2nd year of praise for Nick Clegg: His strengths in his 2nd year of being DPM

A key part of the solution focused approach is learning from what works but there is a significant difficulty in learning about what is working. Sometimes it is not obvious. Sometimes it works for a while and then it stops working. So when I started this blog I have scanned the papers pretty much every day for stories about the Lib Dems to see if there was anything that was being said about the party, or people in it, which has gained praise. This will highlight what the mainstream media believe the party is doing well with the hope that we can see what is working for us. Almost 1 year ago I posted the summary of the first year of this in the posts:

Another year has passed and I have continued to scan the papers. This isn’t a strict methodological approach, it depends on how much time I have had, which varies. But this gives a flavour of what has been seen as positive for Nick Clegg, the Lib Dems and Lib Dem Ministers. I will post the other 2 this week but this is the post for Nick Clegg.

The themes that came up this year were in relation to his skill as a politician, which has developed since he became DPM; his bravery in the positions he has taken; and his principled stances relating to being a liberal. I will give an analysis of what we can learn and what we can do differently in a week or so but here is the summary of the 2nd year of praise for Nick Clegg:

Skilled

The Independent believe Nick Clegg has the knowledge, the experience and the vocabulary to speak not just with conviction and sympathy, but in a way that can be readily understood. They say this makes him unique as a senior British politician.

The Guardian started to think that Nick Clegg was getting the hang of power-sharing saying he found found a more effective voice with which to articulate Lib Dem hopes, fears and achievements.

The Guardian praised Clegg for putting on a good show at Conference saying he tamed the party through his usual, smart three-step process of empathy-values-action and concluded with ‘is Clegg an improvement on Campbell? Immeasurably.’

The Independent praises Clegg for regularly highlighting distinctive contributions from the Lib Dems, managing the balance between distinctiveness and Coalition unity, and more effectively than before. They state that he is in a stronger position as for the first time in decades the Lib Dems command attention and wield power.

The Daily Mail believe Clegg has Cameron under his control, preventing him from taking decisions that Conservatives think are necessary.

The Observer praise Clegg for being a cunning manipulator who has David Cameron wrapped around his little Lib Dem finger.

The Daily Telegraph state that Nick Clegg has worked out how to use the Government machine, which is bad news for the Right. They believe that the Lib Dem influence is on the rise within government because Nick Clegg is getting better at being Deputy Prime Minister. They say Clegg has now learnt the tricks of the Whitehall trade where 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.

The Daily Telegraph believe that ‘Prime Minister David Cameron’s Liberal Democrat deputy has quietly emerged as the more successful Whitehall operator’. They state that he is ‘a very cool operator indeed’ where the Liberal Democrats’ achievements in the negotiations on the Coalition agreement were impressive and not in what the party gained but what he has blocked and state that ‘whatever happens, Clegg will be in the midst of it – polite, influential, under-scrutinised and enduring as ever, despite the opprobrium heaped on his head’.

The Guardian praised Nick Clegg for delivering a polished performance – more relaxed and less defensive or self-righteous than he has often been this past year of high office

Alistair Campbell even praised Clegg for having learnt the lessons of the early days of government.

Brave

The Daily Telegraph state that he is a better and braver politician than his poll ratings indicate

The Independent praise him for showing more boldness, with well-timed speeches which worked on many levels

The Guardian praised Clegg for ‘bravely’ opening budget negotiations in broad daylight, saying that at the very least he is developing the discourse in a positive way.

The Daily Telegraph praised Clegg for an impassioned and impressive defence of the Human Rights Act. They state that Mr Clegg’s dare-to-be-different approach, which may rescue his dented standing, is born out of conviction as well as expediency

The Guardian praised Clegg after the riots for being first back from holiday and that his instinct to go out and face voter anger was correct and may stand him in good stead when the boos are forgotten.

The Daily Express was impressed with ‘Clegg’s term’ alarm clock Britain.

Peter Mandelson even gave him some praise saying since May, Mr Clegg has succeeded in looking less meek and hard done-by. He has found a stronger voice and has benefited from this.

Liberal

The Daily Telegraph praise Clegg for speaking out on the economy when he said it is a “universal principle” that money is best left in the hands of the people who earned it. They went on to say that the Deputy Prime Minister is coming to define the Government’s economic narrative.

