John Kampfner: “Clegg is set to be kingmaker again in 2015”

John Kampfner, one of the few progressive voice from the centre-left who defected from Labour to the Lib Dems in the run-up to the 2010 election and has continued to give the party a sympathetic hearing during the Coalition, writes in today’s Times about Lib Dem prospects post-2015: Clegg is set to be kingmaker again in 2015 (£).

5 points in particular are worth highlighting (ie, I agree with them):

The Lib Dems will more than likely remain a force to be reckoned with:

… the Liberal Democrats head towards 2015 knowing they can target their meagre resources on just 10 per cent of the electorate. By defending their incumbent MPs — who are often popular with local voters — they won’t be fighting a nationwide campaign but 50 or so by-elections. The chances of this campaign succeeding look reasonably good after the party’s spectacular “hold” of Eastleigh in February. In spite of the scandal surrounding Chris Huhne and the wandering speeding points, the tuition fees U-turn and the Lord Rennard controversy, the Lib Dems held on. If they prevail in 40 or so constituencies next time around, they will be in a solid position to hold the balance of power for a second time.

Nick is open to forming a coalition with Labour next time:

… contrary to conventional wisdom in Westminster, Mr Clegg is open to an arrangement with Labour and that a Lib-Lab alliance is very possible even if he remains leader. … What of the lazy assumption that Mr Clegg is socially and politically more at home with Mr Cameron? “He’s not particularly keen on either party. If he was, he’d probably have joined it,” remarks an aide. He will work with whoever is more prepared to enact key Lib Dem policies.

Both Lib Dems and Tories are relaxed about differentiation within the Coalition:

The policy of differentiation is now embedded. A year ago, many people thought the Lib Dems were propping up a Tory government. That view is shared less now, and Mr Clegg’s team can point to a number of key policies they have either championed, restrained or stopped. Over the next year look for the Lib Dems stepping up efforts to promote taxation of expensive properties, oppose more welfare cuts and keep Britain at the heart of Europe. Although the media presents differentiation as unhelpful to relations with the Tories, Mr Cameron wants the Lib Dems to emphasise their left- wing credentials. Tories want the Lib Dems to win back some of the voters it has lost to Labour. Tory backbenchers may complain at Mr Clegg’s “left-wing lurch” but Mr Cameron won’t.

The Lib Dems need to make this Coalition a success:

The Prime Minister knows that the coalition is strong. The Liberal Democrats now see participation in government as an electoral plus. They want to convince sceptical voters that hung Parliaments need not be failures. They will go all the way through to the election campaign (and during it).

And he’s clearly got Ryan Coetzee’s memo:

As for the Lib Dems’ pitch, could the events of the past few months have played into their hands? They will seek to portray Mr Cameron as hostage to his party’s Europhobe Right. Mr Miliband’s decision to require union members to opt into the party rather than be automatically enrolled has drawn praise, but bigger questions about Labour’s attitude to controlling public spending persist. … Mr Clegg’s focus groups and strategists indicate that there are votes to be had from the soft left and soft right if the Liberal Democrats present themselves as a “sensible”, non-tribal party that tempers the worst instincts of the two big forces.

* 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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49 Comments

  • This is all great stuff, but we are still at 10-11% in the opinion polls at best, and until we are in the mid to upper teens, I don’t think we can really have a chance of pulling this one off.

  • John Roffey 12th Jul '13 - 5:29pm

    This is an interesting comment from Kampfner – in view of recent discussions here:

    Mr Cameron wants the Lib Dems to emphasise their left- wing credentials. Tories want the Lib Dems to win back some of the voters it has lost to Labour. Tory backbenchers may complain at Mr Clegg’s “left-wing lurch” but Mr Cameron won’t.

    @ RC – I agree

    I guess that the encouragement to move left is that it is pretty obvious that the Party will not pick up the necessary support from the over-crowded right – and of course virtually all of the left inclined votes will go to Labour, increasing their share of the vote – making them far more difficult to beat.

    I doubt if many left inclined voters will believe NC if he now tries to do an about turn – a new leader might.

