Opinion: Let’s Get Honest With Ourselves

The departure of Ming Campbell gives a tremendous opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to be honest with themselves: an opportunity that only arises rarely in the middle of a Parliament.

The media will ignore it, but the leadership contest can and must be used by those who have been spelling out the obvious, critical issues of central organisation which are fundamental to the success of the Party, to do so quickly and publicly, before bandwagons get started for any candidate (and I haven’t been contacted by one and will want to see their answers first).

The point needs to be made that even Ming’s strongest critic would not pretend that the issue lay entirely with one personality. There are a number of questions that needs an answer by any candidate worth her or his salt, if we are truly serious about building on the platform of 2005 and going on the offensive from then on.

Questions such as:

1) If the party organisation has been ‘professionalised’, why, when referring to our national press operation, could one almost paraphrase Mike Hancock? And what are they going to do about it? It is unacceptable to complain about lack of resources, or bleat about the ‘unfair’ media.

2) How will a new leader remotivate activists to get stuck in against fierce attempts at a two-way squeeze? Can the righteous anger of activists be channeled?

3) Does the party have a strategy? If so, what is it? Is it the Richmond parlour game of waiting until a suitably convenient by-election and practicing so-called ‘masterly inactivity’ the rest of the time? Does the new leader see a point in capitalising on the ‘urban intellectual’ vote which arguably comprised our 2005 core and which is fundamental to us building on that position? Or is ‘incrementalism’ the only show in town?

4) How will they build the MPs into a disciplined body? There are clearly issues still, as today’s press make only too clear. While Ming undoubtedly improved relations with the Parliamentary Party, parts of the party see less evidence of this. (Parliamentary colleagues could reply on this thread for a start)

5) How will they attract and, more importantly, empower women, minority ethnic communities and others within the party? What do the putative leaders set out as the way to better, more balanced representation?

6) The time it was clear to me that the outgoing leader was doomed was when a good friend of mine didn’t even recognise his name in conversation (over the summer). What are the issues a leader will use in order to set out a vision and compete for airtime?

Colleagues who are Party members can, of course, answer these questions in the members-only forum

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This entry was posted in Leadership Election and Op-eds.


  • Very boring article.

  • Hughes, Evan Harris and David Laws all rule themselves out. The field gets just a bit smaller.

    For Man in a Shed, I suggest my Tory friend you stay their. You Tories change your minds so often you may have to realise a few versions of a manifesto and see which sells best before deciding what you stand for.
    I would sort out my “own house” before giving us tips. You may well be 40% in the polls this week but we all know as soon as you hit 32% panic will set in again.

  • Geoffrey Payne 16th Oct '07 - 10:36am

    1/ We like to think of ourselves in all political parties that we can be professional – and sometimes we acheive it – but it is not easy if you have limited time and funds. We should be grateful for the professionalism that currently exists, for example that great speech Ming gave at conference. And more generally we need to focus on getting more members and more financing.
    2/ Remotivation. At conference I thought we had a good critique of Labour – it being cetralising and authoritarian, and a good critique of the Tories, unable to square the circle of “Green” Gummer and “Free Market” Redwood (previously I was worried that we may have that problem too), and their plans to dismantle the state.
    The Liberal Democrats want to decentralise the state, which is the best alternative. Now of course we need to turn this into a popular language, which is not at all easy, but starting from a position where we are distinctive is a good place to start.
    3/Strategy. The long term bedrock of growing Lib Dem support has been based around community politics. Unfortunately community politics often becomes corrupted by the prospect of power and becomes blame politics. The party needs to think carefully about what it is doing, and as far as the leader is concerned, I have not seen any leadership on this issue ever since I can remember when I joined in 1983.
    4/ Disciplining MPs. In fact I think our MPs were very disciplined over the past 18 months. Maybe too much so. I was dismayed to see Simon Hughes support the Ming fudge on replacing Trident. If Ming had lost that vote, he would have resigned soon afterwards.
    Ironically that has not stopped Simon from being baited by those who are playing the blame game today.
    I am clear it was not the MPs who forced Ming to resign.
    5/ Women, Ethnic Minorites. This is something the party has never been able to solve, but we must always revisit it. I can report in Hackney that muslims are on the receiving end of a lot of stop and search and this is causing a lot of resentment.
    The LD committment to civil liberties will win a great deal of support.
    6/ Airtime. A tough one as the media is losing interest in politics. It may help if we use more direct language. For example “torture” rather than “extraordinary rendition”.

