Opinion: Liberals must learn the lessons of Thatcher

It is a truth often acknowledged that Tony Blair and David Cameron, in moving their respective parties to the centre ground, left a gruelling obstacle on the road to a truly Liberal Britain.
But it’s not from those leaders that the next generation of Liberal Democrat’s must learn, rather it is from a leader who would regard liberalism as a dirty word, and many Liberal outcomes as inimical to her view of society, Margaret Thatcher.

The lesson for Lib Dems is that Thatcher understood that the less well off are just as aspirational as those born to wealth. The Tory method of helping to deliver these aspirations contained the eternal flaw inherent in all Tory policy of being too myopic to care about providing for those whose aspirations are not quite achieved, or indeed in ensuring that many of the obstacles placed before the less well off be removed.

The Liberal Democrats take great pride in being the party that will safeguard the safety net, and indeed we should make more of the fact that Liberals, from Lloyd George to Beveridge, did more than any other party to invent the concept of a safeguard.

But Liberal Democrats have often gotten the balance wrong, deciding that our party’s role should be to focus only on holding the safety net, while creating an environment in which the aspirational are driven away from us and into the arms of the Conservatives.

Thatcher understood the gut-need of many UK adults to own their own home, and won many working class voters to the Tory cause by allowing them to buy their council house. Many Liberal Democrats deride this as populism, yet connecting with voters on this rather visceral level is something the Liberal Democrats do very well at local level, but are failing to replicate at national level. That’s why many of our national electoral successes have been rooted in our local campaigning traditions.

Thatcher replaced the ugliness and emptiness of ‘class solidarity’ and associated rhetoric with the view that anyone could strive to be anything – this is closer to liberalism than traditional Toryism, and something which our party must reclaim.

This is the next step in the development of the Liberal Democrats at national level, is to become the party of the aspirational, even if those aspirations are more mundane than those which our predominantly educated middle class membership would identify.

The great divide between Liberal Democrats and the country was not caused by tuition fees or electoral reform, it’s deeper than that. We are seen as the party of “causes”. Instead we must be seen as a party which is on the same side as people’s dreams, however quotidian those dreams may be.

* David Thorpe is a member of the Liberal Democrats in Newham, and works for an economics publication.

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64 Comments

  • Al McIntosh 11th Jan '13 - 3:15pm

    Mrs T, who took the Scottish conservatives from a major party with 22 seats in 1979 to a fringe party with 11 seats in 1987 and thence to a joke party with 0 seats under John Major, is hardly a role model for electoral success for Scottish Liberal Democrats.

    The truth is that social values have diverged between Scotland and England over the last 40 years to the point that the only hope for bringing about a society based on social liberal values where no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity in Scotland is through a Yes vote in 2014 and Scottish independence.

  • I think the main lesson of Thatcherism is that never again should we be cowed into believing the doctrine that private ownership is always good and public always bad. Ideology like this, when it predominates over pragmatism, is often disastrous.

    The voters recognised this ages ago. But it is a lesson that many in the party, particularly at leadership level, are trying studiously to ignore.

  • “The truth is that social values have diverged between Scotland and England over the last 40 years”

    It is this manufactured, fictional sense of difference between Scotland and England (notice they never mention Northern Ireland or Wales, funny that) that the nationalists rely on as the bedrock for the case for separation.

    At the last UK election, over 50% of the electorate voted for left of centre parties (Labour + Lib Dems). Because of FPTP a majority government allying the two was not possible, but a progressive majority does exist in England, just as in the UK as a whole. So frankly, your idea of some cultural gulf between Scotland and England, with Scotland being held up as being some liberated, progressive moral paragon, doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Must try harder.

  • RC, At the last UK election, over 50% of the electorate voted for left of centre parties (Labour + Lib Dems).

    !

    The Lib Dems are not left of centre, at least not your MPs.

    The electorate might have thought they were, but Clegg has made very clear they are not.

    But regardless, Scotland is very, very different to England, both culturally and politically.

  • “moving their respective parties to the centre ground”

    Most people I know would say that the Lib Dems were in the centre ground before Clegg moved you to the centre-right.

    “Thatcher replaced the ugliness and emptiness of ‘class solidarity’ and associated rhetoric with the view that anyone could strive to be anything”

    Thatcher set members of the same class against each other, divided the country and demolished decades of post-war equality of opportunity, thus increasing the wealth divide.

    “Thatcher understood the gut-need of many UK adults to own their own home,”

    She knew how to bribe enough of the electorate in order to get re-elected – hence the council house sell off which was, essentially, public subsidies for individuals paid for by the many and by future generations.

    “The great divide between Liberal Democrats and the country was not caused by tuition fees or electoral reform”

    It certainly wasn’t caused by electoral reform – nobody gives a monkeys about it outside the Lib Dems. Tuition fees, however, have defined the Lib Dems in this coalition. You would need to be living in a bubble unconnected to the populace to think otherwise.

    The reason Thatcher was elected had more to do with the delusions and divisions of the left who, after having had their own way for three decades, assumed the world belonged to them and became ridden with cronyism. The reason the coaltion parties are going to get hammered come 2015 is because the right have now had their own way for three decades, have become split between three parties (across the spectrum from UKIP to the Tories to the Lib Dems), are convinced that their way is right and are oblivious to the crony-capitalism that stems from the blinkered ideology. The right have become so out-of-touch that someone as useless as Miliband will easily win the next election.

  • Julian Critchley 11th Jan '13 - 4:36pm

    Simon Hoggart in the Guardian has a good rule of politics which is that if a politician says something, the opposite of which would be ridiculous, then they are saying nothing at all. Try applying it to the idea that the LibDems need to “become the party of the aspirational”. Whivh party, pray, is enthusiastic about being the party of the non-aspirational ? Indeed, which individuals or groups of voters would say to a pollster : “Nah, I’m not aspiratrional. I don’t care about improving my position. I have no ambitions for my family.” ? When a politician claims they want to be for the aspirational, they are simply spouting empty rhetoric. All too often, it’s empty rhetoric that covers the implementation of policies which hammer those at the bottom of the pile : “What, you’re poor ? Then you mustn’t have been aspirational enough. We’re not the party for you.”

    Second point is this : the myth of Thatcher’s appeal to the electorate. It behoves Liberal Democrats in particular, given the nature of our electoral system, to be mindful of what the numbers are, rather than what the political narrative is. So here’s some numbers. Tory votes from 1979 onwards :

    1979 – 13.7m – 43.9%
    1983 – 13m – 42.4%
    1987 – 13.7m – 42.2%
    1992 – 14.1m – 42.2%
    1997 – 9.6m – 30.7%
    2001 – 8.4m – 31.7%
    2005 – 8.8m – 32.4%
    2010 – 10.7m – 36.1%

    These figures simply do not support the assertion that Thatcher won working class “aspirational” supporters to her side with her policies. I could have had another column, which is the size of those who voted for other parties during those elections. In particular, the size of the vote for the LibDems. What those figures would show is that although the most significant trend was from voters to non-voters, as larger and larger numbers of voters sat on their hands, the Tory vote was effectively stagnant throughout the eighties and nineties, then collapsed during the Blair period, suggesting Thatcher won few new voters with her policies, or at least if she did win new voters, then she lost an equal or greater number. So much for the appeal of the “aspirational” Tory policies of Thatcher.

    Indeed, a look at the figures, as opposed to a rehashing of largely right-wing media analysis, suggests that the Thatcher tack to the right, followed by New Labour’s shift that way, resulted in a large proportion of the electorate being effectively disenfranchised, because they did not share those values of selfishness and greed which so often pass for “aspirational” policies. What’s also clear is that while many of those voters became disenchanted from politics altogether, the main beneficiaries of this growing opposition to neo-liberal policies were the Liberal Democrats, who, in offering a new form of politics which shied away from empty rhetoric about “aspirations” or “hard-working families”, captured the mood of millions of citizens who took thew view that the authoritarian Thatcherism of the Tories and New Labour did not reflect their own civic values. Values which were, for want of a better term, Liberal or communitarian.

    So it’s remarkable that, having built the largest and most promising alternative to the LabCons in a century by appealing to the largest part of the electorate not already represented by red and blue tribes, or neo-liberal Thatcherites, the current leadership decided that it too would now discard that large and growing electorate in favour of trying to attract some of the same shrinking group of voters who are already courted by Labour and Tory party with their neo-liberal economics and “aspirational” rhetoric.

