Opinion: could we have a better leader?

Some people will take this question to mean that we really should find a better leader, others that we have a good one already.

Perhaps unlike some of those who contribute to this website, I do not know Nick Clegg personally and can therefore only judge him from his television appearances, writings and what is written about him in the press.

He appears to come in for considerable criticism largely, as far as I can see, for being in coalition with the Conservatives, although some threads on this website also seem to have other reservations about his leadership.

As far as having joined the coalition is concerned, I believe that it is unfair to pillory him for what happened in May 2010. He stood by the principle that the Conservatives were the largest party and that he should therefore support them, rather than seeking to form a government with Labour, with whom many in our party appear to have greater sympathy. In taking this view, he clearly believed that he was reflecting the will of the people and – given the Conservative’s 7.1 percentage point lead over Labour – he was perhaps right (the Tories had 36.1% to Labour’s 29% – and our 23%). Of course, had we had proportional representation, the situation would have been rather different, because we would have had a much larger number of seats.

For good or ill, one thing that Nick Clegg has achieved is to give the party considerable experience in government, something that it has not had, other than at local level, for several generations. Some might argue that the criticism he has gathered for supporting an unpopular government will count against the party this May. But more mature reflection amongst the electorate should recognise that, for all the things that we have not been able to achieve whilst in government, Nick Clegg’s leadership has allowed the LibDems to push thought a number of initiatives such as:

  • Increasing the level at which income tax is levied, lifting more than 3 million of us out of the income tax net and saving 25 million more £800 a year;
  • Restoring the link between state pensions and earnings;
  • Encouraging 190,000 more affordable homes to be built and bringing 70,000 empty homes back into use; and
  • Increasing the number of apprentices by 78%, to 1.5 million, since 2010.

And these are just some of the ways that we have been able to help ordinary people in all parts of the nation. Just as importantly, the Liberal Democrat members of the coalition have been able to prevent some of the more extreme measures that the Conservatives wanted to enact, by such actions as:

  • Stopping a massive increase in the inheritance tax threshold, which only helps the rich;
  • Blocking a drive towards regional pay deals that would have disadvantaged workers in the north;
  • Avoiding a weakening the protection afforded by the Equalities Act; and
  • Ensuring that the housing benefit remains available to young people.

The scale of these achievements should be something that we trumpet during the next four months, not for which we apologise.

As someone commented on my last article, “generating negatives vibes within the party about approach and/or leadership … (is) … like starting a marathon by shooting yourself in the foot.” If we really want a Liberal Democrat government – one that will apply our individual-centred membership-driven philosophy – we need to pull together and show a united front in a way that neither the other two main parties can achieve.

Nobody wants to limit open discussion, but perhaps this should be limited to policies, not personalities.

* Stephen Phillips spent his entire career in financial services, spending the last decade writing on insurance, investments, pensions and mortgages. Latterly, he also wrote a monthly economic review that was issued to the clients of a large number of independent financial advisers. He has been a member of the party since 2013.

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58 Comments

  • Surely the question at this stage is:
    “How can we maximize the number of LD seats won/held at the next election,” as it is from holding these seats that influence is gained and Liberal policies are enacted. Yes, you say that achievements should be trumpeted. And they should be. The best way to win seats is to explain clearly what we’ve done, and link it to what we intend to do.

    But we also need to ask how to represent our achievements. Is Nick the best person to lead the party into the next election? Will voters listen to him, and our achievements, if he is the person selling them? That is a question about personality and public opinion – but is a legitimate question to ask, as it directly impacts our ability to implement our policies. And the question is too big and too important to worry about being fair to Nick. The party is bigger than one man. Liberalism is more important than Nick Clegg.

    Ultimately, there will be no change of leader before the next election now. But we should keep all this in mind as we go forward. If the party loses a significant number of seats (e.g. we have below 45 MPs) – then we should be prepared to ask serious questions about how we communicate our achievements and who we are to the British public.

  • You didn’t mention tuition fees. That was when Clegg’s reputation was irrevocably damaged. He’d gone from campaigning on ‘no more broken promises’ to explicitly breaking a pledge, a promise, not to vote for a raise in tuition fees.

  • Jonathan Pile 13th Jan '15 - 11:35am

    Stephen – the answer to your question is Yes – Liberal Democrats could have a better leader, NC has made some key strategic mistakes in the last five, but as you rightly say the achievements are there. Like him or not, and I hate to admit so far he is slowly raising his game while the likes of Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband commit gaffe after gaffe. We might as well so that Liberals deserve a better party as well as leader, but events in France have shown the need for Liberal leadership on the world stage where values are under attack from extremists – be them fundamentalists or islamophobes. Clegg is coming back from the toxic bed of his own making , perhaps he can win this marathon. On reflection people are angry with the party because of our lack of numbers, making our position weak in 2010. Tuition Fees happened because David Cameron wanted them, and Labour wanted the same too. Ironic that Liberal Democrats are blamed by Labour for a policy Labour wanted and the Tories imposed on the party.

  • With less than 4 Months to The Election, this is not a sensible question to ask. With Labour & Tories both divided, Our Unity is is a big plus. We can discuss The Leadership in June, lets get on with The Campaign.

