Paddy’s advice to Nick: “Be patient”

by Stephen Tall on January 6, 2009

Today’s Financial Times has an interesting enough article by Alex Barker analysing Nick Clegg’s first year (and a bit) as Lib Dem leader. Noting some of the tougher moments, it also highlights Nick’s achievements (albeit by resorting to the usual, simplistic right/left labels so likely to irritate Lib Dems):

His authority has also proved strong enough to oversee a fundamental shift in direction. Under him, the party has pivoted to the right, shedding decades of dogma on tax and public services. Clegg is for tax cuts and a smaller state.

On the offensive, the political focus has turned from marginal Tory seats to the soft underbelly of Labour’s support in the north. Insiders say Mr Clegg’s travelling tour of town hall meetings closely aligns with the party’s electoral priorities.

Polls show a modest improvement. Frontbenchers carrying scars from years of infighting say the party mood is “much more settled”.

“None of the slip-ups have undermined a real sense of permanence and progress,” said one. “We’ve made the definitive choice for a generation.”

However, two character traits within Nick are placed under close scrutiny: his tendencies to impatience and tetchiness…

Those close to Mr Clegg concede that his style must change. While his impatience has helped to stamp his authority within the party, it has not helped some public appearances, where he has at times seemed tetchy and snappy.

“He can be a super public speaker. But he needs to get rid of that sense of irritation,” said one colleague. “That will help.”

A baby Clegg will arrive next month, which some supporters hope will help to introduce him to the nation. Whether the sleepless nights will help his temperament is another matter.

His predecessor-but-two as leader, Paddy Ashdown, is quoted offering this advice to Nick:

It is a very tough job. My first year was a complete disaster. I was regularly hand-bagged by Thatcher but there wasn’t a journalist interested enough to write about it. I scored an asterix in one opinion poll, because there was no detectable support. What does he need to do? Be patient. Nick like me is rather impatient.”

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An Asterix? I wasn’t aware opinion polling ever used fictional cartoon Gauls.

by Benjamin on January 6, 2009 at 1:50 pm. Reply #

That’s where BPIX have been going wrong!

by Ned on January 6, 2009 at 2:19 pm. Reply #

I had to laugh at Barker calling the last shadow cabinet meeting a ‘village fete’. Right/left lables never irritate me but maybe I am an odditity :).

More generally it’s a bit of mixed-bag of an article…tectchiness has something that I have definatly noticed at PMQ’s. There is a difference between tetchiness and righteous indignation…the latter you can get away with; really it’s a question of cutting out the sillyness (ie, loose plane talk etc).

by Darrell on January 6, 2009 at 3:43 pm. Reply #

” shedding decades of dogma on tax and public services ”

What is this “dogma”? I do not recall the party in the past having any particularly dogmatic line on tax and public services. I always recall it being pretty pragmatic. Why the pejorative term “dogma”? Why are the policies pushed forward now any less of a “dogma” than policies pushed in the past? Why this rewriting of history, making it out we were some sort of authoritarian state socialist party until recently?

by Matthew Huntbach on January 6, 2009 at 10:39 pm. Reply #

Does it really matter? If the party has been perceived to be dogmatic, isn’t it good that Clegg is getting rid of that particular label?

by Anonymous on January 6, 2009 at 10:55 pm. Reply #

“the usual, simplistic right/left labels so likely to irritate Lib Dems”

That “irritation” is largely for public consumption, though.

Obviously the party doesn’t wish to be portrayed either as “right” or “left” for fear of alienating voters of the opposite persuasion. But Nick Clegg seems to have no problem at all with the “left” label when slagging off his colleagues on flights to Inverness.

by Anonymous on January 6, 2009 at 11:35 pm. Reply #

What Matthew said. I’d ask where this nonsense comes from but the problem is I have a rather good idea.

It seems to me that the last three decades of market-obsessed “dogma” has got us into the greatest recession we’ve seen for decades. And yet journalists are still exoriating us for not demanding the privatisation of schools?

by James Graham on January 7, 2009 at 12:11 am. Reply #

I suppose the next big test of whether we shift to the right will be if we abandon our policy to scrap tuition fees…

by James Graham on January 7, 2009 at 12:12 am. Reply #

We better [swear word] not abandon our policy to scrap tuition fees…

I cannot remember where I read it now, but I understand Nick has been overhead making it very clearly known that he’s not pleased with Lembit Opik writing for the Sport. One can only hope that one of my least favourite LibDems is made to re-evaluate his career path by another of my least favourite LibDems….

by Liam Pennington on January 7, 2009 at 8:18 am. Reply #


“If the party has been perceived to be dogmatic, isn’t it good that Clegg is getting rid of that particular label?”

But the party has not been perceived as dogmatic, if anything, quite the reverse. So what we have here is a blatant re-writing of history.

We have always suffered from journalists deciding for themselves what the story is for our party, and pushing us down that line, with opinions presented as facts, and “news” about us which comes close to outright lies. This has almost always been done in a way that denigrates what is loosely the “left” of our party and promotes what is loosely the “right”. Often it has been done with the connivance of people who hold no elected position in the party but somehow seem to be influential.

The party was damaged massively in the 1980s by false reporting which was extremely biased to one side of our internal debates, and we spent the 1990s recovering from it.

I don’t think the spin which is being put on Clegg’s leadership here is particularly helpful, because I don’t think there’s a big pool of floating voters who are waiting for us to become a party which stands for Thatcherism without the Tory cultural baggage. There’s an elite obsession with these issues which doesn’t really extend beyond the readership of certain high-profile but low-circulation publications.

