Nick Clegg wants to be PM, but he can’t be over-confident


7:51 pm - April 25th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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Today Nick Clegg said he wouldn’t support Brown if Labour came third in the popular vote. Some people have read this as a signal that Clegg is against the idea of supporting Labour in a coalition.

I disagree. It’s actually Clegg signalling that if Labour come third in the popular vote than then they have no choice but to have him as Prime Minister in a Labour-Libdem coalition.

I actually made that case last week, if you remember.

Following that article, an MP messaged me to say:

Seems slightly bizarre logic to me that ‘Clegg can’t stand Brown’ so Brown should stand down.

I think there are several reasons for Labour to get rid of Gordwon Brown after the election, especially if he does not win it outright. I’ll come back to those later.

But I’m safe in saying that if Labour does indeed come third in the popular vote then Clegg is in a strong position and he can legitimately make the case for being PM.

However, I think its dangerous for Clegg to make this case.

First, Labourites are then right to say it removes the incentive for tactical voting. Why should Labourites support Libdems tactically if voting for them makes it easier for Clegg to oust people from their own party?

Secondly, Clegg needs to lay out conditions (of policy) for a coalition, so at least tactical voters can make up their mind on whether a Lib-Lab coalition is likely. If the bar is so low that Libdems can join the Conservatives, then many lefties and Labour will be right to avoid them in case that scenario happens.

Lastly, Clegg is being rather over-confident; the Labour Party is not vanishing anytime soon. People don’t shift allegiances that quickly across the country. Libdems seem to be mostly picking up apathetic voters, but that is a shaky constituency that may not deliver.

And anyway, people saying they’ll vote Libdem are less likely to vote than Labour or Tory voters. Hence, like Peter Kellner, I see them coming third in the popular vote/

But if Nick Clegg keeps bashing the Labour party then he might find the left-wing vote evaporate and go back to more firmer territory.

It comes down to this: does Nick Clegg see himself as part of the progressive majority or not? Granted, New Labour needs to junk a whole range of policies. But it would be worth knowing where Clegg sees himself.

Update:
I think Paul Evans it right about the need for an anti-Tory alliance. But that does assume that the Libdems will be clearer about where they see themselves on the spectrum.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Secondly, Clegg needs to lay out conditions (of policy) for a coalition, so at least tactical voters can make up their mind on whether a Lib-Lab coalition is likely. If the bar is so low that Libdems can join the Conservatives – then many lefties and Labour will be right to avoid for them.

I’m fairly sure he’s already done this, hasn’t he? There’s been a good deal of focus on the four non-negotiable campaign platforms, starting with electoral reform and ending with the Freedom Bill. Those seem to be the terms, pretty clearly enunciated.

Lastly, Clegg is being rather over-confident

Here, you could be right.

It comes down to this: does Nick Clegg see himself as part of the progressive majority or not? Granted, New Labour needs to junk a whole range of policies. But it would be worth knowing where Clegg sees himself.

I think he sees himself as the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, and currently in possession of a better mandate for his policy platform than any leader of his party since WWI. Possibly hubristic, but not far from accurate.

2. A Lib Dem candidate

I think you’re misunderstanding the nature of the transformation that would happen with PR.

The Liberal Democrats would split within about a week of PR going into law into our leftish (Social Liberal Forum) wing and our rightish (Liberal Vision / Orange Book) wings. Many people in the party would be much happier in a party that gets 10% of the vote but is ideologically pure.

Many of us assume that the same is true of the other parties and look forward to an eight or nine party system (like the Netherlands). I think we’re wrong on that – we’re much more likely to end up with a right-wing alliance and a left-wing alliance like the Germans than the Dutch system where there are essentially three coalitions (CDA/VVD, CDA/PvDA, PvDA/D66/VVD) possible because of the Christian/secular split in Dutch politics.

The problem will be that the liberals will be the minority in both coalitions most of the time and will find it very hard to put together the equivalent of the “purple” coalition because of the lack of a party like the CDA to coalesce against.

It comes down to this: does Nick Clegg see himself as part of the progressive majority or not? Granted, New Labour needs to junk a whole range of policies. But it would be worth knowing where Clegg sees himself.

Even if he does, why on earth would he say so? There will be plenty of people voting Lib Dem in the hopes of a Lib-Con coalition; he can’t definitively pick one or the other without throwing away at least 5% of the votes. You have to expect studied ambiguity.

I think the mathematics of this is interesting.

The lib dems have been very good at squeezing the Labour vote in safe and safeish Tory seats. Why should they vote Lib Dem if

1) By so doing their vote is counted as an anti-Labour vote in a lib dem calculation of which of the other two parties is picked to support in the event of a hung parliament.

2) If that also means that the lib dems will then support the tories such that a tactical vote to beat a Tory MP still leads to the Tories being part of the Government.

