“He had to go”; a very British leadership response that shows humility in the face of defeat. Where, in other countries, leaders of defeated parties cannot help themselves but try to hold arrogantly to power, the expectation of a party leader in this situation is to fall on the sword. Swiftly. Graciously. With a good speech.
Any other action sends a message that the public cannot stomach. Belligerence. Power hungry. Out of touch.
Nick, throughout government, and even in the coalition agreement meetings five years ago, you did the right thing. Two days ago you did the right thing. As leader you have dilligently represented members of our party like me, and like much of the electorate, who felt that unbridled Labour was causing huge problems for our country, but that the solution was not an unrestrained Tory government.
The current rhetoric – “the voters have punished us but we did the right thing” – is absolutely the right line to take. Not only is it true, but people are increasingly hearing it, agreeing, and engaging. Facebook has been a vicious place to be over the last few days if you are not Labour. Even the national press has noted this prevelance in social media of intolerance against socialism. Yet there is a new message emerging on social media which, if you listen to the small quiet voices, is one of moderation. Members have joined our party over the last 48 hours in record numbers.
Nick, I am as anti-populist as any true Liberal and I spurn media manipulation. Amusingly, however, I agreed with that silly social media line five years ago: “I agree with Nick”. Finally we had found our voice.
I am writing to you today to argue that this wasn’t just because we found your voice appealing, but rather that you perfectly communicatied the voice which we as members were beginning to find.
I suspect I am unlike the majority of the electorate in that I have found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with everything our party has done since taking office.
One thing I am sure about, though, is this: if the Liberal Democrats go back on our line of reasoning this will be a terrible thing for us. Here is why.
If the Liberal Democrats were to move to the left, it would be seen by the general electorate as a cynical move.
The prevailing view that “Liberal Democrats” have always been a party of “left” values is foreign to me. What is “left”? Socialism? Does this sum us up?
Globally, “austerity” has become a dirty word, and not without reason; fascist governments across the globe use equivalent words that are designed to conjure-up a sense of diligence and national pride. Putting the significance of that word aside, what other course could a country that was in our position take? What course do we take now? Can we credibly support the anti-capitalist movements? Can we find other ways to make the country a fairer place? These are questions for ongoing discussion.
I am in favour of a party that shifts left or right according to our country’s greatest need. It’s our ‘up’ness towards liberal values that persist throughout the shifting political landscape.
The media always seek to push our party to the left or right in their representation. Over the last five years there’s been a feeling our party made an error in its shift: a desertion of the left. The real truth is that the Liberal Democrats is a family that encompasses different opinions on this debate. A true pluralist party. Let us be clear: the view we made an error in moving to the left is primarily rooted in a media wishing to pigeonhole us as part of the only political system they know and understand: a polarised system. The media does not understand us. We aren’t right or left. We are Liberal.
The road most travelled in today’s democracy is to show party members and the wider electorate that “heads have been taken”, that a new leadership will take a party in a fresh direction.
The Labour Party made this mistake after the 2010 election. Their strategy was driven by the need to show voters who they were different to New Labour. Their leader, a man with a huge brain and a big heart for Labour values, was so tightly bound by this narrative that even his communication style became sanitised. His every word checked by public relations officer executives. This was not a problem of ‘sticking to a media brief’ but rather a problem of ‘being choked by a popular political narrative’.
With hindsight we can see this narrative was “Tory-lite”.
We can do better. We are no “Labour-lite” or “Tory-lite”.
No, we must learn from the SNP whose message was positive, and whose candidates were women.
Any soul searching we do now must be an extension of the last five years of soul searching. We are a party of ongoing soul searchers.
But the new message coming from numbers of people joining our membership is that the electorate also have some soul searching to do.
Rather than “entering a period of soul searching” (please let me never hear that on the radio!) we must instead lift our heads in pride.
Nick Clegg, will you please – for members like me who joined the party shortly before the 2010 election and have remained supportive ever since – please stand for re-election for party leadership?
I will personally campaign to ensure that our party sends a strong message to voters that, by deserting us at this election, they have given themselves an even stronger Tory government. That Liberal values matter more now than they ever did.
And I will campaign within the party to ensure that you, Nick, receive the strongest vote of confidence when it comes to the leadership election for our party.