Opinion: Oh no! Ed’s got us!

Well he has hasn’t he? I mean this ruse to force a vote on the a mansion tax is piece of political genius surely? The Lib Dems will look like fools traipsing through the lobby with the government whilst Labour dangles something that the party in general and Vince in particular has wanted to bring in for years.

Won’t they?

There’s no denying it’s an eye-catching move clearly designed to embarrass the Lib Dems. But of course the party’s MPs will (largely – a few backbenchers may peel off of course) vote with the government on any opposition motion of this nature. They have signed up to support an entire government programme that includes things that one party or the other would not ideally want and excludes other policies that one or the other party would dearly like. They cannot simply pick and choose which fiscal measures to support. The government would have lasted about 5 minutes with this sort of approach.

This move from Miliband fits into a repeated pattern of Labour appearing to not understand how coalitions work. Well actually they definitely do know how they work so they are choosing to ignore this fact to try and score a few political points. Of course in the short term this will be awkward for the Lib Dems as they adhere to collective responsibility. But in the longer term Miliband has signalled that he doesn’t think junior partners in a coalition have to vote with the government. Indeed he is basically saying it is a betrayal for them to do so on an issue that the party clearly would like to implement a policy on if they were given the chance.

So let’s imagine we are a few further years down the line. The 2015 general election was (as seems quite possible) inconclusive with Labour as the largest party and they are in coalition with the Lib Dems. Let’s further imagine that the opposition of the day pulls a similar stunt on a policy they agree with the Lib Dems about but that has not been agreed to form part of the government programme and that Labour oppose. There are bound to be policies that fall into this category.

How could Prime Minister Ed Miliband credibly argue that the Lib Dems had to vote with the government? As Leader of the Opposition he’s already made it clear than in principle he sees nothing wrong with a junior partner in a coalition voting against the government, nay he is actively encouraging it. He would not have a leg to stand on and would look like an utter hypocrite if he tried to do anything about it.

I personally don’t have a problem with loosening collective cabinet responsibility and have previously written about how I think our current system is too restrictive. But I bet Prime Minister Ed Miliband would have a problem with it. Indeed he adhered so closely to it himself when in government that he voted for the abolition of the 10p rate and argued for the policy even though he now admits he thought that policy was wrong. He’s a collective responsibilityist through and through!

This all just goes to show just what a silly and from his perspective politically dangerous stunt this is. To score a few points using a parliamentary motion that most members of the public won’t even care about he is risking his own future authority as head of a potential coalition government.

I hope the tiny political “win” he gets when the Lib Dems unsurprisingly vote with their own government is worth it.

* Mark Thompson blogs here

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58 Comments

  • “The government would have lasted about 5 minutes with this sort of approach.” But it would have retained the good faith you had with the electorate that his long since been lost. Party strategists should have negotiated the chance to vote with the opposition in the coalition agreement x number of times. That would have preserved a distance from your partners and allowed you to support ideas you actually agree with, preserving your credibility. It also would have created an interesting, progressive line of communication with labour and introduced the idea of flexible voting where all parties can have influence some of the time when they agree with others.

  • The problem here is our frankly juvenile press, and the probable Labour leaflets (appear at election time, vanish for a year) that will talk of “yet another broken LibDem promise”. We can say why we’re voting against until we’re blue in the face – it won’t get reported by most. Consider New Statesman, for example, this week manned to run a story on Eastleigh which talked about the battle for the seat between Conservatives and Labour, with a challenge from UKIP. Ridiculous, but it’s what we’re dealing with.

    Which is why collective responsibility is an absurd doctrine for coalitions and why, while I agree with much of what has been said about the need for a functional government line, we should vote for this measure while trying to stress its origins aren’t with Labour and that we welcome their conversion to our point of view, albeit three years too late to be useful. Narratives are important in politics and we need to maintain the consistency of our support for this. And if it makes a future coalition with Labour more awkward? Good – coalitions should contain visible differences and we’re usefully preparing the groundwork for this.

  • I would it find it rather astonishing if Liberal Democrats did not support a Labour motion on a policy idea that was the creation on their own parties much regarded Vince Cable. Just to toe the Government line of being in coalition.

    The Tories have been one of the most rebellious governments in recent times, defying 3 line party whips, scuppered lords reform. Along with many others

    The Liberal Democrats only have a couple of more years to “distance” themselves from this coalition government and be in a credible position to campaign at the next election showing that they are different to the Tories.

    I do not think, voting against a motion tabled by the opposition on a policy proposal which was not only the “baby” that is much loved by the party and created by the much respected Vince Cable, purely for partisan reasons, would restore any of that credability

  • Firstly, on the 10p tax story – we have had the Coalition using it to bash Labour for years (Brown, Miliband, Balls abolished 10p tax….etc) but when they say they plan to reintroduce it, it is now said to be a stupid idea anyway – yet another example of why, we the public, do not have much respect for our politicians.

    Of course, Miliband is playing politics a bit here but in the end some form of wealth tax should be in place and one based on property, if done correctly, might be a good option.

    Surely the LD should be glad they are influencing policies, even if of the party they have spent the last couple of years criticising at their Tory masters’ behest. I think you would find a large number of Labour supporters sympathetic to this idea – much more so that your Coalition partners

    If you vote against it then you will help Labour use it to bash you in the North and Tory/Labour marginals – that is politics and I wish you would stop this ‘holier than you’ approach when it is manifestly not the case. Labour will also be pretty happy if you hold on to Eastleigh as it will show that the Tories may struggle to win your seats in the South.

