2013 can be the year Lib Dems prove the cynics wrong, but we have to get smart

Nick Clegg after his conference speechOne of the most interesting results in Lib Dem Voice’s most recent poll of party members was the answer to the following question: Do you support or oppose the Lib Dems being in the Coalition Government with the Conservatives?

After two-and-a-half years of difficult negotiations with our Conservative partners, deep spending cuts, unpopular tax rises, hundreds of council seats lost and a national poll rating now consistently in the single figures, still only 19% of Lib Dem members oppose being in coalition.

It’s true that a small caveat needs to be added in considering that figure: many of those who are unhappy have left the party, and so their disapproval is absent in such a figure. But while that is certainly true, the biggest falls in membership have been in the group of people who joined the party in the period of ‘Cleggmania’ — people who were unlikely to have ever renewed their membership in any event.

But it is an instructive figure, particularly for those who don’t know the party very well.

That Lib Dem party members remain so phlegmatic in the face of crumbling poll ratings used to surprise journalists and political commentators. But many of them are now coming to realise that it takes more than a bit of bad news from polling firms to rattle battle-hardened Liberal Democrats. Stoical and resilient members make for a stoical and resilient party.

And while it might seem slightly circular, it is this confidence-in-the-face-of-adversity that makes me more confident the party will overcome its current challenges. Lesser parties – the Conservatives, for instance – collapse into vote-losing infighting at the first sign of difficulty. That Liberal Democrats do not is one of the key reasons why predictions of the party’s demise are consistently confounded.

There’s also one more reason that Liberal Democrats feel more confident than others think we ought to, and that’s because we know how we win elections. We know that the correlation between national poll ratings and seats won is at best loose (remember 2010, anyone), and that uniform national swing predictions are about as useful in predicting Lib Dem fortunes as reading tea leaves. We know that in local elections since 2010, Liberal Democrats have done significantly better in those seats where we have MPs, often winning vote shares that would re-elect those MPs.

And we now know, thanks to Political Betting’s Mike Smithson, that Liberal Democrats polled an average of just over 19% in 2012’s numerous council by-elections, gaining a net 4 seats. Given the party’s general election strategy of treating each target seat as a by-election, that we are outpolling our national rating by such a large margin bodes rather well.

Of course all of the above is not to say that Lib Dems have not got reason to be concerned. While low national poll ratings mean little to Liberal Democrats in the abstract, they of course give sitting councillors and MPs a greater hurdle to jump. There is also the uncertainty caused by being in government. Recent history for Liberal Democrats has been a familiar path each parliament: bumping along the bottom for most of the period between elections, followed by a modest surge in support in the election campaign, when the media remembered we existed and people began to seriously consider their options. That pattern is unlikely to be the same this time; what will replace it is anyone’s guess.

Reasons for confidence, then, but also for concern. But how to translate concern into action?

A game of two halves

Broadly speaking, I see the first half of the coalition as a mixed success. We have slipped into life as a party of government relatively easily and successfully, competently running a number of major departments and making substantial contributions in others. We have also got a long list of policy successes, implementing vast swathes of our 2010 manifesto — though of course there are some things, notably Lords reform, which could not be delivered.

Many party members feel uncomfortable about a number of things the government is doing – particularly on welfare – and I share some of the concern. But at the same time most of us recognise that we are a poorer country than we were 5 years ago, with no tax receipts flooding in from an economic bubble and that we have to cut our cloth accordingly.

If there’s one thing we could be doing to re-invigorate the coalition it’s returning to the radicalism of the coalition agreement, which has been steadily ground down by mistrust and inter-departmental conflict. The mid-term review, promised early this year, should help.

The politics, stupid

I am one of the few people who still holds the unfashionable view that the strategy adopted by the party on entering government — of adopting and “owning” the government’s entire programme and limiting divisions — was necessary and right. But those of us who take that view have to accept that it cost us some support.

On top of that self-inflicted (but in my view necessary) loss of support, we did of course lose a lot of voters who voted for us precisely because we were a perpetual party of opposition. Entering government at any time and in any way was going to lose us those people: idealists, often on the left, who simply can’t cope with the day-to-day political machinations inherent in governing in a democratic system.

But there is a third category of voters who we didn’t have to lose. A self-inflicted loss of support resulting, frankly, from incompetence. Initially, mistakes were forgivable. We had few people with experience of government to whom we could turn for advice, guidance, support.

