Neither in sorrow, nor in anger, but it’s time for Nick to go…

There are four things I want a leader to do:

  • Deliver a winning political strategy
  • Create an effective election winning core team
  • Effectively communicate a distinctive vision – especially at major elections
  • Deliver Liberal Democrat policies – whether in or out of Government

On political strategy, I am extremely concerned that the ‘centrist party of government, not a party of protest’ positioning is completely wrong. The most effective political leaders – Thatcher – Blair – and, dare I say it, local government leaders like Keith House in Eastleigh – manage the double of being both credible in Government AND dissatisfied with the status quo – protesting – pushing for change. The opposite of a ‘party of protest’ is a ‘party of the complacent status quo’. For me, the answer to ‘that question’ in the Farage debates crystallised the issue. How can someone who was an MEP for 5 years – and (I would hope) understands how the British people feel alienated from EU decision-making – not be fizzing with ideas for reforming and improving it? (Indeed, how, as DPM, has he not been using his responsibility for constitutional reform to try and put in place reforms to build greater public EU accountability into our parliamentary system?) We always want change. We always want things to be better. We can never, and should never, be the party of the establishment. That’s got to change – and I don’t believe that change can happen with Nick in charge.

There’s a deeper strategic point, that I’ve repeatedly made at the Liberal Democrat Federal Executive, that we need to guard our distinctiveness vs. Labour and the Tories. Nationally we need ‘signature policies’ that illustrate our values and that neither party will match. Over the last few years, they have included constitutional reform, civil liberties, the environment and, historically, Iraq. It’s vital that we defend our position on all of those, but, sadly, we have failed to deliver on constitutional reform – we have conceded far too much on civil liberties – and lost our clarity on improving the environment. Aiming for the ‘centre ground’ without anchoring on policy positions where we are clearly not aiming for a happy consensus is essential for us to be a meaningful political movement.

On the core team, Nick’s team is weak – not because they’re not bright and capable – but because they do not contain a diverse enough range of experience – inside the party and outside the party – and do not appear to care about having an empowered and politically capable front line. All they appear to want donors and deliverers. And they have a surprisingly nonchalant attitude towards the wipe-out of our local councillor base in large areas across the UK. The idiotic email we received on Friday is a symptom of that. There are scores of bright young ‘think tank’ types – but not enough people with front line experience. People who understand that, while we need to work with the Tories (or Labour), they are the enemy and are putting plenty of effort into thinking how to screw us over – morning, noon and night. People who have experience of building a team, creating a motivating political vision on the ground and winning vs. the other parties. I don’t trust the central organisation to deliver the campaign we need in 2015 – indeed, I’m not sure it’s capable of doing it – and I don’t see how that is going to change without Nick changing.

The biggest problem is communication. Effective communication produces results. And the communication we’ve seen during the recent European campaign has not been effective. This isn’t about being in Government. We were in Government before the Clegg/Farage debates. Nick was able to connect with people (sometimes brilliantly) in the past but is now a busted flush. Perhaps unfairly, a whole chunk of the electorate who we need to win over is irrevocably alienated from him. His polling is dire. The sad fact is no-one will listen to him in 2015 – and anyone who thinks that isn’t a problem has a very strange view of how General Elections work.

Finally there’s the question of policy delivery. I supported joining the coalition and, while I didn’t agree with every word of it, I supported the Coalition Agreement. (I’ve just re-read it and, while some of the problems with it are now clearer, there’s still a lot of good stuff in there).  The biggest disasters of this parliament have generally come from outside the coalition agreement (e.g. the bedroom tax) or are in direct contradiction to it (NHS Bill, Secret Courts) and those decisions all went through Nick. And I genuinely don’t know what we’ve got in return. Yes, we’ve had some important wins like strengthened mental health policies. Some of the Coalition Agreement policies have been delivered on a larger scale and with larger impact than originally committed (e.g. apprenticeships) although many of those are offset by policies where we’ve under-delivered. But in terms of big signature policies that weren’t in the Coalition Agreement, what has there been? What have we got for all the painful Conservative party policies that Nick has signed us up to since 2010? Free school meals in primary schools? Is that it?

Ultimately, the killer point for me is the third one. Mid-term unpopularity was always to be expected – not being listened to is a much more serious problem.  I can’t see how we can fight a general election with a leader that no-one wants to hear. It just doesn’t make any sense.

So Nick has to go – and that’s why I’ve signed the letter at http://www.libdems4change.org.

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15 Responses to Neither in sorrow, nor in anger, but it’s time for Nick to go…

  1. Pingback: Storm in a Libdem teacup? | Alex's Archives

  2. Pingback: Nick Clegg’s leadership: What are Liberal Democrat bloggers saying?

  3. edna murphy says:

    Well put Martin – very much agree

  4. Ed W says:

    The greatest disaster, by far, was tuition fees, and that is entirely due to (a) the current leadership not believing in the policy in the first place and (b) dropping it like a stone at the earliest opportunity in coalition
    negotiations. Everything from then on has been the inevitable consequence of performing an almighty u-turn on the one policy everyone knew the Lib Dems stood for.

  5. Rupert Pitt says:

    The student fees issue is a big one for me. Why did this go through?

    Why has there not been a radical opposition to road building plans as proposed by the coalition?

    Why have the banks not been reformed and finance not been humbled?

    Why has there not been an outspoken criticism of massive pay rises for executives whilst the country accepts cutbacks? in 2012 there was the shareholder spring about corporate greed and the same is happening this year. Why has this been allowed to continue? No one has spoken out against this apart from Vince Cable.

    What is the liberal Democrat policy in housing? A necessity has Become unaffordable, I don’t know.

