Opinion: a reboot worked for Star Trek. It can work for the Lib Dems too

The BBC handed out more negative adjectives, including “collapsed”, “destroyed” and “drubbing”, to our losses (ignoring the gains and holds) on May 5th than Simon Cowell does on the X-Factor, so really we can leave other people to castigate the party and Nick Clegg, and we should get on with being honest about what happened and being focused on where to go next.

Whilst I’m going to present this piece in a positive manner, it in no way diminishes my understanding of how badly we were flushed on May 5th, just I feel there is no point wallowing in it continuously. I can still have respect and condolence for those Councillors who were very hard working and got kicked out as a punishment for what is happening nationally.

I do refer to us pushing the reboot button, which I am arguing to anyone listening is a good idea. I’m not saying we do it to change everything, but we can almost see this as an opportunity to start from a fresh platform. This does, of course, require people to “dust themselves down” and get on with things, which I do understand may not happen overnight for those who were, or supported, councillors who lost their seat.

There are calls to ditch Clegg. I understand those calls, we all do, even Nick I suspect. Right now though, changing leader would show us as a party in complete disarray and that we just want the head of the leader because of one bad night (very bad, but one nonetheless). It’s funny to see how the media reported that voting like last Thursday would have put us on “only” 15%, yet that is higher than some of their other polls at the moment – see, easy to make positives out of seemingly bad news!

The reboot can be used for policy, personnel and priorities – no, that’s not my attempt at making a new party strapline. The policies need to be assessed, in terms of making sure we shout out more of what we achieve in office, which apparently will happen now, and also to shout out about those policies that people talk about. As Iain Dale said, the issues that grassroots members talk about in the Dog & Duck. Rightly, Iain referred to the fact that AV and Lords reform, important to our party’s soul, is not as important to the ordinary public as, oh… I don’t know… an Income Tax reduction that will hopefully go even further?

Personnel changes are needed. I’m not saying anyone in particular should be chopped, but roles and responsibilities can be re-assessed and I’m glad one thing that seems to be gaining steam at Cowley Street is to bolster the effectiveness of regional bodies. Changes made don’t have to be ones visible to the public, but they must be done soon, with clear job specifications.

Finally, our priorities need to be set. An obvious one could be to “rebuild” – it needs to be made clear how we can rebuild, and to get the members to believe they can in the first place. We don’t need to make a public announcement of the priorities, but EVERY member needs to be made aware of them – and updated regularly as to how things are progressing. One issue at the moment is that many members don’t feel they are updated properly or regularly, so the only updates they get is via the media. Whilst some papers seem to be a little lighter on us, they are still, along with the BBC recently, quite hostile. If that’s the only update you get, you can only build one picture of the party.

So let’s push the reboot button, now, and rebuild – not from a zero base, because another positive here is that we aren’t AT zero, despite what Labour and the right-wing rags would have you believe.

Star Trek was successful in being rebooted because everything seemed different but in reality, it wasn’t. There were the same principles, beliefs and even the same cool pointed ears. Whilst I’m not arguing we need pointed ears (now, now – no need to claim some in the party already have them) we can keep our liberal principles resolute and change with the times and public need. Members publicly disagreeing with the decisions made in government with LibDem involvement, well…that’s a calculated risk – one I’m not going to work out for you. We also have to recognise things did change for us massively in May 2010 in more than one way and we should ensure we apply the essence of our national motto to the country to the party as well – change that works for us.

Lee Dargue is Vice-Chair for the West Midlands Urban areas on the Regional Executive. He is on twitter as @leedargue

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13 Comments

  • Wow what a terrible analogy. The Star Trek reboot performed badly, scored badly in the ratings and was totally slated by fans of the original. It took them a good 4 years to get back on track.

    I certainly hope we’ll do much better in ‘rebooting’ the Lib Dems.

  • Agree with the aspiration, but not sure how practical that is.

    I am of the Grimond generation who stuck with the party through thin and thin!

