Opinion: Time for women, grey hairs and drastic action

In an email to members, ALDC’s Tim Pickstone wrote, “Winning elections as a Liberal Democrat is never easy … Winning those elections when you’re also in Government is even harder.”

Well Tim, what you say is true, but if we console ourselves with these thoughts we are doomed to become a party which, like the Saxons of Hereward the Wakes’s time, is holed up in a few isolated corners and crevices of the land, where our flag is carried by an MP and a council group, well resourced, skilled and of sufficient mass to evade destruction, but unable to link up with others, unable to find traction, unable to establish meaning and withering over time.

Slogging on in the hope that a turn in the economic fortunes of the country will turn our own fortunes, comforted by the relative success of the party where it has an MP and influence on a council is an illusion that will delay us in taking the necessary action.

We are where we are because, in most of the nations of our country, we are simply not trusted. Trust is the vital but often ignored foundation of political action. It takes years to build and a second to lose.

That trust was not squandered by our decision to go into coalition, it was undermined by the way we went into coalition.

The Rose Garden love-in was a huge tactical blunder. (Yet we hear it is to be repeated before the Queen’s Speech – madness.)

It required just one further example to cement the public’s impression that we lacked conviction and values, that we were opportunists ‘just like the rest of them’. We gave it to them first and most damagingly over tuition fees, but more and more examples followed, over health, taxation and more, cementing the breach of trust that now is our brand.

Those who claim to be different have to be different.

Those who are tarnished by breach of trust remain marked out.

Most of our front bench is shop soiled, either because they have personally lost the trust of the people or they literally and metaphorically ‘look and sound and operate’ like those who have directly lost that trust.

We are in coalition, but the one thing we have control over is who represents us on the front bench and who are employed to advise them in Whitehall, Westminster and Great George Street.

The posh boys in suits who exude privilege and advantage must go. The return of David Laws whatever you may think of him will harden that damaging perception of us.

Our women must come to the fore as they are exceptional and different.

The mistakes have largely come from inexperienced figures who have chosen as their advisers equally young and inexperienced advisers.  Look how the budget has illustrated this!

They do not yet have the capacity to see life as it is seen by the vast majority of our fellow citizens, nor do they understand the essence of our Party.

We have safer hands with greyer hair who are just the kind of people a country needs when it is facing economic hardship and when that hardship threatens the cohesion and common purpose of our society.

These wise-heads must be brought back into the sun or pushed further to the front. They too are exceptional and different.

Their first task, however, is to be the messengers to the leadership and the agents of these changes.

Politics is about personality. When the Party’s persona is perceived as lacking values, lacking competence, lacking connection to ordinary people, drastic action is required.

* Bill le Breton is a former Chair and President of ALDC and a member of the 1997 and 2001 General Election teams

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  • Helen Tedcastle 6th May '12 - 9:40am

    This is the best piece I’ve read on LDV in terms of giving our party a reality check. Thanks Bill.

    Completely agree with the view that a David Laws come-back, especially if he was appointed to a public service ministry, would send all the wrong signals. As he has gone on the record arguing for the party to go beyond the CA to implement a ‘reforming agenda’ (not reform to the liking of social Liberals, I might add), he would prove a divisive figure for the party, despite his enormous abilities in the economic sphere.

    Agree also with the argument that the problem was not entering into coalition but the way we went into it and also, what we have done in coalition. For me, coalition is a means to an end, not an end in itself. We are not apologists for right-wing Toryism and we need to go back to our core values and stick with them in government – to regain any trust with the electorate.

  • Andrew Suffield 6th May '12 - 9:48am

    Another piece which talks about drastic action and different people, but never bothers to mention what that action is or who those people are.

    As such it contains nothing useful.

  • paul barker 6th May '12 - 9:57am

    I think this piece is saying that we need to sack clegg & bring back ming, have I got that right ?

  • I agree with Andrew Suffield, that without names this piece is pretty useless. There is a pro-Lynne hint, but who else is he after? Ming Campbell?

    Nor are all advisers young. Ed Davey’s policy SpAd is 54. He doesn’t have much hair, of any colour.

  • Paul Murray 6th May '12 - 10:02am

    Couldn’t agree more. The public has decided that we are not honest. That we do not do as we promise. That we will say anything to get into power.

    Nick Clegg won the party many new supporters during the debates by speaking as a Liberal Democrat and sounding like a genuine, radical Liberal. In the last two years Nick Clegg has lost the party many old supporters (and now much of its activist base which might never be recovered) by speaking as a Coalitionist and sounding like a Conservative apologist.

    With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that we should have had an “arms length” relationship with the Conservatives, but instead Clegg chose to embrace them in order to show that “Coalition could work”. It seems to me that you can have a perfectly effective business relationship with someone you don’t like and that you don’t need to subsume your identity to some horrendous, contingent confection.

    We are where we are. The question is : how do we recover? I agree that the damage to Clegg is irreparable. He is perceived to have lied his way into power and is a liability worse than Blair was for Labour back in 2005.

    The best thing that happened to the Tories in the last 10 years was to get thumped at the Brent by-election. Have we got the will to be as ruthless in our response to a pasting as they were to IDS back then?

  • Helen Tedcastle 6th May '12 - 10:08am

    @PaulBarker: ‘…sack clegg & bring back ming, have I got that right ?’

    Not Ming, but the wise Vince Cable.

  • There is one person who could give us back the trust of the people. I think Nick Clegg is a great politician but he is damaged goods – one person who could reunite this party and give it back some trust is……..Paddy. I do hope some grander people than I have given this some thought.

  • Robert Bleakley 6th May '12 - 10:36am

    I have to agree with Adrian Sanders that Bill would make an ideal replacment for Richard Reeves. The problem is at the top of the party who are not listening and completely blind to what is happening in the real world. I managed to hang on as a Councillor against all the odds in the Socialist Republic of Wigan last Thursday but hundreds of excellent Councillors didn’t . It’s now time that the party started to listen and listen quick as we can’t go on like this.

  • Tony Dawson 6th May '12 - 10:50am

    @ Bill le Breton

    “Politics is about personality. When the Party’s persona is perceived as lacking values, lacking competence, lacking connection to ordinary people, drastic action is required.”

    What a beautifully polite and succinct way of saying that Nick Clegg needs to find himself another job. He should do that himself, not make the Party kick him out. Like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair before him, he has brought much to the table of his Party then, unfortunately, taken away rather more.

  • Bravo! If only the party will listen to this advice.

  • Stephen Donnelly 6th May '12 - 12:09pm

    I think it would be wiser to read Andrew Rawnsley’s piece in today’s Observer where he praises grace in defeat ‘as the one impressive thing’ about the LIBDems. I see nothing in this over emotional article that articulates an alternative strategy, and we certainly will not benefit from leadership campaigns launched on behalf of fringe candidates or people seeking their 15 mins of fame in the Daily Mail as a rebel leader.

  • Richard Dean 6th May '12 - 12:20pm

    Bill will perhaps be unsurprised that I disagree with a few things. I do agree about the posh boys, but all this stuff about “shop soiled” is just insulting. I am so old that I have hardly any hair left, but certainly it is all grey, so perhaps Bill will agree anyway that I might have something helpful to say.

    There is not much evidence that getting elected has much to do with personalities. There are exceptions – Boris and George have particularly engaging ones – but most politicians don’t have much of that kind or personality. They may perhaps have quirks, but not actual personailities shining through the media fuzz. Indeed, many politicians might regard that kind of personality as an unwelcome distraction from the business of governing.

