Opinion: Dear Nick…

Dear Nick

Can I start by saying that possibly unlike the rest of the party right now, I actually feel a surge of optimism.

I have been a LibDem voter since the last election and an active supporter for all of 18 months.

I started off sceptically. My husband had found a party that mirrored his values and so had divorced Labour and set his sights on the LibDems.

I was a little overwhelmed.  I hadn’t been indoctrinated at my mother’s knee so felt something of an outsider who didn’t know the history, in jokes, culture, or people.

However when I attended conference and actually experienced policy making first hand things started to change.  Here was genuine debate, all angles considered and joy of joys voted on by party members!  I had a voice!

So I supported my husband when he took the decision to stand against George Osborne, despite him already having a demanding full time job, 3 hour commute and not a hope in hell of winning!    

Over time, my conversion took place and my comfort zone stretched.  Sometimes I’d baulk at the tide of anti LibDem public opinion, but that soon that ceased to matter, because I was starting to see through the hype and believe deep down that this was the party for me.

This strategy of widening comfort zones is where I think things have gone wrong.  The LibDems are far sighted and able to see the benefits of policies that can seem too radical to the general public.  Yet climbing into the world of the voter and taking them with us has been our failing.

We have stood on one side of the divide and tried to inspire them to cross over, when we should have held their hands and taken them with us step by step.  But with so little time and so much to lose, how could we?

It’s a poser, yet that is exactly why I now feel so optimistic.

Sometimes you need to lose something to fully appreciate it and sometimes your comfort zone needs to become desperately uncomfortable before you are motivated to act.

Holding Britain hovering above the moral and economic rock bottom has taken a huge amount of energy.  Not only are we fighting other parties, we are fighting the laws of gravity!

So, what happens when we do hit rock bottom?  Answer …we bounce back.

Already I am getting messages from people telling me how sorry they were that they didn’t listen and didn’t realise how good they had it until it was gone.  Yes we warned them, but some things have to be lived and experienced before they are known and appreciated.

So at last the truth will out and the world will see an unfettered Tory government for what it is.  They can’t hide behind us, blame us, or hold us back any longer.   Their term will be as short as it is sharp and in the meantime people will finally WANT hear our message.

And as the tide of public opinion finally starts to turn in our direction, please Nick, will you be there to tell them our story?  Because I am proud to have had a leader who has not just the intelligence but the heart and soul for the job.

Nick Clegg’s don’t grow on trees they are forged in the furnace of government and tempered with the support of an entire party.

And that is why I’m so sad that when people in their panic look for a leader they can believe in, you won’t be there.

With gratitude,

Nicola Wilson

* Nicola Wilson is the Membership Development Officer for the Tatton Liberal Democrats. mother of two and wife of a LibDem candidate

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  • *applauds*

  • Nicola, I have been here before in 1970 and 197 and can vaguely remember 1955. It takes at least two years before anything moves back, in the meantime it is about establishing the new leadership, the identity, direction, vision and at last recovering council seats and getting gains not very heavy losses. I agree about listening to what people are saying and getting out of the Westminster bunker. I share that optimism for the first time in nearly four years. To me it is bit like coming out of the dark ages,

  • Alexander Hegenbarth 10th May '15 - 9:24pm

    You’re right, we have been the Conservative’s body armour for the past 5 years. It’s much more shocking to the electorate for a Liberal party to come across as harsher than a Conservative party acting softer. Now we can rebuild our identity as a party that represents everyone and just a specific part of society

  • Caron, can I ask why you feel so optimistic? The party has been hammered in every single election since the coalition came into being and the General Election was just a continuation of that process. The party has gone from 57 to 8 MPs.

    What has changed for the better as a result of this election? Something must have changed as a result of this, because until something changes there is very little to feel optimistic about.

    I asked you how you felt about Christine Jarden’s chances and you were optimistic about those too without, in my opinion, good reason. Please give me a good reason to believe that there is something to be optimistic about in the future of the Lib Dems. I would love to hear a good reason, because right now we have a majority Tory government and are (with the exception of nationalism in Scotland which isn’t a pretty thing either) largely back to a two party system, which I hate.

  • “Nick Clegg’s don’t grow on trees they are forged in the furnace of government and tempered with the support of an entire party.”

    I don’t know what to say of this other than I don’t see what Nicola Wilson sees.

  • Mr Wallace – apologies to Nicola and LDV readers for attributing this post in error to Caron Lindsay. It has been a long day …

  • Leaders do not grow on trees though there are plenty who would be happy to hang some of them from trees.

    At least our next Leader will not make a point of trying to make himself different from the others as a ‘promise keeper’ just months before he very publicly (and completely unnecessarily but that’s a subsidiary issue) goes out and breaks a solemn pledge.

