Reviewing the Mid-Term Review. It’s hit and miss. But the biggest miss are the wasted opportunities

coalition mid term review 2013I’ve had chance only to scan-read today’s Coalition Mid-Term Review (with its rather grudging, adjective-free title, Stuck Together in the national interest), but here are some initial impressions…

The economy takes centre-stage…

This may seem a statement of the obvious. And yet it’s worth comparing with the May 2010 document, Our programme for government (ahh, that Rose Garden-inspired ‘our’) in which subjects were sorted alphabetically so that you had to wait until chapter 9 to read about ‘deficit reduction’. Back in those days the Coalition blithely assumed the economy was on the mend: many of us reckoned the mid-term review rows would turn on the different Lib Dem / Tory approaches to spending the proceeds of growth. That’s not quite how it’s turned out, of course. So while in 2010 matters economic got about 5 pages spread out over 30, in 2013 the first 13 pages (out of 46) are dedicated to showing quite how seriously the Coalition now takes ‘fixing the economy’.

Plan A’s gone, so I guess that means we’re on Plan B

As Jonathan Portes noted yesterday:

‘What is Plan A? Eliminating the structural budget deficit by the end of the Parliament? That was abandoned in 2011. Reducing the debt-GDP ratio in 2015-16? That went in the Autumn Statement. Setting DEL spending targets but allowing the “automatic stabilisers” which the Chancellor once described as a “key part of the flexibility built in to our plan” to function? The Autumn Statement dropped them too. So there is no “Plan A” anymore.

Here’s how the Coalition talked about it in May 2010:

We will significantly accelerate the reduction of the structural deficit over the course of a Parliament, with the main burden of deficit reduction borne by reduced spending rather than increased taxes.

And here’s the vaguer (albeit pragmatically inevitable) version it’s now morphed into:

We will continue to pursue our deficit reduction plan while protecting vulnerable groups and key long-term investments.

That’s quite a contrast. Especially when you remember the ringing words of the declaration on the back page of the May 2010 Coalition programme:

The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement.*

* Terms and conditions apply. Your Triple-A status could be at risk if you cannot keep up with your repayments.

The spending rows yet to come…

Until now I’d assumed the Coalition would simply set the spending envelope for 2015-16 (ie, the year after the Coalition is scheduled to conclude), recognising that detailed spending plans could scarcely be binding on a government of two parties about to contest national elections. But apparently not — here it is in black-and-white:

Before the summer, we will set out detailed plans for public spending [my emphasis] for the 2015/16 fiscal year, in line with the overall path of deficit reduction which we have already set out to 2017/18, to maintain economic stability and credibility, and ensure that we retain the confidence of international markets.

I fail to see the purpose in detailed plans for 2015-16. Obviously I can see how they’re helpful for those responsible for spending departmental budgets. But as they’re almost certain to change post-May 2015 (even if the current Coalition were to continue) that seems a rather artificial way to offer confidence to the markets.

… not least over Trident and wealthy pensioner allowances

The Lib Dems will go into the next election with at least two cashable public spending cuts that it looks very unlikely the Tories will match. First, a cheaper, effective alternative to Trident:

We will complete and publish the review of alternatives to Trident.

And secondly, an end to pensioner allowances for the wealthiest — just as child benefit for the wealthiest has also now been ended — something David Cameron has personally vetoed despite the inconsistency:

We have kept our Coalition Agreement commitment to protect key benefits for older people throughout this Parliament. These include the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences, free bus travel, and free eye tests and prescriptions.

This gives the Lib Dems a flexibility the Tories will lack come 2015.

Trade-offs in some policy areas…

For example, in transport policy there is something for both Lib Dems (re-commitment to massive railway expansion) and Tories (ditto for the road network). On employment, Lib Dems get shared parental leave, the Tories get shares-for-rights. And of course in energy policy, George Osborne is able to go frack the north of England while Lib Dems invest in renewables.

Agreement in others…

The Lib Dems may not want reminding of university finance, but it’s there anyway… though I suspect if it had been put as pithily by Vince Cable in selling the reforms in the first place they may have got a better hearing:

As a result of our reforms, up to a quarter of the poorest graduates will pay less over their lifetime than under the previous system, and all graduates will pay less per month than under the previous system.

Though there is little specific mention of Dilnot’s proposed reforms of social care in the Mid-Term Review (‘We have made it clear that we support its principles’) the mood music appears hopeful that this is one major piece of legislation where the two parties have found sufficient common ground, and which will be announced in the weeks to come.

The Leveson Report receives only a rather bland, passing reference:

We will continue to work on a cross-party basis towards the implementation of the Leveson Report on press regulation.

