In Praise of the Guardian: Finding strengths in Vince Cable

The Guardian, or more precisely Polly Toynbee, wrote Now is the perfect time for Liberal Democrats to wield the knife in which she spouts a large amount of bile to the point that it is very difficult to read anything she writes these days, but I did persevere and she has some positive comments about Vince Cable which I thought was interesting and worth repeating:

Few politicians could manage contrition with Cable’s conviction – he speaks human so well.

A journey of a thousand miles, starts with the first step…

Why the budget shows good politics for the Lib Dems: breaking Westminster rules and sticking to the political golden rules worked

The Lib Dems tried to call the budget a ‘robin hood’ budget. If you said that to a member of the public today they would probably laugh in your face for the public perception is the exact opposite, whether this is true or not. But what has happened following the budget shows why the rules of Westminster do not work for the Lib Dems while sticking to the golden rule of politics does.

For all the complaints about New Labour and the spin machine, modern politics is still very much about spin. The Lib Dems attempt at calling the budget a ‘robin hood’ budget was the party trying to use the tried and tested methods of the larger political parties to gain air time in the press and gain credit within it. The fact that the public see this budget as a millionaires budget shows how our political spin machine just doesn’t work.

However, we should also ask why it is that the Lib Dems have not only stayed out of the firing line in the fall out from this budget but gained some praise. The Guardian reported the budget was a ‘victory for the Lib Dems’ and that they were ‘wiser than they were in the early days‘ while the Daily Mail reported that this ‘Conservative Prime Minister and his Conservative Chancellor produced a Lib Dem Budget’.

Some of the more contentious issues such as the so called granny tax, pasty tax and charity tax have resulted in the support of the Independent and not only the Guardian but also Polly Toynbee of all people. In other budgets it could well have been the Lib Dems who were in the firing line, so perhaps we should ask why this is not the case.

There have been many complaints that there were too many leaks and that this was the fault of the Lib Dems. It has annoyed Tory ministers and MPs. This is not how to run a government they complain. But these Westminster rules on how to run a government have not done us many favours and by doing something different this time, it did. The Lib Dems set out their stall early: further and faster on raising the income tax threshold, a tycoon tax, a mansion tax. This message was repeated and repeated and the necessary arguments within the party were had before budget day e.g. lowering the 50p tax rate. When budget day came everyone knew what was a Lib Dem measure and what wasn’t.

The so called charity tax pretty much stemmed from the Lib Dem proposal for a tycoon tax (a minimum amount of tax) and so as we had argued for this it was not a shock to potential Lib Dem voters. However, it was a shock to Tory supporters who didn’t see it coming. People knew the raise in tax threshold needed to be paid for and the hard choices were easier to understand for Lib Dem supporters than Tory ones. By leaking information, making our case known, and repeating this might not be seen as normal procedure for a government, but it delivered more of what the party wanted and there was less bad press towards the party as a result.

There is a golden rule in politics: no shocks and no surprises. By doing this, the party made sure there were no shocks and no surprises for Lib Dem voters. The Tories didn’t stick by this rule though and look how much trouble they are in. We have broken this rule too many times in this parliament and so we should understand it better than they do. If we want to survive this Coalition, we need to show people that we are true to what we say we are and make sure there are as few shocks and surprises as possible. It may not have been a good budget but it was good politics from the Lib Dems.

Now people don’t even want to stand for the Lib Dems in elections! What we need to do to reverse this worrying trend

How many signs do we need that things aren’t right? With reports for the second year in a row of a reduction in the number of candidates standing for the Lib Dems as local councillors we have another piece of information which is perhaps more worrying than the reduction in poll ratings. So perhaps we need to consider this very carefully and what we need to do to start to reverse this trend.

Back in 2011 the Guardian ran a piece which stated that the Lib Dems were fielding the fewest number of candidates for the local elections than they had since 1999, which was 4.6% fewer than compared with the 2007 data. Fast forward a year and now in 2012 the Independent is running a story that the party is fielding fewer candidates than in recent memory. However, I haven’t been able to find matching data to make a true comparison so it may or may not be factually correct. Despite this, the sentiment is probably correct as the article states there is anecdotal evidence that some candidates are standing as independents, and this is certainly happening in my area.

