5 points on Clegg’s admission that Coalition was wrong to cut capital spending

Nick Clegg in DublinNick Clegg has sparked a flurry of excitement with his admission in an interview for The House magazine that the Coalition cut capital spending ‘too far, too fast’ to coin a phrase. Here’s what he said to Paul Waugh and Sam Macrory:

“If I’m going to be sort of self-critical, there was this reduction in capital spending when we came into the Coalition Government. I think we comforted ourselves at the time that it was actually no more than what [former Chancellor] Alistair Darling spelt out anyway, so in a sense everybody was predicting a significant drop off in capital investment. But I think we’ve all realised that you actually need, in order to foster a recovery, to try and mobilise as much public and private capital into infrastructure as possible. … Wherever we can we’ve got to mobilise more capital investment … The economic evidence is overwhelming. It helps create jobs now – people go onto construction sites. It raises the productive capacity of the economy in the longer run.”

Five points are worth making here:

1) Nick’s right.

I agree with Nick’ self-criticism of the Coalition. But it’s important to note two things. First, there’s a difference between capital spending (fixed-term spending on infrastructure, such as railways) and revenue spending (ongoing financial commitments, like pensions). Nick’s admission relates specifically to the former. Indeed, the vast majority of the Coalition’s deficit reduction has come from cutting investment, rather than from slashing current spending — as this graph clearly shows.

2) He’s also right Labour would have done the same.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), and a trenchant critic of the Coalition’s deficit reduction strategy:

Of course, not all this is the government’s fault. The previous government also planned to slash investment spending.

3) But why?

Why did politicians of all stripes go down this route? Two reasons, I think:

First, it’s the ‘easy’ option. Cutting capital spending doesn’t provoke public anger in the same way cutting front-line services does: people don’t miss what they haven’t got. None of the parties identified anything near the scale of revenue cuts needed at the last election (as I reported here in April 2010):

No party has set out how it will tackle the deficit in full: the Lib Dems have gone furthest in being open and honest with voters, identifying over 25% of measures needed, ahead of either the Tories (17%) or Labour (13%).

And secondly…

4) Economists’ views have changed on this

A crucial component of deciding whether cutting capital expenditure could be justified is the ‘fiscal multiplier': ie, how much the economy shrinks as a result of cutting the deficit.

The Coalition banked on the multiplier being neutral-to-low. They found some comfort in the views of most mainstream economists, including the OBR, Bank of England and NIESR, which reckoned the multiplier was approximately 0.5 which meant the impact of the Coalition’s deficit reduction would be “significant, but not disastrous” (to quote Jonathan Portes).

But then just last October the IMF revised its view. A lot. It now estimated the ‘fiscal multiplier’ to lie in the range 0.9 to 1.7. Portes again:

The IMF have now definitively sided with those who think that tightening fiscal policy quickly and sharply had a very large and negative impact.

5) You have to spend the money well

As I wrote in October:

Quite simply, investment is the easiest tap to turn off if you’re a politician looking to reduce the flow of spending in a hurry. All parties looked too eagerly for a quick fix to the deficit believing the economy was on the mend anyway. Moreover, both Tories and the Lib Dems in particular took the view — not unreasonably in some cases, including the flawed Building Schools for the Future programme — that too much was being spent on prestige capital projects for too little gain.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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45 Comments

  • In the minds of the voter:- Clegg campaigned for the slowest pace of deficit reduction of the three main parties in 2010, immediately changed his mind on forming the coalition and is now complaining that he made a mistake in cutting too quickly because – wait for this – he was just following Labour’s plan. The argument that another party would have done the same stupid thing isn’t really a convincing method for attracting votes.

    I agree with most of points 1-5 (with the exception of point 4) but the message to the electorate is so confused that it just opens up Clegg to more ridicule.

  • Sorry for the multiple posting, but:

    “Of course, not all this is the government’s fault. The previous government also planned to slash investment spending.”

    Is this guy for real? To paraphrase: it isn’t our fault that we made a mistake because we were just doing what Labour told us to do.

