Why I am one of the 39% of Lib Dem members who thinks Nick Clegg should stand down as leader

by Stephen Tall on May 28, 2014

Yesterday LibDemVoice reported a survey we conducted of 992 party members on Nick Clegg’s future as party leader. I was one of the 39% who chose the option that Nick should stand down now. Let me explain why…

I have enormous respect for Nick and like him personally. I am sure he’s entirely honourable in wanting to stay on as leader to contest the 2015 general election. If, as seems likely, he chooses to stay I will support him and the party.

However, I think he’s going to find it tough to turn things round. The media, mostly unfairly, has given him a pounding over the past four years. The relentless hostility has taken its toll on his reputation with the public. I seriously doubt that damage can be restored in the next 11 months.

That does not mean the party is doomed, though. According to the psephologists, last week’s local elections indicate the Lib Dems would win c.35-40 seats if the public voted as they did last week.

Such a result would make Nick Clegg the king-maker in the likely event of another hung parliament.  And this gets to the nub of why I think in the interests of the Lib Dems Nick should stand down.

The party needs a leader who can negotiate the best deal possible to advance the Lib Dem manifesto.

However, I don’t think Nick will be able to secure a Coalition deal with the Conservatives that Lib Dem members will be prepared to sign up to: there is too much suspicion lingering from the current deal. Nor do I think Nick will be able to do a deal with Labour that he will be able credibly to communicate to the voters as anything other than a complete about-turn on the previous five years of cohabitation with the Tories.

In short, Nick is one of the impediments (not the only one, but a not insignificant one) to the Lib Dems being free to negotiate a second Coalition if that’s the hand we’re dealt.

And if a Coalition deal isn’t possible in part because of Nick’s presence as leader, I can’t see him being content simply to return to the position of third party leader waiting for the 2020 election.

If Nick Clegg stands down now as party leader, though, he would go out with his head held high. And though it’s unconventional and has risks I see no real reason why Nick couldn’t remain as Deputy Prime Minister through until May 2015, allowing the new party leader to present the party’s manifesto unencumbered by the compromises of Coalition.


[…] up his position. It was neither. Whatever my own views – and if you’re interested you can read them here – when I conduct LibDemVoice surveys it is with the aim of ensuring party members’ voice is […]

by Was the LibDemVoice poll on Nick Clegg’s leadership a fix? #QTWTAIN on May 28, 2014 at 9:03 pm. Reply #

I disagree with your conclusion. I'm a party member, and have had my share of Clegg Out feelings in the past, but in the run up to a tight, tough general election, a messy leadership election within a slow coalition divorce would be exceptionally difficult to get through, let alone survive.

Clegg deserves support under the circumstances. He should stay in place.

by Líam Pennington on May 28, 2014 at 8:37 pm. Reply #

You're over as a party if you don't get rid of him, but you are if you do. You can't win.

by David Casey on May 28, 2014 at 8:40 pm. Reply #

First, I doubt very much that removing Clegg would much alter the Lib Dems' chances next May. After being part of the Coalition for five years it's simply necessary to take one's chances with the electorate by standing on the record in government. My guess is that the incumbency effect, local factors running against the national pattern and the fact another year of economic improvement will have strengthened the hand of those in government and weakened Labour's means the number of Lib Dem MPs this time next year will be higher than many currently expect.

Second, the argument in this article is undermined by the blatancy of the author's determination to achieve a Lib Dem deal with Labour in the event of a hung parliament. Given that the more likely situation will be the Tories having more seats as well as a larger share of the votes, the idea of dumping Clegg now to insert a more Labour-friendly leader so as to enable a deal to be struck with Miliband pretty much regardless of whether the Conservatives are in the negotiating box-seat is both fundamentally anti-democratic and very bad long-term political strategy for the Lib Dems.

by John Jones on May 28, 2014 at 8:49 pm. Reply #

The Lib Dems won over a whole bunch of voters ahead of the last election who "agreed with Nick". They were exactly the kind of people the party had been trying to recruit for years – not ideologically committed to another party, won over by promises of change from a progressive-sounding party. All that new blood, mostly young blood, a lot of it won from wavering and disaffected Labour voters. Hence being left-leaning.

And what was done with that left-leaning fresh, new blood? It was sacrificed on the altar to to a highly Conservative coalition. Leadership undoubtedly thought they were doing the right thing by the party – showing they could lead and could be part of government. But it wasn't just "the party", it was the rest of the country that was looking on: all those new-blood voters, seeing their hard-won support immediately abused in support of exactly the mainstream party that they least wanted in power.

