Monday 8 June 2015

The person I think should lead the Lib Dems is...

Political people often forget how traumatic elections can be.  I don't mean that they are exhausting or disappointing, though they are often both.  I mean that standing for election, and especially ones where you know many of the electors, can force you to confront some of your worst fears.

One of the defeated Labour MPs I heard interviewed about it last month described wandering aimlessly around his community, which was also his former constituency, wondering whether the people he met and who hailed him had actually voted for him.

There is a disturbing element of adulation about being elected, which is not really quite what it seems.  By the same token, there is an even more ferocious element of personal rejection about not being elected - especially when you used to be elected by the same people.

It may not actually be personal at all, but it certainly feels as if it is.

Now spare a moment for those who stand for the leadership of their party, especially a party of 60,000 members, many of whom you know.  And if you manage to avoid a kind of personal irritation about it - and Clegg and Huhne failed to, certainly during the campaign - then your closest supporters will be happy to generate some for you.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that two out of the three potential leadership contenders for the Lib Dems managed, by a combination of luck, personality and hard work (and not being in Scotland) to hold onto their seats.  I don't know.

Both Norman Lamb and Tim Farron would make brilliant and inspirational leaders, and I'm glad I'm not either of them right now, as the people they consider their friends make up their minds about them.

So let me just say the basis on which I'm making up my mind.

It all depends what you believe the fundamental element is that the party lacks.  Is it charisma, inspiration and campaigning genius?  I ask this because this seems to be the main message I read on social media, and I don't believe it is true.

Of course we need campaigning. How could we not?  But so many times over the past 15 years or so, I felt the great vacuum at the heart of the party's campaigning.  I don't think I could bear, nor could the party survive, another decade of campaigning on empty.

The party swooped through the first decade of the century armed with nothing new too say, and nothing whatever to say about public services - beyond the fact that we wanted them to be 'fair'. We had not thought through what Liberalism meant for economics after the crash.  We had not thought through how to make public services more effective, and were catapulted into government without being armed with a big idea about what to do.

Sometimes we didn't even have a small idea.  And where we asked some policy panel laboriously hammer out a compromise, it never really filtered through into what the party said.

So here is my contention.  The party may have a campaigning problem, but it has a far bigger and far more urgent intellectual problem.

Nor are we alone in this. No party can aspire to government without a clear proposal for creating prosperity (not just redistributing prosperity), and the political left has been missing one of these for nearly four decades.

It is the historic destiny of the Lib Dems to provide this, if we survive, but no amount of campaigning on empty will magic it into existence.

I might be wrong about this.  Tim Farron might be the leader to create the kind of intellectual ferment of ideas we so badly need as a party.  But I'm inclined to think that Norman Lamb is marginally more likely to. I watched him listening and thinking and finally acting effectively at the Department  of Health as a minister, and the government shifted as a result.

We need to start thinking again, and that's why Norman has my vote.

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Anonymous said...

No idea which candidate is the best on this issue, but I firmly agree with you.

An example:

The Coalition era particularly highlighted that while the LibDems have "their hearts in the right place" on localism, they are disturbingly short on operational principles and policies for creating effective localism. Where were the proposals? Where were the ideas that would get the public thinking?

John Napper said...

This is all good reading, but doesn't really help me. So far nothing has told me what I want to hear, or even what I don't want to hear. That's the problem. I don't know what the 2 candidates stand for.

I want to see policy ideas and a firm indication of the direction that they want to lead the party.

I remember attending a hustings for the last leadership election and I liked the policy ideas that Chris Huhne was putting forward (he got my vote, although, with hindsight, it's probably best that he didn't win). Nick Clegg left me thinking he was Cameron Light. A good orator, but I was none the wiser about what he stood for.

It transpired that Nick Clegg saw the party's future as New Labour Light, which I have vigorously opposed. 2 Thatcherite parties is quite enough as far as I'm concerned.

As we all know, his one firm election policy in 2010 was the Tuition Fees Pledge which was promptly sacrificed for a botched referendum on electoral reform and we paid for it in the General Election. Even now, amazingly, there are people, Lib Dem people, who just don't get what happened. The voters didn't turn on us because of the Tuition Fees issue, but because he made a big thing about signing a pledge which he failed to honour. At that point the message was Nick Clegg and his party can't be trusted.

What we need now is a strong leader who can be seen to be different to Clegg, leading a party that is different to the others and that has clear policies which (hopefully) won't be ditched should a future coalition be a possibility.

So far I have not seen any indication that either contender fits the bill.

Come on chaps – bombard me with information and policy ideas. Don't be scared of frightening people off with radical ideas that might lose you votes. I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to know where you stand on the various issues.

Whatever members may have thought about David Steele, Paddy Ashdown or Charles Kennedy, you knew exactly where they stood and they could put their points across well. They were leaders. It's time for another in their mould.

Cursoryb said...

I agree with your logic, but draw the opposite conclusion. Everything I've seen Tim Farron say and write has been carefully thought out, researched, and argued philosophically from Liberal values. Even on the occasion I hold a different opinion on something (eg small businesses, or drugs), his reasoning is so compelling I will at least give it further consideration. Norman Lamb is evidently a thoughtful and worthy person, but his ideas are generally limited and sometimes pedestrian. At the hustings on Friday he answered every question by referring to mental health, even if it was about something else. Nice but lacking the broad sweep of vision.