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Nick Clegg Was A Bad Leader

By Sara Scarlett
May 20th, 2015 at 5:20 am | 3 Comments | Posted in AV referendum, coalition, Liberal Democrats

I feel that someone should just say it. Despite showing a great deal of dignity in the End, here are my brief impressions of where Clegg went badly, badly wrong:

1. Clegg did not reform the party structure.

The party machine is a useless maze of committees and associations. In order to free himself from this labrinth of dysfunction, Clegg’s office appeared to separate themselves from the main party. This put distance between him and the members and he became more and more out-of-touch. A good leader would have reformed the party structure not treat it as an inconvenience to be managed.

2. Clegg did not get rid of Rennard sooner.

To his credit Rennard is gone. But how much better would it have been had Rennard been gone sooner? Lord Rennard clearly did not have the party’s best intrests at heart and any meaningful reform was impossible whilst Rennard was still sat upon his throne. Nick Clegg only got rid of Rennard when he had to. The damage was already done.

3. Clegg surrounded himself with amateurs.

Angela has already comprehensively addressed this one.

4. Clegg sold the LibDems too cheaply.

The price for the LibDems going into Coalition should have been PR by STV. Not a referendum, but a constitutional agreement that all future elections were to be contested this way. Without this Clegg wrote the LibDems suicide note. Pehaps the lure of power was too tempting. That should have been the ultimate LibDem red line.


Moving On From Rochester…

By Sara Scarlett
November 25th, 2014 at 1:30 am | 2 Comments | Posted in coalition, Government, Leadership, Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

Lord Unappealing is attempting to make himself relevant again by opining on something for which he does at least have historic expertise, by-elections.

His number crunching is no doubt correct, the slightly vacuous plea for better tactics could also no doubt have delivered a better result than 342 votes, the strategic insight though is entirely lacking.

The Liberal Democrat brand, outside areas where local quality outshines national performance is poison. This in no small part due to a series of self-inflicted disasters from casual flip-flopping on policy to covering up for undesirable characters. Something for which the Party’s former seat grabber is more than a little responsible.

It is an organisation which has a lot of very nice people in it, some with good ideas, but in which no one takes responsibility for anything. It has no clear sense of direction, or consistency. It displays no sign that it knows what to do about it.

That is a hard sell for a by-election where narrative matters as much as tactics.

Matters will improve for the Party after the next election. That is unless it is in Government again, in which case it is unlikely. They will improve when Nick Clegg has been replaced, most likely by Tim Farron. Nick’s stock is so low he could cure cancer and still attract headlines for failing to stop Ebola. Tim at least has a down to earth appeal and sense of integrity the Party badly needs.

Good tactics will help, but they’re icing not the cake. UKIP is amply demonstrating that you don’t need svengali election gurus to win. You do need a good story and motivated base. And I strongly suspect that has much more to do with the success of ‘Rennardism’ in the 90s, than the unhealthy myths he allowed to be built up around himself and the ‘campaign cult’.

The danger for the Party in the next 5 years is that it continues to live in an introverted little bubble of ancestor worship for past glory that has little relevance to the mire it is in today. It’s a very serious risk given the Party even now still divides between people who want to fight Thatcher and those that want to fight Brown, both long gone. It will have a Parliamentary group where an aging group of peers outnumber MPs by 3-4:1, and several of them still act in a way that revolts the new generation. The Commons group may be entirely pale and male.

The next Leader then faces a challenge. Build a story that matters to the public and people who might wish to support it. Or live in the past, and pander to it. You can’t though do both. The Party needs to move on from fighting the last by-election.

Support for the Coalition Melts

By Leslie Clark
May 4th, 2012 at 6:49 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in coalition

Voters have expressed their cold feet at the direction of the coalition across the country. In one Edinburgh ward, a man dressed as a penguin – Professor Pongoo – gained more first preference votes than the Liberal Democrat candidate.

Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will need to assess where they go from here. Saying its down to mid-term blues after another drubbing won’t do (Alex Salmond, the Scottish Emperor politician, was able to increase the number of SNP councillors whilst in government).

Certain Tories will want their party to move further right to appease UKIP, whilst many Liberal Democrats will no doubt seek to shift the party leftwards after Labour’s gains. It will be hard to reconcile these views. Some may say they are poles apart.