  • jedibeeftrix 13th Jan '15 - 12:07pm

    “With Labour & Tories both divided, Our Unity is is a big plus.”

    Lol, excuse me! It seems to me that all major parties have problems with unity, how are the lib-dems different?

  • The simple answer to the question is Yes.

  • One effect of Paris has been that no-one is looking at Polls, understandably. There was a 6% Tory lead & a 5% Labour lead, either of which might have caused panic in the other team in normal times. The overall picture is that the Labour Lead for January so far is around 0.5%, compared to about 3% for December. In other circumstances that would have attracted some attention.

  • “….Nobody wants to limit open discussion, but perhaps this should be limited to policies, not personalities.”

    So why ask a headline question about the personality who is so toxic with the voters ???

    Why not have a discussion about the personalities of the five MPs who have done a good job and deserve and could benefit from the publicity and could effectively use some outside help pouring into their constituencies over the next 16 weeks ?

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Jan '15 - 12:46pm

    Yes, because he does have weaknesses, but he also has considerable strengths that many of us lack, from what I can see.

    It’s probably best to just back Clegg for the rest of the campaign and try to bounce him into the right position when he makes a mistake. I see other people in senior or fairly senior positions as a bigger problem than Clegg.

    Best regards

  • This is the only Lib Dem leader that will of presided over losing a third of members and 40-50% drop in councillors, MPs, votes and even worse in MEPs. Nick isn’t responsible for the policies you’ve mentioned, they’re party policies and there’s no need to talk about personalities when the numbers are this poor. A manager turning in these results would know he’s got the sack. I don’t dislike Clegg, I dislike how the party has chosen to do what it knows isn’t working.

    If a party can’t identify and fix its own problems, what faith should we place in it to fix the country?

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Jan '15 - 12:58pm

    Yes.

  • David Evans 13th Jan '15 - 1:04pm

    Sadly to the public, and they are the ones that count, Nick is the personification of the party and their perception of the Lib Dems is inexorably tied into him. Many things have happened in coalition, some good for people but sadly many bad: that is the inevitable consequence of the unholy mess Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ed Milliband and Ed Balls left behind. This, coupled with the fact that many senior Labour figures like Read and Blunkett knew it was better for Labour to hide away for a while and get those nice naive Lib Dems to take the blame, meant that the Conservatives were, in fact, the only ones prepared to look at a joint programme. However, there is no getting away from the fact that we had been put in a position where we could work in government at the worst possible time since the last time we entered coalition in the 1930s.
    Overall though, the nation needed things to happen and we were the only chance for it to come about, and the view from most of the party seemed to be coalition was the only way. (I disagreed, mainly because of the visceral hatred that a vast majority of Scots and strong Labour areas had for the Tories, and the inevitable impact it would have on our seats there. However, it was the leadership’s view and probably that of most of the party that we had to go into coalition.
    However, we then have to look at how well we have managed being in coalition and it is here that Nick has failed dismally. The coalition agreement was a mess, including a referendum on AV as if it was something we wanted, which was then bounced on the party at Birmingham with insufficient thought. In particular there was no input from independent souls not sucked into the excitement of the moment (hard to find at the time but desperately needed) to say to those coming back with the latest offer/trap from the Tories “It’s a bad idea. They will stuff us on this. Get something better.” As a result, it was the only thing on the table at Birmingham and the vote was overwhelming. However, even there with all the excitement, there were wise voices like David Rendell who was one of the few with the foresight to warn against it all.
    We had the absurdity of accepting Cabinet Collective responsibility, which in one fell swoop made us all look like the Tories little helpers, rather than an independent party which was fighting hard and not wholeheartedly supporting everything the Tories did. In particular we were naive in thinking policies were the only thing that mattered and forgot the importance of ‘day to day’ ministerial power. We allowed Pickles to be in charge of DCLG where he decimated our heartlands in Local Government, David Laws (later Danny Alexander) was given the job of Mr Nasty’s mouthpiece for bad news, and the only thing we seemed to be in charge of seemed to be Nick with responsibility for Constitutional Reform, and we all know how little of that he has delivered.
    Following from that we then had the fiasco of the Rose Garden, and the disaster of seeing him trailing around behind David Cameron from place to place and the catastrophically prophetic “If we keep doing this we won’t find anything to bloody disagree on.”
    Then tuition fees where Nick forgot that “An end to broken promises,” meant what it said and covered pledges as well.
    After that came the emergency motions on NHS reform at Gateshead, where the full might of the party organisation was brought to bear to get the sadly anodyne so called “Shirley Williams motion” debated. As a result the disastrous reform of the NHS followed. Later on Secret Courts showed how to get away with it by ignoring the party when they vote against what you want and other examples followed.

    I could go on. However in summary, it is a well known tactic of those in political power to want to perpetually look to the future, focus on policies and brush their mistakes under the carpet as quickly as possible. Nick is a guilty of this as anyone, but as Jo Grimond said “Liberals should be on the side of the governed not the governing” and it is in that area where Nick has totally failed to learn from his mistakes. We had the chance of building “a new way of doing government,” but Nick decided he preferred the old way.

