In Praise of The Daily Telegraph: Finding strengths in Nick Clegg

The Daily Telegraph write Nick Clegg is clinging to the Coalition, but is his party starting to let go? which may give a particular view of the Lib Dems right now but has an interesting point about Nick Clegg at the end which is worth pointing out:

Nick Clegg, though a better and braver politician than his poll ratings indicate

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

The Independent write Lords reform is a fight that Nick Clegg will never win which is not a very flattering portrayal of the Lib Dem’s move to reform the House of Lords but there is a small section of praise for the Lib Dems which is worth highlighting:

It’s a common complaint among Conservative MPs that the Liberal Democrats wield 50 per cent of the influence in government when they have only 16 per cent of its MPs. And it’s true that the Liberal Democrats have punched above their weight in the Coalition.

Black and Ethnic Minority voting results: The good and bad news for the Lib Dems

Recently the results of the biggest comprehensive study into the voting habits of ethnic minorities ever undertaken in Britain were released. While statistics are difficult to make definite conclusions, it does make for some interesting reading for the Lib Dems for a number of reasons.

The 2010 Ethnic Minority British Election Survey (EMBES) was directed by Professor Anthony Heath, Professor of Sociology at the University of Oxford. The headline results, which you may have read, were:

  • 16% of ethnic minorities voted for the Conservative party at the last election compared to 37% of the wider population.
  • 68% of ethnic minorities voted Labour compared to 31% of the wider population.
  • Those of a Black Caribbean heritage feel the British political system has not treated them fairly the most.

But dig a little deeper and we find some interesting results for the Lib Dems. Overall we performed poorly in attracting BME voters as we gained only 14% of their vote compared to 23% for the wider population and generally we are performing worse than the Tories in attracting BME voters. However, we out performed on the votes from people with Pakistani origin gaining 25% of their vote:

The fact that we are performing worse than the Tories may be explained by looking at the attitudes of BME voters.

On the tax cuts versus spending question we find that every ethnic minority group is less supportive of greater government spending than the white British group. In this respect they appear to be less ‘left-wing’ than the majority, which contrasts strangely with their greater support for Labour but may suggest that those who do not have an affiliation to Labour are more inclined to vote Tory than Lib Dem given our position going in to the General Election. In further items covering different aspects of the left/right dimension there was either no significant difference between the majority and the minority, or the majority was more left-wing than the minority.

If we look at answers to the question of what is the most important issue facing Britain today we see that there are some differences between the majority and minority:

They are far more concerned about unemployment than the majority suggesting where to focus our campaigning efforts to attract this vote. Other things which are important to attract this vote would be improving opportunities for minorities and tackling oppression and discrimination:

It is also of interest to look at those who voted for the Lib Dems in terms of religion. We did best with those with no religion, what they classified as ‘Other’ and Muslims:

So there are some positive aspects to this study for the Lib Dems in terms of the fact that we have had a good result from the Muslim / Pakistani voters  but there is a lot of work to do to start attracting a wider share of the vote from BME voters. Labour has a large proportion of their vote despite the fact that ideologically they probably do not fit well with them. There are opportunities here to start taking the votes from Labour if we can get our message to BME voters that we think unemployment is a big issue and we are doing something about it, that we think that cutting spending is necessary and right and that we are addressing the barriers to opportunities for minorities.

Making sense of the new factions and understanding the potential threats to party unity

In Lib Dem circles, much has been made of the new factions developing within the party with many giving their opinion of them. Stephen Tall has a good overview of the groupings here.  Now that Social Liberal Forum, Liberal Left, and Liberal Reform are here it is worth having a look at what this might mean for the party, and particularly party unity as Stephen Tall says there are potential causes for concern.

Generally in politics groups form on the basis of values to create a shared value system and a common way of understanding the world as a result. All the new factions acknowledge the shared value system within the main party but have a particular stress on certain values within this, with a view to influencing the main party from that view point. While there are many advantages to have a group of people focus on policy from certain value positions, there are risks to party unity due to the way groups operate.

While it used to be considered that groups generally create a more measured decision at the end of the day due to the multiple voices being considered, this has since been disproved, initially by what social psychologists called ‘risky shift’. This was the observed phenomenon of groups making riskier decisions than the individuals would have done on their own. However, this has become known as part of a larger observed phenomenon called group polarisation and it is group polarisation which may create problems for the Lib Dems with these factions.

