28 September 2012

Clegg's Cornish pasty conference speech

There's an old saying about budgets that prove popular on the day, become unpopular in time.  And that was certainly true of this year's offering - shredding the credibilty of the Chancellor with every Cornish pasty sold in bakeries.  Sadly, the various economic and presentational gaffes also meant that its one big liberal success - the increasing of the personal allowance - was buried in an avalanche of negative headlines.

It looks like the same unravelling could be happening with Wednesday's Clegg speech.  Lord Bonker's estimable confidant - Jonathan Calder - being the first to break cover with some measured (and valid) criticisms of Clegg's position.

My problem with the speech was that the dead hand of the world's worst political strategist - Richard Reeves -  was clearly behind it.  Clegg's view is still there are votes to be gained by being 'a party of government' - despite the idea being tested to destruction by the last two and half years of coalition.

Clegg's assertion that, "...The past is gone and it isn’t coming back. If voters want a party of opposition – a “stop the world I want to get off” party – they’ve got plenty of options, but we are not one of them..." conveniently ignores the long term political dissillusionment with party politics - and particularly governments.

In 1951 the two 'parties of government' got 95% of all the votes cast in the UK - in 2010 it was just 65%.  Clegg now wants the party to ignore this growing third of the electorate, in favour of focussing on a shrinking two thirds of the electorate - many of whom have long held partisan loyalties.

It's a crazy strategy.  Many of the people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 (and before) didn't want to 'stop the world' - they wanted a strong Liberal voice to speak up for them in government.  They wanted to take on the vested interests - in politics, business, the media and organised labour - who are responsible for the economic and political crisis in this country.

The reason why these voters have turned against the Lib Dems is that they appear to have joined the vested interests instead of attacking them from a position of power.  Unless Clegg sees the error of his ways they will find other - no doubt more illiberal voices - to take up the mantle of fighting for the little guy against the powerful.

Edit 29.9.12 - the ever excellent Andrew Page has also waded into the debate in similar terms.

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