  • Andrew Emmerson 12th Jul '13 - 5:52pm

    RC – You rather miss the point that Kampfner makes – 10-11% would be a disaster for the Tories or Labour – they’d be still trying to fight a national campaign on a national spread. That simply doesn’t work for us – we’ll fight by elections – opinion polls mean very little for us.

  • “That simply doesn’t work for us – we’ll fight by elections – opinion polls mean very little for us.”

    Isn’t that what Mitt Romney’s supporters said last year?

  • What a nightmare that would be. We need to get rid of Clegg now. The man is an enemy of liberalism.

  • David Allen 12th Jul '13 - 6:49pm

    “Mr Cameron wants the Lib Dems to emphasise their left- wing credentials. Tories want the Lib Dems to win back some of the voters it has lost to Labour.”

    Yes, I can certainly see Clegg buying that line. “Nick, please pretend to be a bit of a leftie, in order to defeat the real lefties, and to promote the right-wing policies which you and I really believe in.”

    Machiavellian, yes. Smart, no. Nick has already been comprehensively rumbled by the public. And now Kampfner thinks he’ll be making sure to reinforce that image, by going for a campaign of sustained and deliberate doublespeak!

  • Ah, the old pretend to be centre-left at an election strategy. I predict that will win back zero of your previous centre-left voters and may lose you some from the centre-right.

    Yes, around 40 seats is a likely outcome. That’s not where the damage is going to be though. Outside of those enclaves, as in the by-elections, the Lib Dems will be wiped out. You will no longer be a party of national ambition. The election after that you may again hold on to 80% of your 40 seats by concentrating resources in the enclaves, etc.

  • paul barker 12th Jul '13 - 7:02pm

    We are still at 10-11% in The Polls & 5 years ago we were around 16%, that would suggest we will get around 17% in 2015. Thats more than we got in 1997.
    Actually I expect us to get alot more than that but accept the idea of 18%, its not wipeout, its not being driven back to The 1970s. Some of those preaching Doom were saying we would be replaced by UKIP just 2 months ago, theyve dropped that line.

  • Targeting on 10% nationally is like trying to make the last dregs of the butter in the tray into enough to spread round your crumpet. You think you can scrape up enough for a knife-full but when you take a bite your realise it was never enough.

    This is however a recipe for a general election campaign where we are dominated by the question “which way will you jump in a hung parliament”. The evidence from 87, 92 and 2010 is that when this becomes the focus on the question we do less well. Added to which all it takes is party X to publically say “no way” to one of our “red lines” and the twin options disappear.

  • David Wilkinson 12th Jul '13 - 7:28pm

    I can suggest that Mr Kampfner does not sit out in the hot sunshine anymore, sunstroke is not much fun and does strange things to one’s mind

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Jul '13 - 7:40pm

    Targeting the soft left, centrist and soft right votes is exactly the right thing to do. This makes up the majority of the country and as the article says: the Conservatives keep chasing the far right and Labour keep chasing the far left.

    The problem is I think too many voters want Nick’s head on a plate over tuition fees. He needs to take some bigger policy risks to pursue wide rather than narrow centrism and if that fails he’ll have to recommend a successor to pursue the same strategy.

  • “Added to which all it takes is party X to publically say “no way” to one of our “red lines” and the twin options disappear.”

    The idea of another hung parliament is unlikely enough. The idea that there would be “twin options” for the Lib Dems in a hung parliament is fantastic. It hasn’t happened since 1929.

  • In 2007 the Liberal Democrats in Scotland opted not to act as kingmakers in the Scottish Parliamentary election despite having the numbers to fulfil this role on account of a decline in votes for them, and their erstwhile coalition partners, Labour.

    What makes you think the 2015 Liberal Democrats in Westminster would get away with behaving differently if the Lib Dem vote is reduced?

  • “A year ago, many people thought the Lib Dems were propping up a Tory government.”

    We still do.

    “That view is shared less now,”

    Really? Evidence?

    “Tories want the Lib Dems to win back some of the voters it has lost to Labour.”