Instead of groups making more measured decisions, group polarisation describes the phenomenon when groups make decisions that are more extreme than the individuals members would have made on their own, as people in the group have their initial attitudes strengthened and intensified after group discussion. What this could mean is that the recent factions within the Lib Dems could move quite quickly into more extreme positions. It is interesting that when the Coalition was formed there was very little dissent in the party about its formation, yet we now have Liberal Left who are formally opposing it. Could this have been that the formation of the group reinforced certain aspects of individual members thinking to create a formal opposition? A hardening of ideas?

The risk for the party is that as these groups discuss and debate issues, the groups will inevitably move in their own direction which could ultimately mean they move too far away from each other for them to see the shared values that bound them in the first place. Something that history has already taught us as Stephen Tall commented on the splits in the Liberal Party between Lloyd George / Asquith split or the Samuelites v the Simonites (see here for more info).

While there are difficulties and challenges for us as a party in a Coalition Government, we will come through it and we will feel that the party best represents our values only if we remain a unified political party. The factions present a threat to this unity unless there are bridges built between the groups to keep the shared values at the heart of them. We should welcome the debate and the ideas, but we should not ignore the new challenges this brings. We are a party of cooperation and collaboration and the groupings should use these values as a basis to start their work.

In Praise of Lib Dem researchers who won at the award ceremony

The Lib Dems have triumphed at the Dods Parliamentary Researcher of the Year Awards for the second year in a row. At last week’s ceremony Tom Kiehl (pictured), who was nominated by Lord Shutt of Greetland, won Lib Dem researcher of the year and overall researcher of the year.

Thanks to PoliticsHome for the info.

The Tory strategy revealed: What the Lib Dems need to do to counter it

There is a lot of talk about the Lib Dem strategy and whether we have got it right. But equally important is the Tory strategy and how this impacts upon us. Here is the Tory strategy, which they call a ‘blended strategy’, which makes for interesting reading and has implications for a counter-strategy beyond differentiation – which the Tories consider to be a sign of weakness.

A blended strategy consists of appealing to aspirational working class Labour voters by focusing on their fears, for example by imposing caps on immigration and benefits. They then seek to attract Lib Dem voters and so use softer language that sounds pragmatic about Europe, reasonable on human rights and open minded on Lords reform.

This then works alongside pushing the Lib Dems aside when it comes to claiming credit for the Coalition’s record. This will be seen most prominently in them claiming credit for raising the tax threshold to £10,000, they say Mr Clegg can talk about it, but it will be the Chancellor who delivered it. This will be repeated in most policy areas. While the Lib Dems have made our strategy known i.e. differentiation, the Tories response will be to stick close to the Lib Dems on each issue, ‘like a persistent suitor chasing a rich widow around the dance floor’.

This strategy is of course mainly down to the Tories private polling. While many in the Tory party despise some of the positions Cameron has taken such as bashing the bankers, this isn’t because of an influence by Mr Clegg but because that is what they think the voters want. The Daily Telegraph quotes one Tory Cabinet member who said: “David would be doing all this even if Nick Clegg wasn’t. Differentiation is a sign of weakness. By embracing the Lib Dems, we place ourselves where the public is. And that is where we stand our best chance of winning in 2015.”

This makes sense from a Tory point of view. But what it doesn’t do is appeal to traditional Tory voters as the Daily Mail put it: Cameron must stop appeasing the Liberal Democrats and embrace real Conservatism. But as the Daily Telegraph says ‘he is prepared to suppress his inner Tory, in favour of a distinctly different kind of Conservative that his colleagues will not recognise’.

What this means for the Lib Dems is that no matter how much differentiation we make, they are prepared for this to continue to appeal to our voters. What we need to do is to produce a counter-strategy to this. We need to differentiate and we need to allow Cameron to follow us, but at the same time we need to tie this with the fact that his party won’t follow him. Show his party do not agree with Cameron, and therefore the Lib Dems, and we show the country a divided party with no authentic vision for the country. Show the Tories a leader out of step with his party and we increase the likelihood of a leadership challenge.