  • John Crowthorne 16th Oct '07 - 10:46am

    Lets have the confidence to be honest with the electorate too.
    Lets say YES we will raise some Taxes to spend more on the NHS. THe rich will pay more and so they should. Lets say YES we are more liberal than Labour on ctime and immigration because Labour authoritarian policies in these areas have failed.

    Lets say YES to all troops out of Iraq NOW. Lets be a truly radical party in the tradition of Lloyd-George. Now is not the time to start abusing other Liberal Democrats but I have to say what is the point of us putting up a Cameron-lite candidate like Clegg? He has only been in the House five minutes and most of that time has been spent being courted by the Tories- tells you something about his Liberal credentials.

  • Peter Bancroft 16th Oct '07 - 10:49am

    I think that Gareth’s questions are good, but that there are political questions which aren’t sufficiently addressed in the campaign-oriented questions.

    What do we stand for as a party and how do we communiacte those values in an appropriate way? Geoff asks about whether community politics can be rejuvinated to its earlier idea – I think this can be something to unite those like myself irritated by our occasional nimby populism with others who at heart are motivated by the desire to help their local community.

  • Geordie-Tory 16th Oct '07 - 11:19am

    Well, well, the true Nasty party has come riding to the rescue of a failing Labour administration once again!!!!!!

    As a proud Conservative, can I reasonably say that I feel sorry for Ming, he always struck me as a principled man, in a deeply, ruthlessly unprincipled party.

    Change leaders, but you will never square the circrle that the Lib dems say one thing in Tory Marinals and an entirely different (even opposing) message in Labour marginals.

    Add to that your utterly gutless, weasely – yet ultimately philisophically empty – campaigning techniques, and you have a party that is long past its sell-by date.


    Disband you group of grown-up class-sneaks and school nerds!!!!

  • O Joy! The Party of opportunistic sanctimonious hypocrites are finally having the chickens home to roost. I shall pour another G&T and watch with amusement whilst you lot pick another loser to bring more shame and mirth onto your Party…make that shambles. Cheers!

  • Grammar Police 16th Oct '07 - 11:49am

    Geordie-Tory: HahaHahaHahaHahaHaha

    Worried are you? ;o)

  • Concerned Observer 16th Oct '07 - 11:54am

    I notice that a number of bloggers have this morning declared themselves for Nick Clegg. None, as far as I am aware, has declared himself for any other possible candidate.

    Would it be paranoid of me to suspect that the Clegg campaign actually kicked off BEFORE Ming resigned?

    And why is it that media commentators have already decided that Clegg is going to win?

    Some might be forgiven for thinking the decision has already been made by some means other than the ballot-box.

  • John Crowthorne 16th Oct '07 - 12:14pm

    Perish the thought!
    Seriously though of course that is exactly whats been going on.
    Young Nick has been touting himself around for months. He seems to be under the impression that he excercised great restraint in not running last time (even though he had only just become an MP!) and now thinks that the jobs his as of right.
    I have yet to hear anything from him to suggest that he is actually a Liberal.

    The arguament from some seems to be “Ah but he will play very well in the Southern marginals.” I live in the South and we didn’t win seats like Portsmouth South and Romsey by being like the Tories we won them beacuse we were diffrent from the Tories. Looked diffrent. Said different things. We might see some slip to the Tories in some of the Southern seats but realisticaly it was suprising that we won some of them them in the first place (i.e Romsey) and it should not be suprising if those sort of seats fall back. We can still hold others (like Portsmouth South) by presenting ourselves as different to the Tories. Clegg is Pepsi to Camerons Coke. If you want that sort of thing you might as well go for the real thing. We need to offer something different- when its on offer people choose it.

