‘Not easy, but right’ – Clegg doesn’t get it: We need to build trust not defensiveness if we are to have a hope of improving our situation

The Lib Dems have a problem. We have known about this problem for a long time and those at the top of the party have been trying to improve the situation with changes in strategy, a redoubling of efforts to show the Lib Dem contribution to the Government, and new messages. But we still have a problem. Now we have a new script – ‘not easy, but right’. But will this message win back voters?

The Guardian recently produced some very interesting statistics:

In every parliament in the past 30 years, governments that went on to lose the next election were already showing a slump in approval in the Guardian’s ICM series of polls by this stage of the cycle, compared with the general election which put them in power. After 2005, Labour was down seven points in the autumn of 2006 – and went on to lose in 2010. After 1992, the Tories were down 14 points by the autumn of 1993 and went on to be hammered in 1997. But in the parliaments of 1983, 1987, 1997 and 2001, the government parties’ ratings were either steady or better than at the general election – and they went on to win. On Friday the Conservatives are on 37% with ICM, just as they gained in the last general election. The Tories are holding on to their ground.

But for the Lib Dems we are down and down a lot. We can see that we are not winning over Tory voters if they are holding onto their supporters while we haemorrhage support to Labour. So is the lost support recoverable? Clegg is a toxic brand to Labour supporters, with whom he has a rating of -79%. If the Lib Dems are to recover their polling position some of these supporters need to be won back.

So why does Clegg have such a negative rating among Labour supporters, or more importantly ex-Lib Dem supporters? Many put this down to tribalism but this is convenient and hides the reality of those potential voters. Ed Miliband sums up quite nicely their feelings/thoughts:

The Lib Dems have broken their promises. A year ago they promised to scrap tuition fees. But they trebled them. They promised to oppose a rise in VAT. But they voted to back the Tories in raising it to 20%. They also promised to protect the NHS. But they backed David Cameron’s expensive bureaucratic plans which put the founding principles of the heath service at risk.

It is easy for the Lib Dems to deny these allegations, find reasons why the decisions taken were necessary, or see this view as pure tribalism of the worst sort. ‘You don’t play politics at a time of national crisis’ Clegg says, showing self-justification. It may be correct that there was no other option, that these were decisions that needed to be made, and these were the sacrifices that we had to make. It may be correct that we have made the more difficult decisions better than they otherwise would have been. It may be correct that it was not easy, but right. But this doesn’t matter. That is not the point. If it were the point then people wouldn’t feel so strongly about it. The issue at stake here is trust and only by addressing the issue of trust will the situation improve. Giving people the reasons as to why decisions have been made will not build trust, in fact it only turns people away as the defensiveness just invalidates their feelings.

The relationship between Nick Clegg and the electorate is key for the Lib Dems and for the party’s situation to improve Clegg’s relationship with the electorate needs to improve. But anyone who has ever had difficulty in a relationship will know that defensiveness is a strategy for pain and ultimately a break up. The new defensiveness strategy is not going to work.

Trust means to believe. It means you have no doubt in your mind about their honesty, integrity and credibility. No relationship can survive without trust. Trust is the foundation on which a relationship is built. Clegg was not well known going into the 2010 General Election, so much so the campaign started with Clegg and Cable spearheading it as more people knew Cable. At first, as in the start of all new relationships, people believed Clegg without much proof needing to be given as to his credibility. We have all experienced this at the start of a new relationship.

But research into relationships shows that breaking trust early in a relationship can seriously damage the relationship in the long term and that it may never be completely right again. Questions start being asked ‘was he trustworthy from the beginning or was I fooled?’ Or ‘is he changing now?’ This kind of doubtful thinking causes tremendous strain in a relationship. We can all see that this is what is going on right now between Clegg and many on the political left; they see that he had breached their trust in him, and this has happened early in the relationship. Relationship research shows that it is easier to rebuild trust after a breach if you already have a strong relationship.  So it is possible that the relationship may not be recoverable?

