Opinion: It’s the economy stupid

The announcement on Friday that the UK economy contracted again in the last quarter of 2012 offers a damaging blow to the Government, and our leadership in particular, who have rightly and continually reaffirmed during this parliament that generating economic growth is by far their greatest priority.

And so it should be.  Not only is the economy considered by far the most important issue for the public at large, but more crucially, a growing economy would do more than anything else to improve the collective well being of society, making things like the Government’s spiteful raid on benefits seem relatively minor.

However, the problem of the looming triple dip recession presents the Liberal Democrats with great problems. Not only does it suggest that our leadership has shown the wrong judgement on the biggest issue of the day, but it also blows a hole in attempts to portray the Party as more economically literate than Labour and more compassionate than the Conservatives in 2015.

This narrative, with echoes of the SDP Liberal Alliance, offering a back handed compliment to the Tories’ economic competence, has seemed highly questionable to some of those who believe the Conservatives are far less well placed as Liberals to help increase the productive capacity of the economy. See historic Conservative opposition to shifting taxation onto unearned income; their silence over state backed capitalism, such in our banking sector, and their fickle support for open markets, evident in the recent restrictions on the number of foreign students studying at our universities, one the UK’s biggest export industries. Likewise, some may question the back handed compliment to Labour’s compassion. However, regardless of any previous thoughts on this campaign narrative, defining ourselves in opposition to our opponents in this ways now seems simply too implausible to be put the country after two and half years of almost continual downgrades to predicted growth, and the ignominy of a triple dip.

The Party must therefore come up with a fresh vision for the future upon which to campaign in 2015, and if it is to have credibility, the Parliamentary Party must rethink its corporate approach to economic policy, and allow differences with its coalition partners in this area to be known.  We should not be short on ideas, with dissenters from the Government’s current economic orthodoxy within the Parliamentary Party, and outside of it, such as ‘Plan C’, authored by Dr Prateek Buch, and published by the Social Liberal Forum last year. Unsurprisingly, we also have positions on economic policy put forward by the Party in the run up to the 2010 election to draw from. With trust having been placed at the centre of our last two General Election campaigns, the Party should in turn also then seriously consider who are best placed to articulate that vision.

If we instead do not change tack and the electorate judge us on the economy, as we have continually invited, then we will have failed by both our and the public’s most important measure.

 

* Paul Pettinger is a Liberal Democrat member in the Cities of London and Westminster local party. He was formerly a Party SAO employee and District Councillor.

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32 Comments

  • This is what we call noise….

    Deeply misleading scaling.

  • Bill le Breton 29th Jan '13 - 9:30am

    Good luck with this Paul.

    Economic Policy Options open to the Lib Dems:
    1. Present policy – remove the structural deficit in the coming 5 years
    2. The Redwood/Fraser Nelson policy – we haven’t yet done austerity, so further cuts and clean out the stables i.e. force banks to call in bad loans and kill off zombie firms, freeing up resources for new enterprises
    3. Increase fiscal stimulus/reduce pace of deficit consolidation; increase government expenditure on infrastructure (housing, green stuff, transport, communications) and lower taxes (on employment and least well off) N.B. if we did this and did not change the Bank of England mandate the MPC would offset this stimulus with monetary tightening.
    4. Adopt pure Market Monetarism, change Bank’s mandate to NGDP level targeting or Inflation + and force it to deepen and widen QE i.e. buying commercial paper as well as gilts (see Posen at Treasury Select Committee last week to see how King conspired against this for Darling and for Osborne)
    5. A mixture of 3 and 4 – relax the target, broaden and intensify QE, reduce pace of deficit consolidation, use Capital Economic’s calculation for output gap and fund tax cuts/infrastructure projects

    My assessment is that the principal economic decision takers in the Liberal Democrats – Clegg, Laws, Alexander, Cable, Davey (and their advisers) would each choose a different selection from those above.

