Opinion: Defining ourselves will heal the fractions

preambleUnderstanding the European and local elections is important to how we heal as a party. It has been the hardest election defeat to take for various reasons. Firstly that the Liberal Democrat MEP team were truly incredible; hard working and respected across Europe for delivering the most they can for their regions. Secondly because of how the grass roots reacted to the results. Finally, and most lamentably, we lost our MEPs to the politics of fear, hatred and blame.

I am unapologetically pro-coalition and a strong supporter of Clegg’s leadership. He has led this party into government and in doing so has rocked the political culture of the country. In government we are doing good things in difficult circumstances but it has not been without loss and hardship. I do not want to add to the fractious events of the past week but offer a judgement of where liberalism in the United Kingdom goes from here.

We face a task that can ill afford fraction. When the political agenda is set by prejudice, animosity and malice we must have the courage in our liberal convictions to stand up to apathy and offer the people a vision. Liberalism is an encompassing ideology, but we have allowed it to go undefined for too long. We have pride in our principles but shy away from using it to motivate, inspire and lead.

When UKIP enter the European parliament their 24 MEPs will not represent me, nor will they represent the people of the United Kingdom, nor will they offer their constituents an ounce of the work we once did. We are responsible for their success, we allowed them to represent those who have nothing to believe in and it has seemed like we have nothing to offer them.

In liberalism we inherit the principals of freedom, tolerance and rationality but we failed to effectively defend them when Nigel Farage’s party questioned liberalism’s fundamentals. What ever comes from the consultations between the General Election campaign team and grass roots that have called for Clegg’s resignation I hope that it is recognised that Nick stood taller than any other party leader against Farage’s populism but that we must do more to stand for liberalism. Saying what we don’t support does not offer people something to believe in.

In 2015 we must build on our record in government and realise that to cement our place in British politics we must define ourselves. If we can talk about our vision we will have something to say to the apathetic and disheartened, the victimised and the unconventional. Our manifesto must be the start of this process and now we must start defining our liberalism with every opportunity we have.

Unfortunately Nick can not stand for liberalism alone. Part of the healing process will be the realisation of what we stand for and only then can we stand together. In the coming weeks I urge people to heed the words of Woodrow Wilson: supply light and not heat.

* Richard Kilpatrick is the Chair of Campaigns for Manchester Withington Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrat Council Candidate for Didsbury West, Manchester City Council in May 2018.

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  • I concur very much. At this time there is a need to reaffirm and renew core values. An editorial in The Guardian ended with this:

    At some point next year, the Lib Dems will have to look in frank depth at what they stand for and where Liberalism stands in modern British politics

    The problem is that it may be trends are against us and veering towards authoritarianism on both the right and left.

  • “it may be trends are against us and veering towards authoritarianism”
    And LibDems are of course, not authoritarian, by refusing the public a democratic vote on the EU?

  • Stephen Hesketh 30th May '14 - 1:07pm

    Richard re “Liberalism is an encompassing ideology, but we have allowed it to go undefined for too long. ” Sorry I disagree. I know I should probably post as ‘Preamble Liberal’ or something similar but the essence of the Liberal Democrats is clearly and inspiringly stated in the preamble to our constitution. It is those seeking to redifine it who are of more concern.

  • Stephen Hesketh 30th May '14 - 1:10pm

    … or even to ‘redefine’ it! 🙂

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '14 - 1:26pm

    Richard Kilpatrick

    In the coming weeks I urge people to heed the words of Woodrow Wilson: supply light and not heat.

    I have tried to do so again and again, by taking time to explain carefully and at length just why I feel the party has been going wrong under the current leader. I haven’t just abused him, I’ve been trying to put my point and give my reasons. Yet when I read what you’ve written in your article I don’t get the impression you’ve read what I and others have written on these lines and disagreed. I get the impression you haven’t bothered and don’t care. I see no attempt from you whatsoever to take on board the concerns that have been raised, and to make any sort of attempt to argue against what we have been saying in a way that engages with our arguments. So I’m getting heat from you, but no light. In fact I see unbearable arrogance. If you are trying to be conciliatory, it isn’t working. At all.

  • Yes, Clegg tried to ‘stand tall’ against Farage’s populism but he did so on a specific issue where there is no obvious liberal position. A liberal can with validity argue for or against EU membership.

    The anti-EU folk are passionate about their case. The pro-EU block seem to me to be either very dry in their support, or tepid at best, to the extent that they won’t bother voting in an EU election. It seemed that the central party’s electoral focus was on the EU elections, not local, which was probably the approach least likely to be successful unless Clegg managed to articulate something truly special in his head-to-head with Farage. But.. how many ‘soft’ EU supporters were likely to watch the debate anyway? I didn’t, nor did any of my friends as far as I’m aware – and we all voted.