This is more worrying than the poll ratings for a number of reasons. This is not least because it says that those who understand the party the most, those who believe in the values of the party, those who realise that compromise is necessary more than most are the ones who are disillusioned and that this is having a practical impact on the ground. If we are to go back to basic principles of politics we can make an assessment of where we are now. To be successful in politics we need to do the following:

  • To gain power
  • To keep power
  • To increase the number of people who vote for you
  • To increase the number of positions of power
  • For people to perceive the use of power as positive for the country and its citizens
  • For history to perceive the use of power as positive for the country and its citizens

We have no ability to influence the last point, for more on this see here. So if we take the facts we are looking at a reduction in poll ratings:

Poor performances in by elections e.g. March 2011 Barnsley 4.18% and March 2012 Bradford 4.59% (I acknowledge we got 31.9% in Oldham and Saddleworth in Jan 2011 but we still didn’t win), reductions in members and now reductions in people standing as councillors. Assessed by the criteria for success in politics you could say we aren’t doing very well. I would also go as far as saying that the public (or at least those who have voted for us) do not perceive the Lib Dems as using their power in a positive way for the country and its citizens.

What this Coalition is not doing for the Lib Dems is demonstrating our values. What the Coalition is doing for the Tories is demonstrating their values. People are not going to vote Lib Dem for making compromises, small changes to Tory legislation, or being pragmatic in difficult circumstances.

People don’t vote for what you do, they vote for why you do it.

There is no ‘why’ for the Lib Dems right now, not in the eyes of the public anyway. It is even hard for us to explain some things to people. I was knocking on doors today and a student answered the door and said he wouldn’t vote Lib Dem again. I could have got into a discussion about the policy, but then the government policy isn’t the Lib Dem policy (which is the opposite) so we as a party don’t believe in the policy we implemented but stating party policy then seems ridiculous having just been responsible for implementing a policy. The Coalition at times is making us look ridiculous and if there is one thing that will lose you votes faster than anything else it is being made to look ridiculous.

Out of all this we can make at least one assumption, which is that what we are doing isn’t working and as Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So the question we have to answer is this: What can we do which will demonstrate our values? What we have been trying hasn’t worked. Differentiation isn’t working.

Clegg could show some leadership in the cabinet reshuffle later this year by changing how we operate. We are currently spread very thinly over the government departments, hence our inability to demonstrate categorically our influence to the public. How about concentrating ourselves over fewer departments or even taking over 2 departments completely? We need to show who we are. I for one know that what we are not, are excuses for bad policies and bad politics, but this is how we are perceived. It needs to change if we want people to stand for us in local elections, join the party or vote for us.

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.

In Praise of the Observer and the Guardian: Finding strengths in Chris Huhne

Following the resignation of Chris Huhne The Guardian and The Observer have had a number of positive things to say about Mr Huhne and have identified a number of his strengths that the Lib Dems will miss. Here are the highlighted sections:

The Guardian – Chris Huhne: most greens ‘think he has done well’:

Huhne has also won plaudits for his performances abroad, both in Europe, where he has attempted to build a coalition of member states to push for tougher EU-wide carbon targets, and in the long-running international climate change negotiations where he helped to broker a surprise global deal at the end of last year’s talks in Durban.

The Guardian – Chris Huhne’s departure changes cabinet dynamics:

But he had that indefinable big beast quality that put him on a par with Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, making him a voice on economics and Europe inside the cabinet to which people listened, even if they disagreed… In a year in which the pressure on the deficit reduction plan is likely to increase rather than decrease, his voice will be absent.

The Guardian – Chris Huhne: a taste of resignation:

Mr Huhne was a strong minister who ran his department well, stood bravely for the green agenda, and fought his corner effectively. It is to his credit that the UK is signed up to tough carbon emission cutting targets and that the green investment bank exists at all. He did a good job at the Durban conference and fought a strong rearguard action against Treasury efforts to weaken green goals in the face of recession and austerity… The second is that Mr Huhne also played an important role in the coalition cabinet as the voice of the more social democratic wing of the Lib Dem team, putting pressure not just on the Conservatives but on Mr Clegg.

The Observer – Why more of the Lib Dems now want to be like Chris Huhne:

To the Department of Energy and Climate Change, he brought a passion for the green agenda combined with the intellect and the clout to increase the influence of a department often previously dismissed as a bit of a Whitehall lightweight. It is to his credit that he fought tough battles to establish a green investment bank and sign Britain up to demanding targets for cutting carbon emission levels… Environmental groups fear that the cause, already under pressure at a time of austerity, has lost its most powerful voice within government… He was confident enough to challenge David Cameron and George Osborne across the cabinet table about their conduct during the AV referendum and to ridicule publicly the Tory leader’s veto that never was at the pre-Christmas European summit. It grew to suit Mr Clegg that Mr Huhne could pick fights with the Tories when he, as deputy prime minister, felt he had to be more careful about how far he could go… It is an ironic twist that Chris Huhne has left the ring just as his party moves more towards his pugilistic style of conducting coalition politics.