But if we are to have any chance of attracting voters back then we need to address the issue of trust. Before any trust can be rebuilt you must address how and/or why it was broken in the first place. This is the time for brutal honesty. Vince Cable has been good at this and has said that we would never have proposed the policy if we ever thought we would get into power. Embarrassing but honest and people love Cable so we should learn from him. It may be the case that a complete confessional of how the trust was broken should only be done when both sides ready to hear it, and that may not be now? But heartfelt apologies should be offered with indications of remorse and promises to not violate the trust again. Tony Blair broke the trust people had in him but he offered no way to bridge this broken trust with the electorate and it ultimately brought him down. Clegg has said that he will not offer an apology on the tuition fees issue because he does not see the point. The point is that it can start a process to build the trust again and if it isn’t, it will kill his political career and bring the Lib Dems down with him.

When trust is broken in a relationship many people recommend getting outside help such as with a counsellor. We should pay great attention to such advice. If Clegg wants his relationship to improve with those who used to vote for the party but won’t at the moment, or even new voters, then there needs to be some third party to broker a new trust with Clegg. A celebrity, a famous person, someone who has great influence with those we need to reach would be useful if they could give positive messages about Clegg. A conversation between Clegg and the electorate brokered by someone else could be a useful strategy. I know Clegg is going around the country doing Town Hall meetings and I think this is a great idea, but sometimes it is not the message, it is the messenger, and so the third person eases the message into people’s consciousness rather than it being filtered out because of the messenger.

Ashcroft’s Opinion Polls on the Lib Dems: What everyone missed

Lord Ashcroft has done some useful polling on the Lib Dems in the last year and he has just completed some more which you may have read at LibDemVoice but there seems to be some really interesting data here which seems to have been missed by many – that a third of voters will vote for the Lib Dems if we get the message right. Of course it doesn’t spell that out but I believe there are some encouraging signs amongst the other data which will worry most.

Firstly, one question of interest is this:

And it is of interest because despite the low poll ratings there is still a clear identity in the population about what the party stands for. If 33% of people believe that the Lib Dems share their values then there are 33% of people who would potentially vote for them. Even more encouraging is that where we are doing well i.e. are in second place to the Tories (which also includes areas where we have had an MP) this figure increases to the point where we are the highest scoring party. This says that there is scope to increase this 33% in the future. However, this is not going to happen with the results in the other areas where we are clearly trailing Labour and the Tories by quite a margin. Which brings us on to the other interesting data Ashcroft has provided for us:

We can see some dire results here. So despite the fact that a third of voters (or more) believe that the party shares their values, this has not been translated into being seen to have a policy they believe would make the best difference – except for on the environment. So if we can do it for the environment then it is possible to do it for other policies too. I would love to have some data to compare this against before joining the Coalition, as Chris Huhne has been particularly effective in his brief on the environment. So is it that having a minister has helped the Lib Dems or is it that people had a high belief in the Lib Dem policy on the environment previously? I am guessing that Chris Huhne has helped. He has shown to be an effective politician and this was something that was commented on by Tony Blair in the leadership elections. So maybe Lib Dem ministers could learn a think or two from Chris Huhne and do more to help the party?

So there are a many potential voters out there who are not convinced on the Lib Dem policies in comparison to Labour or the Tories. So does being in Coalition Government mean things have changed and maybe people are thinking that the party has grown up and are now worth looking at? Apparently not:

So while the theory was that Government would mean Lib Dem policies could be implemented and the party would not be seen as a wasted vote, most people are moving away from the party. Theory and practice do not always meet in the middle. But that is not to say that they couldn’t. If we can do well on the environment with a dedicated minister then surely we can change what we are doing in the departments we are involved with to improve the perception issue?