The words ‘in full’ are MIA.

And a vacuum in a few more.

Oh dear. Political reform — remember Nick’s brave words that the Coalition would bring about ‘The biggest shake up of our democracy since 1832’? He then found himself caught between the rock of hard-line Conservatives and the hard-place of conservative Labourites.

His two headline acts — electoral reform and Lords reform — both sunk without trace due to a combination of public apathy and political inertia. So what have we been left with? A few worthy-enough left-over bits ‘n pieces such as the power of MP recall and a statutory register of lobbyists. Even party funding reform is seemingly being kicked into the long grass of impasse:

We will pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics.

Until the next ‘big money corrupting politicians’ scandal breaks, when once again the Tories and Labour will declare themselves committed to reform… as long as it affects only the other side.

And what of civil liberties, you ask?

At first I thought the Data Communications Bill (aka internet snoopers’ charter) had been exiled entirely. Not so. Rather tellingly, it didn’t appear under the ‘Civil liberties’ section; instead it’s under ‘National security’

We will consider the report of the Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill before bringing a new Bill to Parliament.

As for the rest of the civil liberties agenda, well it makes the political reform section look action-packed. Oh, and secret courts don’t, so far as I can see, receive a mention; though that’s more likely to be omission, I suspect, than the sound of an about-turn.

So there you have it…

That’s the Mid-Term Review. Much less radical than its predecessor, perhaps inevitably (and perhaps rightly: there’s no way anything more spiky would receive the support of Lib Dem members or David Cameron’s querulous backbenchers at this stage of play) — but also disappointingly. For all we know, this may be the Lib Dems’ last chance to be in government for a generation. It’s very likely to be Nick Clegg’s last bite at being Deputy Prime Minister. I can’t help feeling that, even if the Coalition implements everything that’s been promised today, we Lib Dems are going to look back on our period of government as one of missed chances and wasted opportunities. Yes, we’ve achieved a fair bit and learned a lot along the way. But this was our chance and I’m not sure we’ve — any of us — grabbed it as we should.

PS: three further points occurred to me subsequently, blogged about here.

* 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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34 Comments

  • “wasted opportunities” suggests that there was a different way that things like Lords reform, electoral reform, etc, could have been done and succeeded.

    So, what were those ways, out of interest?

  • Andrew Suffield 7th Jan '13 - 9:17pm

    So there is no “Plan A” anymore.

    There never was – that was a Labour talking point. There are no polar opposites in contention here – just a direction to head in (“get the deficit under control”) and some speculation about what might be achievable in the span of this government. Obviously the situation has shifted over the past couple of years and that means specific plans must also shift. Did anybody ever seriously doubt this? Labour certainly didn’t – the whole point of their “plan A / plan B” nonsense was so that at some point in the future they could claim the inevitable reactions to events add up to “something they had been calling for from the start”, when they oh-so-carefully avoided specifying what these two plans might be.

  • The LD legacy from this spell in govt was always going to be more about what the Tories were prevented from doing than about genuine liberal gains. The shame is that the big gain for the party (being in govt itself) was squandered by tbe fees fiasco. Now that the coalition has split the Tories, will the coalition’s legacy be to damn LD rump to working with the Cameroonians in order to survive ?

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Jan '13 - 10:50pm


    we Lib Dems are going to look back on our period of government as one of missed chances and wasted opportunities.

    The biggest missed opportunity was the opportunity to put across the case for electoral reform by being clear that the imbalance in seats which has so weakened the Liberal Democrats and strengthened the Conservatives in this government is due to the distortions of first-past-the-post. Apart from that going on about “missed chances and wasted opportunities” is just more breaking Healey’s law of holes – it suggests there are things we could have done but didn’t, so bolsters the misconceptions that have dogged the public perception of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition since it was formed.

    With 57 Liberal Democrat MPs to 306 Conservative MPs, being “in government” really wasn’t going to give us much on the way of big chances to pursue our own policies. We could only really get through things which has the support of at least a substantial minority of the Conservatives. The poor presentation from the top which continues to make it seem as if we are somehow equal partners with the Conservatives when quite obviously we are not just makes things worse, as it makes us seem, judging by the policies coming from this government which are mainly theirs and not ours, either to have caved in or to have been dishonest in the first place about what we really wanted.

    Look, can we be honest – from our leadership down – and just say loudly “We did badly in the May 2010 general election, we do not regard 57 out of 650 seats MPs as any sort of triumph. The balance of seats in Parliament meant we were forced to accept a government led and dominated by the Conservatives, it is not what we wanted, but it is in effect what the people voted for, and they confirmed they wanted when they rejected electoral reform in the 2011 general election. A government in which we were the leaf party would be VERY different from this one”?