    It is clear the EU needs fundamental reform. What is the LD policy on necessary reform? I don’t know.

  6. Timlagor says:

    My reasons for dropping out of the LD party are mostly attributable to Clegg and I won’t be back while he’s leader.

    Things I consider unacceptable:
    – Tuition fees
    – breaking a pledge to ‘personally oppose increase in tuition fees whatever the circumstances’ (not sure of exact wording)
    – failure of AV: should have been a referendum on PR/AV+ or AV without referendum.
    – Orange Book
    – ATOS (and privatisation more generally)

    I understand there was a coalition and useful things were achieved but he should have been kicked out for Tuition Fees alone: my disgust over his (and all those others’) behaviour is exceeded only by the devastation of the policy itself.

    I spent a lot of time campaigning at the last Election and I *am* angry: communication simply is not the issue.

  7. Fiona says:

    It’s not just bad communication with the electorate, which as you say Martin is horrible it is the lack of two way communication with the party and the complacency about all the activists who have resigned.

    We have to go back to seeing the economy as a means to an end, not an end in itself.

  8. James May says:

    Spot on Martin – if not yourself who would you support for the party leadership?

  9. Chris Edwards says:

    You are spot on – and brave to articulate from within the party what many of the activists (like me) who walked away in the early months of the coalition, unable to cope with the cognitive dissonance, have felt for years. Clegg was either very hungry, very gullible or no real social democrat to have fallen for the notion that a full coalition with conservatism could ever have worked. I can’t see how the current party can regain any credibility, with or without Clegg, by next May. Maybe it’s time to start again – a new yellow/green group, taking time to develop a new vision and language, not for 2015 but for when the growing nastiness has played itself out.

  10. Steve Comer says:

    Very well put Martin, I have signed the petition. I had considered doing so after seeing the results, but what finally convinced me was seeing the interview with you and Danny Alexander on the BBC. You were clear and coherent – he wasn’t us anything.

    Unfortunately those MPS at the centre of government have not been listening to what local Councillors have been telling them for three years. Canvassing in a ward that we held on Thursday I kept being told “we like what you’re doing around here, but not what the National Party is doing with the Tories.” Yet all we are getting from the leadership is a ‘more of the same’ message.

    The hard reality is we are not getting the credit for what we have achieved in Government, but are getting blamed for the policies of the Tories! That has to change, I like Nick as a person, but he is toxic as far as the voters are concerned, and in electoral terms his record has been one of failure.

  11. Gus says:

    You attempt to present some political logic as the basis of your call for Clegg to go, but it’s basically superficial and illogical. You don’t seem to be questioning the policy platform your party has stood for and implemented and which Nick Clegg has done his best to carry through, but you think that a presentational change is going to substantially change perceptions of that party. You are deluding yourself – the issue is psephological. There was always a constituency of the Libdems that voted for them because they were ‘not the other two’, and out of opposition to the government. Being in government means being seen as party of the problem. It has also required a degree of consistency of message with the Conservatives to avoid appearing as a dysfunctional coalition. This, combined with a growing sense of unease about Europe reflected all over the EU, but that you seem blinkered from acknowledging, has made UKIP the natural sink for the protest vote. This is not Nick Clegg’s fault. However, you now want to throw him under a bus on no other principle to appease the mob for a few extra percentage points. How edifying. How principled.

    • Martin says:

      I outlined four areas of concern with Nick, not one – and substantive changes I’d like to see in every area. One of the areas of concern is that the ‘mob’ (or fellow British citizens, as I call them) appear not to be listening to Nick. Your choice is to ignore that. I happen to think it’s rather important and that it needs addressing.

      I am also not questioning the party’s policy platform. I ran on the manifesto that we had in 2010 and supported it. The coalition agreement wasn’t the same as the manifesto, but I backed that too. The whole point of the last section of the article is that what we’ve seen implemented is neither the manifesto, nor the coalition agreement – and that I have real criticisms of the changes made – indeed, I actively opposed several of them. I don’t think we’ve got enough policy achievements in return for the Conservative policies we’ve had to put up with – and that needs to change in the last 12 months of the coalition.

      Your analysis of voting patterns also doesn’t stack up. The anti-European vote in this election was almost unchanged vs 2009, while the Lib Dem vote halved from 13.7% to 6.8%. The combined sceptic (Tory/UKIP/BNP etc.) vote in 2014 was 54.8% – and in 2009 it was 54.3%. A far more plausible hypothesis is that the Lib Dem vote has gone primarily to the Greens and to Labour – with the combined LD/Green/Labour vote going from 38.1% in 2009 to 39.7% in 2014.

  12. Spindrifter says:

    I was a Lib Dem Supporter until the Party Leadership decided to renege on its stated policy in respect of Student Tuition Fees. Since then I have watched the parties values and policies disintegrate to the point where the public no longer take the Lib Dems seriously anymore. Joe Public wouldn’t be alone in taking the view that the Lib Dem ministers of the so called Coalition Government have sold out their party for the prestige of being a government minister. It is a logical progression that any future Leader of the Party would be seriously tarnished if they are / were a Lib Dem minister of this one-sided Government. This is now a TURNING POINT, elect a new plausible leader or risk the party ditching all the good work of Paddy Ashdown etc and disappearing into the wilderness for a very, very long time!

  13. Pat Beardmore says:

    Amongst all of the panic, spin and guff coming from the three main parties during the last week or so, Martin’s contribution on the BBC whilst debating with DA stood out as a glimmer of hope, plain speaking and rationality. I am not a Lib Dem but just wanted to stop by and say thank you for a brief reminder that there are still a few normal people within the party system. NC is a dead man walking but who the hell would want to lead the party now? A thankless task in the short and medium term. Go on Martin, I dare you 🙂

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