    I suggest that there is also not much evidence that trust is an issue, though demonstrable corruption certainly is. In 50 years since I first earned the word “politician”, I have never heard anyone anywhere say that one could be trusted, or even that one was honest. Politics is said to be a dirty game, power is said to corrupt. People assume that politicians tell lies, pay themselves too much, cheat on expenses, and use information that has been obtained by underhand means.

    I suggest that the relationship between politicians and the electorate is like a manager (the electorate) trying to control the unruly and untrusted people who control their destiny, or even like two combatants in a war. The way the electorate conduct their war, and exercise control, is through elections, which are very blunt instruments. In these local elections, the electorytae has decided that their best bet to control polticians is to set up tensions – divide and rule – so we now have ensions in teh coalition, tensions from the threat of labouir winning next time, tensions within labour as a result, and tensions between local authorities and mayors.

    The way to get back into the electorate’s good books is not to collapse through in-fighting. That is just divide-and-rule-a-broken-party. The way to electoral success is to make this coalition work. To deliver jobs, properity, and sanity.

  • Sadly, Bill, you don’t offer names…..Sarah Teather ??????? A woman who uses the word ‘liberal’ as an insult; a woman who defended Francis Maude’s words and blamed union militancy for fuel panic buying!!!!

    As for a leader, I’d suggest Ming. I believe the electorate are fed up with ‘smart boys’ and he’d emphasise the difference not just between us and the Tories but between us and ‘Mr. Bean’ Milliband.

    After all, if we picked an ‘average’ LibDem local councillor (sadly, now an ‘endangered species’) he/she couldn’t do worse than Clegg.

  • Richard Dean 6th May '12 - 12:28pm

    I meant “heard” not “earned” in my third paragraph. Typos are my speciality! I have managed to remain outside politics – an observer only – for 50 years, but the manifest incompetence, think-in-box-ness, and corruption of many polticians is spurring me to new action, That and unemployment.

  • I have to say I am fed up with this coalition,. what is clear to me is that Continental style coalitions are unlikely to work without a system of fair voting. Yes we have lost the trust of the electorate, and rightly so, because we have been so anxious to make the coalition work, in other words become a shield for Tory policies. Imagine what we might be celebrating today if the Tories had been governing on their own. We make much of the consequencies for the Country if there had been a minority Tory administration for a few months, a bit of a run on sterling but it would not have undermined our ability to borrow. Yes the Tories would have won an autumn election but they would have faced violent opposition to their policies probably led by us. We have been naive in our quest for power, patience would in my view have been a virtue.

  • Bill le Breton 6th May '12 - 1:09pm

    Trust is the fundamental currency of politics and campaigning. When we say ‘where we work, we win’ that is shorthand for ‘when we build a relationship of trust’ people have the confidence to put that trust in us.

    I agree that it is not mentioned or it is mentioned too generally to be relevant in many cases, but it is unsaid largely because it is an emotional response, but no weaker or less damaging for that. Perhaps I have just seen the effects when it is lost.

    I merely assert that when that trust is lost by a single or more likely a series of breaches of trust it takes many years to restore. We could all name politicians who have never been able to restore that relationship of trust.

    From then on it really doesn’t matter how hard you work, how often you are right, or how much of your manifesto you are able to implement. You and all around you are tarnished.

    This blight also includes others associated with that person. This association can often seem trivial because (as it is not necessarily directly related) it is symbolic.

    It is unfortunate for us all, but it is indisputable that our leader finds himself in this category. And so (perhaps unfairly) do others associated directly and indirectly with him, including 700 hundred councillors in two elections.

    Claims to values or ‘grace in defeat’ simply do not have the power to repair the damage because the breach of trust undermines those very actions. Those who stayed at home or voted against us are not this morning feeling, ‘but weren’t they gracious in defeat’.

    There is an urgency and a need to act now, because we are dealing with a political institution that is the vehicle for the survival and development of an important approach to life and morality – an approach that was largely missing for the whole of the war-torn C20th century and which is therefore uniquely important in the life, liberty and happiness of those living in the C21st.

    I would not dream of suggesting who should be given responsibility for leading the project to rebuild that trust, but there is a logic that tell us who could not. I fail to see why not making suggestions weakens the assertion that a substantial and irrecoverable breach of trust has occured. Why should this situation give me or anyone like me any satisfaction whatsoever?

    Nor is there any point in broadening the issue at the moment to include other issues, because trust is prime.

    That is why I am asking all of you just to consider this one issue. If you accept that it is of a categorically different order, then, all I ask is for you to then ponder how else it can be recovered before the critical level of incapacity is reached.

  • Peter Chegwyn 6th May '12 - 1:27pm

    Agree with much of what Bill says and with the comments from Adrian Sanders and Robert Bleakley who did well to hold his seat in Wigan when all around him were losing theirs.

    I’m surprised that so few people are voicing concern about the direction in which our Party is heading. All the media talk today is about divisions in the Tory Party, not a single prominent Lib. Dem. (Lembit Opik doesn’t count) voicing concern about our own performance at the polls or looking ahead to the real prospect of more electoral disasters in 2013, 2014, 2015.

    We are in danger of losing vast swathes of our local government base, our activists, their time, energy and money, putting us back some 40 years to where we were in the late 1970s with a handful of MPs and a handful of councils and councillors.

    Doesn’t anybody care? Isn’t anybody trying to do something about it? Can anything be done about it?

    The idea of another Cameron/Clegg ‘love-in’ next week in the rose garden at No. 10 just shows how completely out-of-touch the Leadership of the Party is with the grass-roots and our core voter base. The last thing many of our (past) voters want to see is Clegg cuddling-up even closer to Cameron. It’s stupid.

  • Andrew Suffield 6th May '12 - 2:08pm

    I’m surprised that so few people are voicing concern about the direction in which our Party is heading.

    Then perhaps the lesson of the day is that not many people agree with you.

  • As Peter Chegwyn correctly remarks, “not a single prominent Lib Dem” is currently voting concern about our performance in the polls and the prospects of future electoral disasters. But this does not mean that prominent people in the party are blind to these issues, rather that they are all too conscious – whether they are from the left, right or centre of the party – that sounding off in the Lembit style is the very worst thing that any one concerned about the future of the party should do. We have three years yet before the next general election and we must use that time – whether we are instinctively pro-coalition, instinctively anti-coalition or not unduly bothered one way or the other – as constructively as we can.

  • Andrew SuffieldMay 06 – 2:08 pm…………….Then perhaps the lesson of the day is that not many people agree with you……….

    The electorate did! Just ask 300+ LibDem ex-councillors.

  • Tony Dawson 6th May '12 - 2:24pm

    @hugh p @

    .”..sounding off in the Lembit style is the very worst thing that any one concerned about the future of the party should do. ”

    So, Lembit is the Lib Dem Nadine? 😉

    Perhaps what we need is our own ‘men in grey suits’?

  • Peter Chegwyn 6th May '12 - 2:28pm

    In answer to Andrew Suffield, if people are not concerned about the direction in which our Party is heading after two years of dreadful local election results with the prospect of more to come, then more fool them! Ostriches who keep their heads in the sand don’t usually win elections!

  • Helen Tedcastle 6th May '12 - 2:36pm

    @Andrew Suffield: ‘Then perhaps the lesson of the day is that not many people agree with you.’

    I think that it’s not a question of many people not wanting a change of direction. One can only read LDV to see that many people do want change.

    The media are quiet on the Lib Dems because for them, noises off in the Tory party is of greater consequence. Nadine Dorries, Peter Bone- neither hold back and the media love that.

