Opinion: Political scalps grow back

Nick Clegg listening York Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsUntil Friday, I was a Lib Dem Councillor in the London Borough of Haringey, where I enjoyed a reputation as an effective local representative. As one constituent put it

I have never been able to fathom why for example, people express their anger at the government in Westminster by voting out of office the guy in  the next street who gets your drains unblocked or your broken windows  fixed. And the same here is true of David. I hope that when election time comes around, people in the area will realise they have a hard-working conscientious LOCAL councillor looking after local people.

Despite these sentiments, the people of my Ward DID express their anger with the Westminster government, and I was voted out.

This having happened to me, some people might expect me to be among those who are calling upon Nick Clegg to consider his position.

Let me say therefore, with all the force of which I am capable, that Nick must stay.

For decades, the people of this country have been accustomed to think of  the Liberal Democrats as a kind of benevolent think-tank, well-intentioned and possessing some good ideas, but with a character and temperament that were untried and an  ability to govern that was untested.

Now at long last we have been able to prove our mettle.

In the middle of a crisis in which the very solvency of the state was in question, we formed a government with our political rivals. And once we were in government, Nick Clegg consistently played an impossible hand with astonishing skill, despite the fact that he had far fewer forces at his command than did his rivals. The result has been not merely an economic recovery, but a recovery achieved through methods which differ vastly from those which the conservatives would have employed had they been governing on their own.

Even more importantly, Nick has led a group that has shown that it has the toughness to take necessary decisions and then to stick to them, despite the most vicious personal attacks which its members have received and despite the damage which is being inflicted on our party’s popularity and  on the numbers of its office holders.

In short, it is now apparent to anyone who cares to look, that whatever they may think of the things we stand for, we are capable of governing and worthy of respect.

What folly it would be, therefore, if we should turn on the man who has been so central to these achievements. What would be its effect, other than to show that the party he leads does not share the seriousness and courage which he has displayed? What would be its result, other than to play into the hands of those who say that we were wrong to accept the challenges of coalition government?

To those who say that we may take a beating next year if Clegg doesn’t go, I say, think less of that possibility and more of the great Liberal Democrat revival which is bound to occur, provided he remains in charge.

Remember, that in just a year or two, the battles within the coalition will be revealed and the utterances and acts of Edward Milliband will be seen for the empty words and empty gestures which they are.

I am a Liberal Democrat.

Because of that I paid with my political scalp.

But though it certainly hurts, I think that it was a price worth paying.

And remember, political scalps do grow back.

* David Schmitz was a Liberal Democrat Councillor in Haringey from 2010-2014

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  • Sadie Smith 26th May '14 - 5:55pm

    Yes. Hope yours grows quickly.
    I do think that the changes across Europe are dangerous and may need delicate handling in the interests of both this country and the EU.
    I lost my seat in 2012 (ironically it would have been my last election).

  • Richard Duncalf 26th May '14 - 6:05pm

    Very refreshing to read such an uplifting article, rather than the siren voices of armchair commentators.

  • David

    I don’t know whether you intend to respond to comments here, but if so I’d be interested to know whether you did feel that Nick Clegg, personally, was a significant issue during the campaign. Did you find many people saying “I won’t be voting Lib Dem because of Nick Clegg”?

  • Robert Eggleston 26th May '14 - 6:26pm

    Who still remembers or uses the Focus headline – It’s Time To Fight Back -. Well now it is

  • John Penson 26th May '14 - 6:30pm

    Great statement that I heartily agree with. The challenge now is to regroup and work harder, and more effectively, to communicate the points you have made. Infighting , squabbling and blaming the leader is the last thing the Liberal Democrats need!

  • “In the middle of a crisis in which the very solvency of the state was in question” –

    So you believe/d that myth? Fear mongering of the worst kind at the time and for some to still push that is laughable. No serious economist thought that. The situation was very different – firstly because the UK has its own currency and could devalue, print etc which is what happened anyway with £375 bn QE. Secondly, the UK economy was growing at about 2%. The deficit was huge, pretty much the largest in Europe, but guess what – after 4 years the UK deficit is still the largest in Europe – above Spain, Italy, France etc last year.

    Even those countries ‘on the brink’ now have bonds below 3% – Ireland, Spain, Italy etc.

    It is baffling why some Lib Dem’s still push this unless they are extremely naive and fell for it, or wanted to do what they have done and it a useful cover.

    “The result has been not merely an economic recovery, but a recovery achieved through methods which differ vastly from those which the conservatives would have employed had they been governing on their own.”

    Nope – s anther recovery based on credit and borrowing. Same as old Tory and Labour policies. A recovery after 3 years of stagnation. A recovery is always going to happen but look at average growth over the term – lower than almost every EU country. And even with 3% GDP growth the past year has seen GDP growth per capita at 0% due to large population growth. And yet more growth based on debt. Last month credit card borrowing went up 8% – it averages 6% over the past year. Help’s explains last months high consumer spending.

    Plus another housing boom being stoked. You should know about that in Haringey. Same old problems as pre 2007. To do this and stoke taxpayers cash on it through Help to Buy is lunacy. And 100 year lows in house-building alongside.

    When GDP per capita is increasing along with wage growth, and GDP comes from greater house building not treating housing as an asset through buy to let ‘investments’, and business are investing far more and exporting far more over a long period then we’ll have non-tory and non-labour growth.