  • Julian Critchley 17th Feb '13 - 11:22am

    Greg Webb nails this.

    The LibDems should vote for their own policy. The Tory press will howl if they do, but the Tory press will howl if they don’t. In fact, if the LibDems vote against the measure, then I would put money on the Tories themselves, and their pet papers, using that “U-turn” as a criticism of the LibDems in 2015. Politics is a rough game.

    The LibDems are in government – quite possibly for the last time in decades, if voting intentions remain in line with the polls. They have managed, through fair means and foul, to force a mansion tax onto the agenda, despite their Tory “partners” trying to kill it. Now they have a chance to put it into place. So let’s look at the pros and cons :

    Pros

    It’s a good policy (can we remember when this part was about trying to promote good policies ?)
    It prevents Labour making short-term political gain against the LibDems
    It allows the LibDems to say that they held true to their policies and principles, perhaps winning back some supporters
    It’s popular in the country, despite the best efforts of the Tory press
    It’s distinctive, and along with the tax threshold starts to build the LibDems USP as the party of a fairer tax system
    It will irritate the Tories
    It may open the way for better relations with the Labour Party with a view to future co-operation

    Cons

    The Tory press will howl about collective responsibility, which they were rather less keen on when they were celebrating the end of Lords reform, and which nobody outside Westminster understands, let alone gives a stuff about.
    Err…that’s it.

    The party is in government, and it has the chance to put in place a policy which might go some small way towards halting the slide of this country into a kleptocracy run by a super-rich class who pay no tax, while soup kitchens and food banks multiply, and public services are run into the ground. Could it not just be done ? Would it not feel good to just do something because it is RIGHT, and remember why we all got into this political game in the first place ?

    Just a thought.

  • I think Ed Miliband actually wants a new kind of progressive centre politics. I really don’t think he is Tony Blaire MK II. It’s easy to forget that Ed Miliband is virtually the only major non Lib Dem who supported AV.
    In this case I think he’s being a little to optimistic about how cooperation between members of his and other parties might work and also about the reality of the influence our press still exerts over our political classes. Attempts at truly progressive inter party policy would require a very stoic attitude to a press that would bombard everyone with the idea that “these lefty do gooders are going to tax earrings” or whatever,. What I think he is suggesting is that the policies would have to reach a cross party consensus that bypassed the need for coercion. but for all sorts of reasons this would be difficult.

    On the subject of this coalition, the Lib Dems have put stability at the centre of the agreement which gives the party little room to maneuver and the rights and wrongs of that are an entirely different discussion. Personally again I think the problem is that politicians are generally still more worried about what the press will say than what voters will think .

  • @Mark Thompson
    Collective responsibility would not count in an opposition debate in advance of the budget one. There is a chance to have ones cake and eat it. The opposition debate, as it would have no real meaning, would allow the Lib Dem position to be clearly stated and make it hard for Labour to back off in any future Government they are part of. Then in the budget debate the Lib Dems can say, clearly, that they are restrained in how they vote, but have made there feeling clear if they were freed from collective responsibility. Also the responsibility only extends to government members not back benchers.

  • In my experience, ordinary people respect politicians who stand by their principles. They do not really care much about ‘collective responsibility’ – esp when it seems to mean politicians saying one thing and doing something else. Voting against something you have been passionately advocating just makes you look a bit silly at best and untrustworthy.

  • @Steve Way

    Spot on. As I have said on previous threads regarding this matter. I can only see this strengthening the Liberal Democrats position if they played their cards right. It would be an absurd own goal if they shoot themselves in the foot on this one.

  • It’s my understanding that collective responsibility is a convention not a rule, and in my opinion it should have been ejected the instant a coalition was in power.

  • David Allen 17th Feb '13 - 1:01pm

    Er, hang on a minute! I have consistently opposed this coalition ever since about two months after the election, when it became clear that the coalition agreement was not to be relied upon. But – Walking out on a big issue of principle such as the NHS would have been one thing. Turning coalition into a pick-and-mix arrangement with co-operation frayed around the edges would be quite another.

    First of all, isn’t it blatantly obvious that Ed M is playing tricksy, trying to drive a wedge, and trying to cause embarassment? If the public see that, they won’t like it if we fall for the trick.

    Secondly, what exactly do we have to buy from Labour? Do we also have to vote for their 10p tax band, and scrap our own ideas on higher thresholds? Because Labour are saying the mansion tax and the 10p band go hand in hand.

    Thirdly, what will the Tories say if we start picking and choosing when we work with them and when we don’t? They will not be happy bunnies. They will have ways of retaliating.

    I’d suggest we abstain, and explain that we have to do what we have always said we are doing, keeping a consistent government in place. Or else, break the Coalition, but on an issue that matters to us, not because of a trick by Ed Miliband.

  • Good post Julian Critchley.

    Voting against their own flagship policy would make the LibDems look utterly ludicrous to the country ! Ok so LD MPs may not like Labour having adopted it but this is not what the country would see if LDs abstained or voted against the amendment.