    As a result we have lost 30% of our members, half our councillors, two thirds of our MSPs and all of our MEPs but one.

    Talking about politics is about policies, doing politics is about personalities. Accepting anything else will just let Nick off the hook.

  • Helen Tedcastle 13th Jan '15 - 1:04pm

    I was in favour of the coalition agreement even though I am no fan at all of the Tories. I thought it was worth doing given the arithmetic.

    However, we made some big mistakes in the first two years of the government and allowed the the worst aspects of Tory ideology to be inflicted on the British people eg: NHS reforms, more revolution at the DfE and the Bedroom tax, notwithstanding huge cuts in local government services and employment.

    Perhaps it shows how ideologically-driven the Tories really are that we’re pleased we manged to stop some things they wanted to do.

    What was allowed through above and beyond the coalition agreement is bad enough.

    And the buck stops with the Leader.

  • David Evershed 13th Jan '15 - 1:12pm

    Leadership is about having the self confidence and judgement to make good decisions.

    Nick Clegg had to make a decision after the general election about whether or not to go into a coalition and with which party.

    He made the right decision to go into coalition for the good of financial stability and enabling the government to continue to borrow in the market to fund it’s massive deficit, preventing drastic cuts in government spending.

    He made the right decision to join with the Conservatives since a Labour coalition did not have sufficient MPs to last the way the actual coalition has done.

  • David Allen 13th Jan '15 - 1:25pm

    The question for me is why Clegg can have survived for five years despite his staggering record of incompetence. As ChrisB says, a manager turning in these results would know he’s got the sack. Granted, others share the “credit” for helping the Conservatives engineer a radical programme to increase social inequality by dismembering state provision of services and welfare. However, Clegg as leader should take the rap for the tuition fees pledge, the mismanaged AV campaign, the mismanaged Lords reform campaign, and the mismanaged Party of In campaign. All wings of the Party should be able to see that these are simple examples of managerial incompetence. So why haven’t they sacked Clegg?

    Donnachadh McCarthy, in “The Prostitute State”, gives a clue. Writing about an earlier era, he shows that control within this party (and also the Tories and Labour) largely lies with shadowy figures from the world of lobbying, business and finance. These were the people who pushed Ashdown’s “Project” to get into bed with Blair – not because of any real shared political vision, but simply because it meant gaining influence with the big boys. Ultimately, Ashdown failed to sell his Project to the membership and had to go. Clegg, helped by the Tories to produce a totally misleading “coalition agreement”, was more successful as a salesman within his own party. It has been a disastrous experience for the Liberal Democrats. But because it has been captured by “The Prostitute State”, the Party will not change.

    http://www.theprostitutestate.co.uk/page9.html

    We need a new Party.

  • matt (Bristol) 13th Jan '15 - 1:45pm

    My answer to the quesiton is: maybe, probably. But we don’t. Many have tried to lever the lid off of this can of worms. The time to do so is not now, and in general (with some occasional wobbles towards ‘get him out now!’) I have thought this since the EU elections.

    I don’t think any of the 3 major parties have a completely united front, and we need to be honest that there is a coalition of opinion in the party. It would be lying to say otherwise.

    In addition, do UKIP really have a united front? Events in the last month or so have suggested it’s not as happy a family as they have tried to tell us, and may splinter further after a ‘bad’ election, or even after a ‘good’ one.

    The SNP, too, have internal tensions, as yet untested.

    Let’s not coerce each other into a phony show of unity if it isn’t really there, but let’s admit our(sometimes profound) differences, yet continue to work together to put the liberal, democratic point of view that other parties aren’t doing. The ongoing debate about security, in particular, still needs a liberal voice; the debate about ‘english votes’ needs a democratic, federalist voice. A party that’s led by Nick Clegg – whether or not I personally like Nick Clegg and think he’s the ‘best’ leader – is still a party that can speak out and stand out on those points, and on others, not just reeling off lists of statistics about what ‘we’ have ‘done’, but giving timely advice and discernment on the next load of big questions and challenges facing the country after the election.

  • While this is a good question, it’s one which I know will not be addressed in any official way before the May elections.

    What can be done, I suppose, is to try to ensure that the question is addressed immediately after the results of the elections are known, and I mean immediately, not after a day or a week or a month. If the elections are as disastrous for the Liberal Democrats as the polls imply, pressure should be put on Clegg to resign the leadership, especially if coalition negotiations are forthcoming. If the Party under Clegg loses half or more of its MPs, then he is simply not the person who should be speaking or negotiating for the Party.

  • We could have a better leader, it’s just no-one has found one just yet.

    Which means that in reality, we can’t.

    Now can we get on with saving as many of our MPs as possible and keeping plenty of second places for next time around?

    Enough already.

  • Neil Sandison 13th Jan '15 - 3:19pm

    This is now a post election question about how we refresh the party and its leadership in light of the voters response to the general election .It should not be about personality but management skills and what the future direction a modern progressive party should take .

