2nd Year of Praise for Lib Dem Ministers: Strengths of Lib Dem Ministers in 2nd year of being in Government

Another year of following the papers looking for positive news stories about the Lib Dem ministers has produced more praise for Lib Dem ministers. So Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, Steve Webb and Danny Alexander get praise for their efforts.

Vince Cable

The Guardian state that few politicians could manage contrition with Cable’s conviction as ‘he speaks human so well’.

The Guardian believed he speaks with authority on the economy and banking reform concluding ‘his prophet status has been restored’.

The Daily Telegraph believes that any serious and objective consideration of Mr Cable’s record in office shows that he has been a formidable Cabinet minister and an important ally of enterprise. They credit him for the recent small surge of inward investment into Britain and praise him for not grabbing all the credit. They see him as the moral centre of gravity for the Coalition and of British public life.

The Sun praise him for getting results in his job as Minister.

The Independent praise him for standing up to the Prime Minister over immigration, tax-cutting Tories, casino bankers, universities and Rupert Murdoch.

Chris Huhne

The Independent believe that Mr Huhne was regarded as an effective minister because of his “nerves of steel”, ability to “compartmentalise” and carry on as normal when the threat of prosecution hung over him.

The Independent highlighted that he earned useful headlines for a party whose presence in the Tory-led government is often forgotten.

The Guardian states that Huhne won plaudits for his performances abroad and that he had an 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 (see here).

The Guardian praised Huhne for being a strong minister who ran his department well, stood bravely for the green agenda, and fought his corner effectively. They also believe that he played an important role in the coalition cabinet as the voice of the more social democratic wing of the Lib Dem team.

The Observer said that 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.

The Independent admired Huhne for his work as Climate Change Secretary, but even more so as a staunch Cabinet defender of the ‘civilised values’

Even ConservativeHome praised Huhne for being one of the government’s most effective ministers

Steve Webb

The London Evening Standard praised Webb for being one of the best pensions minister we have had in a generation

Danny Alexander

The Daily Telegraph believe Alexander has become the Tories’ favourite Liberals, saying he has proved himself in combat.

The Guardian praised him for his ‘delicate negotiations’ with the trade unions over pension reform, saying ‘there is steel there, perhaps born of unselfconsciousness’.

Making sense of the differences in results across the country in the local elections

Winning elections is hard work and those in the Lib Dems know better than most how hard it is and as a party we are often faced with confusion about why we lost when we should have won. The recent local election results have produced generally very poor results with some exceptions in some areas and while some people put this down to the fact that we have a sitting MP in that area, this is misleading so it is worth looking at this in more detail to learn the lessons for all local parties.

It is true that in some areas where we have sitting MPs we had some good results in the local elections such as in Cheltenham where we picked up an extra councillor where we have Martin Horwood as the Lib Dem MP, or in Eastleigh where we picked up an extra 2 councillors where we have Chris Huhne as the Lib Dem MP. However, we lost 18 councillors in Cardiff where we have Jenny Willott as an MP and we lost 3 councillors in Cambridge where we have Julian Huppert as the MP, so the results are not uniform. So how do we make sense of the results?

The national picture is the same across all areas but how this is interpreted by each individual or community is very different. We see the Lib Dem vote holding up better in areas we were fighting the Tories than in areas we were fighting Labour. A Labour area will interpret the national picture in a much bleaker way than perhaps a Tory area and so we see a more damning result against the Lib Dems in these areas as we are in Government. Whereas in Tory areas the Lib Dems were not punished at the polls in the same way, in fact some areas even rewarded us. So we can start to see that the national picture is filtered by the regional picture.

We also see that in some areas the vote held up better than in other areas in similar regional climates i.e. Lib Dem v Labour areas or Lib Dem v Tory areas. I don’t have any firm stats on this anecdotal evidence but some are saying that where there were more conversations with local people, through conversations on the doorstep or via telephone, the vote held up better than in areas that ran a predominantly paper campaign. The research from the Get Out the Vote would certainly back this up which suggests that paper produces a minimal, or even negligible, improvement in voting while face to face canvassing produces an 8% increase in votes. So we can start to see that the regional picture is also filtered by the local picture.

This results in a way of understanding election results like this:

So we can see that in Cardiff, while we may have a sitting MP and had run the council, the regional and the local influences on the voters had a significant impact on the result than in say Eastleigh. Feeding in the differences in the different levels allows us to see the different influences on the voter. Clearly there will be additional influences such as friends and family in the local dimension or colleagues and local media in the regional dimension, but understanding the results through this will give a more accurate reason as to why some areas will have done well while others have not. It seems that having an MP is a bonus, or at least can be, if the local MP can help influence the regional and local dimensions. Sometimes they can if they are popular, work hard, and have a good team who communicate with the local people. But sometimes they don’t such as Lembit Opik who lost a fairly solid Lib Dem seat in the last election.