    Right, so the Liberal Democrats are expected to deceive centre-left people into voting Lib Dem so that the party can be in a strong enough position to prop up a Tory government for another five years?

  • Helen Dudden 12th Jul '13 - 10:30pm

    I wish to add one point to the argument on removing your leader, Nick Clegg. He put you in the Government, and that is what most of you agreed with.

    The policy is not popular and could be added very unfair. You are in a coalition with the Conservative Government, with their policy and thinking. When I was a party member for 21 years I most certainly would not have found this acceptable and to stay with the Liberal Party.

    I am one of those who jumped ship, not because of Nick Clegg, but for what you now stand for.

  • Helen Dudden 13th Jul '13 - 6:44am

    If you look on the web page for social housing, “inside housing” there is a report on the subject of traveler sites, and the need to have the required amount of pitches in the given authority,

    The Conservative for Kettering, Philip Hollobone wishes to remove this obligation from any authority, and remove this obligation totally.

    I suggest you go on to this web page it is the site widely used by those in the social housing sector.

  • The level of support we now have in the wider voting public is probably our base level. Yes, we do need to do more to rebuild or support (obvious) how to do it? simple, do what we have always done, get out and about ALL year round, engage voters, explain what we are doing, in the local area and at national level. It is not rocket science, it has applied down the years, we have always had a hostile media, always been sniped at from left and right, nothing changes, so we have to make our own electoral fortune. I assisted a successful County candidate last May who increased his majority, I am an activist ( time permitting) in Lynne Featherstones constituency, these are examples of getting out on the doorstep and spreading the undoubted good news we have to tell the voter.
    No one else we do it for us!! 🙂

  • Helen Dudden 13th Jul '13 - 8:59am

    You can only get the trust you seek , when, you do as you say.

    The above, is something, that I believe is not within a just society.

  • Hopefully at that stage we will have someone who wants to be a leader in their own right, even if it is leading a major government department, rather than a (not particularly glorified) sidekick for a Tory or Labour leader.

  • Helen Dudden 13th Jul '13 - 9:42am

    Your Party had the chance to make things happen. As with the subject of travelers and house building. I believe decisions about such subject involve everyone, not just politics.

    We are building a better future for our children, and their children.

  • Further to my previous point, isn’t it profoundly undemocratic to see the Liberal Democrats as having a near permanent role in government, as Kampfner implies and Clegg has stated? What is the point in democracy if it can’t be used as a means of ensuring that a given political representation is removed from government?

  • @ Richard Davies

    Your post is a nice theory, but I would need to see some objective analysis, before I thing it is anything more than whistling in the wind.

    @ Paul Barker

    “We are still at 10-11% in The Polls & 5 years ago we were around 16%, that would suggest we will get around 17% in 2015. Thats more than we got in 1997.”

    Actually ICM had us at 20% five years ago and then we were nationally acceptable as a second choice because we hadn’t messed up being in coalition. So, sadly, I don’t think your analysis is anything more than optimistic spin.

    @ Helen Duddon

    “I wish to add one point to the argument on removing your leader, Nick Clegg. He put you in the Government, and that is what most of you agreed with. “

    Unfortunately Helen, although I agree with your despair at where we are now, I find your analysis flawed. Firstly, Nick did not put us in government; under his leadership in 2010 we lost 5 seats. It was the unique electoral arithmetic that put us in government. Secondly, at the conference, we agreed to go into coalition, but with many caveats, most of which Nick Clegg subsequently ignored.

    Finally, the party still stands for the same values it always has done, but Nick has chosen to bypass its views, whether it was on Tuition Fees, NHS Reform or Secret Courts. What is disappointing is that sadly many people have jumped ship rather than fight back. We can only hope that when he goes, there are enough old Lib Dems left in the party to steer it back to its home port rather than carry on with the mess Nick has made of his involvement in the coalition.

    Nick and his fellow travellers are the problem, not those Lib Dems who are still in there fighting.

