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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 December 2007, 14:33 GMT
Clegg nicks it
Mark Littlewood
Mark Littlewood
Former head of media for the Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg getting stuck into business straight away...

Some will say that this has been the predictable result of an irrelevant election. Nick was always destined to be the leader of the LibDems and now he is.

The chaotic days of the Kennedy era are a distant memory.

The tragic failure of the Campbell leadership is now past.

We now have our man in place. That is certainly what the LibDem optimists will be saying.

Reasons to be cheerful.

Nick is liked by three key constituencies: (a) Liberal activists, (b) cynical journalists and (c) the slightly cocky Tories who always believed - ever since he was Leon Brittan's brains in the European Commission - that he should have been "one of them".

And there's another thing that Nick Clegg has going for him. The LibDems simply cannot afford to knock off their next leader any time soon.

He has a long tenure in front of him (if he wants it).

The leadership race so far...

To kill off one leader in a Parliament may look like misfortune - to force out a second looks like carelessness.

But everyone knows that we can't assassinate a third.

The LibDems would look like a totally pathetic, tiny sideshow if a civil war broke out against Nick - and the party defenestrated him as well.

So, well done, Nick, and congratulations.

Immediate actions...

But, in my humble opinion, you shouldn't waste a minute in celebrating.

Because you need to do three things immediately - and three things quite quickly.

Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg
The leadership battle even boiled over on the Politics Show...

The immediate things are these:

  • 1. Make peace with Chris Huhne (within hours). That includes having a tête-à-tête dinner with him before Christmas.

    Huhne is now a giant in the relatively small world of LibDem politics.

    He has worked wonders with his brief on the environment and is the party's greatest policy brain.

    He should be offered whatever brief he wants in the LibDem Shadow Cabinet - and would be superb at either Foreign or Home Affairs.

  • 2. Stamp out the rumours - nearly all of which have come from "members" of your own leadership camp - that LibDem campaigns guru Chris Rennard might be handed his P45.

    There may be weaknesses in some of Rennard's overall strategic decisions, but he should not be criticised for filling a communications vacuum. In football terms, binning Rennard would be the equivalent of surrendering Steven Gerrard on a free transfer - i.e. insanity.

    This is doubly the case if we consider ourselves to be in a "defensive" position. If I were a Liberal MP with a slim majority, I would desperately want - and would pay very good money for - Chris Rennard's advice and support.

    It's simply amazing that this man isn't permanently based in the state of New Hampshire determining the next President of the USA on a salary of several million dollars a year. Dismiss - or diminish him - at your peril.

    Chris Huhne
    Hope in the Chris Huhne camp has always been bouyant

  • 3. Sack your hangers-on. Don't listen to anyone who has not been close to the party payroll for more than a decade.

    They may be intelligent people - and may even be well meaning, but a generation of public affairs consultants who like "playing politics" is desperately unhealthy for you. Don't be seduced by people in the twilight of their careers - even if they are financing you - who claim to offer quick fixes.

    If you are taking advice from people who used to work for Paddy Ashdown then you are twenty years out-of-date, and so are they. Trust your own judgement. And hire and support bright people in their mid to late 20s.

Those are the three things you need to do by Christmas.

...and then...

But within a few weeks, you will have to work out how to tackle Cameron and how to get yourself in the media without being laughed at.

Ballot box
The next ballot boxes they see will probably be the General Election

These are my recommendations:

  • 1."Love-bomb" the Tories. Claiming Cameron isn't liberal might - just about - be conceivably true. But it doesn't have any traction whatsoever. His party's poll ratings are +10% since the last election. Ours are about -8%. That amounts to a possible a wipe-out for the LibDems.

    Portraying Cameron as a closet right-winger is doomed to failure. So, embrace his new professed liberalism and use this to build informal bridges to the Tory high command AND to split the Tories more generally.

    Every time Cameron says something that seems "liberal" re-interpret it in your own language and get the right-wing Tories spitting blood. Never say anything publicly that might make the prehistoric wing of the Conservative Party believe that Cameron is secretly "one of them".

  • 2. Be brutally honest about the prospects of a hung Parliament and how you would behave in it. I hear all the downsides of this - it concedes defeat from the outset, it buries the LibDems in tactics not policy, it looks cynical about trying to secure ministerial positions etc etc.,

    BUT... people aren't stupid and the world has changed.

    No one with a brain cell thinks the LibDems are going to win the next election and anyone with more than ten brain cells would like to know how we would behave in a hung Parliament. You should run on a "We'll keep the bastards honest" platform. It would be completely true and the electorate would love it. We're not in a 1987 or 1997 scenario anymore.

  • 3. Appoint one identifiable individual to oversee ALL your communications and management issues. My recommendation would be Ed Davey MP, who bears all the scars of killing off Kennedy and then trying to keep Campbell afloat.

    But if you don't rate Ed, find one, specific, "point person" who you do. And then back them 100%. Ming's leadership became hamstrung when - within 48 hours of his election- the MPs who had supported him shoehorned Norman Lamb in as his Chief of Staff to "act as a counterweight to Lord Kirkwood".

    The LibDems operate on the annual budget of a medium-sized papershop. We don't have the luxury of setting up checks and balances against each other.

Good luck...

Nick Clegg
Will it be luck or judgement..?

I must sign off with an apology to the new leader. Nick, I didn't vote for you. I cast my vote for Chris Huhne.

That was despite the fact that I probably agree with you much more on policy issues.

I voted for Chris because I didn't think you'd yet quite shown the guts or gumption to lead the party.

You've been an excellent spokesman for the party, but I'd always imagined your time would come after the next General Election. I thought you looked weak and unimaginative on occasions.

Sometimes, I thought you lacked both brains and balls - your reaction to the "Calamity Clegg" affair was very weak and rather petulant - the Tories and Labour will throw far worse than this at you.

I also feared that your easy-going and charismatic style would make you the sort of leader who would think twice before doing nothing.

Despite this, it wasn't an easy decision. And I know that you have the attributes to become a simply superb leader of the LibDems.

I really hope that you quash all my lingering doubts and prove me wrong.

So, I wish you the best of luck. But most of all, I hope luck isn't going to be something you'll be counting on.

Mark Littlewood, Communications Director of the classical liberal think tank Progressive Vision, is a former head of media for the Liberal Democrats. This piece concludes his weekly series during the leadership election. It is a personal view.

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