The verdict of Philip Collins, chief speech writer for Tony Blair, on Nick Clegg: “the Deputy Prime Minister should be applauded by all liberal voters”

Nick Clegg Q&A 19Philip Collins uses his column in today’s Times to write something not often written on that paper’s pages (or anywhere else for that matter): praise for the Lib Dems in Coalition. Here’s the paywalled link, and here’s a glimpse behind the paywall of what he has to say:

It is therefore a serious defence of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to commend them for things that would have happened had they not been there. It is in the nature of things that have not happened that we often do not know what they are. The siren voices of the Tory Right though, tell the tale. They complain, as if the electorate had granted them a full victory, that the Lib Dems have prevented them from doing what Tories are born to do.

The list of complaints looks to me like a prospectus of liberal triumph and a record of negative capability to be proud of. Without the Lib Dems, say the malcontents, the government would have slashed green taxes harder. It would have made more progress towards abolishing human rights legislation. It would have had an even tougher stance on immigration, and the welfare cuts would have been even more severe. Tax cuts for the wealthy would, finally, have been more generous. In which case, all hail the Liberal Democrats. …

[Nick Clegg’s] liberal conviction is evident in what the coalition has done as well as what it has not. It was notable that, in his Budget speech, George Osborne made a lot of the Liberal Democrat policy of raising the threshold at which people pay income tax to £12,500. The instinct behind this policy is the liberal desire that people should keep more of the money they earn. More money has been channelled to poorer children via the premium offered to schools in disadvantaged areas. The Green Investment Bank awaits a chancellor who believes in it but it could yet become a significant reform. The welfare state in Britain used to depart with the health visitor and not come back into view until primary school. The Liberal Democrat emphasis on childcare has come out of Mr Clegg’s politically inexpedient but intellectually admirable emphasis on making social mobility an index of coalition success.

There you have it – a quick summary from Philip Collins of what I’m going to term the Lib Dems’ Two Concepts of Coalition:

Negative Coalition: Coalition in the negative sense involves stopping the larger partner from doing those things you believe to be harmful and which are in your power to stop.

Positive Coalition: Coalition in the positive sense involves promoting those policies you campaigned for at the election and which only being in government enables you to deliver.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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99 Comments

  • I used to be a Nick Clegg supporter, but I have to say, his performance in the two Euro debates, particularly the second one, has changed things.

    A minimum requirement of any political leader is that they are able to articulate clearly and cogently the values and aspirations of their party to the electorate. On that basis the Euro debates were a calamity, showing up Nick Clegg’s inability to connect with a public audience. An ICM has just shown that we have fallen to 6% in the Euro polls from around 10-11% before the debates. At that level, we stand to lose all our MEPs. This is an utter disaster, the blame for which can only be laid at the feet of one person.

    The only thing that would stop me from supporting calls for Nick Clegg to step down now would be two things: (1) The very short period of time left before the 2015 general election; (2) The lack of any strong alternative candidates for party leader.

    It is very likely we will suffer an almighty drubbing next month in the Euro elections and possibly in the local elections too. The headlines from this will have a knock on effect of depressing our national poll ratings further and turning the media narrative against us to an even greater extent than at present.

    The sad thing is that, as Philip Collins points out, we don’t deserve this treatment at the hands of the voters. This should be our moment of triumph with the voters as they finally realise all the good things we have done in government, are doing and could do in the future. Yet, as has been seen over the last couple of weeks, it only takes a couple of badly-judged interventions from a leader who has a tin ear for political discourse to turn triumph to disaster.

  • RC @

    Good to see the scales are falling from your eyes over Clegg, some of us have been saying for a long time what a disaster he is for the party. But as you say there’s not really anyone who would be any better is there.
    A complete clear out and renewal is needed post 2015.
    Some years on the Opposition benches will allow for that.

    ”This should be our moment of triumph with the voters as they finally realise all the good things we have done in government”. There I don’t agree with you. The ‘good things’ are illusory, and the voters aren’t falling for party spin.
    Better to face the harsh truth now.

  • Tony Earthrowl 15th Apr '14 - 6:34pm

    The premise of this Article is; Would you rather Die from a thousand cuts with a LibDem Coalition, or have your throat cut by Tory only Government?
    Either way you Die!
    Clegg had the opportunity to have far more of the LibDem Manifesto carried out, if he had gone into Coalition with Labour. But for perverse Machiavellian reasons decided to partner with the Tories?
    And for an Ex-Blair speech writer to commend Clegg on this unexplainable decision, says more about Clegg as being a facsimile of Blair.
    The one policy the LibDems shared with the Tories, was to have Recall of MPs. A good and noble thing, that expresses everything good about Liberal Democratic values.
    But Clegg, has managed to renege on the one decent thing they had in common with the Tories?
    Disgraceful!

  • @ Tony Earthrowl

    “Clegg had the opportunity to have far more of the LibDem Manifesto carried out, if he had gone into Coalition with Labour. ”

    This is simply not true. Labour had just been kicked out with 29% of the vote and did not have enough MPs to form a stable coalition, plus they would not even negotiate in any serious manner. Almost the same cuts would have had to been made, given the appalling state of the public finances Labour left, with an 11.4% of GDP deficit. Labour would have been utterly divided from the start and unable to implement any cuts at all, as has been shown from its dismal record in opposition.

    The scenario you propose was just not possible in any way, shape or form.

  • Recall of MPs was something Nick Clegg campaigned on, I remember it as being one if he central planks of his “vote for us and I will Clean Up Politics” message. And it was one of his duties as DPM to bring it in, as evidenced here https://www.libdemvoice.org/deputy-prime-minister-nick-clegg-new-responsibilities-19832.html

  • Unfortunately the world does not operate on what “SHOULD “OR SHOULD NOT HAPPEN, it deals in realities and the reality is that our Leader does not rate with the electrate and is a toxic brand. He is probably a very nice guy and it is hard that this has happened but it has, we need to stop beating around the bush trying to pretend that it is not so bad after all, it is. We have reached the end of the current road and are in a cul- de -sac and we have to find another way out pronto.