    It’s even more remarkable that, having witnessed the catastrophic result of this decision in the loss of 4.5m of the 6.8m voters gained in 2010, there are still som members of this party believing that the way forward is to push harder for that same shrinking portion of the electorate which is already voting Tory or Labour, and further away from that growing portion of the electorate who have been rejecting that approach for some three decades now and who used to vote LibDem.

  • Richard Evans 11th Jan '13 - 5:01pm

    “must learn, rather it is from a leader who would regard liberalism as a dirty word,”

    I doubt it, she was very keen on liberalism. It was Liberalism she didn’t like

  • Liberal Neil 11th Jan '13 - 5:16pm

    @Julian Critchley – your figures demonstrate that the Tories won a lot more votes and a much bigger share during the Thatcher era than they have since, yet you seem to conclude the opposite.

  • I believe this article, with respect, gets Margaret Thatcher wrong in just about every respect. I was a witness to all that happened before, during and after her time in office. For a start, she won virtually no “working class voters to the Tory cause”. What she did was offer ‘bribes’ worth many thousands of pounds each to several million voters. The Council house tenants who helped put Margaret Thatcher into power were not part of any “cause”, they were voting for the opportunity to buy their (Council) houses at up to 50% market value – and who can blame them? (By 1990 1.5 million Council Houses in Britain had been sold to their tenants – very few ‘social’ houses were built during the Thatcher years, and none by way of replacements for those sold off). This article seems to revere Mrs T. as a bringer of classless politics. In fact she was a very successful, possibly brilliant, tactical populist politician who knew how to win elections. Her success in doing this lasted for a relatively short period. When she had sold the Council Houses off, and sold off the previously State-owned utility companies to “working-class shareholder” (most of which were hovered up by big financial institutions within months) there was little she could offer voters – consequently by the late ‘90s her popularity nose-dived – and the Tories very quickly dumped her.

    Margaret Thatcher seemed to have no genuine political philosophy apart from the short-term objective of gaining votes. In fact she seemed to dislike most things British. She didn’t like Shire Tory ‘toffs’ (eg. Francis Pym), nor did she like ‘new money’ self-made Tories (eg. Michael Heseltine). Margaret Thatcher famously disliked:– industry; the NHS (State medicine); trade unions; most fellow Conservatives; Scotland; Wales; all of England apart from an area of Lincolnshire; the BMA; Oxbridge; railways; Europe (EU and non-EU); the British working class; the British aristocracy (having not being born into it); and much, much more.

    I would be surprised if anything about Margaret Thatcher’s politics might prove ideologically or practically useful to the Liberal Democrats.

  • Liberal Eye 11th Jan '13 - 5:28pm

    @ Julian Critchley – Exactly right. I have long used the ‘ridiculous test’ to check for substantive meaning as opposed to mere hot air. An epic fail is of course Clegg’s latest slogan, “Building a strong economy in a fair society”. Who does he suppose is campaigning for the opposite?

    On the Conservative vote trend a longer perspective is even more instructive. I once saw a time series for all the main parties starting at the end of WW2 and the long term decline in their support on this timeframe is quite startling – they used to be the majority party in Scotland for instance. And it was very clear that the Conservative successes in the 1980s-early 1990s were attributable to the split in the broad left between Labour and LD.

    My guess is that by the end of this parliament they will have cemented their reputation as the nasty party and will resume the slide into irrelevance, especially if the Tea Party, err UKIP, attracts a percentage, even if only a small one.

    The implication is that provided (a) Clegg has not fatally contaminated the brand, and (b) the LDs can recover a modicum of strategic competence, then the opportunity is there to be taken.

  • Julian Critchley 11th Jan '13 - 5:34pm

    @LiberalNeil

    No, that relies on the assumption that the Thatcher period of 1979 to 1990 was somehow a one-off, followed by a Tory party offering different policies which somehow lost it support. In fact, the opposite was true, with all successive Tory leaders competing to out-Thatcher their rivals. Moreover, it’s important to note that Thatcher never exceeded her vote in 1979, when Thatcherism hadn’t been implemented, and indeed many of its key features did not register or were not yet planned. The explanations for Thatcher’s votes in each election were complex, but there is clearly no statistical evidence to support the idea that Thatcher’s policies won new support for the Conservatives. Rather it seems that Thatcherism was tolerated by the same people who were voting Tory anyway from 1979 until 1997, when that support collapsed – in part taken by Blair who traded many of his old core voters on the left for a share of the previous Tory voters, presumably those who preferred their Thatcherism with a more human face (yes, Blair was considered human at one point).

    Thatcher’s fundamental economic policies of deregulation, privatisation, unhindered foreign ownership and city short-termism have remained with us since her period in office, albeit with a greater degree of welfare for the poorer end of society than the Tories would have granted (which perhaps explains why Labour continued to win elections during this period). It’s worth noting that even when Labour’s regime disintegrated under the hapless Brown premiership, and the pressures of the international financial collapse, the Tories did not receive anything like the support they last received twenty years ago in 1992. In other words, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the great unmet need of the electorate is more neo-liberal Thatcherite policies. Rather, it is clear that the unmet need is for a party which offers a genuine alternative to free-market ideology, public-bad/private-good, “aspirational ” “Hard-working families” “strivers not skivers” “beggar-thy-neighbour” Thatcherism. The LibDems used to be that party. That’s why their support was growing. They are now not that party. That’s why their support has collapsed.

    Seriously, to suggest that the solution to the collapse of LibDem support is to adopt the language or economics of Thatcherism is beyond parody. It would require the belief that either the 4.5m voters who have deserted the party since 2010 were all somehow extreme right-wingers who are disappointed that the LibDems haven’t been Thatcherite enough in government (really??) or it would require the belief that there is a larger constituency of voters out tehre who feel that somehow the Tories and Labour Parties neo-liberal Thatcherite policies do not somehow represent their own neo-liberal Thatcherite view, so what they need is another, yellow version of Thatcherism. I don’t find either of these two ideas particularly convincing, do you ?

  • G and Steve fail utterly to understand what Coalition government means, I think deliberately.

    Please just try at least to understand that what is possible with 8% of MPs, a massive deficit and the only feasible majority being with a right wing party with six times as many MPs as you, does not reflect what the Lib Dems would be doing if they were in power on their own in a time of fiscal plenty.

    It is transparently evident that it simply would never have been possible to create a left of centre programme that the Tories would have voted for and that could have been supported by the public finances as they were.

    To say that the Lib Dems have “moved to the right” is nonsense. If Labour were in power making cuts, they too would be accused of “moving to the right”. It is only because they are out of power and have the luxury of not having to make tough budgetary choices that they have escaped being labelled like this.

  • @RC
    “To say that the Lib Dems have “moved to the right” is nonsense.”

    That’s not really a convincing argument, is it? It is certainly true that the leadership is well to the right of the party’s recent elections manifestos, regardless of the (alleged) lack of bargaining power within the coalition.

  • Dave,

    I am not so sure Lady Thatcher would regard liberalism as a dirty word,

    Thatcherism is sometimes compared to classical liberalism. Milton Friedman claimed that “the thing that people do not recognise is that Margaret Thatcher is not in terms of belief a Tory. She is a nineteenth-century Liberal.” Thatcher herself stated in 1983: “I would not mind betting that if Mr Gladstone were alive today he would apply to join the Conservative Party”. In the 1996 Keith Joseph memorial lecture Mrs. Thatcher argued that “The kind of Conservatism which he and I…favoured would be best described as ‘liberal’, in the old-fashioned sense. And I mean the liberalism of Mr. Gladstone, not of the latter day collectivists”.Andew Marr has called libertarianism the “dominant, if unofficial, characteristic of Thatcherism”

    Thatcherism is closer to the 19th century tradition of Gladstonian classical liberalism than the more patriarchal one nation conservatism of Disraeli. It is an ideology that rejected the post-war economic consensus of Rab Butler and Hugh Gaitskel; and the industrial policies of the Wilson/Heath era. It differs from modern liberalism in its failure to take on board the social lessons of late 19th and early twentith century, paticularly with respect to the need to promote full employment as advocated by Keynes and Beveridge.

