LDV debate: The Lib Dem leadership

On September 2nd, Liberal Democrat Voice co-editor, Stephen Tall, strongly supported Nick Clegg’s leadership of the Liberal Democrats, in his piece, Nick Clegg’s leadership: 3 thoughts from me.

Giving one other side of the debate, Monday editor of LDV, Paul Walter, here explains why he cannot support Nick Clegg as leader any more. Below Paul’s piece, fellow day editor, Nick Thornsby responds.

Against – by Paul Walter

This week I have had a peculiarly “beard and sandals” type of personal crisis.

I heard that Jeremy Hunt had been promoted to run one of the largest and most cherished government departments – Health. This is the man who wondered out loud to Danny Boyle why the NHS featured in the Olympics opening ceremony. …The man who should have been referred to the Ministerial Commissioner over his handling of the BSkyB issue. Unbelievable.

I am happy with David Laws coming back wearing a hessian shirt to count paperclips in a locked room in the darkest recesses of Whitehall for a year or two. But I cannot stomach him having a roving brief and attending cabinet. That is too far too soon, even if it sounds a bit “picky” on my part. What astounded me is that the party leadership appeared to assume that the party membership would, to an extent, “defend” David Laws against the wide attacks this week, concerning his expenses history.

I’m sorry. David Laws is very talented but not talented enough for us to have to “defend” him for the next two and half years. His job could be done by numerous other MPs. The only difference is that the Tories like him more than the others.

But then we came to the “final straw” which caused my existential “beard and sandals” crisis at 4am on Thursday morning.

“Lord Ashcroft is appointed to the Privy Council”. Those tweeters love having a laugh don’t they? Oh, but no, this comes from ITV’s Laura Kuenssberg, a serious lady not known for larking about. But surely this is another Lord Ashcroft, I thought. I checked. No, it is Baron Ashcroft (“of Belize”) of Chichester and it was serious.

So this government has now entered “you couldn’t make it up” territory. Lord Ashcroft, known for massive financing of the Conservatives, unelected, who has spent a lot of time in Belize and has a controversial history revolving around tax, has been promoted to one of the most honoured (though pointless) ranks in this country.

I’m sorry (again) but this is all simply unconscionable. I cannot support a government which rewards such people to such an extent. I cannot continue, therefore, to support Nick Clegg as leader of the Liberal Democrats. I feel he has made a habit of misjudgments, e.g AV referendum, NHS reform, tuition fees, House of Lords. While I have great respect for him, the latest reshuffle, coming on top of everything else, is something I cannot stomach and I would be betraying my core beliefs if I continued to support him.

By way of analysis I would offer this. Nick Clegg is an extremely good talker. But I think he makes reckless misjudgments in the belief that his “gift of the gab” will allow him to talk himself out of the resultant tight corners. Perhaps even, as the David Laws episode, and the acceptance of the Hunt and Ashcroft promotions potentially shows, he is resigned to ending his leadership tenure in 2015 and has now passed the point of wanting to do anything to avoid that demise.

As one would expect from a fully paid up beard and sandals Liberal, I don’t have a firm plan to offer as an alternative – I cheerfully admit. This is a matter of conscience. I can go no further as a passenger on this government’s journey.

For – by Nick Thorsnby

Paul, You raise three main objections to events this week – let’s call them Ashcroft, Laws and Hunt.

Your criticism of the leadership (or rather Nick himself) on Laws is perfectly understandable. However, I profoundly disagree with it. David Laws made a mistake. He apologised. He resigned. And more importantly his story was materially different from all those other expenses tales, because his actions were not motivated by greed. They were motivated by a profound desire to protect his privacy. One can say that that was foolish, but to put him in the same category of the duck-ponders not only does Laws a disservice it lessens the terrible actions of those politicians who abused the system in such a cynical way simply to increase their take-home pay.

On Ashcroft and Hunt, I’d say this. These were Conservative decisions. The involvement of the Lib Dems was indirect in the sense that they were only possible because of our being part of the coalition, but they were nevertheless decisions taken by a Conservative prime minister that didn’t need the explicit approval of Nick Clegg. On both decisions I agree they were wrong and they were stupid. But I don’t blame Nick Clegg. They were David Cameron’s wrong and stupid decisions and it is up to him to defend them.

It seems to me that to take your argument to its logical conclusion would be to end up in a situation where each coalition party has a veto over the other’s appointments (to both the government and privy council). That’s a legitimate line to take but I think it’s one you need to explicitly argue, because you must also defend the consequences which would probably flow from it. If the Tories had a veto over Lib Dem appointments, would Vince Cable be business secretary? Would Ed Davey be energy and climate change secretary? I doubt it.

I personally think that to have such a veto system would make coalition government impossible. The very nature of coalition involves doing a great many number of things that we don’t like, particularly as the junior party, which in my view includes tolerating as ministers people who we find deeply unsavoury (to say the least!).

In other words, I think you have to make the case that follows from your arguments, and in my view when you do so I don’t think you can hold Nick accountable for what are undoubtedly objectionable appointments.

That leaves the question of strategy/decision-making, where there has clearly been failures. My response to that would be that I don’t think anyone else would now do a better job than Nick (given that past failures are now water under the bridge).

After taking us into government for the first time in decades, Nick Clegg deserves the opportunity to see this through. What that will mean in 2015, nobody knows, but I, for one, am ready to take on the fight and find out.
We welcome other contributions to this debate.

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154 Comments

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 7th Sep '12 - 11:17am

    Andy, by bringing back David Laws, we gave the green light to Cameron to promote Ashcroft and Hunt. It was a quid pro quo, even if an unspoken one. “You bring back your ex-naughty step person (Laws) and I will promote my two ex-naughty step people (Hunt and Ashcroft).” As such, Clegg entered a pact with the devil as far as I am concerned. I refuse to endorse that even passively or be in any way complicit with it.

  • Paul Pettinger 7th Sep '12 - 11:19am

    Welcome to the ordinariate Paul.

    “past failures are now water under the bridge” – under the bridge with who Nick? Many of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 but don’t plan to now seem to think otherwise.

    I also think it is a mistake to conflate the issue of whether we should have a new leader and whether we should continue in coalition with the Conservatives, as it enables Nick Clegg to paint him self as a lynch pin in providing secure Government. I don’t think that’s true btw, but he and his entourage will fight tooth and nail to keep him place.

  • Time for Farron…..

  • Paul, I don’t see the two personnel issues as that closely related. I would be amazed if Dave only promoted Ashcroft because Nick brought back David Laws. All Tory leaders fawn over Ashcroft and this is just one more example of that.

    I do think we need to discuss the leadership in terms of policy and direction as that is a legitimate debate. We can leave personalities for the others. David Laws erred, along with hundreds of other MPs, he got caught out and he has now returned. We can at least be sure that he is competent and can add to our abilities. If he gets along with his Tory colleagues in government that should be a positive.

    (BTW, I meant ‘shame’, not ‘sham’ in my earlier post. Apologies)

  • Nicola Prigg 7th Sep '12 - 11:33am

    To Nick Thornsby and others who say that the appointments of Hunt & Ashcroft are Tory appointments and we shouldn’t have a veto.

    True.

    But nobody is suggestion a veto. As for coalition politics, it would be stronger if appointments, all appointments were made together, in the interest of keeping co-operative coalition working.

    If Cameron replaced Osbourne with David Davis, without so much asking Nick that would severely break coalition unity. Similarly putting in an anti-abortionist, pro-homeopath into Health is the matter for the whole government and that means Nick & Dave choosing together, yes there will be some appointments that need to be filled by the right wing of the Tory party and yes there will need to be appointments filled by the “left” of our party.

    That doesn’t mean one side lets the other wreak havoc by appointing whoever they like without discussing it.

    It means mutual understanding of what needs to be done to make a coalition work and mutual respect of the needs for the other party.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th Sep '12 - 12:01pm

    Ok, I’m going to stick my oar in and say that I am 100% behind Nick’s leadership.

    That’s not to say that I think his performance has been flawless. Mistakes have been made that could and should have been avoided and he needs to make the effort to re-connect with his party’s activists. I had my own moment of fury on the reshuffle – I am severely unimpressed that our white, middle class, male, privileged team decided just to hand the equalities brief, from which Lynne Featherstone was doing such marvellous work, to the Tories. That ranks high on my short but significant FFS list – the things the Coalition has done that I can’t live with.

    We are in Government at a really rubbish time. Even at the best of times, when we were in Government in Scotland, when we were implementing stacks of ground-breaking Liberal Democrat policy and had shedloads of money, the Party and the Holyrood team’s relationship was fraught with tension. Now we’re in Government during the worst period of economic trauma since the 1930s. I’ve recently read Alistair Darling’s book Back from the Brink and while I disagree with some of the decisions he made, I’m not sure I could have come anywhere close to coping with the dire economic shockwaves which were and still are going around.

    I just think what would have happened if we hadn’t gone into coalition. We’d have had another election within 6 months which the Tories would have won and they would right now have already done things like cut housing benefit for all under 25s. The Human Rights Act would be in tatters and heaven knows what our relationship with Europe would be like. And children would still be locked up in Yarl’s Wood. Oh, and all the nasty web snooping stuff that the Liberal Democrats have insisted on further scrutiny under the liberal-hero eye of Julian Huppert, would le law now. Probably with Labour support.

    When there’s no money, we have given low earners a tax cut, when the Tories would have prioritised rich dead people, Nick has led magnificently on mental health and the pupil premium, We’ve had the biggest ever cash rise in the state pension and Nick personally insisted on benefits going up in line with inflation last year.

    On David Laws, one of the values we hold dearest is rehabilitation. David has taken his punishment, acknowledged and shown remorse for what he did – which was motivated purely out of a desire to protect his privacy rather than for personal gain. Never forget that had he been open about the relationship at the time, he could have claimed pretty much double the cost. He has atoned and is not going to re-offend. Is it therefore the liberal thing to keep him out in the wilderness? Every Lib Dem who’s gone on the media this week, on any phone in, has had a hard time from the tabloid reading public about David. We should not give a monkey’s. It may not be the popular thing, but it’s the right thing to do. He’s done his time and he clearly has the skills to do the job that he’s doing, however weird the combination of nukes, kids and jobs in his portfolio.

    I am very encouraged by Ryan Coetzee’s appointment to replace Richard Reeves. This guy is a political street-fighter, not a policy guy and I expect a much more robust media strategy.

    We Lib Dems are in a tough place at the moment. We aren’t making the most of our leader’s talents as I wrote last week. I was livid that we didn’t play to his strengths when he came to Scotland. https://www.libdemvoice.org/ldv-debate-the-lib-dem-leadership-30110.html

    I’ll also leave you with some advice I had for him in March about how he needs to reconnect with the party. http://carons-musings.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/some-words-of-advice-for-nick-clegg.html. More than any other, we rely on our activists being motivated enough to get out on the doorsteps. In turn, we activists need to try to walk a couple of miles in his shoes. He spends his life doing the best he can to make Liberal Democrat values happen while having eyes in the back of his head to check that the Tories aren’t doing silly things.

    If we change leader now, I’ll bet you anything that within 3 months, even the most well loved party darling would not have as high approval ratings. Being in Government is tough. We’re only going to make it tougher if we dump Nick. He needs the occasional kick up the backside, as all leaders do, but he deserves his position.

  • mike cobley 7th Sep '12 - 12:04pm

    “Criticise Nick for his decisions, criticise him for his policies and his style but not for Tory errors of judgment.”

    You cannot be serious. Tory errors of judgement are only harmful to the country because we are supporting them in coalition. We support the Tories and their singleminded project to uproot the foundations of civil society, therefore we are culpable. And Clegg has overseen the worst collapse in support, and loss of elected councillors, this party has seen since its the foundation in ’88 – if something similar happened to any other party the leader would without hesitation hand in his notice or face being hounded out by the party elders. But not, apparently, in the Liberal Democrats; it seems that most of Clegg’s supporters are absolutely relaxed about the ongoing trainwreck of Clegg’s leadership, and some will writing on this thread.

  • Bill le Breton 7th Sep '12 - 12:04pm

    The reason why we should be concerned that David Laws is back in the Cabinet is precisely because of his influence, past, present and future, over our economic policy.

    He was the architect of our move from our manifesto and election campaign position on fiscal policy – roughly in line with Darling’s budget. If we take him at his word in ‘22 days in May’ we agreed with an acceleration of deficit reduction without any negotiation – our leader and his negotiators wanted it.

    Laws is one of those most responsible for the UK adopting the now totally discredited policy of ‘expansionary fiscal contraction’. Some of you may have heard Larry Summer’s condemnation on Newsnight.

    At the time the UK economy was recovering and growing in money GDP terms at 5% a year; back on the trend growth pre-global crisis. A result of the advantage of being a currency issuer with the ability among other things to depreciate its currency.

    As a result we lag behind other currency issuers such as Poland, the US and of course Australia. My back of the envelope calculation for the total loss over the last two years as a result of the Laws infleunce is in the region of £750 billion – that’s a lot of services and/or tax reductions.

    Nick Clegg, who didn’t know the difference between debt and deficit even after 18 months as Deputy Prime Minister, thinks that he needs the constant support, advice and presence of Laws.

    Worse, his pre-Manchester-debate paranoia of Vince Cable’s popularity and economic credentials, and that paranoia’s re-emergence, has meant that (with the aid of the Prime Minister and at the cost of appointments refered to by Paul) he has used the reshuffle to try to reduce the influence of Vince and to ‘hug’ Laws ever closer.

    The Liberal Democrats and the country need a new economic policy based on co-ordinated monetary and fiscal stimulus. The reshuffle and the increased influence of Laws on both Clegg and Cameron make that less and less likely.

  • Constant criticism of Nick Clegg must delight those wish to see the demise of the Lib-dems . True enough our standing in the polls is abysmal and the buck inevitably stops with the man at the top who is Nick Clegg . .However it will be futile to sack him unless there is successor lined up who can do not just an equal but a better job and as I see it the names suggested in the media are either reluctant to take on the role or they are not outstandingly talented in comparison to Nick . Let’s start being positive and trumpet what Clegg has achieved – remember how not so long ago “the Lib-dems are punching above their weight” was a common phrase in the media ?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th Sep '12 - 12:14pm

    Paul and Nicola

    The appointment of Hunt is a nightmare. He has clearly been put there because Cameron wants him to talk the NHS reforms out of trouble in the same way he talked himself out of trouble over Murdoch. . I think it’s awful and so does every other Liberal Democrat that I’ve seen in the last few days. It’s so unfair – be pro Murdoch and get promoted, be against Murdoch as our Vince was and almost lose your job. However, he’s not going to be able to change the abortion laws because there is no majority in the House of Commons for it.

