Friday 7 May 2010

Risking a little optimism

I listened to Nick Clegg talking about understanding people’s fears of change. I suppose he’s right, though I haven’t quite reached that point in the recovery process myself.

But I suppose – like so many of us (at least us Lib Dems) – I have been struggling today to understand why the excitement of the polls didn’t last the full campaign, and disappeared once people were actually in polling booths.

There are a whole lot of reflections about our campaign and its authenticity that I keep being tempted to blog about, but I don’t think they go to the heart of the matter. The truth is that people seemed, in the end, unwilling to entrust the nation to Clegg on so short an acquaintance. They want to rub along with their politicians, to get to know them, before giving them a go.

Thinking back over Liberal history, it occurs to me that this is born out by previous experience. Most Liberal or Lib Dem leaders since the Second World War had to deal with huge disappointment in their first general election campaigns, but went onto their breakthroughs – which seemed so important at the time – in their second.

It was true of Grimond and Thorpe. It was true of Steel in the disappointment of 1979 and Ashdown in 1992 (Kennedy is a more complicated case). But it is almost certainly true of Clegg in 2010.

What happens next depends on the next few days. But, if we Lib Dems conduct ourselves with openness and authenticity now and in the months to come, it seems to me that – as the Labour Party fragments for want of a uniting ideology – the most exciting period of change lies just ahead.


Matthew Huntbach said...

We may come to see in future those excited crowds jumping up and down shouting "I agree with Nick" as our Sheffield rally.

It was shallow and presumptious, and the people saw through it.

I made some oblique criticisms of it in Liberal Democrat Voice, suggested ways we could be doing things differently which I think would have worked better.

In particular, this as our national media campaign threw away our real strength, which is our long established local campaigning by local people who know their patch, and gave the impression we were just some temporary fizzle that people briefly found amusing.

Then, we just did not build even on that. Nick Clegg just tried to go on doing the same thing again and again, no building and deeper development. It was like a one-hit wonder star, or a lucky novelty winner of a talent competition - people liked it at first because it looked new and different, but got bored when it didn't go anywhere else.

Jumping up and down shouting "I agree with Nick" just emphasised all that one-hit wonder aspects. We are a LOT more than that, but we threw it all away.

David Boyle said...

I think you're right that 'depth' is where we need to look next.

But I'm glad you replied, Matthew, because I've been wanting to say to you how pleased I was to see your letter in the Guardian about the Distributists. You were absolutely, damn right!