Changes to Clegg’s inner circle needed for success

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of th...

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There has been talk for a long time about the divide between the ruling elite in the Lib Dems and the grassroots. There have been mistakes taken by those at the top of the Lib Dems, in direct contrast to Party policy. There has been a growing unease by many in the Party which has sprung new factions in the Party to rebalance the dynamic (see here or here). Others have been faced with similar challenges, some have failed while others have succeeded, and there are lessons there for the Lib Dems.

According to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Abraham Lincoln was one of the rare presidents who understood the importance of surrounding himself with people willing to disagree with him. Lincoln created a cabinet that included four of his political opponents, three of whom had run against him for the Republican nomination in 1860 and who felt humiliated, shaken, and angry to have lost to a relatively unknown backwoods lawyer. Although all shared Lincoln’s goal of preserving the Union and ending slavery, this ‘team of rivals’ (as Goodwin calls them) disagreed with one another furiously on how to do it. This way Lincoln avoided the illusion that he had group consensus on every decision. He was able to consider alternatives and eventually enlist the respect and support of his erstwhile competitors.

Since Clegg made his mistakes in the previous year by going against Party policy and wishes, he has sought to rectify them by standing up for what the Party believe in. He has perhaps not taken all the opportunities which are open to him either as a result. However, he could learn a lot from Lincoln to improve his situation and that of the Lib Dems.

There are many in the Party who do not agree with him yet he surrounds himself with those who do: Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, David Laws. While there is some disagreement between them they are very much on the same page. There are others in the Party who he could use to enhance his decision making, policy production, and strategy which would benefit him and the Party. There are 2 previous leaders who have been on the sidelines who would offer the leadership a great deal: Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell. Bringing others in who may not necessarily agree with him may offer him some valuable advice.

Doubt is not the enemy of justice; overconfidence is – Elliott Aronson

And Clegg often comes across as extremely confident in his statements, which is no bad thing, until it is the wrong decision and then we get a situation like the one we had with the tuition fees debacle. For there to be justice to the Party and those who voted for them, there needs to be multiple voices who represent these in the inner circle. Maybe this would be a good lesson for the Lib Dem leadership?

In Praise of The Independent: Finding strengths in Vince Cable

The Independent write Vince Cable gets his mojo back and outlines some improvements in his performance which are worth highlighting:

Like Ronald Reagan facing down the Soviet Union, Vince Cable has managed to win his “war” with Rupert Murdoch without needing to fire a shot. So it’s perhaps no surprise that the Business Secretary has rediscovered his mojo on banking reform too… in a remarkable speech yesterday the Business Secretary sought to put a full separation back on the table… This is significant… Cable has fired a warning shot across Vickers’ bows. In his speech he stressed that the Vickers analysis in April was only an interim report, implying that he expects much better in its final instalment due in September

In Praise of The Guardian: Finding strengths in Nick Clegg

The Guardian writes that the deputy prime minister won a battle over the phone-hacking inquiry, and is leading the way on press regulation finding some strengths in Clegg which are worth highlighting:

The Liberal Democrats are the only one out of the three main political parties not to have spent much of the past two decades wooing Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Now the deputy prime minister, having won his battle with David Cameron to put a judge in charge of the inquiry into phone-hacking and press regulation, is leading calls for a shakeup of the British media landscape.

Clegg has never had it so good. At least, not since the first of last year’s live televised party leader debates. Suddenly everyone’s agreeing with Nick again.

In Praise of The Guardian: Finding strengths in Vince Cable

The Guardian writes Cable waxes as Murdoch wanes in which it sees a revival for Vince Cable’s fortunes and outlines some improvements in his performance

Cable has become ubiquitous, a man freed from his cell. He seemed to speak with renewed authority on the economy this weekend and will do so on banking reform on Tuesday. His prophet status has been restored.

He notes that everyone is behaving as if a dictatorship has been overthrown, but it was he that was brave enough to refer the BSkyB bid to Ofcom in the first place. If he had not done that, Murdoch by now would already have total ownership of BSkyB.

Indications the new Lib Dem strategy is working? 16% in polls and old voters coming back

It was not that long ago that there were serious questions being asked about the Lib Dem strategy in Government. This prompted a change in strategy from the top of the Party, which was disguised as a ‘this was always what we were going to do’ plan. Just as the serious questions were being asked because of the anti-Lib Dem sentiment that was starting to grow, we should be looking to see if this new strategy is working. Generally the answer is no if you look at many polls but maybe there are green shoots appearing?

