Opinion: The messenger or the message?

nick_clegg_vince_cable_budget_2009_bCoalition government is very tough on the junior party.  No surprise there. The prize, in our case, was lots of our favourite policies implemented – something we haven’t achieved for 100 years. The downside is a massive amount of negative media coverage.

Your coalition allies hate you because they see you as imposing policies on them. The opposition see it as an open goal, a chance to squeeze you out of the next election.  It is a two party nut-cracker with the potential to crush us.  The voracious appetite of the press pack has a constant supply of stories.

The only way to resist is to stay incredibly strong by remaining united and to resist feeding the media hounds.  We need to be unrelentingly positive about our achievements, to focus every interview on the good news, too ensure our glass is always half-full and we need everyone on board.  That does not mean we cannot lament our losses and the sacrifices we have made.  Indeed those sacrifices are the living proof of the price we are paying.

We haven’t just given the low paid a tax break – we have changed the whole debate about income tax – all the parties now want to raise the threshold to the Minimum Wage and possibly even further to the level of the Living Wage. This is what we should be shouting from the roof tops.  It’s not about jobs – it’s fairness that is the fundamental issue.

We should be attacking Labour for their social failure, not their economic incompetence.  We should be scathing of the Tories defence of privilege and the House of Lords – which is bigger even than the European Parliament. Our attacks must be different than the ones they use on each other.

Our problems stem as much from the failure of our messages as the messenger himself. Nick Clegg’s problem is his lack of an effective No.2.  He is too exposed making himself an easier target and both he and the party very vulnerable.

Labour and Conservative field two man teams – Milliband & Balls and Cameron & Osborne. If only Vince and Nick could get their act together – Clegg & Cable would be the strongest political team in the field. We need them both. Together they can make us a tough enough nut not to crack under the pressure.  Together they can reach out to the whole of the party and the country.  We need to up our game – stronger differentiating messages and a team of messengers.

We are a small party. We don’t have talent to waste and we need to prove that a coalition can work within the party as well as in Government.

* Mike Biden is an Executive ordinary member in Winchester. A lifelong supporter of the Liberals, he has become an activist since his retirement. His career saw him in senior corporate positions in Sales & Marketing and as a Chief Executive.

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37 Comments

  • Shaun Nichols 27th May '14 - 10:13am

    While this partnership is a strong one in the eyes of party members, the voters take a different view.

    One campaigned about ‘broken promises’ and promptly approved the scrapping of a flagship policy once he entered the Government.

    The other then sponsored the necessary departmental measures which saw a tripling of tuition fees.

  • Bill le Breton 27th May '14 - 10:17am

    Mike, did McLuhan waste his life?????

    The medium IS the message.

  • Sarah Ludford 27th May '14 - 10:17am

    Very very sensible, thanks goodness.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th May '14 - 10:18am

    The last thing we should do is reward the backstabbing of Vince’s lackeys by promoting Vince.

  • Agree the Liberal Democrats now need strong and positive leadership. Changing leaders now would be like shifting the deckchairs on Titanic. So Nick and Vince need to dust themselves down and work together to ensure a strong positive message to the nation why people should vote Liberal Democrat in 2015. Do not waste time knocking the other parties – just keep on message the positive points for voting Liberal Democrat.

  • We lost the ward I was helping in by 13 votes – Clegg factor hardly mentioned – coalition was by hateful Labour who took the seat. I only wish that the organisers of Clegg out and financiers of silly opinion polls in particular seats had sent me their money for our campaign – believe me – we would have put it to much better use.

  • Bill le Breton 27th May '14 - 10:26am

    All this stuff about a long drawn out period of introspection is nonsense.

    Bad tooth – whip it out quick. It is surprising how quickly normal pain-free life resumes.

    Clegg resigns. And the Parliamentary Party could wrap up its choice of nomination for leader to take us into the next election in an afternoon. Committee room X. Lock out the paid advisers. Close the doors. Make the decision. Malcolm Bruce announces the PLDP’s unanimous choice for its nominee.

    OK, the Party would have to wait until post 2015 (unless we are in Government) for a normal ‘contest’ but that’s how grown up politics works: we ‘worker bees’ sometimes have to allow others who know the candidates better than we do, and who have a great deal of skin in the game, to make the decision on our behalf.

  • You miss the point Why did people turn away from you (1) You been too weak in coalition Did not speak out in parliament and public when Tories out of Order No you sat there sad faced an even supported them, Example You gave in to Tories on your key pledges to voters You should have stuck in said we want No increase in student fee’s or we block your bills.
    (2) You took us for granted and complaisant that you will hold balance of power next elections and Clegg will be deputy PM who ever in power. (3)You have not pushed to change Europe you happy as it is an merging to United States of Europe so so wrong
    I could go on but those key points Listen Learn but sadly I think you too late you lost student vote and you lost older generation vote

  • Bill: the trouble with that scenario is that it looks as if you are touting for Danny Alexander. I do not think that is your intention though, is it?

