LibLink: Sam Ghibaldan: Clegg needs to be assertive

Clegg on OsbourneI’m not going to lie, I bet a lot of you are thinking Sam who? Chances are if you live in Scotland, you’ll be less curious because you will know that he was a Senior Special Adviser to Scottish Liberal Democrat Deputy First Ministers Jim Wallace and Nicol Stephen. As such, his perspective on who the Liberal Democrats should proceed in the run up to the General Election is highly relevant. In a recent Scotsman column, he said that Nick Clegg needs to get out there and shout about our core beliefs.

Some of the headlines faced by Nick Clegg were also seen in Scotland:

It’s worth remembering that for much of the first Scottish Parliament, Jim Wallace, the Liberal Democrat deputy first minister, was attacked from within his party for entering coalition with Labour.

As some now fear that coalition with the Tories will cost seats that have a strong Labour vote, Wallace’s critics feared that the Labour pact would have a similar impact in constituencies with strong Tory support. In hindsight those concerns for Scottish Parliament seats were mistaken; the party held them at the next election.

He goes on to talk about how the public’s relationship with politicians is based as much on emotion as policy. In Jim Wallace’s case, he came to power with all the hope and optimism of a shiny new Parliament. Clegg’s experience was very different:

Then, Westminster politics was tired and jaded. There was discontent with Gordon Brown, but no enthusiasm for David Cameron. Onto the election stage came Clegg, wearing Charles Kennedy’s anti-politics mantle. He channelled the public’s hope for a new style of politics.

Then the one guy offering something different let them down:

But if the electorate’s connection with Clegg was emotional, so was their reaction to his abandonment of the abolition of tuition fees, his party’s primary election pledge. Once the saviour, he suddenly appeared just another politician. Regardless of the merits of the policy, in political terms the tuition fees debacle was a serious strategic error.

Sam looks at the options and concludes that there’s no gain to be had by changing leader, so what is to be done now?

Clegg’s decision that staying is in the best interests of the party makes sense. It is honourable; this can’t be fun for him. He’d only be human if sometimes he wished he could walk away. What next, then? Well, strained relationships aren’t repaired overnight. Contrition will be required, punishment may be meted out, fresh understandings must be reached.

To borrow from a well-known phrase, rebuilding a relationship is a process, not an event.

The path of reconciliation requires the Liberal Democrats to enthuse voters with a liberal vision of the UK and its place in the world. Polls suggest most voters want to stay part of Europe. “The party of in” was a strong message in the Euro campaign that may resonate more widely with time. But more is needed: to rebuild trust, the party must connect to voters’ own aspirations. That does not require them to reinvent their core beliefs; instead, they must assert them, rather than pander to the Ukip threat as other parties seem inclined to do.

You can read the whole article here.

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28 Comments

  • Bill le Breton 4th Jun '14 - 6:01pm

    Oh no, not another ‘shouter’ of the vision louder and louder.

    People don’t like being shouted at. They don’t vote for visions. They don’t vote for people because they are brave and willing to stand up to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune from within the comfort as they see it of chauffeur driven limos. For one thing they have too many slings and arrows of outrageous fortune of their own to deal with.

    We have too many strategists and not enough campaigners.

  • Paul Pettinger 4th Jun '14 - 6:12pm

    “To borrow from a well-known phrase, rebuilding a relationship is a process, not an event. Clegg and his Westminster party have acknowledged their mistakes.”

    They really haven’t . The leadership has little clue how to turn things round, partly because to move forward involves repudiating some major judgements and decisions it has made. The article seems to be offering false hope.

  • Oh God not another silly effort to boost Clegg.
    He is the most disliked of the party leaders, I cannot remember a Lib Dem one so disliked by the public. If he tries to be more assertive he will turn even the remainder off. The general public associate the Lib Dems with one word, “betrayal”, if you do not believe me, ask Com-Res Opinion survey company.
    He needs to go and go this week. We face a terrible by election result from Newark most of which centers on the public’s dislike of the party and the leader.
    We need new faces. not Clegg, Ashdown and Williams etc, a new image something different. All Clegg can present is more of the same which has proved an absolute disaster for the party, ask the 1800 odd councillors who have lost their seats and the appalling vote returns in by elections this parliament, including Eastliegh where we lost 14%.

  • paul barker 4th Jun '14 - 6:28pm

    Clegg must be so glad to get all this unsolicited advice from people who have all lead Parties of their own & thus know what hes going through.
    On the facts, Tuition Fees were not our “Primary Election Pledge” ; they werent even on the front page of The Manifesto.

