The crowded centre-left

The “crowded centre-left” may seem an odd phrase to use when the Labour Party appears to be about to lurch off to the hard left, but there is some context here for both the self-indulgence of Corbynism, and for some of the decisions we will have to make as a party in the coming months.

Many, notably David Howarth and Mark Pack, have argued, in an otherwise very good paper, that the socially liberal, economic right is a desert, and we must be pitching our tent economically on the centre left.

The evidence for this comes from the British Election Study, which does indeed appear to show very few voters of any kind on the economic centre-right, which begs the question of how on earth the Conservatives managed to win the election. Of course there are other factors, but the economy (stupid) has to be significant. I suggest there are problems with the BES here, but that it can still provide some illumination.

Most of the BES data relates to questions that are asked of the same people multiple times over years to show changes in public opinion. A few, however, relate to what are thought to be reasonably static attitudes and are only asked once. 5 of these relate to how left or right-wing the respondent is. They are:

  • Government should redistribute income from the better off to those who are less well off
  • Big business takes advantage of ordinary people
  • Ordinary working people do not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth
  • There is one law for the rich and one for the poor
  • Management will always try to get the better of employees if it gets the chance

In each case the subject is asked to select from

  1. Strongly Disagree
  2. Disagree
  3. Neither agree nor disagree
  4. Agree
  5. Strongly Agree

Howarth quotes the first of these questions and concludes (4-Agree is about the average response) that the people support redistribution and so are centre-left. This is not quite good enough. No parties are proposing to abolish redistribution, and if you support redistribution to a smaller extent than currently occurs, you might give any one of the five possible answers.

The questions strike me as left-wing grievances rather than good discriminators of left-right opinion. You would get a different picture asking for agreement or disagreement to

  • Taxes (on people like me) are too high
  • It is too easy to live on benefits without trying to work
  • There is too much immigration
  • We need a strong growing private sector economy to create wealth and jobs, and support the public sector through tax revenues
  • Union bosses care too much about their personal power and prestige and not enough about the school students/commuters etc whose lives they disrupt

These are not better questions, they are equally bad questions reflecting different grievances.

Nonetheless, just for fun, let’s take everybody’s answers to the questions we have, convert to numbers (1 Strongly Disagree up to 5 Strongly Agree), and add them up over the 5 questions so we get a score of 5 to 25 for each person where 5 is the most right-wing and 25 the most left-wing. We plot the distributions of these scores separated according to which party the person voted for in the General Election.

BES Lr s

We see that Conservative voters are the most right-wing with a median of 17, next are Lib Dems with a median of 19. UKIP and the BNP have a median of 20 and on the left are Labour, the SNP, Plaid and the Greens with identical distributions and a median of 21.

Taking 15 to be the centre, the centre-right is indeed an electoral desert. But you can only count the centre as 15 if you believe the questions to be unbiassed. The questions are biassed and the data suggests the centre is at 20.

What this does show is that the economic centre-left is incredibly crowded. Not just the 4 parties we expected, but UKIP is also competing here – left wing grievances are a natural part of its politics of fear and grievance.

What do we expect to happen in this fractious and fragmented centre-left? And who is going to compete with the Conservatives for the votes of “people who just want a moderate, competent government which keeps the economy on track. One which ensures that there are decent public services that don’t cost the earth.”

* Joe Otten is the candidate for Sheffield Heeley, a councillor in Sheffield and Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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107 Comments

  • It’s as if the 2015 general election just didn’t happen for some people ….

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Aug '15 - 6:21pm

    Alex 25th Aug ’15 – 5:53pm
    “It’s as if the 2015 general election just didn’t happen for some people ….”

    Hammer/nail/head.

    David Howarth every time.

  • Tony Dawson 25th Aug '15 - 6:24pm

    I thought that Lib Dem News had rules about overly-long articles from persons who have no recent succesful track record in electoral politics?

    Can Joe Otten explain briefly why Lib Dems and/or Labour (under any Leader you like) cannot compete for

    ” the votes of “people who just want a moderate, competent government which keeps the economy on track. and . . . “one which ensures that there are decent public services that don’t cost the earth” ?

    He appears to be re-living the last days of the Coalition.

  • It’s also as if Adam Smith and several hundred years of wealth theory never happened either, judging by Joe’s stubborn refusal to have a good long think about why he’s wrong about his fourth question. The following gives some hints in an amusing way :-

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/94efee48-1c18-11e1-9631-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3jqgdURxX

  • Little Jackie Paper 25th Aug '15 - 6:51pm

    Interesting article this. Three thoughts.

    1 – Is there a suggestion here that what might be termed, ‘the Corbyn left,’ might actually hold some appeal across a reasonably large section of the voters? That, of course, might not translate into votes for any number of reasons.

    2 – It does make you wonder how far the differences on the left, in the loose sense, are irreconcilable. The Conservatives won the election, to my mind, broadly because there were able to be reasonably united. Something the left has not exactly excelled at.

    3 – I assume that the data here relates to people who voted? A look at non-voters would be interesting.

  • Paul Pettinger 25th Aug '15 - 6:54pm

    But left right for the purposes of this discussion is not determined by the position of political parties or indeed by the middle point of a scoring mechanism used, but by the position of the voters which by ignoring renders the above analysis pretty meaningless. You want to inject doubt into Professor Howarth’s analysis, but by putting forward such an argument I think you will only backfire.

  • George Kendall 25th Aug '15 - 7:58pm

    @Alex, Stephen Hesketh, Tony Dawson, Paul Pettinger

    Joe might well be wrong, I don’t know.

    He argues that analysis of the British Election Study shows that even the Tories score 17 on the scale of between 5 and 25. And that most parties are well to the left on that scale.

    I would be interested to read why the above argument is wrong. But I can’t find a direct response. Mostly, you guys seem to be saying David Howarth is right and Joe Otten is wrong, without saying why.

    @Stuart
    Doesn’t Joe acknowledge that his fourth question is an equally bad question to any of the others? So why criticise him for it?
    Also, I’ve reached my limit for free FT articles, can you provide a brief summary?

    @Little Jackie Piper
    Thanks for a fuller response to Joe. Just as Michael Foot got huge attendances at public meetings during the 1983 election, but a poor result, I suspect the same would be true of Corbyn.
    I think your point 2) is important. There is indeed a huge gulf between people who think of themselves as traditional socialists and those who think of themselves as social democrats.
    My experience is that getting habitual non-voters to vote is incredibly hard. I don’t think Corbyn will succeed where others have failed.

  • “….the Labour Party appears to be about to lurch off to the hard left..”

    Not sure Corbyn is “hard left” .

    Just “left”.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Aug '15 - 8:18pm

    It is as though the 2015 election never happened, because I still can’t see any sign of an independent review into what went wrong.

    The idea that because 2015 didn’t work then centrism is a dud strategy is ridiculous. If centrism is a dud strategy then every strategy is dud, because they all get beat from time to time. The manifesto was not really centrist either, but again, we are just guessing without a proper review.

    Yes, the economic centre left is crowded, but we need to stop these debates getting derailed by people saying “centrism doesn’t work because of one election result by a third party in 2015”.

  • Little Jackie Paper 25th Aug '15 - 8:30pm

    George Kendall – Thank you.

    ‘Thanks for a fuller response to Joe. Just as Michael Foot got huge attendances at public meetings during the 1983 election, but a poor result, I suspect the same would be true of Corbyn.’

    Foot also regularly outperformed Thatcher in the Commons. I’m very cautious of drawing the Foot/Corbyn comparison. Foot was in many ways the last of the old guard where Corbyn is the outsider (or at least that’s what he says). That said, like you, my feeling is that Corbyn gets a great reaction from the believers but I’m struggling to see how a Corbyn leadership would stack up electorally.

    ‘I think your point 2) is important. There is indeed a huge gulf between people who think of themselves as traditional socialists and those who think of themselves as social democrats.’

    There is. It’s always been there I think, but certainly it’s a sharper divide now. In my view it’s probably to do with the decline of the, ‘old style,’ working class and the rise of the coping classes. I don’t know what the answer is to these divides, but as I said earlier the Conservatives stay reasonably united and win, the left divides and loses.

    ‘My experience is that getting habitual non-voters to vote is incredibly hard. I don’t think Corbyn will succeed where others have failed.’

    Non voters appeared to turn out for the Scottish referendum but, like you I can’t think of any immediate examples from a General Election. Of course there is no reason to assume that all non-voters are left-leaning.

  • David Evershed 25th Aug '15 - 8:34pm

    Lib Dems should avoid being classified as right, left or centre.

    We should be classified as liberal ……..

    ……… as opposed to an authoritarian, centralising. state controlling party ……. which could be applied to Labour and also Conservative to some extent.