  • Bill le Breton 25th Jan '13 - 9:05am

    The admission is welcome. Justification of the errors is only helpful if they allow improved decision making from where we are. But I sense, in the piece by Stephen, that the political rather than the economic argument is paramount.

    Frankly it doesn’t matter what Labour were going to do, it only matters now that we do the right thing. I fear that looking over our shoulders at Labour is preventing us tackling the overriding problem: insufficient aggregate demand.

    We were wrong to advocate accelerated deficit reduction in May 2010. It led to a second decline in aggregate demand, which in the summer of 2010 had returned to its long term trend of 5% growth each year.

    Any councillor who has held office in a controlling group or one that was in the balance of power knows that capital projects are the first put forward by officials. We had enough local government experience not to have fallen into this error. We did not use it – how many Spads have served in local government? I ask that genuinely.

    Instead we needed to fund councils and housing associations so they could start immediately with their shovel ready projects – of which there were many all of them useful infrastructure improvements.

    Secondly, in 2010 the Governor of the Bank of England will have promised the Quad that the Bank would provide the necessary monetary easing to compensate for the accelerated fiscal reduction and sustain the trend growth of aggregate demand. That is their job. The Governor and the MPC failed to provide adequate easing – that aggregate demand has consistently over this time grown by just 2.5% is proof that monetary stimulus was inadequate.

    The Quad failed to impose themselves on the situation … and despite a growing realization today (see the ITEM report) about this failure they are continuing to hesitate. http://www.ey.com/UK/en/Issues/Business-environment/Financial-markets-and-economy/ITEM—Postscript—The-UK-needs-a-new-approach-to-monetary-policy

    Are those who got it wrong advising the Quad in 2010 still in post? If they are, are we sure they are not continuing to get it wrong?

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jan '13 - 10:21am

    Steve

    In the minds of the voter:- Clegg campaigned for the slowest pace of deficit reduction of the three main parties in 2010, immediately changed his mind on forming the coalition and is now complaining that he made a mistake in cutting too quickly because – wait for this – he was just following Labour’s plan. The argument that another party would have done the same stupid thing isn’t really a convincing method for attracting votes.

    At the moment Labour are benefiting from people supposing that somehow it would all be different had they won the election, that everything that’s going wrong now is due to the wickedness of the coalition parties. So I think it is beneficial to point out that actually Labour did not have much differ to offer. If someone accuses me of doing something wrong, I think it is an effective counter-attack to show evidence that they were planning to do the same. It indicates that I did not do what I did out of personal eccentricity, and that if it was not the right thing to do it was not unreasonable.

    Of course, what Clegg SHOULD be saying now is “We were right in what we said in our election campaign – events have shown that”. From the start he should not have given the impression that he had “changed his mind” but rather made it clear that he had supported a compromise which was not the Liberal Democrat ideal but reflected the balance of opinion in the Parliament that the people of this country had chosen to elect. From this he could then say that had there been more Liberal Democrat MPs and fewer Conservatives, the balance would have been more to the Liberal Democrat viewpoint,there would have been less emphasis on rapid deficit reduction and more on keeping up capital spending.

  • if I were a cynic I’d say Clegg knew this all along and is managing his public appeal to deliberately coincide with the next general election – because, this ‘admission’ suggests, capital investment in infrastructure is a ‘silver bullet’ which will resurrect flatlining growth figures, and the timing is suspiciously close to perfect for a reversal in opinion polls to set in and create sufficient momentum for LibDems to gain seats in 2015.

    Add in the clear victory over Cameron regarding membership of the EU and the Labour leadership’s absolute failure to develop any primeministerial demeanour whatsoever among any of their potential candidates and we may well be looking back on the start of 2013 as lucky for us!

  • A cynic, in politics? Whatever next.

    Even current public spending should not be cut in a recession, as this exacerbates the downturn. In my view, they could have safely increased the deficit a little more to generate growth and repaid it from the resulting increase in taxes. Retrenchment should come later, when growth is firmly established. But Clegg gives every appearance of being as much a privately educated anti public sector ideologue as most Conservatives. I suspect that his volte face is rather less cynical, and rather more desperate, than Oranjepan suggests. It was his stance from 2007-10 which was cynical. Ironically this was correct, but he did not really believe it himself.