    This isn’t a scientific analysis but it seems to me that the Lib Dems abandoned a focus on what they can achieve locally as liberals and instead bet the farm on a non-liberal pro-EU campaign that served only to maximise electoral losses. Mind you, hindsight’s a wonderful thing, eh?

    This isn’t to say that an alternative approach would have been gloriously successful, of course; there are massive trust issues, feelings of betrayal (reasonable or otherwise), media opposition, etc. etc. that guaranteed a poor set of election results regardless. But perhaps it might have been less awful?

    Anyway. Back to ‘defining ourselves’. Stephen Kesketh is right: there’s a certain preamble we can look to. Otherwise, my own view is that liberalism is perhaps perceived by the general public to be a middle class philosophy that’s something of a luxury for most. Where’s our liberal philosophy for the working man or woman? Or how do we make it clear that liberalism is relevant and vital to all?

    Sorry, lots of questions and rambling from me and no answers.

  • Surely “factions”, not “fractions”?

  • Steve Comer 30th May '14 - 1:49pm

    But defining ourselves is the big problem isn’t it?

    I’ve done the ‘political compass’ quiz many times (www.politicalcompass.org) partly to see if the old adage about getting more conservative as you get older is true. I’m proud to say I’m still politically in a similar place to where I was when I joined the Young Liberals in 1974. I support liberty rather than authority on that axis and am left of centre on the economic one. As such I tend to be tend to distrust the political establishment and authority, am wary of the big state and statist solutions to problems, yet also know that the; ‘free market’ if left untrammeled leads to a politics that is anything but free, as the natural urge of business is to drive towards monopoly. I also want to see power exercised at the level as close to the people as practicable (or to use a technical term – subsidiarity).

    Most Liberal Democrats that I know are broadly in a similar place. Some are less suspicious of the state, some are more relaxed about market solutions, but these are arguments about detail and emphasis, in principle most Lib Dems I know would be firmly placed in the left/libertarian quartile. Yet I wonder about some of our MPs!

    Broadly expressing those views, as we did in 2005 gives us a firm basis to tackle any issues. So when I was elected to Bristol City Council on the same day as the 2005 General Election, we had a manifesto that was criticised as a bit of a shopping list, but contained policies that had clear resonance on the doorsteps, such as opposing the Iraq war, scrapping the unfair Council Tax, and no to tuition fees. I’ve just re-read that 2005 manifesto again and its a beacon of clarity compared to where the party appears to be positioning itself today. In that election street prostitution was a big issue in part of my ward, yet while Labour were talking about clampdowns and crackdowns, I was able to articulate a liberal case for decriminalisation, licensing and safety.

    Yet we are simply not positioned as clearly on the political spectrum today eg:
    1) We have a leader that has talked more than once about Lib Dems being a ‘centre party.’ So where does that put us? – In between political space defined by others that’s where.
    2) We have some in the party who appear to support ideas originally floated by the like of Sir Keith Joseph in the 1970s, like educational vouchers, and marketisation of public services.
    3) We’ve promoted green energy yet approved the building of nuclear power stations like Hinkley point in Government
    4) We’ve always supported maximum devolution, yet we are not putting this forward in the Scottish referendum, and instead are being ‘little unionists’ spouting the same negative rhetoric as the Tory and Labour parties
    5) We have not opposed the ‘nationalisation’ of education through the free school and academies programme. And we have said nothing about the illiberal (and potentially racist) policy of imposing fines on parents for taking their children out of school for a few days in term time.
    6) Instead of being suspicious of big government, the demeanor of our Leader and some of our Cabinet Member is that they feel comfortable as members of the establishment and sit cozily alongside the Tories. (Vince is probably an exception to this, but on the Royal Mail sale he should have done more to denounce the duplicity of some of the city institutions who cashed in their chips as the share price rose).

    I’m sure other could add many more examples, but the key problem is we are not giving essentially liberal and democratic answers to the questions modern politics is throwing at us. These answers are needed more than ever.The Lib Dem Leadership seems to have moved to a position that accepted the Tory policies of the 1980s lock, stock, and barrel, just in time for them to be discredited by the economic crisis!

    Social Liberal parties in the Netherlands and Denmark moved forward in last week’s elections where there more ‘Economic Liberal’ rivals moved backwards. D66 also made gains in the local elections in the Netherlands in March.