    It is a pity that, as Paul writes above, we haven’t taken a distinctive stand, but this could well be because of this difference in opinion among the key players. They need to create time to have that debate among themselves – for all our sakes.

    A great shame that Conference Committee could not frame a motion that allowed a debate on this and an AV vote!

    As you all should know, I’m a 5, or as it were a 4+ a kick start.

  • Richard Dean 29th Jan '13 - 10:31am

    How accurate are the figures for growth? If this was a graph in my scientific discipline, I’d say it looks like near-zero growth for two years with a bit of random (uncontrollable?) scatter.

    Related to this, what type of fine-tuning is possible for these low numbers? For instance, 0.6% corresponds to something like 10 billion, doesn’t it? Given the natural variability of an economy, plus the vicissitudes of external markets, plus the probably slow response of economies to stimuli and anything other than major shocks, is it realistic to expect government to be able to control growth this accurately?

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Jan '13 - 10:47am

    We needed to have made clear at the start that a coalition does not mean abandonment of one’s previous policies. It means reaching a compromise because one believes a compromise, even if it means giving up some of one’s ideals, is better than complete deadlock. It also means acceptance of the will of the people as expressed in the electoral result, therefore that compromise may involve elements with which one disagrees but accepts because those who agreed with then won more electoral support.

    The coalition was not founded on the joint belief in extreme austerity measures, as was claimed by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian on Saturday. That was not its raison d’être as he put it. It was founded on the fact that, apart from a Conservative-Labour coalition which was clearly not going to happen, it was the only viable stable government. We fought the election explicitly saying that putting deficit reduction before everything else would be a mistake for the very reasons we now see to be correct – it introduces a climate of fear and a battening down in which people are less willing to engage in the activities that would cause economic growth, and so every penny saved on reducing the deficit is lost in lost taxation revenue. However, we lost. The Conservatives won five times as many MPs as us. They had a platform of putting deficit reduction first, and a belief that cutting taxes for the wealthy was what would get economic growth going and so was worthwhile even if it meant even deeper spending cuts. We had no choice but to form the coalition because of the balance in Parliament, we had to accept the will of the people, which they confirmed a year later when they rejected electoral reform and supported the principle that there should be distorted representation which would weaken third parties (i.e. us) and strengthen the party with the most votes (i.e. the Conservatives).

    The balance of the two parties in the coalition makes it clear that its overall thrust must be in the direction of the larger of the two parties. We should never have let the impression grow that it was anything other than that. We should never have given the impression that we had changed our mind on economic policies. The leadership of our party has no mandate to do that. The agreement for the coalition as expressed through our party’s democratic mechanism was not an agreement that we now thought the Conservatives’ economic policies to be better than those on which we fought the election. It was an agreement that we accepted the reality of democratic government, that we had to work constructively within the framework that the 2010 general election gave us.

    For the sake of there being a stable government, the sort of decisive government resulting from distorted representation which was such a strong feature of the victorious “No” campaign in the referendum, enthusiastically backed by many prominent Labour politicians as well as Conservatives, we have had to concede to the Conservatives’ economic ideas, having influence only on the fringes of them, and influence commensurate with our MPs forming just one sixth of the coalition’s Parliamentary representation.

    So the coalition is a somewhat odd thing, as it is not the form of coalition we would want, with our support of proportional representation which would make the two parties in it much more equal in representation and so us much more able to push it towards our policies, our ideal would be a very different coalition even accepting the votes cast – our complete ideal, of course, would be an entirely Liberal Democrat government. We should have said this at the start. To promote something as one’s ideal when it is not is poor tactics, because if it does not work out well you have lost the defence “It was a compromise, what was achievable under the circumstances”, and you have greatly damaged the case for your ideal if people are wrongly led to believe what they see is it.

