Opinion: View from the doorsteps of Eastleigh

Eastleigh railwayman statue - Some rights reserved by Mr. Ducke

It was a warm, sunny spring with just odd showers in May in Eastleigh. We had unbelievably good local election results. Twelve months on from the County elections, that in turn had followed on from the Eastleigh by-election, when UKIP gained 50% of the County seats in the Parliamentary seat, we expected to lose seats.  The odds were that at least five and potentially seven seats could go out of the thirteen we were defending.  In the end, we won all thirteen.

This does not tell the story. On almost every doorstep we had to explain that people had two votes and that the one vote that mattered was the local vote. Any other response would have pushed solid local votes to UKIP or the Conservatives. Two themes emerged.

Disconnection. This was the core of the UKIP vote.  People who wanted to protest, but considered that the Lib Dems and the Conservatives were the establishment. They knew “Labour can’t win here”. That only left UKIP. As a party in Eastleigh we have only won all these years, in the bad times as well as the good, by being a party of power and a party of protest, standing up for the disempowered against the establishment. Nationally our message has become that we are the establishment. Cameron stole our message of European reform instead of status quo.  People know we are pro-Europe. We needed to tell them what we would change. This is our natural territory. We are a party of change, of protest, of it must be better. If we don’t turn this round, we are lost.

Trust. This was a much sharper problem than at any point since 2011. Symbolically it was evidenced by tuition fees. Essentially, it says that the Liberal Democrats cannot be trusted nationally even if we can be trusted locally. Sadly, it is personified in Nick. It may not be a co-incidence that Nick’s profile was high in the May 2011 elections (AV referendum) and the May 2014 elections (Euro vote) but was less so in 2012 and 2013. With a key segment of 2010 Lib Dem voters, Nick is toxic. This is almost certainly true to an extent of Vince, and Danny, albeit most disconnected voters don’t know who he is. Too often we heard on the doorsteps, “we’ll vote for you locally, but we’ve not made our mind up for next year; you’ve got work to do”.  Very 1992.

How does this sum up?

We have to be a party of change, not a party of the establishment. A strong economy and a fair society is a well-researched message. It won’t work if voters are not prepared to listen.  If the electorate are to listen to us, we need to listen to them first.

There’s a cold, stormy winter to come.  What’s in store next spring is in our hands.
Photo of the Eastleigh railwayman statue by Mr Ducke

* Cllr Keith House has been Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council since 1994.

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50 Comments

  • Steve Comer 1st Jun '14 - 10:40am

    Spot on Keith.
    It would be easy for you to post something smug having done so well, but you have said about Eastleigh chimes exactly with my experience in Bristol, and no doubt the experiences of others, at least in towns and cities. You also have the advantage of having UKIP as an organized presence in your are for longer than most of us.

    ‘Where we work we win is true’, but not completely, it only works where we can conquer the issues of disconnection and trust to which you refer so eloquently! I hope people keep hammering these two points in the messages they send back to the ‘review’into the elections.

  • Bill le Breton 1st Jun '14 - 10:48am

    Hope Paddy reads this Keith

  • Spot on!

  • Max Wilkinson 1st Jun '14 - 11:08am

    Key analysis that neatly sums up our predicament, as well as that of our leader.

    Well done for writing it, but I suspect people will want a solution.

  • Brenda Lana Smith 1st Jun '14 - 11:17am

    Sadly, party grandee Paddy’s bullyboy attitude on the 2014-06-01 Andrew Marr show did nothing to enhance our party’s unity or electability…

  • edna murphy 1st Jun '14 - 11:20am

    Keith this is very clear, thank you.
    Max, I think the solution is clear too.

  • Shaun Cunningham 1st Jun '14 - 11:28am

    Keith

    In Eastleigh you bucked the trend, you kept UKIP at bay and yet you are confirming what those of us who have knocked doors in the last 6 weeks know, like or not Nick is Toxic to many. It’s no good others burying their heads in the sand in hope all will be well. Your quote “If the electorate are to listen to us, we need to listen to them first”

    Nick Clegg voted least popular party leader in modern British history, not my words or thoughts by the thoughts of the electorate.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/nick-clegg/10867964/Nick-Clegg-voted-least-popular-party-leader-in-modern-British-history.html

    Ok ..it’s one poll, but we are seeing the same picture time after time. Does this party have to wait until the morning of the 8 May 2015 before we act after witnessing another calamity. This party needs to be strong, it needs to be decisive, it needs to be absolute in bringing the party back to a position where the public will start listening to us again , to start the process of reconnecting to the electorate so they will vote for us. Above all this party needs to stop believing we can simply go on in the same mould which has delivered defeat after defeat and will continue to deliver defeat until this party have the strength of purpose to see that change is not an act of self-indulgence but necessary if we are to be taken seriously once again. I really do believe the trappings of government and political power has clouded peoples judgement, it’s time those in Westminster stop being selfish and put the party’s interests before their own. It’s time for change.