Also I think Clegg should be worried about the election, while the Lib Dems have promoted PR for many years the logic of it is a hung (or balanced depending upon your view) parliament. However they don’t seem to have thought through the implications of being in a hung parliament for their own party. I would guess that the majority of Lib Dem members are strongly anti-tory (even if this is not true of their voters). However whichever way Clegg goes he will offend a substantial part of his membership, when a hung parliament is unlikely this is not a problem – as he can maintain – a plague on both your houses. As soon as he is in a position to make a choice he is in trouble, as is the Lib Dem party. I think we are in for a fascinating time

‘And anyway, people saying they’ll vote Libdem are less likely to vote than Labour or Tory voters.’

Which is one of the reasons he’s pushing this concept of the mandate of the popular vote. Labour should consider doing the same. It’ll be good practice to speak outside the marginals.

But really all these what-ifs and tactical voting plans and examinations of Nick Clegg’s liver are beginning to get as dull as trying to figure out what caused minute changes in the polls.

Isn’t what Clegg is doing here just making sure to counter the Tory “Vote Clegg get Brown” meme? The LibDems need to keep on appealing to people who might otherwise vote Tory, so I hardly think it’s surprising that we’re seeing Clegg recently making statements designed to mollify those sections of voters that he can reasonably expect to, erm, nick off the Tories.

From ITN

“An Ipsos Mori survey for a Sunday newspaper puts the Lib Dems on just 23 per cent – down nine points on a similar poll on Monday – behind Labour on 30 per cent (up two) and the Conservatives on 36 per cent (up four).

It suggests “Cleggmania” may be on the wane after both David Cameron and Gordon Brown put in much-improved performances in Thursday night’s second televised leaders’ debate.”

Looks like the tory press is doing it’s job.

@4 Paul Smith: “Also I think Clegg should be worried about the election, while the Lib Dems have promoted PR for many years the logic of it is a hung (or balanced depending upon your view) parliament. However they don’t seem to have thought through the implications of being in a hung parliament for their own party.”

But they have thought about the implications. LibDems, as they exist now, are the route to a temporary liberal government, which is not the long term target. Liberalism is a philosophy, not a manifesto.

LibDems are familiar with division. The unification of the SDP and the old Liberal party was not bloodless, and most LibDems feel happy about the split. If you go back further in time, which Liberal split do you want to talk about? World War 1 conscription? Liberalism is painful and awkward, and sometimes the “official Liberals” send the wrong answer.

I wanna break out the liberals who reside in the Conservative and Labour parties. A few Anarchists in government would be healthy too.

I agree with what a few posters are implying that there is no way of really knowing how much of each parties FPTP vote would split in a Westminster PR election. There will be constituencies where Tory voters vote LD as an anti-Labour vote. Others where Labour voters vote LD as an anti-Tory vote. Constituencies where LD voters vote Labour as an anti-Tory vote, and vote Tory as an anti-Labour vote. A Westminster PR election would offer a true revealed preferences. However, it is not possible to extrapolate that FPTP votes is true support. As Charlieman said, PR could result in quite a few people changing parties.

Maybe they all offset, effectively canceling each other out nationally. However, there must be large swathes of voters in constituencies with huge majorities who do not vote because of the large majority.

Not wanting to be a troll or a hater or anything, but is this meant to be a serious or credible piece of poltical analysis? Really?

Coming on top of a slew of far-fringe minority interest posts (rainbow-green-swp) since the campaign began, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.

*deletes from feedreader*

Something to ponder: why would Labour want to do a deal with the Lib Dems if there is no overall majority after the election?

If Labour announces that it won’t be part of any kind of coalition if it doesn’t win a majority, then the Lib Dems will probably get a few more votes off the Tories (as the Tory press can’t say “Vote Clegg, Get Brown”).

Then after the election, the Lib Dems and the Tories get to work out how they want to run the country together, which probably leads to massive revolts from progressive Lib Dems and right-wing Tories alike, and Cameron and Clegg get to do the massive public spending cuts which they are both so keen on but which most people won’t like.

Meanwhile Labour gets to spend some time choosing a new leader and rebuilding, ready for when the Tory/Lib Dem alliance falls apart.

Not risk free, but this sounds miles better than letting Nick Clegg become Prime Minister, or grovelling to the Liberal Democrats in order to cling on to power until the Lib Dems think it is time for another election to complete their mission of finishing off the Labour Party, Clegg’s stated aim.

So what concessions could the Lib Dems offer Labour to avoid being forced into a coalition with the Tories which would split their party?

Interesting scenario Don paskini – though it is a risky strategy as you say.