Many people’s minds will have jumped immediately to tuition fees on reading the last few sentences. But for that disaster I think the party leadership can be excused. That is not to play down the issue — it is the worst single mistake the party made — but it was made when we were still finding our feet, unused to the difficult business of government and trying to walk a political tight-rope, hoping to show that coalitions can survive beyond a few months.

But as Nick Clegg himself said, the crucial thing is to learn from such mistakes. Yet the signs that those at the top of party have done so are all too limited.

As 2012 draws to a close, lets get the successes out of the way first. The year started well, with Nick Clegg beginning public negotiations on the budget in January. Clegg’s public call for income tax cuts for the low paid to be speeded up brought about a new phase of the coalition, with the junior party setting out its demands and red lines ahead of decisions being made.

This constructive, open approach was a good one, and it paid dividends early in the year, with March’s budget containing a much faster implementation of the tax-cutting policy. While the budget as a whole was a political disaster for the government, and more particularly the Conservatives thanks to the ludicrous decision to cut the top rate of tax, the run up to the budget was in political and communication terms rather good for the Lib Dems. There were several days of positive front-page stories about Clegg’s demands being met, and until the whole thing unravelled I and other Lib Dems felt pretty positive.

But the aftermath of the budget swept away all that had gone before, and we were reminded how closely the fate of our party is tied to that of the government as a whole.

Then in early summer came a moment of, if not brilliance, certainly competence, when it became clear that a coalition of conservatives in the Labour and Tory parties had succeeded in scuppering Lords reform. Clegg realised quickly that such a fundamental breach of the coalition agreement could not be allowed without some sort of response. And the response was pitched perfectly: calm but ruthless. The anger of the party was assuaged and Tory rebels learnt that there will be consequences if they fail to deliver on the coalition agreement.

The year also brought probably the most unexpected event: Nick Clegg’s apology on tuition fees. I include this in the list of successes, not because it has necessarily done wonders for the party’s (or Clegg’s) poll rating, but because it was a brave, smart and well-executed move. It was political strategy and communication of the highest calibre.

Winter blues

But it was not, unfortunately, to last.

Late summer and early autumn brought more public negotiating, with Clegg calling for a one-off, time-limited wealth tax to contribute to the extra deficit reduction needed after the OBR’s revised borrowing figures the previous year. Conference season saw Clegg building on this theme, stating that any further deficit reduction must start with such taxes on the wealthiest, before benefit cuts for the poorest could even be contemplated. This was good strong, clear stuff.

Yet unlike the year’s earlier public negotiation, this one came to nought: there was, yet again, no wealth tax in the autumn statement. The problem for Clegg is that he’d made his support for further welfare cuts — demanded by the Tories — contingent on such a tax being introduced. Or at least he seemed to. In a public negotiation, we should not expect to achieve everything we demand. But setting out a clear position before promptly abandoning it at the negotiating table, forgetting our red lines, makes us look weak, unprincipled, ineffective and incompetent. So the autumn statement, while a moderate success for the government, was a political failure for the Lib Dems.

And it was failure despite the richest paying more in tax as a result of the changes. Because what we needed to show from the statement was an eye-catching, bold move: a mansion tax, extra council tax bands, a one-off tax on other forms of wealth. What we got was an obscure change to pension relief — essentially an increase in income tax for those on high incomes, so not even a tax on the wealthiest. The Conservatives got ‘scroungers versus scrivers'; we got a tax change that needs a chartered tax adviser to understand.

What happened around that negotiating table I can only guess, and my guess would be that we got bogged down in the detail — too focussed on distributional impact assessments than likely headlines — instead of focussing on the big picture. I can think of no other explanation other than that we simply forget the negotiating position we set out a month or two previously.

2013: turnaround time

It’s this contrast — between political brilliance and basic failures — that is so frustrating. Because if we can do it right sometimes we can do it right most of the time.

There’s already been talk over the Christmas break of Lib Dem strategy for the year ahead: emphasising the “economically competent and socially just” message that has been long talked of but little emphasised. It’s a good enough strategy as far as it goes.

But more useful, and certainly more necessary, than implementing grand strategies would be to start with the basics: consistency, communication, competence. Thinking about what we’re in government to do — to make Britain a more liberal country and prove that coalitions can not only work but deliver radical, reforming government — and judging everything by those aims. An early bit of ruthlessness in the direction of the Justice and Security Bill and a set of well-thought-through, big, liberal ideas for the budget would get the year off to a flying start.

