Nick Clegg starts to tell our story

Today, I have starting to see evidence of a real narrative being built up by Nick. As the Free Think Blog mentions, Nick has been all over the papers like a rash today. And in his article in The Independent at last creates a story that will resonate with voters!


It has been some time since the bloggers interview of Nick Clegg that I attended; I have to be truth had other things on my mind since then and have struggled to give the interview and my write up of it the attention it deserves. However, as I sit here in the eye of a storm, I find myself able to peruse and ingest the activity of Mr Clegg over the last few days and comment upon it. Almost always a pleasure, as I am only outdone in my regard for Nick Clegg by my Mum, who isn’t even a Lib Dem, but has been wittering on about him since 2005. And, she made Newport Library on the Isle of Wight order Barack Obama’s autobiographyat least 18 months ago, so she knows how to pick a winner, mark my words.

As anyone who has read the blog of the erudite, discerning and perceptive Neil Stockley will know that if we are to succeed in the breakthrough that Nick wants we need more than just the best policies in the country. We already have those and they haven’t always translated into electoral success. Key to winning will be Nick’s ability to define an appealing narrative, embody it, fit his actions to it and for us to back it up with a substantial range of policies. Well, big tick for us, as da-daaah: we already have the best policies in the country! So, it’s up to Nick to do his bit.

When I asked Nick about this at the bloggers interview he didn’t provide me with the answer that I was looking for. Well, not to start with. To be fair (or unfair) I wasn’t expecting him to give me the perfect answer, because if he had then that would’ve meant he understood what a narrative was and why it was so important and would therefore be doing it and I wouldn’t have to ask what our narrative was!! You can breathe again now. And I could have asked other pet questions such as what are you going to do about the dearth of women on the Lib Dem green benches (even the ones we’ve got are all but invisible at PMQs) and what are we going to do to court women voters?

So, really I wasn’t asking him what our narrative was but rather more obliquely: do you understand what a narrative is and what are your ideas for what ours should be? With a subtitle of: and isn’t it about time you got your head around it and gave us one? Because how hard is it? And have you not read Neil’s paper on Liberal Democrats and narrative?

I have been told that I’m not always as patient as I could be.

Well, Nick started off well: it’s about being a liberal, changing the way we do politics, lots to do with power both in politics and in business and then he proceeded to drift far, far away from the path I was willing him down and started to provide me with a list! A list! Aaaarghhhh!

Tempted as I was, sitting next to him, to fling my notepad on the floor and give a Chinese burn for answering a question on narrative with a list, I interrupted his flow allowing him, patiently, one more item on this ever increasing list. He kindly demurred and let me rephrase my question. Did he think using words like liberal was enough of an: here I stopped speaking and mimed pulling at the heart strings ‘emotional pull?’ he completed for me.


Probably not, was the answer and this is where his response changed and he got back on the path and I was able to stop scowling and start smiling at him again.

Nick was clear that whatever else the next election is about, it will be about change, much in the same way as the 1997 election. The political challenge will be for us to lead the definition of that change with more authenticity that the Tories. Phew!

And today, Nick started to do it in a way that I thought was not just convincing but sustainable in both his Policy Exchange Speech and his article in the Independent. In his article on Democracy he starts off by outline the ‘crisis in which the public feel ever more alienated from, and angry towards, the political class’. That political class is out of touch they:

"read and watch the cottage industry of views spawned by the commentators. But Westminster politics has become a minority sport. Apathy, frustration and cynicism have won the day.

But people do still care. There’s nothing more disingenuous that politicians claiming that the public doesn’t care, that a culture of contentment has rendered people indifferent.”

He goes on to describe the people who come to his town hall meetings:

“…they shout because it’s personal, because it matters, because it’s part of their real life. The contrast with the contrived anger and noise in the House of Commons speaks volumes. It shows people do care. They do care about the world they live in. They just don’t care about party politics".

He then identifies that we are at a turning point and that it’s up to all of us to grab the opportunity:

“In 10 years' time we will look back at this moment and either see it as the beginning of a real, vital transformation in our politics, or a missed opportunity that killed off public faith in politics for a generation or more.

There are deep forces at work: social, cultural and political identities have become fluid as old political ideologies are replaced by a web of religious, ethnic and demographic distinctions between people that no longer fit into the rigid mould of two-party politics”.

And which path should we take?

“Overturning the vested interests that protect the status quo is always tricky. But I am certain that once it begins, and people see that change really is achievable, the tide will be unstoppable. People have been locked out of politics for too long. Cynicism and apathy have taken root. Self interest and a lack of imagination blinker the political class. But change is possible – and inescapable if we want to rediscover the democracy that once made this country great”.

This is more like it! This is just the ‘story’, the emotional bit, which I’ve pulled out from the article which is littered with some of the policy initiatives that would support this narrative. But it is these emotional bits that are important. People generally vote with their emotions, not after having done a compare and contrast against all the available party manifestos. Let’s face it, when Vote Match in the Mayoral lections told you to vote for someone else, other than Brian Paddick, did you?

First you must grab their attention. If you don’t have the polices, you won’t keep their attention (which is what will happen to Cameron, if he’s not careful) but all the policies in the world won’t get you in power if you can’t engage the electorate in the manner they wish to be engaged in.

Nick embodies this dissenting individual narrative very well himself from the ‘cacti episode’ on a school trip to his determination not to carry an ID card. He embodies that idea that he is one of us not part of the Westminster bubble, by being, well, refreshingly normal. It’s one of the things that made me not just vote for him as leader but give up a days fee to drive him around south west London during his leadership campaign. He embodies the listening through his town hall meetings.

So, the narrative I think he’s in the process of defining goes a bit like this:

The political classes, Brown and Cameron are out of touch and only interested in themselves. Whilst all around people are voicing their concerns nobody will listen. But me, I will listen; I do listen. We have an opportunity to move away from this rotten, self serving, two party politics and get back to listening to what people not the Westminster bubble want. Take that opportunity and we will go back to being the great country that we once were but vote in either the Tories or Labour and you won’t get anywhere.

It probably could do with refining and I’m not sure how it fits into Neil’s narrative archetypes but I am today, am really rather happy with this. I still need a bit more on how wonderful it’s going to be in this once again great country of ours but this is a real start.

One other bit of positive narrative embodiment from today? Well, an article like this in the Sun, is not going to do our Nick any harm at all!!


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