislated to prevent fees when he then introduced them.

    What we’ve got now is a modified graduate tax scheme, effectively exactly that which the NUS said was their preferred model. You might ask why they’re consistently silent about this.

    It’s almost amusing that we’re punished for our honesty and realism, while others expect to be rewarded for their impotence after the fact.

    Anyway, it’d be a completley moot question had LibDems gained an overall majority or even become the largest party at the GE – so looking at the final results it’s arguable that the pledge actually lost the party more votes than it gained us.

  • @Oranjepan
    “What we’ve got now is a modified graduate tax scheme, effectively exactly that which the NUS said was their preferred model. You might ask why they’re consistently silent about this.”

    Because it’s nothing like a graduate tax and nothing like the graduate tax that the NUS advocated. Their preferred system was (a) a tax and (b) progressive, whereas tuition fees are, errrrr, (a) tuition fees and (b) fiscally regressive. The NUS system would mean those graduates on higher incomes would pay more as a proportion of their income and the amount payable would be directly related to earnings. Under the new tuition fee system, high earners pay LESS as a proportion of their income (i.e. fees are regressive) and the amount payable is related to the cost of the course, not the ability to pay, unless the graduate ends up working as cleaners, which isn’t the reason that young people aspire to go to university,

  • @ orangepan :-
    “democracy requires that those in the minority concede a decision”
    Nonsense are you saying that as the minority party in government we should simply agree to everything the tories suggest as they have the majority? If so what’s the point of coalition! We made one signed pledge to the public who voted for us. We decided to break that pledge so that we could ensure that other, in our minds, important stuff was included in the agreement, AV for example. We treated the voting public disgracefully putting our own political desires ahead of our integrity and we are being punished for it. In the public’s mind it has nothing to do with tuition fees it is to do with trust. I like Clegg! I think he had the potential to be great but he made two mistakes, Breaking the pledge, but most importantly pretending he was going to be a different sort of politician so breaking the pledge meant so much more to the public and to liberals like me.
    @ orangepan :-
    “We had no option but to sign it”
    Wow politically outmanoeuvred by a bunch of student’s that’s some admission! Come on we made a huge error of judgment we put our political desires ahead of our moral obligations.

  • Yellow Bill 3rd Sep '12 - 2:11pm

    Haven’t read the other comments yet as I only have a couple of minutes left.

    The first and foremost job of the next leader is to start on the road to electoral recovery, and the sooner we start on that long journey the better. With Clegg navigating we will be not be able to take the first steps.

  • @Dave W
    you might have a point apart from the fact that we’re in coalition precisely because the tories don’t have a majority and this means that we are able to negotiate around any point in order to try to build a majority with some give and take.

    It was our electoral strategy at the time to target student voters, and we signed the pledge as a result of internal pressure not external manoeuvering. I completely agree that our electoral strategy was full of contradictions before 2010, and that this caused us various dilemmas which have since been highlighted, so your understanding of morality and judgement is wide open to question.

    @Steve
    I’ll happily debate this all day long – higher education faced a funding crisis, with universities closing whole departments in specialist areas because more youngsters demanded to exercise a right to enter oversubscribed courses with little relevance to any future career in that industry, which they were unlikely to get because on the imbalance in graduates.

    Of course the graduate tax scheme as proposed by the NUS required modification because it didn’t fill the funding gap and would have meant the funding system remained unsustainable. And it is completely mad to calculate an income-based Graduate Tax in isolation from Income Tax itself – to have two progressive escalators applied together creates an unwanted disincentive to education and employment… exactly what nobody wants!

  • The party is getting hammered in 2015 whoever’s leader. No point tarnishing a new leader with that. Lib Dems are unpopular because of the Coalition – Clegg is just a lightning rod for that.

    Evidence? If you look at his personal ratings, their decline actually lags that of the party. The party has been polling roughly the same since Sept/Oct 2010 at an average of 10-12%ish. Clegg has steadily received lower ratings as time has gone on, but this has not been accompanied by a corresponding decline in the poll ratings for the party. And 17% of people in the most recent YouGov survey actually thought he was doing well – almost double the number that said they would vote Lib Dem.

  • @ orangepan :- First you say we had to break the pledge because the tories have a majority

    “democracy requires that those in the minority concede a decision”

    Then you say we don’t have to agree with them because they don’t :-

    “because the tories don’t have a majority”

    Make your mind up! Your starting to sound like a politician 🙂

    As far as my “understanding of morality and judgment “ it’s simple, I do not think it is morally right to break a signed pledge. Call me old fashioned it was just the way I was brought up.

