Opinion: a worse government

What would a minority Conservative government look like?

It is now widely accepted, by Jack Straw among many others, that a coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats would, sadly, have been unworkable.

The numbers didn’t add up, we suffered real difficulty – whichever account you believe – negotiating with Labour, and there was the ever-present threat of nationalist lobbying.

So the alternative was a Conservative minority government.

And what would this government have been able to pass through parliament with the support of the next biggest party Labour? What policies would be implemented by a minority Conservative government with Labour’s blessing?

Academies. This is perhaps where we as a party have compromised the most. But under the worse-coalition, the flagship academies scheme would almost certainly have expanded and Labour’s policy would not stop private businesses taking over. [We can take some solace that the rest of our education policy is being followed through, with extra money for the pupil premium and an end to ContactPoint.]

Trident will be back. This would not be as uncertain as it is now. Both parties rejected plans to include it in a defence spending review in the run up to the General Election. They would probably have automatically signed over the money. But as it is, we have it being considered alongside MOD spending – a triumph and one which we had always fought for in our policy of looking for alternatives.

Prison solves everything would surely have been the mantra of a party which saw a rocketing prison population when in Government and the party of Michael Howard. Would Ken Clarke have even been appointed as Justice Minister, let alone been able to announce that prison doesn’t really work and argue against ‘banging up more and more people for longer’?

Nuclear power would have been on a happy run. Whatever you think of its merits (I am not a fan myself), nuclear power would indisputably make a return and would almost certainly be entitled to public money. Now, it is down to private money to build it, if it wants, without public loans to build new reactors or anything else.

VAT would probably have been raised to at least 19% – a coalition would have made this kind of compromise inevitable, and Darling had already prepared for 19% (even if Brown had blocked it). Given the stark opposition to a VAT rise from the Lib Dems, one can imagine some tough negotiations were had. Would they have been so tough if Labour had been negotiating, already planning 19%? Perhaps it could have gone even higher than 20%?

Capital Gains Tax. We had Labour MPs arguing against an increase of Capital Gains Tax, so that would remain in place at the low level it was (Labour increased it to 18% from 10%). In fact, Alistair Darling explicitly responded to Lib Dem proposals to match income and capital gains saying ‘I think that a lower rate is right’.

Control Orders; I can’t see these going. Every time the ‘annual renewal’ vote came up in the previous parliament, the Tories abstained, whilst Labour voted them through: 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Meanwhile, we voted against them, every time.

Child detention. Would the Tories have budged Labour who seemed so emphatically to reject negotiation on this? I know some Tories are vehemently opposed, but others strongly supportive of child detention. This could go either way to be honest – but it is certainly not as clear cut as it was with Liberal Democrat negotiation.

And would either party try to pursue Electoral reform… Nope. Not a cat’s chance in hell.

These are just some of the reasons why I am still a Liberal Democrat, and not a Labour Party supporter or Conservative.

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34 Comments

  • Tulloch Gorum 27th Aug '10 - 1:46pm

    “Nationalist Lobbying” would have got you on board with parties who oppose Trident and nuclear power, who are at least as comitted to civil liberties as yourselves and who opposed the Iraq War. The only concessions to devolved administrations would have been greater fiscal autonomy, something the Liberals should believe in as a federalist party.

  • Thanks Tulloch, you are of course right in part.

    But the main coalition partner strongly supports Trident and nuclear power and backed the Iraq war. I am not sure these parties are always ‘at least as comitted’ to civil liberties as we are and fiscal autonomy – something I personally do support, is not something I would have thought of as being the only concession demanded (given the power these parties would potentially have had).

    Either way, the option of such a coalition failed for a number of other reasons on top of this.

  • A fine article Henry. People need to understand that by the very nature of coalitions, compromise is inevitable. The people did not vote for 100% Liberal policies nor 100% Tory and so we cannot expect all our policies to be enacted, but by being in government the very excesses of the Tory party have been tamed. If we had let a minority Tory government gone ahead, we’d have looked nothing more than a fringe protest party and probably would have been blamed by the Guardian and others for allowing a right ring government to take power. They key point is to ensure that our independent voice is heard and that our own narrative is not silenced by the Tories. We will take a hit next year, but if by the end of the 5 years we have made some real liberal changes then a temporary hit will be worth it. We have to prove we can govern.