  • there are grounds for optimism: the coalition has been ended. it created this disaster.

    Nicola, I’m sorry, but I am very sceptical voters are about to see the horrors of conservatism unleashed. My predictions are a settlement with the SNP. Electoral reform, maybe including modest PR. Cameron comes out for staying in the Eu, despite no meaningful changes to treaties. He wins. Those undefined cuts the tories said they were introducing but couldnt say where, they just wont happen. More money for the NHS. If Cameron stays true to his promise and retires then Boris Johnson as leader, but otherwise Cameron again, leading the tories into the next election on a slogan of ‘just see what we can do once you give us a clear mandate’. Cameron will be making a bid to occupy the centre ground abandoned by the liberals.

  • Lorraine Johnson 11th May '15 - 5:55am

    Dear Nick,
    I agree with Nicola. I am encouraged by the thousands of people joining the Party since Thursday and by the recognition that we’re finally getting from the Press that we’ve been putting the brakes on the Tories for the last 5 years. Now is the time for all those people who just didn’t get it to join with us & fight back

  • Dear Nicola,

    Congratulations on being an activist for 18 months.

    Now imagine having been an activist for 18 years, supporting your husband’s desire to make a difference in his community.

    Your children grow up thinking that a fun family activity is a weekend residents survey.

    Every year your husband uses up his annual leave attending Conference so that he can go to the ALDC workshops on effective local campaigning.

    Your children become teenagers. They have to watch their behaviour, because being caught buying alcohol underage, or misbehaving at a party, or experimenting with cannabis, means that your husband’s parliamentary ambitions are over.

    Your house becomes a store-room for Focus leaflets, Lib Dems Winning Here posters, and constituency newspapers. No amount of air freshener can overcome the smell of printing ink.

    Now imagine that after 15 years of this, George Osborne steps down and there’s a by-election. This is your husband’s big chance.

    The national by-election team arrives. It’s full of people who have put family life and personal health second to the duty and responsibility of winning Lib Dem votes. They set up an by-election HQ on an industrial estate or in an unwanted retail unit and work non-stop for the few weeks of the campaign.

    Activists from all over the UK arrive to canvass, deliver leaflets, and canvass some more. Experts from HQ lay out leaflets, crunch the data, and lay out more leaflets.

    People you will never meet do telephone canvassing from their homes, taking abuse from people who think that telephone canvassing is just cold-calling and object to being disturbed.

    Your husband takes the advice he is given, fights a text-book campaign and wins. He’s now the incumbent. Brilliant! He has a few years representing the community he loves and fighting for the causes that brought him into politics. It was to fight for a cause, wasn’t it – not just to get his bum on a green leather seat?

    At the next election the party achieves the balance of power but fails to make fair voting one of its coalition red lines. Five years later, after our MPs are seen on the news every day defending the indefensible, the electorate deserts the party.

    How do you feel now?

    I’m glad Nick Clegg resigned. But I’m angry that good people like Simon Hughes, Lynne Featherstone and Andrew George paid the price for Nick’s ambition.

    I don’t want the next leader to be “forged in the furnace of government”. I want one forged in the furnace of good old fashioned Liberal Democrat pavement politics.

    I’m not holding my breath.

  • Danny; Cameron is exactly smart enough to do that but he has a majority of 10 and a back bench who will feel they have finally been released from Lib Dem shackles, at least 10 of whom aren’t that smart. If he tries to tack to the centre he will see more defections to UKIP (and Conservative MP with UKIP in a close second place must be thinking about it already) and enough rebellions to make his entire government look like a joke. With an EU referendum to manage he will struggle enough to hold his party together when he steers right on other issues let alone if he tries to move to the centre.

  • Nicola Wilson 11th May '15 - 10:23am

    Why so optimistic? Perhaps because I am free of the baggage of how we got to where we are today. I haven’t suffered at the hands of the party for a long time as I know many of you have, I salute your efforts I really do and I have to say that if at any point my values are fundamentally compromised by the party – I won’t be in it anymore. For those that are still here I am assume its because in spite of it all, you still want to be? Call me fickle, but if I stop believing in the party I represent, I won’t represent it, my decision to make. The key point I try to make above is that for years the party has had to try to force people to listen to its message when they weren’t ready or simply didn’t want to. Now people are ready and WANT to listen. Our membership is swelling, we are being talked about in positive terms for the first time in years (the joys of opposition) … hang on, let me just revisit that point, we are being talked about full stop! The electorate as we have found can be like sheep herded by the press. Well I think things in the sheep pen are about to get interesting. In addition I am unapologetic about my support for our former leader – again, I wasn’t around during the selection process, I haven’t seen the battles that were fought, but I was pretty pleased with the end result – a leader who passionately stood up to the Tories with conviction, despite the constant body slams from the left, right, press and inside his own party. Is it solely Nick’s fault that we suffered a crippling defeat? Many of you might like to think so, the need to blame someone is always strong when licking wounds. I for one strongly believe that time will show just the opposite and our party will be stronger from our spell in government, not least because of the resulting backlash for the Tories. They might start off moderate (although no evidence of that so far!) but they can’t help to show their true colours eventually, as indeed will we. My only criticism is that the messaging around WHY we introduced tuition fees was poorly articulated, once understood (as I found on the doorstep) it was much easier to forgive.

