...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, May 30, 2014

Day 4898: Infinity Percent Better than Expected!


In purely mathematical terms, it could have been worse. But not by much. The voters' ongoing desire to give the Liberal Democrats a pummelling for giving them what they voted for saw us losing another swathe of councillors and all but one of our Members of the European Parliament.

Unsurprisingly, there have been calls for Cap'n Clegg to step down, many from friends.

And, despite suspicious leaks from "usual suspects" in the Grauniad (who are NOT our friends), most of them have principled reasons for wanting him to go.

But I disagree with them. I still agree with Nick. And here's why:

Firstly, Cap'n Clegg is a Liberal.

The idea that he's a pseudo-Tory is absurd. In fact, he's one of those soggy, left-wing, interventionist Liberals – you can tell can he believes in the power of the State to make things better from the way he always, but always, puts education first: pupil premium, more apprenticeships, free school meals.

Could he be a BETTER Liberal? Who couldn't? He thinks first of the State as an agent of change for good, before remembering that it can be abused which is why he occasionally fumbles the pass on civil liberties issues (though to be fair, once he sits down and thinks about it, he comes to the right answer). He's against the establishment, but it's not his first instinct to tear it down. His first thought is usually how can we HELP people, rather than how can we got out of people's way.

Secondly, Cap'n Clegg is actually saying Liberal things.

The "Party of In" campaign was the right thing to do, it was the Party being unashamed of the policies and positions we are trying to sell. The debate around more draconian penalties for knife possession – not even knife CRIME – was a needed standing up to of the Home Office, while Labour and Tories continue to try and outflank each other to the right. Free School Meals – a policy based on EVIDENCE, supported by TRIALS – is absolutely the right sort of thing we should be doing. The economics of the Coalition – shifting tax away from the incomes of lower earners and onto wealth and green taxes is entirely Liberal.

Thirdly, he's by far the best we've got at communicating Liberal things.

Town Hall meetings, Call Clegg on LBS, TV debates: Cap'n Clegg is really very good at delivering the message. The case against him is that no one is listening. I would dispute that. No one who writes for the Grauniad is listening; no one who writes for the Tell-lies-o-graph is listening. But Pollyanna Toytown and Dan Hannan sticking their fingers in their ears going "lalalala" does not mean that everyone else is deaf to our appeal. But equally, it doesn't seem likely that they'll suddenly start giving a fair hearing to any other Liberal Democrat. We have always had to struggle to get our message past the gatekeepers of the meeja. I'd rather have someone who's good at doing that still on board.

Fourthly, the Coalition's policies look like they might just be starting to work.

There are signs that we are turning the economy around, benefiting people at last. Do we really want to derail that by letting the Tories take charge while we go into a tailspin? Which is more important: serving the public trust or serving the Party's re-election? Yes, I realise we will need to get re-elected to keep on serving the public, but we must never fall into the trap that Hard Labour has: existing ONLY to get themselves elected.

One of the few good things the press pack are willing to say about us is that we've held it together in the face of, well, them being pretty beastly to us. I'm sure our opponents would love it if we tossed that aside. ("Oh they betray everyone, and then themselves too in the end", they would say. You know they would.)

Fifthly, he does actually listen.

Nick's office is far more open and accessible to the membership than previous leaders (excepting, possibly, Paddy pre-Blair-love-in-bunker phase; don't worry, he got over it). Telephone conferences, video interviews, question and answer sessions at conference, interviews with bloggers… he's been very much more open to interacting with and responding to the members. I was part of the phone call that turned Party policy around on internet snooping. Did they get it wrong? Yes. Did they put it right? Absolutely.

But if – as the complaints go – the leader's office / Party headquarters are supposed to be "disconnected" and "not listening", why hasn't that been fixed? It takes two to tango. We've had two rounds of Federal Executive elections now where a slate of candidates promised to mend that relationship. So if it's still wrong, why haven't they? No one is saying the FE should be considering their own positions for their share of this supposed failure; but equally no one ON the FE is in any position to be calling for Nick to go either. (We've failed so he should go! Not very edifying, is it?)

I try to avoid the negativity of a small group of people commenting intemperately on Lib Dem Voice – or rather accusing anyone who voices disagreement with them, including Auntie Caron of all people, of being part of an "Orange Booker" conspiracy! – who leave the campaign to replace Nick appearing sadly tainted.

So I've stayed away from the purely pragmatic reasons for not dropping the leader at this stage. You know what they are: the timing isn't good; it damaged the "brand" when we dropped Charles (arguably that act cost us seats in 2010; not Cleggy's leadership); it did so again when Ming stepped down; there's no evidence that anyone else would get any fairer hearing than Nick does; why if you believe we're going down to inevitable defeat next year (which I don't), make someone else carry the can. Most importantly, why should we ditch the leader who took us into government on the say so of, frankly, a conspiracy in the pages of the Grauniad? (Reminder: they are NOT our friends!)

We DO need greater coherence – and a great deal more what is technically called… oomph! – to our message; we need to talk louder about tearing down the system that has herded people into voting UKIP; we need to earn back a reputation for fairness and honesty.

I don't see how stabbing Cap'n Clegg in the back helps with any of that.

We lose a lot by getting rid of him; we gain more by keeping him.

I think he should stay.