  • Little Jackie Paper 25th Aug '15 - 8:51pm

    David Evershed – That’s my problem. The classic point against Liberals is that it’s all well and good railing about the state controlling people, what do you do about capital controlling people? I always am left with the vague feeling that a lot of people in this party don’t quite get that. The various points in the article assume a state/individual dichotomy – fair enough. But if you are not looking at how liberty is crimped by capital as well as the state you aren’t looking at the full picture.

    My suspicion is that what is perceived as the centre left is crowded because there are a lot of competing analyses that are seen as, ‘left wing,’ by dint of nothing more than proposing an active state. I don’t immediately know what methodology would show up the rightward lean, but I’m confident it’s there.

  • Keith Browning 25th Aug '15 - 8:54pm

    The reason why the Tories won the election seems simple and down to mathematics rather than policies or economics.

    1. Scots voters turned on the English (Westminster) establishment after they were lied to in the referendum.
    2. Labour seat count in England stayed firm.
    5. Tories spent 5 years understanding/undermining the Lib Dem voter psyche – via the Coalition, and then used the SNP/Coalition scaremongering to push the LD voters in London and especially the SW, over the edge, to vote Tory.

    What is difficult to understand about that.

    From the very first day of the Coalition, the Tory hierachy realised that their friends were there for the taking. QED.

  • John Tilley 25th Aug '15 - 9:03pm

    Joe help me out here, please. You were a parliamentary candidate in the general election in May. How much of your analysis here is informed by what happened in your constituency or indeed across Sheffield?

    I may be wrong but it seems to me that you were writing similar things long before the general election or any of the studies or analysis which came after it. Is that wrong? If you have changed your view in the light of experience can you flag what exactly has changed?

    I really would be interested in how you see the result in your constituency, which was in many ways a dramatic one for our party (although there were plenty of other constituencies across the country which were also dramatic).
    If what you write in this article is indeed the case – does that indicate you will change what you are doing in Sheffield or that you will just carry on as before?

  • George Kendall 25th Aug '15 - 9:51pm

    @Little Jackie Paper
    I think we clashed a little in the last five years over the coalition, so it’s very nice to find myself agreeing with you so much.

    I too am troubled by a description of the Liberal Democrats that focuses solely on liberty.

    The preamble to the constitution uses the word community as often as it does liberty. For me, the key clause in the preamble is “we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community”.

    Personally, I think whether we are centre or centre-left is a matter of semantics. I regard the party as anti-poverty. If that’s the same as centre-left, then centre-left is what we are.

    What would concern me, however, is if we stopped pitching for the votes of moderate people who currently vote Tory. If we did that, and especially if Labour also did that, then I think Tory majority governments would be almost guaranteed.

  • Stephen Donnelly 25th Aug '15 - 11:15pm

    One approach would be to start with the things that we want to achieve in politics, and then design a promotional strategy around that.

  • “Tragically caught up in that fear of Labour and the SNP”

    Really – your party was flatlining in the polls at disastrous levels for years before the SNP surge.

    I don’t support your party but it’s depressing to see this lack of analysis of yourselves – seeing yourselves as victims of some “tragedy” outside your control instead of taking responsibility for what you did and didn’t do and then thinking about what to do ( and not do) next!

    Good luck with it.

  • George Kendall

    ‘I regard the party as anti- poverty’

    Is there a pro-poverty party ?

  • Bill le Breton 26th Aug '15 - 9:13am

    Is there a difference between a core support and a core vote?

    If so, how should this influence strategy?

  • David Evans 26th Aug '15 - 9:22am

    kevin – Based on what they do when in power, as opposed to what they choose to say, there can be no doubt that the Conservatives have little concern about poverty.

  • David Evans 26th Aug '15 - 9:53am

    Keith Browning has it absolutely right in his last sentence – “From the very first day of the Coalition, the Tory hierarchy realised that their friends were there for the taking. QED.” Sadly there are still too many senior Lib Dems out there who don’t want to face up to the fact that they were totally Conned and made a mess of things in coalition. However, voters interpret their silence on this as evidence that they were happy with what happened in coalition and so will simply continue to blame the Lib Dems for the bad things that happened while rewarding the Cons for the economic recovery, and the longer it goes on the more entrenched that view will become.

    My worry is that too many of us simply want to sit tight, do nothing and wait for all the nasty things to go away. The only thing that is going away with that strategy is the chance that most of our old voters will ever return to us.

  • Neil Sandison 26th Aug '15 - 10:13am

    I note Joe Otten is a councillor and he like me probable knows that when you are out on the doorstep voters can express both left and right wing views in the same breath .What the electorate in my experience is in most cases is fair minded and dislikes injustice or an unlevel playing field where things seem stacked against them. Thats why we must get back to our roots of liberty,freedom ,social justice and community .We are not authoritarian like the Labour and Conservative parties .We do not always claim to know whats best for you or pretend to be lady bountiful handed out prizes if you will only just vote for us !The one time we did this was over tuition fees and we came an almighty cropper because of it. We try to build consensus in communities and come up with practical solutions within the budgets available .The electorate must know instinctively that they can expect fair treatment from Liberal Democrats.

  • David Howarth 26th Aug '15 - 10:18am

    Joe

    The target group Mark and I propose is not ‘the centre left’ but the tolerant centre and centre left. The word ‘tolerant’ is important. Yes you are right that a large numbers of voters are ‘right wing’ in the non-economic sense of being intolerant of different people and styles of life. We are not proposing targeting them. I can’t believe that you want to target them either, although that is, oddly, what you seem to imply with the different set of questions you propose, especially the question on immigration.

    Breaking down the voting population by both economic left-right issues and tolerance of difference reveals a lot more than trying to squash the two together. It reveals, for example, that there are two groups of voters larger than the others, namely the intolerant left and the tolerant centre left. The centre on both issues is also quite well populated, but the tolerant economic right is very tiny.

    The tolerant centre and centre left is not that crowded. Labour’s problem is that it has also been competing for the intolerant left (where UKIP is a threat). Under Corbyn it would presumably try to win those voters back by moving to the far left, hoping that they will forget about immigration. But not only will that probably not work, it also abandons the centre left, the tolerant section of which is our natural vote.

    How do the Conservatives get 37%? Because they compete effectively for intolerant voters and because on economic issues they convince large numbers of voters that competence is more important than values.

  • Sorry Joe, I am sure you mean well, but to many years of reading well intentioned but ultimately futile articles like this has reduced me to a deep sigh and only one comment: why don’t we try adopting an honest political position based on our liberal philosophy and principles rather than a moveable feast based on overly clever opinion polling which can only ever be of use to politicians who have no philosophy and no principles.

  • Joe Otten
    In answer to your question – my response to the original article is encapsulated in David Howarth ‘s comment.

    He says about right wing voters — ” I can’t believe that you want to target them either, although that is, oddly, what you seem to imply with the different set of questions you propose, especially the question on immigration.”

    That is why I think your article reflects what you believed and what you wrote before the General Election. Hence my question to you about your practical experience in Sheffield as a candidate in the General Election. Was there anything on the doorstep in Sheffield that would make the conclusions you imply in your article stand up?

    If your original article was not intended to imply what both David Howarth and I (and some others in this thread) what were you meaning to say?

    One final point. If your analysis were correct why did the percentage of voters supporting The Conservatives hardly change between the 2010 general election and the 2015 general election?. It is not as if there was some sort of landslide in the popular vote to the “right wing”. There was not.

  • Matt (Bristol) 26th Aug '15 - 11:36am

    Joe, I completely agree there is space for a genuine centre-right party, and I continue to be amazed that at no point in the last 30 years did a significant Tory split open up that would have created one as an alternative to the disingenuous manipulations of ‘big tent’ Toryism from Major to Cameron. (The very brief spasm of the Pro-Euro Conservative Party excepted).

    I know several disenchanted Conservative voters who sporadically vote for us but don’t ‘get’ a lot of the things that motivate LibDems, which they regard as irrelevances. These people are not represented by anyone. This seems unfair.

    But just I don’t know if this party should really attempt to become a centre-right party, nor am I convinced that we could become widely recognised as a centre-right party without being heard as effectively telling past voters and activists to depart and never return (some observers would argue we did just that during Nick Clegg’s leadership, I would argue it’s a lot more complicated than that…).

    There are centre-right parties within ALDE and the Liberal International, and I guess we would share some theoretical solidarity internationally with parties our members might oppose if they set up over here.

    But let’s put it another way. I just don’t want to be these guys and I think what happened to them is instructive:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Democrats

  • Daniel Henry 26th Aug '15 - 12:49pm

    One of the questions Joe raised is that if the public are generally left wing, why did a right wing party win the election.