  • “if I were a cynic I’d say Clegg knew this all along and is managing his public appeal to deliberately coincide with the next general election”

    You mean he knew all along that the policy was wrong, and would be seen to be wrong, and that people would realise that it had damaged the economy – but he pretended he thought it was right? I don’t really see how that would work as a way of “managing his public appeal”. Can you explain further?

  • Is the statement under Orangepan’s comment, that “3 people unfriended you.See who,” with an arrow to click, to find out who,really appropriate for a website of this type, with serious debate.?
    Is this aimed at Orangepan or anyone reading the comments ? Anyhow, it looks very dodgey.

  • Oh, the unfriending comment is under Bill le Breton’s comment, now.
    I may not know very much about computers, but it looks childish and very rude, in my opinion.

  • “Is the statement under Orangepan’s comment, that “3 people unfriended you.See who,” with an arrow to click, to find out who,really appropriate for a website of this type, with serious debate.?”

    I think it may be something to do with Spacebook or something similar.

  • Maybe so,Chris.It is under you now ! I thought that it could be telling me to push off,haha.I know that I am not with it !

  • Paul in twickenham 25th Jan '13 - 12:47pm

    And yet the markets are approaching the dizzy heights seen at the peak of irrational exuberance.

    This is further evidence that QE has not permeated to the “real economy”. We are in the grip of a secular depression and yet there is vast amounts of money sloshing around the financial services industry.

    I’m sorry to sound like a broken record but we need to be more imaginative about easing. The QE mandate provides for direct purchase of high quality bonds and the BoE should be working directly with non-profit social housing cooperatives and other direct providers of infrastructure to get the money into the system and have it circulate.

  • Paul in twickenham 25th Jan '13 - 1:04pm

    Margaret – what you are seeing is some sort of silly pop up ad. Nobody is posting comments about unfriending anyone. Fir example I’m seeing ads for John Lewis because I was looking at pans on their website recently.

  • Geoffrey Payne 25th Jan '13 - 1:30pm

    “Economists have changed their minds on this…”. Well some economists predicted this from the beginning, perhaps we should take notice of what Stiglitz, Krugman, Soros and Portes have been saying and less to those who have been advising George Osborne?
    Even Vince Cable was saying during the the general election campaign that he would rather be paying builders to build schools and hospitals rather than pay them benefits. It is stunning looking at the quarterly growth figures the difference the fiscal stimulus of the Olympic Games made compared to before and after.

  • Thanks, Paul in Twickenham.I will ignore .

  • Bill le Breton 25th Jan '13 - 1:34pm

    Paul in Twickenham,

    Last time we exchanged views it was over ‘competitive devaluations’ – you might be interested in this assessment of the value of monetary easing using unconventional means http://marketmonetarist.com/2013/01/20/the-exchange-rate-fallacy-currency-war-or-a-race-to-save-the-global-economy/

  • Chris,
    no, I don’t mean that at all.

    I mean that it was necessary to make a ruthless calculation that taking a temporary hit in opinion polls was a the price to stop wasteful expenditure in some areas so that this money could be redirected more productively, and that this could be offset as the investment started bearing fruit in sufficient time for the polls to rebound ahead of 2015.

    Even if the polls don’t rebound you’ll agree some projects were bad value. Stephen states it well in his point #5.

  • Bill le Breton 25th Jan '13 - 1:50pm

    Danny Alexander has just trotted out the stale justifications on WATO, but it looks every day as though it is political pride that is preventing us taking the necessary action to boost aggregate demand.

    For those who have a couple of hours available this weekend and a kindle, a new e-book has been published explaining the role of monetary policy in causing the Great Depression, the Great Inflation and now the Great Recession.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00B4I35JA/?tag=libdemvoice-21

    Give it a chance – it may change your view on what needs to be done.