    I think we would do much better putting it this was than the continued triumphalism about being in the coalition coming from Nick Clegg and Tim Farron, which is just damaging our party because of the way it is perceived.

  • Fracking is not just a northern thing. We can expect to see it right across the southern weald as well

    More details at http://og.decc.gov.uk/assets/og/bo/onshore-paper/uk-onshore-shalegas.pdf

  • Secret courts do get a mention: “We will legislate to ensure that the security services are properly monitored through increased Parliamentary oversight and that proper balance is struck in trials involving highly sensitive matters of national security.” (page 37)

    So our party leadership has decided to sign up to the Bill in terms in the mid-term review in spite of all opposition from the membership and an emphatic Conference vote to scrap it. Shocking. No wonder Nick Clegg has refused to meet us.

  • Not to mention, in fact, the wording of our own party Constitution – free fair and open society, anyone? Or for that matter the coalition agreement itself: “We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness.”

  • Voting reform could and should have been delivered by tying the switch to AV with the boundary review and reduction in number of MPs, and having a yes-no Referendum on the whole package. First rule of negotiations, tie the things you want to the things they want.

    Nevertheless it may well be the Conservatives who come to rue the day they turned their back on preferential voting, the way some of the polls are going…

  • I did not expect a great deal from the coalition government and in truth never supported it,, but to be fair disunity within the Conservative Party has to an extent forced the Lib Dem leadership to sound more loyal to David Cameron than they need to be. It’s certainly contributed to a tendency to over promote essentially conservative policy as joint successes.
    The impression I get from the mid term review is a kind of winding down as realism sets in.

  • All-in-all, the Coalition has been a huge lost opportunity for the LibDems. The 57 MPs were capable of much more ‘muscle’ over government policy. That didn’t happen, however, because the LibDem leadership was and is, politically, very very close to David Cameron. Under a different, more radical and ‘bullish’ (a lot more ‘anti-Tory’?) leadership those 57 could have been used to huge effect to push for REAL Liberal-Democratic policies (rather than enthusiastically endorse Tory ones). If this had been the case, I believe the LibDems would have gained the admiration of voters – unfortunately the opposite is true.

  • Nigel Jones 8th Jan '13 - 10:17am

    ‘We will continue to pursue our deficit reduction plan'; why can’t politicians be more open and honest with the electorate ? They should have said: We have slowly and sensibly been modifying our deficit reduction plan and will continue to do so in the interests of both our economy and the less well-off.
    As regards the rest, it seems that Nick has continued to move us from Centre-left to Centre and although this had to be the case in a coalition, it continues to compromise what we stand for and therefore what we believe is right for the nation. I think therefore it will turn out to be a major political mistake to have this review, which is really a further commitment to serious compromises on our principles. It would have been better to just carry on without such commitments (other than that of dealing with the deficit) and tell the Tories and the public that our continuation in the coalition is not certain and will depend on what happens as we battle for what we think is right, not the Tories.

  • Bill le Breton 8th Jan '13 - 11:31am

    Plan A was always a piece of short hand and a blade for political duelling. Its hard wiring, though, was the fiscal rule that the structural deficit would be eliminated in the horizon of the five year financial planning document. Each year that five year plan has seen the programme rolled over … so that as per the 2012 Autumn Statement the target is still 5 years hence. See the recent meetings of the Treasury Select Committee http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/treasury-committee/news/treasury-committee-to-take-evidence-on-autumn-statement/

    So ‘Plan A’, i.e. not breaking the fiscal rule, remains, even though, as the Treasury Committee exposed, the fiscal rule is meaningless (though very real) if each year the horizon can be pushed back by a further year.

    Clinging to the fiscal rule does not come cost free. It is still based on the belief in expansionary deficit reduction and, this year, because the OBR revised its calculation for the output gap a further £65 billion of cuts had to be identified over the five year planning period to meet it. Budget headings are naturally less clearly defined in year 5 than in year 1.

    This also means that both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats can enter an election with the individually specified but identical pledge of ‘we shall maintain the fiscal rule’ of eliminating the structural debt in 5 years, with detailed differentiation existing over medium term budget headings ie in years 2 and 3, or 3 and 4 of the next Parliament.

    Each can make use of this by campaigning on disingenuous manifestos appealing to their wings knowing that a coalition partner’s negotiations will rescue them, as happened in 2010 with Cameron relieved to get off the hook of capital gains reductions and Clegg disastrously able to get off the hooks as he saw them of the Tuition Fee pledge and the speed of deficit reduction.