  • Excellent piece. Spot on that being a party in power doesn’t mean stopping being a party of protest. There so much we want to change – whether we’re in power or not – that we should never stop with the protesting.

  • @ Shaun Cunningham

    It’s time for change, is it? Change to what, exactly?

    What policies can we offer that we aren’t already that are actually affordable, given the need for major cuts in the next five years and the fact we will have even fewer MPs with which to bargain in any potential future coalition next year?

    Which leader can we choose who will face up to the barrage of media hostility and scapegoating, who doesn’t have major drawbacks in terms of age or experience or lack of public profile?

    I would echo much of what was said in Keith House’s post about disconnection and lack of trust in the Lib Dems. But we have to face up to the fact that WE as a party voted for the policy on tuition fees. Nick Clegg did not impose the policy on us. But it wasn’t affordable and it wasn’t deliverable in the context of a minority party in coalition with a much larger Tory grouping.

    And when they talk about trust, all parties have policies they’ve failed to deliver on. Do the voters talk about trust when they mention the policies of Labour and “no more boom and bust” of which Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, was a major architect? The much vaunted fiscal and economic “prudence” of which Labour talked was nothing of the kind. Yet somehow Labour is let off the hook on this most fundamental of betrayals, while uniquely among all the parties we have been singled out for special treatment, despite only having one eleventh of the MPs in parliament with which to deliver the policies we wanted.

    Because the UK public is totally unused to coalition politics, it has been unable to make the leap to understanding that minority parties can’t get all the policies they want onto the statute books. Unless we can communicate what we have been able to achieve and be realistic with people about what we can do in future, we will not have a chance of retaining our MPs next year.

  • Stephen Yolland 1st Jun '14 - 12:13pm

    Libdems4change.org

    Will Eastleigh be convening a special general meeting to canvass a leadership change? It would be highly newsworthy and appropriate to see such a successful constituency considering the issue.

  • @RC While I recognise that the manifesto promise was expensive, please run through for me how expensive it would have been to keep the pledge – i.e. freeze tuition fees. My rough calculation is that it would cost, er, nothing. What’s your calculation? Would it have cost more, or less, than David Cameron’s ‘core vote’ pledge of keeping goodies for rich pensioners?

  • Shaun Cunningham 1st Jun '14 - 12:57pm

    @RC

    Are you defending the current position? May I ask what doors have you been knocking in the last 8weeks. My experience in the ward I fought echoes precisely the message Keith in his excellent article portrays, and if you were honest it would be the message coming from your ward. My ward is not a oasis.

    Regarding the message, it’s like switching on a computer, if the computer does not boot into the OS system and therefore allows the computer to communicate you can press all the buttons on the keypad in any sequence and it won’t help a dot. One needs to get into the computer and change some code.

    I getting rather tired of this sound bite, there’s no one else. I bet you if this party was to run a leadership race out of he shadows would emerge a candidate of real character and real potential, you may not recognise the face at present but he or she would most certainly emerge. Are we really saying there’s only one personal which can lead us. I don’t believe that for one second and nor should you. God for bid if Nick was to fall under a bus, what would the answer be?

    Please remember we have lost 1700 good hard working Councillors since 2010. We now have the lowest local government base since 1980. We now have just one EMP.

  • RC 1st Jun ’14 – 12:02pm…… The much vaunted fiscal and economic “prudence” of which Labour talked was nothing of the kind. Yet somehow Labour is let off the hook on this most fundamental of betrayals, while uniquely among all the parties we have been singled out for special treatment, despite only having one eleventh of the MPs in parliament with which to deliver the policies we wanted….

    What? I don’t believe that a single week has gone by without a speech from LibDems/Tory/UKIP containing a reference to Labour’s ‘Boom and Bust’….As far as unique treatment goes, try, “The man who hated Britain”..”Red Ed’s pledge to bring back socialism is a homage to his Marxist father..”….Now that’s what I call ‘media hostility’…

  • Anthony Hawkes 1st Jun '14 - 2:57pm

    Anyone who was in Eastleigh for the previous elections surely remembers how close UKIP came. Another two weeks and.. All credit to an excellent local organisation who delivered such a resounding success.

    This article really does nail it and, slightly at a tangent, could we interest Keith House in standing as our next President?

  • Shaun Cunningham 1st Jun '14 - 3:08pm

    Liberal Democrats plotting to remove Nick Clegg as party leader should “stop it now”, Lord Ashdown has said.

    He told the BBC that those seeking to oust Mr Clegg were motivated by “deep malice” and had made “a bad situation worse” after poor election results.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27654959

    What a comment. It’s like being at school, behave everyone. Dear oh dear.

  • Thanks, Keith – an extremely constructive, candid recognition of how things stand at the moment.