  • paul barker 25th Jan '13 - 2:13pm

    We did try being honest with the voters & their reaction was pretty negative, they may beleive they want to hear the truth but once theyve heard it they change their minds. Its not all politicians fault, we are “all in it together” in the sense that we mostly like booms/bubbles while they are happening in the same way we enjoy being drunk but not the hangover after.
    We can probably be more honest in 2015 because weve all sobered up a bit, voters & politicians alike but we will be competing with a Labour party which collectively will be promising all sorts of goodies.

  • “Maybe so,Chris.It is under you now !”

    I don’t think anyone can have unfriended me, because I’m not on Spacebook or Flitter, and I’ve never used the Internet to tweak anyone.

  • “no, I don’t mean that at all.”

    It’s just that when you wrote “if I were a cynic I’d say Clegg knew this all along” I thought you meant “knew the Coalition was wrong to cut capital spending all along”. In fact I still don’t see what else you could have been referring to.

  • Well it’s welcome, but I don’t think Labour would have made the same cuts in the same way, For a start they had tentative growth and were committed to keeping VAT down, I could never see Labour introducing the same kinds of benefits cuts either. I seem to remember that they planned to increase National insurance in some way. I suspect they would have frozen some benefits, cut some and looked at TAX, I think the decisions made by the coalition were very much the product of the leadership of the Conservative party and in particular Chancellor Osbourn. I don’t think any previous Conservative in the the job would have done the same things . Lawson, Clark and Major were more traditional and more cautious.
    The problem for Mr Clegg is that he has enthusiastically supported and economic plan many of us knew was seriously flawed, But good on him for saying something.

  • Liberal Eye 25th Jan '13 - 3:38pm

    From the post:

    Economists’ views have changed on this. And [The Coalition] found some comfort in the views of most mainstream economists, …

    That’s a fair summary of Clegg position but it hardly lets him off the hook. Since the dawn of time one of the key skills required of kings and party leaders alike has been the ability to pick good advisors and then use them effectively. That is something Clegg has signally failed to do. Those “mainstream economists” were of course the very people whose bad advice caused the crisis and who to a man (and woman) failed to see it coming. Most seem to have concluded that the best thing to do is to declare “nothing to see here, move on” and return to business as usual.

    What Clegg should have done is listen to the small number of non-mainstream economists who DID see the crisis coming and who went on to warn that austerity would not, could not, work. Their policy prescriptions are very different to what the Coalition is trying so unsuccessfully. The Lib Dem campaign sort of took this on board although I suspect not entirely for the right reasons which is perhaps why it was abandoned with such apparent alacrity. Meanwhile, it’s tragic to see Clegg not even managing to spin this well as Matthew Huntbach points out above.

  • Liberal Eye 25th Jan '13 - 4:21pm

    The graph Stephen links to under the first heading shows (reading off from the axes) that the ratio of reductions in investment spending to current spending is nearly 4:1. Wow!

    This is remarkably reminiscent of the Thatcher/Major years when an immense cumulative shortfall in investment spending built up that Labour spend years tryuing to remedy. There’s a pattern here and it’s not a pretty one. Strip away all the faux-plausible justification and rhetoric and what is left is the underlying Tory game plan.

    Everything possible must be marketized and financialized to enable economic rent extraction by the better connected sorts. In many cases these are the Tory paymasters – literally. So the system is run, quite deliberately, to increase house prices to the limit of affordability and beyond so enabling rent extraction in the form of interest payments, energy suppliers are allowed to restructure themselves into a minimally regulated oligopoly, ditto many other sectors. Dodgy banks are bailed out at vast public expense then subject to the most timid and inneffectual reforms imaginable. It is reported that taxpayers will have to stump up £500 million to pay RBS’s fine over its involvement in the LIBOR scandal. For the overwhelming majority the result is that Britain is a low wage, high cost society. And because costs are too high all efforts to ‘kick-start’ the economy will come to naught. Economic rents are a big part of the reason for that.