    The big difference between Hunt and Laws is that Hunt hasn’t acknowledged his sins let alone been punished and repented. I think we should be showing how positive rehabilitation can be. It’s a key liberal principle so we should put it into practice.

    I would prefer to see our people make our own appointments. We can then point out the distinction between how we do it and how the Tories do it. It’s important to keep the separation there.

    I certainly don’t want David Cameron and George Osborne having any say whatsoever on our people.

  • @Caron

    “The appointment of Hunt is a nightmare. He has clearly been put there because Cameron wants him to talk the NHS reforms out of trouble in the same way he talked himself out of trouble over Murdoch.”

    Spot on. Plus, it’s Hunt’s reward for not dropping Cameron and Osborne in it during the Leveson Inquiry, given that the two of them were hand-in-glove with News International.

  • Geoffrey Payne 7th Sep '12 - 12:47pm

    Maybe Hunt would not be in place if Nick Clegg had backed Labour and supported an investigation to find out if Hunt broke the ministerial code.

  • Tories will be Tories. You can’t blame Clegg for that. What you can blame him for is the series of disastrous misjudgements over the economy, tuition fees, the NHS, the AV Referendum and the HoL reform. You can blame him for the fact that there will be no substantial, enduring legacy from 5 years of Lib Dems in government. You can blame him for attempting to impose his own personal, essentially thatcherite, beliefs on the party and wiping out more than half it’s electoral support.

    As to Laws, the simple truth is that if any of us had behaved as he has done the punishment wouldn’t be a brief hiatus writing a book while drawing a 64K MP’s salary but prison. If he had a one iota of personal honour and moral courage he would have resigned his seat and left politics. Defend Laws all you like but recognise that you are in effect arguing for the corruption of our politics by the powerful and well-connected.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th Sep '12 - 1:01pm

    Geoff, the referral to the Commissioner on the Ministerial Code is the PM’s decision alone, sadly. This was not something we could have changed. There is no point in picking a fight we absolutely can’t win.

  • Geoffrey Payne 7th Sep '12 - 1:12pm

    @Caron I have in mind the Labour motion that we abstained on but should have supported.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th Sep '12 - 1:14pm

    Geoff, even if we’d supported it, it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. Cameron would not have been bound by it.

  • Geoffrey Payne 7th Sep '12 - 1:22pm

    @caron, I am surprised if that is the case, although I won’t claim to know better. Even so, I would argue that politically it would be much harder for Cameron to promote Hunt to the position he now has.

  • @ Bill le Breton

    “At the time the UK economy was recovering and growing in money GDP terms at 5% a year”

    Oh Bill, honestly. You can’t seriously have swallowed the whole Labour “the economy was recovering” line, can you?

    Anyone can create what looks like a “recovery” by ramping up the deficit to 11% plus and opening the spending floodgates. Labour was just trying to ensure it wasn’t totally wiped out and also poisoning the wells for the incoming government.

    As for your obsession with NGDP, it really is irrelevant if you haven’t specified what the inflation element is. Higher than expected oil, food and commodity inflation is the main reason growth was wiped out in 2011. That has nothing to do with government policy and everything to do with global markets.

    As for David Laws, I think anyone who can say we should target a specific percentage of GDP for public spending, ignoring the evidence that it is what you do with public spending, not its level, that matters, should be excluded from any Lib Dem lineup. His type of thinking is now so utterly discredited that whatever his skills as a wheeler dealer might be, he is persona non grata as far as I am concerned.

    Nick Clegg, on the other hand, still has my support. He has been knifed, knifed and knifed again as part of the successful scapegoating of the Lib Dems that the other two parties have indulged in. Why are we giving our opponents further credence to their attacks by indulging them ourselves?

  • Peter Watson 7th Sep '12 - 1:23pm

    @Geoffrey Payne “Maybe Hunt would not be in place if Nick Clegg had backed Labour and supported an investigation to find out if Hunt broke the ministerial code.”
    Depressingly, at the time apparently Clegg et al did want Hunt to be investigated but instead acted to ensure this could not happen. There were reassuring murmurings that Hunt would be shuffled out of the way after the Olympics, and now this.
    Supporting a minor party means accepting the need for and the value of working with other parties, but I think that Clegg has been useless as a leader in coalition and many of his colleagues are equally culpable. A bit like the invasion of Iraq, it seems they only had a strategy for the election and no plans at all for what came afterwards. Replacing him is necessary to detoxify the Lib Dem image, and the only issue is the pragmatic matter of timing: should the Lib Dems go into a general election under Clegg and then rebuild afterwards, or attempt to go into the election under new leadership? There are plenty of practical and/or principled reasons for either approach, but whether defending him or not, I certainly do not sense that anyone has an appetite – with the possible exception of Caron Lindsay – for a Clegg leadership in 2020.

  • Peter, who is looking forward to 2020? We should be united now to sell the coalition – our first real power for 90 years, during which time we have cut taxes for the lowest paid, stopped pointless nuclear weapons renewal, supported the recovery which is there, however much the Cassandras wail and crucially, proven that we can be serious in government precisely because we can take difficult decisions.

    I’m happy to join the ‘Caron Lindsay’ party and to stick it out. In 2015 we can have a good story to tell but a divided party sniping against its leader will be decimated.

  • Peter Watson 7th Sep '12 - 1:32pm

    @Caron Lindsay “Geoff, even if we’d supported it, it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. Cameron would not have been bound by it.”
    At the time, this was one of the most disappointing arguments I heard from Lib Dems. Abandoning principle and refusing to make a statement just because Cameron didn’t have to change his mind was bad enough, but it also ignored the fact that in 2009 an equally non-binding Lib Dem opposition day motion successfully led to better rights for Gurkhas.

  • Charles Beaumont 7th Sep '12 - 1:33pm

    Some hard truths: Ashcroft funds the Tory party and has been a right-wing threat circling Cameron who cannot afford to ignore him. On the back of the HoL/boundaries tit-for-tat (which I think Clegg played absolutely right) Clegg has no ammo left. So what was he supposed to do? Tell the PM that he’s going to bring down the govt because Ashcroft is a PC? Or do the same over Hunt?

    Let’s turn to Laws – the reason we need him in the govt is that he is one of the very few LD MPs who actually has national recognition. There’s all this nonsense about whether we have more ministers in the right departments, but normal people have absolutely no idea what the junior minister in the FCO does, let alone DCLG. So if we think we’re going to build up a reputation for governance in that way, we’re mistaken. At least with Laws it’s likely that there’ll be some attention paid to LD policies.

    For decades we dreamt of being back in government. We always knew that would mean coalition and under the electoral system we all support that would mean permanent coalition. This is what coalition looks like. Those who can’t hack it should consider whether they really understand liberalism.

  • David Warner 7th Sep '12 - 1:33pm

    Firstly can I say that I agree with every word that Caron Lindsay & Nick Thornsby wrote.

    Secondly as a recently re-joined party member (re-joined following the 2010 election and the impressive performance that Nick put up in the leaders debates and the way that the negotiating team then dealt with the coalition arrangements, having left the old Liberal Party when it merged with the SDP) I find the current debate about Nick’s position as leader deeply frustrating and – more worryingly – see it as simply providing more ammunition for those in the media and our political opponents who wish to see us fail.

    Thirdly I think that overall Nick, and the party leadership more generally, has played a poor hand very well.

  • Peter Watson 7th Sep '12 - 1:42pm

    @Andy Crick ”
    “stopped pointless nuclear weapons renewal Procrastinating in the ‘long grass’ is not the same as stopping – and hasn’t expenditure already been approved to pave the way for the pointless nuclear weapons renewal?
    “supported the recovery which is there” Evidence please. We seem to be in the double-dip recession that we were assured could not happen even after the government had seen the books and implemented its policies.
    “proven that we can be serious in government precisely because we can take difficult decisions”Our leaders haven’t satisfactorily demonstrated that they were difficult decisions: they have publicly promoted policies they previously opposed with the enthusiasm of converts, and forced through NHS reforms that are not justified by deficit reduction, the coalition agreement or part support.

  • Peter Watson 7th Sep '12 - 1:45pm

    Oops – problems with the formatting 🙁 Try again
    @Andy Crick ”
    “stopped pointless nuclear weapons renewal” Procrastinating in the ‘long grass’ is not the same as stopping – and hasn’t expenditure already been approved to pave the way for the pointless nuclear weapons renewal?
    “supported the recovery which is there” Evidence please. We seem to be in the double-dip recession that we were assured could not happen even after the government had seen the books and implemented its policies.
    “proven that we can be serious in government precisely because we can take difficult decisions” Our leaders haven’t satisfactorily demonstrated that they were difficult decisions: they have publicly promoted policies they previously opposed with the enthusiasm of converts, and forced through NHS reforms that are not justified by deficit reduction, the coalition agreement or part support.

  • “during which time we have cut taxes for the lowest paid …”

    Well, although you’ve cut income tax for all basic rate payers, of course other taxes such as VAT have gone up. The net effect of the government’s measures is that those on low incomes have been hit harder than those on middle incomes, in percentage terms.

    Perhaps “telling a story” to the electorate wasn’t a good choice of words, judging by this claim.

  • David Warner – I would be very interested to know why you left the newly merged party, and if it was because it seemed a mess, SaLaDs, Owen charging off on his own, party support in the polls only at “Ashdown’s asterisk” etc, why didn’t you rejoin in 1993 – 5 when things were clearly going very well indeed electorally?

    Charles B – Yes, David Laws has some national recognition. The main reasons for this, IMO, are 1) Being the MP who succeeded Paddy when he stood down, 2) Being a key writer for the Orange Book which created some public controversy (as well as the widespread fall-out in the party) 3) Being a senior negotiator when the coalition was formed, and, of course 4) Being widely criticised and condemned for his expenses fiddling, which could so easily as people have said, landed with him in Crown Court, and appropriate sentencing. If that is the sort of recognition we need at the top of the party, I say, bring back Neil Hamilton and Jeffrey Archer, all is forgiven.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '12 - 2:26pm

    I suspect that via this website, I have already delivered enough “leaflets” about Clegg’s leadership to be sure that you, the “electorate”, have not just binned them all unread. However, what might be worth pushing through your doors one more time are my thoughts on what should come next.

    Changing the leadership is a huge opportunity for us, but only if we do it right. The task is to restore our tarnished reputation. We will not do that with a botched change, a hurried installation of a new unfamiliar smiling face, and a smattering of new ideas. We need to plan.

    Until we are ready for the change, we should not pre-empt it. Clegg must go, but not this autumn. See:

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/if-youre-going-to-suggest-that-nick-clegg-isnt-the-answer-you-need-a-plan-b-ready-30005.html#comment-218814

  • Andy, by bringing back David Laws, we gave the green light to Cameron to promote Ashcroft and Hunt. It was a quid pro quo, even if an unspoken one.

    Sorry, Paul, you’re usually a sensible -not to mention witty – commentator, but this is rubbish. The Ashcroft appointment was simply a bribe to keep him, his millions and his influential grassroots website on board. The Hunt appointment was part of Cameron’s answer to Tim Yeo’s man-or-mouse jibe, a way of saying “I won’t let the media tell me who to appoint”. Neither had anything to do with David Laws, spoken or unspoken. I agree both appointments are ridiculous, but as Nick said above do you really advocate an inter-party veto on ministerial jobs?

    As for David Laws, he made a mistake, albeit one that actually saved the taxpayer money, he did his time on the backbenches, and that should be the end of it. I’m especially pleased he’s in Education, we need one of our best people keeping an eye on the increasingly objectionable Michael Gove.

    Criticise Nick Clegg for policy decisions or strategic blunders by all means (though show me a leader who hasn’t made a few!), but carping about a couple of reshuffle appointments that weren’t even in his remit comes across as indeed a beard-and-sandals moment rather than a serious critique 😉

    Anyway, if we are going to obsess about the reshuffle then why omit the most disturbing swap? You’re disgusted by Ashcroft getting an inconsequential privy councillor title and Hunt getting Health after the bill has gone through, but you don’t even mention Justice being transferred from an honorary Lib Dem to the most hardline Tory Cabinet Secretary since Liam Fox?

  • “Changing the leadership is a huge opportunity for us, but only if we do it right. The task is to restore our tarnished reputation. We will not do that with a botched change, a hurried installation of a new unfamiliar smiling face, and a smattering of new ideas. We need to plan. ”

    I look forward to reading your manifesto!

  • Peter, evidence of a recovery is the growth of the manufacturing sector, the continued recovery of the City of London, the increase in jobs and the growth of GDP. Add to that the tax cuts LDs have introduced in government to improve purchasing power and the guarantees being made available to banks and house builders in particular and you have the elements of the recovery. The great majority of economic commentators I have come across have noted (BBC, Independent, Economist) that the headline story is about the recession but all the hard evidence is that the economy is growing, albeit slowly. We can and should claim credit for this.

    We would not have chosen this path in 2010 but the fact that things are improving is creditable, most notably because Nick did precisely what he said he would in supporting the party which won the most seats to get the country out of a crisis. He/we did that and the evidence increasingly is that the slow climb out of the crisis is happening.

  • Bill le Breton 7th Sep '12 - 3:02pm

    RC, economic policy is much about communication and the management of confidence.

    You cannot deny that in the summer of 2005 NGDP was back up at 5% – let’s just for a moment put aside the inflation/real proportion of this figure.

    Thanks to Laws, Clegg, Alexander, Cameron and Osborne, that summer saw a massive communications campaign that talked down the UK economy, raising alarm.
    Along side this, the other element of the new Coalition’s message was to talk up the scale of the fiscal consolidation.

    Also, Mervyn King used the arrival of the Coalition to change monetary policy, probably with a nod and a wink from the Treasury if not directly from Cameron and Clegg.

    The result was an inevitable plunge in consumer confidence and an increase in private sector deleveraging; causing NGDP to plummet (see figures below). The origin of the second dip began at that point. Frail recovering aggregate demand was destroyed by derelict economic policy.

    I do not say that Labour had guaranteed a recovery by May 2010, but I do say that we dismantled whatever foundations had been built.

    Just look at the relative performance of other countries with the advantage we have of issuing our own currency.

