LibLink: Tavish Scott – Clegg’s stance gives Lib Dems new hope

Former Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott has an article in The Scotsman this week looking at what he terms hyperbolically Nick Clegg’s “ripping up the UK government’s coalition agreement” after the Tories’ decision to block Lords reform:

For the party, this was a bitter pill to swallow. Many people were attracted to the Lib Dems because of constitutional reform. A Scottish Parliament, a Bill of Rights and elections using fairer voting systems are the DNA of most Lib Dems.

Getting rid of the unelected House of Lords is part of the package of moving Britain into the 21st century. Reform has now been lost because Conservatives either did not believe in democracy or stopped it because the change was proposed by a Lib Dem.

Labour could have saved Lords reform. They chose not to. Short-term political expediency ruled. The Labour leader’s decision to put aside a manifesto commitment in favour of destabilising the coalition is understandable politics.

But in 12 years of government Labour never found time to introduce a second elected chamber. So Lords reform is not a Labour priority.

Tavish then looks ahead, and anticipates a post-Coalition future for the Lib Dems, one that would see the party move closer to Labour:

… is this the moment when Clegg’s foot soldiers start to have hope for the future? Many have always found coalition with the Tories unpalatable. … Cable is much closer to Labour than others in the Lib Dem leadership. So Clegg’s decision to help Labour by helping them retain parliamentary seats is indicative of a change in the mood music of national politics. Once the last medal has been won in the Olympic Park, attention may swing back to an important point in judging the future of British politics.

You can read his article in full here.

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  • I really don’t understand this LibD tizzy over Lords reform.
    The public, quite rightly, are not engaged with efforts to get more party politics into the 2nd chamber.
    The LibDs is the ONLY the party that was right on the 3 big issues of recent times:-
    War in Iraq
    The UK economy
    The power of the tabloid media
    The Labour and Tory parties we wrong on ALL THREE!
    To then focus LibD ambition on HoL reform was a poor decision.
    Concentrate on something relevent to the people of the UK and stick by your principles!

  • uglyfatbloke 13th Aug '12 - 2:45pm

    A new role for the Lib-Dems rather depends on there being enough Lib-Dem MPs to make a difference. Things look a bit bleak just now, but there’s no reason to assume that there is brighter future. it’s not just about coalition with the tories – though that is important – it’s about abandoning the membership. The members may want a Liberal agenda, (PR, no trident replacement, bill of rights, Lords reform, cannabis) but the leadership has chosen to give away everything for a seat at a table where they have no power and little influence that anyone outside the Westminster village (and very few inside it) can identify.

  • coldcomfort 13th Aug '12 - 4:52pm

    The problem is that the Daily Express, to name but one piece of print media, bangs the permanent drum that Lords reform is a LibDem ‘obsession’ [the word they use] and sadly far too many people are falling for that. It is, of course, completely untrue. Lords reform was in all three party manifestos and the Coalition Agreement & the case for it is unarguable. By my count there are 815 members of the House of Lords of whom 190 or so are ex-MPs. Not surprisingly some MPs, who are looking forward to augmented pensions by being booted upstairs, are none too keen on reform. Finding out what each of the 815 costs can be discovered but I haven’t found a collated figure (how convenient for the authorities) & I don’t have time to wade through the published details – but we are supposed to be in need of cuts & austerity and to retain 815 is indefensible. The reality that the LibDems should be hammering is that a) the Tories cannot be trusted to stick to a contract b) that austerity is only, apparently, for some of us c) Cameron has lost control of his Party , so is he still fit to be Prime Minister & d) during its period in Government Labour had a serious problem recognising a principle, behaved like a Tory party, & hasn’t changed.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Aug '12 - 11:05am


    The public, quite rightly, are not engaged with efforts to get more party politics into the 2nd chamber.

    Congratulations on being successfully duped. The plan is ACTUALLY about taking appointment to the Lords away from the party leaders and putting it into the hands of the public. Just maybe you’ve been the victim of the power of the tabloid media in taking straight the very misleading way they’ve covered this issue.

    Concentrate on something relevent to the people of the UK and stick by your principles!