    You will infer from this that I am convinced that the true game plan of both Clegg and Cameron is a continuance of the coalition post 2015 regardless of the result. Even with a majority the partnership works for Cameron and ‘continuing the job we set out to do in 2010’ provides the narrative for both leaders with their parties.

    Stephen quips that the two parties are ‘stuck together in the national interest’. It is the pursuit of the self imposed fiscal rule that is the glue that binds. And the albatross, to mix the metaphor, that drowns economic recovery and the fortunes of both parties.

    Clegg and Cameron are dependent on economic recovery being felt by most of the *voting* public by the spring of 2015 or the slender green shoots of recovery being so obviously vulnerable to Labour’s crass economic management that significant numbers reach for nurse for fear of something worse.

    Both are *gone* if they cannot either individually or between them gain a majority and they are unlikely to gain that unless the above conditions for the economy exist. Truly, Clegg and Cameron are in it together, which their body language portrays every time they share a platform.

    Fiscal alternatives exist and by the next Autumn Statement they may be grabbed, regardless of the protestations in the Mid Term Review. Jonathan Portes at the Select Committee suggested finding £30 billion (2% of GDP) of savings and using these in large part to fund significant reductions to NI for both employees and employers. Roger Bootle would reallocate that £30 billion to infrastructure projects that also lever in private sector funds towards their cost. These would be significant initiatives but still within the bounds of the fiscal rule the Quad dare not let slip.

    However, as Japan is illustrating – up 17% since I wrote this article on November 14th http://www.libdemvoice.org/banzai-banzai-banzai-31728.html – there is an alternative that would hasten recovery and with it allow the Liberal Democrats to fight a truly independent and successful campaign in 2015, free when the votes are cast to do what is best for the nation. Perhaps it will be the new Governor of the Bank of England who rides like a Mountie to the rescue. http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/economics-blog/2012/dec/12/bank-england-mark-carney-inflation-targets

  • paul barker 8th Jan '13 - 1:08pm

    We are all dissapointed with what the coalition has acheived but the big reasons are to do with forces beyond our control, the unexpected deepening of the crisis in Europe & the USA & the (small c) conservatism & duplicity of our political rivals. We were overoptimistic when assesing the level of resistance to any reform.
    The only big thing we could have done differently would have been a free vote in the commons on AV instead of a referendum, we would probably have lost that too but in a more useful way.

  • Matthew Huntbach “Look, can we be honest – from our leadership down – and just say loudly “We did badly in the May 2010 general election, we do not regard 57 out of 650 seats MPs as any sort of triumph. The balance of seats in Parliament meant we were forced to accept a government led and dominated by the Conservatives, it is not what we wanted, but it is in effect what the people voted for, and they confirmed they wanted when they rejected electoral reform in the 2011 general election. A government in which we were the leaf party would be VERY different from this one”?”

    Matthew I’m interested in your views regarding where this leaves us voters in deciding whether to vote Lib Dem or not in 2015? We know that Lib Dems won’t be the lead party in any government under FPTP. It is unlikely that there will be more than 70 MPs in any future Parliament so you are always going to be massively outnumbered by Conservative or Labour MPs. So what is the Lib Dem message for future voters? I’m genuinely interested as it seems to me the main ‘carrot’ for Lib Dems in entering a coalition with Tories was to secure a more proportional voting system so that you would have a fairer result in future elections – ie. number of vote share equivalent to number of MPs. However we are now stuck with the wretched FPTP for the foreseeable future. How are Lib Dems to present themselves in 2015 to counter the argument ‘voted Clegg got Cameron’? . I know you would like more people to vote for you but realistically there is no chance of a Lib Dem govt. so how are you going to convince voters to vote Lib Dem when we now know that with 57 MPs (or 70 or 100) you are still going to be massively outnumbered in future governments.

  • I meant to say ‘more than 70 Lib Dem MPs’

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Jan '13 - 4:03pm

    Phyllis

    How are Lib Dems to present themselves in 2015 to counter the argument ‘voted Clegg got Cameron’? .

    Do you mean how are the most likely to under the current leadership of the Liberal Democrats, or how do I myself think they should do so? Because the first is likely to be the opposite of the second. That is, as you know I have spent huge amounts of effort trying to defend the LibDem position as having been forced by necessity into the coalition, but so far as I am concerned the party’s leadership seems bent on saying and doing everything it can to undermine the defence I am trying to put for it.