The Independent believes that Clegg is the purest liberal to lead his party since its formation and that Clegg’s form of liberalism with a focus on redistribution, social mobility, Europe, and radical constitutional reform shows that, contrary to a widespread perception a year ago, Clegg is not a Conservative.

The New Statesman praised Clegg for sounding distinctly and dissentingly liberal after the riots. They thought one of his articles was a thoughtful piece on human rights which was not populist.

The Daily Telegraph praised Clegg for his stance on crime when he suggested there should be a focus on restorative justice.

The Daily Telegraph praised Clegg for his stance on free speech saying ‘he understands that in essence, liberalism isn’t about outcomes but about process; what matters to him is not that people make particular choices, but that they have the freedom to choose’.

In Praise of the Independent: Finding strengths in Nick Clegg

The Independent write At last, a politician fluent in European in which they offer some praise for Nick Clegg which is worth reading:

But the Deputy Prime Minister had one of his finest hours when he went to Berlin to speak on Europe and then presented the same case – for the benefits of the European Union and why Britain had to play a full part in it… Nick Clegg has the knowledge, the experience and the vocabulary to speak not just with conviction and sympathy, but in a way that can be readily understood. This makes him almost unique: a senior British politician capable of making a compelling case for Europe. As Tory Eurosceptics sense the wind in their sails, he should do this more often. Nick Clegg may just have found his role.

A broken party and broken hearts: The election result shows we are asking the wrong questions

We had a small team but a committed one. We had a well respected sitting councillor along with other well respected former councillors. We came close in one area last year without even campaigning. The team went to ALDC Kickstart and attended all the sessions. We ran a campaign as close to the ALDC advice as we could given our budget. But when we stood watching the votes come in, we lost, and lost badly. Those who were elected were early 20’s and didn’t even live in the borough – clearly it didn’t matter who was standing as long as it was in red, but it doesn’t alter the fact that our area lost the best councillor they ever had and our local party is now in a poorer state because of it. So what are the questions that the party is asking following another dismal performance at the local elections?

Perhaps it is how do we show that coalitions can work? So we see the ‘rose garden 2’ coming up. We will also see the parties put out some positive spin about the coalition. But I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘work’. The coalition has been working so far and it hasn’t helped us one bit. It is not that people want the coalition to work but they want a government that does broadly something that can either agree with or at the least that they are not offended by. Too many people are offended by the decisions that this government has made. If by ‘working’ it is the Tories and Lib Dems not arguing and not falling out but more decisions that will offend people then making this coalition work is not what we or the public need.

Perhaps a question being asked is how do we show what we stand for? So we will see more ‘differentiation’ and more traditionally liberal policies being defended such as House of Lords reform and gay marriage. While these are important and appeal to liberal voters it does nothing to address the fact that many voters are offended by the decisions that this government has made. Fear is a powerful force and makes people vote against those who have made these decisions (which includes those who didn’t stop them). Every decision that is made that goes against what we believe in does significantly more damage than bringing in a policy that we do.

Perhaps it is how do we communicate what we have done better to the public? But again for every list of things we can produce that we have done well, people produce a list of things that ‘we’ have done that is far worse and many feel offended by. Providing a cherry picked list says that we are not listening to their concerns.

I have heard people put it down to the fact that this is midterm blues, or it is to be expected, or we have waited 80 years to get in to this position, or the voters are stupid, but the reality is that we are not doing what we need to do to survive and believing that things will change by carrying on with what we have been doing is madness. At the moment the strategy seems to be to get the electorate to listen to us because we have important things to tell them and convince them. But perhaps the questions we should be asking are how can we listen to them? How can we show we have listened to them? And how can we demonstrate that we have listened to them?

We cannot underestimate the damage that has been caused by the Health and Social Care Bill, the Welfare Reforms, tuition fees or things like the 50p tax rate cut. Members have left, councillors have been lost and have given up helping the party, and there seems to be an attitude that this is necessary and inevitable because we are in government. Clegg is ‘sad’ that councillors have been lost, not sorry. He should be very sorry [edit he has now emailed to say he is sorry]. Until the public think that we are addressing their concerns, or at least understand them, at a national level it won’t matter how well we campaign at local level, or how well we follow ALDC campaigning guidelines, people won’t vote for us.

