What the poll does show is that there’s much work to be done in re-connecting Nick with the party membership, as pioneered a few weeks ago with the ‘Clegginar’ conversation between the leader and members. When a third of your party starts agreeing with Lembit Opik, then it’s a clear sign that all isn’t well!We can all agree with the last sentence, and the Clegginar - a web-based seminar with party members - was a welcome development. But I wonder if it is right to talk of re-connecting Nick with the party membership: I am not convinced that he was that connected in the first place.
This is how I began a Liberator article in January 2010:
Nick Clegg became leader of the Liberal Democrats without most of us knowing very much about him or his politics. He entered the leadership contest with Chris Huhne as the favourite and fought a favourite’s campaign by declining to become involved in detailed policy discussions. Before that he had served a term as MEP for the East Midlands and then inherited what is probably the nearest thing to a safe seat that the Lib Dems possess.
He did speak at a Liberator fringe meeting while still an MEP, advocating what he termed “crunchy” liberalism and attacking over-regulation, but he was careful to confine himself to matters that were the concern of the European parliament and not to trespass on the concerns of his Westminster colleagues. Even since he became leader, it has been hard, despite such apparently guileless outbursts as “our shopping list of commitments will be far, far, far, far, far shorter”, to say what Cleggism is or even which causes are closest to his heart.Perhaps now we have a clearer idea of Cleggism - lower taxes for the poor and increased social mobility - but Nick Clegg himself remains something of a mystery to us.
Becoming deputy prime minister was never going to make it easier for Nick to connect with his party. Nevertheless, I do detect an increasing suspicion among members that he could make more effort to draw his advisers from across the party - Simon Titley has a splendid rant on this theme in the new issue of Liberator. There is almost a feeling that Nick's office has little in common with the rest of the party.
Still, whether it is connecting or reconnecting, Stephen is right: the job needs to be done.