  • ““Clegg had the opportunity to have far more of the LibDem Manifesto carried out, if he had gone into Coalition with Labour. ”

    Nick Clegg has without a doubt been a massive failure but on this I have to disagree. See for one thing the parliamentary numbers did not add up and for another, Labour had been in power for so long that they had really lost their mojo. At the time I remember saying that Nick Clegg had been handed a poisoned chalice and actually felt sorry for him. Nit any more though.

  • Chris Turner 15th Apr '14 - 7:58pm

    Am I the only person here appreciating the Isaiah Berlin reference? Must we debate the politics (and indeed arithmetic, for some reason) of coalition formation, and the worthiness of our leader in every thread?

  • Simon Shaw “Yes, but how would you do it? There are major objections with every approach.”

    Well it’s not my job to “do it”. It’s Nick Clegg’s. after all he is the one who promised to do something before an election and then accepted it as one of his responsibilities as DPM and even boasted about this as being one of the ‘LibDems in government ‘ achievements.

    This is from
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/7731101/Voters-to-get-powers-to-sack-corrupt-MPs-under-new-Great-Reform-Act.html

    “Listing a series of the policies which the party was making law now that it was in Government, he [Clegg] said “The power of recall to get rid of corrupt MPs – happening.
    “A clean up of party funding, a clamp down on lobbying in Parliament, an elected House of Lords – all happening.”

  • Little Jackie Paper 15th Apr '14 - 8:20pm

    But there is kind of a problem here Mr Tall. Look at the list in the article. We have a more, ‘liberal,’ approach on immigration and human rights being attributed to the LDs and the maintenance of green taxes. Liberal we can debate, but populist it is not.

    We have the pupil premium which in one form or another was in all of the 2010 manifestos. We have the green investment bank, which I imagine that anyone that doesn’t read this website has never heard of. The same can be said of social mobility (which I think is fuzzy nothing). And we have less severe welfare cuts which may or may not be a consolation to the public at large.

    That leaves the income tax threshold changes, which are in isolation at least good policy if more doubtful in a wider context.

    I don’t want to be too down here because I believe that all things considered I struggle to see much alternative to what we have had. The ratio in Coalition is 1 LD to 6 Con. On the economy we have de facto had plan B. But the answer to excessive pessimism is not excessive optimism. If the party is associated with policies that are unpopular or marginal then the voters can make what they wish of that association.

    And all this is before we get to there being no money for tuition fees but money for a triple locked pension. What message does this send out?

    It might be the case that there are good things, but overall it is pretty grisly. And if the party of IN message falls flat in a few weeks time, far from theoretical, then I’m not sure what’s left.

    And to save anyone saying it – no, I don’t think Ed M has all the answers either, but the article isn’t about him or his party.

  • Chris Manners 15th Apr '14 - 8:42pm

    I wouldn’t wish these washed up Blairites on anyone.

    Though Collins did coin the phrase “Empty Dave”, to be fair.

  • Jayne Mansfield 15th Apr '14 - 9:12pm

    What a pity that Nick Clegg, an undoubtably clever man, did not own up to the fact that he was arguing for ‘silly’ policies.
    Some of us thought that the right to recall, and other Liberal promises must have been well thought through and were therefore deliverable.

    I don’t know if Simon meant to, but he had just delivered another body blow to Nick Clegg’s credibility, and by extension to the party that he leads.

  • Little Jackie Paper 15th Apr '14 - 9:29pm

    Jayne Mansfield – Well….We do have a right to recall. It’s called an election. Those that write on political talkboards might think that the public at large wants more politics. I fear not.

    But to my mind this issue goes beyond single issues. The initial notion of a coalition would be that there would be, ‘influence,’ on whoever was the major party. As I said in my earlier post, with a ratio of 1:6 MPs the reality is that LDs will be a pretty small part of this. However my sense (and that is all it is, I have no evidence) is that there is an increasing feeling that there has not been influence on the Conservatives, rather confluence with them. That’s rather different.

    Now, of course, there is nothing per se wrong with that, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. However at the very least anyone that identifies loosely to the classic left of politics is going to look rather more closely in future I suspect.

  • Simon Shaw, I was about to respond but Jayne Mansfield has just made the point I was about to.

    If people say they are going to deliver something and then don’t, it’s hardly an argument to say oh well it was never deliverable anyway. Especially when they also promise ‘grown-up politics’ . It’s beyond satire.

  • Little JP “The initial notion of a coalition would be that there would be, ‘influence,’ on whoever was the major party. As I said in my earlier post, with a ratio of 1:6 MPs the reality is that LDs will be a pretty small part of this”

    It wasNick Clegg who said “The power of recall to get rid of corrupt MPs – happening….” (See my post above)

  • Richard Duncalf 15th Apr '14 - 9:36pm

    Give Nick a chance all arm chair politicians. Praise from the Times Editorial is very well received praise indeed!

  • “It is therefore a serious defence of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to commend them for things that would have happened had they not been there.”

    This is terrible writing. I suppose it is not required of political analysis that it be stylistically excellent, but at least it should be clear. This sentence reads as if Clegg & Co. should be praised for things for which their presence or absence made no difference at all. Given the rose-coloured glasses worn by some, I could not be sure that this was not the intended meaning.

  • Simon Shaw “Yes, but I asked you “If you think it can be done, then why don’t you suggest how”. Are you saying you have no constructive suggestion of how you would like to see it done?

    If that is the case then you appear to be complaining that the impossible hasn’t happened.”

    Nick Clegg says it is possible .

  • Chris Manners 15th Apr '14 - 9:55pm

    “Even if Labour had lost fewer seats so that a Labour/Lib Dem coalition had a slim parliamentary majority there would have been a major difficulty in keeping Labour in power when they were widely seen to have “lost” the General Election.”

    So that means the Lib Dems can’t be in the government after 2015?
    Great.