  • Peter Watson 13th Jan '15 - 4:17pm

    @David-1 “If the Party under Clegg loses half or more of its MPs, then he is simply not the person who should be speaking or negotiating for the Party.”
    Regardless of the results for Lib Dems, immediately after the general election Clegg will be the key person speaking and negotiating for the party.
    And subsequently – assuming that his replacement must be one of those surviving MPs – there might not be an obvious replacement. Or the new parliamentary party might be very supportive of Clegg continuing as leader, especially if his influence over the distribution of resources for the election campaign has an impact on which incumbents are saved.
    Replacing Clegg now might be the wrong thing to do, but I don’t think it can be assumed that replacing him after the election would be straightforward.

  • paul barker 13th Jan '15 - 4:19pm

    Just looking at older Posts – Academic Freedom, 4 comments; City Economies, 4 comments; Rights for disabled students, 4 comments. And yet another article going over old ground on the Leadership – 19 comments & I have just made it 20 by complaining . I dont know if anyone has noticed but The Election Campaign has begun; probably the most important Election in a Century. Lets forget the Leader question till June.

  • Peter Watson 13th Jan '15 - 4:31pm

    @paul barker “Lets forget the Leader question till June.”
    Equally, should we forget all questions until June?
    Debate on this site about any policy issue could undermine the party leader’s attempt to present a clear message to the electorate so perhaps all public LDV articles should block or restrict comments.
    Or is the leadership the only unquestionable aspect of Lib Dem politics?

  • @Jonathan Pile 11.35am
    You say: ”Tuition Fees happened because David Cameron wanted them, and Labour wanted the same too.”

    Maybe you are not aware of this ?

    From the Guardian 12/11/2010
    ”Revealed: Lib Dems planned before election to abandon tuition fees pledge
    Exclusive: Documents show Nick Clegg’s public claim was at odds with secret decision made by party in March”
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/nov/12/lib-dems-tuition-fees-clegg

  • David Allen 13th Jan '15 - 4:51pm

    Peter Watson said:

    “Regardless of the results for Lib Dems, immediately after the general election Clegg will be the key person speaking and negotiating for the party. …. Replacing Clegg now might be the wrong thing to do, but I don’t think it can be assumed that replacing him after the election would be straightforward.”

    Well, the President has thought through May 8th scenarios in great detail. Stephen Tall asked the candidates what they would do if Clegg announced his intention to step down on May 8th. Sal Brinton answered:

    http://stephentall.org/2014/11/04/my-its-8th-may-2015-scenario-question-to-the-lib-dem-party-president-candidates-sal-brinton-responds/

    “Any President who hasn’t thought through a full range of scenarios will be in for a shock, because one thing is clear at the moment – no-one knows what will happen on 7 May, not just to the Lib Dems but to all parties. …. I would go back one step from Stephen’s scenario. It would be very disappointing if the Leader stepped aside before any contact with the President. It was evident from Labour’s experience with Gordon Brown (see Andrew Adonis book 5 Days in May) that they had not talked through together how to manage Gordon Brown’s departure, with the consequent chaos for them during that short period.

    So, my 5 practical steps would be:- 1. Ensure that the parliamentary party has met at the first possible opportunity to elect (even on an acting basis) a Deputy Leader and a Chair … 2. Talk from early on Friday morning with the Leader as it becomes apparent what is happening, as well as (others) … 3. If the Leader will step down, talk through the timing of that, and what the formal arrangements will be for handover to his successor, and how decision making will work in the interim …. 4. Alongside this, there will be … any discussion about a future coalition … 5. If there is a proposal to move to some form of coalition, the President will have to ensure that the arrangements are in place for a special Federal Conference to give the wider party the chance to debate and vote on the way forward.”

    I read that Nick Clegg supported Sal Brinton for President. Her scenario analysis might perhaps just be viewed as careful organisational planning – but, it could also be viewed as careful preparation in support of a Clegg determined to cling on. Clegg will assuredly cling like a limpet. It seems that his President could be well prepared to assist.

    The Brinton scenario posits that any leadership change should run in parallel with coalition negotiations. Brinton suggests that she could call a Special Conference to decide that question while the Party remains leaderless. That is a nonsense. A leaderless party is in no condition to negotiate with a prospective partner. One can imagine Cameron insisting that Clegg stay on if any deal is to be struck. Clegg will of course bite Cameron’s hand off when that is proposed.

    Clegg will surviveas leader, unless he loses his seat. The time to fling him out has passed.

  • matt (Bristol) 13th Jan '15 - 4:52pm

    Paul Barker – Lets forget the Leader question till June.

    I don’t think you’re the only person on this thread saying that.

  • David Allen 13th Jan '15 - 5:25pm

    PBBrown,

    In all fairness, the Guardian article you cite shoots itself in the foot when you read its small print. The “pledge” was to oppose any increase in fees. Danny Alexander’s “secret plan” was to “seek agreement on part-time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches.” In other words, to abandon trying to abolish fees altogether – but, to keep the “pledge”.

    Things did of course change considerably for the worse after the election! However, the Guardian article is just a textbook example of how to choose an entirely misleading headline because you can’t understand the story your own reporter has written for you!

