Clegg’s language is unconsciously turning people off him: Changes needed for his poll ratings to improve

The Lib Dems believe in community and the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ are important to us. When Clegg was vying for the top job he seemed to reflect these values well and his choice of words were in line with these values. However, now he is in DPM it may be these words which are contributing to his horribly low opinion poll ratings and he needs to change things to reverse these.

Clegg wrote recently that the Lib Dems are

a party which knows we can do more together than we can alone.

Which certainly rubs the Lib Dems up the right way. However, the tendency to use ‘we ‘rather than ‘I’ has profound implications for how people perceive you without them even knowing it. People who use ‘I’ more are seen as more personable, warm and more honest whereas those using ‘I’ at low rates are often very self-confident people, but this is often perceived negatively. Barak Obama is a good example of this as he uses ‘I’ at a lower rate than any other American President and there are reports that he is a very self-confident person. However, he has been seen as aloof and insensitive at times by his electorate.

This video explains it well:

The trouble is that this use of pronouns is not noticed by the conscious mind so as Clegg has values associated with portraying a Lib Dem collective, or a Coalition decision, his use of pronouns are turning people off him. There is a clash between his value base and the perception of the public. Ass he starts from a very low base people are not willing to give him any slack and so add into this using pronouns which subconsciously make people believe he is less personable, warm and honest then he has no chance of improving his situation. If he is to regain some ground then he should look at how he is presenting the information and begin to look at the words he is choosing.

Clegg’s strategy to build a new voter base is not working: How he can begin to attract new and old voters

Nick Clegg’s performance has been improving lately (such as here or here) but many question whether this will be good enough to attract votes. Significant damage has been done to the perception of the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg and changes are needed to rebuild trust. In the height of Cleggmania he was compared to Obama. Perhaps now he needs to take some advice from The US President.

Clegg’s approach has been to sharp elbow the Lib Dems argument into the public’s perception such as his argument on the Lib Dems being the new progressives

For old-fashioned progressives, achieving income equality was the ultimate goal. For us, it is increasing social mobility

Or on whether there is agreement between Labour and the Lib Dems

the most notable thing about Clegg’s speech is the scepticism, and even contempt, with which he treats the idea of a “progressive alliance”.

This approach poses the Lib Dems in a fight with certain values, beliefs, or identities in the country. It turns some towards the Party and some away. This is a pretty standard political strategy and can be seen most notably in the US where there are only 2 main parties. However, Barak Obama chose not to use this strategy to build support and sought to do something different. He chose to continue to attract voters even when they had rejected him. His approach has been that he can win over voters even if they do not come from the same political cloth.

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president, too.

This is a significant difference in approach to that of Mr Clegg who seems to want to start a fight with those on the left and right to calve out the centre. I do not see this strategy as working and so he should stop it (SFP Rule: if it doesn’t work – stop doing it). He should look to build support from outside the centre (neither right nor left sometimes means nowhere) by using Obama’s strategy.

Attract those on the right and the left by reaching out to them. Show shared beliefs and values, show an open and encouraging Party, show he wants them to vote for the Lib Dems.

To those on the left and right whose support we have yet to earn, we may not have won your vote since the General Election, we are working hard to represent you in difficult times. We will be your Party too.

What the Tories don’t want anyone to know: Why the deficit reduction strategy could benefit the Lib Dems

The positioning of the Labour Party and the Tories at the General Election on reducing the deficit looked like the usual left vs right argument. Labour accused the Tories of being like Thatcher and the Tories accused Labour of being incompetent. However, as events have now unfolded in the US it looks very much like the Coalition policy is similar to that of Barak Obama. And this is something the Tories do not want the public to know as it is more likely to benefit the Lib Dems than them.

The Lib Dems had a very reasonable policy on reducing the deficit at the General Election but this didn’t convince anyone. Being a party of the centre often means that policies don’t invoke as strong a reaction as those proposed by Labour or the Tories. Those on the political left attached themselves to Labour’s plan – see the Party and Union’s media releases on it suggesting there is no need for a reduction. While those on the political right attached themselves to ‘the cuts’. So what happens when this thinking is turned upside down by a man highly respected by many on the political left? The answer is that the Tories don’t want people to know this as shown in the New Statesman: Don’t tell anyone, but the coalition’s deficit reduction strategy resembles Barack Obama’s:

The current occupant of the White House is advocating a fiscal retrenchment for America similar in scale and composition to Britain’s, differing only in the important matter of timing. Both countries promise to reduce their deficits by about 8 percentage points by 2015 and both will use spending restraint to do 75 per cent of the work.

