2nd Year of Praise for Lib Dem Ministers: Strengths of Lib Dem Ministers in 2nd year of being in Government

Another year of following the papers looking for positive news stories about the Lib Dem ministers has produced more praise for Lib Dem ministers. So Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, Steve Webb and Danny Alexander get praise for their efforts.

Vince Cable

The Guardian state that few politicians could manage contrition with Cable’s conviction as ‘he speaks human so well’.

The Guardian believed he speaks with authority on the economy and banking reform concluding ‘his prophet status has been restored’.

The Daily Telegraph believes that any serious and objective consideration of Mr Cable’s record in office shows that he has been a formidable Cabinet minister and an important ally of enterprise. They credit him for the recent small surge of inward investment into Britain and praise him for not grabbing all the credit. They see him as the moral centre of gravity for the Coalition and of British public life.

The Sun praise him for getting results in his job as Minister.

The Independent praise him for standing up to the Prime Minister over immigration, tax-cutting Tories, casino bankers, universities and Rupert Murdoch.

Chris Huhne

The Independent believe that Mr Huhne was regarded as an effective minister because of his “nerves of steel”, ability to “compartmentalise” and carry on as normal when the threat of prosecution hung over him.

The Independent highlighted that he earned useful headlines for a party whose presence in the Tory-led government is often forgotten.

The Guardian states that Huhne won plaudits for his performances abroad and that he had an 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 (see here).

The Guardian praised Huhne for being a strong minister who ran his department well, stood bravely for the green agenda, and fought his corner effectively. They also believe that he played an important role in the coalition cabinet as the voice of the more social democratic wing of the Lib Dem team.

The Observer said that 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.

The Independent admired Huhne for his work as Climate Change Secretary, but even more so as a staunch Cabinet defender of the ‘civilised values’

Even ConservativeHome praised Huhne for being one of the government’s most effective ministers

Steve Webb

The London Evening Standard praised Webb for being one of the best pensions minister we have had in a generation

Danny Alexander

The Daily Telegraph believe Alexander has become the Tories’ favourite Liberals, saying he has proved himself in combat.

The Guardian praised him for his ‘delicate negotiations’ with the trade unions over pension reform, saying ‘there is steel there, perhaps born of unselfconsciousness’.

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…

In Praise of the Daily Telegraph: Finding strengths in Vince Cable

The Daily Telegraph write Leave Business Secretary Vince Cable alone – he’s the moral centre of this Coalition in which they give some praise for Vince Cable which is worth reading:

I believe that any serious and objective consideration of Mr Cable’s record in office shows that he has been a formidable Cabinet minister, an important ally of enterprise, and, above all, one of the most loyal and supportive members of this Government… Mr Cable deserves the bulk of the praise for the recent small surge of inward investment into Britain, though characteristically he has not tried to grab all the credit… Mr Cable is a new type of politician… Mr Cable has managed to stay loyal to the Coalition without surrendering his identity… Mr Cable is now in that very interesting place: he is the moral centre of gravity for the Coalition and of British public life. If Nick Clegg, as widely expected, steps down as Lib Dem leader before the general election, Mr Cable – should he decide to run – is highly likely to replace him. His best years may lie ahead.

In Praise of The Sun: Finding strengths in Vince Cable

In ‘The Heroes and Villains of Westminster‘ in The Sun they consider Vince Cable this weeks hero and have some very positive words to say about him which are worth reading:

Take a bow, Vince Cable. For the blunt-speaking Business Secretary has secured a fantastic deal that has saved Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port factory in Cheshire from closure. The decision by General Motors means £125 million of new investment and 700 extra jobs on top of the 2,100-strong workforce. And it all happened after Mr Cable jumped on a plane to Detroit in March to urge GM bosses to back the UK over Germany. Looks like it was well worth him going the extra mile. As his colleagues snipe over firms that are “not working hard enough”, this Cabinet minister has quietly got on with his job and boosted business for Britain.

Lib Dems a push over in Government? Civil liberties at risk, party reputation in tatters, time to take a stand?

