Monday, 22 June 2009

Lord Ralf Dahrendorf 1929 – 2009

All liberals should mourn Lord Ralf Dahrendorf, who died on 17 June 2009. We owe Ralf Dahrendorf a great deal for his contributions to modern liberal thought, which were based upon a profound belief in “the elementary desire to be free” which he saw as “the force behind all liberties, old and new.”

Lord Dahrendorf mapped out an approach to social progress that was distinctively liberal. He combined an understanding of the importance of markets with a deep concern for social justice and a basic equality of ‘life chances’. The latter concept was essential to his thinking. Dahrendorf perceived life chances as the social conditions that define how much individuals can realise their full potential. He recognised that people do not, cannot choose the conditions they have to work under and that life chances will be unequal, the opportunities to succeed unfairly shared.

This sounds, at first blush, like the start of a basic case for “social democratic” politics. But Dahrendorf saw the route to social progress as being about offering individuals greater opportunities to make the best of their talents. He argued that in order to achieve the greatest life chances for all, we need to create the correct institutions: a strong civil society, a market economy and the constitution of liberty.

Dahrendorf questioned whether large state organisations were always the best means of delivering a society in which ‘life chances’ were maximised. He believed that individual choice had a part to play in all spheres of society. And he saw the choices that people make and ‘the ties that bind’ in society as being both linked together and indispensable in delivering positive change. By contrast, traditional social democratic approaches were based on using state action to promote equality. They tend to see politics as being about improving the lot of particular groups - classes - in society.

To some contemporary liberals, there may have been too much Milton Friedman and too little John Maynard Keynes in Dahrendorf’s work. Yet he recognised that markets needed to be changed and refined, through continual trial and error. Hella Pick’s obituary of Dahrendorf picked up on another important distinction between his brand of liberalism and economic libertarianism.

“Dahrendorf became emphatic that basic civil rights, including equality before the law and freedom of expression, must be given constitutional legitimacy. But he went further, arguing that modern citizenship must recognise unambiguous social rights to free people from insecurity and to ensure that they have education and that their incomes must not be allowed to fall below a certain level. Such rights needed to be removed from party politics and constitutionally enshrined. "

And, as long ago as 1974, Lord Dahrendorf recognised the constraints that ecological damage, overpopulation and limited resources impose on the full actualisation of life chances. In other words, neither "life chances", nor "free markets", could be ends in themselves. He also understood that international co-operation would be needed to meet such challenges.

His ability to see clearly the difference between liberal ends and political means was shown in Dahendorf’s approach to European co-operation, which he supported as a bulwark of freedom and democracy. But he was sometimes critical of the way integration has gone ahead. As Timothy Garton-Ash explained on Radio 4’s The Last Word (19 June):

“[Ralf Dahrendorf’s] Europe was not so much the Europe of institutions even though he was a European commissioner. His Europe was the Europe of freedom and he always liked to say that for him the greatest European moment was 1989 – the velvet revolutions, the liberation of eastern Europe.”

Lord Dahrendorf’s thinking has been very influential on the Liberal Democrats, even if he was often ahead of his time. We have heard strong echoes of his theories widening life chances in many of Nick Clegg’s speeches as leader. In the 2009 European Parliament election campaign, the Lib Dems tried to focus less on the institutions, more on what matters to people in their daily lives.

I did not know Ralf Dahrendorf well but had a few contacts with him over the years, during my time as policy director for the Liberal Democrats and, a few years back, as a fellow participant in a policy working group that redefined the party’s philosophy and values. And on one memorable occasion, Lord Dahrendorf was the guest speaker at a business dinner on UK, German and EU politics. The evening was a great success. He was one of the most insightful and intelligent people I have ever met, and always a pleasure to deal with.
Update (26 June 2009): The Economist's excellent obituary of Lord Dahrendorf appears here.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Pollwatch: Nick Clegg is starting to click with voters

Three major polling agencies say that after a patchy first year, marked by low levels of public recognition, Nick Clegg is steadily becoming more popular.

The Populus leader index measures Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg on a 10-point “how good a leader”, scale. In June, Nick had a score of 4.64 (and 4.71 in May). This is well up from 4.08, in November 2008, his lowest score. Nick’s previous highest score was 4.52, in May 2008. (Note: Populus doesn’t run the leader index every month).

YouGov asks voters whether they think each leader is doing very well, fairly well, fairly badly or very badly. For most of 2008, Nick’s ratings were on the positive side of the graph, but only just. Last autumn his numbers went south, finishing at net minus 6% in December. But in March 2009, Nick had a net satisfaction rating of plus 4% and by June it had shot up to plus 18%. These, and the Populus figures, suggest that the bolder Nick Clegg of recent months, with the Gurkhas vote, the public call on Speaker Martin to quit and, perhaps, the expenses scandal have all had an impact.