    Thatcherisms focus on monetarism or more specifically control of the money supply together with privatisation of natural monopolies was and remains largely a failure.

    The point you raise about Thatcher understanding the gut-need of many UK adults to own their own home, winning many working class voters to the Tory cause by allowing them to buy their council house is an important one. Delivering the opportunity for financial security in the form of high quality state education and heath services; well-paying jobs; home ownership and secure tenancies; a rising standard of living;decent pensions and social care , are the bread and butter of modern day polictical fare and essential elements of any successful mainstream party.

  • Julian Critchley 11th Jan '13 - 6:30pm

    @JoeBourke

    I’m sorry, but repeating something which is demonstrably untrue doesn’t make it any more true. If you (David Thorpe) are going to argue that Thatcherism won “many working-class voters”, then the evidence which needs to be provided is in numbers. Well, the numbers are up above. Tory support was essentially stagnant from 1979 (an election which was not fought on the issue of Thatcherism, as it did not exist at that time, but was fought on Labour’s record and the Winter of Discontent) until 1997, when it collapsed. Thatcher added no net votes to her Party’s 1979 total, and indeed lost quite a few in 1983. If she was “winning many working class votes”, then she must therefore have also been losing many middle-class ones at the same time.

    Similarly, if one is to argue successfully that the electoral future of the LibDems is to target the sort of voters attracted by Thatcherism, then one must be able to identify a group of Thatcherite voters who do not currently feel that their values are represented by either the Tory or New Labour Party. Given that both Tories and New Labour have been seeing their votes in long-term decline for two decades now, then that’s quite a presumption. Not least because it presumes that the great unmet need in British politics is on the far right of the spectrum. However, set against that is that the only parties to have demonstrated significant long-term growth in support during this same period when votes for the Thatcherite parties have been in decline, have been both LibDems and the SNP. Both parties, prior to 2010, offered policies which were furthest from Thatcherism (or the Thatcherism-with-added-welfare which New Labour offered). Since the LibDems have facilitated the most right-wing Thatcherite government this country has seen since 1945, the large majority of their support has evaporated. The SNP has performed no such move, and its support remains far more stable.

    So while anyone can write evidence-free pieces about the need to spout empty rhetoric and target Thatcherite voters, the numbers quite clearly do not suport those arguments. The evidence is very clearly pointing to the fact that the unmet need in British politics is for a non-Thatcherite, anti-authoritarian lberal party. Which is what we were. Only when the party turns back to that path does it have any chance of regaining any support. If it chases the same portion of a shrinking electorate that is already chased by the Tories and Labour, it will continue its decline to extinction.

  • Mark Blackburn 11th Jan '13 - 6:43pm

    As a resident of Westminster, my painful memories of Shirley Porter make me think this is a tad simplistic and convenient. For a perceptive critique of the era, check out Gary Younge’s piece about Stevenage in Granta 119 – sure, the Tories bought people off with cheap council houses, but what did they leave them with? “Queensway, once a hub, is now peppered with boarded-up shopfronts, charity stores, amusement arcades and loan shops. The bowling alley is now a car park; almost everything that was locally run has now been replaced by a chain… Mostly, though, it just feels empty…”

  • Julian,

    The graph above shows the relative share of conservative v Labour seats won in the post-war period. There is a direct correlation between conservative gains and labour losses at the 1979 evelection that persisted through to 1997.

    In contemporary British political culture, a “post-Thatcherite consensus” has persisted especially in regards to economic policy. In the 1980s, the Social Democratic Party adhered to a “tough and tender” approach in which Thatcherite reforms were coupled with extra welfare provision.

  • Link to graph referenced in comment above Conservative vs. Labour

  • Julian Critchley 11th Jan '13 - 7:22pm

    @Joe

    I’m aware of the consensus. But consensuses (consensi ?) come to an end, as did the Butskellite consensus of 1945-79. That consensus lasted 30 years, and Thatcherism was in part a reaction to its perceived failures on the right. However, the crisis which has resulted from the failure of a similar period of Thatcherism is certainly no less serious than that which seemed to exist in the 1970s. There is an opportunity for a political party which offers a different approach to politics from the Thatcherite consensus. I would argue most strongly that the reason for the growth of Liberal Democrat support from the 1980s onwards was due to it successfully offering that alternative : not state ownership and socialism promoting inefficiency where not necessary, nor an amoral free-market throwing lives on the scrap-heap and elevating selfish greed as the ultimate aspirational goal. Rather, the LibDems offered a rational approach to market regulation, appropriate redistribution and a state active in promoting the interests of its citizens. The Cleggite minority has effectively abandoned those policies, and is clearly now positioning the party as simply another Thatcherite party offering minor differences of managerialism, just as Blair did with New Labour. Articles like David Thorpe’s merely help that along the way.

    My issue, as I think I’ve made clear, is that there is simply no evidence to support the idea that there are any untapped votes in seeking to pursue policies which a Thatcherite would find attractive, even if those policies were desirable (which, I hasten to add, I most certainly do not think is the case). The Tories have a hard core tribe of about 30% of the electorate who will vote blue until they die, no matter what. Labour is in a similar boat. We now know that the size of the LibDems’ tribal lifeboat is somewhat south of 8% of the electorate. That leaves a further 30% who are either willing to vote for any party they perceive as a “least-bad” option, or thrashing around for a none-of-the-above option. I find it incredible that anyone would think that these voters are unfulfilled Thatcherites, given that both Labour and Tories have offered the Thatcherite consensus for 20 years now. So I simply cannot follow the rationale that what the LibDems need to do to attract new support is offer the same thing that the other two parties have been offering for two decades, which all the evidence suggests is precisely what the fastest growing section of the electorate do not want.

    I’m going to return to the point I madein my first post here, about how to measure the degree of emptiness in any political statement : Hoggart’s test of the opposites. You posted in your previous contribution which seemed to back a move towards some sort of Thatcherite stance that :

    “Delivering the opportunity for financial security in the form of high quality state education and heath services; well-paying jobs; home ownership and secure tenancies; a rising standard of living;decent pensions and social care , are the bread and butter of modern day polictical fare and essential elements of any successful mainstream party.”

    I put it to you to consider which political party does not seek to do that ? Which political party’s aims include : “Removing the opportunity for financial security, by ensuring low-quality state education and heath services; badly-paying jobs; removing home ownership and imposing insecure tenancies; a falling standard of living; rubbish pensions and social care “.

    It’s meaningless rhetoric. The voters who don’t recognise it as such are already voting Tory and Labour. Those who do recognise it as tripe are looking for an intelligent party that doesn’t just spout universal, unobjectionable aims, but has a coherent plan for delivering those aims, rather than more of the same already offered elsewhere.

  • Simon McGrath 11th Jan '13 - 7:39pm

    Good article. In policies like taking the low paid out of tax though we are doing something for aspirational voters.

    Scotland is of course the model for what Gordon Brown started to do to the UK.make as many people as possible dependent on the state and employed by the public sector- eventually they genuinely come to believe that is the only way to carry on.

  • EC “Please just try at least to understand that what is possible with 8% of MPs, a massive deficit and the only feasible majority being with a right wing party with six times as many MPs as you, does not reflect what the Lib Dems would be doing if they were in power on their own in a time of fiscal plenty.”

    Julian Critchley has already demolished the argument of ‘we only have 8% of MPs …” elsewhere on this site. To quote him “Coalition is not capitulation. “

  • RC not EC , fat fingers thin phone!!

  • Tony Dawson 11th Jan '13 - 8:23pm

    @RC :

    “G and Steve fail utterly to understand what Coalition government means, I think deliberately.”

    My concern is that the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party does not understand the various different models of Coalition government can be operated and might achieve. The principal issue is whether you ‘horse trade’ support for your ‘partner”s policies which you do not support for their support of your policies that they do not really support or whether you insist on progressing only policies for which there is genuine common support.

    I listened to Ed Davey on Question Time last night backing the expensive top-down distraction of Tory health deforms It brought me close to tears..

  • Julian,

    Dave Thorpe ends his piece with “We are seen as the party of “causes”. Instead we must be seen as a party which is on the same side as people’s dreams, however quotidian those dreams may be.”

    This is the issue at hand. It is the everyday, commonplace bread and butter issues that we successfully engage the electorate with at a local level that needs to be replicated at a national level. The national equivalent of potholes, parking charges, new planning applications and local council inefficiency.

