Friday, June 06, 2014

My latest column for the Leicester Mercury: Clegg will stay but things must change

Partly written at Stokesay Castle, this opinion piece was due to be published in Wednesday's Leicester Mercury. I cannot find it online, so here is the whole thing.

Time for the Liberal Democrats to reconnect with their voters

Nick Clegg will stay as Liberal Democrat leader. The only credible alternative was a Vince Cable caretaker leadership, but the events of last week have made that unlikely. And even without them, I suspect the opportunity came a couple of years too late for him.

But that does not mean Nick Clegg can carry on as if nothing has happened. The Liberal Democrats' results in the local and European elections were deeply disappointing. We lost 11 of our 12 MEPs and nearly 300 local councillors.

And it is not just this year's results. The loss of councillors has been going on for years. There are councils we used to run, or have hopes of running, where there is no Liberal Democrat left.

What has caused this slump in the party's fortunes? The easy answer is that the Liberal Democrats have become part of the government and done it at a time of great economic difficulty. But there is more to it than that.

Ever since the Coalition was formed, Nick Clegg's advisers have told us we must move from being a party of protest to being a party of government. But that phrase is not so impressive if you look at it closely.

We are not in government because Nick Clegg is a better leader than Charles Kennedy or Paddy Ashdown. We are in government because Labour and the Conservatives finished in a near tie and we held the balance of power as a result.

And being a party of government has been interpreted as meaning that we have to give up on the people who have voted for us in the past.

We know what a traditional Liberal Democrat voter looks like: they care about the environment, they believe in public services and do not want society to become too unequal. What no one knows is what the new Lib Dem voter will look like.

Yes, we deserve credit for cutting taxes for the low paid and for providing sound government so the recovery can take place. But there is no sign that this will be enough to recruit millions of new voters.

Nick Clegg needs to change. After four years in power in an age of austerity we can't expect him to be popular, but we should expect some grudging respect. And I do not sense that from enough voters.

So let's hear Nick talk more about what the Lib Dems want to do in the future and less about what he has stopped the Tories doing.

And let's not be afraid to appeal to our traditional voters. We will not thrive without them.
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Anonymous said...

The word must is not to be used to party leaders.

Steve Comer said...

But before 'his wonderfulness' Clegg took over Liberal Demoocrats WERE a party of government. They ran many of Britain's major cities like Liverpool, Newcastle, Bristol, Portsmouth and were in coalition in Birmingham and Edinburgh. Lib Dems were also in coalition in Scotland and Wales.

That meant deciding million of pounds worth of municipal budgets and making a real difference to the everyday lives of millions of people.

Many of Clegg's greatest critics are those members who have experienced real power, who have lost office ion the annual cull of Lib Dem Councillors since Clegg became Leader.

Sorry Nick, your usual faux sincerity no longer cuts it. As the Moody Blues said 50 years ago "Go now Before you see me cry."

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Jonathan, not with Nick.