On the Lib Dem conference polling bump (lack thereof) and what it means for the party

The Labour party’s been enjoying a post-conference bump in the polls on the back of Ed Miliband’s bit of unexpected populism of promising a 20-month energy price freeze. At the weekend, Labour opened up an 11-point lead over the Tories, hitting 42%, its highest level since June.

Of course party conferences frequently distort the polls. We’ll see if the Tories also get a boost from their week’s exposure (or whether the row between the Daily Mail and Ed Miliband has overshadowed it). And then we’ll see if any of these spikes have any kind of long-lasting effect, or — as usual — settle back to their pre-September norms.

But it got me thinking… Where was the Lib Dem poll boost? Well, it did happen. But you’re forgiven for not noticing it.

Looking at the five YouGov polls immediately before the Lib Dem conference, the party averaged 8.8%. In the five YouGov polls immediately after the Lib Dem conference, the party averaged 10.2%. (I’ve used YouGov not because I think they’re necessarily the best polling firm, but because they poll most frequently.)

Generally, though, the Lib Dems tend to suffer from the party conference season. I’ve looked at YouGov’s polling averages in September and October for each of the last six years. Here’s what happens…

2012: Sept = 9.2%, Oct = 9.0%. So -0.2%.
2011: Sept = 9.4%, Oct = 9.1%. So -0.3%.
2010: Sept = 12.5%, Oct = 11.4%. So -1.1%.
2009: Sept = 19.4%, Oct = 17.7%. So -1.7%.
2008: Sept = 14.8%, Oct = 11.7%. So -3.1%.
2007: Sept = 17.4%, Oct = 16.0%. So -1.4%.

That’s right: in each of the last six years the Lib Dem poll rating has drooped in the month following the party conferences. True, the drop was tiny in 2011 and 2012 – but then, as critics would be the first to point out, the party’s rating doesn’t have much further to fall. In fact the party’s polling in the three years since November 2010 has been remarkably consistent:

lib dem support in polls since may 2010

I’ve made pretty clear my view the party will not do as badly as some of the pollsters forecast — ironically enough, the first-past-the-post voting system offers us protection against the worst ravages of a drop in the popular vote.

But, I’m not one of those panglossian Lib Dems who thinks the polls are all rot and it will turn out alright on the night. Truth is, we’re in unchartered waters and I don’t know, not for certain, what the next election will bring. After all, in October 2008 – the same stage of the electoral cycle as we are now – the party was on 11.7% of the vote. We scored double that 18 months later. The situation we’re in now is (of course) completely different.

So the reason I’m pretty phlegmatic is not because I’m complacent about the result; far from it. It’s because I don’t think there’s much the Lib Dems can do that will be a game-changer.

Pull out of the Coalition? Does anyone seriously think the voters will reward us for pulling the plug on the government we democratically chose to form? Replace Nick Clegg? Who else would do better? After all, it’s being in coalition with the Conservatives that’s the unpopular thing. (As would being in coalition with Labour, by the way.) Maybe Vince or Tim would get a honeymoon bounce, but they’d soon kop the same flak Nick has the first time a compromise or trade-off had to be made. As the Institute for Government highlighted here last week, the junior partner in a coalition has very little room for manoeuvre.

We have no option but to see the Coalition through to its bitter end. Not because we’ll necessarily get the credit for doing so, but because we’ll get more blame for not doing so. We knew what we were doing, in May 2010, when we chose the least worst course of action available. Yes, there have been mistakes along the way, big ones, which have made our lives as Lib Dems much, much harder. Ultimately, though, we are living out the consequences, most of them inevitable, of that moment of decision. As Vince Cable said at the time: “It’s going to be bloody awful. But it’ll be less awful because we’re there.” It was true then and is still true today.

* 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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  • uncharted. Not unchartered.

  • Paul in Twickenham 2nd Oct '13 - 8:37am

    But surely the reason why the Lib Dems fall in October is because theirs is the first of the major party conferences. By October we’ve also had the Labour and Tory beanfeasts which will be fresher in the mind of the public. It seems reasonable that you’d see results like these.

    As for this year, the Lib Dem conference struck me (from a distance) as a grim affair. It might have been different for those attending but filtered by TV and newsprint it seemed to be a litany of impotent fury with the leadership and uninspiring messages to the effect of “Lib Dems : making UK government policy slightly less awful”.

    As for your questions, I would suggest that replacing Nick Clegg would be a good first step. His net personal approval rating continues to be about -50% as it has been since Spring 2011: your attitude seems to be a hand-wringing “but what choice do we have?”.

    It seems to me that the catalyst for change could be disastrous results in next year’s Euro elections. If the Lib Dems return 3 MEPs (that’s been my prediction for the last two years and I stand by it now) then Clegg might be asked to consider his position. As the old joke goes “Q. What do Lib Dems stand for? A. Election”.

  • Helen Dudden 2nd Oct '13 - 8:52am

    For me, this election is a bit special, I am working against an MP I supported for 21 years, sorry Don, but you never listened.

    I live in poor housing, Don was not interested. Writing in the local paper, UKIP have tried to win me over. It will not be that Party, I hope that my new Party, will do their very best to resolve the problems we have. I have known them for many years, making the mistake at the last election of not going with those who listen. I have played my part in human rights.

    You went with the Tories, caused so much pain and suffering, now is the time we can have our say. Elections, is not the time to make false promises you wont keep.

  • Next year the Liberal Democrats have their Conference last (I believe), it might be interesting to see if this has any impact on Conference Bounce

  • Ed’s populisms clearly goes down better than Lib Dem populism – unfunded free school meals, distorting markets through government intervention with help-to-buy, etc. I suggest this is because people still listen to Miliband and have a think about what he has to say, whereas everyone made their mind up about Clegg a long time ago and decided to either stick with him to the last or not bother wasting their time listening to anything else he says.

  • @ Helen Dudden

    “You went with the Tories”.

    No, the largest % of the voters did but left them with no overall majority, with the LD/Tory government the only possibility beyond complete fantasy.

  • Mark Blackburn 2nd Oct '13 - 10:51am

    Maybe, just maybe, the reaction to a party’s conference in the polls has something to do with the overall message it gives to the electorate. Labour: clear differentiation, using the word ‘socialism’. Conservatives: clear differentiation, promising a return to toxic Tory ways. Lib Dems: distinct lack of clear differentiation, despite the best efforts of many of us, with the same old ‘it would be even worse without us’ mantra (true, but hardly a rallying call) to take us up to 2015 and apparently beyond.

