'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

Monday 28 January 2013

The funniest Michael Gove cartoon you'll read this year...

(Helps if you've seen Independence Day)

Follow this link or click the image below to enlarge...

New Parliamentarians - who's got your vote?

While we'd all* like to see an elected Upper Chamber, it is not to be for now - and so the process continues to try and at least make the House of Lords membership broadly representative of the membership of the Commons

To that end - the Daily Mail suggests 15 new Lib Dem members of the House of Lords will be named this week - and they suggest Rumi Verjee will be one. 

But this turned my thoughts to who the other 14 might be. Remembering that I know absolutely nothing and have no inside information whatsoever (before the Lord Chancellor's office or whatever get on the blower), here are a few suggestions of who might make the list.

Do make your own suggestions. And add your criticisms. And do remember - it's just fun...

Olly Grender

Neil Sherlock
Julian Astle
Mark Pack
Chris Fox
Gerald Vernon Jackson
Ian Wrigglesworth
Fiona Hall
Evan Harris
Richard Reeves
Sharon Bowles
Brian Paddick
James Gurling
Tim Leunig

So? Am I barking mad?

* yes, alright, obviously not you Lord Steel....


A C McGregor makes an excellent point here...

Sunday 27 January 2013

Restanding: It's actually all going rather well...

Since I wrote my post the other day about how few of our MPs I knew were definitely restanding in 2015, I wrote to them all bar the 3 I knew were definite 'yes's to ask them their intentions.

I've had a fabulous response.

Many have asked me not to name precise names at this point due to the vagaries and rules around public statements during reselections - but not one single MP (or their office) who has come back to me has said 'no'. Around 20% have said a definitive yes and others have said 'in progress'.

So given the importance of incumbency to the Lib Dems - good piece here I was directed to by @stephen tall about how Lib Dem incumbency is worth an advantage of between 5 and 15% of the vote - things are moving in the right direction. And fast.

And isn't it good to know how responsive our MPs are to questions like this from members?

Slightly odd thing is. Not one female MP has replied as yet. I hope the 'white, middle class Oxbridge Male' thing isn't going to get any worse...

Nick Clegg and Plan B; no news here, move along...

As the IMF calls for  Plan B, everyone has got very excited that Nick Clegg has come out and said he thinks cutting spending on infrastructure went too fast at the start – and maybe needs addressing. "It’s another coalition split" goes up the cry…
But it’s not you know. The change in strategy had already been announced. It’s just everyone missed it.
As I said a few weeks ago, the mid-term review marked a shift in the coalition’s priorities. A seismic shift.
The original coalition agreement made one thing very clear. Every pledge, every promise, every plan promised in the manifestos and the agreement itself, would be secondary to one basic principle – that being that
“The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the measures in this agreement”
and I suspect most commentators think that is still the stated priority of the government. Quite a lot of Members of Parliament probably think that too
But it isn’t, you know.
It changed on 7 January. Now, the new coalition agreement or mid-term review says…
“Dealing with the deficit may have been our first task, but our most important task is to build a stronger, more balanced economy”
Which is quite a different thing.
It sounds like the goal now is investment. It’s growth. It’s a boost to the supply side of the economy.
Nick was just re-stating what’s already been announced.
Plan B.

Friday 25 January 2013

Who Hoo:

Top of the Lib Dem Voice Friday 5 as the most read piece this week. Comments now 138 plus.

An open letter to BBC Question Time about the Extra Guest slot

Dear BBC Question Time

This BBC Extra Guest business. I like it. I think its a great way of engaging with the programme. But what have you got against the Lib Dems and when are you going to let a Lib Dem blogger or tweeter engage with the audience?

Your last 10 guests have featured (most recent first); a Labour supporter, a libertarian, a green-and-if-not-them-Labour supporter, a neutral, a columnist writing for the Times and The Spectator who happens to be the son of a Tory MP, another neutral,  a Tory verging on the edge of libertarian, a Labour supporting journalist, a Telegraph journalist once of Labour but now backing the Republicans in the US, and Fleet Street Fox (your guess there is as good as mine, she seems equally at home at the Mail and The Mirror).

