Lessons of Coalition: what do the Lib Dems need to learn from the first 3 years?

ldv coalition lessonsWe’re more than three years in. What started in the Rose Garden has turned into a bed of thorns. The quieter summer weeks are as good a time as any to reflect on the key lessons the Lib Dems need to learn from this stint in government. Who knows? We may have a second chance after 2015: best to plan ahead now to avoid the obvious pitfalls we fell into this time (tuition fees, NHS Bill, secret courts) as well as to max-out the successes we’ve delivered (tax-cuts for the low-paid, the ‘pupil premium’, new apprenticeships).

Over the next few days, we’ll be running a daily feature, ‘Lessons of Coalition’ to which those of us who contribute to LibDemVoce will be adding. But we welcome reader contributions as well. The word limit is no more than 450 words, and please focus on just one lesson you think the party needs to learn. Simply email your submission to [email protected] Here’s mine for starters…

Stronger policy development and campaigning on issues that matter to the public (AKA where’s our liberal equivalent of the benefits cap?)

My key take-away isn’t original — it’s one made by Mark Pack last year in a self-explanatorily titled post: The Lib Dems’ policy shortage. As a party we love nothing better than a good policy row. The trouble is we too often allow our debates to be defined reactively by our opponents’ agenda. We passionately argue for/against free schools or the NHS Bill or the top-rate of tax. They’re all interesting debates to be had. But they don’t move us much further towards identifying liberal solutions to improve education or health-care, or to make the tax system fairer.

The three policy successes I identified in my intro — taking the poorest out of income tax, dedicating additional money to pupils from low-income households, opening job opportunities to young people — are practical, liberal ways to create a fairer society that were capable of being delivered in government. And in focusing on jobs, the economy and schools they tackle the major issues raised by voters on the doorstep.

But what’s next? Where are the big ideas to follow-up? Let’s take welfare, for example. The bedroom tax is a crude, unfair attempt to solve a genuine problem: the mis-allocation of housing which means some people are occupying houses with spare rooms while others are under-housed and in dire need of somewhere bigger to live. It’s easy to oppose the bedroom tax, but that won’t fix the problem. We need a better short-term alternative to offer the public, especially as addressing the short supply of social housing will take many years.

Or take immigration, where we have the right policy — an earned route to citizenship for illegal immigrants — but have failed to take up the challenge of persuading the public; instead our leader wants to ditch it rather than attempt the bipartisan approach which was recently approved in the US Senate.

In the easy days of opposition we could only imagine being in government. We lacked the experience of having to get to grips with the nitty-gritty reality of implementable policy detail. We don’t have that excuse now. Instead, our task is much, much harder. Not only do we need the fully worked through policies which give our manifesto credibility and enthuse party activists, we need also to work up the bite-size policies achievable within the compromise of Coalition that will nevertheless move us in a liberal direction. Because if we don’t claim that space, as we so effectively have on taxation but have generally failed to do on public services, we can be sure the other party we’re in Coalition will do it for us, whether Tory or Labour.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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42 Comments

  • David Evans 30th Jul '13 - 8:14am

    Lesson One.

    Realise that the long term strength of Liberal Democracy is more important to the continued wellbeing of the people of this country than anything a Conservative tells you is in the National interest now.

  • One major lesson – never trust the Tories (or Labour) to deliver on any promises whatsoever unless we have their short and curlies in a vice like grip.

    Another lesson: parties, like countries, do not have friends, they have interests. This was a big mistake made by Nick Clegg with the Rose Garden moment. Instead of presenting the Coalition as a hard fought deal involving major compromises on both sides, but more by the Lib Dems on account of our horrendously unfair result due to FPTP, we got the Rose Garden moment. NO MORE ROSE GARDEN MOMENTS, please.

  • Defenestrate Clegg 30th Jul '13 - 9:45am

    In a nutshell, – the voters don’t like Tory enablers.