  • Adam Robertson 1st Jun '14 - 5:32pm

    I think Eastleigh, have been successful in having a council leader like Keith House, who connects with the general public as ordinary people. Unfortunately, this has not been replicated around the country, despite Nick Clegg, trying his best in my view. I do think at the present moment, Nick, can be perceived as toxic. However, as Andrew Rawnsley, put in the Observer, he is the best option available to us under the current circumstances. It would look foolish for a party, which believes in coalition government, to replace its leader because it does not like the current coalition. How would the electorate react to that?

    I think RC is right to mention that the general public are unused to coalition governments, In where, two parties form a government. I think we are seeing a “paradigm shift” in British Politics, in where at least four parties are seen as major in all parts of the country. This is going to lead more coalitions in the long run. Although, Nick will be unpopular now, I believe he will be remembered as the pioneer of coalition and compromise politics in this country. However, I understand, he will be highly synonymous with Tuition Fees.

  • RC – ‘Because the UK public is totally unused to coalition politics, it has been unable to make the leap to understanding that minority parties can’t get all the policies they want onto the statute books.’

    And we have been unable, or unwilling, to explain it properly. Banging on about what we have achieved without explaining this just reinforces the wrong message.

    I deeply regret that Nick is putting out a ‘no change’ message. Keith is right- we need a change at the top.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Jun '14 - 5:45pm

    This has to be THE most powerful analysis of May 22 so far because (obviously!) the whiff of sour grapes is absent.

  • “the UK public . . . has been unable to make the leap to understanding that minority parties can’t get all the policies they want onto the statute books”
    That’s a bit condescending. I think the public understand that perfectly. What the public may not understand is (a) why a party would join itself at the hip to another party with which it has nothing in common ideologically, except perhaps for the narrowest of goals; and (b) why a minority party that another minority party needs to stay in power can’t block policies of which its membership strongly disapproves.

  • paul barker 1st Jun '14 - 5:58pm

    I think I agree with what you mean but not how you say it. It would be better for us to call ourselves a Party of Reform. UKIP & Labour are Protest Parties because they know what they are aginst but have few ideas of what they are for. We have acheived more change in the last 4 years than in the Century before that, that is the point of our being in Government & why we are willing to pay such a high price for that chance.
    We have to spend the next 11 Months shouting about the changes we have made & the ones we want to make in future. Spending 3 of those 11 months on a Leadership race would not be a productive use of our time.

  • Shaun Roberts 1st Jun '14 - 7:08pm

    Excellent analysis Keith as always.

    Our brand is broken and it needs dramatic change to start fixing it. It’s hurting us with voters and it’s hurting us with our activist base – which has shrunk in most places.

    Just repeating the same messages that are clearly failing to connect with voters won’t be enough. I know we’re very good at defending sitting MPs, but when our vote has more than halved nationally, that will outweigh even very strong local campaigns in many places. If we stay around 10% or so, we could be facing a return to pre-97 levels of MPs and that would be beyond disastrous.

    The easiest (not the nicest!) and probably the best way to start changing our brand is to change our leader. I like Nick a lot, but his ratings aren’t going anywhere. Today’s Yougov poll backs up the elections last week – 78% of people think Nick is doing a bad job. That’s worse than Gordon Brown ever managed. Put bluntly, no alternate Lib Dem leader could dive to such depths between now and May next year.

    But it’s pretty clear we’re not going to take the easy option (we are Lib Dems after all). Which brings us to our message. This needs work new leader or not. I think the overall thrust of stronger economy, fairer society is good. But we haven’t fleshed out what that means in terms of what we will fight for next time.

    It’s time to do this and it has to be bold and confident. No room for slightly wishy washy stuff that other parties could agree with. It’s got to be Lib Dem through and through and be something that our members and supporters will get up and fight for.

    Without such change, even a circle the wagons around the held seats is going to be very tough and will mean us stepping back to some very dark times.

    On the positive side – there’s never been a moment in British politics like this before. Neither the Tories or Labour are offering anything that’s exciting people. UKIP have a market, but it’s not enough to deliver real change (thank god!). If we could get out there with an offer that does excite people and they can get over their dislike of Nick and some of the things that have happened, then who knows.

  • This is an excellent article by Keith House, even if it doesn’t really offer a national answer to the trust issue apart from Nick Clegg being the problem. While Nick is a major part of the problem the whole party is also partly responsible. As a party we didn’t recognise that the coalition agreement line on tuition fees wasn’t strong enough (our MPs should have had the right to vote against any tuition fee increase) and as members, each one of us, we didn’t use the disciplinary procedure to remove from the party those MPs who failed to keep their pledge. However maybe some conference reps (I am not one) can save us. We need to change the constitution so when a member elected to public office breaks a personal pledge they are removed from the party. We need to ensure that the party’s Parliamentarians will be disciplined by the state parties if they vote against a conference decision without stating in their election manifesto that they disagree with the policy or stating during the conference debate that they will not be bound by the conference decision.