    Is it not quite remarkable how people will moan about how bad and unrepresentative our government is, and then dismiss reform of the system that put it in place and gives it its power as “irrelevant”?

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Aug '12 - 11:33am


    The members may want a Liberal agenda, (PR, no trident replacement, bill of rights, Lords reform, cannabis) but the leadership has chosen to give away everything for a seat at a table where they have no power and little influence that anyone outside the Westminster village.

    The members may want a lot of things, but the fact is that the people of this country voted for a Tory government and not a LibDem government. If you reply with the “but only 36% voted Tory” line, please remember that plenty more voted Labour, who endorse the current electoral system whose distortions mean 36% of the vote can give you absolute power. And if you don’t like that, please try shutting up all those who complain that reforms of this are “irrelevant”. Anyone who says electoral reform is “irrelevant” is in effect shouting out their support for the Tories to have absolute power on just over a third of the vote – so they should shut up moaning about the Tory government, they by their rejection of constitutional reform give it its legitimacy. By voting “No” to electoral reform in the referendum last year, the British public endorsed the current system and its pro-Tory distortions.

    To be sure, this time the distortions did not quite give the absolute majority to the largest party which they usually do, but they worked well enough to rule out any other government except one dominated by them. The fact that they didn’t quite make a full majority in Parliament just depends on how the LibDem vote spreads out – had it been more even and less clumpy (as it was in the 1980s), we’d have a full majority Tory government now.

    Given that the British people voted to have not many LibDem MPs, and just in case they hadn’t been heard, voted again a year later to support the system which gives them not many LibDem MPs and gives them many more Tory MPs than the Tories got as a share of the vote, it seems to me to be absurd then to moan that the LibDems aren’t managing to get much of their policy through.

    Following the 2010 general election, the LibDems had a choice of:

    1) The current coalition

    2) A “supply and confidence” agreement for a minority Tory government – which actually means the Tories could force them to vote for any Tory policy they decide is an issue of “confidence”.

    3) Sit back and let a minority Tory government be put in place anyway – the Tories would then have the win-win situation of claiming credit if things went well, or blaming the instability caused by the LibDems denying them majority support if things went badly – and of being able to call another general election 6 months later on the lines “give us a full majority so we can govern properly”. Of course, they’d have saved the nasties till after that.

    Sorry, but I feel opting for 1) was the least bad choice, and I say this as someone who is no fan of Clegg, indeed I think he’s been a disaster as leader. Mainly (but not only) because he has been unable or unwilling to explain things as I have and so allowed this ridiculous “sold out” line to get established, as if somehow there was a way the 2010 general election results could have been turned into a full LibDem government and Clegg’s to blame for it not happening.

    Of course, with Lords reform, as with much else, if the LibDems were pushing for it in government with Labour backing from outside, they could achieve much more. But expecting Labour to behave constructively and not to gang up behind closed doors with the Tories to maintain the good old two-party system? How would we deal with all those pigs clogging up the airspace?

  • Peter Watson 14th Aug '12 - 1:22pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    I think Clegg was a good figure-head up to the election but has been a terrible leader since. I agree that a tory-led coalition was the least bad option after the election, but the Lib Dems have played the hand that was dealt to them with naivety and incompetence.
    Possibly as a consequence of blindly following a particular approach to collective cabinet responsibility, Lib Dems in coalition government have enthusiastically endorsed and promoted policies which contradict their previously stated positions and which go against the apparent wishes of the membership. Even Clegg’s current position on boundaries is to vote against a measure that he previously assured us was about making the commons fairer and cheaper. This makes the party look weak, unprincipled, and incompetent.
    Lib Dems must now decide how to make the best out of a bad job, and I see no evidence that the party knows what it wants to do over the next 2.5 years and beyond.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Aug '12 - 4:41pm

    Peter Watson

    I think Clegg was a good figure-head up to the election but has been a terrible leader since.

    I agree with the second part, but not the first. If you look back at my contributions to LibDem Voice, you will see I have history on this. I started posting at the time of the leadership election, mainly because I passionately believed that Clegg was the wrong person to be leader, and I was appalled at the way we seemed to be sleepwalking into appointing him as leader, mainly because the right-wing press kept insisting he was “obviously the next LibDem leader”.

