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.

Differentiation is not working: We need to give people the Lib Dem bigger picture

It seems recently politics has turned into a bit of a scrap. The EU referendum debate has created a few crossed words and political posturing. The idea to scrap employment legislation caused a few more. And the so called Plan B for the economy has caused yet more. It leaves the public with a sense that there is no real plan on any issue and that all parties are out to get what they can from every opportunity. The differentiation strategy was a partial success but perhaps this differentiation strategy is now feeding into this perception of opportunism and a lack of unity in politics? We have seen our opinion poll ratings drop back down to the lows that got everyone panicked not that long ago. So what now for the Lib Dems?

The idea of differentiation was to show the public that we are not Tories. This was certainly needed at a time when we were recording lows in the polls we haven’t seen for over 20 years. There was a period where the polls picked up a bit after some good speeches by Clegg on some issues. But things have deteriorated again. Not that we should necessarily follow the polls but they are an indication of the public’s perception at the time. We can safely assume the perception of the Lib Dems is not that great at the moment.

Perhaps differentiation has had a knock on effect. While it has shown that Lib Dems are not Tories and the Coalition shows that we are not Labour, there is now a greater sense of urgency for all different factions of the parties to get heard. This offers some opportunities as well as threats for the Lib Dems. We could use the Tory right as an example of how the Tories are not a united party and stake a bigger claim to the centre ground and try to persuade more to vote for us that way. But it could also look like a Government that has no unity in a time of world economic crisis. In such times people revert back to type – Labour, Tory or Protest (which we are no longer).

So you could argue that the differentiation strategy is not working. Perhaps it is because we forgot another important element in the differentiation strategy. Currently the strategy looks like the Lib Dems arguing with the Tories over specific issues. The issue depends on the day. This is fine but fails to connect with the electorate, who generally hate the arguments in politics, as it is not tied into the bigger picture – if differentiation is to work, it needs show what the Lib Dem future would look like so people can see why we are different to the other parties not just that we don’t agree on some issues.

In the solution focused approach this is called the future perfect  – what does your future look like if all the problems are gone. The strength of this is that it allows people to see where you are trying to get. If what we want is actually the same as the Tories or Labour then there is no differentiation between us except how to do it, and if that is the case there is no point in being a separate party. So we need Ministers, MPs and the larger air war to start letting people know what a liberal future for the UK looks like:

What does the liberal future look like for the UK? If we were in power for the next 20 years what would our country look like? What would be different? How would people tell we had been in government for 20 years? We need some more big thinking thrown into our differentiation strategy so people can connect with it, because they are not connecting with the arguments.

Polling of Tories on Lib Dem ministers: Danny Alexander more a Tory than Ken Clarke?

Ken Clarke

Image via Wikipedia

ConservativeHome have undertaken a poll on how popular Conservative and Lib Dem ministers are with the Tories which makes for interesting reading. Nick Clegg is no longer seen as one of the Tories and appears near the bottom along with Ken Clarke, while Danny Alexander makes it higher than many Tory MPs.
So Nick Clegg has gone down in the eyes of Tory members but up in the eyes of Lib Dem members. Considering Cable and Huhne have been doing well in the eyes of Lib Dem members I guess this is a good think? Interestingly Ken Clarke is down with the Lib Dem ministers, suggesting that the Tories see him as Lib Dem at heart? Now would be a good time to ask him to join the Lib Dems.

Clearly he would say no but the more he is marginalised by Tories the more they marginalise what he stands for, which is centrist and liberal principles (One Nation). If we want centrist voters to vote for us we need to be seen as the home of centrist policies, people and ideas. Asking him will show we are open to people joining us and it will show the ideas he represents belong with us.

As for Danny Alexander, does his high rating among Tories mean he is doing a good job or a bad job? If he were doing a good job in the eyes of Lib Dems would he not be further down the list? If he were more centrist would he not be disliked more than he is? It is difficult to see what he is doing that differentiates him from Tories so the perception is that he more a Tory than Ken Clarke. He needs to take some lessons from Clarke and Huhne perhaps?