    My understanding of David’s position is that although voters are mostly to the left of the Tories, they’re more likely to vote on valence issues rather than ideology (I.e. Things like “trust” or “competence” are more important than “left” vs “right”)

    So due to their reputation for being the most competent, the Tories often win despite being to the right of public opinion.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Aug '15 - 1:06pm

    Little Jackie Paper 25th Aug ’15 – 6:51pm ” The Conservatives won the election, to my mind, broadly because there were able to be reasonably united. ” The first-past-the-post system distorts the intentions of the voters and magnifies the effect on the largest party, including the SNP.
    John Tilley 25th Aug ’15 – 9:03pm There was a target seat in Sheffield Hallam, which may have distorted the results for other Liberal Democrat candidates in Sheffield.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 26th Aug '15 - 1:14pm

    The heart of Joe’s critique is that the question on redistribution (which is the primary one used in David’s analysis for where someone falls on the left-right spectrum) is unsatisfactory. Joe sets out very clearly why – I’d be interested in David’s thoughts.

    I (like Joe) am probably on the “right” of the party on economic issues (though I wouldn’t define it in that way) but would answer “strongly agree” to the question on redistribution. The problem is as Joe says that that answer ignores the actual situation – i.e. that we live in a country with an already significant amount of redistribution.

    So two people who both agree with the principle of redistribution of income/wealth could both answer “strongly agree” despite one thinking that the current level of redsitrbution is much too high and the other thinking exactly the opposite.

    How does that help inform where we position ourselves as a party?

  • Peter Watson 26th Aug '15 - 1:19pm

    @David Howarth “The word ‘tolerant’ is important.”
    This seems a very interesting way to add a second dimension to what otherwise becomes a meaningless one dimensional left-centre-right separation. For example, is opposing immigration right wing nationalism or left wing labour protection?

    It is why I’m not comfortable with Joe’s conclusions which seem to be that the one-dimensional centre-right is a ripe ground for Lib Dems to seek votes. For a start, I think it is a crowded space – occupied successfully by the Tories which is a broad enough church to plug the gaps. On this site was a great ice cream based analogy about the problems of targeting a one-dimensional centre (http://www.libdemvoice.org/good-news-voters-places-themselves-and-the-lib-dems-in-the-centre-bad-news-that-doesnt-mean-theyre-liberals-41800.html#comment-308079). I also think that a party chasing support from those who uniformly disagree with the 5 questions would not be recognisable as the Liberal Democrats. It is depressing enough that on these measures, by 2010, Lib Dem voters could be perceived as to the right of UKIP and BNP voters.

    It is why I also think that chasing the “centre” is a fool’s errand. Again, looking at the 5 questions, the centre could be defined as those who “neither agree nor disagree” with all 5, or as those who strongly agree with some and strongly disagree with others. It is hard to see a single party addressing all of the combinations that average out at a mythical “centre”.

    I don’t know if “tolerance” is the best way to add a dimension without overcomplicating the separation of parties and policies, but it certainly seems a good way to account for the fact that different people might support a specific policy for diametrically-opposed reasons which means they disagree profoundly on other issues regardless of left-right categorisation. I wonder if self-interest vs. generosity (or something along those lines) is an alternative. The extra dimension (or more than one http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-nonlinear-values-the-z-coordinate-46466.html) would allow the Lib Dems to rationalise a set of policies which are entirely consistent despite appearing contradictory if painted in black and white left-right terms. Such a position could be called a “centre”, but so also could a collection of contrary policies.

  • John Tilley 26th Aug '15 - 2:05pm

    Nick Thornsby 26th Aug ’15 – 1:14pm
    “….I (like Joe) am probably on the “right” of the party …”

    Nick concludes by asking the perfectly reasonable question —
    “..How does that help inform where we position ourselves as a party?”

    Which is why I keep coming back to what actually happened on the ground in the general election. The BES study is hugely informative — we ignore it a our peril. But the BES study is much more useful when used by people with practical experience on the doorstep in elections.

    In May 2015 in a number of constituencies in Sheffield there was a dramatic reduction in support for Liberal Democrat candidates compared with 2010.

    Richard Underhill is correct to point up that the target seat strategy may have had an impact; except that the target of Hallam was demographically the most right wing seat in England. It has fewer people employed in manual work than any other constituency. It has never elected a Labour MP. It is therefore very different from all the other seats in that City. So following the theory that there are lots of right wing voters out there who might support the Liberal Democrats one would not have expected Labour to better in Hallam than it ever has done since women got the vote.

    That is why it would be fascinating to know what actually happened on the ground. I have read acres of analysis of what happened in Glasgow (and the rest of Scotland) in the general election but Sheffield seems to be a taboo subject. Why so?

    If Joe and Nick are correct in their desire to chase voters on the right surely they can point to some real world examples from Sheffield to illustrate why they can interpret The BES data better than anyone else.

  • George Kendall 26th Aug '15 - 2:19pm

    @kevin “Is there a pro-poverty party?”

    A good question. I don’t think any party is pro-poverty. There are individuals in all the parties who are anti-poverty (and all credit to them).

    But there are at least two parties who seem to me, in their gut core instincts, indifferent to poverty – UKIP and the Tories.

    We are anti-poverty. But that’s not to say we don’t have faults in that area. Sometimes, like every party, we go for populist solutions, which might result in the opposite of what we want. I try not to, but I’m sure I sometimes do anyway.

  • This (right : centre : left) notion is far too abstract to determine positional-y where you are, unless you break down what it actually means to be right or left.? As unsavoury as it sounds,.. in abstract terms you have to ask who you are willing to upset ?
    Jeremy Corbyn (left) expects his policy views to upset the rich, and the well to do, who he will upset by asking them to pay more.
    Ian Duncan Smith (right), expects his policy views to upset the poor, asking them to get out of bed off benefits, and upset them by asking them to get a job and work more for a living.
    This is why ‘centre ground politics’ and why ‘fairness’, meant nothing in the last election. Because,.. is it not a truism to say that you cannot please everyone? So if you cannot please everyone, they by definition you must upset someone, (even if only slightly)? Voters have already ‘sussed’ that declarations of centre politics is deceitful,..and that fairness is abstract and meaningless. They know intuitively that after election platitudes disappear,..*someone* is going to be upset !
    So whether you choose slightly left of centre, or slightly right of centre, your first task is to come off the fence of pretending you can please everyone and somehow, be a party of ‘Upset Neutral’ ?
    The evidence for this is that in Mays General election, the parties that gained votes, were the parties that also had a clear indication of who they would upset.? Whereas, the two parties that lost drastically, were the same two parties that tried to pretend (or hide policy), that would upset? And voters were savvy enough to see the pretense.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Aug '15 - 2:37pm

    John Tilley 26th Aug ’15 – 2:05pm I met one of the Sheffield candidates at conference in Glasgow. He had no expectation of winning himself, but was part of the defence of Hallam.
    Nick Clegg’s resignation speech included an apology to the voters of Hallam for the huge volume of paper they had received through their letterboxes. Someone must have been delivering them, maybe more than one.

  • George Kendall 26th Aug '15 - 2:41pm

    I read Joe’s article as a critique of the argument that “the socially liberal, economic right is a desert, and we must be pitching our tent economically on the centre left.”

    I didn’t see anything in Joe’s article that said we should target centre-right voters.

    Joe, do your actually believe this? When I read your article, I assumed you were arguing that centre-right voters were one of the groups we should target, as well as centre-left voters, not that we should be exclusively targeting them.

  • George Kendall 26th Aug '15 - 2:50pm

    I don’t like to draw too many firm conclusions from surveys like this.

    Back when we advocated a penny on income tax for education, this was incredibly popular with the public in opinion polls.

    However, I recall a polling expert who said that this was a classic “are you a bast**d?” question. That most voters would feel, if they said they were against, that would imply they didn’t care about children’s education. So many would say yes in the survey, then vote in opposite way. My impression in the 1992 election is that he was probably right. Any survey with these kinds of questions should be treated with caution.

    I also think, implying we don’t want the votes of “intolerant” people is unwise. If the Tories can get left-leaning voters to support them because they are seen as more competent, why should we discount any voting group?

    It may be that someone is, say, strongly in favour of identity cards, but they vote for us for other reasons.

  • George Kendall 26th Aug '15 - 2:54pm

    I’m wary about this search for a core vote. For the Tories and Labour, their core vote is partly defined by who they are “against”: core Tories are anti-Labour, core Labour are anti-Tory. They would lose some of that core vote if a viable party came along that was also “against”. That’s part of what happened in 2015 with the SNP. But usually these voters stay loyal with the big party that expresses that same “against”.