    You will see I have accurately criticised and predicted where it would go wrong almost every move made by Clegg since he became leader. But I don’t have a posh accent, and I come from a poor background, so what should I know? Still, I can dream and I do dream that one day you won’t get judged by the sounds you make when you open your mouth in this country, and we’ll have the capacity to see through posh boys rather than defer to them.

  • Peter Watson 14th Aug '12 - 5:48pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    I deliberately avoided referring to Clegg as a good “leader” before the election 😉 He made all of the right noises, looked earnest and sounded convincing, and was a fantastic communicator. The televised debates were supposed to be Cameron’s moment but Clegg threw the script out of the window.
    I objected in principle to the fact that after years of berating Tony Blair’s leadership of the Labour party (all spin no delivery, youth over experience, etc.), as Labour moved to a more substantial figure in Gordon Brown (I like the idea of a Gordon Brown more than the real thing!), Tories and Lib Dems both pushed for polished Blair-lite alternatives. And sadly that appears to be the sort of politician that the voters want. We seem now to have game players (with Osborne perhaps being one of the worst) for whom politics is all about outwitting an opponent rather than serving the country.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Aug '12 - 8:53am

    @Peter Watson
    Well, I didn’t see the first TV debate, but after everyone was going on about it, I saw the other ones, and I was not impressed by Clegg’s performance. He came across OK, but that was it. I felt there were so many places where he was missing obvious lines. There was no point where something Clegg said made me think “Ah, that’s clever, I never thought of it that way” or “Oh, now I understand”. After all the hoo-hah following the first debate I was really expecting something amazing. Instead I saw Clegg as Clegg always seems to be – like the public schoolboy who’s been picked to play the part of Liberal Democratic leader in the school’s mock election, has diligently mugged up on what Liberal Democrats are about, but in the end still seems to be playing a part rather than doing it from the heart, has nothing really innovating or challenging to say, and is hobbled by the fact that he comes from a background well in the top decile of wealth and income (I think actually the top percentile) and has the way of thinking such people tend to have.

    Now it may just be me, and I assure you I am being honest here – I just never got the point of Clegg. I never saw what others saw in him. I remember thinking this when he was being put forward for Leader, and others, including people I generally think of as sound and on my political wavelength, were raving about him. I know my “posh boy” comments about him sound bitter, but I’m sorry, I can’t think of any other rationale for why he seems to be regarded so highly and so effortlessly made it to the top.

    As I’ve said many times previously I do think part of the opinion poll boom that was put down to “Cleggmania” after the first debate was actually due to activists cranking up and getting the pre-election delivery out. The rest, I think, was novelty factor. Because Clegg had so failed to make an impact up to that point, so that few outside politixcs even knew who he was, when he came on and was no worse than the other two, people thought “Oh look, here’s another possible option” and were well disposed towards him and the “LibDem” answer in the opinion poll actually meant “Well, I’m thinking about LibDem having not thought about it before”. Unfortunately, this built up expectations which were not met, so we ended up being dragged down when he wasn’t a superstar in the later debates, whereas he’d have been better received in them had there not been all this “Cleggmania” build up.

    The thing that astonished me most about Clegg’s performance in the general election was that there was no big strong summing up speech towards the end. I remember waiting for it in the last debate thinking “it’s coming now”, but it didn’t, he just sort of tailed off. So I thought “OK, he’s going to do it from a public platform eve-of-poll or something”, but he didn’t. I know we’re wary of the Sheffiled Rally phenomenon, but something strong and heartfelt rather than triumphalist wiould have worked and should have been given.

    Clegg was sold to us as a “great communicator”, and you yourself say he was a “fantastic communicator”. But he isn’t. Sorry, I have to say this. He is repeatedly failing to communicate the LibDem position. People are now believing and saying all sorts or rubbish about us and our opinion poll rating has collapsed because of this. He just doesn’t seem to know how ordinary people tick and thus what to say to get them to understand. He hasn’t been able to get people to understand the dilemma we were placed in by the Parliamentary balance following the 2010 general election, as I have described above in my message of 11.33am yesterday. He wasn’t able to give a good explanation of the importance of electoral reform, so we lost the AV referendum. He hasn’t been able to get us off the tuition fees hook (see Michael Meadowcroft’s letter in today’s Guardian for how this could be done). His stand on Lord Reform has come across more as petulance than principle. All we get from him is tired old lines that make people yawn, where what we need is something to make people sit up and think, something that causes people to re-evaluate their positions, something to show to the people of this country how they are constantly being duped by the right-wing press.