    First thing – you can only vote for Clegg if you live in Sheffield Hallam, you can only vote for Cameron if you live in Witney. We should try and remind people what Parliamentary democracy is about i.e. about electing people who represent you and come together to build politics which are an acceptable compromise from everyone’s position. So we should STOP promoting politics as being all about the leaders of the parties. The best thing our Liberal Democrat MPs have going for them is that they are mostly jolly good local representatives – they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t, unlike the other two big parties, there are no safe seats where all you need to get elected is the right party label. That is the first reason why “Cleggmania” was such a disaster – all this focus on the leader is just NOT what our party should be about, it is just not “liberal” as liberal should be.

    Second thing – well I keep saying it, but as you asked, I’ll say it again. We should make clear the current coalition came about because it was the only viable government possible from the Parliament that came from the May 2010 general election. Had the number of MPs of all parties been the same but the number of Tories and Labour reversed, a Labour-LibDem coalition would have been the only viable government. This SHOULD have got us off the hook of being accused of having CHOSEN what we have, which would have been more of a problem if there had been a balance such that either coalition was viable. However, our party leadership has followed the disastrous strategy of making out it was some sort of voluntary coming together. If you want to say “bye bye” to half our voters, you couldn’t do better than that – and actually the outgoing “Director of Strategy” for Mr Clegg wrote last year to say that’s just what he thought we should be doing … plus most of our members as well. With advisers like Richard Reeves, who needs enemies? Actually, it ought to be quite simple – if you want a government with more LibDem influence, you need more LibDem MPs. There are two ways to get more LibDem MPs: vote LibDem, and don’t vote to support an electoral system whose supporters give as its best feature the way it distorts representaion against the Liberal Democrats. It is, of course, an indication of the remarkable incompetence of the current Liberal Democrat leadership that it has been unable to get this rather obvious message across.

    OK, to the practicalities, if by ‘voted Clegg got Cameron’ you meant to suggest a Liberal Democrat vote led to there being the current Conservative government, could you explain the mechanics? Just where would a LibDem vote have helped elect a Conservative government? Let’s consider a constituency where the LibDem won. In most of those, the Conservatives were second and Labour well behind. So how could a LibDem vote in such a place have helped us get Cameron as PM? If the vote had gone to Labour or stayed at home, the result (assuming it was the vote that made the difference) would have been a Conservative MP rather than a LibDem. So it doesn’t apply there. What about where a LibDem won with Labour second? In that case, if the vote had gone to Labour or stayed at home, there would have been one more Labour MP and one less LibDem. But the combined number of Labour and LibDem MPs would have been the same, so a Labour-LibDem coalition would still not have been viable, so we would still have got a Tory-LibDem coalition. Only with one less LibDem MP to make it a little less Tory.

    So in reality, the only places where ‘voted Clegg got Cameron’ applies are those where the LibDems were third anyway, but the Tories won over Labour, because there it would be the case that someone who voted LibDem but would otherwise have voted Labour helped the Tory get elected. Well, the Liberal Democrats proposed a switch the the Alternative Vote system, which would have ended that problem. The people of this country voted, by two-to-one to reject it. So, there you go, it’s the people of this country by voting “No” to AV who have expressed that they want “Vote for Clegg get Cameron”.

  • Matthew Huntbach ” So, there you go, it’s the people of this country by voting “No” to AV who have expressed that they want “Vote for Clegg get Cameron”.”

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. The failure to secure a fairer voting system was absolutely deplorable and soul-destroying but we are where we are now so what should the Lib Dems do in terms of persuading voters to vote Lib Dem in 2015. Why should anyone vote Lib Dem given that they cannot win a government outright and in any Coalition they will find themselves in a very weak position, being massively outnumbered? Is the Campaign Slogan in 2015 going to be. “vote Lub Dem and we will curb the excesses of whichever of the two parties gets into power”? If not that, then what? I am interested in your personal views.

  • Why should anyone vote Lib Dem given that they cannot win a government outright and in any Coalition they will find themselves in a very weak position, being massively outnumbered?

    My sentence above is a genuine question, not having a dig at anyone so please read it in that vein.

  • David Allen 8th Jan '13 - 6:34pm

    Stephen Tall said:

    “I fail to see the purpose in detailed plans for 2015-16. Obviously I can see how they’re helpful for those responsible for spending departmental budgets. But as they’re almost certain to change post-May 2015 (even if the current Coalition were to continue) that seems a rather artificial way to offer confidence to the markets.”

    Bill le Breton points out that we have a rolling “fiscal rule” whereby we are always planning to eliminate the structural deficit in five years time, in much the same way as that permanent sign behind the bar promises “free beer tomorrow”. It is a nonsense, but a worrying nonsense. It shows that those in charge haven’t a clue.

