Opinion: Nick Clegg and the next parliamentary term

It’s summer holiday time at the moment for MPs, a time to reflect on what has been achieved this parliamentary term, and what can be achieved in the next parliamentary term. For Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, the answer to these questions could have a profound effect on the future of our party.

Clegg showed strong, considered leadership over phonehacking, and must use this position of strength (and David Cameron’s relative weakness,) to influence even more policy than is currently happening. Key to this of course will be the economy. Slow, steady, growth figures will not be enough for us to cement our ‘more reliable on the economy than Labour’ line. For starters, it is absolutely essential that the full £10,000 tax cut is implemented, (as Nick Thornsby has written previously).

More than that, it is absolutely essential that Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander, and Vince Cable are seen to be at the forefront of any decisions on the economy. It’s not so much about ‘wins’, but making sure that economic policy, works, is fair, and has an orange core.

Lords reform is also a vital hurdle for Nick Clegg to get over. This is not so much for public perception, although it is clearly another Lib Dem policy in action, but more to give his grassroots something to hold on to. After the shocking performance of Yes2AV, the Liberal Democrats cannot afford to stumble towards the middle of this government without tangible progress on our political reform agenda. If the only political reform is a Conservative reduction of 50 seats, I fear activists will just become demotivated. However, Lords reform must be sold to the public in the context of giving normal people more power, and not as a political ‘win’ for Clegg and the Lib Dems.

The aforementioned are vitally important, but rather obvious. What else then does Nick Clegg have to do? I’d rather like him to go back to doing some more Town Hall style meetings. I think that when people get to see him in person, and hear his reasoning for the many decisions he has made, some will warm to him. He will never be able to win everyone over from the misguided perception of betrayal, but he will at least be seen to be fronting up for his actions.

I also think we need to see more of ‘Clegg the Statesman’. He is Deputy Prime Minister, and seeing him on big foreign visits, and meeting foreign leaders, and indeed our troops, would reinforce the image of the significant role in Government he does actually hold.

No doubt Clegg’s speech at conference in September will be keenly watched and analysed too. I think he needs to develop the themes that he began in his ‘first anniversary’ speech at the National Liberal Club, showing the genuine liberal influence on the government.

This next parliamentary session really is crunch time. The honeymoon is over, the cuts are going to start to bite, and people are going to demand to see what the point of the Liberal Democrats being in government is. Time for Nick Clegg (and his ministers) to really show them.

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  • Is Charlotte Henry a comedy genius? One would think so when she opens with the line “…a time to reflect on what has been achieved this parliamentary term…”, then proceeds to say nothing about the Clegg leadership’s truly momentous achievements, namely the loss of 2/3rds of the party MSPs in Scotland, the loss of half our councillors in England & Wales, the loss of 2/3rds of our popular support, and the crushing defeat of the AV reform referendum. All the things she says that the party should be doing have already been done – we started by saying that the coalition had libdem written through like lettering in a stick of rock, then we said that we were the mitigating influence on nasty tory policy, then we said oh well, we’re only the minor coalition partner with only 57 MPs, then we said….oh, who gives a monkeys? The electorate clearly do not – not only had they seen and heard all we had to say since the GElection last May, they have experienced at first hand the nasty realities of Coalition policies. They weighed us in the balance and found us wanting.

    So all these presentational tactics will avail us nothing, so long as our votes continue to prop up a Tory government which is hell-bent on uprooting the structures of civil society. And the worse and deeper the cuts get, the closer and more certain is our plunge into oblivion.

  • You will be judged on pensions by the middle aged, education by the under 30s, retail prices by the poor and on the NHS by everybody.

    How do you think you are getting on?

  • Sadly, there are still quite a lot of Liberal Democrats who seem to think that the decision to go into coalition with the Tories was right. Doubtless, in 18 months time when we are left with a dozen MPs they will see the error of their ways, but by then the party will be finished.

    But let’s not reduce this to personalities. Let’s stick to the facts. And here are some of them:

    (1) The Parliamentary party is propping up a right-wing Tory government that is committed to shaking down the public sector, stealth privatising the NHS and hammering the poor.

    (2) The party has had some small influence in moderating and delaying the more extreme elements of the Tory programme. The Human Rights Act has not been repealed, and the Health & Social Care Bill will not reach the statute book in its original form. However, I contend, the party would have had much more effect in defanging the Tory programme if it had forced Cameron to govern as a minority – and would have retained its integiry, and probably much of its support.

