Archive for the ‘Nick Clegg’ Category

I was on BBC Radio 5 live on Friday and again this morning on Kevin Maguire’s LBC show. My theme was the monumental failure of Nick Clegg’s leadership of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition. But far more important than what I think, is the damning verdict of the electorate last Thursday, when our share of the vote plummeted For those of you reading this who are not natural Lib Dem supporters you might want to skip the next couple of paragraphs!

Squandered Opportunity for Electoral Change

I have a big stake in this. I have been a member since the Party was formed back in the 1980’s and I was in the Liberal Party before that. I have been a District and County Councillor and stood for Parliament twice, most recently last year in Surrey against Jeremy Hunt. I served as a Branch Chairman and on the Executive of my local Party. Like many committed Lib Dem members I believe Nick Clegg has failed us badly.

For committed Lib Dem supporters it is shocking that Clegg has squandered the golden opportunity to achieve electoral reform, perhaps for a generation. No other Lib Dem leader has had such an opportunity, but Clegg has comprehensively failed to deliver on this political reform which falls directly under his Ministerial remit. First he failed in the negotiation with Cameron last year, which left us with the rather uninspiring AV system as the proposed change. He then failed on his choice of timing, by fixing the referendum date at a point when (because of the ‘savage cuts’ agenda) the coalition was likely to be deeply unpopular with left-inclined voters whose support would be needed to secure reform. Due to Clegg cosying up to Cameron he undermined his credibility with those same voters and thus their support for a voting system that would benefit the Lib Dems. He left the Yes campaign too little time to mobilise and plan for the vote. He then failed to rein in the Tories and prevent the scandalous tactics of the No2AV campaign. The last of these points is symptomatic of his wider failure as Lib Dem leader in this coalition.

What are the Lib Dems for?

Nick Clegg’s cosy relationship with Cameron and his personal unwillingness to assert himself in the face of the ‘ruthless and calculating’ Tories (as Vince Cable describes them) is a huge factor in the loss of support for the Lib Dems. I have just watched the Lib Dem leader of Eastleigh Borough Council on TV describing Clegg as naive. That’s one perspective. Personally I wonder if Clegg isn’t actually a natural ally of Cameron, not simply because of their similar class backgrounds but because they share much in the way of political ideology. Whether Clegg likes it or not, for decades most of our support has come from left of centre voters. It is these voters who are saying to us that they feel betrayed by our broken promises and by our rightward shift (which I call the Toryfication of our Party). Clegg is seen as weak by many people who suspect that he is a Tory at heart anyway. Whether or not that is true, he has failed to provide a passionate left of centre leadership. His heart just does not seem to be in it.

People naturally ask “What are the Lib Dems for?” and “What’s the point in voting Lib Dem?” When we make an explicit promise to vote against any proposed increase in University tuition fees (and actually sign a pledge saying exactly that) it is no surprise if people turn against us when we do exactly the opposite. Simples! Why should the voters believe any promise Clegg makes to them? The tuition fees vote was a political disaster for us. By this foolish act alone, Clegg has fatally undermined his credibility with millions of people, especially the young who had thought we were ‘different’ from the usual manipulative, unprincipled, deceitful politicians who pitch for their support. The contempt that many young people now have for the Lib Dems will be hard to remedy.

Clegg should have made the tuition fees vote a red-line issue in the coalition agreement. It was a failure of his political judgement that he did not do so.

Loss of Identity

Few people would suggest that the Tories have lost their principles. Most people know what the Conservatives stand for. This can no longer be said of the Lib Dems. It has all got very fuzzy. On the BBC Andrew Marr programme this morning Clegg said that the lesson he has taken from last Thursday’s elections and the AV defeat was that the Lib Dems failed to communicate effectively. Well Mr Clegg – you are the leader, so that must be your personal failure to communicate. Your dalliance with Cameron and Co has eroded our Lib Dem distinctiveness and alienated millions of voters.

Clegg now wants to assert his position, flexing his political muscles over NHS reform. The problem is that he is not the one to re-establish our integrity and identity. The damage to his credibility has been too deep. The electorate now see him as weak and ineffectual. Many believe he is a Tory at heart. The disillusionment is too great for him to win back their support.

High Stakes Poker needs a ‘ruthless and calculating’ Lib Dem Player

There is much talk today of the risks of the coalition breaking up. Some Tories are saying that if the Lib Dems get too uppity then there will be an election and the Lib Dems will be wiped out.

My analysis is that Cameron would not risk an election now. He likes power and position too much. If there was an election this year then there is every possibility that Labour could end up as the biggest Party and, with the current electoral boundaries, it is very unlikely that the Tories would win outright (although not impossible).

This is a high stakes poker game. It needs a Lib Dem Player willing to call Cameron’s bluff. Clegg appears to like his position as Deputy PM too much to risk losing it and, in my view, he doesn’t have the courage or shrewdness for the game. My choice for such a role would be Chris Huhne. We need a tough operator like him at the top of our Party. The right wing press know he would change the dynamics of the coalition in our favour, hence their attacks on Huhne today.

