Will Nick Clegg survive as leader? An equation which will give us the answer

Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne

Image via Wikipedia

There has been much talk recently of how long Nick Clegg will last as leader of the Lib Dems with many predictions of an imminent end to lasting a long time. But what if we could actually predict this using an equation? An equation was developed to know if a relationship would break down which not only tells you if your relationship will end, but may also tell us if Nick Clegg is about to be kicked out as leader.

A relationship is the condition of being related through a connection or association. As Nick Clegg is the leader of the Lib Dems, those who are members have an association and therefore a relationship to/with him and many of the principles of relationships apply. There are two important factors in relationships which are happiness and stability. These 2 factors make up 4 possibilities: happy and stable, unhappy and stable, happy and unstable, and unhappy and unstable.

To predict which of these the relationship is currently in, relationship researchers have identified 3 equations.

Equation 1: Outcome = Rewards – (Costs x 5)

A reward is anything desirable that brings pleasure to the receiver. A cost is anything negative that’s punishing and unwanted. Any part of an interaction that causes frustration or distress is a cost. Humans tend to weigh negatives more strongly than positives, so for every cost there needs to be five rewards for the relationship to be on solid ground.

Equation 2: Satisfaction or Dissatisfaction = Outcomes – Expectations

Our expectations are based on our past experiences, and to be satisfied our relationship needs to be meeting our expectations.

Equation 3: Dependence or Independence = Outcomes – Alternatives

The last criterion involves how well one person perceives they could manage without the other. If another option promises better outcomes then they’ll consider ending things.

The ideal state would be a happy and stable relationship. Lib Dem members will perceive the outcome for the party with Nick Clegg as being much greater than both their expectations and the alternatives.

In an unhappy but stable relationship, members’ expectations would be higher than their current outcomes, so they’re dissatisfied, but because they feel they have no viable alternatives, they won’t move against him.

In a happy yet unstable relationship members will perceive the alternative choices as being better than the outcomes with Nick Clegg, meaning they might toy with the idea of moving against Nick Clegg, but they’re happy because he has exceeded their expectations.

Finally, if the members believe that the outcomes for the party with Nick Clegg are lower than both their expectations and the alternatives, the relationship between members and the leader will be unhappy and unstable, making it likely that they will try and get rid of him pretty quickly.

The Lib Dems are falling into an identity crisis created by others – and we are allowing it

There was a time not long ago that the Liberal Democrats sounded different to the other parties as they said that right/left politics is no longer relevant and people’s political views were more complex than that. They argued that left/right thinking did not fit modern life and modern politics. They had policies which people didn’t know where to put on this spectrum and this strategy gained the party an increase in MPs at every election and in many by-elections. Yet the party now defines itself on these lines: the Lib Dems are no longer a left wing alternative to Labour  and the party will position itself for more right wing votes from the Tories. Now people are wondering who the Lib Dems are and poll ratings have plummeted so is this strategy going to benefit the party?

As people become disillusioned with being in coalition with an openly right wing party where there are talks of pacts, other members are openly working with the Labour Party and people are beginning to ask questions about the Lib Dems and who they are.

Who you vote for is very much tied up with who you think you are. Many people do not understand all the issues, policies and positions let alone the pros and cons of each yet they will generally know which party they are likely to vote for. Many have a tradition of voting for one party or another in their family, many have friends who influence them and many come from communities which may be associated with particular parties. Hence Tim Farron’s frustration that the Lib Dems are better placed to speak for those in the countryside than the Tories but yet the countryside generally votes for the Tories.

To understand why, we need to understand the relativism of left/right thinking. A General Election in a developed English speaking nation has a choice: A left wing party who want all energy companies 100% government owned and the right wing party want to own just 51%. Any party in the UK suggesting the ownership of 51% of the energy companies would be considered far left, yet this has come from the right wing party of New Zealand in 2011, and many consider it to be far right. So Left/right definitions are not useful in telling us what the party will do as it is relative but people define themselves by this relativism.

By defining ourselves by this measure we buy into its limitations and fish in smaller ponds for voters, turning off voters who define themselves, relatively, as something other than what we have said we are. Hence if we are not a left wing alternative to Labour then those who think themselves as left wing don’t want to consider us and vice versa leaving us with a ‘centrist rump’ of voters.

