Time now to prepare for a progressive centre-left coalition in 2015

Compass chair Neal Lawson has a must-read letter to the Lib Dems in this week’s New Statesman. In it, he argues that the centre left bungled a governmental opportunity in 2010 due to unpreparedness. He encourages us to start the ground work now for a potential centre left progressive coalition in 2015, rather than leaving it to the likes of David Laws and Michael Gove to “stitch it up again”.

That’s why we have to build relationships now – through policy, ideas debates and campaigns. We might find we have more in common than we think. Everything good about liberalism is social – it was New Liberalism that founded the welfare state and Beveridge who gave it its post-war form. It was Keynes who helped rebuild the post war economy and it is a Keynes we need today. On Europe, constitutional reform, climate change, civil liberties, a Plan B or Plan C, the best of both parties would provide a half-decent programme for government. Labour needs to be more liberal. The Liberals needs to be more social. So can we start to sketch out the outlines of a new coalition agreement to rebuild Britain? This doesn’t mean either party losing its identity or distinctiveness, it does mean preparing for the best feasible outcome.

With recent events, such as Jeremy Hunt’s elevation to Health and Lord Ashcroft’s appointment as a Privy Councillor, one has to say that the entreaties of Neal Lawson must strike an instinctive chord with many Liberal Democrats, thirsting for involvement in a government closer to our hearts. I am certainly longing for this sort of engagement.

The current coalition is entirely unnatural for many Lib Dems. Dealing with Tories comes as naturally to us as cycling on a fish. One longs for engagement with people who at least share a reasonable portion of basic shared values.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist in Newbury and West Berkshire. He is Photo Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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43 Comments

  • A “centre-left” coalition will be just as unpalatable for roughly as many Lib Dems. The fundamental problem is that we’re two parties glued together…

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Sep '12 - 12:34pm

    I share the sentiments and longings behind this article. However, in order to realise it we have to identify those people in Labour who are of like mind. I fear that the reactionary forces in Labour may militate against us (Ed Balls) and little progress will be made.

    Yet Labour represent the competition for us in British politics, because the real ‘enemy’ in ideological terms, is the Conservative Party. That is a fact, simply borne out by the behaviour of their politicians ,( except Ken Clarke), in office.

    The vacuum on the left and liberal ‘left’ for want of a better word, has given the space for those on the far right of our party and right-wingers like Gove, to move in and gain a strangle-hold on an entire public service.

    Unless, those on the social liberal wing of our party stand up to these forces, another generation of children will be badly let down by politicians (with no mandate for such draconian changes). We can’t rely on Labour to make the case for us, because they have a philosophical vacuum in their own party right now. We are the only party with the philosophical basis to diagnose and cure the serious drift to the right in British politics.

    I hope conference stands up to the forces of conservatism (in our own party as well) , as a start of the come back.

  • My own experience of working with Labour – and Green – party members through Compass has been wholly positive. I’ve always felt welcomed and never felt judged negatively in any way because of my Lib Dem background.

    I sometimes have other Lib Dems tell me- “That’s all very well, but there’s lots of Labour people who hate us and don’t want anything to do with us!”

    True. It can be especially difficult at local level where there are local government rivaliries. And there’s also some Lib Dems who don’t want anything to do with Labour. Tribalists and grudge-bearers will always be present to a degree.

    But there are also lots of Labour folk who are decent people who share many of our values and do want to work with us. Whatever the situation in your local party and in relation to your local Labour party, there is still a great deal you can do through other avenues to connect up with Labour people who have a positive attitude towards cooperation.

    So let’s get on with working with those we can and make sure that we are never again stuck in the position of entering a coalition with the Tories!

  • It really baffles me why there is so much talk of a post-2015 coalition – and even more so that there is discussion of which of the other parties the Lib Dems should ally themselves with.

    Hung parliaments are very rare – only two general elections in the last 70 years have produced them. Even when the Lib Dems were polling over 20% it required a considerable statistical fluke for the other parties to be sufficiently evenly balanced. Lib Dem support is currently around half that figure in the polls. Unless there is a substantial recovery, a hung parliament is even more unlikely than the twice in 70 years statistic would suggest.

    As for having a choice of which party to form a coalition with, forget about it. It has never happened since the two-party system was established in the 1930s, and it’s not going to happen next time.

