Now is not the time for a bitter and bloody leadership battle

Nick Clegg addresses Birmingham Liberal Democrats conference. Photo courtesy of the Liberal DemocratsOne of the most interesting (and logistically challenging – though that’s another story) conference fringe events I have had a hand in organising through my involvement with Liberal Reform was a panel of fellow liberals from across Europe talking about their experiences of being members of a coalition.

I wanted to hold such an event to counter the all too prevalent assumption that the problems facing the Liberal Democrats are somehow unique to us. Because they are most certainly not.

Where parties enter into government in a coalition, particularly as the minor party (though being the larger party brings its own challenges – ask the VVD in Holland), they almost inevitably suffer at the polls, for obvious reasons. Those reasons, it is true, are particularly heightened in the UK, unused as we are to coalition government and dominated as our politics is by a traditionally rigid two-party system, with a media as committed to the status quo as the two main parties.

So our party’s current difficulties should not come as a surprise. That is not to say that mistakes weren’t made: they were. But mistakes, during our first period in government in living memory, should have been just as expected as the loss of some of our traditional support, particularly from those who voted for us precisely because we were not a party of national government.

All of this is not to be fatalistic, because we shouldn’t be. There is nothing pre-determined about the outcome of next year’s general election.

But it is a call to be realistic. Whoever had led our party into government in 2010, our electoral performance over the course of the parliament would have been similar (or, conceivably, worse). And changing leader in the run up to 2015 is likely to achieve very little, but again could conceivably make things worse: ask the Australian Labor Party

It is telling that those calling for Clegg to go don’t set out any realistic alternative path. Thinking through the scenarios that involve Clegg resigning now, I can think of no route that contains fewer or more surmountable obstacles than him remaining as leader.

We should not simply keep calm and carry on, but nor should we lose our heads either. The long-term success of the party is best served by us using our collective endeavour not to fight a months-long leadership campaign but to refine our strategy and prepare our game plan. From the party leadership that will involve a level of engagement with party members that has sometimes been lacking over recent years, but equally from party members it will involve a commitment to constructive contributions over bitterness and recrimination.

While there was an inevitability about many of the difficulties we have faced since entering government in 2010, there is one thing at least that is in our power as party members, and that is the unity and therefore strength of the party. We have demonstrated remarkable and much-commented upon resilience in the face of adversity over recent years, and it would be ironic, not to mention entirely counterproductive, at a time when that resilience is most needed, to abandon it in a bloody battle over the party leadership.

* Nick Thornsby is a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.

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  • “We have demonstrated remarkable and much-commented upon resilience in the face of adversity over recent years”
    Nick, you have an odd notion of ‘resilience.’ I should have thought that resilience meant the ability, when knocked down, to recover, get up, regain strength, and move onward. But I take it that someone who is knocked over and then proceeds to lie helpless in the dirt while a thousand boot-soles trample over his back might, by your definition, be termed ‘resilient.’

  • Bill le Breton 25th May '14 - 2:22pm

    It doesn’t have to be bitter or bloody.

  • Bill le Breton 25th May '14 - 2:23pm

    Nor months long.

  • Aren’t these laissez faire Pangloss blogs irritating. We get one after another just justifying these people’s positions of power in the party and what favours the leader will give them and their Orange Booker mates by defending Nick Clegg. It gets very boring, come up with good reasons why a Leader who has lost 100 and 100s of council seats since he was elected. I never voted for him in the first place but have stood by in despair as the party vote has been halved and people shower local activists with hatred. He couldn’t care less about us as long as his own power base remains intact and it’s time for Clegg to go and let the rest of us get on with with a new Leader. He’s taking the party to the Conference league, obviously that’s what you’re backing and it’s a very long way back. Most people want the party to move forwards not backwards and your Orange Bookers are an example of that in attacking the excellent mansion tax and privatising public services which Clegg is the architect of.

  • Paul Pettinger 25th May '14 - 2:27pm

    This is politics of fear. I don’t think we have anything to fear from an election and a leader with a fresh mandate – if anything it could leave us much more united and offer a fresh lease of life.

  • Radical Liberal 25th May '14 - 2:27pm

    Why can’t we just have a debate over what type of party we want to be when we have a leadership contest? Why does it have to be bloody? Unless, of course, the orange bookers, are determined to turn it into a nasty slanging match which , going by Mr Thornsby’s twitter account, may well be the case.

  • The Orange Bookers want to destroy the Party. That’s why they want all the social liberals out so they can then get their wicked way and free market policies in government unchallenged which of course is exactly what Clegg and is protaganists on here are doing now. Those of us who founded the Party from the Liberal and Social Democratic wings must seize this opportunity to ditch this leader and win our ex voters back who have mainly gone to the Greens and Labour, both left of centre parties who have no interest in privatisation or royal mail, bedroom tax, cutting the police and fire brigade all the things the Orange Bookers are pushing forward.

  • I agree with Nick (Thornsby that is). Changing leader now would probably do little improve our situation, the reality is the majority of our loss of support comes from being coalition with the Tories. This was proven out in last nights results, for example near me we were wiped out in Manchester against Labour, but held extremely well in Stockport, losing two seats and gaining one. A well run local campaign can buck the national trend. Changing leader now is a huge gamble that could tar that new leader with an poor electoral performance just 12 months into his leadership.

    Stick to the plan, stick to the leadership, fight like mad to keep our MPs in 2015 and see what the next parliament brings.