    Then there is the question of how we pay for a decent society with proper levels of public sector investment in infrastructure, schools, hospitals and the rest. Low waged people don’t – can’t – pay much tax so the burden falls on the small number of winners but there aren’t enough of them to carry the load even if they wanted to and, of course, they don’t. It’s all very well for Cameron to declaim against tax dodgers but is he dissembling or does he simply not know that behind the scenes his chancellor is busy drilling holes in the tax legislation to ensure that, whatever the headline rate, there will be plenty of barn-door sized loopholes?

  • When will it be admitted that (a) that the entire idea of responding to a recession with “austerity measures” has been and had to be a miserable failure, and (b) that Keynes was actually right?

  • Let us hope that this is the start of further development in things like Rail links; however, we should not be blind, there were many flawed projects under Labour that were not QE, but instead, they were pump priming and we should all know that pump priming is just as bad as pulling the rug from under the economy.

  • I am pleased that Nick Clegg has now made these comments. The expression “eating humble pie” might apply to SOME people in our Party. Now who is trying to justify the Osbourne position………….

  • Hear, hear Terry G. I am sure current spending cuts have contributed to recession, especially those decentralised cuts, primarily via local government, the NHS, housing associations etc. A key issue of mismanagement is being too London / SE centric in thinking. If our party could somehow redress the balance by constantly reminding the Tories NOT to listen too much to Big Finance and other reps of London and the SE. I believe 60% of Tory MPs now have a finance connection in their background. But, no I forgot, some of our people are also connected to these same networks.

  • Stephen Donnelly 25th Jan '13 - 11:27pm

    Tim13 & others. As Stephen Tall points out there is difference ‘between capital spending (fixed-term spending on infrastructure, such as railways) and revenue spending (ongoing financial commitments, like pensions). Nick’s admission relates specifically to the former’.

    It is tempting to believe that if the government were to spend more, it would solve the problem, but there is no easy solution. Whilst they may score points in public , Labour, Liberal and Conservatives are all agreed on this in private. Capital expenditure may help to soften the blows in some sectors, but there are structural problems in the economy, and it will be very difficult for all of us for years to come. In the meanwhile the only action the government can take is to tackle vested interests to help to resolve the structural problems and distribute the pain fairly. The rest is just pixie dust.

  • You make a fair point Stephen (above). However it does depend on who/what you mean by “vested interests”. I hope that you do not mean, for example, the minority of businesses who want to change health and safety legislation which in some cases could mean endangering their employees and customers. Or those who are happy for their staff to work more than 48 hours per week, even when they are working for the Health Services, Emergency Services, Transport or elsewhere…….

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jan '13 - 8:51pm

    Glenn

    Well it’s welcome, but I don’t think Labour would have made the same cuts in the same way, For a start they had tentative growth and were committed to keeping VAT down, I could never see Labour introducing the same kinds of benefits cuts either. I seem to remember that they planned to increase National insurance in some way. I suspect they would have frozen some benefits, cut some and looked at TAX

    Why should it be left to you to “suspect” such things? Why can’t Labour just TELL us what they would do?

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jan '13 - 8:53pm

    Tim13

    A key issue of mismanagement is being too London / SE centric in thinking. If our party could somehow redress the balance by constantly reminding the Tories NOT to listen too much to Big Finance and other reps of London and the SE.

    Sorry, could you please remember that there is more to London and the south-east than “Big Finance”? Maybe you never come to London and the south-east, so maybe you don’t realise it, but actually, it is NOT the case that everyone in this part of the country lives in big mansions and has a fat cat job in the City.

  • Mathew,
    It’s a quirk of my gnomic writing style. Labour did in fact say they were going to raise NI and certainly did increase the higher rate of tax. They were also looking at saving on the benefits bill and said so.. But it’s simply a fact that neither a lib Dem of labour government would have done the same things as a Tory dominated government and both gave much clearer outlines of what they would do. in 2010 Neither planned a spurious emergency budget so they could bypass their manifesto material, which I believe is one of the most disgraceful undemocratic and pernicious episodes in British political history.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Jan '13 - 12:29pm

    Glenn

    But it’s simply a fact that neither a lib Dem of labour government would have done the same things as a Tory dominated government and both gave much clearer outlines of what they would do. in 2010

    Maybe, but I think we need to be aware of two points:

    1) The dire state of the economy means a lot more than a bit of fiddling with NI rates and the like are needed to turn things round properly. I see no signs that Labour has anything like the guts needed to do that. We are in a mess because they continued pushing this country down the road Margaret Thatcher started it on – one where it was believed no-one had to do any real work to make money, we’d all make it by selling houses and shares to each other.