    Let’s now have a look at that economic performance (and the constituency of the NGDP) first for 2010 Q2: NGDP 4.5; GDP deflator 1.6; real GDP 2.8; (NGDP at basic prices 4.2).

    One year later – one year of Laws et al economics 2011 Q2: NGDP 1.1; deflator 1.5, Real GDP *negative* 0.4; (NGDP at basic prices 1.1).

    Because those gentlemen listed above have bet the farm on their policy (and lost) they cannot admit their mistake or revise policy.

    So, another year on 2012 Q2; NGDP 1.7; deflator 3.4, Real GDP *negative* 1.6.

    Britain’s double dip recession, or more accurately its L shaped failure to recover is down to a Coalition economic policy that deviated from our manifesto.

    Leaders cannot change economic policy and survive. They either have to sack their Chancellor (or economic adviser in the case of Laws) or destroy their party at the next election.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 7th Sep '12 - 3:08pm

    Catherine, I am sorry if my arguments are rather illogical, and I accept that. I am an old wooly Liberal. My political activity is based on my beliefs. So, to a large extent, my withdraw of support for Nick Clegg and the government is an emotional and gut-feel thing. I have just got to the point where it just all feels wrong and I don’t want anything to do with it. I don’t deliver Focuses to support putting David Laws in a nice job because Nick Clegg is obsessed with him, while the Tories walk all over us and do unconscionable things. I’d rather have six MPs on the back benches (as it was when I started support the Liberal Party) and keep our beliefs, than support this terrible government.

  • “I’d rather have six MPs on the back benches (as it was when I started support the Liberal Party) and keep our beliefs, than support this terrible government. ”

    To which the response is, if you’re happy with impotence in perpetuity, what’s the point of being in politics?

  • Bill le Breton 7th Sep '12 - 3:17pm

    My comment above should of course read “You cannot deny that in the summer of 2005 NGDP was back up at 5%” and not 2005 – what a weird error or addiction to 5s.

  • Bill le Breton 7th Sep '12 - 3:18pm

    2010 !!!

  • Charles Beaumont 7th Sep '12 - 3:21pm

    @Paul – “I’d rather have six MPs on the back benches (as it was when I started support the Liberal Party) and keep our beliefs, than support this terrible government.” No-one can question your integrity. But what you are really saying is that you don’t mind if we have no influence as long as we are able to claim 100% moral and ideological high ground. I’m not sure that’s politics – sounds more like a very minor religion…

  • Peter Watson 7th Sep '12 - 3:24pm

    @Catherine
    “do you really advocate an inter-party veto on ministerial jobs?”How do you know that is not already the case? Cameron must surely have a veto on any appointments – as PM it is his cabinet, even with a coalition – and he could appoint anyone from any party in theory. What influence does Clegg have? Perhaps Clegg approves of Hunt’s appointment to health or Grayling to Justice. Perhaps he had to compromise in order to get Laws back. Who knows?
    As for David Laws, he made a mistake, albeit one that actually saved the taxpayer money, he did his time on the backbenches, and that should be the end of it.Choosing to behave dishonestly is not a mistake. Being a backbencher is not a punishment. Since being caught out, Laws has not faced his constituents for re-election and confirmation that he is “forgiven” (and what has happened to our plans to make it easy for MPs to be recalled?).
    I’m especially pleased he’s in Education, we need one of our best people keeping an eye on the increasingly objectionable Michael Gove.What evidence is there that Laws and the Lib Dem leadership disagree with Gove?

  • Peter Watson 7th Sep '12 - 3:32pm

    @Charles Beaumont “you don’t mind if we have no influence as long as we are able to claim 100% moral and ideological high ground.”
    What is the point of influence if we are acting inconsistently with our principles?

  • “But what you are really saying is that you don’t mind if we have no influence as long as we are able to claim 100% moral and ideological high ground. I’m not sure that’s politics – sounds more like a very minor religion…”

    There are certainly one or two people on the board who appear to think themselves the new messiah 🙂

  • “What is the point of influence if we are acting inconsistently with our principles?”

    You can get none of what you want all of the time or some of what you want some of the time. The balance (being the stuff you don’t want) will be against your principles; so by definition its better to act, even if on some occasions that is contra to principles.

    To quote that great Liberal JS Mill “A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.”

  • So the choice is between principled impotence or practical abandonment of those principles…We surely all knew this before we embarked on this discussion 😉

  • Catherine

    Your comment on Laws shows why you have lost all moral credibility as a party. It is the same for the main two parties but that is already taken into acount in their vote – we know that the Tories and Labour are amoral but we always thought the LD were different

    This rehabilitation of Laws after his ‘mistake’ is so sad to see. I also suggest you read the judgement of the standards committee but I am sure aou will convince aourself it was all a mistake.

    He was found guilty but some generous mitigation arguments were used in his favour – they should, in my view, been tested in law.

    Finally, he is the first minister I can see who has been appointed after serving a ban from the house for breaching the standards’ rules. He also ‘forgot’ to mention it to his constituents when he protrayed himself as a clean MP during the election.

  • Gladstone's bag 7th Sep '12 - 3:52pm

    On the Progress website they are debating which leader of the Lib Dems will be best for the Labour/ Lib Dem coalition following the next election – http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/09/07/coalition-politics-2015/ – I trust that when Clegg resigns we pick someone who can do business with Miliband and Balls, someone who will have more backbone and stand up and get something for the Lib Dem support, someone who is able to proceed without selling out all the principles for which the party stands. We live in hope.

  • paul barker 7th Sep '12 - 4:01pm

    Its good that members can let off steam but I m not going to pretend I read most of the comments, its too hot.

    Paul Walters objections are to the coalition itself, I cant see how dropping Clegg but staying in would change anything fundamental.
    I challenge the idea that we are doing badly, in terms of reasonable expectations for 2015.
    Lets look at the last big survey of what labour voters think, by their pet pollsters Yougov.
    45% say they “intend” to vote labour.
    Of those just 2 in 3 say they want a majority labour government & 1 in 2 want Ed as PM.
    In other words labour can expect an actual vote some where between 24 & 31%
    The polls show the voters letting off steam, they are not really intending to give labour a landslide.
    Ther will be a lot of uncommitted voters in the centre in 2015, the centre that both labour & tories are leaving.
    We have real prospects of getting more votes next time, if we hold our nerve & dont start blaming each other.

  • For the life of me I can not understand how people still see fit to come to the defence of laws and make ridiculous excuses for his behaviour.

    It had been pointed out time and time again, it is utter nonsense to say that Laws could have claimed more if he was honest about his relationship.

    If he was honest about the relationship.

    A) he could not have claimed rent as the property was owned by his partner
    and
    B) he could not have claimed Interest for mortgage payments because he was not named on the mortgage papers as a joint borrower.

    It really does not get any simpler than that and no amount of spin or guff will change the fact.

    I wonder what reactions would be if 2 people living together on state benefits, did not declare their relationship because 1 partner became impotent, and so thus decided they were not in a “proper ” relationship and decided to claim benefits separately , which gave them more money, or, If only was on benefits but claimed Housing Benefits to pay to their partner. There would be an uproar, they would be slated, and dragged before the courts.

    Stop excusing the indefensible. The parties image is shot to pieces already and it does it no favours when the likes keep droning out the same old trot

  • Simon Titley 7th Sep '12 - 4:07pm

    Discussion of the leadership question in isolation is pointless. If the party were to change leader while maintaining the coalition, any public opprobrium currently attached to Nick Clegg would simply transfer to his successor, the coalition’s policies would not change and its reputation would not improve, and the party would be no better off.

    That is why, for all the malicious rumours in the press about certain MPs going “on manoeuvres”, no serious contender would challenge for the leadership right now. As long as the coalition survives, Clegg is safe.

    The real question is the ‘exit strategy’. Whatever one’s view of the coalition, it must end at some point between now and the next general election – the questions are how and when. Once the party has answered those questions coherently, it is then logical to ask whether the party would do better with a new leader at the next general election.

    So it’s premature to speculate about the leadership. If you want something to worry about, ask why no-one’s worked out a realistic exit strategy.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 7th Sep '12 - 4:08pm

    Hear hear Matt!

    I fear we have an “Emperor’s Clothes” situation here!

  • James Sandbach 7th Sep '12 - 4:09pm

    I’ll judge whether “past failures are now water under the bridge” on the basis of how many people have to sleep under bridges in future years as a result of horribly ‘torified’ social policies which have not been thought through – we’re at risk here of over-indulging in petty naval gazing politics, especially over the leadership issue (was this or that tactical move or appointment by the leadership a savy one etc..), and loosing sight of the bigger questions of what we’re in the lbdems for, what we’re trying to achieve in terms of social justice and fairness in society etc..the net question of how much good or harm we are doing to society… the omens aren’t good on this

  • Paul Barker

    The oracle appears again

    I doubt anyone really thinks that Labour will win a landslide but I imagine that they will be in a stronger position than in 2010.

    Your party……?

    Also, I would say that you are abandoning the centre in the same direction as the Tories – you and them are now seen as one and the reshuffle only reinforced that – Laws being a key example. The direction you are travelling is a long way from where a large percentage of your voters are from, and unfortunately for you Labour are moving back in that direction. If Miliband is smart he will steal some of your policies on wealth taxation and perhaps civili liberties (although this is not as popular with the general populace as LD think) and marginalise you more.

    It is not only yougov that is giving the same sort of Labour leads either – perhaps you should go to UKPolling Report and look at the poll data – also take a read of a recent excellent analysis on why some polls show different results

    Of course polls are only a moment in time, but at this moment your party is unpopular and needs to do something about it

  • @Caron
    Re opposition motions, they are always non binding. If that excuse is to be followed to its logical conclusion can we expect Lib Dem MP’s to stop taking part in these in future? And when returned to opposition benches at some point in the future to never criticise those on the government benched for hypocrisy when they fail to support an opposition motion they clearly agree with? Surely the truth is we expect MP’s to vote according to the facts of the matter and their conscience.

  • Charles Beaumont 7th Sep '12 - 4:19pm

    @Peter Watson “What is the point of influence if we are acting inconsistently with our principles?”

    I think it’s a big question about whether you see politics as the art of the possible or the prosecution of firmly-held ideological beliefs. Anyone who has held elected office (I haven’t) tells me that even at the local level you have to learn compromise and realism pretty quickly. And, as I stated, as a centrist party we should recognise that coalition and its sibling compromise are at the heart of what we can expect.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 7th Sep '12 - 4:20pm

    Charles Beaumont and Tabman – Please. I have supported the government for two and a half years. We have achieved a lot and Clegg has cocked up a lot of things. There is nothing more we can achieve in government except continuing to being chained to an alarmingly and increasingly right wing government and being pulled further and further down the toilet bowl of political oblivion.

  • @Paul – fair enough, but remember that decisions made with your amygdala aren’t usually as reliable as those made with your prefrontal cortex!

  • matt – Laws for leader

  • David Allen 7th Sep '12 - 4:34pm

    Simon Titley,

    Please search upwards, then click the link in my posting, and see what you think of my suggested exit strategy. I don’t claim it gets all the way there, and it may well have flaws, but, perhaps it can be taken as a starting point? At any rate, I’d be interested to know what you make of it (even if you pull it to shreds!)

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 7th Sep '12 - 4:38pm

    @Catherine Never fear. I have always found that there is more than enough pre-frontal cortex acvtivity in the Lib Dems. One might even call it a “glut”. So I am sure we won’t do anything overly amygdalish.

  • Instead of cleaning up politics as Clegg had once promised, he is second in command of steering the ship in totally the the wrong direction.

    MP’s are arguing with HMRC because they want to be able to claim tax deduction for accountants to fill in their expenses claims.
    whilst the country is in recession and were experiencing cuts in all departments, child poverty is on the rise and the least well off are the worst hit by the cuts and recession. Mp’s expenses claims have risen by a 1/4
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9520959/MPs-expenses-claims-rise-by-a-quarter-in-a-year.html

    The much trumpeted “right to recall” has been conveniently dropped by the party despite making the following commitment in the coalition agreement page 27
    http://www.libdems.org.uk/siteFiles/resources/PDF/Government/Coalition-Programme.pdf

    We will bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall, allowing voters to force a by-election where an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing and having had a petition calling for a by-election
    signed by 10% of his or her constituents.

    A Minister who has clearly been in breech of the ministerial code has been promoted in government

    An Mp in breech of parliamentary standards and suspended from the house has been put back on the ministerial payroll.

    If this is cleaning up politics, I would hate to think what dirty politics will look like.

  • Peter Watson 7th Sep '12 - 4:44pm

    @paul barker
    “45% say they “intend” to vote labour. Of those just 2 in 3 say they want a majority labour government & 1 in 2 want Ed as PM. In other words labour can expect an actual vote some where between 24 & 31%”
    Pardon. Are you really suggesting that the current polling is indicative of Labour doing as badly or even worse than they did under Gordon Brown in May 2010? I’d love a pint of whatever you’re drinking.

  • “I would hate to think what dirty politics will look like.” May I suggest you examine the years 1997-2010 for a good example.

  • “I think it’s a big question about whether you see politics as the art of the possible or the prosecution of firmly-held ideological beliefs.”

    I think you’re completely missing the point, which is that Paul Walter – after supporting not only the principle of coalition but also for more than two years the practice of it – has finally decided that he cannot continue to support what the government is doing.

    Nothing to do with your philosophical dichotomy, but a question of whether or not what is actually happening is acceptable.

  • @Tabman 7th Sep ’12 – 4:28pm
    “matt – Laws for leader”

    Maybe that’s not a bad idea.

    The party has been hijacked by those that lurk in the dark, forever driving the party further to the right against the will of your own membership and conference.

    With laws as leader, the colours would be “truthfully” flying from the mast, and it would at least be transparent for the electorate to see 🙂 and judge upon.

  • @Tabman

    So are you suggesting that Clegg has delivered on his promise to clean up politics?

  • Charles B – We should have principles as politicians, and we should stick to them when we are carrying out our elected roles – I am in an elected position, OK, only as a Town Councillor, but have stood at most levels (Parliamentary and each level of Council). I couldn’t agree more when you say compromise has to be an important feature. I am on a Council where the Tories have a bare majority of one, and we have two less, together with an ex Lib Dem Independent. Sometimes we are able to force through things the Tories would rather not do, but people in the town do not take kindly to situations where the two sides appear to get nowhere because of perceived squabbles, so we have to “work together” sometimes.