Ultimately we have to stop the self-inflicted wounds. Things are difficult enough for us as a party without incompetent execution hampering any chance of recovering our political popularity. Liberal Democrats are used to confounding expectations; with some smart politics we can make 2013 the year that we prove the cynics wrong.

* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.

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36 Comments

  • Norman Fraser 2nd Jan '13 - 1:19pm

    “…the biggest falls in membership have been in the group of people who joined the party in the period of ‘Cleggmania’”

    This may well be the case, although I’d like to see the figures. However, in my local party there has been a loss of a distinct group of long-standing members who simply cannot stomach what the coalition is doing.

  • paul barker 2nd Jan '13 - 1:35pm

    An excellent article but I still think the overall tone is too pessimistic.
    2 major factors are hitting party morale, the loss of members & the loss of councillors.
    The loss of members is partly a very longterm trend hitting all parties & partly the result of being in government; the Tories have been hit much harder than us.
    The loss of councillors, again is something that happens to parties in power centrally, its the first time for us but a familiar story for our rivals.
    None of this tells us anything about how we will do in 2015, that will depend largely on how we campaign & how our rivals react; Labour in particular will have to take a very big dose of reality & they have a habit of blaming each other when things seem to go wrong.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Jan '13 - 1:37pm

    “I am one of the few people who still holds the unfashionable view that the strategy adopted by the party on entering government — of adopting and “owning” the government’s entire programme and limiting divisions — was necessary and right. ”

    NickT, when did you ever make a strategic contribution to help win an election for anyone? You make that statement in the same kind of way as someone might say: “I am one of the few residents of New Caledonia who believes redemption will come when Prince Philip flies overhead in an aeroplane.” Where is your rationale for that statement morally or politically? Where is the evidence to support your aims being achieved by such a tactic?

    You also say that an act which resulted in a video which is treated by the UK population as a joke of almost Gangnam-style proportions is ” a brave, smart and well-executed move. … political strategy and communication of the highest calibre.” As J Paxman might say: “Yeerrrssss!?!”

  • Daniel Henry 2nd Jan '13 - 3:00pm

    @ Nick

    Maybe, but these polls do tend to be broadly representative.
    http://www.markpack.org.uk/34160/faq-are-the-liberal-democrat-voice-surveys-of-party-members-accurate/

  • What ARE we doing on secret courts AKA the Justice and Security Bill? Hmmm…..

    Lots of noise about this but with Nick Clegg not willing to even meet with Jo Shaw (no relation) excellent campaign on the matter…… :/

    Would be nice to have a holding statement – i.e. we’re not meeting because negiotations are still ongoing or something.

  • Tracy Connell 2nd Jan '13 - 3:14pm

    Good comprehensive article.

    I have to agree that our top people still don’t seemed to have learned by mistakes. On the one hand Vince protests against the Beecroft recommendations, next thing you know he is promoting it by the back door through Shares for Rights (Employee Shareholders).

    We need members to keep them out of this Tory Utopian Westminister Bubble and snap them back down to the real world!

  • Aaron Trevena 2nd Jan '13 - 6:59pm

    As somebody who’s left the party after more than 6 years (well before cleggmania) I think you’re missing why many are leaving and won’t be coming back :

    * the NHS “reforms” saw off a large chunk of the party’s natural supporters, as well members who saw that the party leadership would ignore the will of grassroots and conference when it suited them

    * the continued attack on vulnerable people who most need the welfare system through a double whammy of cuts and adding yet more un-necessary and injust obstacles to those needing support through withdrawing some allowances and making the already bad atos assessments even worse.

    Failing to mention those shows how out of touch with much of the former grassroots and voters the “stoical” core activists are… you call them steadfast I call them out of touch and self-isolating, the party that’s left failed to understand that preventing bad legislation is more important than good legislation and horse traded small wins on details of taxation etc for big losses on the big things that matter most to the public at large like the NHS.

  • Aaron, you say that “the party that’s left failed to understand that preventing bad legislation is more important than good legislation…” and call us out of touch and self-isolating. I think that many of us that are left understand quite well what has gone wrong with the leadership of the party. I have been a member since before Nick Clegg was born, but I cannot see how walking away now is going to achieve anything. I respect anybody’s decision, with great sadness, that they don’t want to “fight and fight again for the party we love”: we may lose, but I’m damned if I’m going to surrender!

