What would Clegg say if he wasn’t in Government? Lib Dems have lost their most effective voice
12 December 2011 3 Comments
There was a time when I would listen out for Clegg’s words on the radio and TV as he always seemed to know what to say to represent my views. He always seemed accurate and articulate in putting the liberal case forward. When I wasn’t sure about an issue, I would listen out for what he had to say and he would show me the way. Clegg was a great liberal voice and a great opposition leader. Since the Coalition things have changed but the Europe issue has shown it very clearly. We have lost our voice because we have lost Clegg to Government.
That might sound like a stupid thing to say seeing as the point of politics is to gain power and now we have it for the first time in 60 years or so. But let’s look at the Europe issue to see how we have lost him. Cameron has made a decision that effectively means Europe is getting a divorce according to the Economist and that Britain is now not only leaving the EU, but falling from it. For those of us who believe that Europe is a good thing for all involved, it has been such a gigantic move by Cameron that it has sent some into a state of post-traumatic fantasy land just to cope with it. While others are more realistic they are damning of Clegg and the Lib Dems considering we are the so called pro-European party that has presided over the single biggest decision to distance ourselves from Europe in its history.
Now let us just imagine what Clegg would have said had this have been a decision made by a majority Conservative Government. On past performance he would have been on Newsnight, the Today programme, PM, every news channel he could get himself on, he would have been outlining in very simple terms why this was a bad move and what needs to be done. He would have been outraged, firm and adamant in the liberal position. We would watch or listen at home nodding our heads, saying to ourselves (or others) I’m so glad someone is saying that, no one else is standing up for what I believe in. It would make us feel proud to be a Liberal Democrat.
I remember many an occasion of something similar to this situation whether it be ID cards, the police state, extraordinary rendition, you name an issue. The country knew what our positions were. The country knew what we believed in and what we were fighting for. The longer he went on in opposition the better he became. So where are we now?
Defending a rise in tuition fees. Defending cuts to public sector workers’ pay and conditions . Defending cuts in benefits. Defending NHS reforms (which changed) . I could go on but the impression that is being left is one of confusion amongst the public as to what the Lib Dems stand for any more, with The Guardian going as far as to say
The tuition fees U-turn was just a gateway drug for the Lib Dem leader. The formerly pro-Europe Clegg is now mainlining U
So let’s go back to the issue of Europe and what has just happened. Firstly Timothy Garton Ash who can be considered to be highly knowledgeable on the issue thinks this is a very bad thing and others who may be more sceptical but are perhaps not blinded by prejudice also think it is a bad thing:
Unfortunately Britain is the clear loser here because there is no way that Britain can go against the whole E.U., which appears united against Britain therefore expect the E.U. member states to vote for a string of laws that will hurt Britain’s biggest industry the financial sector, such as preventing euro-zone banks from doing business in London, which means Britain could now be on the fast track towards an exit from the European Union.
So what was Clegg’s response? It was the response of the Deputy Prime Minister, which is not the same thing as the response of the leader of the Liberal Democrats. I was not left with a sense of pride in the liberal position. He was not straight, direct, or clear on our position as he had to manage an extremely difficult situation of being responsible for implementing things which we/I don’t like and on a bigger picture for many things many people don’t seem to like. If I am not left with a sense of pride in what is being said then it is no wonder there is confusion and our polls are down. Have a watch of Clegg here defending Cameron’s decision. He clearly knows this is a very bad thing but is left having to defend it.
Some in the party are now calling for Lib Dem wins in Government which is certainly a good idea but the issue is bigger than that. While we do need some wins, getting policy wins is not working for the Lib Dems. Why is it that after having 75% of our manifesto implemented in Government do we not ride higher in the polls? Why is it that having so much to shout about do people question what we stand for? I believe that it is because policies are a product of values and that a piecemeal approach to policy destroys the link to the original value. People can no longer see why it is fair to keep benefit rises in line with inflation while other people effectively have their wages cut. They can no longer see why it is fair to give schools more money for poorer children when they believe school standards are decreasing due to the cuts.
People can’t see what the Lib Dem position is when we take responsibility for all the Government’s decisions. And who do people go to, to hear what the Lib Dem position is? Nick Clegg, who is not being very convincing any more about what the Lib Dem position is. For example – he believes that we now have a 2 speed Europe, that we are on the outside and that it is bad for jobs and growth, yet he defends the decision Cameron took? Does this make sense to people who believe Europe is a good thing? I doubt it.
What we are seeing is the result of Clegg having been put in a box and having lost his voice. As a result the Lib Dems have lost their voice and so we shouldn’t be surprised that our poll rating is so low. When I spoke to someone recently about Clegg they started the conversation with I will never vote for him again and it ended with her saying that she wanted him as Prime Minister not Cameron. In other words, she believed in what he used to say and is disappointed he doesn’t have more power and feels let down that he isn’t speaking for her anymore. Read the papers and listen to what people are saying and this is the common theme – People expressing feelings of hurt and being let down because he can’t be himself anymore now he is DPM. What do people who feel hurt and let down do? Often attack or withdraw to protect themselves.
There are no easy answers to this as this is the problem with Coalition politics. What we can say is that what we are doing right now is not working for the party. What we need is Clegg to be straight, direct, and clear on our values and our position as a result. He should not be afraid to say this was a bad decision and what should happen. He should not be afraid to be the Lib Dem leader more often than just at Conference. The country misses Nick Clegg, but more importantly, the country needs Nick Clegg.