  • I think Clegg supporters who talk excitedly about the surge in membership should consider the possibility that people are (re)joining in such numbers simply because Clegg’s gone.

    If the party looks like it has genuinely learnt from its mistakes in government I and others I know will be reconsidering joining up again too, but if it can’t move beyond blaming the electorate for ‘not realising what a good job the LibDems actually did’ then forget it. I don’t think the coalition wasn’t a mistake per se but rather we compromised too much and supported things we should never have supported (e.g. tuition fees, bedroom tax, NHS reforms).

  • peter tyzack 11th May '15 - 11:56am

    Nicola Wilson, flawless (except ‘we introduced tuition fees’ – we didn’t, that was Labour).. but I don’t understand how any member of our democratic Party could scapegoat Nick for anything, he has performed absolutely excellently. A negotiating team which didn’t involve Nick produced the coalition agreement, the Special Conference voted for it, Nick led the Party to a brief that WE gave him. The members who have failed to support him and been very negative about him on social media, fuelling the trolls, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves(but arrogant doesn’t admit to wrong). And for anyone to accuse him of following his own personal ambition is absolute pants.
    Apart from the fact that Nick has probably had as much as any man can take, I would like to see him re-elected as our Leader.

  • Stephen Hesketh 11th May '15 - 12:28pm

    Gina Hill11th May ’15 – 9:27am

    Gina, please accept my heart felt commiserations.

    So many good Liberal Democrats from voters through to MPs serially ignored and seriously let down.

    Nicola, I too am feeling surprisingly optimistic. Clegg has at last gone.

    Having him popping up to defend his disastrous time as leader and deputy PM would be a entirely counter productive and a source of renewed party division. Yes, the electorate will come to see what unfettered Tory-ism looks like. We don’t need them to recall what Cleggism looked like 🙁

  • Nicola Wilson 11th May '15 - 1:48pm

    Peter – consider my cap doffed and appreciate the correction. I also find the comment about surge in membership following Clegg’s departure interesting, I hadn’t considered that angle. Here in Tatton though, we seem to have mainly new members rather than old faces although we need to go through the list of just under a hundred (maybe even a hundred by now!) … We didn’t have the man power to cover all areas of our constituency, but what I do think we did right is explain tuition fees, point out what we have achieved despite having so few MP’s (we had a tug of war sketch to illustrate the point) and point out some of the things we prevented and feedback on the campaign was that we got this right. I kind of get the Clegg haters – bedroom tax was something I vehemently disagreed with and I do think that making promises we couldn’t keep was stupid – but did we know it was wrong at the time of making said promise? I strongly suspect not – therefore should he be the figurehead of blame for everything simply because he is the one in the firing line? My take on it is that hindsight bit us in the ass extremely hard indeed and we should never be that naive again, without taking a long hard look at the books. As for putting the man in the stocks and hurling rotten tomatoes at him for doing what he thought was right with passion and vigor – that is just plain wrong. Just like an employee in any company, the boss is an easy target, its only when you become one yourself your perspective changes to reflect the bigger picture, so the rest of us can’ only imagine what it was like to be in his shoes. I think he outclassed the other leaders with intelligence, fairness, wit and decency at every turn although I have to give Nicola Sturgeon her due, clarity and conviction were more her allies than Nick’s – albeit tempered by a very narrow agenda. I wouldn’t have the bottle, gumption or presence of mind to stand in Nick’s shoes, perhaps only those that have should be his judge … failing that only time will tell.

  • Personally I echo this. I know we have taken an almighty hammering and are feeling pretty bruised, but personally I have huge respect for Nick, and for the statesmanship he has shown, and the fortitude with which he has taken the brickbats thrown at him over the last five years.

    In 2010 we knew we were putting national interest ahead of party interest. Seeing Cameron’s antics now, we are beginning to get a sense of what our parlimentary party, under Nick’s leadership, saved the country from.

    I stood for parliament, up against a Conservative Home type, angry with us for what we had stopped them doing in coalition. In the hustings he came across as nasty. In his acceptance speech he was worse. In a Radio 4 interview on Friday he was chilling, and clearly aiming to cause trouble unless Cameron set off on a savage right wing path. That is what Nick and colleagues have defended us against.