    In our case, voters perceive us as more moderate, and so less clearly “against” anyone.

    There is a constituency of voters who will switch to a party for anti-authoritarian reasons, but in my experience it’s pretty small. For example. many more voters are concerned about the economy than ID cards.

    While anti-authoritarian policies are important to us, if we want to attract a large vote, we need to pitch on issues that are more important to the voters. And usually those are issues to do with the economy and public services.

    On these issues we are perceived to be moderate. When the two bigger parties are also pitching towards the centre, that means we have a lot of competition, and those moderate voters are unlikely to be “core”.

  • David Evans 26th Aug '15 - 3:49pm

    I would like to agree with George when he says that ‘on the issues to do with the economy and public services we are perceived to be moderate’. However, I am concerned that his assessment of where we are perceived to be is flawed.

    In 2011, if I remember correctly, there was a survey carried out that showed that in coalition we were perceived as being in the centre and, as that was where the vast majority of people placed themselves, this was trumpeted as a triumph for the party’s strategy in coalition. However, in fact we had achieved the worst of both worlds, where those on the right perceived us as being on the left and those on the left perceived us as being on the right. Hence very few felt we were where they were. This was conclusively confirmed in 2015.

    I know we like to perceive ourselves as being moderate, and most of us are, but a lot of damage has been done to the public’s view of us since 2010 and I believe we have a lot of work to do before it can be remotely guaranteed that we will be perceived by most people as moderate again.

  • John Tilley 26th Aug '15 - 4:04pm

    Richard Underhill 26th Aug ’15 – 2:37pm
    ” I met one of the Sheffield candidates at conference in Glasgow. He had no expectation of winning himself, ”

    Richard — In 2010 we were within 165 votes of electing a second Liberal Democrat MP in Sheffield with over 40% of the votes cast in Sheffield Central. On paper it was one of the most winnable seats in the country.

    The BES is very well regarded by anyone who knows anything about the subject. If you add to the data in the BES the practical on the ground experience of candidates in a general election, you get a better idea of what is going on.

    So — is what went on in Sheffield in line with the interpretation of David Howarth ? (this would be my view).
    Or does it give credence to the Joe Otten view?

    As Joe was the candidate in Sheffield Central he is ideally placed to tell us.
    As far as I am aware there has been no serious national media analysis of what went on in Sheffield or any academic study.
    Liberal Democrats – if we are going to climb out of the electoral pit of 2015 need to learn the lessons of what went wrong.
    If Joe’s approach to the BES data is born out by his experience in his constituency it would be helpful to know how.

  • Jonathan Hunt 26th Aug '15 - 4:08pm

    I am more optimistic about the party I joined more than 40 years ago than at any time for the last six or seven

    We have a new leader taking us to the Centre-left. That is where we win votes and seats; 57 under Charles Kennedy WE must not let our Centre-right party establishment undermine Tim. We may well go further Left on some issues. That is what voters expect, and what we must deliver.

    Tories won just over a third of the popular vote, a little more than what Hitler got in 1933. The danger comes from the Right, not the Left, but too many contributors are looking the wrong way. Even if Jeremy Corbyn wins, the political agenda has moved so much to the Right that no true Liberal can claim to be anywhere near the Centre. Corbyn offers us a win:win situation.

    If Jeremy wins, Labour’s split widens; activists and MPs begin to believe it is unelectable. But many voters will continue to be attracted to his basic message of ending austerity, even if most realise that de-privatisation, re-opening coal mines and other expensive luxuries remain a dream too far.

    If he wins, Labour’s establishment prevents a Corbyn victory by dirty tricks and underhand tactics, we should benefit from a backlash against them. Far-Left socialists won’t support us, but the opportunity is there to capture a high proportion of voters newly radicalised (in the true sense) by Corbyn corn and Conservative extremes.

    We only win back the trust lost by the coalition with Left-leaning policies and the spiel to go with it. We are and have to be seen to be a new party. Let us behave like one. .

  • @David Evans “The only thing that is going away with that strategy is the chance that most of our old voters will ever return to us.”

    Most of our old voters won’t return to us, nor should we seek them given what appeared to motivate them was not positive support for Liberalism. Besides, old voters have a habit of not sticking around for long.

    “I believe we have a lot of work to do before it can be remotely guaranteed that we will be perceived by most people as moderate again.”

    And having purported supporters argue that the coalition was not moderate but right-wing makes that work even harder.

  • @Jeremy Hunt “We only win back the trust lost by the coalition with Left-leaning policies and the spiel to go with it. We are and have to be seen to be a new party. Let us behave like one.”

    With friends like these, who needs enemies?

    We will not “win back trust” by serving up left-leaning policies; such policies have been comprehensively rejected. The Left is a crowded field and not one that overlaps with Liberalism.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Aug '15 - 4:27pm

    To delve more into the topic: I don’t think I have ever described a strategy as “destructive” before, but that was the first word to spring to mind when I read the main points of their pamphlet.

    The centre-left is an honourable tradition, but it needs to be reformed. By saying “the voters will be disproportionately women, ethnic minorities and London based” it is basically saying that you are more interested in minorities than majorities and I don’t see why that is a good thing. Surely the liberal point of view is that most people are good?

  • Nick Collins 26th Aug '15 - 4:30pm

    @ TCO

    Addressing your remarks to Jeremy Hunt: is that nostalgia for the coalition?

  • @Joe Otten isn’t John Tilley’s point that he believes the electorate singled out Orange Bookers for special electoral punishment?

  • George Kendall 26th Aug '15 - 5:14pm

    @TCO “Most of our old voters won’t return to us, nor should we seek them given what appeared to motivate them was not positive support for Liberalism.”

    If I understand you correctly, I disagree.

    If we want to win parliamentary seats, we need to get whatever votes we can. If those votes are motivated by reasons other than Liberalism or Liberal Democracy, we should still seek them.

    Most people vote for negative reasons. Tactical voting will always be an important part of a first-past-the-post election.

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think are policies through, and present a clear consistent programme to the country.

    But we’ll never get to put any of that programme into practice if we don’t get MPs elected.

  • @George Kendall I agree with many of your points, but the undisputed fact is that we sold a message of “we’re anti-Tory” when we weren’t, and we got anti-Tory voters who left immediately we showed what we were. If we do win by garnering such votes, the same will happen again.

  • Tony Dawson 26th Aug '15 - 5:55pm

    “on the same day I increased my majority in my ward by almost 1000”

    Er no, Joe.

    On the same day, the majority in your own ward was increased by that amount as a result of (a) the election being in a general election year and (b) the monstrous central and regional results that were poured into Hallam to make sure that Nick Clegg kept his seat. A considerable number of the people who voted for you in May will not have known your name before going into the polling station and will not have retained it after leaving. That is a truism not just for you but for almost all local candidates who stand for an election on the same day as a General Election.

  • Tony Dawson 26th Aug '15 - 6:04pm

    @jOE oTTEN:

    “a more interesting question than “why can’t” the left compete for those votes is why didn’t it?”

    Who says that it didn’t, certainly in some parts of the world? In our neighbouring seat (pretty middle class) of Sefton Central, once held (very similar seat) by Shirley Williams and prior to that by Malcolm Thornton and Graham Page with large majorities, the Labour MP increased his majority substantially. Labour also won Wirral West and Chester. I would have thought that the winning candidates in these seats probably needed to adopt a ‘reasonable’ pitch for votes in order to get elected.

  • Jonathan Hunt 26th Aug '15 - 6:37pm

    Fortunately, I am not JEREMY Hunt, a member of the family who has totally disgraced himself, as a visit to our local A&E, still paying for another Trust’s PFI debts, will confirm.

    I don’t know what kind of Right-wing infiltrator TCO is, or whether the initials really stand for Tory Cr*p Organiser. Did s/ he really mean to join Labour?

    He obviously still smarts that two-thirds of the electorate have rejected Tory and Coalition policies, especially Austerity which is economic illiteracy, and always leads to a reduction in growth and living standards for the worse off.

    Keynes, among the wisest and most effective Liberals of the last century, taught us that sensible public investment can show immediate return in growth of employment, more people earning and paying taxes. It also shows considerable returns to future generation, not debts.

    Where would San Francisco where today without the two huge bridges Roosevelt built? A sleepy little fishing port, if it is lucky. Investment in reopening mines and de-privatising some companies would not achieve much. Money spent on Call-Me-Dave’s “green crap” would enrich our children and grandchildren for many years to come, economically and environmentally.

  • John Tilley 26th Aug '15 - 6:43pm

    Joe
    I have asked a reasonable question. A question which is for information, relevant to your article and indeed would add to your article if you chose to answer it.