  • @ David Evans

    I agree with every point you make. However I left and one point I would make is that surely the remaining membership (with many honorable exceptions) will become more and more in Clegg’s image. I am not that certain that if he goes the party will now elect anyone substantially different in outlook. If the party does goes for a leader on the left wing of the party I have my doubts how loyal Clegg would be, particularly if a coalition with Labour came about. I have a bet with a good friend of mine that by 2020 Clegg will have joined the Tories and I am still confident of winning!

  • @ David Evans. Yes ICM had us at 20% 5 years ago & they had us at 12% a month ago. We have to be careful to compare like with like. I never use ICM because they only do one a month.
    On the wider view of The “Polls”, UKIP ( who were going to replace us) have been falling by around 1% a week. Labours lead over the Tories has fallen back to around 7% from around 11% last year. Their vote is extremely soft with only half “trusting” them with the Economy.
    Both our major rivals are divided & drifting away from The Centre, this is the time to stop apologising & start being proud & loud about what we have done.

  • OllyT – interesting point. A lot of the young radicals who came into the party in the 60s and 70s and who were the driving force behind the community politics strategy are now of pensionable age, like myself, and are not going to have the strength or inclination to rebuild the party from the bottom up a second time. There does seem to be a new generation of young activists coming into the party now and one can only hope that they have been attracted by whatever ideals have managed to survive the compromises of coalition rather than the blanded out managerialist party that Clegg seems to be bent on creating. For people of my generation the sound of the cuckoo was an integral part of the fabric of summer: for my daughter it isn’t. It is something that I miss intensely, but she doesn’t because she has never known it.

  • Please, not Clegg and not the Tories!

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Jul '13 - 12:19pm


    “Clegg is set to be kingmaker again in 2015″

    “Again”?

    That assumes he was “kingmaker” in 2010, which implies he chose to make the current coalition with the Conservatives but could have done something else.

    That belief has damaged us and is damaging us more than anything else.

    The situation in 2010 meant there wasn’t a realistic alternative to what we have now. Clegg was not so much the kingmaker as the returning officer who had to announce the Tories had won the election. Because there was no realistic alternative government, his position was very weak. Making out he was in a strong “kingmaker” position is like putting a sign reading “kick me” on our backsides, because if he was in such a strong position as that implies, he can be rightly criticised for not getting much more from this primarily Tory government.

  • Peter, what’s your evidence? Where it matters the Tories are walking all over us. Good to see Sarah Teather and Steve Webb fighting back in today’s Guardian.

  • There are no mainstream Parties chasing the far Left or far Right Ed Miliband hasn’t announced a glorious 5 year plan to increase tractor production in Corby or a nation wider oll out for collectivisation and Cameron is not setting up Stalag Luft 19 in Sussex. These are childish terms. The truth is ,, that as ever its the centre ground. Personally.I would like to see less of an economic liberal stance because it’s the right thing to do, not because it splits votes.

  • Helen Dudden 13th Jul '13 - 3:02pm

    @peter.tyzack. It is not a case of sniping at anyone, it is the argument that such topics as, taking the traveler situation, out of the should do list.

    Next week I am off to a Family Law meeting, I believe in justice and freedom for all, that is being sadly removed by some in your Party. This includes internal law.

    Politics and human rights are important part of our freedom, and it is sad that if you can’t have justice within society. Without it you have lost the battle of human rights, look into some countries that fight for the right to have fair courts, and not be placed in prison because you have said what needs to be said.

    Without the Lib Dems, there would be no way to bring in some policy.

    I have not run away, I still support Don, here in Bath on what needs to be done, but we need change before something dire happens within our political system.

    If you google me, it clearly shows that I support the underdog and most certainly human rights I rarely use politics as a way to snipe.

  • David Evans 13th Jul '13 - 3:18pm

    @ Paul Barker

    “Both our major rivals are divided & drifting away from The Centre, this is the time to stop apologising & start being proud & loud about what we have done.”

    I’m afraid you are dreaming if you think Labour and the Conservatives are drifting away from the centre. Both are camping in the centre and as the election comes closer, the outliers will be less noticeable. A Euro referendum vote will be portrayed as giving the people what they want and if Nick opposes it, as he has done consistently even to the extent of sacking front benchers who voted for it last time, he will be seen as the extreme Euro loyalist.