    I have not worked in a joint/coalition administration, but if there were issues which really got to my conscience and were utterly against Lib Dem principles, I am afraid I wouldn’t support them.

    The exit should be on a matter of conscience important to the wider public preferably, and should come soon enough to rebuild under a different character leadership before a GE. If it is reduced to a matter of timing only, no-one will believe what the lib Dems say for a long time.

  • Charles Beaumont 7th Sep '12 - 5:25pm

    @Tim13 – all these things come to a balance, which you’ve outlined very well from your own experience. But my point is that I don’t think the UK was any the better for having 6 liberal MPs in opposition. Others have said that they’d rather have that instead of what we have now. I think that being able to influence the outcome is better.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '12 - 5:37pm

    “The exit should be on a matter of conscience important to the wider public preferably, and should come soon enough to rebuild under a different character leadership before a GE. If it is reduced to a matter of timing only, no-one will believe what the lib Dems say for a long time.”

    This is the beginnings of a viable plan. However, timing does matter. A new leader elected now would have to offer a programme for the next three years (presumably?) in coalition, plus the next five years as free agents. A presentational nightmare, which would probably cripple any new leader, irrespective of personal qualities. A new leader elected on election eve, on the other hand, would be laughed out of court. We would clearly have made a leadership change as a desperation measure in the face of obliteration, and it would fail to save us from that obliteration. So – In twelve months time, or thereabouts, it must be.

    To use that twelve months, we should be debating and evolving our policies on the presumption that we are free agents after 2015.

    Of course a new leader will have to put a personal stamp on that. What we need, frankly, is a leader who can convincingly repudiate the past, in much the same way (I’m speaking about mechanisms you understand!) as Blair did when he created New Labour. But a new leader cannot do all that heavy lifting on their own. The rest of the Party can help by putting the policy building blocks in place – and they had better be mainly social liberal building blocks!

  • @Tabman
    “To which the response is, if you’re happy with impotence in perpetuity, what’s the point of being in politics?”

    You obviously prefer being in a party of imoptence in government.

  • Richard Morris

    I am still not convinced Coalition was the only choice. I do not think Coalition with Labour was an option but to stay out of a formal coalition was.

    I watched AJP Taylor discussing the 74 election last week and he seemed to be surprised at the talk of Thorpe going in to Coalition with Heath or Wilson. he suggested Coalitions in the UK only work in wartime and minority government with support has been the way it was always done before. What was also interesting was that he said Heat, as sitting PM, was duty bound to stay in role unless he decided to give up or he was defeated in the HOuse. He also suggested the PM should have the first go at forming a Coalition. At odds with the hysteria about Brown (of which the LD were also guilty) after the 2010 election.

    The media and some Senior pro-Tory LD essentially forced the hand of the leadership to go into a Coalition with the Tories, all this talk of not being prepared to go into Government, cowardice etc. In the end it was nonsense. Bravery would have been to say no to both other parties and act as a strong, and principled partner but with no ‘Coalition Agreement’.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '12 - 6:38pm

    Richard Morris,

    5 and 6, dead right. 7, sorry, not possible. A credible change process can never be led by the outgoing regime.

  • What Richard Morris said!

    @ Paul

    I have always found that there is more than enough pre-frontal cortex acvtivity in the Lib Dems. One might even call it a “glut”. So I am sure we won’t do anything overly amygdalish.

    Fair enough, and you’re probably right! But I must add that that glut of PFC activity is one of the things that drew me inexorably to the Lib Dems in the first place and has kept me firmly in the camp ever since 🙂

    FWIW, I’m probably as uncomfortable with the current coalition as you are. I’m dismayed at the thought of sharing a cabinet table with Chris Grayling and Jeremy Hunt – but likewise was dismayed at sharing one with Liam Fox and IDS (though interestingly the latter hasn’t been nearly as bad as feared). Though to be honest (and to address the likely 2015 outcome) I would feel the same about sharing one with John Reid and Charles Clarke… I despise the simplistic rote “learning” promoted by Michael Gove with his kings of England and his King James bible vanity projects. I have deep reservations about free schools in general and Gove’s approach to them in particular. I was outraged at the proposed NHS overhaul (which Shirley Williams et al have done a reasonable job of fixing) and even more so by the wholesale cuts to disability benefits and the disgraceful new testing regime (put in place originally by Labour incidentally).

    But I still believe out presence in the coalition has been veyr positive. We have made several big blunders, but we’ve also achieved some things to be proud of and blocked others that were unconscionable. If we hadn’t gone into coalition we’d have a Tory majority government by now. And if we pull out before 2015 the public will discount coalitions as a viable form of government for a generation or more.

    I think @jedibeeftrix and @Richard Morris have summed up eloquently why we may well have to change leaders by the 2015 election. But let’s not let our feelings about the current situation get out of perspective, and let’s not forget the positives that have come out of our actions since 2010.

    Ironically (and I know this won’t make me popular at all!), I think Nick Clegg’s situation is similar to Tony Blair’s over Iraq. I can’t claim any personal insight into his mind, but from what I’ve read of his thoughts at the time, I think Blair originally decided to support the US invasion for pragmatic reasons. He recognised that it would happen with or without British backing, and that if the US went in alone they would make an even bigger mess than actually transpired, to the detriment of the Iraqi people, the stability of the Middle East and the wider world. He thought that by offering George Bush his support, he would gain valuable political capital which could be used to sue for a more helpful US approach to the Israel-Palestine question and other important international objectives. But due to the hostility at home he had to argue more and more passionately in favour of the invasion on principle – and psychological studies show that when we argue for something we don’t really believe in, we as often as not end up convincing ourselves of the rightness of our position. So Blair become more and more Messianic about Iraq, probably as a result of trying to convince his party and country that military action was the right thing to do in principle not just in practice. So even though Labour recognised how much of an electoral asset he was, and the country broadly thought he was a good Prime Minister, the consensus ended up being that Blair had to go in order to symbolically turn the page. The same may well be true of Nick, even though I personally think he has been a good leader and is a good man with beliefs I broadly agree with.

  • Tony Dawson 7th Sep '12 - 6:46pm

    @Simon Titley :

    “Discussion of the leadership question in isolation is pointless. If the party were to change leader while maintaining the coalition, any public opprobrium currently attached to Nick Clegg would simply transfer to his successor,”

    I do not think that this is correct. I reckon about 60 per cent of the ‘opprobrium’ would go across. The rest is personally identified. The new Leader would, of course, need to do something ‘strong’ during his/her ‘honeymoon’ in order to move forwards rather than back.

  • I’m not happy with this ‘debate’, and I think we genuinely need one. So excuse me for equivocating.

    It asks about leadership, then conflates Clegg, the government, coalition and the LibDems into one – apparently a person must support all or none!

    But since LibDems offer a different brand of politics – we support commuity politics, not tribal politics – it’s verging into incoherence when we offer an analysis whoch doesn’t fit with our ideals and principles.

    Clegg should be largely irrelevant to us, since the general membership provides the leadership, and our representatives merely provide the direction.

    I support the LibDems, that is enough for me.

    This post, however, discusses various decisions we’re implicated in as events have taken their course.

    On the coalition, Clegg played the negotiations wrong. He showed a false position of strength. Had he insisted a grand coalition between Cameron and Brown was the first and most natural option, he’d either be PM now, or leader of the opposition with both other parties split to the core and likely to become PM in 2015.

    On the government, Clegg’s weakness has been found out. He can be an effective campaigner for liberal policies in Whitehall provided he shows no disunity in public, but since ths prevents him from appealling to the public he’s seen to be nothing more than a tory in a different coloured tie.

    Regarding the party, Clegg has a job on his hands: he’s found himself caught between two stools – the standard LibDem position – as opinion divides over the questions raised by coalition, and has found his position difficult to sustain as a result.

    And regarding the reshuffle, it’s all a little bonkers. We want to implement our full manifesto in full, yet we don’t have enough seats at the table to fill every chair, so we’ve taken secondary positions in a wider breadth of cabinet positions, meaning we get all the criticism with none of the credit.

    In most coalitions around the world, the junior partner is given responsibility for one of the major offices of state – we should’ve demanded this too.

    A LibDem as Chancellor of the Exchequer, as Home Secretary, or as Foreign Secretary should have been the minimum price for our involvement in coalition.

    As a party we set our moral standards too high and our practical aims too low. The end result is we disappoint on both. If Clegg is too blame for this failing it is because he represents the same trait in the wider party, and changing him is irrelevant unless we change ourselves.

    Labour abandoned Clause 4, Tories claim to have made an effort to change from the nasty party of yore, we have yet to make any effort to change from the naive party of today.

    Unless we change ourselves, our leaders (Clegg or whoever) will find themselves trapped in a pattern or repetition, hands bound by the situation.

    Leadership is not about the ‘them’ of leaders’ faces, it’s about the ‘us’ who provide the activism. Defering responsibility onto others does not defer the consequence on us.

  • “So the choice is between principled impotence or practical abandonment of those principles”

    Of course, the other thing that this point of view ignores is the party’s position in local government.

    It can be argued that the party currently has some influence in national government (though how much real influence is debatable). But the price of that is the progressive destruction of its strength in local government, which has taken a generation or more to build up. Taking that into account – not to mention the possibility that the party at Westminster will be decimated in 2015 – is the net effect of this coalition really likely to be an increase in the influence of the party?

  • Peter Watson 7th Sep '12 - 8:22pm

    @Richard Morris
    I also agreeabout the way the deal was done . I have whinged here before about the way an agreement hastily stitched up behind closed doors was allowed to trump manifesto commitments and election pledges that had been thought out in detail, debated publicly, and subjected to intense scrutiny under the electoral spotlight.

  • paul barker 7th Sep '12 - 8:29pm

    @ peter watson
    Yes.

  • Personally, I can’t see the point of changing the leader if they remain tied to the same policies. and same agreement. Unlike a lot of people , I’m not convinced that the Lib Dems were benefiting from a protest vote in the pre-2010 era. I think that party workers put in a lot of groundwork, convinced a lot of people to get behind the lib Dem’s and then Mr Clegg and his advisers chose to think that people support political parties like they support football teams rather than because of what they say and do.
    Until the lib Dem’s learn to have confidence in their own policies and respect why people voted for them the party will have problems.. The coalition agreement was rushed through too quickly and as a result it left the lib Dem’s looking either meek or complicit in pushing through radical right-wing reforms its own voters plainly were not voting for. I can’t see how a change of leader will change this without pulling away from the coalition.

  • Simon Titley 7th Sep '12 - 8:57pm

    @ David Allen (4.34pm and 5.37pm) – You ask me for a view on your proposed exit strategy, which involves having a leadership election in 2013 but remaining in coalition until 2015. The basic problem is that, in effect, it requires the party to be simultaneously in government and opposition. The electorate will be asked to believe that, although the Liberal Democrats remain in government, there is also a sort of ‘party in exile’ preparing to take over when the election campaign starts, which is what they will really be voting for. I can’t see many voters buying this distinction.

  • Simon Titley 7th Sep '12 - 9:09pm

    @Tony Dawson – “I reckon about 60 per cent of the ‘opprobrium’ would go across.” If so, 60% still remains a sufficiently large proportion to prevent the party refreshing its reputation.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '12 - 10:09pm

    Simon Titley,

    OK – up to a point, you have probably identified a real problem. How would you solve it?

  • Simon Titley 7th Sep '12 - 11:03pm

    @David Allen – “How would you solve it?” That depends what you mean by ‘solve’. In any event, there is no easy or painless solution. I would simply reiterate that you cannot decouple the issues of the coalition and the leadership. There is no profit from defenestrating the leader while maintaining the coalition – it is fantasy to believe this would transform public perceptions of the party. Conversely, once you reckon that the coalition has no more mileage in it and should end, it is then logical to consider whether the party would be better off going into the next election with a new leader.

  • David Allen
    What I argued earlier, when I said if the strategy were reduced simply to a matter of timing, it would not be believed, meant that – not that timing could be ignored entirely. My view, unlike yours, is that it leaves as much time as possible to build up people’s confidence in the new. Like Paul Walter’s view, I think the public will not feel easily able to accept the same Lib Dem leadership team that has brought us here. For most mainstream Lib Dems and ex-Lib Dems, their opinion is that what is being delivered in the name of the Lib Dems is too far away from their own ideas to carry their support (I am trying hard to avoid pejorative language like “sold out”, “let down”, “Tories in Lib Dem clothing” etc).

    Of course, parties have to change with the times, but Orange Book style liberalism just doesn’t fit with our times, of restricted natural resources, a need for a new more equal society in a world rapidly physically changing.

    There have been a number of opportunities already to break away – most notably, probably, the NHS reforms, but aspects of welfare changes also. So far we haven’t taken them. At some point, a group of people are going to have to take their courage in hand, and do the deed. The party is dying by attrition, of members, of supporters, and of councillors. So far a formal split has not happened…

  • Actually I buy the two leaders argument put forward by Simon, and I wish more members of the public had heard of our brilliant President Tim Farron, who is far easier than Nick to sell on the doorstep and I suspect at the next leadership debate as well. I also think Nick is getting into trouble partly because he is trying to do two jobs at the same time. I wish he could concentrate on his role of leading our ministers and defending his narrow role in the Coalition Government.

    I accept that the two leaders argument doesn’t always work: it didn’t work in the London elections and we shall see but I think the Greens have made a mistake in appointing a non-entity as their leader when they have such an outspoken MP. But there’s a big difference between being in government (when it’s necessary to distinguish between our role in the administration and as a popular party) and just being in opposition when you need a single champion to rally behind and present to the electorate.

  • David Allen 8th Sep '12 - 1:08am

    Tim 13: I resigned my local party chairmanship four years ago when Clegg first showed his true colours with his campaign for “big permanent tax cuts”, and I have been fighting against the orange blues ever since. So I would love to see change come soon. But I would rather that change lasted. Could a new leader, elected now, abandon the coalition now? On the old rules he/she could, forcing new elections. (Two years after the last GE, I think the public would not think of that as unreasonable behaviour.) However, with the new five-year parliament, it cannot be done. So a new LD leader elected now would face much more difficult decisions. If he/she stuck with coalition, then (as Simon Titley argues) what would have been the point of change? If he/she went for the unstable rainbow coalition with Labour and everybody else apart from the Tories, would we expect that either to work well, or to play out to our electoral benefit?