    To say “our leadership has shown the wrong judgement on the biggest issue of the day” suggests it has a choice it could make. It did not. It did not have the choice to be able to put in place the economic policies on which it fought the election. It was not even in the situation where it could negotiate with both the other two major parties and form a coalition with whichever was more sympathetic to them. Its only choice was to form the current coalition or let a state of complete political deadlock exist, which inevitably would have been ended by a second general election in which we would be the biggest losers.

    I appreciate that speaking out directly against the economic policies of the lead coalition partner would not have been sensible early on, but it was not necessary to give the impression of vocal support for them. It was not necessary to pretend we had more influence in the coalition than we have, to give the impression as perhaps the most badly thought out publicity line coming from our party’s leadership (in the broader sense, I do not mean just the Parliamentary leader) put it, that the coalition is 75% Liberal Democrat. Instead we should quietly have dropped lines about necessary compromise in accord with the democratic will, which we should now be picking up to be able to say to the people of this country “We are now half-way through this predominantly Conservative government. Now you have seen what the Conservatives are about, perhaps you regret voting for them. What we wanted was something different, but in 2010 we did not get the support needed for us to be able to put it in place. We have, for the sake of democracy, supported the government you voted for in 2010, the only government that could have arisen out of the votes cast in 2010 using the system of representation we have and you gave support to in 2011, though it is not our preferred system. When the next election comes, as it must by 2015, we will be able to offer you the chance of something different.”

  • Quote – “We have, for the sake of democracy, supported the government you voted for in 2010, the only government that could have arisen out of the votes cast in 2010…” which was a moral choice, as was staying in coalition despite the mounting evidence (y’know, from that pesky source known as reality) that economic policies are not working (oh, and not forgetting the oppressive, demeaning sanctions now being imposed on benefit claimants, especially disabled claimants).

    As for the macro-economic policy, most of the options aired here seem to determinedly veer away from actually going to the root of the problems, the poisonous sociopathic behaviour of the financial sector and the various sucking pits of toxic derivatives still sitting inside various bank balance sheets. Never mind what’s inside the burgers, what’s inside the banks! And just as importantly, lets drop the endless chewing on the deficit bone and start looking hard at the debt. And to know what we owe and who to we need to audit the national debt and give a full accounting.

  • To me still the oddest aspect of lib dem policy was Cleggs oppostion to austerity before the election (“no serious economist agrees with it”) and his change of mind either during or after the election because, he says, of the Greece experience. It left people like myself, against austerity policies but voting lib dem because of their policies, very angry indeed. In fact I would much rather he apologised for that than student tuition fees. Incidentally Clegg was not truthful when he said that coalition intrastructure spending after the election was the same a labours planned spending. It was 8% less!

  • Sticking a ruler across that graph, its clearly a slowly rising trend plus a lot of random variation. That doesnt relly back your argument.
    The issue in 2015 will not be about which party can wave a magic wand, it will be about who is trusted more to help Britain recover. Right now more voters trust the Coalition than Labour, that may change.

  • Peter Watson 29th Jan '13 - 1:37pm

    @paul barker “Sticking a ruler across that graph, its clearly a slowly rising trend plus a lot of random variation. That doesnt relly back your argument.”
    That’s assigning an awful lot of significance to the apparent outlier, the Olympic quarter of Q32012. I’d love to know where you’d extrapolate that rising trend for Q12013, especially bearing in mind that we’ve had a bank holiday and the wrong type of snow. Balls has been giving Osborne the “flatlining” hand-gesture in Parliament (not the gesture I’d choose, given the chance ;-) ) and the government’s economic performance manages to make Balls look prescient.

    ColinW is right to emphasise the importance of scaling, and also where we decide to start with presenting this sort of data. A similar graph over a longer period (e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21193525) shows that Lib Dem critics would start a year earlier and point to 5 successive quarters of growth which ended in the second quarter of coalition government. The competence of the government over economic growth can also be called into question when considering the economic forecasts that have repeatedly been downgraded and missed over that time, the double-dip recession that we were assured would not happen, etc. Indeed, it would be interesting to see on the same graph as actual GDP the OBR forecasts that have been made since 2010.