    Dave Thorpe says “This is the next step in the development of the Liberal Democrats at national level, is to become the party of the aspirational, even if those aspirations are more mundane than those which our predominantly educated middle class membership would identify.”

    What are these mundane aspirations and issues if not adequte places at a properly funded, good quality local school; access to GP and hospital services when needed; an economic environment that generates nore than part-time minimum wage jobs, the opportunity to buy your own home; to be able to have enough money for a holday and save some of your wages for your retirement after paying ever higher rent, food and energy and fuel biils; to see pensioners taken care of in their old age?

    Addressing these day to day issues in our messaging may sound like meaningless rhetoric to those engaged with the intracacies of polcy development and planning, but it is pragmatic politics nontheless – just as a successful managerial record and economic competence in handling the affairs of state is.

    Talking over the heads of voters or promoting policies not directly related to their everyday well-being seems unlikely to attract floating/undecided voters, no matter how intelligent and coherent the plan might be for delivering the stated aims.

    I agree with your view that “the crisis which has resulted from the failure of a similar period of Thatcherism is certainly no less serious than that which seemed to exist in the 1970s. ” It is not the economic policies of the Thatcher period that we seek to emulate, but rather the appeal to the aspirations and ambitions of those in society that face the greatest obstacles in achievng them.

  • Julian Critchley 11th Jan '13 - 9:06pm

    @Joe

    I think possibly we are talking about different things. You’re talking about the importance of aims. I’m not disagreeing with any of the aims you state. In fact, the point I make is that nobody would disagree with any of those aims. The issue is one of methods. Labour and the Tories already offer very similar policies to reach exactly the same set of goals. The LibDems are now offering a similar set of policies to reach those universal goals. So it’s hardly surprising that non-tribalist voters have simply walked away – after all, why should that same prescription coming from a yellow mouth seem any more attractive than that coming from a blue or red mouth.

    There are genuine alternative policies towards achieving those sensible, low-key, universal goals which are not offered by either Labour or the Tories : a more progressive tax system; different spending priorities; employment law which seeks to protect and strengthen terms and conditions rather than weaken them; education policy which fosters collaboration rather than selfish individualism; a benefits policy which does not subsidise the obscene profits of giant multinationals by allowing them to pay their workers wages they can’t live on; a policy towards utililities and natural monopolies which protected consumers and citizens from exploitation and profiteering, to name but a few. In addition, the language can be very different. There are, for example, several million people in this country who would weep tears of relief if a single major party simply said that they believed there was such a thing as a positive and valuable public sector ethos, and that private wasn’t always better than public. This idea, that we live in a co-dependent society, and that we have more chance of achieving our aspirations if we support each other, rather than portraying aspirations in the Thatcherite sense of being every man’s right to become stinkingly rich, and society had better get out of the way (if it exists at all).

    Now I fully accept that the LibDems can’t deliver these policies through the coalition. The Conservatives would be opposed to pretty much every one of them. I have never criticised, and will never criticise, the LibDems for failing to abolish Trident, or failure to deliver a mansion tax, because I recognise that the Parliamentary arithmetic is not there with the Tories, and Labour will – in my view, immorally – oppose policies which it claims to support, just to win headlines. But that same situation should also apply to the Conservatives. They should not be able to hammer the poor with a 1% limit, or privatise the NHS, or use anti-terror legislation to sell-off our schools to their party’s donors, because they don’t have the Parliamentary arithmetic either. Yet the current leadership have given the Tories those policies anyway. They didn,t have to. They don’t have to in the future. They are getting nothing in return except the contempt of enemies and past friends alike. It is a policy of suicide by masochism. Utterly bizarre.

    That, I think, is where you and I differ. Not in what we think the party should seek to provide – but in how we think the party should seek to provide it. None of those 4.5m voters left the LibDems because they thought the party was, as you’d put it : “Talking over the heads of voters or promoting policies not directly related to their everyday well-being seems unlikely to attract floating/undecided voters, no matter how intelligent and coherent the plan might be for delivering the stated aims”. They left the party because the policies it has helpd to deliver are, in their opinion, moving us further away from those universal goals, and towards a more selfish, atomised, unequal and unpleasant society in which “aspirational” people – ie, all of us – are far less likely to achieve their aspirations than if the LibDems had remained true to their pre-2010 principles and stopped these toxic Tories from laying waste to our country.

  • There can be no lessons for the LDs that are of any value from Thatcher, other than that under our broken system, if a major party splits (SDP then, UKIP now)l the other will win big just on the basis of appealing only to its core vote. She barely understood conservatism, if you think about it, let alone liberalism.
    Bad idea, keep well away.

  • Julian, you make an interesting point, but I feel I must make a few points of rebuttal;

    1=You base your arguments on the failing support of the Conversative Governments following Maggie’s initial victory. However, there have only been 18 elections since WW2, and in only 3 of them the governing party has increased their share of the vote. It also be noted those were short Parliaments, so the increase was down to political games. However, the fact Blair using very similar policies to Maggie did get a massive voting majority would imply one of two things:
    A=That the voting majority are in fact innately New Right.
    B=That the voting majority do not really care about economic policies in that way.

    I would suggest, however that it it is really a mix of the two. The voting majority are really conservatives (or classic Liberals) with a small ‘c’, and when they vote, they look to see who claims to want to spent less money and have lower taxers. Now, the fact this goes directly again st their love of Public funded/owed services is also not to be ignored.

    2=You claim that a rising number of people voted for the Lib Dems because we did not represent New Right ideals. I would say this is almost right, but not quite right, they voted for us because we stood against the status quo. The fact is, the majority of our non-tribal voters were basically:
    A=Anti-Government
    B=Disaffected Labour voters who could not bring themselves to vote the Tories.
    C=Disaffected Tories voters who could not bring themselves to vote Labour. (Yes, this group exists.)
    D= Local votes. AKA Someone who won votes simply because he/she was a good local campaigner.

    3=Our party is now a representing a New-new Right ideology. Hmm, well this is one where we will have to wait and see what our manifesto ups with, but I hope you are wrong on this front. However, going on the evidence we have, let us look at the policies which the Lib Dems have been behind:
    -Pupil Premium=Extra public money goes to students and schools in the most deprived areas. (Non-New Right)
    -Delayed Trident . (Non-New Right)
    -Youth Contract=Provide companies and public sector offices with the money to provide apprenticeships and work experience placements for young people. Also offer benefits to young people undertaking work experience. (Non-New Right.)
    -Nursery Premium=Provide funding and free nursery care for up 20 hours a week so that parents can work. (Non-New Right)
    -Localism Act=Provide councils with more independence and power. (Not sure, on this one due to several reasons.)
    -Freedoms Bill=Again, not sure.
    -Employee share ownership=OK, I know this was stolen by the Tories and twisted into something evil, but the principles of employee-ownership is something I think is enshrined in our ideals and goes completely against New-Right ideals.

    However, overall, I think if you look at it, those actions taken by the Coalition Government which the Lib Dems are proud to put their name to, are the ones which are not about privatisation and deregulation, but in fact were the acts that were about public supported empowerment. That is what I see our party as, the party which uses Public money and the Public sector to empower individuals.

    We are not like Socialists who basically accepted that inequality existed and believed that rather trying to overcome that they would just give people the resources they needed to survive. (AKA, state dependency.)
    Nor are we Conservatives or New Rightists, who believe that if we take a Lassie faire approach to governing.

    We are party which realises that the state has a responsibility, and that responsibility is not to give people the resources they need, just to survive, but give them the skills and resources they need to be free. Sort of the nationwide approach to give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but give him a fishing rod and he eats everyday.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '13 - 7:53am

    David Thorpe

    But Liberal Democrats have often gotten the balance wrong, deciding that our party’s role should be to focus only on holding the safety net, while creating an environment in which the aspirational are driven away from us and into the arms of the Conservatives

    “Gotten”? Why the Americanism? Suggests to me you spend too much time reading right-wing rubbish from the USA.