Mr Clegg: Who are you making policy for, exactly?

I believe that party politics should work like this: people come together who share values and ideals. They formulate policy based on these values. These policies are implemented when in power. Compromises are always necessary and so these can be made providing they are based in the values of the members of the party. In practice this means that the leadership of the party will be persuading and arguing with whomever necessary to get these ideas into law. But what we have is the opposite: A leadership, who goes into government, speaks to whoever, comes out and then tries to convince and argue with the party that what is being implemented is the right thing or necessary. It is like the Government is devoid of the Lib Dem party that makes up a large part of the Government.

Take tuition fees. Clegg argued it was right and necessary despite it being the opposite of party policy. Take the Health and Social Care Bill. Clegg argued it was reasonable and necessary at the time despite it being against the party values. Take Cameron’s EU veto. Clegg came out to say why it was necessary the following day despite it being against the party values. Take the recent proposal to extend the intrusive powers of the state. Clegg came out the following day to say why this was reasonable and necessary, despite it being opposite of party policy and values. In all these instances, Clegg has the process the wrong way round. He is in Government facing the party trying to convince us that what the government is going to do it right. What he should be doing is standing in the party facing the Government convincing them that our policy is right. He has it the wrong way round. It is a telling sign that he has had to be kicked into line by the party on these issues.

In all these cases and in many more we have a bizarre situation where we, as a party, seemingly propose policy that is not popular in our own party or with the public. So I ask who are we making policy for, exactly? We should not forget that politics is about popularity, if not for the majority of the public, then at the very least for the minority of those who support your party.

I don’t believe that it is a problem of values within Clegg. I have heard him as an MEP, shadow minister, in the leadership debates, in the election and I have spoken to him and he says all the things I would expect of a man of liberal persuasion. I think the problem lies with how he views his role in Government.

It must be difficult being in his position with so many people coming to you telling you what you should do. Senior civil servants coming with their pet projects, deeply held views and ideas which have been formed over many years under many different ministers. These people know how to handle new ministers. It must be difficult having senior military personnel telling you what they need. Senior secret service or intelligence community members coming with ideas they feel they need to protect the public. I can see how this position could mean you start to form a view that is different from those you may have had when talking within the political party. I can see how it could come about that you feel the need to go back to your party to tell them we need to do something different. But it is when in Government that it is more important to stand firm in where you came from. To say no to the establishment. To tell them what they need to do. This is what it means to be in power or it is not power, it is a nominal role.

So how do you stand firm? First thing is your mindset. We have to see ourselves as outsiders in Government or we start to believe the opinion of the establishment. Secondly you have to feel you have a right to tell the engines of Government to do things differently, even in the face of their well argued cases to continue what they were doing before or in their attempts to gain more control. Thirdly, you need a strong team of advisors who also have this mindset. This team need to not get caught up in the trappings of power and they need to have a strong affinity to the values of the party. This team should be made up of a variety of people who represent all sections of the party and there need to be people who disagree with you.

I think the party would love to hear Clegg come back to the party and say he has been fighting with the ‘powers that be’ to get our policy implemented, rather than coming to conference telling us how hard it is doing things we don’t agree with. We need less of the excuses for bad policy and more argument for why it is bad and why we don’t agree with it. Something Richard Morris stated so eloquently in the recent row between the party and Clegg over extending snooping powers.

What Clegg can learn from the Business world about staying on top

Nick Clegg makes the Liberal Democrats' Leader...

Nick Clegg

What is Nick Clegg good at? He had certain attributes which were suited to getting to the top of the political pile. Cameron has some of these attributes and Gordon Brown didn’t really have them. But when it comes to staying on top, the necessary attributes can be very different and Cameron has shown he has them and people like him and perhaps Clegg doesn’t have them.

When looking at the attributes that are needed for staying on top there has been a lot of research done in the business world and a new book will be looking at some of these. While all leaders need confidence and conviction, both of which Clegg has a lot of, these do not continue to carry you once at the top. So if there are any lessons for political leaders what would they be for Nick Clegg?