  • Bill le Breton 29th Jan '13 - 2:28pm

    Peter here is the actual GDP compared to the OBR forecast 2010 (emergency budget) http://touchstoneblog.org.uk/2013/01/gdp-figures-the-long-slump/obr-versus-outturn-2/

  • Liberal Neil 29th Jan '13 - 2:47pm

    “a growing economy would do more than anything else to improve the collective well being of society”

    Is that true? Haven’t recent periods of growth tended to coincide with a widening gap between rich and poor?

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Jan '13 - 3:09pm

    paul barker

    The issue in 2015 will not be about which party can wave a magic wand, it will be about who is trusted more to help Britain recover. Right now more voters trust the Coalition than Labour, that may change.

    Indeed, I see this as the underlying problem. A lot of the criticism of the coalition, such as that coming from Mike Cobley, is based on the assumption there is a magic wand whoever is in government could have waved, and the Liberal Democrats have conspired in it not being waved.

    This magic wand belief combined with the idea that the Liberal Democrats have discredited third party politics is leading to the supposition that there is a simple way out of the problem – vote Labour next time, and they for sure will wave that magic wand. Or even worse than that, sit at home and say “Politics is all evil, so I’m going to thcweam and thcweam until I’m thick unless you politicians wave that magic wand”. Which actually results in politicians thinking “Well, if you aren’t going to vote, there’s no point in me taking account of what you’re saying”. You may think this is evil, but it’s sensible – if you try to come up with a whole load of policies which meets Mike Cobley’s concerns and the result is that those who do turn out to vote don’t vote for you, and those who don’t turn out to vote still think of you as one those nasty politicians and so don’t vote for you because they don’t vote for anyone, you might as well not have bothered.

    The reality is that if we are to turn things round we must do so with policies that hurt – just as much as the failing policies which aren’t working well now are hurting, but they will hurt different people. The people they will hurt will be the people who most consistently turn out to vote – the comfortably housed, those confidently waiting for a big dollop of inheritance cash, those who are in safeish jobs where it still looks like there’s a climbable ladder to the top, those who are not comfortably housed but believe themselves to be on the bottom rung of a climbable housing ladder, those who want to be able to drive their car where and when they like, those who don’t want any more housing, factories or anything else built in my back yard, thank you very much.

    I don’t see that Labour has anything like the guts to tackle this, and I do see when the Liberal Democrats have suggested it in the very timidest of ways, such as Vince Cable’s “Mansion Tax” they’ve been shot down for it.

  • , those who want to be able to drive their car where and when they like,

    Building roads would appear to involve spending on infrastructure, and unlikely to hurt those who want to be able to drive their car where and when they like. As for the rest: the trouble is that if you are going to hurt people to boost the economy, you wantto do so at the beginning of a Parliament, so thet they have forgotten by the time of the next election.

    It would have been much less dangerous to risk the NIMBY lobby at the start of the Parliament. Perhaps the real problem was the strength of the NIMBY lobby within the governing parties, rather within the electorate.

  • David Allen 29th Jan '13 - 6:00pm

    Matthew Huntbach said:

    “The coalition was not founded on the joint belief in extreme austerity measures, as was claimed by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian on Saturday. That was not its raison d’être as he put it. It was founded on the fact that, apart from a Conservative-Labour coalition which was clearly not going to happen, it was the only viable stable government. We fought the election explicitly saying that putting deficit reduction before everything else would be a mistake for the very reasons we now see to be correct ”

    Matthew, I’m sorry, but it is not Freedland who is trying to rewrite history here. Clegg repeated ad nauseam, until everybody understood and remembered, that the financial wolves would gobble us up unless the reckless Mr Brown was immediately replaced with a financially responsible government who would tackle our terrifying deficit. To talk about a “viable stable government”, without recalling the hysterical atmosphere in which Clegg and Cameron rushed to form it, is, I’m afraid, misleading spin. You might personally have signed on to the deal solely because you thought governmental stability was a good thing in itself. Clegg, Cameron and Osborne didn’t.