  • I would actually like to see the Lib Dems in a Lab-Lib coalition after 2015 (I am a member of the Labour Party). Regarding the current coalition, I am not sure if I disagree with it more than the governments led by Tony Blair!

  • Peter Watson 15th Apr '14 - 10:32pm

    @Simon Shaw “I’ll repeat for the 23rd time here on LDV that I believe that it is absolutely essential that the Lib Dems AREN’T in government following the 2015 General Election.”
    So who will you be voting for, Simon?

  • A Social Liberal 15th Apr '14 - 10:55pm

    Simon, would you support a coalition with the Labour Party in 2020 or are you so strongly opposed to being in government post the next election BECAUSE it is most likely that Labour will be the major partner in any coalition then and you are just opposed to supporting a Labour led government.

    If 2020 sees the Labour Party looking to us to get together in a coalition government – would you be in favour?

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Apr '14 - 11:22pm

    Little Jackie Paper

    That leaves the income tax threshold changes, which are in isolation at least good policy if more doubtful in a wider context.

    No, it’s a poor policy in isolation, particularly when we are told the number 1 priority of government right now should be deficit reduction. The claim that serious service cuts which are causing much suffering are necessary as part of the deficit reduction strategy is undermined if it is done at the same time as big tax cuts.

    The income tax threshold policy made much more sense in the context in which it was put in the 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto, when it was made absolutely clear it would be paid for by rises in other taxes – NOT by cuts in services. The subsequent claims that this reduction in income tax has been meeting our manifesto promise when it has not been accompanied by the property taxes and green taxes that were an integral part of the whole promise are shameful in the way they hide what we really said. It is these deceitful claims and the way they have been so trumpeted more than anything else which will keep me out of doing anything to campaign for the Liberal Democrats in the coming elections, having spent so much of my life before now as an active campaigner for the party.

  • I was very pleasantly surprised to see that article, I thought it was very fair.

    It’s funny, I was so disappointed by the debates that I wanted Clegg to go but after spending some time reading LDV, I like Clegg more than I thought I could, I don’t think he’s standing down and I’m not even sure I want him too since the only ideas most people here have about the future of the Lib Dem is “he needs to go and who cares what happens after” or “he needs to go and no matter what the Lib Dem will be destroyed and that’s good, that will teach him/them!”

    I think I rather stick with Clegg and the party we have now, I don’t particular like Farron and I find the idea that a new leader can ‘save’ the party a bit silly and naive, so there you go Nick, I forgive you for that absolutely terrible debate of yours. Of course, I very much expect that the usual and daily call for a new leader won’t change anytime soon but then again I would imagine you can find this in every party except UKIP, maybe.

  • Simon Shaw:

    So Nick Clegg makes a promise to “Recall MP’s” to help get himself elected. When it’s his responsibility in government he says it’s happening. Then we are told it won’t happen and you think that’s OK because it’s impossible. To me that means you think it’s OK to be economical with the truth to get elected or the Lib Dems don’t think through their policy decisions. Before you ask I have no idea how the “Recall MP’s” policy would work, but – like Phyllis – I never claimed to.

    I do agree that the best thing for the Lib Dems after the next GE would be a spell in opposition. Their involvement in such a right wing government would surely make any pact with Labour impossible and another pact with the Tories – well polling figures of 7 to 8% tell the story there. However, since the likely outcome of a GE will be a lot less Lib Dem MP’s I don’t think any coalition is on the cards anyway.

    Sandy:

    It’s always nice to see optimistic posts even if I don’t agree with them. Just one question – if the Lib Dem’s lose all their euro MP’s in May, if the polls figures stay in the same area – or heaven help us go down – how do you think a new leader could do any worse? How bad does it have to get before a change is needed?

  • Frank Booth 16th Apr '14 - 1:39am

    Nelson Mandela on Nick Clegg ‘The deputy Prime Minister should be applauded by all liberal voters.’ Well if Nelson Mandela thinks Clegg is an admirable man who am I to disagree? Oh wait a minute, it wasn’t actually Nelson, it was some bloke called Philip Collins? Who he? A former speech writer for Tony Blair. Who he?

    Okay, that’s a snide joke there, you obviously all know who Tony is, he’s the 2014 definition of political poison in the UK. And Philip Collins is a man who once wrote his speeches, which is certainly a few grades up from carrying his bags, who has now taken the not inconsistent step to writing acceptable articles in the Murdoch press . I don’t wish to be unkind about Mr Collins. I’m sure he’s an intelligent man with a good political nose. But if it means so much for someone so minor to be praising the Lib Dem leader and deputy PM, lest we forget, it suggests that the party is still thinking small. Unless one remains stuck in a 1997 time warp in which Blair covers all around him in gold dust, who must like the great leader be treated as god-like political visionaries. Is Mr Tall another of those who considers Mr Blair The Master? Is there nothing that can convince these people that he really wasn’t? I await Mr Chilcot’s report with interest.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Apr '14 - 7:04am

    @ Simon Shaw,
    Simon, do you really wonder why the ‘political establishment’ is currently held in such low esteem?

    If you look back to as late as February this year, according to the Guardian in an article headed , ‘ David Cameron, accused of blocking manifesto pledge on the recall of MP’s’, both Tim Farron and Tom Brake were blaming the fact that recall had been abandoned was because the tories were scared of it, not because it was silly or unworkable.

    In the article, the most pertinent comment was made by Zac Goldsmith. I accepts that sometimes situations change and manifesto promises cannot be implemented, but have joined a plague on all their houses brigade, because I have had to accept that some politicians will say anything that they think will gain them power with no intention or idea of how fulfil them in the first place.

    It is a representative democracy, I expect my elected representatives to have worked out what is possible and what is not. Isn’t politics supposed to be the art of the possible? Why do you continue to argue that it is for me to work out how it would work. I never made the promise. I put my trust in politicians who did.

    As for whether the right of recall is a bid deal. I would argue that it is, why should we have to wait for up to 5 years to rid ourselves of an MP who in our opinion has let their party and their colleagues down and brought politics into disrepute. Moreover, the Liberal Democrats promised a new sort of politics. Instead, the chipping away of trust has left the field clear for the new boys on the block , Ukip, who are promising a ‘new sort of politics’.

