A solution to the perception of the Lib Dems as a new nasty party: Time to get back to basics

It wasn’t long ago that Clegg claimed that we needed to own everything this government did. We couldn’t be in it and not own all the decisions because we wouldn’t get the credit for the things that worked but we would get blamed for the things which didn’t anyway. While this was a long time ago this hasn’t changed with Clegg asking Lib Dem ministers, MPs and Lords to vote for Coalition policies no matter how they fit with Lib Dem values. We are still owning everything and it is damaging the party.

You might say that we have differentiation now, which is true, but this seems to me to be Lib Dem politicians explaining how we are different to the public, but still owning all decisions the government makes. So we have tuition fees the Welfare Reform Bill, Health and Social Care Bill amongst others and we have owned the all while complaining about them in public. I understand why Clegg believed this was a necessary strategy but I wasn’t convinced. I even less convinced now and believe it is time to do something different.

Firstly, owning everything in government is clearly not working. In fact we could say that it is the opposite of working. We are owning decisions and Bills which no one in the party agrees with. This is a major reason why people are leaving or disillusioned with the party.

Secondly, there doesn’t seem to be any decision this government has made which will benefit the Lib Dems that we wouldn’t have owned anyway. What we are proud of in government are the policies which we have promoted for years. What we are ashamed of are the policies we have fought for years to only now support them on their way to the statue book.

Thirdly, what we had to offer when we came into government was our party, the values and the policies which stemmed from them and this should have been enough. Our views are not always mainstream but what we had was good enough. There is no benefit in owning anything extra and no one is giving us credit for doing so.

We might have seen Clegg calling the Health and Social Care Bill a Tory bill this conference so perhaps this is his admission that we do actually have to start differentiating what is what in government from now on. If we had called it a Tory Bill from the start perhaps our politicians would have been more sceptical earlier in the process? Perhaps we need to start calling other Bills Tory Bills. Everyone knows this is the case so let’s call a spade a spade.

We should own Lib Dem Bills rather than us having to argue that some ideas are ours. Watch how the Tories will ‘own’ the green agenda, the raising of the income tax threshold or the pensions rise. Watch how they will benefit from having us in Coalition with them. Differentiation needs to be wider than saying we are not Tories, it needs to show we are not Tories.

If Clegg wants to start changing public opinion about him and the party then he needs to start being more of a pain in the backside in government. Call a bad idea a bad idea and say we won’t support it. Call a Tory idea a Tory idea, even if it is a popular one. Our values are our values, even when they are not popular. Be proud of what is a real Lib Dem achievement and people might start listening again.

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.

In Praise of the Independent: finding strengths in Vince Cable and the Lib Dems

The Independent interview Vince Cable in Vince Cable: From hero to zero and back again: the vindication of Vince where they offer some strengths that Cable and the Lib Dems have which are worth highlighting:

Vince Cable is back… In the topsy-turvy world of Westminster politics, it’s the very issues that the so-called experts said would lead to Mr Cable’s downfall which are once again propelling him back to the pedestal where his fans think he belongs. He successfully stood up to the Prime Minister over immigration, tax-cutting Tories, casino bankers and lazy universities. And Rupert Murdoch, of course.

The Lib Dems have observed it [hacking scandal] all from the comfort of the moral high ground… As a result, the Lib Dems head to their conference in Birmingham next month in reasonably good shape.

The Lib Dems have had to grow up, and Mr Cable has found the transition into government tougher than most… And so he is. From hero to zero and back again.

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

The Guardian wrote this week Phone-hacking scandal shows why Britain needs the Liberal Democrats which highlights some strengths in the Lib Dems through the scandal which are worth highlighting:

as all three leaders look ahead to years of investigations, revelations and no doubt criminal convictions, there are good reasons for thinking that Nick Clegg is the man most likely to emerge with his reputation enhanced. For as both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition know, Clegg’s party is the only one of the three that hasn’t spent the last two decades trying to curry favour with Rupert Murdoch’s corrupt and hugely corrupting media empire. What is more, they were the only ones with the guts – though for most of the time not the power – to try to halt its remorseless advance.

Today, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Cable tapes, far from triggering the business secretary’s demise, may yet prove his salvation… Cable’s authenticity is bound to shine through. By the time the inquiries into News International’s activities have run their course, the business secretary’s reputation is likely to have been restored, his judgment – dismissed at the time as prejudice – fully vindicated.

1 Year of Praise for Nick Clegg: His strengths and achievements in 1 year of being Deputy PM

Following on from the post 1 Year of Praise for the Lib Dems: Strengths of the Lib Dems in 1 year of being in Coalition we now look at the strengths of Nick Clegg according to the mainstream media of the past year. Nick Clegg has had the biggest change in perception from the election campaign to today and much has been written about him – mostly negative. Yet there has been a surprisingly large amount of positive praise for Mr Clegg too backing up Stephen Tall’s idea that Nick Clegg is not an unpopular politician but a divisive one.

Again I have split these up into the themes that have come out: leadership, competence, principled and standing his ground. These strengths are a good base for him to build on and improve his standing in the perception of the public.


