Opinion: Reflections on the elections

This is the third election since 2010 where I’ve watched results roll in with a feeling of mild despair. Obviously I’m disappointed. Whilst losses are lower than many were predicting, Labour have taken away Cardiff and Cambridge, and we were beaten by a man dressed as a penguin in Edinburgh.

In the London Mayoral Boris Johnson has been re-elected but Brian Paddick – who really has run a campaign streaks ahead of his 2008 attempt – has received a disappointingly low share of the vote. We’ve also seen our presence in the London Assembly reduced, from three to two.

Obviously I’m disappointed, then. It was never going to be a good night, but you always have that secret hope that maybe it won’t be as bad as predicted.

Am I worried about 2015 and a Lib Dem massacre? No. For two reasons.

Firstly, people who have voted Labour today have voted against something (austerity and Tory incompetence) not for something. Ed Miliband is politically savvy enough to know that having an actual plan at the moment is not necessary. It’s far more politically astute to just allow public anger at the Government to ferment and to ride that wave rather than create policy. This plan is fine now, in the Parliamentary doldrums, but will cut no ice in 2015.

Secondly, even if I accept the prognostications of vapid Labour doom-sayers who are eagerly eyeing up 50-odd Lib Dem seats as if they were already theirs, I’m actually ok with that. Now, obviously, I would prefer a tsunami of yellow propelled us to Number 10 in 2015 (about as likely as a return for Gordon Brown, I admit) but if we are heading for electoral disaster I am still proud of our time in office. Unlike Labour (and to a lesser extent, the Tories) I don’t think Lib Dems are tribal.

I want my party to win, but I want our ideas implemented more than that. If going into coalition and being wiped out in the next general election is the price to pay for raising millions out of income tax, creating a pupil premium to help the poorest students and pushing the Tories into accepting gay marriage, then so be it. Politics should be about achieving your party’s aims, not about perpetually preparing for the next election. Perhaps, if politicians kept both eyes on improving people’s lives rather than one eye on the polls the country wouldn’t have such little respect for its elected officials.

Besides, the next general election is years away. No-one was predicting a Lib Dem/Tory coalition in 2007, so who knows what 2015 will bring – we may see Ewan Blair leading a Green/UKIP alliance to victory across the country.

* Ben Norman works on financial policy at Cicero Consulting

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168 Comments

  • To fight a general election in 2015 you need money… a local organisation of volunteers and a Big Vision to persuade people to vote for you…..We wont have any of these by then and be annhilated!

    Ive never felt so much that Ive wasted 30 years of hard work in supporting the Party

  • My local councillor lost his seat last year and was beaten again this year by Labour candidates who campaigned only on national issues and have no track record of local action. He worked all day seven days a week for people in his ward for four years, and had many noteable acheivements. In the last year our ne councillor has been ivisible. There is something wrong somewhere isn’t there!

  • Norman Fraser 5th May '12 - 6:29pm

    Utter nonsense. The Party might be doing what you want it to do but it’s not doing what was in the 2010 manifesto. The main effort of any political party should not go into alienating its own electorate. So far as I’m concerned it’s thirty years work at council level and in the Scottish Parliament down the drain.

  • The Scottish and Welsh situations are a tragedy, and the situation in the North of England isn’t good, either. I am afraid it will be back to the 1950s soon. beware those who say There Is No Alternative to the current masochistic economic strategy. Unless we change it, we are back to less than 1000 councillors and a couple of taxis of MPs. My worry is that people will think that just because we have prospered in Cheltenham, in Eastleigh, in Portsmouth and a small number ofother places, that it confirms we are on the right track. The Liberal Party spent 20 or 30 years becoming a national party again, and 10 or 15 rising to our high point in 1995 / 6.

  • Martin Pierce 5th May '12 - 6:45pm

    I was just reading this before I saw the comments and thinking I truly am on a different planet (except I think the one I’m on is called Earth) – but was reassured to see from the other comments that I’m not the only one. So let’s try a few truths of our position – (a) the default scenario is more wipeouts like Thursday each year leading up to a reduction back to something like the parliamentary representation we had when I joined the party (for the record that was 12) – we need to start thinking radically about how to change that trajectory ; (b) the reason it’s happening is because people believe that we have sold out on a number of key principles in government (tuition fees, NHS, going along with the Tories on most of what the govt does) – in other words it has destroyed its own brand so carefully built up over a generation; (c) I and a lot of other activists agree with that view; (d) it’s the Tories not Labour who will pick up most of our seats. Oh and just on a factual point, Labour did not take Cambridge – we are likely to continue to run it on Mayor’s casting vote – but in my ward in Cambridge we lost (again) by nearly 1,000 a ward we won in 2010. I’m afraid we face annihilation AND have nothing to be proud of in reality

  • Martin Pierce 5th May '12 - 6:47pm

    Oh and one more thing – the ‘where we work, we win’ slogan thrown around so much by the party over the last few weeks is just plain offensive to so many of our hard-working Councillors overwhelmed by the deluge on Thursday – who are paying the price for Clegg’s political naivety

  • Peter Watson 5th May '12 - 6:48pm

    “Firstly, people who have voted Labour today have voted against something (austerity and Tory incompetence) not for something.” Why on earth do you think they would not do the same in a general election? 2010 was “won” largely on the back of not being Labour.
    And there is an inherent contradiction in acceptance of being wiped out electorally for introducing exclusively Lib Dem policies: why would any subsequent government want to keep what proved unpopular with the electorate?
    After 2015 we might find ourselves in coalition with a party that opposes what we have done and wishes to dismantle , so it’s just as well our leaders are so flexible.

  • I’ve been supporting the party 40+ years and will till I turn my toes up, and Nick played a blinder right up to the moment he agreed the tuition fees rise.

    After such a high profile campaign among students (with students demonstrating to be allowed to vote after 10) the subsequent “betrayal” and reaction to it could not have been more inevitable, and I am astonished that the high command could not see that that single act would taint every other lib dem priority, making the loss of the av referendum equally inevitable.

    Having said all that we must never underestimate the capriciousness and stupidity of an electorate that treats political contests as some sort of X factor beauty contest, supporting a policy free Labour Party whose entire political philosophy is contained in a twitter friendly “too far, too fast, arrogant, complacent, plan for jobs and growth” mantra.

    I believe our only hope now is to junk the energy sapping and pointless constitutional crap, if necessary shuffle the ministerial pack but then agree clear priorities for the rest of the term that we then execute with ruthless precision

  • Tony Dawson 5th May '12 - 7:03pm

    @Ben Norman:
    ,
    “if we are heading for electoral disaster I am still proud of our time in office”

    Go on then, list the achievements on one side and the cock ups on the other. And then explain why the ‘balance’ is worth the destruction of Liberal Democrats in local govermnment and the loss of any chance of getting a transferable voting system for Westminster.

  • mike cobley 5th May '12 - 7:04pm

    Quote – ” If going into coalition and being wiped out in the next general election is the price to pay for raising millions out of income tax, creating a pupil premium to help the poorest students and pushing the Tories into accepting gay marriage, then so be it.”

    Er, sorry to puncture your self-satisfaction bubble but did you know that there are not two governments in the UK today – a nasty sadistic Tory one and a cuddly idealistic Libdem one – but just the 1 government, one cabinet of ministers who take responsibility for governance. And that government is supported and kept in power by MPs, Tory Mps and Libdem MPs. Which means that every distraught, demeaned, traumatised disabled person, or benefit claimant, or family forced to move, or public sector worker having to claim the dole, all can with justification lay the blame at our feet. We were punished for the cruelties imposed by the government, and we will continue to be punished unless either the cruelty stops or we stop supporting it. QED.

  • @mike cobley – So we shouldn’t make any changes to disability benefits? Or other benefits? Housing Benefit claimants should be paid to live wherever they fancy? And no public sector worker should ever be made redundant?

    Would make for an interesting public sector deficit………

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th May '12 - 7:33pm

    ‘I want my party to win, but I want our ideas implemented more than that. If going into coalition and being wiped out in the next general election is the price to pay for raising millions out of income tax, creating a pupil premium to help the poorest students and pushing the Tories into accepting gay marriage, then so be it. ‘

    Like Turkeys voting for Christmas..

    I joined the Liberals in 1985 and the new party in 1998. The idea that it’s okay for our party to be wiped off the political map because of the incompetence of our ministers in dealing with the Tories, is naive at best.

    The 1989 Euro Election where I remember being at a Euro count and the message came up on the TV screen that the party wasn’t registering any % votes was bad enough but at least we had elected a leader with the courage and vision to lead the party towards the sound of gunfire, with our heads held high and our values clear.

    Now we march towards that same gunfire and get mown down, because there’s no vision and our values are comprised to the point of being indistinguishabe from the Tory party. And the Tories are going to get even more right-wing, not less.

    I’m no longer feeling philosophical – I’m angry.

  • ” If going into coalition and being wiped out in the next general election is the price to pay for raising millions out of income tax, creating a pupil premium to help the poorest students and pushing the Tories into accepting gay marriage, then so be it.”

    Don’t be too hard on Ben Norman, didn’t Paddy Ashdown say virtually the same thing on “Any Questions” today?