  • I have just gone through the full article having followed the link helpfully provided above.

    This bit tells it like it is —
    But few party leaders experience reverses as great as Clegg’s last week. The Liberal Democrats lost 90 per cent of their MEPs; that the party’s vote declined by just 50 per cent can hardly be taken as reassurance. Neither can the electorate’s rejection be explained away as the usual mid-term warning to a party of government.

    This bit is just factually wrong —
    In Liberal Democrat-held Westminster seats, strong campaigns helped protect the party’s vote share in the most trying of circumstances.

    Was the Liberal Democrat vote protected in seats with MPs and strong campaigns? Maybe in some seats like Tim Farron’s seat and in the amazing Eastleigh where Keith House is a Liberal Leader who knows how to win elections, has a majority on the council and an MP and even an MEP, unique in the UK. These are the exceptions.
    Many LibDem MPs — if they have not already stepped aside from the battle next time are looking through the results for crumbs of comfort. The line from the top of the party is we are strong in up to 37 seats.
    A bit different from The Scotsman piece but maybe it is different north of the border?

    A decline to 37 seats or less at the next General Election will clearly be a significant defeat.
    Especially appalling if it is accompanied by a complete desertion of whole cities such as Liverpool and Manchester and 29 put of the 32 London Boroughs.
    The chorus of “more of the same”., “just carry on and everything will be OK”. is just not credible.

  • Bill le Breton 4th Jun '14 - 6:54pm

    Paul, he is more than compensated for by having you as his personal pollster 😉

  • Stephen Hesketh 4th Jun '14 - 7:32pm

    * Newshound: bringing you the best Lib Dem commentary published in print or online. Really, I’d hate to read the garbage.

    I too followed the link. A sentence that caught my eye was “Clegg and his Westminster party have acknowledged their mistakes.”

    Does anyone now exactly when and where did this take place. Perhaps you could enlighten us as to what was said because we all appear to have heard the business as usual/shout it louder/don’t look in the rear view mirror message.

    HIS Westminster party??? A Senior SPAD shows another face of what has gone wrong with our Party!

  • Peter Chegwyn 4th Jun '14 - 7:43pm

    Rather a sad and desperate article and, as John Tilley has pointed out, not even factually correct.

    The anonymous Newshound and the few remaining Clegg loyalists will really have to do better than this when seeking to convince the rest of us that it makes sense to keep the messenger and the message despite all the evidence of the recent elections, subsequent opinion polls and, I fear, Newark tomorrow.

  • Stephen Hesketh 4th Jun '14 - 8:13pm

    @Paul Barker “On the facts, Tuition Fees were not our “Primary Election Pledge” ; they weren’t even on the front page of The Manifesto.”

    You’re right. And the electorate, especially those young idealistic students who believed us and their parents who also felt betrayed are all quite unreasonable to poor Nick Clegg. I must try the ‘not our primary election pledge’ next time someone raises the question on the doorstep. I’ll let you know how I get on.

  • Steve Comer 4th Jun '14 - 8:35pm

    I’ve read the whole article and it really is void of any substance.
    Jim Wallace led the Scottish Lib Dems through two terms of coalition with Labour, and our vote in Scotland managed to hold up. Surely there must have been lessons learned in that experience that we could have adapted to the UK coalition?
    Yet I get the impression that those who knew about coalitions in the party were not involved and have never been involved in discussions on how it worked, what went well, what didn’t go well etc. Certainly the MPs could have also done more to involve those with years of experience in Local Government too, many Councillors have first hand experience of no overall control, coalitions, arrangements, budget deals and the like. However the impression I get is that those ensconced in the Westminster bubble think they know it all. Well some of us in the wider party are not content to just do as we’re told by the Leader and Lord Ashdown and be ,merely cheerleaders and bystanders.

  • Shaun Cunningham 4th Jun '14 - 9:04pm

    I do believe Nick ‘s grand plan is to hold the balance of power again next May.

    If we say goodbye to 50% of our MP’s leaving say 30 or so Nicks plan forms the hope this will be enough to force another coalition. Nick would have sacrificed our local government base, all but one EMP, our support base in the hope there’s a seat for him at the top table.

    Many in this party would have become sacrificial lambs so others can enjoy the fruits of government.

    The message echoing out will be ” we have a duty and a responsibility……….”

  • Stephen Donnelly 5th Jun '14 - 12:23am

    Bill Le Breton : ‘We have too many strategists and not enough campaigners’.

    This is not a balloon game, we don’t benefit from throwing members over the side. We don’t have too many of anything, in particular the party is too narrow, and lacks influencers away from local government.