    @ Paul Barker – “We have achieved more change in the last 4 years than in the Century before that”. This is not true. Was it not under a Liberal Prime Minister in 1918 that the vote was extended to women (OK not all women). Didn’t a Liberal government reform the House of Lords in 1910 or was in 1911? Was it not liberal thinking that brought about full unemployment in the 1950’s and 1960’s? Was it not a Liberal MP whose report was implemented by the Labour government to develop further the welfare state that had been started by Liberals? My mother used to say to me (in the 70’s), the Liberals have great ideas and then either the Conservatives or the Labour Party enact them. Hopefully some Liberals who are older than me can remind us of them.

    @ Anthony Hawkes – “could we interest Keith House in standing as our next President?” I am sure he has all the right experience. I first met him as the chair of my region and he did a really good job in that party role.

  • Keith House 1st Jun '14 - 9:40pm

    Thanks everyone for comments so far, Just to be clear. This is not a pro-Nick, or an anti-Nick, article. It is a pro-Lib Dem article aimed simply at identifying the issues as we found them in the Eastleigh campaign. We need a debate in the Party on the way forward. That debate needs to be depersonalised. We all have the same interests at heart.

  • @ Paul Barker – I thought of some more – Abortion Act 1967 a Liberal MP’s act. Was it Liberal Party policy to decriminalise homosexual acts in the 1950’s? Wolfenden used liberal principles from JS Mill’s on Liberty to support it. Recently the Blair government – independence of the Bank of England interest rate decisions, how about more money for education – a penny on Income Tax or a penny on National Insurance?

  • Peter Chegwyn 1st Jun '14 - 10:51pm

    Keith is so right that this debate is about the best way forward for our party and its beliefs. We should all have the same interests at heart and should be able to debate the issues facing our party without being accused of disloyalty and worse by ‘sources close to the Leader’ who really should know better.

    A constructive debate on the best way forward should therefore include a recognition by the Leadership and those around them that those of us with serious concerns about the direction in which our party is heading are not ‘malicious plotters’ as unhelpfully suggested by Paddy on national TV today.

    We are loyal, hard-working party members who care passionately for our party and its core beliefs.

    We know what the public are telling us about our Leader and his message. Today’s Sunday Times poll showing the party on 7 per cent and Nick on minus 65 per cent, the worst ever rating for a leader of any party, only confirm what many of us already know, namely, that if there aren’t major changes at the top then this party is heading over an electoral cliff in 2015 from which it will be very hard to climb up again.

    So far as I am aware none of the people expressing concerns on this Forum or anywhere else are ‘malicious plotters’. We’re just ordinary grass-roots members who are listening to what the public are telling us.

    It would be nice if the Leadership would also listen, both to the public and a very large section of the party, rather than dismiss our concerns and try to pretend that all is well and we just need to stick to the same old message and, in Nick’s words, ‘shout it louder’.

  • Rolson Davies 2nd Jun '14 - 9:13am

    I fear that we are walking into another Charles Kennedy scenario where we replace one leader to get us through an election and then chuck him after. I was always opposed to a coalition with the Tories and made it clear to Ed Davey my MP before we went into it (still have the e-mail somewhere). Can we afford to have a situation where we have three leaders in two years again ? It looks like a party in panic mode. Also what would happen in government ? Would Nick carry on as deputy PM even though he may have been ousted as leader and would Cameron accept a new leader or would it be a trigger for breaking the coalition (wouldn’t mind actually!) . John Major called his parties bluff many years ago and look what happened to them at the time. Like may I have seen lots of ups and downs in the 33 years I have been involved in active politics and what is important is the constant message of what we stand for. Sad times at the moment but I am positive we will bounce back again.

  • chris j smart 2nd Jun '14 - 10:14am

    RC
    “And when they talk about trust, all parties have policies they’ve failed to deliver on. Do the voters talk about trust when they mention the policies of Labour and “no more boom and bust” of which Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, was a major architect? The much vaunted fiscal and economic “prudence” of which Labour talked was nothing of the kind. Yet somehow Labour is let off the hook on this most fundamental of betrayals, while uniquely among all the parties we have been singled out for special treatment, despite only having one eleventh of the MPs in parliament with which to deliver the policies we wanted.”

    Surely you must realise how big a compliment the electorate are giving the Lib Dems. They are implicitly showing that they expected LIb Dems to be so much better. Reputation takes many years to win but can be lost in a single wilful act of “betrayal”. I love both my legs but if one develops cancer I will reluctantly have it cut off to save my life. I will worry about how I am going to walk later. I think The party is /must be better than one man. At worst the party could survive and prosper with an interim leader or none. Bigger organisations than the party run for some time without chairmen or CEO when necessary.

  • RC “while uniquely among all the parties we have been singled out for special treatment, ”

    Because Nuck Clegg made it all about trust and personal integrity with his ‘end to broken promises’. It’s precisely because all the other parties broke their promises that we all voted Lib Dem. We all know the others are rotten but Lib Dems explicitly said they were better than the other parties. Nick Clegg made a whole PPB all about that.