The Daily Telegraph believe that David Cameron can learn from Nick Clegg about leadership and that Clegg must get credit for delivering for the party and doing what was politically painful (see here).

The Daily Mail praise Clegg’s leadership for the formation of the Coalition and for supporting the Government’s economic policy (see here).

The Guardian writes Nick Clegg is making a real difference saying he has responded decisively to the party’s democratic will by standing against parts of the NHS reforms (see here)

The Observer highlights that Nick Clegg’s personal poll ratings for decisiveness and resilience have gone up and people continue to place him in the centre of the political spectrum, the location where most voters put themselves.


The Independent praise Nick Clegg’s simple and direct language in his speech at Conference concluding ‘Clegg knows what he is doing – quite unusual for a leader of a party’ (see here).

The Daily Telegraph believe that Clegg is an honourable and strong politician, who has acquitted himself with shrewd judgment and considerable courage (see here).

The Guardian praise Nick Clegg’s speech on libel laws as a thoroughly good thing, important in timing and content and say that the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition is effective (see here).

The Daily Telegraph believe Mr Clegg is transforming from a politician of opposition to a politician of government and believe that voters will reward him in 2015 (see here)

The Guardian has praise for Nick Clegg’s speech for ‘its successful intellectual and trade exchange’, saying he was convincing and asking harder questions than before (see here)

The Daily Telegraph interviews Lord Tebbit today who believes Nick Clegg has pushed his agenda hard and is more politically motivated than Cameron (see here).


The Independent praise Nick Clegg for being more daring than Labour to narrow inequality and improve social mobility and more robust on bankers’ bonuses than Cameron/Osborne (see here)

The Guardian praise Nick Clegg for his consistency on the freedom bill and saw it as a product of optimistic liberalism (see here).

The Independent praises Clegg as a committed public figure who at times has fought assiduously behind the scenes for fairer policies which are braver and more progressive than those attempted half-heartedly by the previous Labour government. They see his objectives for improving social mobility as almost revolutionary. They say he is a radical constitutional reformer who is incomparably more progressive about crime, prison reform and banks than Labour was in government (see here).

Standing his ground

The Independent praise him for genuinely making Tory policies better (see here).

The Guardian identifies that Clegg is starting to stand up to Cameron (see here).

The Daily Telegraph worries about the influence Nick Clegg has on the government suggesting ‘while Mr Clegg looks like a loser in public, he is actually winning the policy debate: in the most fundamental areas of his programme, Mr Cameron shows every sign of surrendering to the Lib Dems’ (see here).

See Friday for the strengths the mainstream media see in Lib Dem Ministers.

Developing messages to maximise the most likely to vote Lib Dem

The Lib Dems increased the number of people voting for the party at the General Election but did not manage to keep as many MPs. A peculiarity or an opportunity to improve our campaigning?

This graph shows where the support went compared to the 2005 General Election and we can see that the Lib Dems did best where they were neither first nor second in the race and in fact increased their share of the vote most prominently where the Conservatives were in the lead. So for all the talk of tactical voting in the newspapers did not increase the Labour vote in these seats and the progressive vote went to the Lib Dems even through they were unlikely to win the seat.

In fact where the Lib Dems gained votes, it made very little difference to the outcome. So maybe it is not the number of votes that count as much as where your votes are. Something Chris Rennard knew very well and implemented a targeted campaign strategy to focus on the most winnable seats. This now looks like a very good strategy.

So given that the extra people who voted Lib Dem at the election were where the Lib Dems were in third place what does that say about the Lib Dem vote? Well from the graph we can see that the Tories and Lib Dem picked up votes from ex Labour voters so it is the Labour voters who need to be won over. A targeted approach in elections with a national message to soft Labour votes would maximise the Lib Dem vote.

A simple, cost effective, education policy which will significantly reduce social inequality: reduce school holidays

Cover of "Outliers: The Story of Success&...

Cover of Outliers: The Story of Success

One of Nick Clegg’s main drives is the reduction of social inequality and the education policy of the Lib Dems has long sought to even the balance of the performance gap between the rich and the poor children. However, there could be some very simple strategies which could make a big difference in this area.

Patterns of social inequality from generation to generation have often left policy makers and researchers looking at the educational system. Children from disadvantaged family circumstances don’t perform as well academically as do those from more advantaged families, and later, when they embark on careers or seek employment, their academic qualifications and credentials carry less value. This helps perpetuate historic patterns of advantage and disadvantage.

The ‘achievement gap’ is a phenomenon that has been observed over and over again, and can produce 2 reactions. One that disadvantaged kids don’t have the same inherent ability to learn as children from more privileged backgrounds i.e. they are not as smart. Or that in some way our schools are failing poor children: we simply aren’t doing a good enough job of teaching them the skills they need. The first produces a system based on selection and streaming the second produces an authoritarian policy to give children the same teaching. Neither work.

In the book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell he highlights the work of Karl Alexander who has done a lot of research into the educational system what makes some succeed and others not. His work has resulted in some very interesting results.