    (3) Since going into coalition, the party’s opinion-poll rating has sunk to single figures, 700 councillors have lost their seats, and our position in Scotland has collapsed.

    (4) Things cannot improve. If the government becomes more popular, the Tories will benefit. If it becomes unpopular, (ie, more unpopular than at present), Labour will benefit.

    (5) The coalition will only last the full term if the Tories remain unpopular right the way through. Three months of opinion poll leads, and Cameron will call a general election as sure as night follows day. The Liberal Democrats will have served their historic purpose, as far as Cameron (and the electorate) are concerned, and will be consigned to history.

    (6) The only sane way forward for our party is to exit this coalition torture-chamber at the earliest practicable opportunity. Then we can say things like: “We know the Tories are a disaster for this country. We’ve worked with them, we’ve seen them from the inside.”

    Yes, the Liberal Democrats did force the Tories to back down on the stealth privatisation of the NHS. But remember. All the MPs (bar John Pugh) voted for the first and second readings. It took Shirley Williams and Evan Harris, and the membership, to force the leadership to stand up to Cameron and stop this disaster in its tracks. Oh, and it remains to be seen what comes back to the Commons in the Autumn and what our Parliamentary Party decides to do with it.

    Charlotte asks what Nick Clegg should do. Sadly, I don’t think there is anything he can do, apart from accept a job in Brussels, because his reputation is damaged beyond repair. Huhne and Cable are the ones to watch. The former will soon discover that he stands no chance whatsoever of getting his climate change proposals through Cabinet. That is his opportunity to walk. And imagine the latter, having taken the final bit of lip from Osborne, storms out of No 10 and delivers a forensic destruction of the whole Tory enterprise in the way only Vince can, in much the same way as the late Robin Cook took Blair apart over Iraq.

  • Apart from Lords reform that is a “manifesto” that could equally be followed by a Tory (or Labour come to that) DPM.

    Nick was OK on the hacking scandal but not much more. There’s an opportunity there for making the case for radical change in the political system which he hasn’t made (though Vince and Simon have done that a bit more).

    This piece seems akin to that trend of Lib Dem strategy which runs something like, “If the economy comes right and there is a giveaway budget we’ll get the benefit and those people who would never vote for use because they didn’t see us getting into power will come to support us.” There are three problems with that:

    1) The economy came right for the Tories in 1996-7 – remind me how much that helped them at the General Election.
    2) The Tories had giveaway budgets from late 1995 onwards. See (1) above 🙂
    3) A strategy of picking up support from people who never supported us at the expense of people who have always/often supported us does run certain risks. I’m not convinced that this group of people is overstated – the numbers of people who say they’d vote for us “if they thought we could win” have dropped markedly since 1997.

  • I am one of those people who voted for you since the beginning of the noughties, but won’t be coming back. I have learnt my lesson.

  • The Liberal Democrat constitution says that all LibDems should work to stop the oppression of poverty.

    Yet, up until now, you have supported nearly every aspect of the Tories’ welfare bill, which is pushing sick and disabled people into further poverty. Stephen Webb MP wrote on this very site why it is a Good Thing that we are forcing people into jobs they simply cannot do. Or jobs that simply aren’t there. You are taking winter fuel allowances away from people like me, which means I will have to choose between heating and food in the winter. You are actually increasing the oppression of poverty,

    What you are doing in Parliament goes against some core tenants of your constitution. Have you suspended the constitution or have you just decided to ignore it when it comes to poverty? Because you know, and we know, that what you are doing in many respects is in direct conflict with your constitution.

  • @George Kendall: Enacting policies which are at odds with your constitution is not a “compromise”, it is a betrayal of Lib Dem principles. Principles are, to me, far more important than power. I’d rather spend a million years in opposition than enacting ONE Tory policy that I do not believe in and know my voters don’t believe in.

    You can harp on about “tough decisions” and “hard choices” all you want. That fact of the matter is that average people are being hurt by this government while the “markets” and the rich are being placated as per usual.

    To hell with what the markets and investors want. What about what we the people want?

  • “He will never be able to win everyone over from the misguided perception of betrayal…” Except that it’s not a misguided perception. The betrayal over the fees issue was real and personal, and until Nick and all the other LibDem MPs who voted for a rise in student fees genuinely apologise for breaking their word then the chances of winning back the generation that supported us so enthusiastically in 2010 are next to zero.

  • Without being Panglossian can I offer some counters to the gloom.
    From 1997 to 2010 our cohort of Local Councillors declined from around 5,000 to 3,000 & our membership from 100,000 to 55,000. All doom & gloom so far. But –
    at the same time our General Election Vote share went from 17% to 24% & our contingent of MPs tripled in size.
    Perhaps we cant have everything at the same time.