  • I’m also baffled by this argument that Leadership Elections are automatically bad for our opinion poll rating. If you look back in history, they were bad for us when we got rid of a leader the voters liked (Kennedy). And good for us when we got rid of a leader the voters didn’t like (Campbell).

    And Nick is a leader that the voters don’t like.

  • What’s his job got to do with it, the fact he’s a barrister is a red herring. Just the of air of superiority I’d expect from the Clegg protagonists. I’m an unemployed council tenant, probably the lowest of the low as far as you’re concerned. T

  • What a load of rubbish the establishment is churning out. The only defences I can hear are :-
    1. There is no alternative. So if NC falls under a bus tomorrow there is no alternative!
    2 “We do not want a bloody leadership contest”. Bloody is your word, it will not be like that and Nick Thornsby knows that.
    He also knows that come tomorrow and Tuesday there probably will be no alternative to a leadership contest. Let us get on with it and then unite behind the winner whoever that is. The longer this drags on the worse itwill be. The train has left the station.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th May '14 - 3:02pm

    I appreciate defending Nick Clegg, but I think saying it is not the time for a battle sounds like we are scared. If they want a contest then they should follow due process and try to arrange one. I am confident we would win and even if we lose we would end up winning anyway because we have better policies.

  • Nick Thornsby puts forward the leadership’s case for there not to being a leadership battle. He states, “It is telling that those calling for Clegg to go don’t set out any realistic alternative path. Thinking through the scenarios that involve Clegg resigning now, I can think of no route that contains fewer or more surmountable obstacles than him remaining as leader.”

    The alternatives are realistic and they have a chance of removing two huge obstacles – Most electors do not trust Nick Clegg and most don’t trust the Liberal Democrats. During the European Union debates Nick was asked about trust, during the general election the question why should people trust you when you broke your pledge on tuition fees will feature again and again. There is no answer that can restore trust to Nick Clegg. This is why if Nick Clegg went this issue could go with him. The other one is linked – why should we trust the Liberal Democrats and there is an answer here and it would take real guts for a leader to state it. If any MP ever makes a pledge and breaks it they will be expelled from the party and we have changed the rules to ensure this happens. Then we need to be clear that if we can’t get our four priorities into a coalition agreement we will not enter into coalition government and if they are not delivered we will end the coalition government. We also need to state that the party will be directed by Conference and if the Parliamentary party goes against conference policy all those who voted that way will be expelled from the party. For both of these to be achieved the only MPs who can stand for the leadership are those who kept their pledge and voted against the new tuition fees structure.

  • Tony Greaves 25th May '14 - 3:07pm

    Nick Thornsby might be “bright, personable and thoughtful” He might also be politically inexperienced, lacking common sense and wrong.

    The party is in a serious crisis and facing electoral oblivion in 12 months time. If we were a leading football team in such a position, or a top FTSE company, or a large ship heading for an iceberg, or a TV programme with plummeting ratings, what would we do? Is a political party any different?

    There comes a time when what is fair, or loyal, or not deserved, is no longer relevant. The way to avoid a bloodbath is clear – people at the top of this party have to make their own decisions, none less than the Leader. It’s a time when duty to the party and loyalty to the activists and members, should be foremost in his mind.

    Will it be this evening? Or will the agony continue to after the announcement of a UKIP gain at Newark and a LD lost deposit?


  • @Helen

    I’m not saying that at all, of course people worked hard and did their best, I just think (in my humble opinion) that changing leader would have done little to improve the results in Manchester.

  • Tony Greaves 25th May '14 - 3:09pm

    Gareth – it’s the result in 12 months time that matters. Have you been out and talked to people recently?

  • Toby Fenwick 25th May '14 - 3:10pm

    @david: you keep asserting that there’s an Orange Book cabal who want to destroy the party/protect Clegg at all costs/any other number of things. To the best of my limited knowledge, this is tinfoil wearing paranoid nonsense.

    Your criticism of Nick Thornsby is entirely unjustified; along with the rest of the LDV team he gives up a lot of time to give you and I and everyone else a place to discuss policy and party politics, for which we owe them a vote of thanks. LDV has voices from across the party, all of which shows me that (entirely unsurprisingly) the most ardent members of Liberal Reform and the SLF have much more in common than divides them, it is just inevitable in internal debates we focus on what we disagree about.

    And as it happens, unusually in this case, I don’t agree with Nick T. But that’s the pojnt of polite, informed debate, presumably.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th May '14 - 3:12pm

    That should read ‘tinfoil hat wearing’, of course.


    Read this, even MPs are waking up at last. They now realise their seats are under threat with Mr Clegg continuing as leader and it’s time for the party to change leader and direction. I think we’re are seeing the makings of change thanks to the petition on the other thread. More people need to be aware of it as only a small proportion of the membership go on this site, I don’t know the figures. But any other ideas as to how to publicise it.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th May '14 - 3:19pm

    Tony, your attack on Nick T is unjustified and you should withdraw it.

  • A leadership contest is going to become damaging, that’s pretty much a given. The alternatives that exist for the party that are worth thinking about are, first, Clegg soldiers on to 2015 and we dig in, defend our strongholds and hope for the best. Or second, Clegg resigns and the parliamentary party agrees to unite behind a caretaker who would fight a more aggressive campaign. The caretaker would either be confirmed in a postponed contest, or replaced in that contest after the general election.