  • In respect of your tweet sent to Steve Richards –

    Stephen Tall ‏@stephentall 13h
    I merely note that when the Daily Mail smeared Nick Clegg’s father-in-law as a fascist no-one said a thing http://bit.ly/1g1cfEy

    I wasn’t aware that the Mail had published a smear story against Nick Clegg’s father in law, and that to quote you “no-one said a thing”
    Did Nick Clegg publically protest against the article?
    If he did ,all credit to him, and he may decide to join with Milband and make a stand against scurrilous journalism, and if he didn’t, why not?

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Oct '13 - 11:10am

    Replace Nick Clegg? Who else would do better?

    Someone who comes from a background which would give more knowledge and experience of the sort of lives most people live in this country, so less likely to make mistakes due to lack of that knowledge and experience?

    Someone who has “come up through the ranks” as a party activist, and so who knows better what works and what doesn’t work with voters as you face them on the doorstep?

    Someone who has a deeper sense of what they want, and a depth which enables them to resist current fashions, so they are less taken in by whatever are the lines being pushed around the Westminster bubble on what are the best policies and presentation techniques?

    Someone who actually wants to lead the WHOLE of the party, so takes care to make sure it is all on board, and that all strands of opinion in it are treated with respect and given their place in appointments and advice teams?

    Someone who can resist being pulled in by the routine work of being “in government”, and so can remember who put him/her where s/he is and act as a voice for them in government rather than a voice for the government in the party?

    Someone who accepts that the formation of the coalition was a compromise stemming from disappointing election results, falling far short of our ideal, and can effectively get that message across to the electorate?

    Someone who is not a “decent person” because actually there are some aspects of the role which require a ruthlessness and wiliness which very nice decent people find hard?

    Someone who at some time in their life has had to face personal struggle and difficulty and has the strength of character that comes from that?

    Someone who is a bit more sceptical about free market ideology and other aspects of Tory economics, so is more believable when s/he is defending the latest compromise and doesn’t give the impression that s/he is really supporting it because s/he thinks it is a good idea in the first place?

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    Ah, so someone who doesn’t exist?

  • A Social Liberal 2nd Oct '13 - 1:03pm


    Apart from being a decent person (and I disagree with Mathew here), which of the above traits does Farron not have?

  • ASL

    If you believe Clegg is a better leader, then he needs to be in place in 2015. If you believe he is a terrible leader, he needs to be in place to cop the inevitable flak and leave the field free post election for a new leader.

  • paul barker 2nd Oct '13 - 1:28pm

    Clegg is vastly more popular than his party, if you beleive in “The Polls” . On the last leader approval survey Clegg got 24%, The Libdems have been averaging 10 or 11%.
    On the wider question of what the Polls mean, ther is a regular poll that asks voters what Result they would like in 2015. The last one, a week ago had 30% wanting a Labour victory & 26% a Coalition involving The Libdems. Is that a better guide than asking dumb questions about an Election “Tomorow” that never happens ?

  • Simon Bamonte 2nd Oct '13 - 1:52pm

    Maybe there is no post-conference “poll-bounce” for the LDs because nobody knows what they stand for or what they would do in government. The message I got from Clegg’s speech was basically “we’ll try to stay in government and work with whatever party will have us.” Unlike Labour and Tory conferences, I saw no major policy announcements (apart from free school meals which isn’t a 100% LD policy anyway). There was no major ambition to make peoples’ lives better from Clegg, I saw nothing on offer which offered me hope and an alternative to the bash-the-weak sentiments which prevail in this government. At least the Tories played to their base by promising tax cuts and more demonisation of the unemployed, while Labour pledged to sack ATOS, scrap the bedroom tax and do something about fuel poverty.

    The LibDems seem bereft of ambition or any answers, apart from “let’s stay in the centre and work with whoever will have us.” Not brave, not bold, not hopeful: just more of the same.

  • Paul Pettinger 2nd Oct '13 - 2:18pm

    Nick Clegg has been an appalling leader. What is the point of him being leader at the election if he won’t be able to take all of his Party into a second coalition with the Tories and if Labour will demand that he resigns? I don’t buy the narrative that there is nothing we can do for a moment.

  • David Allen 2nd Oct '13 - 2:26pm

    “Replace Nick Clegg? Who else would do better?”

    Five years ago the constant refrain within Labour was “Replace Gordon Brown? Who else would do better?”

    The polls consistently showed that some five or six Labour people would all do better, and would gain some four percent more votes. Eventually Brown resigned just after the election, and Labour’s polling figures shot up four points. Sadly for Labour it didn’t happen before the election, or they would have overtaken the Tories.

    Labour messed up big time, didn’t they?

    Couldn’t we learn to do better than they did?

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Oct '13 - 2:36pm


    “I merely note that when the Daily Mail smeared Nick Clegg’s father-in-law as a fascist no-one said a thing http://bit.ly/1g1cfEy

    But the Daily Mail has a tradition of LIKING fascists. So how come this article didn’t give us a boost? 🙁

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Oct '13 - 2:43pm

    @paul barker:

    “Clegg is vastly more popular than his party, if you beleive in “The Polls” . On the last leader approval survey Clegg got 24%, The Libdems have been averaging 10 or 11%.”

    Every time you repeat this rubbish on this site, I wonder seriously whether you have any belief in it or are just airing it to ‘troll’.

    Personal ratings of 24% for ‘doing a good job’ can not be compared rationally with party poll ratings. Many of those saying Nick Clegg is doing a good job are people who would no more consider voting Lib Dem than they would brush their teeth with a skunk’s tail. Nor, indeed, can these figures be compared directly with the ‘net negative’ ratings of Nick Clegg which are approximately -50% at the moment.

  • In a nutshell standing still is no use, a change cannot make matters any worse, there is a slim chance it will lead to an improvement. If there are to be leaders debates then a fresh face and voice will help more than more of the same, which has , is and will continue to be a drag around any prospect of progress or betterment. For gods sake lets do it, things can only get worse if we do not.

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Oct '13 - 3:35pm

    The real problem is that no-one in and around the top of the party has the slightest idea how to increase the LD poll ratings.

    So they are simply concentrating on trying to hold the seats we already have and gain a handful of others. A defensive strategy that also abandons most of the country.

    They run a campaign on jobs that is really only designed for these seats (and is not really a campaign at all). They pick up straws in the polling wind when the overall trend is at best flat (on the bottom) or even sinking again.

    They have no idea at all how to save European seats next May.

    (And no – I don’t know the answer to most of these questions either, though I know what might help get more the party campaigning again. But no-one listens to me either!).


  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Oct '13 - 3:57pm


    Ah, so someone who doesn’t exist?