    If we can re-define ourselves as a party rooted in the same point int he political spectrum where the majority of members are then we can succeed. D66 or Radikale Ventre have have shown that that brand of politics can succeed. However if our leadership still wants to turn us into a UK version of the German FDP, then we decline as they have.

  • Shaun Cunningham 30th May '14 - 1:57pm

    I am unapologetically pro-coalition and a strong supporter of Clegg’s leadership. He has led this party into government and in doing so has rocked the political culture of the country.


  • Richard Kilpatrick 30th May '14 - 2:06pm

    Liberalism is very well defined in the party’s constitution but in reality unless you are in the party you will not have read it nor is it a mainstay of political narrative. We have turned in on ourselves, distracted by government and yes probably hurting. But liberalism remains the most significant ideology in the world and we should stop blaming others for not defending its principles. Either as activist, candidate, councillor or parliamentarian we have a duty to question all who undermine what we believe in.

    Caracatus – I think we have all failed to stand on principle over the last 4 years. Nick has done more than many in the party. We are all guilty of walking away because its easy, not mentioning government and shying away from the mission statement in favour of community politics. People want something to vote for.

    Stewart – absolutely we need to challenge UKIP on every point and in retrospect we should have and we should learn from that.

    Liberalism is not seen as a middleclass ideology. In fact pigeon holing liberalism into class is a paradox of what it stands for. Futhermore if we have allowed it to become an ideology of the middleclass we have failed to explain it properly and thus we are to blame.

  • >Part of the healing process will be the realisation of what we stand for and only then can we stand together.

    Myself and hundreds of thousands of other long term supporters aren’t going to vote for a party led by Clegg. There’s no healing process or repair without that condition being met. If you want to do something to heal the party, get a leader that we can all get behind. The party won’t recover whilst Clegg is in charge – its just a question of how many representatives you’re willing to lose before you understand that. Unlike the electorate, you seem happy with the status quo, so I believe your complacency is destroying the party!

    Nobody is uniting around the manifesto because it’s an example of how far we’ve strayed from our beliefs whilst in government, it’s more divisive than Clegg! How are you going to tackle tuition fees in the manifesto without sounding hypocritical? The leader wants that policy scrapped, whereas I think the last time the question was asked most members still wanted to retain it. Consider the Browne book, and the reaction to it. He was doing exactly what you’re suggesting – was it unifying?

    Four tory parties is too much for one country; if you want the party to recover you’re going to need to show that its changed, its not another tory party and it’s more important than the leader. Until then, you’re rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.

  • Richard Kilpatrick 30th May '14 - 2:32pm

    What are those beliefs Chris? This is not about Nick its about liberalism. I am sorry to hear that you feel like that; but surely being constructive is what is needed. I only hope that long term supporters like yourself can add to that constructive consultation. Light not heat.

  • >Liberalism is not seen as a middleclass ideology.

    Where? I think Stewart is right as regards his evaluation and the facts bear him out. Look at a breakdown of voters by category and you’ll see fairly consistent trends against Lib Dems in C1/C2 areas.

  • Richard – “Liberalism is not seen as a middleclass ideology. In fact pigeon holing liberalism into class is a paradox of what it stands for. Futhermore if we have allowed it to become an ideology of the middleclass we have failed to explain it properly and thus we are to blame.”

    That’s kind of my point. It shouldn’t be seen as such but I believe (anecdotally and from general reading) that it is by many. And the Lib Dems have failed to address this.

  • Frank Booth 30th May '14 - 2:42pm

    Steven Comer – absolutely spot on. I keep hearing all this talk from Clegg defenders about defending ‘liberalism’ without actually stating what it is. It’s good to be tolerant within acceptable reason. But so many coalitionists sees to be missing the big picture.

    In whose interests is Britain being governed? The gentlemen’s agreement over the Royal Mail being a classic example.

    As for the middle class stuff. Yes it’s fine to be pro decriminalisation of prostitution or drugs or whatever. But do you really believe that is how the poor are going to decide who they vote for? No doubt we should be very ‘tolerant’ of those using food banks. But what actual good will that do. Clegg has been very hard on those voting Ukip but he should take a moment to realise that not everyone feels as confident, optimistic or secure as he does about the present or future. After all most people aren’t millionaires.

    The Lib Dems on current trajectory just look to be heading towards being the Party for privileged people who are afraid of egalitarianism threatening their status but can’t stomach voting Tory.

  • Daniel Henry 30th May '14 - 3:02pm

    I also think that Steve Comer’s post was spot on.

