Sometimes the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg attacks the Government but he does this much less than most of his Party colleagues. Mr Clegg generally grasps that being in the Coalition Government while constantly trying to distance himself from it does not have credibility.
Lib Dem councillors often spend more time opposing Government policy than supporting it. In his speech today at the Lib Dem Local Government Conference, Mr Clegg urged them to take a different approach:
Imagine yourself on the doorstep – two different conversations.
Hello, I’m from the Liberal Democrats, for which I am truly sorry…
No, I’d rather not talk about the things we’ve done in national government if you don’t mind…
Around here we’ve been terribly nice, would it be possible to just stick to that?
I’m from the Liberal Democrat Party.
When the country needed it, we stepped up to our responsibilities…
Entering into Coalition with our opponents for the sake of the national interest.
We have taken some difficult decisions, but by doing so the country’s battered economy is on the mend.
Well over a million jobs have been created…
As well as record numbers of apprenticeships…
And we have managed to cut taxes for the vast majority of British taxpayers.
Here in this neighbourhood we have also protected vital services that matter to you.
Vote for us again and you will get more of the same.
That’s the conversation that will inspire people to support us. We will not be rewarded for hiding our achievements and beliefs. And our biggest error would be to come this far only to head into retreat.
An even more novel idea from Mr Clegg was that his party should cease offering contradictory messages in different places:
In the past, the Liberal Democrats had to deploy highly localised campaigns. Yes, we had key national policies: a penny on income tax for education; our opposition to Iraq. But up against a suffocating two party system, the only way to get a foothold was through targeted, street-by-street campaigns.
During that time, it was the entirely right thing to do, and it was very effective. Indeed, that approach earned us our reputation as an unstoppable campaigning force.
But it is a tactic, not a strategy for building the strong, sharp identity we should be aiming for as a party that can hold national office. And we are in a different phase now.
We must always speak to local people and local concerns – that is one of our greatest strengths.
But we must contextualise those messages, ensuring people understand the values and character that define our whole party.
Going forward, the idea that in a General Election we can be under a national spotlight and yet run the campaign as a series of loosely linked by-elections simply isn’t possible. We can be singing different verses – but they must all be from the same song.
That roughly translates as saying that his Party could get away with the most shameless opportunism and dishonesty before as the media would not bother to challenge them over it. Now they are in Government the fun is over.
Mr Clegg is entitled to be fed up with his Party activists – including the diminishing number of their councillors. With elaborate efforts at Party democracy they were given a say on joining a coalition goernment with the Conservatives and overwhelmingly approved the idea. Since when they have done nothing but whinge.
Whether they take any notice of his rebuke is another matter