  • >Changing leaders now would be like shifting the deckchairs on Titanic.

    No, changing leaders now would be like changing captain on the Titanic a day prior to hitting the iceberg. You’re arguing that we’re doomed anyway so it’s pointless doing anything! We haven’t hit the main iceberg yet, it can still be avoided, we don’t have to sink – it’s a choice to go down with the ship, some people are fine with it, others would like to preserve as much life as possible.

  • Bill le Breton 27th May '14 - 10:46am

    Martin, I am touting for the Party in the Commons to have a free vote. The power of DPM patronage is so vast that they do not have that at present. Nor for a few days should the Party be dictated to my the media.

    We need a new Leader quickly. This is the only way to achieve this.

    I believe in the wisdom of the small crowd that is the Party in the Commons, if truly free.

  • David

    ” I only wish that the organisers of Clegg out and financiers of silly opinion polls in particular seats had sent me their money for our campaign – believe me – we would have put it to much better use.”

    Well said, these costs could do a vast amount on the ground, if not used on in fighting.

  • 75 constituencies are all it needs. Many will be debating an appropriate motion in the next few days.

  • Maria Pretzler 27th May '14 - 11:44am

    Frankly, the idea to change leader for somebody selected by just the MPs in order to keep them for a whole year strikes me as not exactly democratic, or wise… or (presumably) constitutional, for that matter.

    Let me just point you to the rather baffling decision they made when they were asked to choose a deputy leader….

  • I only wish that the organisers of Clegg out and financiers of silly opinion polls in particular seats had sent me their money for our campaign

    Funnily enough I sent a rather large donation to the Party in terms of what I can afford as unemployed council estate tenant on a low income. You know we’re just the sort of people who are overwhelmingly under-represented with its concentration of well off Orange Booker types and their ilk championed by Nick Clegg. Guess what, the donation wasn’t even acknowledge it went through my bank account though, taken for granted as usual so I’d rather give my money to the http://www.libdems4change.org where I know it will be put to good use once I know how to go about it. Clegg out, nearly 400 have signed up now the momentum is continuing.

  • I was a Liberal a long time ago – an approved parliamentary candidate and an actual council candidate. I was involved in Focus campaigns. I left because my pacifism made membership difficult for me but for many years I continued to vote Liberal, then Liberal Democrat and even to help local candidates with delivering leaflets. This stopped in 2010.

    I am the sort of person whose vote and support you need if your party is ever to get back again. So let me explain why I can’t support you and why I will be, reluctantly, voting against you and urging my friends to do likewise in 2015. I’m dividing this into three main reasons and they all matter a great deal to me and many like me.

    The first matter is one of trust. If we can’t trust politicians’ serious guarantees in campaigning, democracy is broken. I work at a university which Nick Clegg visited a week before the 2010 election. He was cheered by a mostly student audience for his commitment to abolish tuition fees. Many of the students were about to graduate and they knew this commitment wouldn’t help them but they wanted to help future generations. Some of them joined the Lib Dems on the strength of this promise. Some donated money and delivered leaflet. They were not only betrayed. They (and I) were actually abused by Lib Dem supporters of Nick Clegg who told us we were stupid and naïve to believe the promise he had made to us. That still hurts four years on. I’m still in touch with quite a few of the students who cheered Nick Clegg on that day. They say they will never vote Lib Dem again. Some say they will never vote again but others choose Labour or Green.

    The second matter is one of Liberalism. In the days of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the Lib Dems (with a few exceptions) showed a great sense of liberal principles and fought against the dismantling of civil liberties and human rights. I trusted that, even after breaking the commitment on student tuition fees, the Lib Dems would uphold these principles. Instead I have heard them speaking in support of secret courts, stripping people of citizenship and cuts in access to justice. Now no-one is making these points in the Commons. In the Lords, the cross-bench peer Lord Pannick, an expert on constitutional and human rights law, has made sensible points which are rubbished or ignored by Lib Dem MPs. I didn’t think this would happen. What happened to the voice of liberalism in the Commons?

    The third matter is one of how this government, defended by the Lib Dems, is damaging many people’s lives. I am better off under this government but my children and many of my friends are not. I hear of their encounters with benefit offices, sanctions which are overturned on appeal but which cause weeks of poverty, foolish ATOS assessments, fear of homelessness and actual homelessness – and the people I know are the lucky ones with supportive friends and sources of help. In government the Lib Dems are uncaring; when they speak on these matters I cannot tell whether a Lib Dem or Tory is speaking, until the Lib Dem insists that things are better with them in government.