  • Rolson Davies 2nd Jun ’14 – 9:13am

    Hi Rolson,
    I am Interested in your comment this morning. There is some irony in your thoughts about the defenestration of Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell, when you consider the active role which Nick Clegg played in opening the windows and giving a shove.
    To argue for him to cling on for this reason might be considered an example of poetic IN-justice.

    You are no longer a councillor after many years in a senior position on Kingston Council, most of those years we have had a majority on the council thanks to the amazing efforts of people such as you. We lost our majority in Kingston this time but with 18 seats on the council we are much better off than 30 of the 32 other London Boroughs.
    Like you I think we will bounce back in Kingston despite Clegg. But what about those 24 London Boroughs who have no councillors or just one, where we have been wiped off the map.? I doubt that LibDems will be bouncing back from zero any time soon without a significant change at the top, especially as we have no MEP either.

    According to the John Pugh piece in LDV yesterday the optimists at the top of the party talk up a line that we will cling on to our MPs in up to 37 seats next May. If that is the optimistic view I shudder to think what the pessimists are saying.

    Throughout this Coalition, Nick Clegg has excused failures by saying he did not have enough MPs to impose more influence on Cameron. How little influence would we have with less than 37 MPs next time ?

    I know you would not want to see us swallowed up , absorbed into the Conservative Party on a permanent basis.

    So the question about leadership change is — If not now, then when?

    This message is being posted at 10.59 on Monday 2nd June 2014.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun '14 - 1:07pm

    Since the formation of the Coalition I’ve felt trapped.

    On the one hand I find almost anyone who is not a convinced Tory throwing this line at us “You LibDems have just rolled over and given in to the Tories, you’ve supported them on everything, so much against what you said you stood for, it’s a disgrace, don’t come bothering asking me to vote for you again”.

    On the other hand, I find this message being pumped out by the party leadership, its Leader and its President and other official spokespeople “Rejoice, we are in government, we have achieved so much, this is what we exist for, this is the fulfilment of all those decades of work building up the party”.

    As one of the most persistent critics in this forum of Nick Clegg’s leadership from day 1, I often find myself exhausted from having to argue with his fan club in the party about all the mistakes I believe he has made, only then to find myself just as exhausted in another debate with all those people who come here to attack us, where I am trying to defend the reality of the coalition situation, which is that 57 LibDem MPs were never going to get 300+ Tory MPs to jump to our tune, being accused in effect of saying what I am saying only because being a member of the Liberal Democrats I must be incapable of personal thought and must be just echoing the party line because anyone who wasn’t like that could see “The LibDems just rolled over and gave in to the Tories, when they were in such a powerful position”.

    I don’t like what this government is doing AT ALL. My politics are to the left, and I find many of the argument put out by this government to be very dubious. Yet I also accept that the LibDems were in a very weak position following the May 2010 general election. The current coalition was the only stable government that could have been formed, had the LibDems not done so, they would have been the principal victims of what would inevitably have followed – a Tory minority government, followed by an early general election in which both the two main parties and almost all the press would have ganged up on the Liberal Democrats, accused us of playing narrow party political games while the country suffered, and said we needed a Parliament in which we were removed so a majority government could get on with governing. Anyone who thinks this is not how it would have been needs only look at the 2011 general election, where the case against electoral reform was put very much in this way.

    At the heart of my concern is that the leadership of my party is undermining all the defence of its position I would like to be able to give it. The looking-pleased-with-itself image which has been dominant since the formation of the Coalition just helps bolster the idea of almost anyone who is not a Tory that our defence of “necessary compromise” is just an excuse for being underneath much more right-wing than we let on. The way that some on the fringes of the party seem to have used the formation of the coalition to push it permanently to what they call “authentic liberalism” and similar terms has also very much helped destroy the argument that it is a sad but necessary compromise, again it gives the impression that any defence on these lines is just a weak excuse for what we wanted t o do (secretly) underneath anyway.

    Some have used the term “Orange Bookers” of those trying to push that party this way. It’s a little unfortunate, because I do take the point that the “Orange Book” was just a collection of essays from a variety of authors, not all of whom subscribed to the straight “push the party to the economic right” line. I suspect many use the term “Orange Booker” because they don’t agree that right-wing pro-businessman economics is a form of liberalism, and so don’t want to use any term which suggests it is, like all these “economic liberal”, “classical liberal” etc terms that have been pushed. The “Orange Book” was published before the coalition, I don’t think it can be blamed for it. To me, the coalition came about because of the random effects of the first-past-the-post electoral system, it could have happened at any time since 1974 when the Liberal vote shot up to six million, there was nothing special about it happening in 2010. However, the existence of this book and the prominence of its authors, and the fact that being that sort of person seems to be what gets be promoted by the current leadership all help with the line used by our opponents (apart from the dyed-in-the-wool Tory ones) that we have been deliberately weak in the coalition and “broken our promises” because secretly that’s what we wanted to do anyway.