That's pretty well got all the bases covered - bar the inclusion of a Lib Dem.

It's not like you're short of options. I am of course at this point meant to say that modesty forbids me from pushing myself forward, but blow that, I do write a weekly blog for The New Statesman on the view from the Lib Dem grass roots, as well as running my own award winning blog, and I'd bite your hand off.

But if you don't fancy me - there's the current Lib Dem blogger of the Year, Mark Thompson; or the last year, Nick Thornsby. There's the founder of Lib Dem Voice, Mark Pack. There's the irrepressible Charlotte Henry from Digital Politico. There's the Queen of Lib Dem blogging, Caron Lindsay. I could go on. But you get the idea

So please can you stick one of us in the Extra Guest hot seat.

We'll stir the pot. And you have had two Libertarians and a green before you got to us...


Richard Morris

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Mark Pack will be banging his head on a desk somewhere over this post....

I have e mailed every Lib Dem MP bar three to ask them where they are , restanding wise, for 2015 (the 3 exceptions being Duncan Hames, Julian Huppert and Nick Clegg - who I knew had all already said they were standing again).

The answers are coming back and I will blog on this shortly...


I used as my source for the task the Lib Dem website, which has a handy list of all our MPs and their contact details.

And guess what.

3 MPS have incorrect email addresses on the site (you get a bounce back) - and 4 don't have e mail addresses listed at all.

I can't help but think we should sort that out....


Big hats off to @Hamishmcallum who came straight back to me on Twitter having updated Stephen Gilberts page.

Labour and Tory's position on Europe? Still no clearer

After 'the speech' today you might think both the Tory and Labour party would have made their position clear on Europe.

They failed.


If the Conservatives win an outright majority at the 2015 election they will bring forward an in/out referendum.

If they don't win and end up in coalition there will still be a referndum - 'if I am PM' - according to Cameron. But of course, if they fail to win a majority, he probably wont be PM. Which brings the whole thing into question.

But let's say he does win a majority. He will then negotiate new terms of our membership. If he is succesful, he will campaign for us to stay in the EU. if he is unsuccesful, he will not (according to Andrew Neil).

So what are the definitions of success? He won't say.

Clear? No?


Labour seemed clear: Look what Ed M said at PMQs today..

But now Labour HQ have, ahem, clarified, Ed's position. That's the policy of the party today. But that policy change between now and 2015. It's not what it may say in the manifesto. And it's not necessarily what Labour would do if they were in government.

Clear? No?

They are both hopeless.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Have just 2* sitting MPs said they are standing in 2015? Surely not?


Since writing to this post I have written to every Lib Dem MP asking where they stand - and things are much much better than I thought. See this new post!

(*the number is growing since I wrote the headline - it's 3 now!)

Given how important the incumbent effect is on Lib Dems holding onto seats - there's an excellent piece on this from Mark Pack here - I wondered how many of our current MPS have formally confirmed that they are restanding in 2015

I suspect the answer is currently - not many...certainly there's not much evidence of it that's easy to find

Here's a list of who I know is standing, who I know isn't (that's a very short list) and Don't Knows (that's a very long list...

Can anyone help me with further information? I'm sure there are lots of people who have said they are standing again....