    We took a hammering and it was deeply bruising. I doubt that anyone in the party feels more bruised than Nick: surely he deserves support in what must feel a hellish period for him.

  • After being a Liberal and then Liberal Democrat member (quite a lot of the time an activist) for more decades than I want to admit to, I left the party about a year ago because of the mansion tax. Of course I am unhappy about the huge gap between rich and poor, globally as well as in this country, but I don’t think a wealth tax is the right way to go about making things more equal. Any wealth tax is an unfair way of trying to redistribute wealth, but the mansion tax is especially unfair, penalising people who have chosen to spend their earnings on their home rather than (for example) luxury cars, expensive holidays or art.

    We bought a big old house in the country when we retired. Since then, we have spent more of our money on doing it up than on anything else and my husband has spent most of his time doing the restoration work himself. During this time, while we’ve been buying timber, plaster, electrical and plumbing components, glass, metal, insulation, nuts, bolts and screws – the list goes on and on, friends and relations have had countless holidays abroad, have dined in restaurants and gone to concerts, exhibitions and the theatre.

    Our house is not worth £2 million and so under Vince Cable’s proposals we would not be liable to pay mansion tax, but in principle we could have been, and once the concept is established the threshold could go down as well as up.

    Income and inheritance tax are fair, but I don’t think it is fair to tax people on their savings, which is what wealth tax boils down to, and in particular it’s not fair to single out people who spend their money on their home for a punitive level of extra taxation.

    I am tentatively wondering whether I should re-join the Liberal Democrat party. My purpose in writing this to Liberal Democrat Voice is to test the water: would I feel welcome if I did? Is the mansion tax an entrenched part of core LibDem thinking or is it a legitimate topic for open debate?

  • Hi Nicola – I don’t think it’s helpful to call those of us who thought Clegg should go as ‘Clegg haters.’ People still on these forums desperately wanted to see us hold onto seats/councillors/MEPs but (correctly) saw Clegg as a barrier to this – this is now inarguable and is not borne out of ‘hate.’ Rightly or wrongly the electorate saw Clegg as a liar (I think rightly FWIW) and that we as a party condoned this – this made us toxic.

    @Peter Tyzack – so not supporting Clegg enough was the problem? And those that don’t admit to this are arrogant? Really?

  • Richard Underhill 27th May '15 - 5:43pm

    Nicola said ” climbing into the world of the voter and taking them with us has been our failing.”


    That is a political and emotional decision.

    It might also reflect the power of administrators against the power of policy makers and the opinions of individual members and individual activists.

    There is a danger of recycling the opinions of other parties, mis-represented by some newspapers and misunderstood by some voters.

    We should decide our own Liberal Democrat policies and stick to them.

    “The party has been hammered in every single election since the coalition came into being and the General Election was just a continuation of that process. ”

    No,, Mr Wallace, This is not factually accurate.
    Are you a Liberal Democrat party member or supporter?

    We won a parliamentary by-election in Eastleigh in difficult circumstances, with massive support from party activists well outside a 100 mile radius. The Tory was third. The UKIP candidate did not stand again in that constituency.

    In the south-east we re-elected one of our two Members of the European Parliament. Check out Catherine Bearder. She is not alone as a member of the Liberal Group in the European Parliament.

    After Tory control of Maidstone borough council was broken in 2014 one of the Tory borough councillors resigned. The council by-elelction in July 2014 was won by a Liberal Democrat, Tory second. Tory agent publicly unhappy. One active Liberal Democrat new member was dancing in the streets.

    On the same day there was a county council by-election win in the north-east, won by a Liberal Democrat, all giving cause for optimism that where we work we win.

    Research will show other wins. The first-past-the-post electoral system was also against us, but elections in Scotland, Wales and London in 2016 will have a proportional element.

    Despite their electoral landslide at Westminster the SNP have said again that they support PR.
    Remember what Tim Farron said about cockroaches, quoting a rival MP.

  • (not the danny above)
    I am sorry, but you miss the point about the five years of coalition. Right now conservatives are in trouble because they have trended more towards austerity without liberals as partners. If they had not had liberal partners before, they would have been in trouble one year into that parliament instead of this one. Although if memory serves, they were in trouble at that point and had to row back on austerity because the economy was collapsing on the austerity policy just brought in. So it wasn’t liberals who restrained them, but economics. Also the small matter of their lack of a majority. Which would have prevented them imposing austerity at all.

    What we have seen now this parliament is naked increased borrowing to finance tax cuts on the rich. We saw some of that last parliament too. Liberals presided over wealth transfer from poor to rich. Shame on you!

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