    Remember 1997, when New Labour were elected with zero governing experience? “I’ve got some good news and some bad news” said Sir Humphrey. “The bad news is, you guys are going to have to plan a national budget all on your own, and yes, I can see you turning pale. The good news is , that nice Ken Clarke has already had a go at it, on the back of this envelope, so you could use that, if you like”. So they did, and Mr Clarke expressed his astonishment, as he had always intended to tear up the envelope and start again had he got himself re-elected.

    Now we have a coalition government which seems to be equally clueless, and has fallen back on the “free beer tomorrow” principle. As Bill comments, the main purpose of sticking to a simple fixed plan beyond 2015 seems to be to demonstrate that we the Coalition are all in this together, for 2015, 2016, 2017… and “in the year 2525″ too, it would seem!

    If it weren’t so, we would be hearing clear statements that today’s back-of-the-envelope projections beyond 2015 are just that, first-shot projections to help people make first-shot plans. We would hear Cameron promising that an overall Tory majority would allow him to produce all sorts of goodies which those pesky Lib Dems won’t let him. We would hear Clegg offering to do things differently on benefits, not just quibble with what name you call the people whose benefits you are cutting back.

    Why don’t we hear these things? Because both Cameron and Clegg want to cement themselves into permanent Coalition, that’s why. That is the “purpose in detailed plans” which Stephen rightly finds hard to see!

  • Tony Dawson 8th Jan '13 - 10:10pm

    @Matthew Huntbach :

    ” A government in which we were the leaf party would be VERY different from this one?”

    …..as opposed to a government in which we were the fig leaf party? :-)

  • Tony Dawson 8th Jan '13 - 10:15pm

    @Bill le Breton:

    “Clegg and Cameron are dependent on economic recovery being felt by most of the *voting* public by the spring of 2015 ”

    Bill, how do you see this? I see any economic recovery as helping Mr Cameron to get his Tory candidates to beat Lib Dem MPs. The media coverage of government economic policy is about 20:1 in respect of describing it as Tory-led with the Lib Dems bubbling along in the wake, tweaking a little here and there when Dave Cameron’s feeling nice to Nick. If the electorate as a whole like the results of the Coalition, it is pretty obvious where they are going to place their crosses.

  • David Allan “Because both Cameron and Clegg want to cement themselves into permanent Coalition, that’s why. That is the “purpose in detailed plans” which Stephen rightly finds hard to see!”

    The thing is, I don’t think the Tories would let that happen. On Conservative Home they really hate Cameron and also (sorry!) the Lib Dems. I think the 1922 Committee would be having a quiet chat with Cameron if he fails to secure an outright majority next time. Any whiff of a permanent alliance and he’s dead meat!

  • Bill le Breton 9th Jan '13 - 9:40am

    Morning Tony,

    I was trying to see ‘it’ from the leadership’s point of view (Not mine!) and how this would determine their thinking and action.

    I am not sure it is important to the leadership who gains most from any recovery. The perspective of their view has now to be *long term* – given the bleakness of the short term. That is human nature. Therefore the 2015 campaign becomes in their narrative a stepping stone – just as the 5 year economic plan slips, so the political plan or justification of ‘Coalition in the National Interest’ slips into 2020 and 2025.

    In such a bunker mind set, the numbers who survive 2015 is, as I said, less important than the overall outcome. Breasting the 326 tape by a combination of both Coalition parties becomes all that matters to them for the long run. To help there will be quiet accommodations in certain seats and in the organization of the two campaigns between LD and Cons (in an inverted echo of ’97 when LD and Labour campaigns were concerted).

    The performance of the economy is central to Cameron/Clegg’s claim that the pain of 2010- 2015 was worth it. The main plank of the Mid Term Review iterates that reduction of the deficit remains the priority (without any suggestion *yet* of accommodating monetary policy, though the arrival of Carney at the Bank may see this change and see a much better chance of substantial recovery).

    So two scenarios materialize, based on the two possible economic futures:-

    Without at the very least ‘green shoots’ being felt by *voters* I don’t think LD + Cons can gain a majority though sometimes the worse things are the more attractive the known to the unknown looks. (Non voters have been dropped out of consideration – viz last night’s vote). In this scenario a defeated Cameron and Clegg return to their parties to fight their demons in opposition.

    But, if 2013/14 brings 1% real growth in the economy and 2014/15 brings 2% the big mo kicks in and Osborne looks a safer option to a majority of those voters than Balls. It may be that this helps conservatives in LD/Con marginals but a long term view will see this as part of progress not part of regression. 326+ matters more in the leadership’s ‘driven’ mind than ‘our’ contribution to the total.