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Jan '13 - 8:55pm

    Well said, Tony H.

    Aaron – the stoics are not the activists – which is what Tony D is getting at – please reconsider your decision and campaign for change within the party.

    I also think it is a pity, Nick T, that you didn’t keep to the kind of word limit expected of non editorial contributors. Splitting your piece into a mini-series would have allowed a structured debate around the many issues raised here.

  • Aaron Trevena 2nd Jan '13 - 9:34pm

    Fair point Tony H – there are still many in the party who I still have a lot of respect for such as the Rt Hon Julian Huppert and some of the geek cabal who I’ve seen to be clued up on a much wider brief than most.

    However, my experience when being involved in activism within the party is that it’s almost entirely ineffective in terms of actual parliamentary results, even when the party is in power – you can have official policies and conference motions passed, but until the party whips and cowley street are accountable to the FPC , conference and grass root rather than the other way around I don’t believe I can make a jot of difference. I’d rather spend my time on money on things that have result in a tangible difference.

    If you have a lot more on the table than me, then you’re probably right to continue to try and get something, but I only put in a few years on a couple of issues that I can tackle more effectively in organisations that care about them rather than stifle them (none of the current political parties)

    Good luck to you hoping to change from within. you’ll need it.

  • FormerLibDem 2nd Jan '13 - 9:40pm

    I voted Lib Dem last time. In fact, as I went to cast my vote I felt great about it. A new beginning. A party (and a leader) which had real integrity. “I agree with Nick” I might have said to myself as I cast my vote – if I were given to talking to myself, which I’m not. The future’s yellow I thought…

    Only just look at what’s happened since…

    I just feel I want to point out that the real problem the Lib Dems will face at the next election is a catastrophic loss of trust. How will you persuade voters that they can trust anything you say? Everyone knows political parties are economical with the truth from time to time, but the tuition fees debacle was on a different scale. If Nick Clegg is prepared to be photographed holding up a signed pledge not to raise tuition fees – and then, after the election, votes to TREBLE them… If even THAT isn’t a firm enough guarantee… How on earth can any other pledge in future be taken seriously?

    Why has there been such anger here – over and above such a direct breach of promise to the electorate? Partly it’s because the Lib Dems were seen (certainly by me) as the good guys in politics. I really believed all Clegg’s talk of forging a “new politics”. “No more broken promises” he proclaimed in a party political broadcast. (That was the same broadcast where he made a point of showcasing his tuition fees pledge, by the way). It’s because people feel so let down that they’re so angry. I’ve always believed the Tories (certainly the Thatcherite wing) to be involved in a fundamentally immoral exercise. To paraphrase David Hare: I’ve never been able to get beyond the intellectual disgrace of a party which exists (primarily) in order to ensure those who already have plenty can have even more. So I expect the Tories to destroy the NHS, treble tuition fees, demonise the poor, cut top rate income tax… But I didn’t expect the Lib Dems to let them do it. It’s how you as a party address this feeling of betrayal which is key to the next election. Please don’t make the error of thinking everyone who adopts this line is a” Labour Troll”. I don’t even know exactly how I’ll vote next time. But I know how I voted last time. For Nick Clegg. And I feel like he (and your party) stole my vote – because they gained it on a false prospectus. I don’t say that with any relish at all because at the last election I felt like I might have found my political home. I was wrong.

  • David Scarfe 3rd Jan '13 - 2:24am

    I voted for the LibDems in every general election for the last 30 years. I did so because I believed that you were a principled, thoughtful centre-left alternative to the two major parties, who sincerely cared for the poor and vulnerable in our society. i was clearly wrong. I did not understand that the leadership of your party had fallen into the hands of a right-wing clique, indistinguishable from the Tories except in their commitment to the EU and voting reform, who would facilitate the most savage attack on the weakest in our society since the days of the workhouse. I will never vote for you again.

    My entire family feels betrayed by your decision to go into Coalition with the Tories. The results are as follows:

    I have joined the Labour Party, and will campaign for them in 2015: there is a lot I don’t like about the Party, but at least they are moving in my direction;

    my wife, who voted for the Liberals, and then the LibDems, since she was able to vote will never do so again;

    both my children supported the LibDems before the 2010 election:

    my daughter has joined the Labour Party and is considering whether to start the long process of seeking selection as a Labour Parliamentary candidate,

    my son has joined Young Labour and become a Labour ac tivist, campaigning in by-elections, PCC and local elections;

    the LibDems used to be comfortably the largest political group at his University: now Labour have 40 active members, the Coservatives 20, and the LibDems 4, one of whom is not a UK citizen.