  • So is there a single MP or Party leader who is going to help us take our Party back…..no way can we go into the next election with Clegg as Leader and campaigning on the basis of we stopped the Tories being even nastier.

    Reading these comments I realise I am not alone .Will we save our Party or end up having to form a new one?

  • Peter Chegwyn 5th May '12 - 7:54pm

    When I read articles like this one I despair. Thankfully when I read the comments that follow I realise there’s some hope yet. As Peter (no relation) says: “Is there a single MP or Party leader who is going to help us take our party back” or will they continue to lead our party over the electoral precipice.

    How many more councillors have to lose their seats before someone at the top does more than apologise?

  • Ben – I agree with everything you’ve written. I’d add one reason why I don’t feel too worried about 2015; it was noted much more publicly this time than last year, but it is proving true – that where we have a Lib Dem MP we are winning; Lib Dem MPs are getting our message out, and our message is a good one… we’re lifting millions out of income tax, we’re directing schools budgets towards those who need it most, and so on.

    And to the people who want us to pull the plug on the Coalition to save ourselves: I ask you – save ourselves to what end? Presumably you mean save ourselves so that one day we can be in government and hopefully able to implement some of our policies. The only problem with that analysis is that we are in government now. Sure, we cannot implement everything we want and we have to vote for some things we don’t believe in, but that is what coalition will always mean; the only alternative is going from third party to majority party in one jump – that isn’t going to happen. I just think some people need to swallow a reality pill.

  • Bill le Breton 5th May '12 - 7:59pm

    Nick Clegg has sent me an email – he tells me ‘our values remain strong’. The electorate has just told us in no uncertain terms that they don’t think we have any values. Listen to them. They don’t trust our leader. It is as simple and as stark as that.

    He probably is a kind and well intentioned person but he has lost that trust and therefore, without it, any thing he says is disbelieved. Any values or deep beliefs he claims to have for himself or on our behalf is disbelieved because they now ‘know’ in their hearts that he is just an ordinary opportunistic politician – it’s worse because he once told them he was different, that we were different, so their sense of betrayal is far, far deeper.

    Until he regains that trust nothing he says will be believed by sufficient people to make a difference. And this great political institution does not have the time to wait for him to rebuild that trust. It will take him years (and it is a task that only he can do for himself) and by then even the very best MPs will have lost.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th May '12 - 8:13pm

    Quoting Bill le Breton: ‘– it’s worse because he once told them he was different, that we were different, so their sense of betrayal is far, far deeper.’

    Agree. Our May 2010 campaign was truly inspiring and Nick Clegg performed brilliantly. However, the concept of ‘coalition’ and and loyalty to that brand has overtaken everything else.
    The sense of betrayal, once in the ‘mind’ of the electorate, will take years to erradicate – especially as we made such a virtue out of our difference and appeared to renege on our policies as soon as we got a sniff of power. That is the perception.

    If we don’t differentiate ourselves more clearly, the electorate will continue to punish us for appearing to be proto-Tories, happy with slashing and bashing public services, and acquiescing with Osborne’s plan to help the rich.

  • Richard Dean 5th May '12 - 8:23pm

    @Bill. I disagree. You wouldn’t expect me to agree would you? I got the email too, after a name glitch.

    The electorate are a lot more sophisticated. Their individual actions have somehow conspired towards winning the war between them and the politicians. They have looked at the political scene and decided that the way to get poliicians working for them is set up new tensions. So, they have elected in a way that creates tensions within the coalition, threatens the government that Labour will win the next GE, encourages Labour without giving them much power, and even creates local tensions like the one in London between a Tory mayor and more labour members.

    It’s not personalities at all, it’s policies, so keeping NC, or getting rid of NC, would be an irrelevant sideshow. There’s no evidence that he’s mistrusted more than other possible leadership contenders.

  • “If going into coalition and being wiped out in the next general election is the price to pay for raising millions out of income tax, creating a pupil premium to help the poorest students and pushing the Tories into accepting gay marriage, ”

    So that’s one policy David Cameron said was a brilliant idea, one which was in the Tory manifesto and one which he said he supported “because he is a Conservative” and which they said they would consider in the 2010 election (though it wasn’t a manifesto promise.

    If we are going to get wiped out then I’d kind of like it to be for doing something the Conservatives didn’t already have on their agenda!

  • Foregone Conclusion 5th May '12 - 8:37pm

    “I want my party to win, but I want our ideas implemented more than that. If going into coalition and being wiped out in the next general election is the price to pay for raising millions out of income tax, creating a pupil premium to help the poorest students and pushing the Tories into accepting gay marriage, then so be it.”

    Has poverty been defeated? Has ignorance been dispelled? Has conformity been broken?

    No. The things you quote are just steps towards these ultimate goals, not the goal itself. Without being rude, simply moderating the Tories is a rather meagre legacy for a party with a history going back to the time of Russell.

    Can we trust the two other parties – or any other parties – to defend liberty?

    No. That is self-evident – just look at the trenchant opposition to electoral reform on both sides of politics last year, or against House of Lords reform this year, or for the Great Porn Firewall.

    I’ll be damned if this party dies just because someone somewhere wanted to prove how ‘serious’ we were.

  • Years of work undone and voters alienated to deliver more sleaze , a double dip and less votes than a six foot penguin called Professor Pongoo. Not good.
    One of the points being lost in all this self pity is that the Coalition was formed to save the economy and it as tanked it further. Not only that but the Tories you are protecting everyone from are now going to swing Rightwards because this party is seen as an electoral liability.. There’s a word for what is happening. Failure.

  • “Labour have taken away Cardiff and Cambridge, ”

    What does this mean? They aren’t our possessions to rule as of right!

  • We simply don’t know what we are doing.

    Local news vox pop had yet another person bring up tuition fees as a reason why he will never vote Lib Dem again.

    We were seen as different not because we were permanently in opposition and failing to achieve any policy aims, but because people believed we were founded on a moral and principled position of liberty and fairness, that we meant what we said and would keep our promises.

    We were then hijacked by David Laws and others, willing to trade away too much. Don’t tell me what percent of our policies are being implemented. Explain why we are kicking the poor, attacking benefits, rewarding the rich.

    We have lost our supporters, lost our credibility, lost our principles and lost our way. I hope someone knows how to get this all back.

  • Toby MacDonnell 5th May '12 - 9:21pm

    I don’t understand what those of you who believe that the last thirty years have been wasted were working towards, but I think it was being in government. Everything after that is a conciquence of achieving our primary goal: it does not live up to our expectations (which in some cases seems to boarder on the utopian), but that’s no reason to regret it.

    In some parallel universe right now, a Lib-Lab government is struggling under the burden of its creditors: the pound has been fled from (rather than fled to): Britain looks to be going the way of Iceland. The electorate is punishing both parties of government, and Tory leaders are hailing Conservative gains across the country and in London as constiuting a mandate beyond a government “no-one elected”.

    No party does well in an economic crisis, especially when any option is bound to have a downside. The naysaying within the party only serves to re-enforce the miserable atmosphere surrounding us. Ben is quite right to sing the praises of what we have done in government: it’s what I’m a Lib Dem for, it’s what he’s a Lib Dem for, and I expect the 75% of our mannifesto which is being put into action is what you’re a Lib Dem for. The 50% of the Tory manifesto is why we’re not Tories, sure, but in the parallel universe, the 50% of the Labour manifesto isn’t exactly our cup of tea, either. That’s the reality of all coallitions.

    Sure, we have polling trends and a couple of poor elections (with low turnouts), but apparently we have 16 points nationally (16 points Ashdown would have killed for), which is hardly a collapse. Rather than trying to predict the future, we should be pushing on, and if we’re not such a political force in the next parliament… what have we lost? We wanted to put our policies into action, we got our policies enacted. If we weren’t in coallition, we’d have had no policies at all, and no garentee we’d get into government in the next election. And if we get out of government, what will be keeping us from making gains again locally?

    Dwelling on the past and resenting the present is self-indulgent. The future will only be won through ownership and championing of our work in the coallition, not by being ashamed, apologetic, and incrediable.

  • Richard Dean suggests that Clegg should stay as leader because “there is no evidence that he is more mistrusted than other leadership contenders”. There’s quite a bit wrong with this suggestion, starting with the fact that there are no leadership contenders; even if there were the public would not know who they were and would therefore have no evidence on which to base an opinion about their trustworthiness or otherwise; thirdly, one or more of them might actually have voted against the increase in tuition fees, therefore honouring their pre-election pledge, which would ipso facto make them less untrustworthy than Clegg. It is Clegg who is a by-word for untrustworthiness rather than the party collectively, although we are tainted by his leadership. I would still like to see him apologise in whatever terms were necessary for the electorate to believe him to be genuine but if, as Geoffrey Payne suggested this morning, it is too late for him to be able to do that (and I think he is probably right) then the only way we are going to stand a chance of getting out of this situation is by replacing him.

  • Toby MacDonnell really does show how the younger recruits fail to understand that we should never have gone into Government until we have a fair voting system….The reason we all fought so hard was that we realised that only when the way would did politics ie voting system had changed could we properly participate in Government wthout being a herring in a sharks mouth.