    Simon Titley: whereas Tim13 is saying the timing should to be faster, you seem to be saying that it must be slower. You point out that it will not be easy to elect an anti-coalition leader while remaining in coalition. However, if that means we leave it until election eve to change horses, I think that would be a terrible mistake. It would be a cynical election manoever, and would be recognised as such by the electorate, who would reject our new leadership as phoney.

    I am not saying it will be easy to steer a course down the middle between the two of you, but I think it has to be considered. I think the key will be that – as we are already seeing with the reshuffle – the Coalition will in any case dwindle gradually into a confidence-and-supply situation in the second half of the parliament. They no longer need us as much as they did, and we no longer need them. The Tories will give the right their head, and cease even attempting to keep us sweet. In response, we shall get stroppier and start using our ability to vote down what we do not like. Long before the election, Simon’s dilemma – that a new leader who stays in coalition will simply pick up the opprobrium that now attaches to Clegg – will cease to apply. When that happens – I have suggested we can think in terms of twelve months away – then we will successfully be able to change our leader, and get clear away from orange-blue politics.

  • Tony Dawson 8th Sep '12 - 8:28am

    @ Simon Titley :

    “@Tony Dawson – “I reckon about 60 per cent of the ‘opprobrium’ would go across.” If so, 60% still remains a sufficiently large proportion to prevent the party refreshing its reputation.”

    40 per cent ‘free’ is a lot of public leeway from which to move forward. And, unfortunately, the effect of FPTP voting systems means that every single percentage point seriously-affects the number of Parliamentary seats we obtain.

  • Bill le Breton 8th Sep '12 - 8:45am

    David A, what you describe, if memory serves me right, is the process that occurred to bring the Lib-Lab pact to an end, paving the way for the no-confidence debate in 1979, and so probably describes how it will be; the key set events influencing the actual timing of that process being the Euro Elections, 3 Autumn Statements, 3 Budgets, not discounting ‘Events Dear Boy’ and opinion poll developments.

    There are two reasons why I don’t want to go ‘gentle into that good night’.

    What has been noticeable about Paul and Nick’s pieces and the nearly 100 comments that have followed is the family feel of the ‘conversation’. Old tussles put aside to think out the big problem facing the family in ending a business relationship or advising a family member in a divorce.

    For instance, Oranjepan reminds us of the distinctive ‘character’ of the Party, in which ‘the general membership provides the leadership’. Clegg is a relatively recent ‘son’ of the family and bought the line peddled by those who became his coterie that it was this general membership that were the obstacle preventing advancement. Cutting himself off from a collective wisdom demostrated here.

    Catherine shines a powerful light on the possible psychology of Nick Clegg by showing how Blair’s ‘pragmatism’ lead (within a bunker) to a disconnection with ‘the general membership’ and results in behaviour which becomes less and less pragmatic and more and more messianic.

    That is a lethal situation for the family.

    Then, there is the economy. We have to change the economic policy initiated in 2010, but the present Leadership cannot do that without undermining itself and is therefore propelled by the psychology Catherine describes further and further from the pragmatic need to express and campaign for a new and distinctly Liberal Democrat economic policy.

    That is lethal for the future of the country.

    Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  • David Allen 8th Sep '12 - 5:09pm

    Bill le Breton,

    Forgive me if I am missing your point. When you describe the way our “family” is coming together to resolve the problem of the “son” who has gone off the rails, I am genuinely not sure whether you are applauding or condemning what is going on. I do think you are right to draw the “family” analogy. However, it may be that you and I are making different guesses as to where it may be leading us.

    A family (especially if we are thinking of Downton Abbey, or indeed a Mafia family!) would deal with a problem member in a secretive way, in haste, and with the aim of preserving its continuity, prestige and position. We surely do not want a transition like that. We need the opposite. We need complete renewal, and we need to convince the electorate that we have completely changed.

    Would we achieve that, if we quietly demanded that Clegg should fall upon his sword tomorrow? Would we not risk a brief internal election, and the emergence of a safe-pair-of-hands compromise candidate to still the row between a Clegg / Farron camp and a Laws / Alexander camp? That would leave our problems unresolved, the Coalition in place but with our role further diminished, and the public further disenchanted,

    That’s why I say we need to plan. I am not seeking “gentle into that goodnight”. Yes, we need rage, and we also need real change that makes sense to the public. We need to take whatever time it takes to achieve that. If we can do that quickly we should. But I don’t think we can. If we rush it I fear we shall botch it – by acting too much like a publicity-shy family!

  • Tony Dawson 8th Sep '12 - 6:23pm

    David Allen :

    “I fear we shall botch it – by acting too much like a publicity-shy family!”

    T’would make a change from the Karshadian-like family we see on LDV!

  • David Allen 8th Sep '12 - 7:28pm

    I meant Cable / Farron camp, not Clegg / Farron camp.

    Sorry for posing such an interpretation problem!

  • Bill le Breton 8th Sep '12 - 9:30pm

    David, I was genuinely impressed by the contributions to this thread. People one does not normally agree with coming forward with interesting ideas and a frankly staggering consensus here that Clegg should not be the leader in 2015.

    That is where this thread says matters are leading. I only want this brought forward for the reasons I give above.

    The Party membership and activists are frightened. That is the true position. Frightened by what is happening but even more frightened by the sense that there is nothing they can do in the near term about the Party having the wrong leader at its most crucial moment since August 1914.

    I have always seen the Party as a family and enjoyed many a family gathering at Brighton, Bournemouth and even (shudder) Blackpool. I don’t think that Clegg ever viewed the Party in that way.

    Like, I imagine, most people here, I wanted to learn from those I met or listened to. I don’t think Clegg even for one moment thought that he had anything to learn from ORDINARY party Members.

    Clegg was the toy of king makers; singled out as leadership material by those who gain power, position and reward by helping another to the throne. How could such a person doubt his own value – doubt his own acumen with all that flattery and help; help into a male first European list, then help into a held Westminster seat and help into the Leadership – a gilded path?

    But politics is a science that takes experience to even come close to mastering. There is no substitute for an apprenticeship. And the first thing that must be learnt is who to listen to, who to accept as advisers.

    Clegg, with frankly incompetent advisers, made a series of cardinal political mistakes. He got and gets big issues wrong, appoints the wrong people to key positions, and he committed the gravest error in politics – he gave people reason to mistrust him. There is no way back from that. It is the first law of politics as anyone who has written his own Focus knows.

    If he saw the Party as a family, and if he were a true patriot, he would manage his own resignation and succession. He would value the future of the family more than his own.

    We hold the balance of power during one of the country’s most serious crises in its history. We must use that power to make a difference now – not at the next election. There isn’t time to lose.

    The country must have a new economic policy and new voices leading the country thorough these difficult times.

    By the time the ‘right’ moment comes for a new leader, others will be making history, one way or the other.

    In the end, the best politicians are poets, not plumbers: rage, rage against the dying of the night.

    And don’t worry about ‘camps’. When the Party decides true family members get on with the job and the egoists walk off into the sunset. I say this as someone who witnessed Owen shamble away down the street from the Portsmouth Guildhall.

  • “In the end, the best politicians are poets, not plumbers: rage, rage against the dying of the night.”

    Light?

  • You’ll bring tears to my eyes, Bill, if you’re not careful!

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Sep '12 - 2:22am

    Caron Lindsay

    Ok, I’m going to stick my oar in and say that I am 100% behind Nick’s leadership.

    But then nothing in the rest of what you wrote gave a reason why. You defended us being in the Coalition – fine, I agree with that, but that’s not a defence of Clegg. As I have said before, it was not a “brave” step that required Clegg for us to enter the Coalition. Any person with a bit of political sense could see we had either that alternative, or, as you say, a minority Tory government which would engineer things to win a full majority in another general election called a few months later. It’s not nice at all being in a coalition which is doing many things we dislike, but the alternative would have been worse. That is why there was very little opposition within the party to forming the coalition. I think any other leader would have done the same.

    The problem is that while most of US can see that, almost no-one outside us can. I find the criticisms we are receiving from almost anyone who is not a LibDem and not a Tory are nutty – they seem to be based on the idea that we could somehow have magicked up a government supporting 100% LibDem policies from the results of the 2010 general election, and the only reason we didn’t do that was because we wanted to have just the government we have in place now. Therefore, WE rather than the way the people voted and the electoral system are held up to blame for everything everone except supporters of extreme right-wing politics dislikes about this government. We seem to be getting held up to blame for it even more than the Tories, as if somehow if they weren’t in coalition with us, they would be almost social democratic in their policies.

    Sorry, but the fact that our position is so misunderstood, and what ought to be obviously a ludicrous line is being used seriously against us and is working very well, I think HAS to be blamed on poor leadership of our party. |You have given no defence of that – to me it is the key issue. Why has Clegg allowed such illogical attacks on us to succeed? Why has he been unable to fend off those attacks? Why is he not able to see that so much of what he does and says bolsters those attacks rather than shows them up as unfounded?

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Sep '12 - 2:29am

    Dave Jones

    Time for Farron…..

    As I keep saying, Farron was one of the most enthusiastic proponents of the line “This government is 75% Liberal Democrat”. Well, he didn’t actually say that, it was “75% of our manifesto implemented”,but most people tended to view it as much the same (even if it isn’t). And that was on the basis of a back-of-the-envelope calculation, which those who did the calculation have now rescinded. Basic competency in any politician ought to involve looking at how calculations were done before trumpeting them.

    To me, this was one of the most damaging lines ever put out by our party. It was basically giving the impression we are enthusiastic supporters of most of what this government is doing. If you want to say “bye-bye” to any of our supporters who aren’t Conservatives giving a tactical vote to us in Labour-LibDem areas (i.e. most of them), that’s the line you should use.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Sep '12 - 2:39am

    Charles Beaumont

    Let’s turn to Laws – the reason we need him in the govt is that he is one of the very few LD MPs who actually has national recognition.

    And why is that? Might it just be because there are plenty with a vested interest in promoting him and outlets to do so? If the right-wing press go on and on about how clever and able Laws is, might we just wonder whether they would say the same about someone who was just as clever and able but had a different sort of politics? It does seem there are plenty of powerful commentators in the right-wing press who think “clever” and “able” mean “has the same sort of policies and social background as us”.

    I’ve seen nothing from Laws which is not utterly conventional right-wing economics stuff. This sort of thing might have been radical and interesting in the 1980s, but really, now it’s become commonplace and we can see it isn’t working as its supporters said it would, wouldn’t someone who was really clever be able to criticise it effectively rather than just repeat the old slogans of its keenest supporters?

    If we were in coalition with Labour, there might be a place for Laws doing his right-wing economics stuff as a sort of counter-balance. As it is however, the last thing we need in the current coalition is someone whose main line is “Me too” to the Tories.

  • Simon Bamonte 9th Sep '12 - 4:42am

    A lot of the posts in this thread, even from people I often disagree with, make a lot of sense. We may disagree with one another on certain points, but I do believe we all want basically the same thing: a successful, thriving party that is improving the lives of average Britons. We are, after all, a sort of family. I think there is, amongst many remaining LibDems, a consensus that we have been led down the wrong path by our leaders in a strategic sense, even if their hearts have been in the right place. I say this as someone who, at first, was a strong supporter of this coalition and truly believed we would temper the worst Tory excesses while getting several of our major policies enacted. Sadly this has not been the case. I feel as if Clegg, Alexander and many others at the top of the party thought basking in the glow of being in government (and having “power”, no matter how small) for the first time in decades would be enough to distract us from the worst aspects of Tory policy. It might have worked with many of our MPs and Peers, but for many of us in the grassroots it has simply been a disaster. I am not someone who is against compromise: but in coalition, both/all parties must give and take. The Tories have often acted like spoiled, entitled children in this “business deal”. In my opinion we have done nothing but give and give and give in the past 2.5 years. And yet, every time we give, the Tories further show their inbuilt sense of entitlement to rule by giving no ground whatsoever (even though we hold the balance of power). We agreed to increase tuition fees against personal pledges to the electorate, for example, in order to maintain coalition Yes, the new system is actually slightly more fair, but we still broke a supposed profound and deep-felt pledge made not only to the electorate, but to impressionable first-time voters. In other policy areas it seems as if we have failed to stop the Tories from doing exactly what they want. We have dropped our 2010 economic policy in favour of a right-wing neoliberal “strategy” which, with all available evidence, seems to be a complete failure (apart from further enriching the already wealthy). We’ve cynically abandoned left-of-centre voters who care about social justice & can’t stand Labour’s authoritarianism. The very same people we spent most of the 2000s inviting into our fold (anti-war, non-authoritarian Labour voters) are now told by our leadership that they are not wanted and that we were never a place for disaffected left-wingers to call home. Why are those on the right of the party now shocked to see that the very people we spent a decade courting are now expressing discontent and disappointment (and, often, returning to Labour)?

    We have made so many amateurish and stupid tactical mistakes since the beginning of this government that Armando Iannucci could write a whole series of “The Thick of It” based on our blunders (and, judging by tonight’s new episode, probably already has). Clegg and his cabal have spent most of their time trying to keep the Tories as sweet as possible while at the same time alienating their own party and millions of people who voted Lib Dem in the belief that we were a centre/centre-left party. If we are to serve our voters and members, we must change leader as soon as possible, even if it is as a temporary “caretaker” basis. Under no circumstance should Nick Clegg be leading us into the next election. IMHO, an alcoholic Charles Kennedy provided more competent and compassionate leadership than those who now pass for “our leaders”. Once we have a new leader we must apologise to everyone who feels let down by us, starting with ex-foot soldiers and FOCUS-deliverers such as myself. We must say to the electorate that we thought we could temper the most right wing of Tory excesses, but we were naive and were no match for their ruthlessness and pure ambition to prop up their own, already privileged class. We must also apologise for breaking our pledge on tuition fees. We must apologise to the disabled people who we have allowed the Tories, the DWP and ATOS to treat like scum. We must say sorry to all of those who gave us their vote, believing we would protect the NHS from Tory marketisation. The people who wanted us to clean up politics only to see us abstain on the Hunt affair and bring back the disgraced Laws? Yeah, we need to say sorry to them, also. In short, nothing but pure openness and acknowledgement of our mistakes to our disappointed members, lapsed supporters, and (ex)voters will do.