    At the General Election, I’ll probably vote Labour with a heavy heart. If the Lib Dems cannot be trusted, don’t defend liberty and don’t care about the poor, what is the point of supporting them? I thought New Labour was bad in these respects so wouldn’t support them but now I find they are marginally better and marginally more responsive to the voters. (Our Labour candidate and ex-MP does respond well to people.)

    I don’t know whether it’s possible to save the Lib Dems. But I do know that the country needs a party which can be trusted, which stands up for liberal values and listens to the voices of the poor and vulnerable.

    P.S. I know there is a discussion about whether to allow posts from non-members or from supporters of other parties. I would still like Liberal Democrats to listen because I have friends who are Liberal Democrats or who were until very recently members of the party – and I respect those friends and their commitment in the areas I outline above.

  • “Clegg & Cable would be the strongest political team in the field”

    I’m no UKIP voter but Farage would eat the pair of them before breakfast. It would be the weakest partnership by far since the party was formed and the voters every year since the GE have agreed with me.

  • Philip Rolle 27th May '14 - 12:19pm

    A thread considering whether the Lib Dems should leave the coalition would be welcome. There is little point in changing the leader and sticking to the same policies and to the coalition agreement.

  • Lembit’s on Radio 2 he’s brilliant. I just got through but not going on air unfortunately but Vanessa will be reading out my comments.

  • I think you have all proved my point. We are all just feeding the voracious appetite of the media. This can do nothing but harm us. We have constitutional procedures and processes that should be respected. This was not the way to start a leadership challenge not is it the way to conduct the exercise.

  • It was started with the petition which I only knew about when I read it on here this site so I think your comment is totally disingenuous. Perhaps you can outline the process for instigating a leadership challenge from an ordinary member of the party – I have already written to Nick Clegg asking him to step down now. The media picked up on it later, what you’re trying to do is marginalise us by saying we’re disloyal when in fact we’re loyal to the Party not to a failed Leader.

  • Kath – “I am the sort of person whose vote and support you need if your party is ever to get back again. So let me explain why I can’t support you and why I will be, reluctantly, voting against you and urging my friends to do likewise in 2015. I’m dividing this into three main reasons and they all matter a great deal to me and many like me.”

    If there’s one LibeDemVoice post that every LibDem MP should be made to read it’s this one. It’s not just your Leader the electorate don’t trust or like any more, it’s your Parliamentary party.

  • Tony Dawson 27th May '14 - 1:08pm

    The complacency of so many commentators here is mind-blowing.

    Under this man’s leadership, the party in quite large sections of the country has not been damaged but destroyed. Sent back not to the days of David Steel but to the days of Jeremy Thorpe.

    If people think that additional financial resources would have helped the Euro campaign, they live on another planet. Hundreds of thousands of pounds has been expended on completely useless and sometimes counter-productive Lib Dem election literature, much of which still sits in the front porches of houses throughout the land and more of which is presently heading for the recycling bins. Saying more of the same more expensively is hardly going to help.

    The leadership and no one else is/are responsible for the political message of the Party. The current leadership, propped up by a highly-funded coterie of ‘advisors'(sic) have been responsible for ensuring that the political message is far more in their own control and identified with themselves than has ever been the case in this Party or its predecessors. They have been tying up the public’s identification with our party with identification with the leader in a ham-fisted manner which has done good to nobody.

    Maria P, if you think the choice of Malcolm Bruce was ‘strange’ you appear to have no grasp of the dynamics of the Parliamentary Party which dictated that there was no other sensible choice at this time. Malcolm has, to my mind ‘played a blinder’ in recent months, even when it came to defending the indefensible.

  • Failure of the message is…
    Bedroom Tax and welfare reforms – penalising council tenants like me
    Abolition of the AWB
    Health Service Reforms leading to further privatisation of the NHS – anathema to me and those of us who campaign to keep the NHS as a public service free to all at the point of delivery
    EU – failing to make the case for reform but failing to give specific practical examples of how ordinary people benefit from our EU membership in their everyday lives just as the Isolationists have managed to do the opposite
    Tuition Fees – not just the manifesto lie but this is an example of a severe and savage cut which could’ve been 4 or 5k instead of 9k
    Rubber stamping of Orange Bookers policies on savage austerity, cuts to public services and further dismantling of the welfare state as well as idolisation of IDS

    All ratified by Nick Clegg as leader, Clegg out http://www.libdems4change.org/

    There are so many more and I will come back with them

  • Katy, thank you! You have articulated exactly how I, my extended family and our social circle all say about the Lib Dems under Clegg. Your post should be required reading fir everyone who says ‘it’s all about the message’ . No, it’s all about trust.

  • KATH not Katy. Blooming auto(in)correct!!