  • paul barker 21st Sep '12 - 2:11pm

    Yes we should be preparing for a possible coalition with labour & trying to persuade labour to prepare too. We should also prepare for labour splits & for us to get more votes than them, & all the other possibilities too because we have no idea whats going to happen.

  • Paul Reynolds 21st Sep '12 - 2:30pm

    We are RELUCTANTLY in a Coalition with the pro-rich Tory Party, most of whom think that ‘supply side’ economic reforms means making it easier to sack people ! However if some LibDem folk want to ENTHUSIASTICALLY support Labour in coalition (a party which will support more attacks on civil liberties, more state centralisation, more illegal wars and a resumption of ‘the Project to Bankrupt the Country’) then why not just join the Labour party and be done with it ?

  • Richard Dean 21st Sep '12 - 2:42pm

    But then why would anyone vote LibDem? Voters would know from the present experience that LibDems bend in their coalition partner’s wind. So voters may as well vote Labour straight.

  • Peter Watson 21st Sep '12 - 2:42pm

    @Paul Reynolds “We are RELUCTANTLY in a Coalition with the pro-rich Tory Party”
    It doesn’t seem reluctant enough when Clegg says,”If we keep doing this we won’t find anything to bl**dy disagree on in the bl**dy TV debate.” and even Cameron once thought there was “barely a cigarette paper” between them on a large number of issues.

  • Surely preparation for coalition with both main parties is the only sensible option????

    Voters should have an idea of what would be the likely red lines in either option.

    If not all the talk about being pluralist is just that….Talk.

    @Paul Reynolds
    Surely you must accept that people have a preference for one side or another, but should have an acceptance of either. The problem is that at the first chance to show how a Westminster coalition could work it has been a train wreck of poor policy and even worse presentation.

    Personally I think I would prefer a Labour coalition (although probably would not have had that opinion in the latter Blair years) but I would expect the brakes to be put on the behaviors you allude to and for it to be an arms length relationship. Just as this coalition should have been.

  • Richard Harris 21st Sep '12 - 2:51pm

    I think for this to be a possibility you would have to make really clear before the GE that there was no possibility of forming a coalition with the Tories again. No left of centre voter would even contemplate voting Lib Dem without a promise like that. Because of your actions I effectively voted Conservative at the last elections (i actually voted Lib Dem), certainly when it comes to issues that I care about (education/health). How would your party persuade me to vote for you again? Given Nick Clegg has only just apologised for the student fee u-turn and decisively not acted on that apology by resigning, I can’t see any indication that the party is positioning itself to win the centre left vote back. Time is running out.

  • Tim Nichols 21st Sep '12 - 3:19pm

    @Richard Harris

    It may be possible for the grassroots of the party to make sufficiently clear to the public that the Lib Dems would not join the Conservatives in a coalitino after the 2015 election.

    The precedence is set for requiring an extraordinary meeting with a majority vote in favour of a coalition agreement. If there was a large and vocal enough grassroots movement ruling this out and commiting to voting agasint any Coalition agreement with the Tories, this could be achieved regardless of the parliamentary party.

  • mark fairclough 21st Sep '12 - 3:49pm

    @thomas long , 100% AGREED SOME OF US LIBDEM SUPPORTERS OPPOSE LABOUR JUST AS MUCH AS THE TORIES

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Sep '12 - 4:10pm

    @ Mark Fairclough: ” 100% AGREED SOME OF US LIBDEM SUPPORTERS OPPOSE LABOUR JUST AS MUCH AS THE TORIES”

    well, it will be one or the other, realistically and it’s a choice of the least worst options. If the Tories had been moderate and our Leadership more robust on Liberal Democrat principles, the coalition might have worked but as it is we have a right-wing Tory -led Government . For me, the least worst option would be to set up a coalition with Labour to save public services from fragmentation and destruction.

    @Paul Reynolds – why should Lib Dem members who believe in the radical Liberal agenda of the past forty or more years, be turned out of the Party to join Labour? The radical Liberals saved this Party from annihilation in the post-war wilderness years and we’ll do so again.