A Different Agenda

People who are not particularly interested in politics will naturally ask what would change with a new Lib Dem leader. It will be vital to have a clear distinctive Liberal Democrat Agenda. There could be a very long list but as a start my preferred agenda would include:

1. Major investment in transport and green energy infrastructure;
2. No more wars of intervention (unless defending our citizens or direct interests);
3. A clear timetable to put up the tax threshold to £10k (by April 2012 at the latest);
4. A firm ‘No’ to the risky, messy, expensive NHS reorganisation;
5. A ‘Robin Hood’ financial services tax;
6. International action on tax avoidance by the Super Rich;
7. Carefully tapered benefits cuts for those moving into work;
8. Stopping the Trident replacement now before any more money is spent;
9. Instigating a wholesale review of University Tuition Fees with a view to implement reductions and a meaningful cap before 2015, with some targeted subjects being entirely freed from student fees to encourage young people to get qualifications in key areas of benefit to the economic future of our country;
10. Encouragement for foreign students to come here instead of pushing them away (Doh! they bring in money);
11. Splitting up the big banks to reduce future risks and consideration of a wide range of options including mutualisation or transferring ownership to all people on the UK electoral roll!

UPDATE ON MY EARLIER BLOG ‘Coalition descends into Farce: Jeremy Hunt not the right person to judge on BSkyB and Murdochs’

I don’t usually quote the Daily Mail but they have quite a good article on Jeremy Hunt’s private and public contacts with the Murdoch empire. Click here for the article.

I wonder if more details about the Murdochs and Hunt will come out soon? Can’t see the Sun or The Times doing an expose! Murdoch must be laughing all the way to his lair.

In ‘the thick of it’ in Parliament Square

I was in London yesterday and was shocked by events inside and outside Parliament! I saw for myself what happened in the heart of Parliament Square and I heard eloquent and intelligent young people rage against the madness of the Coalition’s tuition fees policy.

The Tory/Lib Dem Coalition government voted to massively increase tuition fees for students. There was heated debate in the House of Commons but Nick Clegg was unapologetic and eager to push the policy through. This was despite huge opposition from young people who protested on the streets of London outside Parliament yesterday.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg appeared arrogant and out of touch in his media interviews. This went down very badly with young people!

Students on Westminster Bridge at around 1pm on 9th December 2010

I saw the protests from both sides of the police lines and saw many injured young people and one injured policeman. There were some upsetting scenes which I chose not to photograph. This included one young man with blood pouring from his head onto the road. There was a whole group of injured young people sat on the pavement. Police at times did seem very heavy handed with the crowds and there was huge anger amongst protesters. See video footage of police horses charging the crowd – unlikely to be shown on Sky!

Students reason with the law

The impact of the Lib Dem leadership voting for the policy was very evident outside as young people challenged police control lines and chanted “Shame on you for turning blue” whenever Clegg’s name was mentioned. He was, of course, called a lot worse.

Sense of Betrayal is Felt by Young People

There was a deep-rooted sense of betrayal amongst young people and probably the majority of the anger was directed at Clegg and his supporters (a reducing number of people as time goes on).

For my part I believe that it’s crucial to be a man or woman of your word. If there is an explicit promise made in writing and on film (and it’s a promise that has no conditions attached ) … well you can’t renege on it – at least not without undermining your credibility with the electorate and feeding the cynical attitude that ‘you’re all as bad as each other’.

Broken Promises Undermine Coalition Politics

The Observer said this on Sunday, “the (tuition fees) furore risks cementing coalition in peoples minds as licence to break promises”. When the referendum on changing the voting system comes there’s a real danger that people will say, ‘well if that’s the result of the kind of coalition that would come from electoral reform, I don’t want to vote for it’.

In any case Clegg did not hold the Party together. His attempt to appear tough with his own MPs backfired badly as more Lib Dem MPs voted against or abstained than voted for the policy put forward by the Lib Dem leadership. Clegg is weakened by this – as is our Party. So a pretty comprehensive disaster Nick! You have managed to deeply damage public trust in our party, particularly amongst young people and you have caused major division in the Lib Dems at the same time.

That is the kind of leadership we can do without.

28 Lib Dem MPs voted in favour of trebling tuition fees proposals, 21 voted against, 8 abstained.

Here are the names of the 21 Lib Dem MPs who voted against the trebling of tuition fees

Mass protest in Parliament Square

George Osborne told Parliament today that benefit payments to the poor and disadvantaged are to be savagely cut back. Osborne just announced an ADDITIONAL £7 Billion of cuts in benefits, making £18 Billion in all since the Coalition came to power. But the banks will fare somewhat better! No surprise there – Tories always protect their own, but it is shameful that the Lib Dem leadership are going along with this and I speak as a Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate in 2010.

Banks will face some unspecified ‘levy’ which Osborne claims will raise more than Labour’s tax on bonuses last year (£5 Billion). Well I won’t be holding my breath as we all know how clever these bankers are at protecting their money and squandering ours.

The details of the bank levy are due to be announced later this week. Even if the bank levy DOES raise more than £5 Billion per year and I repeat that we don’t have any details yet, this is a paltry sum considering the magnitude of the bank bailout (over £1 TRILLION – that’s £1,000 Billion) and the catastrophic damage to the Western economies that the banks have caused.

So the Tory Toffs (and their new found Lib Dem allies) are going to squeeze the poor whilst protecting the bankers. Same old Tories. Shame on Nick Clegg for going along with it.