Volcano Smoke of Cleggamania

A volcano exploded, spreading chocking black smoke across the scene. Beams of light, from a cathode tube, darted through the billowing clouds. A TV screen for the British Isles. Three white middle-aged men. Only one could win. In the X-Factor election of 2010, the volcano was in British politics, and they named it Cleggamania.

Ever since the science of polling had been born, no one had seen anything like it. The Liberal Democrats surged 50% following the first 90 minute screening of the X-Factor debates. Some said he was in the lead.

A new political star was born. But in the polling day that followed, they ended up with fewer seats than previous. What went wrong with Cleggamania?

In the Cowley Street HQ, the Lib Dem support staff were confused by the polls. Their canvas returns were not detecting the surge. What the pollsters were recording was not what was happening in the target seats.

In the same way that news was telling us of the volcanic ash heading our way from Iceland, all we could see was clear blue sky. Cleggamania was in the news, but didn’t seem real. In fact, it was happening, but everywhere that the Lib Dems were not campaigning.

Cleggamania was the excitement of people who don’t normally follow politics, who don’t normally vote and who have no Lib Dem exposure in their constituency.

As the smoke of the Cleggamania craze billowed across the country, the party didn’t know how to react. All their literature was designed to raise the party’s profile. Now they were now fighting a different campaign.

Meanwhile, their grass roots campaigners were dispersing. The X-Factor election had gone to their heads. Rather than descending on the target seats, they began to insist they could win their own constituencies.

They became thin on the ground in all the places that mattered, deluded that the magic of Cleggamania had finally given them the breakthrough. They believed that the Liberal Democrats were finally going to win.

In the same way that stars are born, under the altruistic gaze of Simon Cowell, only to fade before the day is out, it all ended in tears. Cleggamania was never real. It was just a TV show.

The Lib Dem HQ had poured their resources into 100 target seats, 30 of which they already held. But then came polling day. They ended the campaign with fewer seats than they started. Cleggamania was all an illusion.

Lord Chris Rennard

Photo by David Spencer
Rennardism is the name the Lib Dems gave their strategy. After Lord Rennard, the mastermind behind their “incremental targeting” strategy. One bloke takes a council seat. His mates come out and they take the neighbouring seat, then the next. Then one of them goes for the parliamentary prize. That’s the strategy.

Their campaigning was ruthless. Conduct a survey and discover an issue. A broken bus-stop, or a dilapidated park bench. Make it a campaign and promise the people everything tomorrow.

This was local campaigning at its most grass roots and where ever they were successful, they attracted the Lib Dems activists, who moved like a flock of starlings, cross country, to where ever the new target seat had been named.

But by 2008 the incremental strategy had stalled. The other parties were onto them and their tactics. It was getting tough out there.

The Lib Dems deposed their drunken leader and put in a posh bloke, then got rid of him and put in a young bloke, Clegg, but still they were falling in the polls. They were doing better when the drunk was in charge.

There must be an answer. They had to make that break from the side-lines to the mainstream of British politics. Then came the break; the X-Factor election. Then came the disappointment at the polls. Then came the misery of coalition politics.

It’s difficult to imagine the disintegration of the Liberals; they’ve been around for so long. But that’s what it’s come to. They have failed in their objectives.

The failure is not their own fault. They existed as an alternative to the British Class system, so well represented by Labour and the Tories. But the class system has faded till it barely exists in modern British society.

Their party is made up of a peculiar mix. The left of the party is far to the left of Labour, yet the right is where two thirds of their seats exist. There is no coherence in the politics of this party and there’s little point in being the underdog, when all reasonable chance of ever succeeding has faded.

Nick Clegg has become so close to David Cameron you’d think they were brothers. Meanwhile, the Lib Dem candidates that failed to find a seat in the last election are co-operating with Labour policy review.

It looks as if they’re breaking apart. Nothing will happen while Labour continues to tread water. The Lib Dems are settled into a wait-and-see posture.

They have no optimism. They are likely to get slaughtered in the council elections in May. The outlook for them is bleak, but still they wait and see. Still they wait and see.

6 Responses to Volcano Smoke of Cleggamania

  1. Thus Spake Zarathustra says:

    The Liberal and Tory strategies are very similar. It’s all about grabbing headlines and creating an impression of support. They like to shout things out so they look bold and novel. But if it doesn’t work they’ll u-turn or quietly forget about it. The one-two double act builds face time and attacks both flanks, and by constant rotating they keep changing the agenda and removing players before they tire or the audience tires of them.

    On the ground as a regular guy I’ve found the Liberals are very keen on blathering and at the whiff of a public meeting they’ll race to them as if their lives depended on it but, and there’s a but, they’re very ineffective. They don’t think through issues, follow them through, or give much of a shit for the little guy who’s been screwed over. They claim competence by aligning themselves with success when they had nothing to do with it. This is something they don’t want people to talk about so they edit heavily, try and hide the facts, or simply walk away.

