Clegg’s hocus pocus…..

Nick Clegg wants to be Prime Minister; he wants to lead a Liberal Democrat government and really change this country. Kudos to him, this is a laudable ambition, and one we would all like to see realised but the long and short of this is that this has been a dreadful conference. The opening lines of his speech regarding Afghanistan show where the problem lies;

“After nearly 8 years, victory not only seems more distant than ever, failure seems inevitable unless we change course.

I know some of you believe we should call for British troops to withdraw now.

If things continue on the present disastrous course, then sooner or later that is a judgement which we may need to make.”

Clegg has claimed our party will be ‘open and candid’ but how open and candid is this;

“The threadbare legitimacy of the government in Kabul must be strengthened by reaching out across ethnic and tribal divisions.”

No mention of electoral fraud; no mention of the shameful laws passed by the Karzai government regarding women; no mention of the links to warlordism. Instead what it needs to do is merely be more ‘touchy-feely’ and this indeed is the crux of the problem, why I so often find myself at odds with the current leadership and Clegg as leader. The conclusion Clegg should be drawing from all this is that the sacrifices he rightly highlights are in vain; that they are for a government that is not worth a drop of blood shed in its defence instead he concludes that Gordon Brown isn’t doing enough to ‘sell’ the war to the British public. He actually wants Brown to do what Blair did and try some of the ol’ smoke an mirrors to make British people deny what they can see with their own eyes and convince them that somehow their perception of how things are is totally wrong (it isn’t) and that somehow Clegg’s and Brown’s is much better (it isn’t).

He does not ‘speak out on Afghanistan’ at all; he equivocates and lends dangerous weight to the opinion that actually what guides him is focus groups not conviction. Clegg’s ‘I want to be Prime Minister’ line seems to be an attempt to address the perception that Clegg is a lightweight but it does little of the kind when it is preceded by the remarks above. It actually makes a mockery of his promise that;

“I am never going to duck asking the important questions, however difficult they are.”

No doubt he will have felt the party splintering under him to a large degree this week as his personal preference to equivocate on Afghanistan and scrap tuition fees received sharp rebuttals in the form of motions and amendments passed by conference.  I feel some sympathy for him as he is trying to straddle the tensions that are always inherent in parties and present some kind of united platform but lose that when I remember that he is the one who started all this with that famous ‘aspirational’ interview in which he effectively briefed against his own Federal Policy Committee.

After the chickens come home to roost, when we are staring at how little we have advanced ‘carrying the torch of progress’ this is what people will remember and it is only right that they do so; of course, for now despite the policy differences people will say how wonderful they think Clegg is but there is no way that will survive a bad set of election results. His defence of his ‘savage cuts’ remarks were totally unacceptable and the notion of ‘progressive austerity’ is right up there with the ‘third way’ in the league of all time intellectually vapid concepts.

In his defence his speech wasn’t all bad, he raised some fundamental issues and rounded well on both the Conservatives and Labour (the bare minimum you’d expect from your leader to be fair) and he isn’t wholly responsible for the underlying tensions that exist but the salient truth remains; the only reason changing leader is not an issue in this party currently is because there is an election approaching. After the electoral dust settles everybody will be gripped by the thunderbolts shooting across Labour’s sky as it struggles within itself, the similar process we undergo will go unnoticed which may well be a small blessing in disguise. Clegg won’t survive such a bitter exchange, and his conduct with regard to the ‘aspirations’ ultimately means to me he won’t deserve too.


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12 responses to “Clegg’s hocus pocus…..”

  1. Joe Otten says :

    So what do you think threadbare legitimacy refers to if not the electoral fraud among other things?

    Out of interest who would your ideal party leader be? Ken Livingstone? Tony Benn? George Galloway?


  2. Barrie Wood says :

    Cheap shot Joe.

    The speech yesterday with vacuous nonsense like ‘progressive audacity’ was not one to excite me as a Lib Dem, let alone those outside our ranks.