    Let me put it a different way.
    You did fantastically well to increase your majority as a councillor. You increased it by 1000. After years and years of Liberal Democrat Councillors losing seats across the country, what was the secret of your success?

    Was it because you won – “the votes of “people who just want a moderate, competent government which keeps the economy on track. One which ensures that there are decent public services that don’t cost the earth.”. That is the phrase with which you end your article (whIch I think is a quote from Conservative Peer Danny Finklestein).

    Or, was it for more basic reasons such as those implied in the rest of your article and summarised by David Howarth when he says about right wing voters — ” I can’t believe that you want to target them either, although that is, oddly, what you seem to imply with the different set of questions you propose, especially the question on immigration.”

    Did you increase your vote by targetting right wing voters? I have no idea. You are the expert – not me. I do not even know if your council seat is in the parliamentary constituency that you fought.

    That’s why in each of my comments I have asked you questions as to what went on in Sheffield and how that fits with your article on the BES study.

  • @Joe
    “I’m also beyond my free limit at the FT, but I think you are linking to something that says the public sector is productive too. That doesn’t contradict the statement at all, and I can’t see why you would think it did.”

    You’re over-estimating your own powers of clairvoyancy on two counts there.

    Suppose you substitute “public” for “private” in your statement and vice versa – would it still be something you agreed with?

  • George Kendall 26th Aug '15 - 8:20pm

    @TCO “but the undisputed fact is that we sold a message of “we’re anti-Tory” when we weren’t, and we got anti-Tory voters who left immediately we showed what we were. If we do win by garnering such votes, the same will happen again.”

    I think that’s being unfair on Nick Clegg. He was open about giving first chance to whichever party had the biggest mandate. Clearly, with the 2010 election, only a government led by the Tories was viable. Some Leftwingers, who I canvassed after 2010, acknowledged that, but they were still angry.

    This is an unavoidable problem for a party in our situation. We are a moderate party that could enter coalition with either of two big parties, one of the left, one of the right. Whichever choice we make will alienate some of our supporters.

    There’s a lot that could have been done in government to mitigate this anger, but it would still have been there, and still will be there the next time. I’m afraid it’s just something we have to expect, and learn to deal with.

  • I have to say I agree with Phil Rimmer. I do think we should be looking at building up a core vote but not by trying to second guess what voters want but by trying to persuade them through policies consistent with Liberalism. The narrow approach discussed here leads, in my view, to the parched desert of politics rather than it’s lush green meadows. It’s an approach which worked for Tony Blair when election results depended on undecided voters in marginal constituencies but we do not have the luxury of hundreds of safe seats based on voters’ tribal loyalties.
    Rather than right left or centre I think people are looking for hope. Hope that austerity can be ended, that job security will return, that public services will at least be maintained and that they can have a good life with a reasonable amount of choice of how they spend or save their income. I don’t think any of these things are seen as right or left by the person in the street but to me they follow from Liberal principles which existed before and will last far longer than the old state v private, monopoly bad competition good, right v left arguments.

  • @David Howarth
    “How do the Conservatives get 37%? Because they compete effectively for intolerant voters and because on economic issues they convince large numbers of voters that competence is more important than values.”

    Moreover they convince voters they are competent when there is plenty of evidence they are not. The Lib Dems played a big part in bolstering that phoney impression during the last election campaign.

  • Christopher Haigh 26th Aug '15 - 9:37pm

    @TCO – if you want to be part of a right wing party in which consideration for others is not a particularly high priority why not just join the Tories. They are a very broad church encompassing all shades of right wing opinion from one nation centre to nut case right. Why try to reform QPR when you would be much happier supporting Chelsea ?

  • Nom de Plume 27th Aug '15 - 12:06am

    A lot of unnecessary abuse here; by the usual suspects. For what is is worth, Joe Otten’s graph shows that the Lib Dems are a party of the centre, at least relative to Tory and Labour. Although the same graph would suggest the average UKIP voter is similar – rather illustrating the limitations of a left/right analysis. The spread of UKIP vote is broader, suggesting to me that it more of an anti-EU vote, rather than a stable party. I may well be reading too much into a single graph, but my point is that politics is more complicated than left/right.

    I think that SueS has made the best comment on here. It is not clear to me how you would formulate a policy such as she would like given the challenges facing this country. You would then need to get the message across and convince the electorate to trust you. Tough, especially given some of the mistakes made in government.

    On one, important issue the Party was completely correct – its opposition to the Iraq War. Thanks Charles Kennedy. The mess which is now the Middle East will be with us for a long time and constitutes part of the problem which somehow has to be dealt with. Life is complicated enough without politicians engaging in destructive, optional, avoidable wars. They will never learn.

  • @Christopher Haigh if I had £1 for every time I’d been told what you just wrote … 🙂

    “if you want to be part of a right wing party in which consideration for others is not a particularly high priority why not just join the Tories.”

    Where do you draw this inference from? Where in the comments I’ve made above, have I indicated that consideration for others is not a priority?

    This is a classic example of the left-wing logical fallacy that only support for demonstrably left-wing policies equates to concern for others. It leads to the “all Tories are evil” conclusion, an inability to understand the concerns and motivations of moderate but slightly right-leaning voters, and perpetual opposition.

    “They are a very broad church encompassing all shades of right wing opinion from one nation centre to nut case right.”

    They may be all those things, but they’re not Liberal, which is what I am.

    “Why try to reform QPR when you would be much happier supporting Chelsea ?”

    From what I can see, and I don’t follow football, team support is tribal based upon family and geographic connections. Support for a political party may be based on those qualities, but in my case it’s based upon reason.

    I might also add that telling people that what they believe isn’t orthodox and therefore they must be expelled, isn’t particularly Liberal.

  • @SueS “Rather than right left or centre I think people are looking for hope. Hope that austerity can be ended, that job security will return, that public services will at least be maintained and that they can have a good life with a reasonable amount of choice of how they spend or save their income. I don’t think any of these things are seen as right or left by the person in the street but to me they follow from Liberal principles which existed before and will last far longer than the old state v private, monopoly bad competition good, right v left arguments.”

    And mostly they realise that for any of those to be realised you need a sound economy to provide the employment and tax revenues from which all else follows. And enough of them made the judgement that that wasn’t going to be delivered by Labour (and probably never would be) that they voted in the Conservatives.

    But there is hope for us (if we make sure the coalition nay-sayers within the party don’t get the upper hand – and thankfully Tim does seem to be ignoring them at present), because we were a large part of that economic competence within the last government, and over time, and especially if there is a downturn following the Chinese problems, we can go back to that record.

  • I don’t much care about labels of left or right but I would like to live in the secure knowledge that disabled and other vulnerable people were not being punished by the Government, to the extent of living on the streets or having to take their own lives. I don’t ask for much but I think if that is a mark of an ‘ economically competent ‘ government, it’s the wrong benchmark.

  • @Phyllis are you trying to claim that such things only happened under the Coalition? And “having [bring forced] to take their own lives”? Seriously??

  • Stephen Campbell 27th Aug '15 - 12:36pm

    @TCO:

    “Figures released today by the Department for Work and Pensions that show 81,140 people claiming ESA, IB or SDA died between December 2011 and February 2014. Of those, 4,010 (4.94%) had been deemed ‘fit for work’ following their WCA.

    Meanwhile, of the 50,580 people who died while claiming ESA during the same period, 7,200 (14%) were placed in a work-related activity group designed to help prepare them for work. Conveniently for the DWP, they do not collect statistics on causes of death.”

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/456359/mortality-statistics-esa-ib-sda.pdf

  • @Stephen Campbell are you trying to claim causality here? And what are the equivalent statistics under previous governments? And fo uou support Phyllis’s claim that the coalition forced people to take their own life?

  • Stephen Campbell 27th Aug '15 - 12:44pm

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/08/27/benefits-death-claimants-welfare-ids_n_8047424.html

    “Figures released today show that between December 2011 to February 2014, 4,010 people died after being told they should find work following a “Work Capability Assessment”.

    “Of that figure, 1,360 died after losing an appeal against the decision.”

    “The fact that more than 80 people are dying each month shortly after being declared ‘fit for work’ should concern us all. These deaths relate to just one benefit – Employment Support Allowance (ESA).”

    This is the legacy of your coalition. Shame on every last Lib Dem MP who voted for these “reforms”. Shame on every Lib Dem member or supporter who defended these “reforms”.

  • Stephen Campbell 27th Aug '15 - 12:48pm

    @TCO: ” are you trying to claim causality here? ”

    Let’s see. Very ill people (including those with severe mental illnesses) being found “fit for work” will do nothing to help their ailments. In fact, it will most likely exacerbate their illnesses. Imagine someone who is already suicidal being found “fit for work” and suddenly stripped of all their income. What kind of effect do you think this would have on them?