    He asks why cant we win seats in future…..well because there wont be any workers organisation or money to fund campaigning thats why

    To be told we are ‘self indulgent’ really sticks in my craw….many of us had a passionate vision of changing Britains political system and have sacrificed much of our lives for this.Policies that are worth sacrificing this for come from a big vision and radical ideas…If we’ve wasted our time so be it but why would anyone want to make this sacrifice for the New Liberal Democrats?….I certainly wont be wasting any more of my time.

  • Peter Watson 5th May '12 - 9:50pm

    @Toby
    Could you please justify the statement “75% of our manifesto”. I have seen this claim made many times but have not been able to track down the evidence upon which it is based so hope you can help me with this.
    It is attributed to the Constitution Unit at UCL (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/research/coalition-government/interim-report.pdf). This refers to a paper for which I have only tracked down a draft (http://www.essex.ac.uk/government/epop/Papers/Panel25/P25_Quinn_EPOP2010.pdf). In this I could only find one reference to 75% and it is not convincing:”In respect of their own four manifesto priorities, one of the Liberal Democrat negotiators, David Laws, estimated that his party secured 75-80% of what it wanted”.
    Elsewhere, in its conclusion the same paper states, “The question of who won the coalition negotiations does not have a simple answer. However, the analysis in this paper offers some clues. On the basis of overall left-right placement, the agreement was closer to the Liberal Democrat manifesto than to the Conservative one, albeit to the right of centre. When individual policy areas were examined, the picture was more complicated and both parties could legitimately claim victories. But on the key issue of the deficit, the Conservatives won the argument.”

  • “I don’t understand what those of you who believe that the last thirty years have been wasted were working towards, but I think it was being in government.”

    Strange – I thought it was “to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no- one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”

  • Richard Dean 5th May '12 - 9:58pm

    @tonyhill. It would be nice if you could quote me correctly, Your quotation misses an important word which, when included in the place that I included it, seems to nullify your argument..

  • Richard Dean 5th May '12 - 10:01pm

    @Hywel. How do you expect us to achieve that if we’re not in government?

  • @Peter – I’ve had an email exchange with Mark Pack in the past which had a source for that figure. Depending on how you count it you can get some wildly different figures!

    The oft quoted figures do of course mean that about 30% of the Lib Dem manifesto would have been implemented by the Tory manifesto being implemented in full. That of course gives the lie to the claim that the coalition means that for the first time ever Lib Dem policies are being put into practice (which is of course complete nonsense)

  • 1) Being in government is the means to achieving those things not an end in itself. To much is written about the party being in Government “at last” – but its the achievements of that government which decided whether that was a good thing. In any case we delivered a number of steps towards that over the years outside of being in government. (eg devolution to national assemblies has happened, we now have (in effect) a UK bill of rights)

    2) By enabling people to take power and use it in their communities. Which doesn’t require us to be in government. Indeed a key tenet of community politics is about people having power without the government.

  • Old Codger Chris 5th May '12 - 10:14pm

    It’s good that we’ve raised the Income Tax threshold, but other changes mean many families are now worse off.

    The Pupil Premium is good. But other aspects of education policy are not (back to the 1950s anyone?).

    But at least we’re legalising gay marriage. The words “big deal” come to mind.

  • Toby MacDonnell 5th May '12 - 10:16pm

    Mr Watson: Four pledges we stood for election under. Green investment bank; pupil pemium; electoral reform; £10,000 tax threshold. The only one we’ve compromised on is electoral reform, so Peter (I’m very sorry, I don’t know if you’re two people or one): the Tories would not accept PR, and the country needed strong leadership at a time when Europe looked to be on the precipise of economic implosion. We needed a quick resolution, and a referendum on AV was all we could secure, which we lost (unfairly, but the nation has spoken). We’re working hard towards reform of the Lords, which will be more proportional to the popular vote than the Commons. That’s three pledges of four delivered (or in process of being delivered) in full, and one only partially: that’s greater than 75%.

    And yes, the Tories did win the arguement on the deficit primarily because they had most seats. They’re as entitled to that as we are to the pupil premium: it is, after all, a coallition, and they’d have won that arguement if we’d gone confidence-and-supply anyway. They’d have really won it when they called a second general election where there was a clear choice between either them or Labour (or Labour propped up by us).

    Peter: I would also like to say that I did not call you self indulgent. I called the act of obcessing over the unchangable past, unconstructively mourning the present situation, self-indulgent. You’ve taken it a bit personally.

  • Steve Griffiths 5th May '12 - 10:17pm

    Well we told you so. This slow steady edging to right was bound to end in disaster. You cannot keep turning off your activists and expect to mount effective campaigns. Yes the electorate turned against you, but is was made much worse by the fact that in many areas there was little effective campaigning. In my own ward (once held by the Lib Dems with a substantial majority not long ago), there was nothing other than an election address. The reason – the key activists had already been turned off by the Orange Book and all its works, and then followed by the abandoning of long held beliefs, policies and pledges to get into Coalition, they simply stopped and drifted away.

    The Guardian on Friday reports that :

    “Clegg will seek to reassure his members that over the next three years a new breed of centrist liberal voters will emerge, prepared to forgive broken manifesto promises and reward the Liberal Democrats for taking tough decisions to rescue the economy”

    Even if remotely true, Nick Clegg is not appealing to us – the missing activists and former members, and he needs us more than ever to get his party machine moving again or face oblivion. Foolish, foolish party and so badly lead.

  • Richard Dean 5th May '12 - 10:21pm

    @Hywel. I expect the SNP and Plaid Cymru might disagree with the idea that devolution was a uniquely LibDem achievement. How will we “enable people to take power” if neither we nor they have power in government?

  • Richard Harris 5th May '12 - 10:31pm

    I have always voted Labour. Except at the last election when I thought I would vote LibDem as the party’s manifesto seemed to me to reflect my belief in social justice and economic fairness. The real LIbDem problem is that every time I hear a Tory saying that they are in government to do a job (i.e. slashing jobs, privatising the NHS, putting up tuition fees) I know they are only there because people like me voted Lib Dem. In other words, when I thought I was voting for a left of centre party, I find my vote is being used to justify the activities of the most right wing government in living memory. Cameron is only Prime Minister because the LibDems decided to ignore their mandate and support a minority government. I don’t know what Ben Norman feels so philosophically content about. Loosing the trust of a generation of voters seems a strange way to achieve your political aims. I don’t know when or even if the LibDem rank and file members can force a vote of confidence on the party leadership. but please show me that my vote meant something. Stand by your principles, and do it quickly.

  • “If we are going to get wiped out then I’d kind of like it to be for doing something the Conservatives didn’t already have on their agenda!”

    Well, the Conservatives specifically campaigned against a top-down reorganisation of the NHS. And then the Lib Dems, all lined up and voted for it, does that count?

  • I first became involved in politics in the early 1960s in Hereford. In 1959 Robin Day had fought a strong campaign for the Liberals but had failed to unseat the sitting Conservative MP, but by1966 my initiation to Liberal politics saw Labour leap-frog into second place and come within 2000 votes of taking the Hereford seat. In 1970 we even managed to lose our deposit, and throughout much of the 1970s Liberals were happy to see opinion poll rating above 10%. By 1976 I was in Chelmsford when we lost our only County Council seat. Those of us who have stuck with the Party through thick and thin are used to this sort of set-back. So what I find so depressing now is not that we have lost so many council seats, but the belief of so many Lib Dem contributors that it is all the fault of our coalition with the Tories, and that things would have been better if we had somehow cobbled together a Lib-Lab coalition in 2010 – a bit like the Lib-Lab pact of 1978 and we all know where that led – or allowed the Tories to form a minority Government and then go back to the country six to twelve months later (as Labour did after their narrow 1964 victory) to win a comfortable majority, and in the process probably wipe out most of our parliamentary Party. I know how exhilarating it is to win council seats, and how depressing it is to lose, but as Tim Farron has pointed out coalition in 2010 with the Tories was the lesser of two evils. It seems to me that too many Liberal Democrats simply want to enjoy the benefits of permanent opposition.

  • Richard Dawson 5th May '12 - 10:38pm

    I think the problem is our lack of self confidence and experience in Govt (compare and contrast with the Tories) .Yes Tuition Fees was a big error and has really hurt us but we need to stop behaving like an Opposition Party and Govern.We are where we are and need to stop appearing to hate being on Govt or being seen for what we stopped the Tories doing .
    Our obsession with differentiation will be the death of us .Responsible and competent Govt and crucially fixing the economy and a lot will be forgiven .Head down and get on with it .

    Whinge moan and spend our time infighting and to be sure we will be punished.

  • Richard Dawson 5th May '12 - 10:44pm

    @Graham at 10.35 –Here Here !!! At last a voice of common sense

  • Toby MacDonnell 5th May '12 - 10:44pm

    Richard: Did you not understand that the Liberal Democrats have to go into government with the biggest party in order to be creditably concidered an equidistant party? Clegg did say that before the election. We’re not just centre-left: we have a broad base which extends to both sides of the political spectrum. I imagine our centre-right members would be protesting a Lib-Lab coallition as much as you lament a Blue-Yellow one.