  • I agree so much with your assessment here, Matthew – I did see the first TV debate, and the others. The difference was mainly in how Cameron performed. In the first it seemed he had taken everything too much for granted, and, presumably, wanted to be conciliatory, not attacking. When it was realised, through Poll ratings, that the Lib Dems were a genuine threat, all the old attack lines on Europe, immigration “welfare scrounging” etc came to the top – helped by the Tory press, and the tabloidised TV. None of us would find that environment easy to deal with, but NC couldn’t hold the line at all – and was crushed. Good communicator? Not even a guileful politician, I am afraid.

    NC is transparently a nice bloke – having met and talked with him I know that, and, as you say, party leadership these days, according to received, and largely popular opinion, goes for media performers of a certain type. Personally, I think the Lib Dem membership, each time they have had a leadership choice, have gone with the media favourite – each time wrongly. In recent times, we have suffered from certain good candidates not coming forward, probably because they know they don’t fit this mould. And, no, I am not going to name names.

    I am not in agreement about “no alternative”, but I have posted several times about that – it’s history now – but we should make sure we have considered all the alternatives if a next time comes up. And not all the alternatives will see us either being in Government or propping up a Government. The trouble was in May 2010 we abandoned our best card – high moral tone – far too fast, just to become like the others. Wrong! Clang! Of course, other politicos hate it, and it’s going to be a long time before people believe us as sincere when we deploy it.

  • Peter Watson 15th Aug '12 - 12:10pm

    I would definitely distinguish between Clegg before the election and after, and between Clegg the performer and Clegg the leader. In the first debate Clegg’s style was impressive: e.g. the way he used the questioners’ first names and seemed to be talking to them rather than the TV audience. By the second, Cameron in particular seemed to be emulating this. Clegg appeared natural, sincere, “a nice bloke”, while Cameron appeared to be a bit hawk-like and self-conscious about how to spin what he said, and Brown was just Brown, doomed by then but I found myself reluctantly warming to him. Also at that time, Cable had performed very well in the debate with Osborne and Darling so there was a feeling that the Lib Dems had Clegg’s style backed up by Cable’s substance. I think he was also able to position himself and the party between Labour who had messed everything up and nasty tories who would just make it worse. I was certainly happy to put another X in a Lib Dem box in May 2010.
    Now though, those same mannerisms of Clegg (the earnest expression, the sincere tone, the timing and inflection) just annoy me because of the contrast between what he said and what he did. I would not want it to become personal or for Clegg to carry all of the blame though; he is surrounded by Lib Dem MPs who have done themselves no favours in coalition and who must share responsibility for the party’s loss of credibility.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Aug '12 - 12:41pm

    Peter Watson

    In the first debate Clegg’s style was impressive: e.g. the way he used the questioners’ first names and seemed to be talking to them rather than the TV audience.

    Classic PR stuff. There are umpteen training courses that will teach you how to do things like this. But, you know what? It’s easiest to train an empty mind. Maybe it’s just me and I’m a dying breed, but I don’t go for that shallow PR trickery. what you see as sincerity here, I see as insincerity. Personally I find when someone really is sincere and means what they say and is deeply into it, they don’t act like this. If someone I don’t know immediately starts addressing me by my first name, I find it shallow, not sincere, and my first thought is “what rubbish is he trying to sell me?”.

    Now though, those same mannerisms of Clegg (the earnest expression, the sincere tone, the timing and inflection) just annoy me

    They annoyed me from the start. So who, you or me, made the better judgment?

  • Peter Watson 15th Aug '12 - 1:52pm

    I accept what you say, though I prefer to give Clegg the benefit of the doubt and believe him to have been well-meaning but incompetent. Though as a great writer (Jean Giraudoux) once said, “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

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