Opinion: Did SLF call for leadership ballots in The Times? Er, no.

Social Liberal ForumI do not buy any of Rupert Murdoch’s products as a general rule, and this decision seems to have been vindicated by their printing a fictionalised account of a letter printed in today’s edition, actually the Social Liberal Forum’s first statement on the events of recent days.

Our statement  calls for a serious re-examination of party strategy which many of us feel is the key factor behind last week’s appalling election results. It was agreed by the SLF Council who have a range of views about the LibDems4Change petition. For the record, I have not signed it, although others have.  It does not call for a leadership ballot; a statement I have asked them to retract.

As I wrote on Saturday, the party leadership is only one of the issues at stake and to boil all the Liberal Democrats’ challenges down to that is in my personal view wrong. However, to simply plough on regardless and deploy the same strategy and tactics for the 2015 General Election without listening or learning is much worse.

For my part, I hope Nick Clegg is putting the final touches to a Queen’s Speech that has distinctively Liberal Democrat contents, including the long-awaited reform of the pubcos that Greg Mulholland and I have long campaigned for.

To save readers going through the Murdoch paywall, here is our letter in full:

There’s no escaping just how strongly the electorate has rejected our party’s offer in the European and local elections, with a few welcome exceptions. Such heavy losses can’t be attributed just to no longer being a party of opposition, even if governing as a junior member of a coalition means supporting policies many of us disagree with. Nor is it just down to the Lib Dems being an isolated voice in taking on UKIP’s dangerous populism. So it’s right that the party seriously re-examines its strategy, how we deliver it, and what we will be offering to the electorate at the General Election in 2015 – and it is right that this debate should include who leads the party. As a democratic party, the membership will hold the key to this re-examination, and we acknowledge that views differ on how to approach these issues within the party – as they do within the SLF.

But resolving this debate and reviving the party matters because the electorate risks losing the only voice capable of representing values of freedom, community and social justice as a national political force. British politics deserves an effective liberal presence, especially in the face of rising populism at home and in Europe. Social liberals cannot stand by and see this voice fade. So the SLF will lead the discussions that rightly follow, to ensure the Lib Dems present a mix of policies in our manifesto that chime with the values voters expect from a liberal party – and that we have a leadership in place that people listen to.

Those discussions will continue with our members at our AGM this Saturday in Reading, and more widely later in the summer at our Conference where Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Tim Farron will join the debate.

* Gareth Epps is a member of FPC and FCC, a member of the Fair Deal for your Local campaign coalition committee and is an active member of Britain’s largest consumer campaign, CAMRA. He claims to be marginally better at Aunt Sally than David Cameron, whom he stood against in Witney in 2001.

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46 Comments

  • Sorry Gareth, but including the statement “and it is right that this debate should include who leads the party” sounds exactly like a call for a leadership ballot,to a neutral observer.

    If this wasn’t the intention then you should have redrafted with some more thought. I do not find this letter at all helpful, and there have been far more thoughtful and constructive contributions on this site over the past few days.

  • I don’t think people voted FOR Ukip, just a selection of votes against and a nasty anti-immigrant vote.
    There are some votes we don’t want.
    SLF has got an anti-Leadership reputation. Partly sloppy press who have been running theses stories for as long as I have been a party member. Not helped by the link with Oakeshott’s office. That petition was poisonous and planned.
    It makes getting the changes which are needed more difficult to get.
    We may know that the Leadership is complicated but the press doesn’t care.
    Sorry, Gareth but I am really angry.

  • Gareth – I am a great fan of yours, but really, how can a motion on pubcos possibly be Liberal salve to an utterly compromised government, one that has made us cheerleaders for demeaning tests for disabled/ill people, abolishing the Health in Pregnancy Grant, abolishing EMA etc.?

  • “and it is right that this debate should include who leads the party” and “and that we have a leadership in place that people listen to.” do give the distinct impression that you a looking into or in favour of a change in leadership.

    I do hear a lot of aggression from some in SLF against the leader at conferences etc, and these kind of words seem to enforce that.