    As for divided, yes there are divisions in the other parties, but we have a mass exodus masking our divisions. And it is precisely down to Nick and his ridiculous cosying up to the Conservatives that this has happened. Secret courts – how many votes in conference were against it, and did Nick do anything but cock a snook at party Democracy? Members – how many members has Nick lost? Councillors – how many lost? MPs how many lost? Next year, how many Euro MPs will he lose us (only one down so far – in 2009)?

    The Man is a disaster.

    You may want to be loud and proud about the betrayal of the party and its values that Nick has engineered. I for one, am deeply ashamed of what he has done, but them I’ve been a member long enough to remember us having less than 10 MPs, and that is exactly where Nick is taking us if he doesn’t go soon.

  • Helen Dudden 13th Jul '13 - 4:08pm

    I agree. It is time to stop and think of the consequences of what has been done. This is not purely politics it is reason.

    I was told very recently that the Labour Party were up against UKIP in some areas, if this is correct or not, what is going to happen at the election.

    Some of the actions have not been wise to say the least.

  • John Roffey 13th Jul '13 - 4:22pm

    @David Evans

    Yes – the Tories are getting into full election mode having hired Lynton Crosby – and the cause of them shelving a number of unpopular policies. It is a pity that the Party could not have employed LC, for in truth the L/Ds should be contesting each GE as one of the main contenders to win outright – as it is the leading centrist party. However, there seems little appetite for the harsh reality necessary to win elections amongst many members – if the views expressed on LDV are a fair representation.

    http://www.channel4.com/news/lynton-crosby-tories-david-cameron-boris-election

    I don’t think Labour are yet in full election mode – although Milliband’s recent challenge to the Unions is clearly intended to get them there.

  • Helen Dudden 13th Jul '13 - 6:18pm

    I think the Channel 4 news says it all, on what is wished to achieve.

    As I said, whatever happens next in the way of politics? don’t like it all.

  • John Roffey 13th Jul '13 - 6:51pm

    I don’t like it either Helen. In truth, I don’t believe the Party needs an LC – just a greater degree of humility.

    This simply means – do not adopt a policy until the argument has been won with the electorate. I understand that the Party’s members and voters are the most intelligent of all the main parties – this seems to have lead to a culture of ‘we know best’ – and are quite happy to force our views on the electorate – because they are not capable of understanding what we know.

    Unfortunately, this has led to the Party adopting unpopular policies – which are naturally rejected by the voters at the time of elections. Ironic really as it is the only mainstream party with ‘democrats’ in its title.

  • John Roffey 14th Jul '13 - 6:12am

    Backing a referendum on our membership of the EU would be a good place to introduce the humility I think is needed for the Party to achieve electoral success – as Greg Mulholland is recommending.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2362656/Come-Nick-KNOW-weve-got-EU-vote-Lib-Dem-rebel-uses-leaders-words-prove-need-referendum.html

    If there is such certainty that it has been in the people’s interest to hand over our sovereignty to a group of foreign nationals – back a referendum and make a convincing case during the run in!

  • Richard Harris 14th Jul '13 - 8:08am

    None of this matters. People largely vote based on leaders, and Clegg’s out and out lie on Uni tuition fees defined him in government. Doesn’t matter what he says, or even what he (cast iron) promises – the general public will not believe him. If Lib Dem MPs had stood up to Clegg on the votes that mattered than there would be a case for “vote local” and “love the party, not the leader” and “lin dems will keep the next government in check”, but they haven’t by and large. Change the leader and threaten an early general election if there are no policy changes – that’s the only way the LD’s can regain the support they got last time around.

  • @ Richard Harris

    I do agree that NC has to go if the Party is to have any hope of getting anywhere near the support it had in 2010 – and the longer he remains the worse that chance becomes.

    Tuition fees was a dreadful betrayal of the young. However, as time has progressed, it is also clear that it was a logical step for the Tories [and now the L/Ds?] who are clearly representing the interests of the global corporations.