    Either way, the focus for members should be on agitating for a more radical, more liberal platform to campaign on than the current offerings, and then on getting out and making that message heard. The party leadership needs to pull its best people away from the machinations of being In Government ™ and towards creating and delivering that radical programme. And the leader? Well. If I were in his shoes today, I’d be tuning in to the live updates from the European Elections, with the full intention of basing my future on the results of those.

  • Radical Liberal 25th May '14 - 3:23pm

    Notice how the orange bookers want to talk about other things rather than Clegg, that’s why they are now throwing around personal attacks about tin foil hats etc. By the way don’t mock paronoid people – its a mental illness. Yet of course David isn’t being paronoid but correct.

    This really ins’t complex. Clegg is poison. Can people really see him in the leadership debates? Can you imagine it? He’s a hate figure and people still want him to be the face of this party? I really don’t know why people want to make things harder for themselves than they are already going to be by keeping Clegg. It’s bizarre and misplaced.

  • No it isn’t and I stand by it in view of the posts I’ve read on other threads and what I’ve seen and heard them say Jeremy Browne their leader elect for example.

    I don’t like this site as it’s too dominated by Orange Bookers anyway but at least those of us who are Social Liberals and always have been since our party was formed are having our say. It seems that one thread after another is appearing mainly defending Nick Clegg with just the odd one thrown is as a token balance for those of us who want a change of Leader like Sandra’s. People who put an opposing view are being marginalised by the likes of Mr Fenwick and his ilk which sums the Orange Bookers up. They have infiltrated the party and have been doing their dirty work unchallenged, now is the time to let people see just what really they have been up to in the Coalition on a whole raft of policies like the Bedroom Tax, abolition of the AWB etc etc.

  • Radical, they now don’t like the fact we’re starting to come on here and put an opposing view. They resent those of us who are not wealthy monied individuals on low incomes in council houses the sort of people they look down their noses at. Unfortunately they are the people Nick Clegg has harnessed and are deeply unpopular with the electorate- Jeremy Browne might as well stand as a tory to retain his seat. As you say they are using all kinds of insults and slurs to attempt to silence and stifle us but it isn’t working as come tonight I am hearing some other MPs will start to wake up. Clegg has to go as the architect of the Party’s disastrous results, they don’t care but we do.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th May '14 - 3:37pm

    David- you accuse me of being an Orange Booker (whatever that generalised term of abuse is supposed to mean). You accuse me of denigrating those opposed to Nick Clegg; again, wrong, and as it happens my personal view is that Nick Clegg should go to become the UK’s EU Commissioner, as he’s the best UK candidate. This would create an opening this summer and there would be a contest.

    But you are dead wrong in accussing me and others you call OBs of wanting to destroy the party. It’s offensive and just plain wrong. If your definition of a good LibDem is anyone who agrees with you, then I’m afraid you have a pretty narrow view of what the party is.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th May '14 - 3:39pm

    david, I found myself entirely dependent on the state recently and it never made me left wing because I don’t trust the left to run the economy. Nick Clegg has the right message for people who need the state too.

  • Either the new leader would continue in the coalition, in which case they would be tarred with the same brush, or they would leave the coalition and make it clear that the Lib Dems cannot be trusted to stand by their agreements.

    I don’t see how changing leader will actually improve people’s views of the Lib Dems. If it was _just_ Nick then I’d say replace him, but it’s _being in coalition with the Conservatives_ and all of the things the party has done with them that has hurt them. There’s backing Secret Courts, and the Bedroom Tax, and the awful things that have happened to disabled people that Lib Dems haven’t been screaming from the rooftops.

    Changing Nick wouldn’t change any of that. And so there is no point changing Nick less than a year before the next election.

  • I dunno what this argument is about. Nick Clegg is toxic and his position will be untenable before 3am tomorrow. The game is up and everyone knows it.

  • Im pretty sure Clegg was unpopular and losing councillors hand over fist a year ago and back then his staunchest supporters’ strongest argument was “now isnt a good time”. Mind you, at least then they put it down to mid term blues. What happened to that excuse?

  • Mr Fenwick I didn’t join the Lib Dems in order for public services to be privatised neither did I join to see attacks on the disabled and benefits or the bedroom tax, abolition of the AWB etc,. There is nothing fair about these policies of Mr Clegg’s and when he is questioned about them the answers he gives are unconvincing and he might as well hand over to David Cameron. Tuition fees are another matter, they would’ve gone up whoever was in charge in all probability but was it really necessary to increase them to 9k when it could’ve been 4 or 5k – No. And his huge mistake in making a promise he could not keep means he is a poisoned chalice to the electorate and the Party. The Orange Bookers policies are turning people away in their droves and it’s not only time for Clegg to go but for them to go as well. You’ve already done enough damage to our credibility so go and join the conservatives or even Ukip where let’s face it you’d be more at home.

  • Stephen Howse 25th May '14 - 4:06pm

    “Most people want the party to move forwards not backwards and your Orange Bookers are an example of that in attacking the excellent mansion tax and privatising public services which Clegg is the architect of.”

    Let’s go back to the seventies and start renationalising everything, because it all worked so well before.

    As for the Mansion Tax – I’m not its biggest fan. I’d rather implement a Land Value Tax – now that would be a truly radical, and liberal, solution to the problem of inefficient use and misallocation of land.

