Times: “The increasingly confident and powerful Mr Clegg”

Anyone who watched Prime Minister’s Question Time or listens to Call Clegg regularly will know that Nick Clegg is often in relaxed, confident mood these days. He answers questions with ease and authenticity.

Writing in today’s Times, Alice Thomson writes about the “increasingly confident and powerful Mr Clegg” in a way that makes you think she doesn’t really like it.

But the bizarre paradox is that the more scandals they have overcome and the worse the Lib Dems do in the polls, the more confident their high command has become.

She doesn’t really take into account that national polls don’t really mean that much and that, actually, Liberal Democrats are going to be able to present quite a good record of promises kept at the next election. Three of the four major priorities on the front of the manifesto are delivered and the fourth wasn’t solely because of the conservative nature of our coalition and the opposition.

She looks at the relative state of the two other parties:

Labour, consistently ahead in the polls, should be buoyed up. Yet they are holed by union shenanigans and personal feuds. “Ed Balls plays the piano while the Titanic sinks,’ said one despondent former Blairite. The two Eds can’t agree on the economy or election tactics.

The Tories should be taking the credit for turning the economy round, but the bulk of the party is in despair. Able junior ministers are privately panicking that the next election is already lost.

Meanwhile the Lib Dems danced the night away at their Christmas party at the Ministry of Sound with seemingly few cares. While the other two parties attack each other over education and energy, HS2 and hospital waiting times, stealing each other’s policies and trading insults, they have slipped through the middle, less scrutinised than the other two parties.

Less scrutinised? Really?

On Lib Dem influence

The Deputy PM has seen off all his leadership challenges. Vince Cable has become remarkably on message. Danny Alexander enjoys his role as number two to George Osborne. Alistair Carmichael is settling in as the Scottish Secretary, saving the Union.

The Lib Dems are also becoming more influential. Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, is presiding over a growing number of expensive wind farms and has protected most of the so-called green levies that are pushing up the cost of electricity. He only allowed the Chancellor to make a token £50 cut in energy bills — financed by higher taxes.

Mr Clegg has become increasingly bold at bartering after his refusal to let Mr Cameron have his boundary changes. When the Tory leader insisted on a transferable tax allowance for married couples, Mr Clegg insisted that he receive the same amount of money to increase free school meals for infants. “Totally bonkers and counter to everything the coalition stands for but we had to swallow it,” said a Downing Street aide. Last week Mr Clegg announced new plans for shared parental leave for up to a year, again angering Tories.

No Tory should have been surprised about shared parental leave. Not if they’d read page 20 of the Coalition Agreement, anyway:

We will encourage shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy – including the promotion of a system of flexible parental leave.

Apparently, Cameron is seen as pandering to Clegg by some Tories:

The other party leaders are letting them get away with it because they also believe they are facing a hung Parliament and don’t want to get on the wrong side of El Cid. “In the last few weeks Clegg has become more aggressive and the Prime Minister just keeps giving in,” said one disgruntled minister.

Some Tories are worrying that they are fighting the wrong battle:

The two main leaders are short-sighted if they let Mr Clegg continue unchallenged. “We are focusing on the wrong enemy, trying to out-UKIP UKIP, when in fact many of our biggest battles for seats will be against the Liberal Democrats,” said one Tory moderniser.

Mr Clegg cleverly refuses to say whom he will install as PM. He says it will be the people who will decide if Labour or the Tories end up as the largest party.

You can read the whole article here (£)

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29 Comments

  • “She doesn’t really take into account that national polls don’t really mean that much …”

    Well, obviously they mean that over half those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 would not now vote for the party.

    What they mean in terms of seats at the next general election remains to be seen, but to present that fact as meaningless in itself suggests a rather contemptuous view of your former supporters, which is probably not a recipe for electoral success.

  • OK ‘NewsHound’ you say
    But the bizarre paradox is that the more scandals they have overcome and the worse the Lib Dems do in the polls, the more confident their high command has become.

    She doesn’t really take into account that national polls don’t really mean that much and that, actually, Liberal Democrats are going to be able to present quite a good record of promises kept at the next election. Three of the four major priorities on the front of the manifesto are delivered and the fourth wasn’t solely because of the conservative nature of our coalition and the opposition.

    I say, I will bet you a £20 charitable donation that the Lib Dems are not part of the next government and lose at least 20 seats, including almost all their current Scottish seats.

    Clearly you think this is unlikely to happen as you do not think polling or Clegg’s own personal unpopularity are issues.

