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On the depressing road to where reasonable politics goes to die…

On Monday (or was it Tuesday?) whenever it was, 14 Labour MPs walked through the government lobbies in an attempt to ensure Brexit happens on March 29, whatever that Brexit is. They did so for a variety of reasons but lets be honest, who honestly gives two hoots?

The reason I say that is because is actually doesn’t matter. All that matters these days is our own opinions and whatever actually happens in the real world, we’ll find a way to match up our own pre-deposed thoughts with what is going down in reality.

The other morning I was reading a story in the Guardian about Nick Clegg and his role at Facebook. The comments were a sight to behold. Probably 80% of the people were raging on Facebook and the fact that the former leader of the Liberal Democrats had taken a job with the company. Many said that if he truly cared about helping then he would campaign against Facebook on his own dime instead of trying to help from within.

Some even belittled Clegg as a nobody and had no idea why Facebook would want an experienced politician who knows his way around the European Union, is respected on the continent and speak five languages fluently. Yeah it is a complete mystery to me…

The point is people don’t like Nick Clegg. Some may say justifiably so but people have made up their opinions and anyone who doesn’t think he’s awful and a complete waste of space is just plain wrong. He could invent a teleportation device or cure the common cold and a significant number of people would say he’s only done so because he’s a Tory stooge or that it didn’t negate the damage of tuition fees.

Take Jeremy Corbyn as another example. He has followers who would follow him to the end of the Earth and still hail him as their saviour. People who hate Brexit would still vote loyally for the Labour leader as they believe he is playing the long-game. The same can be true of Bernie supporters, Trump supporters, Farage supporters. Name any politician who stands more than a stones throw away from the centre and you’ll find their supporters are far more loyal and unwavering.

This is what scares me. People aren’t questioning politicians any more, not even ones they generally agree with. If you’ve followed my politics or even just know me, you’ll know that I’m a Cleggite. I think being socially slightly left of centre and economically slightly right of centre is a good place to be. That doesn’t mean I think he walks on water or gets everything right. I like being able to engage my own brain and seek out some answers for myself. Being spoon fed and lapping up the party line just doesn’t sit well for me.

As long as we put our faith in people and not policies/actions then we are doomed to become diminished as a race. Democracy only works when people look at elections with open eyes. People can and often do change their minds and just loyally voting for any person or party with blind loyalty is bad.

The world of social media allows us to stay within our bubble and have our own viewpoints reinforced with spectacular ease. People don’t like debate any more. They like being right and having those thoughts backed up.

Politics is far from reasonable these days. When elections turn on the likes of Gillian Duffy and how someone eats a bacon sandwich, does that sound like reasonable politics to you? It sure as hell doesn’t me but what the hell do I know? I don’t think anyone is perfect and therefore clearly something must be wrong with me…

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On tuition fees being a more important issue than racism…

The following is a conversation that may or may not have happened over social media last night following the Survation poll that put UKIP ahead of the Lib Dems.

Person 1: Lib Dems down 4% again. They get what they fucking deserve.

Person 2: Eh?

Person 1: Lying about tuition fees. The sooner they become extinct the better.

Person 2: So you are happy with the poll?

Person 1: Fuck yes.

Person 2: But you’ve received plenty of racist abuse over the years and you are rejoicing that UKIP are polling above the Lib Dems.

Person 1: No, I’m happy the Lib Dems are down because why anyone votes for them when they lied about raising tuition fees is beyond me.

Person 2: But the poll shows there is more support for a party I know you think is populated by racists and xenophobes but that isn’t important to you?

Person 1: It is but I hate the Lib Dems.

Person 2: You also hate Brexit.

Person 1: And?

Person 2: UKIP are pretty much the reason Brexit is happening. Oh and the fact it was a plan for David Cameron to quell his backbenchers followed by Jeremy Corbyn refusing to really put his whole muster behind the Remain campaign.

Person 1: Jeremy Corbyn can’t be blamed for any of this. He said he wanted to Remain on The Last Leg.

Person 2: Yeah it wasn’t exactly a wholehearted endorsement was it?

Person 1: If he said it then he meant it.

Person 2: Didn’t he say he was behind Remaining in the European Union like 7 or 8 out of ten or something like that?

Person 1: Good enough for me.

Person 2: Why didn’t he campaign with the other party leaders on it then?

Person 1: Jeremy is his own man and does things how he wants.

Person 2: Really…?

Person 1: Yes.

Person 2: Has Jeremy ever done anything wrong in your eyes?

Person 1: He speaks for me and everyone who cares about others and not capitalist ideals.

Person 2: What did you make of Ed Miliband’s Labour leadership?

Person 1: He lost. He was a loser. Just like Brown and Blair before him.

Person 2: Blair won three landslides.

Person 1: Only because the Tories were so shit. No-one voted for him just against the Tories.

Person 2: Did Jeremy win the 2017 General Election then?

Person 1: Yes.

Person 2: No he didn’t.

Person 1: He did better than everyone expected and that is the important thing.

Person 2: No it isn’t. Surely actually you know, winning and being able to implement his policies and manifesto is the most important thing?

Person 1: That is what people like you always say, winning is secondary to doing the right thing.

Person 2: Surely in politics, if you don’t win then you can’t do anything that your supporters actually voted for?

Person 1: He is holding the government to account.

Person 2: Do you actually believe anything you’ve said in this conversation?

Person 1: Of course. All of it.

Person 2: So you are still happy the Lib Dems are below UKIP in that one poll?

Person 1: The sooner the Lib Dems die, the sooner more people will vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Person 2: That isn’t strictly true now is it?

Person 1: Yes, they wouldn’t vote for the Tories and the Greens are nothing.