  • Paul Barker: forget till June, that would be nice, however the electorate will not allow us to forget it. He is our most potent weakness. Frankly there are half a dozen MP’s who could lead at the election more effectively, simply because they would be a fresh voice, a fresh image a fresh face.
    See the latest Scottish polls still have us at 3% well behind the Greens with the SNP at 40 plus. Understand Ashcroft is polling some Scottish constituencies, this will be interesting. If ever a part of the country could benefit from a fresh Lib Dem leaders face at the election it is Scotland.

  • Tony Dawson 13th Jan '15 - 6:08pm

    @”David Evans

    ” David Laws (later Danny Alexander). . . .”

    I know the NHS does the occasional botch up operation but when results turn out like this you can sue!:-)

  • Peter Watson 13th Jan '15 - 7:57pm

    @David Allen “the President has thought through May 8th scenarios in great detail.”
    The big caveat there is the fact that the scenario begins with “if Clegg announced his intention to step down”.
    And if he does not …. ?
    If Clegg finds himself with two dozen like-minded colleagues on May 8th why should he not want to continue as leader? If he were to step down as leader but remain an MP, what would he do for the next 5 years? If he were to step down as an MP, what would he do instead? Could Lib Dems hold Sheffield Hallam in a by-election later in 2015?
    I suspect that replacing Clegg will be messy whenever it happens regardless of whether he jumps or is pushed.

  • Peter Watson 13th Jan '15 - 8:08pm

    @PBBrown “Maybe you are not aware of this ”
    A pattern emerges … “Lib Dem leader says he was in favour of a faster programme of deficit reduction before the general election – even though he did not publicly back the idea” (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/jul/29/nick-clegg-changed-mind-cuts)

  • I’d rather Clegg stayed as leader up until the election. He’s the architect of this mess, and I believe the electorate should get the chance to give an opinion on him – rather than subject some poor replacement to carrying the can. And frankly, I can see him going on the night of the election. What I don’t understand, is how the party can bridge the gap afterwards. There is a silent majority who’ve kept Clegg in power – surely a substantial part of that group politically support what he’s done, or a large amount of what’s he’s done – surely not all of those members have merely kept quiet out of pragmatism?

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Jan '15 - 10:47pm

    paul barker 13th Jan ’15 – 4:19pm.
    “Lets forget the Leader question till June.”

    The general election will take place on 7 May. Clegg must not stay beyond mid-day on the 8th. The remaining MP’s can then elect a caretaker leader and set in motion a leadership campaign.

    As you know all too well, Clegg remaining leader in to June will enable him and his centre-right friends to continue their completely disproportionate influence on our party. What is clear from past behaviour and present tactics is that this is almost certainly what they plan.

  • We are waiting to May and then if the results are where the bookies are predicting them (i.e we lose half our Parliamentary party) Clegg will have to go. Even if we cling onto a few more say 35 I still think he should go – in fact if we are down below 1997 levels I actually think his position is untenable

  • A leader who is not a liability would surely be better than the current leader. I guess it is a measure of his poor political judgement that he didn’t fall on his sword a couple of years ago.

  • Policies not personalities please. If the mechanisms aren’t there to fight off ‘The Prostitute State’ , start building. Don’t forget about our huge contributions to child n young people welfare.. Attack the incompetence of Tory disability assessments, the poverty of Labour policy but NOT personalities. The person is not the policy (that way lies ego) Brit Pop need wise, fair, long term policies.

  • Bolano 13th Jan ’15 – 9:03pm
    “……There is a silent majority who’ve kept Clegg in power – surely a substantial part of that group politically support what he’s done, or a large amount of what’s he’s done – surely not all of those members have merely kept quiet out of pragmatism?”

    Bolano, Your sentence raises some interesting questions. “A silent majority” or even a majority of Liberal Democrats has been a moving number as the membership of the party has rapidly and significantly declined over the last 8 years. Driving out tens of thousands of members from the party may have created a majority for Clegg. The clear danger in this strategy is that the only way he has been able to achieve a majority has been to make the number of members so small that the party dies.

    The same calculation applies to numbers of MPs. In 2010 Clegg’s failed leadership and strategy resulted in fewer MPs and in 2015 his failed leadership and strategy will result in even fewer MPs again.

    If he sits down on 8th May with David Laws and a few other MPs who support him he may have a majority in a parliamentary party in the Commons of a few dozen dozen MPs. Surely even Clegg and his supporters would have difficulty pretending that this was a great step forward?

    Unless of course he is offered the sort of deal that was offered by Churchill to take a couple places in a Conservative Government and watch the inevitable death of the party? Clement Davies had the good sense to say NO and thus kept the Liberal Party alive.

    Who would put money on Clegg saying anything other than YES to staying with the Conservatives in the natural home of The Orange Book – a Conservative Government that will break up the NHS and do the bidding of the Private Health Lobbyists ?

  • Jane Ann Liston 14th Jan '15 - 10:27am

    Caractacus, the SNP haven’t selected any PPCs as far as I know, except in Gordon. Are their members worried about this? Apparently not. In NE Fife we selected our PPC nearly a year ago.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Jan '15 - 10:37am

    David Allen

    The question for me is why Clegg can have survived for five years despite his staggering record of incompetence. As ChrisB says, a manager turning in these results would know he’s got the sack.