    And yes, we campaigned against sadomonetarism at the election, and yes, now we are starting to say the same lines again, but, there was just that little gap in between, wasn’t there, when we rather blotted the copybook? When we ate Vince Cable’s words about stimulus and growth, and belched out the desperate need to make panicky cuts, quickly, before anybody might have time to think differently.

    It’s tuition fees all over again, isn’t it? Except, I suppose, that we might be improving our act. Clegg recently admitted that we had got it wrong when we cut capital spending too fast. A simple admission of a mistake. No bombast, no special pleading, just a demonstration that we can – sometimes – learn to do better when we get things wrong. Well Nick, you’ve got a long way to go, but that’s the right way to win back trust.

  • Tony Dawson 29th Jan '13 - 9:03pm

    The graph is probably affected as much by measurement and stocking/de-stocking errors as by any significant reality-change. The only useful figure from those stats is the average (mean) which is a fraction above zero.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Jan '13 - 10:35pm

    David Allen

    Matthew, I’m sorry, but it is not Freedland who is trying to rewrite history here. Clegg repeated ad nauseam, until everybody understood and remembered, that the financial wolves would gobble us up unless the reckless Mr Brown was immediately replaced with a financially responsible government who would tackle our terrifying deficit

    My recollection is that this justification came afterwards. There were talks with Labour and with the Conservatives after the election, but the reality was that a coalition with Labour was not viable in terms of numbers or willingness on their part. However, I don’t recall it being rejected AT THAT TIME on the grounds that we naturally preferred the Conservatives to Labour – if that was the so, why were there even attempts to negotiate with Labour? Neither do I recall the coalition being put forward at the Special Conference of our party which agreed it (I was not there, so I am open to correction) as PRIMARILY about agreeing with the Conservatives on austerity.

    It was all part of the appallingly bad playing of an already bad hand that after that Clegg and those around him started putting forward the idea that the coalition was a choice based on ideological agreement rather than necessity. Even if he believed this, simple political sense ought to have told him it was going to be difficult for our voters, and therefore it would be a good idea to try and keep a bit of distance from it.

  • Matthew Huntbach “if that was the so, why were there even attempts to negotiate with Labour”

    To strengthen the Lib Dems hand in negotiations with the Tories. . As you point out, the numbers did not make a Lib-Lab Coalition possible.

  • @Paul Barker
    Instead of a ruler try putting the figures into excel, plotting a scatter graph and adding a linear trendline, it’s a bit more accurate than a ruler…. And shows a slight downward trend. In truth it’s too short a data set to be really useful but if we talk about trends based on it we should be accurate.

  • jenny barnes 30th Jan '13 - 9:01am

    Well Nick, you’ve got a long way to go, but that’s the right way to win back trust.

    Easily broken, hard to repair.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Jan '13 - 10:01am

    ad

    Building roads would appear to involve spending on infrastructure, and unlikely to hurt those who want to be able to drive their car where and when they like.

    I had in mind increasing taxes on petrol, for environmental reasons and to raise money. Large scale infrastructure work, in any case, is not something that’s going to be delivered in one Parliament. Which is why it’s easier to cut than spending in services which are being used immediately.

    As for the rest: the trouble is that if you are going to hurt people to boost the economy, you wantto do so at the beginning of a Parliament, so thet they have forgotten by the time of the next election.

    Yes, but that’s what the current government THOUGHT it was doing. The assumption was that with the Tories back in power, and cuts in tax on top earnings, all those rich people would work their magic and the economy would be booming by 2015. Well, it’s been tried, and it hasn’t happened, has it?