More and more believe cuts are not necessary in current shape and form: Experiments which show this is very worrying for the Lib Dems

This Government, and by association the Lib Dems, will be judged on the economy and more specifically the cuts. Opinion on the cuts has always been divided but as we are now fully signed up to the cuts, they have to be seen to be good for the country in the long run if we are to have any credibility in future elections. But it won’t be whether they are good for the country it will be whether people think they are. How people think about the cuts and the Government’s economic policy is what will make or break us as a party and there are some interesting psychological experiments which may teach us a thing or two about what to do.

UKpollingreport outlined the themes in the public opinion of the cuts earlier this year

  • 62% thought they were being done unfairly
  • 50% of people now think the cuts are too deep, compared to only 27% who think they are about right
  • 58% think they are being done too quickly, compared to 26% who think the speed is about right
  • Only 34% of people think they are good for the economy, with a majority 51%, thinking they are bad.

And suggested a trend since the General Election 2010: that the proportion of people blaming the government for the cuts is growing. This is worrying as an experiment by Kurt Gray at Harvard University about pain shows. He took participants and gave them electric shocks and asked them to evaluate the experience on a scale ranging from one (not at all uncomfortable) to seven (extremely uncomfortable). He was looking into what effect their thought on how it had been administered had on their perception of pain.

Half the time, the participants were told that their partner had chosen to shock them. The other half they were told that their partner had chosen not to shock them, but that the experimental protocol meant they had to do it. The participants who thought they had been intentionally shocked rating the pain higher than those who thought it was given unintentionally. However, they also found that the apparently unintentional shocks hurt progressively less as the experiment went on, whereas those perceived as deliberate continued to hurt as much.

What this implies is that when people think that pain is given on purpose the experience of pain is greater and non-diminishing, while when the perception is that it is not given on purpose the pain is not as painful and reduces as time goes on. Now this has nothing to do with politics but it is an interesting experiment. There are many who talk about the pain of the cuts and whether these are necessary, too deep and too fast. For those who think that the cuts are not necessary, and the charge is that this is ideological, then they may well experience the pain of the cuts more deeply and for longer than those who think they are necessary. These people will blame the Government.

The problem is that the trend is that more and more people are seeing the cuts as ideological and not necessary in the speed and amount. More people are seeing that the Government are doing this on purpose to them. This is particularly true for certain groups such as people with a disability and women.

The debate as to whether this is necessary or not was strong in 2010, however, since then there has not been as much emphasis on this. Perhaps this is because people think it will calm down? People will get used to it? Well, they won’t if they think this has been done to them when it was not necessary in the shape and form it was delivered in. We should not back down from this debate. We should keep it up. Because either it is necessary and right in the form we have chosen or it is not. And if it is not, then most Lib Dem voters won’t vote Lib Dem come 2015. What we need is for the country to understand that this is necessary and right; at the moment public perception is going in the wrong direction.

The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven – John Milton (poet)

In Praise of The Guardian: Collected praise for the Lib Dems from conference

Having been at conference I have missed much of the press coverage and so I will try to put anything worth noting which highlights strengths in the Lib Dems together for the period:

Nick Clegg’s speech was solid, well delivered and made good sense… The party leader even dared to unveil a new persona: a tough, macho style Lib Dems have not enjoyed since Paddy “kill with his bare hands” Ashdown was in charge (see here)


But the insistence on a political agenda rooted in civil liberties, internationalism, human rights, political reform, responsible capitalism and fighting climate change is a powerful reminder of the Lib Dems’ uniqueness too (see here)


A better than usual conference speech from Nick Clegg who sounded like a man who has learned a lot the hard way this past year and matured in the process (see here)

There is no argument. The Liberal Democrats and their leader, Nick Clegg, have played a political blinder this past 18 months. They have kept a British coalition government in being against all odds, with no sign of it collapsing in the near future. Nor have the Lib Dems just sustained a regime, as they did some governments, Tory and Labour, in the 1920s and 1970s. They have palpably had a restraining influence on it. They deserve recognition at least for this (see here)

the Lib Dems have always been a more resilient party than rivals often give them credit for… They have also proved extraordinarily disciplined. This is one thing that people have consistently underestimated about the Lib Dems. Another is how much they have taken to power… Since the spring, Mr Clegg has made an increasingly aggressive effort to reassert his differences with the Conservatives (see here)