    One thing about our party – we’ve known dark days before and perhaps people are more resilient. However much we are used to marching towards the sound of gunfire though, in the past, with Paddy , we had a leader who had a clear and radical vision in very tough times.

    Right now, our troops are being mown down and the leader simply plans to cosy up for another love in with the Tories. He’s in denial and/or listening to the wrong people.

  • Lembit Opik 6th May '12 - 3:02pm

    ‘The Alternative View: a way back for the Liberal Democrats’ (by Cllr Ed Joyce and Lembit Opik) provides a data driven analysis of the party’s current predicament. On May 3rd, 2012, we lost 44% of what we were defending, compared to 41% last year. We’ve now got fewer councillors than any time in the last quarter century.

    There’s a consistent, broad proportionality between Lib Dem Council seats and General Election performance. Even in the low ebb of 1989, the party had 500 MORE Councillors than today. I predict we’ll lose between 80 and 260 seats in 2013 – 140 is a realistic projection (NO plausible scenario delivers growth). Add the loss of Scottish MSPs, Welsh AMs, London GLA Members and the deposit-losing 4th place in the London mayoral elections, and the evidence all points in the same direction (even ignoring potential MP reductions from 650 to 600 which eliminate 1 in 5 existing Lib Dem MPs).

    The party WILL enter the next General Election considerably under 3,000 councillors: that’s my firm prediction – fewer than at any General Election since 1983 (when the movement secured 23 MPs). Thus, Nick’s own repeated commitment to double our MPs to 124 by 2015 is no longer plausible; but there IS now the risk of a 50% REDUCTION in MPs, unless the party stems the slide in its elected infrastructure by winning back left leaning votes.

    While Nick is Leader, Labour electors will be actively discouraged from voting Lib Dem. Meanwhile, Tories have begun anti-Lib Dem attacks (we predicted ALL this in ‘The Alternative View’). These attacks WILL continue until the next General Election. Tories may also force a coalition split over some totemic issue, blaming it on the Lib Dems, catalysing an election and further damaging us.

    We conclude the solution is to separate the roles of Leader and Deputy Prime Minister. The current attempt to do both jobs has clearly failed electorally. Quite possibly, no Lib Dem could be a Minister and Leader at once.

    From a business perspective, shareholders whose Chief Executive Officer presides over an involuntary decline of almost 40% in its on-the-ground workforce (our Councillors) and an 8 percentage point fall in popularity (our poll rating) would reasonably expect that C.E.O. to stand aside: though note that Nick SHOULD retain his DPM role. A graceful restructuring is best. To force a messy confrontation is in no Lib Dem’s interest: but nor will the dissent evaporate… because it’s data driven.

    I welcome views – as long as they’re based on evidence. If you do highlight weaknesses in my analysis, I’ll willingly change my position accordingly. If not, I invite Nick Clegg to facilitate his smooth transition from the leadership, with the dignity he’s abundantly capable of.

    Lembit Öpik

  • Lembit Opik 6th May '12 - 3:15pm

    To ‘Hugh P’ I’d add that the data leads me to my conclusions, nothing else.

    Though I’ve summarised a small part of the findigns from our exhaustive research in my recently posted comment, I’d strongly advise you to have a look at our exposition in The Alternative View for the full picture.

    Essentially, there is an absolutely compelling LOGIC to having a change of leadership but not change of Deputy Prime Minister. It’s not helpful to personalise the issue – about me or about Nick – and we won’t be doing that. The collective interest ought to be the first consideration, and it is in this context in which we wrote our book – and which causes us to make the current recommendations regarding the leadership.

    While you’re perfectly entitled to hold a different view, I’m equally entitled to invite you to share your rationale and data for doing so.


  • I think Lembit makes some interesting points here and I hope there is some discussion of them rather than a personalization of the debate

  • Andrew Suffield 6th May '12 - 4:05pm

    I think that it’s not a question of many people not wanting a change of direction. One can only read LDV to see that many people do want change.

    It’s entirely possible to want change while agreeing with almost nothing that people have said in this thread. There are more than two possible opinions here.

  • Bill le Breton 6th May '12 - 4:19pm

    Lembit, I heard you make these points on the radio recently.

    First, I don’t think that ‘placing’ Nick Clegg somewhere outside of the leadership of the Party and in the role of Deputy Prime Minister will stop the invidious effect that he now has on a large part of the electorate who have reason to have lost trust in him. We are branded by his record. That will continue for at least the life of this Parliament and the election that follows, if not well beyond, even under your suggestion.

    Not only is anything he says, any position he adopts ‘contaminated’ by that mistrust but he continues to exacerbate this. We presume that he has nothing to fear from Leverson, but by joining Cameron as a core participant he demonstrates solidarity with the Prime Minister at the cost of making people suspicious of him and therefore of us. Another tactical blunder. Why should he need to know anything in advance if he has done nothing wrong? Your solution would not prevent tactical blundering damaging us.

    Secondly, we have earned the right in the Coalition for the Leader of our Party to hold a senior post in the Cabinet – at present as the Deputy Prime Minister. It is a logical position as, in parallel with the role of Prime Minister, it can have a roving brief and brings with it the job of speaking for the coalition in the absence or with the agreement of the Prime Minister.

    What I want is our Leader to use that position to advance Liberal Democracy. In other circumstances Clegg could have done that very well, but his tactical error over the early positioning of the Party in relation to the Cioalition partners – the love- in – and subsequent other breaches of trust listed in my piece have undermined his capacity to do that.

    Your suggestion increases the chances of a split party and does not reduce them.

  • Richard Dean 6th May '12 - 4:43pm

    Trust is irrelevant, Electorates look for results.

  • Lembit Opik 6th May '12 - 5:52pm

    Bill makes some interesting points regarding the splitting of roles. For reasons which are, once again, covered in our book, regarding commitments made in 2010, the mutual working relationship between Cameron and Clegg plus the party’s strong endorsement for Nick’s installation in that role for the full term, I’d be comfortable with the splitting of roles; but I welcome other views on this. Do you feel Bill is right? Or do you prefer the Leader and DPM to be different individuals, with Nick remaining as DPM?

    However, the core issue I have – and one I think a growing proportion of individuals now agree with – is that the leadership needs to pass on to someone able to focus explicitly on that job, without the distraction of being a government minister needing to accommodate the Tories at the same time. This also probably, but not definitely, means it should be someone without the baggage associated with the ‘Orange Bookers’ reputation for being in a different ‘quadrant’ of the Nolan Chart versus the party as a whole. Not being tainted by the Tuition Fees U-Turn would also be a consideration for many.

    In terms of this expanding intra-party dialogue, I suspect that once there is a recognition in leadership circles that remaining silent isn’t going to stop the debate, then ‘the usual suspects’ will be wheeled out to put the leader’s case by proxy. I assume that regular readers will be familiar with who those people are from past experience. On this occasion, I would be pleased to see some kind of perspective provided by the leadership, even by proxy. In fact, I strongly recommend it. As things stand, it seems that the case for a succession plan is moving towards a consensus position, even amongst people who have been reticent about this possiblitiy in the past. There have only been sporadic, relatively unstructured, statements of support for Nick’s leadership at present.

    Here are the questions I invite the leadership to answer, either directly, or thourgh one of their spokespeople:

    1 What is the game plan, under Nick’s leadership, to turn the party’s electoral fortunes around by May 2013?
    2 How will Nick plausibly convince the party he can deliver that plan?
    3 What’s Nick’s strategy to secure acceptable results in the European and General Elections, given that we currently have a much weakened Council base to deliver work ‘on the ground’ – and the so the crucial ‘air war’ must deliver much better poll ratings than it currently does?