    I am a member of SLF myself but don’t want to be tarred with the anti-leadership brush. I think SLF can be much better than that and have an important role in policy development rather than sparking infighting.

  • Simon McGrath 29th May '14 - 11:22am

    So what does this mean then ? : ” it is right that this debate should include who leads the party”

  • So Sadie Smith thinks people didn’t…’vote FOR UKIP’….well they certainly didn’t vote LibDem!!!

  • I disagree with most of the previous posters. Clearly “it is right that this debate should include who leads the party” is a lot weaker than “we need a leadership ballot now”, which would have been an alternative. I read this as SLF signalling that they would quite like the present leader to change his approach and thereby win their support to continue in post. And my take on that is, that won’t happen, it is too weak a response, it will let Clegg drift on toward oblivion in 2015.

  • Andrew Tennant 29th May '14 - 11:41am

    Why it’s almost like we can’t trust aspects of the media to accurately represent a Lib Dem stance without introducing their own slant, agenda and bias. Who knew!?!

    I can but hope this experience gives Clegg’s critics more empathy, understanding it’s not a problem unique to him in having difficulty obtaining a fair hearing!

  • “Tracy 29th May ’14 – 11:21am
    “and it is right that this debate should include who leads the party” and “and that we have a leadership in place that people listen to.” do give the distinct impression that you a looking into or in favour of a change in leadership.”

    Well, they are not saying that Clegg should stand down, just that there should be a debate about it. I think that’s a perfectly liberal and also a rational vuew, given Last weekend’s results. incidentally, I find it curious that you are attacking SLF for this but not a word has been said about Stephen Tall who actually has said that Nick Clegg should stand down, and for very good reasons.

  • Tim “I don’t think they have any legitimate claim to “lead” on this any more than any similar group.”

    Has any similar group come forward?

  • Stephen Howse 29th May '14 - 11:55am

    “I’m with Simon Shaw – by what right should the SLF lead on a debate within the party?”

    I’m with you two. This debate belongs to all of us, of all factions and none.

    What is the Social Liberal Forum’s total membership and what is that as a proportion of the party as a whole?

  • Kevin Colwill 29th May '14 - 12:10pm

    Everyone knows that signing up to be a member of any political party is to agree to tacitly support, if not actively campaign for, policies you don’t like, people you don’t like and possibly even some values you don’t like… So far, so “democracy is the worst system of government – except for all the others”.
    But there is a line, a point after which a political party has shifted so far that to continue to support it isn’t being a democrat but a hypocrite.
    If you believe Clegg and the Orange bookers haves taken the party in the wrong direction you’ve left it ultra late to say so but what have you got to lose? Better to go down fighting for what you really believe in rather than staying loyal to something you could only support whilst holding your nose.
    Division can’t be worse than uniting in hypocrisy.

  • The immeidiate need is for an end to The ” Libdem Crisis!!!” narrative in the media & the way we can All help with that is by not feeding them. Lets all just say nothing for a few days till The Media get tired & look for another story. We are all bursting with stuff we want to say but whats needed now is is self-discipline not self-indulgence.

  • I am not a member of the SLF.
    A lot of very good friends and longtime campaigners and people whom I respect the party are members of SLF.

    It is depressing to see yet more evidence of the tactics of people who presumeably think they are helping Clegg in now attacking or trying to discredit the SLF.

    What the SLF have written in their letter is entirely reasonable.
    There is nothing in it that any rational person with any sense of what a democratic party should be could object to.

    The misinterpretation by a newspaper would in normal times draw support from other members of the party.

    Is the Clegg position so weak that they have to lash out at everyone who does not blindly follow the leader?

  • paul barker 29th May ’14 – 12:14pm
    The immeidiate need is for an end to The ” Libdem Crisis!!!” narrative in the media & the way we can All help with that is by not feeding them.

    paull barker,
    Seriously, who do you think is spending their time feeding the press?
    One of the reviewers on the Sky News review of the papers just before midnight last night (himself the political editor of a national newspaper) said something along the lines of —
    “Nick Clegg’s press team are spending every hour of the day desperately trying to spin all this to Clegg’s advantage.”