    Change tack while you can, don’t let Clegg push you further towards the Tories using the excuse you’ve got to fight the Coalition’s corner for 2015.

    Latest You Gov polling for Wales Westminster intention shows Lib Dems 12 points down since 2010 election – at 8%.
    As Prof Roger Scully says on Elections in Wales website, the poll show good news for Labour, bad news for the other parties ”although the outlook for the Liberal Democrats is particularly bleak.”

  • Would not worry too much, we will be a total irrelevance after the next election unless we change tack.

  • Lesson Two

    In coalition agreements, don’t be so weak as to agree to things that massively affect your core vote, while allowing the other party to protect its own core vote. Compare the Tory position that nothing would adversely affect pensioners because they were Tory core vote, with our position that tuition fees for students could depend on a report from the civil service.

  • Take more time if we ever have another negotiation. Do not trust other Party Leaders, and have an awareness that the Leader is not the most influential person in a Party. ( Nick Clegg should have asked if he could trust Osborne, and been aware that the Tories had handled internal discussion of Coalition so badly that there were going to be grumpy backbenchers). and trust the Libdem political thinkers rather than outsiders.

  • Lesson Three.

    Don’t allow your coalition partner to talk you into an agreement that clearly gives them what they want early in the parliament while what you want will take much longer, be subject to a report or even a referendum, and can then be kicked into the long grass.

  • If you make a pledge, stick to it. Even if you think it’s wrong.

    If you think it’s wrong, sack the people who insisted you make it.

    Don’t ever break it, because then people know you cannot be trusted.

    Also, don’t say you won’t let the NHS be privatised, when parts of it obviously are being privatised…

  • “Question: would you repeal Labour’s 2008 Housing Act, which introduced the wedge of discrimination against over-occupation into the private sector?”

    Did it? I had housing assessed as to whether it was too big for my needs when on HB in the early 90s so I don’t think its anything new. LHA assesses housing need on a value of HB entitlement not a crude measure of bedroom numbers, you can rent a house bigger than your assessed need without any penalty if it comes under your LHA level.

    AIUI the 2008 changes also included transitional protection for tenants with pre-existing tenancies, so it only applied to new tenancies – something totally missing from Bedroom Tax.

  • Paul Pettinger 30th Jul '13 - 12:49pm

    Nick Clegg’s very approach to coalition – to own everything – is flawed, and simply (dare I write) ‘… not grown up’. Coalition should always be a professional working relationship with a rival, with one eye on the long term – the Minister who has best exemplified this is Vince.

  • David Evans’ lesson 2 is crucial. When you are relying on backbenchers on either side to support legislation they would bitterly oppose in a majority situation, you have to find a way to force them to support them and linking measures is the easiest way to achieve this. 2 obvious ways of doing this: multi-measure bills, or clauses in bills that they do not take effect until Royal Assent is granted on another. I prefer the second as you would have strange committees taking unrelated legislation in one go with the first.

    For example, I would have paired Lords Reform with Police Commissioners; why should you be able to elect those in charge of the police if you can’t elect legislators? As David Evans says, something that would hit our core vote as much as tuition fees did should have been paired with stopping (not cutting / means-testing but stopping) pensioner benefits such as TV licences and winter fuel. (Let them keep the bus passes as it sustains many bus services otherwise uneconomical.) Boundary changes with electoral reform perhaps? Welfare changes with increases in amounts paid to those awaiting asylum applications? Would keep discipline far stronger if it was more explicit what each side is gaining with each concession.

  • Two big lessons, let the negotiations take as much time as they need & insist that our prospective partners involve their own Party in signing up to whatever is agreed. At the very least have all MPs of both Parties sign any agreement.