  • Peter Watson 21st Sep '12 - 4:12pm

    @mark fairclough “100% AGREED SOME OF US LIBDEM SUPPORTERS OPPOSE LABOUR JUST AS MUCH AS THE TORIES” Sadly though, the public perception is that we don’t oppose the tories at all, and we have not allowed a distinctive Lib Dem voice to be heard in the coalition. In opposition it was apparent that we disagreed with Labour and the Conservatives. Why can that not be the case in government?

  • Hear, hear, Helen, regarding the radical Liberals!

  • mark fairclough 21st Sep '12 - 4:42pm

    3 points , 1st truth is if yo u,ve always lived in a solid Tory area you hate the Tories most, if uve alwyas lived in a solid Labour &really know them you hate Labour the most.
    2nd this argument comes from which side of the Alliance a person was a member of in 1988, whether it was the SDP or Liberal Party.
    3rd personally i still think if there;s a hung parliament after 2015 the MPS will split 3 ways , yes the most to supporting Labour , some staying Independent, a few supporting the Tories.

  • To those who contemplate a Lib-Lab coalition post 2015 I would say that you would be less eager if you had been active in politics on Merseyside during the Derek Hatton years when the slogan was ” Militant Rules OK. ” Fair enough Blair reconstructed the party into New Labour and put Militant to sleep but sleepers awake and Old Labour, weakened though it may be , is still around. I have always thought that Lib-dems have 80% common ground with Labour and hardly any with Tories but that 20% that we do not have in common is so authoritarian and hostile to my view of a fair society that I would rather side with the Conservatives , distasteful as their policies may be.. Better still I would steer clear of coalitions.

  • Geoffrey Payne 21st Sep '12 - 5:23pm

    By the time we get to 2015 I think we will find there is a lot of unfinished work to attend to. I think the gap between the rich and the poor will be greater, and a Coalition with the Tories is the main impediment to tackling that. And despite attempts by the party leadership to claim that the Big Society is the same as community politics, we still see Michael Gove going to places like Haringey telling parents that like it or not their school has to be an academy, showing that the gentleman in Whitehall still knows best. More fundamentally the party leadership has bound our economic policy to that of George Osborne even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the policy is failing.
    Labour cannot assume they will win the next general election. Their opinion poll lead is not impressive and if Scotland votes for independence then that will boost the chances of the Tories in the rest of the UK much more than even the boundary changes they wanted to get through. Remember there are more Pandas than Tory MPs in Scotland.
    Given we cannot win a general election by ourselves, the next logical step – if the electorate vote for it – would be a left of centre Coalition to do the things the Tories stopped us from doing with them.
    Of course there are some very obstinate and partisan MPs in Labour, but as we have found this is also true of the Tories.

  • mark fairclough 21st Sep '12 - 5:33pm

    @paul reynolds & mike c , i agree totally

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Sep '12 - 7:20pm

    @Geoffrey Payne: ” Given we cannot win a general election by ourselves, the next logical step – if the electorate vote for it – would be a left of centre Coalition to do the things the Tories stopped us from doing with them.
    Of course there are some very obstinate and partisan MPs in Labour, but as we have found this is also true of the Tories.”

    Yes, you’re right. We have to with people we dislike but equally not allow them to walk all over us. Labour have reactionaries and tribalists but there are some excellent Labour MPs out there. On the Tory side, there are a few decent and fair ones but they are comprehensively drowned out these days by right-wing head-bangers.

    The Cabinet’s shift to the right (I know Clegg denies this but it’s true – look at the appointments), recently and the stitch-up over Gove’s EBacc plan shows me that over all, this is a right-wing Government, sanctioned by the Lib Dem Leadership. What we need is to re-draw the relationship with the Tories – business-like but distant- assertive at putting the blocks on mad ideas, not just tinkering and claiming a triumph (see Ebacc proposal).

    Of course, a majority Tory Government would be horrendous but that was not the scenario in 2010 . Back then. I thought the CA would stop the Tories meddling with public services – how wrong I was.

  • Please would people stop using the term ‘social liberal’ when they seem to mean to refer to members of the LDs who are felt to be more radical (presumably than others) in terms of redistribution of wealth, ie achieving ‘fairness’ through taxing the wealthier more. A social liberal would favour gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, be accepting of others lifetsyle choices etc – in other words, avoiding enslavement through conformity. All members of the party would surely qualify to be real social liberals, and there is a sound case that most of the coalition government’s policies could be qualified in this way.