    A short letter from the SLF will sound like a pin dropping in comparison to the roaring thunder of a press team on the slide, feeding their own paranoia, feeding off the leader’s paranoia.

  • I’m not a member of SLF. Though I’ve a lot of time for Gareth and others within and outside it. I read this incidentally as take a lead in the discussions that follow… to promote SLF the salient point is
    ” to ensure the Lib Dems present a mix of policies in our manifesto that chime with the values voters expect from a liberal party – and that we have a leadership in place that people listen to.”

    Now to my mind personally it is time for Nick – who is a good and decent man – to go and we are debating this currently in my constituency as you’re right this debate belongs to all of us. Clearly if not enough others agree nothing will happen. But I refer you to 39% of LDV polled wanting Nick out. That is massive. That’s like saying 40% of my friends have just asked me not to cook. 54% may like like my cooking some of whom are being polite… but I’d probably let my partner take over for a while , while bunning up :-0

  • Sorry that should be promote SLF policy

  • By what right did Clegg take the lead in debating Farage, then?

    The answer is, he had no god-given right to take the lead, but he thought it would be a good idea to do so, so he did.

    He was perfectly entitled to do that. It was a good idea. (It’s only a pity that he made a pig’s ear of it).

    If SLF think they can lead the necessary change process, good luck to them. Others can decide for themselves whether or not to follow!

  • Andrew Tennant 29th May '14 - 1:11pm

    @David Allen
    It wasn’t a ‘god given right to lead’, but a membership given right. A majority of our members elected him, and a majority want him to remain in place. That’s where his position comes from!

  • Bill Le Breton 29th May '14 - 1:12pm

    Gareth and Linda, the letter seems a bit of a red herring .

    Have either of you asked your local party to debate whether it wishes to be one of at least 75 constituencies calling for a leadership election.

    Do you want the parliamentary party to be free from the pressure of the leader’s patronage to debate the issue at its next meeting ?

    Are you happy for Nick Clegg to continue as leader?

  • Linda Jack is indeed right, we are a house divided and tht regardless of which party of the party we come from we are in a painful situation.

    I just don’t see how any proposed solutions that involve Nick Clegg leaving are going to unite us anywhere near the time necessary for us to reunite and deliver a coherent GE campaign, we could seemingly unite this week or in three, four, fiv, however many months time.

    Neither Nick going or staying will leave us a particularly strong position, but there has to be a point in which we collectively put differences aside and get back to taking our message to the voters and taking on Labour and the Tories. That time has to be soon.

  • Tom Papworth 29th May '14 - 2:20pm

    Gareth Epps: “I notice that almost all the comments above are by people known not to identify themselves as social liberals or supporters of SLF. I take their remarks in that context.”

    That is rather the point, though, isn’t it, Gareth. Those above do not feel that the SLF speaks for them and they do not wish the SLF to lead the discussion. You are welcome to form a collective and agree who will speak and how you will vote, but you don’t get to lead anything.

  • Well it must be indisputable that SOMEONE must lead the discussion, has anyone else come forward? Maybe they could toss a coin?

  • Very well put Doug Janke — although I am not sure what “bunning up” involves.

    Doug Janke 29th May ’14 – 12:39pm
    “…………it is time for Nick – who is a good and decent man – to go and we are debating this currently in my constituency as you’re right this debate belongs to all of us. Clearly if not enough others agree nothing will happen.

    But I refer you to 39% of LDV polled wanting Nick out. That is massive.

    That’s like saying 40% of my friends have just asked me not to cook. 54% may like like my cooking some of whom are being polite… but I’d probably let my partner take over for a while , while bunning up :-0. “

  • Kevin Colwill 29th May '14 - 3:37pm

    Who cares who leads the discussion…. have the discussion. Have it now and as openly as you dare.
    Let’s see a bit less of the 28% of the 6% of the 19% and a bit more… “I stand for this and I don’t accept that!”
    Or am I just way too romantic about politics? 🙂

  • Richard Dean 29th May '14 - 4:00pm

    You’re being romantic. By “lead”, SLF are close to claiming that they have some form of special authority. They don’t.