    Imagine the fun Labour would have with that ! Look ahead to 2015. I can hear it now:
    LDs pledged to vote against tuition fees, responsible for voting through potentially catastrophic NHS reforms and cutting the welfare budget to below inflation uprating for 3 years, voting for a bedroom tax that has meant hundreds if not thousands of families have been evicted for rent arrears not forgetting forcing households to pay council tax out of their subsistence-level benefits for the first time ever and they even (abstained or) voted against a mansion tax – another one their so-called flagship policies !

    The humiliation is surely bad enough already without adding this to the pot.

  • Lib Dems and the Conservatives do make a majority so there is no reason why they cannot amend a Labour proposal (on second reading?) to authorise rather than mandate the chancellor to introduce a ‘mansion tax’. At the same time they could alter the 10p tax to zero (just raising the threshold).

    I do not think proposing such a bill would be so difficult for the coalition, because in the end it is up to the chancellor to implement it and a couple of years away from an election means that it does not actually have to be on stream before then. They can justifiably say that we have accepted the principle but are working out how it can be efficiently implemented. Personally, I think that the so called ‘mansion tax’ is incorporated into the council community charge as the system is already in place.

    The coalition could even announce that its MPs could have a ‘free vote’ on the issue.

  • You forget that the Labour Party believes it will form the largest party in a hung Parliament next time, but that it also believes (indeed, expects) that Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander will be forced to go to the backbenches as Labour’s price in 2015 for deigning to allow the Lib Dems to join in coalition with them, and that the Lib Dems will have to support the entire Labour manifesto with little room for any Lib Dem policies, again, as the price for absolving your sins in going into coalition with the Tories and as the price for being allowed to form a coalition with Labour.

    But that’s DIFFERENT from doing it to the Tories. Because the Tories are wrong and evil, you see, whereas Labour is right and noble. It’s the Lib Dems’ duty to just suck it up, apparently.

  • “They cannot simply pick and choose which fiscal measures to support.”

    Why not?

    “The government would have lasted about 5 minutes with this sort of approach.”

    That’s simply not true. There was never any reason in the first place to assume that a coalition government should abide by the same rules as a majority government. And if the people elect a coalition, it’s reasonable to suppose that they intend (insofar as anything is intended by such a vote) for the two parties to act as checks on each other — that is, for their programme to consist only of things that both parties can agree on. If one of the parties makes a policy of submitting to the behests of the other, then they are really not fulfilling the purpose for which they were elected.

  • @David Allen:
    “Thirdly, what will the Tories say if we start picking and choosing when we work with them and when we don’t? They will not be happy bunnies. They will have ways of retaliating.”

    Surely the Liberal Democrats did not enter government with the purpose of making the Conservatives “happy bunnies”.
    As for potential retaliation, I’m not sure that the Liberal Democrats could suffer any more politically than they have already. In fact, such evidence as their is points to a modest increase in popularity when they resist the Conservative programme.

  • “isn’t it blatantly obvious that Ed M is playing tricksy, trying to drive a wedge, and trying to cause embarassment”

    I see it slightly differently. Labour knows that the Lib Dems have lost a lot of support in the country and they want these voters to find a home with Labour. Taking on LD policies means that those voters who despise the LD leadership (and ‘will never vote Lib Dem again ‘) can vote Labour knowing that they can have a mansion tax etc don’t be surprised to find a Pupil Premium in their next Manifesto. In fact soon the LDs won’t have any unique policies. That’s what a sensible Labour ( or Tory party) should do tbh to break the LD vote and secure a majority.

  • Phyllis,
    LibDems (and as Liberals, Whigs and Radicals before) have an internal dynamic of free debate which enables us to continuously uncover new policies. Like free trade, universal voting, education, pensions, the NHS, like supporting minority rights, equality legislation, abortion, like not invading Iraq, environmental protection and tax reform…

    Labour doesn’t support free debate – just ask Wolfgang Walter. Just like tories claim credit for raising personal allowances while they opposed the policy, Labour has habitually claimed credit for introducing ideas it originally rejected.

    We’re very happy to point to all these examples where we’ve convinced our opponents of the merits of our arguments – it only stengthens our commitment to the liberal democratic method: we don’t dictate, we listen.

  • Ed Miliband hasn’t got ‘us’, because the public can’t ‘get’ him. The public doesn’t know him from Adam… or David…

    He’s further away from being PM now than when he was first elected Labour leader, because he continuously boxes himself into a corner.

    Miliband’s strategy is massively flawed – that is, if he’s got one, because he keeps changing tack.

    By ruling out coalition with Clegg, Miliband essentially ruled himself out of contention as Labour is looking less and less likely to gain an overall majority. Now he’s trying to muscle in on territory LibDems staked out long ago, effectively conceding that we’ve won the policy debate and reversing his objections to a potential future coalition, thereby strengthening our hand in elections and any potential future negotiations.

    It demonstrates Miliband’s lack of leadership, implicitly highlighting his lack of ability as a leader in government. Labour under Miliband is losing credibility by the day. The tide is turning, the question is how long this takes to translate into the opinion polls.

    After LibDem victory in Eastleigh, maybe?

  • Oranjepan, I don’t actually disagree with you.