    I don’t know. How am I supposed to know? As we have at present enough MPs to fill a charabanc rather than just a taxi, there are some I don’t know much more about than just their name. How do I know none of these fits the bill?

    We seem to have a process whereby the press puts forward certain names as potential leadership candidates, and then we are just supposed to make our choice from them. Those names tend to be the sort of person those running the press favour. The result is that mostly our choice of potential leaders is skewed to the political right of the party.

  • @Tony Greaves – there’s enough around who know your experience that if you start shouting what needs to be done, they’ll listen!

    I generally agree with Stephen. I don’t agree with a lot of the coalition’s policies – certainly not the implementation of the bedroom tax (though not necessarily the idea behind it) and Cameron’s swivelly-eyed policies announced today (please make these only for Tory consumption and not the coalition!) I thought from the start that when we went in, it would have to be for the full term of government, and still do. I also don’t think that replacing Clegg now would make any difference – maybe in early 2012, yes, but like Labour we’ve missed the boat on that one. Sadly, we’ll just have to limp along as best we can and make sure there are enough people who value a liberal, centre-left party around after the next election to rise from the ashes.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Oct '13 - 5:54pm

    My gut-feeling is that the best interests of the party would be served by replacing Clegg, but not too soon. It should be near the election so that a new leader can distance themselves from the bad parts of the party’s actions in government, reassure anti-tory tactical voters without scaring off the anti-Labour ones, and enter possible post-election coalition talks with either party without prejudice.
    Also, wait-and-see might give time for the coalition and the party’s fortunes to improve making it look like Clegg has done the right thing all along, or for more of the blame to fall on Clegg’s shoulders and keep everybody else’s clean.
    Any new leader now would have plenty of time to become damaged by 18 months of a hostile press.

    I feel the need to add a disclaimer that this is view is based upon a pragmatic (cynical?) approach by the party rather than a principled one. It is not what I would want the party to do in an ideal world, but in an ideal world we would not be starting from here.

  • Max Wilkinson 2nd Oct '13 - 6:01pm

    I tend to disagree with the ‘who else’ argument for leadership.

    I do a large amount of door-knocking and find that, when you get past the general negative feelings about the Lib Dems, our ‘soft Lib Dem’ support (and a fair amount of former definites) are put off by Clegg. We can’t carry on pretending that his massive unpopularity with the electorate – consistently proven by polls over a considerable period of time – won’t lose us votes.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Oct '13 - 6:25pm

    Nick Clegg had a fantastic chance to announce two vote grabbing policies around conference time and he squandered this chance by announcing 5p plastic bags and extending free school meals to the rich. Both of these policies increased the amount of money the state is sending to charity and the people have had enough of it.

    There needs to be a change in tactic from announcing mildly popular policies at best, to fantastic ones. It is just like the government’s attitude towards economic planning “this is good so let’s do it” when the question should be “what is our best option?” – Ed Balls gets this, which is why he is uncomfortable with HS2.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Oct '13 - 6:32pm

    It is not just the fact it increases the amount the state sends to charity either – it is the fact that coincidently the lobbyists get looked after. We should start by saying “what is the best way we can reduce waste or help families” – the idea that coincidently we have arrived at sending lobbyists money is ridiculous.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Oct '13 - 6:54pm

    So that I’m not just moaning, with regards what to do about it: have a leadership contest. Tuition fees, Syria, there’s been too many major mistakes as well as the poor poll rating that seem to be stuck. I mean, what else would qualify for a leadership contest?

  • Andrew Suffield 2nd Oct '13 - 8:11pm

    I don’t know. How am I supposed to know? As we have at present enough MPs to fill a charabanc rather than just a taxi, there are some I don’t know much more about than just their name. How do I know none of these fits the bill?

    There are 55 currently, and I know enough about them to tell you offhand that you haven’t described any of them – and if I had to pick the people who came closest, Clegg would certainly be in the top five. That’s why he got elected as leader in the first place.

    The problem here is that all our politicans are human, and as such they’re flawed and don’t really have any solutions to most problems that society faces. As long as you keep looking for something other than this you’re just going to be disappointed. When you add in the demands of what it takes to get elected in the first place then you usually end up with pretty much the same kind of people. Compared to the other two parties, I have to say that most of our MPs are quite a bit better than the average, and if we could field 50 people like Clegg then we’d probably have the most effective government that our nation has ever seen – and that’s not because he’s some kind of superstar genius, because he’s not, it’s just because the number of MPs who are even remotely competent is far, far lower than you anticipate.

    We seem to have a process whereby the press puts forward certain names as potential leadership candidates, and then we are just supposed to make our choice from them.

    No, absolutely not. The process runs within the party and outside the eyes of the press. MPs put their own names forward if they want the job.

  • All this Clegg bashing is pure nonsense. He has been consistently pilloried and scapegoated by the press and more fool the lot of you, even you’ve started to buy into it.

    Do you not realise that any leader we elected would be similarly massacred and pilloried in exactly the same way?

    The thing I despair of that there are so many of you who don’t realise (a) no-one could have done a better job; (b) there’s no-one even remotely suitable for the task of replacing Clegg, particularly after Chris Huhne’s debacle.

    Any junior party going into government at a time of massive cuts is going to get the raw end of things. We’ve done a huge amount of good and yet this is not being communicated to people, partly because of attitudes like those posted above.

    We’ve got a lot to offer the country, we’ve got to get out there and tell voters what we’ve actually done (not what the hostile press tell them we’ve done) and what we could do in the future.

  • I checked the record of Lib Dem MPs to see who had a truly unblemished record on a series of key votes where, in my opinion, honesty, courage, and liberal principles were at stake. To my dismay, after checking only four votes I was down to a mere 2 MPs. The killer was, to my surprise, not the tuition fees vote (I had forgotten how many Lib Dems had actually kept their pledges) but the secret courts vote back in March. Which the party is now against, but that’s rather like securing the latch when the horse is out of the gate.

  • Steve Griffiths 2nd Oct '13 - 9:28pm

    Kieth Legg

    “Sadly, we’ll just have to limp along as best we can and make sure there are enough people who value a liberal, centre-left party around after the next election to rise from the ashes.”

    If only we were still that! There may still have been a good supply of activists around to take the fight to the electorate , rather than this sort of genteel decline we are now facing.

  • David Allen 2nd Oct '13 - 10:48pm

    It’s just the same as with Labour and Gordon.

    Harriet Harman, despite concerns about misjudged feminism, would have done better than Gordon.
    Alan Johnson, despite concerns about lack of depth, would have done better than Gordon.
    David Miliband, despite concerns about po-faced Blairism, would have done better than Gordon.
    Ed Miliband, despite concerns about weakness of character (since borne out!), would have done better than Gordon.