    These answers really are necessary. Without them, I imagine that the current mood forming amongst a swathe of people, certainly in London, parts of Wales and Sheffield – places were I’ve recently spent time talking with activists about all this – will continue to grow in favour of a succession plan.

    LDV is meant to be a forum for the party, and it is important there is a sense of connection between those who take time to formulate sensible contributions on these tricky issues, and those in the Leadership to whom these contributions refer. I suspect the party’s on the move. All I’ve done is reflect why I believe it’s becoming restless for a change at the top. It would be wise for the Leadership to respond.


  • Richard Dean 6th May '12 - 6:08pm

    @Lembit, Sorry to come back so quick, but won’t the general public think it crazy? The Deputy PM will be seen to be not in command in his party, and the Party Leader will be seen to be not in command in the party’s part in government, Electorally it looks like the worst of all solutions!

  • I can agree with many of the points here. But it is a shame that problems with listening and communications (which I agree with) are essentially dressed up as offensive age-ism.

  • Steve Griffiths 6th May '12 - 8:59pm

    @Helen Tedcastle “I think that it’s not a question of many people not wanting a change of direction. One can only read LDV to see that many people do want change.”

    This pre-supposes that LDV is where the ‘lost activists’ and others of my persuasion would naturally turn to, to voice their frustration. I occasionally comment on this site, but many of us regard LDV as not the place it once was and seems to take a largely leadership supportive line. You need the activists to return to re-invigorate the local campaigns and get your party machine working again; without them you are lost. You have ignored their views and as a result it has cost you much of your local organisation. The Rose Garden love-in made us cringe; tuition fees made us depair before the Coalition had hardly begun, and this so called ‘greenest government ever’ has simply sent us packing.

    A top heavy party cannot stand. You need us to return, but you are doing nothing to encourage us.

  • Stephen Donnelly 6th May '12 - 8:59pm

    Lembit says : “There’s a consistent, broad proportionality between Lib Dem Council seats and General Election performance..” No there isn’t. The model is just a bit more complicated than that. Local success is driven by local campaigning and national popularity. The number of councillors is the the sum total of seats gained cover the electoral cycle. Success at a general election is driven by our national popularity at the time, supplemented by local strength. Local strength builds both credibility (important in First Past the Post) and workers. Your model is wrong, and therefore your conclusions are invalid. Another attention seeking boat rocker.

  • “Success at a general election is driven by our national popularity at the time, supplemented by local strength.”

    1997 – our national popularity fell but our seats increased
    2010 – our national popularity rose but our seats fell.

    I’m not sure your model is right either then!

  • Stephen Donnelly

    So if his model and conclusions are wrong what is your view on where you will be going forward. I assume you are in the paulbarker camp that all us ex-voters will see the error of our ways and come back with out tale between our legs and vote for you.

    I predict a GE result of 12-15% with you becoming a southern-dominated party with some isolated seats in the north based on incumbency

    Lembit’s questions that he asks above are the same ones I keep asking on here and all I see is the policy of wishful thinking

  • “‘The Alternative View: a way back for the Liberal Democrats’ (by Cllr Ed Joyce and Lembit Opik) provides a data driven analysis of the party’s current predicament.”

    The last time Ed Joyce appeared here with a data driven analysis of something he was claiming that you did really well in Montgomeryshire in 2010 and it was all Mick Bates fault. An analysis which was so wrong that you rubbished his claims and he disappeared from your Mayoral campaign. I’m not sure I’ll attach much credence to his analysis now.

  • “Trust is irrelevant, Electorates look for results.”

    Really. By 1997 the Tories had delivered several years of solid economic growth (pretty much as the promised in 1992). Remind me again how well they did and whether or not they were trusted?

    I agree with Bill – and between us we’ve won a lot of elections

  • Stephen Donnelly 6th May '12 - 9:26pm

    Hywel : I said ‘driven by’ , I was not foolish to claim proportionality in a first past the post system. My model took 60 seconds to think up, but is much closer to the Mark than Lembit’s. I am sure it could be refined.

  • Stephen Donnelly 6th May '12 - 9:43pm

    Bazzasc : To be fair, the questions do need answers, it is the ‘research’ that irritates me. I predict we will hold the balance of power again after the next election, and that the declining share of the vote enjoyed by the two old parties will lead to a period of unpredictable politics. We need steer a steady lIberal path through a period of change avoiding splits and U turns.

  • Stephen Donnelly

    My own gut feel is that there will be a hung Parliament as well but I am of the view that the British electoral system is absolutely unsuited to coalition Government as FPTP leads to such underrepresentation of the minor parties

    We could see a situation where the minor parties (and I include the LD in that) have 27% of the vote but 7% of the seats (I have just put in a guess voting breakdown in the UKPR calculator)

    If you do hold the balance of power I do not see how you can go into a Coalition with Labour, especially as you will be probably a southern and/or rural party . Also, with the rhetoric of your leaders I think you will find Labour are not keen on you by then. Can you see Clegg, Alexander and Laws in a Labour/LD coalition? I know a few Labour members and they despise you

    If you go in with the Tories you will no longer be an independent party, more an FDP of the UK with tqhe severe risk of a split.

    I have no solutions but see you existing in the current form post-2015 as unlikely

  • Andrew Suffield 6th May '12 - 10:02pm

    You need the activists to return to re-invigorate the local campaigns and get your party machine working again; without them you are lost.

    You appear to be under the impression that you are in the majority.

    many of us regard LDV as not the place it once was and seems to take a largely leadership supportive line

    Given this sort of “anybody who disagrees with me must be a crony of a top-heavy leadership that is suppressing the true will of the people” attitude, it’s easy to see how you arrived at your belief.

    But it’s very hard to take it seriously.

  • Stephen Donnelly 6th May '12 - 10:15pm

    Bazzasc : The idea that our system of government needs to be reformed, and that Britain needs constitutional change in order to be well governed is an the idea that unites the party. We need to show that coalition government can work, that is more important than short term populairty. Nobody joined the Liberal Democrats as a quick and easy way to power. We are used to difficult times and are much more resilient than you give us credit for. Labour will need to get used too holding their noses and working with others, they will probably not form a strong majority government again.

  • Richard Dean 6th May '12 - 10:36pm

    @Hywel. I don’t wish to be rude in any way, but the thinking you describe actually seems to have NOT delivered election success – because we have not formed the government. My memory is that, by 1997, the Tories had created so much chaos and strife in the country that many people simply wanted something different – it wasn’t about trust at all.

  • Re the comments by Adrian Saunders

    “You chose the latter without recognising that the position of Deputy Prime Minister is in the gift of the Prime Minister and simply cannot be divorced from whom the Liberal Democrat’s choose to be their Leader…….you are going to need to persuade the Prime Minister to sack Nick”

    I don’t believe that we should allow the Conservatives to dictate our choice of leader. We are an independent party and if we want to select our own leader we should be free to do so. This is about our independence as a party. This idea that we cannot replace our leader because Cameron won’t let us simply won’t be acceptable to the wider party. Even supporters of Nick within this thread are not backing the line that we need Cameron’s agreement.

    Re Hywels comments

    “Success at a general election is driven by our national popularity at the time, supplemented by local strength.”
    2010 – our national popularity rose but our seats fell
    I’m not sure your model is right

    Our analysis states that if we lose local councillors we tend to lose parliamentary seats. In 2010 we lost councillors and also lost parliamentary seats. The loss of parliamentary seats is unhelpful to our chances in 2015. We need a strategy to reverse these losses before next May.