Not risk free, but this sounds miles better than letting Nick Clegg become Prime Minister, or grovelling to the Liberal Democrats in order to cling on to power until the Lib Dems think it is time for another election to complete their mission of finishing off the Labour Party, Clegg’s stated aim.

Well, I’m not sure the idea of a Clegg as PM scenario sounds that bad. Firstly, I’ll buy their main four policies they’re pushing. I’ll also buy secondary policies (on Trident, Amnesty etc).

On massive spending cuts – well I think you’re being rather optimistic in thinking Labour won’t do this either. It’ll have to happen regardless of who is in power given the budget deficit. However, the Libdems agree with Labour that it should happen once the economy has recovered more. In fact, on this issue I see very little difference between the two parties.

Paul Smith:
The lib dems have been very good at squeezing the Labour vote in safe and safeish Tory seats.

While I agree on the other analysis, that this is also dangerous territory for the Libdems, I disagree with this bit. The Libdems have actually squeezed more votes from Tories recently than Labour (more on this tomorrow).

And who cares if the parties do split once PR becomes apparent? I’d rather know I’m voting for an MP that is definitely X and Y on policy than the current situation where I just know their party supports X and Y.

Coallitions form under PR, and it won’t be an easy start but it will work itself out. If the Lib Dems or even Labour split up a bit that’s fine as long as people know what they’re voting for. Having 9 different liberal parties in parliament means nothing if it means all 9 are part of a majority all voting as voters expect them to on a bill by bill basis.

“Well, I’m not sure the idea of a Clegg as PM scenario sounds that bad. Firstly, I’ll buy their main four policies they’re pushing. I’ll also buy secondary policies (on Trident, Amnesty etc).

On massive spending cuts – well I think you’re being rather optimistic in thinking Labour won’t do this either. It’ll have to happen regardless of who is in power given the budget deficit. However, the Libdems agree with Labour that it should happen once the economy has recovered more. In fact, on this issue I see very little difference between the two parties.”

This, in spades.

Another area in which the Lib Dems are willing to articulate a better policy stance than Labour is repudiation of the British role of deputy to the American sheriff.

However. Clegg has often said, in the absence of an overall majority, the party who gets the most “votes and seats” should be given the chance to form a government. Set aside the disingenuousness of his insistance that a scenario in which the party who gets the most seats and the party who gets the most votes may not be the same under FPTP, on the grounds that it’s highly unlikely (thus undermining the PR message for the sake of tactical advantage, the slippery weasel).

While this sounds like common sense, it’s actually wrong-headed. It makes more sense to form a centre-left coalition than to hand power to the right because the left vote is split. Unless you’re saying coalitions are somehow less legitimate than single-party rule – in which case why bother with PR? The bastard talks out both of sides his mouth. And it’s supposed to be a change from politics as usual – gimme a break…

Uh, by “you” I’m rhetorically addressing Clegg himself. Not disagreeing with the OP, which I basically agree with – although I can’t summon real enthusiasm for either Labour or the Lib Dems, the Tories are lower than vermin, as Nye Bevan said, anything is preferable …

Clegg is simply trying to avoid the “vote Clegg, get Brown” message. That is all. Yes, he may be over-stating it and appearing to be over-confident. That’s a risk, but that’s all he’s doing.

He did set out four key areas of policy that would be the basis of any coalition deal, areas which would make it hard for the Tories to come on board the Clegg bandwagon.

“Well, I’m not sure the idea of a Clegg as PM scenario sounds that bad. Firstly, I’ll buy their main four policies they’re pushing. I’ll also buy secondary policies (on Trident, Amnesty etc).”

The idea of Clegg as PM might sound appealing to you, but why on earth would Labour want this? Surely it would do incalculable harm to the Labour Party?

“On massive spending cuts – well I think you’re being rather optimistic in thinking Labour won’t do this either. It’ll have to happen regardless of who is in power given the budget deficit.”

So, again, why would Labour want to be in government and push through massive spending cuts? Rather than in opposition to a Lib Dem/Tory coalition?

It might well sound appealing for some people here if Labour does whatever suits the Liberal Democrats, but the Lib Dems are clearly and obviously doing whatever is in their own tribal interest (for example not ruling out a deal with the Tories to get right-wing people to vote for them), and maybe progressives should think about putting a bit of pressure on them to commit to a centre-left alliance.

The Lib Dems have staked their claim on this election as one in which the votes of the people aren’t going to be cast to the wind based on the political whims of a leadership of a party. If they change that now they undermine their whole argument which comes before reform of the electoral system and of parliament.

You can see it as tribal interest perhaps, given that it doesn’t quite suit YOUR tribal interest, but the stand is sound in it’s principals.

but why on earth would Labour want this? Surely it would do incalculable harm to the Labour Party?

Why?

So, again, why would Labour want to be in government and push through massive spending cuts? Rather than in opposition to a Lib Dem/Tory coalition?