    Vince Cable, despite concerns about age, indecisiveness and susceptibility to flattery, would do better than Nick.
    Tim Farron, despite concerns about religious belief and possible lack of solidity, would do better than Nick.
    Ed Davey, despite concerns about lack of definition, would do better than Nick.
    Tony Greaves, despite concerns about age and lack of ambition, would do better than Nick.
    Shirley Williams, despite considerable concerns about age etc,, would do a sight better than Nick.
    Jo Swinson, despite concerns about who-she?, would do better than Nick.
    Paul Marshall (on the basis that the organ grinder is better than the monkey) would do better than Nick.
    David Laws and Danny Alexander? OK, they wouldn’t do better than Nick.
    Rod Jones, decent Rushcliffe Councillor picked mostly at random, despite inexperience would do better than Nick.
    Man off the street would do better than Nick, but we could do better than that, let’s do it!

  • David-1 Interested to know who your two MPs were?

    RC What worries me about your views is that when, finally, there is a Grimond style revolt and revival in the Party, people like you will sit there and accuse activists of “destroying the party”. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • @Tim13: Mike Crockart and Julian Huppert. Neither of whom I expect to be chosen as party leader any time soon!

  • Andrew Suffield 2nd Oct '13 - 11:37pm

    What worries me about your views is that when, finally, there is a Grimond style revolt and revival in the Party, people like you will sit there and accuse activists of “destroying the party”

    One of my observations in politics is that no matter what the political situation or the issue of the day is, it’s always the same people who are talking about “destroying the party” and it’s always the same people who reject hate and look for hope. So I rather doubt that will happen, and this says more about the people involved than it does about the politics.

  • Jonathan Brown 3rd Oct '13 - 12:30am

    I agree with a lot of what RC has to say, despite many misgivings about things we’ve done – and Nick Clegg have done – over the last few years.

    Something else that I think we’re in danger of overlooking is that we risk missing something in the anti-Clegg polls. After a massive surge in (personal and party) popularity at the last election, 75% of the population voted against Clegg/us. Many of them will have at some point during the election campaign thought somewhat highly of him. Probably not many hated him. But lot of the hate Clegg gets now is coming from people who didn’t previously hate him, but didn’t support him or us anyway.

    In my albeit limited experience of talking to people basically uninterested in politics, there is quite a bit of respect for Clegg. I’m not suggesting that people are uncritical, but there are plenty of people who think he’s played a bad hand reasonably well – certainly so when reminded of a couple of our big successes like the income tax threshold raise. What I think Clegg is counting on – and that we have little choice but to hope for – is that many of these people who basically don’t appear on the radar between elections will, when they think about politics for the first time in 5 years at the next election, be willing to back him/us. Many of these people when asked by a pollster may well be saying ‘I don’t support Clegg’, but it’s possible that there are quite a few of them who actually don’t feel very strongly about any politicians, and who’ve missed a lot of the mudslinging.

    I don’t predict that this will help us. No one can really predict what will happen at this stage as we are in uncharted territory. I’m just saying that there is a source of centrist potential voters that will only become visible during the last few weeks of the general election campaign. One of the reasons I think that replacing Clegg wouldn’t help us is that we risk missing out on one of Clegg’s qualities. We are all here by definition unusually interested in politics, and know more than average about it. But Clegg may be able to appeal to quite a number of disinterested centrist voters at the next election in a way that any replacement we might choose will not be able to.

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Oct '13 - 12:51am

    I’ve thought of another major reason why we should have a leadership contest: Nick’s Eurofanaticism splitting up the centrist vote. If we are going for the centrists then we should go for all of them.

  • I agree with Caracatus “After all, he (Nick Clegg) more than anyone is responsible for the mistakes and he more than anyone is preventing any recovery in the opinion polls.” Therefore I would like to see a new leader elected after the May elections next year so the new leader can influence the manifesto writing group and our last autumn conference before the general election, which can pass policies setting out a truly radical Liberal Democratic programme for the UK.

    None of the 27 MPs who voted for tuition fees should be considered. Of the MPs named by David Allen this only leaves:
    “Tim Farron, despite concerns about religious belief and possible lack of solidity, would do better than Nick”.
    To these I would like to add the two David-1 was left with:
    Mike Crockart, despite never having heard of him and his having career in computers, but with eight years’ experience as a police officer.
    Julian Huppert, despite not have working in industry but with eight years’ experience as a county councillor.

  • Personally I think changing leader would not help at this stage – there is no one to replace him and it would not fundamentally change things, allowing also the other parties to see you tearing yourself apart as it would end up being quite vicious I think.

    In terms of what happens after 2015 we will see 4 scenarios (there are more more it becomes complex)

    A Labour Majority

    Best result for LD as party I personally think – a period in opposition to rethink how coalition worked in practice, and be better prepared for the next time. A (probable) leadership election to set out the ideological approach for the future without the glare of being in Government. Leaves you stronger with a clearer message to give in 2020.

    A Tory Majority

    You may see the above but there is a risk of sticking with the current leadership. Not credible as an Opposition as cannot oppose policies defended since 2010. You may be able to have the fundamental review as above but I think it is less clear with a Tory administration.

    A Labour/Lib Coalition

    Is this going to happen in practice? Labour may not play ball and your current leadership cannot credibly go into Government in my view. There would be then be a divisive leadership battle in the glare of being in Government with a Coalition partner and there is a likelihood of a schism or your party being seen as mercenary

    A Tory/Lib Coalition

    Current leadership stays. 10 years in a Tory-led Government would lead to you becoming a more ‘right-wing’ organisation and would to you being seen as mini-Tories. No desire to review how coalition really worked for you as a party – considered a success as you are still in Government. Difficult for you to have a single identity moving to 2020 – defections or a split possible. Short term looks good but it fundamentally influences your philosophy and longer term may not be what you need. The Lib Dems will still exist but in what form, and with what type of membership?

    These are my personal views and the black/white nature is influenced by FPTP – the voting system makes it difficult for small parties to have the same freedom as on the continent.

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Oct '13 - 5:50am

    Thanks John. Yes I think the need for more democracy is one of the biggest facing the country.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Oct '13 - 11:06am


    All this Clegg bashing is pure nonsense. He has been consistently pilloried and scapegoated by the press and more fool the lot of you, even you’ve started to buy into it.

    I have been an active member of the party for 35 years. During the time I was a councillor in Lewisham I played a major part in the party growing from a squeezed permanent third place in what was seen as classic Labour-Tory marginal territory to the party making a serious shot at winning and coming second in all three Parliamentary constituencies in the borough. So I hope you might think I have some experience that means what I say might be of some use.