    Not all MP’s are corrupt and most I believe work hard on our behalf, but the constant revelations that MP’s are saying what we the voter wants to hear before an election, without the slightest intention or strategy for putting that promise into place is just feeding anti- establishment sentiment.

    Finally, would you like me to write the next Lib Dem manifesto, I am sure that I could come up with a lot of crowd pleasing promises that are both silly and unworkable? How can you possible berate Ukip for coming up with such promises when your own party is doing the same thing?

  • The absolute best scenario for us in 2015 is:

    1) We maintain, against all current odds, a “respectable” quota of 40+ MPs;
    2) Labour gets in, but with a tiny majority and then faces all the problems of dealing with the public finances that the Coalition has and is thoroughly hoist on the petard of its many unfunded promises and internal divisions;
    3) Labour immediately becomes highly unpopular;
    4) The Tories, having lost the election, bring in a new, extreme right wing leader and start trying to court the UKIP vote even more assiduously, vacating the centre ground completely;
    5) We ditch Clegg and discover a previously hidden leadership talent among our ranks, preferably not from a privileged, public school, southern background and with sound, non-Orange book principles to rekindle our appeal to centre-left voters.

    Sadly, (1) and (5) look particularly long shots at the moment.

  • RC, if we take your “5” first in June 2014 . Then we might achieve your “1” in May 2015.

    5) We ditch Clegg and discover a previously hidden leadership talent among our ranks, preferably not from a privileged, public school, southern background and with sound, non-Orange book principles to rekindle our appeal to centre-left voters.

    1) We maintain, against all current odds, a “respectable” quota of 40+ MPs;

  • Phyllis,
    Thanks for your link back to LDV in 2010,
    Clegg has failed on all but “1” of the nine tasks for which he had “special responsibility” as DPM

    The list of 9 tasks from LDV in 2010. —
    Nick Clegg has already been given special responsibility for political and constitutional reform;
    1 Introducing fixed-term Parliaments
    2 Legislating to hold a referendum on the alternative vote system for the House of Commons and to create fewer and more equal sized constituencies
    3 Supporting people with disabilities to become MPs
    4 Introducing a power for people to recall their MP
    5 Developing proposals for a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber
    6 Speeding up implementation of individual voter registration
    7 Considering the “West Lothian question” i.e. that Scottish MPs vote on matters affecting England, but not vice versa.
    Introducing a statutory register of lobbyists
    8 Reforming party funding
    9 Supporting all postal primaries

  • @ John Tilley

    “RC, if we take your “5″ first in June 2014 . Then we might achieve your “1″ in May 2015.”

    Still no proposals from you as to who should replace Clegg, I note. Names and qualifications, please.

    Re your 1-9 list, in what way have you factored in the obstructionism of the other parties with ten elevenths of the MPs in the House of Commons?

  • Simon Shaw “@Phyllis You raised the issue of Recall so I assume it is something that is of vital importance to you.”

    As I said before, this was one of the ways in which Clegg said he would ” Clean Up Politics” . He talked very passionately about that and it resonated with very many of us. Judging by the furore over the Miller affair I think this issue is of great importance to most of the country. If you’re still worried about how it will work then I suggest you “Call Clegg” and put it to him that his plans to introduce Recall are ‘silly’ and ‘unworkable’.

  • David Evans 16th Apr '14 - 9:54am

    @RC I can think of 55 candidates who would be an improvement on Clegg. You will need to find their CVs for yourself though.

  • Simon Shaw “Have you no view? Or perhaps for you this is nothing more than a stick with which to beat Nick Clegg.”

    Lots if contributors on this thread have said negative things about Clegg, just scroll up to the first comment and take it from there – so why are you picking on Jayne Mansfield and trying to pooh-pooh her very reasonable points? She and I have already explained to you that it is Clegg who says it’s workable. Why should we believe you and not him – the Leader of the Party and the second most powerful person in the Country?

    If a plumber came to me and said “I’ll fix your plumbing ” and then fails to do so, it’s a bit of a nonsense for his mate to then turn up and say to me as the householder and NON-plumber ‘oh well it was a silly thing to say he could do in the first place because it’s really impossible . How do YOU think we should do it? Got any ideas?” EsPecially as the first plumber still says it is do-able (and he intends to do it as soon as the big bully across the road lets him).

  • Simon Shaw “No, I am asking you how you want to see it working. If it really is important to you (which I don’t necessarily believe) why don’t you say how you would see it working.”

    The question is – is it important to Clegg? How does HE see it working. He did after all say “I can assure you I want to see recall provisions on the statute book in this parliament.”

  • Phyllis:
    I just don’t think Simon Shaw will ever get it. He seems to thinks it’s the job of the voters – you in particular – to explain how Clegg should implement his polices, all because it’s to difficult for him and his special advisers. I always thought that was the job of the politician who made the promises, but obviously I am wrong.

  • @Simon Shaw

    You are being very pedantic and argumentative again.

    I think the ladies have been quite clear in what they have said. It was after all Nick Cleggs policy and Nick Clegg who promised to get this on the statute book.
    It is not for Phyliss or Jane to say how this policy should be implemented.

    My personal view is that if an MP is found to have been in breech of something, whether they be expenses, parliamentary rules and they have been found to be at fault by IPSA or the standards committee, they should be forced to apologies to the house and if 10% of the MP’s constituents sign a petition asking for a recall, then a by-election should be held and the MP should be held accountable to his/her constituents.

    It’s rather simple really.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Apr '14 - 10:55am

    @ Simon Shaw,
    Simon, the 2010 coalition agreement included a pledge to introduce a power of recall which would have enabled voters to force a by election if they could get 10% of an MP’s constituents to sign a petition.

