Leadership

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I received my first message since his election from Ed last Thursday. It was an appeal for money so no change there! It also used this very annoying computer program which inserts my first name at various places. If it is supposed to make me feel that the leader has composed a letter personally for me, it fails miserably. No doubt every one of the 118,000 members knows full well that it is a standard letter to all of them from a computer programmed to add first names. I wish our headquarters would stop treating us as infants and stop this practice. I shall simply delete every such missive in future.

I intend, of course, to support Ed fully in his immense task but, like a number of other contributors to Liberal Democrat Voice, I have my concerns having watched his acceptance speech. I felt that Caron Lindsay’s posting on Sunday hit the nail on the head. A new leader’s acceptance speech is a huge opportunity to make his or her political position and agenda clear in a few pithy well prepared sentences. It will always be carried by the news media. Ed missed the opportunity and his speech was extremely trite and mundane.

I would illustrate this by two comments on what he said. First, of course every politician has to listen to the electors, but it is asking for trouble for a party leader – and particularly a new party leader – to spend a great deal of time himself touring the country listening. The party’s elected representatives, its officers and its members should be continually listening and relaying relevant comments back to the leader’s office. And in terms of policy and responding to current political issues, the leader himself must lead not follow. The problem of going round the country listening is that he will get told all too regularly, and in often colourful language, to send all migrants back, to have harsh mandatory sentences for a wide variety of crimes and to speed up Brexit!

Second, he and others in the party need to beware of over-emphasising fairness as a key value. It sounds perfectly reasonable and supportable, but as a political concept it is often illusory. There is much that is unfair but necessary in politics. For instance, the “safety net” of state support has to cope with the feckless in the same way as with the thrifty and yet this is clearly unfair. Fairness requires discriminating against the “undeserving poor”. The Tories tried to capture the votes of the “thoughtful and careful” families whom they assessed as taking care only to have the number of children they can afford, by limiting child benefits to two children. It may be “fair” to the former families but it harms the children who fall outside the policy. Where does fairness lie? Liberals know where they stand on such issues.

Ed is very obviously a thoughtful and caring individual and his genuine personableness is a great asset, but as soon as possible he has to select issues which are unique to our party and its philosophy and to keep on emphasising them, even when unpopular. There are many troubled electors out there who are extremely worried about where today’s politics is heading and who will respond to a principled and truthful lead. Ed can and must give it.

 

* Michael Meadowcroft has been campaigning for Liberalism for sixty-two years! He has served in just about every capacity in the party and in elected offices, including MP for Leeds West, 1983-87. He then spent twenty years working in new and emerging democracies across the world

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15 Comments

  • Nigel Jones 4th Sep '20 - 1:17pm

    Michael, your reference to Caron’s article I assume is what she says about bold leadership whether it is initially popular or not and against any tendency towards centrist managerialism. I agree.
    However, going round the country is part of being a party leader for two reasons. One is to engage with the members and inspire our activists; the current crisis has highlighted the need for personal contact. The other is to engage with voters whether or not he agrees with them and engage in a strong but friendly manner; aggressively opposing their views, face to face or from Whitehall, however well that is explained, will turn people off.
    Our new Tory MPs in North Staffs. are being extremely friendly in their messages to people individually and in local media, often not saying much of great significance, just the odd phrase that gets their support. When mentioning government just a little, they present a pleasant picture of how the government is doing well in difficult circumstances not of their own making and how great local people are in playing their part. At the moment their approach seems to be doing the trick, with 4 councillors on Stoke City Council switching from Labour or Independent to the Conservatives.

  • Paul Barker 4th Sep '20 - 1:27pm

    No-one actually likes being asked for money but these sort of letters are normal (& easy to block) & nothing to do with the New Leader so why bring it up in the 1st paragraph.
    Like Carons piece earlier this gives the impression of not accepting the result of the Election for Leader.
    Its time to move on.

  • Paul, time to move on to where? I cannot see anywhere to go, either short or long term. I am advocating a completely fresh start, new logo, new image, new polices and a new name. I for one do not wish to see the Greens take our place, whilst we remain dead in the water.