Humility: An important attribute for leaders once they have reached the goal of being in office as confidence is required to command respect, but humility is the necessary counter-balance to earn it. Humility in a leader has been shown in business many times – for a seminal piece of work see here. How would you rate Clegg on a humility scale? If humility is modesty, lacking pretence, not believing that you are superior to others then I am not sure he comes across that well and perhaps he would benefit from this attribute.

Intellectual Curiosity: Often leaders start by asking questions and then find themselves on side of the ordinary person but as leaders mature they then begin to answer them taking them away from where they wanted to be. Perhaps this is happening in the Lib Dem leadership as they seek to offer answers to a concerned membership.

Optimism: Clegg was originally seen as a very optimistic leader and many people liked him for it. He continues to say he is an optimist but leaders are expected to dissent, find the holes in logic, and predict pitfalls. After a while this attitude can become difficult to shift and we have seen Clegg doing some aggressive attacking of Labour and their policies as this is part of his job. The problem is that it doesn’t make him seem very optimistic and nor does it attract Labour voters.

Vulnerability: Power, strength, and confidence are attributes that leaders are expected to project to voters. But vulnerability humanises leaders, creating a “pull” of people towards you. People who ask for help often find others rallying behind them, fueled by a feeling of being needed and collectively working towards success. Clegg doesn’t so much attract people to help him out as turn people away right now so perhaps a little vulnerability from him would help?

Authenticity: Politicians are all too often over-positioned and under-authenticated. You can lose the authenticity in yourself and in the true purpose behind your party. Worse, you can start believing the spin around you and then people can see what you are saying is not their experience and then they are not listening anymore.

Openness: Tony Blair said that openness is the key to success in politics and despite what we might think of him, he was a successful politician in terms of winning elections. Welcoming things that might not fit the traditional mould may be an important part of staying on top.

While there are many reasons why people view Clegg as they currently do, we have a choice, to campaign for a new leader or to support the one we have. Perhaps if Clegg were to display some of these attributes then there may be an improvement for people to want to support him?

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.

For all the members who have left or are considering leaving – are they prey to the Fundamental Attribution Error?

There has been some concern and excitement (depending on your political persuasion) of the news of Lib Dem members leaving such as James Graham (2007 best blog)  (you can see why he left here)  or Graham Winyard as reported in The Guardian (and see the excitement from Guardian readers about this here). When I checked with the party last the stats were that we are down 17% of members from May 2010 (but they were at pains to say that if you were to compare this to other dates before the General Election campaign we have increased members). There are many others who have stopped being involved for the time being and are considering leaving so perhaps we need to look at what is going on because maybe it is more complicated than people think.

A fairly well evidenced phenomenon is called the fundamental attribution error which you have probably observed many times yourself. A simple example I found on Wikipedia is the following:

if Alice saw Bob trip over a rock and fall, Alice might consider Bob to be clumsy or careless (dispositional). If Alice tripped over the same rock herself, she would be more likely to blame the placement of the rock (situational).

The fundamental attribution error describes the tendency to over-value dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors. Have you ever heard someone try to justify why they not have done something they should have – this will usually be for some reason other than themselves. But when the same person explains why someone else has not done what they should have they may explain this in terms of it being something to do with the person.

For people who are not in the Lib  Dems this is a phenomenon we can observe all over the place. Just have a look at the Daily Mail which often attributes the problems with the Lib Dems with the party, the personalities or members (here is one about members and here is one about Clegg being a baby).

At times Lib Dem members can fall prey to attributing everything to the situation and therefore being immune to legitimate criticism. While this may make us feel better it is equally a mistake as it does not allow for a growth mindset which is necessary to keep the party alive. The trick is to be aware that this happens and then to take action.

If most people behave the same way when put in the same situation, then the situation is more likely to be the cause of the behavior. So if we look at the experience of smaller parties in Coalitions we see a fairly consistent picture:

coalitions are always disastrous for the smaller party. It gets swallowed up, blamed for the failures and only rarely credited with the successes, and then not nearly enough.

So Coalitions produce a national collective fundamental attribution error which we can all get swept up in. We can start to attribute the problems with the government or the decisions being made to the smaller party and this will make people want to leave. This is indeed what has happened with people who are leaving questioning not just the decisions of the government but the values of the party or the personalities of the people at the top.

