Opinion: Our values and messaging have to match our behaviour

101 Humpty Dumpty, Lindt Big Egg Hunt Covent Garden 26-3-2013One thing about Nick Clegg, rather like those inflatable Humpty Dumpties some of us had as kids – thump him and he bounces right back. Monday seems to be one such occasion. An upbeat, earnest speech, designed, it seemed to most commentators, to speak to the party as much, if not more, than to the country.

For the Social Liberal Forum, the immediate reaction to his commitment on increased infrastructure spending was, while welcoming it, to wonder why on earth he and Danny had railed against it to the extent of picking a fight with the party about it until now? But, Damascene conversions, however belated, are to be welcomed. Let’s hope this is the first of many.

I was interested in Stephen Tall’s analysis that despite not saying it Nick was still firmly trying to “anchor us in the centre ground.” I am sure he is right, although of course I do not accept that this is a position we have always and must always, hold. It’s not often I find myself agreeing with Tony Blair, but his comment on the Today programme recently that one of our problems was having produced 3 manifestos to the left of Labour we now found ourselves to the right of them. So, while Nick and co have been relentlessly trying to position us in this mythical ‘colourless mush’ centrist position, it is certainly not one many of us would accept.

On the plus side, as well as the commitments on infrastructure spending and being prepared to look at tax rises rather than welfare cuts to balance the books, I welcomed Nick’s acknowledgement when questioned that we have left young people wondering if we are there for them or not. It is heartbreaking for those of us who until 2010 proudly asserted the truth that we were the most young people friendly party, to see so many young people turning away from us. With the caveat that of course we do still allegedly have a democratic process to approve our manifesto, I welcome his commitment to putting education at the heart of it.

On the minus side I find myself (again unusually) agreeing with some of Isabel Hardman’s analysis in the Spectator. She observes:

I’ve yet to hear a politician who says ‘actually, I don’t really believe in people’ or ‘wouldn’t it be great if we were honest that being unfair is fun?’ Yet Clegg is setting up a divide with the other parties that is essentially ‘as Lib Dems we care about people, and the rest of you don’t.

This highlights for me one of our key issues in restoring the party – our values, messaging and behaviour have to add up. Just as it is too simplistic to claim no other party cares about people, it is also a bit of a hostage to fortune when we have been seen to approve of apparently vindictive legislation like the bedroom tax and unfair welfare and legal aid cuts.

Isabel Hardman’s conclusion that his speech may not do much to reassure those in his party who fear he doesn’t have a strong definition of Liberalism, is fair. I for one would have liked to see more reference to those values expressed in our constitution and more about what we would actually do differently to demonstrate that we genuinely care about everyone. That kind of reminds me of the ubiquitous Anglican prayer for world peace – so broad as to be in danger of becoming meaningless.

Whether he has done enough to re-endear himself to his critics in the party, or more importantly, the public – remains to be seen.

Linda Jack is a member of the SLF Council.

* Linda Jack is a former youth worker and member of the party's Federal Policy Committee.

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36 Comments

  • Yet Clegg is setting up a divide with the other parties that is essentially ‘as Lib Dems we care about people, and the rest of you don’t.

    Falling foul of Simon Hoggart’s Law of the Nonsensical Inverse?

  • Absolutely agree with the headline and Nick went some way on Monday to address the economic divide. Another we must address is the inter-generational divide that is constantly increasing. For me this is the greatest opportunity for the LDs. The extent to which young adults are not engaged is simply staggering and in itself is one cause for the divide that is constantly increasing. We need to give much more attention to the young and develop more simple policies such as the “Fares Fair” campaign to give free bus passes to all students and unemployed up to the age of say 21. It is akey differentiator between ourselves and the Conservative who pander to the old.

  • The public do not listen to him period. I am sure the Spectator is read in every household in the country!!!!!!!
    Linda we have to get real instead of day dreaming. The party is divided, the only way to get it back on board, UNITED, is for the leader to step down and a new image, focus and strategy put in place.

  • It’s not often I agree with Blair either but his comment (“they” = LDs)…

    “The problem they have is very simple. They fought the 2010 election on a platform significantly to the left of Labour and then ended up in a Conservative Government with a platform significantly to the right of Labour… there’s not really a cure for that.”

