5 things Nick Clegg could do next

by Stephen Tall on July 4, 2014

Nick Clegg Q&A 8My last piece of advice to Nick Clegg was to stand down as Lib Dem leader. He didn’t, and it’s pretty clear now that Nick will lead us into the next general election.

Two problems remain, though, and we need to find ways of addressing them. First, morale in the party has dipped since the May elections. Secondly, support for the party has also dipped in the polls. Yes, Lib Dem MPs benefit from the incumbency effect but that only stretches so far – we also need to start winning the air war, or at the very least avoid being ignored. As it stands, what Nick says just isn’t getting a listening. However unfair, it’s a reality we need to deal with.

Here are five suggestions from me for ways in which Nick Clegg could help restore party morale and maybe get himself a hearing from the media and public…

1. Announce Vince Cable will be the party’s shadow chancellor at the next election.

I’m told it’s a done deal that Danny Alexander will get the nod. That would be a mistake. We need a shadow chancellor with clout, utterly secure on the economics, savvy about the politics. As I pointed out a couple of months ago, Vince has done a masterful job of walking “the tightrope of respecting collective cabinet responsibility while signalling quite clearly when and why he disagrees with the Conservatives, most notably on immigration”. Party members also favour – by 63% to 28% – having Vince represent the Lib Dems in the ‘Ask the Chancellor’ debates.

2. Keep the party’s options open in the event of a ‘hung parliament’

Nick Clegg has publicly ruled out the option of a ‘supply and confidence’ arrangement in the event no single party wins a majority in May 2015 (ie, the party won’t join a formal coalition but wouldn’t bring down a minority government either). I can understand why he’s sceptical of such an arrangement – as I’ve argued before, “It seems to me a way of getting all the pain of coalition with little of the gain of being in government.” But we need to keep all options available to maintain maximum negotiating leverage. What matters most is how we can deliver liberal policies in the next parliament. That’s most likely to happen in a full coalition, but not at any price. Tim Farron was spot-on to argue, “When you go into negotiations with another party you have to believe, and let the other party believe, that there is a point at which you would walk away, and when the outcome could be something less than a coalition, a minority administration of some kind, that is something we all have to consider.”

3. Appoint Jo Swinson to the cabinet in the autumn

As I wrote in Total Politics after last year’s reshuffle, “It’s shaming that a party which proudly proclaims its belief in equality has never yet appointed a female cabinet minister.” Jo Swinson might have been promoted then, but her maternity leave was just about to begin. Now returned to work as an accomplished Business Minister, she is the obvious candidate for elevation (though she herself may prefer to devote the time to her marginal constituency where she has a tough fight on her hands). It’s of course true that a reshuffle just a few months before an election – when ministers have little scope to initiate change – might be seen as little more than window dressing. But it would at least signal some intent to address the Lib Dems’ “male, pale and stale” problem at the top of our party.

4. Stop going to PMQs, start touring the country

Focus groups, I’m told, show the public is baffled why Nick Clegg simply sits next to David Cameron without ever speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions. To them, he appears mute, powerless, sidelined. Nick himself is scathing of this weekly parliamentary pantomime: “It is just so stuck in the nineteenth century and it is so stuck in this adversarial, yah-boo culture. It is going to have to change at some point.” He can’t change it now, but what he can do is steer clear of it. The time spent attending PMQs could be much better used. Nick’s aides are, according to the Daily Mail, advising him to ditch his Spanish family holiday volunteer “for a ‘summer of pain’ doing ordinary jobs outside Westminster”, modelled on Paddy Ashdown’s 1993 ‘Beyond Westminster’ tour of Britain. Ignore half that, Nick: you and your family need your holiday. But getting out of Westminster every Wednesday at 12 noon seems like a sound idea.