    “Now he’s trying to muscle in on territory LibDems staked out long ago, effectively conceding that we’ve won the policy debate”

    Yes but that doesn’t actually help you much because LDs are only ever likely to be the minority partner in any Coalition and whatever policies you have , LD Ministers have to vote with the majority partner in Government -as has been pointed out above, because of collective responsibility. So for those voters thinking ‘I agree with Lib Dem policies what’s the point of voting Lib Dem ?’ , Labour is saying ‘ vote for us because we have the same policy and so we can form a majority Government and enact these policies’.

    Voters don’t really care that much about who ” won the policy debate”‘.

  • Thanks, but please speak for yourself.

    Complaints about LibDem powerlessness have been disproved time and time again – we’ve grown from a party with a handful of MPs and councillors to a party which has shared power in devolved parliaments, has grown to control major English cities, and has forced the first coalition government outside of wartime.

    Critics have predicted our demise since we could fit our party in the back of a single black cab.

    It hasn’t happened yet, and by the number of volunteers in Eastleigh there are more than ever who are determined to ensure it doesn’t happen, despite all the knocks we’ve taken from various scandals.

    We continue to rewrite the record books. It is a record of LibDem success.

    That record shows that voters do care, and do notice.

    The criticisms of the LibDem party actually shows that voters want a LibDem government – but we want a LibDem government which is worthy of the name. It will happen within my lifetime, and I want it to happen well before I pass over.

  • Max Wilkinson 17th Feb '13 - 10:43pm

    Newsflash for those in the political bubble: Joe Public doesn’t care about the concept of collective responsibility. He does care about politicians who ‘say one thing and do another’.

    A couple of weeks ago I went canvassing on an action day. One of the canvass card questions was about whether people supported the Lib Dem policy for a tax on the super rich. If we vote against such a policy, won’t we look a bit stupid?

  • How about, and go with me on this, it’s kinda out there but try and hang on…

    How about you look at the idea, see if you agree with it, and if so, vote for it in parliament?

    and also, (okay, this is where is gets weird, but hang on in there), if you don’t, then you vote against it?

    And well, I dunno, ignore the “Ooh, it’s Labour, we don’t like them” and “Ooh, the Tories will be cross if we disagree with them” aspects?

  • The Labour Party will have the Lib Dems over a barrel after the next election. If Labour win outright then the votes of the remaining LibDem MPs are irrelevant. If the Tories win then the votes of LibDem MPs will rarely be relevant. If Labour fail to win an outright majority, the Labour Party leaders could say, “We will form a minority government. The LibDem MPs can either support us with their votes or they can undermine this minority government. But if they undermine us then it shows that really they are only interested in supporting Tory governments and not in giving the country stable government.” This all stems from the LibDem leadership’s misguidedly enthusiastic support for forming a coalition with the Tories. Because of their privileged upbringing, the LibDem leadership completely failed to consider how whole-hearted alliance with the Tories would appear to the large numbers of voters who dislike the Tory party. Major mistake by Nick Clegg and his advisers.

  • Phyllis argues that what Ed Miliband is doing is simply adopting as many Lib Dem policies as he reasonably can, so as to steal away Lib Dem voters.

    Well, I’m not saying she’s wrong. Indeed, I’m sure she is partly right. However Phyllis – Why do you think Ed M has come out in favour of a mansion tax now, more than two years before the election? After all, on most of his policy options he is keeping his cards very close to his chest – whether because he is scared of “peaking too early”, or because he is a ditherer, we cannot tell. But on mansion tax, he has made an early declaration of commitment.

    I think he can only have done that to play games with the Lib Dem vote. Maybe he hopes to see a noisy split between Clegg and Cable?

    Well, I would love to see Clegg ousted and our policy changed, to make a coalition of the left the more likely option after 2015. But that won’t happen if it is instigated by a fancy manoeuvre on the part of Miliband. Indeed, falling for such a manoeuvre would be the best way to discredit the whole idea and help to entrench Clegg in place.

  • Ed, that’s nonsense.

    Labour want to believe they have LibDems over a barrel, but they don’t. Labour can’t form a minority govt unless the maths means they could win a vote in the commons, and given the course of this parliament so far that will only happen if they gain an overall majority – a receding prospect.

    That’s because if Labour want to form a minority administration they will be forced to depend on the acquiescence of nationalists and/or LibDems to at least abstain on finance bills – which necessarily means making concessions.

    Which is why Miliband moving onto LibDem territory like this mansion tax (without mention of the possibility of additional higher bands for Council Tax, which is our secondary proposal) should be seen as evidence of a thawing of relations and indicates a new-found willingness (even if only in private) in the Labour leadership to consider a future coalition. Raphael Behr has been informative on this.

    And as soon as Miliband publically accepts the principle of making concessions it is only a matter of time before he accepts the electoral rationale for making more, which completely undermines the leadership platform he staked out.

    And this is why Eastleigh is pivotal.

    If Labour get more than their previous 10% they will essentially be handing the seat to an extreme right-winger, boosting Cameron’s own chances of a majority and preventing the fallback position of a Lab-LibDem coalition in 2015. But if Labour don’t get significantly more than 10% then it is unlikely that they can win in enough southern seats to get an overall majority, making the option of a coalition essential.

    Ideally for Miliband, UKIP would split the tory vote, allowing Labour to split the LibDem vote while LibDems hold the seat, but the tories chose a UKIP candidate in all but name, making that outcome virtually impossible

    In other words the post2010 polarisation he and Balls encouraged has hurt Miliband’s potential appeal to Conservative centrists and floating voters in swing-seats, while the consequent Conservative choice of Maria Hutchings as candidate has blocked Labour’s chance of a majority and made the ‘safe’ option of another ‘balanced’ outcome in 2015 all but inevitable.