There is a vast pool of potential voters out there who would vote for the Lib Dems if we get the message right. We have got the message right on some issues and we have been rewarded for this previously. We can do it again and we have the resources to improve where we are at. It is not good enough to say just give it time and people will come round – they won’t. We need to change what we are doing in the departments we are involved with now. Maybe we need to be involved in less departments and concentrate on a smaller number? This would at least concentrate the Lib Dem message. Currently we are spread too thin and the message is – ‘we don’t know what the Lib Dem message is’. Carrying on idly believing that things will get better because we are an optimistic bunch is not a strategy (see this question to see the Lib Dems more optimistic than others):

If we always do what we have always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got. Time to make some changes to concentrate the Lib Dem message and make it stick in people’s minds.

Would Tim Farron make a good Lib Dem leader? What we should look for in a leader

Tim Farron MP

Image by David Spender via Flickr

Questions surrounding whether Tim Farron is positioning himself to become the next Lib Dem leader are everywhere at the moment with him having to come out and deny that this is what he is doing. But the fact that people are thinking about the person to come after Clegg raises some interesting questions around what we should be looking for in a leader, rather than choosing from the basis of personalities. So what should we be looking for?

A political party represents a set of values and beliefs that people aspire to and at their best they can make us feel proud and hopeful that we can make a difference to the country and people’s lives. And no one in the party represents these values to the country quite like the leader. Choosing a leader on the basis of personalities can therefore be problematical as we end up supporting them no matter what happens or what they end up saying or doing, even if this goes against the values of the party. So while charismatic leaders are attractive in that the attract support to the party, charismatic leadership carries many potential hazards as well as benefits.  If the party doesn’t represent what people originally thought it did, they end up not supporting the party.

Robin Cook showed the country how to stay true to what we believe in and not idly follow personalities in his resignation speech in 2003. More recently the Lib Dems have needed to give Clegg a swift realignment on the NHS as he was at first seemingly in full support of Lansley’s plans. So I don’t think we should be looking for a personality, no matter how charismatic they are, we should be looking for the best person who represents the values of the party and will stay true to them.

Certain general qualities, such as courage, fortitude and conviction, appear to characterize good leadership and Clegg certainly has these and the next leader will need these too. But what sets Lib Dem leaders apart is the issue of compassion, and Clegg has had praise for this in his time as leader. While intellect is essential compassionate feeling for people will determine the extent to which the leader’s knowledge and powers of intellect become, or fail to become, a force for humanist leadership. So in choosing a leader we should consider how compassionate the person has been.

Creativity of political leadership is a precious asset and a relatively rare one, which is not something that one can acquire by hard work and preparation alone. An inner security, the freedom from self-absorption which enables a leader to keep his mind sensitively attuned to what is happening outside himself and to empathise with people, is a necessary prerequisite for highly creative leadership. Ironically, inner security and freedom from egocentricity are the least likely qualities of those who actively seek roles of power in modern life.

So this raises some interesting questions. How can we learn to discriminate between candidates for leadership whose intense drive for public office springs from egotistic need and those genuinely motivated by the desire to serve, and by care for those whom they would govern? And if these discriminations are beyond our powers, how can we modify our mechanisms of leader selection so as to enlist persons of strong ability whose realism about themselves is evidenced by their lack of consuming ambition for high office?

There is no doubt that a leader needs relevant knowledge, excellent reasoning powers, and good intuitive judgment of people and situations. They will need to be persuasive with the ability to explain on the widest possible scale both the basics of the situation and the dire predictable consequences of continued drift in the face of it. They will need confidence, the capacity to communicate, and inspire people to become the masters of their destiny that men and women have long yearned to be but never yet become. They will need courage to give the unvarnished facts, which will also often be unpalatable, and summon us to change ingrained ways of thinking and acting, such as our energy profligacy, the tenacious growth mindedness of our corporations and many other institutions, and our habit of living as though the present and growing generations were the last that merit our deep concern. Such leadership cannot succeed solely on the basis of appeals to calculated self-interest. It will also require idealism in the leaders and those whom they seek to guide in a protracted politics of nonviolent radical change.