  • George Miles 3rd Sep '12 - 4:21pm

    Ok in the old left/right axis the economy’s going down, China makes things cheaper,
    our planet’s resources are running out.
    OK, some Libdem MPs will lose seats.
    Do the public know there are other ways then left or right?
    So be brave, be Liberal, on the Liberal/Authoritarian axis, on the green/greedy axis…
    Plant trees, build windmills and solar panels, scrap authoritarian laws,
    trust us to live our lives responsibly,
    decrimalise cannabis,
    dont spy on our emails.
    [george]

  • Mark, I would think the trigger, in any party, depends on critical mass of support. The question for those who might be entitled or feel they wish to be involved, is judging when that mass has been achieved? My worry would be that the existence and use of forums such as this on the net – perhaps even more so ConHome with the Tories, is that those who may wish to trigger may get a false impression of support levels from the sometimes OTT discussions.

  • @Dave W
    don’t let facts get in the way of attacking somebody you want to disagree with, will you? Reading back I can’t quite see where I passed an opinion about whether the Conservatives have a majority, probably because it isn’t a matter of opinion. So your reasoning is unfounded.

    FWIW I’m not particularly bothered about who our PM candidate is, I’m confident whoever it is at any given time is the best available person for the job (though that in itself is a comment on the level of talent in the Parliamentary party).

    So I’m more interested that we get more MPs elected, and that they are of a higher overall standard. Ideally then to be in a position to form a Government of our own. Until that point in time, this question is more of a non-sequitur.

  • David Allen 4th Sep '12 - 1:13pm

    Mark,

    Thanks for your response. I will withdraw my unworthy suggestion (on the neighbouring thread) to the effect that you might just be looking for obstacles to change.

    It occurs to me that there are two reasons one can put forward as to why the Party should soon be handed back to its Social Liberal / Liberal Left roots, and the Clegg coupists kicked out.

    The first is principled – they stole our Party, we deserve to get it back, and we need to get it back, so that we can begin to develop a viable alternative to Osbornomics for the nation.

    The second is totally cynical, but I’m afraid it can’t be dismissed, irrespective of what sub-category of Lib Dem philosophy one believes in. Simply, the only way we are going to win back public support is going to be similar to the way Blair did it for Labour in 1994-97: by repudiating the past, and by showing that what is now on offer is an entirely changed product.

  • Liberal Eye 4th Sep '12 - 3:13pm

    Mark gives two possible reasons for changing the party leader. I can think of a third – the incumbent simply isn’t very good at the job. To be fair some of the problems he faces are not of his making; on the other hand I see no evidence that he has a plan to fix the inherited difficulties.

    Chief among the inherited problems is the lack of a coherent economic narrative broadly shared by Lib Dems. Clegg’s solution, once elected leader, has been to sign up for Cameron & Osborne’s neo-liberal prescription that many of us think is the problem, not the answer. Faced with the inevitable unhappiness this has caused, I sense that he has circled the waggons, relied on a narrow group of advisors and become somewhat high-handed in his approach to Party management – surely something of a contradiction in terms for a party that espouses bottom-up solutions.

    As leader, Clegg doesn’t have to come up with the answers himself. What he does have to do is understand the strategic importance of getting this right and find a better alternative – perhaps by highlighting the issue and promoting debate by the Party and its fellow travellers. Otherwise he places himself in the same camp as Ethelred the Unready (‘Unready’ translates into modern English roughly as ‘badly advised’) who has gone down in history as a failure.

    Among problems entirely of his own making is a lack of political adroitness evidenced by the collapse of his flagship voting reform and HoL reform initiatives. Thatcher, for all her reputation as the Iron Lady, was far more attuned to the art of the possible – for instance despite the ideological attraction (for a Tory) of privatising the railways she wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole. (She lost much of her touch when Willie Whitelaw retired which only goes to prove the importance of attracting the right advisors – especially those cut from a very different cloth). She even managed to execute spectacular U-turns when the occasion demanded without many noticing.

    Had Clegg chosen instead to argue for an alternative economic policy he would now be in the happy position of being the promoter of ‘Plan B’ rather than the person needing a ‘Plan B’ and the Lib Dems as a party would be looking distinctly electable.

  • Is it possible to continue to support Clegg as leader, without supporting the government?

    I’d like to see him lay our his personal manifesto for the potential future coalition with Labour or Conservatives.

    We need to be able to see where we going. The public want to see, they will not wait.

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