    That is why the Liberal Democrat leadership should have been much more cautious about the way it presented the coalition at its formation. I’ve put the case, repeatedly since 2010, that the coalition had to be formed and I accept its formation because the situation in Parliament left us with little alternative – a minority Tory government WOULD in my view have engineered things to win another general election a few months later, pulling together a Labour-Tory-righwing-press alliance to destroy the Liberal Democrats in that election. However, we should have covered ourselves against the inevitable failure of Tory policies to deliver, by being much less enthusiastic about it, and we should have made clear that the terms on which the coalition was formed are not terms we are happy with, since they were on the basis of an electoral system which savagely reduces the influence we ought to have had on the basis of votes cast for the two coalition parties.

    To me, this is just playing the political game. You must always have your get-out clause. If you are weak it is better to admit it than pretend otherwise and then be condemned because you are unable to deliver. Anyone who fought on the general election platform we put in 2010, and believed it, ought not to have believed the policies put forward and implemented by the Tories in this government would work. We put the case against those policies in May 2010. Led by Nick Clegg, we stated that extreme austerity to cut the deficit quickly would be counter-productive because it would destroy demand, slow down the economy into reverse, and thus the gains from the cuts would be lost in lost tax revenue.

    We have seen precisely this happening. We should be able to say now “Look, we told you so”. Clegg’s readiness to push onto the Liberal Democrats a national public image line which would make sense only if Tory policies did work and there was a real turnaround by 2015 calls into question whether he sincerely believed the platform he headed in 2010. Which brings me back to what I have ALWAYS said about Clegg. I said it about him when he was being pushed by all and sundry as “obviously the best person for the leadership, such a great communicator”, that what others saw as great communication seemed to me to be play-acting, he has always struck me as a man who says the lines he thinks the ought to be saying in the position he is in, rather than someone who says them out of deep belief for them, or great insight which has led him to them. I continue to see him as like the public schoolboy who has been picked by the Headmaster to play the part of “Liberal Democrat Leader” in the school’s mock election. He could equally well have been picked to play either of the other parts, but this is the one assigned to him. He plays the part gamely, he mugs up on it, diligently studying what these LibDems are all about, and says what he thinks he ought to say in that part. But somehow it doesn’t come across very convincingly – an impressive performance at the start, but it tails off later when the other boys turn on him, because he hasn’t thought through these things deeply, he hasn’t arrived at them through deep conviction and experience. When pushed beyond the script, he can’t but help fall into the assumptions that one of his personal background naturally falls into, which are Tory assumptions.

  • Peter Watson 30th Jan '13 - 11:52am

    @Matthew Huntbach
    Once again I agree with pretty much everything you have written, and “Anyone who fought on the general election platform we put in 2010, and believed it, ought not to have believed the policies put forward and implemented by the Tories in this government would work.” hits the nail on the head.
    I wonder though what you (and others) think is the best way forward now since we cannot go back to 2010 and re-do it all properly. The leaders (and many on this site) have given the impression that Liberal Democrats “own” these policies now, so rowing back from them (even if moving in a direction more consistent with the principles on which they stood for election) might be difficult.

  • Phyllis,
    attempts to negotiate with Labour were investigated.

    Brown initially refused because he realised it meant he’d have to resign as PM, Balls and Miliband subsequently vetoed the possibility of coalition because that meant installing Clegg in No10 as there was no way a new Labour leader could be elected in time at the height of the crisis, and another ‘coronation’ of another doubly-unelected PM was wholly unacceptable.

    In hindsight the result of the 2010 election was that the country rejected Brown, and the earlier acceptance of Brown inferred rejection of Labour.

  • Oranjepan ” the result of the 2010 election was that the country rejected Brown”

    Not as much as they rejected Clegg, that’s for sure.

  • Liberal Eye 30th Jan '13 - 6:55pm

    On the substantive subject of this post I competely agree with Paul that we need to come up with a fresh vision for the future. In particular we must rethink our economic policy.