    In my own view, the future belongs with the socially liberal and economically prudent. The LDs and Cameroonians really aren’t that far away from this position. The Tory right, and the whole of the Labour party, are obstacles to this being achieved (the Tory right generally being socially illiberal, and the Labour party’s record on economics… well, enough said.). To me a progressive coalition would want to see individuals freed from conformity and the country freed from its debts.

  • Andrew Wimble 21st Sep '12 - 7:59pm

    Prior to the general election we had a Labour government responsible for a sustained attack on civil liberties. While I dislike many aspects of the current Coalition , the idea of working with “new” labour as it was then is far worse. I do not see that an assault on civil liberties is a Labour core value so hopefully things will be different next time around.

  • I believe the Coalition governmemt has been a catastrophe for the LIberal Democrats; at the same time it has been a very enlightening experience for voters. The electorate has witnessed the Parliementary LibDems (50+ MPs) enthusiatically agree with, and loyally vote for Conservative policies. Fees, the NHS, Benefit cuts,the destruction of EMA, a tax cut for the rich, etc. In government, the LibDems have acted in a way that is is in complete contradiction to the L(l)iberal image that the party had cultivated down the years.

  • The time for Keynes was when BallsBrown were splurging rather than paying down debt in preparation for the inevitable downturn. Oh I forgot, Brown abolished downturns.

    He who forgets history is doomed to repeat it. Go and read up on Labour’s attempts to destroy us in the 30s

  • @Chris
    Yes, hung parliaments have been comparatively rare. But the steady decline of two-party politics in the UK makes them increasing likely in the future. In 1951, very nearly 97% of electors voted for either the Conservatives or the Labour party. By 2010, however, the percentage of voters opting for one of the two main parties had fallen to just over 65%; I don’t see that figure rising much, do you? The other 35% will have an increasing voice.

  • “Yes, hung parliaments have been comparatively rare. But the steady decline of two-party politics in the UK makes them increasing likely in the future. In 1951, very nearly 97% of electors voted for either the Conservatives or the Labour party. By 2010, however, the percentage of voters opting for one of the two main parties had fallen to just over 65%; I don’t see that figure rising much, do you? The other 35% will have an increasing voice.”

    Not unless they can win a significant number of seats in parliament, and (at least in England and Wales) none of the other parties – Greens, UKIP, BNP, Respect and so on – stands a chance of doing that. Your 35% won’t have a _parliamentary_ voice if their support is spread among several fringe parties for whom winning just one parliamentary seat is a major achievement.

    What matters in determining the likelihood of a hung parliament is how many seats the Lib Dems win, not how many votes go to parties other than Con and Lab. That’s why a hung parliament is so unlikely, _unless_ there is a major revival of Lib Dem popularity over the next couple of years.

  • My hearts always been in the centre left. I keep hearing don’t trust labour, they’ll do this and that. Personally, my experience tells me that the Conservative party are just unpleasant every time they get within an inch of power and actually tend to be more centralized than Labour governments. As for the c assaults on civil liberties by labour.they did not have of a core membership that wants to pull us out of the Human Rights act, didn’t police marches with automatic weapons, didn’t have people arrested for pre-crime, didn’t use bottle necking, didn’t jail teenage girls for picking a pair of gloves up and putting them down during riots, or imprison people for three years for writing something stupid on their face book and taking it down immediately and had virtually the same anti terrorist laws frame slightly differently. Plus they also did not force people with health problems to work for free, So are their civil liberties violation really any worse than this coalitions?

  • David Allen 22nd Sep '12 - 6:57pm

    I’d like to support both the points of this posting: both about the need for a centre-left coalition, and the need to prepare.

    Whatever you think of a centre-right coalition, we sure didn’t prepare for it properly. We made a pledge which the Tories made us break. We made demands which didn’t work, over AV and over the Lords. We drifted into concessions on the NHS and schools which those who voted for coalition were not aware would be made. We took a lot of well-paid government jobs and not much else. Above all else, we underplayed our hand, and accepted as “fair” a distribution of policy outcomes which gave the Tories mostly good publicity and ourselves mostly bad publicity.