  • Liberal Neil 26th May '14 - 6:46pm

    Commiserations on your result David. I look forward very much to your comeback.

  • paul barker 26th May '14 - 8:07pm

    Brilliant, said everything I feel.
    On how we will do next May, we dont know but we can use past experience as a guide. On every occasion we have contested The European Elections our vote share has risen by 10-12% in the General Election that follows. That would suggest around 18% next year, comparable to 1997 or 2001.

  • That is not analysis; that is mystical numerology. Such numbers are now totally out of the Lib Dems’ reach.

  • On every occasion we have contested The European Elections our vote share has risen by 10-12% in the General Election that follows.

    And it’s not even true. Take 1999 and 2001. 12.7% in the European election, 18.3% in the following general election. On that basis you’d get 12.5% next year – the worst result since 1970, when the Liberals won 6 seats!

  • Julian Critchley 27th May '14 - 1:59am

    “And it’s not even true. Take 1999 and 2001. 12.7% in the European election, 18.3% in the following general election. On that basis you’d get 12.5% next year – the worst result since 1970, when the Liberals won 6 seats!”

    It is, however, a very good example of how the very small number of remaining LibDem loyalists are sinking into absolute denial.

    The party’s dead. Clegg didn’t kill it, the policies it has supported in Government killed it. There was no room in British politics for another Thatcherite party – even a pro-EU Thatcherite party.

  • David Schmitz 27th May '14 - 9:25am

    These last few comments are somewhat beside the point. What I am saying is directed, not to our immediate prospects, but to maintaining our hard-won position as a party worthy of government.
    In response to Chris’s question about whether people were telling me that Nick Clegg was the reason why they were not voting Lib Dem, my answer is that he personally was not the issue. The issue which I encountered was the unpopularity of the government in general.
    My own opinion is that when our role in that government becomes better known, as it will during the lead-up to the general election, many of our voters will return to us. But as I have just said, that is not the main thrust of this piece.
    P.S. Many thanks to those who expressed their good wishes. Yes, I can feel my scalp regrowing even now.

  • “In response to Chris’s question about whether people were telling me that Nick Clegg was the reason why they were not voting Lib Dem, my answer is that he personally was not the issue.”

    Thank you for answering my question. Your answer is interesting, because it’s very different from what I was told by someone else who had done a lot of canvassing.

  • Peter Chivall 27th May '14 - 11:32am

    Many of those who have commented on the national media have been those, like John Pugh, who represent areas where LibDems did well in the local elections. Even in Peterborough we won our key targets with increased majorities and our votes even in ‘paperless’ wards went up across the City. That did not stop us coming 5th, after the Greens, in the Euros in the City as well as the Region.
    There was nothing wrong in the ‘Party of IN’ strategy, just that we, like Labour, did not see the full danger of the UKIP surge until too late. The ‘Party of IN’ should have been our slogan from 2012 at the latest, and with the facts to back it up embedded in every Focus and MP statement since. Nick did the best he could with a poor hand over Europe. The debates with Farage were brave. The results we all know.
    That was then. This is now. The real danger for us in 2015 will be to be seen as a Party of the Establishment. It is not Nick’s fault that he looks like a Limousine Liberal from Hampstead (even if he lives in Putney). It will be his fault, at least partly, if we campaign for the next year solely on ‘we cleaned up Labour’s mess’ especially when the people who have actually paid the price have been the working poor who have seen family incomes shrink by 16% at least.
    The people who wrecked our economy were the Bankers and the property speculators, cheered on by the Tory and Labour front benches. The difference between the two major Parties were that Labour at least tried to protect low income families from the worst effects of the property bubble and subsequent banking crash (although their total failure to build any significant social housing will have contributed to excessive and unwise demand for cheap mortgages). The Tories, then and now, seem determined to make life worse for those on low incomes, whether working or not, and Danny Alexander seems determined to cheer them on.
    So many of those who voted UKIP did not really care about Europe as such. They cared about being exploited by outsourcing companies who would only take them on for jobs that were once Council Care workers or street cleaners and refuse workers (TUPEs excepted) if they gave up any pension rights and worked on temporary contracts. And they are fed up with listening to ‘talking heads’ from Westminster who tell them it’s all for their own good. (and that includes some of our spokespeople).
    Surveys have mentioned the dissatisfaction of many UKIP voters with a distant and uncaring Westminster/Whitehall ‘elite’ dictating to them why they should not have a spare bedroom (when there are not smaller houses on flats to move to) if they are in social housing or why ‘help to buy’ is so wonderful when only those with incomes of £60k or more can even consider a purchase if they live within 60 miles of London. they see migrant workers prepared to work for below the living wage (because many migrants believe their stay here is only temporary, or lacking family here they can move to something better at short notice), while nothing is done to enforce the Minimum Wage, let alone move to a Living Wage.
    And our Party’s answer to this dissatisfaction? Apart from parroting cliches about ‘work pays’ or useful, but only partly relevant pluses like the £10k tax threshhold and the ‘million apprenticeships’, our only policy for reducing Westminster’s strangelhold on local democracy and initiative is the ‘dog’s breakfast’ motion passed at York in March ‘allows’ adjacent County or Unitary authorities to apply for ‘devolution’, i.e. City Deal status if Whitehall will allow it. No wonder only 2% of the electorate thought it worth voting for us!

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