5. “Let Clegg Be Clegg”

In the first ‘Nick v Nigel’ debate, Nick was himself: Mr Reasonable: moderate, persuasive, reforming. Then his aides got spooked by the polls showing Farage won the post-debate polls. Nick was schooled to exhibit ersatz passion and crack creaky one-liners. It didn’t come naturally. The result? He lost the second debate by losing himself. Of course party leaders need staff and colleagues able to feed them good lines – but they have to be lines which can be spoken comfortably and sound authentic. The next time Nick is guaranteed a hearing from voters will be the first televised leaders’ debate (whenever that is, whatever its format). I want The Real Nick Clegg to stand up and stick up for what he believes in – in his own words.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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2 comments

Good heavens, I agree with Stephen!

by Sadie Smith on July 4, 2014 at 1:20 pm. Reply #

Some common thinking here. Libdemfightback today tweeted this open letter to Ryan Coetzee. We suggest also that Jo Swinson or a female MP is promoted in the party but suggest an election as Deputy Leader and then taking an equal dual role in the run up to the General Election, perhaps even in a TV Debate.
Full Text:
Recovery Plan for the Liberal Democrats

By Lib Dem Fightback

A Olive Branch to the leadership

An open letter to Ryan Coetzee July 4th 2014

Dear Ryan

10 months away from the UK General Election our party – the Liberal Democrats are facing potential electoral disaster with opinion polls ratings

6-9% in the polls leading to the following potential outcomes.

4%-9% – Electoral massacre – 0 or 5 MPs returned in heartland seats (virtual destruction of English party) – unprecedented levels of representation worse than 1950’s – survival of party in question.

10-12% – Electoral disaster – party retains only 12-15 MPs – return to representation levels of 1970’s – high likelihood of party split between Orange Book Economic Liberals and traditional Social Liberals.

13-15% Major Setback – retention of 20-36 seats (36 seat strategy) helped by incumbency factor – possible participation in future coaliton – major party discord likely

BACKGROUND

Lib Dem Fightback was set up in June 2014 in response to the Farage Debate, the Local, Euro and Newark election disasters.

We started with 12 supporters and have doubled in size each week and aim to have 2,000 members.

We are calling for:-

1. An immediate change in Party Leader as soon as possible before the 2015 election
2. A more democratic party
3. A return to the core Lib Dem values and policies as set out in the 2010 Election Manifesto.

We will be campaigning for these during the summer and autumn, at the Party Conference and up to and during the 2015 General Election – including the option of fielding a candidate to run against Nick Clegg if necessary.

It is becoming obvious that a) Nick Clegg is not willing to stand down in the interests of party unity b) that we and other groups including Libdems4change will not relent on pressuring for change.

In the spirit of Liberalism – we are offering a compromise plan to allow maximum party unity and to give the best chance for the party to get supporters to speak with one voice and get the vote out.

It is therefore proposed that

1. The Party leadership work for the Election of a female Deputy Leader to replace Malcolm Bruce (for example Jo Swinson, Lynne Featherstone,) to demonstrate the party taking action over issues such as Rennard & Cyril Smith etc. and to promote the number and authority of women in the party.

2. That the deputy leader take an equal role in electioneering in the party up to and especially during the GE Election campaign including some or all of the Leaders TV Debates

3. That Nick Clegg goes on a round the country work experience tour meeting opponents such as Libdemfightback to find out how to reconnect with 2010 Lib Dem Voters and the public.

4. Policy changes are made including

a. Withdrawal of unconditional support for HS2 – the cost and the Route. A commission to be set up to look at better alternatives such as

i. Grand Central

ii. Upgrade of existing routes

iii. HS1a Extension – as proposed to the manifesto group

b. Measures taken to restore an anti-tuition fee policy as held by the party between 2001-2010, including the lowering of tuition fee cap, the wiping of a proportion of student debts.

5. Withdrawal of unconditional support for the Conservative plans not covered by the Coalition Agreement , withdrawal of support for Conservative actions over European brinksmanship by David Cameron

6. The Party to come together to include social liberal and economic liberals taking pride in the many achievements of 2010-2015 such as

a. A return to Economic Growth

b. High Employment Levels & 2m jobs created

c. Apprenticeships … etc …etc

7. Slogans to be used – focus on investment in education (including Higher Education – BRAINS NOT TRAINS) Focus on economic growth – PROSPERITY NOT AUSTERITY

8. Measures to be advocated to keep UK interest rates low, whilst cutting London housing inflation – ie London Stamp Duty, London Brownfield Housing Plan, freeing up MOD and Public land bank for development – ie closing London Government Offices and converting for low cost high quality urban housing.

We are hoping that the leadership will make changes such as those above to start to turn the party around before disaster and are willing to work in a positive way if the leadership shows a spirit of compromise

by Jonathan Pile on July 4, 2014 at 4:44 pm. Reply #

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