    I am a liberal, and fundamental to my liberalism is the idea that power should be shared. Fundamental to my liberalism is the belief that the leader of a democratic organisation should be its servant, not is master. It is NOT, in my opinion, the job of the leader to dictate down. It is the job of the leader to listen to what comes up from the members, to advise them, yes, from what s/he can see from the top, but ultimately to do what they want. I believe that as the leader is the servant of the members, the members should be free to replace the leader, and that should not be considered a particularly remarkable thing to do. It is not “bashing” the person who is leader to come to the decision that he or she is not quite the right person for the job, it is simply making sure that the organisation runs as effectively as possible.

    When I was Leader of the Liberal Democrat group in Lewisham, I always made it clear that if the group felt someone else would be better doing the job, I’d be happy for them to put that person in my place, I would not regard it as an attack on me. I happily stepped down twice to allow someone else to do the job.

    This ideal has motivated me throughout the years I have been active in politics – a strong opposition to “big man” politics, to the Leninist idea that a political party is all about formulating a rigid political line which must be accepted and obeyed without question by all members, to the aristocratic idea that there are only certain rare sorts of individuals who are capable of exercising leadership.

    I am very much opposed to this idea that any debate within a party is bad because it is a sign of “disunity”, that vigorous public expressions of opinion as part of that debate, helping it to move forward so we can come to a satisfactory compromise conclusion amount to the party “tearing itself apart”. Just because the press has an aristocratic/Leninist view of politics does not mean we should. Argument, and expression of difference are a big part of what democracy is about. The denigration of them in the press is an attack on democracy – we should resist it.

    When you write “you’ve started to buy into it”, that would suppose that I thought Nick Clegg was fine until I started reading criticisms of him following the formation of the coalition, and that I have not a mind in my head to be able to think these things through myself. What nonsense. If you look back at what I have written in Liberal Democrat Voice, you will see I have been a consistent critic of Clegg throughout, from the very time he was being pushed forward by the right-wing press as “obviously the next leader of the party”. I gave nine reason why I felt Clegg was deficient, that was enough, though I could have given more. Some of them are things he cannot help, others are not. Some of those things were there when he was first being pushed forward, some of them have only emerged as problems since he became leader or since he became Deputy Prime Minister. Some of the areas where I would say Clegg is deficient but have not mentioned here are best not mentioned, because it would be too much a personal attack – that should not be done in a public forum, though such talk is necessary in private. Which management team when considering employees and whether they are suitable in their roles and whether they should be switched in roles would not mention personal factors? We are a democratic party, which means all of us are the management team of the person we currently employ as our leader, Nick Clegg.

    Although I am a strong critic of Clegg and the direction he is taking the party, I have always jumped to his defence in terms of the necessity of formation of the coalition and the limited impact the party can have under the circumstances. Indeed, one of the things keeping me in the party is that I find much of the criticism of the coalition to be childish, more party political knockabout than serious analysis. I don’t want to be thought of as another of those who start off with “nah nah nah nah nah nah – you’re propping up the Tories” and end up with an argument which in reality means they want to prop up the Tories even more by opposing the idea of coalition and wanting an electoral system whose distortion fixes in position the two main parties and means we would have a majority Tory government in place right now if it were not for the hard work of Liberal Democrat activists over the years in building up a viable third party, albeit one still savagely disadvantaged by that electoral system. It saddens me that despite my constant criticisms of Clegg’s leadership, as soon as I do defend the party’s position, I find I get attacked by simplistic minded people who, like you RC, assume I have no free mind in my head, and, being so sucked into the Leninist view of political party, can’t even think logically so just assume what I am saying comes from the sort of mindless party loyalty they suppose must exist in anyone who is a member of a party.

    I don’t know whether there is someone better than Clegg in all nine areas I’ve suggested he has problems. I find it hard to believe there is no-one at all who could not have done at least as good a job. By the way, I would not number Tim Farron among them. I have made clear in the past why I have no time for Tim Farron, but one reason can be given, it is enough. He, more than anyone else, was pushing the line over how we should all be rejoicing that “75% of our manifesto policies have been implemented”.

  • Peter Chivall 3rd Oct '13 - 12:04pm

    The crunch will come next May. Not only will we be squashed by the Big Two and UKIP in an election where Europhobes are alway more motivated to vote than those who broadly accept the European status quo, we are also in danger of ending up behind the Greens.
    Despite the research of Ryan Coetzee showing how 50% of our lost support could be restored to us by our distinctive ‘green’ agenda, the Manifesto Themes motion had redacted every single mention of ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ from the excellent Working Party document (except for ‘Green Investment Bank – surprise?) . Even Duncan Brack, summating for the movers, had to apologise to Conference and said he would try to get the green elements restored.
    We thus enter the Euro elections, and later the General election period with a bland, wishy-washy lowest common denominator version of Liberal Democracy. We will face wipeout in the Euros because the public will have no real reason to vote for us and potential activists will have no reason to knock on doors for us other than to support a Council candidate or Councillor they like. To me it feels like October 1974 under Thorpe all over again.
    It’s not Clegg per se, but the team he has gathered around him who seem to have no conception of the reasons we exist as a Party after 40 long years of building, and of the motivations of both activists and voters.
    Let’s face it, if someone wants a vaguely right-of-centre ‘steady as she goes’ Party to vote for, Cameron will give them one (and keep his swivel-eyed tendency well hidden): if they want a mildly progressive, compassionate Party of the centre-left, Milliband will give them one (and the Trades Union/ class warriors will be well out of sight). We are going to be stuffed!

  • Robert Hamilton 3rd Oct '13 - 12:20pm

    I got lost just trying to find how my Libdem MP voted in secret courts; so I impress with your research about how all our MpP’s voted. You criteria of “liberal principles at stake” is crucial to your judgements. Can you help me find a good definition/understanding of these priciples. My local activists struggle as I do. The description of them on the LIBDEM site: “The Liberal Democrats are working for a stronger economy in a fairer society enabling every person to get on in life” ,could be used by any UK party.

  • Mark Argent 3rd Oct '13 - 1:19pm

    I wonder if the absence of a bounce around the conference might also be to do with the way political conferences work.

    My sense is that the Labour and Tory conferences are a rallying of the party faithful, both at the conference itself and, via the media, in the country — in effect that is a giant publicity stunt/opportunity.

    For the Lib Dems there is a rich tradition of actually consulting the party and debating things at conferences. That is really important, but it doesn’t make for the same publicity opportunity. I wasn’t at this conference, but can remember previous ones where I wondered whether the journalists reporting the conference had been at the same event, as if they are kitted up to “relay a message” or “report a row”, but not witness genuine debate — party democracy in action.