    Since the Coalition was formed, many national media commentators have pushed the line that it’s the start to some sort of long-term relationship with the Conservatives. It keeps getting said in various ways that somehow it marks a permanent shift to the right of our party, that we can never go back to where we were. I am appalled by this – like many, I swallowed hard and accepted the Coalition as a necessity because of the Parliamentary balance, but I NEVER gave my consent to this meaning the party had made any sort of permanent political change. The Coalition was not a “marriage”, it was not based on “love” and was not intended to last for a lifetime – and I, and I am sure many others, never gave our consent to it on that basis. Yet our leadership never did a thing to stop this sort of talk, and continued and continues to put out material that could be interpreted as supporting it.

    It ought to have been recognised from the start that those of us to the left in the party would find the Coalition hardest to stomach, and therefore we should have had reassurance form our Leader, even if it was not in line with his personal belief, that our position in the party was valued, and that any compromises made in Coalition really were the best that could have been achieved. We have had none of that. Instead we have often had lines which suggest we aren’t really wanted anyway, that our continuing presence in the party is a bit of an embarrassment. Is it surprising then, that many of us have dropped out? And I think when it comes down to hard work, it’s those on the left of the party who do more of it. We cannot afford to lose that committed activist base, and I’m afraid too many at the top of the party have followed the know-nothing national media whose commentaries on our party just don’t appreciate the extent to which its success relies on hard-working and happy activists who feel they can do good and feel they are in a party which is democratic so they are part of it, not just unpaid workers for its leader.

    For many of us, calling for the current leader to step down is a last desperate step we really wished we didn’t have to take. But we’ve seen a steady slow decline, with people like us dropping out and no replacements coming forward. The party needs to do something dramatic to reverse that. If it does not, I predict many more will have dropped out by next year, and the 2015 general will be a horrible disaster from which no recovery can be made.

  • @Matthew Huntbach: Don’t you think that the whole DPM title, Clegg’s appearances with Cameron and so forth, gave the impression — and were intended to give the impression — that the Liberal Democrats were a coëqual partner in government with the Tories, and that Clegg had a rôle equal to Cameron’s in the government? If so, was this an own goal on Clegg’s part, or has he simply been cleverly played by Cameron from Day One?

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun '14 - 2:32pm

    David-1

    @Matthew Huntbach: Don’t you think that the whole DPM title, Clegg’s appearances with Cameron and so forth, gave the impression — and were intended to give the impression — that the Liberal Democrats were a coëqual partner in government with the Tories,

    Yes I do think that, and from the start of the coalition I have been arguing that it was a bad mistake by Clegg to push this co-equal image. From the start of the coalition I have been arguing doing that would be extremely damaging, since it would make us seem to be in equal support of policies which, given the composition of the government are BOUND to be more Conservative than Liberal Democrat.

    Anyway, thanks for asking this question, since I must have made this point hundreds of times since May 2010, and I was wondering if I was coming across as a bit silly just repeating it and repeating it, and I was thinking it was so plain obvious that surely by now most people will have heard it and got my point. But I can see you were asking this question genuinely, so clearly you, and perhaps many others STILL haven’t got that point, or at least haven’t heard it made before.

    If so, was this an own goal on Clegg’s part, or has he simply been cleverly played by Cameron from Day One?

    That would imply much more intelligence in Cameron than I think the man has. I don’t think either the Tories nor Labour ever gave serious thought to the possibility of a coalition until it happened, so I very much doubt they would have had detailed plans worked out in advance. The Liberal Democrats should have, however. This was an obvious pitfall, a competent leader of the Liberal Democrats should have planned for it in advance and made sure to avoid it.

    So, it was an “own goal” on Clegg’s part, just another sign that the man is either completely incompetent or was sent to us with a deliberate hidden mission to destroy us.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun '14 - 2:39pm

    As a follow-up to my previous message, pushing the line “75% of our manifesto policies implemented” which many people read (not in line with mathematics, but in a country where being innumerate is considered something to boast about, to be expected) as implying we were not just co-equal in this government, it was a government which was three-quarters what we wanted. The most enthusiastic promoter of that line was Tim Farron, That is why that man must NEVER EVER be leader of the Liberal Democrats.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun '14 - 2:44pm

    I hope people have got my point. Tim Farron has been a relentless cheerleader for Clegg and his co-equal line, pushing it even further.

    I BEG of anyone thinking of voting for Farron as the “left” candidate for leadership, DON’T DO IT!!! His support for the “75%” line demonstrates he is even more incompetent than Clegg. I think there’s a reason why he’s being pushed as the natural candidate of the left, which is in the hope he’ll overshadow anyone more competent, and because his record shows he’ll be a reliable patsy of the right if he does win it.

  • Keith House is quite right except changing the leader is not the answer and the electorate will rightly see that as the cynical move it is. We´ll be going into the election saying ‘someone told us you didn’t like our leader so we changed him but if you don’t like this one we´ll happily find another. I am happy to go into the next election with Nick Clegg defending our record in government.
    The media generally doesn’t like us and that’s the way it is. Anyone thinking that, for instance, Tim Farron will get an easier ride what with his very strong religious convictions has got another think coming.