Despite Ed Miliband’s generally well regarded performance throughout the phone hacking scandal this poll has the Lib Dems picking up the votes from Labour. While one poll says nothing, it is worth highlighting to see if this continues to become a trend. As I have written in Making opinion polls more useful: Learning from the highs and the lows polls need to be kept into perspective and 16% in an ICM poll at this stage is not too catastrophic.

Additionally, there are other questions which were asked which are promising:

But among Lib Dem supporters and past voters, there are signs of recovery. In this month’s poll 62% of people who backed the Lib Dems at the 2010 general election say they would do so again now – much higher than the 45% or so typical in recent ICM polls.

So while we all hear about stories such as Lib Dems ‘to lose half their voters at next election’ which tell us we need a new strategy we don’t hear the reverse when things are improving which would tell us that maybe the new strategy is working. So Clegg and the Team need to keep on doing what they are doing now which is getting noticed (such as here or here) and maybe this will turn into a new trend.

Realistic predictions for Lib Dem performance for 2015 General Election

For many in the Liberal Democrats we have got used to a steady increase in the Lib Dem vote at General Elections which gave rise to the expectation of a break through at some point only to be disappointed when the results come in. Now in Government people have become panicked at the drop in poll ratings yet if we look at the historical vote swings for the parties and from the governing party, we can get a more realistic picture of what to expect come 2015.

The Lib Dems have done well in recent years with a Labour Government: (vote to others or not voting are not represented in arrows)

This gives an  illusion that we should expect our vote share to continue to increase. But this was not the case for the last Labour Governments:

And if we look at how we performed when there was a Tory Government:

We can see our track record against Tory Governments for increasing our vote share has not been good, with the exception of co-opting Labour voters (through the SDP).

Also the track record of Governments has been for them to slowly lose support while in power (with the exception of the Tories in 1997 who lost a quarter of their support). So with the Lib Dems in Government with the Tories it seems incredibly unlikely that that the Party would maintain its vote share in any case. So perhaps this gives a more realistic ‘best hope’ situation come 2015 – somewhere between losing 5% on a bad result to 1%  on a good result.

That is unless there is some defining moment such as a merger with another group/party  as in 1983 (see an idea here) or an issue which affects only Labour and the Tories as in Feb 1974:

But as Macmillian pointed out, this is generally outside of a Party’s control

Events my dear boy, events

How much influence does the Murdoch empire actually have over voters?

Much has been made of the recent phone hacking scandal but how much influence do the papers actually have? The Sun, and therefore the Murdochs, claim to win elections for the party they back but maybe their power is not as strong as they think which would open up a different way of approaching the media.

A majority of Sun readers voted Labour in 2005 and Conservative in 2010 and the Sun would like to take the credit for this.

Yet according to the book Explaining Cameron’s Coalition almost all this change had happened before the Sun announcement and the paper was merely following its readers. This is consistent with the view of advertising professionals at the election who felt that advertising had a limited effect. So if the paper follows its readers, and not the other way around, then maybe we would see a longer term trend in paper affiliations lagging behind the curve?

While it could be argued it is a chicken and egg situation you could also argue that there is a lag in general change in political affiliations of the papers. In 1997, when Labour won its landslide there were 4 papers backing them and 4 backing the Tories. In 2001, there were less people voting Labour but more papers backing them and then in 2005 less papers backing Labour. This would back up the claim made in Explaining Cameron’s Coalition that it is the voters who change their mind and the papers follow that.

While it is clearly useful to have backing of national newspapers it would suggest that there are other more effective means of influencing the public. Social Influencing Media is an area which looks at how to do just that which the Lib Dems could benefit from and I have written about here.

Opinion Polls show Clegg leading Miliband with younger voters to get rid of this corruption

A major pillar of appeal Clegg gave the electorate at the General Election, in the shadows of the expenses scandal, was that the Lib Dems are the party to clean up British Politics. With the election of Ed Miliband he has sought to attract this vote from the Lib Dems opening up new battlegrounds between the parties. ComRes have some interesting findings on this issue worth highlighting as they are buried and have not seen much airtime.

On the face of it, the result that 8% think Clegg is the man to get rid of corruption in politics compared to 12% for Miliband and 24% for Cameron, is not good news. However, this is wholly consistent with low poll ratings of the perceived talent of the Lib Dems and confirms the general trend.