    It isn’t a given that we won’t make similar mistakes with Labour. We have to prepare.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Sep '12 - 1:30am

    @David Allen “It isn’t a given that we won’t make similar mistakes with Labour.”
    If we spend 5 years being too friendly with the tories then another 5 being beastly to Labour, it might confirm the perception that we are simply a tory-light party. In opposition we had a distinctive voice, and were obviously different from both Labour and Conservative politics. In the next 2.5 years we need to reassert our identity, and in government that means doing so with actions, not just words.

  • The Labour Party evolved out of the C19th Liberal Party. People can argue about whether its heart was Methodist or Marxist, but the simple fact is that the first generations of Labour MPs and Peers had been Radical Liberals or Lib-Labs. Some Labour MPs (Michael Foot, Tony Benn) kept that libertarian tradition alive and kicking until just a few years ago.

    And then, of course, the Lib Dems partly evolved out of the Labour Party. Although LD historians completely ignore the Labour tradition (and, indeed, the Socialist tradition in C19th and early C20th Liberalism) and place the Lib Dems purely in the context of the Liberal Party, the SDP formed a substantial part of the party at its birth and many of the leading fingers within the party came to it via Labour and the SDP.

  • Paul Walter 23rd Sep '12 - 2:09pm

    “The Labour Party evolved out of the C19th Liberal Party”

    Cadell, it’ s interesting to remember that Harold Wilson’s father was a Liberal. Harold Wilson recalled him playing the organ with great vigour after Liberal victories. And Michael Foot’s father was a Liberal Cornish MP of great note, Isaac Foot.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Sep '12 - 9:47pm

    mark fairclough

    2nd this argument comes from which side of the Alliance a person was a member of in 1988, whether it was the SDP or Liberal Party.

    I see comments like this written so many times, but they are simply NOT TRUE.

    I write as someone who was a member of the Liberal Party in the 1980s and who opposed merger with the SDP. In those days the SDP was generally seen as somewhat to the right of the Liberal Party. Most of the opposition to merger in the Liberal Party came from its left. The Liberal Party did NOT stand for extreme free market economics in those days. The attempts to try and rewrite history and pretend that it did, and to steal the word “liberalism” to mean “supporter of free market economics” is what Orwell wrote about in “1984”. It is profoundly and deeply illiberal.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Sep '12 - 11:25pm

    I spoke to Neal Lawson after the Social Liberal Fringe meeting last night, but I was sorry not to have chance to have made my point of view more clear in the meeting, and in fact to have been dismissed as a “tribalist” by the chair and other because I expressed my anger with the Labour Party.

    I am on the left of the Liberal Democrats, I hate much of what this current government is doing, it is most certainly not “my government” because there are a few LibDems in it softening it, and given a choice I would rather be in coalition with Labour. However, I know very well why I am not in the Labour Party – I have a strong belief in political pluralism and I disagree very much with the idea that there should be one unified party of the left. This view is expressed not just by almost every Labour Party person I have ever met, but also by Richard Reeves in his article in this week’s New Statesman where he effectively called on anyone who disagreed with his attempts to move the party to the economic right to leave it and join Labour. Well, with people like that as our leader’s director of strategy, wanting to kick out most of those who worked to build up a party for him to lead, no wonder the party’s in a mess. So far as I am concerned, Reeves’ failure to understand the argument for political pluralism (as well his the failure in his article to acknowledge the possibility of enslavement by poverty, ignorance or conformity) marks him out as a most illiberal person.

    If our party is to remain free and independent and so maintain political pluralism, of course it should not regard coalition with Labour as the only possible option, nor should it regard coalition with the Conservatives likewise. I should have thought this so obvious that it does not need stating. At the moment I do think the Conservative Party has moved so toxically to the extreme right that if there was any possibility of an alternative coalition not involving them, it would be preferable. But there is no possibility – it seemed to me absolutely clear in May 2010 we had the alternative either of the current coalition or a minority Tory government which would engineer things to win a majority in another general election in a few months time.

    I find the very fact that Neal Lawson makes this call on the Liberal Democrats to be insulting because it is based on the assumption we would never want to. That is, in making this call he is supporting the idea that the Liberal Democrats have moved rightwards and the coalition is a planned outcome from that. I do not believe this to be true – I do not believe it to be the position of the vast majority of party members, though I am saddened by the way our Leader seems to wish to get his advice mainly from the tiny proportion who think this way.