So if Tim Farron holds these qualities then we should all vote for him come the next leadership election but perhaps the question we should ask is does Tim Farron’s leadership ambition stem from egotistic need or from a genuine motivation and desire to serve? Once we begin to see what we really want in a leader, perhaps the most suited person doesn’t hold the same ambition Tim Farron does. Perhaps they are currently under the radar and are quietly providing a compassionate service to their communities. And perhaps they will need encouragement to stand as leader when the time comes?

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

The Independent has a few things to say about the Lib Dem conference which are worth highlighting in terms of looking at Lib Dem strengths:

But there are signs they are learning… suggests that the grassroots are getting used to the idea of being a serious party of government. (here)

But unlike in Liverpool last year and Sheffield in the spring, at this conference the party really does seem to have come to terms with Government.

Depending on your viewpoint, the Liberal Democrats have either been the most maverick party in Britain or the most democratic. A few weeks ago the party was briefing that conference would be voting on plans to legalise drugs – not because they supported the policy but because they knew they couldn’t control it. But, in the event, this has been the best-managed conference of recent years. (here)


In Praise of The Guardian: Collected praise for the Lib Dems from conference

Having been at conference I have missed much of the press coverage and so I will try to put anything worth noting which highlights strengths in the Lib Dems together for the period:

Nick Clegg’s speech was solid, well delivered and made good sense… The party leader even dared to unveil a new persona: a tough, macho style Lib Dems have not enjoyed since Paddy “kill with his bare hands” Ashdown was in charge (see here)


But the insistence on a political agenda rooted in civil liberties, internationalism, human rights, political reform, responsible capitalism and fighting climate change is a powerful reminder of the Lib Dems’ uniqueness too (see here)


A better than usual conference speech from Nick Clegg who sounded like a man who has learned a lot the hard way this past year and matured in the process (see here)

There is no argument. The Liberal Democrats and their leader, Nick Clegg, have played a political blinder this past 18 months. They have kept a British coalition government in being against all odds, with no sign of it collapsing in the near future. Nor have the Lib Dems just sustained a regime, as they did some governments, Tory and Labour, in the 1920s and 1970s. They have palpably had a restraining influence on it. They deserve recognition at least for this (see here)

the Lib Dems have always been a more resilient party than rivals often give them credit for… They have also proved extraordinarily disciplined. This is one thing that people have consistently underestimated about the Lib Dems. Another is how much they have taken to power… Since the spring, Mr Clegg has made an increasingly aggressive effort to reassert his differences with the Conservatives (see here)

Things didn’t turn out that way but nonetheless this government has probably been improved by the Lib Dem presence: the more the Nadine Dorries wing protests its party is held hostage, the more the Lib Dems can bask in that claim. Certainly, the last Labour government would have been improved by coalition with them: no Iraq; no imprisonment without trial; civil liberties upheld (see here)

But what a cock-up to walk in to, with No 10 being forced into a body swerve within a few days to prevent abortion getting caught up in the partisan fray. The only person who came out of it with any seeming credit was Clegg, after it emerged that he would be leading the bulk of the government’s troops in the lobbies against the move (see here)

A solution focused interview with the Deputy Prime Minister

Some may be aware that I interviewed Nick Clegg recently and I have written this up as an interview here. However, this blog is about marrying the solution focused approach to politics and I styled my interview on solution focused questioning. I will therefore write up the interview explaining and discussing this from the SF point of view, which I think actually gives some interesting answers.

A key component of the SF approach, and the most famous technique, is the scaling question. It can be a powerful tool to gain specific and detailed information about how to improve your situation. I therefore wanted to use this with Clegg and see if it could be a useful tool with politicians. My premise was that the perceived relationship the electorate has with Nick Clegg is an important component of the success of the Lib Dem party come election time. PoliticalBetting has pointed out on numerous occasions that the best

pointer to the eventual outcome [is] the leader ratings [which are] far better than the voting intention polling

So first we need a base line. How does Clegg see his standing with the electorate? So the question started with ‘on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is that your relationship with the electorate is as good as it could be and is seen very positively and will lead the party to the best result and 0 is that your relationship with the electorate is seen as toxic and will be very bad for the party and you personally, where would you say it is on the scale?’

