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.

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.

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.

The cost of making the Coalition work and the value of our unity: Who should lead the heart of the party?

Nearly 2 years in and there are significant questions about how we operate within a Coalition with the Tories. Tensions have been high but muted. The party has been very defensive. Some have reached out to Labour and this seems to have been formalised in Liberal Left. Others have sought to form a right leaning group. A prominent Lib Dem blogger has recently observed the tension in the blogosphere as a fight. While this debate has got very personal for many, we may be missing an important lesson that if not learned will rip the party in two.

Linda Jack wrote in the Guardian about the importance of members of the party to feel that their values are being represented by the party. It was for this reason that she says Liberal Left has been formed to advocate for these values. Yet the argument by the hierarchy of the Lib Dems has been that they are fighting for Lib Dem values in Government. News papers across the country led with the headline ‘Liberal Democrats fighting for party’s values every day’ after Autumn Conference. So clearly something is not right.

So what is really going on for people in the party to feel like they want to quit, not support the party, or attack others in the party for disagreeing? Nick Clegg recently gave an interview to House magazine in which he said:

“Let’s be blunt: I am asking, day in day out, Liberal Democrat peers to vote on things that they wouldn’t do in a month of Sundays if it was a Liberal Democrat government.”

This should really be extended to anyone who is a member, supporter or voter to go along with what he would not expect if it was a Lib Dem Government. Roughly translated as ‘what we are doing, day in day out, is not representing our values’. This is causing a serious amount of tension.

A major bone of contention has been about priorities when it comes to values. All Lib Dems would probably agree in plural politics and Clegg has laid a stake in demonstrating that Coalitions can work in the UK. The issue comes at what stake to show this. Decisions that have been made have at times been perceived as harsh and even cruel to some. So maintaining the priority of making the Coalition work is in direct tension with other passionately held values. So while Clegg can argue that he is indeed upholding the values of the Lib Dems in Government, this is at the expense of other values, but he has made the decision that making the Coalition work is the most worthy of values, and probably politically beneficial in the long run. Others do not agree.

Interestingly, members who have been disillusioned with the decisions of the Lib Dems in Government have at times been buoyed by Chris Huhne. He has made some shrewd political gestures, even if he has not made many shrewd political relationships. His interventions, speeches and comments have hit the headlines and have resonated with many in the party. These events teach us a lesson.

The leader of the Lib Dems, or any party for that matter, is there to represent the values of the party most acutely. Nick Clegg is now the Deputy Prime Minister who represents the Government. This makes it extremely difficult for him to represent those values and, at times, has seemed confused as to where his loyalties lie (e.g. supporting Cameron the day after the EU summit) and has, at times, had to be led by others in the party (e.g. Shirley Williams on the NHS bill). Huhne served a very useful function in representing those values very well in Government (a fair amount of the time). So in many ways Nick Clegg is no longer the leader of the Lib Dems in the sense that we came to understand. What the Lib Dems lack is an effective voice for the values of the party and not just the values that are being represented in Government. Some may argue that Tim Farron should do this as Party president but I don’t think he is doing very well at this or the anxiety and tension would be much better contained as it has been at times (e.g. Huhne, Williams, Ashdown).

What the Lib Dems need when in Coalition is a senior position who has the permission of the Party to speak freely on behalf of the Party values. This means supporting the measures which represent the party values and criticising those which don’t. If this were in place, would there be a need for new groups to be popping up all over the place to represent some of the values the party represents. A well functioning party feels that all values are well represented, as they have been while we have been in opposition. Being in Coalition has changed things.

If we are not careful, the value of showing that Coalitions can work will destroy the value of unity. We need someone to bring that unity and it may be that this is not possible for the DPM to be that person.

Try not to become a man of success but a man of value – Einstein

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:

Who are Lib Dem voters? How do they compare to Tory voters? What should we do to attract more votes? Some simple answers

Ever had to convince someone recently that the Lib Dems have not sold out, stand for nothing, and are making a positive difference to the country? As Clegg says, it’s not easy. A recent poll by the The Independent (YouGov) showed an overwhelming majority of those polled thought companies should value people over profits and it seems 2012 maybe the year this is played out by all parties and the Lib Dems should be in a good position to be in tune with the public mood.

The poll had some interesting results for the Lib Dems. Looking at a comparison of Tory and Lib Dem voters the difference in views was (unsurprisingly?) stark.

Conservative supporters are almost evenly split on whether the rich-poor gap is bad for ordinary people. 78% of Lib Dem voters believe it is bad and only 14% do not. Amongst the general public 70% people believe the gap between those at the top and everyone else is too wide and bad for ordinary people while 20% think we should not worry about the gap too much or reduce rewards for successful people.

Almost half of Tory voters say employee rights lead to fewer jobs and a weaker economy. 19% of Liberal Democrat supporters agree.

46% of Tory supporters think businesses would be more successful if they involved their workforce, 74% of Lib Dem voters do.

Despite the left/right debate within the Lib Dems, Liberal Democrat voters are significantly more progressive than the average person – and on some issues are more progressive than Labour voters.

Another recent poll showed that Tory activists oppose the Coalition’s plans, backed by Mr Cameron, to change the law to allow gay people to marry by 55% to 36.

While nationally 44% believe that past government intervention has usually ended in tears and that the state should keep out of the way. 31% thinks the economy would benefit if the Government intervened more.

Last year Nick Clegg said that one of the reasons people are confused about what the Lib Dems stand for is because previous leaders have said different things (left, progressive, centre). Polls such as these are an indication that we are who we are and despite the leaders project to place us where they think the most votes are, the truth is we are centre on some issues and we are not in others. We champion some popular issues and some not so popular ones. We should not be shy from supporting what we really stand for.