Yes, Daddy was there in the 'Eighties when Captain Paddy went from 0.0% to 0.4% and his Spitting Image puppet was appearing in a cross-wipe, neither in the previous sketch nor the next one but somewhere in between… He – Puppet Paddy, that is – promised us then that a similar increase at the next election would see him elected Emperor of the Universe… oh, those were the days to be a humiliated Liberal Democrat!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Day 4876: The Day Labour Admitted They Have Lost


Wednesday night's Partly Political Broadside from Hard Labour seems to have got a lot of people talking.

Dan Hodges thinks Hard Labour have gone insane.

Owen Jones thinks it's lacking in hope.

(and it takes some doing for Mr Milipede to look like a less mature grown-up than my fellow Stopfordian!)

While the New Statesman thinks it means Labour are going all out for a majority.

Personally, I think that that last analysis is 100% wrong.

Because self-indulgently playing to their CORE VOTE prejudices is a sure sign that Labour are now falling back on a CORE VOTE STRATEGY.

Sure, Hard Labour supporters may all be very tickled with the "LOLS". But guess what – they were going to vote Hard Labour anyway!

EVERYONE ELSE is going "Well, that's a bit SHI—, er, negative!" And if you want to ensure a majority, then it's EVERYONE ELSE you should be talking to.

You need to be reaching out to floating voters and your rivals' supporters. You know, like that thing that Captain Clegg has been doing with his "we're the Party of IN", building a – dare I say – coalition of people because they support our actual POLICY on Europe, even if they've made up their mind to blame the Captain for not having given him a majority Liberal Democrat government in 2010.

Of course, to do that you do have to have some actual POLICIES to sell them. And it turns out that Hard Labour are coming up empty. Sort of a Hard Up Labour, in fact.

OK, Mr Milipede did have ONE policy – that "energy price freeze" lark that touched the media's sweet spot last year. But that is looking SO 2013, now that the energy companies have hiked their prices and announced their own eighteen month "price freezes" – just like Mr Ed and everyone else said they would – and the meeja have decided La Farage is their new darling.

And – in an obvious effort to strike it lucky with the same card twice – they have now announced they're in favour of rent controls as part of a continuing effort to try to REINTRODUCE THE CORN LAWS: i.e. to artificially depress prices thus cutting off SUPPLY making everyone worse off, rather than trying to address the real need which is increases in DEMAND.

To underline their paucity of ideas we have Mr John Crude Ass Cruddas (trying to get the silly names right…) – Mr Milipede's "policy co-ordinator"; an easy job when they've only got two policies, I suspect – writing in the Grauniad that: "Labour will pioneer the post-industrial economy" off the back of a new "Digital Revolution". So that's "post-industrial" in the sense of no one having any jobs? Do they really believe we'll all be e-commerce entrepreneurs and app-store millionaires? That's quite an upskilling they're promising. Or is it just an acid flashback to the dot-com bubble of 1997? And how did that work out, can anyone remember?

But it's all very thin stuff, dressed up with an anti-Farrago fringe of "No we ARE against the Kippers REALLY!" I guess it's because Cap'n Clegg's been questioning why their leader is not standing up for Europe against UKIP. Not so much "Where's Wally?" as "Where's Milly?". It must have really hit a nerve.

Vague promises of "devolution to our cities and regions" and "renewing the bonds of trust" and "new ways of doing politics" though will give anyone with even a passing familiarity with Lib Dem policy a profound sense of déjà vu.

It seems WILFULLY PERVERSE to depict Nick Clegg as NAKED just as you are trying to steal his clothes!

Oh yes, back to the barely-coherent "plot" of that election broadcast that sees a not-very-Clegg-alike "shrinking" as his promises are undermined by a nasty pseudo-Mr Balloon. It attacks Nick with all the usual old catalogue of allegations while simultaneously depicting him as being forced to do it all by the evil Tories. Well, make your mind up, boys: is he victim or villain?

I even feel some sympathy for the Conservatories in this. Absolutely they've made some pretty poor choices and there has been much pain, often falling on people who should NOT have been let down. But the Tories – and we – didn't do it for "teh Evils"! It was because Labour left behind a situation that was damn near IMPOSSIBLE.

The sort of Cameron-caricature depicted in Hard Labour's ad is the sort of thing you expect from Tweenie Trots in fashionable student debating clubs. But it's not proper politics, is it.

If you want to reduce some really complicated economic factors and impossibly hard decisions to Dr Evil stereotyping, then expect to see LABOUR BROKE THE ECONOMY coming right back at you. That's what everyone believes anyway, no matter how many times you trot out "No, it was like that when we found it, it was the bankers, it's not FAIR!"

In some ways the worst of all is the sheer ARROGANCE of the ad's conclusion that the British people will just drop a Happy Ending into Hard Labour's lap without the Milipedes, Ballses or Crude-asses having to DO any actual "labour" at all.

And in a way, they might. Because Labour's core vote strategy is to try and leverage the unfairness of the electoral system and scrape a majority out of the bare 35% of people who voted them in last time they were "elected", back under the old war-criminal Lord Blarimort.

Because it's quite clear now that they don't expect anyone else to vote for them. And why would they? There were no reasons to vote Labour here, no reaching out to the electorate, no "vision".

Their cartoon-Clegg might be naked on screen, but it's Hard Labour who look like the Emperor with No Clothes.