    “And what are the equivalent statistics under previous governments? ”

    I don’t know; they were not released. But no more whatabboutery from the likes of you. This happened under your party’s watch. And you, right now, are trying to make excuses and defend your precious coalition.

    Shame on you.

  • @Stephen Campbell and the comparative figures are?

    Are you claiming causality? What is your evidence?

  • TCO I agree about the sound economy but I do not think that the Tories are going the right way to achieve it by increasing austerity measures. I think that the economic policies they practice will end up producing a post industrial aristocracy , with we the peasants having a higher standard of living than in pre industrial societies but with only a tiny chance of joining the aristos.
    I was also deeply distressed that we were part of a Government that treated disabled people so badly and that is not just by declaring them fit for work. I am too old to be affected by this but from what friends told me they were regarded with suspicion, had appointments changed at the very last minute, ie after they had struggled to get there, and experienced a system in which the assumption was that benefits would not be awarded except in a few cases. In other words they were assumed to be guilty until they were proved innocent. Not something Liberals should support but it was the price of Coalition, a Coalition which I and many others supported because we saw no alternative. Mea culpa.

  • @SueS what you describe sounds like bureaucracy rather than some deliberate attempt to make disabled people commit suicide.

  • A Social Liberal 27th Aug '15 - 1:45pm

    TCO

    “are you trying to claim causality here?”

    As someone who has been diagnosed as disabled since 1991 and who has just suffered the process of being brought into ESA from Severe Disablement payments – yes, I can see the causality. Having had to wait 16 weeks to see if some civil servant was going to say that I was fit for the general workplace and that at some point I was going to have to convince someone who had probably never heard of my illness of my plight – yes, I can see the causality. And after the relief of (after those 16 weeks) hearing that I was not going to have to start trying to convince employers that I was fit and able to carry out the work they needed doing, realising that I had 20% less of the meagre income I had before going through the ESA hoops – yes, I can see the causality.

    Just imagine those domino’s tipping over, one after another – filling out tens of pages of the most intrusive forms – thunk. The immediate worry of having to live on JSA (because there is no way that most disabled people get employment immediately) – Thunk. Trying to convince some dentristry nurse or podriatrist that your illness is a determining factor in why you are unable to get work – THUNK. The absolute dread whilst waiting 16 weeks for a decision – THUUUNKKK. £260 a month worse off, even though you passed their tests – THUUNNKK.

    The realisation that the peace of having survived is only momentary – you have to go through it all again in two years.

    THUUUUNNNNKKKKK !

  • George Kendall 27th Aug '15 - 2:07pm

    SueS “from what friends told me they were regarded with suspicion, had appointments changed at the very last minute, ie after they had struggled to get there, and experienced a system in which the assumption was that benefits would not be awarded except in a few cases. In other words they were assumed to be guilty until they were proved innocent.”

    I’m afraid that happened under the previous government too. It’s not acceptable, but I fear it is, as TCO says, typical of bureaucracy. Norman Lamb pointed this out in one of the hustings, that the DWP was sometimes doing the opposite of what he was trying to do in his work as a Health Minister, when they sanctioned people with depression for not turning up to an appointment.

  • Matt (Bristol) 27th Aug '15 - 2:16pm

    In response to TCO, 9:33am —

    I don’t think you should join the Tories. I do sometimes, however, wonder whether you would be happier in a different sort of Liberal party, and I do wish that people would stop the fallacy that Liberalism = the Lib Dems.

    Really, Liberalism is too broad a church to be represented by one party, and it is unreasonable for many people in the party to consistently fall into the habit of using ‘Liberal’ to mean ‘the one true path from which we cannot deviate’ and not recognise liberalism’ plurality of expressions. There are liberals in both the Tories and Labour, but it should be clear to most that they are in both cases not driving the truck, most of the time (at least, not without an awful lot of back-seat driving from non-liberals, even when they are).

    I feel the questions we need to ask ourselves is not ‘what is liberalism’ but ‘what sort of Liberal party do we want to be?’ and ‘what sort of liberalism can meet the challenges of our current situation annd the legacy of our past history?’

    Here are some options from ALDE and LI sister parties. Which one do you want us to be a bit more like (assuming you had the choice)?
    – Canadian Liberals (big-tent, centrist to centre-left)
    – Fianna Fail – Ireland (big-tent, populist, centrist, with some nationalist tendencies, no single economic philosophy)
    – MPT / Earth Party – Portugal (philosophy identified as ‘green conservativism’)
    – Progressive Democrats – Ireland (now-defunct smaller party which campaigned for less regulation, welfare reform and liberalisation of both economic and social policy)
    – Free Democrats – Germany (has varied between social-liberal and economic-liberal thinking, but had begun to regard itself as the natural partner of the Christian Democrats)
    – D66 – Netherlands (social-liberal, with a history of pressing for various reforms to the democratic process, including for a proportional system to be replaced by FPTP).

    See any you like?

  • Peter Watson 27th Aug '15 - 2:19pm

    @George Kendall “I’m afraid that happened under the previous government too.”
    Reading your comment, I was struck by a thought about the future of the Lib Dems.
    The party currently appears to have a difficult time opposing a Tory government with policies which are often an extension of coalition ones, but now that the party knows how difficult it is to effect change (previously only Labour and Conservatives could use the excuse that the previous shower were just as bad), will that change its behaviour in opposition to a government of any political colour?

  • @Matt Bristol I think a fusion of the Canadian and German Liberals would be what we should try to become.

  • @Stephen Campbell “Very ill people (including those with severe mental illnesses) being found “fit for work” will do nothing to help their ailments. In fact, it will most likely exacerbate their illnesses.”

    That’s a very big generalisation that does not reflect the reality of the nuanced position out there. “Work” encompasses a very wide variety of activity, some of which will prove beneficial to people who are severely ill in that it aids their recovery.

    I would imagine that disabled and ill people are very much like the rest of the general populace; some want to work, some are not bothered one way or the other, some actively try to avoid it even though they could, and some are not able to work. To argue, as you do, that all people are in the same position, shows very little understanding.

  • John Tilley 27th Aug '15 - 2:28pm

    George Kendall

    Did Norman Lamb really say that?
    Of course a department working for Iain Duncan Smith was doing the opposite of Norman Lamb. Most of the people working in DWP (the civil servants) will have never heard of Norman Lamb. Contrary to any impressions given within this party he was not actually a very important member of the last government. He did a junior ministerial job in The Department of Health. That is not to undermine or belittle what he did but it is a fact that there are scores of junior ministers in every government of every political stripe. Three months after they have moved on most of the people who worked for them cannot remember their name.

    Politicians in a democratic society always find it hard to “go back” to be a ordinary person again; those who have been ministers sometimes just cannot get those memories and dreams out of their head. This does not just apply to the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition it applies to them all. Who for example remembers the names of the junior ministers in Gordon Brown’s government? — even those who are currently in their leadership election.

  • TCO, George. My friends experience was much worse under Coalition than mine was under the Labour Government. Maybe I was just lucky but I thought it likely that a command had gone out that benefits were to be cut back or that lower quotas should be achieved so applicants were to be viewed with mistrust. Anyway shouldn’t we as a party be trying to support the vulnerable against the power of the bureaucrat?
    PS I thought Labour’s record of helping the poor and vulnerable was pretty disgraceful by the way so I’m not supporting them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Aug '15 - 4:16pm

    Nom de Plume

    On one, important issue the Party was completely correct – its opposition to the Iraq War. Thanks Charles Kennedy.

    Once again, it was not Charles Kennedy who took the lead on this issue. It was the party’s democratic policy-making mechanism which agreed to oppose involvement in the Iraq war, and Charles Kennedy required some kicking to make him take a strong stand on it as leader.

    It seems that these days the Leninist model of politics is so fixed in people’s heads that they just can’t even think of political parties in any form except top-down following The Party Line as dictated by The Glorious Leader.

  • Stephen Campbell 27th Aug '15 - 4:26pm

    @TCO: “what you describe sounds like bureaucracy rather than some deliberate attempt to make disabled people commit suicide”

    Oh that’s alright then! Death by pen-pusher…

    “and the comparative figures are? ”

    I’m reminded of Western communists who were confronted, finally, with the horrors committed against the Soviet people by Stalin’s purges and Gulags. Such people would always reply with words to the effect of “yes, but how does that compare to the deaths in prisons and camps during Tsarist times?” Such people were so blinded by ideology and wedded to their own political party that they would flat out refuse to see the evils committed by it and would do everything in their power to deflect attention and focus on the past rather than the crimes being committed right there and then before their very eyes.