Nick Clegg, Sheffield Hallam

Julian Huppert, Cambridge
Duncan Hames, Chippenham 

Not Restanding


Don't know

Danny Alexander, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey
Norman Baker, Lewes
Alan Beith, Berwick-upon-Tweed
Gordon Birtwistle, Burnley
Tom Brake, Carshalton and Wallington
Annette Brooke, Mid Dorset and North Poole
Jeremy Browne, Taunton
Malcolm Bruce, Gordon
Paul Burstow, Sutton and Cheam
Lorely Burt, Solihull
Vincent Cable, Twickenham
Menzies Campbell, North East Fife
Alistair Carmichael, Orkney and Shetland
Michael Crockart, Edinburgh West
Edward Davey, Kingston and Surbiton
Tim Farron, Westmorland and Lonsdale
Lynne Featherstone, Hornsey and Wood Green
Don Foster, Bath
Andrew George, St Ives
Stephen Gilbert, St Austell & Newquay
Mike Hancock, Portsmouth South
Nick Harvey, North Devon
David Heath, Somerton and Frome
John Hemming, Birmingham Yardley
Martin Horwood, Cheltenham
Simon Hughes, North Southwark and Bermondsey
Chris Huhne, Eastleigh
Mark Hunter, Cheadle
Charles Kennedy, Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Norman Lamb, North Norfolk
David Laws, Yeovil
John Leech, Manchester Withington
Stephen Lloyd, Eastbourne
Michael Moore, Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale
Greg Mulholland, Leeds North West
Tessa Munt, Wells
John Pugh, Southport
Alan Reid, Argyll and Bute
Dan Rogerson, North Cornwall
Bob Russell, Colchester
Adrian Sanders, Torbay
Robert Smith, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine
Andrew Stunell, Hazel Grove
Ian Swales, Redcar
Jo Swinson, East Dunbartonshire
Sarah Teather, Brent Central
John Thurso, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
David Ward, Bradford East
Steve Webb, Thornbury & Yate
Simon Wright, Norwich South 
Mark Williams, Ceredigion
Roger Williams, Brecon and Radnorshire
Stephen Williams, Bristol West
Jenny Willott, Cardiff Central


Also - do we really only have 3 PPCs selected to date?

Sunday 20 January 2013

Rose tinted spectacles

Lib Dem Voice were kind enough to post the article below on Friday - and it's caused an awful lot of comment.... Do pop over there to see what everyone has been saying...

We’re generally an optimistic lot aren’t we, looking on the brighter side when the world and his wife thinks we should be walking around with our heads in our hands. I even wrote a piece about how genuinely cheerful we are for the New Statesman the other day…
But whisper it gently… and just between us… you don’t think we’re fooling ourselves do you?
I say this because we seem to be taking it as read that the mid term polls are generally where we are now. “It’s always this bad’ seems to be the general gist…
Problem is – it’s not true.
I like to look at the combined polling average and a quick glance at January 2008 – the equivalent poll in relation to the May 2010 General Election as now – shows the following poll results
Conservatives 38%, Labour 30%, Liberal Democrats 17%
A few points here. The current UK polling average shows us polling at – just 10%. So it’s not true to say this is where we ‘always are’ at this point. It really isn’t. We were doing much better this time five years ago.
And nor, in the last election, did things shift that much from now. The final polling at the General Election was:
Conservatives 36%, Labour 29%, Liberal Democrats 23%
Now the sharp eyed amongst you will no doubt be shouting at the screen ‘we moved, we moved, we put on 6 points…’
Yes, we did, didn’t we. But look what we did the month before
Now I’m not seeing change the leader. I’m not saying throw all the toys out of the pram. And I’m not saying lets get all negative – I’ve gone out on a limb today myself and said we should be targeting big wins at the 2015 election.
But let’s stop pretending that it’s ‘always like this’ and if we carry on as we are, it will all come right. History says it’s just not true.

Friday 18 January 2013

How I riled the fine readers of the New Statesman. Again

...by reminding everyone that we've had a target for the 2015 general Election for some time now. It's 126 seats...

You can imagine the comments...

Anyway, here's the article..