    Ed Joyce

  • David Allen 6th May '12 - 10:49pm

    As an implacable long-standing opponent of Clegg and of coalition, you might expect me to say that the answer is easy. It isn’t. Andrew Rawnsley’s comments about the need not to act like headless chickens do deserve our respect. If we tug Cameron one way, just while the Peter Bone brigade tug the other way, it could all end up very messy.

    Bill le Breton does well to identify trust as the crucial question for the voting public. Alongside trust, and from the party professional point of view, I think we should also take a very hard look at judgment and competence.

    The decision to sign the NUS pledge on tuition fees was, of course, in no way a “right-wing” or “Orange Booker” stance. It was, however, a disastrous error of judgment. Who should take primary responsibility for that error?

    The decision to reach a coalition agreement in five days, and then let Lansley and Gove ride roughshod over its provisions, may owe more to the specific political beliefs of our leadership. Again, however, all shades of opinion within the Lib Dems can surely see that in terms of gaining public trust, that too was a disastrous error of judgment.

    Then we come to the Jeremy Hunt affair. In advocating that the Government should apply its standard procedure to investigate ministerial responsibility, Simon Hughes successfully hit a barn door. Our leader chose to dissent, to support the leave-it-to-Leveson line, and thus to provide active comfort and support to the Murdoch – Tory axis. What sort of judgment does that show?

    Lastly, we come to the proposed “renewal of marriage vows” between our party and the Tories. Rawnsley would no doubt approve of something like a declaration that we stck with unpopular policies because we believe they are right. But, is it good judgment to go the extra mile, and to rejoice in our alliance with the Tories?

    I think we should look at all these issues, not in terms of Social Liberal versus Orange Book, but in terms of a simple professional judgment of management performance. We should also recognise the critical need to develop a new, credible, independent position for the next General Election in only three years time. Can that be done without leadership change?

    What we should certainly not do is to anoint Paddy, or Ming, or anyone else, as the next leader in waiting. When a leader resigns, the next leader emerges after a contest in which the Party has time to examine exactly what it wants. The winner – who might be Jeremy Browne, who might be David Laws, who knows? – will be the person who can best articulate a way forward which will work, both through Coalition and to the end of Coalition.

    We should not envisage the revenge of the Left. That would be, in Rawnsley’s terms, to act like headless chickens. We should expect to see the return of consensualism to our Party. We should place our hope in rebuilding trust with the public. For that, we will assuredly need a new broom.

  • Andrew Suffield 6th May '12 - 11:21pm

    Ah, it’s nice to see that David Allen has brought the sane opposition to the table. I was beginning to lose hope for this thread.

    I’d agree with most of that. Where I diverge is on moving from analysis of errors to opposing Clegg.

    I’m not saying he’s doing the best job possible. I’m saying I don’t see a compelling alternative. The party has to be led by an MP, so Ashdown’s out. Huhne used to look promising, but is now problematic. Campbell was kicked out for a reason. Half of the front bench wouldn’t want the job even if it was offered. And it’s certainly not going to any ex-MPs of Baltic descent.

    I’d be happy to consider a credible alternative, I just don’t see one.

  • Tony Dawson 6th May '12 - 11:33pm

    I am trying to work out why the Liberal Democrats here are so enthusiastic about washing their linen in public. I have a feeling it can only be because private moves have got them nowhere at all.

  • Daniel Henry 7th May '12 - 12:05am

    Agreed with Andrew.

  • Bill le Breton 7th May '12 - 7:52am

    Thank you David and Andrew.

    I am sorry to sound like a cracked record with my constant referral to ‘trust’. You are right David to link the loss of trust to questions of competence.

    I have often argued here along those lines on specific errors of judgment and political naivety shown by the Leader and his team.

    Some errors or blunders are trust neutral. Others such as the ones that David lists taken together have destroyed the ability of Clegg to function as a leader. We saw that a year ago when his entry into the referendum worsened the situation.

    For Clegg, I don’t think this situation can be turned round although I do have one idea that might do ‘the trick’, but that is for another time and place.

    A negative image is extremely ‘sticky’. It ‘sticks’ long after reality has changed and it ‘sticks’ to things and people associated with the cause of the original negativity.

    What is required is an image-changing ‘shock’ that reaches out and brings the image up-to-date.

    Henry, I was trying to illustrate this with my ‘ageism’ and my ‘sexism’. We cannot change these perceptions by moving to someone who has the look and feel of the incumbent, especially when it would also waste the chance of an advantageous differentiation with Messers. Cameron and Miliband, at a time when they share the unpopularity of our present leader.

    Why ‘drastic action’? Because the closer we get to 2015 the stronger will be the case that there is too little time to do anything. Drastic action in a cancer ward is not the action of a headless chicken. Procrastination is life threatening.
    The Labour Party knew Brown had become a liability, but dithered into defeat.

    (Andrew, I think from the position that we are in, the Party must allow our MPs to make that decision on our behalf, selecting the person they think offers the best hope in a single meeting. Which is why I refuse to speculate or suggest a name.)

    I once played a part in turning round the image of a great city, the image of which was tainted and remained tainted long after its reality had changed. We ‘gambled’ on a strategy that would either accelerate the process of image-change or further undermine our reputation by the gamble’s failure. Many advised caution and a gradualist approach.

    We took the gamble and won. We changed the way that the City was seen by the outside world and, importantly, greatly enhanced the confidence, the pride, the spirit, the camaraderie and the entrepreneurialism of its citizens.

  • Lib Dem Party Member 7th May '12 - 9:07am

    To paraphrase Gladstone on Macauley: “I wish I was as sure about anything as Bill Le Breton is certain about everything.” Here’s a suggestion from one liberal, namely me. Shall we try to encourage the world to stop stigmatising whole groups of people with perjorative expressions like “posh boys in suits”? What is wrong with being young, male and wearing a suit? What are these people supposed to wear when they go to work, if not a suit? Do women and older men not wear suits? As to “posh” (real or imagined), how is any young man supposed to retrospectively alter the class background of the parents to whom he happens to have been born? Are some of our women and older men not also “posh”?

    Also, Bill, when you are ask our leaders to seek advice from the party’s eminences grise, do you have any particular older people in mind? Could one of them conceivably be yourself? Your piece does, unfortunately, have a slight hint of: “It should have been me, me I tell you.”

    Your opinions about what we do next are just that, opinions, but they are expressed with a tone of such certitude as to suggest that they are not opinions, but facts. They are not facts. They are opinions. You might be right. You might be wrong. Have you seen in-depth, private polling on the Rose Garden double act? I have not. I believe (rightly or wrongly) that a lot of people really liked the Rose Garden thing out there among the general public, so it’s a good idea to do it again. I might be wrong, of course – just my opinion!

  • philip wren 7th May '12 - 9:50am

    The idea that trust is not important is a nonsense.

    At the last General Election having made promises that we would not put up tution fees the HQ of my party was awash with students.

    In the recent council elections we were back to the handful of young people who are solidly committed to Lib Dem values and policy.

    At a stroke we lost a swathe of young people who would have been the activists not just for this but the next generation.

    It matters that we didn’t have the young people to deliver our leaflets, leaving the candidates doing it when they should have been door knocking.

    Labour were able to overwhelm us with numbers of committed angry people and we now face a long haul in rebuilding our base.

    When I door knocked all I heard was, Nick Clegg.