  • I heard SirEd on Radio Cornwall the day after he was elected and was OK in a conversational sort of way. But now I worry that he is slipping back into the invisible approach to leadership. I can only suppose the party leadership is discussing which parts of the Thornhill report to implement first and the countries first political virtual conference.

  • Graham Jeffs 4th Sep '20 - 6:34pm

    Michael Meadowcroft is absolutely tight concerning the communications from HQ. ‘Patronising drivel’ is all too often the best description for it. The assumption seems to be that the recipients (we members) really aren’t too bright and we need to be told the obvious – which is somehow supposed to enthuse us. In my experience it usually achieves the opposite.

    How nice it would be if we were to receive mature narrative rather than the banal bleating that seems to be the norm. I’m surprised that any MP is happy to have their name associated with these missives – clearly they have been written by someone else.

  • Rif Winfield 5th Sep '20 - 8:42am

    Michel is right to target the drivel which emanates from Party HQ. Not only is it a waste of the limited resources available to the party nationally, but it actually loses support. In 2017 our constituency was lost by 104 votes, a slender margin attributable to the stream of unhelpful centrally produced and mailed-out literature sent out in great volumes (and not even mentioning the candidate’s name or anything about the constituency) which constant stream turned off many probable supporters to an extent that they refused to vote.

  • David Franks 5th Sep '20 - 11:23am

    As usual, Michael Meadowcroft is absolutely right. what we need from our new leader right now is bold and very loud support for radical reformist policies. More of the same, centrist waffle will not advance our cause one bit. Get brave Ed, give us some fire, some energy.

  • David Garlick 5th Sep '20 - 1:41pm

    For goodness sake give the bloke a chance, don’t all umpty about a computer programme and whilst it is important to let him know what you think and feel do try to do it in a positive manner.

  • David Garlick 5th Sep '20 - 1:42pm

    PS money can make a big difference so if you haven’t already coughed up now is the time to do so.

  • Time to bring back Albert Ingham……. most efficacious in every way.

  • Sue Sutherland 5th Sep '20 - 3:14pm

    Paddy Ashdown went on a listening tour of the country, if I remember correctly. I certainly don’t want a leader who tells me what to believe in, doesn’t listen to my reply and then goes off and does what s/he wants to when we have a opportunity to govern. I want a leader who listens, assimilates and then suggests a policy stance which can be put to members. Authoritarianism is an anathema to a Lib Dem.

  • Peter Chambers 6th Sep '20 - 9:58am

    Paddy certainly went on a listening tour. He wrote on of his many books about it, Beyond Westminster.
    Probably Ed knows about this. I still have my copy and remember some of the things Ashdown found in cities, farms, and pits. If you want to understand things outside the Westminster Bubble, you have to go out and look. If you want that to do any good, you have to communicate what you found and convince your followers to take action. Ashdown did.

  • Julian Tisi 8th Sep '20 - 10:14am

    “The party’s elected representatives, its officers and its members should be continually listening and relaying relevant comments back to the leader’s office”
    We only have 11 MPs and they, the officers and even the members hardly reflect the breadth of opinion in the UK. If we’re to win more votes and seats we need to step out of this bubble. And it’s better for the leader to do – and be seen to do – this directly.

    “The problem of going round the country listening is that he will get told all too regularly, and in often colourful language, to send all migrants back, to have harsh mandatory sentences for a wide variety of crimes and to speed up Brexit!”
    And if this is our view of the UK outside Lib Dem areas then no wonder we don’t win! I grew up in Essex and much of that county is portrayed in this way. There’s a grain of truth of course but also a gross simplification; you might be surprised at how receptive many voters would be if we come across as reasonable and clear, addressing their concerns with liberal solutions. But we’ve spend too much of the last 5 years listening only to ourselves and writing off the world outside our bubble as uninformed rabble. Given that only a sentence or two of the leaders speech was ever going to make the news it’s good that he’s been heard saying “we need to wake up and smell the coffee and listen to voters”. Not the most inspiring stuff for members to hear but a good start.

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