Coalition 2.0 is dead: Questions we should be asking ourselves now

With news that the Coalition 2.0 is dead i.e. a new agreement outlining the Coalition Government’s agenda for the next few years because they have realized that “running the country is harder than they had thought”,  now is a good time to look at what our response should be for the next few years. Solution Focused questions can offer an interesting view on this.

From the voters’ point of view:

  • What pleased our voters since being in Coalition?
  • How did we do that?
  • How could we do more of that?
  • What first step can we take right now to make more of that?
  • Imagine our voters coming in and asking us straight what they really want. What would they ask?
  • How are we going to provide it?

From our members’ point of view

  • What pleased our members since being in Coalition?
  • How did the party do that?
  • How could the party do more of that?
  • What first step can the party take right now to make more of that?
  • Imagine our members coming in and asking us straight what they really want. What would they ask?
  • How are we going to provide it?

If the press are representative of public opinion (which they are not, but if they were) then this perhaps gives a good example of what some of the answers to the questions would be here, here and here. But time has moved on since then and I have noticed there has been a reduction in praise for the Lib Dems in the media since June 2011. Having said that Clegg does seem to have stepped up his game recently which seems to have been noticed by some so there is plenty to work from in answering these questions.

The problem the Lib Dems have is that generally we have a problem saturated narrative in the public. When I talk to people about the Lib Dems they immediately talk of the problems there are with the party, Nick Clegg or the Coalition. They talk about us having lost our voice and having got nothing out of being in Government. Now this is clearly not true but it is a dangerous narrative.

The party did start pushing our ‘wins’ more aggressively but it didn’t work, partly because people don’t care about policy, they care about how the story. What we need to show people is that there is a positive story to tell about the Lib Dems and answering these questions would go some way to showing what this story is. The NHS, Welfare and Higher Education Reform has dominated our story and this bears out on the doorstep.

It is time to show people we have a different story to tell.

Why the Lib Dems are behaving like narcissists*


Title has been changed (see below)

While it may be strange link to make, it is an important one. We may believe we are doing the right thing, but so do people who do horrific things. We need to keep ourselves in check.

Narcissists can come across as flashy and neat, with good interpersonal skills, charming glances, with an air of competence, self-assured behaviour and humour, however there is a darker side to these people. The narcissist is fixated on their image and activities are directed toward the enhancement of their image. The result of this is that a narcissist can be ruthless, exploitative, sadistic, or destructive to another person because they are so insensitive to the other’s suffering or feeling. But what characterises a narcissist above all else is the striving for power and control. Someone who feels superior to others needs to have some evidence and this manifests itself in gaining power and control, otherwise known as winning. See here for experts talking about being in a relationship with someone who is narcissistic.

So what has this got to do with the soldiers who act ‘immorally’ e.g. urinating on dead bodies or Abu Ghraib. It is difficult to comprehend why trained professionals would act in such a way but framed in terms of narcissism it can be seen very differently:

The connection between the overriding importance of winning, the denial of feeling, and the role of the image is most evident in warfare. Since victory or defeat is seen as a function largely in terms of life or death, there is no room for feelings. Soldiers function largely in terms of images. However, they retain their humanity by their feelings for a buddy or the squad members with whom they have personal contact. Without these feelings they risk becoming killing machines or going insane. A soldier is not a narcissist, but war forces him to act like one – Dr Lowen from Narcissism.

So the horrific acts make more sense when we see that soldiers act like narcissists, who can be cruel and abusive. The difference between a soldier and a genuine narcissist is that a soldier retains some form of humanity through a connection with his regiment/platoon/ friends. So what has this got to do with the Lib Dems?

Traits of narcissism could be seen in Margaret Thatcher and her demise, which will be remembered through the Poll Tax. Her belief that millionaires should pay the same as low income earners seemed cruel and out of touch yet as she could not empathise with people she failed to see a problem with the tax. Narcissists are often out of touch with reality and as they feel superior to others they feel they are born to lead. To compare a narcissist to healthy development we can see Thatcher’s behaviour more clearly:


Healthy Development


Self-confidence High outward self-confidence in line with reality An unrealistic sense of superiority (“Grandiose”)
Desire for power, wealth and admiration May enjoy power Pursues power at all costs, lacks normal inhibitions in its pursuit
Relationships Real concern for others and their ideas; does not exploit or devalue others Concerns limited to expressing socially appropriate response when convenient; devalues and exploits others without remorse
Ability to follow a consistent path Has values; follows through on plans Lacks values; easily bored; often changes course

The Lib Dems are not Margaret Thatcher but for many the Coalition Government has put forward plans to cut benefits for disabled children and cancer patients and Lib Dems Ministers and the party are seen as supporting it. When it went to the Lords only 5 rebelled (although many abstained). This has caused a depth of feeling similar to other issues such as tuition fees and other benefits caps. A feeling of disregard, unsympathetic and to many cruel. The story (i.e. perception) for many is that the Lib Dems are behaving as narcissists (Thatcher): feeling superior to what they really are, saying anything to gain power, showing no remorse for decisions made which affects people’s lives and a focus on their image rather than on what is good for the country (and them).