    I believe that Labour, in constantly making this accusation, are helping that tiny proportion. Labour want to put out the impression our party has move way to the right of where it used to stand because it recognises the public belief that this is the case will destroy it. Labour wants to see us destroyed because it wants a monopoly of the political left. I am a left-wing member of the Liberal Democrats because I am opposed to that sort of monopoly. I am opposed to that sort of monopoly, not just because of my liberal instincts, but also because I see it has hugely damaged the left. It has led to a complacent inward-looking left politics which hasn’t bothered to engage the people because it just assumes their votes will come rolling in anyway. This complacency led to the collapse of active mass membership left politics, so opening the door to domination of politics in this country by the right, which needs only money to flourish, not members.

    I am angry with Labour because I feel the accusations it is throwing at us, that this coalition was formed due to a right-wing ideological coming together and that we have chosen to create the current government in its current form, to be damaging the pluralist politics to which I am so committed, and damaging the cause of the left. We must start from reality – that there are two reasons we have this government, one that more people voted for the Tories than any other party, two that we have an electoral system whose distortions ruled out any other coalition as being viable and greatly reduced the influence we could have on the only viable coalition. Once we acknowledge this reality, we can end the silly knock-about politics which only advances the cause of the right because it puts across the idea politics is all nastiness therefore ordinary people should not be involved with it. Once we acknowledge the reality that voting gave us this government, we can start to work towards a better understanding of the idea that voting differently would have given us a different government. If we can get out so many of those people who currently don’t vote because “politics is all rubbish” – who are primarily those who would benefit most from a government of the left – we can start to transform things and pull back from the domination of the right.

    In practical terms, the success of the Liberal Democrats has come from winning support for the left that Labour cannot get to – all those southern, rural and suburban seats we have won which were once considered “true blue”. Labour’s wish to destroy us by painting us as ideological right-wingers will simply send those seats back to the Tories – because we can win them, but Labour can’t. An acceptance by Labour of the reality that we were forced into the coalition by circumstances means we are more likely to retain those seats, without the left vote dispersing.

    Clearly, it would help if we had an electoral system and a second chamber which did not give the bias towards the Tories which what we have at present does. So another reason to be angry with Labour is that it has destroyed the chance of reforming these. If Labour had joined a strong call for them, it would have stopped them being dismissed as a silly LibDem obsession. Even when Labour did not actively oppose reform, it has advocated it so weakly that it was hardly heard. The lack of reform, and Labour’s campaign strategy of winning power primarily by destroying us in the next election, is pushing us towards the position where we will have an extreme right-wing Conservative majority government. If Labour has no commitment to reform in its manifesto – or if once again it does not implement the reform it promises – a vote for Labour in 2015 will be a vote for the most extreme right-wing government ever seen in democratic time in this country in 2020, even if Labour does get a majority in 2015. If it pulls down the LibDems in formerly “true blue” seats, it could give us that government in 2015.

    If Labour was joining us NOW in our calls for constitutional reform, in our calls for wealth taxes, and in our attempts to ameliorate the worst of Tory policy, how very different it would be NOW. The sympathetic backing of Labour on the outside of government for what we are calling for on the inside would greatly strengthen our hands in negotiations. It may help Labour in their plans to destroy us to portray us as weak non-achievers in the coalition, but how does it help the country if we are weak because we lack the outside support to push our message home? Instead, in order to damage the Liberal Democrats, Labour has sometimes sided with the right in our arguments in the coalition. A classic example was their refusal to support our attacks on the ruse by which the wealthy get state support for their whims by calling it “charity”.

    In arguments within the Liberal Democrats, if there was greater acceptance of the legitimacy of those of us in the left of the Liberal Democrats, we could achieve more to prevent our party being shifted to the right. Labour likes to ignore our existence and make out the Liberal Democrats are all economic right-wingers in the Clegg mould. How does that help the cause of the left? Why does Labour join with Liberal Democrats right-wingers like Richard Reeves in saying those of us on the left of the Liberal Democrats should join Labour? Labour want to see us lose because they want a monopoly on the left – even if it is a monopoly which largely loses in part because it is a monopoly. Right now there are some exciting things going on in the Liberal Democrats – I believe that if we could push forward the call for taxation of welfare that could lead to a fundamental shift away from the division between rich and poor that has so grown in recent years. And when we who are fighting for this thing within the Liberal Democrats turn round to look for support on the wider left, what do we see? At best nothing, at worst hostility. Again and again – they would rather the right wins than lose their monopoly.