    I am afraid that as someone else has pointed out, you really don’t ‘get it’. Voters like myself assume that those who make the pledges have decided on whether they are workable or not. Unlike Nick Clegg and many others who made the pledge I am not an Oxbridge graduate. If you now claim that the pledges were silly, mine would be equally if not more so.
    The real point, which it is that which you keeps avoiding, is that I never made the pledge, nor did I make a pledge about student fees, about nuclear power or any of the other manifesto commitments that have been too ‘silly’ to pursue now that your party is in power, I just stupidly believed those who did.

    Anyway, no point in wasting more time on this point, you are obviously from Mars and I am from Venus. We just don’t speak the same language.

  • I would further add that upon entering coalition Nick Clegg was given the job of Lord President of the Council (Cabinet Office) (with special responsibility for political and constitutional reform)

    And lets face it, his brief as a minister in charge of political reform has been a complete non-starter. Apart from fixed term parliaments, he has failed on every policy he was in charge of including HOL, Right to recall.

  • @Simon Shaw You are being very pedantic and argumentative again.

    matt 16th Apr ’14 – 10:30am
    There are some things in life we can always rely on. 🙂

  • Radical Liberal 16th Apr '14 - 11:19am

    Jayne – you are right and Simon Shaw is wrong (again).

  • Latest Euro Poll has the Greens getting more Yes responses than Lib Dems, we are in an Armegeddon situation.There must be a leadership change coming soon.

  • We should perhaps ask ourselves what on earth Clegg thought he was doing taking this brief in the first place? Is it a bit harsh to suggest that only a millionaire son of a banker would choose to focus on ‘constitutional reform’ amidst the worst economic crisis since the great depression?

    Perhaps Clegg thought the main consequence of the 2008 crisis was one fewer foreign holiday per year. It turns out however that some people are starving.

  • RC 16th Apr ’14 – 8:58am

    In answer to your questions. —
    Qualifications for new leader – I am happy with your person spec. Ie. any MP with talent among our ranks, preferably not from a privileged, public school, southern background and with sound, non-Orange book principles to rekindle our appeal to centre-left voters. Names are listed on party website.

    As for the list of tasks on which Clegg has failed nine out of ten, it is not my list. They were Prime Minister Cameron’s list of tasks for his Deputy. It is the list published in LDV four years ago, see Helen Duffett | Thu 3rd June 2010 – 8:54 pm
    You can follow the link provided at the beginning of this thread. For convenience here it is again —
    Phyllis 15th Apr ’14 – 7:27pm
    …. his duties as DPM ….
    https://www.libdemvoice.org/deputy-prime-minister-nick-clegg-new-responsibilities-19832.html

  • “JohnTilley 16th Apr ’14 – 10:58am
    @Simon Shaw You are being very pedantic and argumentative again.”

    Actually Simon is trying to deflect criticism away from Clegg by turning on Jayne and myself. It’s a well-worn tactic .

  • Whether you want to call it “pedantic and argumentative” or not, it is clear that Simon Shaw has effectively called the bluff on Phyllis et al.

    Doubtless a recall bill could be introduced, and may be one will, but I doubt it would actually have much effect as the necessary checks and balances would neuter how it is applied and also likely lead to criticism that parliament is assessing itself.

    I suppose it could be that a cross party standards committee could agree that an errant MP be open to recall, which could trigger the possibility of a recall petition, but this would still leave open the question as to what counts as ‘errant’ behaviour, so it would not necessarily solve the problem, nor that such a committee might easily divide along party lines. Could a standards jury be composed of independent assessors? How could independence be established and who would assess their independence? However you look at it, parliament would surely have to be in the end the final arbiter.

    Phyllis could come up with her own suggestions, but does not. If there is a future recall proposal, she may well appear here as a vocal critic, but unless she takes the opportunity to state beforehand what she feels would be an appropriate measure, such criticism would really only amount to a self indulgence.

    An historic problem of the Lib Dems has been its ability to attract those who are more attracted to criticising than mounting constructive proposals. When any likelihood of a role in government had seemed far-fetched, this was more a theoretical than a practical problem. A serious political party needs to be a movement based on a clear outlook and firm governing principles; it cannot be reliant on recruiting critics whose notable consistent attribute is their reluctance to make constructive practical proposals.

  • Perhaps the real reason we don’t have Recall is the suggestion that Lib Dem MPs who reneged on the Tuition Fees Pledge would be the first ones to be Recalled?!

  • From The Guardian 3 June 2010 —

    “.. Alexander’s attention may be divided, since he must also help Clegg press for “fairer” constituency boundaries and a yes vote in the referendum on the alternative vote.

    If the coalition survives Clegg needs both to be in place to face a 2015 election with confidence.

    He knows that past coalition history points to Liberal splits and decline. If top Tories campaign hard against AV and defeat it that is another known unknown. So are Trident and civil nuclear power..”

    So who thinks Clegg is facing any election with confidence?

  • Matt (Bristol) 16th Apr '14 - 11:43am

    @ Ian Sanderson – I think it is fair to Clegg to say that seems in retrospect that that ver long and mixed list of aims was probably from Cameron’s point of view a list of poisoned chalices which Clegg was being freely invited to sup from at leisure in order that he keel over in due course!

    However I think it is also fair to say that the fact of having a plan is not in itself an achievement. Jack Straw had a plan for some of these things; so did Roy Jenkins. We have had several plans, we would like to see something approaching resolution, and I think it is reasonable to see something of the ability of a minister as measured by their ability to get legislation through parliament and onto the statute book, and then enacted.

  • Peter Watson 16th Apr '14 - 11:47am

    I’m probably stating the obvious, but it simply appears that a right to recall MPs was more important to Lib Dem MPs when in Opposition than when in Government. After 2015 it will probably be considered important by Lib Dem MPs again, but whoever’s in Government at that time won’t be keen. The only difference between Lib Dems and the other two parties on this sort of issue is that Lib Dems campaigned earnestly on the basis of a new kind of politics so business as usual is doubly disappointing.

  • Martin “Phyllis could come up with her own suggestions, but does not. If there is a future recall proposal, she may well appear here as a vocal critic, but unless she takes the opportunity to state beforehand what she feels would be an appropriate measure, such criticism would really only amount to a self indulgence.”