  • Geoffrey Payne 30th Jul '13 - 1:45pm

    I didn’t realise during the 2010 general election campaign that the party leadership agreed with George Osborne’s economic policy. If the electorate had known then that there is no doubt that would have made it a much harder campaign, but then people would be less surprised about the coalition that followed. We have certainly had undiluted Orange Book Liberalism since then regardless of what the party thought about it before. Although the Coalition Agreement looked like a good one, we have still had secret courts, free schools and academies, top down marketisation of the NHS, savage cuts in local government and benefits claimed by the poorest people and the treasury trying to run the energy department. The Tories have gone back on being green and of course they stabbed us in the back over the fair votes campaign. Is there more? Ah yes, lack of capital investment, noticeably in housing, the kind of stimulus that could pull us out of the economic mire we are now in.
    What it all comes down to was that the Coalition Agreement was rushed and did not cover everything that it needed to. There is also too much power in the quad, it is too much for 4 people to take on making the decisions they do, and policies such as the bedroom tax are simply incompetent as well as immoral.
    The election dealt us a tough hand as the numbers did not add up for a left of centre Coalition, even if the party leadership or Labour wanted one. However the Tories were incredibly lucky in that I doubt in the post war history of the party we have ever had a more Tory friendly leadership of the party.
    Next time round we need to be clear what we want to ge out of a Coalition. I think for Nick Clegg it was civil liberties, marketising the public sector and cutting taxes.
    For me it would also be civil liberties, plus tackling global warming, reducing poverty and democratising government and public services, empowering the workforce through industrial democracy, an ethical foreign policy, and much more besides. There is a lot of work to do, in some respects we have gone backwards.

  • Simon McGrath 30th Jul '13 - 2:42pm

    @Geoffrey Payne : “For me it would also be civil liberties, plus tackling global warming, reducing poverty and democratising government and public services, empowering the workforce through industrial democracy, an ethical foreign policy, and much more besides. There is a lot of work to do, in some respects we have gone backwards”

    I notice you don’t mention further tax cuts for the low paid.

  • Daniel Henry 30th Jul '13 - 2:59pm

    I’d give two lessons:

    1) Collective Responsibility as it currently stands is not fit for coalitions.
    We need to allow ministers to express what their party would do if in complete control, allowing the electorate to distinguish which party is responsible for which direction.

    2) Better two-way communication with the membership.
    Communication has been very one way, and has often come across as more of a PR exercise for the leadership rather than an honest discussion with the members.
    As a result, members feel frozen out and frustrated, rare meetings like conference being their only place to vent such frustrations, bringing tensions to the events.

    With good two way communication, activists could be brought in early with an honest assessment of the party’s position in government. Bringing them in early would not only give them more opportunity to bring in ideas (I believe industry call it “crowd sourcing”) it would also give them a bit more ownership of the final decision and more understanding of the leadership of how they ended there.

    Would make us much more effective and much more at peace with ourselves.

  • Prepare for all possible outcomes at the next election. My guess is that the Lib Dem leadership were expecting both a Con-LibDem and a Lab-LibDem coalition to be a realistic possibility in 2010. It didn’t work out that way which left the party with a much weaker negotiation position than anticipated. The fact that the party suffered a net loss of seats – despite an increased share of the vote – made the position weaker still.

    At this stage it looks like there will be another net loss of seats at the next election although there is still plenty of time for that to change. It is essential that the party is properly prepared for all three possible coalition negotiating positions including the highly unpleasant prospect of a deal with the Tories being the only realistic coalition.

  • David Evans 30th Jul '13 - 3:34pm

    Lesson 4

    Realise that diversity is our strength and do not allow the centralising and power hungry other party appoint the Secretary of State running the department with greatest responsibility for diversity and sharing power, especially when it also happens to be your own area of strength.

    Also whatever else you do, do not allow them to put one of their main ideologues in charge. Allowing Eric Pickles to be Secretary of State over DCLG was a catastrophic error of judgement and has exacerbated the disaster that has happened to local government base.