    If we couldn’t cope with difference and diversity we would be unable to be in coalition.

    The party conferences do seem to be important times for the party to engage with things. Perhaps the question is not what has to happen to enable a poll bounce after the conference, but what has to happen to get across the message that our way of working and our way of being are a little different from other parties.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Oct '13 - 1:38pm

    A Social Liberal

    Apart from being a decent person (and I disagree with Mathew here),

    Well, I put that in as a sort of damning by faint praise. Really it depends what is meant by “decent”. Actually, of course I want someone who is grounded by a good sense of the ethical. However, I was struck by the way that Clegg is so often described by his defenders as a “decent person”, and even those who have turned against him find it hard to drop that. As a good example, when Sarah Teather was interviewed in the Observer and said she would not stand again due to profound disagreement with the way the party was going, she mentioned her continuing belief that Nick Clegg was a “decent person” and the way that worked against her deciding to stay on and fight back.

    I think it is part of what people see in Clegg which makes him seem to them a “decent person” that he does want to work constructively with those who are around him, to take on what they are saying, and assume they are decent people like he is. Unfortunately, that means if he is surrounded by right-wing advisers, like Richard Reeves with his “b- off to Labour all you party members who don’t think liberalism=thatcherism+gaymarriage-kingandcountry” he doesn’t have the strength to stand up to them, and if he is surrounded by Tory ministers he assumed they are all good people and want to go along with them and doesn’t stand up to them as much as a more wily and ruthless person would. Of course, that’s assuming he doesn’t have the personal background that makes it hard to see the flaws in the liberalism=freemarket line, and doesn’t already have a sympathy to it anyway. Well, we know he very much DOES have that personal background. I still can’t judge, however, the extent to which he’s a conscious right-wing plotter, and the extent to which the other factors have pushed him that way without him realising it.

  • Simon Banks 3rd Oct '13 - 3:12pm

    Simon Balmonte:

    You seem to have skimmed the events at the Conference lightly. There was plenty to indicate where we wanted to go.

    As for no major policy announcements, there was the free school meals; but on the whole, yes, we don’t do major policy announcements at our conference. That’s because we don’t work out policy in secret or by the rabbit-from-hat method. Conference decisions tend to finalise and amend policy that’s been no secret for some time because our methods of policy formation are quite open and participative.

  • Simon Banks

    The free school meals policy was a ‘rabbit out of a hat’ policy though wasn’t it? Can you point me to where this has been decided, or where LD have supported it when introduced elsewhere?

    Doesn’t the fact that the Tories and Labour have already indicated support for this mean that it was really a ‘jump on a bandwagon’ policy as well?

    As to the point of how policy is arrived at – that is good and I accept your argument.

    It is, therefore, rather disappointing to see though that members of your party on here and in Parliament have spent the last year whining about the Labour Party’s lack of policies when they are going through a policy revision process in preparation for 2015.

    I agree that your policy making forum is quite open – it is just a pity you don’t actually follow through on them. It is also worrying that Laws is in charge of the manifesto – that doesn’t fill me with confidence

  • Paul Pettinger 3rd Oct '13 - 6:45pm

    Matthew H – I wish you would save your excellent analysis for LDV articles of your own

  • Paul Pettinger 3rd Oct '13 - 6:57pm

    Tim Farron is an enthusiast for the Government’s economic policies, so I don’t see how he can be fairly painted as embodying a fresh direction. As I understand it he has not turned down the opportunity to join the Government.

  • I feel genuinely sorry for Nick, but the simple fact is the Clegg ‘brand’ is destroyed, it’s lost trust and I don’t see what in 18 months he can do about this.

    I think we made a few critical mistakes in 2010 that continue to stuff us.

    Firstly, we didn’t work out what from our manifesto what the voting public associated us with. After Iraq, most people would have said tuition fees, this had to be a red line, not electoral reform which should have just being a bargaining tool.

    Secondly, we shouldn’t have agreed to collective government and the coalition agreement should have being a series of bargains. In other words our ministers could go on telly and say , I think (for example) police commissioners are garbage, but we are voting for this because we will get x policy.

    Thirdly, Our presentation to begin with was appalling, It was to easy to portray us as proto tories because of the Rose Garden and other events. We should have had that event in an office and the ethos should have being one of it’s just business rather than bosom buddies. And what was our presentation strategy over Tuition Fees (I suspect we didn’t have one) if so who got the boot from clegg’s inner circle for that one?

    Because of these blunders (which Nick is partially responsible for) I don’t see how we can realistically go into the next election as him as leader, lets get one in next conference and move forward.

  • ChristopherPritchard 3rd Oct '13 - 7:19pm

    I don’t quite know how the polls are supposed to work. I’m wondering who gets asked, and how the pollsters ensure that this is truly representative. If the polls around 15 April 2010 had had an impact on the election, apparently between 28% and 33% of people would’ve voted Lib-Dem. As we know, they didn’t. Very often people might simply use the polls to take a swipe at whoever’s in power but still vote for them on election day as the lesser of several evils.

    I’m not a member of any political party, but having watched the closing leaders’ speeches of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat conferences, I found Nick Clegg’s to be the most inspiring. After the results handed to the politicians by the electorate in 2010, I’m not sure what else the Lib-Dems could have done, other than go into coalition with the Conservatives, The numbers simply wouldn’t have worked any other way. I’m glad there is a Lib-Dem voice in government. Assuming that Nick Clegg was not exaggerating about some of the things he had to say ‘no’ to (e.g. profit-making in state schools, firing workers at will without any reasons given, ditching the Human Rights Act), it’s a good thing to let the rest of us know what the Lib-Dems have stopped from happening while in government. That is just as important as what has been accomplished (e.g. the pupil premium, a bank devoted to green energy, over a million people training as apprentices … I’m giving the benefit of the doubt and assuming these are not exaggerations too). Being on a below-average salary, I’ve personally noticed the positive difference in my monthly wages as a result of the tax threshold being raised every year the Lib-Dems have been a part of this government.

    I find myself disillusioned with Labour, and am still very wary of the Conservatives. I am watching the Lib-Dems hoping that there will be at least one main party I can confidently vote for in 2015. From what I’ve seen so far regarding the economic crisis, we can’t yet be confident that the worst is over. I’m looking for a party with a heart, who will not savage the weakest members of society, but also some economic nous that will help to protect this country from the worst of the storm. I’m not sure yet if the Lib-Dems really are that party, but they look like the best choice out of the main three.