    His much-ridiculed ‘one-nation’ appeal was the last throw of the dice for a Labour majority, now the fight for is over whether Conservatives or Labour can steal more LibDem policies. This only increases our party’s influence, both now in coalition and in future coalition negotiations.

    So strategically LibDems are in the best place. And a good win in Eastleigh will only boost our activist confidence moving forward. Can you smell the spring in our step?

  • I think Labour are absolutely playing games and said so on the first thread regarding this Damascus Road conversion of Milliband. The question is, what way to outplay them? My view is to back them into the corner somehow to make this an easy win if there is a Labour led coalition after 2015. For me this is like the offers from Labour on Lords reform, items where their bluff should be called somehow to show their hypocrisy if they backtrack….

  • Julian Critchley 18th Feb '13 - 12:39am

    Oranjepan

    When I read your posts I feel like I’ve slipped through a wormhole in the space-time continuum and found myself in 2009. You do realise that the polls have Labour on enough support (including several million who voted LibDem in 2010) to win outright with ease, while the LibDems will struggle to keep enough MPs to fill a minibus ? If the LibDems don’t win back some of those voters, then the idea that Miliband is losing sleep over how to conduct a Lib-Lab government after 2015 is just fantasy.

    So how do the LibDems win back votes ? Well Cleggy thought that he could win votes from the centre-right, but it turned out that there weren’t any votes there to win, because they already vote Tory. So that leaves the centre-left, which – coincidentally – is where the great majority of the lost 2010 voters place themselves. So what sort of action would win those voters over ? Let me think, is it voting down a sound and fair tax policy which the LibDems have argued for publcly, in order to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories ? Or would it be to vote for their own sound and fair tax policy and thus keep the commitment they made as well as offering a hand to the millions of voters Clegg threw away with his conduct in coalition ?

    Read Max Wilkinson, Phyllis and Simon’s contributions : they’re all coming from the real world, in the present. Not some fantasy place where the LibDems aren’t actually on the verge of being wiped off the electoral map as a result of the leadership’s suicidal “collective responsibility” with the Tories.

  • Peter Watson 18th Feb '13 - 1:20am

    @Phyllis “don’t be surprised to find a Pupil Premium in their next Manifesto.”
    Labour and the Conservatives both had a Pupil Premium in their 2010 manifestos – it constantly amazes me that Lib Dems hold up that policy as uniquely Lib Dem. Equally, I am confused when Lib Dems take credit for a Green Investment Bank: it was in Conservative and Labour manifestos but not ours. And here we are, debating whether or not Lib Dems should support a Lib Dem policy just because Labour agree with it. It seems a bit like the way the party now opposes the notion of Labour’s 50% tax rate even though it was Lib Dem policy a few short years ago (whilst also being proud of retaining the rate for much longer than Labour did and for keeping it at 45% which is so much better than 40% or 50% so yah-boo sucks). And then we criticise Labour for wanting to reinstate a 10% tax band that we criticised them for getting rid of. Politics, eh, it’s a funny old game.

  • Martin Pierce 18th Feb '13 - 8:27am

    This kind of article makes me quite cross as it encapsulates the reasons why the Coalition has been so bad for us. The Coalition needn’t have been a disaster but it has been because of the political ineptitude of Clegg and his lieutenants in situations like this. So let’s get a few things straight. (1) Collective responsibility is NOT about the government side MPs voting for the govt – it’s full name is ‘collective Cabinet responsibility’ and it is the convention that if you are a Cabinet Minister you are obliged to support government policy or resign, (2) majority governments have rebellions, (3) this government has had rebellions by Tory backbenchers in particular, (4) these rebellions have included items in the Coalition agreement, most notably Lords reform and (in response) boundary changes, (5) the government has not ‘fallen apart after 5 minutes’ because the alternative to just accepting the position and moving on is worse for both parties (i.e. neither wants a GE right now), (6) we all know Ed is deploying a standard Opposition move, because we were in opposition long enough to have done it many times ourselves, (7) the best way to shoot his fox is to vote with him and welcome his late conversion, (8) there aren’t enough MPs anyway between Labour and LD to get a majority, (9) even if the motion did carry a majority nothing would happen as it would need George to introduce in the Budget – BUT having a vote passed in the HofC would massively increase the mandate for mansion tax and make it harder for Osborne to just dismiss it, and (10) most importantly, we have always said we believe in pluralism and cross-party working – THAT’S why we think Coalition is a good thing, not to get into bed with one of them and start yah-boo politics at the other lot like any majority govt. Being seen to work with Labour is the best way of proving this. Plus flexing our muscles just reminds the Tories that they don’t have a majority – it has only worked to our advantage when we have done it so far. And just to check – if Labour introduce a motion on STV next week, we vote against it because it’s not government policy? They introduce a motion on Lords reform (in line with our proposals) – we vote against? They introduce a motion against secret courts – we vote against? It is symptomatic of how dumb we have been since 2010 that there is even a debate about what to do here.

  • This Mansion Tax needs to be considered carefully and implementation surely won’t happen immediately. Surely we can vote for it to happen, but only after 2015?