    A middle manager, yes. But the actual person at the top?

    It’s a very common phenomenon – when it’s the person right at the top who’s the problem, people grumble but no-one want to be the first to do anything about it. If you look into history, so many examples of this can be seen. One is in our own party with Charles Kennedy – he had obvious problems which meant he ought not to have stayed on as leader, but no-one was willing to tackle it. The situation is made worse by the Westminster Bubble mentality in this country, which just cannot take the idea of the members being the real bosses of a party, who have a right to choose and change who they have in the various offices, and so always way over-dramatises the prospect of leadership change, using language like “stabbing”, “defenestration”, “assassination” and so on for what SHOULD be a normal democratic process.

    From my own experience as someone who has been open from the start in my belief that Clegg is the wrong person to be leader, I’ve so much experience of other members telling me “oh, I agree with what you say”, and then making the usual excuses as to why they don’t think now’s the time to change, why they don’t want to say it openly, why it’s important top make a public show of unity, blah-de-blah-de-blah. And then quite a few of them some time later just drop out of party membership, while I’m still here.

    It’s this slow drip-drip-drip resignation that worries me. If one makes a stand, as I have, one turns round for support an no-one’s there. No-one much has the guts to do it, perhaps to look the fool by standing up and doing it publicly, only to turn round and the others are too frit to join in. Then they drop out quietly, so there’s even less chance that next time one takes an oppositional stand there’ll be a bit of support for it.

  • By being in government the Lib Dems have been tarnished by the Tories. Their mud sticks, they have the money to make sure it does. We might be aware of the successes and the forced compromises which so upset the Tory backbenchers preventing them from going even further to the right of Thatcher. The Lib Dems didn’t have to join the coalition. They could have voted for or against each issue or law as they emerged thereby maintaining their principles and ideals.
    The only way I could vote Lib Dem in May is if I had a guarantee that we would not form a coalition with the Tories. This would be a first in over 40 years.

  • Jonathan Pile 14th Jan '15 - 2:49pm

    @ PB Brown 13th Jan ’15 – 4:46pm

    From the Guardian 12/11/2010
    ”Revealed: Lib Dems planned before election to abandon tuition fees pledge
    Exclusive: Documents show Nick Clegg’s public claim was at odds with secret decision made by party in March”
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/nov/12/lib-dems-tuition-fees-clegg

    I think only those in the Coalition negotiations truly know what was said on both sides. These documents seem to look bad but considering both Labour and the Conservatives were advocating tuition fees in 2010 it’s hypocritical of them to be attacking us for agreeing to something they have argued for. For all our own internal faults – it’s a point we ought to make more with our opponents. If tuition fees wasn’t asked for in the negotiations (and they should have been) then perhaps it was already a given that it couldn’t be achieved (since both old parties were against) unlike the AV Referendum (for what it was worth). Clearly a cock-up but if it was premeditated by Clegg et al, suicidally stupid – and therefore unlikely to be something which was deliberately done?

  • Chris Holman 14th Jan '15 - 3:11pm

    Whilst I generally agree Stephen Philips article I think that his hope for a “more mature reflection amongst the electorate should recognise that … Nick Clegg’s leadership has allowed the LibDems to push through a number of [good] initiatives”, which I would also like to see, may be no more than wishful thinking, or am I just becoming too cynical in my 73rd year.

  • Jonathan Pile 14th Jan ’15 – 2:49pm
    “…if it was premeditated by Clegg et al, suicidally stupid…”

    Jonathan you need to read back through the published evidence before the 2010 general election and the coalition.
    It depends what you mean premeditated.

    It is a matter of public record that Clegg and Laws wanted to reverse party policy on tuition fees years before 2010.
    The Orange Book was published in 2004.

    A judgement on your suggestion that it was “suicidally stupid” depends on your viewpoint.

    If your view is that our Party should be transformed into a very small, rightwing, free-market Thatcherite pod that can be easily swallowed whole by the Conservatives then this premeditated plan has worked like a dream. In five months time it could well have reached total fulfilment.

    If your view is that our Party should be gradually reduced to an irrelevance with the voters, then virtually every major step the party has taken in the last 8 years has moved us downwards in that direction.

    The trick is to look before the Coalition and realise what Clegg and co have wanted all along.

  • David Allen 14th Jan '15 - 4:20pm

    Clive said,

    “Policies not personalities please. If the mechanisms aren’t there to fight off ‘The Prostitute State’, start building.”

    I think Clive has a point. Sometimes, the personality of a party leader and the policies it espouses are indissolubly linked – think of Michael Foot’s Labour, think about the way Labour was changed by the election of Tony Blair to its leadership. But in other circumstances, changing party or national leadership can have dispiritingly little effect on policy. We hoped in vain that Kim-il-Sing’s son and grandson might be able to break away from ideological tyranny. In a much less dramatic way, orthodox political parties can also become the preserve of an unchanging elite, whether that is a group of ruling families, or a group of like-minded people who share common interests going beyond politics and who develop a mutual support club.