  • Where there is scope in the coalition agreement to flesh out individual policies, run nationwide campaigns to engage the public in this detail. Asking people what they want – from a series of options including some which may not be so attractive to us – is what we should be bringing to coalition government. Both Labour and the Tories have the same approach – elect us, we’ll do what we want, you can throw us out at the next election – based on a pattern of five years (or so) in office and five years not.
    This style also helps our party revive – there’s a point to it and activists will feel part of government in a way many have so far not. Campaigning in this way on a national level will work in those seats where we have the MP as well as in those seats where we have one member who is interested in putting out a few leaflets in their neighbourhood.
    A new government is always able to reverse policy – but it would find it much more difficult to reverse a culture of popular involvement in decision-making. I thought we had promised a different style of government – and four blokes sitting in the ‘Quad’ wasn’t the different style of government I had in mind!

  • LDProfessor 30th Jul '13 - 4:51pm

    When in government, whether as a majority or as part of a coalition, keep an open door policy for your party activists. Don’t cower in your Government Office and refuse to meet party activists over contentious policies e.g. Secret Courts.

    For the Deputy Prime Minister to talk of wanting Grown Up Politics and then do this simply beggars belief. It’s stupid and counter-productive and people like me don’t ever forget.

  • Two key points:

    Firstly, the Lib Dem establishment seems to be convinced that they will win support if only they can remind voters of the list of Good Things the Party has delivered in office starting with taking the poorest out of income tax. Not so. Voters give little weight to past achievements but instead support those who articulate a plan, a vision for the future that they like, identify with and think credible. The stand-out example of this is, of course, Churchill who, despite having being immensely popular as war leader, was unceremoniously dumped because the great majority felt they had earned the NHS etc. by their wartime sacrifices. The Lib Dem leadership has always been remarkably naïve about this and continues to cling to ‘facts’ as the path to electoral success.

    Secondly, it’s not policies as such that matter so much as the party’s overallposture. ‘Posture’ is not the collective word for multiple policies because few voters are aware of the policy detail – indeed why should they be? The best example here is Thatcher. She advanced the proposition that unfettered markets were the cure for all known ills which, at the time, captured the zeitgeist. Privatisation wasn’t mentioned in her first manifesto (or only in passing – I forget) but when it came along was immediately popular with the Tory base as it perfectly captured their instinct and was wholly consistent with their posture. So it’s posture first, then policies.

    The Lib Dems in contrast have from the beginning never really had a clear posture, only shedloads of policies each hatched in a different silo – the very antithesis of joined up government. Just why this is so is a bit of a puzzle; probably there are several reasons not least that the leadership has never had a firm grip on the issue. The emergence of the ‘orange book tendency’, has made this a potentially a very hot potato indeed but IMHO the lack of strategic leadership or vision actually dates back to the very beginning of the Lib Dems if not before.

  • Hopefully Stephen Tall won’t mind too much if I interpret his lesson to ensuring we have liberal policies and that we tell the public about them. It could be said we had four areas of policy that we said we would implement – fair taxes, a fair chance for every child, creating green jobs and cleaning up politics. So we got earning of £10,000 tax free, the pupil premium, reformed pensions to link them to growth in earnings or inflation but I don’t think we got green jobs, or got the banks lending again, or fair votes, or an elected House of Lords.

    We didn’t get a reduction in class sizes and an increase in one-to-one tuition. What happened to the £400 pay rise cap for civil servants (a much better policy that limiting rises to a percentage or nothing)? With regard to HomeBuy schemes; hasn’t this government introduced its own (less targeted) versions? What happened to the one-year economic stimulus and job creation package? What happened to the extra 3000 more police on the beat? I am sure there are more.

    Therefore while I agree it is vital that we have policies based on liberal values; it is important to identify why these are liberal policies. The next important thing is to ensure that the public know which policies are ours and then ensure they get implemented. It is also important that no minister does anything outside the coalition agreement without both Parliamentary parties agreeing to it. One of the major failures has been allowing the Conservative to get their policies implemented when they were not in the coalition agreement.