    Bill is spot on and as someone who saw a brilliant, hard working leader of our local party defeated on national issues I think we have a right to ask, what do we need to do to regain the electorates trust?

  • Richard Dean 7th May '12 - 11:19am

    @philip wren. IMO trust is far too flimsy to be relied on. It is also a well know tool of confidence tricksters. People elect on the basis of what they think politicians will do in the future. But the desertions you saw were not about the future – they were reactions to the decision not to support students. They were part of the war strategy used by that part of the student army to create the pressure to win what they wanted.

    It’s nice and cosy to be trusted, but to sway voters we need credible policies. David Allen’s concepts of judgment and competence must also be very high on voter’s agenda. We also need to be seen to listen, to be affected by what we hear, and to have the kind of support that is so distrustful of us that it is willing to take those kinds of drastic actions to keep us on course.

  • Having read all that I am now exhausted.! Bill has only one good point, ie that older people have wisdom that should not be dismissed, (I am not holding my breath for the invite)but we need to realise that our ideas are based on the past and that the world, and campaigning techniques in particular, have moved on. Trust is important at a personal level, but the media treat politicians the same as estate agents, and having been both I know how that feels. The vendor wants you to be dishonest, the buyer assumes that you are, and that applies equally to politicians. We shall not escape that loop until we change our means of communication with the public, ie the media. Whilst we all ‘need’ the media as a part of our campaigning strategy, and whilst they remain so strongly partisan, freedom without responsibility, we shall go nowhere.
    Ed Joyce’s idea that ‘Conservatives choose our leader’ displays a basic misunderstanding of the structure of the Cabinet, so I lose any vague interest in the book, except for one idea that Lembit recycles: the separation of DPM and Party Leader. We already have that in the sense that NIck is the political leader of the Party, ie the leader of the parliamentary party, and by implication our elected councillors too; but the leader of the membership at large is of course our President, and yes in that he is right, we need to make far more of the role of our President in promoting the views of the ordinary members. Lets see and hear more of the straight talking Tim Farron.

    The biggest problem for me in reading the comments of anyone labelled ‘ALDC’ is that this is a closed shop union who does nothing for the terms and conditions of its members, and treats their personal allowances as public property by demanding a levy. Yes there should be an organisation of councillors, to which all councillors should automatically have basic membership for free but, having now taught street politics to all, its time to move up a gear.

  • You may well have a point that people vote on what they think politicians will do in the future but then surely trust is intrinsic to this assessment… If one doesn’t trust that the politician will follow through on promises and proposals then placing faith in what the politician will do in the future becomes increasingly remote.

  • * the last comment is in response to @richard dean

  • Bill le Breton 7th May '12 - 12:45pm

    Your idea of the implied distrust in the relationship between politician and elector is fascinating, Peter.

    No doubt we can all see the parallels with Estate Agents, but do you not think that in conducting this ‘role play’ together there is also an similarly implied understanding that the politician should not allow him or herself to be ‘caught out’ – that there is a threshold beyond which the politician and the vendor must not step? That the blind eye suddenly regains its sight and its annoyance? And of course it is a function of opponents to endeavour to point out that that boundary has been overstepped. Once this is ‘revealed’ an elector’s previous part in the ‘conspiracy’ may make them all the more virtuous in their ire – ‘duck houses’.

    I have not been a member of the ALDC committee for around 15 years. So, I do not speak for them. But I hope one of their members or staff will respond to your concerns.

  • This coalition was rushed together. Nick Clegg should have protested and not voted for increases in tution fees, but, defending & voting for our position on income tax thresholds. We lost a lot of left leaning voters, but still didn’t do too bad in LD v CONS fights. Here lies the problem: If the economy gets worse the Tories take us down with them. If the government succeeds then those LD-CONS marginals can get harder to defend.
    We should as a party insert our values into every debate, after all the Tories are complete hypercrites when they say theirs is the party for capitalism when they undermine capital with inflation and low interest rates, and currencies not linked to gold standard!! They allow the financial derivatives to destroy real capital investments causing a repeat of the 1929 W St crash in 2008. There is space to present a people’s capitalism free from spectative derivatives and over leveraged debts in assets, housing and everyday living.

  • Richard Dean 7th May '12 - 12:56pm

    @Simon. I distrust trust. Trust is woolly thinking, It attracts confidence tricksters. It encourages complacency. It lulls people into a feeling that they’ve got their point across when they haven’t. It prevents people from speaking up quickly when things atart to go awry. None of these things is good for democracy, or for developing the robustness that we need if we are to succeed over time. Better to be realistic, recognize and accept that all voters distrust all politicians, have supporters who distrust you totally, learn to handle it, and learn to develop policies and practices that can succeed in that reality.

  • What I find sad is how many weather cocks there are and so few signposts. I’m not saying we shouldn’t listen to what the elections tell us nor totally ignore the media hyperbole but I do think we need to show some resilience in the face of adversity. We’ve done it before and we can do it again! The problem is we need to feel what we are doing is right and I’m not sure everyone is really clear about the aims and strategy. Our communication externally and internally is abysmal. Not helped by a media whose default is generally anti-lib Dem but we have to get tougher and find ways of setting the agenda rather than always being on the backfoot. If we can’t do that now when we are so important to the way day to day politics plays out then it’s a pretty poor do. I don’t think everything about coalition is bad. We’ve achieved some good things but equally we have made some mistakes (communicating over the tuition fees issue being our biggest). A week is a long time in politics and there is time to turn it round but we have to stay united and battle from within. However I think personal attacks don’t do us any good either on sites like this. We are a party that believes in pluralism, diversity and democracy and we should embrace that. Pillorying, caricaturing and humiliating Lembit is ugly. I don’t agree with him in this instance but he’s entitled to his opinions. And don’t forget he, like the rest has put in a lifetime of work for the liberal cause and he deserves some respect even if you don’t agree with what he says.

  • @Ed Joyce
    “Our analysis states that if we lose local councillors we tend to lose parliamentary seats. In 2010 we lost councillors and also lost parliamentary seats. ”

    In 1997 we lost Councillors and also gained Parliamentary seats.
    In 2001 we lost Councillors and also gained Parliamentary seats.

  • Richard Boyd 7th May '12 - 3:53pm

    Oh Bill!

    A zephyr of fresh air, and invogorating oxygen, in the gales of anger and frustration that have swept around in the past few days. Grey hairs? I wish that I still had enough to be counted, but I am of that generation that seeded the growth of
    community based politics, where trust was created over years, and voter loyalty slowly and loyally grew. I do not see the past as golden, and old as I am, I am not colour challenged with rose tinted spectacles. What I saw, and see, was encapsulated at the NLC anniversary bash for the Orpington event in 1962. Before the old and new guards ( the latter from George Street I guess ) entered for the food and speeches, we saw a re-run of Joe Grimond’s 1962 party broadcast. For those of us who remember black and white single source TV, his simple message was direct and sincere.
    “Labour sees everything as not working. Tories see everything as being in order. We see the reality that change not destruction is the route forward.” Oh what a chuckle that was for the fresh-out-of-uni whizz kids! Yes, it was 50 years ago, and times change as does technology, but plain honest sincere speaking never loses it’s shine. At the dinner that followed, we heard from a selection of war horses, then from the President. All, in their own way, showed conviction and passion. What did the Georg e Street nerds do? One sat with his Blackberry wrapped in a cupola of napkins, to watch football. Those with the dirt of life under their fingernails may not be as quick and those who are lightfingered with better access to data and concepts – but we all carry the scars from when we got it wrong, and know what not to do next time. We sold the concept that we were different, straight, and perhaps idealistic – we are perceived as sellers of snake oil. We are not .The party is still what it was and should be; we have Ministers that share the field experience, like Bill, from ALC and ALDC, We have only 10 months to re-establish the reputation created over 30 years.