Person 2: Did you not see the 2015 General Election?

Person 1: I did.

Person 2: And the way all those Tory/Lib Dem seats went Tory. Even places with like a 20,000 Tory majority went blue. So all those people who had voted Lib Dem before didn’t suddenly all vote for Labour then did they?

Person 1: That was Ed Miliband though.

Person 2: So under Jeremy Corbyn that wouldn’t have happened?

Person 1: No.

Person 2: So why didn’t all those seats suddenly turn red in 2017?

Person 1: Change takes time. Jeremy is building momentum and soon everyone will see that he’s the future. The Tories are the past and the sooner the Lib Dems die or become completely irrelevant the better.

Person 2: So let me get this straight. You hate Brexit. You hate the Tories. You hate UKIP but most of all, the top of your list is hatred of the Lib Dems over tuition fees.

Person 1: I suppose when you put it like that no.

Person 2: Then why rejoice the fact UKIP climbed above them in that poll?

Person 1: Because they lied and I can’t forgive them.

The mind boggles. I still think the Lib Dems biggest problem isn’t tuition fees per se but more the fact that many people feel like a jilted lover. They feel for Nick Clegg and his hopes of doing things a third way but when it came to the parliamentary maths, the only plausible way to provide a stable government was to form the Con/LD coalition. That isn’t what people voted and when he couldn’t honour all his manifesto (with particular reference to that one bit) then that was enough.

Voting isn’t about reason anymore. It is about emotion. Few people actually look at the candidates they are going to have on their ballot. Few look at the manifestos in full. What is en vogue is going to the ballot box and have a feeling, whether they is voting for somebody or indeed voting against somebody.

To get people to go out and vote you need to give them that emotional reason to do so. A million more people did that for the Lib Dems in 2010 than they had done five years previously. Hope was in the air but a lot of people these days want everything or nothing. Small steps of progress is not enough. This is why Jeremy Corbyn does well up to his limit. People feel that he has the power to change everything in one foul swoop and until he has a semblance of power to actually do so, he can talk the good game and doesn’t need to back it up.

In American Football the most popular player on a bad team is always the backup Quarterback because they provide hope that things can get better. Until they get their chance then they don’t have to prove it and that is exactly how it is with JC at the moment. He can promise the Earth and a socialist revolution but until he gets his chance, people will always believe he can do it all.

Logically the Lib Dems should be recovering. The majority of people seem to back a second vote based on the outcome of the Brexit Deal, which is the key issue facing the country today. Most of the big names tainted with the coalition are gone. In most of their key areas they are Tory facing and they are in absolute disarray. Labour aren’t doing too much better on that front. Yet when it comes to actually voting, people vote with their hearts and not their heads and that stench of betrayal isn’t leaving the Lib Dems anytime soon. It is tough but when you are a Labour Remain voter but prefer UKIP to the Lib Dems, that says an awful lot about where people’s heads are at…

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On Nick Clegg’s comments Re: Freedom of Movement in the Financial Times…

The last time I took any interest in the figures, the Lib Dems had around 100,000 members. It would probably be fair to say that I’m in the top 1% of those people with regards to my support of the former leader and Deputy Prime Minister. I have written many blog posts defending Nick Clegg but the moment I saw the words that he’d typed out in his Financial Times column, I knew it was going to be a lightning rod for criticism.

The premise of the piece is that freedom of movement within the European Union shouldn’t be a given. An unchallenged principle. He puts forward that this is the right time to look at reforming both internal and external immigration. If they did this then it would grease the wheels between the UK and the other 27 states.

It is probably accurate to say that immigration played a significant role in the outcome of the EU Referendum in 2016. If being part of the EU came with an opt-out of freedom of movement then I suspect that would be sufficient for enough people who voted Leave to have actually voted Remain. The problem in this scenario is that this option wasn’t on the table and is goes against a fundamental principle of the modern EU.

When Nick Clegg penned the article, he knew it would fly in the face of what many grass root Lib Dems believe. He’s never been one to be overtly political when it comes to appeasing the members, so putting forth such an opinion shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. With his political ambitions seemingly in his rear view mirror, it has allowed him to be even more bold in airing his points of view.

When I first read the piece and saw some of the responses from the Twitterati, I thought back to how Labour members now view Tony Blair. It seems that political parties are broad coalitions of people who generally have similar views but don’t always think the same. When one leader comes then a significant number of the membership will shy away. When they go these people may come back and get more involved with those that strongly supposed the previous leader stepping back. Tony Blair is a swear word within Labour at the moment and Nick Clegg isn’t too far away from that within the Lib Dems.

This is why Tim Farron probably got more leash than he arguably should have had. The membership after 2015 didn’t want another Centrist and instead wanted someone untainted from the coalition. Had Nick Clegg had such a gay sex issue that Tim Farron seems to hold then the clamour to remove him would’ve been far more fierce than it was for the leader who led the party into the 2017 General Election.

Still, Clegg’s name is far more muddied than Farron’s. This column will not have helped. On one hand you can put your own views to one side and understand that maybe it is a debate worth having. I wouldn’t personally say it was but you can at least understand that point of view. Well I can anyway. Yet all that will come about from this piece is more Lib Dems will deride Nick Clegg and look forward to him leaving the party. If he resigned then many would rejoice. This is part of the problem within political parties, many people only want those who agree with them on every issue to be fellow members. If you have a differing position to the majority then you are pilloried.

The truth is across Europe, more people are questioning both the internal and external migration situation. On a personal level, I believe migration across the Globe should be far more open than it is. We are but one race and are all supposedly born equal. Should where you are a born give someone more of a birthright to live and work somewhere? Should an Englishman have more or less of a right to live and work in England compared to someone from say Nigeria or Costa Rica? It may sound a bit Utopian but I believe borders should be even more open.