    What justification have you for this comment? In what way are Liberal Democrats “driving away” the aspirational? Are we putting out messages in our Focuses “If you work hard, don’t vote for us?”. I don’t think so. I think what you mean is we don’t play the trick of having policies designed to preserve the wealth and privilege of the top 5% of the population and then pretend that these are the “middle”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '13 - 8:01am

    David Thorpe

    Thatcher understood the gut-need of many UK adults to own their own home, and won many working class voters to the Tory cause by allowing them to buy their council house. Many Liberal Democrats deride this as populism

    I don’t know ANY Liberal Democrat who derides the wish to own one’s own home. This sounds more like DailyMail anti-Liberal Democrat propaganda than something based on any sort of knowledge of our party.

    The policy of allowing people to buy their own council houses worked only because there WERE council houses. So it was dependent on the socialist idea of people being given what they need not what they earn. Once the houses were sold off, as they largely have been now, this policy no longer works. As we have seen, it results in there being no housing left to allocate at cost-only rents to those in need, so it DESTROYS family life (wasn’t that also something Thatcher was supposed to be about?) because a family home is the basis of that (whether rented or owned), and it costs the taxpayer HUGE amounts of money as instead people in need have to be put in expensive private rented accommodation paid for of housing benefit. This has had a deleterious effect on the nation’s finances that we are now suffering so much from. It has STOPPED the aspirations of those so housed, because they have to earn huge amounts to get out of the benefit trap this causes, whereas when they lived in low rent council housing it required only a modest income to rise above the need to claim housing benefit.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '13 - 8:04am

    David Thorpe

    Thatcher replaced the ugliness and emptiness of ‘class solidarity’ and associated rhetoric with the view that anyone could strive to be anything

    Yes, that was the Daily Mail propaganda. But the reality was the REVERSE of this. Social mobility went DOWN under Thatcher, and it has continued going down under the governments after her all of whom have followed her policy ideas. Inequality has steadily INCREASED in this country since 1979. Class divisions have got greater, not smaller. Those at the bottom with aspirations have become LESS able to reach them, not more.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '13 - 8:07am

    David Thorpe

    This is the next step in the development of the Liberal Democrats at national level, is to become the party of the aspirational, even if those aspirations are more mundane than those which our predominantly educated middle class membership would identify.

    What you mean, I think, David, is that we should become another party which is only really concerned about the welfare of the top 10% or so of the population, but issues propaganda to make the other 90% think they are part of that 10% or could get there, while in reality driving up the divisions to make it less likely they ever will.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '13 - 8:16am

    David Thorpe

    The great divide between Liberal Democrats and the country was not caused by tuition fees or electoral reform, it’s deeper than that. We are seen as the party of “causes”. Instead we must be seen as a party which is on the same side as people’s dreams, however quotidian those dreams may be.

    What you want is the party of my nightmares, not of my dreams. I have myself risen from a family background of poverty, raised in council housing, my father an unskilled manual worker, supported by benefits, to the position of having a top professional occupation. It was the sort of policies you deride that got me there, David – council housing gave my family the security we needed to thrive, the support given to students then enabled me to get to a top university without financial fear, I benefited from self-education in local libraries which were then plentiful and well-stocked whereas now they are being closed down, my life was saved by the NHS, my parents were able to bring me up healthily as they had no fear of medical bills. During the time I moved form where I was to where I am, I NEVER saw any policies of the Liberal Democrats or their predecessors as somehow stopping my aspirations. I saw the support the state gave us as HELPING with my aspirations.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '13 - 8:18am

    Look after the millionaires and everyone else will think “Gosh, I could become a millionaire”. What UTTER ROT.

  • Matthew H

    Strong agreement with what you have said

  • Julian Critchley 12th Jan '13 - 11:54am

    @Matthew Huntbach

    Nice to find myself in total agreement with you on this. Could we build a coalition ? :)

    @Liberal Al

    Thank you for your considered and thoughtful response. I agree with some of it. I do think you missed a fifth category of voter from your list, which is a “conviction LibDem”. Someone who actually believes in the policies which the Kennedy LibDems set out, and chose to support the party because of its support for them. I was certainly one of this group, having discovered that I’m quite capable of not voting Libdem during 2012 (previously I feared I may be a tribalist!). I would argue this was quite a large group, and even if it did not constitute a majority o the lost voters, I do think it probably constituted a majority of the lost members and activists. But I don’t disagree that the other four groups existed, although I’ve never met a member of group C !

    You’re also correct to pull me up on the generalisations which derive from my occasional tendency to polemics. There are, of course, differences between Tory and LibDem policies, and I would far rather have a LibDem policy platform than a Tory one. However, that list in itself shows just what a terrible deal this coalition has been for the LibDems and their supporters under Clegg. There isn’t a single policy which is wholeheartedly opposed by the Tories on that list. There are policies where they’d have liked to go further and faster to the right (pupil premium for many Tories is a weak imitation of their preferred policy of school vounchers), or where they’d like to move forward rather than delay (Trident), but one would spend a long time looking for the quid quo pro for the LibDems passage of the NHS Bill, or the Academies Act, or the 50% tax rate cut, or the 1% benefit increase limit, or the European veto !

    To pile on the agony, it also has to be said that even where the Tories have accepted LibDem policies which wouldn’t be their priorities, but which they don’t particularly object to, the fact is that those policies – as listed above – are largely unnoticed or tangential to the issues which actually motivate most voters. Because here I agree with the original poster – most people are not motivated to vote for a party because it refined the system for allocating funding to schools, or because it made some small but worthy changes to the employment responsibilities of public sector organisations. They are motivated by “big ticket” items : tax rates, benefits, the NHS, unemployment, income. And it is on these policies where the current leadership have helped facilitate a Tory attack on every principle this party used to espouse.

    We’re about to enter a triple-dip recession as a direct result of Osborne’s policies. Inequality is rocketing. Foodbanks are multiplying. Real wages are falling. The NHS and schools are being handed to those same private companies who have demonstrated time and again that their only interest in providing public services is skimming off as much profit as possible. Disabled people are being harrassed and bullied by ATOS, with unpleasant firms pocketing public money for achieving nothing (more to come on probation, now). The unemployed are forced to work for free for hugely profitable companies who thus don’t have to provide real jobs to people to fulfil those tasks. University applications are dropping as poorer students are put off by the cost. This has all been created by a scorched earth New Right agenda pushed by the Tories which could not have been put into action without the support in Parliament of the LibDems. And what could LibDem canvassers say on the doorstep to counter this : “We’ve put in place a Youth contract and think we delayed wasting money on Trident for a few years!” ? It’s hardly surprising that activists are unwilling to knock on doors any more.

    We are in the quivalent position of saying to voters : “Yes, we did help that nasty man whip you till you bled, but at least we put some ointment on one of the cuts it left”.

    One of the lessons of Thatcher which her admirers tend to gloss over is that people, and even whol regions, have long memories of those they see as having deliberately attacked them. There is a reason why, even in the depths of Brown’s disasters in 2010, the Tories were still dead in Scotland and across the northern cities. They will remain dead there for decades to come because the people there know that she knowingly pursued policies which would cause them and their communities tremendous harm. Those communities still hate – and that’s not too strong a word – that woman, her party, and everything they stand for. That really is a lesson the party should learn from Thatcher.

  • I believe that this article and the above responses to it are indicative of the LibDems’ apparent confusion and unease as to what, as a party, they stand for and believe in, in 2013. I would suggest that the Liberal Democrats of a few years ago would have a very clear view regarding Mrs Thatcher. As things stand now the merits or otherwise of Mrs T. triggers a discussion here that is surprising; and is, I believe, a symptom of the pickle the LibDems find themselves in regarding just what values they now stand for. What does “liberal”, “liberty” and “freedom” mean to the LibDems as of now: are they in favour of Economic Liberalism; individual Liberalism; state liberalism; freedom from want and poverty; freedom for companies to hire and fire; freedom from unemployment; freedom to make lots of money and keep it; freedom from government ‘interference’…….? And so on. I, and the electorate would like to know.

  • “Aspirational”? What does that mean? Is it just meaningless jargon, or is it a euphemism for “greedy”?

  • Liberal Eye 12th Jan '13 - 1:44pm

    @ Julian – Could we build a coalition? Yes please.

    @ Joe Bourke It is the everyday, commonplace bread and butter issues that we successfully engage the electorate with at a local level that needs to be replicated at a national level. The national equivalent of potholes, parking charges, new planning applications and local council inefficiency.