  • You’re right Niklas – I clearly shouldn’t have taken Darling’s word for it… http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debate/?id=2010-06-23b.307.2

  • Re: academies. Sadly our parliamentarians have compromised badly. As a party we did not compromise. Our own policy and the coalition deal should bring academies back under the strategic supervision of local authorities. Ironically cable TV ran a Yes Prime Minister repeat yesterday almost on this very topic – alleging that most education policy is a stitch up between the DFE and the teacher unions, with civil servants progressively pulling powers from local authorities and expanding the role of DFE and its satellite quangoes. Not much has changed in 20 years. Our party policy had already signed up to free schools and effectively academies – but with local authority strategic oversight. That’s exactly what the coalition deal says – but it has not been implemented, and indeed was sidelined in the rush to expand academies. It’s going to be important that the debate at conference focuses on this key issue of localisation and the big question mark about the implementation of the coalition deal.

  • so what is the lib dem addition to the tories plans for the nhs

    could some please tell me

    no democratic accountability

    the lib dems do need to get to grips with this awful privatisation lead NHS white pap
    er

    I know of no NHS staff who support this white paper (GPs are self employed)

  • David Allen 27th Aug '10 - 3:02pm

    I can’t see this as a realistic possibility. The options the Tories were looking at from the outset were a coalition with us, or a confidence and supply arrangement with us. They weren’t in their wildest dreams contemplating some sort of deal with Labour. So, analysing the outcome of such a deal is a bit science – fictional.

  • Thanks David, it is indeed counter-factual, but it is not science-fiction. Confidence and supply would leave all of these things open to debate in parliament and amendments would be down to parliamentary majority. So no deal between the Conservatives and Labour would have been needed, and I hope this wasn’t implied too strongly by my article.

  • David Allen 27th Aug '10 - 4:49pm

    Well, if a minority government made no deals with any of its opponents, surely different considerations woud apply. Difficult decisions such as Trident and nuclear power would probably just get ducked, as nobody would want the bad publicity with an immediate election always a risk. You’re probably on firmer ground on questions like control orders. But, who really knows what might have happened along the road we didn’t travel?

  • David, had there been no negotiating partners for the Tories’ “chosen options”, as you describe them, then moral pressure would (or could have been) brought to bear on them. They did not have a majority, bear in mind. NuLab policies and Tory policies were closer than Lib Dem / Tory policies. This could have made more sense either with or without Lib Dem support. It seems to me that either of the larger parties would have been obiged to look at an arrangement between them. I simply do not understand the reluctance, nay refusal by many to look at this proposal. It is not as if it is something that hasn’t happened among other coalition partners in other countries! We kept on about the “new politics” – that would have been “new”. And why would blame have uniquely been piled on us?

  • Could also have been argued that they may not have wanted to negotiate with us if the “Social Liberal” part of the party had formed the kernel of the leadership.

  • Yes, there has been some LibDem influence, however, soaking the poor, rubbishing hard working civil servants and privatising the NHS on the quiet are not principles I support as a liberal.

    This article is important for the areas that it doesn’t cover and after Nick Clegg’s attempts to redefine fairness, someone in the party needs to take him under their wing and remind him that the coalition is close to lost unless he does something on the policies that matter to people now.

    Anyway, do you really think Labour would have helped the Conservatives? Possible I suppose.

  • @Ben, thanks, in answer to ‘do you really think Labour would have helped the Conservatives’ I have to answer yes. They have helped each other in the past (often in the last parliament), and will do so again. I agree with some of your concerns – obviously there are things missing from this list, things I disagree with in the Budget in particular, and I am happy to count myself among the social liberal side of things.

    @Tim 13 and @David Allen – we will of course never know… This article represents a purely hypothetical situation.

    @George, you make an incredibly valuable point about joint-cabinet-responsibility. I can remember how happy so many of us were with Nick’s comments about Iraq, and his ‘gaffe’ about supporting a yes vote in the Welsh devolution referendum – it comes up on the doorstep frequently [eg: ‘Why does Nick look so happy with Cameron and agree with him all the time?].

    Maintaining our identity (I personally really don’t like the Tory policies of this coalition at all) and challenging the press reports of ‘splits’ and ‘tensions’ head on by saying “Yes, and what of it?” are all needed and maybe we could wring some further improvements out of the situation.