Yet even though I believe in that, I can understand that the majority of people disagree and that the idea of Freedom of Movement within the European Union shouldn’t be unchallenged. I can disagree with Nick Clegg without hating on the man. Sadly we are at the point where discussion and nuance has become a tiny part of political discourse. Now we only see headlines and compare them to our personal beliefs.

Politics is poorer these days and the reaction to this article is a prime example of why. On a day when Theresa May promised £20bn for the NHS but pretty much refused to say how she’d pay for it, the Lib Dem membership are concentrated on an article from their former leader about how to make membership of the EU work better for those that are sceptical. Kicking Nick Clegg has become a comfort blanket, just like Labour members love kicking Tony Blair.

Disagreement is normal in both life and politics. Just because someone floats an idea different to what you think doesn’t make them bad. It means they are tackling an issue from a contrasting angle and that is rarely a bad thing. If we all had a hive mind, we’d be a cult and UK politics already has one of them, it doesn’t need another…

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On why Nick Clegg was fair and accurate in his ‘Join Labour’ comments this week…

Come on then, a show of hands. Whoever thought that I’d be defending Nick Clegg? Me of all the people. The person who has defending him a pretty much every turn in the road. Oh wait, all of you? Fair enough.

So yes, Nick Clegg has ruffled a few feathers in the past day or so after he came out and said that the country is in a state of emergency regarding Brexit. I think we can all agree on that so fantastic. What he proposed though has caused a lot of Lib Dems to want the former leader to be thrown out of the party. For you see, he advocated those whose primary objective was solely to stop Brexit and you hadn’t been politically active before then maybe the time was now to get involved and join either Labour or the Tories.

The extracts are below:

“Join the Labour Party and make your voice heard. It may seem odd for a former leader of the Liberal Democrats – and someone who has fought against the illiberal habits of Labour all my political life – to advocate joining the Labour Party.”

“And, as a lifelong card-carrying member of another party, I won’t be doing so myself.

“But if you are someone who has never joined a party, or perhaps has been inclined to join Labour but has never got round to it, or if you are simply someone who recognises that the importance of Brexit is far greater than individual.

“At a time of national emergency, and for as long as Parliament is dominated by Labour and Conservative MPs, it is undoubtedly true that what happens within the two larger establishment parties is of the greatest importance.

“So if you can’t stomach joining the Labour Party, if you are ideologically inclined in a Conservative direction in any event and if you also believe that Brexit is the issue of our times, then joining the Conservatives is another route to make your views felt.”

How very dare he I hear you cry. How could any former leader of the party ever advocate joining another party. Not even Paddy Ashdown did that with More United, he just wanted an Anti-Tory alliance but Nick Clegg, well I never.

Yet unsurprisingly I can very much see his point. The Lib Dems have 12 MPs and will not be able to significantly move the needle on the Brexit issue in this parliament. So if the EU question is your overriding reason for wanting to get involved in politics at this point then the Lib Dems isn’t a natural home. If you want to stop Brexit from happening then you need a time machine or have one of the two big parties move their position on Brexit.

The Tories have a pretty clear position and are unlikely to move unless Theresa May goes and somehow Ken Clarke runs for and gets elected leader. I wouldn’t be putting much money down on that. So that leaves Labour where the party as a whole are generally Pro-Europe but the leadership aren’t and they are scared to stick their flag in the sand to show what side of the line they are on. Pitiful but depressingly, they are the only party who could really force the Tories hands if they swung wildly to the Remain side of the debate.

For us, we had our Brexit surge after the EU Referendum and then when the 2017 General Election was announced, three was a further influx of new members. The Lib Dems were (and are) the party of Remain but instead of really staking out our position, we dithered and put together a terrible GE campaign position. That left those people who were ready to back us enthusiastically wondering whether they should bite the bullet and vote Labour in the vague hope that they would win enough to hold the Tories to account or even win and then Jeremy Corbyn might change his position.

Once Jeremy Corbyn got his momentum (no pun intended) and Theresa May’s campaign fell around her like letters on a speech backdrop, the dye was cast. The floating voter looking to stop a hard Brexit didn’t flock to the yellows but instead went red. Many Lib Dem members (many of the new ones if you read online forums etc.) were pleading for tactical voting and for alliances. A not insignificant proportion of those did not vote Lib Dem as they just wanted to vote for the best person that could stop Brexit. In many clear LD/Con battles, they went Labour anyway and they bypassed the Lib Dems in many traditional LD/Tory battlegrounds to the point of winning the seat. Depressing.

Still though that has left us with little influence in this parliament. With the country not set to go to the polls again until after Brexit has started and we are either in a transitional period or out altogether, if you want to influence it then it is highly unlikely you’ll be able to do it via us.

Now in a couple of years once the shit has started to hit the metaphorical fan and we are the unabashed Pro-EU party then we might be the place to be if you love the EU. For now though, with no election due until after this all happens, the Lib Dem influence is not that great. So if (and only if) your political motivations are solely to stop Brexit then I can certainly see where Nick is coming from. Would I have preferred he not say it? Sure. Do I think it was unwise? Yes. Does it make sense though? It actually does.

The time is now for us as a party to focus on domestic policies and to find a way to get these out front and centre. Brexit is the beast whose shadow looms over politics and will do for years to come. The public though are resigned to it happening in some form because heck, that is what the country voted for. We might not like it but it was democracy in action.