  • Frank Booth 30th May '14 - 3:10pm

    Yes, sorry, that should be Steve not Steven.

  • >surely being constructive is what is needed.

    Not always, no. Sometimes being destructive advances a system far further than construction! I wonder if you and I would be discussing this now had some meteor not of wiped out the dinosaurs. The Browne book is great example of someone following your advice, but causing more arguments (more heat as you would put it). Not necessarily his intention, heat and light are both epiphenomenal energy discharges resulting from another process. I think your heat/light analogy isn’t helping you much – you’d be dead without either of ’em! If you start using terms of quantum thermodynamics in your reasoning you need to think much more carefully, or everything you say will become meaningless, or have a very strange meaning (I believe the best strategy for your analogy is it’s best to do nothing, so as to reduce overall entropy and conserve energy!). Probably not the point you were trying to make.

    You don’t have to be sorry, just pragmatic. You’re supporting someone that’s destroying what we’ve built together, stop him from knocking our sandcastle down and we’ll be back to the good ol’ days. Otherwise, you’ve changed, this isn’t working and although I’ve not met someone else, I am available and actively looking. Your belief in construction and light are nice and I’ve been 100% with you for 20 years or so, but they’re not ultimate truths. If the party proves it can’t adapt to public demand your light and construction will meet my heat and deconstruction. There won’t be any winners.

  • Dismissing criticism of the leader as “not constructive” is simply a means of shutting down discussion that goes in a direction you don’t want. It’s a simple, clear, first step in getting the Lib Dems back into a state where they can start winning former voters back and start restoring their lost share of the vote.

    Ignoring a solution because you don’t like it doesn’t make it not a solution.

  • Jack – “Ignoring a solution because you don’t like it doesn’t make it not a solution.”

    Very true. To take the Titanic analogy people have been using, scuttling it before it hit the iceberg was certainly an option. I don’t think the Titanic analogy is apt, however.

  • I have been active in the party and its predecessor for over 40 years , with its ups and downs, In 1970 I was one of 70 odd people who voted Liberal in Bradford East at the general, that demonstrates my loyalty. Richard I have to tell you that the situation we are now in is by far the worst I have ever known. Worse still it is aggravated by a naieve and I will say stupid, unforgivable approach and apparent attitude from HQ, which is presumably following our leaders office desires.
    Your effort, no doubt well meaning is a complete waste of time.
    The people who finance this party do not want platitudes, they do not want meaningless reviews into situations that we already know the answer to, they want real action, based on what is happening on the ground, where the voters are telling us quiter clearly and preciseley that we are now up a gumtree, up a river without a paddle and just waiting to go over Victoria Falls. We cannot play with them any longer, they will destroy us.
    The voters have read us like a book and do not like what they read. We have to change leadership and strategy without any delay.

  • Richard Kilpatrick wrote, “something to say to the apathetic and disheartened, the victimised and the unconventional.” We need to recognise that Nick Clegg’s vision of what we can achieve in coalition offers little to the apathetic, the disheartened, the victimised and the unconventional. We have done little to encourage the unconventional and the non-conformist. Where were our MPs when the Conservatives attacked those with unconventional life styles? However we did work with Cameron when he decided to bring in same sex marriage.

    It is to the disheartened where our failing are the most glaring. We have supported the Conservative attacks on the unemployed, sick and disabled and so have increased their feelings of despair and hopelessness. Where is the vision that we need to create a society where everyone can achieve what the majority achieve. Where is the help for the disabled and unemployed to achieve this? Where is the understanding of the problems these people face?

    Also it appears that our policy papers no longer refer to our principles when presenting our policies is it any wonder lots of people think libertarianism is liberalism?

    We need to understand that the core of any discussion about liberalism is where is the power and what it is doing? This failure is the reason some members can state that competition is a liberal idea. They fail to recognise that suppliers have the power in modern markets and that this decreases the freedom of individuals and therefore the state has to intervene to address this imbalance.

  • “In the coming weeks I urge people to heed the words of Woodrow Wilson: supply light and not heat.”

    If I were a supporter of the Lib dem leadership right now I wouldn’t be quoting Woodrow Wilson. Wilson campaigned on a slogan of ” Woodrow keeps us out of the war” Everywhere he went there was a banner behind him saying “Wilson keeps us out of the war.” He won. And then a few months later broke that pledge by U turning and taking America into the 1st world war to appease Wall Street who feared their loans to Britain and France would be lost if Germany won the war.

    Party leader pledges one thing, gets into govt only to carry out something else. Where have I heard that before?