The reason why the Lib Dems are more like the soldiers than Thatcher is that the Lib Dems do have sound values and good reason for being in power. We do care about the decisions we make, it is just that in the situation we now find ourselves in, no one can see that. The decisions we are making are horrific to many. We may not be narcissists but being in Coalition is making us act like one. We need to show that we are not.

  • Keep a focus on our values and do not bend them to fit the situation.
  • Show genuine feeling for the people who are affected by the decisions we make.
  • Be prepared to stand up to things that will harm people.
  • Be prepared to take on criticism.
  • Abstaining is not a rebellion. Voting against is. If you want to show that you do not support something, own that decision. Abstaining will not show you care.

* the title has been changed, as the original title has caused offence. I should have realised it would, but I didn’t. I thank those who have left feedback and comments. All feedback, positive and negative, is taken on board.

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.

What if the Lib Dem Party was wrong and Clegg and the Tories were right? Academy schools could be a solution to poor education

The Academy schools programme has been a contentious issue for the Lib Dems. While the idea was introduced by an ex-Lib Dem turned Labour politician and now trumpeted by Tories, it has generally be opposed by most in the Lib Dems. Conference voted against the Academies policy, yet the Coalition Government went ahead with it and Nick Clegg argued for it. But the recent results suggest that maybe those in support of the Academies policy have a very good point?

There are some in the Lib Dems who are extremely opposed to the Academy plans

The coalition government is engaged in nothing less than a war on children, on young people and on education itself.

They suggest that the dismantling of the comprehensive system marks the death of an egalitarian ideal and that the Party has gone against the Lib Dem vision for ‘a good local school in every community’, funded centrally and administered locally.  Yet there are some who are in favour. It has been a battle between those who are supportive of the policy and those who are opposed which culminated in Conference voting against the policy while Clegg argued for it.

The evidence for Academies has always been a bone of contention with caveats and reasons attached to opposing arguments. However, in 2010 there were some good results in Academy schools. Now, in 2011 there have again been some good improvements. In fact we can compare the results against how the schools performed from when they were last under the Local Education Authority:

These results are only for the Harris Academies but it does show that improvements can be made where little improvement had been made previously. In fact there have been reports that Academies don’t just raise standards for the pupils that attend them, but also for surrounding schools, even as they lose pupils to the new academies. So there is an ever increasing body of evidence that perhaps this is a policy which does improve the achievements of the pupils who attend the schools (and potentially, and for some reason, of children in surrounding schools).

There are many things I don’t like about the policy and I have generally been against it. However, when I look at the results it does show a compelling story that change can happen, and happen quickly. If the end result is for children to have better qualifications, which will enable them to have more opportunities later in life, then these are the kind of results I would look for. Yet, the full effect of an ever increasing number of Academy schools will be unknown until it happens and there are some genuine concerns. However, results such as these do provide some promise. There is evidence elsewhere too that in areas of significant deprivation that Academies can significantly improve the children’s life chances.

While the Liberal may argue that this is a policy which is the death of an egalitarian ideal, perhaps we need to think whether we were ever close to that ideal anyway? For many in poorly performing schools, where most are then disadvantaged for the rest of their lives because of it, it seems strange to champion a system that wasn’t working; for them at least. Perhaps we need to drop the ideal and start with practicalities and the evidence? The issue the Lib Dems will find is that distancing themselves from a policy they have introduced, which then goes on to show some good results, will not be credited to the Party come election time. Clegg can say he championed the idea, but there are too many in the country now who don’t see Clegg as a Lib Dem.

So the ‘Lib Dems’ need a credible alternative that convinces people that their policy will improve education. Going back to the old system will no longer seem credible, perhaps we should look at the Academies programme and take the bits that work i.e. drive standards of education up, and address the concerns with it. Then add other bits that work to improve education, particularly in disadvantaged areas, and there are such ideas here or here.

Polls show mistrust in Lib Dem talent: Changes needed in Lib Dem mindset to gain electoral success

YouGov shows that the public do not believe that the Lib Dems are led by people of ‘real’ ability. This is a worry as the Lib Dems’ short and medium term future depends on the perceived success or failure of our role in the Coalition Government. So does our success in the Coalition Government depend on the perceived talent of the Lib Dems? Are there things which the Lib Dems could do which would improve the perception that they have talent?