For all the talk of politicians being out of touch Mark Field, a Tory MP, has summed up the public mood better than anyone I have read since the formation of the Coalition by saying: “my instinct is that the nation feels a sense of resignation that the coalition is the best option we have” and it is probably equally true that Lib Dem members felt a sense of resignation that the Coalition was the best option they had. The public may wish there was a credible alternative as do Lib Dem members. The thing that is so depressing for so many people is that the Lib Dems used to be that credible alternative. For some many people they no longer look like an alternative but an addition or even annex to the Labservatives. For all the talk of differentiation, what we need is something more meaningful.

My problem with differentiation is that if it can be timed then it doesn’t seem very authentic. If we can disagree at times when we need to (because of political reasons), rather than when we should do (because of political belief), then we are not being true to our core values and principles. This is an inauthentic position to take and we inadvertently become part of the Labservatives in our desire to show that Coalition can work.

Tony Benn tells a good story and he says that there are two positions to take: That of a weathervane and that of a signpost. A weathervane points in the direction of the wind at that moment in time while a signpost points in the same direction no matter what the weather is like. For someone who wants to know what direction they should take a signpost is infinitely more useful. The problem is that taking the weathervane position is seductive.

For example, take this week and the so called pastygate. We saw the leader of the Tories and Labour rushing to the nearest Greggs for a photo op and to tell the journalists how much they love eating pasties. While this was utterly ridiculous and equally unbelievable it says a lot about the state of politics and whether they are being signposts or weathervanes. Cameron has always been known for his PR-isation of the ‘modern’ Tory party as he sought to manage the message, control the narrative, transform the image. In other words, be something you are not, pointing in the direction of the prevailing political wind at the time in the hope you will pick up as many votes as you go along. Miliband seems to be pretty much the same except looks more awkward telling people how much he loves going to Greggs.

What people loved about the Lib Dems was that they were the go-to-guys for a sensible comment knowing it would be based on sound values and principles. Foreign affairs they came to Ming Cambell. The economy they came to Vince Cable. For an honest conversation they came to Charles Kennedy. The Coalition has neutered our USP. I don’t think that the Lib Dems are being weathervanes in Government as I don’t see them pandering to the public/media fad of the moment but what people may see is something worse. Are the Lib Dems being blown over in the wind? Something that blows over in the wind is more useless than a weathervane; at least a weathervane as a purpose. Are they too often making deadly compromises in the name of making the Coalition work or showing they are a grown up party capable of government?

There are plenty of opportunities for the Lib Dems to demonstrate to the public that we believe in something, not some of the time, but all of the time. Not because we need to show people we are not the Tory party but because we are a different party all of the time. We need to be prepared to let the Coalition not work. Our values and principles are more important that the principle that the Coalition works. I would rather be part of a party that gets 5% of the vote and be proud of what we stood for than a party that gets 5% of the vote because we blew over in the wind and let things we don’t believe pass.

Perhaps this is the next test?

MINISTERS are reportedly preparing a major expansion of the government’s powers to monitor the email exchanges and website visits of every person in the UK.

If such a move comes to pass we will truly have blown over. Time to show we are a signpost in the storm.

In Praise of The Independent: Finding strengths in Chris Huhne, Vince Cable and Ken Clarke

The Independent write Somebody’s got to stick up for Chris Huhne… in which they offer some praise for not only Chris Huhne but also Vince Cable and Ken Clarke which is worth highlighting:

And what a shame for those of us who have come to admire the vulpine ultra-leaker not just for his work as Climate Change Secretary, but even more so as one of only three staunch Cabinet defenders (with Vince Cable and Ken Clarke) of the civilised values

What would be a success for the Lib Dems in 2012?

What would you consider to be our successes and failures since being in Coalition? These, simplified, will come to define us when it comes to the General Election. I recently looked at how each issue will be seen by the Tory and Lib Dem voters to show how we can look at each issue in a more useful way. A number of people got in touch and added to what I already had and the result is this:

While nothing can be done about what has been done and how it will be seen, we can think about future issues and how they will be seen. For a Coalition to work as smoothly as possible, both parties should focus on the ‘good for tories, good for Lib Dems’ box as this will be the easiest set of issues to negotiate and implement. This will be supporting small businesses, curbing bankers bonuses, and getting the economy growing again.

However, when it comes to the politics, each party will be looking to implement issues in the ‘good for us, bad for them’ box. The Lib Dems need to get smarter when it comes to this strategy and while it may be harder being the junior partner of a Coalition, it is still an important part of being in this Coalition.