  • It’s very telling that Nick Thornsby gives no positive arguments in favour of Nick Clegg remaining leader – only arguments about the difficulties of the alternative courses. The same seems to be true of most of those defending the status quo. Indeed, many of them seem to have an unspoken expectation that Nick Clegg will indeed go in a year’s time.

    The best course would be for Clegg to make the decision himself to step down, and for a caretaker leader to try to minimise the damage in 2015.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th May '14 - 4:23pm

    david- I don’t believe we’ve ever met, so I’m not sure why you think I should be a Tory or in UKIP. If you want me expelled, I’m sure the federal constitution provides fir it, but that’s a decision for them, not you. Your ill informed ad hominem attacks do you no credit.

  • jedibeeftrix 25th May '14 - 4:28pm

    let us be more direct then; what is ‘excellent’ about the mansion tax?

  • A Voter in UK 25th May '14 - 4:33pm

    As an outsider, taxpayer and voter, may i also contribute?

    I have to say that the general feeling around everyone i know and my personal feelings also, is that Clegg has failed.

    Not only has he failed to hold the Tories to account over so many issues, he has also ignored massive swathes of the electorate’s pain and suffering. That is why the Lib-dem party is being punished, locally, and nationally and either if you remove Mr. Clegg now or don’t, the anger towards the party will not fade before 2015.

    This issue is for your party to have a debate and decide which way you want your party to respond because i do believe the lib-dems should be to left of centre. The Right-wing will be lapping this up, the Tories and UKIP, and their allies in their press.

    Maybe it is a good thing for your party to do before the results tonight or it a major mistake, only time will tell.

    But infighting only displays to the public that you will still be unfit for any office in 2015.

    Just my two cents.

  • David Evershed 25th May '14 - 4:34pm

    Readers should note the difference in the points of view on this site of Lib Dem Members (with the bird alongside the name) and likely non members (no bird).

    Beware trolls and agent provocateurs.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th May '14 - 4:35pm

    On the question of privatisation, it seems silly to me to advocate an ideological stance in favour of state or private provision of services. Different services require different approaches: for all of the concern about the privatisation of the NHS, one could be forgiven for thinking that there never been a mixed economy in the NHS which with GPs being independent small businesses, and consultants having private practice has of course been at the centre of the NHS since 1948.

    On this basis, I favour the arms length state operation of the passenger railway, mutualisation of the water companies, a public nuclear power station operator and no state role beyond regulation in telecoms.

    This for me is a liberal, evidence based policy approach: take cases on their merits and work out whwt works best.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th May '14 - 4:37pm

    I’m a LibDem member minus bird at the moment, David.

  • @David Evershed.

    A very fair point. Though, just for the record, I am a member and former employee but just haven’t got round to having/that fussed in having the superb bird of Liberty by my name 🙂

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 25th May '14 - 4:48pm

    @Eddie Sammon
    “Nick Clegg has the right message for people who need the state too.”

    And what message would that be? “If you don’t accept our zero hour contracts which won’t provide you with any work and will make you totally dependent on food banks, we’ll suspend your benefits . If we suspend your benefits this will equally deprive you of money and make you totally dependent on food banks, So you’d better take those zero hour contracts.” I think the electorate have clearly got that message . That’s why they’ve deserted Clegg and your party in their millions.

    We in Labour eventually got our party back. You can get your party back too. But that requires a leadership contest and the election of a leader who is commited to removing you from your fatal coalition pact , and renewing your fundamentally decent principles and values. At present, in the minds of many people throughout the country, the term Liberal Democrat is synonymous with . . . I’m going to have to stop there for fear of being moderated!

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 25th May '14 - 4:55pm

    @David Evershed.

    I am not a troll. I always state in my soubriquet that I am not a Lib Dem. I have always applauded this site for its capacity to encourage open debate.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 25th May '14 - 5:04pm

    David 3.26
    You can stand by whatever you want as far as I am concerned. This is an exchange of views.
    So far LDV have run anti Nick Clegg articles from George Potter, Sandra Gidley and Adrian Sanders, and one pro Nick Clegg article from Nick Thornsby, plus a piece covering the papers, Tim Farron’s appearance and bloggers’ views. That seems fairly balanced.
    As for Jeremy Browne, did you see the following commentaries? Stephen Tall and Caron Lindsay are the two co-editors of Liberal Democrat Voice and they were very critical of Jeremy Browne’s new book in very detailed posts here:
    And here:
    I haven’t actually read the Orange Book. I have only heard people talking about it. I don’t really know what is in it, to be honest.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 25th May '14 - 5:05pm

    I’m a member minus bird at the moment also, as I have forgotten my password and don’t know how I can retrieve it.

  • Peter Chegwyn 25th May '14 - 5:08pm

    @ David Evershed – I too don’t have a bird alongside my name but I’ve been a member for 40 years, Councillor for 35 years, worked for the Party at all levels and organised over 500 winning campaigns in that time including those in Gosport last week, one of the very few places to have a net gain of seats. I’m not a disgruntled loser, I can speak as someone who held my own seat with a tripled majority last Thursday and saw all my colleagues in Gosport do the same.

    I’ve been warning since 2010 that Nick Clegg will lead the party over an electoral cliff. He is toxic with voters and currently has a popularity rating of minus 56 per cent. That’s not going to change in the next 12 months so the question is not whether he should go, it’s simply when.