    We are probably an extreme example, but something very similar has happened to a large part of your voter base. In this context Nick Hornsby’s piece is simply laughable. Despite everything I still feel a certain affection for the LibDems, and I wouldn’t like to see you didsappear altogether, but that may well happen unless you ca find the courage to step out of your cosy bubble. confront reality and do something about it.

    Get rid of Clegg and his cron ies, leave the Coalition, oppose tooth and nail the Tory assault on the poor and the weak, and you still have a chance, probably quite a good one. Cling on to your ministerial cars and despatch boxes, continue to fool yourselves that you are moderating Tory policies and kid yourselves that local campaigning will get you through, and you will deserve the disaster that awaits you.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jan '13 - 9:40am

    Nick Thornsby

    While the budget as a whole was a political disaster for the government, and more particularly the Conservatives thanks to the ludicrous decision to cut the top rate of tax, the run up to the budget was in political and communication terms rather good for the Lib Dems.

    And the aftermath was disastrous. A big part of the blame for this falls on the Labour/right-wing-press alliance for the way they completely misrepresented a couple of good progressive measures forced into the budget as part of Nick Clegg’s “tycoon tax” idea. Clegg should have come back fighting in this but he did not. It was a disgrace for Labour, another example of their underhand way of working – they’d rather aid the political right than get progressive measures through if aiding the political right helps in their aim of destroying the Liberal Democrats and bringing back the good old two-party system (which if in place now would mean we would have a majority Tory government).

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jan '13 - 9:58am

    Nick Thornsby

    Thinking about what we’re in government to do — to make Britain a more liberal country and prove that coalitions can not only work but deliver radical, reforming government — and judging everything by those aims.

    Judging by those aims we’ve failed disastrously. How can we claim even to be making Britain a more liberal country when so many more are being enslaved by poverty? As for proving that coalitions can work, well, most people have drawn the opposite conclusion. I think in part unfairly, but that’s because our leadership did not make clear at the start that what we have is NOT a coalition of the sort we want. Thanks to the distortions of the electoral system it’s grossly distorted in favour of the Conservatives so hugely strengthening them and weakening us. That’s made worse because the distortion ruled out as unviable a Labour-LibDem coalition even though the two parties together had a clear majority of the vote, so greatly weakening the influence of the Liberal Democrats because they cannot play the line “if you don’t compromise our way, we’l leave and join the other lot”. Because the leadership pointed none of this out at the start and instead made out it was almost a coalition of equals, and because leadership-loyalists like yourself, Nick, CONTINUE to do this with your line here, people are concluding that either the Liberal Democrats are very weak because they don’t seem to be getting as much as they would do if this was the coalition their leaders are presenting it as, or that the Liberal Democrats were actually much closer to the Conservatives than they supposed if they are as happy with the results as they seem to be, judging by things like Nick Clegg’s Brighton conference speech.

    That is why though I continue as a member of the party I cannot at present actively go out and campaign fir it, because the leadership by its action, and its loyalists by the things they are saying as you are saying here, are UNDERMINING the defence I would want to offer of my own party and its role in the past two and a half years. I want honesty from the top, not “it’s all super-duper” salesman’s patter. Honesty means admitting we were dealt a rotten deal in the general election, that what we got is VERY FAR from our ideal (not the reaching of our goals as Clegg put it in Brighton) and though we’re doing what we can, we accept it’s not much, and it would be very different if we had the representation we should have got with a fair electoral system. So, there we are, by failing to put it that way, Clegg and you are even undermining one of our most basic and longstanding policies, electoral reform, because you have thrown away what would be a good argument for it and instead led people to come to the opposite conclusion to the one that argument, had it been put, would have led them to.

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Jan '13 - 12:00pm

    Aaron, (Jan 2nd 9.34 pm) what you are saying is that there is no integration of campaigning between the grassroots and the elected representatives, especially in Westminster. And there you are right. It is the fundamental weakness in the way the party operates in Coalition. It is why we have failed to use the opportunities of that coalition to campaign for policies popular amongst our supporters, former supporters, potential supporters.

    Divorcing Parliamentary politics in this way alienates activists and deprives those at Westminster of the wisdom of our communities. It is fundamentally elitist and illiberal. As I have said before it reveals a fundamental distrust of the people and the activists who may just have different ideas and priorities to those of our Ministers.

