Riddell me Clegg

by Stephen Tall on March 6, 2009

The most recent issue of Liberator magazine mentioned the comments made recently by a senior Lib Dem MP that he felt the party suffered from a ‘Peter Riddell problem’ – that the Lib Dem leadership appears at times desperate to earn the praise of The Times’s senior political commentator, and arch civil servant manque, as a ‘government in waiting’. And in the process the party loses its radical edge and drops its most popular policies.

It’s interesting, then, to read today’s analysis by Mr Riddell of Nick Clegg’s leadership and Lib Dem fortunes ahead of the party’s spring conference in Harrogate. Here’s some highlights:

On the polls

a two-party squeeze has only partly happened. The Lib Dems’ poll ratings fluctuate from month to month and vary between pollsters, partly reflecting differences in the ways the polls are conducted. But, if anything, the Lib Dems have crept up to the higher teens as Labour has slipped back and the Tories have not yet returned to their highs of last summer.

On the prospect of BNP electoral gains

Mr Clegg accepts that extreme, nationalist and xenophobic parties often do well in times of economic trouble, searching for scapegoats and playing an anti-Establishment card. He believes that the Lib Dems can position themselves by showing that they can deliver on the ground in local councils and by taking on the BNP, as they recently did successfully in a street-by-street battle in a council by-election in Newcastle upon Tyne.

And on how the Lib Dems can gain

Mr Clegg wants to break ranks with the Establishment. The Lib Dems can only gain from being bold, as they have sought to be on taxes, welfare and schools. Similarly, now, Mr Clegg has raised the fresh issue of whether directors of failed banks, including non-executives, should be disqualified. It is not just narrow populism for taxpayers to demand that such directors face some reckoning because of their serious errors. Mr Clegg is correct that mainstream politicians need to respond to such anger.

So there we have it. If Peter Riddell is saying “The Lib Dems can only gain from being bold”, then the party has no excuse to play it safe in the coming months.