There was much chatter following last week’s publication of Labour’s 106 target seats for the 2015 general election that everyone now knew what all three main parties' election strategies were: 106 for Labour, 80 for the Tories (40 holds and 40 targets) and, um, 57  for the Lib Dems, as we fight, Heinz like, 57 varieties of by-election campaigns to hold onto our existing seats.
Well, hold the front page everyone. For the Lib Dems at least, it’s not true…
Our target wasn’t set last week. It was set on 18 December 2007, when Nick was elected leader, with a stated ambition to double the number of Lib Dem MPs over the next two general elections. That means the target for 2015 isn’t 57 seats. It’s not even 114. It’s 126 (as we had 63 MPs when Nick was elected)
Now, I know Nick said last week that it’s a "complete mug's game to start staring into the crystal ball" and predict election results two years out, and admittedly, the crystal ball probably wasn’t functioning all that well when he set that target as part of his election pitch – who knew we’d be in government after the first of those elections, with all that’s brought with it? But no one’s saying that’s not still the aim. Indeed, I’ve even asked Nick post-tuition fees and a seat of disastrous local election results if he’d like to reconsider – and he didn’t want to.
So folks. 126 seats.
And while of course we’re going to fight tooth and nail to hang on to every seat we currently hold, does anyone really think that’s the summit of our ambitions? That Nick will stand up at the leaders' debates and say ‘we’re fine as we are, thanks’. Of course not. Constituencies like Camborne and Redruth or Oxford West and Abingdon will see us doing all we can to win. That’s why a differentiation strategy and full ownership of Lib Dem triumphs (hats off this week to Steve Webb) is so important. The best form of defence is attack. And there’s going to be plenty of that.
Now, do the polls suggest we’re going to increase our total number of seats in 2015? Of course not.  Does one single pundit anywhere think that’s the case either? Nope. But does that mean we’re going to settle for the status quo at best? Of course not.
Remember that target. 126….

Thursday 17 January 2013

David Lloyd George News

Baroness Trumpington on top form in the Lords...even if she is muscling in Liberal territory....

Get Adobe Flash player

A game every Lib Dem should play...

There's a cracking (if stomach churningly violent) new drama on C4 called Utopia.  It's basically about how quickly individuals can be traced and found by a mysterious, dark organisation operating on the edge of society. No, not the Tories...

Anyway, now C4 have produced a website where you can feed in some questions about your on line habits and lifestyle, and they'll tell you just how easy you would be to track down...

My time was 17 hours and 35 minutes. this puts me at the 'sitting duck' end of the spectrum..

Have fun...and be slightly afraid....

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Boy: Now that's what I call an official spokesman

I don't know who this was* but hats off: if you're going to make a statement, make it like this...

In response to "Why isn't Nick Clegg attending the Privy Council?...' The Telegraph reports the following:

“I can’t believe we are having this ------- conversation again,” an aide to the DPM emoted in a tirade worthy of Malcolm Tucker in the television series The Thick of It. “The ------ fact is he can’t ------- be everywhere, but I know you are going to go off and write that the DPM has ------- snubbed the Queen once a ------- gain.”


* but I can guess

Monday 14 January 2013

Hmm. What an odd place to make an Anti Europe speech: The Netherlands.

Unless it turns out David Cameron is as fluent a Dutch speaker as the Deputy PM, The Netherlands seems like a very odd location for David Cameron to choose to make his big 'give us our ball back' speech on Britain in Europe.

Unless of course it turns out The Dutch PM backs him.

Sadly, this tweet from Paul Waugh seems to suggest that isn't the case...

Another triumph for the No 10 media machine...

By the way, aren't they meant to be trying to get us all to talk about pensions today anyway? So why announce this news today?....


Has Mark Ferguson hit the nail on the head...

Nick: this is how you should have said 'sorry'.

Yes I know it's not real.

Yes, I know he doesn't get nice music swelling under his words.

Yes, I know President Bartlet is the best leader who have lived.

But replace the words 'milk subsidy' here with tuition fees.

The rest all works. And it is actually true- we did put children above students.

Anyway; enjoy

 PS sorry about the subtitles. Can't shift them. anyone know what language?

ooooooohhhhhh. I'm being petty aren't I?.....