  • Michael seems to have forgotten who the momentum for the same-sex marriage bill came from. Gold not blue.

    That second reading debate also reflected how it was Liberal MPs speaking up challenging how the bill text as drafted by the civil service excluded various sections of society from marriage. Those amendments never got into the final bill as the great swathe of parliamentarians wouldn’t have understood them, sadly.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th May '14 - 6:34pm

    Hi Richard. I don’t think we need to define ourselves for the manifesto because it is getting produced democratically and we know it is going to be a mixture of different shades of liberalism. I think the time to really define ourselves is soon after the next election.

  • Peter Watson 30th May '14 - 8:48pm

    @Eddie Sammon “I think the time to really define ourselves is soon after the next election.”
    How will we know what we are voting for, and how will we have a meaningful or consistent manifesto, if we don’t define ourselves first?
    Besides which, if Lib Dems don’t define themselves their opponents will do it for them. Based on recent events do you believe that will be a favourable definition?

  • Richard Harris 30th May '14 - 9:27pm

    @Eddie Sammon “I think the time to really define ourselves is soon after the next election.”

    Which of course is exactly what the party did after the last election – only problem was that it wasn’t so much a refinement of definition as a wholesale re-invention from centre left to tory right. You cannot be a democratic party and say you will set policies after elections. May as well have your manifesto published by andrex.

  • 2 points:
    1. Ukip demonstrated that the ‘big lie’ still works – ‘Give us control of our country back’ cf Germany 1918 onwards and the ‘stab in the back’ lie that partly facilitated the National Socialists rise to power. Although false, Ukip’s idea gained traction because it touched emotions ( misguided form of patriotism) and those who feel ‘their’ white, theoretically Christian, English-speaking,’ honey still for tea’ imaginary country has been lost to Johnny foreigner, including those born here who hold British nationality. It also freed people to blame others rather than look at themselves. The idea of Ukip and its emotional appeal has historical precedent and it is the antithesis of Liberal Democracy. The debates at last positioned us where we should be ( and should have been some years ago) – Ukip’s emphatic and uncompromising opponents .

    2. So how do you fight an idea? Not by attempting to defeat it with statistics and logic – least not at first. You fight an idea with another idea, a better idea that also touches the emotions, is visionary and can be translated into a political manifesto that has meaning, that is truly ‘appealing’. Our European campaign had argument (mind) but lacked anything that appealed (hearts).

    This is why this debate is so important and needs successful completion quickly, before we appeal to voters again. Leadership change is not the answer. Presenting exactly what the Lib Dem brand ‘Stronger Economy Fairer Society’ would mean to the mass of British people, especially the 60% plus who do not vote, is the immediate challenge we face.

    We share this responsibility of leadership.

  • Richard Kilpatrick

    “we lost our MEPs to the politics of fear, hatred and blame.”

    Listen to the many people who were on the doorsteps for the recent elections. It was your leadership and coalition policies that lost you votes not UKIP. The voters don’t trust your leadership and many like me deserted the party for Labour or the Greens. Nick Clegg, Alexander, Laws, Cameron, Osborne and Duncan Smith all voted for the increase in tuition fees, all support Duncan Smiths welfare reforms and for many there is no difference between the Lib Dems and the Tories. You need a change of leader and direction, if you don’t do it before the next election the voters – that are sick of the two main parties – will only have one place to go and it won’t be LibDem.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    I regret having to say this to a respected old colleague, especially as I prefer your intellect led debating approach over my more robust attacks, but you are probably wasting your breath. Clegg and many of his more committed supporters stopped listening to critics soon after the public stopped listening to Clegg. They see no middle ground and the irony is lost on them, as is clear from this opinion piece.

    There is a real danger that, without intending to, they will turn a pan-Liberal party into an Economic Liberal party.

  • @ Jen – Do you have any evidence that the reason that the Same Sex Act was proposed was because a Liberal Democrat proposed it. I thought it was only proposed because Cameron supported it. This is not to belittle the work of our Parliamentarians during its passage. I was using it as an example of where we did support the unconventional.

  • Eddie Sammon 31st May '14 - 6:34am

    Peter Watson and Richard Harris, you make good points and I am not sure of the answer. In fact the position of defining ourselves before an election is probably the best one I have heard for having a leadership election now. However, there seems to be a lack of will for this in the parliamentary party and all things considered I still think the best thing to do is to put off a leadership election until after May 2015, probably because I am a Clegg supporter, but also because I think a campaign would be messy. Labour put off their leadership election until after 2010 and I don’t think there was a democratic outcry over this.