    Or alternatively, we could negotiate dispensation for one or two key Lib Dems e.g. Vince Cable, Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg to vote for it symbolically and then the rest of the parliamentary party could abstain. That would still give the government a victory while giving Clegg the kudos of voting for the Mansion Tax, and effectively neutralising this silly, immature ruse by Miliband.

  • @Martin Pierce

    100% agree with your post. It is just a shame that others are unable to grasp the concept of a “coalition” government and how it differs to that of a single party “majority” government.
    Had the Liberal Democrats been able to decipher the difference between the 2, they would not be doing half as badly as what they have been in the polls and lost so many of its left leaning supporters.

  • “Or alternatively, we could negotiate dispensation for one or two key Lib Dems e.g. Vince Cable, Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg to vote for it symbolically and then the rest of the parliamentary party could abstain.”

    Judging from the knots that people are tying themselves in, this ruse of Miliband’s has been pretty successful. It’s still an utterly nonsensical gimmick, but I suppose that’s present-day politics for you.

  • RC 18th Feb ’13 – 10:15am…………………………
    This Mansion Tax needs to be considered carefully and implementation surely won’t happen immediately. Surely we can vote for it to happen, but only after 2015?……………………..

    So we send a signal to the electorate that 1) it’s a LibDem policy we are voting against because we are in coalition with the Tories 2) it’s a LibDem policy that we’ll vote for after 2015 “Unless we’re in coalition with the Tories”? A great way to show a vote for the LibDems is not a vote for Tory policies.

    ……….Or alternatively, we could negotiate dispensation for one or two key Lib Dems e.g. Vince Cable, Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg to vote for it symbolically and then the rest of the parliamentary party could abstain. That would still give the government a victory while giving Clegg the kudos of voting for the Mansion Tax, and effectively neutralising this silly, immature ruse by Miliband……….
    ” A silly immature ruse” that will further confuse the electorate as to why one should vote LibDem.

  • Martin Pierce, your post is very logical and well argued, but, let me see if I can pick some holes in it.

    Firstly – You say that we can safely vote with Labour because we won’t have a majority, and that even if we did find we won the vote, nothing would actually happen. Well now, don’t you feel a little queasy about that line of argument?

    What do we say if Labour then come back with demands that we turn our vote into something meaningful, by helping to vote down Osborne’s budget unless it contains a mansion tax? And when we refuse to do that, what do we say when Labour accuse us of being a bunch of chocolate soldiers who bluster about mansion tax but won’t actually stand up to Cameron and Osborne and get it implemented?

    Wouldn’t it be wise to box a bit more cleverly, as RC suggests for instance, and make it clear that we know perfectly well we can’t force this policy on the Coalition Government right now, even though it’s a good policy and we will push for it in 2015?

    Secondly – You say that Coalition should have been a much more open affair with the Lib Dems free to pick and choose what policies they will and won’t support as they go along. Well, yes it probably should have been. But it wasn’t. Cameron and Osborne “paid the top price for the Turkish carpet” and dished out Cabinet jobs generously to Lib Dems, but in return we signed a dodgy dossier called the coalition agreement, which bound us hand and foot to accept a whole lot of things we (or at any rate most of us) did not like. I’m sure the Clegg coterie knew and agreed what most of us didn’t know, that we would be dismantling State health and education, but that’s another story…

    Well, we are where we are. It is well worth us considering how we can break free from our shackles. But first of all, we have to anticipate that the Tories are not powerless to respond. What if they were to declare us to have broken the agreement, kick half of our Ministers out of Cabinet, scrap gay marriage, bend further towards UKIP, and dare us to do anything about it? They could, you know.

    Now, if we had made that break over the NHS Bill, for example, we could have turned around and told the nation that we were ready to sacrifice ourselves in defence of something that desperately matters to the nation. We would have justified our rebellion in the court of public opinion, if we had rebelled then. But – mansion tax? A fairly minor tax measure, not yet properly worked out in any detail, progressive in itself, but only one part of the overall fiscal stance? And furthermore – A battlefield chosen by Ed Miliband?

  • Martin Pierce is absolutely right, and if most Lib Dem members were as clear-thinking as he is on this issue the Coalition wouldn’t have been such a disaster for the Lib Dems and I might still be a member.

    All those still trapped in the coalition bubble, please listen to him and the rest of your members who are giving you sensible advice on how to play this. Even though I disagree with Clegg and the current leadership, I don’t want to see you guys wiped out in 2015.

    Voting against a motion in the House of Commons supporting one of your own flagship policies just makes that more likely.

  • Peter Watson 18th Feb '13 - 12:58pm

    Isn’t there a recent precedent for this sort of thing, e.g. voting against a Labour motion to delay the fuel duty rise and then supporting Osborne doing just that. And if Lib Dems take a line against Labour on the Mansion Tax issue, they will have to be careful not to leave behind any terrible quotes and soundbites to be used against them in the future. Perhaps the Lib Dem MPs should book a communal retreat somewhere on the day of any debate.