  • Anne Winstanley 2nd Jun '14 - 5:28pm

    @ Michael

    Was it not liberal thinking that brought about full unemployment in the 1950’s and 1960’s?

    Surely this is a typo for ‘full employment’? Though I think I have seen this phrase used in the comments on another posting recently, when what was meant was full employment.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jun '14 - 1:41am

    Robert

    Keith House is quite right except changing the leader is not the answer and the electorate will rightly see that as the cynical move it is. We´ll be going into the election saying ‘someone told us you didn’t like our leader so we changed him

    What utter rot.

    I am arguing to change the leader not because “someone told me they didn’t like him” but because I feel he has not done a good job. I don’t need anyone else to tell me that. I think we need to make clear we are a democratic party (the clue is the word “Democrat” in the party name), and an aspect of being democratic is that its members are in control, not its leader. So if its members think someone else would do a better job as its leader, they can put that person in the role.

  • @ Anne Winstanley

    Thank you Anne you are correct it should have been “full employment”. I think I have made that mistake more than once recently.

  • @Matthew Huntbach — I apologise; I have read many (probably not all) of your messages on the subject, but the idea I had got was that you were putting the impression of Tory-Lib Dem coequality down to a popular misconception, which Lib Dems had failed to adequately correct; I wasn’t sure whether or not you agreed that this impression was deliberately played up by Nick Clegg and other Lib Dem leaders (and the Tories as well, at least at first).

  • Keith
    I think you are probably unique in all of the UK as a Liberal Democrat leader with a majority on the council, a Liberal Democrat MP and you even have a Liberal Democrat MEP !!!

    I hope that other Liberal Democrat leader will take note when you say — “With a key segment of 2010 Lib Dem voters, Nick is toxic.”

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jun '14 - 1:55pm

    David-1

    I wasn’t sure whether or not you agreed that this impression was deliberately played up by Nick Clegg

    I have always made clear my belief that it has been played up by Clegg and those he has chosen to surround himself with, and it was a disastrous mistake on their part to do it. I remember making exactly this point after the “Rose Garden” image, and have been doing so continuously ever since.

    It was certainly not in the Tories’ interests to play this line, and I don’t think they have. The Tories that go on most about it are the right-wingers who aren’t happy with the LibDem influence. Whereas in this forum we tend to get people accusing the LibDems of rolling over and giving in to the Tories, in Tory discussion groups it’s the other way round – right-wing Tories complaining that their party leadership had rolled over and given in to the LibDems. Now, as most unaligned people tend to go more with the “LibDems rolled over and gave in to the Tories” line, and tend to say that because they see this government as horrendously right-wing (and it is), that indicates just how far to the political right the right-wing fringe of the Tories has gone. That is why though I’ve made clear my dislike of Clegg in so many ways, I tend not to use the “give in to the Tories” line as much as many, because actually I think you need to see just how horrendously extreme today’s Conservative Party is to realise that what looks like “rolling over and giving in to the Tories” is actually a balance between what the Tories would really like and what they can be got to concede to.

    If the LibDems are destroyed, as I believe they will be unless Clegg is removed pretty much now, we will see the Tories back in power on their own with a majority. It will be UTTERLY HORRENDOUS. It is what those who are cheering on the destruction of the LibDems and wanting to go back to the good ol’ two party system are leading us into.

    I was right on Clegg when he first emerged as “the obvious next leader of the Liberal Democrats” and I warned again and again for members not to vote for him, wasn’t I? What I predicted would happen if he became leader has happened. I was right on the “Rose Garden” wasn’t I? When I said how damaging this would be to the party, how it would stop us from being able to defend our position in the coalition and lead to charges we had just given in t the Tories, I was right wasn’t I? When Tim Farron was pushing this “Rejoice, 75% of our manifesto implemented” line, I was right to say that first this line was nonsense, second it would be misinterpreted in a damaging way, and it would damage us in general by making us look like we were rejoicing at Tory policies and claiming they were mainly ours, I was right, wasn’t I? I was right when stood up at the London Liberal Democrat regional conference and denounced he way the “Yes to AV” campaign was being run (at a time when “yes” was still ahead in the opinion polls), and said it would lose us the referendum, wasn’t I? So, how can people be so confident I am wrong now when they argue we must keep Clegg?

    Please, please, please, party members listen to me. I have form on this. If we don’t get rid of Clegg now, the party will be destroyed for a generation. That is my prediction. You have read it here, please remember it.

  • If we don’t get rid of Clegg now, the party will be destroyed for a generation

    The damage has already been done, though, and eleven months minus however long the leadership election would take is not long enough to repair it.

    Interesting points about the Rose Gardne, DPM, etc. It looks to me like Clegg thought that there was a large number of ‘natural’ Liberal Democrat voters, who sympathised with the party’s values but didn’t vote for them because they didn’t see them as seriously in the running for forming a government, but just as a ‘protest party’.