The Lib Dem vote = Liberal vote + political centre left (soft Labour voters) + political centre right (soft Tory voters) + undecided voters.

Each component is variable and the soft Labour vote has been turned off by the seemingly right wing deficit reduction strategy. By highlighting that this strategy is seen as right wing by Obama may make those who have been turned off by this association of the deficit reduction to right wing politics to think again. And those voters are more likely to vote Lib Dem than they are Tory.

Collaboration: The Next Big Step in Government and Public Administration

When politicians say things like ‘government would hand people direct control over how they are governed nationally and locally’ (Conservative)  or that they are making ‘government more accountable to the people and strengthen the hand of citizens against the state’ (Labour). Or even ‘creating a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America’s citizens’ (Barack Obama). It sounds great, but what does it mean?

A good place to start is here. Vigoda has written a great piece on where we are at and what we are facing in terms of government and public administration (G&PA) and their relationship with citizens. He argues that government and public administration has evolved from rulers to managers and that there lies a new frontier in government. It is this new frontier that these statements by our new politicians are trying to grasp but are not quiet able to make the transition to this new way of thinking.

This new frontier is from  G&PA as managers and citizens as customers to a collaboration between citizens and other social players and G&PA. He argues that citizens as clients has worked but a new generation of running public administration is needed.

A better definition of the G&PA relationship must rely on the conception of collaboration and partnership. Such reforms will create a different and more flexible model of governing.

government will continue to govern… but the more authentic the encounters with citizens will be, the less will government be ‘they’ and the more it will be ‘we’

(Postmodern Public Administration. Fox & Miller 1995, 128)

It is interesting therefore to read the Liberal Republic by Demos  which says that

Discussions in political circles about ‘devolving’ power approach the question from the wrong direction. The default assumption should be that individuals have power, unless there is a good reason for consolidating power upwards to communities, local agencies, national government, or international bodies.

They go on to suggest that individuals should control their own health or social care through individual budgets, something which is happening and has been written about on this blog.  Importantly, this is a defining aspect of the distinctive Liberal ethos and they state that:

This will be unappealing to conservatives, who prefer people to live tidily, along carefully signposted paths.

And I would add it will be unappealing to Labour due to their desire for authoritarianism which resulted in sites like this.  In Vigoda’s own words

The new generation of public administration will need a different spirit… one that fosters mutual effort. This movement from a ‘they’ spirit’ to a ‘we’ spirit is perhaps the most important mission of public administration in our era.

The issue for the Liberal Democrats is that they begin to grasp this concept, find a way to communicate it effectively and find ways of implementing it. G&PA must take a step forward and while the Conservatives and Labour may have begun to use the language, it remains to be seen if their philosophy and beliefs would allow them to make this big step. The Liberal Democrats are in the best position to be able to do this in the UK.

So why is this on a solution focused politics site? Well, collaboration is a central aspect to the solution focused approach. It is the relationship where the techniques are used and solutions are found. Solution focused politics offers the best possible way of achieving this collaborative government as argued throughout this site. This will be developed on further posts.

Liberal Democrats – Doing What Works?

The argument goes that the Labour Party believes in a big state as this would help government perform its basic functions better. While the Conservative Party believes we should have a smaller state as this would increase economic efficiency and would therefore be better for long term economic performance. A government may have any size but if it makes unwise policy decisions based on erroneous information or thinking, it won’t be effective.

For all Liberal Democrats, the aim is to reinvent, not to reduce, the state”, but what happens when the state is reduced in size by the Coalition Government? Do we then say we need to get back to the size it was in 2006/7/8? Or what happens when it gets bigger again in the future, do we then say it needs to be cut back again? Or are we happy with whatever size it is? The Lib Dems need to assert their position in a more distinct fashion than the current perceived piggy-backing onto the Tories small-state-is-best-narrative, which is frightening potential voters into believing the Lib Dems are now something to fear (mainly from the political left).

The Solution Focused Change website posted a video of Barak Obama on the subject which fits in with the solution focused approach and would fit well with the Lib Dems.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.

~Barack Obama

There is more discussion on this subject on this blog here. The issue with the debate is that Labour make an assumption that a big state is both good and necessary to protect people while the Tories assume a big state is wasteful and hampers private enterprise (which is bad for the people). This focuses the debate on the process of how to make the state bigger or smaller. The focus on the process is the problem as there is no debate on what works for people on the ground.

The simple message of ‘doing what works’ allows for experimentation to find what works which means the size of the state can be changed to find what is best for the time and for that particular area. It focused the debate on the outcome rather than the process i.e. the effect for the people and not a change in size of government due to preconceptions of what is best.


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