    Bill, well said, and thank you!

    Yesterday’s man

  • I trust Bill Le-Breton’s, Peter Chegwyn and Adrian Saundrs’s judgement. They say it all for me and ,I suspect, the majority ofactivists.

  • Richard Dean 7th May '12 - 4:09pm

    Today, Tories want to help business and let Big Society sort out its consequent problems alone. Labour wants to coddle Big Society and let business sort out its consequent problems alone. LibDems hopefully see that a proper balance is the way forward. We recognize that the game is not zero-sum, and that business and society both benefit in acceptable ways if government acts responsibly to support both.

  • I’m with Richard and Peter – I think trust is vastly overrated in terms of electoral success. People say they want to trust politicians in the same way they say they don’t respond to negative campaigning. In reality people vote for whoever they think is most likely to a) improve their standard of living and b) improve society (usually in that order of importance).

    Not that that offers us any comfort since wallets are being squeezed all over the place and things don’t look likely to improve much by 2015. But this focus on the people who present our public face isn’t going to address our real problems. 

    We lost support partly because of austerity and partly because we never had the support some people thought we had in the first place. In the 80s and 90s our vote was inflated by disaffected Tories who wanted to kick the government but couldn’t bring themselves to vote Labour. After 1997/2001 they mostly went back home and we instead began to attract a similar type of disaffected Labour voter. They’ve also gone back home and would have done so coalition or no coalition. 

    We’ve got so comfortable relying on protest votes and unhappy soft Labour / soft Tory votes that we’ve never really focussed on building up a solid constituency of our own, leaving us with about 10-15% of voters who might describe themselves as Lib Dem and actually mean it.

    Now I’m not saying the leadership haven’t made mistakes – tuition fees was a debacle that could and should have been foreseen and avoided. And a change of leader may well be necessary in 2014/15 in the runup to the general election. And if Vince is up for it I’d be delighted for the new leader to have grey hair.

    But let’s not kid ourselves that a new face at the top will magically fix everything. That’s what Labour did after 2005 and look what happened – sure, Blair wasn’t trusted, but he was still an electoral asset no matter what their activists thought. If they’d kept him they might still be in power. 

    We need to convince voters that we’ve made a difference in a way that has materially improved their lives. That’ll be a tough – perhaps impossible – sell amid continuing austerity (Mervyn King warned that whoever governed during this period would be out of power for a generation). But that’s the only way forward, and if we can’t do it we could have Kate Middleton as our leader and we’d still sink like a stone. 

    So far one of the most perceptive election-aftermath comments I’ve seen was Tim Leunig pointing out that the fact that the US, Germany and France are all back in growth despite the Eurozone crisis is a strong critique of Osbornomics. Can Nick back up Vince and get Osborne to change course?

  • Peter Chegwyn 7th May '12 - 6:24pm

    Thank you to BrianD for his kind comments and to Richard Boyd for an excellent piece.

    If, as Richard says, we don’t re-establish the reputation we’ve created over 30 years then we are heading for the electoral precipice in future local and national elections.

    We’ve already lost far too many excellent councillors and dedicated activists. We can’t afford to keep losing more.

    I’m amazed at those on the right of the Party who keep saying that we’ve no choice but to continue with more of the same policies and broken promises at national level. How often do the electorate have to speak before some people listen?

    As for the notion that another Cameron:Clegg ‘love-in’ in the No. 10 Rose Garden will help to anything other than alienate even more of our core activists and voters, words fail me.

    We need to start distancing ourselves from toxic Conservatives, not embrace them.

  • Peter Chegwyn 7th May '12 - 6:32pm

    P.S. to Catherine. We DID start to build up a constituency of our own prior to 2010, particularly among young people (the voters of tomorrow), partly by opposing the Iraq War, partly by opposing tuition fees. And we all know what happened then on tuition fees which brings us back to Bill Le Breton’s point about the need to restore trust in the Lib. Dems. by the electorate.

    There are times when the public form an opinion that they don’t like a particular Leader and nothing that Leader does thereafter can change their opinion. It happened with John Major. It happened with Gordon Brown. After six weeks of listening to the public while campaigning for the local elections, I fear the same has happened with Nick Clegg.

  • Neil Newman 7th May '12 - 8:05pm

    trust develops. Even now, LD spokespeople, on QT and this week, manage to maintain in the Public’s minds there is more to the LibDems than just Clegg and the Tory-Shield. The voters who trust you on that, are the potential Green voters who still respond to that local LibDem organisation, probably even have personal connections and a recognition of well done jobs in many LD Councils. The Greens still do not have a National organisation, nor the association with a wide range of issues in the general Public’s mind.

    the lost activist generation mentioned earlier, mainly due to the student loans disastrous U-turn (disastrous both for the Party and also the intellectually-aspirational young, who now face a life-time of debt for their educations), have gone elsewhere. Guess where?

    the Party is in dire straits, and it must needs reconnect with that younger generation to have a future at all. Another collusion of Clegg was to allow the Tories to change the UK constitution so they remain in power even as a minority Govt losing VoNoConf. The Tories didn’t need the LibDems after that, except to pass the Welfare State privatisation measures. The Public won’t forget all this whilst Clegg is still leader, nor are any current or former Ministers untainted enough to take his place. Not even Vincible Vince.

    trust comes from having good policies, and honestly following them. All 3 are useful for winning elections, unless you have friends who own national media, and we all know the LDs don’t. LibDems build trust the hard way, and that is a strength of the Party. There is now a Francois Hollande sized hole to the left of miliLabour, that a new LD leader could fill.

  • I’m not sure if I have anything useful to contribute, but as a disillusioned Lib Dem ex-member there are a couple of things I can think of.

    If anyone here is thinking that there is a ‘solution’ to the current predicaments faced by the party, they are wrong. The goal of Lib Dem MPs should be, from now on, to keep their heads down and avoid making any further mistakes. Realistically there won’t be a recovery before the next election, and it should be accepted that the Lib Dems will do relatively badly, but they will not be obliterated.

    Kicking Clegg out now or encouraging a leadership struggle won’t do anyone any good. Yes, Clegg has been incompetent and on several occasions, for his own undisclosed reasons, has also led the parliamentary party in a direction that runs contrary to the wishes of very many (and in some cases the clear majority) of lib dem party members and voters.

    Now Clegg may have had perfectly good reasons for his behaviour (and may have even been acting in the national interest), although I personally think he is incompetent, but he has never, as far as I can tell, attempted to properly justify himself to Lib Dem voters or members. Instead he has just kept telling lib dems how great the party’s ‘achievements’ are, even when these ‘achievements’ consist of policies directly opposed by the lib dems at the last election. The more sensible thing to have done would be to apologise, to talk of compromise, strait-forwardly attempt to explain why these policies were necessary, or even to have not even attempted to justify himself at all.

    It doesn’t matter so much now, the damage has been mostly done over the most high-profile policy decisions made by the government, but he should probably bear in mind that telling people who have voted for one set of policies that another set of policies, decided apparently unilaterally by himself and his circle, are the ‘right’ ones, and that these voters should be happy with them, is simply patronising and irritating.