  • As ever Matthew Huntbach speaks for rank and file members who pounded the streets over the years because we have ideals. These have never included punishing the poorest in our society. They have never stooped to accepting the tory distinction between the ‘strivers’ and those on welfare. Clegg et al have never publicly repudiated this insidious right wing propaganda and distanced our party from it. Clegg has never and will never recover credibility since tuition fees and subsequent debacles (AV & Lords reform). He is a national joke as far as joe public is concerned.
    So the Party had better get real!

  • David Evans 3rd Oct '13 - 11:10pm

    @Paul Pettinger

    Where on earth do you get the “Tim Farron is an enthusiast for the Government’s economic policies” from? He’s my MP, so I pay quite a bit of attention and I have not seen anything to support such a statement.

  • A Social Liberal 3rd Oct '13 - 11:58pm

    Robert Hamilton

    Check out the preamble to the party constitution – a good starting point for Liberal principle

  • A Social Liberal 4th Oct '13 - 12:03am


    With regards to your damning with faint praise. I apologise. I don’t know if it is the yorkshireman in me or my time in the army, but I’m afraid subtlety is sometimes beyond me

  • Paul Pettinger 4th Oct '13 - 12:19am

    David Evans – not only is he an enthusiast, but an enthusiast that the Party supports the Government’s economic policies, as he made clear during the economy debate at Conference. People who want greater investment should look elsewhere – he didn’t even support the SLF’s housing amendment.

  • @ Robert Hamilton
    “Can you help me find a good definition/understanding of these principles.”

    As A Social Liberal stated the preamble is a good place to start. Here are my ideas on a possible answer I expect others would have different emphasis and would include and exclude different items. I suppose you could start with the idea of individual freedom. Include the J.S. Mill principle that individuals should be free to do anything so long as it doesn’t harm someone else. This is why liberals support green policies. I recall Conrad Russell saying liberalism is about the control of power. Historically we wanted to control the monarch and allow religious freedom, then we wanted to free people from the control of the landed class. We have also wanted to free people from the power of Trade Unions. Today we want to ensure people are free from control by a centralised state. We believe power should be dispersed hence our support for more power for local authorities. However for me liberalism is also about not having to conform, having access to education and training no matter how wealthy you or your family is, not living in poverty and not being held back by poverty.

    This interest in poverty is why I think unemployment benefit is not enough, why I support higher increases to the Minimum Wage and the Living Wage, why I support the need to regulate markets and ensure companies do not have too much power and why I support full employment and hate the idea of a smaller government and a balance budget.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Oct '13 - 9:05am

    John Roffey

    Being a simple soul, isn’t it better to judge a leader on results? The first real major test of NC’s strategy and performance as leader comes next May at the EU and local elections. If the Party improves its share of the vote – then he has been a success, if it doesn’t he has been a failure.

    Yes, but this means every vote cast for a candidate of our party in the local elections is taken as a vote of support for Nick Clegg’s leadership and Nick Clegg’s party strategy. Indeed, after the last set of local elections, the man himself used words which implied that in one of his “letters from the leader”. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was something which could be read as meaning “every vote in the local elections is a vote for me being self-satisfied as standing at the despatch box defending Tory policies, and a vote against all those beardy-lefties in the party who moan about that”.

    This is a great insult to those in the party who work hard to gain votes in local elections on the basis of their local action on local issues. It would mean that if I stood in the London Borough elections in 2014, any vote I campaigned to get for myself would be treated as a vote for Nick Clegg. Isn’t that ridiculous, considering how much I am opposed to him as leader and the way he is pushing the party? The result of that sort of analysis is to push people who are unhappy with him out of the party, or at least out of being active campaigners for the party.

    The better test of success is the extent to which the party wins votes where it hasn’t been campaigning, so those votes are cast more on its national image. As we are seeing in local by-elections, that is disaster-land for us. Where we have a very strong local campaign and local image which gets to the point where people are voting for us primarily on that basis, we can still win. Where we don’t, our vote is collapsing. Nick Clegg and his supporters go on and on about Eastleigh proving we can still win, but Eastleigh is a place where we have a very strong local party, and the candidate put forward in the Parliamentary by-election was someone well-known and respected there for his local work.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Oct '13 - 9:25am


    We have also wanted to free people from the power of Trade Unions. Today we want to ensure people are free from control by a centralised state.

    I appreciate you qualified that later, but I think it’s a rather right-wing analysis. Modern Tories love to put across the idea that the main, sometimes the only, barrier to freedom is the state. They love to put across this idea of the state as some all-powerful force in our lives, with businessmen as brave rebels leading the fight for freedom against it. This anti-state rhetoric morphs into an attack on democracy itself, pushing the idea that anything which is controlled by democratic authorities rather than by a cash market is bad.

    That is never a position that Liberals in this country have held to even though there is currently an energetic campaign, funded by big money, to try and re-write history and pretend it was. If you look back at what 19th century Liberals were actually about, there was a far more pragmatic attitude to the state than you might suppose from those screaming Tea Party types who are trying to capture the word “liberal” and get it to mean them.

    We have moved away from the time when the state was the dominant controlling authority in our lives. Privatisation and globalisation has meant that so much that the state controlled or was capable of controlling in the past is now out of its hands. Instead it is in the hands of the new aristocracy, international big finance. If we want to be the true heirs to 19th century Liberals, we should be fighting that as they fought the power of the landed aristocracy back then.

    The Tea Party types will fight back by telling us how state expenditure share of the GDP is growing and suggest that means the state is getting more powerful, not less. This is a simplistic line, because there are many factors leading to more state spending which are more to do with the state picking up where the market fails rather than taking control. The biggest cause for state spending rising is that medical innovation is causing lifespans to extend at a rapid rate – if you look at the figures it really is amazing. That means much more money spent on pensions, and if we have a state health service, on the sort of maintenance care that an older body needs. However, to suggest that more money spent on state pensions or on health care is an aspect of oppression is daft – even though if you analysed the Tea Party rhetoric that IS what they are saying. Well, in the USA that sort do actually seem to believe that a state guarantee that one will be kept alive and healthy is a form of oppression, but I don’t think many people here think like that. Indeed, I think people here would think it supports their freedom, and that dying because you can’t afford medical bills is a bit of a restriction of one’s freedom.

  • Lembit Opik 4th Oct '13 - 12:03pm

    I feel I need to say something here, and hope it is taken in the respectful and contemplative spirit in which it is offered.