Ipsos-MORI tells a different story about Nick. It asks voters to say whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the way each party leader is doing his job. For his first six months as leader, more people were dissatisfied with Nick than satisfied, by margins of between 1% and 9%. Ipsos-MORI found a turn in the tide in June 2008, when Nick’s net satisfaction rating moved up to plus 9%. It stayed at around that level for the rest of last year and into the first two months of 2009. Since then, he has had a surge, from plus 9% in February to plus 22% in May.

There’s one caveat: Nick’s ratings may be on the up, and are generally better than Ming Campbell’s, but he is still not as popular as Charles Kennedy. For instance, Ming Campbell’s satisfaction ratings from YouGov polls were usually in negative, single figures and finished in the negative 20s. But Charles Kennedy’s went as high as plus 35 per cent at the start of the last general election campaign.

Another feature of Nick’s early months as leader was that not many voters knew who he was. He is now establishing a higher public profile. In May 2008, Ipsos MORI found that half of all voters had no opinion about how he was doing his job as Lib Dem leader. In May 2009, just under one in three had no opinion. YouGov tracks a slightly less dramatic shift, from 37% “don’t knows” to 24% in June 2009. But the trendlines are all in the right direction.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Fixing up politics not a vote winner for the Lib Dems, ICM poll suggests

ICM have now put the details of their June political poll up on the company website. The results provide some clues as to why the Liberal Democrats had mixed results in the English local elections and a drop in support in the European elections.

The campaign was dominated by public fury over MPs’ expenses. This brought a renewed debate over how to make politics better. The Lib Dems sought to meet this by promising to “change politics for good” and by kicking off the “take back power” campaign. But the ICM poll showed the public almost evenly divided on whether the party is “likely to clean up the political system” (47% said yes, 46% said no). The other parties, especially Labour, fared worse but these figures are hardly the bedrock of a successful Lib Dem campaign.

There are other indications that none of the parties is credible or seen as being in touch with the public. The Conservatives were seen as “likely to make the right decisions in government” – by a margin of just 3%. Labour’s score is minus 31% and the Lib Dems’ minus 6%.

The Tories were seen as not “in tune with the issues that matter to you” (a somewhat vague proposition!) by a margin of 3%. Labour was not in tune by a 33% margin and the Lib Dems by minus 2%. So we can see why nearly one in five voters in the local elections opted for “others” and why two in five voters in the Euro-elections backed minor parties. In this poll, the combined support for parties other than the main three is 15% – almost double the 8% in March.

There was some good news for the Lib Dems. First, we were seen as the most united party – a net rating of plus 33% compared to plus 21% for the Tories and minus 61% for Labour.

Second, the ICM survey appeared to confirm that public services -- schools and the NHS --is the Lib Dems’ strongest issue. There was a net 22 per cent agreement that the party is “likely to protect public services”. The Conservatives’ score was minus 3% and Labour’s plus 1%. That sounds as if the Lib Dems are being cast as small-c conservatives in the political narrative.

The flipside is that the Lib Dems are still not seen as credible managers of the public finances. Labour had a net score of minus 49% as a party “likely to reduce government borrowing”. But 52% disagreed that the Lib Dems would be likely to tackle public debt, with 39% agreeing. And the Conservatives enjoyed a 4% lead on this question. Perhaps Nick Clegg’s new policy not to renew Trident, for which he is using an "economic cost" frame, will help there.

ICM does not ask all the same questions on a regular basis, and so we cannot make accurate long-term comparisons. Still, some were asked in October 2002 and we can see how far the Tories have travelled since the days of Iain Duncan Smith. Then, solid majorities disagreed that they were likely to make the right decisions in government, were in tune on the key issues or were united. Even if they do not exactly dominate on any of these measures, the Tories have improved substantially on all three.

Conversely, the Lib Dems’ scores have sagged a bit since 2002, when pluralities agreed that the party would “do the right thing in government” and perceived us as being “in tune” on the key issues.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Open government matters, now more than ever

There has been much debate in recent weeks about the political and constitutional change that Britain needs. But there’s one key reform that has, too often, been overlooked. If we are going to make our leaders and representatives more accountable to those they serve. and if we are serious about reconnecting people with politics, we must have open government.