    The plain fact is that the Tories’ neoliberal analysis has been a disaster both over the last few decades – it’s what got us into this crisis – and in the shorter term where it’s obvious that the prescriptions it proposed simply don’t work. Tory economic policy is more akin to theology, and bad theology at that, than science. It is based on laughable assumptions, ignores any evidence that goes against its orthodoxy and is riddled with inconsistencies. It does, however, do one thing extremely well; it provides a rationalisation and justification for those that want to keep all power and wealth for themselves. Indeed, that is really its only function so it’s hardly surprising if using its ‘insights’ as the basis on which to run the economy doesn’t work to well – except of course for the 1% who continue to do very well indeed.

    Individual liberals are on the right track with, for instance, LVT but for some reason anything that steps noticably outside the established consensus is unlikely to finish up in official policy. It seems as if the chief ambition of some in the party is to join the establishment rather than seriously challenge it.

    That brings me to Matthew Huntbach’s description of Clegg as a play actor. This certainly rings true to me and means we also have to rethink how the party leader is chosen in the first instance and held to account thereafter. Otherwise we will NEVER get a rethink of economic policy along lines that actually relate to the real world and might challenge the status quo.

  • paul barker 30th Jan '13 - 6:59pm

    @Phyllis, surely the point was that Labours vote went down while the Libdem share went up, something that happened at every previous general Election for 13 years. Leaders at Elections are usually judged on whether their party was going up or down, not on what sort of party they were leading.
    On the point of the voters rejection , no British party has ever won a majority of votes so all the leaders have been rejected, every time.

  • Tony Dawson 30th Jan '13 - 8:14pm

    @Oranjepan :

    “the result of the 2010 election was that the country rejected Brown”

    The result was nothing of the sort. ‘The country’ did not vote in any manner at all. Under our constitution, people vote for individual MPs in individual constituencies. Not all of the people by any means know this still, but you can see from their voting behaviour that they largely understand this, otherwise no Lib Dem, Unionist or Nationalist MPs would ever get elected at all. The people of the constituencies concerned are not massively-different than others demographically, they choose those particular MPs for a variety of reasons but any thoughts of being involved in a government have never played any significant part.

    In most cases, people have a pretty shrewd idea who will come first or second place in their constituency. So many people vote ‘against’ the person or party they like the least if this is one of the ‘top two ‘ candidates in their constituency.

    The number of constituencies where anything other than a small minority of people believe, accurately, that their vote could seriously affect the likely composition of the UK government is about 150 out of over 600. In the rest, people’s knowledge (or collective guess) of their locality’s general voting preferences means that any vote cast there for either the party of government or the main party of opposition in any of those constituencies is not a choice which will in anyway affect the outcome of the parliamentary arithmetic and hence the government formation.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Jan '13 - 11:06pm

    Peter Watson

    I wonder though what you (and others) think is the best way forward now since we cannot go back to 2010 and re-do it all properly. The leaders (and many on this site) have given the impression that Liberal Democrats “own” these policies now, so rowing back from them (even if moving in a direction more consistent with the principles on which they stood for election) might be difficult

    We need some people who are prominent enough in the party to get some attention and who have the guts to do it to come forward and say it – we’ve been very badly led and we’ve had enough.

  • Matthew Huntbach said:

    “I continue to see (Clegg) as like the public schoolboy who has been picked by the Headmaster to play the part of “Liberal Democrat Leader” in the school’s mock election. He could equally well have been picked to play either of the other parts, but this is the one assigned to him. He ,,, says what he thinks he ought to say in that part. But somehow it doesn’t come across very convincingly – an impressive performance at the start, but it tails off later … because he hasn’t thought through these things deeply, he hasn’t arrived at them through deep conviction and experience. When pushed beyond the script, he can’t but help fall into the assumptions that one of his personal background naturally falls into, which are Tory assumptions.”