  • John Crowthorne 16th Oct '07 - 12:27pm

    Assuming you are Ed Davey he’s not likely to tell you is plans is he?

  • Charlie Hedges 16th Oct '07 - 12:28pm

    The liberals need to become the party of the self employed and those working in small and medium enterprises. This will hopefully attract all those from ethnic minorities and also women who only want to stand on their own two feet and succeed due to their honest labours. Labour is largely the party of the government employee and therefore only wants more people employed or supported by the state. The Conservatives are largely concerned with the City of London and international finance.Much of the activity in the City only benefits those involved with it’s activities and tax payments are greatly minimised. People want competent, honest, open and reasonable Government which spends their money wisely and therefore obtains value for money.Much of Government expenditure has resulted in a bloated incompetent white collar managerial class who accept authority but not responsibility; be they employed by the State or private companies.The disaster at Maidstone NHS Trust typifies much of Government expenditure: bloated incompetent white collar employment: criminal lack of cleaners, nurses, doctors, medical technicians who have been disempowered by the system.

  • Concerned Observer 16th Oct '07 - 12:29pm

    Ed, why has no blogger yet declared for Chris Huhne?

    Is it because there is no Huhne campaign office coordinating endorsements?

  • Re: [email protected]:41- Judging by the state of your Party/Rabble at the mo i would have thought you would have joined me!

  • John Crowthorne 16th Oct '07 - 1:10pm

    Ed & Jeremy my apologies.
    I am just really angry at the way our democratically elected leader seems to have been stiched up and then knifed by some very ambitious young men out for themselves.

  • Concerned Observer 16th Oct '07 - 1:22pm

    I am concerned that the media seem to be promoting Nick Clegg as a fait a complis and rubbishing the chances of Chris Huhne.

    Is Nick Washington’s man, by any chance, as Mark Oaten clearly was before it became obvious that he had no support in the party nad was a liability into the bargain?

  • Geordie-Tory 16th Oct '07 - 3:15pm

    God bless the Dim Lebs!

    I point out the sheer, utter pointlessness of their party, and what is the great philosophical comeback….Erm, they try to attack my grammar.

    ‘Nuff said really.

    Get a real hobby people, go back to being trainspotters or whatever is what you did before you joined the Dim Lebs, and leave the grown up business of politics to us folks with clear, CONSISTENT political positions.

    No doubt I will be attacked now for gratuitous CAPITALISATION!!!

    C’est la vie.

  • Neil Bradbury 16th Oct '07 - 3:25pm

    Geordie Tory. CONSISTENT political positions. The Tories? Shurely Shome mistake. Get some policies that you’ve actually thought up yourself, as opposed to policies stolen from us or Blair, and then maybe we can discuss them.

    Better still, try to win a single council seat in Newcastle or Gateshead – that should keep you out of trouble for a decade or so.

    The Lib Dems certainly have a point in the North East. If it wasn’t for us the voters would have no opposition to Labour to choose from as you are so non existent in 90% of the region.

  • Geordie-Tory 16th Oct '07 - 3:28pm

    Thanks Neil Bradbury for your advice a la:
    “Better still, try to win a single council seat in Newcastle or Gateshead – that should keep you out of trouble for a decade or so.”

    Tell you what, lets speak after May 5th 2008, we’ll see how smug you are then.

  • Andrew Duffield 16th Oct '07 - 3:30pm

    “…we need to return to simple policies which could be easily put across, eg 1p for the NHS”.

    Please – no! Better 1p OFF income tax for all those who work in the NHS. If we value the work they do, shouldn’t we tax them less?

    It might help bring a few dentists back at least.

  • Grammar Police 16th Oct '07 - 4:05pm

    It always amuses me when Tories trot out the “Lib Dems say one thing in one place and one thing somewhere else” line like our Geordie friend. They never seem to back it up with any evidence – or else it’s “inconsistency” over things that, heaven forbid, can be explained by letting local parties have the freedom to choose what’s right for their area (mainly because we actually believe in localism).