    Last Autumn we had the imprecise detail as to how much of the £20bn of alleged ‘savings’ would be redirected towards tax cuts and we had Nick’s inability to say what the basic level of the state pension was. This September we’ve had the irresponsible and alienating talk of ‘savage’ cuts and trying to bounce the party on tuition fees. His political antennae is questionable, again.

    Conference is meant to rally the troops and engage with the wider public. Did it achieve either outcome ? Most of the public are aware that times of austerity are coming, but as Steve Webb said the leadership overdid the gloom and doom.

    The explicitly progressive taxation position outflanking the other parties is what should have been shouted from the rooftops. Our commitment to reforming and cleaning up politics should resonate, following the MP’s expenses furore. Likewise, distinctive policies, such as the pupil premium, civil liberties stances, supporting the Ghurkas et al, are all good stories to tell – not an emphasis on getting into a dutch auction to see who can be harder on the public sector.

    Critics portray Clegg as Cameron Lite. The faux sincerity of his body language apes Blair. Just because the media establishment tell you someone is good doesn’t automatically make it so. Didn’t the political class marvel at Cameron and Blair previously ?

    Frankly, it’ll be a tall order to retain the number of seats we already have at Westminster next year. That a third of the populace have never even heard of Nick Clegg says it all. Further I remember how vividly how God awful he was at the Plymouth leadership hustings. Disappointingly I’m no further impressed despite Nick having had time to ‘grow into’ the job of leader.

    Sure he’s had his successes too. After the shaky start, I think he did crucially manage to get across how different we are from the Tories.

    Of course I’d prefer a Webb, Harris, Holmes or Farron type figure to lead the party instead. That Labour is so electorally impotent and their haemorrhaging vote is going pretty much everywhere but NOT the Lib Dems is a real reason for concern. How do you account for this scenario Joe ?


  3. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Hat-tip Barrie because he makes many excellent points in response. Very cheap shot indeed. I would prefer one of the people that Barrie cites or just anybody who can actually appeal to the vote we need, sadly the person isn’t Clegg who can win these votes.

    I wont make any further points because Barrie has made many in response that I would like to see your answer too.


  4. Joe Otten says :

    Looks like the latest polls speak for themselves.

    You don’t appeal to the overtaxed poor by saying that Old Labour was right.


  5. darrellgoodliffe says :


    The latest polls prove nothing. Our ‘post-conference bounce’ was wiped out within one day of Labour’s starting in the YouGov daily tracker and parties always get a post-conference boost because they get more exposure…it will be gone by the times the next ones are out….


  6. Oranjepan says :

    I’ve been mulling a conference post about how strange performance of the leadershipfor a while now. It was almost like they were trying to talk to the people who weren’t listening – the exact opposite of dog-whistling – sheer political perversity.

    All this stuff about savage cuts was roundly rejected by the members but it seems to have won us a hearing with new sections of the electorate.

    So it may actually have been a deliberate calculation to make everybody scratch their heads in wonder, rather than give us an opportunity to complacently pat ourselves on the back in premature congratulation as we head into a vital pre-election period.


  7. darrellgoodliffe says :


    I can see your point about the leadership talking to random sections of the electorate; would be interesting if you did produce something.

    I am not so sure it has to be honest, I will certainly have to see more than one poll to be convinced it has. Maybe it was, maybe it wasnt but it seemed a bit muddled to me and I certainly hope that was not intentional.


  8. Oranjepan says :

    Hi Darrell,
    I think it’s an interesting strategic question.

    Can we win more voters by appealing to the converted?

    Orthodox wisdom says it’s necessary to show a united front to put on a good show for the cameras, but we don’t believe in being trapped by conformity and convention, so instead of being playing to the media it almost seems logical that we should confound them by being contrary.

    We are different and we need to do things differently, so whether or not the party as a whole comes down on one side or the other it is imperative to stir controversy and have the substantive debates to get people thinking about the precise nature of the country’s policy direction, as a consequence it opens up the possibility that those pat assumptions aren’t as clear-cut as it may be portrayed and thereby will indirectly open up their minds to the possibility that they will vote for their LibDem candidate.