    Will you take this bet?

  • paul barker 4th Dec '13 - 6:17pm

    Part of the explanation must lie in our relative unity.
    Tories are preparing to tear themselves apart over “Europe”, again.
    Labour have seen their “Poll Lead” halve over the last year & are 3 months from a Special Conferenc where there is still no prospect of a deal. Milliband has made concession after concession but Union Bosses are still not satisfied, apparently. Interesting times ahead.

  • “Labour have seen their “Poll Lead” halve over the last year …”

    That would be a more convincing point if you hadn’t argued repeatedly that opinion poll ratings were meaningless – that was in response to low ratings for the Lib Dems, of course …

  • Tony Dawson 4th Dec '13 - 10:57pm

    A poor article about a poorer article.

    “Writing in today’s Times, Alice Thomson writes about the “increasingly confident and powerful Mr Clegg””

    And apparently with genuine surprise. She doesn’t appear to understand the concept of ‘denial’. 🙁 But hen, nor does ‘Newshound’.

  • Paul Kennedy 4th Dec '13 - 11:53pm

    It is unfortunate though that Nick was unable to respond to Nick Raynsford’s question at PMQs about Conservative Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s obsession with promoting free schools whatever the cost:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiM6k-Mc60A

    The Council is ignoring overwhelming opposition from parents, governors, teachers and the local community to close popular and successful Sulivan Primary School – which is the only school in the borough to win the coveted Gold Award from the London Mayor this year – because the Council wants to hand its land to a selective free school one of whose governors is the wife of a Tory MP.

    I have tweeted my answer to the question under @paulkenfulham.

  • David Allen 5th Dec '13 - 12:54am

    Those rose-tinted spectacles again!

    If Lib Dems need cheering up – which is understandable of course – it’d be healthier for them to drink themselves silly.

  • Newshound would appear to have been borrowing Nigella Lawson’s baking powder.

    It really looks desperate wen people in politics say things like this –
    ” national polls don’t really mean that much and that, actually, Liberal Democrats are going to be able to present quite a good record of promises kept at the next election. ”

    In last week’s by-elections Liberal Democrats were achieving results of 1% and 3%. If anything the national opinion polls are giving false hope by suggesting support of around 13%. Liberal Democrats at the next general election will be able to present whatever record they like but will it make any difference when the voters stopped listening some time ago.

    People interested in betting on election results might want to consider how many lost deposits Clegg’s leadership will mark up. Anyone know the odds for this? The bookmakers rarely get these things wrong because they know that actually despite what Newshound and others in the party might pretend it really is not true to claim that ” national polls don’t really mean that much” .

    What will the impact on the future of the party be if after 2015 an unsympathetic media were able to say that the Liberal Democrats lost more deposits than UKIP?

  • A C McGregor 5th Dec '13 - 8:22am

    @g: lose 20 seats as in specific seats, or lose 20 seats overall (i.e. end up with 37 or less)?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 5th Dec '13 - 8:35am

    The national polls are not the best guide because they take no account of incumbency and extrapolations from them assume a uniform national swing. The Ashcroft polling shows us that we’re doing well in the seats where we face the Tories. The tripling of Lib Dem membership in Ashfield over the past few months and good by-election results up north shows that we can do well, where we put the effort in in Labour areas. Add to that more effort than ever before is going in to getting campaigning in held seats up to where it needs to and the picture is not as gloomy as some make out.

    Ultimately those who want to see Liberal Democrats elected will grit their teeth and get on with the job of making that happen. Those who don’t will play up the negatives for their own reasons.

  • @ Caron

    Thanks for that dose of common sense mixed with hope. However, the breezy assumption that national polls don’t matter is the most worrying assertion in this article.

    Westminster commentators may be impressed with Nick Clegg, but out on the doorsteps of the UK, the message about what the Lib Dems are doing is simply not being heard, hence our appalling poll ratings. To dismiss the parlous situation of our party in the polls airily as this article does is simply not acceptable. We need to find a way of fighting back and winning over both the defectors to Labour and also those going to “Don’t know” of whom, according to the polls, there are nearly as many.

  • Rather than congratulating ourselves on how supposedly “confident and powerful” Nick Clegg is within the Westminster bubble, shouldn’t we instead be looking at what is happening in the real world?

    I am a party loyalist and Coalition supporter, but I am horrified at the evidence emerging of what is unfolding in the UK’s poorest areas at the moment.