    So they identified the two things they thought were responsible for the Lib Dems’ ‘protest party’ image — the electoral system, and the fact that the current Liberal Democrat party has never held power — and tried the change them, the first with a referendum, the second by playing up the image of Nick Clegg as a possible Prime Minister. they knew by doing this they would lose the protest voters who voted Liberal Democrats out of idealism, because they had never had to dirty their hands with hard decisions or get caught playing the same kinds of dirty tricks as the others, but they gambled that those lost voters would be replaced many times over by the people who said, ‘I would love to vote Lib Dem but it’s a wasted vote, isn’t it, they’ll never be the government.’ (They probably based this on the idea that the fact the Lib Dem poll numbers went up with increased coverage at election time)

    Unfortunately it turns out they were working from a false assumption: there simply isn’t a natural Liberal Democrat constituency in the UK, or at least, not one large enough to support a natural party. As a result the referendum was lost, and once the protest voters left it turned out that there wasn’t in fact a vast Liberal Democrat vote there to be tapped if only the Liberal Democrats looked like a real instead of an idealised protest party.

    It was a gamble that Clegg et al went all-in on: that by risking everything, they really could make the Liberal Democrats a force to be reckoned with, create a permanent era of three-party politics.

    It was a gamble they lost, and the table is about to close.

  • For ‘to support a natural party’ read, ‘to support a national party.’

  • I think Bill hits it square on the head. And I think, given what was known in 2010, it was a fair gamble to take, to try to widen the potential support for the Party, and I can’t and won’t blame Clegg for trying. But once the gamble was lost — in particular, once the possibility of changing the electoral system had gone down the tubes (for which Clegg can bear some of the blame) — then it was time to face about and work on winning back the Party’s base. Instead, that base has been rebuffed and scorned at every turn. Clegg & Co. seem like gamblers who, having lost badly at the first throw, cannot walk away from the table but keep on playing for higher and higher stakes each time. But it doesn’t take very long at “double or nothing” before you are left with literally nothing.

  • Bill The crucial third change Clegg has tried to make is to the political positioning of the Lib Dems, from radical “left-ish” to centre right. At that point there was never any chance of an increased vote separate from the Tories. It would, I know, be tough, taking a bigger share than we had already from where we were positioned, but from what appeared to be Clegg’s naivete, or wishful thinking, no hope at all (apart from the alienation of many long time voters supporters and members.)

  • And I think, given what was known in 2010, it was a fair gamble to take, to try to widen the potential support for the Party, and I can’t and won’t blame Clegg for trying

    It was an odd strategy even then, though: the 2010 election was fought on a message of, ‘We’re not like the others, politics has failed, give something new a try’ so to immediately then launch into, ‘You can trust us, we’re just like them, we’re a safe pair of hands’ was something of a semiotic whiplash. A bit like if the Sex Pistols had followed up Anarchy in the UK by doing a straight cover of Livin’ Doll.

    It was sort-of papered over by the AV referendum, I suppose: that helped the Lib Dems keep a little bit of their ‘radical new way’ story even as they desperately tried to project the image of getting down to the serious business of government. But yes, once that was rejected by the electorate (and I don’t think Clegg can be blamed for that, I don’t think the AV referendum could ever have been won: the British electorate is just too fundamentally conservative to ever back so radical a change as a whole new way of voting) it was obvious the game was up (and getting caught having made exactly the same kind of fingers-crossed bare-faced-lying ‘promises’ as the others even while they had been running on their ‘we’re new’ ticket was the final nail in the Liberal Democrat coffin).

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jun '14 - 4:27pm

    Bill

    Interesting points about the Rose Garden, DPM, etc. It looks to me like Clegg thought that there was a large number of ‘natural’ Liberal Democrat voters, who sympathised with the party’s values but didn’t vote for them because they didn’t see them as seriously in the running for forming a government, but just as a ‘protest party’.

    Yes, that’s a line which has been pushed by right-wing commentators for as long as I’ve been a member of the party (35 years). And whenever the party has listened to them and done what they have suggested, its support has plummeted.

    Unfortunately it turns out they were working from a false assumption: there simply isn’t a natural Liberal Democrat constituency in the UK, or at least, not one large enough to support a natural party.

    Well, we seem to have been perfectly capable of winning and keeping enough support to keep us in power at local government level in many places.

    I think the false assumption was that there was a big constituency of voters out there who want a party which interprets “liberalism” as meaning right-wing economics minus what’s left in the Conservative Party of old style small-c conservatism. Some on the fringes of the party like the member for Taunton, are STILL arguing that. Well, again that’s a line right-wing commentators have been making for as long as I have been a member of the party. The trouble is Mr Clegg seems to have been more keen on listening to that sort of person than the party’s actual members and voters.

  • Matthew Huntbach “I was right, wasn’t I?”

    Yes Matthew you were. And you are right now.

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