  • Peter Bancroft 16th Oct '07 - 4:23pm

    John @ 24 – You’re clearly very angry about things, but I’d suggest that you’d do better to read more about the situation rather than throw out accusations as a way of blaming someone.

    It’s quite clear that nobody in the party thinks that any “young Turk” was behind some kind of knifing – and I’m sure you’ll be able to hear that from Ming himself in the future.

    I’m also slightly stunned that you’ve never seen “any sign that Nick Clegg is a liberal”. I’d suggest that you read some of what he’s written and done (as you should with the other candidates), as I can’t honestly believe that someone who spends so much of his time communicating liberalism to the masses could be so offensive to you if liberalism is what you’re after.

  • Concerned Observer 16th Oct '07 - 4:24pm

    Ed at 26. So anyone who

  • Concerned Observer 16th Oct '07 - 4:27pm

    Ed at 26. You are telling us that anyone concerned about the tactics of Nick Clegg’s supporters is Anti-Semitic. What an outrageous smear! You are a disgrace to the party.

  • 9. Sorry to go back up the posts but have you ever heard of the Conservative and Unionist Party?


  • The only good Tory is a dead one.

  • Bunnies Can And Will Go To France 16th Oct '07 - 5:47pm

    @ charlie hedges

    The liberals need to become the party of the self employed and those working in small and medium enterprises. This will hopefully attract all those from ethnic minorities and also women who only want to stand on their own two feet and succeed due to their honest labours.

    I just sprayed my monitor with coffee laughing at the hilarious non-sequitur in that post.

    Ethnic minorities and women don’t work in small to medium size enterprises, you silly man. A disproportionate number of the former live on benefits in what to them is unimaginable luxury compared to their former lives back in Bangladesh or Equatorial Guinea. They are housed, heated, fed, healed, and provided with free television and plenty of money for booze and fags. And it’s all courtesy of middle-class white taxpayers, against whom, to show their gratitude, they commit racist crimes at a hugely higher rate than the reverse.

    Such people have no more desire to work – in any enterprise – than you do to have your face crapped on by a homosexual prostitu—

    …hmm. Actually, as you’re a Liberal, maybe that’s not such a good comparison…

    Women do not as a rule found small businesses either.

    Until you bigoted idiots get your facts straight and deal with the world as it actually is, rather than the way you think it should be, you are going to continue to get wiped out at the polls by parties like the BNP, who despite their utter lunacy are a bit more in touch with the actual facts of diverse, multicultural Britain than you are. You irrelevant 11%-at-the-polls-getting mugs, you.

  • Bunnies Can And Will Go To France 16th Oct '07 - 5:49pm

    @ Crowthorne:

    our democratically elected leader seems to have been stiched up and then knifed by some very ambitious young men

    If they were ambitious they wouldn’t have joined the no-hoper party, would they?

  • 44. See, I’m right, aren’t I. I’ll back any candidate who promises to cull Tories.

  • Grammar Police 16th Oct '07 - 6:01pm

    Bunnies, you don’t see the irony in calling us “bigoted” after your racist rant?

  • What the Lib Dems need to do is to try and reinvent the language of politics. Dreary, uninspiring tosh about ’empowering local communities’ or whatever could come from any of the parties.

    Try freedom of speech, liberty, enlightenment, progress and reason.

  • I do wonder about the Tory trolls who come here and mutter about the Lib Dems being “pointless”; there is something correspondingly pointless about a mindset that would wish to deny a large number of people their democratic representation.

    For the sake of argument, let’s say that 5.9 million of the 27 million voters in 2005 had wanted to vote for a party other than Labour or Conservative, they could have voted Lib Dem if they agreed with those particular policies. Oh! They did! But hang on, I hear you say, that’s almost 22% of the votes! Indeed it is, but the system gives us Lib Dems just 9.6% of the seats. We get more than 1 in every 5 votes, yet receive less than 1 in every 10 parliamentary seats.