Cameron is probably right in that the public are probably more liberal and compassionate than his own party but his party do not believe this, which offers us an opportunity. ‘…but that wasn’t the core problem. The core problem was that voters looked at the Conservative Party and saw  people who didn’t understand what it was like to worry about running out of money before pay day arrived’ the Daily Mail write which is probably also true. But the important bit here is that the Tories do not believe in Cameron’s diagnosis of the problem.

We need to be more aggressive in distancing ourselves from parts of the Conservative Party and not just differentiation of the Conservative Party as a whole. Show the county they are divided. Show the country they do not believe in the positions they take to gain votes. Show the country they not liberal, compassionate, or in touch. This will make their ‘blended strategy’ much less likely to work and more likely soft Tory voters will vote Lib Dem.

The cost of making the Coalition work and the value of our unity: Who should lead the heart of the party?

Nearly 2 years in and there are significant questions about how we operate within a Coalition with the Tories. Tensions have been high but muted. The party has been very defensive. Some have reached out to Labour and this seems to have been formalised in Liberal Left. Others have sought to form a right leaning group. A prominent Lib Dem blogger has recently observed the tension in the blogosphere as a fight. While this debate has got very personal for many, we may be missing an important lesson that if not learned will rip the party in two.

Linda Jack wrote in the Guardian about the importance of members of the party to feel that their values are being represented by the party. It was for this reason that she says Liberal Left has been formed to advocate for these values. Yet the argument by the hierarchy of the Lib Dems has been that they are fighting for Lib Dem values in Government. News papers across the country led with the headline ‘Liberal Democrats fighting for party’s values every day’ after Autumn Conference. So clearly something is not right.

So what is really going on for people in the party to feel like they want to quit, not support the party, or attack others in the party for disagreeing? Nick Clegg recently gave an interview to House magazine in which he said:

“Let’s be blunt: I am asking, day in day out, Liberal Democrat peers to vote on things that they wouldn’t do in a month of Sundays if it was a Liberal Democrat government.”

This should really be extended to anyone who is a member, supporter or voter to go along with what he would not expect if it was a Lib Dem Government. Roughly translated as ‘what we are doing, day in day out, is not representing our values’. This is causing a serious amount of tension.

A major bone of contention has been about priorities when it comes to values. All Lib Dems would probably agree in plural politics and Clegg has laid a stake in demonstrating that Coalitions can work in the UK. The issue comes at what stake to show this. Decisions that have been made have at times been perceived as harsh and even cruel to some. So maintaining the priority of making the Coalition work is in direct tension with other passionately held values. So while Clegg can argue that he is indeed upholding the values of the Lib Dems in Government, this is at the expense of other values, but he has made the decision that making the Coalition work is the most worthy of values, and probably politically beneficial in the long run. Others do not agree.

Interestingly, members who have been disillusioned with the decisions of the Lib Dems in Government have at times been buoyed by Chris Huhne. He has made some shrewd political gestures, even if he has not made many shrewd political relationships. His interventions, speeches and comments have hit the headlines and have resonated with many in the party. These events teach us a lesson.

The leader of the Lib Dems, or any party for that matter, is there to represent the values of the party most acutely. Nick Clegg is now the Deputy Prime Minister who represents the Government. This makes it extremely difficult for him to represent those values and, at times, has seemed confused as to where his loyalties lie (e.g. supporting Cameron the day after the EU summit) and has, at times, had to be led by others in the party (e.g. Shirley Williams on the NHS bill). Huhne served a very useful function in representing those values very well in Government (a fair amount of the time). So in many ways Nick Clegg is no longer the leader of the Lib Dems in the sense that we came to understand. What the Lib Dems lack is an effective voice for the values of the party and not just the values that are being represented in Government. Some may argue that Tim Farron should do this as Party president but I don’t think he is doing very well at this or the anxiety and tension would be much better contained as it has been at times (e.g. Huhne, Williams, Ashdown).

What the Lib Dems need when in Coalition is a senior position who has the permission of the Party to speak freely on behalf of the Party values. This means supporting the measures which represent the party values and criticising those which don’t. If this were in place, would there be a need for new groups to be popping up all over the place to represent some of the values the party represents. A well functioning party feels that all values are well represented, as they have been while we have been in opposition. Being in Coalition has changed things.

