Coffee House

The Liberal Democrat paradox

17 December 2012

Labour under a more left-wing leader, the Tories bearing right. These are circumstances in which you would expect the Liberal Democrats to flourish. But they are in government and haven’t benefitted from this moment. Instead, they are struggling in the polls, coming fourth too often for comfort.

Part of the problem is that the public simply aren’t listening to Nick Clegg at the moment. As one Conservative Cabinet Minister sympathetic to the Liberal Democrats’ political strategy observes, ‘Clegg can say anything, he’s just not being heard.’


Those close to Clegg believe that this will turn round in time. Their hope is that his apology over tuition fees has drawn some of the sting from the whole trust question and that when it comes to election time the public will concentrate on whether they want Labour or the Tories in on their own.

But as Clegg’s former strategy adviser Richard Reeves concedes in the Guardian today, the Liberal Democrat leader will have to start showing some rewards for this strategy in 2013. If the party is still regularly polling in the single digits this time next year, then what Simon Hughes calls the ‘chatter’ about Clegg’s leadership will be a lot louder.

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    “As one Conservative Cabinet Minister sympathetic to the Liberal Democrats’ political strategy observes . . . ” – that could be most of them, including Dave. Personal vanity, ambition and lack of principle meant they hitched themselves covertly to the Tory wagon because they know that however toxic they want to pretend the Tories are, the brand is more electable and not as poisonous as the Lib Dems.
    And the ego of them all, complaining that they’re not “being heard”! Can’t they conceive that they are being heard by the public but, having either a superfluity of cottonwool or sh*te between their ears, aren’t hearing the screams of Eff Off! Get us out of the EU! Make some proper cuts! Stop all immigration now! MPs and Lords who break the law should stand trial and go to jail! Ulster says No!
    And which policy has Forsyth got in mind when he states that the Tories are off to the Right? I see on Guido that the Staggers requires a £1000 payment from its interns, and I’m wondering how much Forsyth is paying the Speccie for this first-form dross?

  • MirthaTidville

    “Instead, they are struggling in the polls, coming fourth too often for comfort.“

    Not often enough you mean surely…The only comfort we want is that lot reduced to a Jo Grimond rump and the sooner the better for all of us…

  • AnotherDaveB

    I think we’re just discovering the size of the LD core vote, and the size of the ‘protest vote’, which they lost the moment they became a party of government.

  • ben corde

    Left, right who the hell cares. This country is facing the biggest threat to its sovereign independent state, its economy, heritage, and future since 1939 and only one party can help us now. It so happens that this party has a manifesto that is far more balanced than any the LIB/LAB/CON establishment can muster. This party is UKIP and I suggest the British Nation gets behind it and bloody quick

    • EJ

      Hear hear!

      • Wild is the Wind

        I think what you call “attack, belittle and cut” other people may consider “scrutiny”. However, I’d take that scrutiny as a sign that UKIP are, in fact, being taken more seriously than they previously have been. It’s better than being ignored!

  • HooksLaw

    ‘tuition fee’ is not about trust. Its about stupidity. The conservatives gave them an ‘out’ as part of the coalition agreement.
    In return they seem to now want to smear the conservatives.

  • Gina Dean

    Every time that the conservatives come up with away to cut the deficit the Libs are always there blocking or watering down what has been proposed. Which is not fair on the coalition which they have said is why they teamed up in the first place.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    “Their hope… is… that when it comes to election
    time the public will concentrate on whether they want Labour or the
    Tories in on their own.”


    I suspect the LD’s “hope” is going to be fulfilled, and the public will concentrate against those 2. Problem is, as the public’s newly formed concentration turns away from the Millipedal/Cameroonian duo, it will not then be concentrating for the LD’s, but for another.

  • William Blakes Ghost

    If the party is still regularly polling in the single digits this time next year, then what Simon Hughes calls the ‘chatter’ about Clegg’s leadership will be a lot louder.

    God forbid. Cable and Oakeshott will be on the news every day day peddling their foul propaganda……

  • LB

    There is no paradox.

    They lied to get elected.

    Tuition fees.