    There is a report, commissioned by Kent County Council but then hurriedly hushed up, about the impact of benefit changes on the least well off in the county. While a lot of it is based on supposition and questionable, rehashed evidence from elsewhere, there seems to be enough in it to be of profound concern about how badly some people are being affected.

    Kent Online has kindly made it available despite KCC trying to suppress it. I attach a link here and I think it should be compulsory reading for our party leadership. They should be concerned, very concerned about its content and implications.

    http://twileshare.com/bhdj

  • A C McGregor @g: lose 20 seats as in specific seats, or lose 20 seats overall (i.e. end up with 37 or less)?

    Lose 20 overall. It could well be less, but as Caron says there is an incumbency factor to offset the worst damage.

  • Paul In Twickenham 5th Dec '13 - 9:56am

    @John Tilley – oddly enough I was looking at the political betting on Paddy Power just a few days ago. The shortest odds on Lib Dem lost deposits was 2/1 for more than 150 (i.e. the largest number of lost deposits had the shortest odds).

    As I noted a few days ago, the latest Observer poll put the Lib Dems on 8% versus 19% for UKIP. And yet Mr Clegg’s response to the immigration debate that has triggered this surge is to use language that – while it can be defended as Internationalist in its small print – was nonetheless clearly intended to give the headline impression that the Lib Dems are part of the anti immigration consensus.

  • Peter Tyzack 5th Dec '13 - 9:56am

    my only worry about ‘opinion’ polls is that they appear(at least the ones I took part in) to be rigged in favour of the agenda of he who pays for them, they then become the basis of copious stories which the electorate meekly swallow, ie on the way to becoming self-fulfilling prophesies.

  • Peter Tyzack 5th Dec '13 - 10:02am

    interesting that in the list of successes of our MPs this woman writer overlooks the remarkable successes of our women, especially Jo Swinson, but then it’s only a newspaper.
    Perhaps if we all hold our nerve and stop being negative, we could just see a growth in the number of our seats. We may have a better internal democracy than our opponents but, when the chips are down, they have far better internal discipline. If Clegg were to get the full hearted support of his Party members it could even be he who is forming the next Government, not merely choosing who to support.

  • Peter Tyzack, Jo Swinson is unlikely to be reelected. Her vote share has been declining since 2005 and it only takes a 4-5% swing to Labour for her to lose. I think that is highly likely.

  • Peter Tyzack 5th Dec ’13 – 10:02am
    ” If Clegg were to get the full hearted support of his Party members it could even be he who is forming the next Government, not merely choosing who to support. ”

    Dream on Peter, if it makes you feel happy. But do not confuse people who are being realistic with people who are “being negative”.
    If a doctor diagnoses a dangerous, potentially life-threatening condition, that doctor is not “being negative”, that doctor is giving you the facts..
    Or is the Peter Tyzack patent medicine for all cases of political ill-health to have greater party discipline and less muttering in the ranks? If that was true the SWP would have won every general election since it was set up.

  • Paul In Twickenham 5th Dec ’13 – 9:56am
    @John Tilley – oddly enough I was looking at the political betting on Paddy Power just a few days ago. The shortest odds on Lib Dem lost deposits was 2/1 for more than 150 (i.e. the largest number of lost deposits had the shortest odds).
    As I noted a few days ago, the latest Observer poll put the Lib Dems on 8% versus 19% for UKIP.

    That is interesting. So how much would a Liberal Democrat constituency party have to bet to get enough money back to cover its lost deposit? There may be 150 local party treasurers out there who need to know.

  • David Allen 5th Dec '13 - 12:25pm

    Here is Simon Hoggart’s view on the confident Mr Clegg:

    “It’s slightly alarming: Nick Clegg is turning into David Cameron. He admires him so much, he is starting to become him. I noticed the phenomenon at the start of prime minister’s questions yesterday. Cameron was still in China, …, so Clegg took his place. …

    And increasingly, the leading Lib Dems are beginning to resemble the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm. If you recall, they were in the vanguard of the revolution against the humans, with the slogan “Four legs good, two legs bad”. But everything changes. The pigs betray their principles, join the enemy, and in the novel’s closing scene the other animals stare through the window looking at pigs and people having a dinner party, as equals. The pigs are up on their hind trotters and no one can tell the difference.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/dec/04/sketch-clegg-cameron-clone

  • “The national polls are not the best guide because they take no account of incumbency and extrapolations from them assume a uniform national swing. The Ashcroft polling shows us that we’re doing well in the seats where we face the Tories.”