There can surely be no better proof than the debacle over MPs’ expenses. Today, the outgoing information commissioner, Richard Thomas, called the row a "coming of age" for openness. He also said that the leak of MPs' details to the Daily Telegraph, following a court ruling that they must be disclosed, "cemented FoI's reputation as a success story".

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) usually gets good reviews. A recent presentation by Mark Glover and Sarah Golsen for the UCL Constitution Unit found that the UK freedom of information regime is more open than other countries’. In its first four years of operation, information was more likely to be fully withheld than in comparable countries; but the UK legislation also did quite well in terms of ensuring a full disclosure. Last month, a study by Jeremy Hayes for the Reuters Institute was, overall, very positive about the legislation.

The legislation could be improved, however. Yesterday, Gordon Brown announced plans to consult on extending the FOIA to bodies spending public money that were not currently covered by it. He also said official papers would be published after 20 rather than the current 30 years – but sensitive material would get more protection.

Brown’s plans aren’t as good as they may have sounded. He hasn’t gone quite as far as the 15 year period recommended by the Dacre Review earlier this year. By “sensitive material”, Brown means papers relating to the Royal Family as well as discussions between senior ministers. And – worst of all - the whole class of cabinet papers will now be excluded from the openness regime. [Click here]

There are other ways of judging the FOIA. One is how well it works in practice. Too often, departments tend to drag their feet in responding to requests. As The Economist has noted, investigations by the information commissioner often take more than a year. [See also the Reuters Institute study’s findings on departments’ delaying tactics.]

There is a solution. Richard Thomas noted today that:

“Open government is good government, but it is has to be properly paid for. Last year we closed 17% more cases, but – reflecting the growing popularity of FoI - we received 15% more complaints. My office is flat out, but too many cases still have to wait to get started. If the law is to be extended, that must be accompanied by adequate and secure funding.”

A parallel issue is ‘cultural’: how much ministers and civil servants believe in freedom of information and try to make it work. On the one hand, Gordon Brown won plaudits for FOI campaigners by junking Tony Blair’s plan to impose limits on the number of information requests a person could make, and, as noted, he now proposes to extend the scope of the Act. On the other, Labour and Conservative MPs tried in 2007 to exempt MPs’ and peers’ expenses from the FOIA.

And, lest we forget, in February, the Labour government vetoed the release of the cabinet minutes relating to the decision to go to war with Iraq. That takes us back to the legislation itself. I have come around to the view that the ministerial veto on Information Tribunal decisions should be abolished. The Liberal Democrats’ Freedom Bill would do just that.

If this government, or its successors, is really serious about open government, they must lead from the front. Today, Richard Thomas called for “an instinctive “culture of routine, proactive and substantially increased openness”. He said:

“Public authorities must earn the trust and confidence of the public. They should identify their Crown Jewels - the information that really cannot be made public - and ensure that other official information is routinely disclosed without waiting for requests. The public sector culture must continue to shift so that openness is the norm.”

Such a cultural shift must come from the top but, on the basis of experience, I hold no illusions that the Labour government will take such a lead.

There may be other reasons to be concerned. Glover and Holsen, whilst seeing a number of reasons to be positive about the future for freedom of information, noted that political sensitivity and budgetary pressures may lead to more restrictive approaches. They anticipated a shift towards more ‘legal trench warfare’, through the introduction of ‘legislative amendments to reduce the scope of FOI and curb demands’, coupled with a strategy of resisting disclosure by ‘contesting every legal argument before the Information Commissioner, the Information Tribunal and the courts’.

Hayes considered the attitudes and histories of government departments and civil servants and concluded:

“It would be unrealistic on current experience to anticipate any let up in the game of ‘cat and mouse’, involving delaying tactics and appeals . . .

“. . . Even after the use of the veto in the case of the Iraq Cabinet minutes, a queue of cases to come before the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal will ensure that arguments . . . continue to be heard. How such future cases will be judged cannot be anticipated. But it is possible that rulings against government departments may prompt moves to amend the Act to place certain ‘categories of information’ beyond reach."

The last, gloomy prediction (also made above by Glover and Holsen) appears to be coming true, in the form of Labour’s proposal to exempt Cabinet papers from the FOIA.

Another of Jeremy Hayes’s observations was no less worrying:

“The Conservative Party’s support for the use of the veto in the Iraq Cabinet minutes case may indicate broader sympathy for restricting the use of the Act.”

This is no time to forget about open government.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

On the 2009 European election results

Another European election, another disappointment for the Liberal Democrats.

The party has the same number of MEPs as before. But our share of the vote was slightly down from 2004.