    2) The people of this country chose to elect a Tory dominated government. Any argument that they didn’t because only 36% of those who voted at all voted Tory was destroyed by the referendum vote on electoral reform when by two-to-one the British people supported the “No” campaign which said the best thing about the current system is the way it forces people to vote for the two main parties most cases, and twists their representation upwards in order to give them complete control. If people didn’t like and support the way 36% of the vote gave us a Tory-dominated government, they could have voted for the first step in electoral reform to change the system that gives us that.

    On point 2), the Tories have made no secret of their belief that economic success comes from cutting taxes on the rich who will then work their magic and create prosperity for all. They have made no secret of their belief that the way to improve any service is to open it up to competition, with people motivated by financial reward to improve quality. So anyone who voted Tory and is surprised by what we have now really is a bit of a fool.

  • Mathew,
    I’ve said many times that I voted for AV and I have a great deal of sympathy for your occasional lapses into “serves you right” territory on the issue,
    However, the fact remains that under FTPTP and despite everything said about the viability of this that or the other. The conservative failed to get an over all majority and therefore under FPTP didn’t win. Thems the rules,. Plus all the signs are that they would have lost rather than gained support in any subsequent general election. I make no bones about it.I do not and never dd support the formation of this Coalition. Furthermore far from cleaning up Labour/s mess. it has tanked tentative growth, sending the economy in to first a double dip and now the certainty of a triple dip because its policies are plain old fashioned wrong. Something made even more obvious by the the defeat of Mick Romney and the collective sigh of relief from the various stock exchanges. The point is that the justification for this government is blown to pieces by its dismal performance.
    Having said that, I still trust the better instincts of the Lib Dems more than New Labour, but I’m holding my nose at the moment.

  • Michael Parsons 29th Jan '13 - 6:50am

    Liberal Eye is right. And David also in reminding us of the truth of Keynesian macro-economics. But the real blunder was forming the unelected “coalition” in t he first place because that closed off the path for radical liberal criticism of Osborne , and offered up our Party as human shields for the Tory asset-strippers. My thought is that the voters will cauterise that wound in the body politic by eliminating the Party – as they did after the last Liberal coalition with the Tories in the National Government of the Depression-hit 1930’s. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them?

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Jan '13 - 11:26pm

    Glenn

    However, the fact remains that under FTPTP and despite everything said about the viability of this that or the other. The conservative failed to get an over all majority and therefore under FPTP didn’t win. Thems the rules,. Plus all the signs are that they would have lost rather than gained support in any subsequent general election

    Do you believe that if there had been another general election in 6 months time, the Liberal Democrats would have won more seats? Or Labour would have won more seats? Don’t forget, this would have been in a situation where David Cameron as leader of a minority government would have been planning to call a general election soon to get a majority and so would have been careful to avoid unpopular policy.

    You say the Conservatives did not win, so who did win? What was the legitimate government following the May 2010 general election? If you say a coalition of any form would be wrong, does that mean you would advocate repeatedly holding elections until one party won a majority? Had that happened in 2010, which party do you think would have eventually emerged with a majority? Do you think people would flock to the Liberal Democrats? Or would people have thought “If I vote LibDem again, we’l be in the same situation, so I had better not this time”? If the latter, who would be the beneficiaries? Hint – the Conservatives are second place in most LibDem-held seats.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Jan '13 - 11:30pm

    Michael Parsons

    But the real blunder was forming the unelected “coalition” in t he first place

    Same to you. Your lines about an “unelected coalition” seem to suggest you believe only a government of one party is legitimate. So which party should that be? Do you honestly suppose a repeat general election in 2010 would have delivered a LibDem or Labour majority? Or, does it follow form your belief that the only legitimate government is one formed of one party, because that is what you suppose people vote for, that the Conservatives should have been awarded enough extra MPs in order to give them a majority?

