by Stephen Tall on June 24, 2012
Nick Clegg certainly isn’t one to shy away from voters, even at a time when the Lib Dems, he personally, and the government he’s part of are all suffering from unpopularity. Ever since Nick became leader he’s placed a premium on direct voter contact through his ‘town hall’ meetings. It was a smart strategy which not only earned valuable exposure through the local media, but also ensured he was much more prepared and ready for the televised election debates in 2010.
And this summer he’s setting off on a tour of 13 meetings at which he’s under no illusions he’ll be put on the spot by voters. His team are drawing historical comparisons with Franklin D Roosevelt’s uncompromising battle-cry when facing re-election in 1936, “They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.” A closer British example is Tony Blair’s so-called ‘masochism strategy’ in the lead up to the 2005 general election, when he faced voter anger over the Iraq war and Labour’s tuition fees U-turn.
Aides believe Mr Clegg has some positive messages to sell to an unimpressed electorate. Notably, he has emerged untarnished from the Leveson inquiry, as both Labour and Tories were forced to defend getting too close to the Murdoch empire. The party base has also been buoyed by the sight of Mr Clegg leading the environmental agenda at the Rio summit last week, the Tory infighting over gay marriage and the Lib Dems’ opposition to plans to scrap GCSEs.
The days of apologising for being in government are over, say party insiders. Instead, Mr Clegg will be seen to take on critics and attempt to explain what influence the party is having in government. “It is good for our members to see Nick setting out his case. It’s good resilience training for them. It helps them when they knock on doors.”
I’m not sure the latter two (slightly high-handed) comments will help endear the strategy to activists, who probably feel resilient enough already. But the overall message — that Nick Clegg wants to put across the Lib Dem message direct to voters who otherwise hear only the relentless barrage of Tory, Labour and media hostility — is a welcome one.