    We have a clear choice. Stagger on with a toxic Leader and face another mauling at the polls in 2015. Or change now and at least try to repair some of the damage already done and save a few more council and parliamentary seats next year.

    It’s not just about changing the messenger. It’s also about changing the advisers around the messenger and the message they’re promoting.

    I don’t think a change will return the party to pre-2010 popularity levels overnight, of course, it won’t, but if it helps to start the re-building process a year earlier than otherwise, if it helps save a few more seats next year, and if it helps to keep a few more people in the party and attract back some of those who have left, then it’s worth doing and it’s worth doing now.

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th May '14 - 5:15pm

    Bearing in mind some of its contributors, I too have come to the conclusion that we should avoid using the ‘Orange Bookers’ as a term to describe the free-market capitalist-supporting right of our party. As far as I am concerned neither should those of this persuasion be called economic liberals as it is as about as honest as the neo-liberal term used to describe the economics of Thatcher and the Tories from 1979 onwards.

    That said I fear that what has happened under the cloak of us supporting the coalition, is that we (the ordinary Lib Dem members) have been subjected to the equivalent of the ‘New Labour’ project with, in our case, the economic right of our party seeking to completely reposition our party in this crucial area. That, as I understood it, was not the driving idea behind the notorious orange book.

    The small but influential free-market liberal group have sought to move our party away from its historic philosophy and values as embodied in the preamble – and to which we all sign up to as Liberal Democrats – towards something much more likely to be followed by a centre-right party.

    I personally have less of a problem with Clegg and Danny Alexander than I do with the likes of Jeremy Browne and David Laws but only recently Clegg has been selecting the negotiating team to be in place in case of another hung Parliament (which looks increasingly likely). So, even if he had to resign following the general election, he is lumbering us with an economically pro-free market team. No doubt this would be unable to reach agreement with Labour in the event of them being the largest party and would then seek to deliver us up for another term with the Tories. Not in my name my friends!

    Experience teaches us that if you bake the same recipe using the same ingredients, not to mention the same chefs, you get the same dish! That is why something has to change.

    Certain commentators are saying that part of the UKIP vote is also a rejection by some of the Westminster party machine/career politician-based system. The time has come for the Clegg camp to recognise that it is not only the electorate who have had enough of this situation. Our party attracts free thinking men and women not class-protection clones!

    Clegg was at his best arguing for LIB DEM policies prior to the last election. The time is long overdue for him to reconnect with mainstream liberal democracy and ordinary members and activists.

    And for goodness sake get rid of the totally uninspiring centrist mantra ‘stronger economy, fairer society’. This is not inherently Liberal at all. No matter how big the cake is, Liberal Democrats should be seeking to divide it up fairly. How does the Clegg mantra square with the richest getting richer with very little gain for the other 90% and their homes rocketing in value based substantially on the services ordinary citizens pay for? And how are multi-national corporations able to avoid paying a fair share of taxes? If righting these wrongs is not something we can agree on with the Tories, this is something that he, as leader of the Liberal Democrats, should be shouting from the rooftops.

    To be honest, I’m not that fussed which individual leads our party. What is important to me is that they believe in and fight for policies compatible with the constitutional preamble to which we all subscribe.

    If Clegg is serious about continuing to lead OUR party, as of early next week he needs to adopt some progressive party policies and come out fighting for them as he did at the last general election.

    P.S. Bird or no bird, I hope no one is in any doubt about my membership status!

  • Peter – I think many more people will feel comfortable and confident with Clegg replaced as Leader than with him still there. It will take to get the party back to Charles Kennedy levels of MPs but changing leader can only be a good thing. Some people will always support losing until the end but slogan is ‘Winning Here’ well that used to be everywhere but now it’s often sadly ‘Losing Here’ so lets get the return to Winning back.

  • Peter Chegwyn, you are 100% right.

  • Steve Griffiths 25th May '14 - 5:27pm

    The Party now has the choice of being negative, or doing something positive to change it’s current position. It could be negative and ‘whistle on’ towards the general election, hoping that something may turn up. The only problem with this is that Nick has shot all his bolts (“grown-up politics”,” party of in”, “stronger economy; fairer society”, the lost debates with Farage) and they have failed; there’s nothing left in his armoury.

    Any organisation faced with failure has to change; painful though that may be. The positive thing to do is find a new leader with a new direction, before it’s too late.

  • I think people should use these terms such as Orange Bookers why beat about the bush and disguise it. We’ve suffered enough with this right wing clique taking over our Party so why not face them head on. Clegg has been too weak to stand up to them and their anti public service agenda.

  • David
    Please continue to use the term Orange bookers by all means.
    But please bear in mind that I haven’t got a clue what you mean by the term. I don’t know what is in the Orange Book. I have never read it and have never even read a summary of it. I don’t intend to read it either. I intend to continue using my liberal beliefs to decide on policies as they come up.
    What do you mean by the term “Orange Booker”? Who are the “Orange Bookers”? Who are these people?
    Don’t bother to answer the question if don’t want. Just continue using the term and remain oblivious to the fact that many people don’t know what you mean by it. That is your prerogative.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th May '14 - 6:07pm

    david: as has been said above, the term Orange Booker is meaningless given the range of views within it a decade ago. I don’t know any LibDems who have an ‘anti public service agenda’, either. If you oppose cuts in spending, perhaps you’d explain how you’d have closed an 11% of GDP deficit? Given that there is more austerity to come whoever is in power, where would you make cuts in future? Which taxes would you raise?