So how the party defines itself is important in how people define themselves. People ask what it says about them if they vote for a particular party, rather than necessarily on the issues and policies. If the Lib Dems go back to positioning themselves on the left/right spectrum we go back to convincing fewer people they are the party who best represent them. Nick Clegg argues that the debate for the Lib Dems is between the old and new progressives. While most voted for Mr Clegg, now many in the party disagree. These debates are debates about who we think we are and how the party represents this.

This is creating an identity crisis that is unnecessary. What we need is a definition of who we are that represents all those who are in the party and those who vote for the party. One where people will be happier to be in it or vote for it.  We used to say that we are not defined by left or right, that life is more complex than that

The party’s strategists argue that all this left-wing, right-wing stuff is terribly last century and a sign that those who use such labels—mainly stuck-in-the-mud political commentators—just don’t get it.

and this strategy attracted many of all persuasions. We have had this debate already, why have we returned to it, this is someone else’s argument. Liberal England argues that we should define ourselves as Liberals and this is something we can all agree on and something many more in the country do too. We already have all that we need to improve our situation. We just need to use the bits that work.

Improving Lib Dem Campaigning: Increasing social relationships in your local party

Liberal Democrat membership has fallen over the years to be now less than 100 members per Parliamentary constituency. While this is not desirable, there are some things which can be done to use this to the advantage of the local party and its members.

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. This number is believed to be about 150 and was popularlised in the book The Tipping Point.

Large groups rapidly reduce the efficiency of an operation. Peer pressure is much more powerful than the somehow vague concept of a boss or punishment. In a political party not being sufficiently motivated to help out on a campaign, leafleting, or attending events means they won’t turn up, but people do live up to the expectations of their peers in smaller groups where they have a personal relationship with each of their co-workers.

So having a small local party is not necessarily a bad thing as it means there are opportunities to forge stronger relationships and have a more committed activist base. The trick is to encourage those social relationships between members. I remember when I joined I got an email to ask if I wanted to deliver leaflets. This wasn’t the most effective invitation to engage me and I am sure many will feel the same. It would be much more effective to foster building relationships.

So how do we do this? Reasons why people joined in the first place is:

  • To have the power to influence the direction of the party
  • To meet like-minded people
  • To gain information on national policies
  • To gain access to key decision-makers
  • To gain access to training and resources for personal development

So we use these as a way to engage people in the local party. An invitation to campaign (including leafleting) but stressing that new (or newly active) members will be buddied up. Inviting members to the formal and social events in the local area where they will be able to meet people. These are simple ways of encouraging social relationships in the party.

Another way could be send a list of members to members (if members opted in) with their interests and whether they would welcome contact from other members. Encouraging people to contact each other is a good way of forming the important social relationships which will encourage people to attend, campaign and promote the party.

A model for understanding the population and party membership: What we can do to increase membership

0.1% of the electorate are members of the Lib Dems and Liberal England points out the bleak facts when it comes to membership of the Lib Dems.

Between 2006 and 2007, the loss was 10.2%. Between 2007 and 2008, the loss was 6.7%. And between the membership peak in 1992 and 2008, the loss has been 40.7%.

For a party that prides itself on its grassroots support something needs to be done about this declining membership. The reported increase in membership recently, if true, will be a very good start. However, there are things which local parties can do to increase their membership. This diagram shows a representation of the population in terms of those who are members and those who are not, and those who are active and those who are not:

We have the spectrum of members who are active and those who are not. And those who are not members but politically active and those who are neither. You could argue that everyone who is not an active member is a potential active member, but any stategy to attract everyone is bound to fail for a lack of specificity to the different groups who all have different needs. So a more strategic way to see the situation would be this:

Those on the edges of their groups will lean towards a different group e.g. the active non-members are unlikely to become non-active members and so are more likely to become active members as they are already involved and have the skills and motivation. So any strategy should focus on these groups i.e. non-active members and active non-members. This will alter the picture as follows:

This small focus can have a big effect and increase your local members and campaigning power. So how do we focus on these groups?