    This is undoubtedly the overwhelming majority view of Lib Dems but is it right? There is a world of difference between running a business as a sole trader, one with 10 staff, one with 500 staff and one with 50,000 staff. Quantum changes in approach are necessary at each size step and I think it’s much the same with politics.

    Local government has indeed been largely about efficient administration especially since Thatcher emasculated local government by ‘nationalising’ much of its independent revenues and so reducing it to little more than a set of local agencies to administer Westminster policies,

    Efficient administration is equally necessary in central government but is not sufficient; to succeed on the national stage a party also needs a political economy that sets the scene as it were for specific policies and here the Lib Dems as a party (as opposed to many individual members) are deeply confused.

    Julian is right; there is no majority in this country for right wing neoliberal policies. Neoliberalism is terrible economics, riddled with inconsistencies and a proven failure which has precipitated the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s (not coincidentally the time when it had its last outing) and possibly even longer. Its real purpose was always to provide a cover story, a veneer of respectability for more-for-me thinking. Unfortunately, for the moment there is no alternative. There used to be socialism but that collapsed and was discovered to be a false prospectus in 1979.

    We will only find an alternative to neoliberalism if we look for more than efficient ways of filling potholes. Unfortunately the national party appears dedicated to proving Einstein’s definition of insanity by endlessly repeating failed strategies.

  • Julian Critchley 12th Jan '13 - 1:45pm

    @BigDave

    While I don’t disagree that the Cleggite putsch has left a lot of LibDems in dispute about their party’s position and values, just as Blair’s stance was at marked odds with many/most of his members, I also thikn it’s ridiculuos to suggest that the LibDems are somehow particularly badly affected by an identity crisis. Miliband rarely lets a week go by without trying to redefine once more what Labour might stand for. Unfortunately, as he’s too cowardly or weak to set out any clear principles, the answer is that Labour stands for an amorphous mass of nobody knows what. These questoins could be posed of any political party except the Tories, who all seem clear that they stand for rich, greedy, selfish, sociopathic morons with a nasty streak of xenophobia and bigotry buried not too far below th surface.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12 jan 2013 8:16am…………What you want is the party of my nightmares, not of my dreams. I have myself risen from a family background of poverty, raised in council housing, my father an unskilled manual worker, supported by benefits, to the position of having a top professional occupation. It was the sort of policies you deride that got me there, David – council housing gave my family the security we needed to thrive, the support given to students then enabled me to get to a top university without financial fear, I benefited from self-education in local libraries which were then plentiful and well-stocked whereas now they are being closed down, my life was saved by the NHS, my parents were able to bring me up healthily as they had no fear of medical bills. During the time I moved form where I was to where I am, I NEVER saw any policies of the Liberal Democrats or their predecessors as somehow stopping my aspirations. I saw the support the state gave us as HELPING with my aspirations…….

    So, so true.

    The idea that the sell-off of council homes was ‘aspirational’ is risible; it was social engineering, to buy votes, on a massive scale (a policy taken to extremes in Shirley Porter’s maladministration in Westminster) whilst legislation prevented the money raised being used to replace the lost housing stock.
    Another ‘aspirational’ effort was her ‘cut-price’ sell-off of Britain’s infrastructure (epitomised by the “Tell-Sid” campaign). Perhaps, with hindsight, someone could have told ‘Sid’ that most of ‘his’ assets would end up in the hands of Far Eastern and Gulf State dictatorships….

  • Matthew Huntbach and Julian Critchley.

    Strongly agree with what you say. Bravo!

  • Seriously, Labour did this almost two decades ago – embracing the ‘spirit’ of Thatcher without any evidence or reasoning to back it up. It worked for Blair then but to do the same now after it proved to fail so miserably with Labour is tantamount to political suicide, Guess that’s why you’re on 10% in the polls.

  • Liberal Eye,

    I have worked a sole proprietor of a small business and as a finance director in SME’s with up to 500 staff, so I understand the point you make about Quantum changes in approach being necessary at each size step.

    I do agree with your point that to succeed on the national stage a party needs a political economy that sets the scene as it were for specific policies.

    In local politics, we do have strong philosophical principles, and even an “ideology”, but one which is very practical and down-to-earth. I also think that we can and should be able to translate this to the national stage.

    It has always been crucial to explain a clear local philosophy and put it into practice. This helps people understand what we are about and why it is worth voting for us.This does not mean philosophical arguments that devolving every decision down to parish level or community politics is the secret to eternal happiness. Equally, we can’t just limit our vision to street-level issues and getting potholes fixed. We need to find a middle ground between the extremes.

    At local level our policies and messaging can be underpineed by a pragmatic “philosophical manifesto” that I came across a few years back:

    1. Conservatives and Labour are the parties that support big powerful vested interests – big business, big unions, big government. Lib Dems are quite different. We support individuals, families and communities.

    2. In local politics, the vested interests we stand up to include commercial developers, landowners, and Councils themselves.

    3. We believe local politics should be far less party-political. That doesn’t mean we want councils run by loose, unstable groups of independents. It means we oppose heavy political partisanship, block voting, and suppression of individual councillors’ views by party bosses.

    4. We object to the three-line-whip on development issues. Inevitably, these are Council decisions that can make particular local individuals seriously rich. Those individuals will often have lobbied leading councilllors, pressurised the council, or used financial muscle to advance their case. It is therefore quite wrong for a Leader and/or one-party Cabinet to decide such issues, which should be determined by the whole Council after open debate.

    5. We recognise that “Yes Minister” is alive and living in local government. Council officers and local district Council ruling groups all too readily enter a conspiracy of mutual support and cooperation to conceal each other’s mistakes. We promise to act differently. By making that promise explicit, we also make it more credible that when we gain power, we really will act differently.

    6. Councils often ask Councillors to be their uncritical cheerleaders. Other parties often agree. We do not. We are there to serve the electors, monitor what the Council does, and criticise and get things done better when necessary.

    7. Other parties use words like strategy and leadership. That basically means imposing an agenda on the public. We do the opposite. We go out and talk to people, we listen, and we try to give people what they actually want.

    8. We prefer to do useful things rather than argumentative things.

    9. We talk to people as fellow residents, as equals, as friends. We talk about things that matter in their lives – not just things like committee meetings that matter in our lives.

    10. We get things done!

    When we write about many of these “philosophical” points in our Focuses, and show what they mean in practice they set the stage not only for how we will approach local issues but for our ideological approcach to wider national issues.

    It is this kind of linked up approach and philosophical underpinning between delivery at the local level and our message on the national stage that I would like to see.

  • simon7banks 12th Jan '13 - 8:10pm

    Julian has a fair point. Moreover, if we set out to be the party of the aspirational, that implies we can ignore the non-aspirational. I suppose very few people are truly without aspirations, but most people looking at an eighty-something person in declining health or a fifty-something homeless person with alcohol problems or even an 18-year-old who’s left education and has decided for family reasons to stay in an area with no jobs for young people like him/her, would suggest they’re not aspirational.

    I trust it isn’t based on the assumption that the Tories are for those who have, Labour are for those who haven’t and the Liberal Democrats are for those who want to have but haven’t.

    There is also the point about what people’s aspirations are. What if they damage the lives of other people or wreck the environment?

    I fail to see why Blair and Cameron moving their parties to the centre made a Liberal Britain harder to achieve. If the strength of the Liberal Democrats has something to do with this aim, then we should note that Blairism, contrary to most commentators’ expectations, did nothing to cut off Liberal Democrat support, which if anything grew as the inadequacies of Blairite centralist centrism became apparent. Moreover, one powerful message from the Thatcher years is that the position of the centre moves in response to decisive politicians who aren’t in the centre. Margaret Thatcher moved the centre of British politics way to the right, as Clement Attlee and the Second World War experience moved it to the left.

    There may be something about encouraging people to have aspirations and about responding to aspirations (with qualifications).

  • Julian Critchley. You say: “Tories, who all seem clear that they stand for rich, greedy, selfish, sociopathic morons with a nasty streak of xenophobia and bigotry buried not too far below th surface”. OK, so if that is your truly-held (and rather strong, even extreme) opinion of the Conservatives, why are the Liberal Democrats, with their genuine (L)liberal history supporting them. Please don’t say that the LibDems (via Nick Clegg) are a “moderating” influence; the LibDem leadership, and therefore the Party seem more that content to support anything the Tories propose. At least that is how the electorate appear to see things.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '13 - 8:52pm

    David

    “Aspirational”? What does that mean? Is it just meaningless jargon, or is it a euphemism for “greedy”?