Clegg and Cable have started well in 2012 and there needs to be some concrete wins from such moves. Charles Kennedy had some very good advice last year (here) where he believes we  are spread too thinly and so we should pick our fights and make sure we win them. This would be a good tactic and focusing on the top boxes would make sure this happened. However, what Kennedy fails to see is that not doing anything on some issues means that we look like we have reneged on our positions and so we are dragged into a fight we don’t want to have. The Tories are good at politics and we need to be aware that the more they continue to drag us into fights we don’t want to have, but have no choice, the more they are controlling the agenda and the more negative we look. One counter to this is to do it back. Raise issue after issue that they have to defend and so we control the debate. But this is dirty politics. It would be better to get all parties to focus on the top right box but I don’t think this will happen.

When it comes to 2013 we need plenty of things to go in the top boxes that we can campaign on:

Banking reform: But what else do the Lib Dems offer?

As Vince Cable announces that the Government will regulate the banks as per the Vickers Commissioned report we should be asking the question what else? Once we have implemented these reforms both the Tories and the Lib Dems will say these are a good think and take credit for their implementation but the Lib Dems need to win back voters and win new voters so what else do the Lib Dems propose to reform the financial sector?

Splitting the high street banks from the investment banks may (or may not) protect the tax payer but it will do nothing to change the culture in the finance industry that is abhorred by the everyday person. Reading the news about billions of pounds given out in bonuses to bankers makes many angry at the injustice or depressed at the hopelessness of their/our ability to make a difference to this.  The Lib Dems have been calling for reform of the bonus system and perhaps we should be making this an element of our vision for a new finance policy?

The problem with the banking reforms is clearly stated by Stani Yassukovich, a former investment banker and one-time head of the predecessor to the Financial Services Authority, the Securities and Futures Authority

Since the political class has a lamentable lack of understanding of how finance actually works, it is forced to rely on advice from roughly the same crew that sank the ship in the first place, in determining how the ship should be remodelled

So perhaps we should be listening to others for advice and one person we should be listening to when it comes to the bankers bonuses is Dan Pink:

In this video he outlines experiments relating to bonuses and motivation and concludes that where a task requires cognitive skill not only do bonuses lead to worse performance but the larger the bonus the worse the performance. So we have a situation where we have the political elite being informed by the bankers themselves about reform of a system that doesn’t work but works for them personally. The result being little reform of the things that need reform. So bonuses continue despite the fact that this system has so spectacularly failed and no one is really coming forward with any real policy on how to bring about a new system that does work.

Ed Miliband tried with his good vs bad businesses but that misunderstands and over simplifies the problem with the system. His solution was to provide incentives for the type of business he likes but that is not a change in system. A better way to communicate it would be to say the system allows and even promotes businesses which harm the country, something Vince Cable has said on many occasion to the dismay of the Daily Mail and the delight of the Guardian.  We should use this as it was distinctive and appealed to potential voters. We should develop it further.

We should be more vocal on the fact that the system does not work and we need to replace bonuses with a different mind set. Dan Pink would suggest that it should be replaced with autonomy, mastery and purpose. Linking the banking activities to these attributes improves performance while at the same time is good for the country.

A solution to the Lib Dems problems: Start telling the truth

Vince Cable

Image by The CBI via Flickr

The Lib Dems have many problems and what we can do about them is a big debate.  But there are things we can learn from some of our oldest problems which may help. One of our oldest problems has been that we have had a senior member of the party who has been very well liked in the country but this has not been translated into votes. Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy, Ming Cambell, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have all been very well liked by the public but we have not been able to improve on our 1983 General Election result.

Vince Cable has been a consistently well liked politician and despite a difficult time last Christmas and his extremely gloomy speech to conference he still commands a +72% approval rating in the party. So what is it about Cable that attracts such positive feelings?

The Daily Mail reported Cable’s conference speech as ‘Business Secretary reveals ‘brutal truth’ about risk of double-dip recession’ which sums it up: he told the truth. And he has consistently told the truth about many different areas over the years. This is not dissimilar to the other well liked politicians in our party at their time. Clegg’s issue is that people have formed an impression that he has lied, something which killed off Tony Blair despite what many see as his exceptional political skill.