Politically Active – Non-members

We need to communicate the benefits of joining a party (see here and here) and focus on single issue activists and community activists

Politically inactive – Members

We need to know if we are using our members effectively which means asking them. A simple feedback system can be used which will tell us if they want to be more involved and in what way (see here), we can then build on this.

And we need to reach out to others in ways which will allow them to engage. Many may want to help but don’t know how or want to in the ways which are being offered. Some ideas could be to set up a short story competition or song competition to engage some.

Increasing Voter Membership: building on what people think is an ideal political party

If you were going to form a political party, what would you want it to look like? Recent research by Opinion Leader has asked political activists (political party activists, issue-based activists and community activists) what their ideal party would look like producing some interesting results. If we are to attract more people to the Lib Dems maybe this information will help us formulate our arguments or give us ideas on making changes to the party.

Political party activists

When they think about the ‘ideal party’, party political activists primarily talk about having more direct influence. They want greater influence on their leaders and the policies that they adopt.

Openness is also key, in terms of being more open to change on policy and allowing people to progress through the party ranks. In particular, BME participants speak very strongly about an ideal party being one that is free of prejudice.

Issue-based activists

Issue-based activists feel that an ‘ideal party’ would place great importance on local issues and concerns. This could only be achieved though listening to people on an ongoing basis, and not just during election campaigns.

Issue-based activists place a lot of importance on the values an ‘ideal party’ would embody; in particular, honesty and trustworthiness are frequently cited.

Community activists

Community activists say an ‘ideal party’ would have members who displayed integrity at all times. Indeed, a lot of emphasis is placed generally by community activists on the character traits ‘ideal party’ members should have.

For community activists, an ‘ideal party’ would be “thoroughly democratic”, where the word “democratic” is perceived to be about openness. As such, it is strongly felt that an ideal party would be open to influence, different ideas and change where necessary. Indeed, an ideal party needs to continually listen and engage with the local community, and be interested in local matters.

How local parties can improve their local campaigning

The Opinion Leader Research discusses the importance for political parties, community activists and single-issue activists to work together for the benefit of political parties, communities and politics. When they got a group of different activists together they were asked what solutions they could think of which would improve the working relationships. So what can local parties learn from this research to improve their local campaigning?

Non-political party activists are generally critical of the idea of working more closely with local parties but did offer some ways which political parties could connect more with other activist groups.

Solutions: communication and visibility

Activists feel strongly that communication needs to be improved between different groups.

For example, In Somerset, some community and issue-based activists speak of how they do not know people in local parties, and would not know where to find information on local parties. Many feel they have no channels by which to communicate with parties.

For these groups of activists, improved communication is related to the improved visibility of political parties, particularly at a local level. In all the workshops, there is discussion on how the local parties should be more visible. There is discussion around how politicians and parties should have to spend more time on outreach activities, with some in Somerset suggesting the idea of having a ‘second MP’ who focuses all their attention at the constituency level, attending activist meetings and listening to different points of view.

Solutions: forums

In all the workshops, activists suggest that forums are an attractive way of bringing together local parties and other activists. Forums are seen as a way to allow for interaction and the sharing of ideas, and would provide an ongoing channel for communication and feedback.

Importantly, issue-based activists place great emphasis on the need for the forums to be meaningful in terms of their outputs, arguing that local parties need to provide continual feedback. Without this, activists feel that forums could be meaningless talking shops.

Solutions: personal connections

Aside from institutional changes, activists speak of the importance of different activists making connections. More personal connections between activists are seen as leading to greater trust and understanding between different groups, and providing easy channels for communication.

Increasing Party Membership: interesting research which should benefit the Lib Dems

I have written recently on some ways of potentially increasing party membership (see here, here, here and here) which focuses on potential members i.e. those involved in politics but not yet members. However, the research undertaken by Opinion Leader Research is interesting if you are a Lib Dem.

They set up focus groups of activists which included those involved in political parties and those who were not. They discussed what they felt needed to happen in politics in a wider context and came up with 3 themes:

Citizenship education

Activists feel that there needs to be a greater focus on citizenship education at schools. This is felt to be important in terms of educating future generations about how the political process works, and the role of parties within the wider system.