    @ GF

    I think there is some merit in pointing out that the public do not vote for parties for what they have done but what they say they will do. There may also be an issue with regard to “posture” but I reject the idea that the leadership needs to get a grip and set out a vision, as this implies that the leadership can create the vision. The vision is clear to members – the creation of a more liberal society, the problem is that we don’t say how our policies will do this.

    There are other lessons to be learnt but hopefully I have kept my comments within the scope of Stephen’s article.

  • Peter Reisdorf 31st Jul '13 - 7:13am

    For me there is a lesson from the actual formation of the coalition: realise that you are in a strong position! As someone who negotiated a local council coalition put it to me, Andrew Stunnell used to go around the country on behalf of ALDC, advising Council Groups on coalitions. When it came down to the most important negotiations for a coalition, he messed it up!

  • John Carlisle 31st Jul '13 - 8:29am

    Lesson One in any coalition: always be prepared to walk away. The Tories (who I agree are both untrustworthy and disagreeable, but brilliant at manipulation) needed us much more than we needed them. It would have been a real strength to say to them that we are prepared to go to the polls again on fundamental issues. We were actually the party who held most of the cards; but Nick and Danny never used them.
    Lesson Two: only work the biggest issues for the people at home watching the news and paying the bills, i.e. the NHS and economic growth. Don’t give an inch on any points of real principle, e.g. privatisation. The NHS will be our nemesis.
    Lesson Three: understand that a coalition is a continual negotiation and put your toughest, most experienced, negotiators on the frontline for the key issues. When I worked with Tony Newton at the DHSS on their PES negotiations Tony realised he was too “nice” to have an impact on the Treasury, so he sent in his unreasonable, very well prepared and indefatigable assistants – with the implicit message that they were prepared to go to the Star Chamber, if necessary. It worked.

  • Julian Tisi 31st Jul '13 - 9:15am

    An excellent article by Stephen. I agree we should have a small handful of bite sized things that we would do that are clearly liberal rather than say what we will oppose as we did with tuition fees, unless it’s something we would go to the wall to oppose – e.g. repealing of the Human Rights Act.

    I agree with:
    – taking the poorest out of income tax and
    – points based immigration rather than crude limits
    as being liberal policies we should promote.

    I agree with Daniel Henry when he says we need genuine two way communication with members from the leadership as we have not had recently.

    And I agree with Amalric when he says it is vital to ensure that the public know which policies are ours and then ensure they get implemented. It is also important that no minister does anything outside the coalition agreement without both Parliamentary parties agreeing to it. The only thing I would add to this is that I think it does us no harm in the long run to be quite candid about where we have not got everything we wanted in a policy and our reasoning for what we’ve compromised. The public are getting more and more grown up about this – if it looks like we’ve tried our hardest and have good reasons for what we’ve sacrificied and what we’ve got in return they will respect us, even if they don;t agree with the exact decision.

  • andrew purches 31st Jul '13 - 10:27am

    Whatever may or may not be after the next general election, we must put forward a true Liberal agenda that will be strong enough to appeal to the majority of voters who will accept a coalition with either of the two main parties.
    We have really sold ourselves down the river of Tory free market economics and in every aspect of this we can be found wanting. However strong the Osborn’s wallpaper is in covering up the cracks in our economy, it will not hold if the plaster is blown. So please let us see a manifesto that will promise to engineer a rapid growth across all aspects of our economy, leading to a real and sustainable rise in tax revenues, and also to reduce the excessive support that the poor “hardworking” tax payer provides to subsidise the housing rental market through excessive housing benefits paid to cover wholly unreal rent levels charged by the buy to let spec landlords. We should be promising the reintroduction of rent controls and long term security of tenure. This could mean a flood of rental properties coming onto the open market,which is to be desired . We should also promise a ,statutory “living” wage policy that is high enough for those in work to live on, without having to be again subsidised by the tax payer, through tax credits to cover the shortcomings of the labour market who’s ability not pay a living wage to those at the bottom of the income scale is absolutely scandalous. And lastly give much more real and open support to the N.H.S. and,at the same time,promise to hammer through the tax system the wicked returns taken by the P.F.I. merchants from the tax payer from the near bankrupt Hospital Trusts and every other aspect of public life where this form of finance has been used by the Treasury to disguise this level of public expenditure. And, whilst we are at it, bring in much stricter control of the energy and water markets where the customer is also being skinned alive by largely foreign owned corporations. Lastly keep the virtues and benefits of our membership of the European Community load and clear.