    “I would imagine that disabled and ill people are very much like the rest of the general populace; some want to work, some are not bothered one way or the other”

    If someone is applying for ESA or DLA/PIP, it stands to reason they are doing so because they feel they can no longer carry on working. Further, evidence from doctors and specialists is required when applying for these benefits. The very fact that thousands of people have died after being found “fit work work” proves they were ill to begin with and were not part of your coalition’s supposed army of “skivers”.

    And how many employers in the private sector are going to be rushing to employ someone with a mental illness or fluctuating condition who may need many unannounced days off work due to their affliction or, for those with a physical disability, thousands of pounds worth of adjustments to the workplace?

    Whenever this subject has come up, you have repeatedly and coldly denied that people were dying due to the way the system has been administered by the coalition. One could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that you simply don’t care about the way the coalition treated the vulnerable and made them pay through austerity, sometimes with their lives, for the crimes of the banking and political classes. So is it any wonder why some people believe you sound not as if you are a member of a party which proclaims compassion and fairness to be two of its stated principles?

    Just remember that anyone at any moment can become disabled or physically or mentally ill. It could be you one day.

  • TCO as I said I am not concerned about labels of left, right, Tory, Labour etc,

    But if it happened under previous governments, rest assured the Lib Dems would have told us about it.

    Because that’s the kind of party (I thought) they were.

  • @Stephen Campbell “Oh that’s alright then! Death by pen-pusher…”

    I never said it was alright. But it doesn’t mean it’s a co-ordinated policy by government, which is what you continually assert.

    “And how many employers in the private sector are going to be rushing to employ someone with a mental illness or fluctuating condition who may need many unannounced days off work due to their affliction or, for those with a physical disability, thousands of pounds worth of adjustments to the workplace? ”

    Given that tens if not hundreds of thousands of disabled and ill people work in the private sector perfectly successfully, it leads me to believe you have little or no experience of working in it and an unjustifiably negative view of it.

    “One could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that you simply don’t care about the way the coalition treated the vulnerable ”

    One could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that you care about nothing else, given that you manage to introduce the subject tangentially to most threads.

    “Just remember that anyone at any moment can become disabled or physically or mentally ill. It could be you one day.”

    How do you know that it hasn’t been?

  • George Kendall 27th Aug '15 - 5:59pm

    @John Tilley “Did Norman Lamb really say that?”
    Sorry, I can’t give you a link, probably in a debate in the leadership campaign. Obviously, it was after the election, when he was no longer bound by ministerial responsibility.

    “That is not to undermine or belittle what he did but it is a fact that there are scores of junior ministers in every government of every political stripe”

    He was only a junior minister, but how many junior ministers get an award for their work?
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/norman-lamb-picks-up-an-oscar-for-his-work-on-mental-health-43521.html

    I didn’t vote for Norman, I voted for Tim, but I’m afraid it does coming over that you are trying to belittle his work. I imagine you don’t mean to, but, with the leadership election over, honestly, it does come over that way.

  • Stephen Campbell 27th Aug '15 - 6:12pm

    @TCO: ” But it doesn’t mean it’s a co-ordinated policy by government, which is what you continually assert.”

    What else is one to think when there have been hundreds of stories in the press of people who died after being found “fit for work”? Is it not a logical conclusion to come to when said stories often contain testimonies from not only family members but coroners’ reports as well stating the effect the process had on those who died? Is it unreasonable to think the government has something to hide when they opposed this release every step of the way, spending millions of pounds in the process in the courts only for them to be ordered to release the stats? And, finally, how does it look when IDS stands up in the Commons and says “we don’t collect these statistics” only for Cameron to say a few days later at PMQs that “the stats exist and will be released”?

    For the record, I don’t think it was a coordinated policy of death by the government. However I truly believe that IDS and most of the Tory side, simply didn’t care. I firmly believe IDS cared more about his reputation and saving money than making the process humane, compassionate and fair. And historically, the Tories have never strongly taken the side of the vulnerable. They’ve always favoured the strong and powerful over the powerless. It’s what they do.

  • Stephen Campbell 27th Aug '15 - 6:15pm

    @TCO: “Given that tens if not hundreds of thousands of disabled and ill people work in the private sector perfectly successfully, it leads me to believe you have little or no experience of working in it and an unjustifiably negative view of it.”

    I work in the private sector and I always have. I’ve never had a public sector job (though my wife is an NHS nurse). I am one of the lucky ones with an employer who understands my mental illness & lets me work from home most days. Many other people are not so lucky. Should I ever lose my job & be forced to apply for benefits, and knowing full well how inhumane the system now is, it could definitely push me over the edge. I am beyond terrified of this happening to me, as I have attempted suicide twice in my life.

    “One could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that you care about nothing else, given that you manage to introduce the subject tangentially to most threads.”

    Most people who campaign politically tend to focus on specific areas where they have experience or knowledge of. This is mine. And, yes, I want this whole system dismantled and rebuilt so it is fit for purpose. I want IDS to resign. I want the sick and disabled to be treated with compassion, to be assessed by actual doctors who have knowledge of their conditions which is not now the case. I want a full inquiry into not only the deaths and the sanctions regime. Simply put, I want justice for every last person who has been swallowed up and spat out by the meat grinder built by the coalition and, yes, those in charge during the last few years of the previous Labour government when the WCA was brought in. Don’t you?

    “How do you know that it hasn’t been?”

    I don’t, and if you have been/are mentally ill or disabled, you have my full sympathy if that is the case. But you do give off the impression of not caring. For me this is not a party political issue. All three main parties are guilty when it comes to this system. And I have been just as vociferous in campaigning on this issue on ConHome and LabourList, if not more so, because unlike the LibDems I generally feel they don’t start with good intentions.

  • david thorpe 27th Aug '15 - 7:00pm

    Only the Lib Dems could repsond to a an overall majority elecvtion victory by a centre right party with the response that there are no votes on the centre right! Blair aslo is on the record as saying he is a consewrvaTIVE WHEN IT COMES TO ECONOMIC POLICYT-SO THE ONYL TWO PARTY LEADERS who HAve WON uk GENERAL ELECTIONS FOR the past 18 years are on the centre right-but there aRE no votes there1 I hope Pack and Howarth have no futrure influence in the direction of the party if they put their emotional spams beforew the evidence of elections passim.

  • John Tilley 27th Aug '15 - 7:02pm

    George Kendall 27th Aug ’15 – 5:59pm
    “He was only a junior minister, but how many junior ministers get an award for their work?”

    Well in my experience quite a lot of them do. In some cases of course they are accepting the award on behalf of their hard working civil servants, who are the people who have really put in the slog. (I am not saying this in Norman Lamb’s case). For example Paul Burstow earlier this year (long after he had been re-shuffled out of his ministerial job) picked up an award in The Gulf for a public health initiative.

    Of course there are huge advantages for civil servants in getting “your minister” to collect the award that more rightfully belongs to the people who work for you.

    Quite simply it gives the minister something to be proud of, a photo opportunity for the specialist press and hopefully will embed in the Minister’s mind why it is a jolly good idea to keep funding your area of work and finding a slot in parliamentary time each year for you to further your area of policy.

    This all may sound a bit Machiavellian to an outsider I suppose. MPs of all parties really should have considerably more training in how things work inside a Government Department of which they are a minister. Over the years I have watched minister after minister in Labour, Conservative and Coaition Governments in all Departments faiing to “learn on the job”.

    I am aware of a number of civil servants with Liberal Democrat links who offered to help the Clegg Team of ministers with this sort of thing when the Coalition began. As far as I am aware all such offers were rejected. The rest is history.

  • John Tilley 27th Aug '15 - 7:05pm

    “..emotional spams”

    Is this a new kind of pork luncheon meat? Howarth and Pack’s Spams? Sounds delicious to me.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Aug '15 - 7:47pm

    david thorpe

    Only the Lib Dems could repsond to a an overall majority election victory by a centre right party with the response that there are no votes on the centre right!

    No, the overall majority in seats (it was only 37% of the vote) went to an extreme right party (you yourself are using “right” in purely economic terms, and that is what I mean here). We were seen as the centre-right party, and we lost hugely in terms of votes for having been seen to move that way. Most leading members of the Labour Party, having castigated us for moving to the right then came to the same conclusions you have, although it seems its lower ranking members had other opinions. Well, we wait to see how that pans out.

    However, sorry, david, but the argument you make here was made continuously by the Liberal Democrat leadership throughout the 2010-15 period, and by many prominent commentators. They promised us that having shifted away from being some sort of left-wing “protest” party and becoming a centre-right “party of government”, we would pick up some big batch of voters just waiting for that. Well, david, where were they?