    …is spot on. A substantial number of LD voters in 2010 were not “protest” (as in “none of the above, stop the world I want to get off”) voters, but people who had taken a conscious decision to support the LDs as they were most left wing (according to their words) party liable to gain significant support in parliament.

    It’s not surprising that these voters (me included) have been and continue to be horrified at the right wing behaviour of the apparently left wing party we voted for.

    And that is going to be a big problem come the GE, because I (and I suspect a lot of others) will not vote LD at the GE, no matter what it says in the manifesto, because actions (how the LDs have behaved in government) speak louder then words.

  • Rabi Martins 11th Jun '14 - 12:02pm

    I like Linda’s take on Nick’s latest speech The word is that Nick was moved to make this speech by the force of comments from grassroots members That is to be welcome
    Unlike Linda I do think this speech will go some way to reassure those in the Party who fear Nick has not completely redefined the ” Liberalism ” most Liberal Democrats sign up to
    But I do agree with Linda that Nick and the rest of the Party leadership need to start talking about “” what we would actually do differently to demonstrate that we genuinely care about everyone.””
    But not only talking about but startingto demonstarte that they mean it by openly challenging our coalition partners on things that matter to the great Bristish public””

  • @Theakes

    Without a new leader or even an idea of who s/he might be, those words really mean very little, as I have repeated, ad nauseam (and beyond), apparently to zero effect.

  • Rabi Martens – but I do not trust Nick to do what he says, and I am a Lib Dem. I now, sadly have come to the conclusion he will say whatever he need to, to get him over the next five minutes.

  • RC, that is up to the MP’s to identify or individual MPs to put themselves forward, I know who I would prefer but I will retain a diplomatic stance until the appropriate time, as I have said before.

  • On reflection, the title of this entry is back to front: “Our values and messaging have to match our behaviour”.

    Surely it should have read: “Our behaviour has to match our values and messaging”?

  • But nobody is listening to him Linda. And why? Because he signed us up to unprecedented spending cuts in 2010, which included a lot of infrastructure. So why would they believe him now when he supports infrastructure?

  • Linda,

    The involvement of Liberals in the austerity programme of 1931-35 seriously eroded support among the electorate. Public sector workers, especially teachers, never forgave the party for having overseen the harsh treatment handed out to their professions, while the bankers who they felt had caused, aggravated or exploited the crisis, got off scot-free. Working class voters never forgot Liberal support for the imposition of the means test on transitional benefits, and so Labour’s vote recovered in 1935 at the cost of Liberals. Some socially progressive Liberals were unable to contain their anger with their party’s collaboration with the Tories and left, most notably, the young Michael Foot. The Liberal Nationals’ continued presence in what, by 1935, was a Conservative government in all but name, handed Opposition to the National Government’s ongoing austerity and tentative foreign policy to the resurgent Labour Party, led by Clement Attlee.

    Liberal Democrats only agreed to join the Coalition Government of 2010 with a clear set of policies agreed by both parties. House of Lords reform revealed the hollowness of any political agreement between unequal signatories, as the Conservatives reverted to their habitual behaviour, putting the needs of Conservative whips and party managers before those of their coalition partners. Having joined a coalition as the smaller party, Liberal Democrats have faced the same dilemma as our Liberal predecessors in 1932, accepting those of our aims that the Conservatives are willing to accede to bearing a share of popular opprobrium for supporting a Conservative government committed to austerity.

    I agree with your assessment – our values, messaging and behaviour have to add up. Caron Lindsay reported yesterday that there was unanimity on the FE that our manifesto must contain radical, liberal measures that would energise activists and resonate with voters.

    You are right that vague future commitments on infrastructure spending and being prepared to look at tax rises rather than welfare cuts to balance the books won’t be enough by themselves. We will need clear and concrete proposals that address the immediate concerns of voters – Jobs, housing, taxation, welfare, immigration, cost of living, banking reform.

    We will for the first time since the second world war be contesting a general election based on our record in a coalition government. In 1945, the general mood was for one of radical change, that would seek to address the hardships and inequalities of the inter-war years and rebuild a post-war world.

    In 2015, as in this year, we can expect to confront an electorate that has borne several years of relative austerity and static or falling living standards. Even if the economy continues recovering strongly, a long period of stagnation and retrenchment is not soon forgotten. Fiscal responsibility and economic credibility will continue to be important issues, but perhaps not so important as a longer-term vision of a better future beyond that of fiscal consolidation. The Liberal Manifesto of 1945 is not a bad starting point for this longer-term vision http://www.libdemmanifesto.com/1945/1945-liberal-manifesto.shtml

    Equally important for our party will be the feasibility of delivering our key policies in a potential Lib/Lab coalition or Lib/Con supply and confidence agreement.