    One hopes that Paddy Ashdown, for whom integrated campaigning was always an aim, will make a difference as Chair of the General Election campaign. I am not holding my breath. For example the February action day does not seem to me to be a campaigning day. It looks like a mass drive to inform the electorate of achievements like the pupil premium and the lifting of the lower tax threshold – important and necessary but not sufficient.

    Activists and those in our communities need more and would receive more given a liberal approach that genuinely sought to use our potential in government to help them take and use power.

    Even if our Ministers got every decision right it would not be Liberal governance as it would not have been achieved by increasing the opportunities for people to take and use power. It would still be an example of decisions taken *for* people and thus deeply paternalistic.

    Communication is not a one way flow. Campaigning is not an exclusive and excluding activity chosen for people. Power cannot be given; it can only be taken away, as it resides within everyone. If what we do does not help people to use their intrinsic power, it is abusive, paternalistic, conformist, impoverishing.

    Being in Government is no excuse for abandoning this Liberal approach.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 3rd Jan '13 - 12:52pm

    As someone who, like Tony Hill, first joined the Liberal Party before Nick Clegg was born (not that I think that my age conveys any property rights over the party – any more than I gave undue deference to my elders when I was Young Liberal), I agree with Aaron (2 Jan, 6.59 p.m.)

    But I should like to take issue with the title of Nick Thornsby’s piece. The year 2013 is unlikely to prove anything; the jury will probably not be invited to deliver a verdict before 2015.

  • Richard Boyd 3rd Jan '13 - 6:57pm

    A thoughtfull, if not concise, article. I question the assumption on member losses, if only fromthe view point that losing almost the same percentage of members, and local councillors, may have a link.The part did have coalition experience, gained in the 1993 -97 joint administrations (mainly with Labour) at County admin level, I do not underestimate that experience in working with well established power managers, and budgets that are about the same as many European provinces. What is clear is that the “top” has become disengaged with the bottom ( where the election successes occur) My sadness is to see members with decades of loyalty leaving and that canot just be airbrushed away. We are now in areas of policy that should define us, and separate us from the splintering right wing of the Tories ( UKIP – Tories a re-run of Lefty Labout and the SDP?). Employment rights and privacy, and stadards in Government are the thinking voters issues that do not float past with the Media Posse tearing off on the latest fad issue.

    Richard Boyd

  • paul barker 3rd Jan '13 - 7:52pm

    On the question of membership losses, since the late 1990s both Labour & the Libdems have lost about half their members. The reason was the same too, being in government.
    Over the same period the Tories have lost two thirds of their members, over the last 60 years their loss is around 96%, from 3.4 million to 130,000.
    If we talk about our own troubles we have to see them in their context.

  • dean crofts 3rd Jan '13 - 8:44pm

    Are u all really liberal democrats who criticise this piece? In the latest election we all campaigned on a fairer politics and a different sort of politics delivered with cooperation no political bickering no vested interests. These comments just signify that u r no different to the infighting within the conservative or labour party. The party will fall apart if this continues.

    Remember we stand for fairness, yes for the poor, vulnerable, disabled but also for the working class middle class and yes the rich. Fairness for all which is y we must stand by our principles and be the party of the centre ground.

    We have proven we can govern we have proven we can reduce the deficit and start a path to economic recovery, unlike labour and we have proven that people on Low incomes will not pay tax. This is just the start, in coalition we are never going to get everything we want.

    Unless a party gets 50% of the vote, this is not likely, then under our preferred method of elections, or, their will always be coalition and compromise.

    So be proud of being as lib dem and keep fighting for our values so everyone benefits not just vested interests . trade unions with labour or the rich with the tories