    If it was seen that pulling our party to the left wins it support, that would cause a greater support for the politics pf the left in general. If, however, it wins us no support, instead the Labour Party just continues its attacks on us as “Tory stooges”, the right in the Liberal Democrats will be able to say “See, there is no support for what you want, the only way forward is for our party to move ever closer to the Conservatives” (they may not put it quite that way, but the article this week in the New Statesman by Nick Clegg’s outgoing Director of Strategy comes close to saying it).

    If there was greater understanding and public support for our position on the left outside the Liberal Democrats, some recognition of the extent to which we have used the very limited power we really have to stop the worst of the Tories, then if we really did decide we had to end it, we could more easily do so. The right-wing within the Liberal Democrats wins again if they can say “See, if you end the coalition now, that will be the end of all of us, so stay in, you are trapped”.

    So, the point is that I am happy to go for Neal’s call, I am only disappointed that he felt he needed to make it. However, I don’t think we need to wait for the next general election. Rather we can start the cooperation now, with an acceptance that the Liberal Democrats are pushing for the left inside this government, while the Labour Party is pushing for it outside. If the Conservatives call us “fifth columnists” for that, I really don’t care. They didn’t win a majority and they need to learn to govern in a more humble way that accepts that. I have always seen democracy as about the various forces in society coming together and finding an acceptable compromise, rather than about a Leninist Five year plan being proposed and then implemented without further consultation and without concern whether it has true majority support outside Parliament. That is why I am happy to support the idea of coalition, and accept it means I don’t get all I want in politics. But it really means a completely different way of behaving politically, which I don’t yet see – not even, I am sorry to say, very much in our own party.

  • Peter Watson,

    Completely agree with your post. Of course our first concern is to get away from being Tory lite, as Clegg is.

    When I talk about being prepared to deal with Labour, I’m thinking for example of the Prescott-Reid axis which stepped in, quite effectively, to kybosh any Lib-Lab deal in 2010. We don’t want that to happen again if, in 2015, Miliband makes us a reasonable offer and we want to agree it. For all their faults, the Tories are better disciplined, which is why Cameron was able to sign up to coalition despite his reliance on the votes of people like Cash and Bone. So when we talk to Miliband we should find ways to be clear whether he can likewise do a deal. They need to be there, if we are to take Lib-Lab seriously!

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Sep '12 - 11:29pm


    taxation of welfare

    Should of course be “taxation of wealth”! Sorry, I write this stuff fast, tends to lead to one thing being typed when I meant another sound-alike.

  • That’s all right, Matthew, I read it as “taxation of Guelphs”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Sep '12 - 12:57pm

    David

    That’s all right, Matthew, I read it as “taxation of Guelphs”.

    I think I’d prefer taxation of Ghibellines.

  • matthew,
    I don’t like arguments over whether we should be supporting the church or military – especially when we’re calling for fairness, that’s what causes civil wars…

  • david thorpe 27th Sep '12 - 12:41pm

    labour are not left wing economically-well ed balls isnt anyway-and there is nothing progressive about their stance on civil liberties-an Lib Lab coaliton would be odd-the labour party leadership are economic ornage bookers in the vernacular of some of our party-and post 2015 our leadership would look very different to that which is economically liberal now.

  • I agree with Pauls article and the comments by Helen Tedcastle (above). As Liberal Democrats we are supposed to believe in FREEDOM FROM “poverty, ignorance and conformity”. The trouble is that many Tories still seem to think we should have freedom for the rich, prejudiced and the imposition of private school values!

  • Richard Dean 28th Sep '12 - 5:50pm

    What freedoms should we scarifice in order to achieve freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity?

    Should we accept boring jobs and regulated hours to be free from poverty?

    Should we accept other people’s ideas to be free from ignorance?

    Everyone’s bodies and brains are designed by evolution to be rather similar. What do we have to do to avoid conformity?

  • David Pollard 28th Sep '12 - 9:32pm

    The Tories have their right wing. Labour is paid for by the unions. Let us spend our time deciding what LibDem voters want from the next Government and if there is a hung parliament go for the deal that gives us most of what we campaigned on.

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