Sunday, November 12, 2017

Goodbye to Phil Reilly - and a note on Liberal Democrat history

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Phil Reilly has announced his decision to step down as the Liberal Democrats' director of communications in a post on Lib Dem Voice.

I wish him well for the future. If nothing else, the remarkably spirited reaction of the party press office to the straitened circumstances of the past couple of years has helped keep members cheerful.

However, in the post Phil repeats a version of party history that has long been popular in Nick Clegg's inner circle.

Writing of the first leaders' debate in the 2010 general election, he says:
That night changed the course of our party’s fortunes, but it also changed my life. I had joined the press office of a party that hadn’t been in national government for decades, with no expectation that would be changing any time soon. A few short years later I would be working in 10 Downing Street.
It is true that the Lib Dem vote did rise a little at the 2010 election - no doubt Nick's performance in the debates had a lot to do with that.

But we emerged from that election with a place in government because of the way the Labour and Tory votes divided and what that meant in terms of seats.

That outcome was a fluke, as evidenced by the fact that we went into that election with 62 MPs and emerged with 57.

But I am more worried that this account give the wrong impression of the Liberal Party and Liberal Democrats in the years before Nick Clegg became leader.

I was sure I had answered it before, and indeed I had.

That post led me to a post on Liberator's blog by Simon Titley. And Simon led me to one on Lib Dem Voice from 2013 by Nigel Lindsay.

Nigel points out, rightly, that David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy all faced the electorate with serious and detailed plans for government.

And he goes on to say:
Liberal Democrats were arguably more effective as a party of government before Nick Clegg became leader. [In] the decade from 2000 to 2010, Liberal Democrats were coalition partners in the governments of both Scotland and Wales. The achievements of Liberal Democrat Ministers in those governments were far-reaching and radical. Significantly, they punched above their electoral weight and delivered effectively on their manifesto pledges. Fair voting in local elections, free personal care for the elderly, and no university tuition fees are just some of the party’s achievements in government in Scotland. 
Liberal Democrats also controlled major local authorities in most parts of Britain during those years. 
Finally, though Phil does not use this argument, I am always a little surprised by those who insist that Nick Clegg brought a new professionalism to the Liberal Democrats.

To me, a large part of Nick's appeal was that he had a quality of ingenuousness that is rare in leading politicians.

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