Ironically, the Lib Dems understood very well the idea that voters are more or less proximate to certain parties and policies – it's why they advocated STV reform. But in practice what did we see? All those new blood votes gave the party a taste of power and the party spat back at us by using our votes to prop up the wrong government. For those voters it could never be seen as 'fair play, they're showing us they can govern', it could only be regarded as an immediate betrayal. Not just a squandering of support, or a necessary tactical gambit, but an outright, spit-in-your-face betrayal.

And that impression has been compacted and compounded with every Tory cut, every ideological education policy, every nasty Tory sidestep toward the UKIPization of immigration, every blatant attempt to undermine the very spirit of NHS that went more or less completely uncontested by you, the Coalition partners. Every noxious, toxic policy that most of those young, new blood voters already knew they hated. And which you knew they hated. And which you went ahead and supported anyway.

So, the problem is bigger than Clegg. But he was the figurehead. He was the leader. As a party you have lost those new votes. They are not coming back. You've lost a great deal of the votes you already had, too. And as a party you deserve it. Nick Clegg resign? You may as well all go. The party needs a complete, no-holds-barred reboot if it is to mean anything at all for many years to come.

by Bob Churchill on May 28, 2014 at 9:06 pm. Reply #

I disagree for a few reasons.

First, that it would be seen as petulant and immature as a party. The public aren't likely to flock back if we change leader.

Second, because in coalition we've delivered far, far more than we're given credit for. We haven't been able to communicate this as we'd have liked as we're up against an utterly hostile press on both left and right and Labour especially have focussed on Nick with a targeted campaign of character assassination to deflect from their own lack of alternatives. We could turn some of this around if we do better with the message.

Third, because on the economy Nick has been utterly vindicated. The economic statistics are all pointing in the right direction – we're growing at about 4 times the rate of Europe – and even wages have caught up with costs, so people will really start to feel it. Labour's hyperbolic claims will soon look very silly.

Fourth, because if we do get as far as a second coalition and it's with Labour, the other side of Nick would be shown and it would be to our benefit. We'd be able to underline our USP of delivering fairness while protecting the economy from Labour's reckless approach to spending.

Fifth, because as a party we have to prove that coalition can work, that we're strong and stable allies, in order to allay peoples' fears of future coalitions. This is why I think it's a bad idea to leave coalition before the election.

by Julian Tisi on May 28, 2014 at 9:26 pm. Reply #

In the normal run of things, after these local and EU election results, at this stage of the parliament – the leader would be gone; no debate! The reticence is that things are not ‘normal’ – the circumstances and inheritance of the 2010 election are almost erased from media commentary; the parliamentary arithmetic along with it. And we almost all feel that Nick’s been unfairly represented by the media – never really recovering, in my view, from the AV campaign savaging of our Tory coalition partners. It seems in many ways that we have been awarded Labour’s blame for the recession and deficit (they weren’t around for the cure like Fianna Fail), whilst the Tories have credit for an improving economy (and tax cuts).

But reality strikes! It is what it is! Nick is deeply, deeply unpopular with the electorate. The one and only way he could turn that around is to sell himself and to try and defend his record. The stage for that cannot by the 2015 General Election – that’s too late, too risky.

It has to be now and that can only be a leadership election and better one that he calls and stands in, if he still has the vigour to fight.

It will not guarantee him re-election as leader though. The party has seen mistakes and questioned the extent of compromises made and red lines crossed. We have been part of a government that has been responsible for the destitution and death of some of its citizens (not the first). The changes to disability and some other benefits have removed a safety net and some of the weakest have fallen.

In my view, despite all the unfairness and unbalanced reporting. Despite some very real achievements in government – which would not otherwise have been – this party is ready for a leadership realignment and refresh. That’s it!

But 4 numerals of warning for anyone who does feel we should pull out of the coalition before the 7 May 2015 – 1945!

by John Minard on May 28, 2014 at 11:14 pm. Reply #

“According to the psephologists, last week’s local elections indicate the Lib Dems would win c.35-40 seats if the public voted as they did last week.”

Just for balance – according to the psephologists (in the shape of Martin Baxter) last week’s European elections indicate the Lib Dems would win 2 seats* if the public voted as they did last week.

Who knows which of these two elections held on the same day provides a better guide to next year’s general election?

[* Interestingly, one of them appears to be Tim Farron’s. I can’t work out what the other one is.]

by Chris on May 29, 2014 at 1:35 am. Reply #

[…] Even enthusiastic supporters of Nick Clegg such as Stephen Tall think the time is right for Nick Clegg to leave the Liberal Democrats. The position of Nick Clegg […]

by What Does Nick Do Now? | The Mutualist on May 29, 2014 at 3:09 am. Reply #

Why give the heave ho to such a principled and eloquent politician who has been prepared to work so hard under such circumstances, for the good of so many, just because neither the Tories nor the Lib Dems really sold the Coalition properly?