    Cleggism, I fear, stretches wider than Clegg. It has made sense for the Cleggites to help Clegg cling on, thus far, because incumbency is the simplest way to ward off challenge. However, Plan B must be “the king is dead, long live the king”. So, in wargaming their way through Sal Brinton’s post-election scenario I reproduced earlier, the Cleggite Plan A will be to delay any challenge to Clegg until he can sew up his survival, probably through alliance with the Conservatives. But as success cannot be relied upon, Plan B must be to have a mini-Clegg ready and waiting to pick up the baton, present a fresh face, promise a new start, and then continue serving the same interest groups with the same politics. Laws and Alexander are well placed through their commanding positions in charge of the manifesto and the economy respectively. Farron and Cable have been expertly exiled to the second rank.

    So Clive is probably right – We need to think wider than simply condemning what Clegg has done over the last five years, and build mechanisms to “fight off ‘The Prostitute State'”. I look forward to Clive’s positive ideas for doing this – would he agree with me that we need to start afresh with a new party?

  • Jonathan Pile 14th Jan '15 - 4:44pm

    @ John Tilley
    “The trick is to look before the Coalition and realise what Clegg and co have wanted all along.”
    It certainly looks that way John – he never got on with Gordon Brown, and personal chemistry was cited as a reason in scuppering dialogue on a “rainbow coalition” in 2010. It certainly feels like a conspiracy, (fall of kennedy and Campbell) in the same way that Blairites took over the Labour leadership after John Smith. But even a non-Cleggite party in 2010 would have faced the same choices and pressures and come to similar positions.

  • Tony Dawson 14th Jan '15 - 4:48pm

    @Dave Allen

    ” Farron and Cable have been expertly exiled to the second rank.”

    And so, as I recall, was Margaret Thatcher. 😉

  • Tony Dawson 14th Jan '15 - 4:52pm

    @Dave Allen

    ” Farron and Cable have been expertly exiled to the second rank.”

    And so, as I recall, was Margaret Thatcher. 😉

    @Jonathan Pile:

    “If tuition fees wasn’t asked for in the negotiations (and they should have been) then perhaps it was already a given that it couldn’t be achieved”

    This is not so. The system which eventually emerged was so near a graduate tax that it might as well have been called one and, with a little tweaking, could have been administered as one and called one. It could also have been spread across all graduates, including myself, rather than just the new ones.

  • SIMON BANKS 14th Jan '15 - 5:48pm

    I’m sorry, Stephen, but if I’d thought the main thing Liberal Democrats could boast about in government was twiddling the tax system to advantage lower-paid income tax payers while letting the poorest people be clobbered, I’d never have been a member.

    Yes, there are achievements to be proud of, including some in the Department of Energy and Climate Change which are particularly laudable given how the Tories have reverted to type, but they have to be set against nodding through an unnecessary and disruptive NHS “reform”, dishonouring a campaign pledge on student finance (which we should never have given, knowing the economy was going to be in a mess and we might well hold balance of power), letting benefits to those most in need be smashed and standing by complaisant as local government funding was cut deeper than national programmes despite rapidly growing need, while still bleating about devolution and localism.

    How could our leader have tried to make the main message of our last local election campaign that Tories and Labour waste money but we don’t? Is that all we’ve got to say on local democracy?

    We need a leader with passion and heart as well as intellect, one who really understands what it’s like to be at the bottom of the heap and who can fire a demotivated party with enthusiasm.

    I agree that the leadership issue should be on the back burner now till after the election. But what if we come out of the election having lost half or more of our MPs, having been wiped out on yet more local councils, with evidence that many activists were unable to summon up fire and vigour, and Nick Clegg announces that because of the sensitive no-overall-control situation in Parliament, he is of course staying on? Will those who would think this not the best thing for the party’s future be prepared for a challenge?

  • David Allen 14th Jan '15 - 5:56pm

    Matthew Huntbach:

    “David Allen – ‘The question for me is why Clegg can have survived for five years despite his staggering record of incompetence. As ChrisB says, a manager turning in these results would know he’s got the sack.’

    A middle manager, yes. But the actual person at the top? It’s a very common phenomenon – when it’s the person right at the top who’s the problem, people grumble but no-one want to be the first to do anything about it.”

    Well, I think ChrisB was probably thinking about football managers, who of course are regularly sacked at the drop of a pin. Probably rightly – if you think it’s better than 50/50 that your next manager will be better than the one you’ve got, then as a football club, you make the change and hope it will win you games. The interesting question is, why is politics (sometimes) different in this area?

    Actually, Tory politics is not entirely different. The Tories do have regular leadership challenges and changes. Boris and Theresa can go on manoevers without anyone telling them that this is desperately disloyal. I think the basic reason is that the Tories are united behind making themselves successful and making their own people prosperous. If Boris can show that he’s more likely to achieve that, then the Tories will put him in as soon as possible. Just like the football. The result is that the Tories don’t spend too much time being saddled with the wrong guy.