    The Polls. First, 90% + come from one company, Yougov, working for The Sun. They underestimate our support & big up Labour because thats what the client wants.
    2nd, theres lots of evidence to suggest that VI Polls, even the quality ones are pretty useless as a predictive tool & that Party Leader support figures are much better. We have seen 4 of these Leadership polls in the last few weeks, the mean of the results is –
    Con 37% Lab 31% LD 27%
    Not very different from the GE result. That suggests to me that the underlying support for the 3 main Parties hasnt shifted except in Scotland,
    & May 2011 saw Protest Voting on a massive scale.
    There is still everything to play for, if we can stop beating ourselves up & listening to our Enemies.

  • A point Zadok on PR training for ministers – surely in the last few weeks one of the leading candidates for that treatment would be Danny Alexander. What career did he follow previously? Oh yes – PR.

    Paul Barker, I fear you are whistling in the wind. Our “real votes in real ballot boxes” performance has shown an even starker contrast between places we can muster a reasonable campaign, and places we can’t (“where we work, we win…”) We are being totally hammered elsewhere, showing that our actual “brand image” has been shattered. In that sense, we are back to the late 60s / early 70s. Places where we can muster a good campaign are and will increasingly become further and further apart until we do something serious about that brand image. And that can only be at national level.

  • Paul barker,
    There is still everything to play for, if we can stop beating ourselves up & listening to our Enemies.

    It’s remarkable how many of your ‘Enemies’ seem to be former Lib Dem voters. Even I’ve voted Lib Dem in local and Scottish elections…

  • A question, by the way, Paul. If you believe what you have written regarding polls, you presumably believe that with the fabled “General Election tomorrow”, we would achieve similar levels of the popular vote to 2010? (I say popular vote, as number of MPs is a much more fluid thing, depending on quality of perceived incumbency etc). Is that your view?

  • Tonyhill is spot on. We are seen as a party of betrayal by Joe Public because that is what we are. Our leadership support the Tory policies because they believe in them hence Charlotte’s reference to the ‘orange core’. This is compounded by the political incompetence currently exemplified by Danny-the-wooden Alexander fronting up the public service pension cuts. Clegg is damaged goods and from now on he will be seen as desperately attempting to look important and failing. Barrack Obama had him sussed when he came over here and clearly didn’t see any point in meeting him .

  • Good article Charlotte. George Kendall also makes some good points, especially about Lords reform. Lords reform is (more or less) in the coalition agreement, it is a good policy and, on the face of it, a popular one. But there is a risk that if the only pressure for it seems to be coming from us, and people don’t hear enough about our other (often greater) priorities they will get the impression we are obsessed with constitutional stuff and don’t have our eye on the economic / social policies that matter more.

  • Tony Dawson 30th Jul '11 - 3:19pm

    This really is an ’emperor’s new clothes’ article.

    Quite depressingly unrealistic and ungrounded in things which matter to real people/voters.

  • The current LibDem obsession, Lords Reform, would be a good idea in better economic times. But right now, Lords Reform will not put food on the table and it will not create more jobs. Lords reform will not fix the NHS that is currently being broken. The public could care less about Lords reform right now, only us political geeks care a lot about it.

    How much public money is being wasted on Lords reform right now when we are being told there is no money for libraries or to support sick and disabled people? I do support the reform but right now is not the time to spend money on it when we are taking winter fuel payments away from those (such as myself) who live in poverty.

  • I can see that many threads here have shown deep divides between supporters of the Lib Dems (and, yes, before we get the usual stream of posts suggesting that trolls have taken over, it is clear that some on both sides are supporters or former supporters). This post has really emphasised those divisions.

  • @Matthew Harris:
    a cause for celebration, given what our ministers are achieving in government.

    Yes, taking money from and demonising the sick and disabled is a cause for celebration. Longer NHS waiting times and privatisation are a cause for celebration. Supporting rebels in Libya who just might be worse than Gaddafi a cause for celebration? Selling off more prisons to the private sector who make more money with longer sentences and more criminals is something to rejoice in? My children saying they won’t go to uni now because the level of debt scares them. A PM who is friends with corrupt and dodgy peple (just like Blair)? No, this government is just as bad as Labour for those of us who have very little. Except this government is taking more from people like me than Blair and Brown did, as much as I loath them.

