Monday, May 26, 2014

If changing the leader isn't the answer, what will the Liberal Democrats change?

I was tempted to sign the LibDem4Change petition calling on Nick Clegg to resign because the party machine’s response to Thursday’s debacle and to the group’s letter was so inept.

First we had the email, sent out under the name of poor Annette Brooke, telling us there was nothing to worry about - “All of these results tell the same story - in many of our strongest areas we are winning elections.”

If I had just been defeated or seen my candidate defeated in a former Liberal Democrat like Islington or Liverpool, that would have read to me like an “I’m all right Jack” message from our MPs.

We also had the ritual repetition of “where we work, we win,” as if our defeated candidates had not worked hard too.

Once the petition started gaining significant numbers of signatures, the party’s media operation sprang into life. Why don’t we encourage loyalists to join the Lib Dem Friends of Cake Facebook group, they reasoned, then we can say that the petition has fewer names than people who have liked that group ha ha ha ha ha.

So early on Sunday morning this line was given to sympathetic journalists like George Parker and even to Paddy Ashdown.

I don’t like to be harsh, but I suggest the party’s chief executive finds who it was who thought it was a clever idea to patronise members’ justified concern in this way and moves him or her to duties for which he or she is more suited.

It would be interesting to know, for instance, the total number of paper clips at Great George Street.

And there has been Danny Alexander’s performance. The more he tells us that things are going to carry on as they are, the more despondent I feel. It was noticeable how more authoritative Martin Tod was when they appeared together on television. But I have calmed down.

I would rather see Vince Cable as party leader at the next general - I think he is simply a more able politician. But, though I can imagine a scenario in which the MPs got together and asked the party to support him as the only candidate, that does not appear likely to happen.

It is clear that Nick commands the loyalty of a large section of the membership and that they would be outraged if he were forced out. I don’t wholly understand this, but it is a fact and one that must be taken into account. The Conservatives, for instance, have never got over the assassination of Margaret Thatcher.

So we soldier on, if only to allow Nick Clegg to lose and teach his supporters a few home truths and because it would be easier for a new leader (who would probably not be Vince and certainly not be Danny) to begin rebuilding after an election.

So the important question is the one Andrew Neil asked Paddy Ashdown on Sunday: If changing the leader is not the answer, what are we going to change?

And if I hear Danny Alexander promise no change once more, or if I see good Lib Dem members being ridiculed by 12-year-old SPADs, then I will sign that bloody petition.
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Anonymous said...

There are two problems really:

1. The leadership continue to be in denial and actually believe their own spin.

2. No serious leadership contender wants the leadership right now. The party is in such a mess that whoever leads it into 2015 will go down as the guy who lead the party into a thumping. The fundamental problem is the coalition.

Phil Beesley said...

The party has quiet leaders too.

Les Bonner said...

They should change the comms team. Am I the only one that has stopped reading the e-mails because they are so annoying!

Rusty Liberal said...

First things first, Danny shouldn't be let anywhere near a mic or a TV camera. How he is ever quoted as leadership material I'll never know.

Secondly, the comments about the comms team are spot on. They have got to be more in tune with how the party feels and reflect some sort of realism. Yes, champion the successes but acknowledge the failures and the human cost.

Thirdly, for me, the benefits of changing the leader now are minimal. One or two percent max and not game changing. The problem being, as has been mentioned, the coalition. Everyone's hands are dirty. Any mud you can fling at Clegg tuition fees), you can also sling at Cable. The electorate will not see enough of a difference to care. What they will see is disunity and squabbling which they will not reward. If there is leadership challenge, Clegg will probably win amongst the wider membership but will be even more damaged and more of a liability, but we'll be stuck with him. As was previously mentioned, the leadership is a poisoned chalice until after GE 2015. No one will want it, so why push it?

Fourthly, if members are going to push for a leadership challenge, do it through the mechanism which is in the constitution, not secret email addresses and leaked reports which don't just destabilise Clegg, they destabilise the party.

Fifthly, the coalition. An end to the coalition has to be engineered carefully. Like many Lib Dems I chose to join the party 24 years ago (aged 15) because I was attracted to the idea of plural politics and as a PR devotee, that means coalition. If we can't prove that we can last the distance or end the coalition in a considered way, then we will kill our future coalition prospects. With that, I am with Paddy.

Sorry, I've gone on a bit. I've got a few ideas for the future but maybe this is not the time or the thread to post them.

Anonymous said...

The difficulty is that so many voters have stopped listening to Clegg. Once that happens for any politician it is all over.

A new leader might at least reengage a few of these lost supporters. The private ICM polls indicate that. The if the new leader were to quit the coalition on an issue of principle (for example, stopping further privatisation of the NHS) the party might get some of its radical independent identity back and hold at least some seats.

Wera Hobhouse said...

Forget about our lost supporters. A lot them were probably not real Liberal Democrats anyway. Why should we pander to fickle protest voters? We have grown up as a party and we had to take some big losses. We here in NW were the first to feel the impact of being a party in government. That doesn't mean it wasn't the right thing to do. Nick Clegg has become a fashionable scape goat. But he has been viciously attacked throughout by Labour and we should not allow ourselves to be drawn in by a Labour Party agenda. They will laugh all the way to the polls if we change leader now.

Paul McKeown said...

Personally, I would get rid of Danny Alexander, rather than Nick Clegg. He's George Osborne's unwittingly useful idiot. Unfailingly sent out to deliver Coalition bad news in place of a Tory who wishes to be re-elected. Utterly slavish in his praise for the Conservative economic policy that the Coalition is delivering. He seems to have lost all contact with his own party. I am sure that there are several capable Lib Dem MPs who would take his place in the government; there are none prepared to take Nick Clegg's position in the British political equivalent of the stocks.

Tony Blair's recent analysis is correct. Nick has been brave and has shown a toughness in the face of adversity that few other current MPs could demonstrate. However, we campaigned on a platform to the left of Labour, and are now governing on a platform to the right of Labour. Ultimately there is only one cure for that.

Which does beg the question: is there any Lib Dem policy in the Coalition Agreement that hasn't already been achieved, or the Tories haven't reneged on?

And that begs another question.

I take entirely your point regarding the party leadership's lackeys abusing the membership. It isn't too much to expect some sort of thanks for tramping the streets for weeks (particularly when one knows beforehand that the streets are going to be provide meagre pickings). To be addressed as wayward children by some who have lost all contact with reality in the leadership bunker is really too much.

Ann-Marie said...

I have to disagree with Wera. Certainly some of our fickle floating voter support was an inevitable loss but locally we have lost many long standing campaigners including 2 former borough councillors and a former county councillor. These were real Liberal Democrats who have no other political home.

I bear no ill will to Nick. On a personal level I really feel for him. But he has sadly become a toxic brand. Staying in coalition is necessary, at least until closer to the general election, but for Nick's sake and the party's sake he should go and be replaced by somebody outside the Cabinet bubble.