    I see. So, the Leader of a major political party tell me via the election campaign that his Party us the only party really committed to Cleaning Up Politics and talks at length and very sincerely about this wonderful thing he will introduce called Recall. It sounds great and I vote for that Party. The leader if that Party is elected and he is given the job of implementing that policy. However nothing happens and now it is said ‘oh well it was a silly and unworkable policy ” and now YOU say it is somehow all MY fault?! I am called a ‘vocal critic’ when all I have do is state the facts – which are that Nick believes in this policy and STILL intends to bring in in. So how does that square with ‘silly and unworkable’ ? No-one has answered that simple question yet, they are too busy haranguing us.

    One person who vehemently disagrees with Nick’s Recall policy is Zac Goldsmith and he has an alternative approach to Recall which Charles Kennedy supports. So is Zac’s approach silly and unworkable too and if so, why would Charles support it??

  • Peter Watson 16th Apr '14 - 11:58am

    @malc ” how do you think a new leader could do any worse?”
    A new leader probably wouldn’t. But if the party still performs badly under a new leader (and who would know whether Clegg would have done better or worse) there will be those who will argue that it was because of the change of leader and that the party should have stuck to its orange-blue guns, and even a decent performance might be attributed to actions before the leadership changed. If Clegg stays in place then a disastrous showing would make it clearer that the party should distance itself from its 2010-2015 position and leadership, whilst success would confirm that instead it should keep calm and carry on.
    It feels odd writing something like that since I won’t vote for the Lib Dems as they are now (and will probably vote against them), but that does not mean it is best for the party in the long-term to court my vote (or possible membership) before 2015.

  • Ian Sanderson
    I apologise, the list is that agreed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg but the numbering was mine and there is an error. It should read —
    Nick Clegg has already been given special responsibility for political and constitutional reform;
    1 Introducing fixed-term Parliaments
    2 Legislating to hold a referendum on the alternative vote system for the House of Commons and to create fewer and more equal sized constituencies
    3 Supporting people with disabilities to become MPs
    4 Introducing a power for people to recall their MP
    5 Developing proposals for a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber
    6 Speeding up implementation of individual voter registration
    7 Considering the “West Lothian question” i.e. that Scottish MPs vote on matters affecting England, but not vice versa.
    8 Introducing a statutory register of lobbyists
    9. Reforming party funding
    10 Supporting all postal primaries’

    But even on your more generous assessment of his performance which I would be happy to accept for the sake of argument, Clegg has only completed one task with any success and maybe two partial successes.

    All of that might not matter if Clegg had held the party together, increased the membership, won a few byelections or even won the debates against .Farage. But he has failed on all of those tasks as well. Failed miserably.

  • Phyllis, it would be helpful if you read what I wrote. I suggested that some kind of measure may emerge, which I began to discuss, but also suggested that you might come out with more criticism.

    If you put forward or showed support for practical proposals then your critical position would have better credibility. In fact you have mentioned proposals suggested by Goldsmith. Would you like to explain the virtues of these proposals so we can see if they stand up and that Simon Shaw’s assertion that any proposals are unsustainable is mistaken?

  • Interestingly if Zac Goldsmith means exactly as he says: “My Presentation Bill calls for a genuine recall mechanism to allow people to dump their representative if a majority has lost confidence in him/her, for whatever reason”, such a process could lead to introducing the Alternative Vote system by the back door. Very few MPs enjoy majority support in elections. This would lead open the possibility of dumping anyone who is unable to garner 50% support for remaining the MP. However low turnouts in by-elections could turn the whole process into utter farce.

  • “I suggested that some kind of measure may emerge, which I began to discuss, but also suggested that you might come out with more criticism.”

    And your evidence for this? May…might….

    It was Simon who first started off this aspect of the discussion by calling Nick’s Recall policy silly and unworkable – a pretty serious charge. . I responded merely to point out that it is NICK CLEGG’s policy and one he is COMMITTED to introducing. It’s up to Nick therefore to explain why his proposals are not silly or unworkable. Seriously, I don’t understand why this is so difficult for you. And quite clearly the only way for this to be settled is for Simon to ring Call Clegg and tell him his policy is not going to work and then we can all listen to Nick’s reasoning. After all he is the author if this policy and it’s his job to bring it in. He has a team of Special Advisors to help him and Civil Servants . I’m just a humble housewife who happened to believe in Nick Clegg, especially when he said in 2010 “legislation WILL be introduced next year to give constituents the right to sack an MP convicted of serious wrongdoing.” (My emphasis).

    From http://carons-musings.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/nick-clegg-promises-recall-elections.html

  • “If you put forward or showed support for practical proposals then your critical position would have better credibility. ”

    My position has plenty of credibility, thanks. But since I haven’t made any criticisms, your reference to my ‘critical position’ is a nonsense.

  • Am off to enjoy the sunshine now.

  • “to give constituents the right to sack an MP convicted of serious wrongdoing” may well happen, though it needs agreed support from both sides of the coalition, however I would suggest that the outcome will look better on paper than in practice. In practice MPs convicted of serious wrongdoing tend to resign before the conviction anyway (e.g. Huhne and MacShane), so this promise appears to carry a rather high bar for its implementation. “Serious wrongdoing” is undefined, but the “convicted” verb suggests legal issues.

    Whether this is turned into formalised legislation or not, the greater problem so far as legal convictions are concerned, it seems to me resides in the HoL.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Apr '14 - 1:06pm

    @ Peter Watson,
    I suspect that you have hit the nail on the head. It is politicians looking after their own.

    David Cameron was shocked at the rawness of emotion that still continues after the MP’s expenses scandal, but anyone listening to ordinary people, a description that I would apply to myself, would not be in the slightest surprised at the televised reaction of constituents to Maria Miller’s behaviour. If I were a politician who espoused the values of people power, I would not be calling the coalition agreement pledge ‘silly’.