    (However, do not underestimate the rapidity of recovery that could come to a currency issuer like the UK from highly accommodating monetary policy eg Japan today and even the UK post ERM.)

    A win for the Coalition (even if Cons were to have +326) would be seen as an endorsement of the ‘putting politics behind us in the national interest approach’ and the LDs would be invited to continue as members of a 2nd administration. This still works for Cameron, especially with the Europe question bearing down on him.

    Either way this would be ratified by Federal Exec and Conference, however close the votes – decision time for the losers. (Asquith/LG ?)

    It is highly likely therefore that with a weakened LD Parliamentary Party a merger might be suggested a la 1987/88 – all in the national interest of continuing the recovery against a very uncertain world outlook. Even with a sizable Parliamentary Party (thanks to protection during the campaign) a merger might very well be promoted.

    This process may precede or follow a pro European alliance in a Referendum campaign.

    ‘Good boys and girls’ who lost in 2015 would be found homes in 2020 or in by-elections or through the Upper House.

    I am sorry these posts are so long, but I sense the shape of the future is becoming clearer.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Jan '13 - 2:38pm

    Phyllis

    Why should anyone vote Lib Dem given that they cannot win a government outright and in any Coalition they will find themselves in a very weak position, being massively outnumbered?

    So you would PREFER it now if we had a purely Conservative government? You PREFERRED the purely Labour government we had 1997-2010 to what we might have had if there had been a Labour-LibDem coalition?

    These are not rhetorical questions either.

  • Matthew Huntbach ” So you would PREFER it now if we had a purely Conservative government? You PREFERRED the purely Labour government we had 1997-2010 to what we might have had if there had been a Labour-LibDem coalition?”

    Me personally, no. I’ve long been an advocate of Proportional Representation so that everyone’s vote counts. Here where I live, our vote has never counted. I was briefly very excited that we might finally get rid if FPTP.

    However, it seems to me that, as you have a keen insight into what the party has done wrong in government so far, you may have some ideas on the way forward as we approach 2015. I know you are ‘on strike’ but if you were still canvassing on doors in 2015 I wonder what you would say to voters as a positive way forward. I think many people would disbelieve you if you say simply that people should vote for Lib Dems to restrain whoever is in power. You see, Tory voters don’t want you to restrain their party and the leadership has told left leaning voters to go back to Labour. So what s a sensible way forward for right-thinking Lib Dems who wish to reclaim their party?

  • “Matthew Huntbach ” So you would PREFER it now if we had a purely Conservative government? You PREFERRED the purely Labour government we had 1997-2010 to what we might have had if there had been a Labour-LibDem coalition?””

    There is a case that the purely Labour 97-01 government delivered more constitutional reform than the 2010-15 Lib Dem influenced coalition.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Jan '13 - 11:16pm

    Phyllis

    You see, Tory voters don’t want you to restrain their party and the leadership has told left leaning voters to go back to Labour. So what s a sensible way forward for right-thinking Lib Dems who wish to reclaim their party?

    “Back to Labour”? I am a left leaning voter and have never been a member of Labour, and never voted Labour in all my life (apart from once at a local election when there was no Liberal candidate).

    However, yes, it is because the leadership and those close to it are saying such things that I am “on strike”. I am not going to go out and campaign for the party while I am being undermined and abused in that way by its leadership.

    If I were working in an area where the local Liberal Democrat candidate was a vigorous opponent of Clegg and the Cleggies, I’d be knocking and doors and telling people that.

    If I were in an area where the local politics is Conservative v. LibDem, I’d be saying as I have been here that I feel the Liberal Democrats have been moderating the Conservatives, so it is important to go out and support them in a constituency where if they don’t win the Conservatives do. One exception – if I lived in Yeovil, I’d vote Conservative for the first time in my life, since I would regard the defeat of the sitting supposed “Liberal Democrat” member for that constituency as a blessing for my party and the country.

  • Matthew Huntbach

    So what s a sensible way forward for right-thinking Lib Dems who wish to reclaim their party?

  • Tony Dawson “I see any economic recovery as helping Mr Cameron to get his Tory candidates to beat Lib Dem MPs”

    I do too. If there is a recovery the Tories will say they are the party of economic competence. Unfortunately Lib Dems will get the flack from their own voters for Danny Alexander constantly popping up announcing unpleasant policies but the Tories will be credited with any recovery. Lib Dems are in a no-win situation.

    Bill le Breton – what you say does make sense and also explains why the Leadership seems relaxed about the loss of voters including left-leaning voters. This has hitherto perplexed me. However, the Tory right-wing would not stomach any such alliance. They hate the Coalition.