Things didn’t turn out that way but nonetheless this government has probably been improved by the Lib Dem presence: the more the Nadine Dorries wing protests its party is held hostage, the more the Lib Dems can bask in that claim. Certainly, the last Labour government would have been improved by coalition with them: no Iraq; no imprisonment without trial; civil liberties upheld (see here)

But what a cock-up to walk in to, with No 10 being forced into a body swerve within a few days to prevent abortion getting caught up in the partisan fray. The only person who came out of it with any seeming credit was Clegg, after it emerged that he would be leading the bulk of the government’s troops in the lobbies against the move (see here)

A solution focused interview with the Deputy Prime Minister

Some may be aware that I interviewed Nick Clegg recently and I have written this up as an interview here. However, this blog is about marrying the solution focused approach to politics and I styled my interview on solution focused questioning. I will therefore write up the interview explaining and discussing this from the SF point of view, which I think actually gives some interesting answers.

A key component of the SF approach, and the most famous technique, is the scaling question. It can be a powerful tool to gain specific and detailed information about how to improve your situation. I therefore wanted to use this with Clegg and see if it could be a useful tool with politicians. My premise was that the perceived relationship the electorate has with Nick Clegg is an important component of the success of the Lib Dem party come election time. PoliticalBetting has pointed out on numerous occasions that the best

pointer to the eventual outcome [is] the leader ratings [which are] far better than the voting intention polling

So first we need a base line. How does Clegg see his standing with the electorate? So the question started with ‘on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is that your relationship with the electorate is as good as it could be and is seen very positively and will lead the party to the best result and 0 is that your relationship with the electorate is seen as toxic and will be very bad for the party and you personally, where would you say it is on the scale?’

This would have given us an idea as to how he judges this at the moment. Such a question leads us to own our judgements, which is a powerful process in itself. However, he is a politician and the last time he gave a number he got into a lot of trouble so this was his answer:

I’m not going to give you a number because it think it is a completely artificial and synthetic way to grade something which is quite delicate actually, quite nuanced and quite different actually, so sorry I’m not going to give you a number. I don’t know how you can quantify this, I don’t work like that but I can give you my characterisation and then you can put a number on it.

So Clegg didn’t want to give a number and maybe this is wise politics but it is not engaging with the SF approach. But then we he has a right not to answer if he doesn’t want to. His main point in the characterisation was this:

the relationship between ourselves and the country has been very badly damaged over the last year and a half

So I went around the conference asking people where they thought the scale would be to which most people said 3 or 4 – so I’ll go with that as our scale. He then asked if it was recoverable, to which his answer was yes, he believed it was. The solution focused answer would also be yes, that wherever you are on the scale you can improve and move up the scale so long as you know how.

So considering he was saying that his relationship with the country could ‘recover’ (his choice of word) my next question was ‘in the future when this relationship has recovered, what will the nation see you or the party doing differently?’ His answers were:

  • It will be different
  • They will come to respect what we do
  • There will be a fair minded respect
  • Best possible motives
  • Their [Lib Dems] hearts are in the right place

I clarified the question a little more as the question asked what he would be doing differently or what the party would be doing differently and his answers where what the nation would be doing differently. So I said ‘what would people see you or the party doing differently, specifically’. His answers were similar:

  • Now I understand what their motives are
  • Now I respect what they’ve done

His focus was again on what the nation would be doing differently, which was that they would be listening to what we are saying, rather than what he would be doing differently. I therefore went with where he was at rather than pushing this and asked the question ‘what can we do differently to get people to listen more, how do we as a party, or you as a leader communicate to the public so that they can listen to what is being said, in specific terms’, to which he said:

  • Make ourselves available
  • knock on doors
  • a lot of face to face stuff
  • speak in plain and simple terms
  • travel around the country talking to people
  • him to give people a script they can use on the door step

So while the interview seemed a little messy, there was limited time, and he had a lot of political points that he wanted to get over, I felt we ended up with a pretty good indication as to what he thinks needs to happen to start improving in the polls:

Which makes a lot of sense if we look at what works in political campaigning, which is – the ground war always wins so get people out knocking on doors and speaking to people and you are in with a better chance than any other method. Clegg is a man who knows his politics and the solution focused interview got out what he thinks we need to do as a party specifically, and I don’t think I have heard him talking about this stuff much in other interviews. So it could be possible that with more time and more SF questions we could end up with a very different message from our politicians?