    The electors have long memories and what MP’s find excusable when one of their own uses public funds in a way that the ordinary voter considers inappropriate, others call making fraudulent claims. At best there seems to be double standards operating, one for the powerful and one for the powerless. There are plenty of stories in the press, for example, where women ( less educated than many MP’s who have made ‘genuine mistakes’) who do not reveal that they have started to co-habit but continue to draw state funds etc. are punished severely. No -one excuses them on the grounds that they are doing a good job of bringing up their children or whatever.

    There really is a disconnect between politicians ( local and national), if it is we the voter who are at fault for believing the pledges that politicians make.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Apr '14 - 1:14pm

    @ Martin.
    I question why so few politicians have been convicted.

  • Jayne, if it is MPs expenses that you are referring to the lack of convictions is due to the fact that much that we condemn was actually allowed at the time. Nowadys, I think the second home swap trick has been disallowed.
    Maria Miller was apparently exonerated of the main charge. Miller was found guilty of an oversight that related to claims that did not respond to changes in interest rates. I find such oversights as fairly credible and difficult to turn into a criminal prosecution. I suppose it depends where you want to draw the line, but I would have thought there ought to be some scope for human error. It is not an easy line to draw, particularly when in general we would prefer to see ministers concentrating more on matters of state than their private interests.

    Ed Balls is today being investigated for driving away from an accident without reporting it. This sounds serious but the circumstances (parking in a tight space – he claims to be unaware of a crash) make the issue more banal, but would actions of this type trigger a by-election?

  • @Martin

    “Miller was found guilty of an oversight ”

    I do not find the argument “oversight” as being acceptable at all.

    MP’s receiving allowances from the tax payers should be subjected to “exactly” the same set of “sanctions” as the electorate who may or may not be in receipt of a welfare benefit.

    Someone in receipt of benefits would not get away with the excuse that it was an “oversight” they would have their benefits sanctioned for weeks or maybe even months because of this “oversight”
    If this is the set of standards and principles that we apply to the ordinary joe who is claiming money from the public purse in the form of welfare.
    The same set of principles should be applied to members of Parliament. If they are found to have breached rules they should be forced to repay the money and have their “expenses” sanctioned for a period of time.

    After all we are all in this together are we not?

  • Matt: I am not necessarily disagreeing with you; after all Miller had to pay back the excess, though admittedly why the amount was reduces and how it was calculated is unclear to me. As I understand it those on benefit can have mortgage interest as part of their assistance. Presumably similar can happen too, but again I admit to ignorance as to the mechanics. It seems to me the sanctions, in effect paying back, are actually similar. I doubt that those who had claimed too much because interest had been reduced would be subject to criminal proceedings (again if I am wrong I am more than open to be corrected. What must be of concern is that there is no automatic link between interest rates and MPs benefit, which would render these cases obsolete. I agree that MPs and the general public should be treated alike.

    I carry no torch for Maria Miller, but it did strike me that she was specifically targeted and I cannot help but think that her involvement with implementing the Leveson recommendations is behind this. The 32 second apology will come back to haunt parliament when in future MPs will take the excessive pains to make sure that apologies are detailed and tortuously lengthy. The fact of an officially recorded apology really ought to suffice: dwelling on 32 seconds only suggests that something else was at stake.

  • @ Martin

    “As I understand it those on benefit can have mortgage interest as part of their assistance. Presumably similar can happen too, but again I admit to ignorance as to the mechanics. ”

    There is indeed support for mortgage interest (SMI) for those on welfare, this is however capped at 3.63% for everyone, regardless of the actual interest rate you are charged by your mortgage provider. Also you can only claim SMI on the original house purchase price, unlike MP’s who extended their mortgages with goodness know’s how many home improvements at the tax payers expense. (though the rules have changed now)

    ” It seems to me the sanctions, in effect paying back, are actually similar.”

    I do not think the two are the same at all. Someone who over claims on benefits whether it be by fault or accident would have to pay back the full amount and face sanctions on top of the repayments. in fact in extreme cases, someone can be sanctioned
    http://www.turn2us.org.uk/information__resources/benefits/working_or_looking_for_work/jobseekers_allowance/jsa_sanctions_-_turn2us.aspx
    The lower level of sanction
    four weeks for the first failure
    13 weeks for any further failures within 52 weeks of the last failure.
    A higer level sanction will last for:
    13 weeks for a first failure
    26 weeks for a second failure
    156 weeks for any further failure within 52 weeks of the last failure.

    So you see an MP being asked to pay something back for false claiming and a welfare claimant who has been subjected to a sanction, the two are worlds apart.

    People who receive money from the public purse should be treated exactly the same, be it a welfare claimant, civil servant or member of parliament. The same set of rules and principles should apply to all.

  • Chris Manners 16th Apr '14 - 4:30pm

    Simon Shaw,

    Apol, hadn’t seen your comments about Lib Dems post-2015.

  • Matt: your link does not apply to anything other than availability for work, reasons for leaving employment and training, so is not directly relevant. I found nothing that relates to notifying over payment or similar. I had understood that in these cases claimants were required to give back the money or have reduced benefit until the amount is recouped.

    However your information that mortgage interest is capped at 3.63% is very interesting. Clearly the issue for MPs could be very easily dealt with if they were subject to the same condition. I really see no reason why this should not be the case. However on the Miller issue we are talking about the previous discredited system, where she is one of a large number of MPs who profiteered within the rules, which makes them culpable of greed but not indictable.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Apr '14 - 5:29pm

    @ Martin,
    If Zac Goldsmith or any other politicians’ proposals lead to Alternative vote by the back door, so much the better. I voted for it through the front door as a step closer to STV.

    As far as I am concerned it is chicken and egg. If people felt that they had real power to change things, they might be less apathetic when it comes to voting.

  • @Martin.

    Those where just examples given on one DWP website. there are many reasons why people are sanctioned. They are not limited to failure to take employment.
    People can be sanctioned for not “looking” hard enough for work.
    Applying for enough jobs.
    being late for appointments
    etc etc.
    https://www.gov.uk/government/news/benefit-sanctions-ending-the-something-for-nothing-culture

  • Jayne: I take your point, I too voted as you did, but cannot see it happening. How many times would you allow a recall in a constituency? It could lead to continual petitions and by-elections.