Well, you may as well ask why Labour is fighting the election then. Why not just let the Tories win and push through those changes?

The difference would be that a Lib-Lab coalition would be better for Britons than a Tory govt or Tory coalition.

May I be the first to comment how the Clegg outside-politics appeal is reminiscent of George W Bush’s attraction to US voters who were sick and tired of ‘big government’ and the fallout from the Lewinsky scandal.

Like George W our Nick Clegg bumbles along not saying much in the way of detail, quite often unaware of the implications of his proposals, setting himself up as the candidate to counter our problems.

So, keep that in mind the next time someone writes a comment about how only US voters could be stupid enough to elect such an under-qualified chancer – we’re on the verge of proving ourselves to be no better.

(PS: Clegg ain’t no Obama – who in turn isn’t all he was cracked up to be).

Kojak. Clegg has been saying plenty about his policies, and the manifesto of his party is the only one to even attempt to go in to costings. The fact the media choose not to report this side of things rather than the constant questioning about hung parliaments doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Lee,

Costings? It’s just as well as the media hardly reported it Stephanie Flanders pulled them apart with incredible ease (for Andrew Neil and David Dimbleby).

Being fair to the Liberals they have at least put ‘costings’ in their manifesto whereas the other two haven’t even bothered – so at least Nick Clegg got dressed up to attend this fancy dress party unlike David Cameron and Gordon Brown.

Sunny,

Ta for the link, but I’m not actually calling for an anti-Tory alliance as such. I’m saying that there is a strong preference for it in the country and within a lot of the left. As it happens, I’m agnostic on it, and I don’t think that what we ‘will’ really matters in politics either way. Let’s horse-trade when we know the result by all means.

I *do* think that Labour should be thinking tactically and ordering their preferences themselves – and anything they can do now which would cost little (Brown saying he’s not personally lead a coalition would cost all of us apart from Brown’s immediate circle very little) that would maximise our vote and strengthen our hand would be a good thing.

“But I’m safe in saying that if Labour does indeed come third in the popular vote then Clegg is in a strong position and he can legitimately make the case for being PM.”

Errr no you’d be wrong, even if the Lib Dems get more votes than Labour, the Lib Dems will still at very best only have about half the MPs that Labour will get.
Since it’s seats that count in the UK General Election then Cleggs case for PM would be very weak.
If Clegg had approaching the same number of seats as Labour and got the bigger share of the vote then Clegg has a case.
Simply winning a higher share of the vote won’t be enough to sway the Labour MPs into backing any idea of then being led by Clegg.

It’s simple really, Clegg has virtually no case to be PM in any coalition, the best he could hope for is a cabinet position, Clegg, having a string case to be PM in a coalition government……well that’s just fantasy territory.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. House Of Twits

    RT @libcon Nick Clegg wants to be PM, but he can't be over-confident in making the case http://bit.ly/cUllVk

  2. Max

    RT @libcon Nick Clegg wants to be PM, but he can’t be over-confident in making the case http://bit.ly/cCn1sN >> Spot on commentary, read it!

  3. sunny hundal

    Me: Nick Clegg wants to be PM, but he can't be over-confident in making the case http://bit.ly/cUllVk

  4. Star

    RT @MaximManchester: RT @libcon Nick Clegg wants to be PM, but he can’t be over-confident in making the case http://bit.ly/cCn1sN >&g …

  5. Paul Smith Bristol

    RT @pickledpolitics: @bristolwestpaul you made a comment that made me think: http://bit.ly/cUllVk > have commented

  6. Leon Green

    Sunny gets it: http://bit.ly/cYqAuf #ge2010 #libdems

  7. Liberal Conspiracy

    Nick Clegg wants to be PM, but he can't be over-confident in making the case http://bit.ly/cUllVk

  8. Derek Bryant

    An excellent analysis RT @libcon Nick Clegg wants to be PM, but he can't be over-confident in making the case http://bit.ly/cUllVk

  9. Ellie Price ??

    RT @ libcon Nick Clegg wants to be PM, but he can't be over-confident in making the case http://bit.ly/cUllVk

  10. StarSparkle

    RT @MaximManchester: RT @libcon Nick Clegg wants to be PM, but he can’t be over-confident in making the case http://bit.ly/cCn1sN >&g …

  11. sunny hundal

    @bristolwestpaul you made a comment that made me think: http://bit.ly/cUllVk

  12. Top news

    "Nick Clegg wants to be PM, but he can't be over-confident" and related posts: Liberal ConspiracyToday Nick Clegg … http://bit.ly/aZV6Is

  13. Mike Power

    Hundal swallows the Torygraph/Mail bullshit that Clegg wants to be PM. Clegg won't prop up a rejected Brown as PM. http://bit.ly/blMxwR





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