Let’s start with a bit of context. European elections are always shark-infested waters for the Lib Dems. Our vote in these contests is usually 5 to 7 points below where we are in the national polls. In the Euro-elections of June 2004, the Lib Dems gained just under 15 per cent of the vote. At the time, Populus had us on 22 per cent nationally. Last Thursday, we gained 13.7 per cent of the Euro-vote. The UKPR polling average puts the national Lib Dem vote at 19 per cent. As John Curtice acknowledges in today’s Independent, the party’s “relative Europhilia” does not go down well with most people who vote in European elections.

All elections are different and this one was really different. During the campaign, most talk about “Europe” got blown away by the parliamentary expenses scandal and general public fury with established politicians. Labour was, and is, in deep guano. The Tories have had big problems over parliamentary expenses too. This should have been a great opportunity for the Lib Dems.

But angry voters were more likely to stay at home or vote BNP or Green than turn to the Lib Dems – or any of the other parties, including UKIP. On Thursday, Labour’s support from all those qualified to vote (as opposed to those who voted) was down by 3.2 per cent. The Tories were down too, by 0.6 per cent. UKIP’s vote was also down, by 0.5 per cent. But so were the Lib Dems, by just under 1 per cent. The BNP vote was up (very slightly) and so was the Greens’, by 0.6 per cent. Meanwhile, the percentage of people not voting was up by 3.7 points.

There are, I believe, three main reasons why the party has been left feeling disappointed. The first concerns the “anti-politician” mood. In the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandals, the Lib Dems moved to respond to the public’s anger. On fixing politics, we are, after all, on much stronger ground than the others. With his “100 days” package, Nick Clegg set a robust, ambitious programme for reform. During the campaign, I was quite positive about Nick’s Change Politics for Good broadcast. [For my blog on this, click here]

In retrospect, the party may have been too slow to pick up on this theme. The figures above suggest that although we may (sometimes) see ourselves as political insurgents but the voters perceive us as being part of the establishment. And I fear that one of my “rules of politics” may have been borne out. When politicians try to sell voters lists of policies, and don’t tell stories, disappointment is just around the corner. The closer the list is to polling day, the worse the effect.

Second, the party’s European song – drowned out as it was – was a bit off-key. The Lib Dems were more positive on Europe than for some years – “stronger together, poorer apart” – and this brought endorsements from The Observer and The Independent. Yet the party too often sounded as if it was trying to sell to voters the concept of “working together in Europe”, as opposed to setting out what difference Lib Dems would make, the specific benefits we would provide. . The manifesto sketched out our views on European economic recovery, mentioned our “green road out of recession” (though the European context was not fully developed) and cited our record on standing up for consumers. But the campaign offered few specifics and told few stories. [Click here] Voters did not receive a clear idea of what they would “get” in “return” for “buying” more Lib Dem MEPs

The third, over-arching reason is to do with the party’s campaigning culture. 2009 was an angry election, with UKIP and the BNP spinning simpler, more emotive stories. People could afford to lash out and a lot of them did. Two in five voters were cast for parties other than Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. The recent evidence, for example in Drew Westen’s book, The Political Brain, shows that voters’ decisions are driven more by emotions and values than policies and the facts and figures behind them. Yet, as so often happens, the Lib Dems tried to appeal almost entirely to peoples’ brains, their sense of reason.

So, where to next? The answer is not for the Lib Dems to ditch the entire Euro-manifesto and hurriedly throw together a patchwork quilt of “popular” European policies. None of this would be credible. Even if we can’t write the manifesto or the strategy for the next European election now, we can be sure that the main opposition party will invite people to cast a protest vote. Likewise, the minor parties will again appeal to public anger and disillusionment. So the party should base our next Euro campaign on how, in specific terms, voters will benefit from having more Lib Dem MEPs.

And let’s get behind Nick’s “take back power” campaign. It’s only just started, after all (!). The circumstances of the Euro elections won’t repeat themselves anytime soon. Above all, we need to tell people stories about the changes we offer, the bottom lines and not the process; telling stories that speak to hearts as well as heads.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

On the 2009 local election results - an update

Yesterday, I blogged about the English local election results, and suggested that the Liberal Democrats appeared to have performed very well in the national equivalent vote and, perhaps, not so well in terms of council seats.

In today’s Sunday Times, Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, co-directors of the LGC Elections Centre and compilers of the Local Elections Handbook, estimate the national equivalent vote as follows: Conservatives 35%, Liberal Democrats 25%, Labour 22% and others 18%.