    Matt: but nothing on notifying overpayments. However I can think of at least one Lib Dem MP who might suffer as a result of a “being late for appointments” sanction.

  • @Martin.

    But I was not talking about just over payments. I was talking about the use of sanctions in general. There are many stories and articles floating around about this but to be honest I do not have the time or inclination to search them all out. However, I am sure that you are familiar with such articles as someone would have to be living on a different planet if they claimed otherwise.

    Incidentally if someone falsely claims benefits I think it is 2 years they can be banned from claiming benefits altogether.

    The point was however that at present there seems to be one rule for us mere mortals in society and much more lenient set of rules for our parliamentarians.

  • Simon Shaw: did you also see that Phyllis found the quotation that Nick Clegg, said in 2010 “legislation will be introduced next year to give constituents the right to sack an MP convicted of serious wrongdoing.” “Convicted of serious wrongdoing” really does rather limit the proposal. I would not be in the least surprised to see such a bill being introduced, but I am less sure who would find it very significant.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Apr '14 - 7:21pm

    @ Simon Shaw,

    Clearly we are approaching this from different angles.

    I am approaching from the angle of a voter who believed that the politicians concerned, and who I voted for were people of their word. This whole issue for me is one of trust in the pledges and promises made by politicians. Your assumption is wrong, I have offered no preferred way of the Lib Dems putting their pledge into practice. That is something that the person or people who made the pledge should have done before making it.

    You on the other hand seem to expect me to tell you, a politician how you should meet the pledge that was made. Ifind that extraordinary.

    I can only relate this situation of making promises and pledges to life in general. If someone breaks a pledge or a promise, I do not offer them my trust so readily. To say that the promise was made without due thought going into it by the person who made the pledge also damages my trust. In the first instance because the person is untrustworthy, in the second because they are incompetent and not fit for purpose. When promises or pledges are broken repeatedly.

    I believe that the STV is the least flawed of the voting systems simply because we the electorate can vote for the person rather than the party. For example, a Labour person who was against the Iraq war might still vote for someone standing for labour because they are a thoroughly good egg even though they thoroughly disapprove of the actions of party hierarchy. I might still be able to vote Liberal Democrat if the person seeking to represent me shared values closer to mine than your current hierarchy.

    I now feel that we won’t get AV or STV in my life time, but I still think that people by and large vote for the person rather than the party. I suspect that many tories in Maria Miller’s constituency will not vote tory if she is the candidate, especially now we have a choice of so many parties competing for the ‘middle ground’ because they think it mops up more voters.

    You seem to have very little faith in the electorate. I think that by and large the electorate are very fair. If people vote to recall a politician, I believe that they will do so because they have a strong sense of right and wrong and that it will be because they believe that politicians who are guilty of gross misconduct should not serve a full term.

    My husband and I have just received our polling cards and the issue of trust is uppermost in our minds.

  • So Nick Clegg makes a policy promise – which hasn’t been thought through – to get the Lib Dems elected. However, I as a voter can’t be critical of him unless I can explain how to implement it. How is that not crazy?

    Jayne Mansfield:

    I absolutely agree with you. In the past it was all about policies, now for me and my family it’s all about trust.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Apr '14 - 9:48pm

    @ Martin,
    I would envisage only one unless compelling new evidence came to light after the vote.

    I was opposed to a referendum on the EU and one of my reasons was how many referendums on Europe will we have? Will people accept the results especially if there is no large margin between the in and the outs, and what proportion of people need to vote to demonstrate that the result is really what the majority of people in this country want.

    I am now a great believer in petitions. I started supporting 38 degrees when I and the rest of the electorate were ‘mislead’ about the massive top down re-organisation of the NHS and the marketisation of health care. I want the two doctors who fought to keep Lewisham hospital open to win. I have a family member living in London and for the first time in my life I am going to offer practical as well as financial support to help their political campaigns in any way I can that does not involve good eyesight. I would also support Dr Clive Peedell in his fight within David Cameron’s constituency if I had a place to stay.

    I seem to remember a time when Liberal Democrats were quite keen on petitions. I signed one on the legalisation of drugs.

  • Peter Watson 17th Apr '14 - 8:01am

    Gosh. In a single thread Simon has said, “I believe that it is absolutely essential that the Lib Dems AREN’T in government following the 2015 General Election.” and dismissed as “silly” a 2010 manifesto policy (which made it into the Coalition Agreement – unlike tuition fees, and which I would hope was debated by members and supported by MPs). This from someone I used to consider the most loyal Lib Dem on Lib Dem Voice.

  • Simon Shaw: on its own the reduction in the number of MPs proposal was not only silly but greatly risked making a poorly representative democracy significantly worse.

    Reducing the number of MPs could only be acceptable in the context of a more representative voting system (AV was barely that). In fact Nick Clegg should be congratulated for what was supposed to be an interim, b policy for the House of Lords, in which Members were appointed in numbers that reflect support at the last election. This policy has turned out to be a guarantee that the HoL will have to be reformed, unless it becomes accepted that the number of peers rise remorselessly.

  • Peter Watson 17th Apr '14 - 6:41pm

    @Martin “Reducing the number of MPs could only be acceptable in the context of a more representative voting system”
    Indeed. The party policy in the 2010 manifesto was “Liberal Democrats will … change politics and abolish safe seats by introducing a fair, more proportional voting system for MPs. Our preferred Single Transferable Vote system gives people the choice between candidates as well as parties. Under the new system, we will be able to reduce the number of MPs by 150.”
    I don’t know if Simon thinks that original policy is silly or the one that followed coalition, namely combining a spot of gerrymandering with arbitrarily dropping 50 seats. I would agree that the latter policy (Clegg’s?) is silly, but would hope that the former (Lib Dems’) is a well thought through part of the party’s desire for a more representative parliament (sadly ballsed up by Clegg).

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