    On another level it’s too early to judge the conference season polls (though any good news is welcome), and we should remember that Clegg lacks a recogition factor (70% have a view of him compared to 90% for Cameron), so anything which raises his profile with undecideds has to be a positive – especially when the balance of people are positive.

    It’s worth recalling there’s an old Liberal by-election maxim – when people get to know us, they like us – because we’re normal human beings, just like them (and unlike our opponents).

    Did you see Heseltine have a go at David Laws on QT, calling him impolite and saying it shows our true colours? That was excellent! Hezza showed he’s a reactionary dinosaur, Laws showed he’s perfectly open-minded, rational and ordinary!


  9. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Yes I agree it is but I think a key point I would make here is that I am not wanting Clegg to ‘preach to the converted’; what I have in mind are those target Labour voters. True, I think Clegg has a problem with our core vote but it’s not the central issue/problem I am raising here I think. What concerns me is appealing to that disaffected Labour vote.

    I agree that a little bit of robust debate is not always a bad thing and I think in some regards to the above it was good for those voters I am talking about to see the Steve Webb’s et el on display so they could see that what Clegg is saying is not necessarily representative of the mainstream of the party. However, I do feel it is hard to escape the impression (one that I think is effectively deployed against us) that we were caught facing two-ways and it reminded me of the oft repeated charge against us; that we tack to the right against the Tories and left against Labour. This I think is to do with a widespread perception that we have no uniformly binding central narrative and the flip-flops of the leadership simply don’t help here.

    I agree with stimulating debate but I cant help feeling that most people watching that conference would have felt the above applied and it showed. Also, agreed it is far too early to judge the polls; we can’t really do that until the batch after all three conferences have been.

    Lol, well I certainly hope that is true :). No I didnt sadly, it sounds like I missed out there 🙂


  10. Oranjepan says :

    Being caught facing two ways is exactly what we DO want!

    In the discussion over Clegg’s use of the word ‘savage’ with regard to cuts, this has obvious appeal to the right-wing and shows we are sympathetic to their concerns, but in the rejection by Steve Webb and the wider party we show we are also sympathetic to the concerns of the left.

    The significant point is that we don’t have a tribal mainstream of ideological opinion, but that we have a broad-based coalition of support who are realistic and pragmatic in dealing with the situation which faces us – we are capable of adjusting our view according to the evidence.

    It is a blatant over-simplification to say the nations finances face a choice between raising taxes and cutting spending and we should deny at every turn anyone who suggests those are the only two alternatives. With targetted measures and strategic reforms we can actually change the structure of the economy and do so within our means.

    This was the message behind the Green Tax switch, and it is what is behind raising the income tax threshold to the level of the minimum wage. But it is also behind the proposal to accept top-up loans and introduce a ‘mansion tax’.

    We don’t believe in a zero-sum game where we blindly favour any group in society over another: we look to provide for the real needs of real people, not our selfish prejudices.


  11. darrellgoodliffe says :


    You see I am so not sure I agree with that; I don’t disagree with what you say about the Clegg/Webb discourse but I am not sure that is helpful if we want to appear to be more than a party looking to hoover up protest votes.

    I can’t disagree with the sentiment but the above concern still applies I think; people are contradictory and in their government they look for something that is strong, something they can cling too and be sure of and the above simply does not provide that. Indeed, in another place that lack of tribal loyalty can also be a problem; it is the one thing that staves off extinction when the chips are down for either the Conservatives or Labour.

    Agreed that this is so; indeed it is a blatant oversimplification to say that all we have to do is actually cut the debt and everything will be hunky-dory again. Agreed about that but the Green Tax switch is precisely an example to me of something that has flowered and faded (more is the pity) and one of the things that did start to sound coherent and now seems to be lost. You say it is behind these things but there is simply no evidence of it so your guess is as good as mine and I think what I am saying here will be the majority preception of our party actually.

    Cant disagree with that being a good thing but I refer you to the concerns I raise above.


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