    I am a fan of coalition. European coalitions can and often do work very well. Unfortunately, we went about it the wrong way and did not take a leaf from our European friends. Most continental coalitions do not bring about major reform or quick change. Stability in tough times, yes, but deep and rapid reform, no. Negotiations are often very long and immensely difficult. Green parties in EU coalitions don’t stop being green simply because they are working with other parties. IMO, due to our eagerness to be “in power” for the first time in decades, and the willingness of those in charge to swallow right-wing economic rubbish, we gave up too much ground, too much of our soul and simply ceased to be Liberal Democrats. I fear Mr. Clegg and Mr. Alexander would simply stand idly by in fear of their cushy positions if Cameron decided to join the US in attacking Iran (and I am sure I am not the only one who has the same worries.) This is indeed a sad indictment of the low esteem in which many of us hold our “leaders”.

    Not only must we find our soul again, we must also sincerely make it up to those who feel let down and abandoned by us. We all know that the austerity policies of the coalition are hurting the poorest and those on the bottom the most: the very same people who had nothing to do with creating the financial crisis we are in. And yet, again, in my opinion, the most beautiful aspect of our party’s constitution, which commits us to eradicating the oppression of poverty, is being blatantly ignored.

    My friends, we simply cannot go on like this. If we change nothing and continue as we have so far in this government, we will be lucky to fill 2 taxis with our MPs come 2015. Believe it or not, there is a compassionate majority out there who believe in fairness, proper reward for honest hard work, decent support for those who cannot work, thriving private *and* public sectors and that, yes, we ARE all in it together and we should all pay our fair share. This coalition is enacting policies that, by and large, are against the very constitution and beliefs we are founded upon. If we continue to treat the poorest & most vulnerable with contempt and suspicion while the rich & better off continue as normal, (which I believe we are indeed doing), then why do we exist? If we cannot do better than this, if we cannot treat the have-nots as equals to the haves, then we have no right to exist at all.

    Look, I may seem like an emotional, boring old dinosaur, being a social democrat and all. I think the private sector is great in countless instances. But I also believe the state must ensure healthcare for all based on need and not bank balance, must protect our most vulnerable citizens, should provide equality of opportunity for all, and facilitate transport/infrastructure as a social good and not for extreme profit. Social democrats like me seem to be a dying breed, though, in the face of the “everything must have a price and make a profit” economics we’ve followed for 30 years. In short, I want our party to be rational and follow evidence, yes, but I also want us to be compassionate. I want us to follow these simple, but beautiful words in our constitution:

    “Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries; we are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services.”

    My friends, if we are going to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, disease and aggression, we should start at home, start with ourselves, and start with our coalition partners, who are happy to perpetuate poverty, oppression, hunger, etc. The choice is ours: fairness and compassion, or death and destruction.

  • “staggering consensus here that Clegg should not be the leader in 2015.”

    Untrue. At the very least I’m neutral on it, and I’m not the only one.

    Leadership comes from within, it is not imposed from on high. Clegg is weakened because we’re allowing ourselves to be divided in the contrasting flows of positive and negative feeling. Whether or not he is here further down the line, in order to win we must know where we’re pointing and where the finish line is. It’s about us, not him, her or them.

    We have huge talent in our party, we can show this by being clearer about how we arrive at our decisions and saying why we want to do what we want to do. In this regard our internal structures don’t help, they are too informal. And if we won’t reform our own party constitution to show more democracy is more effective, the public starts to doubt our proposals to reform the politics of the country.

    So dumping a leader could easily be portrayed as a lack of party direction as a lack of individual leadership.

    Clegg needs to do more, that’s for sure. We all remember his successful performances in the TV debates, his popular townhall meetings and his identification and support for symbolic causes such as the Gurkhas and ID cards. He can point to achievements, but it’s all getting drowned out in the partisan Punch and Judy media and society’s obsession with extremes of personality.

    It is an unhealthy obsession.

  • “When the Party decides true family members get on with the job and the egoists walk off into the sunset.”

    Indeed.

    Yet at least one of the anti-Clegg contributors to this thread did exactly that when he was elected by his own admission.

  • Peter Watson 9th Sep '12 - 9:06am

    “staggering consensus here that Clegg should not be the leader in 2015.”
    There is definitely not much support in the postings for a Clegg leadership beyond 2015, but I think the anti-Clegg ranges from “Go now” (but risk giving new leader too long to become equally tarnished) through “Go later” (to allow new leader to differentiate from tories before 2015) to “Go after 2015” (to allow the party to rebuild in opposition). I think that there is also a lot of uncertainty about which course will be least damaging to the party.

    We may be an unrepreresentative bunch, but it does suggest that if Clegg is to survive as leader without further damaging his and the party’s reputation, he needs to say and do something quite radical quite soon, perhaps starting the fight-back at the conference.

    To do more than pick up unthinking anti-tory / anti-labour / anti-SNP votes in 2015 (for which other parties and independents will be competing) we need to be able to campaign on the basis of what we have achieved, not the hypothetical things we claim to have prevented.

  • @Oranjepan
    “He can point to achievements, but it’s all getting drowned out in the partisan Punch and Judy media and society’s obsession with extremes of personality.”

    It’s the policies being implemented with the support of Clegg that are causing the problems – problems with the people that voted Lib Dem and, as it seems from these discussions, people within his own party. Nobody cares about his personality – it is his ideology that is at odds with so many (ex) Lib Dem supporters and his ability as a leader.

  • Bill le Breton 9th Sep '12 - 9:10am

    Oranjepan, it is very difficult to compliment you if you are so insistent on not being complimented 😉 I obviously misinterpreted your intentions in providing a long list (Sept 7th 7.34) detailing Clegg’s weaknesses.

    You make an important point about leadership. I would agree with it provided there was some way of insisting that a leader ‘follow’ this leadership of the Party. This one hasn’t. The Party, our family, does try to lead and has enormous collective wisdom, energy and principle, but at every stage he has seen Conference and the grassroots, the ground warriors, as something to ‘get by’.

    The 20120 manifesto was in many points a departure from then Party policy as set down by Conference and the Policy Committee. The policies that the Coalition negotiators went into those negotiations to ‘win’ were a further departure.

    We have the evidence from Laws’ ‘22 Days in May’. No effort was made to argue against accelerated deficit reduction. None against continuing with the Browne report. Why? The Tory manifesto contained much that the Leader had tried to get through our conference and failed to. He is not a Party person – that is not his origin. He is a cuckoo.

    The tendency of using Government for a personal rather than a Party agenda has infected our contribution to Coalition policy on the NHS, Welfare and so much else – right down to the recent Conservatory gimmick, that a councilor or a community MP would know from experience.

    So whilst in theory I agree with your point about the Party as Leader – and agree that this is an attractive part of being a Liberal Democrat – and recognize that its origins lie in the campaigning work of the Young Liberals of the Sixties and Community Politicians of the Seventies as practiced by countless councillors, MPs, MSPs and AMs – that only works when it is understood and supported by the nominal Leader.

    He broke this unspoken “Pact” with his Party and, because it is unspoken, that Party has no way under the actual constitution of doing anything about it.

    If the Party were to rediscover the habit of Leadership, it resolve to remove him as soon as possible. We shall see.

  • Bill le Breton 9th Sep '12 - 9:17am

    Peter,
    The Autumn Statement is coming soon. Clegg should publish at Conference OUR Autumn Statement and the Party should debate it. The Campaigns Department should put that into the form of campaign material and the Party should immediately on return from Brighton start campaigning and feed the results back to the Party.
    With that movement created in our communities the Leader should campaign hard and openly for ‘our’ Statement.
    It should report openly on every negotiation with the Conservatives.
    Campaigns feeding this back to their communities on paper, electronically and through local and regional media.
    What we win we shall own. What we lose we shall explain and continue to campaign for.
    It is called integrated campaigning. It works very well in situations of Balance of Power because you can prove your worth (what you win) and sell your importance (in what we could win with more support).

  • Simon,
    Totally agree. I think what a lot of people forget is that the policies being pursued aren’t only cruel, they don’t actually work. Not only that there has been a lot of very illiberal undercurrents and stage management around trying to block legal protests. Pre-crime arrests during the Royal wedding, and police with automatic weapons at NHS marches spring to mind.
    Being roped in as junior partners is one thing, but the failure to make any noise is entirely another. This is Clegg’s big problem, he just looks too willing to act as the Coalition’s PR. It sometimes seems like the deputy leader is questioned more about policies, he in truth as little control over, than the leader. The Lib Dems really need someone who will stop acting like a buffer between the media and the failure’s of Cameron and Osbourne

  • Not quite sure what you mean about the Constitution, Oranjepan, “too informal”? Most people I know would argue the other way! (I don’t agree with them by the way, but I struggle to say it should be more formal).

  • That remark also applies to party internal structures, which you also refer to Oranjepan.

  • Tony Dawson 9th Sep '12 - 10:22am

    Matthew Huntbach :

    “..the fact that our position is so misunderstood, and what ought to be obviously a ludicrous line is being used seriously against us and is working very well, I think HAS to be blamed on poor leadership of our party. |You have given no defence of that – to me it is the key issue. Why has Clegg allowed such illogical attacks on us to succeed? Why has he been unable to fend off those attacks? Why is he not able to see that so much of what he does and says bolsters those attacks rather than shows them up as unfounded?”

    You are asking why a man with a piccolo is not beating out a rhythm. Nick Clegg has many skills, but not the skill-set needed in his position. Unfortunate, the process of Coalition-creation caused him to promote and hold to his bosom a group of MPs and advisors who are, though by no means homogenous, a far narrower group than would be representative of the Party at large or even the Parliamentary Party . Even narrower than might be his personal preference if unfettered. Had a Lib Dem one-party government ever been pitched in the same political spectrum as either of the two Lib Dem contributions to Coalition, there would have been uproar.

    Political ‘bent’, however, is nowhere near as important in the determination of the fate of the Party in the short and medium term as is political judgement and presentation.

  • Peter Watson 9th Sep '12 - 1:11pm

    @Bill “The Tory manifesto contained much that the Leader had tried to get through our conference and failed to.”
    That is something I had not appreciated. If true, it completely destroys what faith I had left in the Lib Dem leadership. Rather than demonstrating incompetence in implementing Lib Dem policies in coalition, it gives the impression of a leadership that was happy to support policies which they favoured in spite of opposition from their own party.

  • Bill le Breton 9th Sep '12 - 1:19pm

    But Peter, you have it in one.

  • Peter, a number of us have been saying this at intervals from the beginning (prior to Clegg’s leadership, in fact). It is what has become known as the Richard Grayson analysis, and led to the formation of Liberal Left (whether or not you approve of that as a reaction, it was how some of us felt).

  • jbt
    Difficult to justify a substantially market driven system when you are in a world of depleting resources!

  • Peter Watson 9th Sep '12 - 6:35pm

    @Bill and Tim13
    I don’t know whether or not the apparent divide between the leadership and the membership is enough for me to vote Lib Dem again. On the one hand I am reassured that the party has not abandoned its principles, but on the other hand that makes no difference if the party’s representatives have.

  • David Allen 9th Sep '12 - 6:57pm

    Bill le Breton,

    Thanks for your posting of 8th Sept 9.30pm – a lot clearer than the previous one, and making some good points about politics and personalities.

    One or two contributors have taken Paul Walter to task for going along with all our Coalition policy shifts and then turning against Clegg’s leadership on “mere” personality issues. I think they are profoundly wrong to treat personalities as unimportant. Take the first of Paul Walter’s sticking points, the appointment of Jeremy Hunt to Health. In purely factual terms, it is true that this doesn’t immediately make the Lansley changes any better or worse. But if you have any emotional or political intelligence, you can see what Hunt is doing in politics, and what Cameron clearly wants him to do for Health. Hunt is a private-business promoter and PR man. He is clearly there to help business get stuck in to the new opportunities that Lansley has created, to make this look good in the eyes of the voting public, and to mop up and neutralise the flak whenever it all goes badly wrong. That is what a Hunt is on this planet for. He has not the slightest interest in the actual health of the nation.

    It is entirely reasonable, therefore, for Paul Walter to identify this kind of “mere change of personalities” as a big issue. It will have policy consequences and, especially, implementation consequences. We don’t yet know what those will be, but we can damn well guess. Perhaps it was the “last straw” for Paul, and others too. Well, if so, it was a bl**dy great big straw!

  • Given time, jbt, I will answer an essay with an essay!

  • “We Lib Dems are in a tough place at the moment”. All government is pretty tough at any and all times. The fact is that the LibDem leadership, and Clegg in particular, have made a terrible mess of the whole coalition concept. Nick Clegg has, in my view, mismanaged just about everthing he touched. I find it difficult to believe the ‘support Nick’ posters on this site, it really does confirm how out of touch many LibDems have become. Your Party is facing a disaster; I suggest all LIbDems concentrate in how to avoid destruction at the next election. But I fear it is already far too late. Congratulations to Paul Walter, you are spot on.

  • David Allen 9th Sep '12 - 7:52pm

    Simon Bamonte said:

    “If we are to serve our voters and members, we must change leader as soon as possible, even if it is as a temporary “caretaker” basis. Under no circumstance should Nick Clegg be leading us into the next election.”

    I strongly agree with the second sentence, but there are problems with the first sentence.

    I understand and share the view that we must quickly and convincingly move away from a disastrous recent past, and that we should do that as soon as we can. We must recognise the developing consensus that Clegg’s days are numbered. We should find ways of making that clear to the public, for example promoting the role of our President, Tim Farron, as the person who currently holds a key elected position and can – unlike Clegg – speak for the Party in the longer term. But, would we be able to make the best of our position, if Clegg were to throw in the towel at this Autumn Conference?

    You suggest that we might elect a caretaker leader. I suppose one might think, for example, of Vince taking over now, but stepping down at the next election. How would that play with the public? If Vince played a blinder (as he did last time he stepped up to the plate, during the interregnum after Ming’s departure), our opponents would only have to point out that the post-2015 Lib Dems would be totally different again, that we should ignore everything Vince was saying because he would be a spectator after 2015, that a Lib Dem vote in 2015 would be a vote for a pig in a poke, etc. No, it wouldn’t work. If we want Vince, we had better make sure he wants to stick around until 2020 (or beyond!)

    And, do we want Vince? I don’t think we can know, just yet. He has had no time to develop a clear position. Nor of course has anyone else.

    Ah, but, I hear people say. But, that’s what a leadership contest is for. Look at how it worked for the Tories in 2005. Howard resigned, and everybody though David Davis would be a shoo-in. But he wasn’t! This unknown guy Cameron came forward, wowed them all with a new “liberal” style, and set a brand new course for his party, with reasonable success at least initially. Couldn’t we do something like that but better?

