Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Clegg vs Huhne: Why a near tie was the logical result

Congratulations to Nick Clegg on being elected as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

It was a leadership contest between two men from almost identical backgrounds, and one in which ideological or policy differences were rarely allowed to surface. Therefore a near tie was the logical result.

It has been obvious from reading Lib Dem blogs in recent weeks that Nick has the ability to evoke tremendous loyalty among younger activists. (I suspect those of us who favoured Chris Huhne tend to be older and are less starry-eyed about politics and life in general.)

This is an undoubted asset, but if he going to generate similarly warm feelings amongst the electorate Nick is going to have to display the immense ability to communicate that has often been claimed for him, but was too rarely displayed during the campaign.

The irony is that I have always suspected that I am closer to Nick on policy than I am to Chris. However, given the policy-free campaign, it is hard to be sure.

Writing in The Times last week, Peter Riddell said:
Along with close allies such as David Laws and Norman Lamb, he has been keen to open the supply side in schools and health. He wants to encourage new providers, as in Sweden, though with more help for poorer parents in order to reduce inequality.
If he leads the Liberal Democrats in that direction I shall be greatly encouraged. If he had said it during the campaign, I would probably have voted for him.


Anonymous said...

A near tie? When I saw the misjudged object around Chris Huhne's neck, I was very relieved I had voted for Nick.

Alex S said...

Jonathan: I voted for Nick, but I largely agree with you about the policy vacuum during the campaign.

In one of the blogger interview sessions some way into the campaign Nick did elaborate on some of his ideas in more detail, and what he said was encouraging.

But overall it seems to me he has simply been articulating existing party policy, eg on pupil premiums in education (even if that policy may owe quite a lot to the book/pamphlet he wrote a few years ago), on personal budgets in social care (now government policy) and on immigration (albeit a policy he developed). Nothing wrong with that, but what I didn't hear was much that would 'take the party out of its comfort zone'.

What he seems to mean by this is that the party should be unafraid to talk about issues like crime and immigration, but should put the case for why a liberal approach to them can deliver better outcomes - as opposed to keeping quiet about them and accepting that the other 2 parties have 'natural' advantages on these issues because they are willing to be more populist.

I agree with that analysis, but I also think the party needs to move out of its comfort zone in terms of *actual policy content*, by developing ideas that will take decentralisation, personal empowerment, choice etc much further, and by being more consistent in our commitment to freedom.

Like you, I hope that Nick will lead the party in that direction. In many areas it's a matter of building on policies and approaches that we already have and that the likes of David Laws and Norman Lamb have been advocating - but we need to be bolder.

dreamingspire said...

I looked in vain for anything specific from Nick about re-engineering the civil service for competent service delivery, having earlier looked in vain for the same from him on Home Office matters. I am in despair about the ability now of the LD as opposition to understand how to link from vacuous policy to real delivery. Most people don't want choice (except the affluent sector's choice of going private); they want government to work properly for them. Labour is now likely to lose out as Labour voters stay at home; LDs have to convince them that the LD contribution will help make govt work properly.