  • Tom Paine

    Clegg’s ‘apology’ for tuition fees – essentially, a call centre style ‘sorry you feel like that’ self-justificatory non-apology – did not register on the electoral radar as he has been outed as an example of most extreme variety of mendacious politician (remember ‘no more broken promises’?)

    Clegg and the Lib Dems are toxic waste, tuition fees has set them back more than the Jeremy Thorpe scandal and they are deluding themselves if they think otherwise.

    The only good news for Clegg is that it doesn’t matter who leads the party, the door will continue to be firmly slammed in their dwindling number of canvassers’ faces for a generation. If they last that long.

    • William Blakes Ghost

      Clegg should apologise for the Libdems

      • Wild is the Wind

        I think people should stop foaming at the mouth about the Libdems and their abandoned tuition fees pledge. It’s been well overdone and blown out of all proportion.

        But I do agree that the party will feel the wholly disproportionate wrath of those sections of the electorate who, despite decades of being ‘let down’ by politicians, reserve an irrational hatred for the Libdems. However, I think they’ll hold up better than many expect.

        But in reality, the tuition fees hike and the really rather progressive repayment terms are reasonable and should not prevent anyone going to university. Amazed how many prospective students have been misinformed by perfidious propaganda from the left.

        The Labour Party, it must be remembered, introduced tuition fees, and top-up fees, in the first place, despite promises to the contrary. Don’t hear much about that these days! Yet they’re the very ones who keep ramping up the anti-Libdem rhetoric over the issue of tuition fees. The mendacity is theirs.

        • AnotherDaveB

          The LDs lost seats at the 2010 election despite Labour equalling their post war low of 29% of the vote.

          In the local gov’t elections since 2010 the LDs have been losing ~40% of their seats.

          I am not expecting the LD vote/MP tally to hold up any better than their national polling trend. It’s too much of a loss to make up with campaigning.

          What does interest me is the battle for the ‘protest vote’ in the next parliament. Both the Greens, and UKIP will be much stronger competitors to the LDs than they have faced in the past.

        • Dimoto

          With each petty obstruction (usually following “cabinet agreement”), the LibDems show the electorate that they are not into serious politics. They only appear in the public consciousness when Cable/Oakeshott/Clegg are whining to the media.
          If Cameron wishes to form another coalition in 2015, his party will almost certainly prevent it.
          Balls hates the LibDems and will have had his contempt entrenched by their duplicity in government.
          And then the electorate, once taken in by Clegg – people hate being conned.

  • Harold Angryperson

    The Tories bearing right? Are you kidding James? They’re bearing left, which is why your scenario isn’t happening.

    • Vulture

      Quite . But you have to remember Harold that Mr Forsyth lives on Planet Cameron, an Alice-in-Wonderland world where everything appears the opposite of how it actually is. (It must be something that they shove up their noses).Thus, for example, Dave believes that he’s on course to win the 2015 election rather than en route to outdo John Major in presiding over the biggest Tory defeat in history.

    • EJ

      I read most of Forsyth’s pronouncements in stunned incredulity. It’s like the Westminster bubble he inhabits is another world. I almost grudgingly hope that he gets some reward for the amount of effort he puts in to delivering his relentless stream of pro-Cameron spin. James – word of advice – exact your payment from the Tories now. They will be obliterated at the next election.

      • Dimoto

        Anyone is allowed an off-day, but ….. do you mean Forsyth actually gets paid for this simplistic tosh !?

  • Archimedes

    It’s not a question of trust for Clegg. Every time you see him in a photo, his own disposition says quite clearly “I lack influence”. Every time he shakes his head in disagreement, after the PM says something in the commons, he has the mark of a man with no impact, failing to win arguments. Every time he nods his head in agreement, with the look of a dying soul, he states quite clearly that he is a man betraying his convictions. Every time he comes out with a silly little speech like the one today, he confirms suspicions that he is indeed quite useless, quite ineffectual, and quite lacking in influence. Why would anyone listen to a man who himself suggested that government has “lobotomised” him? Why would anyone listen to someone whose every move, every expression and every position is designed to display his extreme lack of power, and exonerate himself for his own failures?

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