But, furthermore, it offends me as a liberal. If holding one sort of opinion is termed “dogmatic” and holding another is not, then that’s an attempt to shut down debate without actually arguing about the opinions. It’s an attempt to say there is only one legitimate way to think. If history is rewritten so that those in the past are painted in away that is blatantly untrue in order to further current political aims, that’s appalling. This sort of thing is what the word “Orwellian” was invented to describe.

by Matthew Huntbach on January 7, 2009 at 10:15 am. Reply #

“there is only one legitimate way to think”

well… there is only one way, and that’s your own…

Seriously though, either you think or you don’t (you might feel, sense etc).

That’s a different thing from saying there is only one legitimate conclusion, which there most certainly isn’t. The potential for different outcomes is infinite.

by Oranjepan on January 7, 2009 at 10:26 am. Reply #

Following on from Matthew – Yes, the battle for ownership of words is vitally important. You won’t find Obama calling himself liberal, because the US right have successfully demonised the word. So he has fallen back on “change”, which isn’t an -ism, and so is harder to demonise. It worked well this time round, but in four years time, Obama may have a problem defining what he stands for when defending the inevitable mixed bag of practical results.

The UK right haven’t been quite as assiduous in demonising words as they have in the US, but here is a pretty good example. “Dogma” is what anybody except a right-winger believes. As Matthew points out, it is ludicrous to apply it to the Lib Dems pre-Clegg, who always adopted a pretty pragmatic line on tax.

Now according to Barker, Nick Clegg “is for tax cuts and a smaller state.” I like the choice of the words “is for”. So much better than “believes in”, and of course miles better than “has a dogmatic doctrinaire belief in”.

Oh sorry, doctrinaire means socalist doesn’t it? No it ruddy doesn’t, it means slavishly sticking to a rigid policy line of any kind. Like believing that chucking a whole lot of public employees out of their jobs during a severe recession is in any way rational, humane, or liberal.

I know what someone’s going to say next. The journalist has got it all wrong. The idea that Clegg is a doctrinaire right-wing tax-cutter is all a sloppy journalistic misinterpretation, which is in no way Nick’s fault. No matter how hard Nick tries to dispel this misinterpretation, no matter how many times Nick repeats the phrase “big permanent tax cuts”, those wretched journalists persist in misunderstanding him. It’s all really sad!

by David Allen on January 7, 2009 at 12:26 pm. Reply #

If when Fred thinks something we’re told it’s a “dogma” and when Joe thinks something we’re told it’s what Joe is “for”, then the implication is that Joe is a good guy and Fred is a bad guy. The use of the word “dogma” is intended to mean that Fred hasn’t arrived at his opinion through rational thought, so he’s a fool, and that Fred isn’t willing to consider changing his opinion through rational argument, so he’s a bigot.

I see no reason why one side of internal party arguments here should be described as “dogma” and the other not.

The issue is whether its journalists making these words up to suit their own prejudice, or Nick and his supporters feeding these lines to them. If the former, Nick should say he objects, if the latter, Nick is not a suitable man to be our leader.

by Matthew Huntbach on January 7, 2009 at 1:20 pm. Reply #

James Graham said:

“I’d ask where this nonsense comes from but the problem is I have a rather good idea.”

Yes, I suspect you may do. From where I sit, out in the sticks, I ought to confess to a genuine perplexity about it all. In the hope that you or someone else can enlighten me, let me try out some alternative speculations:

( A ) – It’s all led and masterminded by Nick, with support from his allies.


( B ) – It isn’t really down to Nick. Any other leader would be subject to the same pressures. Bluntly, we are in hock to the hedge funds. We as a party are skint, we are terrified of having to repay the Michael Brown donation, and so we just have to dance to the tune of the guys with the money.

Charles Kennedy’s famous riposte to the Orange Book, that Britain did not need three conservative parties, is to some people 100% wrong. It is actually vitally important to the hedgies and the merchant bankers that Britain should have three conservative parties. Of course, a great deal of effort has successfully been made to buy up the Labour Party and decontaminate it from its last vestiges of socialism and indeed humanity. Nevertheless, the struggle for the super-rich cannot be allowed to end there. Who knows what mischief a biggish third party might make if they stuck to Charles’s line? Much safer to get stuck in there, sponsor a book, set up a well-funded think tank to pull its ideas around, etc.


( C ) – It’s a bit of both. It was, after all, Charles who dropped the “penny on income tax” (admittedly after Labour had made it irrelevant by pushing through larger tax rises), and it was Ming who scrapped the 50% rate. However, both Charles and Ming took care to balance their appeal, and to say no more than that they would not raise overall tax levels.

Nick has no such compunctions. Nick means business. He wants to be in government. Gordon would not touch him with a bargepole, and by railing so violently against the State and all its works, Nick has made sure that a coalition with Labour is pretty nigh impossible. This leaves only one coalition option, which is just how Nick and the hedgies want it.

– As I said, I am genuinely unsure which of these alternative speculations is nearest to the truth. It matters. The question is whether a change of leadership could actually lead to a real change of policy!

by David Allen on January 7, 2009 at 6:20 pm. Reply #

“Like believing that chucking a whole lot of public employees out of their jobs during a severe recession is in any way rational, humane, or liberal.”

by Tabman on January 12, 2009 at 5:35 pm. Reply #

“Like believing that chucking a whole lot of public employees out of their jobs during a severe recession is in any way rational, humane, or liberal.”

Please point to where exactly Nick has stated that he will do this?

by Tabman on January 12, 2009 at 5:40 pm. Reply #

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