By testing students he was able to see how quickly more privileged children were able to out perform more disadvantaged children, confirming what has been observed on many occasions. However, by testing at the beginning of the school year and the end he was able to see the improvement of the students on their scores. What he found was that there was no difference in students ability to improve on their score from the beginning of the school year to the end but he found that more privileged children continued to improve over the summer months of school holidays improving their test scores when they returned to school. The disadvantaged children did not improve over the summer months. This led Gladwell to conclude:

poor kids learn nothing when school is not in session… virtually all of the advantage that wealthy students have over poor students is the result of differences in the way privileged kids learn while they are not in school.

Clearly this has some potentially important implications. Gladwell goes on to look at academies in poor areas of America where they work for longer hours and for more weeks of the year and produce children with excellent academic achievement, confirming that schools do in fact work and that given the chance to learn children from more disadvantaged areas can achieve good results.

An enormous amount of time is spent talking about reducing class size, rewriting curricula, buying every student a shiny new laptop, and increasing school funding – all of which assumes that there is something fundamentally wrong with the job schools are doing. Schools work. The only problem with school, for the kids who aren’t achieving, is that there isn’t enough of it.

Maybe we need to start looking at some more simple methods of reducing inequality. Reducing the length of the school holidays.

Improving local campaigning: How to motivate your volunteers so they are more effective campaigners

The Barnsley by-election result has given the Lib Dems much to think about and it gives some interesting lessons for local parties where there are limited resources. Local politicians campaigning have the unenviable task of trying to get other people to adopt particular goals. Without activists supporting the campaign plan, the campaign will not succeed. However, if you want your volunteers to live up to their full potential, it’s not enough that they do what you tell them to. Again and again, studies show that the greatest motivation and most personal satisfaction comes from those goals that we choose for ourselves.

Self-chosen goals create intrinsic motivation, the desire to do something for its own sake. When people are intrinsically motivated, they enjoy what they are doing more and find it more interesting and are more likely to persuade voters and leave a good impression on potential voters. They persist in the face of difficulty – just look at Dominic Carmen

“There is much to be learned from the people of Barnsley and, despite the insults, it’s valuable experience. Would I do it again? Of course. If you believe passionately in something … then you ignore the personal abuse and fight your corner at all costs.”

Autonomy is particularly critical when it comes to creating and maintaining intrinsic motivation. But in a campaign, goals have to be assigned. So what can local campaign teams do?

It turns out that it isn’t so much actual freedom of choice that matters when it comes to creating intrinsic motivation, but the feeling of choice which gives us some options:

  • Explain why the goal they’ve been assigned has value. Too often, people are told what they need to do, without taking the time to explain why it’s important, or how it fits into the bigger picture. No one ever really commits to a goal if they don’t see why it’s desirable in the first place. Don’t assume the why is as obvious to people on your team as it is to you.
  • Allow your volunteers to decide how they will reach the goal. The freedom to tailor their approach to their preferences and abilities will also give them heightened sense of control over the situation, which can only benefit performance. If you can’t give them total free reign, try giving them a choice between two options for how to proceed.
  • Invite your volunteers to make decisions about peripheral aspects of the task. For those who have to attend meetings where the goals are predetermined, choices such as the topic of the meetings or even what kind of lunch will be ordered, create a feeling of choice. Even when the choices aren’t particularly meaningful or relevant to the goal itself, they can add to a person’s motivation about the task.

An excellent example of this has been Gisela Stuart in the General Election. Sure she would lose, she gave her volunteers tasks and told them they could do it how they wanted and asked them to come up with ideas of their own. With a small volunteer group she managed to buck the swing away from Labour and win the seat. She showed that motivating your small activist base is a an excellent tactic and one the Lib Dems could learn from.

In Praise of the Independent: Finding stengths in Nick Clegg

Following Clegg’s speech at conference the Independent give him a good review and show that there are some out there who see he has some strengths

Instead of running the same tsunami footage over and over again, BBC News would have done better to broadcast the Lib Dem leader’s speech in full. For Clegg actually made quite a strong fist of defending his part in the Coalition. Of course, he didn’t get all he wanted on tuition fees, but had he gone into coalition with Labour, he would have faced exactly the same problem. It was Labour that first brought in the fees, and Labour that commissioned Lord Browne to suggest ways of increasing them. As Clegg admitted in his Q&A session with activists on Saturday, the Lib Dems were in a pretty weak negotiating position…

As long as he chooses his battles carefully, he genuinely can make Tory policies better.

In Praise of The Guardian: Finding strengths in Nick Clegg & Lib Dems

Highlighting what is working well is an important part of the solution focused approach. Today the Guardian finds areas to praise Nick Clegg’s speech and admits that the Lib Dems are making a difference in this coalition:

It takes a certain generosity of spirit to defend the rights of those who attack you. Nick Clegg did just that yesterday in an ambitious, almost boastful, speech which promised many worthwhile things, but most noticeably the rewriting of Britain’s warped libel laws. “The test of a free press is its capacity to unearth the truth, exposing charlatans and vested interests along the way,” he said. Some voters, sore about the coalition’s creation, may count Mr Clegg among those who have been so exposed, but they should pause and give him credit for championing a cause of importance and little likely political reward. In this instance, at least, the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition is effective… his speech was a thoroughly good thing, important in timing and content.


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