Michael White on Nick Clegg’s leadership

by Stephen Tall on August 8, 2008

The Guardian’s senior political commentator examines the party’s fortunes in today’s online political briefing. It makes interesting reading:

Nick Clegg has issued a reader-friendly pre-conference document, Make It Happen, which will be discussed at his party conference in Bournemouth from September 13-17. If endorsed, it will mark the first Lib Dem shift towards a lower overall tax burden for many years. It will not be straightforward.

But who is listening at a time when the government’s troubles seem terminal, when the resurgent Conservatives, around 20% ahead of Labour in polls, look set to sweep all before them without a hung parliament scenario? … Clegg remains optimistic that his party can hold most of the gains – local and national – it accumulated during the Ashdown-Kennedy years, offsetting southern losses to the Tories with “low-hanging fruit” – Labour marginals captured elsewhere.

And it seems Mr White is an occasional LDV reader:

An activist poll by Lib Dem Voice finds two in three satisfied with his leadership.

(Though it’s only fair to note that the right-wing Spectator Coffee House blog has also noticed today’s survey findings:

today there’s another poll which will dismay Team Clegg. Lib Dem Voice asked party members to rate the performances of the Lib Dem front-bench team during August. Clegg came out a disappointing fourth; behind Vince Cable, Norman Baker, and – perhaps most significantly – his former rival for the party leadership, Chris Huhne. But we haven’t yet heard of any movements against Clegg from within the Lib Dem ranks. I wonder whether that will change soon.”)

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Is there a ‘Team Clegg’ anymore? i thought that disolved on election as leader?

by Jo on August 8, 2008 at 4:00 pm. Reply #

An activist poll by Lib Dem Voice finds two in three satisfied with his leadership.

The problem is it doesn’t say that – all it gives is the average. This is related to why I asked for the median result. We don’t know, for example, if the vast majority are “satisfied” (presumably a rating of 7 or more) and the average has just been dragged down by a negative rump.

by James Graham on August 8, 2008 at 4:05 pm. Reply #

James Graham:
“The problem is it doesn’t say that – all it gives is the average.”

If you follow the link, you’ll see it gives percentages.

by Clegg's Candid Friend on August 8, 2008 at 4:24 pm. Reply #

Sorry, got mixed up between the different questions.

by James Graham on August 8, 2008 at 4:43 pm. Reply #

I think the bigger problem is surely that all the national polls, fairly consistently over the past two or more years suggest that the parliamentary party could be reduced to around 35 seats at the next election. So far (though I am a Nick fan) nothing that Nick has done has arreseted this fundamental decline in public support.

by anon on August 8, 2008 at 6:04 pm. Reply #

anon: And nothing much will arrest it until Nick gets the full attention of a General Election. That’s exactly how it was with Paddy and Charles. Our support is currently bouncing about between 15 and 20% – and that’s healty between General Elections. I elected Nick to do two jobs; lead us into a GE and sort out the party. He should and, I suspect is, concentrating on the latter. Meanwhile, I’m concentrating on getting more LD Councillors elected next May.

by Martin Land on August 8, 2008 at 6:38 pm. Reply #

yawn, polls, pollsters and interpretation of polls… make your own mind up whether there are any biases and whether you agree with their politics.

While other people might say that any poll result which doesn’t show a massive success is therefore a massive failure, I say that anything which isn’t bad is ok and potentially fairly good.

So far there is no collapse in party support and Nick Clegg hasn’t done a Paul Ince (ie sparked rebellion and alienated supporters and first teamers alike – well, Incey isn’t called The Guv’nor for his liberalness) since taking over the leadership, therefore we should remain cautiously optimistic and constructive in our criticism.

We are no longer a minor party clamouring to unify protest votes – we are a major party promoting a coherent vision, so the poll dynamics have changed as we try to win the support of voters and gain more positive votes.

The Conservatives remain a policy vacuum and Labour is mired in the negativism of their pretence that anti-conservativism is progressive.