    As much as we share principles with the left (equality of oppertunity as a pre-requisite for social mobility, social safety nets such as free healthcare and out-of-work benefits, progressive taxation… just to list a few) we also share principles with Cameron’s Tories, including local government, an emphasis on the individual as the constituent building block of society, and distain for the survaillance state.

    I don’t think we’re responsible for how you choose to use your vote, but we stood on four key policies and did say that we’d go with the biggest party. We’ve done exactly what we said on the tin.

  • Toby MacDonnell 5th May '12 - 10:46pm

    Sorry, Mr. Dawson, I meant Mr. Harris.

    Hear, hear, Graham!

  • Richard Dawson 5th May '12 - 10:48pm

    Thanks Toby

    Figured that out.is it Hear Hear or Here Here ?

  • Toby MacDonnell 5th May '12 - 10:50pm

    R. Dawson: Wikipeia has the answer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hear,_hear

  • Richard Dawson 5th May '12 - 10:53pm

    Thanks Toby as Wikipedia so often does !!

  • If nothing else we quickly need to boil down our opposition to Labours fiscal stupidity to something memorable and not boring , eg PFI = Labours payday loans. And we also need to demonstrate once and for all that public spending reductions do nOt have to lead to service cuts. Do we need more Admirals than ships?

    Whatever GOD might say, certainly seems the Civil Service has its own agenda that does not include making sensible recommendations to Govt or providing accurate info like queuing at airports.

    Most of the anti EU rhetoric is based on CS taking some silly EU decision , then gold plating it

  • “I don’t think we’re responsible for how you choose to use your vote, but we stood on four key policies and did say that we’d go with the biggest party. We’ve done exactly what we said on the tin.”

    The Lib Dems certainly did _not_ say they would go into coalition with “the biggest party.” Quite possibly the result of the election might have been such as to allow the Lib Dems to choose which of the two main parties to support. Tying their hands in advance in the way you suggest would have been idiotic.

    What Clegg actually said was that the party with the “biggest mandate” (whatever that meant) should have the _first_ chance to try to form a government. Obviously the implication was that if that first attempt failed, then the other party could try too. Surely you remember that, after the election, the Lib Dems did hold parallel discussions with Labour, after the negotiations with the Tories had begun?

    And there was no prior commitment to a formal coalition in any case. A “confidence and supply” agreement was widely discussed before the election, and at one stage it was rumoured that the party was about to endorse this approach publicly.

  • We need to stick with the Coalition for three reasons:

    (i) we have unfinished business particularly in relation to civil liberties, social justice and constitutional reform – if we are to be wiped out at the next election at least let us make sure we have changed Britain for the better first by making it a more open and democratic country – but we must be clearer about what we stand for and why we are still in the Coalition and stick to our guns in negotiations with the Tories – we also need more humility and less premature triumphalism;

    (ii) those who still vote for us respect and understand the courageous step we took in agreeing to join a 5-year Coalition government with our political foes in the national interest – we need to stick with our strategy to prove it can work, in a spirit of humility not self-congratulation; if we pull out now, we will destabilise the economy, lose all credibility, regain none of our former supporters, and be annihilated in the subsequent general election;

    (iii) our new approach of differentiation since last year is beginning to hurt the Tories – so it is worth continuing for that reason alone, but we need to go further and insist that in future the Government’s legislative programme (the Queen’s Speech) and the budget are produced through open dialogue and consultation so that the electorate sees exactly the very different positions we and the Tories are coming from; taxpayers, ordinary citizens and the regulated community should be given an opportunity to make representations about the Government’s proposals and not see them pulled out of a hat following what appear to be secret deals. We should not pay homage to outdated illiberal constitutional conventions such as collective Cabinet responsibility and the conceited sovereignty of an unreformed and undemocratic Parliament. We should not be afraid to say what happens at Cabinet meetings (at east for non-restricted agenda items) and perhaps even propose that they should be televised.

  • Peter Watson 5th May '12 - 11:23pm

    @Toby
    “Four pledges we stood for election under. Green investment bank; pupil pemium; electoral reform; £10,000 tax threshold.”
    Voting against increases to student fees was a pledge.
    I really hope that our claim of implementing 75% of our manifesto is more substantial than a reference to achieving 3 from 4 bullet points. And of the four you list, is a “green investment bank” one of ours? It’s on page 31 of the conservative manifesto but I couldn’t find it in ours.
    Our manifesto had 112 pages. Each of those 4 steps to which you allude (fair taxes, a fair future, a fair chance, a fair deal) covered many detailed policies. I would expect to see more than 80 pages of implemented policies to back up a 75% claim.
    And even then, not every policy makes sense when transplanted in isolation into a different situation (a £10000 income tax threshold is less valuable to the low paid if we take away other allowances) or is as useful if only partially implemented (e.g. the pupil premium was to be £2.5 billion, but in the first year it was a quarter of this, and next year it will be half of our target.).
    So far I have seen nothing to suggest our claim of implementing 75% of our manifesto is remotely credible.

  • Toby @10:16 “Four pledges we stood for election under. Green investment bank; pupil pemium; electoral reform; £10,000 tax threshold.”

    Not forgetting scrapping tuition fees!

  • Peter Watson 5th May '12 - 11:24pm

    @Redndead
    “Do we need more Admirals than ships?”
    One would think more carrier-launched planes than carriers would be useful.

  • Peter Watson 5th May '12 - 11:31pm

    @Paul K
    Not sure I agree with your first two points or even that we need to stick with the coalition, but I do agree completely with your 3rd point and you make it very well. Government by a coalition should be open and honest. I suspect that it is too late now, but if our leaders had followed your advice at the beginning then I would have more respect for them.

  • Interesting nuanced wording coming out at the moment from the coalition “apologists” (I.e those who see it do no wrong). Please try to differentiate between having to go into coalition in the national interest; having to make the precise agreement that was made; and blindly backing Tory schemes (such as a top-down reform of the NHS) that are not in the coalition agreement.

    We have had choices all the way down the line and have repeatedly made bad ones IMO.

    Housing benefit too dear? Choice. Either cap the payment to tenants (and risk arrears and homelessness or just poverty) or cap the prices landlords can charge.

    Benefits for some exceed average pay? Either cap benefits or work to raise average earnings!

    Cut the deficit? Either reduce spending or increase income ( through taxation) or a mix of the two…but ensure you protect the poorest and make the richest pay their full share.

    These are the things that are going wrong. Those who comment and say we longstanding grassroots activists are wrong need to think whether hey themselves are in the right party. I applaud many of the comments in this thread highlighting that we do NOT exist to be in government if that means making our society worse.

  • PaulK: coalition is not starting to hurt the Tories. It has done so all along. It was just masked last May by their fear of AV. Whilst voting against the shambolic referendum they gave their local council candidate the benefit of the doubt. Not so this year. My box counts show their support plummeted all over my council area.

  • Toby MacDonnell 5th May '12 - 11:43pm

    http://network.libdems.org.uk/manifesto2010/libdem_2010_intro.pdf

    I believe a green investment bank was mentioned during the election under “Fair Future”. Certainly, Clegg’s made a big deal out of it, lately.

    Scrapping tuition fees was a stupid thing to promise. Sadly, Clegg’s attempt to drop it at conference earlier that year met party resistance: that’s the risk of being leader of a democratic party, I suppose. But with Labour on one side and the Tories on the other, whoever we ended up with it would have been undeliverable. It’s not even as if tuition fees are anti-mobility: I, for one, would never have been able to graduate without a loan to pay for my education and maintainance. Were university free, we would have a system where only public school children could go to university, just as we did in the fifties.

    Paul has also given three superb reasons to stick with the coalition. We can get this stuff done, or we can feel hard-done-by.

  • paul barker 5th May '12 - 11:44pm

    We are all upset, but hysteria isnt helpful. Some of us just need to chill for a few days before we start slagging off each other, some of the comments above read like a labour site, without the swearing.
    A couple of points, we think local government is important, most voters dont. When they can be bothered to vote at all they often treat local election as a chance to complain & right now theyre in a complaining mood. The parties that got votes on thursday were mostly protest parties, green, ukip & labour. The exception was the mayor of london, because voters think the mayor is important.

    Most voters dont like politics or the people who do; they dont want to think hard about it until they have to & they dont have to till 2015.
    We will probably lose hundreds of councillors next year & the year after but 2015 will be very different as voters think about government. If we hold our nerve now theres a good chance the voters will listen in 2015 & labours hollowness will be exposed.
    If we are the one to break the coalition we will throw our chance away. We would deserve the voters contempt & we would get it.

  • @Paul

    I’m not sure it’s either accurate of fair to describe Greens as a protest vote. It’s not many years ago that LDs were the protest vote party

  • Peter Watson 6th May '12 - 12:13am

    @Toby
    Our manifesto had a costed way to reduce/remove student fees. We disagreed with Labour’s introduction of student fees and we criticised Labour for doing so in contradiction of their manifestos. Our party did not expect to be in a position to implement our policy, so our MPs made personal, public pledges to vote against increasing student fees should the other parties attempt to do so. Clegg signed off our manifesto. Clegg signed a personal pledge.
    Then our MPs voted to increase student fees.
    Now you justify student fees, and maybe Clegg had his fingers crossed behind his back the whole time.
    This is just one issue, not even a big one, but it sums up why voters don’t believe they can trust Liberal Democrats.

