Following the “evisceration” of the Lib Dem parliamentary party on Thursday, will the Lib Dems finally wake up and smell the coffee?
Losing some 47 seats in the House of Commons and somewhere in the region of 350 deposits, on May 7th, was not an accident. It was not a “price paid for being in coalition” – particularly when the entire South West was lost to a party to the right of them. It was not the “brutal tactics of the Conservatives” – they simply fought an excellent campaign – and won. Did Lib Dems really expect Lynton Crosby to back off in the South West because the Lib Dems had been good eggs in 2010? Of course not. It was not a price paid for the tuition fees debacle. It was certainly not the “unfairness of the voting system” (we presumably knew that before we started) and it was definitely not a lack of media coverage or the “biased” media coverage (the much-loved “all the media hate us” hobby horse of the party).
It was the total and utter failure of the Lib Dems to offer anything interesting or compelling to the country.
It was a shambles of a campaign. And it was a total and utter failure of Nick Clegg to make the necessary changes to the party, its structure and its personnel over the last 5 years that made such a disastrous campaign inevitable.
Let me be clear; I know Nick is a good man. He is an excellent media performer (as he showed yet again during the General Election). He is also a brave and honourable man. Had he not been prepared to drag the party into the 2010 coalition, the country would not just be on its knees right now it would be on the floor. I hope that history will recognise this contribution, because it was truly noble and magnificent.
But for all the bravery he showed for the sake of the country, he was a coward when it came to taking tough decisions for the sake of the party.
He did nothing to modernise the ludicrous archaic committee structure of the Liberal Democrats (too many groups with lots of power and prestige but no accountability). You can hardly make a cup of tea in the Lib Dems without half a dozen committees getting involved. It probably has more rules than it has members.
This is no way for a political party to operate in the 21st century. Take just one example. Why on earth did Nick allow the perpetuation of the wholly undemocratic conference elite (those who have been awarded a magic “voting card” by some local party ) deciding party policy rather than, oh I don’t know, those who actually have been elected by the voters? If the idea of accountable MPs determining policy was a step too far, at the very least we should have moved to a democratic “one member one vote” system by now. Why no change? Of course the answer is probably that Nick didn’t want to take on the 29 person Federal Policy Committee and the 20+ person Federal Conference committee (and possibly several other committees I have never heard of) who would undoubtedly have fought tooth and nail to protect their power base. But that should not have stopped him from doing it.
Likewise, he did nothing to end the spectre of hapless amateur hangers-on at the top of the Lib Dem hierarchy surrounding the leader like a ring of steel; getting their kicks from “being important”, hoarding information, and lauding it over everyone else – hopelessly out of their depth and too self-obsessed or too stupid to know the limitations of their own abilities.
You might have thought that Nick would learn from the omnishambles of the “YES to Fairer Votes” (Yes to AV) campaign – possibly the most disastrous campaign ever witnessed by mankind (up until the General Election of 2015 that is). For the 2011 AV campaign he appointed his mate John Sharkey to head up the fight. Sharkey, you will recall, was the bungling strategist in charge of the lacklustre 2010 election campaign which was saved single-handedly by Nick’s own performance at the TV debates (not helped by the hapless Sharkey apparently leaving his secret TV debates notes in the back of a cab).
Yet come 2015 Nick does the same thing again, appointing his patron and friend Paddy Ashdown as Campaign Chair and Olly Grender (ex everything in the Lib Dems) as Deputy Chair. It was like YES to AV all over again – a total misallocation of resources, and silly gimmicks (a manifesto launch in a nightclub where the sound fails) failing to cover up the lack of any coherent proposition to the electorate.
And if you want proof positive that the amateurs in charge at the top of the 2015 campaign were living in la-la land right up to the end, then look no further than Paddy’s assertion that it had been “a wonderful campaign” on May 6th and Grender’s preposterous tweet on May 7th in response to the “I’ll eat my hat” gaff:
“@campbellclaret will eat his kilt, @paddyashdown will eat his hat …… right now I’d settle for a sandwich #GE2015”.
Did these people have absolutely no idea what was going on, even that late in the game?
And that is the problem with the Lib Dems. It is the plaything of too many amateurs and wannabes – whether they prance around at the various committees feeling self important (with all the power and none of the accountability), wander around on stage at conference admiring their own images on the TV and grinning whenever they “take a lump” out of the leadership, or head up disastrous self-indulgent campaigns, for which they all too rarely face the consequences.
Nick has stood down as leader, but what of Olly Grender and Lord Ashdown? They have, presumably, been automatically stood down now the campaign is done. So what do they do – just move on and go back to writing books or popping up on the odd TV programme? I trust they will never be put anywhere near the Lib Dem levers of power ever again. And, that the time for appointing amateurs is well and truly over.Tags: General Election 2015, Lord Ashdown, Nick Clegg, Olly Grender