I would love to know what other people think of this interview and for people to critique my interview from an SF point of view (if you know SF) so I can learn how to improve my interviewing with such a short amount of time.

Poll: Did Clegg’s speech make you want to go out and knock on doors?

Nick Clegg said that the conference should be judged on whether Lib Dem members said at the end of the conference that they would start going out to knock on doors again; that he had given them a script to say and made them feel that they wanted to start talking to people again. So was Nick Clegg’s speech a success? Here is a poll to test the success of his speech:

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

The Guardian write Evan Harris is a more powerful Liberal Democrat out of parliament than inside in which it highlights some strengths in Evan Harris and the Lib Dems which are worth highlighting:

Evan Harris, the bright-eyed former MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, is becoming living proof that a former MP can indeed be as influential outside parliament as inside… freed from the day to day pressures of an MP, he has used his first hand knowledge of parliament, status within the Liberal Democrats as a policy vice chairman and the leverage provided by the Lib Dem presence in the coalition to great effect. He is also a beneficiary of the fact that the Liberal Democrats have a policy-making and recognisably democratic conference.

Should the Scottish Lib Dems split from the UK Party?


Image via Wikipedia

An idea floating around the Scottish  Tory Party is that to become electable in Scotland they need to break away from the Conservative Party and become a new right wing party for Scotland. A radical solution for their poor performance. However, it also raises some interesting points for the Lib Dems and whether the Scottish Lib Dems may benefit from being a separate Party.

Scotland is important territory for the Lib Dems for many reasons. One being that the march of the Labour movement in the early 20th century did not manage to become the main party in the outer edges of the UK. These became stronghold Liberal areas and so are now historically and strategically important to the Lib Dems. We can see that the Lib Dems secured 18.9% of the vote in the General Election 2010 and Scotland represents about 20% of the Lib Dem MPs.

However, a recent opinion poll gave the Lib Dems 6% – 13% less than at the General Election. While it is hoped that this will improve I struggle to see the Scottish Lib Dems securing near the last General Election result. What we are seeing is that the SNP are stealing a march on the Lib Dems as the left wing party of Scotland in the traditional Liberal areas. Their current poll rating is 42% – up 22% from 2010 General Election.

The Lib Dems have long advocated for devolution of power and have been instrumental in working towards this. Scotland is a very different place to England in many ways and the political culture is very different. Scotland enjoys 3 large left of centre parties and one right of centre. This is a very different picture to England where Labour had to move to the right to secure votes. How does the Lib Dem Party represent the voice of Scotland being in a centrist Government, which is seen as a right of centre Government by most on the political left. The answer it seems, from the population, is that it doesn’t.The Lib Dems are therefore at serious danger of losing a key Liberal stronghold, and a significant part of the party’s Westminster representation.

The Liberal Democrats are allied to the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland rather than setting up a Northern Ireland Lib Dems for a number of reasons not dissimilar to the situation we have in Scotland – other than NI does not hold as strategically and historically significant support. The case for a separate Scottish Liberal Party has long been made. In a world where an appetite for an independent Scottish voice is every growing, the Lib Dems can ill afford not to capitalise on this to secure their support.

In Praise of the Daily Telegraph: Finding strengths in the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg

The Daily Telegraph write Why power is shifting to the Lib Dems today in which they highlight some strengths in Nick Clegg which are worth reading:

Nick Clegg has worked out how to use the Government machine – and that’s bad news for the Right

Is Lib Dem influence on the rise within government? Indeed it is. Partly, this is the result of a change in strategy — but it’s also because Nick Clegg is getting better at being Deputy Prime Minister. The Liberals had been out of power for 70 years, and it’s taken a little while for Clegg in particular to get to grips with how government works. During the early months of the Coalition, senior Tories saw Clegg’s office as dysfunctional, lacking the machinery to impose its will on ministers and departments, which suited the Conservatives perfectly. Now, however, Clegg has learnt the tricks of the Whitehall trade. Parts of the Civil Service have come to see him as a useful ally, and are giving him the support and advice that he needs to block Tory ministers’ plans.

Since May’s electoral setbacks, Clegg has enjoyed a few good months. His party has remained largely loyal and united. He was seen to win the high-profile battle over the NHS reforms… Tory MPs complain that Clegg is using his new confidence to pull the Coalition towards the Left


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