    Clegg, of course, should be ditched after the next election, but doing so before hand will simply compound the lib dem’s troubles. They have lost the trust of a significant number of voters and activists, and turned a future generation of professionals against them, and there is nothing they can really do that will regain that trust except wait. Now that this trust has been lost, the worst thing the party could do would be to appear weak, incompetent and engage in the unedifying spectacle venal infighting. All this will do is cement in the minds of potential voters that not only are the lib dems as untrustworthy as the other parties, but that they are also as ill-disciplined and unworthy of government.

    So it will take years for the lib dems to return to the position they were in before 2010, and there is a possibility that will never happen again as they now have too limited a demographic to appeal too. There are not enough straight centrist or centre-right liberals in the country to get the lib dems elected again into government, and the wishy-washy liberal left demographic that now will vote Green or Labour (and who now are often referred to by some on the right of the party as ‘protest voters’, even though these swing votes will likely win Labour the next election outright) is out of reach for years. There is not much that can be done about that, the aim now should be to prevent the party from self-destructing or from obliterating itself by engaging in internecine fighting and making further errors.

    At my most optimistic I do see a scenario which may arise soon that the lib dems could benefit from. Rawnsley in his article rightly noted that the lib dems in general have managed to keep their heads attached even after some pretty grevious losses on May 3rd. The Tories on in many ways have shown themselves to be thoroughly illiberal, dishonest, incompetent and corrupt these last few years, and are now squabbling some more amongst themselves. Whilst in some ways the uniformity in the voting of lib dem MPs has been thoroughly depressing, it does show at least that the parliamentary party is well disciplined and disinclined to air grievances in public. It shows maturity in other words, something, despite the Conservatives long record of government, they apparently sorely lack. If the Tories continue to accelerate in their depravity then the lib dems might come off looking like the more competent and responsible of the two parties at the next election, and if David Cameron andTories are pushed further to the right by their back benchers there is the possibility of more centrist Tory voters defecting to the lib dems. Still, my above point still stands that there is nothing much the lib dems can proactively do to actually regain votes, although they may benefit from circumstances outside their control.

  • David Allen 7th May '12 - 11:02pm

    Catherine said:

    “I think trust is vastly overrated in terms of electoral success. People say they want to trust politicians in the same way they say they don’t respond to negative campaigning.”

    This is partly true. Just to take one example, there is nothing much that Ed Miliband could do right now to change the extent to which people trust him. Indeed, if he were to rant on for too long about his trustworthiness, he would probably only have the voters counting their spoons.

    What does matter is distrust, born of bitter experience. When a politician has promised one thing and then done its opposite, credibility is lost, probably permanently.

    People won’t shift from Lib Dem to Labour because they deeply trust Ed Miliband. They will be prepared to make that shift if they deeply distrust Nick Clegg.

  • Bill le Breton 8th May '12 - 7:12am

    May I thank all the contributors, everyone of whom has made this thread a fascinating journey. It must surely be on its last leg. Sometime today it will slip from the front page into the obscurity and an extra click!

    How fitting that the culminating comment should bring the debate about the role of trust in political movement to a (temporary) close by reminding us that it is ‘distrust’ that is the signifier. That is clearly so and a more precise description of what has happened.

    On reflection, therefore, I still believe that a change of leadership is necessary and necessary now. I believe the situation is so dire that the Party should give its President the right to act of its behalf by ratifying a decision made by the Party in the House of Commons.

    The Leader, for the first time in many years has powerful patronage at his disposal, and so our MPs would have to be brave even to ask for that responsibility, but the Party needs them to be brave. If, as their first decision, they said, ‘No need for change’. I for one would shut up.

    But until such time I shall continue in the opinion that radical, visible, dramatic change both politically (policy and philosophy) and culturally (symbolism, look and feel) is necessary.

    It will be a long time before I forget the contribution, above, from an old Orpington stager – Richard Boyd – and his description of the lack of respect and willingness to listen of a young employee furtively watching football on an iphone while others paid their tribute to and learnt from a generation who refused to allow the Liberal Party to die and fought against all odds to win.

    It is from the vantagee point on their shoulders that the rest of us peer into the future.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th May '12 - 10:27am

    Paul Murray

    Nick Clegg won the party many new supporters during the debates by speaking as a Liberal Democrat and sounding like a genuine, radical Liberal.

    There was a brief rise in support after the first debate, but we dropped after that. At least some of that rise in support was due to campaigning kicking off at local level rather than the debate. This factor was not reported in the national media because the national media thinks of politics as just the personalities in Westminster. So I suggest Clegg was of much less value even at that point than has been written up. He attracted some interest in the first debate, mainly because he was a novelty, most people were hardly aware of his existence until then. It probably worked out badly that his impact was over-played at that point because it made his performances in the later debates look worse. I didn’t watch the first debate, but from the reports expected to see something remarkable when I watched the later ones. Instead, Clegg came across as stumbling, missing many good points, if not much worse than the other two, certainly no better. I suspect if I had not been led by the reporting to expect much better, it would not have seemed so bad.

    In the last two years Nick Clegg has lost the party many old supporters (and now much of its activist base which might never be recovered) by speaking as a Coalitionist and sounding like a Conservative apologist.

    Yes, I think Lembit does have a point (I made the same much earlier, not long after the coalition was formed) that there is a conflict of interest between being the Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition dominated by another party and in being the party leader. It would be extremely difficult to change that arrangement now, but it’s something we need to bear in mind in future. I can accept the DPM has to show a public face of some loyalty to the cabinet he’s in, and that means he can’t speak independently putting what would be the pure Liberal Democrat view on issues.

    It is made worse by the fixation of the media as politics being all about the Westminster personalities. So it is assumed the Liberal Democrats are a Nick Clegg fan club and that if he has become semi-Tory so have all of us. One of the worst thing about the current situation is the way all of us Liberal Democrats are getting attacked as if we were all in 100% agreement with what Clegg is saying in his DPM role. It’s good to hear there were one or two places where the party did better than average in the local elections this year after a campaign which very explicitly noted disagreement in the party locally with Clegg. However, I am sure many of those councillors who lost their seats because people wanted to “punish Nick Clegg” were people who are very firm opponents of Nick Clegg and the rightward drift of the party he has encouraged.

    Again, Cleggmania damaged use here, because it served to build the idea of the party as a leader fan club, just after we were finally shaking that off thanks to the way Charles Kennedy led the party.

    With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that we should have had an “arms length” relationship with the Conservatives, but instead Clegg chose to embrace them in order to show that “Coalition could work”.

    What “hindsight”? Sorry, but many people, myself included, made it very clear right at the start that though we accepted the balance in parliament meant a coalition with the Conservatives had to be accepted, the “love in” image of it that the party’s leadership insisted was used was a bad tactical mistake. By making us seem equal partners in what was always going to be a government in which we had only limited influence, it was signing us up to take half the blame without having anything like half the influence.

    I am tired, and actually rather angry, at the stream of articles we have had from defenders of the leadership on the lines “we were like small furry animals, we didn’t know what it would be like when we cuddled up to the dinosaurs”. Oh, come on – those of us who have had experience of balance of power situations in local government knew exactly what would happen to us, and said so. It was never going to be easy, but poor tactics at the top from people who wouldn’t listen to those who had this sort of experience made it worse. I think this is what Bill le Breton was getting at – Nick Clegg has surrounded himself by people who don’t have experience of grass roots campaigning, and so have made easily avoidable mistakes. I remember another remark from Clegg about how he just did not realise how unpopular the Conservatives were amongst many people in the country, particularly in the north. Sorry, but this is not a “hindsight” thing, it’s a sign of someone who lacked essential knowledge and experience for the job.

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