    On a day when the papers are full of stories about a man judged insane for donating to the Conservatives, the Lib Dems would like to thank all the Tory trolls for coming here to reinforce the point.

  • We need a leader with some guts if we’re to sort out this electoral mess.

    Chris Huhne showed plenty of guts when he ran for leadership 18 months ago; Nick Clegg missed his chance, showing as much courage as Mr Brown in front of a voter or Mr Cameron in front of a grammar school rebel… (And I wasn’t particularly impressed with the way Clegg knifed Ming with his “I’m going to run for leadership” comments at this year’s conference either.)

    It has to be Chris Huhne.

  • Lynn Featherstone has just come out for Chris Huhne.

    Whoever gets the job is going to have to have a skin like a rhinoceros.

    Yeah – go for it, Chris.

  • Geoffrey Payne 16th Oct '07 - 10:15pm

    53. Rachel
    a) The answer should be somewhere along the lines of – we will not deal with anyone unless we agree on a course of action that implements proportional representation. In addition we must have a more independent foreign policy, a recognition of the importance of global warming, civil liberties and redistribution of wealth and power.
    Whoever measures up, we will do business with.
    b) Our policies will be crucial. They will be our negotiating position in any coalition deal.

  • Oh dear Chris, Angus has just given you his backing…thats worse than Lembits kiss of death!

  • Big Mak, your obsession with me is beginning to look like STALKING.

    As Karl Marx once said to Tariq Ali: “Kindly leave the stage.”

  • Geoffrey Payne 16th Oct '07 - 10:48pm

    52/ Charlotte. I am not standing myself, but I cannot resist!

    “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” We all need to improve the party’s finances. Go out and recruit new members, organise fundraising events. That is what I will be doing. That is what we all should be doing.

    Ming has driven forward many excellent internal party reforms and I will build on his legacy. I am clear that if any more reforms are needed, I will have the mandate from the membership once I am elected to implement any such reforms

    Transforming the ideas of Liberal philosophy into everyday language that people can understand and support has always been a challenge, despite the fact that many Liberal values are in the ascendency, such as gay rights. We need to continue to be a step ahead, for example over global warming, where people need to come to terms that they will have to change their lifestyle in order to mitigate the effects of this.
    There never has been a quick headline or a magic formula. It really comes down to hard work and engaging with people and putting Liberal principles into pracatice, like in Liverpool and Newcastle.

    There is a creative tension between the 2. We need to be effective in generating wealth, but then we need to make sure it is distributed fairly and we cannot rely on market forces alone to do that. We also need to be concerned about the “externalities” (ie hidden cost, for example pollution) that a market economy generates.

    Finally: What will the Lib Dems under your leadership offer that the others can’t steal or destroy?
    It is funny in an odd kind of way. Many Labour people would love their party to support civil liberties, as they have done before. But New Labour prefer the Thatcherism of the SUn than to their 1980’s style LIberalism.

  • Ok, let’s be honest here – this is our ‘Clause 4 moment’.

    Not only are we a growing party, but we have grown to the level that we can make painful choices where serious decisions are required.

    Not only are we loyal to our highest principles, but we increasingly recognise that there is a profound difference between bringing our ideas into action effectively from the opposition benches and from the office of government.

    Not only have we shown our core resolve to be hardened under the strategic attacks as we felt the squeeze from all sides, but we have responded to the calls to give ’em what they wanted.

    We have survived in the wilderness and now we are tasting the serious fruits of the competition.

    Now is the time to be clear-headed in our approach because we know politics is not meaningless entertainment for the simple gratification of players and audience – it far more serious than that: it is about real people, living real lives and it is about all of us, whether we like it or not.

    This is news, because this is our opportunity to prove that we can build a constructive consensus through liberal democracy.

    Excellent article Gareth!

  • Sorry Angus who are you??