  • David Allen 27th Aug '10 - 6:06pm

    Tim13, your logic is impeccable, Tories and Labour should not have ruled out working together. In Germany the equivalent parties take a more grown-up attitude and they are prepared to cooperate. I just don’t see it happening here, that’s all. It is not our fault. It is not our fault that our opponents are so tribalist!

  • Patrick Smith 27th Aug '10 - 6:17pm

    MacBlog is absolutely right in his analysis and hits the nail directly on the head.

    My advice to L/D `Activists’ is to go over to Norwich and help in the Local Elections on 2/9.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 27th Aug '10 - 6:49pm

    “so what is the lib dem addition to the tories plans for the nhs”

    Well, remarkably, the Lib Dems initially negotiated an agreement that included democratic representation on Primary Care Trusts, and then decided to chuck that in the bin and go along with Lansley’s plans to abolish PCTs completely and hand over power to GPs.

    It’s this kind of thing that makes me very sceptical about claims that a minority Tory government would have been worse than what we have now.

    And in any case, a defence along the lines of “Things would have been much worse if I hadn’t joined in and been able to act as a moderating influence, Your Honour” hasn’t generally been considered favourably by the courts …

  • That’s right. You left-wing Party members hug yourselves better, it’ll hide the pain of what you’re now having to suck up from Cleggy and his Orange Book sycophants.

    Pure speculation – but we’re surely able to comment upon what we should have agreed – Confidence and Supply.

    What we would then have is a Coalition where our distinct identity could have been protected and emphasised. What would Confidence and Supply deliver?
    Schools Fuller debate on the evidence + aims of the Free Schools policy and a more fact-based analysis on the future of BSF. Academies continuing with greater private sector investment. Contact Point disappearing is being questioned by Social Services professionals now and would have had a fairer assessment under C+S.
    Defence To say that Liberals have triumphed on Trident is ludicrous. There is no evidence of this – and if there is not even Cleggy, the arch self-publicist – has tried to claim credit. Defence under C+ S would be nigh-on identical to what it is under the Coalition
    Law + Order Noticeable how you want to claim credit for a more Liberal prison policy whereas Clarke has maintained that his decision is basically based on funding. Also noticeable that you ignore the appalling policy of Clarke’s in dismantling the Court system.
    Nuclear Power Again, utter fantasy from you. Nuclear would have “a free run” without the Liberals? It is having a free run with Huhne steering the ship! The public subsidy means nought. Add onto that the slow but sure dismantling of the UK’s green commitments which again you ignore – and the Liberal ineffectiveness in power again shines.
    VAT I’m amazed you argue that the Liberals have had an effect on VAT policy. C+S would have meant this was dealt with properly. The Liberals capitulated on this in Coalition and it shames us all. I notice you decline to mention the disgraceful budget that Cleggy has supported shamelessly.

    I woudl go on but it is depressing me too much…We have lost our identity in order to support a Thatcherite dismantling of the State. C+S would have meant Liberals being able to stand proud, working in the National Interest and working against the ideological barbarism we’re now being asked to support.

  • Or, Patrick, Exeter, where I have been helping today.

    David A – I see your point, perfectly. I think I felt that May 7th onwards was a very special time in British politics, where things could have changed fairly radically, whereas I fear now, the only outcome of “Vote for Change” is to turn the clock back 30 years to Thatchernomics. Hope I am wrong…

  • so now the Coalition are to sack 3,000 nurses at NHS direct, this after the swine flu outbreak they did so much to minimise the impact of.

    Does Paul Burstow even know ???

    What are the Lib Dems in Governmnet allowing to go on in their name ??

  • I think the comments about Trident replacement are wrong in suggesting that the Lib Dems have been responsible for the uncertainty about the shape of the replacement system and its price-tag. The coalition agreement didn’t say anything about Trident and the defence review, and so Liam Fox has, rather foolishly, excluded Trident from the scope of the review. It has been George Osborne who has questioned the costs and insisted that no extra money will be found to pay for new nuclear weapons.

    The Lib Dems need to do much more to scale back and delay the Trident replacement project as i) we gained a lot of support for our position on Trident during the election (we now appear to be losing support as people perceive us as abandoning our progressive views on issues just such as this) and ii) does anyone really think the public are in favour of spending billions of pounds on new nuclear weapons at a time when local services are being axed?