    I don’t like the ‘bedroom tax’, and it is unworkable if there are jo smaller properties to move into. I’d prefer to have had a double (prices and earnings) rather than triple lock on pensions, and to have phased out red diesel (@ £2.4bn, four times the value of the bedroom tax) over three years. These to me are liberal policy positions that combine fairness with fiscal probity. You may agree or you may not- that’s why we have debate. But lets have a debate rather than name calling and your proposals to kick out of the party people you don’t agree with.

  • Peter Watson 25th May '14 - 6:17pm

    @David Evershed
    I suspect that trolls, agent provocateurs and anybody who wants to see the Lib Dems do badly would be happy for Clegg to stay in place. The AV referendum showed that he is the best weapon that opponents of the party have.

    Actually, I think that most of the non-members (or undeclared members) in these debates have posted regularly on this site over the last few years and many of us have given a bit of information about our background. For the record, I was once a member of the Liberal party (1985-199x) and did a little bit for my local councillor, but got annoyed by all the petty arguments about the party’s name after merger with the SDP and drifted away. Apart from a tactical flirtation with Labour in 1997 I have voted for the Lib Dems or their predecessors at each and every election from 1985-ish to May 2010, and against the party at every opportunity since (apart from one local council candidate).

  • Toby “perhaps you’d explain how you’d have closed an 11% of GDP deficit?”

    Not by spending over £1.1billion in a pointless NHS top-down re-organisation, that’s for sure,not counting £5million in lawyers’ fees.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th May '14 - 6:35pm

    Phyllis- I’m inclined to agree. I don’t tend to comment on NHS issues as I only know about it as a patient. But this is exactly the kind of debate we desperately need, and the policy forums were a start, but betrayed a focus on a manifesto that’s as narrow as possible to ensure that we don’t make too many inconvenient promises before the next coalition negotiations.

    I’d much rather set out a vision of what a majority LibDem government would do, and negotiate from there.

  • Graham Evans 25th May '14 - 6:37pm

    Perhaps it is human nature, but it seems to me that too many LDs who have enjoyed electoral success locally ascribed this success to their own efforts and campaigning, while those who once enjoyed success but now experience failure are too ready to blame the leadership of the Party nationally. The reality is than the difference between success and failure often has as much to do with luck and circumstances as it has with effort or leadership. There are countless examples over the decades where success in local government, often achieved through the work of experienced campaigners, has failed to translate into parliamentary success at Westminster. I would cite in particular Pendle, where Tony Greaves seems to have been active since the beginning of time, Liverpool, where since David Alton won the Edge Hill by-election decades ago, and subsequently managed to briefly retain the Moseley Hill seat, Labour have consistently won all the parliamentary seats, even though LDs often ran the Liverpool council with comfortable majorities, and St Albans where the Liberals and Conservatives long contested control of the local council, but it was Labour who won the parliamentary seat in 1997, whereas in Colchester where for many years the LDs dominated the council, Bob Russell just managed to scrapped home in a three party fight. On the other hand there are examples where a parliamentary win in a by-election had enabled Liberals and Liberals Democrats to build a strong local government base. This is true of Southwark, Eastleigh and Berwick upon Tweed, even Brent. Moreover, while I am sure those from South Lakeland will ascribe their success in these elections to their local activity, perhaps they would like to explain to LDs in Three Rivers who have been consistently successful in local government in a particularly affluent part of the South East what is takes to actually elect a LD MP. My suggestion that under FPTP it has often as much to do with luck, being in the right place at the right time, and with parliamentary boundaries as it has to do with any particular approach to campaigning or policy, whether nationally or locally, and in deed actually little to do with who actually leads the Party.

  • Well if you don’t have an anti public service agenda but support cuts in public spending then that’s a bit of a contradiction in itself. There are far better ways of raising revenue and increasing tax at the top end is one of them not lowering to 45p as Osbourne did. Also ensuring companies like Amazon, Starbucks etc and all the others who get away with it pay their fair share of tax and ending loopholes for tax havens. Attacking the poor, those of us on benefit by cutting it back and the disabled eg the bedroom tax is not the way to go about it as the Orange Bookers are doing and will continue to do while Clegg supports them. And how about some of those profiteering energy companies, would love to see a windfall tax on them.

  • Graham Evans 25th May '14 - 6:46pm

    Oh, I forgot to mention Gosport where some people seem to think that they have all the answers to election success, but have never actually come close to electing a Liberal or LD MP.

  • Paul walter,
    I’ve read the Orange Book and believe people are using Orange Booker more has a shorthand way to describe advocates of a Market Lead loosely economic form of liberalism. I think this is misleading as the contributions were more varied than this analysis implies. They are not the rapid free market bogie men some people are making them out to be, But IMO The Orange Book was a bit lite on original ideas and a bit too heavy on Nu Labour style rebranding buzzwords and political fashion.

  • Many thanks Glenn

  • Andrew Tennant 25th May '14 - 7:16pm

    ‘It needn’t be a bloody leadership battle’ say those personally attacking all who disagree with their preferred course of action and dismissing great swathes of party members as ‘evil Orange Bookers’.