    People like you, david, have wrecked our party. I think a period of silence on your part and on the part of all the others who pushed that line would be much welcome. Or, at least “sorry”.

  • Nom de Plume 27th Aug '15 - 8:31pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach 4.16pm

    To Charles and “the party’s democratic policy-making mechanism” – a toast! Cheers!

  • david thorpe 27th Aug '15 - 8:46pm

    yes matyhew an overall maj0ority in seats-and on the economy-though not on other matters-the present tory party is centre right-libretrains and protectionsits (ukip and tory backbenchers) nare the extreme right..

  • Let’s think of an analogous argument:
    There is loads of competition in the MP3 player market. There is much less competition for minicab companies. Therefore, we should become a minicab company.

    You’ve shown that our natural centre-left vote is shattered and that the party needs to confidently assert our progressive and left-wing credentials to win over those voters. Arguing that we should abandon our point and become a different party doesn’t seem like an answer that would prove popular.

  • I agree with Matthew Huntbach. There’s a distinct lack of humility from the right of the Lib Dems. Once again we’re hearing the same thing. There’s all these voters out there and they will come if we do more of what we did over the last few years. The reality, I suspect is that there is no centre right. What you actually have is lots of people who would class as far right on issues like immigration and the war on terror, but in other ways fit other models or are actually to an extent apolitical and certainly not in any shape or form Liberal. Hence the UKIP vote.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    I know that you have been talking about this for a very long time, but surely there are other issues as well, it isn’t all down to how you were seen economically. I think some of your problems started a long time ago and the left are just as culpable as the right.

  • It appears to me that the majority of voters are concerned about themselves and their immediate family. If someone is well off they might consider it a good thing to be taxed less, if someone is poor they might consider it a good thing to receive more benefits to increase their income.

    Can we convince the well-off person that they have more freedom than those poorer than themselves and it would be a great thing if those poorer than them had the same amount of freedom? I think this is unlikely. Therefore we should not be chasing the votes of these people who we can’t convince. We need to set out what level of economic well-being we think everyone should have to be as free as we want them to be and then run the economy to achieve it. How do we run the economy so everyone can have a home to live in? How do we run the economy so everyone can be reasonably mobile? How do we run the economy so everyone is not only not hungry but has a choice in what they can afford to buy to eat? How do we run the economy so everyone can afford to heat their home? If we run the economy so those who are not getting these things get them, then we can’t be appealing to those people on the right or even in the centre right because they are likely to be the ones who loose out financially.

    Thank you Stephen Campbell for those figures. I think it is shocking that of the 81,140 people that died between December 2011 and February 2014, 11,210 (13.8%) had been reclassified into a group requiring them to do more to find work. There must be something wrong with the system no matter what the causes of these deaths. (I think we might even have had a policy in our manifesto to change the system with the aim of stopping this from happening.)

    @ TCO
    “Given that tens if not hundreds of thousands of disabled and ill people work in the private sector perfectly successfully, …”

    If disabled people feel they are well enough to work we should support their decision. This is very different from requiring disabled people who the medical profession feel are not up to working being forced to look for work.

    Most employers nowadays have sickness policies that allow them to sack employees who have too many days off sick. I can’t imagine any employer hiring someone in the knowledge that that person is currently ill and will not be able to work all the time they are required to do.

  • Stephen Hesketh 29th Aug '15 - 5:43am

    Are we really arguing that it is valid to base a future strategy on a few questions asked of a small cohort of the remnant Lib Dem vote following a period in which there was a deliberate plan to shift our party to the economic right and as part of this a period of coalition when we followed a strategy of non-differentiation from the Tories?

    Having demonstrably driven away most of our socially tolerant centre-left support, a survey then shows the balance of the remnant vote to be more centre/centre-right leaning than that of our centre-left/centre historical base. What an amazing finding! Who would have thought that!

    Why not drive away all the centrist vote as well …then our support base would look exactly like the Tories!

    Setting this aside, ‘political positioning’ as others have commented, sounds suspiciously like Blair’s focus-group politics; holding up a mirror to a society frequently over-influenced by Conservative and corporatist financial interests supported by a popularist press following and developing their friends agenda – all reducing the democratic process to media-led public opinion chasing.

    Additionally, such an approach gives a disproportionate level of power to leaders and their inner circles and reduces ordinary members to leaflet deliverers and our democratic party structures to little more than a rubber-stamping role.

    Political positioning simply places the cart before the horse. Liberal Democrats should be looking at the key issues facing our society and offering true Liberal solutions as agreed by our membership and policy-making procedures. As a movement these solutions should be based on our philosophy and our member’s views and certainly not those of a non-Liberal (as distinct to liberal) society in which we live.

    The long term aims of our party, and the vision to which all we signed up, is of a radical reforming British-style Liberal Democracy not one set up to reflect and then support the existing status quo – economic or otherwise.

  • Stephen Hesketh 29th Aug '15 - 5:48am

    I would be interested to know if Joe thinks we should be basing our policies towards say immigration and assylum seekers on similar electoral studies?

  • John Tilley 29th Aug '15 - 7:51am

    Stephen Hesketh 29th Aug ’15 – 5:48am
    “…I would be interested to know if Joe thinks we should be basing our policies towards say immigration and assylum seekers on similar electoral studies?”

    Me too, Stephen. I hope you get a reply to your question. I have tried politely asking Joe to expand on his article in the light of his practical experience. No luck so far.

  • Stephen Hesketh 30th Aug '15 - 9:09am

    John Tilley29th Aug ’15 – 7:51am

    To be fair, Joe is probably busy looking for figures and arguements more convincing than those presented here than to respond to our questions 🙂

  • John,

    I can save Joe a bit of time explaining here. He represents Dore and Totley – easily the richest part of Sheffield (I was born and brought up in neighbouring Ecclesall). In 2015 he got a creditable 41.4% of the vote with the Tories on 24.8% and Labour on 18.3% (Green 6.5, UKIP 8.6, other .4). In 2011 he got 42.9%, with the Tories on 32%, Labour on 18.1% and greens 7%.

    So a slight decline but a big increase in majority thanks to Tory votes going UKIP.

    Perhaps more informative is the 2010 Result: Lib Dem 50.5%, Tory 33.4%, Lab 8.8%, Green 3.1%, English Democrat 4%.

    So a doubling of the Green and Labour votes from 2010 to 2011 at our expense, with little change in Tory vote and hence a big decrease in our majority, followed by the increase in UKIP vote mainly at Tory expense. It is fortunate that the majority in Dore and Totley was so huge in 2010 and before (thanks to many years of hard work by Joe and others no doubt!), or we would have lost the seat to the Tories in 2011 like so many others as our left leaning voters deserted us…

    Incidentally back in 1991 when the Liberal Democrats had 3 councillors in Sheffield but were just starting an upward surge, the Tories got 53% to Lab 26% and LD 23% (somewhat different boundaries), so Joe is still retaining some former Labour voters… Demographics have probably changed though as well. For example back then the Tories got 17% in Darnall (you pass through it on the M1), while now they get 8%. Similar in many east Sheffield wards… Those Tory voters have moved west in search of better schools….

  • I think what is interesting in Joe’s chart is that on these economic questions the closest voters to us are actually UKIP! Which shows that other than on the dog whistle issues of immigration and Europe, there really is no majority of votes to the right of us. The 37% of votes the Tories got really do include almost all the right wingers in Britain, and the centre left is much more fertile ground for us, potentially, as it always has been. Of course by being a bit to the right of Labour we can mop up centrist Tory votes in some circumstances, but the reality is that it is to the parties of the left (including UKIP) where our past votes have gone, leaving us with a paltry 8%, and that is where we need to look to get them back…

  • Of course in 1999 we famously gained control of Sheffield, gaining 11 seats from Labour including the afore-mentioned Darnall! We certainly did not do that by being a centre-right party!

    And referring to another thread we were probably seen as to the left of New Labour by most Sheffield voters then. But nevertheless we don’t seem to have lost any votes to the Tories in seats like Dore and Ecclesall, where actually there were small swings from Tory to Labour…

    Will we ever see such things again?

  • Nom de Plume 30th Aug '15 - 5:39pm

    @AndrewMcC

    In my opinion when it is a centre-left vs centre-right debate, it is better to discuss policy. I do not think that sweeping left/right statements are meaningful or helpful.

  • Simon Arnold 30th Aug '15 - 11:36pm

    If you agree with Corbyn, Blair or Camerom, or SNP. Then, we, as a party are in trouble. We should look at things issue by issue, agree when it is sensible. But sink the Tory/Labour/SNP ships, whenever possible.

    Stop apologising!

    Be bold!

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