    I do think Lib Dems should think seriously about how best to handle this sort of issue rather than dismiss it out of hand, because if Labour make us look foolish or unprincipled on this occasion, then what’s the next Lib Dem policy they’ll appropriate in order to embarrass the party? We could go into the 2015 election slightly shamefaced with a manifesto full of pre-broken pledges ;-)

  • The fact that there’s a high-profile by-election in Eastleigh where the primary opposition is a Tory candidate makes this an excellent time for the party to be drawing dark lines between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives — not blurring the distinctions. If Ed Miliband is going to hand the Lib Dems that opportunity for free, why not take it? Any show of independence by the party at this point can only help.

  • If this motion is put forward before the Chancellors budget. I do not see why Liberal Democrats could not support it, just as long as Labour does not attach the mansion tax {which the party agree’s with} to say the 10p tax rate, which the party does not agree with.
    This does not mean that Liberal Democrats would have to vote against the chancellors budget, if the policy didn’t make it into it.
    What this would do for the Liberal Democrats though is to show the chancellor and the Tories, that they are not best pleased with the underhanded tactics used by the Tories last year, when Vince Cable and Alexander where in negotiations believing that talks about a mansion tax were ongoing, when all the time, the Tories where writing to their donors asking for money and promising to keep the tax man out of their homes. These funds raised by the Tories are being used to fight the by-election in Eastleigh don’t forget.

    It is vital that the Liberal Democrats starts to carve out a separate identity to the coalition government and the Tories. We are only 2 years away from the next general election and the party has a huge mountain to climb to start to restore it’s creditability, which has been lost with many left leaning voters.

    The Tories are trailing in the polls and would stand no chance of winning another election if called early, Cameron is hanging on by a thread with his own party. These weaknesses in the Tories, should be the Liberal Democrats strength. But for some reason the party does not seem to be understanding this, It is as if the party is convinced that they have to cling to the power of being in government while they can and in order to do that, they have to tow the Conservative line, when in fact this is what is weakening the Liberal Democrats in the eyes of the electorate and weakening any hopes of being re-elected.

    Leaving things to the last minute to start trying to distance yourselves from the Tories and carving out an identity will surely end in disaster.

  • There are two points missing here.

    First, we committed to the coalition for a fixed full-term. The task after the 2010 election was to instill stability and confidence at a time of multiple crises.

    And second, this meant taking on a much wider range of issues to deal with the pressures that caused the emergencies. The coalition has been hugely ambitious with the massive workload – Eurozone crisis, Leveson, expenses, electoral reform, an independence referendum, pensions reform, tax reform, QE, recession, HS2, health reform, hugher education funding, the Olympics… the list goes on.

    Forget Plebgate and the horsemeat scare, the bar was set inordinately high both on long term aims and immediate events, particularly compared to the modest and often dubious acheivements of Labour. Taken from the broader perspective, we were warned that this wouldn’t be easy and we were certain to see disappointments, so it’s up to us to use our influence while we’ve got it rather than go scuba diving (you can never completely abandon ship once you’ve voted LibDem).

    I agree there is a time to cast away from the coalition boat, but that time is at election time with full hindsight to provide the view to future prospects.

    We have gone into the Eastleigh by-election as an independent party and we are fighting to win, based upon the successes Keith House, Mike Thornton and the team have achieved for Eastleigh and they promise to continue improving Eastleigh. This means opposing those like Maria Hutchings who want to cause harm. The public sees this and they can be sure the same will be the case whenever the question is asked.

    Of course there will be nay-sayers; democracy isn’t perfect, it’s the price you have to pay for the mistakes of opponents when you take on greater responsibility. It’s about grown-up government.

  • David Allen 18th Feb '13 - 6:00pm

    Well – I don’t agree with Oranjepan. I think that if we do nothing to distance ourselves from the Tories until 2015, or late 2014, then we will be seen by all as just pale pink Tories. That would suit Clegg and Laws, who would prefer us to sleepwalk into a permanent coalition with the Tories, and will try to engineer things so that this happens. Those who support leaving it until 2015 are supporting that outcome.

    Clegg could not credibly “cast away from the coalition boat”, even if he wanted to. So we need a new leader, preferably some time this year, who can credibly break away from what has happened since 2010: first, to put the coalition onto an entirely different footing, and second, to make clear that it ends altogether in 2015.

    However – We need to plan this ourselves! We cannot sensibly ask Ed Miliband to plan it for us!

    I have read a lot of people saying why it would be good to vote by gut instinct, and support Miliband on mansion tax, because it feels good. I haven’t seen anyone try to address my arguments, posted at 12.26 today, as to why that would not actually work well for us if we tried it.

  • I thought Liberal Democrats went into government to
    a) provide stability to the markets
    b) To clean up politics with a more open, honest and transparent politics with no more broken promises
    c) To reform politics with House of Lords reform and boundary reforms
    d) To balance the budgets and pay down the deficit and the debt
    e) To be a sensible moderator to the Tory excesses

    with regards to the above
    a) was just like the book of revelations, Horror story to instil fear and conformity
    b) is about as open and honest as a pack of beef burgers
    c) Proves that coalition politics do not collapse when both parties scupper each others reforms, despite them being in a coalition agreement
    d) The deficit has been reduced but the debt is still rising due to a double dip recession and possibly a triple, killing off growth with cuts that go to far and to deep
    e) Was a complete non stater with the top down reorganisation and part privatisation of the NHS, Excessive Welfare reforms, the list could go on and on.

    The Liberal Democrats have stood their ground in area’s like the killing off the boundary reforms. They have picked their fights {when it has suited them} the problem is in the eye’s of the public they have picked the wrong battles.