  • daft ha'p'orth 29th May '14 - 4:12pm

    @Kevin
    According to a survey taken between 3:37 and 4:08, 50% of respondents say that you are way too romantic… 😉

    (Me, I agree with you).

  • Tony Greaves 29th May '14 - 4:41pm

    I am sick of the silly spin coming from the teenage suits surrounding Nick Clegg. Why can’t our leadership just say the truth for once? It can’t be any worse than what is happening now.

    Tony

  • As Gareth has made it very clear a couple of years ago he doesn’t value my judgement I expect he won’t appreciate my support on this issue. I am not a member of the SLF.

    @ tpftar ‘but including the statement “and it is right that this debate should include who leads the party” sounds exactly like a call for a leadership ballot, to a neutral observer.’

    The question of the role of the leadership has to be included in the debate. It is possible that the public’s perception of Nick Clegg is holding the party back and this has to be considered. Therefore “who leads the party” is a shorthand way of saying that the role of Nick Clegg’s leadership should be included and this should include the possibility of their being a different leader. This was a way of saying this without expressing that there has to be a new leader.

  • Joshua Dixon 29th May '14 - 8:35pm

    I thought the use of “lead” was probably a little misguided but at least SLF *are* making efforts to kick start a debate. It seems others are more content with undermining any efforts to get some form of dialogue going now they know they’ve secured Clegg’s future. I say we end the petty snipes towards one another and celebrate the fact that people are beginning to be more critical and engaged in the processes of forming our strategy.

  • Andrew Tennant, Simon Shaw, the point you missed was that Clegg decided, without consulting Cameron or Miliband, that he would take the lead in challenging Farage. Pompous politicians from outside the Liberal Democrats might well have decided to deride Clegg’s action as presumptuous, but by and large they actually just decided to leave him to get on with it.

    Now the SLF has had the temerity to suggest that it might be able to take the lead on an issue. Pompous politicians from inside the Liberal Democrats have decide to deride this as presumptuous. They would do better to respond constructively.

  • A Social Liberal 30th May '14 - 6:08am

    Just so everyone knows – I am a member of SLF.

    Several posters who are obviously not social liberals have asked why SLF should lead the debate. The answer, I thought, was obvious – the SLF seems to be the only part of the Liberal Democrats who’s eyes and ears are not filled with sand and so have a much better grasp on the position we in the Lib Dems find ourselves. Because we are not blind or deaf to our situation and did not buy into the more illiberal actions of the last government we can better seek the path out of this mire which, like the heavy cavalry at Waterloo, the party galloped headlong into with their war-cries of “onward to government ! ! “

  • Pimlicatalyst 30th May '14 - 12:52pm

    “and it is right that this debate should include who leads the party” and “and that we have a leadership in place that people listen to.” OK you didn’t say ballot. What’s the difference?

    Could your fellow co-chair have written this? “Clegg says he wants “to finish the job” #finishwhat destroying the liberal party?”

    Maybe ONE of you should resign? Then your statements wouldn’t look as if they are written on the same tissues that Clegg uses.

  • Tony Greaves – You make it sound as if you have a problem with young people having positions of influence in the party. Is that what you mean?

  • Geoffrey Payne 30th May '14 - 1:51pm

    I think this is all very overblown. Maybe SLF will lead the debate or maybe they won’t. Maybe someone else will or maybe no one will. Who knows, I don’t. However there is nothing wrong in aspiring to lead the debate surely everyone wants to do that?
    There are key SLF members who are calling for Nick Clegg to resign, and there are other key SLF members who think he should not resign. If we were a faction then we are not very good at it. I think it is almost impossible to organise a faction of liberals, by definition. In reality we are Liberals with our own points of view. We do not have a party line that we all have to follow. We do have a set of social liberal values – in particular a commitment to social justice – that we strongly believe in. How those values are to be met is a matter of debate.

  • @ Gareth
    I am the same Michael who posts on the members forum who has a very rare surname.

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