It might seem obvious that telling the truth is synonymous with good approval ratings, and as politics is about winning approval of the public, it is even more peculiar that politicians don’t always tell the truth. Now I know that most politicians will say that they do tell the truth and that they try their best and it is difficult given the circumstances etc. But we cannot deny that many politicians lie – and worst of all, lie to themselves so they can’t see it. Just look at Liam Fox. He is a lair and he lied to everyone in the country, yet he calls it a mistake. It was a mistake, but more commonly known as a big fat lie that would have gone on and on unless he has been found out. It is only a mistake because he was found out, not because it has now been helpfully pointed out to him (which he seems very annoyed about).

Some may not agree with this, so let’s just go over what a lie is so we are clear. Lying is about a deliberate intent to deceive either through commission (saying something knowlingly untrue) or omission (not saying something). Fox’s lie was an omission and the truth is that lies beget other lies and so he was then compelled to tell more lies through commission as he tried to cover it up. This is not dissimilar to our own David Laws. I know that both Fox and Laws may not have profited from their omissions, but they are lies nonetheless. And I won’t go into the issue with Tony Blair’s lies, which seem to be bigger and bigger as more information comes out. I am not surprised that politicians are the least trusted of all professions.

Which is where Nick Clegg recently said something worth listening to

The truth is the best antidote to people’s anger and suspicion, so we have got to get the truth out there

While he was talking about Hillsborough, it has much bigger implications. The Lib Dems have a trust issue at the moment for reasons we are all familiar with. If we want to build trust with the public again, we need to start telling the truth. And I don’t mean truth in the way politicians tell the truth, I mean real truth. Vince Cable is good at it and the press are often surprised when he does interviews but this is why he is seen as different to the rest of the party – he sets himself out as different by the content of his information which comes across as authentic. It only makes the headlines when a politician tells the ‘truth’ because the others don’t.

The reality is that most people lie and politicians are no exception. Once in office it may be even harder to tell the truth because they want to give a certain impression and things need to be ‘managed’. We have had some good members of our party who have been good at telling the truth and Cable has shown you can do it in Government too – no matter how hard this may be. According to Sam Harris,  who wrote lying, (read review here) the benefits of telling the truth far outweigh the cost of lies, to yourself, to others, and to society. He cites research which suggests that all forms of lying – including white lies meant to spare the feelings of others – are associated with poorer-quality relationships. If there is one thing the Lib Dems need right now – it is a better relationship with the public, particularly for Nick Clegg.

To tell the truth we need to know the truth. This means seeing the mistakes we have made, the problems we have caused, the difficulties we face as well as that which we have achieved. It means saying how we feel, our confusion, our doubts as well as disagreeing with what we don’t like in Government. So when Lib Dem ministers are asked for their opinion, they do the party no favours by pretending not to notice flaws in our work in Government, especially when those who do not vote Lib Dem are bound to notice these same flaws. So maybe Cable’s speech to Conference was gloomy and depressing, but it was honest, and we could do with more honesty in politics. And he is seen in a better light by the population and the party than all those who had to prepare facts which presented a certain view, which must say something.

And for anyone who wants to see why we end up lying to ourselves and don’t even realise we are doing it – read Mistakes were made (but not by me).

‘Not easy, but right’ – Clegg doesn’t get it: We need to build trust not defensiveness if we are to have a hope of improving our situation

The Lib Dems have a problem. We have known about this problem for a long time and those at the top of the party have been trying to improve the situation with changes in strategy, a redoubling of efforts to show the Lib Dem contribution to the Government, and new messages. But we still have a problem. Now we have a new script – ‘not easy, but right’. But will this message win back voters?

The Guardian recently produced some very interesting statistics:

In every parliament in the past 30 years, governments that went on to lose the next election were already showing a slump in approval in the Guardian’s ICM series of polls by this stage of the cycle, compared with the general election which put them in power. After 2005, Labour was down seven points in the autumn of 2006 – and went on to lose in 2010. After 1992, the Tories were down 14 points by the autumn of 1993 and went on to be hammered in 1997. But in the parliaments of 1983, 1987, 1997 and 2001, the government parties’ ratings were either steady or better than at the general election – and they went on to win. On Friday the Conservatives are on 37% with ICM, just as they gained in the last general election. The Tories are holding on to their ground.