However, the senior party figures that have taken to the airwaves have been silent on the key issue following the local authority elections: just what are the increasingly out of touch Cameron and Clegg going to do about a potential march of the penguins?

Not So Happy Feet

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Chris Huhne goes, but is this the Rule of Law(s)?

By Tom Papworth
February 3rd, 2012 at 11:34 am | 3 Comments | Posted in coalition, Government, Liberal Democrats

So Chris Huhne (and ex-wife Vicky Pryce)  is to be charged with perverting the course of justice as a result of allegations that the former Environment Secretary Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change allowed or persuaded his wife to accept speeding penalty points on his behalf in 2003.

Mr Huhne strenuously denies the charges (and one can’t help but wonder whether Ms. Pryce will be less keen to repeat her allegations now that she is being charged as well) but it has not saved him. He has been forced to resign from the Cabinet.

It’s an odd business, to say the least. Not the charges themselves – this matter needs to be investigated and, if there is a prima facie case, charges should be filed. What is odd is the fact that he has to resign now.

It is a fundamental principle of the rule of law that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In most walks of life, that would extend to whether one has to resign from one’s job as well. If one is accused of a crime, an employer might suspend a member of staff, to distance itself from the issue, but to sack a person (or expect them to resign) while they try to clear their name is usually considered to be unfair.

What is interesting is that different rules appear to apply to politicians – and to other public figures. On the one hand, there is no process for suspending a minister, or allowing them to step aside temporarily, while the matter is investigated. The minister must quit – end of. I suspect that this is a hangover from the origins of ministerial office, with the minister acknowledging their duty to protect the sovereign from embarrassment. It seems to be a bit harsh in the modern world. Chris Huhne, like anybody else, should have the opportunity to prove their innocence without penalty.

And if he’s guilty, he should be sacked, rather than being allowed to resign.

That being said, it has happened, and there is feverish speculation about who will replace him. Will Ed Davey come into the Cabinet? Will Norman Lamb replace Ed Davey as Employment Minister?

Both would be welcome moves, but people seem to be forgetting one obvious potential promotion. It is widely recognised that David Laws is ripe for a return to the front benches. Is this unfortunate event an opportunity to bring about the return of Laws?

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The future’s bright…the future’s orange

By Angela Harbutt
September 25th, 2011 at 6:00 am | 10 Comments | Posted in coalition, Liberal Democrats

A personal view of Conference 2011: I walked away from conference on Wednesday with that bloody annoying mobile phone company’s strap-line in my head. I certainly didn’t expect that when I headed out on Saturday. 

In fact to be frank, for the first couple of days of conference I confess that I thought it was more grey than orange. Dreary grey Brummie clouds hung menacingly over a huge ugly grey conference building that seemed packed to the rafters with earnest young men and women in grey suits. I have never seen so many corporates at a Lib Dem conference. Welcome to power and influence I suppose. Even the mood was pretty grey. I thought at first it was gloom and despair (or was that  just Vince’s speech!). But actually it was more steely than gloomy, more resolute than resigned. But you could almost feel the burden of power weighing heavily on the party’s shoulders.

So….a grey, dull conference. But dull is good. Dull means no reckless, immature muscle-flexing from conference played out for all the nation to witness. Dull means no leadership humiliations. No pictures of 2000 or so voting passes held up high. No hurried press calls to “explain” what the hell just happened. Dull is good.

It was father funny to see so many media types scratching their heads and tearing up their scripts. Lib Dem conference all serious and grown up. With conference refusing to play ball, there was just the the danger that some journalists might actually have to leave the comfort of the bar/media centre and go  do some proper journalism around the place. Perish the thought.

Actually conference was not as grey as it first looked. It was also very yellow. I was struck by the conference hall – didn’t it look very, very yellow compared to last year where we saw much more blue?  Doubtless this is all part of the “distinctiveness” strategy. And what about that fabulous dress Miriam turned out in on the last day?

It was also very very orange. Never have I met so many economic liberals in the bar, in the fringes, in the conference hall itself. I don’t know how many have always been there keeping a low profile and how many were new. Some were definitely new . They were university students, graduates, first jobbers, newbies to conference. They get liberalism; they are internationalists; they stand up for civil liberties; and yes they are orange bookers. They are definitively NOT Tories. Some were clearly old guard – some even had beards! They had long thought that liberalism had been neglected by the party. Too many years in opposition had allowed us to get flabby – promise spend on everyone and everything. That policy was being driven by a small highly organised minority that had over the years actually got out of kilter ith the mainstream of the party….