Jeremy Corbyn surged not because of Brexit but because people liked that they heard about domestic policies. That is why we have a hung parliament and only 12 MPs instead of a large Tory majority and 30 odd Lib Dems. Sometimes I just feel we are all caught up in this Brexit world when in fact plenty of other things are happening every single day and if you aren’t do much about Brexit, why not start to try start influencing things you can?

Still, I fully expect Brexit, Brexit, Brexit to dominate the Lib Dem spectrum for years to come…

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On Vince Cable’s tweet about Jeremy Corbyn’s student debt ‘promise’…

Oh Vince. Vince, Vince, Vince. Why? Why? Why?

So as some will have noted over the past few days, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has backtracked from his promise that he would deal with student debt. The issue is he never promised anything. He just said that he hoped he’d be able to deal with it. If anyone took it as meaning that he would cancel student debt along with scraping tuition fees then that is on them, not on him.

It was super smart politically. By saying that he hoped to deal with the issue surrounding student debt, he would firm up the support of young people, not just those going to university but also those in their 20s and 30s who still have student loan repayments to pay back. The fact he didn’t throw about the word promise and is saying it is an aspiration means he has plausible deniability. He can honestly say he never promised anything and people were free to interpret his words as they saw fit.

Most people looking at it without any political bias would say it was at best misleading but it most certainly was never a lie. I was talking to a Corbynista the other day about it and I called Corbyn super smart for how he worded what he said and not making it is clear that it wasn’t a policy but a goal. The Corbynista wouldn’t take that as praise but just went on about how it was everyone else’s fault if they thought it was a promise and that everyone bar Corbyn and his supporters are basically dumb. This is the world we now live it. Frustrating as fuck.

Anyway on to the new leader of the Lib Dems response. Vince tweeted on Sunday the following:

I just hung my head. Labour have never backtracked because they were just way smarter than the Lib Dems in 2010. How any Lib Dem can say they didn’t know what they were doing when campaigning on tuition fees in 2010 is beyond me. Yes I know of the nuance was how it wasn’t a Lib Dem majority government and that is a really important distinction but not many people will see that important difference. They saw the pledge, they saw the fact 28 Lib Dems voted for increasing fees and that is quite simply that.

Aspiration. Goal. Hope. Promise. One of those four words has a completely different connotation to the other three. A promise if broken hurts whereas an aspiration, a goal or a hope that doesn’t materialise disappoints but you don’t feel anywhere near as used or mislead or lied to as you do when someone breaks a promise.

As much as I hate it, sometimes politics isn’t about honesty but about smoke and mirrors. In elections when you are trying to court a particular vote but can’t get a costed policy out there, the best thing to do is hint but stop short of saying that is what you’ll do. That means if you fall short, the hurt the voter experiences will be minor. This is why the Lib Dems should’ve scrapped the tuition fees pledge before the 2010 General Election. Nick Clegg wanted to do so as we all know. Senior activists disagreed and conference voted to keep it in 2009. I often wonder how things would’ve turned out had that vote gone differently.

Going back to Corbyn though, that is the difference. He cleverly made/allowed people to think if he won that he’d cancel student debt when it was never a Labour policy, just essentially an idea that he had if he won and money was no object. The Lib Dems put it in black and white that they would not vote to raise tuition fees. That is politics folks and to claim Labour have backtracked and to call on Jeremy Corbyn to apologise is lazy and just won’t wash with the electorate.

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On whether Tim Farron’s ‘decided to quit before the GE’ confession adds up…

I’m not a cynical person by nature. Wait no, that is a lie. I’m extremely cynical and when bleary eyed this morning I sat there on the sofa and saw the news that Tim Farron had decided to quit before the General Election, I was caught up in mixed emotions. First of all I was tired (that had nothing to do with the news, I was just tired) then I was kinda pissed off and then I started wondering whether it was actually true.

I’ll tell you why I have some issues with the truth of this confession. First of all, the timing. If he had decided to quit a month or so before polling day then surely he then walks away swiftly after the result is known. He doesn’t wait until the Grenfell Tower Fire and squeezes out the news in a very hastefully arranged press announcement. That doesn’t add up at all. Either he’s a pretty awful man and wanted to wait for a tragedy to happen so he could sneak out his news or he had no plans to quit that day. Fair to say that I don’t think he’s a pretty awful man so I’ll go for option B on that one.

The timing of his resignation hasn’t had enough scrutiny within the party. It was fucking repulsive. Repugnant if you will. How dare at a time of such an incident do the party allow their leader to publicly resign and take some of the focus away from the real news that day. We all get angry when governments try and sneak out bad news on days when it might be buried and we did that. The party should be ashamed.

So what other things could have changed Tim Farron’s mind after the General Election result? Could the fact Nick Clegg lost his seat have played a part? The former leader and Deputy Prime Minister went out in the great Corbynista wave where all Lib Dems in Labour facing seats got swept aside as voters flocked to the Labour party. Was he the reason Tim decided to leave or possibly stay on?

Time heals all wounds to some degree and while it is fair to say many people will never forgive the former MP for Sheffield Hallam, it is also not untrue to say his toxicity had been slowly receding. He had found a second wind as the European spokesman for the party in this post EU Referendum world in which we live and those who are firmly opposed to Brexit seemingly had a very positive opinion of him. Did Farron see the writing on the wall that the membership (and maybe the electorate) actually preferred Clegg to him and therefore wanted to go and when Clegg went down, Farron saw he had a clearer path to staying on?

Who knows (well at least one person does but that person is not me) but it is certainly something worth thinking about. If Tim Farron had decided to quit weeks in advance of the General Election then the obvious point to resign would be the morning after. Instead he came out and praised the fact we had increased our representation in parliament by 50% compared to the 2015 debacle. So something must have changed and the obvious thing to point at and question is the fact Nick Clegg wasn’t an MP any more.