Changes to the voting system to make it fairer

Activists discussed replacing our first past the post system with proportional representation. This is seen as leading to fairer democratic system, and is perceived to help ensure that all voices are heard.

More direct democracy

The workshops also reveal a great desire for power to be devolved down to local communities, and for people to feel more of a sense of direct power. There is less willingness to defer to others, and a greater appetite for more control over the communities in which they live.

You could be forgiven for believing you are reading Lib Dem policy and long held beliefs so the question arises as to why the party is not attracting these activists as members to the party? This research does give some ideas but a big one for me is that is says that political parties do not prioritise gaining members. If we do not focus on gaining members then we will not increase our membership and the party is in an excellent position to attract many more than it currently has.

In Praise of the Guardian: Finding strengths in Nick Clegg

The Guardian today shows some positivity towards Nick Clegg and the Freedom Bill which is worth highlighting for his consistency on some issues and that they are still important to many people:

He hasn’t changed his views since we met five years ago when he was home affairs spokesman for his party and I was beginning to get to grips with the attack on liberty and privacy by the Blair government… Five years after that meeting it seems extraordinary that he now occupies such a pivotal role in government and is in a position to lead the restoration of civil liberties… The freedom bill can be properly seen as a product of optimistic liberalism, moulded in the singular circumstances of a hybrid government.

Increasing Party Membership: attracting community activists

We need to identify potential members to the party if we are to start attracting them to increase membership. Those already involved in politics but not members are the most likely to join a party if they see the benefit of doing so. Those already involved in their communities are potential members so what could we do to attract them?

The motivations determining people’s involvement in community activism are generally of an altruistic nature. As such, community activists speak of getting involved in community based projects because they want to make a difference to their area. This ‘difference’ comes in many different formats but they do have a passion for their causes and get involved with the hope that they will be able to make a positive contribution to their communities. Part of their motivation derives from a desire to “belong” and to be part of something durable.

Political parties are in a good position to capitalise on this as they already have local parties which are involved in the local area. The issue maybe that the political focus is too narrow for many to feel it is making a positive contribution to the local area. By expanding the focus to being a practical help to local people the party may seem more relevant to community activists who may then join the party.

Personal benefits are often cited as motivations such as that of “meeting like-minded people” and of “feeling good about helping other people”. So if the Lib Dems were more involved in community work this offers a good incentive for these people to join.

Such a strategy has not gone unnoticed by Labour who have plans to set up 10,000 community activists in their name to make the party more relevant to the local area. Labour may have a history of being involved in their local areas as the Labour movement and the Labour Clubs have been important aspects of many communities. Times have changed and this now needs to be renewed. This offers the Lib Dems a chance to become more relevant to the local areas, particularly as they have a good grounding in community politics already.

Another way to get people involved is to use the Time Banks. By Lib Dem members giving time to Time Banks they will accrue time back through other volunteers. You can request these volunteers to help out on some campaigning issue and then involve them in the local party. No time is lost as the time you use, you get back with the other volunteer, who may then go on to join or put more hours in. It shows a practical application of the local political party to the local area, a commitment to the community, and a commitment to initiatives we believe in and would like to expand.

In Praise of the Independent: Finding strengths in Nick Clegg

Today the Independent make an assessment of Nick Clegg which highlights some of his strengths which is worth repeating. Finding strengths are important to identify what you are doing which is working well, hopefully he can build on some of these strengths:

his restless desire to narrow inequality and improve social mobility he has been, in overtly expressed ambition at least, more daring than Labour. He was the only leader at the last election to argue openly for redistribution in the tax system. Messrs Brown, Balls and Ed Miliband were believers, but never used the term in public. Clegg did so and put forward policies aimed at helping those on low incomes, some of which are being implemented now.

Behind the scenes he was more robust on bankers’ bonuses than Cameron/Osborne, who were more reluctant to interfere in the affairs of a sector that their 1980s instincts told them to leave alone. On the banks Clegg was wholly supportive of Vince Cable’s more bullish public statements, even if they have failed to persuade the Treasury to move as far as they would have liked.

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