Libdemmery is the way to go, but we still have a long way to go to prove it.

by Oranjepan on August 8, 2008 at 6:54 pm. Reply #

It will be interesting to see if this months Telegraph and Guardian ICM polls confirm the slump in the latest Express ICM. However ropey the polls we could take comfort while ICM was polling us Ok because of there track record of gettin us correct. If that rating is going south as well then I predict jitters because we are hovering over Mng levels of support.

At the moment there is no political space for a LD leadership crisis. The pack and the air time are all focused on Brown. If Brown goes and Labour get anykind of bounce I expect the pack to move onto Clegg very quickly.

he has burned so much needless political capital he may be to wek to resist. the lazy leadership Campaign just squeeking victory, the Lisbon fiasco, the excruciating Clegg-over interview, being taken to the cleaners over the Davis by election, miscommunicating Bones and ( I would argue) announcing £20bn of unfunded tax cuts.

Perceptions of leaders set in the first 6 months and frankly i think large sections of the media have concluded he is a twit.

If Gordon stays, he stays. If Gordon goes I think he’ll be crippled s the locusts move on.

by Anon on August 8, 2008 at 7:18 pm. Reply #

Oranjepan:
“So far there is no collapse in party support and Nick Clegg hasn’t done a Paul Ince (ie sparked rebellion and alienated supporters and first teamers alike …”

Unfortunately he did precisely that, over the Lisbon Treaty!

by Clegg's Candid Friend on August 8, 2008 at 8:09 pm. Reply #

Should be noted that today’s Guardian Online is very anti-LibDem, with pieces by Lucy Powell (well, or course), and Deborah Summers

by Felix Holt on August 8, 2008 at 11:11 pm. Reply #

There’s a lot of nonsense being written by hubristic Tories about our imminent death which reminds me of the Labour predictions of our annihilation before 1997. The reality though that we are backto politics as normal.

We’ve lost 5-6% in the polls since the 2005 election, but that still leaves us in the high teens.

Historically that is excellent for us.

The reality is that our anti-war stance gave us unexpected publicity, which boosted our mid term poll ratings over 20%. Without that oxygen of publicity we have slipped back. Despite the ranting of obvious Tory trolls on this site, there is frankly very little that any leader, Clegg, Cable, Huhne or Superman could do to break into the current news narrative of Tory revival & Labour disarray.

Let’s be serious though, what we are seeing now are mid term polls, the Tories are not going to win over 45% at the polls and Labour isn’t going to get less than 30%. They will be much closer than that and we are very unlikely to be pushed under 40 seats. In fact Martin Land is right the General Election will provide us with the publicity we need to push our vote up by a couple of % points.

However, we cant be delude ourselves , the likely reslut of the next election is that we will be squeezed, the Tories will gain a lot of seats from us, while we are likely to take (fewer) seats from Labour. But we are not going to collapse, and indeed there is still a very good chance that we could lose a net 15-20 seats and yet end up in our strongest Parlimentary position in a generation by holding the balance of power in a hung Parliament.

by Charles Anglin on August 8, 2008 at 11:21 pm. Reply #

Greetings from the Green Party! We wish to send our congratulations on your bold new communications strategy, Make It Happen:

http://rayyanmirza.wordpress.com/2008/08/08/lib-dems-stepping-up-2-make-it-happen/

Here’s to more PR, an end to the two-party system, and Making It Happen!

by RM on August 8, 2008 at 11:54 pm. Reply #

Hmmm.

Now we know why Gordon Brown’s policy documents have titles like “Some observations on post neo-classical endogenous growth theory”

by Clegg's Candid Friend on August 9, 2008 at 12:03 am. Reply #

“he has burned so much needless political capital he may be to wek to resist … and ( I would argue) announcing £20bn of unfunded tax cuts.”

To be fair to Clegg, though I can see how you could get that impression from some of the media coverage, what he has done is to ask Jeremy Browne to find £20bn of spending cuts, and to announce a kind of aspiration to reduce overall spending if possible. The relationship with the £15bn of spending cuts that were planned a couple of years ago, for redirection to Lib Dem priorities, is unclear to me, but I don’t think there is any intention that all of the £20bn will go into tax cuts. Apart from anything else, in the current climate a fair proportion of it might be needed just to keep taxation where it is!

by Clegg's Candid Friend on August 9, 2008 at 2:39 pm. Reply #

Clegg’s Candid Friend: I prefer to think that the flak Clegg got for enforcing a whipped abstention is a credit to his imaginitive leadership over the issue.