Now look, it's this Liberal Voice of the Year business....

First off, congrats to Sam Bowman. He won fair and square by a country mile and that's fair enough.

Neither do I have any truck with this stuff about 'it's a fix, it's the result of a twitter campaign'. There's nothing in the rules (to my knowledge) about campaigning - and after all I posted a blog post and tweeted in support of my own nominee.

Neither am I trying to say Sam shouldn't be delighted to have won, and having won he can say what he likes about that victory. I wouldn't for a moment try and stop him.

But, couldn't he be just a tad more gracious than this...

You can of course tell me I'm being oversensitive, I probably am....


Fair enough, Sam has tweeted this to me pretty much straight off in reply:

Happy to accept that he was joking and that I am indeed being oversensitive.

And Sam's comment is probably made to look worse by the comment below it, which he clearly couldn't do anything about.

Saturday 12 January 2013

Please vote for Malala Yousafzai as Liberal Voice of the Year

Tomorrow is the closing date for Liberal Voice of the Year. For those unfamiliar with the award...

"we launch our search for the Liberal Voice of the Year to find the individual or group which has had the biggest impact on liberalism in the past 12 months. This is the sixth annual award, and as is our tradition, we’re looking beyond the ranks of the Lib Dems to find the greatest liberal who’s not a member of our party"

If you haven't voted yet, could I ask you to click on this link and vote for

Malala Yousafzai: a school student known for her education and women’s rights activism in Pakistan. She was shot in October in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen while returning home on a school bus. 

Here's an extract from an excellent BBC review of her campaigning - and the high price she has paid for her efforts.

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai first came to public attention in 2009 when she wrote a BBC diary about life under the Taliban. Now recovering from surgery after being shot by the militants, the campaigner for girls' rights is in the spotlight again.
Malala was 11 when she began writing a diary for BBC Urdu.
Her blogs described life under Taliban rule from her home town of Mingora, in the northwest region of Pakistan she affectionately calls "My Swat".
I am afraid - 3 January 2009
"I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taliban's edict.
On my way from school to home I heard a man saying 'I will kill you'. I hastened my pace... to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone."
By 2009, the Taliban controlled much of the Swat Valley and applied their austere interpretation of sharia law.
"When the Taliban came to Swat they banned women from going to the market and they banned shopping," Malala told the BBC last year.
"Malala Yousufzai was one of the few brave voices who spoke out", writes The Daily Telegraph's Pakistan correspondent Rob Crilly.
"She did it anonymously - to do otherwise would have brought immediate death. But her blog for the BBC Urdu Service detailing the abuses meant no one could pretend an accommodation with the terrorists was anything other than a deal with the devil."
"Malala doesn't want to play to some western-backed or Taliban-loved stereotype. She shows us that there are voices out there, in Pakistan, that need to be heard, if only to help the country find democracy that is for and from the people, all the people."

As has been recorded, she was ultimately shot by the Taliban, and has only just been released from Hospital (but will remain in Britain while her long term treatment for her terrible injuries will continue).

There are many worthy candidates on the list this year for Liberal Voice of the Year. But none are as brave or as worthy as Malala. Please giver her your support

Ed Miliband has just had a pop at Liam Byrne. I wonder if he even realises it?

Just seen this tweet from the New Statesman's George Eaton, quoting Ed Miliband this morning:

This must make uncomfortable reading for the Labour spokesman on Work and Pensions, Liam Byrne, who has spent some time doing just that, as has been ably pointed out by Sunny Hundal at Liberal Conspiracy. Here's a few choice examples....

So Ed M? Are you going to condemn the language of your own Work and Pensions Spokesman?

Friday 11 January 2013

Behold the eye of Sauron. Or as you know him, Alistair Carmichael

I did a short blog post the other day on our Chief Whip's admonishment of Stephen Tall over his, ahem, a less than satisfactory map of Alistair's constituency...