But every political party has it’s factions. Factions are good. They expose weak arguments , encourage the generation of ideas, test and often improve ideas. And you see this nowhere else like you see at conference. On line, behind the anonymity of the pc, people can be hideously rude. Vicious even. You only have to have read the comments on the Liberal Vision blog to see how much anger and bile we have been subjected to. At conference – and especially at this conference we saw the factions of the party talking to one another, laughing with each other, challenging each other, and agreeing with other. I know the media don’t like that – maybe some party members won’t like it either… but from the sharp end i saw it happen…

So the party has grown up. The conference was mature. The factions more engaged with one another. I guess when times are tough and the stakes get raised you pull together. I certainly hope so.

Sad to say however – I do not think that I can say the same for some of  the party’s leading lights. Yes I get the need for us to be distinctive. I understand the urge to show at every opportunity that we are not “Tory patsies” . But there is a fine line between being “distinctive” and being destructive. And that was a line several senior MPs crossed. I doubt it was intentional. I could be generous and say that they were simply playing to the gallery. I could be harsh and say they had one eye on the next leadership challenge. I certainly don’t buy the idea that this was co-ordinated. But the outcome was that for a while the conference descended into a cacophony of increasingly vitriolic anti-Tory rhetoric.  The Tories had “tainted us” and their political tactics were “evil”. (Farron). They were “too city dominated”  and the Conservative Right were the “descendants of those who sent children up chimneys” (Cable) or Tea Party extremists “slavering” to cut taxes for the rich (Huhne).  I was particularly sad to see two of our senior Government ministers  leading this unseemly assault. What were they thinking?

It was a sign of the maturity of the conference that this did not go down as well as you might expect. Yes, conference had enjoyed the bloody spectacle at the time. But in the bar the talk was definitely NOT about how great this all was. Many of those you might expect to be relishing the Tory bashing were shaking their heads.  There was genuine concern.  “It’s gone to far”…”I’ve got to work the the Tory councillors next week…. ” Why aren’t we giving Balls or Milliband a kicking?”… “It looks so crap on TV” … “How can he go back into cabinet after saying that?”…. well you know its gone too far when Shirley Williams calls time on the Tory bashing.

So praise be that come Wednesday, Nick gave possibly his best speech at conference since becoming leader. Guns blazing. Fire in his belly and a gleam in his eye. His closing speech to conference was a masterclass in the right way to get across the party’s distinctiveness. Talk about what you have done, what you want to do and (most importantly) tell people why you are doing it. Some of our critics called the speech lean. I call it perfectly measured. It was a serious speech, but a passionate one. . Rarely have I seen the conference react so warmly to him.

There were two elements of his speech that were particularly revealing about where Nick is taking the party. And it is good news for all of us. Firstly I don’t recall having ever heard the word “liberal” used more in any speech at our conference. He talked of our liberal spirit  and  “liberal valuesof  “a liberal nation” and a “liberal society. I confess I gave a tiny cheer (in my head – not out loud of course) on each and every one  of the 19 times he used the word.

Secondly, he used the word “Labour” 13 times… And what he says tells us a lot…. 

“Another term of Labour would have been a disaster for our economy. So don’t for a moment let Labour get away with it. Don’t forget the chaos and fear of 2008. And never, ever trust Labour with our economy again”

Nick was on top form on Wednesday. He has put liberalism front and centre of our party and made Labour the focus of his scorn (ruling out any chance of a LibLab pact) and got a standing ovation in the process.  This does not surprise me. We should be concerned that David Cameron wants the liberal badge for himself. And we should never ever let him have it. It’s ours. So when our leader sends out a very clear signal that he will defend it come what may, we should applaud. We should also remember how much we hated the Labour party in power. The money they spent, the public sector ballooning out of all reasonable size, the pensions they stole, the chronically unfair education system they left us. Of course we should applaud when our leader says “never,ever trust Labour with our economy again”. Damn right.

The party walking out of conference on Wednesday had the hint of a spring in its step. I wouldn’t go  so far as to say that we were collectively skipping our way down to New Street Station. But we have got through a hideous year. We had a sober, grown up and uniting conference – with a clear shift back towards the centre ground – the best place for this party to be. The future is definitely looking a tiny bit brighter and a lot more orange….

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