  • Jean

    You are being very fair but there are a couple of comments:

    i. The LD were never going to win an overall majority but were possibly going to be in Coalition and, in 2010, it was probable that would be the Tories if anyone. The fact that they seemed like rabbits caught in headlights and have were, in hindsight, stitched up by the Tories really shocks me. It was though they had no idea how they were going to react to this and how they should manage the negotiations. Was there any scenario planning done?

    ii. STRATEGY – unfortunately the leader of the party has to take it when errors are made. He has made too many to be credible. The Pledge, Rose Garden, HoL, AV referendum, changing mind on economy without telling anyone, bringing back Laws – there are just to many. He has been unlucky for some of them but many are due to bad judgement. The good leaders make their own luck (Blair was Teflon man for a long time) and Clegg just hasn’t got it

  • I’m certain the Libdem take on immigration will NEVER persuade the British voting public. Illegal immigrants are seen as law breakers by definition. No modern electorate will be convinced that extending an amnesty to potentially millions of foreign outlaws is good for Britain.

    An “earned amnesty” policy which rewards the flagrant mass disregard for the laws of the land is a suicide note to a seething electorate already furious about mass immigration?

    Clegg recognises the amnesty as a massive vote loser and he is right to want to ditch it.

  • John Carlisle 31st Jul '13 - 11:28am

    Andrew
    The NHS: Real help will come in the form of working with the CGC’s to not commission private companies; but to use internal or local social enterprises. Here is a quote from a very good FT article that reckoned the total value of the work being tendered is £5 billion so far:” Vernon Baxter, a private healthcare analyst and the editor of Health Investor magazine, said relatively few CCGs were sufficiently mobilised and prepared to commission large, co-ordinated contracts on the scale of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough deal, making the outsourcing of smaller, individual services more likely in the short term.”
    Rather than wringing our hands we can find good people to help them get confidence in their commissioning so that they do not surrender to the Sercos and Virgins. My pleas up here in Yorkshire and Humberside have fallen on deaf ears.

  • David Allen 31st Jul '13 - 1:39pm

    “We too often allow our debates to be defined reactively by our opponents’ agenda. We passionately argue for/against free schools or the NHS Bill or the top-rate of tax. They’re all interesting debates …. but they don’t move us much further towards identifying liberal solutions…

    The three policy successes I identified in my intro — taking the poorest out of income tax, dedicating additional money to pupils from low-income households, opening job opportunities to young people — are practical, liberal ways to create a fairer society… (which) tackle the major issues raised by voters on the doorstep.”

    OK, let’s work through these three Labservative issues, and then the three “Lib Dem” issues, and think how the public see them . Labservative first:

    Free schools – Big issue. This might rescue – or ruin – my children’s future!
    NHS – Big issue. I want to know I’ll get treatment when I need it!
    Top rate of tax – Big issue. I hate the rich – Or else – I hate anyone who wants to stop me getting rich.

    So all these issues hit important emotional buttons. Now the “Lib Dem issues”:

    Taking the poorest out of income tax – Damp squib. They’re also paying more VAT and losing benefits.
    Additional money to pupils from low-income households – Damp squib. It goes to the schools, who spend it on what they like, so the people who “benefit” can’t actually see any tangible benefit.
    Opening job opportunities to young people – Damp squib. “Where’s the evidence? There’s massive youth unemployment, and now the Lib Dems want to take credit for that???”