So for people who have left or are considering leaving there is a strong possibility that the FAE is playing a part. Labour will exploit this to the max because they will be the biggest benefactors of people thinking there is something wrong with the party and not just that the situation is extremely difficult to operate in. This is not to say that mistakes haven’t been made because they have and I have been critical of many of them. What it is to say is that we need to be much more mindful of the fact that this situation is a much bigger threat than perhaps many have given it credit for, mainly because the result can be that they ignore it resulting in a new nasty party – the Lib Dems.

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

The Daily Telegraph write This fine Coalition government won’t see out 2013 – what a shame for Britain in which there is some considerable praise for this Government and the Lib Dems which is well worth reading:

Plenty of mistakes have been made since 2010, but this has nevertheless been the best government for a generation, led by men and women for the most part of decency and goodwill. Important steps have been taken towards addressing the financial deficit, while the reforms to welfare and education are essential to the health of Britain as a nation and will soon be irreversible… It is only thanks to the skill and admirable personal forbearance of Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron that the project has lasted as long as it has.

Labour’s new strategy to attract Lib Dem voters and what we should do about it

Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingd...

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Tony Blair seems to have made a bit of a return to British politics recently to give his opinion on how to steal the Lib Dem vote. He believes that the Lib Dem position is hopeless having run to the left of Labour in three successive elections, only to go into coalition with the Tories in 2010, they will be clobbered next time. He believes that Labour’s task is to ensure those Lib Dem voters who feel betrayed come Labour’s way and stay there.

Blair’s proposed method starts with a repeated insistence that this is nothing but a “Tory government”. Labour should constantly be reminding Lib Dems that they were once against tuition fees and for Europe – yet now sit in a government that has tripled the former and is hostile to the latter. Every day, runs the Blair advice, Labour should be asking Lib Dems: “What on earth are you doing in this government with these Tories?” The aim will be to put asunder the alliance of Liberals and Social Democrats that created the Lib Dems in the first place. (The Guardian)

Apparently Clegg has ordered Lib Dems to repeat the same line in all media appearances – “We’re doing the right thing” – so that we might win respect from voters. The question is whether this is enough to defend our votes and I suspect it is not. Being defensive usually results in people feeling they are not being listened to. Labour’s strategy is to exploit those who are disillusioned with the Lib Dems for being in Coalition with the Tories, and no matter how much you might think this is a ridiculous position to take, this is a reality we have to deal with. Blair is right in the fact that there are many things we can be attacked for so our question is what strategy can we take which will make people feel they are being listened to. Saying we are doing the right thing in the face of people saying we are not is not going to make people feel listened to.

There are a number of things we could do to make people feel listened to and the first is always the messenger. It does not matter what the message is if the messenger is not accepted. We have started to hear calls from inside and outside the party that Clegg is not the messenger and if this is the case then the party has 2 options – to accept this as the truth and that a) it can’t be changed and so get a new leader or b) ask what we can do to change it. As there aren’t many calls to get rid of Clegg right now I assume it is the latter. Which brings us onto the next point to get people to feel listened to which is to start accepting the criticism. Then make assurances of what we would do if Governing on our own (obvious I know but I don’t hear Lib Dem ministers saying this).

Repairing relationships is hard and it takes time to build up trust and trust is built up once people feel you will do what they think you will do. When asked why people don’t know what the Lib Dem message is Blair’s point is the same a Clegg’s – that subsequent leaders have said different things. The difference between Blair and Clegg’s points is that Blair sees it as a bad thing for the Lib Dems while Clegg sees it as a good thing to have moved the Lib Dems in the last few years. I suspect it won’t be a good thing anytime soon, people like to know where they stand and moving positions makes people feel uneasy (I realise that out movement may be more public perception than reality but that is what we are dealing with).

So we are under attack from the Tories and Labour and we need more than defensiveness. Perhaps we should get better at negative campaigning as the rule of thumb for this is that you should never use negative campaign tactics unless you have to because you simply cannot win by presenting positive information about yourself. These are legitimate negative campaigning techniques:

  • Highlighting someone talking one way and voting another
  • Highlighting someone not paying taxes
  • Highlighting someone accepting campaign contributions from special interests
  • Highlighting someone’s voting record as an elected official

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

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

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

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