    I take it you are financially secure and not scared about what is on the horizon. As an ill person who is facing a loss of DLA means I am living in fear and uncertainty. I am facing a worse service on the NHS and longer waiting times. The future looks bleak to me. This winter I will have to choose between heating and food as the LibDems are cutting my winter fuel payment.

    The LibDem constitution demands you fight against poverty on all fronts. The government is increasing poverty. How is this compatible with the LibDem constitution?

  • @Tim13:

    I agree 100%. I left Labour and started voting LibDem in 2001. The LibDems before the 2010 election were pretty social democratic in their policies which is what attracted me to them. I am not against coalition on principle at all, but I do expect parties in coalition to do what their voters voted them to do as often as possible. The LibDems have given in to too many Tory demands and have been supporting Tory policies which are at total odds with the LibDem constitution and stated aims. The LibDems had the upper hand as the Tories needed LDs to form a government. LibDems did not extract enough concessions, signed the agreement too early and are now paying for this. I never in a millions years thought I’d see the LDs supporting Tory attacks on the disabled or cutting winter fuel allowances for vulnerable people, but that is exactly what is happening. But I am constantly being called a “Labour Troll” simply for being more left-wing and social democratic than the parliamentary LDs.

    On the continent, socialists don’t stop being socialists in coalition governments. And coalition parties, like the German Greens, don’t come out supporting policy that their coalition partners want but their voters don’t. The Tories have used the LibDems as human shields on far too many occasions. Tories should promote Tory policies, not Danny Alexander. But I think Danny actually agrees with most right-wing Tory policy so he doesn’t mind.

    Avoiding cuts to services the poorest people and vulnerable need and rely on should have been your number one demand. Instead you got some fig leaves in the form of policies most of us don’t care much about. We want the NHS protected. We don’t want millions of pounds to be wasted on Lords Reform right now even if we are all for it. I do get the feeling that a lot of LibDems who support the coalitions method of cutting have no first-hand experience of poverty or deprivation.

    The best plan for the future would probably be a LibDem split: the social democrats and free-market liberals should go their separate ways now.

  • formervoter 30th Jul '11 - 7:26pm


    I do not see one single comment here that could be regarded as trolling. There are comments by hopeful Lib Dems, disillusioned Lib Dems, and also by people who occasionally come here to read because they are interested in politics and deeply concerned or openly opposed to the coalition agenda, particularly with regards to welfare and the NHS. As they are perfectly entitled to be.

    We live in an age of disengagement from politics yet here you cruelly attempt to portray those of us interested as mere trolls because we’re neither hypnotised by Clegg nor impressed with what the Lib Dems are doing in government.

    If you want to see some real trolling, just wait until you fall foul of the Tories – believe me, those guys can hurt.

    Incidentally, for those who might momentarily wonder – my screen-name ‘formervoter’ doesn’t mean I am a laspsed Lib Dem voter – it means what it says. I wouldn’t vote for any of them, Conservative, Labour or LD. And yet when I try to find a reason to or engage myself with politics coming here, I’m a troll. Go figure.

  • Sorry, formervoter, I wasn’t trying to imply that you, or any other writer here is a troll. I was trying to pre-empt any accusations by others of that. I agree with your final sentiments on accusations of trolling. And yes, I have seen some Tory loons on some sites – and US right-wingers, who are even worse (wholly deserving of Vince Cable’s description of ‘right wing nutters’)

  • “I would love Roy Jenkins to still be alive so that he could be Prime Minister”

    If Roy Jenkins was alive he’d be spinning in his grave.

  • Tony Dawson 31st Jul '11 - 9:54am

    It is intriguing to see the list of Lib Dem posters who are queuing up to be in the fourth row of the violins in the Titanic’s band. I actually agree that there are elements of the present government that are miles better than Brown’s watered-down Blairism. But we also have the infantile and expensive/wasteful activities of Pickles, Lansley and Gove which are an utter disgrace. And what does the public think that Lib Dems feel about these.

    The Lib Dems are meant to be a political Party which means that we are meant to look towards having an effective role beyond the next three years.

    Brian, above points out:

    “This is compounded by the political incompetence currently exemplified by Danny-the-wooden Alexander fronting up the public service pension cuts.”

    Danny is on the TV as I write this. He appears to be incredibly enthusiastic about process. He is doing better than I have seen him for years but he still does not appear to have any passion about people. He should not be ‘fronting’ anything for the Liberal Democrats.

  • Don Lawrence 31st Jul '11 - 6:18pm

    @ Matthew

    Roy also knew when to leave a sinking ship, because it had completely lost its sense of direction, and was becoming unelectable.

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