    P.S. On the other points you make, surely it was the loan that helped you, not the fees, and without the fees you would have needed a smaller loan. Also I do not see why free university places mean only the rich can go to university: my local library has free books but is not full of rich people.

  • Peter Watson 6th May '12 - 12:20am

    @Mark
    It would be interesting to see a similar list for conservative policies. Also, as a control how about a successful list of Labour policies as well, e.g “We will establish a Green Investment Bank” on page 1:7 of their manifesto (ouch! Looks like we were the only party not to have that one!!)
    My point is that we do ourselves no favours by making simple claims to have implemented 75% of our manifesto (I know that Toby is only repeating a claim I have heard senior Lib Dems make) if we cannot demonstrate that it is true or even meaningful.

  • @Mark Pack
    That list is full of claims which are bogus (detention has not been cut to a maximum of 14 days), completely undermined by other govt action (raising of threshold more than counteracted by other tax changes), or simply haven’t happend yet and are unlikely to happen (banking reform). I think this relentless over-claiming of Lib Dem achievements in Govt is doing massive harm. It’s just feeding the perception that the Lib Dems can’t be trusted.

  • @Richard – SNP/PC – you make my point well

    As for the rest read up on Community Politics.

  • Toby MacDonnell 6th May '12 - 12:50am

    Peter: Free university places would be run by tax-and-spend. Universities would be dependent on central government budgets to expand the sector every year, essencially creating a bugetary cap on student places. Those places are filled by those people lucky enough to have parents able to afford private education: I can’t say I hold that against them, but Britain has the best private schools in the world and some of the worst state schools in Europe. Kids are being put off university not by fees or debt: they’re being discouraged by the gaps which open up at even before they are three.

    Student loans fund universities directly, allowing them to make profits (if they’re successful and cost effective) to expand the number of student places at the university. Meanwhile, the loan I took out acts as a graduate tax, garenteeing the viability of the debt: I win, the student loan company wins, the univerisites win, the burden doesn’t fall on those who don’t use the service, does fall on the people who earn enough to pay for it, and the government doesn’t have to worry about creating more places or making a bugetary slip-up. It’s why America has the best universities in the world, but unlike them we have very sensibly stopped student debts from being real “we will repossess your stuff and throw you in debtor’s jail” debts. Student loans are perhaps one of Labour’s greatest achivements in government andI really cannot for the life of me understand opposition to the policy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th May '12 - 1:02am

    Richard Harris

    The real LIbDem problem is that every time I hear a Tory saying that they are in government to do a job (i.e. slashing jobs, privatising the NHS, putting up tuition fees) I know they are only there because people like me voted Lib Dem.

    No, that is nonsense.

    Firstly, most LibDem MPs represent constituencies where the Conservatives are the main challengers. So if you had not voted LibDem, it most likely would have helped get you a Tory MP.

    Secondly, you write as if the LibDems had an even choice after the 2010 general election and opted to back the Tories when they could just as well have done something else. This is just not the case. There were not enough Labour MPs to make a Labour-LibDem coalition viable, and no willingness for it in Labour anyway. If it was viable, wouldn’t the best tack be for Labour to offer terms for it now? They don’t because they know it isn’t viable.

    I think the leadership of the LibDems has played the situation appallingly badly, over-emphasising our influence by such things as keep repeating this “75% of our manifesto implemented” line is HUGELY DAMAGING because it makes it look as if we are very much in agreement with this government, rather than just in a position where we can exert a minor influence. All this stuff about how we should be talking up being “in power” and looking as if we enjoy it – poured out by the party’s leadership and the clique surrounding it – is losing us votes because it just comes across as word-beginning-with-sm-and-rhyming-wth-rug (I put it that way because LDV won’t let me use that word and accuse me of being personally insulting to them when I do). That is the LAST thing we want to look like when the country is in an appalling mess and we have a governemnt which isn’t very pleasant and, though circumstances mean we have to co-operate with it, is far from our ideal.

    However, if the LibDems are to have more influence in governemnt and pull it back from the far economic right, we NEED the backing from outside our own party for what we are doing. One reason the Tories are able to walk all over us is because we don’t have that backing. If whatever we do, we are still accused of “selling our our principles to the Tories”, if there are no signs of support or gratitude for what small concessions we can wring out of them, they can tell us, as they are, “no-one is interested in you, just shut up and let us govern”. If, however, we could show we have real strong support for what we are pushing for in government, we could push further. If the left of the LibDems were cheered on by the wider left instead of denounced as “Tory traitors”, we could show that our position wins votes and thus push for more of it to be adopted.

    Instead, I find I am fighting in three fronts – against the Tories, against the leadership of my own party, and against the wider left who seem to be all in a fantasy world where the 2010 general election somehow delivered them an election victory.

  • Peter Watson 6th May '12 - 1:21am

    @Toby
    In 2010, our manifesto stated, “We wil: scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their fi rst degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000 each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable even in these diffi cult economic times, and without cutting university income. We will immediately scrap fees for final year students.”
    At the time, Nick Clegg said, “The Liberal Democrats are different. Not only will we oppose any raising of the cap, we will scrap tuition fees for good, including for part-time students. We can’t do it overnight, but we can start straight away with students in their final year – that way means anyone at university this autumn will have their debt cut by at least £3,000. Students can make the difference in countless seats in this election. Use your vote to block those unfair tuition fees and get them scrapped once and for all.” He added, “Labour and the Conservatives have been trying to keep tuition fees out of this election campaign. It’s because they don’t want to come clean with you about what they’re planning. Despite the huge financial strain fees already place on Britain’s young people, it is clear both Labour and the Conservatives want to lift the cap on fees. If fees rise to £7,000 a year, as many rumours suggest they would, within five years some students will be leaving university up to £44,000 in debt. That would be a disaster. If we have learnt one thing from the economic crisis, it is that you can’t build a future on debt.”. Our Lib Dem candidates were saying, “The proposals to raise tuition fees will serve only to ensure that only a chosen few get that opportunity. Once again this government and the Conservative opposition are trying to fix the system so that those from poorer backgrounds and on lower incomes do not get the chance they deserve, regardless of how academically qualified they may be.” (http://elections.surreyherald.co.uk/liberaldemocrats/2010/05/its-time-we-all-took-more-care.html)
    Right now, our website states, “Liberal Democrat party policy remains to phase out tuition fees, but in the circumstances of the coalition that was a policy we could not deliver.”
    Our opponents can point to this one issue and ask, “What do the Lib Dems stand for?” Student fees: we opposed them, we oppose them, and we support them.
    I have to ask it as well, “What do we stand for?” On so many issues it’s not what we stood for at the election. And on so many issues we were right then. We are wrong now.

  • Toby MacDonnell 6th May '12 - 1:27am

    Although I don’t support the end of tuition fees, for all the reasons I listed above, what our website says is true: due to the circumstances of the coalition, we can’t do it. Would we do it if we had a majority? I expect we would. But this is coalition.

  • Andrew Suffield 6th May '12 - 1:50am

    (detention has not been cut to a maximum of 14 days)

    Yes it has. It became law five days ago.

  • @Andrew Suffield.
    Under the legislation the govt retained the power to increase the period to 28 days as it saw fit. The 14 day limit is more or less meaningless.

  • It is the sheer naivety of Clegg and leadership, in allowing himself to be outflanked by the Tories, which gets me.
    As a normally not very politicially minded person, I have been particularly radicalised by what I see as the LDs delivering the NHS to the markets and the private health companies.
    How can Clegg and Williams say that processes should be open and transparent and that all spending of public money should be open and accountable when private firms are bidding, in secrecy as we speak and Dept of Health will not release information, citing commercial confidentiality and sensitivity?
    To me, this single area of health and social policy was the ultimate betrayal, far in excess of any betrayal on tuition fees.
    It is heartbreaking and most definitely not the will of the people.
    There are some very decent people in this party, as seen in your comments and it is a shame that the leadership does not and will not heed.

  • Rabi Martins 6th May '12 - 8:51am

    Matthew Huntbach is spot on “Instead, I find I am fighting in three fronts – against the Tories, against the leadership of my own party, and against the wider left who seem to be all in a fantasy world where the 2010 general election somehow delivered them an election victory”

    It is churlish to dismiss all that Nick has achieved for us by agreeing to govern with the Party that the country gave the most votes to in the last election The alternative was to align ourselves with Labour – the Party that got us to the brink of economic ruin – widened the gap between the richest and the poorest – threatened our civil liberies with ID Cards – and so on and so on even if the numbers did stack up or worse allow the conservatives govern as a minority for a few months and force another general election at which we rishe being wiped out
    So as far as I am concerned Nick has done us proud However I agree that he needs to stop sounding as though we are equal partners in this coalition and defending government decisions as though they are Lib Dem policy decisions I also want to see Lib Dem MPs who are not in government and constrained by collective responsibility speak up against the government more openly The Tories seem quite able to do this
    But what we have to stop doing is creating an impression that we don’t trust our own Party That is the one thing that is sure to turn our supporters away

  • Tony DawsonMay 05 – 7:03 pm………………[email protected] Norman “if we are heading for electoral disaster I am still proud of our time in office”………..Go on then, list the achievements on one side and the cock ups on the other. And then explain why the ‘balance’ is worth the destruction of Liberal Democrats in local govermnment and the loss of any chance of getting a transferable voting system for Westminster………….