  • Jenny Barnes 11th Jun '14 - 3:44pm

    If NC cared about the party he thinks he’s leading, he would say something on the lines of “Many in the party are questioning my leadership. We need to be united; therefore I will resign as leader and call a leadership contest. I believe that I have considerable support within the party, so I will be a candidate in that election”
    Then, there’s a least a chance that the party could unite behind it’s new or newly mandated leader. Otherwise, not.
    He’d still be DPM, and have his ministerial car, etc…

  • Jenny Barnes He’d still be DPM, and have his ministerial car, etc…

    If you are going down the route of ditching the leader and not trying to get votes from people happy with the coalition on the grounds they are going to vote Tory now anyway rather than Tory-lite, or Tory-self-doubting, then the ideal thing would be for the new leader to keep Nick Clegg in as DPM and not join the cabinet himself. The 2 main advantages are you can’t be described destabilising the government, and the new leader gets to start building a new identity and programme for the party outside the cabinet without being tainted by serving in the government.

  • The problem the LibDems face is simple. Once upon a time, I started working, and my then boss gave me some advice: Credibility is like virginity – one cockup and it’s gone forever. That is the issue with the current leadership, the parliamentary party and those others who still support them. Once that trust and credibility is gone, the only way back is not through easily spoofed mea culpas and further promises of jam tomorrow, but to show people in a very concrete way that you’ve changed. With Clegg and the Orange Bookers in charge you simply will not do that.

  • paul barker 11th Jun '14 - 6:17pm

    Your point about Nicks incredible resilience is crucial for anyone thinking of an immeidiate alternative, that doesnt include me of course. I still think hes the best leader we have ever had however, for those dtermined to get rid of Clegg can I ask one question ? Have you called an EGM of your Local Party yet ?

  • “I still think hes the best leader we have ever had however”

    I suggest you have a look at the following stats since he became leader:

    Number of councillors;
    Number of MPS;
    Number of MEPs;
    Number of party members.

    That’s objective data on which to make a decision.

  • “I still think hes the best leader we have ever had …”

    Do you think anyone else on either side of the argument shares that view?

  • There was no messaging for the EU election other than one mailed posting in my area. The Focuses was dominated by keeping the local candidate, which worked well, but there was never contact details for the MEP only local council members and the MP. We deserved to loose Graham Watson a great long serving MEP if we left it to his office to do everything.

  • More irrelavancies from the World Outside. Theres an interesting article on UK Polling Report, on Polling Trends over the last 4 months. From early February to the beginning of June Labours average declined by 4%. Thats 4% in 4 months, pretty much along a straight line & roughly triple their rate of decline lat year.
    Since June 1st the effects of The European Elections have kicked, peaked & begun to wear off.

  • Linda Jack, Were you writing in a personal capacity or as Chair of Liberal Left?
    Or we’re you writing as a candidate for President of the Liberal Democrats?

    “our values, messaging and behaviour have to add up”
    What are the values of Liberal Left ? — if I look at your website I cannot find anything that would explain a misty-eyed devotion to the most unpopular political leader since polling began.
    Perhaps the members of Liberal Left need to consider their messaging and behaviour if their Chair can write —
    “I still think hes the best leader we have ever had …”

    I am not a member of Liberal Left. If Linda Jack is speaking on behalf of her group in this article I most definitely do not want to be a member of Liberal Left.

  • Peter Watson 12th Jun '14 - 8:13am

    @paul barker
    The same article, and the graph on the front, makes gloomy reading for Lib Dems whose decline is matched by a rise for Greens with Lib Dems now polling their lowest with YouGov since that company started in 2001 (6%). With Greens on 5%, there’s the risk that soon a poll (even if a statistical blip) will put Lib Dems in 5th place.
    I don’t know where the silver lining is that you’ve spotted.

  • Simon McGrath 12th Jun '14 - 9:24am

    @joebourke “The involvement of Liberals in the austerity programme of 1931-35 seriously eroded support among the electorate”

    1935 6.7%, 1931 6.5%

    So the exact opposite of what you said.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 12th Jun '14 - 9:36am

    The headline of this thread is clear but following the writer further, and the comments, we see how liberal values spread into many approaches to carrying those values out. I can see how NC has liberal values but they are different to mine when it comes to political action. So I like the man but not the political decisions.