This would have given us an idea as to how he judges this at the moment. Such a question leads us to own our judgements, which is a powerful process in itself. However, he is a politician and the last time he gave a number he got into a lot of trouble so this was his answer:

I’m not going to give you a number because it think it is a completely artificial and synthetic way to grade something which is quite delicate actually, quite nuanced and quite different actually, so sorry I’m not going to give you a number. I don’t know how you can quantify this, I don’t work like that but I can give you my characterisation and then you can put a number on it.

So Clegg didn’t want to give a number and maybe this is wise politics but it is not engaging with the SF approach. But then we he has a right not to answer if he doesn’t want to. His main point in the characterisation was this:

the relationship between ourselves and the country has been very badly damaged over the last year and a half

So I went around the conference asking people where they thought the scale would be to which most people said 3 or 4 – so I’ll go with that as our scale. He then asked if it was recoverable, to which his answer was yes, he believed it was. The solution focused answer would also be yes, that wherever you are on the scale you can improve and move up the scale so long as you know how.

So considering he was saying that his relationship with the country could ‘recover’ (his choice of word) my next question was ‘in the future when this relationship has recovered, what will the nation see you or the party doing differently?’ His answers were:

  • It will be different
  • They will come to respect what we do
  • There will be a fair minded respect
  • Best possible motives
  • Their [Lib Dems] hearts are in the right place

I clarified the question a little more as the question asked what he would be doing differently or what the party would be doing differently and his answers where what the nation would be doing differently. So I said ‘what would people see you or the party doing differently, specifically’. His answers were similar:

  • Now I understand what their motives are
  • Now I respect what they’ve done

His focus was again on what the nation would be doing differently, which was that they would be listening to what we are saying, rather than what he would be doing differently. I therefore went with where he was at rather than pushing this and asked the question ‘what can we do differently to get people to listen more, how do we as a party, or you as a leader communicate to the public so that they can listen to what is being said, in specific terms’, to which he said:

  • Make ourselves available
  • knock on doors
  • a lot of face to face stuff
  • speak in plain and simple terms
  • travel around the country talking to people
  • him to give people a script they can use on the door step

So while the interview seemed a little messy, there was limited time, and he had a lot of political points that he wanted to get over, I felt we ended up with a pretty good indication as to what he thinks needs to happen to start improving in the polls:

Which makes a lot of sense if we look at what works in political campaigning, which is – the ground war always wins so get people out knocking on doors and speaking to people and you are in with a better chance than any other method. Clegg is a man who knows his politics and the solution focused interview got out what he thinks we need to do as a party specifically, and I don’t think I have heard him talking about this stuff much in other interviews. So it could be possible that with more time and more SF questions we could end up with a very different message from our politicians?

I would love to know what other people think of this interview and for people to critique my interview from an SF point of view (if you know SF) so I can learn how to improve my interviewing with such a short amount of time.

Poll: Did Clegg’s speech make you want to go out and knock on doors?

Nick Clegg said that the conference should be judged on whether Lib Dem members said at the end of the conference that they would start going out to knock on doors again; that he had given them a script to say and made them feel that they wanted to start talking to people again. So was Nick Clegg’s speech a success? Here is a poll to test the success of his speech:

Solution Focused Politics on Radio 5 Live Tonight at 6pm

For all readers of this blog and who are interested, I will be on Radio 5 Live at 6pm discussing Nick Clegg’s speech with some other Lib Dem members. It is the Drive show and we are supposed to be giving our reaction to the speech so tune in and let me know what you think…

An interview with Nick Clegg: A window into Nick’s world

In 2007 I went to see the leadership hustings in Leicester and Nick Clegg impressed me with a communication style that was straight, direct and clear. Following being elected leader I remember feeling proud when he was interviewed by Jeremy Paxman or John Humfreys, as he was able to set out clear positions that I believed in. He was convincing not only because of what he was saying but also because of how he said it. Here was a man who was frustrated with the current government, the voting system, the reactionary politics of the Tories and Labour. Here was a man espousing a new type of politics and I felt proud to be part of the party who had him on our side. It was no surprise that he would go on to impress the nation in the TV leaders’ debates.