  • Nik (not clegg) I have made my mind up now pat

  • Someone commented recently (and my apologies for not being able to remember who it was) that the Liberal Democrats nationally had been a very good party of opposition. In recent years we had been building a genuine ideological base amongst the young in particular and our anti-authortarianism distinguished us as a progressive alternative to New Labour. While there are councils which have been very successfully governed for years by Liberal Democrats (Sutton and Eastleigh to name but two) there are also many examples where, despite the best efforts of ALDC, the party has governed incompetently or been riven by splits which have destroyed it locally (e.g. Adur). We had no realistic alternative but to go into coalition after the last election, and our ministers in government have proved, by and large, more than competent, but in terms of our strategy and tactics the Tories have stomped all over us. Local Conservative activists might appear to be a bunch of bumbling fools who are totally out of touch with the modern world, but the Conservative Party nationally is one of the most successful parties in a western democracy, and our leadership has proved hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the degree of machination of which the Tories are past masters. But I am afraid that the greatest of our problems is self-inflicted: the breaking of the tuition fees pledge of course. Comment after comment on this and many other threads prove that we have lost the trust of the constituency we had been so painstakingly building for years. It is now probably a couple of decades since Ramsay Macdonald’s betrayal of the Labour Party in 1931 ceased to have a significant resonance within the Party. Everything changes more quickly these days, but our betrayal of the electorate’s trust will still reverberate down the years.

  • simon7banks 4th Jan '13 - 7:50pm

    Actually, we have plenty of people with experience of government. Local government. Obviously some things are different, but if you look at how to deal with holding the balance, how to have an impact as a junior coalition partner and how to negotiate toughly but realistically, there’s been loads of experience for a long time. Too many people in the party leadership can’t see that.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jan '13 - 10:06pm

    dean crofts

    Are u all really liberal democrats who criticise this piece? In the latest election we all campaigned on a fairer politics and a different sort of politics delivered with cooperation no political bickering no vested interests. These comments just signify that u r no different to the infighting within the conservative or labour party

    Yes. I am a Liberal Democrat. As such I do not believe in the sort of model of political parties where internal argument is banned and everyone has just to follow the party line as handed down by the leader. If that is the model of politics you support, dean, you are not a Liberal Democrat, you are a Leninist.

  • I can’t see us doing better than 10% in the polls – let’s hope the geographical concentration remains so we can win a few seats.

  • Reading this piece as a long time Lib Dem voter who will not be voting that way again, I think it is a little deluded. Its not just about tuition fees. What about the NHS? A bill to redisorganise the NHS and start a huge wave of outsourcing of clinical services to private corporations was not in anyone’s manifesto or the coalition agreement. The LDs could simply have said no and it would not have happened. The fact that the liberal high command rammed this through their often reluctant party with such energy suggests that they truly believe in this sort of politics – in other words your party has been high-jacked by Tories. Orange book is just another name for it. Unless you can win your party back from acolytes of neo-liberal economics it is dead. Tories will vote Tory. Non-Tories will not vote for orange Tories. I for one will never forgive the Liberal democrats for their part in the destruction of integrated, publicly delivered health services.

  • Steve Comer 5th Jan '13 - 2:26am

    Geoffrey Payne is right in his analysis of the coalition and the threat from the Tory right who want to wreck it, discredit coalition government, and replace Cameron, even at the risk of letting Labour back in come 2015. I don’t believe Lib Dems will leave the Coalition voluntarily, and the problem if they did is that it would be painted as another tuition fee type u-run by the Tory press. However, the Tory right may make the coalition untenable.
    Despite the problems Lib Dems have been in, I can’t see how anyone sees Labour as an alternative for those of us on the centre-left of politics. They remain a deeply statist, centralist, and authoritarian party . Their behaviour over Lords reform and the EU budget votes, shows their leadership to be unprincipled and tribalist .

  • Steve Comer 5th Jan '13 - 2:32am

    David:
    Its easy to say “I can’t see us doing better than 10% in the polls” – the reality is our record in local by-elections is much better than that (see other columnd on LDV).
    If some us spend more time knocking on doors between now and 2nd May, we’ll poll much more than 10% in the County and Unitary elections, and that’ll give us a stronger base for 2015. Too many Liberal Democrats spend too much time getting depressed about what Labour commentators write about us in the Guardian. I have to say talking to joe public out there about local issues that concern them is much more rewarding!

  • Steve Comer

    If you read the thread then you see why this crude analysis of data is worthless as a predictor of things to come. The consensus amongst the psephologists are that local by-elections are the poorest indicator of future performance and so should be treated with caution.

    If we took 2012 Parliamentary Elections would you be so keen to shout about them? Of course not but they were not representative either.

    What can possibly be used though are the trends that state the LD are doing better against the Tories than Labour. This is important for the Party as the seat distribution suggest the Tories are you biggest opponents. To keep this performance though you will have to develop a strategy to differentiate yourselves from the Tories and also woo back the Labour tactical voters.

    The messages from your party leadership do not give me much hope that either is possible.