    I don’t share Clegg’s politics exactly (if he even knows what they are), but not even I can be bothered with fighting for the heart and soul of the party right now. I kind of just want to focus on 2015, but that is me and other opinions are fair.

  • Bill le Breton 31st May '14 - 9:42am

    It is a bit like a brand – we have one whether we like it or not, personally or corporately. Ditto the Liberal Democrats.

    And we have today a definition of Liberalism. Our leadership has been expressing it, detailing its definition, acting it our in policy positions and in actual lawmaking.

    It seems from what you are saying that at present there is no working definition of LIberalism, but of course there is. It is the one being communicated in the main by Clegg, Laws and Alexander. Faint alternatives come from Webb and Cable. But really the Liberaliosm being put to the public is that of Clegg, Laws and Alexander.

    If you want it redefined it means that you don’t agree with their present expression of Liberalism in the House of Commons and through our TV sets..

    Does that not lead you to the conclusion that you have to change the people who represent Liberalism in this country. They won’t ever change it themselves, because it is what they believe it to be.

    Publish what you believe in. Campaign for it. But don’t say the trouble is no one else is doing that – they are. IN YOUR NAME.

  • Michael Da Silva Pearce 31st May '14 - 10:07am

    I am truly amazed by the barrage of negative responses to Richard’s very well expressed and insightful post here. We absolutely must return to our ideology and present it as an alternative to the mainstream parties and especially UKIP. We make the mistake time and time again that people know the rationale behind our responses to political issues. They do not. If we can learn anything from the recent election results it is that the vast majority of people feel disconnected from politics. We must redefine the way we present ourselves and tell our story. I strongly support Nick Clegg. He has always acted in direct reference to our ideology from the very difficult position of being a junior partner in a coalition. My only criticism of him would be that he failed to make the ideology explicit and to relate it to the everyday lives of people. To redeem ourselves we must repackage the ‘message’ and tell it plainly and clearly. I believe the mood of the country is crying out for the positive alternatives that we have to offer. They just don’t know what it is we are offering. Richard is right in a later response in this thread – the general electorate are not going to seek out the preamble to the constitution and read it for themselves. We must deliver it to them in plain language with concrete examples of what it could mean in their lives. We must step outside of the party wranglings that dominate every issue raised at the moment and take a look at the bigger picture and what we can achieve if we pull together and start talking liberalism.

  • @Michael
    It’s because I believe in the political philosophy outlined in the preamble to the constitution that I no longer vote Liberal Democrat. The problem doesn’t lie with your marketing, it lies with your actions and your leadership.

  • Actually, to be fair, your marketing is also woeful.

  • Michael

    “To redeem ourselves we must repackage the ‘message’ and tell it plainly and clearly. I believe the mood of the country is crying out for the positive alternatives that we have to offer.”

    You have very little faith in the average voter if you think repackaging the message is all that’s required. The LibDems have been in coalition for 4 years and – like the Tories – will be judged on their record in office. Tory voters are on the whole proud of their achievements, that doesn’t seem to be the case with the LibDems.

  • I heard recently a Lib dem MP telling a BBC interviewer the the reason the LibDems had lost so many votes was because the voters had not heard Nick Clegg s message, arrogant statements like this is one of the reasons the Lib Dems lost many votes, did Nick Clegg hear the peoples message?
    During the recent Clegg-Farage TV debates we were told that it is costing the country £55m each day to be a member of the EU, to the common voter this type of expenditure must thoroughly justified, especially if a political party is campaigning that it is dangerous that to allow the voters of this country their democratic right to a vote as to how their country is governed.What the people know is that it is nearly 40 years since a referendum was held to ask the people how they wanted their country to be governed.Any party that denies the country their say as to how the country is governed will inevitably one day incurr the wrath of the electorate.You have been warned!!

  • >I am truly amazed by the barrage of negative responses to Richard’s very well expressed and insightful post here.

    Your amazement is, in itself, amazing!

    >To redeem ourselves we must repackage the ‘message’ and tell it plainly and clearly.

    Great! You get some marketing guys in, we’ll just go off over here and do something else….

    Look at the results, look at the polls, consider the facts. This isn’t a moment for a nip and tuck, it’s existentialism time! Telling people what they must do is all well and good, but I’ll enjoy watching you try and get them to do what you say whilst Clegg is the leader.

  • David Evershed 31st May '14 - 12:44pm

    When trying to resolve a problem, the first and most important step is to ask the right questions.

    In his article Richard Kilpatrick does this in an insightful and articulate way.