    Well, we would have a problem, which Tories 2005 did not have. The only things Paxman would be asking our leadership candidates would be: “Are you going to break the Coalition and bring down the Government? If you are, how are you going to deal with the five year Parliament? Are you going to ally with Labour? Have you talked about it to Ed Miliband? And if you’re not going to end the Coalition, how can you possibly present yourself as a change? You’re just the same old same old, aren’t you? You’re just a new face doing the same as Clegg, aren’t you?”

    That’s why I think the best “caretaker leader” would be Clegg. Provided we established he was now in place on suffrance, as a caretaker, to wrap up our period in coalition and then make way for change.

  • Paul Pettinger 9th Sep '12 - 8:19pm

    Bill, when are you going to start writing LDV comment pieces?

  • @David Allen

    “That’s why I think the best “caretaker leader” would be Clegg. Provided we established he was now in place on suffrance, as a caretaker, to wrap up our period in coalition and then make way for change.”

    But what then if Clegg rolls tummy up even more to the Tories and Cameron, whilst in this caretaker position?

    He has not exactly shown the backbone to stick up for either a) the party’s interests or b) the public’s interests. In my opinion. Hence the reason that so many people have left the party and it’s doing so badly in the polls.

    If Clegg was to continue on the same course, or heaven forbid, acted worse than he has already, how much more damage can the party take?
    At what point does it cross the line of no return? which makes it almost impossible to change the parties image and reputation for decades again.

    Laws is a right-wing orange booker, I truly believe his return to government was only to strengthen the Tories./Cameron/Clegg position.
    I would not be at all surprised to see Laws wholly backing Gove’s education reforms, being used in the media to try and convince the “libdems” and the “voters” that these changes are right and what is needed to support our economy.
    Cameron would not have been so supportive of Laws, unless it was beneficial to his own goals.

    Laws is to have his fingers in all area’s of government and finances, he is a great supporter of the current deficit reduction plan, and he is supporter of more welfare cuts.

    I personally do not think the party can survive such irreparable damage if Clegg continues in a “caretaker role” and Laws at his side supporting him and dragging the party further to the right.

  • David Allen 9th Sep '12 - 10:34pm

    Matt,

    You have a point. Clegg is brazening it out at the moment. He is acting as if his position is impregnable. He is no doubt calculating that he has the best chance of survival if he admits no weakness. The appointment of Laws shows that.

    The party needs to find a way to change that. Otherwise he should not continue, even as a caretaker.

    But that would be a pity, because we would then have a precipitate leadership election, which might very well fail to improve our position.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Sep '12 - 11:47pm

    Tony Dawson:

    “You are asking why a man with a piccolo is not beating out a rhythm. …”

    Yes, but it was partly a rhetorical question. I would tend to the answers you have given, but I was addressing it to Caron Lindsay, who said she was “100% behind Nick’s leadership”, but the only arguments she gave was that it was right to go into coalition because if we hadn’t we’d have a Tory majority government by now which would be worse than what we do have.

    To me this just did not make sense, because nowhere did Caron say why she thought Clegg was the best person to be leading us in this situation rather the anyone else. Yet she claimed not to be just “on balance behind Nick’s leadership”, or even “90% behind”. No, it was 100%. Now it seems to me that if you are that certain you must have VERY strong arguments. So I would expect answers to my questions to be given, because they are pretty basic questions, so I would expect anyone who is so strongly convinced that Clegg is the BEST person to lead us to have good answers instantly to them.

    Well, I am still waiting.

    I asked these question seriously, and in fact have been asking them ever since Clegg burst on the scene as “obviously our next leader”. I actually would like to know the answers, because I genuinely have never been able to see what people see in Clegg – yet many people with whose views I agree on many other things were very much in favour of him at the leadership election, and some of them still are now. It bugs me that I just can’t understand why. I’d be happy if I got an answer which at least I understood even if I disagreed with it, but so far I haven’t even got that.

  • Matthew – I follow your point. I am someone else who has asked myself your questions.
    I have seen the following qualities and skills and knowledge:
    Nice guy
    Articulate in a public school, but relatively self-effacing way
    Extensive networks and therefore networking skills (always useful)
    Probably clever (again in an understated way)

    All these qualities are good, and refreshing in party leaders, most of whom have had more than a trace of arrogance in their make-up. Unfortunately he seems to have very little conventional political skill or understanding, and much naivety to go with it. He also seems not to sympathise with the gut of the party – rather like Blair, I suppose. The most convincing explanation I have is that he charms people, and because he has articulate and ready answers for people (even if at rather superficial level) looks good and is at the younger end of the spectrum, he has convinced enough people at the relevant times. Some here have rationalised it that “he is the first to take us into Government for 90 years”. This, of course, was mainly down to the way the votes fell and the fact of the TV debates. He had been losing polling support and members throughout his tenure. The Tories, of course, have shamelessly used him. I am sorry that this sounds patronising, but it is the best I can think of.

  • I have posted what I believe to be an honest answer to your question, Matthew, and it is now in the hands of the powers that be here.

  • I logged in to this site for the first time in over a year out of a desire to know, in the run-up to the conference, what my old campaigning friends of many years past were thinking about the current parlous state of the Lib Dems. Maybe I ‘ve got it wrong but it seems that there is a growing consensus that things have got to change but little agreement about how to bring that change about. As usual, Simon Titley, Matthew Huntbach ,Bill le Breton and others make a lot of sense. There is an seeming absence, however, of a series of timed practical steps to break the deadly embrace of Tory ministers: right wing idealogues pushing forward policies that even Thatcher would not have dared to expose to the light of day.. I suggest a timetable to end the coalition in, say, one year’s time, and for it to be replaced at that time, and up until the general election, by an agreement to support the Tories in Parliament on a bill by bill basis.
    To address the Clegg issue, it could be made clear that on the same timetable an alternative Lib Dem leader in waiting would be elected by the party lead it into the next GE. (BTW, does Clegg have a realistic chance of holding his seat in a university city?)

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '12 - 12:44am

    Peter Watson

    We may be an unrepreresentative bunch, but it does suggest that if Clegg is to survive as leader without further damaging his and the party’s reputation, he needs to say and do something quite radical quite soon, perhaps starting the fight-back at the conference.

    Yes, that is why I was happy to give backing to Clegg’s call for a wealth tax, and was sorry to see he seemed to be getting as much condemnation for it on the left as he did on the right. The attacks on him for this from the political right are really quite extraordinary, try reading yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, for example. I only wish he had the ability to hit back as heavily against them as they have hit him.

    The firmness of the right-wing line that everyone who has wealth is super-extraordinary human being who needs cossetting for the benefit of the whole human race is amazing mainly because it can be so easily demolished. If wealth is a just reward for success and entrepreneurship, just how long do we have to go on rewarding the entrepreneurship of those who came over with William of Normandy and established our land-owning aristocracy? Do people who have good ideas for goods and services that others will want really sit in bed thinking “Oh, I won’t bother, because if I am successful promoting this idea I’ll have to pay so much tax on the wealth I’ll end up with”? Is it really too much to ask those who can most afford it to give to help build up this country in its time of troubles? We aren’t asking them to give up their lives – which we did ask young people in times of trouble in the past. Are people really at their best and most creative and innovative when fear of being thrown out of their jobs and never working again is the overwhelming thought in their minds at work? If high taxes are so bad because they take money away from people who can use it productively to the benefit of the country, doesn’t the same apply to high rents and high house prices?

    The Tories believe the best driving force in society is fear. That is why they think taking away job security and taking away welfare support will boost the economy. To my mind, people in fear are people who are cowed, people who will take the easy option, people who will not take risks. To my mind, pride in service and in the gratitude of others to whom you have provided a good service is the prime driving force. The dog-eat-dog greed-is-good mentality of the Tories has destroyed that pride in most people. Ask any ordinary person who is old enough to remember how things used to be, and they will tell you that. This idea that if we are all engaged in bitter competition with each other things will improve is nonsense. We have seen where it leads to – heads down, don’t ask questions, just do whatever it needs to meet the meaningless targets set by the managers. All this because at the top there are these wonderful “wealth creators” running it all, and taking the wealth they are creating for themselves.

    I was pleased to see Clegg’s comments on taxation of wealth because they seemed to me to be a direct stand against this mentality. However halting it may be, he was at last standing up directly to the core of Tory ideology, rather than attempting to twiddle at the fringes of it. The reality is that the Tories are the party of the aristocracy as ever. The new aristocracy may not be the same as the old aristocracy (though it overlaps), but at the heart is this idea there are a small section of super-humans who deserve immense wealth and privileges just because of who they are. The defence of this, that all wealth and income comes from beneficial entrepreneurial activities is so weak that it ought to be treated with derision. They may accuse us of “politics of envy”, but we can throw back not just “politics of greed”, as an attack on them, but “politics of ignorance” because their views are so ignorant of the reality of life for most people. To my mind it is quite obvious that the best way to get the economy going is to spread money around more evenly, and to ensure people feel confident and secure rather than afraid – good welfare support is part of this.

    I think we should stop being afraid and open up the attacks on the Tories now. Not just the “cuts are bad, er that’s it” we get from Labour, but a deep-seated attack on the very core of Conservatism – the aristocratic principle. We should be moving into saying “OK, now you’ve seen what the Tories are like, you’ve had a Tory government because that’s what you voted for, you’ve seen us trying to do a little within the coalition to stop the worst of it, now if you want MORE of what the Tories are doing, vote for them, if you want to see us stronger in stopping it, vote for us”. The move from taxing income to taxing wealth is part of the support of genuine entrepreneurialism: reward for work, rather than reward of the idle rich.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '12 - 1:25am

    OK, so putting it this way, what we should be doing almost immediately is stop saying “coalition”.

    If you look at the press, the word “coalition” is used almost interchangeably at the moment with “government”. Yet what are being described as “coalition policies” are mostly Conservative Party policies, very far from what (I hope) we would be doing if we were governing alone.

    I am STILL receiving emails from party HQ in which we are urged to “say coalition”. This is STILL the mentality of us pretending we have more influence than we have because the electorate will be mightily impressed by that. Well they aren’t, are they? Instead, this just makes sure people see us as agreeing with Tory policy. Indeed, since people see our existence as the main reason we have a “coalition” government, since we are being urged to “say coalition”, it means the people of this country associate what this government is doing PRIMARILY with us. It lets the Tories off the hook, as they can get away with the lines “All that’s going wrong is the fault of those pesky Liberal Democrats in the coalition”.

    So, let’s make sure it is understood loudly and clearly this is a FIVE-SIXTHS TORY government. Let’s make sure the Tories get blamed for its failed and damaging policies. Let’s make sure people think “Conservative government” not “Coalition”. Let’s be honest and say, all we can really do in it is counter-balance the most extreme fifth of the Conservative Party. If people want a stronger LibDem influence, they must vote for it. Over-playing our influence shuts down this line of thinking, and shuts down the idea that we have a very different way of thinking than most of the current government.

  • Peter Watson 10th Sep '12 - 1:45am

    @Matthew Huntbach “I was happy to give backing to Clegg’s call for a wealth tax, and was sorry to see he seemed to be getting as much condemnation for it on the left as he did on the right.”
    My concern about the wealth tax and perhaps it is the same for some of Clegg’s critics, is not about the substance of the policy but that it is something that Clegg has floated before as a smokescreen to distract from other issues without delivering anything. I recall noises about it before the last budget when there were concerns about tax cuts for the highest earners, and at the last conference when there was tension over NHS reforms. On the face of it this seems like another clumsy attempt to calm down the audience ahead of this year’s conference.

  • Peter Watson 10th Sep '12 - 2:10am

    @Matthew Huntbach ” We should be moving into saying “OK, now you’ve seen what the Tories are like, you’ve had a Tory government because that’s what you voted for, you’ve seen us trying to do a little within the coalition to stop the worst of it, now if you want MORE of what the Tories are doing, vote for them, if you want to see us stronger in stopping it, vote for us”. “
    This seems like a good approach, but I think it would be difficult for Clegg and Alexander to lead such a campaign as – perhaps due to the constraints of collective cabinet responsibility – they have regularly appeared as cheerleaders for the policies they would be attacking.

  • personality politics cuts both ways.

    Because public expectation means tories can weather the impact on their party popularity of their bad luck choosing miserable Cabinet members by transferring between one rampant ambitious egoist and the next, our nice and cosy amorphous nature means we can grow to accept being told to sit back and be judged collectively for the things we’re prevented from doing in the first place!

    So let’s get off our opponent’s territory by asking more pertinent questions.

    Attacking Clegg as responsible for bad decision-making causing the perceived plight of the party while simultaneously attacking him for not having more responsibility for decisions made by government doesn’t lead to the conclusion that Clegg is the wrong man for the job, it means he is a good man in an empty job.

    I fully agree that Clegg’s job should be scrutinised. DPM is a non-job, a complete waste in a time of austerity. Clegg does need to be reshuffled.

    We should blame Cameron’s botched re-shuffle for the divisions in this debate because it left LibDems still in charge of no broad policy area and less able to exert a balanced level of influence as a result – the cause of the negative question-mark hanging over our heads.

    If politics is about creating options, then we need to make sure our opponents are awake to the fact that our’s aren’t only within their gift. Call it self-promotion if you want, it’s better far better than the self-liquidation our wrong-headed enemies want – a strong and united LibDem party is good for our democratic politics and it is therefore good for the Conservatives and Labour.

    Neither the Labour nor Conservative party looks capable of certain overall majority in 2015, so they both need us to win votes from the other. For this we need to show those policies we will continue to support even under changed circumstances of a coalition with Labour. That means we need at least one LibDem at the helm of one of the ‘big 4’ seats – as players in the ‘Quad’, the 4 should include Clegg and/or Alexander, and it looks more like they’re being snubbed because they’re not.

    We shouldn’t follow the tory example and snub Clegg because they do, we should demand Cameron takes the coalition seriously and put him in a prime position, make it a condition of the agreement with the tories, and the condition of Clegg’s continued leadership.

    And Clegg is fully qualified to make a top-quality Home or Foreign Secretary.

  • Nor Home Secretary, jbt.