    I comfort myself by thinking that those MPs who were elected as LDs must agree together, in some way, on those issues which I don’t see as liberal at all. But I have no idea how they agree outcomes which to me seem so illiberal. Can LDVoice please publish how our MPs come to these political decisions.

  • ‘Values’ and ‘Behaviour’ seem to have been clearly allotted to ‘Yellows’ and ‘Oranges’ respectively?
    Further to this, it seems very evident, that no matter what behaviour the Oranges exhibit, it’s obvious that they [Oranges], will have secure places in ‘career’ lifeboats, post 2015. So looking at it from the point of view of Oranges, who cares what values [Yellow ] ‘steerage’ hold?

  • Simon McGrath,

    the Liberal vote was split three ways in 1931 – the Simonites (Liberal Nationals) polling 3.7%, the Samuelites polling 6.5% and Lloyd Georges independent liberals. The Labour party vote collapsed in 1931, losing 80% of their seats. The Liberal factions never reunited and were unable to consolidate their position as the main opposition to the Tories during the Great depression. The Labour parties fortunes subsequently revived under Clement Attlee leading to the post-war Landslide for Labour in 1945 and leaving only 12 Liberal MP’s at the time. This number of MP’s had declined to 5 by 1957 – the back of the taxi years- with revival under Jo Grimond only beginning with the Orpington by-election in 1962.

  • David Allen 12th Jun '14 - 4:12pm

    John Tilley, I think you’ll find that it was Paul Barker who said “I still think hes the best leader we have ever had”. Not Linda Jack!

  • Steve Griffiths 12th Jun '14 - 4:43pm

    Joe Bourke

    Small point, but Orpington continued the revival from the Torrington by-election victory in 1958.

  • Steve Comer 12th Jun '14 - 6:07pm

    My worry is that the current leadership are exhibiting particularly Simonite (Liberal National) tendencies. Lets not forget where they ended up – as a group of parliamentary worthies with no local organization at grass roots level to support them. As a result they ‘merged with’ (ie. were taken over by) the Tories under the Woolton-Teviot Pact in 1947.

    Even those who did not live through these dark days should be aware of how close the party came to extinction in the 1950s. Political parties have no guarantee of continued survival, just look at what happened to the ‘SDP tick’ post merger, or the Progressive Democrats in Ireland in more recent times. Liberal Democrats will only survive if we can present a coherent political; alternative, and I fail to see how the current leadership can do this.

  • Tony Dawson 12th Jun '14 - 9:00pm

    @JohnTilley

    ” If Linda Jack is speaking on behalf of her group in this article I most definitely do not want to be a member of Liberal Left.”

    Worry not, John. If the Association of Transparent Haberdashery for Lib Dem Emperors has their way, and the denial mantra remains, then there may not be any Liberals ‘Left’ left. Or, indeed, any ‘Right’ or ‘Centre'(sic) 🙁

  • Tony Dawson 12th Jun '14 - 9:04pm

    @Bill :

    “Simon Hoggart’s Law of the Nonsensical Inverse?”

    Was that something to do with stepping boldly where David Blunkett didn’t fear to tread? 😉

  • The Labour party vote collapsed in 1931, losing 80% of their seats.
    But they retained three quarters of their votes, about six millions, three times as many as all of the Liberal factions put together.

  • Tony Dawson said: “@JohnTilley ” If Linda Jack is speaking on behalf of her group in this article I most definitely do not want to be a member of Liberal Left.”

    Look, this is ridiculous. The person who said “I still think hes the best leader we have ever had” was Paul Barker, at:

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-our-values-and-messaging-have-to-match-our-behaviour-40812.html#comment-300230

    Chris then posted to criticise the remark, without saying who had made it. From there, people seem to have assumed Linda Jack said it. But she didn’t say it, or anything remotely like it!

    We on the left of centre can’t afford to fall out over silly misunderstandings, for ‘eck’s sake!

  • SIMON BANKS 17th Jun '14 - 9:38am

    This may be naif, but shouldn’t our messaging and behaviour match our values?

    Now what were they? Let’s see… helping people get on in life. Um…

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