In Praise of The Guardian: Finding strengths in Nick Clegg

The Guardian write Nick Clegg: taking from the rich, not giving to the poor today which offers some praise about Nick Clegg’s recent positioning which is worth highlighting:

Bravely opening budget negotiations in broad daylight, the deputy prime minister made plain that his overriding priority is instead a general income-tax cut… by making public demands about what should be in the budget, he is now haggling more aggressively than ever before. While Tory tax-cutters might lick their lips at the giveaway that the Lib Dem leader proposes, they will have shuddered at the other half of what he had to say. He wants to pay for the move through new levies on wealth, including on costly homes, as well as – and this was especially welcome – a refashioned fiscal rulebook which starts from the presumption of a general anti-avoidance rule. We shall see how much of this he can achieve from within the confines of a Conservative-dominated government. But at the very least he is developing the discourse in a positive way, and challenging Labour to sharpen up its sluggish thinking on filling the tax gap.

Clegg needs to stop being so reasonable with the Tories

I wrote sometime ago that Nick Clegg needed to stop being so reasonable with the Tories and considering what has happened I think I need to revisit this idea.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. George Bernard Shaw

Nick Clegg is a reasonable man. In the TV debates he was seen as ‘Mr Reasonable’  and many liked this. When a Coalition was announced Cameron said that reasonable, civilised, grown-up behaviour was what they would have in government.  And now in Government Nick Clegg has gone on to try and be as reasonable as possible even using the word to explain difficult decisions such as when he said it was ‘reasonable’ to cap the amount of housing benefit claimants can receive and what we asked for at the EU summit was ‘reasonable’.

While this may be an admirable trait, particularly in opposition against a back drop of fighting within and between the two main parties, this is starting to cause a lot of problems in power. The Guardian have seized on his reasonableness in an attempt to ridicule him

Immediately following each unpleasant new announcement, Cleggsy Bear shuffles on stage to defend it, working his sad eyes and boyish face as he morosely explains why the decision was inevitable – and not just inevitable, but fair; in fact possibly the fairest, most reasonable decision to have been taken in our lifetimes, no matter how loudly people scream to the contrary.

While everyone understands there needs to be compromise in Coalitions it seems to many that he is being very reasonable with the Tories and then trying to win people over with persuasion. It is this reasonableness with the Tories that has left us worse off, damaged, and many Lib Dem members feeling the Coalition was a mistake and voters wondering why they should vote Lib Dems. It is time Nick Clegg stopped being so reasonable with the Tories and started being more unreasonable.

In Praise of the Guardian: Finding strengths in Nick Clegg

The Guardian write Break up the coalition? Neither Clegg nor Cameron would dare in which they identify something positive about Nick Clegg which is worth highlighting:

In recent months I’ve begun to think that Nick Clegg was getting the hang of power-sharing, finding a more effective voice with which to articulate Lib Dem hopes, fears and achievements under the coalition duvet with the 500lb Tory gorilla, much as Sinn Féin and Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists have evolved a mutually accommodating vocabulary at Stormont.

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

The Guardian write Liberal Democrats and Europe: time to fight arguing that the pro-European voice needs to be heard in British politics and that the very recent tone from Clegg and the Lib Dems on the issue of Europe has been the right. They highlight some strengths in todays editorial which is worth reading:

The Lib Dems are right, therefore, to fight their corner very publiclyagainst the policy of EU disengagement which is at the core of David Cameron’s veto in Brussels last week. After an initial dither on Friday, that is clearly what the party has done over the weekend. That first dither was a mistake, understandable in a way, but not acceptable once the full implications of Mr Cameron’s 4am walkout became clear. So the Lib Dem message of positive engagement that ran through the various statements and interviews from senior party figures in and out of the government in the last 48 hours has been the right one.

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

The Guardian write George Osborne’s autumn statement speaks to the public mood in which they have a positive view of the Lib Dem influence in Government which is worth highlighting.

Do not overlook, either, that this has been a surprisingly successful autumn not just for the Tories, but the Liberal Democrats too. The Lib Dems have put their distinctive stamp on several progressive announcements in the autumn statement, not least the commitment to uprate benefits in line with inflation, on which Osborne vacillated. But theextra spending on work placements for young people, the targeted extra money for toddler care and the spending on infrastructure projects all bear the mark of Lib Dem pressure inside the coalition.

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