Labour’s result is their worst on record and the Conservatives are down 8 points on last year’s showing. The Lib Dem figure is 2 points higher than last year’s (23%), meaning that it is also 2 points higher than in 2005, the last time the same seats were contested. But it is also a little lower than the pre-Blair (1994) and post-Iraq (2004) high watermarks cited by LDV's Stephen Tall yesterday. (I have taken my figures for previous years from the House of Commons library research paper on 2008 local elections.)

Rallings and Thrasher underline the point that I made yesterday about the implications for the Lib Dems of the Tories’ increase in support since 2005.

"The Lib Dems can point to their own more modest successes, most particularly the sweep to power in Bristol. It is noticeable that here, as in other pockets such as Ashfield in Nottinghamshire and Burnley it was Labour rather than the Tories that they damaged."

Rawlings and Thrasher say that the Lib Dems suffered a net loss of 50 council seats – just on the threshold for a “bad Lib Dem result” (a net loss of 50-plus) that was set before polling day by, for instance, the Financial Times.

I still don’t agree with Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome when he claims that the Liberal Democrats are in decline. The Lib Dems' 25% share of national equivalent vote estimated by Rallings and Thrasher is an improvement on the party’s showing in 2007 and 2008 and the same level of support as in 2006.

In terms of seats, these results are cause for some concern, but not panic.

2009 is shaping up as the year of the minor parties. Rallings and Thrasher note that:

"The “others” often polled heavily without winning, and in almost one in six wards their presence led to a fall in the share of the vote for all three major parties."

I’m not sure whether they are using the same basis of comparison as in other years, but the 18% share of the national equivalent vote that Rallings and Thrasher give for "others" is by far the highest on record. Previously, the highest total for “others” was 10%, which was reached in four very recent local elections: 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

On the 2009 local election results

There are two arguments about the Liberal Democrats’ performance at the local elections.  One is about votes and the other is about seats.

The party’s biggest achievement on Thursday, as noted by Stephen Tall, was to win 28 per cent of the (projected) national equivalent vote, which put us in second place.

Professor John Curtice, writing in today’s Independent, is less convinced.

". . . Nick Clegg has less progress to celebrate than he might have liked. At 28 per cent of the projected national vote the Liberal Democrats was up on the 25 per cent it secured last year. Even so, it was still no better than its local performance in 2005 [the last time the same seats were contested]."

Assuming that the 28 per cent figure stacks up in the final number-crunch, I’m with Stephen on this one. 

"This is the joint highest popular vote ever recorded by the Lib Dems in a set of local elections, beating the 27% recorded in both 1994 (when the Ashdown-led party was at its post-Eastleigh, pre-Blair high water-mark) and 2004 (when the Kennedy-led party was at its post-Iraq high water-mark), and equalling the party’s 2005 local election vote share, held on general election day."

[To verify Stephen’s stats, click here.]

 But Professor Curtice’s follow-up point is telling:

"With the Tories well up on their 2005 vote, it meant the Liberal Democrats were bound to lose the councils it was defending against a Conservative challenge, Devon and Somerset."

He is correct.  And, thinking about the next general election, the main lesson from the Liberal-SDP Alliance’s performances in 1983 and 1987 was that under first past the post voting, electoral success is all about seats, not votes.  On this basis, the Lib Dems may not have done so well.

The BBC says that the Lib Dems suffered a net loss of 4 council seats.  Yet Sky puts the figure for net Lib Dem losses at 48 – just below the threshold for a “bad Lib Dem result” (a net loss of 50-plus) that was set before polling day by, for instance, the Financial Times.  Looking at their results pages, Sky have – quite validly, I think - compared ‘notional’ results for the new unitary authorities from 2005 with the 'real' results from Thursday.  The BBC did not try to do that. 

Predictably, I don’t agree with Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome that this shows “the decline of the Liberal Democrats”.  The party’s share of the national vote was too high and the swings to the Conservatives in key Devon and Somerset constituencies too low to draw conclusions of that kind.

Still, picking up John Curtice's point, what the local results bring home is the possibility that in 2010 (or whenever), the Lib Dems may win a more than respectable vote -- but a resurgent Tory vote may depress the number of seats that we win.

This neatly illustrates, once gain, the party’s dual strategic challenges.   The first is beating the Tories in seats that we hold. In many Lib Dem-held seats that should be achievable, especially after the expenses scandal and with the traction that Nick Clegg is now picking up. 

The second challenge is also obvious: to win more seats from Labour.   With the government in freefall, that too may be more of a runner than used to be the case.  But the Lib Dems will need to do better than we have since 2005 at picking up support from disgruntled Labour voters – and ‘tactical’ Tory voters -- in areas where that can translate into extra parliamentary seats.

On now to the European election results and the next round of opinion polls . . .



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?