Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What if Nick Clegg Took the Biggest Risk of All?

When I spoke to Nick Clegg at last year's LibDem conference he was very keen to emphasise that he didn't mind taking political risks. In fact, he seemed extraordinarily keen to do so. His tax announcement was certainly evidence of that. His willingness to speculate about post election scenarios is another. This set me thinking.

There seems to be a consensus among political analysts that the LibDems will lose seats to the Tories at the next election, predominantly in the South West. I too think this will happen, although I think the power of incumbency will keep those losses to single figures.

One of the key Tory messages in the next election campaign should be that a vote for the LibDems (or indeed any party other than the Tories) is a vote for Gordon Brown, and that the only way to oust him is to vote Conservative.

There is a way, however, for the LibDems to minimise the effect of that strategy in the South. If Nick Clegg were to announce that under no circumstances would the LibDems enter into a coalition to keep Brown in office, or vote to sustain a minority Labour government, he might well retain many of the 'soft LibDems' who are thinking of voting Tory.

But it would be a huge political risk. For in northern seats Labour would campaign on a slogan of Vote LibDem and get a Tory.

In the end, this comes down to crude electoral arithmetic. If Chris Rennard believes the LibDems can win more seats in the North than they could lose in the south, Clegg won't take the risk. If, on the other hand, he calculates the reverse is true, it's just possible that Clegg will take the biggest risk of his career so far.

If he did, I wonder how his MPs and party members would react.


Unknown said...

One other way would be to drop the Euro-philia.

I know we anti-EU types always vastly over-estimate the importance of the EU as an issue to voters but the South West is strongly Euro-sceptic.

Mind you, with the Tory policy being one of 'I want the issue to go away, please' voters have nothing to choose from anyway.

Newmania said...

I wonder what the Liberals who post on Red Hundal`s Liberal Conspiracy would make of that

AnyoneButBrown said...

Clegg would risk splitting the party.
Clegg & Laws are comfortable with the Tories. Vince and the party activists are not. They are left-wing public sector/quango employees and are very unhappy being with the Tories. They would be much happier with Labour.

A big risk indeed.

Sixxstring90 said...

Cleggover can say whatever he wants because he knows there is no real chance of the Liberals ever ascending to power.

I wish David Laws would join the Conservative Party. He is a phenomenal intellect, and he achieved a double first in economics at Cambridge University. He is much more appealing than Vince Cable, who I'm now sick of the sight off. He is just a populist, not a serious commentator. I don't think reasonable people would suggest full scale nationalisation of the banking system, taking the burden away from directors and shareholders and placing it onto the entire population. He just appeals to people's reactionary tendencies.

Matthew said...

This strategy would harm the LibDems more in LD-Con marginals than LD-Lab marginals.

In a seat like Taunton, the LibDems have squeezed the Labour vote by portraying themselves as the only real local alternative to the Tories. If they basically tell the voters they are no different to the Tories and would potentially prop up a Tory government, tactical Labour voters would peel away and the LibDem majority would vanish.

Old Holborn said...


I notice the Beeb has banned white people from this evenings Eastenders

Perhaps you could ask Derek if this is racist.

He's an expert on the subject I hear

Chris Paul said...

Lib Dems typically lose half-plus of their non-established seats but win some other ones to partially or as last time more than make up for their losses. These time the losing half-plus of their non-dug-in seats seems fairly likely. But where are the replacements coming from this time? I think they could easily find themselves on 30 or less seats and really ought to lose some back to Labour as the Con-Lab battle takes centre stage.

I agree with Matthew about the potential benefit in those seats of cosying up to Tories. They'd be keeping their invitation to Tories to lend them their votes running. Whereas otherwise those Tories would be tempted to vote for their true home party in expectation that that'd be for the party of government, even if they couldn't win the particular seats.

Clegg won't do it. Better to faff around in the muddle and have a different story on every doorstep instead of some kind of principled, consistent, national approach.

Shamik Das said...

Wasn't there an entire episode of Eastenders not too long ago featuring Dot Cotton and no one else?!

rob's uncle said...

This is not something he can do off his own bat. Not least because he only won the contest for the leadership by 511 votes - 1.2 %.

We have a settled policy: we will be ready to talk to whichever party is largest in the House. This kind of speculation is not based on any substance. We must wait and see what happens.

jailhouselawyer said...

I fail to see taking political risks and Nick Clegg being associated. An example is that Charles Kennedy supported all convicted prisoners getting the vote. When Ming took over, Clegg advised him to go against what the LibDems had voted on at their conference and go against the LibDem constitution. In my view, doing what was right is taking the political risk. Next time you see Clegg, perhaps you can ask the chicken why he crossed the road?

Simon Gardner said...

If Labour “loses” the general election (ie loses overall control of the HoC) there is no way the Lib Dems will do a deal with them. But the Tories could still be really stupid about electoral reform

Mitch said...

Who is clegg?

Letterman said...

I think that's a false choice. About half of tory support is anti-Labour and a similar amount of Lib Dem support is anti-Labour/Tory.

There isn't enough to be lost by Nick Clegg by ruling out a coalition with Labour (apart from a few disgruntled leftie activists).

Most of the seats the Lib Dems will win are from Labour not the Tories, so it is anti-labour votes that are most important and a more powerful message, not anti-tory. And for most voters the prospect of a Lib-Tory coalition (even though Clegg has more or less ruled out any coalition) isn't the same as a Tory Government, as much as Labour would like to think it is.

Labour have lost their political soul, in the words of Nick Clegg 'they are a zombie government' and nothing is going to save them now.

Salmondnet said...

Mitch. A character in Last of the Summer Wine, I think.

Newmania said...

GGod god I agree with Chris Paul. I feel dirty and ashamed

Man in a Shed said...

I think you have this the wrong way round Iain.

The yellow ones operate down here, in Labour free Surrey, by claiming to be the Labour party - "Winning here" and all that. Their main hope is to hoover up Labour votes, which is how they have won some of the seats in the South.

If they go anti-Labour then they're toast.

The only place that would benefit is where they are squeezing the Tory vote up North.

Its not a risk you asking Clegg to take - its an opportunity for suicide. Oh hold on I get it, I'll shut up now ....

neil craig said...

In the same way they made a manifesto promise to support a referendum on the constitreaty? Hardly believable.

I think Tory tactics against LDs should be to say that any government they supported would have to be committed to windmills & no nuclear which every engineer knows will mean the lights going out. This isn't a left/right issue it is a silly/serious or even idealogical extremist/moderate issue on which the LDs are on the silly end & the Tories on the centre ground - much though I wish the actually inclined towards serious.

Oranjepan said...

I think you're looking at this question from your own point of view (ie that of a conservative), which has the distinct disadvantage of lacking insight and sounding like a bit of partisan trouble-making.

It's fun and all that, but it's playing to the prejudices of the gallery and undermines our democracy.

I look forward to the day when one of the two conservative parties proposes a concrete and workable proposal of their own, but I can only speculate on when they'll say what they mean and do what they say!

Broken Britain - yes, they tried to break us, but we are unbowed!