    But Lib Dem politics – and also Labour politics – is different. Each of these parties has a dominant faction and an “out” faction. Blair clung on to power, on behalf of his dominant faction, because (for a toxic mixture of personality and policy reasons) the election of Brown was a huge defeat for the Blairites. And it’s similar with Lib Dems. The Cleggites are in the driving seat now, and they will fight like cats to stay there, however many car-crashes Clegg gets into.

    That’s why we need a new Party.

  • Denis Loretto 14th Jan '15 - 6:33pm

    Having just come upon this thread I can only assume that Stephen Phillips meant well in posting this article. All that hew has done is to give yet another opportunity for the (mostly Labour) bloggers who use LDV consistently for their own nefarious purposes, combined with Lib Dems – or former Lib Dems – who seem to regard their disaffection with Nick Clegg as the groundswell of their being, tyo have yet another go at their favourite subject.

    Those posting here (several of whom are no great personal admirers of our leader) to the effect that we need right now to shut up about the leadership and get on with campaigning for the best Lib Dem result achievable in May are obviously have it r

  • Denis Loretto 14th Jan '15 - 6:36pm

    Sorry for the glitch. The last line should be “achievable in May obviously have it right.”

  • @JohnTilley 14th Jan ’15 – 9:53am

    You have to remember that there’s a narrative that says that Clegg is doing the brave and unpopular and necessary things. Thus the fewer votes in May the braver and thus more necessary in retrospect become Clegg’s actions. He is quite unique in that respect. Usually that kind of political purity is found on the left of the left (a la Militant) or the right of the right. Clegg’s genius has been to create the radical centre. Mark my words, halving the number of MPs at the election will be proof he’s on the right track and this will also make it impossible for him to do anything but seek a continued coalition with the Tories, even if this were to mean a coalition with the Tories and Ukip. It doesn’t matter who he’s in power with because the important thing is that being in power allows him to carry on making the grand sacrifice for the betterment of the nation – pursuing the unpopular but necessary course. And the fact that you lefties disagree with him is perfect proof he’s on the right course!

  • Bolano 14th Jan ’15 – 7:34pm

    As I looked through this comment from you I was almost convinced that you were writing with your tongue in both cheeks.

    But I fear you might actually be serious. You actually mean it when you say the man in the chauffeur driven limo from Chevening with the six figure salary and millions of pounds worth of SpAds at his personal command has been making a sacrifice over the last five years.

    Some people might regard it as the most tremendous privilege brought about by the lucky draw result of the 2010 election. You would have us believe that it is all down to the “genius” of Clegg and his fantastic invention “The Radical Centre”.

    Is there any chance you could define this Radical Centre which works such miracles?
    Or can it only be understood by a genius like Clegg!?

  • Bolano: “You have to remember that there’s a narrative that says that Clegg is doing the brave and unpopular and necessary things.”

    And where can I read this highly entertaining work of fiction?

  • @JohnTilley 14th Jan ’15 – 8:03pm

    “You actually mean it when you say the man in the chauffeur driven limo from Chevening with the six figure salary and millions of pounds worth of SpAds at his personal command has been making a sacrifice over the last five years.”

    Yes, although I would clarify with the words “of your party” after the word ‘sacrifice’. I think a previous party leader put it far better than I ever could: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life.” He’s sacrificed voters, students, party activists, MEPs, councillors – it was the people, the public have spoken, they whispered in his ear, what would you sacrifice to fix the country?

  • @David-1 14th Jan ’15 – 8:33pm

    “And where can I read this highly entertaining work of fiction?”

    Guardian, May 8th, 2015.

  • “It’s a very common phenomenon – when it’s the person right at the top who’s the problem, people grumble but no-one want to be the first to do anything about it. ”

    That may be true in the academe, University Vice Chancellors are notoriously hard to topple, but it isn’t true in business I can assure you. If athe top guy fails he gets kicked out, that is why they get paid the big bucks. I forget what the average length of tenure is for a FTSE 100 CEO, but it isn’t long.

    To answer the question.

    Yes you need a new leader. No you won’t get one till after the election, when it is too late.

  • Simple answer – No. Name one!!
    Actually if you watched Nick on Sunday in tthe Andrew marr Show and listened to him afterwards with Jon Pienaar on Radio5 Live then I thought he was very good. He is a sharpening the message and getting more focussed. Comes across as a very ‘decent’ chap and yet someone with enough determination and resolve to stick the course. If only the rest of the party had his backbone there would be an elementary choice for the electorate between ‘Flaky’ Ed, ‘Heartless’ Dave and ‘Decent’ Nick with that second hand car salesman and ‘spiv’ Nigel left out of it altogether. He does need to try and stop being so hesitant at times but hopefully he will get enough airtime to become quite polished.

    One of the things I liked most was his explanantion that what we got was effectiverly a graduate tax, with only those earning enough having to repay the investment in their degree qualifications and how with limited funds it is better to prioritise teaching the poor and underpriviliged to read and write through the pupil premiuim than continune subsidising those who have already received a high enough standard of education to have earned a place at University.

    So long as we stick with Nick we have a great story adn as we all learn to tell it better I am confident we are going to do much better than many in the party believe today.

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