However, what is interesting is the scores of those aged 18 – 34. Following the tuition fees debacle there has been a fear that this would decimate Clegg’s ratings with the younger voters and Miliband has attempted to attract this vote throughout his leadership. Liberal Conspiracy wrote about the Lib Dem vote being lower than that for UKIP amongst younger voters earlier this year and so it is clearly a worry. Yet, now Clegg leads Miliband with 18-24 year olds and they are equal with 25-34 year olds.

While this can be as a result of so many factors it is hard to pinpoint exactly why so many younger voters still believe in Clegg, but it is still an interesting one which Clegg and the Lib Dems can build on, even in Government. While there are reports that younger people are more liberal than older people (who tend to become more conservative as they get older), this is not necessarily shown in the research.

There is limited support for the idea that voters necessarily become more conservative as they age.  Instead, most argue that much of the difference between older and younger voters should be attributed to cohort effects; people who grew up during a certain period (e.g. during the depression and WWII) are more likely to be conservative than those who grew up during a different period (e.g. post-WWII affluence)

Therefore, these younger voters are indeed vital to a full scale re-emergence of Liberal Britain.

Lessons the Neo-Cons can teach the Lib Dems about political strategy

Karl Rove Assistant to the President, Deputy C...

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Karl Rove is not the most popular figure in liberal Britain and it may not be a surprise that The Telegraph has started to look at him for ideas to reinvent the Tory Party. However, there are some distinct similarities between what Mr Rove and the Lib Dems have done to increase their respective votes and he offers the Lib Dems some important lessons in developing a voter base.

In The Telegraph’s piece How Karl Rove could save the Conservative Party there is some praise for the Lib Dems

it’s also worth looking at the Liberal Democrats. When they were a rising force in the land, they would win council seats, and sometimes whole local authorities, by co-opting community organisers into their party. They’d find a campaigner – a tenant, a resident or a parent – with a grievance and say, “If you really want to change things, you need to get elected as a councillor”. When the inevitable response came – “but I’m not political” – Lib Dem activists confessed honestly that they weren’t, either. This worked

They go on to suggest that this was in fact the same strategy that Karl Rove used to improve the Republican Party’s situation. Rove sought to identify ‘social leaders’ – people who have influence in their social sphere. His team would go into an area with no, or very weak, Republican Party activism and seek a significant local figure – a headteacher or a doctor – and ask if they would like to become chairman of the local Republicans. The person would invariably reply that they were apolitical, but were then asked about their beliefs and values and often found that these matched those of the Republican Party. Once they accepted the new role, the person was then managed vigorously, sacked if they failed to meet performance targets and rewarded for success – the more telephone canvassing they organised, for example, the closer they got to the front of the president’s rally. Likewise, a Christmas card from the president was real currency, saved for high performers.

Another strategy Rove used was to attract young Americans by buying advertising space where they would see it such as in front of running machines at gyms. They then looked for natural leaders – the two or three people who were the hubs of social activity – had the same conversation about values and these young leaders soon realised that they had been Republicans all along.

Karl Rove understood the most basic rule of marketing – if people aren’t coming to you, go and find them.

This strategy worked – in 2000 the presidential election was so close it came down to a technicality. In 2004 President Bush won a second term with a margin of four million votes. The Lib Dems could learn from this and in many ways have a head start from other Parties as they have been doing this to some extent already. The difference was a focus on values and beliefs and it is here that the Lib Dems have a bigger advantage.

British attitudes have become more liberal (or here) as time has gone on and so there is more scope to attract social leaders who are influencing these views and attitudes which should be reflected well in the Liberal Democrat Party. By identifying and co-opting social leaders with liberal attitudes would be a good strategy to start increasing the liberal vote in Britain.

In Praise of the Guardian: Finding strengths in the Lib Dems

The Guardian wrote this week Phone-hacking scandal shows why Britain needs the Liberal Democrats which highlights some strengths in the Lib Dems through the scandal which are worth highlighting:

as all three leaders look ahead to years of investigations, revelations and no doubt criminal convictions, there are good reasons for thinking that Nick Clegg is the man most likely to emerge with his reputation enhanced. For as both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition know, Clegg’s party is the only one of the three that hasn’t spent the last two decades trying to curry favour with Rupert Murdoch’s corrupt and hugely corrupting media empire. What is more, they were the only ones with the guts – though for most of the time not the power – to try to halt its remorseless advance.

Today, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Cable tapes, far from triggering the business secretary’s demise, may yet prove his salvation… Cable’s authenticity is bound to shine through. By the time the inquiries into News International’s activities have run their course, the business secretary’s reputation is likely to have been restored, his judgment – dismissed at the time as prejudice – fully vindicated.


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