'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Friday, 7 September 2012

There's a fight at LDV. Get stuck in

There's a tremendous hoo hah going on over at LDV on Nick's leadership just now, in an 'LDV debate'. Here's my two pennys worth...

1. I do have a bit of a problem with the way the debate has been framed. It looks Like Paul W in the 'No to Nick' camp wrote his piece which was then read , analysed and replied to by Nick T in the 'yes' camp. I'd have preferred to see both pieces written 'cold' and then the debate on the comments section to begin...

2. I think Nick did a tremendous job as leader up until the election, and I think forming the coalition was the right (and probably only) choice at the time. I do not regret this decision and recall the tremendous excitement at the special conference when this was voted on (I was at the back, standing next to Lembit. Surreal).

3. I also think the party has done many good things in government - pupil premium, index link restored on pensions, raising tax threshold et al. I am proud of these achievements.

4. However we have also done many things I am not proud of in government - and while all the leadership takes the blame for this, Nick must bear the brunt. Putting aside the economic and philosophical issues, tuition fees was a disastrous political decision, perhaps the worst made by any leader since Gordon Brown decided not to hold 'that' snap election. Had he forgotten that PBB he fronted saying no more broken promises and  'no tuition fees' writ large in the opening frames? But it's not just that. Its signing the NHS white paper without apparently reading it. It's saying the snooping bill is just an update on modern technology (apparently forgetting a huge debate at Spring Conference just a few months before). It's the 'not a cigarette paper between us' line of government - of course there is, we're separate parties. It's giving the responsibilities for equalities back to the Tories.

Nick is a good man and a genuine man. But there have been too many mistakes.

5. But having said all that, I don't think a change of leader is enough. Look at the Tories going from Hague to IDS to Michael Howard. 3 different leaders, all with similar policies and agendas, all of whom failed. It was only when the Conservative brand was detoxified - albeit, as we now know, smoke and mirrors - that a modicum of electoral success was delivered. We need to do the same - our brand is just as electorally toxic now as the Tory brand ever was. And to cleanse it will require a wholesale change in direction

6. And that must happen first. We must develop distinctive and radical  policies to reset the electorates compass. And then, and only then, can we start the process of winning back trust and persuading the electorate that we will deliver.

7. For the former, we need Nick to lead that process. And when that process is complete and we have a fresh legislative agenda to lay before the electorate, then and only then can we change leader. It's not now. It is before 2015. Although if the cleansing of the party brand has been done well enough by then, then perhaps the Clegg brand can be cleansed too. I doubt it but I am prepared to be persuaded.

8. This, in my opinion, is also the best way for Nick to leave a strong legacy - the man who led us into government, and then set the agenda for two successive terms in government. But I doubt if he can lead us into that second term.


  1. Richard - good article - rational and objective. But I disagree that Nick can lead this process. He is part of what is toxic currently about brand Lib Dem, and - to extend the metaphor - would 'infect' the distinctive and radical policies you mention in the electorate's mind. The messenger as well as the message needs to be right. On a different point, we can't really set the agenda for two successive terms in government, since it's only arithmetic fluke that puts us there. The interesting thing I note about the debate on LDV recently - and not just the article you refer to - is people are becoming more clear-headed about whether Nick is a good thing or not - there isn't the same knee-jerk loyalty, whatever the electoral price - that there was even a few months ago. My prediction - if we're in the same mess in a year's time he'll have to go.

  2. The 'who to lead the process' argument is an interesting one. I think it rather depends on how the coalition 'plays' over the next 12 months - and sad to say, what the opinion polls say...