If we take him at his word though that he decided to walk away in the early days of the campaign then that doesn’t paint him in a good light either. Had he left a fortnight into the campaign, it would have allowed the party a month to put someone else in the spotlight and interim leader. Logically that would have been Nick Clegg but it obviously may not have been. It could have been Norman Lamb.

If a change had happened though it should be done like a band-aid. You pull it off quickly, deal with the stinging and then get on with it. I have written about Tim’s performances in the media during the campaign and they were mixed. Couple of stinkers but also a couple of good ones. He was certainly far better than the Prime Minister (although I admit, that is a pretty low bar) but maybe the damage had already been done.

The party had all the momentum early but it ground to a halt when talking about the gay sex issue and it was something we all knew was going to be something the party (and Tim) had to nip in the bud. The fact they (and he) did not just knee-capped the campaign and when the decision to move away from hope and towards scare tactics happened, it was game set and match for the party to ever hit the 30-40 MP mark that some (maybe many) thought was possible on April 18 when the General Election was called. Was Farron damaged goods or was the party? That is a great question.

When he only just held on to his seat despite the usual boost that party leaders get, that says a lot. Norman Lamb managed to hold on in North Norfolk despite facing real Brexit related challenges. Tom Brake held off the Tories yet again in Carshalton & Wallington. Stephen Lloyd was able to wrestle back Eastbourne despite it being a leave area. Tim Farron is (and I still say is) a very popular constituency MP but he nearly lost. This has to be down in some degree to his performance as leader of the party.

Maybe had he quit in early May then the party would have been able to wrestle back some of that momentum. I don’t think any party leader should not want to carry on with the job certainly relatively early on in the campaign. Look at Paul Nuttall for example. I do think Tim gave everything but if your heart isn’t deep down in it then people can see that.

I have serious doubts as to whether Tim decided to quit two weeks into the campaign. The timeline just doesn’t fit with how he acted post June 8. If he’s speaking the truth and he knew he was going post General Election and still quit in the Grenfell Tower aftermath then that is not a good look and not a good legacy to leave. People talk about things leaving a bad taste in the mouth, if that is how it went down then bloody hell, that looks terrible.

Lastly he said that his job was to save the party and that it still exists and is moving forward. Well it does still exist but whether it is moving forward is still very much up in the air. The country is clearly veering towards two-party politics once again (more so than two years ago) due to the fact so many LD/Con battles have seen the party move into third behind Labour. Depressingly I don’t see any real recovery unless Brexit is an utter disaster.

Until Jeremy Corbyn gets his chance then the country will want to see what he can do. The next General Election (whenever it will be) will surely see more of a Labour surge and due to the lack of tactical voting prowess of many voters, that will lead to even fewer Lib Dem MPs.

The future’s bright, The future’s orange says a popular advertising slogan. For the Lib Dems though this does not feel accurate at the moment.

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On why we should be rejoicing the fact Vince Cable actually wants the job…

‘Nobody wants Vince Cable’ so says a vast twitter echo chamber. Oh to be sure that you and your friends speak for everyone. I wish I had that type of certainty in life. Yet still Vince Cable is all but assured of being the next leader of the Liberal Democrats. No doubt some will decide that is it for them and they will leave the party. That happens whenever a new leader takes over in any party. The thing is even you are aren’t exactly sucking at the teat of the former Business Secretary, you have to at least admire the fact he wants to be the leader.

We all expected Jo Swinson to be on her way to assuming the mantle of the top Lib Dem in the country. The returning MP for Dunbartonshire East was the red hot favourite and in all likelihood was set to cruise to victory if there was going to be a contest. She ticked far more boxes than anyone else who would potentially have put themselves forward. Sadly though for many, one small issue emerged. One teeny-tiny problem. She didn’t want the job. At that point everything changed in the contest.

Of the remaining candidates, one said he was ready to lead. The other two decided that they were not. What would have happened if Sir Vince had decided he didn’t want it? Would we be in a position where literally no-one out of the parliamentary party wanted the gig? Where would we be then?

Unlike a great deal of others, I’m not ready to tear up my membership card just yet if Vince is the next leader. I’m not exactly going to be full of the joys of spring either but sometimes you aren’t going to be totally in tune with the leader of your party. I am sure many Blairite Labour folk are struggling on under Jeremy Corbyn because they still see their party as the best hope for the country despite their disagreements with the person leading them. I am in a similar boat.

For me, my politics starts at Nick Clegg. Regular readers will know all about this as I’ve waxed lyrical about the man on numerous occasions. Many disagree and see Clegg as a villain for even entertaining the notion going into a coalition government with the sworn enemy. When Nick resigned after the catastrophe that was the 2015 General Election, my heart and my hope for the future broke a little bit. It has yet to recover due to what the country (and the party has seen in the two years since).

Yet when Tim Farron became leader I wasn’t ready to walk because sometimes in life you are not going to always agree with other people, yet you can still work for the perceived greater good. How many people disagree with their bosses but still are able to work for them? I once worked for a pretty strong-minded UKIPper and even though we disagreed on politics, we could still work together and bring success to our part of the business.

Vince may not be your cup of tea (he certainly isn’t mine) but he isn’t the devil either. I think it is fair to at least pose the question as to whether the party would have done better in the General Election earlier this month if Sir Vince was leader. Of course he wasn’t an MP and therefore couldn’t be but Vince wasn’t as harmed by the tuition fees issue as a lot of the twitterati want to make us believe.

Indeed multiple polls commissioned in 2012 suggested that Cable would have put the Lib Dems 3% higher in the polls and would have helped several key MPs hold their seats (most notably I suspect – his!). This all happened after the tuition fees vote and as for Royal Mail – if that is in the top 25 things voters are looking for when they go and cast their ballot I would be stunned.