    Like Grimond, Nick Clegg reached a new generation, but sadly, what will forever be seen as the student fees betrayal, not only turned away those new supporters, but also their friends and family too . We spent 50 years building trust as a principled party , and lost that trust in 50 days in power.

    If we had kept our word on tuition fees, I reckon AV would have been a shoo in.

    Ctrl-alt-del can’t reverse all that negativity and sadly I’m not sure anything can

  • Neil Christian 11th May '11 - 12:35pm

    Just like star treck a re-boot button is fiction.
    If only it were that easy. I however agree that we can rebuild and learn to do things better.
    I don’t think it is a case of the Party not informing members on policy.
    We must work towards is get at least one newspaper on side, and perhaps that only comes with success in govt.?

  • Maybe Doctor Who would be a better analogy – revived, rebooted and more popular than the original series!

    The thing is, the rebooting needed is different based on where you are in the country. In Eastleigh, for example, there’s very little needed, but in Scotland it’s more a case of completely rebuilding (and possibly building anew might be better than trying to rebuild.) It’s really annoying me now how we keep getting this message that “actually, we got 15% of the vote so we’re doing better than everyone predicted” when in Scotland we lost around £25,000 worth of deposits and 11 hard-working MSPs. If that was a General Election result, then only Alistair Carmichael would have survived.

    I don’t think that the party in England has actually absorbed the extent of the problems in Scotland yet. Nick touched on it today in his speech, but lumping us in with the North of England kind of shows a luck of understanding.

  • I too think the term ‘reboot’ is not the best or most appropriate analogy – To suggest a ‘reboot’ would suggest dumping everything gone before, wiping both good and bad data – Which we cannot do, we just have to move on, and like as I hope, many do, take stock and learn from what has gone before.

    We will continue to be reminded of what went before, as any party of Government has had in the past – The Labour slump in the polls to 23%, the failure of Hague/Smith etc, to turn the Tory Party around, the animosity of the Blair/Brown years.

    What we do, and how we go about doing it is all part of our steep learning curve – We just have to get on and do it!

  • “Personnel changes are needed.”

    I agree. Should they start with Nick Clegg for the reasons given in this article by Matthew Norman in the Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/matthew-norman/matthew-norman-in-the-interests-of-his-party-clegg-must-walk-the-plank-2281980.html?

    Norman makes a powerful case, and were there another MP able to lead the aprty and be deputy PM in the coalition I think it would be unanswerable. (For the avoidance of doubt, I support Lib Dem involvement in the coalition and agree with Norman that Clegg does not deserve his current treatment (except in respect of tuition fees – I do not know how he and Vince Cable can sleep at night with THAT on their record.)

    But, is there a leader who can and is willing to work in the coalition to deliver the Lb Dem aspects for the coalition agreement and make the case for Liberalism in government? Laws and (I regret) Hulme are damaged goods with their own problems. Cable introduced the legislation that resulted in most MPs breaking the tuition fee pledge. Farron and Hughes (both of whose loyalty has been exemplary) would probably lead the party out of coalition which would lead to irreleveance since the party would have shown itself not to be up to the reality of power.

    Suggestions welcome.

  • I wholeheartedly endorse what Redndead says. The 18-24 age group were particularly enthusiastic for a ‘new politics’ and saw Nick Clegg as their champion. The pledge on tuition fees undoubtedly won us some seats. No sooner in office and we betray their trust and goodwill. It is this far more than going into coalition with the tories that has cost us and it is of our own making. It is of course impossible to turn the clock back and think about how we could have employed some damage limitation. BUT we must face up to the reality of what we did and recognise that the policy itself is irrelevant; it does not matter whether the new regime is actually better than the previous one; what matters is that we garnered votes and some seats on false pretences in the context of setting ourselves up as ‘new’ i.e. better and more honest. Goodness only knows how we come back from that but recognition, some humility and an apology might be places to start.

