Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Nick Clegg makes progress on Lib Dem narrative

The Liberal Democrats may, at last, be “getting” this narrative thing.

Well, Nick Clegg is starting to tell people stories.

The Lib Dems’ first election broadcasts missed a number of opportunities in this regard. The latest broadcast, Change Politics for Good, sees Nick following Stephen Denning’s three essential steps for leaders who are persuading people to embrace change. The first is to get peoples' attention. Nick uses two of Denning’s methods. He emphases the magnitude of what is recognised as a major problem -- expensesgate (“there have been times when you have been so angry . . .” ) -- and asking viewers a question (“how we stop this from ever happening again?”).

Denning's Step number 2 is to generate desire for something different. Here, Nick identifies an external barrier (“this rotten old system” . . . “self-serving politics”) and frames a new version of the future that is different from the status quo (“we need a bigger change, not just tinkering at the edges”).

The final step is to reinforce the reasons for change. (“Unless we do things very differently, in a few years from now, we’ll just have more scandals, all over again.”) Nick explains how voters can progress from the current situation to the new tomorrow (“. . . the power to do things differently is in your hands . . .it is possible to change this rotten old system and you can decide to do it . . . so I am asking you to join a Liberal Democrat campaign to change politics from top to bottom, so something good can come of all this.”). This will also be familiar to readers of Denning’s book The Secret Language of Leadership.

In this morning’s Today interview, Nick explained how Lib Dem MPs have attempted to reform MPs’ expenses, against resistance from Labour and the Tories. Challenged about where the Lib Dems stand on Europe, he used what he called a “concrete example” – a story - to explain how we are “stronger together, poorer apart” in the EU. Lib Dem MPs voted for European arrest warrants that were used to break up a paedophile ring and for anti-terrorist measures. But Conservative and UKIP MEPs voted against.

And here’s a more interesting signpost. In Monday’s Guardian G2 interview, Nick picked up on the “real change” narrative from his spring conference speech and started to frame the choice facing voters.

“I think if a general election was held now, it would become an all-out national debate about how we rebuild British politics. The next general election will be dominated by: Who's going to rebuild the British economy? And who's going to rebuild British politics?”

We may be seeing the core of a Lib Dem narrative for the general election. Labour have wrecked our economy and ruined peoples’ faith in politics. But the Conservatives would be no better. So we need the Liberal Democrats to do the job of recovery and reconstruction.

Nick Clegg could embody the story of rebuilding “politics”. Vince Cable could do the same on rebuilding the economy.

Will we, can we, get that right?


youngdegsy said...


I also believe in the power of storytelling, and have read both of Denning's major works. Your analysis of the elements is interesting and useful.

However, there is an extra factor in this analysis: the person telling the story must enjoy personal credibility for the story to be believable. This remains a stretch.

Clegg had a good week with the Gurkhas but, I am sorry to say, in the weeks since we have become dragged into the expenses mire despite having fewer and less blatant transgressions than Labour or the Tories, if you believe the opinion polls.

Worst of all, the public perception is that the Greens represent the best hope for reforming politics, not us. The idea that a different party than us is becoming the most effective advocates of fair voting makes me livid!

I hope we do very well on Thursday in both the English counties and in the Euros. However, I think that will be down to hard work on the ground (especially to boost turnout in the Euros) and the collapse of Labour support; my fear is that these factors will gloss over some continuing failings in our leadership, which will portend poorly for the future, more important, general election.

Liam said...

Something had better come from Clegg's new reinvention of "Go back to your constituencies..."

His G2 interview sows a lot of seeds for people who would be well aware of him, I wonder how much is going out to the wider electorate.