He… we need to sell it better if there is a next time. Much better. And next time it would surely be easier??? As Clegg has said and I believe – coalitions are the future and, as with Europe, we need to get used to them.

Who is stronger than Clegg to spearhead this for us next time around? And how can we afford, with so much to do before May 2015, to be in-fighting and questioning our own leadership? There is so much to point to in the Tories’ awful campaign and the years of Milliband/Labour gratuitous politicking…

Chair of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

by Jessica Sproxton Miller on May 29, 2014 at 9:51 am. Reply #

Since LD lied about giving us a referendum, they lost all their 'Democrat' supporters, leaving them with just the 'Liberal' supporters. No way back.

by Lawrence John on May 29, 2014 at 9:37 am. Reply #

Dear Stephen, He appears to be a nice clean boy, however, the wilful deception and lies which Nick told versus Farage in the debate, undermined his real arguments,which he clearly failed to project. He must go, he failed to act against Hancock at the beginning and was only outted because of a recording and he also made Farage look more competant due to Nick trying to enter into a playground style argument because he was continuously failing in his arguments.

by Jasmi Khan on May 29, 2014 at 10:06 am. Reply #

What a mess. Reminds me of both Tories and Labour in days gone by….

by David Crown on May 29, 2014 at 2:03 pm. Reply #

I now wish I had voted LD in the EU elections. Nick Clegg was the only honourable leader who took on UKIP . If he is leader at the GE I will vote for him. If Vince Cable ousts him, I will not. I loathe disloyaltyr.

I am delighted that the nasty, arrogant, egotistical Mr Oakshott has gone.

by Jane Brown on May 29, 2014 at 2:17 pm. Reply #

'Yellow' Belly Clegg?

The guy is a fucking sell-out.

And a shithouse.

I have others…

by Andrew Lewis on May 29, 2014 at 4:42 pm. Reply #

[…] loath to criticise Nick Clegg express their doubts, or call for him to step down. In that respect, Stephen Tall’s post explaining why he thinks Clegg can’t lead the party into the next election is likely to have much […]

by Going down fighting | Alex's Archives on May 29, 2014 at 10:54 pm. Reply #

[…] 2. Stephen Tall | Why I am one of the 39 of Lib Dem members who thinks Nick Clegg should stand as leader.  http://stephentall.org/2014/05/28/why-i-am-one-of-the-39-of-lib-dem-members-who-thinks-nick-clegg-sh… […]

by Recommended Readings This Week | The Mutualist on May 29, 2014 at 10:54 pm. Reply #

A counterargument would be that one thing Clegg can offer during coalition negotiations is to step down. It would be a shame not to be able to play that card and get something in return.

Not that it did Brown any good, but there would be something pleasingly cyclical about it.

by Wintergreen on May 30, 2014 at 10:06 am. Reply #

[…] those who asked afterwards: I haven’t changed my mind since last week, I still think Nick Clegg – for the good of the party – should stand down. That’s rough justice. […]

by Newark by-election: what I told BBC’s Daily Politics on June 6, 2014 at 10:01 pm. Reply #

[…] That was the message I received from one friend following my decision to write about why I think Nick Clegg should stand down as Liberal Democrat leader (while continuing as Deputy Prime […]

by Stephen Tall: Why I believe Nick Clegg should stand down as Liberal Democrat leader | MyGov.Co on June 18, 2014 at 10:23 am. Reply #

[…] mention. After all, just four months ago Nick Clegg was under fire from many within his party (yes, including me) following the party’s dire results in the local and European elections. Yet here he was […]

by Nick Clegg’s speech: 5 initial thoughts from me – and reaction from members and pundits on October 8, 2014 at 4:25 pm. Reply #

[…] Even enthusiastic supporters of Nick Clegg such as Stephen Tall think the time is right for Nick Clegg to leave the Liberal Democrats. The position of Nick Clegg […]

by What Does Nick Do Now? - The Mutualist on December 22, 2014 at 12:51 pm. Reply #

[…] 2. Stephen Tall | Why I am one of the 39 of Lib Dem members who thinks Nick Clegg should stand down as leader.  http://stephentall.org/2014/05/28/why-i-am-one-of-the-39-of-lib-dem-members-who-thinks-nick-clegg-sh… […]

by Recommended Readings This Week - The Mutualist on December 22, 2014 at 12:51 pm. Reply #

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