  • Yellow Bill 11th May '11 - 3:31pm

    I agree entirely with what those who commented before me have said.

    I would llike to take Mr Dargue to task on what he thinks the people on the doorstep are talking about. Whilst I haven’t canvassed this year, all the people I have talked to about politics in general voice their concerns about the NHS reforms, the state of education and the disability debacle. The country needs a cut in income tax like a hole in the head (note this is different from raising personal tax allowance) and no-one I know is talking about getting one.

    Are you a Tory or what?

  • Actually ‘reboot’ isn’t such a bad term in that it implies to starting up again. In fact it is quite accurate because that is what Lib Dems will need to do in many areas. I’m no longer a member but still have many friends involved in different parts of the country. I share their concern.

    In many areas there has been a major slump in the ability to organise and I would imagine there are few areas where there hasn’t been a severe drop in volunteers. Unless something happens in the next 12 months to change things then next May will see a further drop and the following May another.

    Clegg and so many of the MPs have demonstrated staggering naivety. The images that still resonate are Clegg and Alexander patting Osborne on the back after what was essentially a Tory budget; David Laws in his brief spell, eager to prove his credentials as he and Osborne rushed through a first series of poorly though through cuts such as EMA and in doing so helped set the tone for the Coalition; Vince struggling through his tuition fees speech in the Commons etc. I’m not sure how you erase those powerful images. Some MPs do seem to have begun a slightly wiser approach but some still blunder on – Tom Brake’s patsy question on the economy at PMQs was a mistake.

    I’d guess there is one, probably two, more years of shrinkage ahead. At that point the next election will begin to figure and all parties will be seeking to define and redefine themselves. At that point the LDs will have to re-emerge but will find that the weight of policies supported in key areas like health, education and the economy will restrict any fresh thinking.

  • Peter Chivall 12th May '11 - 3:12pm

    Sadly, I think the position of Nick Clegg has to be part of the re-boot. I have no doubt he was sincere (but naive) in his part of entering the Coalition, and we know he was against the Tuition Fees Pledge before the 2010 election. However, he has led the Party in Coalition which could have used its muscle long before now, on the Academies for All and other nonsense from Gove, on the original Health White Paper and on the Forestry sell-off it has taken outside pressure from public campaigns before LibDems leaders in Parliament have raised their objections. Nick should have made it clear early on that the coalition agreement was what the agreed programme would be – if Tory ministers wanted to fly right-wing kites then we would support each proposal onlt on its merits, not because of some spurious notion of Cabinet Collective Responsibility.
    What has been characterised by our opponents on the left as a marriage of convenience, a ‘grab at a share of power’ , should have been presented, and seen in practice, as a ‘shotgun marriage’, willed by the electorate at the General Election and hastened by the financial crisis.
    Whatever the causes, Nick has become a Toxic Brand. This was evident on the doorstep literally the day the No Campaign issued their booklet with the anti-Clegg photo montage on the back cover, and reinforced 10 days later with a similar picture on the addressed postcard with Nick Clegg shooing the next PM (of any party) into Number 10. Nick is indelibly branded as unworthy schemer and ‘kingmaker’ and no amount of ‘sharp elbows’ now will undo that.
    The antics of the No Campaign in using these negative images of Nick in this way do present him with an honourable way out, however. With Cameron’s reneging on the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ to take a low profile in the Referendum’ and his deafening failure to disassociate himself from the Tory-led No campaign in their public demonising of his Deputy Prime Minister, that person would be entirely justified in saying that the essential trust and respect between the PM and his Deputy had been betrayed, and resign from the Government. With the Tory right and Number 10 now muttering they will do nothing to force through Lords Reform, despite the Coalition Agreement, Nick’s position in Government becomes even more untenable. Whether he needs to step down from the Leadership also is a different question.
    What is certain is that Nick’s position as a Toxic brand will continue to drag our Party down as long as he is seen, not just to lack respect from his peers in Government and Parliament, but essentially to be lacking in self-respect as well.

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