His stance on free movement is clearly not in sync with the vast majority of the party. That is an issue and his political manoeuvring sticks in the throat but here we are, a fortnight or so after Tim Farron was knifed in the back/was persuaded to fall on to his sword (it is up to you which interpretation you believe) and only one person wants to do the job. When you are in this position outside of parliament you would reopen nominations. When your constitution says one of only 12 people can do the job and the other 11 say they don’t want it then what choice do we have? Do you attempt to force someone to do a job they don’t want or do you just back the person that does?

I’d go for the latter. Trying to coerce someone into running who doesn’t want it is selfish in the extreme. As liberals surely we all agree in individuality and being allowed to make our own choices in life? That includes if Jo Swinson or Ed Davey decide they don’t want to run to be leader of the party for whatever reason they like.

I have seen a few members say they would run because their needs to be a contest. I am pretty sure that if the constitution dictated that you didn’t have to be an MP to be the leader, a certain former Deputy Prime Minister would get a whole lot of love from many in the party. That might piss off even more of the membership but if we are being realistic, a straight Cable v Clegg battle would result in only one winner and it isn’t the sitting MP for Twickenham.

So for those who don’t want Cable, it could be worse, much worse. If no-one else emerges and he takes over then as members we will face a choice. Sit on our butts and sulk that the person we want leading the party isn’t or we can carry on at local level working for our communities and bringing forth motions to conference for the membership to vote on. Remember the members have far more power in the Lib Dems than in any other party, so if you have issues with the leader, you can control them policy wise pretty well. We should use that power wisely.

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On the despair of losing Nick Clegg and the moment my view of liberalism died…

This is not going to be upbeat folks.

Nick Clegg is the reason I’m involved in politics. Plain and simple. His view of the world and what is worth campaigning for is extremely aligned to mine. He is the person I’ll defend to the hilt most of all when people come at me with various views that aren’t liberal. The personal vendetta against him by a large section of society has made me question just how other people can see the same as me but see it completely differently. This isn’t just outward looking towards those not voting for (nor members of) the Lib Dems but also inward looking. Many in the party do not like him and I often struggle to understand why.

We’ll start from the very beginning, its a very good place to start so I’ve heard. I did A-Level politics and have always had interest in the subject. I was always more liberal than anti-Tory. I found that my views of the world are extremely liberal and they haven’t really changed as I’ve gotten older. Yet I had very little interest in actually getting involved. I went off to university and then after uni I bounced about a bit. I would trundle along to the local primary school or church hall on election days and put my x in the Lib Dem box but that was that.

Come Cleggmania though I was starting to be getting drawn in. The truth of the matter was I looked at him the way many looked at Tony Blair in 1997, I looked at him and I genuinely believed that he could deliver a brighter and more prosperous future. Not only that but that he could engineer a more tolerant and welcoming society. This was an era before UKIP’s popularity was inflamed by the media normalising racist and xenophobic behaviour but still I thought a future where intolerance would be shunned.

That first debate happened and suddenly everything seemed possible, no matter how far-fetched. The electorate saw their was a potential third way. It wasn’t just left or right but also centre. Voting for the Lib Dems wasn’t just a protest vote against one of the other two parties. It was a vote for something rather than against something else.

As we all subsequently know though, the media decided they didn’t like that. Hatchet jobs were done on him and polling data suppressed by The Sun that could have changed the course of the 2010 General Election. The key piece of data from that YouGov polling was that they found if people thought Nick Clegg’s party had a significant chance of winning the election, it would win 49 per cent of the votes, with the Tories winning 25 per cent and Labour just 19 per cent. So essentially if people thought the Lib Dems were in it, they would vote for them.

As it turned out, this was kept out of the limelight for weeks and allowed the other two main parties to once more get back into the front seat by saying it was only them that could win the election. Once momentum had gone it was difficult to get back. Of course the Lib Dems would eventually go into a coalition with the Tories and that would prove his downfall.

Tuition fees. Two words for which the Lib Dem membership and FPC will always skate away scot-free on. Those two words would become the millstone around the neck that caused the liberal dream to be shunted back a generation at best. The Lib Dems believed then (as do most now) that free university tuition is a good thing. The issue is when you go into coalition, you can’t actually put your manifesto into place. The country as a whole had firmly rejected the Lib Dem manifesto but when they voted for (in most cases – I think four Lib Dem MPs didn’t if my memory serves me right – my memory didn’t – I’m correctly told it was 21) the backlash and vitriol was paramount. The country said they didn’t want the Lib Dems but still smeared them for not doing what they proposed to the country. Tough crowd.

This brings me towards something I may well write about later if I have the time. The electorate do not seemingly want three-party politics. The media most certainly do not. They want things to be straightforward. You have the goodies and the baddies depending on your point of view. There is no wriggle room for nuance. No shades of grey. This makes everything a whole lot easier for many to get their head around.

Fast forward to last Thursday and I heard in the evening that Clegg was in considerable trouble and it was like someone had punched me in the gut. It was this soul-destroying pain. The realisation that the man you idolise in a political sense (and trust me, I do, even though he unfollowed me on twitter a couple of years ago, harsh Nick, harsh) is about to be turfed out of his job of 12 years just when his country needs him most is just bewildering to me. There are of course reasons, of which another blog post will get written but this is more of a personal account.

Now instead of being a key voice in talks protecting the form of Hard Brexit that most Remainers (and some Brexiteers) his role and future is more up in the air. He can pretty much do whatever he wants. He’s smarter than the average bear so to speak. There would/will be a queue of businesses and roles within politics that will be open to him. That is something that I am please about in a way, he’s now free to move on and get away from that vilification that has followed him for the past seven years.