    That’s an astounding absence of self-awareness.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th May '14 - 7:25pm

    david: you can support spending cuts at the same time as supporting public service provision. The reality in 2010 was that there was a collapse in tax revenue (Labour had been massively reliant on Corporation Tax and Stamp Duty from houses and financial transactions, and with the recession, the two collapsed at once) and that international best practice (specifically, Sweden, Canada and NZ) shows that the best way to close these sorts of gaps is 80/20 spending cuts / tax rises.

    I obviously support cutting down on tax cheats, was unconvinced about removing the 50p rate, (as the data required to show that it didn’t raise any cash wasn’t available), and on public sector efficiencies. But these only get you so far: there had to be tax rises (VAT to 20%, fiscal drag) and spending cuts. Most people I talk to agree that the cuts in investment were a mistake, and I would have preferred to cut the civil service pay bill by 10-15% as was done in Ireland (I was a civil servant before anyone gets up in arms) as was done in Ireland.

    Protecting pensioners who are comfortably off – including those like my parents – was a political choice, and flawed. Paying for bus passes, tv licences and winter fuel payments for those who don’t need them from general taxation is a lamentably regressive spending decision. I don’t have a problem with the notion of the spare room subsidy / bedroom tax – it affected me last year when I was unemployed – but it will only work where there is a supply of smaller properties available. Equally, like you I am in London, and the only way to get rents and house prices down is to increase the amount of building as Vince has belated suggested.

    It also shouldn’t be beyond the pale to ask why DFID spending has so rapidly increased to meet a non-binding arbitrary target that is being met by no other G7 nations. But that’s a debate for another day.

  • Doug Oliver 25th May '14 - 7:50pm

    Good piece, Nick. Fully agreed.

  • Peter Chegwyn 25th May '14 - 8:04pm

    Graham Evans @ 6.37pm – Your suggestion that winning a parliamentary seat ‘has often as much to do with luck, being in the right place at the right time, and with parliamentary boundaries’ is incredibly insulting to candidates and their helpers who often devote years of their life to winning in places like Cambridge, Colchester, Torbay, Yeovil, Eastleigh, Portsmouth and most of the other seats where we have or have had MPs… including Sheffield Hallam. Luck doesn’t come into it. Sheer hard work wins elections especially parliamentary ones.

    Graham Evans @ 6.46 – Your 2nd snide comment about people from Gosport ‘never coming close to electing a Liberal or LD MP’ is obviously directed at me.

    For the record, I used to work for and be election agent for several MPs, was agent for a dozen parliamentary by-elections including the first Lib/SDP victory in Croydon North West, and worked professionally in many more where we elected MPs. I’ve also run over 500 winning campaigns since 1974 so think I’m entitled to comment on winning elections.

    It’s a pity that what should be sensible debate on the future for our party gets hijacked by cheap personal abuse such as yours.

  • The defenders of the status quo keep trying to switch the discussion to one about the merits of coalition, or cake, or anything other than the repeated failures of Clegg.

    Nick Thornsby’s piece above says much more about coalition than it does aout any supposed merits of Nick Clegg as leader.

    Nick Thornsby writes — ” Where parties enter into government in a coalition, particularly as the minor party ……, they almost inevitably suffer at the polls, for obvious reasons. Those reasons, it is true, are particularly heightened in the UK, unused as we are to coalition government and dominated as our politics is by a traditionally rigid two-party system, with a media as committed to the status quo as the two main parties.”

    How odd that he ignores the experience in Scotland. Charles Kennedy was a Westminster MP from Scotland where we the Liberal Democrats were the junior partners in a coalition government. Meanwhile Charles Kennedy lead the Liberal Democrats to their best general election result since the 1920s, we had in excess of 4,000 councillors on principle local authorities and ran a number of big cities and London Boroughs.

    What might be called ‘Thornsby’s law of inevitable failure for junior partners in coalition in the UK ‘ seems to have been suspended whilst Charles Kennedy was leader.

    Nick Clegg was one of those who conspired to knife Kennedy. He then did the same to Ming Campbell. Now his defenders are using every possible diversion to enable Clegg to cling on.

    No wonder the bunker have put up Paddy to talk about cake, it is a lot safer than talking about Clegg.
    Although it does make Paddy look like a fool.
    Not something that I or I expect anyone who is really loyal to the party likes to see.

  • Well I don’t never have done or will neither does someone like Simon Hughes in his heart. I never would agree with your views on the economy on issues such as bus passes, winter fuel payments and tv licences should be universal. Pensioners should not be penalised for paying into the system during their working years and if they want to give these up it should be voluntarily not means tested. I am against building for building sake if it’s on green belt land anyway so as Charles Kennedy said, use empty properties set up a register and above shops where there is unused accommodation. We don’t want to see our countryside and environment spoilt by lots of housing developments caused by overpopulation. As for the bedroom tax, no no no. Why should people have to give up a room in council housing when they use it or need it for family etc let alone the number of people with disabilities who are being forced to pay for this vindictive policy. The sooner it is abolished the better and I shall be campaigning against it at the next election.

  • mike clements 25th May '14 - 8:56pm

    Stick with Nick – united we stand; divided we fall

  • Nick out and out now. Don’t let him lead the party to oblivion and don’t be fooled that anything else will happen. Read Candide by Voltaire, Clegg is Pangloss and it’s deja vu.

    Sign the petition now

  • Candide blah Pangloss blah Orange Bookers blah right wingers blah Clegg blah blah.