  • 59, Geoffrey: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

    I can’t resist the temptation to offer two alternative quotes:

    1) “A free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country.” ― Milton Friedman

    2) “Ask not what your government can do for you. Ask what your government is doing to you.” ― David Friedman

  • Peter Bancroft 17th Oct '07 - 12:44am

    Rachel @ 53 – Such a question is exactly what we should not be asking.

    Both Huhne and Clegg have experience internationally with PR systems and know that the only correct answer to coalition questions is “If we form a coalition at all, it will be with a party where we believe we can form a liberal coalition. If neither parties offer that prospect, we will not enter a coalition at all.”

    Let’s ask our candidates to talk about what kind of liberal values they stand for and how they will communicate them to the country, rather than obsessing over political taboos like a Daily Mail reporter hoping to tear us apart.

  • The leader in waiting 17th Oct '07 - 4:09am

    New ideas, new identity and repositioning party achievements. Our party needs a complete overhaul and a strategic vision that will see us evolve into the “state of the art” fighting machine capable of destabilization or total wipeout of opponents.

    Simply, we need to work out how we can get to a stage where we are the official opposition and then how long it will take for us to become contenders for the corridors of power. The swift departure of Ming and the realisation that Media politics is here to stay means that our strategy, leader and picture for Britain our vital for our growth.

    We are at the tipping point, head into self destruct mode then switch off the lights or be honest with ourselves and take the knife to whoever or whatever stands in the way of change.

    Our future is bright and promising but we must act now, be bold and unrelenting. Party HQ and organisations across the country will face the biggest test of their times. The way ahead is tough, uncompromising and down right dirty but absolutely necessary. If we dont, then we will be lost in the field of a rising star, David Cameron. Make no mistake Gordon Brown knows he cannot not beat little dave so now, we must the suck the wind from his sails and open the wounds of Europe for the Conservatives. Attack is the best form of defence.

    Our Name : The Democrats

    Our values : Community, enterprise and freedom

    The approach : Politics in your neighbourhood

  • Worried Member 17th Oct '07 - 9:47am

    “The Times” this morning is telling us whom we have to elect as our leader.

    Be under no illusion. If a “Times” editorial says X on an important issue, the editor has been told to say X by Mr Rupert Murdoch, who has been told by Irvine Steltzer, who has been told by Dick Cheney.

    If anyone reading this thread doesn’t find that worrying in the extreme, then wake up fast.

  • Not so Worried Member 17th Oct '07 - 11:08am

    Who has been told by Zanadoo

  • Peter Bancroft 17th Oct '07 - 11:19am

    Will anyone take a bet on Dick Cheney not knowing the names of any of our candidates?

    I think the media endorsements are interesting and need to be considered, but obviously we shouldn’t confuse what the newspapers think with what the country as a whole thinks (the kind of info we’d get from internal polling if we had the cash).

  • Worried Member 17th Oct '07 - 12:16pm

    If No 69 could spell “Xanadoo” then he might be worth listening to.

    Peter Bancroft: I bet Irvine Seltzer does.

  • Excuse me for not being that up on the latest theories of the party being run from washington, but who is Irvine Seltzer?

    I’ve tried Google and Wikipedia, to no avail!!!

  • Worried Member 17th Oct '07 - 1:13pm

    I don’t think anyone has ever said that the party is run from Washington (at least I haven’t, but others might have done for all I know).

    What I have said is that certain people in Washington have influenced the choice of political party leaders in recent years – Blair and Cameron being two notable examples (and possibly the only ones thus far).

    I see that Mark Oaten has come out in support of a particular candidate – will that candidate want this known?

  • Steve Jolly 17th Oct '07 - 1:16pm

    Thank you both!!

  • Andrew Duffield 17th Oct '07 - 1:41pm

    And it was Xanadu last time I visited the pleasure dome.

  • ‘Alka’ Stelzer is portrayed in many quarters as Rupert Murdoch’s representative on earth.

    http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/3624 for more details.

    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/martin_kettle/2007/10/playing_with_political_fire.html for one perspective in The Guardian this week.

    Wonder what Americans would make of a foreigner playing a similar role in US politics?

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