One thing I do want to say is that I’m used to seeing Labour folks trashing him. They can rejoice in his demise because it is a fixation they have. What galls is how many Lib Dems are doing the same. They say he’s toxic and until he left then the party would never recover from tuition fees. Yet we just had an election that was called primarily as a referendum for giving the Tories a mandate for the harshest Brexit possible. Even the most ardent Clegg haters agreed that if you were against a hard Brexit then Nick Clegg’s voice and expertise were if not the best and most important (as I believed) in the House of Commons then definitely at the top tier. So him losing hurts those aspirations at what is a crucial time.

Nick Clegg was one of the smartest men in politics. One of the biggest assets the public had in the House of Commons. Love him or hate him but that is an accurate representation of the man. Now I know some people don’t want the best and the brightest representing them, they want more people like them and that is fair enough. That isn’t for me though. At such a time of volatility for the future, I want the best going in to bat for me. Sadly that will not be Nick Clegg at any point soon.

This saddens me deeply. If is such a small word but if things had just been that little bit different, Nick Clegg could have been the best Prime Minister this country had seen in generations. Instead we’ll never see what a Nick Clegg vision of the future would be and that might be the saddest thing of all.

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On Nick Clegg, timing and the chance of a political comeback…

Oh what could have been…

I didn’t watch last nights Question Time Brexit Special because well, I tend to not watch Question Time in general but also a mate popped over to catch up. In fact in the past five years I’ve only seen one regular episode (when it was from Portsmouth after the government had given the two new aircraft carriers to a Scottish dockyard) but anyway I digress. I woke up this morning and was scrolling through my time line. One thing struck me (apart from a fellow SIAD grad and a football commentator reminding me of the fact Michael Gove existed and that Sarah Vine wakes up next to him daily, for which I am still traumatised) and that was that people are missing Nick Clegg. I’m not surprised.

If you go back through this very blog you’ll see numerous blurbs from me extolling the virtues of the MP for Sheffield Hallam. I make no bones about it. I agree with Nick. I did then, I do now and I pretty much have done so for the vast majority of the times in-between. The fact he unfollowed me on twitter hasn’t lessened my feelings towards the man (but the fact I’m bringing it up shows it is still galling…)

The thing is had things been different. Lets say Chris Huhne had become leader of the Lib Dems instead of Nick when they faced off against each other. Or had say Gordon Brown not said what he did with a hot mic about Gillian Duffy. Had the Greek economy not collapsed several days before the 2010 UK General Election. Had Lib Dem Conference done what Nick wanted to got rid of the pledge about tuition fees (because Nick knew in any coalition talks that was a big obstacle to overcome). Had the instant poll after the second leaders debate put Clegg ahead of Cameron by 1% instead of the other way round. Had just one of these things gone the other way then in all likelihood history will have been very different. Not just for Clegg personally but also for the country and the Lib Dems. Fine margins…

In my (albeit) brief lifetime (ok I am in my mid 30s now – eek) there have been two truly inspirational politicians in the UK. One was Tony Blair and the other is Nick Clegg. Whether you like them or their politics, they were the two people that you could see were a) natural leaders but more importantly b) had the potential to be great.

Blair’s legacy will forever be tarnished by Iraq and people forget that those Labour governments were not bad. They won three landslide elections on the spin (including one after the Iraq War) for a reason. Not just because the Tory party kept finding leaders who couldn’t lead their way out of a paper bag or inspire people but because the general quality of life was getting better for many people.

For Clegg his legacy will be tied to tuition fees and a pledge he was fully committed to had he been Prime Minister but one he knew he couldn’t deliver in coalition. I have spent many calories typing away words about the difference between having a majority government and being a junior partner in the coalition but those words fell flat. Raw anger won and logic became something to be spoken about in hushed corners fearing that the mob would overhear.

Then 2015 happened. Most political pundits expected the Lib Dems to once again hold the balance of power. Ed Miliband was as hopeless a leader as expected and couldn’t deliver a Labour victory whilst the rest of the country decided they hated the coalition government so much that they would punish the junior party in that coalition. Let the Tories be free to do what they wanted is what people cried as they buried the Lib Dems with a hearty laugh and a cheer as they walked away from the ballot boxes.

Nick Clegg did the only thing he could, fall on his sword. The country had spoken and instead of another five years taming the right-wing Euro-sceptic part of the Conservative party. He would become a backbencher and watch as they dragged the government away from where most people actually wanted them to be. He would refuse a part in Tim Farron’s initial cabinet as he either felt like he had to lick his wounds or thought he was just too toxic. Then the EU Referendum came and things changed. The Cleggster was unleashed and he had that swagger back.

When people ask me who I would like to see as leader of the Lib Dems and Prime Minister it won’t surprise you as to my answer. Yet I know deep down that sadly that will never be the case. Tuition fees is a millstone around that neck and even though plenty of worse things are going on in government (both then and now) too many people would point to that one thing. It saddens me greatly that a man who could have been one of the great leaders of the world (yes I know some just spit out their cup of tea at that notion but I stand by it) will never have the opportunity to fulfil his potential.

For now though he’s become arguably the most articulate politician of the Anti-Brexit coalition. Tim Farron has been a clear and strong voice for it. Ken Clarke has been fighting from within and has shown deep courage in his convictions. Nicola Sturgeon is trying to use it as a lever to get an independent Scotland but Nick Clegg just gets it. He still has it. Put Clegg in a situation where people only listen to words with an open mind and no preconceived ideas then he’s the greatest asset the Anti-Brexit coalition has – by far.