I saw little difference between the Nick Clegg I saw back in 2007 and the Nick Clegg that sat before me now. His answers were straight, direct and clear and his positions were said with a sense of urgency and belief. Here was a man convinced that the path he and the party took was not the only path he could have taken but the right path. He spoke of the need for liberalism, a non-reactionary politics, a considered politics, a fair politics. He spoke of the inequality in society and what the Government were doing to address it. He spoke of the need to treat each other as a compassionate family and came across as a leader who has not forgotten what the party stands for, who is standing up for the values of the party, and is giving a positive message about our contribution to Government.

But it is also very important that he understands what it is like out in the real world. “There’s a lot of distress out there, trying to make ends meet, and keep jobs” he said, “the squeeze on living standards is huge… parents are feeling guilty that they can’t do more for their kids and that’s a very powerful emotion – parental guilt”. This seemed more than a man who had been briefed on the subject and more of a man who was trying to really understand what it is like. When it came to the Lib Dem party he believed that the anger towards him and the party came down to two reasons: the fact that we went in to Coalition with the Tories and the tuition fees issue. “I’m acutely aware people feel let down by us” he said, “they’ve flipped, they’ve U-turned … how on earth could you let the Conservatives back into No 10?” he parodied. So when I asked him to rate his relationship with the electorate he was well aware that it had been “very badly damaged” but believed that it was “recoverable”.

So in many ways this was exactly what I needed to hear in these difficult times for the party. Yet there was something unsettling about this. It wasn’t what he said or even the way he said it, these are his strong points and were as strong as ever. It was that he seemed to be seeing things from a very different viewpoint and I was struggling to see why. In the 2010 General Election campaign I felt proud of the Lib Dem policy to deal with the economic crisis and Nick Clegg spoke of it with passion and zeal, claiming that there would be Greek style riots in the streets of the UK if we followed the Tory proposals. Yet here he was speaking of the need for these Tory measures with the same passion and zeal he had used to speak against them only a year and a half ago. He seemed to move from one position to another in the space of a day (back in May 2010) and I hadn’t. It has taken me longer to digest all the information and come to some sort of conclusion, and even then it is difficult to know. But I am prepared to go with the better judgment of those who know more than I do; it just leaves me thinking that passion and zeal are Nick Clegg’s style, no matter what he is talking about.

I remember the Governor of the Bank of England saying that the next Government would have to implement such severe austerity cuts that the Governing Party would make themselves unelectable for a generation. We have since seen a decimation of the support for the Lib Dems with opinion polls which worry everyone in the Party. So if you were to be asked what you would consider to be a realistic success for the Lib Dems at the next General Election, what would you say? To have achieved 18%, or even 23%, in the polls? To have lost only a few MPs or even maintained the same number of MPs? I asked Nick Clegg and he said “the Lib Dem party growing”. To clarify I said “more MPs?” to which his reply was “yeah. Bigger”. He went on to say that the electorate would find respect for the party and understand why we have done what we have. He saw this period in Office as an electoral asset for the party. Of course, being the leader of the party his job is to influence those in the party to believe that we are not heading to a bleak future. But the way Nick Clegg says things sounds as if he truly believes it and again I find myself not in sync with his view.

We live in a world of uncertainty – politically for the Lib Dems and economically for the country and the world – and there are many different views as to what might happen but no one can be sure as to what will happen. So either Nick Clegg’s style of using passion and zeal is to cover an inauthentic position in an attempt to influence those around him, or he truly believes what he is saying and the passion and zeal are an authentic embodiment of his belief. And so I found what he said to me right at the end of the interview, when everyone was getting up to leave, fascinating:

I know we’re down, or whatever we are. I really do, feel it in my bones, there are a lot of people out there who kinda don’t want to be told that you either go for a fair society or a strong economy but you can’t have both. I think there are a lot of people who say no we want people who are trying to do both and I think that’s what we’re all about. And if we play our cards right, a little bit of luck on the way, I really do. The short term is the difficult bit, I think next May is gonna be tough, we’re fighting a lot of tough seats up and down the country, I think the medium to long term could be really, really great for us.