  • Peter Watson 5th Jun '14 - 8:16am

    @paul barker “On the facts, Tuition Fees were not our “Primary Election Pledge” ; they werent even on the front page of The Manifesto”
    Surely tuition fees were our only election pledge. That’s the problem. People understand that coalition involves a compromise between two party’s manifestos and even a single-party government does not achieve all that it wants. But on tuition fees all of our candidates were encourage to make a high-profile personal promise about something they could do whether in government or in opposition. The party began to negotiate away this promise within days of the election and then many MPs broke their promise, whether by abstaining or by voting for something they promised to vote against.

  • Bill le Breton 5th Jun '14 - 9:09am

    Stephen Donnelly, what an extraordinary statement: “in particular the party is too narrow, and lacks influencers away from local government.”

    That naïve view comes from some spirit of amateurism that considers politics is easy because skilful politicians make it look easy.

    All the cock ups over the last seven years have come from people with extraordinary influence who had no grounding in local government service to a community, no political apprenticeship, no first hand experience of life in a political institution in which no single party has overall control. And all the arrogance d presumption that make learning something new impossible.

    So we have a string of people with no experience of campaigning and winning from scratch telling us, as the OP does above:

    “Onto the election stage came Clegg, wearing Charles Kennedy’s anti-politics mantle. He channelled the public’s hope for a new style of politics.”

    “But if the electorate’s connection with Clegg was emotional, so was their reaction to his abandonment of the abolition of tuition fees, his party’s primary election pledge. Once the saviour, he suddenly appeared just another politician. Regardless of the merits of the policy, in political terms the tuition fees debacle was a serious strategic error.”

    Yet somehow this remarkable ‘strategist’ concludes that, “Clegg’s decision that staying is in the best interests of the party makes sense.”

    Why?

    Because ‘It is honourable’. There you are, you see the old amateurism culture shining through.

    Then, “The path of reconciliation requires the Liberal Democrats to enthuse voters with a liberal vision.”

    That may be how things happen in Hollywood’s version of ‘Life of the Saints’, but it is not how politics works. Lose trust, look opportunistic, get labelled self-satisfied, and the general public queue up to throw eggs at you.

    We learn that very quickly outside of the Westminster Village.

    Strategists who have the wrong strategy are lethal to the cause. They lose us support, they lose us credibility, ultimately, they lose us legitimacy.

    Amateurs!!!!!

  • Richard Harris 5th Jun '14 - 12:02pm

    “Clegg and his Westminster party have acknowledged their mistakes.”

    No they haven’t. If I smashed your window and apologised, but didn’t offer to fix it, you would not think very highly of me. If I then went on throwing stones in the general direction of your house, that would be an insult.

    Clegg is throwing stones.

  • “No they haven’t. If I smashed your window and apologised, but didn’t offer to fix it, you would not think very highly of me.”

    Indeed, it’s more a question of having smashed your window after promising not to smash your window, and then apologising for having made the promise!

  • Tony Dawson 5th Jun '14 - 1:12pm

    “The path of reconciliation requires the Liberal Democrats to enthuse voters with a liberal vision of the UK and its place in the world”

    Agreed. But you cannot do this if they don’t trust you a little already.

  • Tony Dawson 5th Jun '14 - 1:14pm

    @Bill le Breton:

    “Amateurs!!!!!”

    Come, come, Bill. This is an unwanted slur on amateurs. The ineptitude of those who you rightly criticise has been highly-paid.

  • Tony Dawson 5th Jun '14 - 1:25pm

    @paul barker:

    “Tuition Fees were not our “Primary Election Pledge” ; they weren’t even on the front page of The Manifesto.”

    Tuition Fees were our ONLY ‘election pledge’. Millions had heard of it before the election, whether they agreed with the policy or not. Less than few thousand people in the entire country take any cognisance or care about ANY Party manifestos which, unlike ‘Pledges’ are statements of intent, not promises.

  • Richard Harris 5th Jun '14 - 7:37pm

    @ Chris,
    I bow to the author of a much improved metaphor. You are so right I laughed out loud.

  • 20 comments.
    One comment in one direction.
    Nineteen comments in the opposite direction.
    Everybody is “out of step” except for paul barker.

  • Stephen Hesketh 5th Jun '14 - 9:50pm

    @John Tilley – there you go again, bringing facts into a debate 🙂
    @paul barker – may I recommend the ‘political compass’ website to you?