The problem is though is that a situation enough people put themselves in? I fear not but after nigh on two years out of the limelight and out of the daily grind of the newspapers and comedians using him as their favourite low fruit punching bag then maybe the toxicity is evaporating. Will it ever happen to the degree that he could either lead the party again or potentially have a roll to play in a future coalition or Lib Dem government? I doubt it (and lets be honest – we have no idea if he wants to stand again in 2020 when he surely has a plethora of offers out there).

This is why I often look at things like timing and see it as so important. Not just in this example but in life for all of us. Sometimes opportunities come along at the right time but also sometimes the right thing happens but at the wrong time. Sometimes events conspire for you, sometimes against you. Had Nick Clegg not been leader of the Lib Dems in 2010 or been Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition government and was now the fresh faced face of the Anti-Brexit movement, I suspect that movement would have its inspirational leader and that ball wouldn’t just be rolling, it would be gathering pace at a vast rate of knots.

I’ll leave you with these two questions:

Who would you trust to get the best deal for the UK in any Brexit negotiations, David Davis or Nick Clegg?

Who would you prefer to see as our Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson or Nick Clegg?

I suspect the answer is Clegg – to both.

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On the next step for the Lib Dems and finally regaining that all important identity…

Lets not beat around the bush. I am a Nick Clegg guy. A total Nick Clegg guy. I have always been a Liberal Democrat voter but Nick is the reason why I’m a card carrying member. Nothing against any leader before or since but there was something extremely special about Nick Clegg. He could’ve been a great leader of this country but instead it’ll be a generation before people truly understand what they’ve missed out on by essentially nailing him to the cross based mainly on the tuition fees situation and of course some voters believing that working with the Tories in any capacity was treachery.

In the past week we’ve seen much upheaval in the political sphere. A Labour Party held at gunpoint by a leader who has an army of followers but no way to ever win a war at a wider level and a Conservative Party where the big beast expected to be Prime Minister has bottled it after one of the most egregious pieces of back stabbing we’ve seen in modern political history by one of the nastiest and slimiest MPs around.

Amongst all that the Lib Dems have seen a surge in new members, over 12,000 in the past week at last count and having already spoken to a few around where I live in Southend, I was surprised (and very pleased) that none of them so far have had a bad word to say about Nick Clegg. Quite the opposite in fact. This gives me the sense that some of the stigma surrounding the party is starting to evaporate and that opens up big opportunities for the party.

I don’t think its exactly breaking news that I’m sceptical about our leader, not in his convictions, I think on that issue he ticks the boxes but in terms of being at ease in the spotlight and being a natural orator then I think there are still questions to answer. Yet his speech at Conference in 2015 was fast rate, it was passionate, it was heartfelt and it gave hope. The big question now is whether he can make enough waves to get the media attention when the party are now arguably the fifth most important in the United Kingdom political sphere behind the big beasts, UKIP and the SNP.

What the past week has shown though is the Lib Dems now clearly stand for something. They have that headline sign around their neck. The Lib Dems are very much Pro-EU. This means they are pro international business, they are pro the City of London being the heart of the world’s financial sector, they are pro small business. They are pro the freedom of movement of people across the EU, they are pro having an open and tolerant multicultural society.

It is something I think many Lib Dems have struggled with in recent years, telling people via canvassing or leafleting exactly what the party stand for. Did they stand for keeping the Tories in check (which I still think they did very well considering the electoral math against them) or did they stand for just local issues and try to ignore the national scene. The sad truth is national swings will often effect local races when they shouldn’t so I’m always been a proponent of talking about national issues as well as local ones, this isn’t something that has been widely shared amongst some that I know.

Still now is an opportunity for people to join or rejoin the party and the softening of the distrust and dislike of the party by the voters. This isn’t going to change overnight but the Lib Dems now sit at the heart of the centre-left on the ideological spectrum, a position not too far away from where Tony Blair won office in three consecutive landslides from 1997 to 2005.

The Labour Party are in complete disarray, their leader is so far left that they are now unelectable and he can’t even command his own party. Either he goes or his party splits and should that happen and a split Labour Party alliance or amalgamation with the Lib Dems and suddenly the centre-left once more has a party at the heart of it. This isn’t beyond the realm of possibility and in this era of political uncertainty, things move fast and flexibility will be key but the signs are everything is in play.

Over in the blue camp, they are undergoing a leadership contest where it is assumed that a pretty hard-lined right-winger in Theresa May is set to win. Should that come to fruition then she will drag the party away from the centre ground where David Cameron has cleverly put it to win a surprise second term at Prime Minister. With the Tories potentially abandoning the centre, Labour way out left and UKIP way out right, imagine a progressive party sitting in that centre-left spot consisting of non Corbynista Labour and the Lib Dems. Has some real potential no?

Still that is a long way off, for now the Liberal Democrats now have a clear identity. They know who they are and can mix the national scene with local politics once again. The Lib Dems aren’t just Tory-lite or Tory-curbers, they have their own clear electoral platform. Whether they take this opportunity, well we’ll find out in time but as it stands they are the only party in England who firmly want to stay in the EU and aren’t placed on either extreme flank of political ideology.

If you believe in this country being part of the world and not a backwater island, want the country to be a player on the world stage, want to keep down racism and xenophobia and hopefully eradicate it altogether, want to be part of an all-inclusive multicultural society and want the next generation to have the opportunities that we had then at this moment there is one clear political party for you. I’m not saying the Lib Dems are the greatest things since Cherry Bakewells (we’re not) but we do believe in looking forward and not backwards and know exactly what direction we want to take the country in and that isn’t something either the red or blue teams can say at this juncture.

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