  • Peter Watson 27th May '14 - 1:33pm

    @david “Failure of the message is…”
    I would have to add the “VAT bombshell” to the list. It was early in the Coalition (June 2010), coinciding with the initial drop in support. I was reminded of this yesterday when Google threw up a Guardian article from that time which warned, “Half of Liberal Democrat voters ready to defect after VAT rise” (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/jun/27/lib-dems-vat-rise-anger-poll). This preceded the tuition fees debacle (though the writing on that particular wall appeared during the coalition agreement negotiations).

  • Peter Watson 27th May '14 - 1:36pm

    @Kath 12:11pm
    Thanks for a very eloquent post that describes my own views as well.
    I am less of a loss to the party than you, but I have made a very similar journey (for want of a better word).

  • I think it’s very odd when you’ve got a party Peter that rewards success eg Charles Kennedy who increased the number of MPs to its highest level ever and vote share only to punish his personal problems with removal from office and then you reward a leader who is failing the Party and electorate with continued power and loses the greatest number of council seats ever since the Party was formed. This says it all about the Orange Bookers and their protectors on here, the party has been taken over by them and all dissent such as mine and others is marginalised or brutally squashed.

  • Jayne Mansfield 27th May '14 - 2:04pm

    @ Kath,
    Thank you for articulating something that I feel but do not have the facility with language to express myself.

  • Bill Le Breton: We have moved on from McLuhan – it is called the inernet, it is not just the media – it is the voice of the poeple as well. The best post here is from Kath – an authentic voice of those we need to be listening to, speaking to and making sure can represent in future. Ryan Coetzeee needs to be concetrating on talking to our members, activists and natural supporters and sympathisers – if we get it right for them we will be a better party and be more deserving of the publics support and votes.

  • Bill le Breton 27th May '14 - 6:18pm

    Mike, I would have thought that the internet provided further proof if any were needed that the medium is the message.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '14 - 7:10am

    Mike Biden

    We haven’t just given the low paid a tax break

    No, indeed. It’s everyone except those who were so low paid that they don’t get enough to benefit from raising the tax allowance.

    we have changed the whole debate about income tax

    Don’t think so, we sound just like a bunch of Tories, never mind the misery of the cuts in state spending and the social costs ALL of us will bear from that, just be happy about a few more pounds in your pocket (so long as you’re not so low paid or unemployed that you don’t get them).

    Our manifesto promised to change the debate, because it did not talk about tax cuts, it talked about shifting the tax burden – THAT was how the increase in tax allowance was meant to be paid for. Not the Tory way, which the national party has been urging us to sing the praises of, and untruthfully making out as what was in our manifesto.

  • Roger Heape 28th May '14 - 8:25am

    Our most popular policy going into the 2010 GE and subsequently Coalition, was the increase in the personal allowance to £10,000.It is also a policy promise that has been clearly kept.The policy was successful because it was simple( a rare event in Lib policies!),simple to understand and simple to remember.We should continue the simple theme by having for the 2015 GE a policy of increasing the personal allowance to £15,000 over the next Parliament.

    The current manifesto proposal approach of linking the personal allowance to either the minimum or living wage is a complication and lacking in clarity-how many people know what the minimum wage per year is?

    Please,please do not destroy a winning formula. Proposals on the minimum wage should be a separate policy as part of the thrust to reduce income inequality.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '14 - 11:24am

    Roger Heape

    Our most popular policy going into the 2010 GE and subsequently Coalition, was the increase in the personal allowance to £10,000. It is also a policy promise that has been clearly kept.

    As I explained in the message just above yours, the claim that this was a policy promise kept is dubious, let alone “clearly kept”.

    Anyway, does anyone know how much lost tax revenue keeping this policy cost? And how does this compare to the cut in state spending coming from dropping the direct subsidy to universities? To what extent was the former paid for by the latter? This would give a more balanced account of “keeping our policies”.

  • Peter Chivall 28th May '14 - 12:00pm

    Thank you Kath. Your ‘manifesto’ should be nailed to the door of Clegg’s office. Then the door locked with all his SPADs and ‘advisers’ and Orange Bookers inside………
    I have taken the step of cancelling my Direct Debit to HQ 3 months ago (after being ripped off for £100s by them changing my DD from quarterly to monthly without my permission 2 years ago.) I now will only pay by cheque via my Local Party Treasurer.
    Incidentally, I was out delivering targetted letters on Tuesday last week at 5pm. Targetted letters that I had helped draft, had printed myself, labelled with labels I had printed from an EARS filter I had run in envelopes I had bought and helped stuff and which helped (at least in part) to hold a crucial target seat with an increased majority pushing the Tories into 3rd place behind UKIP…
    Oh, and the phone call? It was a young man (why are they always male?) with a request that I donate yet more money to that failed and totally out of touch organisation, LibDem HQ. I shouted at him before I cut the connection. Do you blame me?

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