If we are not careful, the value of showing that Coalitions can work will destroy the value of unity. We need someone to bring that unity and it may be that this is not possible for the DPM to be that person.

Try not to become a man of success but a man of value – Einstein

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

The Guardian write Liberal Democrats can again enjoy the reflection in the mirror in which there is a robust defence of the Lib Dems and a hopeful picture for the future. It highlights some strengths in the Party which are worth reading:

Lib Dems, both in government and more widely, are a more resilient and coherent party than their critics generally allow. The Lib Dems … exist for reasons that still make sense…

the Lib Dems stand for priorities that are distinctly different from those of their Conservative partners… public opinion may be converging around a fusion of economic competence and social justice – in Lib Dem eyes, their natural territory… You can say what you like about Clegg and the journey on which he has taken his party. But the fact is that he is in the middle of proving that coalition governments can work.

The Lib Dem experience of government is undoubtedly traumatic. But it is a widely underestimated achievement, especially in such tough times. The result is that the Lib Dems are not just battle scarred but battle hardened. They have been through the fire – and survived.

In Praise of the Independent: Finding strengths in Chris Huhne

The Independent have been giving Chris Huhne some praise since he resigned which can be seen here:

In The end of the road? Even Huhne’s rivals aren’t writing him off:

Mr Huhne was regarded as an effective minister. Politicians and officials admired his “nerves of steel”, ability to “compartmentalise” and carry on as normal when the threat of prosecution hung over him since last May.

In Huhne is the missing green giant:

Huhne was so keen on the leader’s strategy that he differentiated himself from George Osborne in cabinet meetings. This earned useful headlines for a party whose presence in the Tory-led government is often forgotten.

In Praise of the Observer and the Guardian: Finding strengths in Chris Huhne

Following the resignation of Chris Huhne The Guardian and The Observer have had a number of positive things to say about Mr Huhne and have identified a number of his strengths that the Lib Dems will miss. Here are the highlighted sections:

The Guardian - Chris Huhne: most greens ‘think he has done well’:

Huhne has also won plaudits for his performances abroad, both in Europe, where he has attempted to build a coalition of member states to push for tougher EU-wide carbon targets, and in the long-running international climate change negotiations where he helped to broker a surprise global deal at the end of last year’s talks in Durban.

The Guardian - Chris Huhne’s departure changes cabinet dynamics:

But he had that indefinable big beast quality that put him on a par with Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, making him a voice on economics and Europe inside the cabinet to which people listened, even if they disagreed… In a year in which the pressure on the deficit reduction plan is likely to increase rather than decrease, his voice will be absent.

The Guardian - Chris Huhne: a taste of resignation:

Mr Huhne was a strong minister who ran his department well, stood bravely for the green agenda, and fought his corner effectively. It is to his credit that the UK is signed up to tough carbon emission cutting targets and that the green investment bank exists at all. He did a good job at the Durban conference and fought a strong rearguard action against Treasury efforts to weaken green goals in the face of recession and austerity… The second is that Mr Huhne also played an important role in the coalition cabinet as the voice of the more social democratic wing of the Lib Dem team, putting pressure not just on the Conservatives but on Mr Clegg.

The Observer - Why more of the Lib Dems now want to be like Chris Huhne:

To the Department of Energy and Climate Change, he brought a passion for the green agenda combined with the intellect and the clout to increase the influence of a department often previously dismissed as a bit of a Whitehall lightweight. It is to his credit that he fought tough battles to establish a green investment bank and sign Britain up to demanding targets for cutting carbon emission levels… Environmental groups fear that the cause, already under pressure at a time of austerity, has lost its most powerful voice within government… He was confident enough to challenge David Cameron and George Osborne across the cabinet table about their conduct during the AV referendum and to ridicule publicly the Tory leader’s veto that never was at the pre-Christmas European summit. It grew to suit Mr Clegg that Mr Huhne could pick fights with the Tories when he, as deputy prime minister, felt he had to be more careful about how far he could go… It is an ironic twist that Chris Huhne has left the ring just as his party moves more towards his pugilistic style of conducting coalition politics.

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