    Hear; hear! Our power base has always been the excellent work done at local level. Those proclaiming that, in areas where we have sitting MPs, our local results were good have the ‘cart before the horse’; we have sitting MPs because of the work by local activists.
    If I hear the phrase “75% of our manifesto” again I’ll scream. As has been pointed out, every party has large areas of commonality and to claim that, just because it’s in our ‘wish list’, it’s, somehow, ‘OURS’ is disingenous to say the least.

    When I read threads like this one I despair. The idea that we should be “proud of what we’ve achieved” would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. Our leader is a byword for untrustworthyness, our party is seen as ‘Tory-lite’ (and sometimes even as ‘Tory-right’); how do I know? because, at the last two elections, the electorate have told us so.
    Pleas like, “We must hold our nerve”, “There’s no alternative”, etc. remind me of First World War troop orders where it appears that our ‘councillor casualtie’s are a price worth paying for some minor achievements.

  • What worries me most reading some of these posts is how tribal and defensive the coalition apologists are. (As defined above, those who see the coalition as unable to do any wrong.) I am quite certain that these same voices were crusading for every word in our manifesto running up to May 2010.

    I find it very sad that you expect party members to cheerlead for every action of the coalition, even when the coalition does fundamentally illiberal things.

    Someone mentioned “marching towards the sound of gunfire”, and this made me think of the similarity between the past two years’ local election results and the trenches of the Great War. The generals keep sacrificing our brave foot soldiers in a futile attempt to keep justifying unfair and illiberal policies that could be prevented.

    This great party is in a mess and it needs to pause, consider what it is about, and alter course. If those who say “we exist to be in government” really mean it, irrespective of the policies and outcomes, then all hope is lost.

  • Jason at 8:56: Blimey, great minds etc. ( Please hold the “fools seldom differ”, thanks!)

  • emsworthian 6th May '12 - 9:05am

    Being in the coalition is like being stuck on the Titanic knowing the last lifeboat has gone.

  • Rabi Martins: no, no, no. Don’t put forward false dichotomies to justify our plight.

    Our choice was not just to form a coalition with Labour instead of with the Tories. We had many choices.

    We had the choice of confidence and supply. We chose coalition.

    We had the choice of which principles to insist upon retaining within our negotiations. IMO we were too weak and too right wing in these choices.

    We had the choice of making our coalition partners stick to the compromise agreement. We have allowed them to bend and shake it, witness the NHS reform.

    We had the choice of being seen as passive and supine or as active and standing up for our values in negotiating with our coalition partner. The world sees us as having rolled over and asked for our tummy to be tickled,

    Etc, etc, ad nauseum.

    Please do not insult us by saying we are calling for some dream left wing impossible coalition with Labour. We are not.

  • Helen Tedcastle 6th May '12 - 9:25am

    Quoting Growler: ‘Please do not insult us by saying we are calling for some dream left wing impossible coalition with Labour. We are not.’

    Couldn’t agree more. The argument is a straw man.

    The point is that for some, ‘Coalition’ has become a brand to which they profess undying loyalty and if it means the party goes down as a national force-at least they can console themselves that the party was decimated for a good cause- loyalty to the parts of the Tory agenda which slashes, burns and derides public services and local government.

  • Richard Dean – my apologies: my omission of the word ‘possible’ with regard to leadership contenders was inadvertent. I have to disagree that it changes the sense of the argument though.

    Growler – spot on. But we do need to continually refute the argument that there was ever any chance of a coalition with Labour. There wasn’t because the numbers didn’t stack up and so many senior members of the parliamentary party wouldn’t stand for it. All of that is on record.

  • GrowlerMay 06 – 9:03 am…[email protected] 8:56: Blimey, great minds etc. ( Please hold the “fools seldom differ”, thanks!)…………

    Growler, perhaps you also thought, “Charge of the Light Brigade”? I did;, but their destruction was due to ‘error;’ our epitaph will read… ‘a wilful refusal to accept reality’.

  • Hi

    So, they’re have been a lot of great comments, but since I’ve arrived so late to the game I’m going to reply to the gist rather than individual people.

    A lot of people are arguing that we have betrayed our principles by entering into coalition, and have been punished at the local level. Whilst I can hardly deny the latter, I disagree with the former. If we hadn’t entered into coalition we would have gotten nothing. We could have remained pure, stayed away and supported the Tory-only Government on certain Bills to keep the country chugging along, We have achieved more of our manifesto than ever before, because we’re in Government. We have paid a price, but I just don’t see the point of staying forever outside, pure but ineffective.

    Clearly we have made mistakes – especially post-election, when, frankly, the trappings of power quite clearly seemed to blind leadership into photo-ops in the Number 10 garden and a far too chummy relationship with the Tories. Additionally, Clegg should never have been Deputy PM – his brief is too broad, and he’s been effectively deployed as a shield for almost every Tory mistakes.

    Given the post-election mummers in the Tory camp I think that now, more than ever, is the time to push further on our policies as Cameron tries to fend off his right flank and has to rely on us more. We should be squeezing the pips about of the coalition and building a platform of achievements rather than promises.

  • Richard Harris 6th May '12 - 10:38am

    Thanks for your comments Matthew Huntbach. In fact, I live in Newark and Sherwood, which is a tory/labour marginal. In truth a LibDem vote is a wasted vote here whatever happens, but that’s the fault of our ancient voting system after all. I was trying to explain how the situation appears to me, a fairly typical voter who put a punt in the LibDems. To be honest, nothing short of seeing the grass roots give the leadership a real fright would bring me to consider voting the same way again.

  • Another thing that’s worth bearing in mind is that there’s little evidence that people of Britain have the stomach for Right Wing politics. The Greens and resident association candidates all did better than UKIP. The BNP got nowhere., but Respect made gains . Further more that the Lib Dem’s held up against the Tories better than they did Labour suggests that voters in some seats want a softer centrist government , not a harder one.
    There’s a lot of talk about how the Lib Dems need to do this or that. The evidence is that they would do better if they followed their political instincts rather than continue supporting policies their own voters didn’t endorse and are not actually as popular as the the Right of the Conservative party think they are. I don’t think the Lib Dems did badly because of support for gay marriage. I think it is failing economics, NHS reforms and just general acquiescence to a political doctrine that is on the wane.

  • Rabi Martins 6th May '12 - 11:49am

    @Growler

    We had the choice of being seen as passive and supine or as active and standing up for our values in negotiating with our coalition partner. The world sees us as having rolled over and asked for our tummy to be tickled

    I have no quarrel with your above statement Having done the right thing by agreeing to form a coalition government in the interest of the country not the Party we needed negotiate harder at the outset. I wouldn’t go as far as to say we rolled over but we certainly under estaimated our bargaining power . I would have preferred iit if we had accepted fewer ministerial positions and insisted that our policy position on Tution fees was not up for negoiation. I could have lived with sacrifising Electoral Reform .
    On the NHS Reform we need to keep reminding the public that but for intervention from Shirley Williams there would have been no measures to prevent competition on price – and thus an excelrated move to privatisation

  • Richard Dawson 6th May '12 - 11:57am

    Ok I’ll have another go then

    in the words of that great Liberal Democrat ,Bill Clinton -‘Its the economy stupid ‘ .Fix that and the rest will follow.

    We have to own the whole Govt programme not just the bits we like (thats what the Tories do) and be a responsible and competent party of Govt the rest is irrelevant .Act like a minority partner with no clout and guess what thats what you’ll get .

    A lot of the posts on here reflect an Opposition mindset -like we are passengers in the Car or even locked in the boot !If thats how we behave thats how voters will treat us and send us back to Opposition as soon as they can .

    Its sad to see so many people on here behaving exactly as the Tory press predicted we would in 2010 -Flaky ,Divided and not fit to be in Govt preferring protest and Opposition. I was desperate that we would prove them wrong and prove that we are a tough and resilient bunch sadly it was not to be -sheesh !

  • “On the NHS Reform we need to keep reminding the public that but for intervention from Shirley Williams there would have been no measures to prevent competition on price – and thus an excelrated move to privatisation”

    The NHS bill was repeatedly kicked back by the Lords. It never would have got that far in the first place if your lot hadn’t voted for it time and time again. Shirley Williams’ contributions are minor window dressings to a bill that should never have even been considered, and in fact was promised AGAINST by the party who proposed it.

    You all had the opportunity to bin it. Could have just not repeatedly voted for it. Ignored Nick, and actually done what you ran on, promised, and what your consciences should’ve made obvious.

  • “in the words of that great Liberal Democrat ,Bill Clinton -’Its the economy stupid ‘ .Fix that and the rest will follow.”

    So basically you reckon the party has to be “tough” and hope that the economy will somehow come right (despite the fact that it’s now gone back into recession, contrary to the projections that the government’s economic policy is based on).

