?

Log in

fanf

A regrettable rant about politics

« previous entry | next entry »
4th Sep 2016 | 00:39

Oh good grief, reading this interview with Nick Clegg.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/03/nick-clegg-did-not-cater-tories-brazen-ruthlessness

I am cross about the coalition. A lot of my friends are MUCH MORE cross than me, and will never vote Lib Dem again. And this interview illustrates why.

The discussion towards the end about the university tuition fee debacle really crystallises it. The framing is about the policy, in isolation. Even, even! that the Lib Dems might have got away with it by cutting university budgets, and making the universities scream for a fee increase!

(Note that this is exactly the tactic the Tories are using to privatise the NHS.)

The point is not the betrayal over this particular policy.

The point is the political symbolism.

Earlier in the interview, Clegg is very pleased about the stunning success of the coalition agreement. It was indeed wonderful, from the policy point of view. But only wonks care about policy.

From the non-wonk point of view of many Lib Dem voters, their upstart radical lefty party suddenly switched to become part of the machine.

Many people who voted for the Lib Dems in 2010 did so because they were not New Labour and - even more - not the Tories. The coalition was a huge slap in the face.

Tuition fees were just the most blatant simple example of this fact.

Free university education is a symbol of social mobility, that you can improve yourself by work regardless of parenthood. Educating Rita, a bellwether of the social safety net.

And I am hugely disappointed that Clegg still seems to think that getting lost in the weeds of policy is more important than understanding the views of his party's supporters.

He says near the start of the interview that getting things done was his main motivation. And in May 2010 that sounded pretty awesome.

But the consequence was the destruction of much of his party's support, and the loss of any media acknowledgment that the Lib Dems have a distinct political position. Both were tenuous in 2010 and both are now laughable.

The interviewer asks him about tuition fees, and still, he fails to talk about the wider implications.

| Leave a comment | Share

Comments {16}

parrot_knight

from: parrot_knight
date: 3rd Sep 2016 23:44 (UTC)

I had to stop reading the interview. Clegg does not come across well - a somewhat petulant innocent abroad in British politics.

Reply | Thread

tigerfort

from: tigerfort
date: 4th Sep 2016 00:24 (UTC)

I made it through to the end, but got steadily angrier, the more I read. I accepted, back in 2010, that Clegg was very much between a rock and a hard place in negotiating a coalition, and that maybe dealing with the Tories was the least bad of his three unappealing options. Not being involved in the negotiations, I couldn't know what was really on the table with either of the two big parties. But over the next five years, I came steadily to the conclusion that he was in over his head and didn't even realise it.

The interview very much seems to confirm that latter view and, as you both say, he still doesn't seem to understand what went wrong at all, or why so many people (myself very much included) are still so angry with him and the party.

Reply | Parent | Thread

parrot_knight

from: parrot_knight
date: 4th Sep 2016 00:32 (UTC)

I find the current attempt to build a tribal Liberalism misplaced - it might recruit members but I don't think it builds mass appeal.

Reply | Parent | Thread

David Damerell

from: damerell
date: 5th Sep 2016 15:43 (UTC)

Another possibility would have been to enter into a confidence and supply agreement with the Tories, which would then have let them reject any other Tory policy they pleased. I think they might have come much better out of that.

I was pretty vexed but I daresay I'll vote LD again, given that Dr Huppert is likely to stand again.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Andrew Ducker

from: andrewducker
date: 6th Sep 2016 19:27 (UTC)

If they had managed to get House of Lords reform and AV out of the coalition then I would be more inclined to believe that it was worth it.

But as it is, what they mostly did was hold back some of the worst bits of the Tories, while gaining...nothing very much.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Gerald the cuddly duck

from: gerald_duck
date: 4th Sep 2016 00:32 (UTC)

upstart radical lefty party

Um. The BlairLabour party may have made an alarming foray to the right of the Conservatives for a few years, but even so I've never thought of the LibDems as upstarts, radicals or lefties.

Sure, once upon a time, Whig constitutionalism and Tory monarchism morphed into left-wing Liberals and right-wing Conservatives, but since Labour turned up to their left a century ago they've lived in the marginalised centre ground and never again won a general election. The SDP, meanwhile, was mainly a splinter faction from the right of the Labour party, alarmed by the Militant Tendency.

So: long-established, moderate and centrist, surely?

Reply | Thread

Tony Finch

from: fanf
date: 4th Sep 2016 00:44 (UTC)

Well, those epithets were not about your perception, nor about the party's history, nor about its view of itself.

Upstart as in having (slowly) grown from fuckall MPs in recent memory, despite FPTP.

Radical as in the axis of UKIP.

Leftie as in the reason so many ex-supporters are now so pissed off.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Gerald the cuddly duck

from: gerald_duck
date: 4th Sep 2016 01:04 (UTC)

The LibDems span a fair breadth of centre ground. Sure, there are people who are upset what happened when they went into coalition with the Conservatives, but there are other people who'd have been upset if they'd gone into coalition with Labour.

