Daily Archives: 18 December 2007

Iain Dale perfectly sums up what’s wrong with the Conservative Party

Pravdale writes:

LibDem Voice should have been in its element today. But it hasn’t posted anything since the result 2.39pm and a Clegg Youtube video. Aren’t our yellow friends happy? Are they all getting hammered down the pub? Where’s the analysis, where’s the agenda for the future? This is why ConservativeHome is still streets ahead of its competition.

I love the way he talks about the idea of people celebrating in the pub (actually Planet Hollywood I understand) like it is a bad thing and a far worse use of time than blogging (and yes, I do appreciate the irony of sitting at home typing this). This perfectly illustrates why the average member of the Conservative Party might as well come from Mars as far as most normal people are concerned. What a strange little world they live in!

It also profoundly misunderstands the nature of Lib Dem blogging. Unlike the Tories, we don’t all hover around our hive hoping that Queen Montgomerie might deign to give us some royal jelly. There’s plenty of analysis to be found on Lib Dem blogs if you actually care to look. Unlike the Tory blogosphere, the hub is not the be-all and end-all of our web-presence.

Nick Clegg talks to Quaequam Blog! again

Bloggers and Nick Clegg (photo: Alex Folkes)
The Last Supper – redux. L-R: Linda Jack, James Graham, Richard Flowers, Millennium Dome, Alix Mortimer, Alex Wilcock (photo: Alex Folkes)

Once again, the well connected Millennium has organised a meeting of bloggers with a senior party figure. This time the face is somewhat familiar as up until earlier this afternoon he was a candidate for the leadership election. Now he’s the leader while Vince Cable has vacated the seat to trip the light fantastic elsewhere, and so we got a second bite of the cherry.

We only had 20 minutes with him – not that I’m complaining as he was dashing from interview to interview and we probably had more time with him than a lot of senior political correspondents.

I’m not going to try summarising the whole interview, partly because I’m falling asleep at my keyboard and partly because I don’t think it would be particularly interesting. Instead I will pick out what for me were the highlights.

On comparisons with Cameron

Alix Mortimer asked him how he intended to deal with the comparisons that are constantly being made between him and David Cameron. Nick has the perfect answer to this: the differences between he and Cameron are more instructive than the similarities. In particular he notes how it was that when they were both younger men while Clegg was repelled by the excesses of Thatcherism, Cameron felt compelled to become a footsoldier for the Conservative Party.

In terms of Cameron’s specific calls for a “progressive alliance” on decentralisation, Clegg made the extremely strong point that while the Lib Dems have clear policy on decentralising spending – where it really matters – the Conservatives have no such policy. I think this is absolutely crucial, and a point that needs to be pressed home time and again. The closest Cameron has come to dealing with the fiscal issues related to local government is his batty scheme for replacing central government caps with a system of referendums – triggered if a local authority attempts to raise council tax above, um, a central government cap.

Millennium suggested issuing Cameron with a series of challenges to “prove” if he is a liberal. Clegg suggested that he had something like that in mind but that he personally wouldn’t do it. My own personal view is that if such a challenge is issued it should be issued to both the other main parties. We saw what happened earlier this year with Ming Campbell’s challenges to Brown at Harrogate Conference and how they were seen as overtures to cooperation.

Diversity and families

The questions of Alex Wilcock, Linda Jack and myself sort of slotted together. Alex talked about what we have to say to BME voters now that, among other things, the furore over the Iraq war is dying down and what to say to LGBT voters now that the fight for queer rights has been largely won. Linda pushed him on his Academy idea. I asked him to go into a little more detail about his plans to regularly consult a “network of real families” from across the country. His answer to Linda’s question was much the same as his answer to mine at our last interview with him.

Clegg’s answer to Alex’s question was to emphasise that we are the party of not merely tolerance but of celebrating diversity. He talked about how most people of his generation are largely blind to people’s sexuality. I think this is all very true, but would add two caveats. First of all, the fact that gay voters are becoming increasingly hard to pigeonhole is in many ways a positive sign. However fond people like myself may be of reminding people that the Tory Parliamentary Party seem to only mildly less homophobic than they were two decades ago, there is strength in mainstreaming this issue and moving beyond identity politics. The second point though, is that the picture is not as rosy as all that might suggest. Nick is kidding himself if he thinks that all people of his generation – as opposed to just the middle class ones – are equally relaxed about sexuality. There remains a challenge in mainstreaming tolerance of sexuality across society and I think we have a way to go.

On my question about this idea of having a network of families, I’m happy to say that Clegg assuaged some of my potential concerns quickly by emphasising that he is “not attempting to define family tightly at all” and that he views families as coming in “all shapes and sizes”. After some prompting from Alix he even suggested this might be extended out to people who have what they regard as a “family of friends.”

Once again, cue another dig at David Cameron and his plan to offer a £20 a week tax incentive for people to get married. He referred to his speech to the IPPR a few weeks ago on this topic which I can’t find a text version of but is available to listen to on their website.

The idea behind this has been borne out of a feeling from Clegg that forming an ongoing relationship with a series of families from across the country would be a positive way of ensuring his leadership remains relevant and brimming with new ideas. His emphasis seems to be on ongoing relationships and in that regard it appears to contrast slightly with Paddy Ashdown’s old Beyond Westminster project (which I assumed he was referencing at first) which seemed to be more about touring the country than building ongoing relationships. Nonetheless, he could do worse than to turn the project into a book at some point.

Overall, how do I feel about the prospects of our new leader after this interview, his speech and the other TV interviews I’ve picked up on? In broad terms I think he’s got the right idea about where to go from here. I’m still anxious about the apparent lack of sharp elbows however and his speech today lacked the real killer punch I was hoping for. If he wants to make an impact over the next few weeks, he needs to start pulling rabbits out of hats; ideally we should have had one today. Please let’s have one soon.

Nick Clegg: overcoming the Hamlet Factor

Over on Comment is Free I proffer my advice to the new leader:

My advice to Clegg now is remarkably similar to the advice I offered to Ming Campbell on what turned out to be the day of his resignation: concentrate on clarity and communication. In particular, Clegg needs to hit the road, catch a dose of initiativitis and take steps to ensure that even if the national media choose to ignore what he has to say, he is using every tool at his disposal to ensure that it comes across anyway.

I should add at this stage that based on Clegg’s acceptance speech, it appears that he intends to do exactly that.