    Of course, he does not provide all the answers as to how we should define ourselves – but he sets us off in the right direction. There is no reason why we cannot be liberal in both our economic policies and our social policies. In media shorthand, Lib dems are on the right when it comes to economic policy and on the left when it comes to social policy.

  • @ David Evershed
    The Liberal Party was never a party that supported right-wing economic policies. When calling for free trade one of arguments for it was cheap bread for the poor. Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge did not support economic policies of the right. I don’t believe the Liberal Democrats supported right-wing economic policies until after the 2010 General Election and Nick Clegg had his road to Damascus moment.

  • I’ll let him off the debate team clichés (politics of fear – sigh) as Richard Kilpatrick writes persuasively and I wish him every success in Middlesbrough. However, when did libdems start conceiving the electorate as easily swayed by caddish tricks and snake oil merchants? This was, I thought, one party which never took a vote for granted and approached people, all people, with respect. Most of the folk I came up with politically no longer support the liberal democrats because they felt they were lied to, having spent a great deal of their own income and time to help a few statists get ministerial cars. Nothing to do with prejudice, animosity or malice, just a lack of probity and the extinguishing of hope. Some of those were leafleting when Nick was a member of another political party at University. I doubt they need to be told what swayed them. I don’t criticise people for being unapologetic supporters of the coalition, but re-engagement also requires humility.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Jun '14 - 2:15am

    Phil Rimmer

    @Matthew Huntbach
    I regret having to say this to a respected old colleague, especially as I prefer your intellect led debating approach over my more robust attacks, but you are probably wasting your breath. Clegg and many of his more committed supporters stopped listening to critics soon after the public stopped listening to Clegg. They see no middle ground and the irony is lost on them, as is clear from this opinion piece.

    I do not think it is wasting my breath to state what I believe, even if no-one is listening. At least it is on record. I can at least say I have tried my best, I did not give up without doing all I could. One may think this a matter of great principle, but I think it is more so that I can at least have the satisfaction of saying in future “I told you so”.

    My belief is that the unthinking leader-worship here, inability to think beyond the banal lines pushed by the ad-men and spads surrounding the leader, and inability to accept constructive criticism WILL destroy the party completely. What I have seen here convinces me of that.

  • I do occasionally glance across at the Twitter column that appears in LDV. Stephen Tall often has signposts to other stuff unlike some of the LDV Twitterers who seem more interested in mutual reinforcement and not a little self-preening. Thanks to Stephen Tall for the reference in one of his Twitter bits that appeared recently, which took me to REVOLTS a very accessible but respectable and accurate source of fascinating information.

    I can recommend this http://revolts.co.uk/?p=628

    It charts the coalition.

    This is the very point at which I feel the wheels came off Clegg’s reputation —

    “……….4. House of Lords reform (10 July 2012, division 47). 
    In the largest rebellion by Government MPs on the Second Reading of any Bill in the post-war period (and the largest Commons rebellion to have hit the Coalition), some 91 Conservative MPs voted against the Second Reading of the House of Lords Reform Bill. 
    With Labour support, the Bill’s Second Reading was secured relatively easily, 462 votes to 124. 
    But Labour support did not extend to the Bill’s programme motion, where the government whips faced a similar-sized rebellion. 
    So, in the face of almost certain defeat, the government withdrew the programme motion rather than see it voted down. ”

    This more so than tuition fees, which was more about telling lies and losing trust, this was about a personal and political failure to get through legislation for which all parties had a manifesto commitment.
    Clegg turned a 462 votes to 124 victory into a massive defeat. This when measured in the history of ineptitude and failure must be near the top of the Westminster equivalent of the Richter Scale.

    The lesson from this is that Clegg must go because he Iacks the political skill and capacity for hard work which is needed to make any coalition work.

    The arguments in LDV often confuse coalition with Clegg. Many people in our party have years of practical experience of making coalitions work — those MSPs for example who for eight years managed to work with Labour and get far more obviously identifiable Liberal stuff than Clegg has.

    Scotland for example has STV for local elections — why hasn’t Clegg got the same? This is of lasting benefit to voters in Scotland and a clear flag of Liberal Democrat influence during that period. If Clegg had achieved this for England, or had achieved House of Lords Reform, even I would have forgiven him all the other failures. Even I would have something to rally round for the future.

    Clegg just does not get it — that his much trumpeted income tax tweaks do not make it with the voters or the party workers as significantly Liberal achievements. It looks liked watered – down Toryism.