  • Welcome back, then Les Farris. There is a consensus among some here (and in the wider Party) that radical change from the current course is necessary, and pretty soon. But equally, there are many who reject that, and I am not sure how we “square the circle” of keeping on board as many as possible with the changes necessary for the good of the country and wider, and also the good of the party. Dated ideology (Hayek, Reagan, Thatcher) is taking an unconscionable time dying, and in our party now seem to reside many most fervent proponents!

    We have a distributional crisis, in that many people, even in Britain are having less and less to live on, and a set of environmental and resource crises, which those who should be leading are turning their eyes away, reckoning solving both crises at the same time (along with the less important deficit/debt problem) is in the too difficult pile.

    The reason we cannot go along with the same leadership is that they carried out a PR campaign in direct opposition to the set of nigh on impossible political jobs actually needing doing.

  • David Allen 10th Sep '12 - 9:51pm

    Les Farris,

    It seems a consensus is emerging – at least on timescales. The coalition should gradually loosen – the recent reshuffle being the first step – with a transition toward a “confidence and supply” type of arrangement within around 12 months or thereabouts. Alongside that change, we should progress to a leadership election. So that there can be no wiggle room or backsliding, we need some immediate steps to make it clear that a change process is under way.

    For example, Linda Jack has suggested that we elect a Party Leader who is different from the Deputy Prime Minister and whose election is designed to outlive the Coalition. I have suggested a declaration that the President be declared as our prime spokesperson for the future beyond coalition, and/or, that we set up a prominent policy-making apparatus predicated on the assumption that we will soon become free agents. None of these ideas is free from problems, so it would be good to see more suggestions – but at the end of the day, anything that makes it clear to the public that we are entering a process of renewal, and which makes that process happen, will do the job.

    As Tim13 points out, there is also plenty else to do. That is why we need time. We need to decide where we should now position ourselves. I amongst many others have argued that we must violently reject our recent past and offer something completely changed, rather in the way that Blair tore up Clause 4. Others would argue the opposite, that we now need a more consensualist approach which brings our party together, and which does not prompt yet another membership exodus, which does not follow the exile of the liberal left with the exile of the Orange Bookers. We need to start that debate, and we need time to debate and resolve that choice.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '12 - 10:17pm

    @ Peter Watson

    My concern about the wealth tax and perhaps it is the same for some of Clegg’s critics, is not about the substance of the policy but that it is something that Clegg has floated before as a smokescreen to distract from other issues without delivering anything.

    Yes, he came up with what he called “tycoon tax”, which on later explanation seemed to mean an end to the various higher rate tax exemptions that exist. The main one was on donations to “charity” – which made it in to the budget and was so torn to pieces that it was rescinded.

    This illustrates very well two things. First the usual Tory sob-story propaganda. I put “charity” in brackets because it covers many more things that the sort of standard high street shop charity people have in mind when they see the word. It served the Tories well to make out that this “tax on charity” was an attack on all donations to high street charities. But that was rather like the line that suggests general wealth tax or tax on capital gains is mainly tax on “entrepreneurship”, taking away directly from useful job-providing businesses. It cynically ignores the extent to which wealth and capital gains come from completely passive ownership, what our political ancestors were not afraid to call the “idle rich”. Much tax exemption on charitable donations is simply the state funding rich people’s whims, and that’s when it is not just tax avoidance – finding a way to get some payment you make that benefits mainly yourself and your friends and relatives to get labelled legally as “charitable”. Restricting the tax exemption on charitable donations to the standard tax rate was a good measure to help stop the gap between rich and poor opening ever wide.

    The second thing this case illustrated was just how damaging to the politics of the left is Labour’s strategy of making the Liberal Democrats their principle target. It served this strategy for them to join in with the right-wing propaganda machines’ attacks on Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. So, there we are – when it comes down to the Liberal Democrats putting up a bit of left-right fight in the coalition, Labour would rather join forces in supporting the political right. Labour don’t WANT the LibDems to be effective in the coalition, they’d rather see this country wrecked by extreme right-wing Conservative Party policies than risk the LibDems being successful and winning the argument and hence not being wiped out at the next general election. The long-term costs of this is to help make sure the deep-seated taxation changes that are needed to stop the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer never get a chance to be aired because that won’t happen when Labour has helped keep them labelled as something it is political suicide to talk about. If Labour do get back into power they will find by allying themselves with the right-wing press they have hobbled themselves when it comes to ability to pursue left-wing government.

    Looking at how this came up, it seems to me it was really just Clegg thinking aloud, raising the sort of things which often get raised here in LibDem Voice. The Guardian chose to headline the throwaway comment on wealth tax that Clegg made. Had it just kept those words in the small print in the interview they’d have been forgotten. I think it much more part of Clegg’s naivety than a planned diversion (not like the “tycoon tax” which was a planned diversion – I was in Newcastle and saw how it was done). However, that’s my point – however it came about, Clegg had initiated the conversation, even if unintentionally; it was in the interests of the left as a whole to carry on with it. But no, Labour shut it down with an inane comment which completely missed the point (the point being the value of the distinction between taxation of wealth as against taxation of income).

    I prefer to see Clegg as a man who is too easily led rather than as a bad man engaged in a conspiracy. Therefore, if he does do something we on the left like, however much we may dislike much else he has done, let’s cheer him for that. If by cheering him on we encourage him to be more bold and more to the left, isn’t that a good thing? My ultimate aim would be to see the LibDems as the force for the left inside the coalition, having to be there because the distortional electoral system gave no alte native, but fighting beyond its strength due to backing when it does so from the left outside the coalition. In this way the Tories, though the largest party, get isolated and made to look bad because their arguments are shown up to be so weak. Instead, however, Labour would rather see the Tories win the arguments and they themselves not having to do any hard thinking, because “nah nah nah nah nah, nasty LibDem sell-outs, let’s wipe them out in the next election” is so much easier and gives them the sort of uncontrolled power they used so wonderfully (sorry, I can’t remember the HTML tag for sarcastic font) last time they had it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '12 - 10:48pm

    Peter Watson

    This seems like a good approach, but I think it would be difficult for Clegg and Alexander to lead such a campaign as – perhaps due to the constraints of collective cabinet responsibility – they have regularly appeared as cheerleaders for the policies they would be attacking

    Indeed. This is why we need leaders with the sort of wiliness that long involvement in practical campaigning gives you. Anyone with a bit of political sense ought to have been able to see how the coalition would go – it ought not to have come as a great revelation that the junior partner gets torn to pieces, ending up being blamed on both sides for all that goes wrong and getting no credit for anything it has achieved, but Clegg is such a political tyro that it came as a great surprise to him (so it has been reported) that amongst large parts of this country’s population there is a gut hatred of the Conservative Party. Therefore, though I accepted the logic of going into the coalition, it seemed obvious to me that the hooks for the escape plan should be put in place. This is simple hedging your bets – in the (unlikely to my mind) event that the Tories’ economic plans worked and by 2015 the economy was going well and the LibDems were getting thanked and supported in the polls for helping with it, the hooks would be left unused.

    I can of course see that making it public our plan was to put them in, let them show themselves up, and then pull the rug on them at the worst time for them, would be a very bad idea. If that really is Clegg’s plan, he’s hidden it really well. However, I suspect it’s rather like my hope throughout the general election campaign that Clegg had a barnstorming speech he was going to bring out near the end to revive us. I kept waiting for it, it never came. Actually, of course, the pretext for ending the coalition has already happened (scuppering of House of Lords reform). As you say, however, Clegg has painted himself into a corner – he really didn’t need to be SO insistent as he has been that the coalition will go on until 2015.

    Still, I think that if Clegg did wriggle free and do something like this it would be a better option than the members forcing him out. Even if we end up having to do this because the man is such a disaster, it doesn’t say much for our judgment that we put him up there in the first place – I’d rather he threw off the Calamity Clegg tag and took a bold step that would save his reputation.

  • Peter Watson 10th Sep '12 - 10:55pm

    @Oranjepan “And Clegg is fully qualified to make a top-quality Home or Foreign Secretary.”
    Jedibeeftrix “The lib-dems are just not ever going to be given foriegn secretary by the Tories.”
    Tim13 “Nor Home Secretary”
    Nor chancellor. Nor Defence. And Cameron’s mate Lansley had obviously staked his claim to Health having spent years working on his the top-down reorganisation. And nobody was going to shift Gove from Education. I doubt that the tories would even give the Lib Dems the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship or the Department for Administrative Affairs. Energy and Climate Change was an easy sop to the green wing of the coalition, largely because Osborne could simply ignore it.
    Did our leaders negotiate for ownership of an important department and its policies, or was the aim always to be more spread-out as understudies within tory departments?

  • Simon Bamonte 11th Sep '12 - 2:14am

    @Matthew Huntbach:

    I have often disagreed with your assessment of the coalition thus far, what the public voted for in 2010, our weaknesses and the distortions of the FPTP system (I think we could and should have tried to pull more weight several times in this government when our leadership and MPs just gave in, but I digress), but I am in 100% agreement with what you write above. I do see Clegg as a good man, but rather inept, naive, and with little knowledge of how Tory economic policy always hurts the most vulnerable and powerless in society. The problem with Labour, though, is that I think they view the “leadership” of the LibDems and the grassroots/average LibDem members as one and the same. Not only must they come to realise that, actually, many if not most LibDems want a radical shift away from the right-wing Tory policy we supported in good faith (the faith that they would support Lords reform as we supported the dreadful NHS “reforms”, for example). I think we centre-left LDs must make the effort to reach out to those in Labour who are closest to us (and vice versa), while making cooperation a condition that they recognise the Tories are our common enemy and that they focus their fire on them, not us. We must admit we were easily led by the Tories and believed they genuinely changed, only to realise (or maybe not not, in some individual cases…) that most of their MPs & peers are just as reactionary and dogmatically right-wing as ever. If polls for the past 1.5 years are to believed, Labour could possibly form a majority government, if not easily form a coalition government with the LibDems even if we lose half our MPs at the next election (along with the SNP, Plaid, and the Greens…a grand left-wing coalition, if you will). After all, our economic plan going into the election of 2010 was very similar to the Darling plan. I can think of nothing better to revive our fortunes than a coalition with Labour at the next election, with a new leader, and an agreed economic plan we actually believe in while we say what we mean and stop any authoritarian and anti-liberty excesses Labour may come up with. We must also demand as many big manifesto promises be implemented as possible (which I see Labour being more amenable to than the Tories). I do believe Labour are slowly changing, and as opinion here seems to suggest we want change as well, it is only natural that a centre and centre-left party consider working together not only to defeat the right, but for the betterment of the country and all its citizens.

    In my very humble opinion, what this nation needs right now is a LibDem/Labour social democratic economic plan (Ed M as PM & Vince as Chancellor…?) with LibDem protections on civil liberties/freedom of expression. We may have provided stable government with the Tories for the past two years, but the current plan is only hurting the average working/middle class family. Let’s work to not only promote stability and a more liberal society, but economically sound policy that doesn’t crush the weakest the most.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '12 - 1:00pm

    @Simon Bamonte

    There’s a lot there, so a point-by-point response:

    On how people voted in 2010 (and in 2011), of course I’m aware there was not a conscious vote for what we have now. Underneath what I am keen to do is to get people to see the reality of how their vote translates to government, and therefore to use it more consciously and with more thought. It may not be a popular idea at the moment, but I remain a supporter of transformation through the ballot box because I don’t see any other way working. It seems to me various supposedly radical anti-politics movements (I mean in particular “Occupy”) are actually deeply reactionary, because underneath their message is the same as that of THE Sun newspaper to the working class “Politics is bad, don’t get involved in it” i.e. let the wealthy and powerful do all the voting stuff, and since politics is bad let non-politicians have the power i.e. rule by big business.

    On “we could and should have tried to pull more weight several times in this government when our leadership and MPs just gave in”, I am reluctant to criticise people doing a job when I have not been there myself. I actually suspect it is much harder to get things done against the will of the Tories within the coalition than many of us outside direct involvement with it imagine. That is why my criticism of Clegg et al has been more on presentation (i.e. making out they are more powerful than they really are) than on policy compromise.

    On “many if not most LibDems want a radical shift away from the right-wing Tory policy we supported in good faith”, well, I never supported any of it in good faith. I’ve been willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the coalition only because it was the only viable government that could have arisen from how the people voted, not because I have any faith in the Tories and their policies. It always seemed to me we should just give them the rope to let them hang themselves -as they have, only trouble is we’ve allowed ourselves to be hanged alongside. Again on “We must admit we were easily led by the Tories and believed they genuinely changed”, well I never believed for a moment they had changed (apart from becoming even more economically right-wing and having less of the genuine if paternalistic concern for the people of old-style Toryism). Anyone with any sense ought to have been able to see that all the claims of becoming more liberal were just propaganda, apart from a few fairly token social liberal issues (e.g. gay marriage) which did not have any economic implications.

    On “I do believe Labour are slowly changing”, sorry, same again, no. Underneath they continue to have a Leninist approach to politics, in which everything is subsumed to Power to the Party, and anything outside The Party is to be ruthlessly destroyed by whatever means necessary. That is of course why they cannot comprehend what we are doing, cannot comprehend the idea of a party whose members might not be 100% supporters of the party line, and actually cannot comprehend why we on the left of the Liberal Democrats don’t just join Labour. I mean this – I have found in conversations with even the most decent Labour people there is something about the mentality of The Party which makes them unable even to be able to think in political pluralist terms. That doesn’t mean I would be opposed to a coalition with Labour, but I would want us to go into it with the same caution we ought (but our leaders did not) to have taken when we went into coalition with the Conservatives.

    I do indeed think we have seen enough of Conservative policy to know it is not working as they promised it would. So we should indeed move to the point where that is what we are saying. We shouldn’t give a fig for “cabinet responsibility” – if the Tories don’t like us speaking our mind, what are they going to do? Sack all our ministers and have a minority Tory government? Well, jolly good, let the people see what the Tories do when they don’t have us to restrain them. That is why it is so important to get the people to see just what they are voting for – so next time they think when they vote. A vote for Labour or a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for the two-party system, a vote which means we have either or of the other, so it is a vote for THIS GOVERNMENT (minus its little bit of LibDem moderation) now. If people want a real change so that never again can we have such an extremist unrepresentative and out-of-touch government, there is only one way to go, because there is only one nationwide political party dedicated to constitutional reform, and true political pluralism. Us.

  • jedibeeftrix

    looking at your prediction for union membership I am wondering just how ‘blue sky’ your preditction is.
    am sure the TUC would be delighted if what you are saying is informed and accurate. Where you getting the data from?
    amina

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