    A change in direction at the {very last minute} before the next election will not restore any credibility in the public’s opinion

  • Err, David, can you not tell the striking differences between Mike Thornton and Maria Hutchings?

  • David Allen 18th Feb '13 - 7:17pm

    They talk differently, but their parties are working together. The public are not impressed by politicians who talk different but act similar.

  • Do the Lib Dems support the Mansion Tax or not? That is the question. Getting tied up in knots about this makes LDs look indecisive, if you believe in a mansion tax, vote for it. The Tories will vote for what they believe in eg keeping benefits for rich pensioners, coming out of Europe, keeping an unelected House of Lords. You guys look very naive if you keep supporting the Tories and sacrificing your own policies/principles.

  • In that situation it would be Labour who would have far greater difficulty that the Lib Dems. So you really think that Labour would try and claim that refusing to talk to other minority parties, and then forming a minority government was how you “give the country stable government”. I think there is a slight flaw in your argument, there.

    Not really, no. The current LibDem justification for the forming of the current coalition government is that if the Lib-Dems had not joined a coalition with the Tories, the Tories would have formed a minority government and then held an election in November 2010 at which the Tories would have been elected with a majority. The logic of Labour forming a minority government would be that they are following exactly the path that LibDem orthodoxy currently holds would be a success for the Tories. Of course, the quickest way of answering all these questions would be to hold a general election as soon as possible so that the population could give it’s opinion on the current coalition.

  • David Allen ” However Phyllis – Why do you think Ed M has come out in favour of a mansion tax now, more than two years before the election? After all, on most of his policy options he is keeping his cards very close to his chest – whether because he is scared of “peaking too early”, or because he is a ditherer, we cannot tell. But on mansion tax, he has made an early declaration of commitment.

    I think he can only have done that to play games with the Lib Dem vote. Maybe he hopes to see a noisy split between Clegg and Cable?”

    Oh yes Ed Miliband is in a win-win situation here. He can entice Lib Dem voters and also stir things up with the Coalition. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. It’s landed the Lib Dems in a bit of a pickle, if this thread is anything to go by.

  • Peter Watson – “Labour and the Conservatives both had a Pupil Premium in their 2010 manifestos – it constantly amazes me that Lib Dems hold up that policy as uniquely Lib Dem. Equally, I am confused when Lib Dems take credit for a Green Investment Bank: it was in Conservative and Labour manifestos but not ours. And here we are, debating whether or not Lib Dems should support a Lib Dem policy just because Labour agree with it. It seems a bit like the way the party now opposes the notion of Labour’s 50% tax rate even though it was Lib Dem policy a few short years ago (whilst also being proud of retaining the rate for much longer than Labour did and for keeping it at 45% which is so much better than 40% or 50% so yah-boo sucks). And then we criticise Labour for wanting to reinstate a 10% tax band that we criticised them for getting rid of. Politics, eh, it’s a funny old game.”

    Thanks Peter, I hadn’t realised that re the PP, Green Investment Bank etc etc. yes it is a funny old game!! And becoming curiouser and curiouser…..

  • David Allen 18th Feb ’13 – 12:26pm…………………the Tories are not powerless to respond. What if they were to declare us to have broken the agreement, kick half of our Ministers out of Cabinet, scrap gay marriage, bend further towards UKIP, and dare us to do anything about it? They could, you know………….

    No they couldn’t…. For example; Cameron has made umpteen speeches in favour of gay marriage, pushed it through against half of his party’s wishes. Are you seriously suggesting that he can, suddenly, tell the electorate, “I don’t believe in it, after all”, or, even worse, “I’m doing this to spite the LibDems”.
    Any such actions will mean that parliament will cease to govern; the only course will be to dissolve it and, with every poll showing a Labour outright win, a change of government…

    Cameron needs the LibDems just as much as they need him;. Tories huffed and puffed over boundary changes but they realise that, until 2015, coalition “is the only game in town” .

  • Phyllis said:

    “Oh yes Ed Miliband is in a win-win situation here. He can entice Lib Dem voters and also stir things up with the Coalition…. It’s landed the Lib Dems in a bit of a pickle, if this thread is anything to go by.”

    So, we’re in agreement, then. We agree that Miliband is playing party games. You exult that they are clever games, because you evidently support Labour. I am less impressed, not because I am terribly anti-Labour (on the contrary, I think they are much the lesser evil compared with the Tories), but because I don’t like party gaming.

    Phyllis said:

    “If you believe in a mansion tax, vote for it. … You guys look very naive if you keep supporting the Tories and sacrificing your own policies/principles.”

    Well now Phyllis, what is your motivation for saying that? Would you like us to avoid Miliband’s clever trap, or would you like us to fall into it?

  • Why should the party vote for the Labour motion. It is flawed.

  • David,
    you and I work together to advance the same causes (although not in the same way or for the same reasons), do you think people reading our exchanges can’t tell us apart?

  • I would be very surprised and disappointed if you do not vote in favour of mansion tax even if that means siding with labour. “All talk and no action” is something vince, clegg and libdems in general are getting famous for. Tution fees was one blunder you already did. I hope you do not commit a major mistake again by voting against or abandoning the mansion tax vote although it might be more of a symbolic nature. Please show some spine. Don’t become a symbolic force in British politics.

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