  • Graham Evans 25th May '14 - 10:29pm

    @Peter Chegwyn
    LDs, and before them Liberals, all over the country have over decades worked their socks off, but more often than not their work has failed to translate into Westminster success. In particular you fail to explain the failures in Pendle and Liverpool and seem to have forgotten that Eastleigh was originally won because its Tory MP chose to put an orange in his mouth and a plastic bag over his head. Moreover ever since the 1970 Cambridge alternated between moderate Tory and Labour MPs, and was only won in 2005 because of the Iraq war. You mention Colchester, but as I said earlier, despite comfortable majorities over a good few years on the local council, Bob Russell originally scrapped home with 34% of the vote, with Labour and the Tories both getting 31%, even though the constituency boundaries were ideal for the LDs. Contrast that with Chelmsford where the Liberals broke through in local government long before those in Colchester, but missed out in 1983 by less than 400 votes on boundaries far less advantageous. Similar considerations applied in Maidstone in the 1980s in that the parliamentary boundaries divided Liberal strength rather than concentrating it. If I remember correctly too in the late 1970s and 1980s Gosport Liberals were quite successful in local government but it benefited them little at the parliamentary level, I mentioned too St Albans, so you suggesting that the LDs there just didn’t work hard enough in 1997?
    As for the accusation of personal abuse, I suggest you look at the comments directed at Nick Clegg, David Laws, Jeremy Browne, etc. by those whose vision of the Party often comes across as little more than Labour-lite.
    My argument is that it is too easy to attribute success and failure to individual policies or leadership. Regrettably, under FPTP there has been randomness in our results over decades, in which some areas seem to come up for a few years, sometimes a decade or more, but then seem to fall back. I have no recent knowledge of Richmond or Sutton, but the contrast between their results this year in striking. I certainly don’t believe that it is due to lack of effort by Richmond and Twickenham LDs. Similarly, why did Three Rivers, Watford, and to some extent Brentwood in Essex buck the trend?

  • George Potter – the coalition in Scotland wasn’t on anyone’s radar, or in the press.

  • Tabman 25th May ’14 – 10:41pm
    – the coalition in Scotland wasn’t on anyone’s radar, or in the press.

    I am astonished. Where was your radar ? Which press do you read? Perhaps you need some help, Scotland is that big chunk of the UK to the north of everything else. it has big cities called Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen. The place is famous for tartan, tins of shortbread, oil and according to one of its best comedians it has two seasons, winter and June. You can find Scotland in all good atlases. Oh and by the way they are having a vote on independence in a few weeks time.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th May '14 - 7:43am

    @ Graham Evans “As for the accusation of personal abuse, I suggest you look at the comments directed at Nick Clegg, David Laws, Jeremy Browne, etc. by those whose vision of the Party often comes across as little more than Labour-lite.”.

    The Liberal Democrats are a radical libertarian alternative to Labour. I totally support the words of the preamble and policies flowing from it. That is what I and others signed up to – not to the Lib Dem equivalent of the New Labour project.

    It is not in my political DNA to sign up to a Thatcher-lite view of economics as espoused by Browne and his allies. I took the time to watch his video and listen to what he was saying. Those who saw him on TV thought he was a Tory!He and I clearly associate such views with the ‘market knows best’ capitalism of the Tories. The fact that I reject such policies as not representing core Lib Dem values does not constitute a personal attack!

    I want to see truly Lib Dem values not either Labour or Tory-lite. The sooner we return to these, the sooner we will begin to win back some of our lost voters.

  • David Pollard 26th May '14 - 10:40am

    For me the lesson of UKIP is that all MPs come over as congenital liars, whereas Farage comes over as honest. Along with a colleague we tackled a Cabinet member last year and told them that they were articulate and inspiring when speaking to LibDems in a private meeting, but did not come over as genuine when interviewed on TV. This is why I campaigned so hard to get Nick to apologise for breaking the pledge he signed on tuition fees. As Farage shows over and over, people will forgive someone who makes mistakes and apologises. UKIP policies are a disaster, and most people know it. The latest Eurowide poll shows support for the EU in the UK increasing.
    And then there is Maria Miller and her expenses. It’s no wonder that out of desperation people vote for the party which will send MEPs to Brussels who will do nothing but take their expenses.

  • @ Stephen Hesketh – “The Liberal Democrats are a radical libertarian alternative to Labour. I totally support the words of the preamble and policies flowing from it. That is what I and others signed up to – not to the Lib Dem equivalent of the New Labour project.

    The Liberal Democrats are not a libertarian party. We are based on the political philosophy – Liberalism. From what you wrote you don’t sound like a libertarian and hopefully you are a liberal. It is the influence of libertarians which I see as our major problem because they sound like Tories and have the same policies as Tories including “thatcher-lite” economic policies.

  • “Libertarian” means any of half a dozen things depending on who is using the word, and as such is not a very useful token for identifying political direction. One might think that it meant something like “in favour of maximising individual liberty at the expense of the power of conglomerates,” when more often it is used to mean “in favour of maximising the liberty of conglomerates to curtail individual liberty.”

  • Richard Dean 27th May '14 - 2:59am

    I agree with David Pollard – Farage is one of the few politicians who comes across as honest, even when he is evading questions on expenses! Clegg comes across as a shallow salesman. Cameron comes across like a balloon about to burst. Miliband as a stuffed puppet. Cable comes across as bitter. Farron as dissipated. Danny as friendly, a bit wet behind the ears, but likely to mature into a strong leader. Maybe we should give him a try?

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