  • The problem is that the public regards the areas that the Lib Dems fundamentally disagree with the Conservatives (i.e. the economy, public services and tax policy) as more important than the parts they agree (i.e. civil liberties), and the Conservative’s ideology makes it hard for them to offer more than token compromises on the economy.

    As such, I am broadly opposed to the government. Still, I’m not sitting here pretending the Lib Dems were left with any good options on the table post-election – arguably the Conservative coalition was the least worst option, even with the result of them having to support Thatcherite policies.

  • so when my gp decides to “save” some money to give a surplus and decides the budget is spent for the year can I thank the liberal democrats for “making it possible” to “save the country”?

  • The greatest advantage of engaging in confidence and supply for the Orange Tories would have been that Labour’s sensible policy of halving the deficit over four years would have continued to receive their support. That would have made it impossible for the Blue Tories to use the debt crisis as a justification for the destruction of the remaining parts of the public sector. By voting the more extreme parts of the Blue Tories’ economic policy down, along with Labour, the Orange Tories would have done real service to the people of this country and people would have expressed their gratitude to them at the ballot box when they came to cast their AV vote. That’s not going to happen now because the electorate know that they were betrayed and will vote to maintain First Past the Post to punish the Orange Tories for their betrayal. Now the Orange Tories will be remembered only as a bunch of charlatansand hypocrites who were willing to sacrifice any principle in order to get control of the paper clip department. Let me put it in a language you might understand —- if you had not entered coalition and relinquished your parliamentary vote you would have been in an excellent position to exercise real restraint on those whose credo is the survival of the fittest and you would not now be despising yourselves for your dissembling and total failure of integrity. This thread reinforces the notion that your head in the sand assumption that you exercise a restraining influence over the Blue Tories is a total chimera. Why don’t you have a word with Charlie Kennedy about it?

  • As Cleggster and his cronies seem determined to turn the Lib Dems into a 21st century version of the Liberal Nationals (aka National Liberals) we surely now need a grouping both in and outside parliament of real Liberal Lib Dems who are working to save the party from being subsumed by the Tories and to get out of this dreadful coaltion.
    Anyone want to start this – I’ll join!!

  • MacK.

    Utterly and completely to the point.

    Well said Sir.

  • It wasn’t jus the Lib Dems Labour didn’t want a coalition with. They certainly didn’t want one with the SNP. The so called rainbow coalition was never a runner.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Aug '10 - 12:13am

    Cuse

    What we would then have is a Coalition where our distinct identity could have been protected and emphasised. What would Confidence and Supply deliver?

    Er, “Supply”, meaning we would have to vote for their budget (i.e. all the cuts), and “Confidence” meaning we would have to support them in votes of confidence – which Labour would probably table at regular intervals linked to the worst of Tory policies. E.g. (hypothetical – please substitute whatever the Tories might put through especially if they didn’t have to negotiate with us first) “This House has no confidence in the government of Mr Cameron as it believes its policy of reintroducing hanging and flogging is cruel and will be disastrous”. We’d have to vote against that one.

    After a while, this would get tiring. The Tories would say “look, we can’t have this, a vote of confidence every few months, and us wondering whether the Libs would rat on us every time – let’s just call another general election and tell people it’s because we can’t govern unless they give us a clear majority, so vote out those pesky LibDem MPs”.

  • Thanks for all these comments [I have been unable to respond this weekend as I have been enjoying the Bank Holiday briefly]. The article had a very specific focus, so wasn’t covering all of the policy issues that ended up being discussed above, but some of the points – particularly [in my view] about the role of cabinet responsibility – I have found particularly interesting and helpful, so thank you. And the comments seem to have been mostly good natured.

    Cuse makes an interesting point about Confidence and Supply, but the tone of your comments (eg ‘hug yourselves better’ and ‘orange book sycophants’) is unhelpful. And MacK’s decision to refer to ‘Orange Tories’ is disappointing, and your comment lacks insight or new content.

  • Re nuclear, sorry but it was Con policy to not have public subsidy for new nuclear.

  • @LDK – possibly, but if the promise is kept this time, I am pretty confident it was our efforts as the Tories seem to have not lived up to this in the past – but fair point.

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