(For those who missed it - here's a quick reminder; click to enlarge)

Well, the excellent Caron Lindsay was kind enough to post my piece on Facebook, where it elucidated a few comments about Alistair's fearsome reputation. And guess what happened next (again, click to enlarge...)

I blogged last year about our glorious President's ability to never miss a trick, speculating that perhaps there were in fact several Tim Farron Prometheus like robots running around.

But now I'm coming to the conclusion that none of our MPs ever sleep and possess the all seeing eye. It's the only logical explanation...

Nigel Farage as Mr Toad?

I saw this poster earlier on the tube. Is the leader of UKIP moonlighting?

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Blimey; so that's how you become Chief Whip

I don't suppose you become Chief Whip of the Lib Dems by pussyfooting around.

When Stephen Tall wrote this piece in Lib Dem Voice about our electoral prospects in 2015, he illustrated it with a map showing the Chief Whip's constituency thusly...

Yes, that's it, top right....

And Alistair was not happy. so look what's in the comments feed on the piece...

(click to enlarge)


Mind you, he's probably a bit cross about the mini rebellion yesterday....


He's still doing it. HE IS EVERYWHERE

Nick Clegg: The Silvio Berlusconi of the Airwaves?

My latest in The New Statesman. Enjoy!!

It's 10 O’Clock Thursday morning, and the interweb and chatterati are abuzz with Nick Clegg going off on one, in his first live phone-in programme on LBC.
"I've been listening to a broadcast that's disgusting, that's being run in a way that's despicable, vile, repugnant," the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told host Nick Ferrari during a live radio show on Thursday morning. "I've heard theories that are distorted and far from the truth. I've seen a reconstruction of reality that's the opposite of the truth." And he finished up by calling the whole programme ‘a whorehouse’.
It probably won’t happen. But then, Nick Clegg’s no Silvio Berlusconi, is he? Of course, that’s not an entirely bad thing. But if there’s one thing Mr Berlusconi is good at, it’s how to use the media to make a splash - as the above quote demonstrates. It’s what he actually told TV host Gad Lerner last year when he saw a programme he really didn’t like – and called in to let them know, live on air…
Now most people who’ve seen Nick in action fairly regularly will tell you that he doesn’t especially mind telling you exactly what he thinks - in quite bald terms. It can be quite unsettling if you’re used to the bland emollients of the normal political interaction with the public.
So might I suggest that Thursday morning’s show – and every subsequent edition of ‘call Nick Clegg’ – might go rather better than expected if he disregards the normal conventions of the political discourse with the public, and gives folk both barrels instead. After all, I suspect not many of those ringing in are likely to be on the line congratulating Nick on what a fabulous job he’s done – LBC would see that as rather poor radio.
So if callers are aggressive - get on the front foot, Nick. When the left give you a kicking, remind them what a fine job Labour did on the economy. When the Tories blame you for all the pernicious right-wing fantasy policies they’d like to enact but can’t, stick it to them.
Frankly – there’s nothing to lose, and quite a lot to gain. And I guarantee everyone would listen.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Manifesto News

According to Duncan Hames...

“Nick Clegg has charged David Laws and the (manifesto) Working Group with thoroughly stress-testing the deliverability and affordability of the future manifesto and to build on the approach of the last manifesto by clearly identifying our top priorities for a future government"

I seem to recall we said the same about the last manifesto

Presumably abolishing tuition fees is a shoe in then?

PS: Here's the full working committee

David Laws MP, Chair
•        Sharon Bowles MEP, Vice-Chair
•        Duncan Brack, Vice-Chair (FPC Vice-Chair)
•        Nick Clegg MP (Leader, FPC Member)
•        Tim Farron MP (President, FPC Member)
•        Duncan Hames MP (FPC Chair)
•        Cllr Dr Julie Smith (FPC Vice-Chair)
•        Dr Julian Huppert MP (FPC Vice-Chair)
•        Jenny Willott MP (FPC Member)
•        Baroness Sal Brinton (FPC Member)
•        Jo Swinson MP
•        Lord John Shipley

Monday 7 January 2013

Hmm - is it just me - or does this sound like Plan B?