    There is a lot of insight here. I would only question the last line, which suggests that Clegg’s consistent and whole-hearted support for wholesale Tory marketisation of university tuition, health, and schooling is merely a kind of unthinking reflex response from a posh boy. I think it is a great deal more than that.

    Clegg, with many others, was part of the Orange Book Project which took hedge fund money to infuse the Lib Dems with a form of intellectual justification, through so-called “economic liberalism”, for a political shift from centre-left to centre-right. Not all those who contributed to the Book bought wholeheartedly into that Project. Clegg was one of those who certainly did. In his first Conference as Leader, he declared what he called his “big new idea”, which was “Big Permanent Tax Cuts”. This at a time when our economy had just been flung violently into reverse, a more-or-less balanced budget had suddenly turned into a massive deficit, and all the commentators were talking about the prospect of tax rises. It was clear, or should have been clear, that Clegg was announcing a deeply held conviction, a profound belief in a smaller State.

    Remember that all this was long before the election, long before the Coalition. It followed Vince’s very successful period as Acting Leader. Vince’s rational centre-left policies to tackle the crisis had enthused the nation. The obvious approach for a new Lib Dem Leader would have been to build on that legacy. Instead Clegg repudiated it.

    If Clegg still conveys an appearance of guilelessness, of being a nice guy lost in a complicated world, then he is still fooling people – even, to some extent, people like Matthew who oppose him. The evidence is that the nice-guy-lost act is one more piece of consummate play-acting. In truth, Clegg is a man of strong, if carefully hidden, conviction. That conviction is that the Lib Dems belong in a permanent governing alliance of the Right.

  • paul barker 30th Jan ’13 – 6:59pm
    @Phyllis, “surely the point was that Labours vote went down while the Libdem share went up, something that happened at every previous general Election for 13 years. ”

    Well, the Lib Dems lost seats which under the system in this country is what matters. I was actually implying that Oranjepan had no reason to gloat since the Tories and Labour do actually win elections. If Labour is so bad and Lib Dems are so wonderful, how come you haven’t managed to convince the electorate to vote for you in sufficient numbers to win you seats? And I don’t accept the usual argument of tribalism – that may have been true in the past but not any more. There are many floating voters out there.

    Finally, yes Labour’s vote share went down but that is normal when a party has been in power for any length of time. What do you think will happen to the Lib Dem’s share of the vote in 2015? I doubt it will increase!!

  • Matthew Huntbach “We needed to have made clear at the start that a coalition does not mean abandonment of one’s previous policies”

    Quite. I don’t think Lib Dems have realised yet quite what a time-bomb there is waiting for them when it comes to agreeing their next Manifesto. For instance what is the Party’s policy going to be in 2015 on say, tuition fees? The leadership can hardly row back now and say that they will still abolish tuition fees but this is likely to be what Conference will want them to do. The electorate is just not going to buy anything the Lib Dems put in their Manifesto anymore . Sorry but your leadership has ‘gone native’!

  • Paul Pettinger 31st Jan '13 - 11:53am

    Richard Morris is right – the Govt’s original priority was to tackle the deficit. However, its plan rested on a range of assumptions about growth, some of which both went against previous positions articulated by the Party and that have been proven a mistake. Only later did the emphasis on growth appear.

    I think between them, Matthew Huntbach and David Allen offer a devastating critique of our leader; he seems out of his depth, out of ideas, and is a tarnished brand. I can’t and won’t campaign on this Govt’s economic management, because I don’t agree with it, and as it would draw attention to an area of weakness, not strength. I am very disappointed that we are not set to have a much needed open debate at Conference about the economy. However, I suspect it is a debate the leadership would very much like to avoid, and the Party leadership does not represent many Liberal Democrats on many of the biggest issues, which is unsustainable. If we don’t make changes soon then electorate will deliver an election result that makes change inevitable.

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