    As a matter of fact, the latest Ashcroft poll showed the Lib Dem percentage down by 10 points in seats where you face the Tories – not very much different from the national polls.

  • Great article ‘newshound’ – Pravda couldn’t have managed a better job.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 5th Dec '13 - 5:02pm

    Coalition has exposed the Liberal Democrats for what they are — closet Tories. You were able to hide your true political orientation from the electorate at the last general election but now it is there for all to see. Clegg makes a perfect Tory deputy prime minister. That’s why you will lose most of your seats at the next general election. Why should the electorate in Tory seats vote for closet Tories when they can have the real thing, or better still, UKIP? As for a coalition with the Left after the next General Election, you can forget it. I’d rather bite my own arm off than agree to my party going into coalition with those who shored up the appalling Tories, allowed them to destroy the State, treble tuition fees, impose a bedroom tax, scapegoat those on benefits and keep this country flat lining for years without any significant increase in growth, employment, (except for unreal jobs) and reduction of the deficit.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 5th Dec '13 - 5:16pm

    Forgot to mention that UK Polling report is projecting a Labour Majority today of 76. The Liberal Democrats continue to languish between 9% and 10%.

  • Yes, I agree he seems more confident, I even disagree with him slightly less … I just would wish to have a party leader with whom I could fully, or even 75% identify with politically!

  • paul barker 5th Dec '13 - 9:06pm

    First – on “The Polls”. There are lots of useful & informative Polls – on how Voters expect The Libdems to do in 2015 for example, the typical figure there is usually around 15%.
    There are Polls asking Voters if they trust Labour with The Economy, if they want to see a majority Labour Government, if they want Milliband as PM or if they can imagine him in that position. These results cluster round the mid 20s.
    So, why are Labour averaging 38% in “The” Polls ? Because Voting Intention Polls ask how we would vote “if there was an Election tomorow, an Election that cant happen. All the Voter is promising to do is Vote for X in an Election that cant happen, a promise worth as much as a cheque backdated to the 30th of February. Go back & check how well past Polling has predicted Elections.

    All this of course is assuming that nothing much will happen to change things in the next 6 months & maybe nothing will. Perhaps The Tories will keep their splits to themselves & treat UKIP as an irritant rather than an existential threat. Perhaps Labour will get through their March Conference with no ructions; perhaps their Polling has stabilised after the falls (& rises) of the last year. Lets wait & see.

  • Michael Parsons 6th Dec '13 - 9:11am

    onfident? Clegg only sounded foolish and flustered when he ‘stood-in’ for Cameron the other day: he even claimed that you can’t control energy prices (but then,, the enrgy companies do that for us, don’t they?) and was applauded by Coalition backbenchers with a shout of ‘He’s becoming a Tory’! But then of course, in policy, old False Flags always has been.

  • Tubby Isaacs 6th Dec '13 - 11:45pm

    Talking of scandals, I take it you now accept John Hemming has completely messed up on the “social workers kidnap baby after sly Caesarean”?

    He’s been on Mumsnet, threatening to report someone who argued with him to the Bar Council, and to sue her.

    New politics!

    Toast.

  • Michael Parsons 6th Dec ’13 – 9:11am
    Clegg … … was applauded by Coalition backbenchers with a shout of ‘He’s becoming a Tory’! But then of course, in policy, old False Flags always has been.

    Michael Parsons may be right. Unfortunately we knew very little about Clegg, or what he believed, before he became Liberal Democrat Leader in December 2007. At that time he had only been an MP in the House of Commons for two years.

    His speech yesterday on Mandela reminded me just how young he is. Born in 1967, Clegg was not born at the time of the Rivonia Trial. When Mandela walked out of Victor Verster prison in February 1990, Clegg was just 23 years old and had been spending1989 working in a bank in Helsinki. He went on to spend a year in Minnesota, then to New York and then to Brussels to take a second Masters degree. He was an MEP from 1999 until 2004 when he ceased to be an MEP. So when he stepped into the already Liberal Democrat Sheffield seat as an MP his rise had been meteoric but mostly outside the UK.

    The voters of his Sheffield constituency probably knew more about their Liberal Democrat councillors than they did about Clegg when he was elected in 2005. They probably thought he represented the same sort of Liberal approach as those councillors, or as his predecessor as MP. I wonder if they still think that.

    What does Nick Clegg believe? Does he believe in anything much beyond the eternal right of people from his class to step effortlessly into positions of power?

    He has had plenty of opportunity to tell us what he believes since 2007.
    But all we get is this vapid crap about being “in the centre”.

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