    Similarly “economic turn-around” or whatever the house price boom in the south East is dresed up is not seen by a grateful nation as Liberal Democrats saving us from economic disaster. Trying to cast the blame on Labour for the obviously world-wide nervous breakdown of economic structures was never going to wash. Voters watching their TVs knew that economic collapse was caused by crooked bankers, Voters knew that economic collapse in the USA, Greece, much of Europe and even threatening China had absolutely was not the fault of the UK Labour government, however despised that government had become by 2010. The voters are not that stupid. They know instinctively that the Coalition has in the main followed Tory economic policies. The voters know that repeated swinging cuts in public expenditure, privatising Postman Pat and outsourcing his cat are Tory policies because that is what Tory Governments have done since 1979.

    Last week’s electoral disaster was the inevitable consequence of having Clegg as leader.

    It was not, repeat NOT an inevitable consequence of Coalition. Clegg and those who cling on in the hope that some miracle might happen on the road to Hallam 2015 ignore the fact that alert was no good at Coalitions, no good at leading a political party.

    So when people come out with über-Cleggite statements like — ” I am unapologetically pro-coalition and a strong supporter of Clegg’s leadership. He has led this party into government and in doing so has rocked the political culture of the country. “. I ask them and in this case I ask Richard Kilpatrick to read their words and think the, through. Did Clegg really “lead this party’s into government or was he lucky enough to have scraped into the leadership shortly before an election where the arithmetic of the result propelled him blinking into the bright lights of a fairground over which he had little knowledge, ability or influence? If, Richard Kilpatrick, you are unapologetically pro-Coalition as you claim how can you be a strong supporter of the man who has given Coalition a bad name?

    The results of last week indicate that 98% of those entitled to vote thought Clegg was nothing to do with the future. Today’s opinion poll puts Clegg as the most unpopular leader of any political party in modern times.
    How bad does it have to get before you realise that if you are pro-Coaltion you need to get rid of Clegg because he is giving the concept the smell of death?

  • Well said John Tilley

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Jun '14 - 1:46pm


    “instead bet the farm on a non-liberal pro-EU campaign that served only to maximise electoral losses”

    Indeed, we should have based our EU campaign on what our MEPs have done to shape EU law in a liberal direction, and promoted our specifically liberal vision of the EU. Whether you want the UK to be in or out of the EU isn’t even part of EU competency: it was a big mistake IMHO to let Farage set the terms of the debate during the EU election campaign.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jun '14 - 11:14am


    If, Richard Kilpatrick, you are unapologetically pro-Coalition as you claim how can you be a strong supporter of the man who has given Coalition a bad name?

    Indeed. The whole concept of coalition has been greatly damaged by the way Clegg has handled it. The fact that it came about under his leadership is nothing to do with him, it was just a random effect of the electoral system, it could have happened in any of the elections since 1974 when the third party shot up in support to about where it has been since. The Parliamentary balance after May 2010 would have led ANY leader of the Liberal Democrats to make the same decision, the fact that it was the the situation rather than the leader which led to it is shown by the almost unanimous backing it got from party members. But NO-ONE who backed it at that time backed it with the idea it meant a permanent shift of the party to the right, at least no-one said that publicly, and if it had been said by Clegg and those surrounding him, I suspect the party would have dropped support for the idea instantly.

    Yet now we are seeing so much press coverage which takes the line that the fact of the coalition means the Liberal Democrats have moved to the political right and so cannot campaign from the position we did in previous general elections. Well, if that argument is taken for granted it means the whole idea of Coalition has FAILED, because it says no such agreement can be made without it being a precursor to semi-merger. That has been aided and abetted by much of the stuff that Clegg and those surrounding him have come out with, sometime implicitly sometimes explicitly as from Richard Reeves and Jeremy Browne. The implicit stuff is all these lines about the party having “changed” about it being a “party of governance” not a “party of protest” etc.

    Well, suppose the May 2010 Parliament was as it was, but with the number of Conservative and Labour MPs reversed, so the only stable government was a Labour-LibDem coalition? Would we then get arguments that the party has moved permanently to the left? OK, maybe not quite the same, as it tended to be those on the centre-right of the Liberal Democrats who were keenest on Labour-LibDem co-operation, mostly because they wanted to push the LibDems in a Blairite direction i.e. the same sort of people who now want it to remain a party over-focused on its national leader and concentrating in its presentation on marginal liberal issues which most ordinary people don’t care much about, while sticking to a very orthodox economic perspective, the heritage of Margaret Thatcher.

    So, yes, anyone who wants to push the idea that coalition works must get rid of Clegg pronto, in order to show that coalition can be a practical agreement and does not mean the junior partner throwing away its soul and letting itself be destroyed.

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