This research from Harvard University may give us reason to worry

Chia-Jung Tsay and Mahzarin Banaji presented more than 100 professionally trained musicians with two profiles of two professional musicians, and a sample musical clip to listen to from each musician. The participants were then asked questions about how talented and successful they perceived the performer to be, and how willing they might be to hire this person. In fact, both clips were the same musical excerpt, and the profiles differed only in their mention of whether the musician had natural or learned talent. The results ultimately showed two effects: “We found even in experts and ostensibly professionally trained musicians, most of them could not tell that the recordings were the same. And on average, people seemed to prefer the ‘naturally’ talented individual, even when they said they believed hard work was more important than natural talent.”

While it may suggest that people may trust people more with perceived natural talent it does offer the Lib Dems a unique opportunity to show that they are indeed a different kind of political party. The research by Carol Dweck shows how this can be achieved. She distinguishes between two types of beliefs about human capabilities and traits. The first is what she calls a fixed mindset: those who see their capabilities as unchangeable and assume that how capable you are is largely determined by a natural talent which cannot be developed. The second belief is a growth mindset: those who view their capabilities as a potential which can be developed. Her research has shown the following differences:

A fixed mindset culture encourages internal competition, defensiveness and an emphasis on judging people. We don’t need to go far before we see this as the norm in political culture and the Lib Dems have fallen into the trap of this mindset too often. If we continue down this road then we will not learn the lessons we need to learn to improve our performance, the Government or the poll ratings.

A growth mindset culture encourages cooperation, openness and an emphasis on learning. By developing a growth mindset culture we will improve where we are now and we will be seen as different by the public. The Lib Dems campaigned on being different only to then begin to sound very much like the Tories or Labour because we fight and bicker in the same manner as they do. Nick Clegg often berates Labour and dismisses complaints. An open, plural politics is not based on berating other parties, it is based on learning from their mistakes, being open to why people want to vote for them and showing we care about their concerns. This can only be achieved with a growth mindset otherwise we preach to the converted – as we did in the AV referendum.

To develop a growth mindset we need to start seeing that criticism of the Lib Dems offers us lessons. We need to show that we are listening and taking action to improve. We need to show that we believe that we can learn and grow as a Political Party and that our ministers are able to do the same.

Feedback can be motivating or demotivating and the way we receive feedback influences how we think about our capabilities. Negative feedback can threaten people’s sense of competence and the relationship you have with them. Positive feedback supports people’s sense of competence, is motivating and supports relationships and performance. However, a fixed mindset will become defensive in the face of negative feedback which will not win over any voters and we will not learn from what they are saying. While a growth mindset will allow for us to listen to what the public are saying and learn and adapt showing our growing capability in Government.

The importance of this cannot be understated. The Labour Party were kicked out in part because the public believed they had run out of ideas i.e. closed with a fixed mindset. If we want to improve our perception in the public’s eye, if we want to improve our performance, and if we want to work better in Government (something we have not done for 60 years) then having a growth mindset will produce success and provide us with a strong political narrative come 2015:

We entered government for the good of the country. We made coalition work. We have done some things well and made many improvements. We have learnt from our mistakes and have shown we are capable of listening to the people and delivering strong and necessary reforms.

1 Year of Praise for the Lib Dems: Strengths of the Lib Dems in 1 year of being in Coalition

The Coalition has been a blessing and curse in equal measure for the Lib Dems. With few friends in the mainstream media the Party has struggled to gain traction on what it is doing in a positive light. There are frequent depressing and negative stories about the Lib Dems and what they are doing in Coalition and the opinion poll ratings have followed suit. However, there are at times some positive stories which highlight the strengths the Party has and the good that the Party is doing. I have charted these (not in any systematic manner) from the mainstream media and now present the strengths within the Party in 3 parts. Today we look at what has been said for the Liberal Democrats as a Party, then I will look at the strengths for Nick Clegg (Wednesday) and then Lib Dem Ministers (Friday).

This is a strengths based approach which looks at the strengths of the Party so that they can be used again, expanded and developed to increase the resources the Party can use in attempts to increase our electability. This is important considering we have no concentrated media power base and a significantly different situation than the Party has faced before i.e. having power. I present this information in the themes that have arisen: that coalition works, changes for the Lib Dems, achievements for the Lib Dems and putting a break on the Tories. The information is not highlighted in any chronological order as what is important is that it was worth mentioning by the mainstream media as a positive from the Party.

Coalition works

The Sunday Times believes that the party has prevailed on its coalition partner on many policies showing that coalition government works (see here).

The Financial Times has seen the Coalition as a successful project the Lib Dems are participating in believing that forging a coalition to deal with the country’s challenges was the responsible thing to do. They believe that the Lib Dems have made the two parties work together better than Labour did on its own and consider this a big achievement. They report that the record on several fundamental Lib Dem causes, such as civil liberties and engagement with Europe, is impeccable (see here).