    So – whether fairly or unfairly – the public are just not going to be impressed by this stuff.

    The lesson is – You can’t make a success of coalition by claiming success on a few second-rank issues. You have to feel broadly comfortable with the main thrust of what you are going to agree with the senior partner. If you can’t get to that position, then like Thorpe did with Heath, you have to walk away.

  • Simon Banks 31st Jul '13 - 4:08pm

    Some very good points here, especially Simon’s (no relation). Despite the evident closeness of the Labour/Tory contest in 2010, we didn’t appear to be particularly well-prepared for the situation that occurred. There are six or seven different NOC situations that could arise next time and they can all be plotted and planned for. At least it’s unlikely the markets will be quite so volatile and ready to pounce as in 2010 and we have shown that coalition, whether you like the results or not, has not been chaotic, so the atmosphere should be much more conducive to taking our time.

    It would do no harm to think hard about what the other parties’ positions would probably be and how they would see us and the situation.

    It would also be helpful to do a risk analysis on the impact of dropping or changing key policies. In any coalition agreement, some such unwelcome changes would have to happen, but we seemed to sleepwalk into the tuition fees debacle.

    We need to ask ourselves some hard questions about priorities. Would we, for example, be prepared to ditch our key environmental policies or accept a moderate turn against civil liberties in return for better policies to benefit low-income people or genuine devolution in local government? No, I hope, but what could be shelved?

    How could we reach a position of being able to claim honestly that the government was delivering not just bits of a Lib Dem party agenda, but a Liberal, empowering agenda?

  • @ Amalric,

    “The vision is clear to members – the creation of a more liberal society, the problem is that we don’t say how our policies will do this.

    I don’t agree that the vision is clear. Sure, we all want a more liberal society but what does that actually mean? At one extreme we have those who want a market-driven approach to everything, at the other we have those who favour statist solutions. In opposition everyone could read into LD policies whichever interpretation they preferred; in coalition this doesn’t work and support has halved.

    It’s only natural that members and groups of members will pull in different directions and emphasise different priorities. The job of a leader is to make sense of the ensuing turmoil. He has to be able to divine what is important in terms of running the government effectively and also in terms of voter appeal (not automatically the same thing). He has to work out how to remove any internal roadblocks, remedy any organisational deficiencies and translate party sentiment into doable policy that will carry the membership with him.

    Of course no leader can do all this single handed. He has to be a good listener, able to seek out good advice and good lieutenants. Historically, an inability to do this is usually fatal to ambition, a truth that Clegg looks set to rediscover. This is perhaps not entirely his fault; the top-down and bureaucratic policy-making process LDs lumbered themselves with over 20 years ago really doesn’t work well as we have seen yet it remains a sacred cow. Perhaps, like countries, political parties get the leadership they deserve.

  • Caracatus states my view i.e. N. Clegg made a good move with the coalition challenge then fell on his own sword with the electorate who noted he made mistake after mistake and didn’t learn how to be in government. I offer a vision which might be more trust-worthy: 1. Don’t write off your own party’s principles because you want to turn the party into something you think might be better – supporters will leave the party and join one with stronger principles which that party is seen to maintain through thick and thin; 2. Don’t speak and make sound-bites unless you know you have won them by wide negotiation in the nation and they will be delivered in full with the support of your own party; think and CONSULT with your party and don’t think you “know” when you are just “learning” and often looking pathetic both to your party and the electorate as a whole; 3. Take time to establish yourself and become a statesman because you made your name on television as someone most people hadn’t heard before – but easy come votes are easy lost by wise-guys like you who think they have done something special. I left the party I love because of you – but you don’t care as you became Deputy Prime Minister which is a non-job and you can only block Cameron now.
    I know this comment will not be acted upon because it is about how the electorate see politicians and the Liberal Democrats have joined the un-trusted parties when previously we had principles people trusted we would stand by.

