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Sunday, September 02, 2012

My twopennyworth on the Clegg leadership

Well thank goodness for the interweb, otherewise I would not know who Lord Smith of Clifton is. Of course, the fact that I have not heard of him does not make his views on Nick Clegg's leadership any less valid, but it does help that when commenting on the electability of a party leader, that one has at least been elected to something oneself at some stage in one's career.

This is precisely the point made by Adrian Sanders MP, who rightly believes that Nick Clegg needs to re-engage with the party. Admittedly, 'bumbling along' is not helpful language, but who am I to lecture anybody on these matters.

Adrian questions the advice that the Liberal Democrat leader is getting and suggests that he needs to convince people in the party and the wider electorate that we are doing the right thing. Perhaps we all need to stand back a bit and see where we are at and why.

It is certainly true that Nick Clegg has a perception problem. Most of that goes back to the tuition fees decision and the problems that a small party has being in a coalition, when it has to make difficult but necessary decisions in the best interests of the country. No doubt if we had had a majority we could have avoided a number of these bear traps, but incumbency comes with a price and we can no longer rely on the politics of protest that has served us so well up to now.

Nick Clegg took the couragous step of bringing the party into government, giving us a chance to implement Liberal Democrats policies for the first time since 1906-1916. He did so because the country needed stable government to sort out the economic mess that we had inherited. In that sense he has been our most successful leader. And let us not forget that his decision was unanimously endorsed by the party membership.

Changing leader now will not make things better. We should all remember how disastrous it was the last time there was a Parliamentarian-led coup at the top, when Charles Kennedy, a successful and popular leader, was forced out by MPs, without any reference to the party at large. In many ways this latest controversy is part of the legacy of that action. The scars have not yet healed. There is nothing to gain by re-opening them.

Putting Vince Cable in charge of the party does not take us out of government. It does not reverse the direction we have committed ourselves too, nor does it undo the many decisions that have been taken in government, all of which he has collective responsibility for.

If we are to go to the country in 2015 arguing that we are more economically competent than Labour, more compassionate than the Tories, that we have delivered good Liberal Democrat policies and blunted the worst of Toryism then we need to do so with our heads held high. We cannot say that we have the balls to be in government if we have panicked and dumped our leader at the first sign of trouble.

More importantly, Nick Clegg is the right man in the right job at the right time. Whatever the personal qualities of Vince Cable, it is Nick who has the wider experience of coalition, who crafted the strategy that put us in government , who has undergone an extraordinary baptism of fire as Deputy Prime Minister and who is holding the coalition together from our side of the fence. The future of the party depends on the success of this partnership, we cannot walk away from it prematurely.

Yes, Nick needs to listen and engage better with the party. He also needs to get out more around the country to sell the coalition and perhaps hone the message a bit better, so that it is more easily understood. But having now survived two nail-biting elections in the real world whilst he and the party have been struggling in the polls, I am not going to give up on him yet.
I agree with everything you have said. Also we need Vince Cable as Chancellor, not as Liberal Democrat leader
A small gripe from Pedantry Corner. There weren't any Liberal Democrats in 1906-16; just Liberals. For some reason you skip over the following six years when we had a Tory-Lib coalition (a bit like now!), only with a Liberal at the helm. It all ended in tears.
Everyone talks about tuition fees. However the real blunder was agreeing to George Osbornes timetable for budget deficit reduction. Nick Clegg cannot it seems lose face over that. Which is why he must go and the Coalition brought to an end.
"Nick Clegg took the couragous step of bringing the party into government, giving us a chance to implement Liberal Democrats policies for the first time since 1906-1916"

There were a number of Lib Dem policies implemented in the 97-01 Labour government as a result of the Cook-Maclennan agreement (Scottish (but not Welsh) Devolution, Incorporation of the ECHR, Freedom of Information)
Yes Cneifiwr, I agonised a bit over those dates but technically 1916-1918 was a unity government in which Asquith took the Liberals into opposition and 1918-1922 was a national coalition based on personal allegiances. The Liberal Party remained a separate entity outside the coalition government under Asquith and was not reunited until Lloyd George succeeded him as leader a few years later. It was not of course the coalition that ended in tears for the Liberals but the split in the party based on personal antagonism between Lloyd George and Asquith coupled with profound demographic changes that saw Labour take much of the party's constituency support.
I write as a former LD supporter.

Yes, I agree that we were right to go into coalition, there was a need for strong government. Although, painful I accepted that tuition fees was a cost of being in government.

However what angered me to leave the party is that we have kept with Osbournes plan (when Cable advocated the opposite!). Also, we seem to have had to lose our policies, yet the Tories aren't really (except v.minor ones). This is why I am angry at the parliamentary leaders.

As for comparing Kennedy and Clegg- it is foolish. I'd say grassroots are against Clegg and he is only being propped up by the parliamentary party.

I personally think it IS time for a new leader. We then have a choice: either being more strict towards the Tories and just be ready to say "no" to some policies. Or, agree to help the government on economic policies in the national interest, but leave a formal coalition.
Left Lib: the coalition's cuts are £10bn less than in the Conservatives' manifesto and slightly less than those proposed by Alistair Darling.

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