And they had to go into a coalition with somebody, otherwise they wouldn't get the chance to exhibit their commitment to consensus politics which is an integral part of their narrative supporting proportional representation.

I agree the tuition fees debacle was above and beyond the call of duty, though.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Tony Finch

from: fanf
date: 4th Sep 2016 01:16 (UTC)

If you think "centre" is meaningful, you have not understood the axis of ukip or the brexit vote.

If you think coalition at any cost was right, then you think Clegg was right. But he wasn't.

If you are going to argue with me, say something new or interesting.

Reply | Parent | Thread

from: anonymous
date: 4th Sep 2016 17:15 (UTC)

I think the point he's trying to make is that the Liberal Democrats were more than most parties an internal coalition. There were the free-market liberals, there were the radical lefties, there were the 'none of the above' protest vote, there were the people who had come into it through local politics and didn't really have a clear ideology, etc etc.

So some people joined the Lib Dems because they were a radical leftie party, yes.

But there were other people who had also joined the Lib Dems who would have been appalled at the notion that they had joined a radical leftie party.

This was just about sustainable in opposition for several reasons:

(a) the different groups tended to be geographically spread: so pretty much all the Lib Dems in Cambridge (or London) were of the radical leftie tendency, for example. But if a Cambridge Lib Dem had gone to Cornwall and joined a local party, then they might have found that they didn't actually have that much, politically, in common even though they were nominally in the same party. But not many people do do that.

(b) The Lib Dems policy-making framework actively encourages the ideas of getting widely different viewpoints together in order to negotiate a compromise, so everybody could come away from a Conference thinking that they had got some of what they wanted (in a way this is quite admirable, as it means that they mirror internally the way they want the country to be run under PR).

(c) when you get right down to it, in Opposition, you don't actually have to put your money were your mouth is and make decisions. Once you do have to make decisions then you are going to annoy those who didn't like the decision you took.

So while being in coalition is difficult for any small party, I think the Liberal Democrats were especially vulnerable because their internal contradictions and fault lines provided ready-made ways to shed groups: when you have one group of people who vote for you because they think you're radical lefties, and another who vote for you because they think you're extreme free-market types, then whenever push comes to shove you are always going to alienate one group or the other.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Tony Finch

from: fanf
date: 6th Sep 2016 20:03 (UTC)

You are right, but being an internal coalition isn't a uniquely Lib Dem thing - cf the Tories re Europe or new vs old Labour. I think it's an inevitable consequence of being a party that's big enough to be a national party.

The key thing is carrying your supporters with you when you make the transition from opposition to government. Clegg spectacularly failed to do that. And I think he did so because he valued getting stuff done more than maintaining the appearance of consistent political values.

Being the junior party in a coalition makes that transition MUCH harder, and he also failed to make allowances for that. Remember the Lib Dems had the upper hand in the coalition agreement to a ridiculously disproportionate extent. They got what they wanted on electoral reform (at that point) and fixed term governments etc. but failed to realise they also needed to change the cabinet to make coalition visibly different from single party government, in the way that policy is discussed in public.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Dr Plokta

from: drplokta
date: 4th Sep 2016 07:24 (UTC)

When you vote for an upstart party that is not part of the machine, you're saying that you want it to stop being an upstart and become part of the machine. That's literally what you're voting for. If it happens, you should rejoice rather than complaining.

Reply | Thread

Tony Finch

from: fanf
date: 4th Sep 2016 18:35 (UTC)

Ah, but the beef is which side of the machine.

Reply | Parent | Thread

cartesiandaemon

from: cartesiandaemon
date: 4th Sep 2016 12:25 (UTC)

...even if I think about policies, I'd expect a statement something like "we traded our biggest pre-election commitment, and here's the stuff we got for it, and this is why it was better than hunkering down and voting no-confidence for the next election cycle."

That's how I felt -- even if it was a deal I didn't like, maybe it was a sensible one. I know there WERE some lib-dem successed, I'm sure I've seen Rachel post about them.

But there never seemed to be any "I understand why you don't like that but this is why" or "I thought it was worth it but I was mistaken". Instead there seems to be an attitude of "principles? what principles? we never said that"

Reply | Thread

Tony Finch

from: fanf
date: 4th Sep 2016 18:45 (UTC)

Exactly.

I also hoped for some talk about how collective responsibility hampered the ability of the Lib Dems to argue a distinctive point of view, but no.

This is a wonkish point, but I think part of the coalition agreement should have included a weakening of collective responsibility so that ministers from different parties could discuss their differences in public. That might have mitigated the appearance that the Lib Dems were just the same as the Tories. Maybe, who can say?

But this interview reinforces that Clegg got too caught up in tactical policy matters and wasn't able to keep a strategic anchor based on the weight of party opinion and support.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Andrew Ducker

from: andrewducker
date: 6th Sep 2016 19:29 (UTC)

Yes., all of this.

Reply | Parent | Thread