    As I’ve said in my book,’The Alternative View,’ the only way to reverse the grim electoral prognosis is a change of leader. Nick Clegg could continue as DPM, but, as David Lloyd George recognised, it’s foolish to attempt to do BOTH roles at once. As a result, Nick has displayed a failure to project a convincing Lib Dem ‘brand’ or ‘narrative.’ Also, his claim that the party is at the ‘centre’ conflicts strongly with the true positioning of many supporters. Add to that the U-turns and policy drift on key issues including the NHS, Trident and freedom of speech (viz his support for no-platform for NON-violent extremists, at odds with conference policy) damage the entire organisation.

    Contrary to popular opinion, I do NOT dislike Nick. Indeed, I regret not having more opportunity to socialise with him. However, if the party were a business he’d be asked to ‘consider his position’ on the basis of under-performance. For example, his own stated goal of achieving 120+ MPs in 2015 is clearly no longer credible. It is simply unrealistic to think we’ll ‘get our reward at the General Election’ because our campaigning base has contracted, we’ve lost four in 10 Councillors and the polls are flat-lining at a dangerously low level.

    It’s not too late for Nick to do the right thing, and manage his own departure. I suspect that latitude will evaporate in June 2014, when the party will unquestionably perform poorly in the European elections. This will cause MPs to focus on their own chances and increase the possibility of a ‘coup.’ I have to say that, privately, many agree with me. Sadly, it seems to me the conspiracy of silence only serves to perpetuate a kind of strategic inertia.

    I’ve taken much criticism for speaking out, but I’d rather do that now than sit in silence and say ‘I told you so’ when it’s too late. So, please Nick, read the signs. You can still manage your next step with dignity. Remember, this is not just about you, it’s about the whole movement. My offer to come and discuss this privately remains open. After all – and however this plays out – people like me could so easily be allies not foes, if only you’d include us. Even if, on consideration, you chose to reject this perspective, surely it’s worth hearing such a sincerely offered alternative view in person? I hope you might give me that audience, Sir.

  • David Allen 4th Oct '13 - 1:19pm

    Follow that! Well, with a simple point, let me do so.

    The best is the enemy of the good.

    Because Labour searched for the best alternative to Gordon, and didn’t find one, they failed to select one of many who would have been quite good enough to rescue their fortunes.

    Because the Lib Dems can’t easily see who is the best alternative to Nick, they are failing to rescue their fortunes.

    (Mind you, in my long list of options suggested above, somehow I unaccountably failed to look towards mid-Wales…)

  • David Evans 4th Oct '13 - 6:59pm

    @Paul Pettinger

    Somehow, I think you may be confusing the party president “taking one for the team” with enthusiasm.

  • Thankyou, Lembit. Not words I might have envisaged saying.

  • Paul Pettinger 5th Oct '13 - 12:27am

    @ David Evans. Why, as Party President, would he need or want to take one for the team (which/ whose team?) and intervene, in two autumn Conferences in a row, to speak against fellow Liberal Democrats calling for the Party to differentiate from the Government’s economic policy? Did you follow the economy debate at Glasgow?

  • Robert Hamilton 7th Oct '13 - 8:33am

    Thanks Amalric and Social Liberal for your guidance. The preamble to the Constitution provides very helpful general principles and direction.
    I was interested in principles that can be used with precision to judge the specific actions of MPs, as David-1 did. I tried to do that with my own Libdem MP as object. The MP voted against equal marriage and provided a detailed explanation why. Did this harm anyone, à la J.S. Mills? It was described as reprehensibly illiberal by a party member so it seemed to hurt someone. (Here we face the question of defining harm). My MP actively supports the current campaign slogan: ” We have created 1m new jobs since 2010″. True , the ONS data supports that, but the data also tells us that at the same time 330,000 public sector jobs have been lost and the ONS announced that 20% of the new jobs were zero hours. I judge that slogan to be deceitful and not in keeping with the preamble. We have a slogan that equality the the UK in 2012 is the best, i.e. the lowest Gini Index, since 1986. Measured by the Gini Index that is true. It is also true that equality is much less than during the 1970’s (to which, Nick asserts, Labour will take us) when the Gini Index was much lower than it has been since. There is something of the Daily Mail in these slogans.
    How did Lidbem MPs use the preamble to arrive at supporting secret courts and the badger cull? Why are we not louder in our critique of the Tory picture of scroungers and strivers? It is possible to explain these with the idea that Politics is the art of the possible. However, I feel demeaned by the way we are currently practicing that art.
    Matthew Huntbach in describing a good leader moves away from an intellectual ability to apply principles and emphasises the importance of the leader’s personality and past experience, including being at times ruthless, a “love God, or your country, and do what you will” approach. A good approach but it has its limitations. Some Tories picture Mrs Thatcher in this way. Churchill could be a national example. The Vatican picks them out to call then saints. Is Paddy a candidate?
    Democracy in the UK, which is the one I have experienced, is frustrating. I can see why many prefer single issue politics where the debate is clearer and the feelings more shared and the art of balancing issues is avoided.
    So, our MPs are showing us the art of the possible and that is the basis on which I can judge them. The preamble and Mills are of marginal relevance.

  • Back to Stephen Tall’s article for a while – the bump in party support originates from the TV News programmes and the newspaper coverage. Whether news-bites are good or bad, a party needs to be in the news in the first place. Getting a good report from anywhere in the media for LDs is a big ask now – most reporters don’t want to be seen to support damaged goods but there are a few still willing to put their heads above the parapet if there is a good reason. What were the good reasons at conference?

    Though I agree with reducing the reliance on plastic bags, it was a silly item to crow about at a party conference because it isn’t a big political issue to the general public. It’s related to the big issue of ‘Green’ but not much in itself – and green issues are up and down so rapidly now that the country is bemused by them. I take the point that most of conference was about open debate in a modestly democratic way. Pity about the redacting. But debate will never grab headlines unless it is about something the nation is yearning for, like strengthening the economy for the vast majority of people and not just the rich and famous. And being able to deliver it – as in taking people out of tax. That was good – so work on it.

    If popularity bounces following conferences are indicative of media interest, there was virtually nothing to report. In fact this year all party conferences were dull. Which suggests that all parties are working out the best time to promote themselves and policies in the media. I understand why wise comments here are stating this will be in 2014. My view is that in 2014 LDs should conflate the Scottish vote with the European vote and make it clear that we are ‘for’ staying and working together, creating a stronger economy for ourselves and our international neighbours. The parties of the right are split on it (conflating the two), the left is wobbly on it, but LDs are promoting sticking together but correcting the wrongs of the past. Sort this policy out and stand by it without U-turn. The media might be against splitting the UK and for leaving the EU but as LDs we can be a ‘single issue’ party on the BIG issue and promote staying together on both but working for the changes the public wants. UKIP cannot actually WORK on either issue. – let’s make that clear and attack them on their lazy ways.

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