    But supposing that does happen, what you haven’t explained is why it should make people vote for the Lib Dems rather than the Tories. Remember that in most Lib Dem seats, it’s the Tories who are the challengers.

    If the government carries on with spending cuts and austerity and there is some measure of economic recovery by 2015, then I can see that the governing parties will regain some support. But it will come from people who are not too bothered about the cost to public services and the harm done to the vulnerable. The Tories may well be resilient in those circumstances, because many of their traditional supporters aren’t too bothered about the kind of thing (and the ones who are have tended to go to the Lib Dems, not Labour, as a protest – which they won’t do if the Lib Dems “wholly own” what they want to protest about!). But I think by and large the left-leaning supporters that the Lib Dems have alienated over the past couple of years will stay alienated. And there will be very little potential for attracting tactical votes from Labour supporters if your recipe is followed. Paradoxically, the Lib Dems could lose more seats in this scenario than they would if the government – and as a result the Tories – remained unpopular.

  • Lib Dems are always deriding Labour and any idea of being in coalition with them. If that is the case why the hell should anyone vote for you when it would really mean ‘Vote Lib Dem get Tory’? that is what the electorate sees. I, as many others voted in the GE so that the Lib Dems would temper the excesses of whichever party you were in coalition with. Instead we saw the braying of Clegg and Alexander et al on the front benches along with the Tories supporting extreme right policies. Cameron is being very clever saying that he wants a Tory led government in 2015, that is your final death knell.

  • Richard Dawson – I do not think you are correct in suggesting that so many people on here are behaving in a way that is ‘flaky, divided and not fit to be in government, preferring protest and opposition’. What most of us want is that our party should be led in coalition by people who are honest and genuinely apologetic about their past mistakes; who listen when the activists express their opinions and then act accordingly; who do not allow themselves to be used as spokespeople for Tory policies with which they ought to disagree; who have a better political instinct about what is acceptable to the party that they are leading than they have shown in the last two years; and that they should find the capacity to out-think and out-manoeuvre the Tories in order that this government has liberal values at its core rather than, as at present, being forced to justify policies which are perceived as benefitting the rich at the expense of the poor and weak.

  • Helen Tedcastle 6th May '12 - 2:16pm

    @ Simon Shaw: ‘So what do you suggest we should have done? The “choice of confidence and supply” as suggested by Growler?
    And you really think we (and by “we” I mean both the Party and the country) would now be in a better position if we had done so?

    Unlike Growler, I was a supporter of the Coalition Agreement and still am ie: in favour of the CA as the absolute maximum we would accept from the Tories, not minimum. The trouble is we have gone way beyond it – allowed massive reform in Education (not signed up for), top-down reorganisation of the NHS and massive cuts to welfare (beyond what was agreed).

    I agree strongly with Growler’s view that we should have chosen not to be so acquiescent to Tory demands to go further and faster in their version of reforms. We did not need to and we shouldn’t have. The arrangement came about due to parliamentary arithmetic and because of an emergency economic situation. Let’s deal with that and stop messing about, creating chaos in the public services with more and more reorganisation, centralisation and/or privatisation and blood-curdling threats to public sector workers.

  • Toby MacDonnell 6th May '12 - 2:41pm

    Richard Dawson: Hear, hear.

    Growler: I don’t like that you’re trying to define pro-coalitionists as “apologists”. I don’t feel like I have anything to apologise for, as I am supportive of the vast majority of this government’s legislative agenda. Apologism is the viewpoint which feels like it’s nessecary to apologise for being a Liberal Democrat or for being in coalition.

    I think we all need to remember that most governments suffer mid-term setbacks. But the turnout was low, the important election is still two and a half years away (probably), the BBC believes that Lib Dems are still on 16 points nationally (we’d have killed for that at other points in our history), Nick Clegg is not as personally unpopular as he is claimed to be (we can always change leader once this parliament ends, anyway), and that even when we leave government history doesn’t end: even if we’ve had a couple of local setbacks, but we don’t know what the mood will be in three, five, or ten years from now, and we can finally point to a record in government (unless you naysayers keep shooting the party in the foot by talking down our achievements).

    We have to keep the big prize in sight: Lords Reform. Once that’s been established we’ll have a perminant, meaningful presence in the upper house reflective of our national support. We’ll be voting on government legislation decades from now.

  • Richard Dawson 6th May '12 - 2:47pm

    @Chris at 1.02pm

    Lets assume the deficit deniers, left .far left and far right are wrong and that the mainstream economic consensus is right and previous two quarters are just a technical recession and we get to 2015 with the economy on the right track but probably no better than that.
    We’ll get the credit just like the Tories will as governing parties always do.The converse is obvious .I hesitate to say it but as Nick Clegg said on Friday it will make us the only party of economic competence and social justice and thats a prize worth having .Plus we’ll have shown Coalitions work and we are a reliable Coalition partner. Thats a big electoral prize .We can’t build social justice and fairness without a healthy economy and/or in Opposition.
    The assumption that voters in Tory/Lib Dem and LibDem/Tory marginals will turn to the Tories if we get the economy right is false in my view.

  • Just for the record, I do not advocate confidence and supply. I simply said this was one of the choices we faced.

    I happen to believe going into coalition was the right thing. However, I strongly believe the process of negotiating the coalition agreement was taken by several people (including David Laws, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander) as an opportunity to foist upon the party economic liberal policies that they knew would never get through conference in ordinary times.

    I disagree that the deficit and the economy are the be-all and end-all. This is where Thatcherism took us. As liberals we need to acknowledge that markets fail, that people suffer inequalities, and that the state should provide an appropriate safety net to assist those who fail or are failed.

    We have to manage the failing engine that is the deficit, but we also have to steer around the iceberg of lost freedoms and keep bailing out the flood of poverty and homelessness. Never allow the role of government to be reduced to one dimension, as the economic liberal view seems to require.

  • Toby: “I think we all need to remember that most governments suffer mid-term setbacks.”

    Fair enough as an excuse for 2012.

    Remind me how rosy the results were in 2011. I think we all need to remember that most governments experience a honeymoon period.

  • Peter Chegwyn 6th May '12 - 3:03pm

    And think ahead to what the results might be in 2013!

  • Helen Tedcastle 6th May '12 - 3:07pm

    @Toby Macdonnell: ‘ …even if we’ve had a couple of local setbacks, but we don’t know what the mood will be in three, five, or ten years from now, and we can finally point to a record in government (unless you naysayers keep shooting the party in the foot by talking down our achievements).’

    A couple of local setbacks? After two years in this coalition, we are now back down to 1988 levels of representation – this is a wake-up call not a minor setback!

    As Growler comments, we’ve had the honeymoon – that was briefly in 2010 before the cock up over tuition fees, as I recall.

    Toby, playing down this disaster, helps noone.

    If you were around politically in 1988-89, you’d not want to go back to those times.

  • ………………………..And you really think we (and by “we” I mean both the Party and the country) would now be in a better position if we had done so?……………..

    Yes I do! I was, and am, against the coalition. A C&S agreement would have meant defined paramenters (not the wooly ‘red-lines’ that have been redrawn, time and again). The main attraction of a full coalition to Clegg, Laws, etc. was ministerial positions.
    The ‘certainty’ that Cameron would have forced a new election after a few months is anything but. Cameron had failed to win an outright majority against, arguably, the most unpopular administration ever led by, unarguably, the most unpopular leader ever. Whyever would he put his whole political future on the line against a LibDem leader ( who was still popular) and a ‘new’ Labour leader ( who had not had time to show himself a complete muppet).

    That said, a C&S situation would certainly not have resulted in the NHS bill (would Cameron have gone to the country over that?).

  • It doesn’t have to be this way. Look at what we’ve done in Portsmouth. In one ward, Cosham, we nipped through the middle of Labour expectation and Tory complacency overturning a 1,100 tory MAJORITY to win by 45 votes; until now it has always swapped between Labour and Tory – we gave voters a real local voice campaigning on local issues . We were in third behind Labour who were 600 votes AHEAD and all political pundits expected the two ‘bigger’ parties to contest the seat between them, but we had other ideas and WE WON. Not only that we defended all our seats increasing our vote share and taking two more from the Conservatives whilst confounding Labour plans to take seats from us. Not bragging, but want to say – it CAN be done and to add some cheerful evidence to that. Cllr Lee Hunt

  • In amongst some blinkered views, mypopic outlook and depressingly negative comments we have here some truly excellent thoughts and evidence of a robust spirit within. Our main problem is that as party members we rely for information almost entirely on what we read in publications owned and edited by opponents, who hate the prominence that the coalition has afforded us. We need to pull together, be positive, have a vision of a Lib Dem Government that we are working towards and get to conference to make our views heard. And to those who don’t like the decisions made by our elected MPs and Councllors, please put yourself forward for approval/selection as a candidate, and see if you really can do the job any better.

  • Lee Hunt

    Well done but there are other examples of LD losing dramatically and ending behind the Greens (or a penguin!) – are you saying those candidates didn’t try or were somehow lacking?

