28th Jun 2010

Now the real work begins…but will anyone notice?

This week’s emergency budget took few by surprise, but it represents an enormous challenge for the Liberal-Democrats. Selling an austerity budget to core tory supporters was never going to be difficult, but Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are sure to come under pressure from the left wing of their party. 

They have entered the 2nd Act, as the initial wave of euphoria wears off. Clegg sent an email to party supporters on the eve of the emergency budget entitled ‘Why We Have to Do This’. It pre-empted criticisms of cuts in public spending, but the very fact it was sent shows that Clegg is conscious of the potential for a rift in the party to occur.

Clegg and Cable know that they have to stay focused on their key priorities of sustaining the recovery and bringing public debt to heel. Yet they must ensure that left-leaning MPs such as Simon Hughes and Norman Baker stay on-board and on-message.

Keeping the party aligned along a shared vision is vital, and will require highly attuned emotional intelligence on the part of the Lib-Dem leadership.

Maintaining party unity is a challenge at the best of times, but in coalition government, an extra layer of difficulty is added. Clegg demonstrated his ability to communicate well with the public at the outset of the election campaign.

The question remains as to how well he can continue to keep a dialogue open with opponents within his own ranks.

Another danger is that he will be distracted from his strategic priorities. In the world of politics, the agenda is often set by external factors: the media, business interests, unions, geo-political events et cetera.

In opposition, how you respond to events can be couched in ideology, as you have no power. When you enter the realm of real decision-making, the stakes are high and it is noticed when you get things wrong.

Clegg should have a plan in place to manage his own performance, setting clear targets and milestones to measure his success. Right now, he should be looking at what he can achieve in his first year in office.

As leader, his actions and achievements will have a multiplier effect through the party. This is potentially positive and negative, and the fate of the LIB-Dems is closely bound with that of Clegg.

Clegg only needs to look to Ireland and the fate of the Progressive Democrats there to understand what can happen to smaller coalition partners if they fail to make an impact in their own right. For now, Clegg has some breathing room…the World Cup is on.

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