    My prediction is around 12-15% in 2015 for the LD but you manage to hold onto a lot of seats in the rural areas and south – you don’t fall off the cliff. I also predict you will be hammered in the urban areas, especially the North and Scotland, Wales. In effect you become the Tory Party-lite. Competing against them in the same seats. No longer a national party

    How does that change the complexion of the party post-2015. I don’t know but voters on the left will need some convincing to come back after the shambles of Clegg’s interpretation of Coalition Government

  • Peter Watson 5th Jan '13 - 10:18am

    @David “I can’t see us doing better than 10% in the polls – let’s hope the geographical concentration remains so we can win a few seats.”
    The good news is that this and the advantage of incumbency means that Lib Dems’ parliamentary presence might not be as badly damaged as some would expect (minibus for the Lib Dems rather than a taxi), though there will surely be a number of casualties. The bad news is that this means after 2015 we will only have a subset of the same MPs who have been so hopeless in this coalition.

  • Bill le Breton 5th Jan '13 - 11:22am

    In 9 cases out of 10 targeting is the most appropriate tactic for Liberal Democrats but it must not preclude campaigning activity in many other parts of the country.

    I have every confidence in campaigning MPs and campaigning groups – especially where they cover the same patch – doing really well.

    But what of those seats where the existing MP is in his (for it will be males) late sixties or seventies and wishing to retire? The 1920s illustrate how incumbents can survive but that does not sustain a party.

    There is little or no INTEGRATED campaigning going on.

    Good councillors and campaigners are campaigning purely on local issues with a ‘side column’ reporting on Westminster successes on tax thresholds and the pupil premium. MPs are campaigning on local issues and their local campaign successes as MPs, seeking in effect to distance themselves from the national Party and its leadership.

    Nowhere are local campaigners benefiting from belonging to party of government. They are not consulted nor are their views listened to. The views they collect from their wards do not make a difference. They cannot involve the local population in campaigns for national change. The leadership of the Party is about to sign up to Coaltion 2.0 without any involvement at the grass roots.

    The advantages of being in power are not used to energize local activity by activists or by their communities. Where they are used it is to deliver a message. A one way street. That is not liberalism, it is paternalism. It is not diversity, it is conformity. It is not helping to create active citizens it is sustaining a dependent servile role for subjects of Westminster and Whitehall.

    What do we want? Integrated campaigns. When do we want them? Now.

  • “…we did of course lose a lot of voters who voted for us precisely because we were a perpetual party of opposition…”

    Actually, prior to May 2010, Liberal Democrats were steadily building a coalition of voters: the young terteriary-educated, the public sector professional, people with young families and pensioners, together with civil-libertarians and green-progressives.

    Through a serious of disasterous misjudgements , including supporting raising the cap on tution-fees, and backing the farcial restructuring of the NHS, not to mention the scandalous secret courts legislation – neither of which were in the original coalition agreement – we have basically turned around to those people and told them to get stuffed.

  • “I have every confidence in campaigning MPs and campaigning groups – especially where they cover the same patch – doing really well.”

    But what is the hard evidence for that expectation?

    Perhaps there’s something more recent, but a YouGov poll in Lib Dem seats and targets last April showed a huge decrease in support. The position was better than the national polls would indicate, in the sense that the party held on to more than half its 2010 support, particularly when respondents were reminded to think about the circumstances of their particular constituency. But the result was still a 17 point decrease in Lib Dem support (from 41% in 2010). That would translate to a 6.5% swing from the Lib Dems to the Tories and a 14.5% swing from the Lib Dems to Labour. On that basis the Lib Dems would retain only seven seats (though that calculation was based on the revised boundaries which will not now come into effect).

    No one can predict the popularity of the Lib Dems at the next election, but to assume that things will somehow magically be all right in Lib Dem held seats flies in the face of such evidence as we have.

  • That 17% decrease in seats where the party was strong in 2010 illustrates another unfavourable psephological fact. In a situation where the party has become unpopular with many of those who previously supported it, the tendency will be for the swing against it in Lib Dem seats actually to be larger that the national opinion polls would indicate. For example, if a quarter of previous supporters have been lost, the national figures would indicate a decrease in support of about 6 percentage points. But in Lib Dem held seats, where the share of the vote in 2010 would have been 40% or more, it would amount to a decrease of at least 10 percentage points.

    We are all well aware of the inadequacy of uniform-swing projections. But in this respect the uniform swing assumption is likely to overestimate the number of seats the party will retain.

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