Admittedly the arguments in favour of such action weren’t communicated to the best possible extent and were largely drowned out by his opponents who wished to undermine his intellectual independence and moral command by forcing him to take sides, but the fact that we stuck to a third course of action shows that the LibDem front bench know how to apply our principles when devising tactics which is proving a strategic victory for the party in the longer term.

by Oranjepan on August 9, 2008 at 5:56 pm. Reply #

Clegg will lead the party into the next general election, full stop.
If the party then holds the balance of power, he will continue as leader.
If the Lib Dems get more than 20%, he will also continue as leader.
Less than that, the Lib Dems will probably lose a lot of MPs. Questions will be asked about the direction he has taken the party, and he will have to decide whether his leadership is in the interests of the party.
None of this is particularly remarkable. It is common sense from a Liberal point of view, and similar criterian exists for the other parties.

by Geoffrey Payne on August 10, 2008 at 8:17 pm. Reply #

Oranjepan wrote:
“Admittedly the arguments in favour of such action weren’t communicated to the best possible extent and were largely drowned out by his opponents who wished to undermine his intellectual independence and moral command by forcing him to take sides, but the fact that we stuck to a third course of action shows that the LibDem front bench know how to apply our principles when devising tactics which is proving a strategic victory for the party in the longer term.”

Well, there’s no point going through it all again, but there was nothing “intellectual”, “moral” or “principled” about the whipped abstention tactic.

It was a nonsensical compromise intended to placate both sides of a deeply divided parliamentary party and avoid a rebellion. And the effect was to please no one and to provoke a large back-bench rebellion and three resignations from the front bench.

And the fact that the Lib Dem peers would have no part of it emphasised how nonsensical it was, and how little authority Clegg has over them.

by Clegg's Candid Friend on August 10, 2008 at 8:57 pm. Reply #

The whipped abstention was the only compromise and to accept the criticism and the resignations (expedience or principle?) showed both political courage and sense to face down such a crucial challenge to his authority at such an early stage of his leadership.

I would have abstained on the question which was put, though I can see how whipping such a move causes contention on our benches and consternation of our opponents.

It is remarkable conceit that such a fresh leader should be expected to be able to exert any authority over the Lords, let alone to suggest our group of fiercely independent-minded peers wouldn’t resist any such move! But that conceit must be taken as a credit to the character of the man we chose to be our leader who was able to act swiftly and decisively to prevent any fatal undermining of his long-term vision.

The technical argument over whether Lisbon is a treaty of a constitution will rebound to haunt both Labour and Conservatives because it is the purest crystalisation of how they both have attempted to pull the wool over the eyes of the public about their true intentions on both this issue and generally – this debate marked the started of Gordon Brown’s current troubles, while it has also prevented the Cameron from being fully justified in any declarations that the Conservative party brand has been fully decontaminated.

by Oranjepan on August 10, 2008 at 9:42 pm. Reply #

Oranjepan

Of course, you’re quite right. How blind I was not to see it!

Everything that has seemed to go wrong is in reality only further proof of the greatness, courage, wisdom and downright saintliness of the Dear Leader.

Thank you for re-educating me.

by Clegg's Candid Friend on August 10, 2008 at 10:00 pm. Reply #

CCF, now you go too far. Perception does not reflect reality all that accurately, especially when news is filtered through the tory press.

by Oranjepan on August 11, 2008 at 12:24 am. Reply #

Clearly The Party needs its own daily newspaper, to redress the balance. We could call it something like Truth, perhaps.

by Clegg's Candid Friend on August 11, 2008 at 9:15 am. Reply #

Better than the unreliable, unbalanced candid friend that is The Independent anyway!

by Oranjepan on August 11, 2008 at 9:39 am. Reply #

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