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Jan '13 - 11:39pm

    Michael Parsons

    My thought is that the voters will cauterise that wound in the body politic by eliminating the Party – as they did after the last Liberal coalition with the Tories in the National Government of the Depression-hit 1930′s.

    Yes, and what will that get them? A Tory government with a full majority, if not the next time, some time after that.

    I agree with you about the rottenness of the Tory Party. But that’s the party that more people chose to vote for in 2010 than for any other party. I think the people got it wrong, they ought not to have voted that way. However, they did. And I think that is what we need to tackle rather than engage in some sort of fantasy that suggests what the people really wanted was a Labour or LibDem government, even though they didn’t vote for those two parties in sufficient numbers to give them one.

  • Matthew, you do a wonderfully forensic job on the “unelected coalition” line, however none who you address seem to come back with an attempt to answer your points.

    They seem to wait for a bit then come back with the same as if your detailed rebuttal did not exist.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Jan '13 - 10:35am

    Martin, yes. That is because the line they are using is ultimately that being used by both the Labour Party and the right-wing of the Conservative Party, which is that they believe we should have a two-party system. If the people I were arguing with were indeed Conservatives, actually there would be no argument, because the Conservative right-wing is using the argument the Conservatives won the last election because they had the most seats, therefore we should have a Conservative government, therefore the Liberal Democrats are wrong and undemocratic if they do anything to stop Tory policies. However, as the people I am arguing with are not Conservatives, they don’t like it when I follow through the logic of their argument and that’s where it leads to.

    Now of course I don’t hold to this argument myself, I am just showing where the logic leads. My real interest, of course, is in changing the logic, and thus in demonstrating to anyone else who does not like the government we have that to fight it we must change the logic, which means we must endorse electoral reform. Those who say they don’t like coalitions because of what they see of this one, and then endorse the current electoral system on that basis are showing a stunning lack of logic. It ought to have been easy to demolish this case, it took a special incompetency in those picked to lead the “Yes to AV” campaign to fail to do so.

  • Appeals to a mass audience invariably use techniques other than logic and it seems to work, which is why I am not sure that this aspect of the AV campaign was particularly incompetent.

    In my view an AV referendum would have been perfectly feasible in coalition with Labour, but in coalition with Conservatives, the AV referendum was about a proposal that neither party had hitherto advocated. This I think was an important mistake. Perhaps an open referendum about changing the electoral system (as happened in New Zealand) should have been demanded. However, I suspect following the NZ experience that the Tories would not have acquiesced.

  • Mathew,
    Since you asked. Yes I believe that given a new leader and sixth months into a Conservative minority Government both Labour and the Lib Dems would have gained votes and seats.I also believe Cameron thought the sane and was desperate to avoid becoming Ted Heath MK II. and that Nick Clegg wanted to form a an economic liberal government before the tide shifted, and strengthened other liberal voices. Plus I think the atmosphere was heady enough to turn any ambitious persons head.

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    Jack This is another reason the Coalition’s rhetoric about it being unfair for benefits to be higher than the median income is utter rubbish. Why...
  • User AvatarGwynfor Tyley 1st Oct - 8:40pm
    What with Labour and the mansion tax and the Tories raising the personal allowance it seems like it is "I agree with Nick" all over...
  • User AvatarMatthew Huntbach 1st Oct - 8:37pm
    Peter It looks as though Ms Lindsay’s plan is to have average wage earners (and of course the 50% who earn less than average) ,...
  • User AvatarLittle Jackie Paper 1st Oct - 8:27pm
    The Guardian is quoting a figure of £5.6bn as the cost of raising the threshold and the cost overall of the tax cuts as £7.2bn-...
  • User AvatarMatthew Huntbach 1st Oct - 8:27pm
    The problem is that while people say they want all these things and much else, they don't want to pay the taxes it would cost...