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Jun '14 - 11:10am

    Bill le Breton

    That may be how things happen in Hollywood’s version of ‘Life of the Saints’, but it is not how politics works. Lose trust, look opportunistic, get labelled self-satisfied, and the general public queue up to throw eggs at you

    Yes, and yet Clegg and the Cleggies actually made it a tactic to look self-satisfied. From the Rose Garden onwards, the message coming out from them was that if they looked self-satisfied, and the whole of the Liberal Democrats looked self-satisfied about being “in government”, as if all that mattered to them was holding these government posts, people would come flocking to support the party saying “Well, in the past you looked like a bunch of amateurs, so I never paid much attention to you, but now I can see you are proper Westminster politicians, just like the rest of them, so I’ll vote for you”.

    Despite that message so obviously being on the wrong track, it continued and continues to be pushed out from party HQ, not as bluntly as I have put it, but in words that the general populace interpret in that way. All this boasting about being “a party of governance”, and gross exaggeration and twisting of what has been done by this thoroughly Tory government in a stupidly over-optimistic way has just sent out that message to our (ex) voters that we are just so self-satisfied with these minor roles and so having this “power” was all we ever cared for in the first place, so anything we said leading up to it was just words used to get there.

    Our party is just so OBVIOUSLY badly led. We need to get rid of ALL those leading it that way. ALL of them, yes that includes people who are written up as on the ‘left’ of the party yet have cheerfully engaged in pushing out the right’s damaging propaganda.

  • Matthew.
    I can see what you’re driving at. But surely the Lib Dems need some kind of leader who can at least semi unite the party. Otherwise it will rip itself apart like Labour did in the 1980s.

  • Stephen Hesketh 6th Jun '14 - 1:05pm

    @Matthew Huntbach6th Jun ’14 – 11:10am. 100% aggreement.

    @Glenn 6th Jun ’14 – 11:35am. I genuinely can not see us following Labour’s example. For a start, I’d say the majority of our party membership, MPs, Lords and voters are reasonable people from the centre left.

    For a start we do not have a hard left nor do I believe for one moment that we are driven by the hate which typified Labours internal disputes.

    Our problem is mainly from a small group of centre-right MPs, and more especially those who subscribe to sub-Thatcherite economics, having a completely disproportionate influence over the party and who have sought, with absolutely no mandate whatsoever to recast us as a soggy centre party permenantly in office and acting to ‘moderate’ the policies of whoever they slect to enter into coalition with.

    The way we are going right now, it is far more likely to be the rocks dead ahead that will tear us apart.

  • Stephen,
    thanks for the reply. I was just trying to sound a note of caution.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Jun '14 - 3:37pm

    Glenn

    Matthew.
    I can see what you’re driving at. But surely the Lib Dems need some kind of leader who can at least semi unite the party. Otherwise it will rip itself apart like Labour did in the 1980s.

    I would gladly vote for someone who was on the right of the party economically (not where I am!) if that person at least showed good signs of recognising where it was going wrong and a willingness to do something about it. I would NOT vote for someone on the left who did not (I’ve made clear in posts elsewhere who I mean by that).

    We need someone to come forward and be that uniting figure. It may not be someone obvious, in fact if it’s to happen it won’t be someone obvious. But it will be someone brave – and that braveness is now needed in whoever will rescue the party if it can be rescued.

    Glenn, Clegg and the Cleggies are ALREADY ripping the party to pieces. The pieces being ripped off are people like me who have already stopped working for the party. Clegg’s hanging on and his arrogant approach about the whole situation is pushing people like me out – many have gone completely. The bland unthinking and leader-worshipping rhetoric which is coming from his supporters is making me think these aren’t people I want to be working with anyway, it’s a party which is neither “liberal” nor “democratic” as I understand the words.

    The issue seems to be that since no-one significant has stood up and said “Enough is enough, Clegg must go, and if no-one else will do it, I’ll lead the campaign against him”, people like you are taking comfort in thinking it’s all okay, there’s no big division. But if anything, the slow drip-drip dropping out of once active members is doing just the same. It would be better to bring this thing to a head now rather then let it fester. My fear is that many were hanging on to see how it went with this latest set of elections, and seeing how it went will now drop out. That is why I feel the general election in 2015 will be an absolute disaster. If that is to be avoided, we need action NOW!!!

  • Matthew,
    I don’t think what’s gone on is ok. I’ve said many times over the years that I think Clegg should go and that I’m not a huge fan of some other prominent Lib Dems., But a lot of my comments are subject to moderation,
    I know exactly who you are referring to. I’m just not so certain other candidates will have the same clout within the party and think spats could cause even more damage. Though, to be fair it’s pretty hard to see how.

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