So to paraphrase Nick Clegg: ‘I feel it in my bones that the future will be really great for the Lib Dems’. ‘I feel it in my bones’ is a statement of intuition, which makes a lot of sense if we listen to a recent Government review by Professor Munro:

Intuitive reasoning ‘generates feelings of certitude’ and this characteristic makes it very attractive for the individual who is operating in a world of uncertainty. The downside of this is that the [person] who has a ‘gut feeling’ … has a sense of confidence in that judgment that can make the person resistant to change or challenge

Intuitive reasoning leads people to make their minds up very quickly. It can explain why Nick Clegg seemingly changed his mind on economic policy after his meeting with the Governor of the Bank of England coming out in full force in favour of public spending cuts, while the majority of those who voted for the Lib Dems did not. It can also explain why he believes that being in Government will be good for the party despite the evidence to date, or that of junior coalition partners worldwide, and the rest of the party do not. Intuition is a powerful force. What this tells me is that he truly believes what he is saying and the passion and zeal are an authentic embodiment of his belief. But what it doesn’t tell me is that he is right. In fact it tells me that I should rely on it less as intuition is not a good long term political strategy.

Those who claim to forecast the future are lying, even if by chance they are later proved to be right – Arab Proverb

In many ways Nick Clegg has gone on a journey that the rest of the people who voted for him have not gone on and so there is a disconnect between him and the electorate. From where he stands, his strategy has made perfect sense but from the sidelines it has at times made little sense. This leaves him with a sense of frustration: “I feel no sympathy for that view at all” he says talking about those who feel betrayed by the party. What about the mistakes made with tuition fees? “If you apologise people will ask ‘why did you do it then?’”, in other words there will be no apology. So I asked Nick Clegg what he thought he could do differently to bridge this gap between him and the electorate. And with the same style and eloquence that won me over in 2007 he gave a very articulate defence of the current strategy: “explain why we’ve done what we’ve done… express regret & explanation… be patient”. And for someone who intuitively believes that being in Coalition with the Tories will be good for the party this makes perfect sense, as the public “will come to respect what we do”. However, this view is not wholly shared by everyone in the party or the country.

Nick Clegg is a very intuitive politician, which makes him good at what he does. But he needs to be careful that he doesn’t fall into the trap of intuition – believing something despite the evidence. At conference I got the impression that some believe he is doing the right thing, while for others it was not that they necessarily agreed with it but that they saw no other option. Few believe this that this will be good for Lib Dem electoral success. But I still believe in the party and what it stands for so while I don’t agree with Nick, we want the same things – to maximise our electoral success while bringing the values of the party to Government.

So how do we do this? “Make ourselves available”, “knock on doors”, “a lot of face to face stuff”, “speak in plain and simple terms” he said. And so for conference to be a success Nick Clegg believed that it should be judged on whether activists start saying “I’m going out again, to knock on doors”. And if his intuitive political skill can get people out again, it matters not whether he is right in the end – we will have done our best.

Note: Great thanks to Nick Thornsby, Richard Morris and Neil Monnery for their questions and Helen Duffett for the support and encouragement – and of course for organising it.

In Praise of The Independent: Finding strengths in Nick Clegg

The Independent write Clegg has turned disaster on its head which offers an assessment of many strengths in Nick Clegg:

he regularly highlights distinctive contributions from his party, so much so that some Conservatives worry that any so called progressive policy is attributed to the Liberal Democrats and more rightwing MPs start to complain publicly about the influence of Clegg and his party… he is managing the balance between distinctiveness and Coalition unity more effectively than before… As a result, he is in a stronger position now, not only compared with the period before the referendum but also in comparison to his first conference as Deputy Prime Minister… for the first time in decades they command attention and wield power.


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