But for the Lib Dems we are down and down a lot. We can see that we are not winning over Tory voters if they are holding onto their supporters while we haemorrhage support to Labour. So is the lost support recoverable? Clegg is a toxic brand to Labour supporters, with whom he has a rating of -79%. If the Lib Dems are to recover their polling position some of these supporters need to be won back.

So why does Clegg have such a negative rating among Labour supporters, or more importantly ex-Lib Dem supporters? Many put this down to tribalism but this is convenient and hides the reality of those potential voters. Ed Miliband sums up quite nicely their feelings/thoughts:

The Lib Dems have broken their promises. A year ago they promised to scrap tuition fees. But they trebled them. They promised to oppose a rise in VAT. But they voted to back the Tories in raising it to 20%. They also promised to protect the NHS. But they backed David Cameron’s expensive bureaucratic plans which put the founding principles of the heath service at risk.

It is easy for the Lib Dems to deny these allegations, find reasons why the decisions taken were necessary, or see this view as pure tribalism of the worst sort. ‘You don’t play politics at a time of national crisis’ Clegg says, showing self-justification. It may be correct that there was no other option, that these were decisions that needed to be made, and these were the sacrifices that we had to make. It may be correct that we have made the more difficult decisions better than they otherwise would have been. It may be correct that it was not easy, but right. But this doesn’t matter. That is not the point. If it were the point then people wouldn’t feel so strongly about it. The issue at stake here is trust and only by addressing the issue of trust will the situation improve. Giving people the reasons as to why decisions have been made will not build trust, in fact it only turns people away as the defensiveness just invalidates their feelings.

The relationship between Nick Clegg and the electorate is key for the Lib Dems and for the party’s situation to improve Clegg’s relationship with the electorate needs to improve. But anyone who has ever had difficulty in a relationship will know that defensiveness is a strategy for pain and ultimately a break up. The new defensiveness strategy is not going to work.

Trust means to believe. It means you have no doubt in your mind about their honesty, integrity and credibility. No relationship can survive without trust. Trust is the foundation on which a relationship is built. Clegg was not well known going into the 2010 General Election, so much so the campaign started with Clegg and Cable spearheading it as more people knew Cable. At first, as in the start of all new relationships, people believed Clegg without much proof needing to be given as to his credibility. We have all experienced this at the start of a new relationship.

But research into relationships shows that breaking trust early in a relationship can seriously damage the relationship in the long term and that it may never be completely right again. Questions start being asked ‘was he trustworthy from the beginning or was I fooled?’ Or ‘is he changing now?’ This kind of doubtful thinking causes tremendous strain in a relationship. We can all see that this is what is going on right now between Clegg and many on the political left; they see that he had breached their trust in him, and this has happened early in the relationship. Relationship research shows that it is easier to rebuild trust after a breach if you already have a strong relationship.  So it is possible that the relationship may not be recoverable?

But if we are to have any chance of attracting voters back then we need to address the issue of trust. Before any trust can be rebuilt you must address how and/or why it was broken in the first place. This is the time for brutal honesty. Vince Cable has been good at this and has said that we would never have proposed the policy if we ever thought we would get into power. Embarrassing but honest and people love Cable so we should learn from him. It may be the case that a complete confessional of how the trust was broken should only be done when both sides ready to hear it, and that may not be now? But heartfelt apologies should be offered with indications of remorse and promises to not violate the trust again. Tony Blair broke the trust people had in him but he offered no way to bridge this broken trust with the electorate and it ultimately brought him down. Clegg has said that he will not offer an apology on the tuition fees issue because he does not see the point. The point is that it can start a process to build the trust again and if it isn’t, it will kill his political career and bring the Lib Dems down with him.

When trust is broken in a relationship many people recommend getting outside help such as with a counsellor. We should pay great attention to such advice. If Clegg wants his relationship to improve with those who used to vote for the party but won’t at the moment, or even new voters, then there needs to be some third party to broker a new trust with Clegg. A celebrity, a famous person, someone who has great influence with those we need to reach would be useful if they could give positive messages about Clegg. A conversation between Clegg and the electorate brokered by someone else could be a useful strategy. I know Clegg is going around the country doing Town Hall meetings and I think this is a great idea, but sometimes it is not the message, it is the messenger, and so the third person eases the message into people’s consciousness rather than it being filtered out because of the messenger.


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