    As these corporations increasingly dominate the UK economy, at the expense of small and medium sized businesses, the need for graduates significantly reduces – which helps to explain why so many young graduates are shelf stackers or unemployed.

    The middle classes are now experiencing, more directly, what the working class and unemployed have had to endure at least since the downturn.

  • Richard – I was of your opinion 2 years ago, but I think it is too late to get back more than a slice of the support you describe at this stage – I believe it would take a sort of purge, if you like, so that voters understand that the Lib Dems “have got it”, and that they have taken the pain themselves and changed (to the sort of party which had been built up and pledged over many years). Anything less, and I suspect they will be very cynical about the reasons. After all, Nick Clegg could not have changed the party by himself!

  • I also think that the Lib Dems as they were represented a sort of lubricant, a safety valve, perhaps, to the entire political system. Their conversion to “the old politics” with the offer of government jobs, has let the electorate down, and where some were able to point to the Lib Dems and say – “they are different, not all politicians are the same”, they now have difficulty in saying anything similar. More let-down and disillusionment.

  • @ Richard Harris

    “Clegg’s out and out lie on Uni tuition fees defined him in government.”

    @ Tim13

    “– I believe it would take a sort of purge, if you like, so that voters understand that the Lib Dems “have got it”, and that they have taken the pain themselves and changed”

    As far as I know there is no time limit on taking action under article 3 membership (Federal constitution, article 2 membership English constitution)

    Membership can be revoked on the ground that the person has carried out “conduct which has brought … the party into disrepute.”

    All MP’s who signed the tuition fee pledge and then voted for the new structure of tuition fees have brought the party into disrepute (I can’t see how anyone can believe otherwise) and so the state parties should start the membership revoking procedures and we can rid the party of these people and maybe restore our credibility. This could mean getting rid of 28 MPs and this is likely to weaken our hand in the coalition but we should still do it.

  • Simon Hebditch 17th Jul '13 - 10:45am

    I think we are all missing some more fundamental flaws in the current state of politics. The Tories are intent on reducing the role of the state and attacking the poorest in our society. The Lib Dems are part and parcel of the coalition and it is not possible to differentiate us from the Tories in that coalition. Labour has tacked to the right in terms of welfare and economic strategy. Result? There are no real differences between all the parties on economic and social strategy. Any pretence of a ” new way” of doing politics, as exemplified in one of the powerful Lib Dem election broadcasts has been swept away. So, those who argue that there is no difference between the mainstream parties are correct. There is no point in voting at all at the moment.

  • Simon, the great majority of the general public are not missing the point you are making! It is only (most of the) political activists who are blind to it.

  • A few years ago, the Liberal Democrats were on the verge of breaking through to competing countrywide as a national party, competitive in many more seats than usual.
    Now we’re looking at defending only existing seats and (naturally enough) losing many of them, without any chance of compensating for the losses elsewhere. This is not a situation to be proud of.

  • Eleanor Green 5th Aug '14 - 9:34pm

    The Lib Dems and Others will almost certainly retain at least 25 seats each in next year’s election. This means that Labour and the Tories are fighting over 600 seats, which means whoever gets 301 seats will be the largest party and, with at least 25 Lib Dem MPs, will form a government with them as the second largest party will have no more than 299 and be unable to form a two-party coalition government. So the Lib Dems stop being kingmakers/queenmakers at the point when Lab or Con has 301 seats. There’s no realistic way that the Lib Dems + Others will have more than 100 seats at the next election, because even an LD performance which gains several more seats off the Cons than it loses to them will not get the LDs above 65, nor will the Others rise above 35. So the minimum number of seats that Lab and Con will be fighting over will be 550. Which means that the largest party will have at least 275 seats. Which means that the Lib Dems will only be monarchmakers if the largest party has between 275 and 300 seats. Anything else and the party leading the post-2015 government will be clear, as long as Clegg et al don’t do something profoundly silly like try to form a 3-way coalition with the 2nd largest party and the DUPs. Of course if they did the media would have a field day. ‘Cameron and Clegg need to spice up relationship so invite Robinson into bed with them’. Might help cure Robinson’s homophobia but would still be an absurd arrangement.

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