We need to be bold to show who we are. Decriminalisation of drugs or futher? Assisted dying or further? A wealth tax to replace the 50p rate or further? We are bold, we just hide behind ourselves. As our polls are so low, the economic situation has been set, and people are confused as to who we are, surely this is a good time to come out with the boldest policies we have ever advocated.

 

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.

Is the Coalition changing the Lib Dems? Polling data shows people more confused by the Lib Dems

Is something strange going on? Nick Clegg and many others have called Ken Clarke a Lib Dem. Now Ken Clarke is calling Nick Clegg a One Nation Tory. The Tory conference didn’t ridicule the Lib Dems and Labour conference wanted to rule out a Coalition with the Lib Dems. With so many people having an opinion of the Lib Dems having now gone into Coalition, there maybe signs that the party itself is changing?

For Labour, the Lib Dems have been a left leaning political party that should really be a wing of the Labour Party. For many in the country the Lib Dems were an independent centre-left party. Labour and many on the political left have been confused by the Coalition with the Tories. If we look historically at the leanings of Lib Dem support we see that in recent years there was a tendency for the Lib Dems to favour Labour:

But you can also see that in 1983, 1987 and 1992 the Lib Dems favoured the Tories so it has not always been the case that the Lib Dems have been a left leaning political party, more of a centrist party. So have things changed back to a pre 1997 state? PoliticalBetting report that

there’s been a big change in the views of Lib Dems supporters. Back in August the split was 45%-27% in favour of the Tories/Dave. In the overnight poll that’s moved to 53%-18%.

So a hardening of the support for the Tories over Labour by Lib Dems? This could be explained by the positioning of the other parties – The closer Labour or the Tories are to the centre ground the more support for them by the Lib Dems. So when Labour moved to the left we saw people move to the centre:

When Labour moved to the centre people went with them:

So with Labour moving to the left surely this means people should be more attracted to the Lib Dems? Apparently not as we are constantly reminded everyday by opinion polls. So maybe Labour’s taunts are true – that we have moved to the right leaving people to move to Labour? If this were the case then our support would be going to Labour. In fact what has happened is that Lib Dem support has deserted in all directions:

YouGov are showing that 35% of Lib Dem voters have moved to Labour and 17% to the Tories and 11% to other parties. If this was all about political posturing then the picture would be very different. If we had moved to the right then why would 11% move to the Tories, even while we are in Government with them? Surely it can’t just be about political posturing? And this is where we need to look elsewhere to see the bigger picture

At the General Election people did not know what the Labour party stood for and people were more sure about the Lib Dems. Now we see a reversal of this trend with people saying they know what the Labour party stands for more now and the Lib Dems less. It is interesting that the Labour party vote is higher than the vote for Ed Miliband, maybe a sign they have more trust in the party and what it stands for than him? Whereas for the Lib Dems people are saying they don’t know what the Lib Dems stand for, or Clegg for that matter. The Tories have remined fairly consistent in this area and so have their poll ratings – so it maybe an important indicator?

So as attitudes in the Lib Dems change towards the Labour party, potentially due to changing in political posturing, this is being seen as a change in what the party stands for, and this is damaging. If we want to regain voters, we need to show what we stand for and that this is consistent. We need to stop talking about left/right/centre and more about values. We need to focus on a small number of topics and get the message out. We need to show people that we are consistent and we need to accept that we have not been consistent over the years.

Is the Lib Dem poll rating the fault of the members?

Who was more affected by going into Coalition with the Tories? The soft Lib Dem vote who seem to think we have sold out on our principles (see here)? Maybe the many on the political left in general? Or maybe it is actually the Lib Dem core vote? Those who are fully paid up members of the party and who are active members? Perhaps the core Lib Dem vote has been so rocked by this Coalition that it has had a significant contribution to our current poll ratings? Are we, the members of the Lib Dems to blame for our low poll rating?

When looking at recent polling we can see a very interesting development:

We can see that the Lib Dems are campaigning at a significantly different levels in different areas. Where Labour is second to the conservatives we can see we have a significantly lower intensity than that of the Tories or Labour, while where we are second to the Tories we are out performing the other parties. And what is the effect of this?

We see that we are scoring 12% in the polls where we are not campaigning as hard as the other parties, which is where most people quote our poll ratings at the moment. However, where we are campaigning much harder we are recording 31% of support, a significantly higher level of support in the same national context. While areas can’t be compared like for like and one poll doesn’t tell you a lot, this is something which Nick Clegg has been talking about – the fact that it has been the Lib Dem activists which have stopped going out on to the streets and speaking to people about the Coalition, about what we are doing and why.

There are no such things as Lib Dem safe seats and every vote needs to be won. We have a slogan of ‘where we work, we win’ because Lib Dem support is based on people going out there and getting support. We need activists more than other parties to maintain that support but if we withdraw our activism then the support drops away. So it may be that going into coalition with the Tories has affected the Lib Dem members more than it has other groups? I certainly know people who are worried about knocking on doors for fear of hostility. Some members are supportive of the Lib Dems in Coalition but not of some Coalition policies and they wonder how to deal with this on the door step.

This was something Nick Clegg was worried about when I spoke to him and his response was to get people out there again and to give them a script in his speech at conference so we knew what to say. He saw the success of the conference as motivating people to get back out there and maybe he is right? This was the summary of my conversation with him (see here for its explanation if it makes no sense):

But if we do start getting back out there who knows what will happen to our poll rating?

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