  • @ Julian Tisi

    I agree that we should be more “candid about where we have not got everything we wanted in a policy and our reasoning for what we’ve compromised.”

    @ Andrew Purches

    “We should be promising the reintroduction of rent controls and long term security of tenure. This could mean a flood of rental properties coming onto the open market,which is to be desired”

    I wonder what the liberal case is for such measures? This would lead to a reduction in the number of homes for rent. The way to control rent levels is to increase the number of homes available i.e. build more houses.

    “We should also promise a statutory “living” wage policy that is high enough for those in work to live on, without having to be again subsidised by the tax payer, through tax credits to cover the shortcomings of the labour market who’s ability not pay a living wage to those at the bottom of the income scale is absolutely scandalous.”

    While I agree that wage levels should be increased (and this will lead to less welfare being paid to those in work) and I support the idea of paying people a “living wage” there would be problems in bringing in a statutory living wage. Currently the minimum wage is £6.19 and the living wage is I believe £8.55 for London and £7.45 for the rest of the UK. Therefore we should have a policy for regional rates for the minimum wage and increasing them either above the growth of average earnings or the rate of inflation. To get from £6.19 to £7.45 the minimum wage would need to be increased by 3.2% per year for five years.

    @ David Allen

    While I sort of agree about the three Lib Dem issues picked by David are damp squibs. I still feel that increasing personal allowances is the best way to cut income taxes. However he has ignored that pension reform is our policy and it is important to voters. If only we were better at saying this increase in pensions was because of us!

    @ GF

    “Sure, we all want a more liberal society but what does that actually mean? At one extreme we have those who want a market-driven approach to everything, at the other we have those who favour statist solutions.”

    I remember Lord Conrad Russell talking about Liberalism and hearing him say that it was about controlling power. That is why the market-driven approach is not liberal because there can’t be “perfect competition” and also over time power bases are built in free markets and that is why markets have to be regulated. “Statist solutions” I assume you mean government solutions, which are not all bad (defence, police, education, health), but Liberals need to ensure that the state’s power does not overwhelm.

  • @ Amalric,

    That’s a great point from Lord Conrad Russell and exactly right. Also the conclusions about limiting accumulation of excess market power on the one hand or the abuse of state power on the other.

  • A basic problem for the LibDems in coalition is that the Tories have called our bluff, again and again and again : they have been ruthless about power, we haven’t. Simple.

    The Tories have a load of ‘shovel ready’ positions, and not all worked out policies, based on a clear political principles, opportunistic or otherwise, and a clear understanding of what they need to do to keep headbanger Tory MPs and ‘Daily Gets Worse’-reading supporters on side.

    Crashing into a style of LibDem politics which we nutured in our long years of comfortable hopelessness about achieving top-level power, we must instead be ruthlessly business-like, but no more than what passes for normal in Labour and Tory circles. To paraphrase a well known cliché: ‘we have to be brusque to do good’

    We need a clearly articulated set of mutually-consistent values followed by carefully worked out, evidence-based, POSITIONS, not necessarily policies, on every aspect of life which touches on government and politics, and then use every trick in the book to let people know we have a serious and exciting vision for Britain.

  • Robert Wootton 5th Aug '13 - 10:54pm

    What the party needs to do is to carry out a systems analysis of the existing socio-economic system that prevails in the UK.
    What needs to remembered is that systems have outputs. The purpose of a system is what it does (POSIWID).
    What our system does is to produce obesity, alcoholism, drug addiction, low educational attainment, poverty, a rip off culture, debt,. The question to ask is; how does the party create a system that produces freedom, fairness, justice, educational and physical excellence and financial and psychological well being as its output. Do that and the party will win the next General Election.

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