In the coalition agreement - the first one, that is, - it clearly says

"The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the measures in this agreement'

and indeed we have been told this, over and over again....

Yet in the reboot version published today, we are told...

"Dealing with the deficit may have been our first task, but our most important task is to build a stronger, more balanced economy..."

which to me says something quite different. It sounds like we need to boost the supply side of the economy, to invest, to build, to grow.

It sounds to me...like Plan B.

Vince wins.

Saturday 5 January 2013

What we need to do in 2013 to get back on track....

My latest New Year message from the New Statesman. Do pop over and see the original for the traditional comments fun

We’re bumping along in the polls at around 10 per cent, we have the most unpopular leader of all the major political parties, and in the last three Westminster by-elections we came third, fifth and eighth, losing our deposits in two of the three campaigns. You might think the Lib Dems go into 2013 with a large black cloud hanging overhead and an awful sense of impending doom. You’d be wrong.
The grassroots are surprisingly chipper. In the most recent Lib Dem Voice survey(fieldwork just before Christmas), 77 per cent of respondents said they continued to support the party being in coalition, 61 per cent said they thought the party was on the right course, and (hold onto your hats) 58 per cent said they were either "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with Nick’s leadership.
How come? Well, partly it’s the Pollyanna lurking inside every Lib Dem. Doing less than spectacularly in mid-term polls is the default expectation for most grassroots members (even if by-election disaster after disaster is something of a novelty), so this doesn’t feel like particularly alien territory for most folk. It’s also true when you look at local election results – and when we think about the 2015 general election, we think of it at a local level – we’ve done rather better in 2013 than most people realise.
And many in the party genuinely look at the good things the Lib Dems have achieved in government – 2 million out of income tax altogether, the pupil premium, Green Investment Bank et al – and think actually, for doing all that, unpopularity is a price worth paying. And that’s a fair point. But I can’t help but feel the party may have listened to the Prime Minister’s call for the country to approach 2013 with a sense of realism and optimism a tad too literally.
So here’s my two pennies' worth for the next 12 months if the Lib Dems are going to get back on electoral track.
We have a ‘new’ positioning of the party as the only repository of both economic competence and social justice. Of course, it’s not new– Nick announced it at conference in September 2011. But it’s not really stuck has it? Might I suggest that this may have something to do with the fact that demonstrating economic competence during the worst economic malaise for 80 plus years is quite tricky? Ditto social fairness, when the last government before you has spent all the money, and you’ve got your coalition partners introducing a benefit cap and apparently encouraging words like ‘feckless’ and ‘workshy’ to be bandied about.
So if that’s the strategy, fine – but we’ll need some rather better communications to get it resonating than we’ve managed to date. Might I suggest ditching the HQ line of ‘the Lib Dems are working to build a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life’ for the rather snappier ‘Lib Dems represent the head and the heart’. Folk might actually remember that.
And while stopping the worst excesses of the Tories is as important as ever – the snoopers' charter being just a starter – that won’t be enough. Neither will shouting ‘well, what would you do then?’ on a continuous loop at the Labour Party. We need some new, exciting policy initiatives of our own. Our newly elected federal policy committee needs not just to be thinking about the general election manifesto for 2015. It need to be presenting conference very quickly with some radical new thinking for debate and agreement. And then we need to be presenting it to the country.
As a party, we spent too long on our non-differentiation strategy with our coalition ‘partners’ – and we are now similarly in danger of thinking that if we shout at the Tories about how awful they are for the next 30 months, all will be right in the world. It won’t. We have 12 months to show the country we are still the radical, reforming and creative political party the members all joined. And if we do that, combined with our record to date, we’ve got a half a chance.