  • @ Big Dave=No, the public would have hated us even more than they do now. What you need to realise is that a vast majority of the English (English) public are conversative with a small ‘c’. So this means that should the Lib Dems stand there and act all bullish all it would do is make the Coalition look weak, disjointed and unfit for purpose. You need to remember the Tory party hate this Coalition more than we do and Clegg is therefore trying to do the balancing act of stopping the worst of the insane Tory policies, getting through a few of our own, all while also ensuring that the Coalition does not fall apart. Yes, those 57 MPs could rebel on a lot of things and have stopped many Bill and then what do you get? Well look across the ocean at the USA and you will have some idea of what you get when parties just block each other all day rather than working together to at least try and come to some sort of compromise.

    What a lot of people forget is that the Coalition was always, for Nick Clegg at least, about proving that tribal policies was not the only way and that policies based on negotiations and compromise could work. Now yes, we have a lot of right wing policies, but I am always confused as to why this shocks people, we also have a lot of Conservatives sitting in Government. However, I suspect that by the time we see those policies, they have almost certainly been knotted down substantially from what they first were and that is where our victories come. Now, I accept that the problem is that most do not see this and those that do are in the Westminster bubble, meaning they probably do not count anyway, but still, that is why Nick Clegg has not been weak, he has been trying to make the marriage work with a somewhat, very reluctant partner as he believes if we can make this Government work, then maybe we can make Coalition a thing which sticks in British politics and if it does, then maybe the Liberal Democrats can have more open victories in the future, when politics are more balanced.

    @ Hywel, please do not tell me that you consider those desecrations to be actual constitutional reform?

  • Phyllis,

    “The thing is, I don’t think the Tories would let (permanent coalition) happen. On Conservative Home they really hate Cameron and also (sorry!) the Lib Dems. I think the 1922 Committee would be having a quiet chat with Cameron if he fails to secure an outright majority next time. Any whiff of a permanent alliance and he’s dead meat!”

    That may be fair comment, though the loud comments on ConHome may not necessarily outweigh quieter Conservatives who can see the advantages of staying in government any which way that works. So, I don’t expect Cameron or Clegg to boast too loudly about their permanent alliance in public, though come to think of it, this week’s stuff about ever-closer unity of purpose (or whatever exact phrase was used) comes pretty close. No, they will act as a pair of consenting adults in private, and expect us all to provide a tolerant response when the alliance gets renewed again and again….

    “So what’s a sensible way forward for right-thinking Lib Dems who wish to reclaim their party?”

    I have had a shot at this question here:

    http://www.libdemvoice.org/government-wins-vote-on-benefits-uprating-bill-32550.html#comment-235265

    In summary – Clegg has issued a challenge – Knuckle under, or leave the Lib Dems, or accept that the Lib Dems must split! So we must answer – If you won’t resign, then we’re ready to go for your third option.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Jan '13 - 11:09am

    Phyllis

    So what s a sensible way forward for right-thinking Lib Dems who wish to reclaim their party?

    You know what it is.

    I have been banging on like this since the coalition was formed in the hope that others in my party will join me. I accept the reason why the coalition was formed and I defend it. I reject the way it has been promoted by the party leadership which I believe has been hugely damaging to the party. I believe, and I have said so, that the party leadership has shown a complete lack of competence in almost every aspect of the job. Therefore it needs to be got rid of.

    Members of the party need to be clear about this and stand up and say it. Clegg (see for example his interview in the Independent at the time of last year’s Autumn conference) tries to conflate these two issues, making out that anyone who criticises his leadership is someone who lacks the sense of reality to see why the coalition was formed. That is why I make clear I accept the formation of the coalition to show him wrong and illogical on that – it is perfectly possible to accept the reasons for forming the coalition but still to believe we have been very badly led by someone who is clearly not up to the job.

    The appointment of the most right-wing person possible to chair the group forming the next party manifesto is another demonstration of complete lack of competence or liberal thinking. Liberals accept a diversity of opinion and accept the idea of being fair to all sides and of reaching the best compromise acceptable to all. So that means things like ensuring non-biased chairing, putting aside ones personal preferences in order to be seen to be fair to all. One must be SEEN to be fair. Appointing Laws was the opposite of this – it will be seen to be blatantly unfair, blatantly using one’s leadership position to advance one’s own view rather than to be the servant of those one leads. It will cause more damage to the party since it just feeds the attacks on us and the disillusionment which is causing so many to stop supporting us.

    If member of the party want their party back they must stand up and OPPOSE all this.

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