    The strategy I instinctively promoted was to attack their credibility and really lay into these chinless dicks on a personal level. Like anyone who’s never really lived a life they can’t handle it. Chicago rules. It works as I seem to have managed to get one Liberal councillor to talk about anything other than his brief and force a Liberal MP into hitting the streets in campaign panic mode. I can’t prove this directly and nobody will ever admit anything but it’s testable and their own propaganda can be used against them.

    From the brief time I flirted with the Liberals I know they were infiltrated by Tories who’d calculated that the Tory party was dead. It was seen as a good career move at a time when the Tories were bankrupt and only the deep pockets of Ashcroft kept the party afloat. While maintaining the front against the Tories I wouldn’t pull my punches with the Liberals. I’d continue to hammer that flank with the big guns until they hung the traitor Clegg or routed. The military theory is sound, battle tested, and has achieved victory against overwhelming odds in the past so I question why Miliband is being so soft.

    Maude is now talking up steel edged strike breaking paranoia reminiscent of the Damien Green affair, and Cameron is turning white into black by spinning Arab regime change as a condemnation of “prejudiced” foreign policy. Obviously, it’s Clegg’s week off. He can take a break and when the media tire of the Cameron-Maude double act he’ll swivel back in to front some other outrage. This whirling circus is just the sort of thing people like Cameron and Clegg will pull but their weak spot is power and popularity. Thwart their personal sense of being in control and wooing the crowd and the falter and wine. It plays very, very poorly with the public. So why aren’t Labour hammering this chink in the armour?

    • danmccurry says:

      I think the West Country seats were won by the Lib Dems during the lost period of the Tories. It will be interesting to see what unfolds.

      I don’t know why ed Miliband is not blasting holes in them. I find it baffling.

      • Thus Spake Zarathustra says:

        I’ve no real idea when the seats were won but you’re probably right about the majority. The one near me got in on the back of the Iraq War backlash and firmed their vote by hyping student fees.

        I’ve commented about personalities, organisations, and economies quite a lot over the past few years. A great deal of “why” can be found in there. It’s 99% psychological whatever level you look at.

        Ed’s psychology has a certain shape. He can’t do what he can’t reason. This can be a strength with the right organisation under the right circumstances but right now I think he’s snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Maybe I’m missing something here but this pawn right now is having a bad time and that’s the timescale I’m living in.

        The issue with the left and the Fabian strategy is that it has too much Yin. It’s dozy and disorganised. Turbo-Thatcherism is just going to cut deeper. There’s no focus. No sex appeal. No gain. More Yang in the mix is helpful. This is the challenge as it attacks peoples comfort zones.

        There have been some sharp moves but none of this appears to be instigated by Ed. The fire extinguisher, legal challenges by the Fawcett society, news today of a legal challenge by students losing EMA. Maybe this is how it should be but if Ed thinks he can just roll up when it’s all over I’m going to be a bit irritated.

        On a personal level I feel so let down and betrayed by all parties, and politicians, business, media, and society. So my question is whether this is really down to us as individuals and a society to take back what is ours, whatever “ours” is. Shake off the “state”, “history”, and a failed culture, and write our own story.

  2. Barry Edwards says:

    I feel a bit sorry for the genuine progressives amongst the Lib Dems. Led by people who are only distinguishable from their Tory colleagues by their orange badges; abandoned by half of those who voted for them last May and with three-quarters of those voters opposed to their policies, they must be wondering just when their nightmare will end.

    • danmccurry says:

      If you’re Cllr Barry Edwards from Islington then I’d say it’s good of you to feel that way, taking into account the hard time the Lib Dems have given you over the years. I think they should come and join the Labour Party, but I suppose that’s easier said than done.

  3. Thus Spake Zarathustra says:

    Had a look at a City Council meeting. Most of the Liberal “vision thing” was ripped off material trying to plaster over a party out of its depth. A pitch on technology and access to council data was interesting in a think tank sort of way but nothing you could kick. One of the habitual dullards had nothing to say about care policy which is his primary brief but was waffling on, and on about his transport hobby horse. The budget approved two human resources directors.

    Having taken a strong lead on the major issues locally online and knowing some of the people it looks to me that the Liberals are up to their old tricks but coming under severe pressure to deliver meaningful results. Politicians steal and in my experience almost always mess it up because they don’t have the insight behind the original pitch.

    I’ve actually pulled completely out of local politics now. I think, that’s because I’ve come to see politics and politicians as extremists. They cheat and steal and expect me to move towards them when, really, I’d like them to move towards me, play straight, and add value to my bottom line. That’s what they claim to be there for, right? Now I know what the cliché vested interests of Labour and the Tories are but I’m struggling to see who gains from the Liberals apart from the Liberals.

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