It will be better to compare similar regional and local areas than it will be to the compare against the generalisations of the national picture.

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 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.

In Praise of The Independent: Finding strengths in Chris Huhne, Vince Cable and Ken Clarke

The Independent write Somebody’s got to stick up for Chris Huhne… in which they offer some praise for not only Chris Huhne but also Vince Cable and Ken Clarke which is worth highlighting:

And what a shame for those of us who have come to admire the vulpine ultra-leaker not just for his work as Climate Change Secretary, but even more so as one of only three staunch Cabinet defenders (with Vince Cable and Ken Clarke) of the civilised values

Europe: If we are bold this is a chance to take 15% of Tory voters from the Tories

The Lib Dems have lost almost 50% of voters between elections only to pick up new voters to replace them. We have obviously been good at attracting new votes but not so good at retaining them. Now we are in Government it may be that this fact is our achilles heal? It is rare for a Governing party to attract new voters, let alone in significant numbers that we need. So what are we to do? Get more strategic.

The first Liberal party to be in Government that anyone can remember and we preside over a damaging position on Europe. But this gives us something to play with. We need to be more strategic over who we stand for and aggressively attract them to the party. We stand for all those in the country who want to see the UK as a strong member of the EU. We stand for those who believe in international co-operation to tackle issues which now transcend national borders. We stand for a strong EU in the world. So where are the people who believe this? Many already vote for the Lib Dems but many more vote for the Tories, Labour or the Greens. So helpfully we have a new poll which shows the views in the Tories:

Clearly those at the left end of the spectrum would fit well into the Lib Dems and they seem to match the 15% of Tory members who share Liberal Democrat concerns that there are dangers in being outside the EU’s inner group. So 15% of the Tory vote should be a direct target for the Lib Dems. We need to see some targeting of them in 2012.

So Chris Huhne’s call that the Tory right wants UK to be semi-detached member of EU was a good one. This focuses attention on the Tory position and gives legitimate fear to those who do not share this view with use of language such as ‘destroy the Union’. However, we would also be wise to take a critical stance towards the EU’s more ridiculous aspects to show that we are not anything-goes-EU plaudits.

It may be that 92% of the Tory party believe Cameron was right to use the ‘veto’ but 5% do not and 54% regard the veto as the start of Britain becoming “more detached” from the EU. This should be used to make those in the Tory party think about why they vote for the Tories. 15% of them should leave, they need to know why and where to go.


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.

In Praise of ConservativeHome: Finding stengths in Chris Huhne and the Lib Dems

We must thank ConservativeHome who have outlined very nicely how the Lib Dems are being very effective in government. They have given a breakdown of how the Lib Dems have stopped, prevented, or watered down some of the more right wing policies and pushed through some of the more green ones and made some policies much fairer. So their run down goes like this:

  • We have Nick Clegg in The Guardian arguing that the human rights laws are essentially sound… Cameron’s promise to Sunday Express readers looks impossible for him to meet.
  • Vince Cable has agreed to a controversial European directive to give agency workers the same rights as full-time employees of British companies
  • The big four centre right newspapers all agree that the Coalition is unlikely to fulfil Cameron’s promise to reduce net immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands.
  • The Chancellor hoped to frontload the spending cuts as Eric Pickles has done in local government. The Lib Dems said no – meaning pain is spread across the parliament.
  • Even if a renegotiation opportunity occurs the chances of Britain winning a very different relationship with Brussels are likely to be vetoed by Britain’s most pro-EU party.
  • Baroness Shirley Williams and other members of the Lords may yet further dilute Andrew Lansley’s reforms.
  • Repeated concessions [were given] to the Liberal Democrats [on tuition fees]

Under the post With every passing day the Liberal Democrats are dragging the Coalition further away from the Conservative manifesto they specifically highlight strengths in Chris Huhne:

Certainly if George Osborne had had his way the climate change measures announced by Chris Huhne would be a lot less costly to businesses. Reducing Britain’s carbon footprint is the lowest priority of the new generation of Conservative MPs but the arithmetic of the Coalition has tipped the balance in favour of unilateral action on global warming. Huhne may be unpopular with Tory activists but I’d suggest he was one of the government’s most effective ministers

Thank you ConservativeHome, this was very kind of you.

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?


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