    The Conservatives use it with a precise meaning. They say it is wrong to tax people who are rich because that sends out a message to those who “aspire” to be rich that they are not wanted. They give the impression that someone who is rich has naturally worked hard to be rich and so deserves to be rich because of their personal qualities. However, if you look at what they mean when they talk about this, they use it to argue against any forms of taxation on wealth which is NOT earned. So, as the most extreme example, we are told it is wrong to tax someone who owns huge amounts of land and makes huge amounts of money from it due to having some remote ancestor who was one of William the Conqueror’s robber barons. So, we are told it is wrong to tax such a person on the money they make because that would, well, I suppose stop other people from aspiring to be robber barons and invade other countries and take over ownership of their land. Lazy people who do nothing for their fortune but inherit it are not to be taxed, according to the Tories, because that is an attack on “aspiration”. Well, yes, we may all aspire to be lazy people who do nothing to get rich, but for most of us the only way that will happen is if we win the lottery – that is why so many poor people play it.

    Underneath, the Tories are the defenders of the idle rich, always have been, that was their origin, as the party who defended the landed aristocracy. They believe that rich people are just naturally better so deserve their privileges. They believe money made not through work but through inheritance or through owning things is better and more nobler money than any other sort of money, that is why they are more opposed to taxing that than to taxing money people work to get. This right-to-buy of council housing and “Tell Sid” privatisation as all about that – pushing the idea that money comes from owning things, not from hard work, As such the Tories are the ENEMIES of enterprise. This idea that money comes from owning things, sitting back at leisure while the little people elsewhere do the hard work, is at the heart of the economic mess our country is in, because Margaret Thatcher let its industry and culture of work collapse and instead instigated a culture of wheeler-dealing ultimately based in the idea that house price rises were a perpetual motion machine we could all live off. The reality is that it has gradually been leaching money from most of us, putting us in bigger and bigger debt, while just the super-rich are the real beneficiaries, the global jet set who want to turn this country into a tax haven, the people from across the world, Russian billionaires, Qatari investment fund etc who are buying up our country, THAT is what the Conservative Party is REALLY about – defending these people. But to get the foolish to agree to their policies, they make out that an attack on the idle rich is an attack on “aspiration”.

  • Margaret Thatcher presided over the least liberal government in living history. Book bans, film bans, bans against “promoting homosexuality”, bans on letting political parties be heard in their own voices, unlimited imprisonment without trial, attacks on organised labour, full of praise for Franco, a personal friend of and the eventual protector Pinochet, who described Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, It is no exaggeration to suggest that she harboured tendencies that could be described as fascistic. She had some tendencies towards economic liberalism, but lacked the commitment to individual freedom that coexists with that particular economic philosophy. I’m not a fan of the Conservative Party, but John Major seemed like a nicer chap than Tony Blair and was certainly pretty liberal. Dave Davis, I wouldn’t vote for him, but again fairly Liberal. Thatcher was actually a bigger authoritarian than even Tony Blair.

  • Expect mayhem in epic Thatcher proportions mid March when the Council tax bills and Benefit notification letters hit the door mat; this will be the defining moment when the current crop of the nasty party and the ldp will be written into the history books. The introduction of poll tax pt II and Honey I’ve lost the family home (we would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those damn bedrooms).

    Seriously, forget Thatcher; there has never been a greater attack on the ‘not so fortunate’ than what is coming, the main difference is we can’t simply tag the ‘usual suspects’ on this occasion.

  • Julian Critchley – an inspiring set of comments. I thought I’d check your assertions about working class support for Thatcher as they run counter to the mythology, but you are right. 1979 DE (‘Working Class’) Conservative share of the vote – 34%. 1983 – 33%. 1987 – 30%. 1992 – 31%. This probably hides some significant regional variations but the overall pattern is clear.

  • Julian Critchley 13th Jan '13 - 2:38pm

    @tonyhill

    Thanks for that, and congratulations on doing the fact-checking – too few people accept at face value what others claim. I think one of the – many – problems with politics in the UK is that media and politicians often collaborate to repeat their preferred versions of events until such time as it becomes accepted political fact. Yet frequently, there is no evidence to back this up.

    The idea of Thatcher winning over large proportion of the working class is just one of many political myths widely accepted across political parties. Sadly for the LibDems, one myth accepted as fact by the current leadership is that the way to win support is to pitch for traditional “floating voters”. Unfortunately, if one looks again at the evidence, one finds that those traditional floating voters – often defined as Worcester Woman or Essex Man, or whatever else political analysts’ term du jure is – are overwhelmingly Lab-Con switchers, and there is in fact very little room for the Libdems to squeeze in there. The clear picture of the last 30 years has been that the growth faction in the electorate has been in those who reject the neo-liberal Thatcherite consensus in favour of something rather different, and I’ve set out above what sort of policies that “different” might consist of. It’s not rocket science that the LibDems attracted this support pre-2010 because in large part they did offer many of those policies. The abandonment of those policies in favour of Thatcherism and trying to pitch a tent on some “centre ground” (which is in fact significantly to the right of the desired ground of that growing section of the electorate) is a strategic political error of catastrophic proportions. So enormous is this error, that it is Clegg’s best bet at securing himself a place in the history books 50 years from now – how the 30-year rise of the LIberal Democrats was ended and reversed in just 5 years.

    To sound a note of hope, another political myth is worth considering. It is a cast-iron belief amongst British politicians that a split party will be slaughtered at the polls because voters don’t like splits. It stems from Labour’s unshakable belief that it was kept out of power in the 1950s by the Gaitskell-Bevan squabbles. The evidence, however, is that the great majority of the voting public simply do not care about splits. Consider that in 1955, Labour was in a state of civil war, whereas in 1959, they buried their differences. They received more votes in 1955. They then fought like ferrets in a sack in the early 60s over Clause IV, before reuniting under Wilson. Their vote went down in ’64, and they only won because the Tory vote collapsed after Profumo etc. Also consider that in 1983, the Tories were hugely split between wets and Thatcherites, but won. In 1992, they were just 2 years further on from dumping Thatcher, and won with their largest ever post-war vote. Labour was ferociously, and openly, split between Brown and Blair factions in 2001 and 2005, yet won easily, and when Blair left the scene to Brown’s dubious solo control, they lost disastrously.

    Basically, only political anoraks and commentators seem to really care about internal party factional splits. And they project their own fascination on to ordinary voters, without a shred of evidence. This is very convenient for party leaders, who can try to shut down any internal debates under the guise of threatening their people with electoral punishment if dissent is acknowledged. It’s not true, though.

    Why am I banging on about this ? Well, if tehre are any LibDem MPs who fear that to launch a vigorous campaign against Clegg or the current LibDem approach to coalition, they need not fear that it would result in punishment at the polls. Voters care about policies, and whether a government has hurt them or helped them. The evidence suggests that they don’t give a stuff if a party is internally fighting like cats and dogs. So, you LibDem MPs – step up to the plate. Because it is the only chance that the party won’t be annihilated at the next election.

  • On reading the article and the comments below, with excellent contributions from Julian Critchley and Matthew Huntbach the need for Liberal Democrats to follow a more neo liberal thatcherite aspirational line, I feel has been comprehensively demolished.

    A housing policy that builds, sells and replaces social housing would be a winner in both providing stability and enabling people a chance to own their own homes. That may also provide some positive stimulus for the economy. I somehow feel that this would not be a policy that the Conservatives would favour, however effective it may be.

    The real problem with selling council houses, was not that they were sold but that that they were sold at huge discounts and that the councils were prevented in building more social housing to replace those that had been sold. That would have been a virtuous aspirational circle, and ensured that social housing would have a mixture of people.

    This is because the Conservatives appear to want to eliminate any kind of social provision or stability or safety net. For the Conservatives public is bad and private is good. An unfettered market where business has little controls over it and can do what it likes is the preferred option. It does not appear to matter whether social, private or public provision works or not. Or what damage an unregulated finance sector has wrought. The Conservatives and neo liberal economic liberals will always prefer private provision and will call for more neo liberal measures, despite the failures.

    Hence , also the call for Liberal Democrats to follow further down the neo liberal path, when that path ends up at the Conservatives door or over the edge of a cliff.