Changes for the Lib Dems

The Guardian claim that Lib Dem members have proved themselves more resolute about the coalition than some expected (see here).

The News of the World comment that the Lib Dems, now they’re in government are being effective – but being hated for it (see here).

The Independent have started to prefer the grown-up Lib Dems to their student predecessors. They see the Party now as a more serious party, attuned to the complexities of government, and no longer just a populist party of protest. The believe the Lib Dems are genuinely trying to make the Coalition work and have earned the plaudits of their Tory ministerial colleagues. They also believe that the Lib Dems have succeeded in casting a liberal complexion over the Government having an influence in the Coalition disproportionate to the number of seats – or even the number of votes – they won at the election (see here).

The Independent also sees the benefits of being in power for the Lib Dems is that they are listened to and that the idea that the Lib Dems are a civilising force on those reactionary Tories will at least be part of the new mood music (see here).

The Observer see the Lib Dems finding a new constituency among centre-ground and swing voters, including some who have not taken them seriously in the past and have reluctantly voted Labour or Tory instead because they didn’t believe the Lib Dems had a chance (see here).

Lib Dem achievements

The Independent see some solid and distinctive Liberal Democrat achievements that the Party can accurately claim that, after many years of merely talking about Liberal Democrat reform, are now enacting (see here).

The Guardian believe that the Lib Dems can justifiably claim to have made a difference on civil liberties in contrast to the resistance from the Conservatives to social liberal reform (see here).

The Observer see the Lib Dems as a serious force in government with their influence as pervasive. They see that there is pressure to make allowances for the Lib Dems in every department and believe that this is a substantial shift in British politics and a healthy one. They see the Lib Dems as building a claim to have authored many other changes in policy and society (see here).

The Guardian remain of the view that, for all the mistakes, the Lib Dems have played a positive role and can continue to do so (see here).

Putting a break on the Tories

The Guardian see the Lib Dem presence in the government has quietly justified some of the faith that the newspaper placed in the party. They highlight the BBC avoiding full-blooded savagery and the Human Rights Act being spared as reasons. As well as on prisons and on drugs, they saw the Lib Dems helping liberal Tories prevail. They even believed that the squeeze on school funding will be less intense in poorer places, and the marketisation of higher education has been softened round the edges (see here).

The Daily Mail believe that quite a few of those who call themselves Tories are beginning to resemble Lib Dems (see here).

The Independent believe the influence of the Liberal Democrats on the Coalition has been growing, and exceeds what they might have expected on the basis of their relatively small number of seats. They see the Lib Dems as important and substantial partners, at times almost co-equals and the Lib Dem policy contribution as distinctive and significant. They believe that Clegg can credibly claim that in several areas his party has helped to make the Coalition more progressive and less reactionary than it might have been (see here).

The Independent believe the Lib Dems have added substance and softened edges to government policies in a way that goes beyond mere appearance (see here).

The Guardian believe that it is thanks to the coalition we now had a “pause” in NHS reforms and suggest that David Cameron should thank his lucky stars for Nick Clegg. The Guardian truly believe that this reflects the advantages of coalition government (see here).


Lord Ashcroft conducted an opinion poll to look at some of the changes in attitudes to the Lib Dems since the formation of the Coalition which I add here to compare with the news reports:

  • A large amount of Liberal Democrat voters are pleasantly surprised that the coalition is going so well, at least in the sense that the parties appear to be working together so harmoniously.
  • Nearly a third of those who seriously considered the Lib Dems in 2010 but decided not to now say that their opinion of the party has changed for the better.
  • For many of those who considered but rejected the Lib Dems, the party’s brand remains positive, and has in some respects been enhanced by its presence in the coalition
  • Large majorities agree that the party has shown it is “prepared to take real responsibility, not just oppose from the sidelines”, and that it is making “an important contribution to the government of Britain”.
  • the Lib Dems still “behave more reasonably than most politicians” and spend less time attacking (see here).

See Wednesday and Thursday for 1 year of strengths in Nick Clegg and Lib Dem Ministers according to the mainstream media.

In Praise of The Guardian: Finding strengths in the Lib Dems and Coalition

It may be rare these days but the Guardian does occasionally see some good coming from the Lib Dems and in the article today Ed Miliband shouldn’t crow. It’s time to move closer to Clegg they praise not only the Lib Dem stance on the NHS but also the Lib Dems in Coalition. Interestingly, this article comes right behind Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem position showing our strengths can still be seen when delivered right:

Had the Conservatives won an overall parliamentary majority, then the Lansley plan would have been rammed through. It is thanks to the coalition, and the hammering the Liberal Democrats got in the local elections, that we now have this “pause”. David Cameron should thank his lucky stars for Nick Clegg. We keep being told about the drawbacks of coalition government; sometimes we should reflect on the advantages.


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