    It was a surprise to the majority of those that voted Liberal Democrat that the Liberal Democratic party leaders also equated neo liberal economic values with liberal values; and under the cover of deficit reduction have appeared to happily go along with the dismantling of public service.

    The country needed to be saved from dogmatic idealogues. That was the Liberal Democrats were asked to do at the last election. The country is not being saved from the Conservatives.

    A line of medicine is killing the patient with little positive effect and many horrible side effects. Is it good to continue or try a different less aggressive form of treatment ?

  • @Matthew Huntbach, I concur with this wholeheartily. “What you want is the party of my nightmares, not of my dreams. I have myself risen from a family background of poverty, raised in council housing, my father an unskilled manual worker, supported by benefits, to the position of having a top professional occupation. It was the sort of policies you deride that got me there, David – council housing gave my family the security we needed to thrive, the support given to students then enabled me to get to a top university without financial fear, I benefited from self-education in local libraries which were then plentiful and well-stocked whereas now they are being closed down, my life was saved by the NHS, my parents were able to bring me up healthily as they had no fear of medical bills. During the time I moved form where I was to where I am, I NEVER saw any policies of the Liberal Democrats or their predecessors as somehow stopping my aspirations. I saw the support the state gave us as HELPING with my aspirations.”

    @Julian=Could I join this coalition as well? haha I do see what you are saying about this Government and its many acts which go against what we believe. I do cringe every time I see Osborne as much as the next man, but I do also believe that this party still stands for something good and that the situation would have been a lot worse if we had not joined this Government.
    =In regards to the big/small issues problem, well did not do too bad out of the Coalition agreement, we got about 60%-70% of our manifesto through, but you are right, we lost on the big issues.I guess that is the curse of not being the senior partner. Still, that does not make your point less valid, but I think the point I was trying t make was that the issues we are proud of are ones which we should be proud of. Still, I do agree with you. :(
    PS I also consider myself one of those who was inspired by Kennedy and his ideals.

    @BIGDAVE=I do not think that a single Lib-Dem in this thread has agreed with this thread, which I think shows there is no confusion.

  • I’m not sure that Mrs Thatcher’s policies allowed people to achieve their aspirations. My life has been markedly improved by access to free (mostly) healthcare at the point of delivery, subsidised or free education (one of Mrs Thatcher’s better policies did help there: the recognition that a polytechnic is every bit as good as a university), state benefits when I was unemployed, the minimum wage after ’97, help from bodies such as trade unions or CAB and free access to local libraries. All of these were institutions dating back to 1945 and even earlier times (I seem to recall that Churchill was an advocate of minimum wage). She permitted the literal battering of working-class trade unions but allowed unions for the wealthy (lawyers, doctors etc) to continue their closed shop in order to exclude the poor. I’m not sure exactly which of Mrs Thatcher’s policies helped anyone’s aspirations. Sure, plenty of working-class people might have started little businesses in the 1980s that often proved successful (although plenty went bust) but then there was nothing stopping them doing that in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s was there? A cheap council house and some BT/BG/Electric/Water shares are not much to build an “aspirational” life on.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Jan '13 - 1:20am

    Jack Timms

    A housing policy that builds, sells and replaces social housing would be a winner in both providing stability and enabling people a chance to own their own home

    It is, until you start asking WHERE the houses are going to be built. Most people are happy to say they want more houses to be built, but not in any green space around them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Jan '13 - 1:25am

    jedibeeftrix

    That is all very fine, but am I to be considered lazy because I have a mortgage, and to be taxed on it in consequence

    Sorry, where is anyone saying you should be taxed on having a mortgage? I don’t see anyone proposing a special tax on people who have mortgages which is not imposed on people who own property but don’t have mortgages. Taxation on property would mean it was less worthwhile holding onto it merely as an “investment”, so prices would drop, so the amount of mortgage you would have to pay would go down. It would help people who need houses to buy houses, lower housing costs leading to lower mortgages. Since more property tax would mean less income tax, you would have more money to pay for it as well.

  • david thorpe 15th Jan '13 - 2:34pm

    ~@ julian critchley

    any party which has a personal income tax rate above fifty percent is not aspirational-any party which aspires to soak the rich is not aspirational, because in those circumstances the inherent belief is that the rich-and therefore thsoe who aspire to be rich-are doing somehting immoral by aspiring to wealth.
    @ glenn-your irght sdhe was not liberal in any regard-though the victorians were more keen on banning than she was. She wasnt Liberal but she used liberal rehetoric in many areas.

    @ ed shepperd

    Rab butler was a tory who intorduced free eductaion. Thatcher allowed you to believe that your aspirations were morally OK-Labour attacked the aspirational as class traitors.

    @ al mcIntosh

    To the best of my knowldege the liberald emocrats are believers in the Union-therefore should seek to learn UK wide lessons-not scottish only.

    @ Joe Bourke

    Im not sure thatcher was a nineteenth century liberal-though she was closer to it than many of us would acre to admit

  • “@ ed shepperd: Rab butler was a tory who intorduced free eductaion. ”
    Good for Rab Butler, then. He sounds like one of those old-fashioned Tories who cared about the poor and wanted to help people progress. Shame there aren’t more like him around today.

  • “Thatcher allowed you to believe that your aspirations were morally OK-Labour attacked the aspirational as class traitors.” That sounds more like some kind of psychological boost (or trick?) than a practical boost. It backs up my thoughts that Mrs Thatcher didn’t give any practical help to people wanting to get on, she just fooled people into thinking that they were no longer wage-slaves. It was all just Daily Mail hype to make people think that owning a a council-house and a Ford Fiesta on credit meant that you were some kind of Belle Epoque rentier instead of just a working person benefitting from better availability of credit.

  • Julian Critchley 16th Jan '13 - 3:06pm

    @david

    Nonsense. Utter nonsense. You equate being greedy with being aspirational. Precisely the sort of rot which Thatcherites have been peddling for years : “If you believe that people earning five times the national average income should be asked to contribute proportionally more, then you’re denying aspiration.” Only my fear of the swear-filter moderating this post prevents me from using a stronger word than “cobblers”.

    Two points :

    1- It’s possible to aspire to lots of things which don’t include an enormous pile o f cash. I put it to you that most people aspire to comfort, a safe neighbourhood, happy children, a satisfying job, an enjoyable social life, leisure time, and a low-stress lifestyle. None of those things are dependent upon earning five times the national average wage, which is the level at which the top rate kicked in. Few of them are served by a taax policy which allows some individuals to buid up dynastic wealth while starving local services of tax money on the grounds that it would stop people aspiring to be Phillip Green.

    2 – There is absolutely nothing immoral about earning money, and I’ve never met anybody supporting higher taxes on the rich who believes that to be so. Higher taxes are not put in place for punitive purposes. They’re not fines ! Higher taxes above certain thresholds recognise that the richest are benefitting most from society, and can afford to make a greater contribution to that society than the poorest. Again, the Thatcherites love to portray any policy of higher taxes on rich people as the “politics of envy”, motivated only by spite. It’s self-serving rot. The rich should pay proportionally more because they have benefitted most from being part of society, and because they have the capacity to pay more without suffering, when the poor cannot. It’s an entirely simple concept which has been understood for centuries in this country. Only Thatcher and her similar greedy, selfish, sociopathic fellow-travellers, would disagree with the idea of a progresive system of taxation.

    If your view is dominant in the Liberal Democrats, then the party truly is lost, and deserves to be eradicated at the next election. Despite my alienation from the party as a result of Clegg’s conduct in government, I’ve retained a natural sympathy with the LibDem plight, and still defend policy stances to others of the “never again” standpoint. I have a remote hope that somehow some sane voices in the party will reassert the values it used to stand for, and rescue it from disaster. But if this party is now of the view that its role is to defend greedy acquisition by the very rich under the guise of promoting a narrow and unrealistic definition of “aspiration”, just like the Tories, then I hope it is utterly and deservedly destroyed in 2015.

  • Jonathan Hunt 18th Jan '13 - 11:06pm

    Our task as a party must be to destroy the kind of Thatcherism that has been the dominant force in Enland for the last 45 years. We must help restore a normality that includes a real sense of community and where greed is not rewarded but labels its advocates as social pariahs. It is beginning to happen in our attitudes to bankers.

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