    There are always examples that contradict the overall picture but they are isolated – for every Portsmouth there are a lot more Edinburghs and Cardiffs. 44% of seats were lost

    and to Peter I welcome your optimism but these rousing speeches are not going to win you back voters, especially if your local machine is being dismantled. We ex-voters want to see a change not just a head in the sand optimism

  • Richard Harris 6th May '12 - 4:14pm

    @Toby MacDonnell: ‘ …even if we’ve had a couple of local setbacks, but we don’t know what the mood will be in three, five, or ten years from now, and we can finally point to a record in government.’ Well, I for one will remember your record on tuition fees for the next decade as I watch my daughters deal with the debt. I would much rather be remembering how the LibDems drew a line in the sand over tuition fees, even if it meant the tories went on and did it anyway.

  • Richard Dawson.
    No one is denying that there is a deficit. The a argument is about the best way to reduce it, The fact is after two years Osbourne as produced a double dip. and consistent low growth. The reasons for this is very simple cutting in a recession dampens demand, increases spending on on unemployment and goes into a downward cycle.
    To extend the favoured analogy of not repairing a roof in the summer(labour should have done this), cutting is like leaving it until winter, sacking the workman who are gong to repair it and then trying to save money by cutting the power off. Roofs don’t repair themselves and damp and decay reduces buildings to rubble. At the very least you have to cobble together a temporary covering until spring arrives.
    The deficit reduction plan favoured by this coalition and being tried in Europe causes bigger problems than it solves. This is because the policy whether there is a consensus on it or not its is wrong headed. A few hundred years ago the consensus was that milk curdling was probably the result of some one consorting with the devil. That wasn’t true either.

  • Richard Dawson 6th May '12 - 4:45pm

    Glen at 4.17pm
    Two words ‘Darling Plan’
    Compare and contrast with our numbers very little difference which exposes the hypocrisy of the Labour party.
    You just can’t compare our Govt’s deficit reduction plan with European Austerity the scale is massively diiferent ! Here Public Sector pay freezes and in the Eurozone 10-35% reductions. That kind of austerity does dampen demand our plans are labelled as Austerity but its nothing of the kind.
    The other example you should look at is Ireland where ‘Austerity’ is bringing slow recovery .
    The problem with the argument that we should slow the pace of cuts is that it means borrowing more money and where do you borrow that from -the money markets (Bonds) and they may choose not to lend at reasonable rates so you may have no choice but to cut anyway. ( the Q1 12 number is provisional and the ONS is notorious for revisions )
    Wait and see if our Govt plans result in more than a technical recession I think the nay sayers are a bit hasty the consensus forecasts are flattish this year and next and much better growth in 2014 and 2015 .
    We need to focus all our efforts on growth growth and growth .
    I’d like to see Vince and Danny focusing on that .
    If only the grass roots would too !
    ‘its the economy stupid’

  • “The assumption that voters in Tory/Lib Dem and LibDem/Tory marginals will turn to the Tories if we get the economy right is false in my view.”

    That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that the Tory vote is likely to be more resilient than the Lib Dem vote under the circumstances you describe (an austerity programme followed by some measure of economic recovery). Because a large proportion of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 (including Labour tactical voters, remember) will have been alienated by the “austerity” part, and will either vote Labour, or for the Greens or one of the other parties, or won’t bother to vote.

    In other words, you have already lost a large proportion of your support (approaching half even on optimistic estimates), and you _have_ to win most of it back by 2015 to avoid severe losses. Considering the reasons for that loss of support, I think a “tough” approach and an emphasis on “ownership” of the whole of government policy is the worst thing you could do to win it back. Of course if the economy recovers to some extent that will help, but it won’t be nearly enough by itself. It’s a necessary but not a sufficient condition, if you like.

  • Peter Watson 6th May '12 - 5:53pm

    @Richard
    Before we accuse Labour of hypocrisy, perhaps we should consider the performance of our deficit reduction plan. I don’t remember the tories campaigning in 2010 with a promise that their cuts weren’t much different to Darling’s. In fact I don’t think that the current figures are what was originally planned, hence the revised deficit reduction timetable. Furthermore we are told that the effect of the cuts has barely impacted yet. On another thread I learnt about Ricardian Equivalence from cleverer contributors than me, and it looks like this is what is biting now, Having spent years talking down the economy in opposition and then talking up the austerity that they were going to impose, the tories have prepared people for the worst. People are pessimistic, they have acted accordingly, demand is stifled and the damage has been done. If people had “believed” Darling’s plan then the planned cuts might be the same as we are ending up with now. but that does not mean the economic situation would be as bad as it has become under the coalition.
    Before the election Cable emerged as the most credible economic figure (though with a tendency to change his mind as the facts changed, pragmatic not dogmatic) yet he has been sidelined since.
    Regarding the ONS figures: they are often revised down so its as likely that growth is more negative as it is zero.
    And the optimistic forecasts for 2015 & 2015: jam tomorrow? In June 2010 the OBR forecast growth of 2.3% for 2011 and 2.8% for 2012. Balls forecast flatlining and double-dip. If we keep saying it’ll be great next year, I suppose we’ll be right eventually, but in the meantime we keep making Ed Balls and Labour look like they know what they’re talking about.

  • Alex Sabine 6th May '12 - 5:59pm

    @ Growler: “As liberals we need to acknowledge that markets fail, that people suffer inequalities, and that the state should provide an appropriate safety net to assist those who fail or are failed…”
    and – re the deficit –
    “Never allow the role of government to be reduced to one dimension, as the economic liberal view seems to require.”

    Straw men seem to be appearing all over the place in this thread. The views you express above are not unique insights to liberals, but have been shared by 99% of British politicians since at least World War II. (Admittedly, partisans on all sides don’t like to admit this: it is always easier to impugn people’s motives than to engage with their arguments.)

    Few economic liberals claim that markets never fail, that they are perfect or indeed perfectible. No system of human organisation can have these magical properties. The question is to judge when, for practical purposes, particular market failures are great enough that the state should intervene, and when it might do more harm than good for it to so. Politicians of both left and right tend to be keen on finding examples of market failure, but are rarely familiar with the extensive literature on public choice theory and government failure (not to mention the evidence all around them).

    As none other than Vince Cable put it in the Orange Book, the issue is “whether the government failures associated with regulation, and the cost of regulation, outweigh market failures and, more fundamentally, destroy the entrepreneurial and competitive impulses on which the private enterprise system depends.”

    Whether the banking crisis represents a market failure or a government failure is an interesting question. In many ways it is an archetypal example of what economic liberals have always warned against: the fusion of concentrated corporate power with government protection, creating the ‘moral hazard’ whereby implicit unlimited taxpayer guarantees led banks to believe that risky trading activities were a one-way bet. Likewise, the subprime mortgage crisis in the US was hugely exacerbated by government social engineering.

    Now, you might argue that the socialisation of losses implied by the willingness to rescue failing banks is inevitable, given the central role of the banking system in oiling the wheels of the real economy. But, if so, it is a necessary evil, and it is illogical to claim that the banking sector was somehow a manifestation of ultra-liberalism.

    At the very least, we need to find ways of reducing the moral hazard and mitigating the risk to ordinary taxpayers and depositors. As Mervyn King explained in his Today lecture the other night, the legal resolution mechanism introduced by the 2009 Banking Act should in future allow badly run banks like Northern Rock to fail ‘safely’, avoiding the need for nationalisation.

    Moreover, as King argued: “In future, to protect the rest of the economy from failures in the banking system, we need to ensure that more of banks’ shareholders’ own money is on the line, and banks rely correspondingly less on debt. If banks and their shareholders have more to lose, they will be more careful in choosing to whom they lend. And, when banks make losses, there is more of a cushion before the bank fails, and less chance that the taxpayer will have to foot the bill.”

    On regulation, King suggested that the problem pre-crisis was not too little regulation – indeed he argued that there was too much micromanagement based around compliance with detailed rules – but the wrong sort of regulation. The FSA tied financial institutions up in knots of detailed regulation while taking their eyes off the big risks such as vastly increased balance sheets and dramatically falling capital cushions. (He might have added that the Bank also took its eye off the ball by allowing excessive money supply growth to fuel the credit and asset price bubbles, but he partly excused himself by claiming the Bank didn’t have the right mandate or tools to deal with this having been stripped of responsibility for prudential supervision.)

    The overall aim of structural reforms in the financial sector must be to increase competition, make banks less insulated from the consequences of their own mistakes, and more able to fail safely: in other words, more like a proper market and less like a corporate welfare system.

    Similarly, as an economic liberal I believe we need strong competition laws to break up monopoly power and ensure the contestability of markets for the benefit of consumers. However I also observe that many, if not most, corporate monopolies have arisen because of protection afforded by the state and barriers to entry the state has erected or maintained. So the first thing the state should do is stop nurturing monopolies through its own actions.

  • Alex Sabine 6th May '12 - 6:18pm

    @ Growler:
    “Housing benefit too dear? Choice. Either cap the payment to tenants (and risk arrears and homelessness or just poverty) or cap the prices landlords can charge.”

    Whatever you think of the housing benefit cap, I don’t think anyone can argue that this huge subsidy to private landlords is a good way of meeting housing need. But capping the prices landlords can charge by administrative fiat (rent control) is a worse idea still. Indeed, it is a recipe for a rapid decline in the quantity and quality of private rented accommodation.

    Economists as far apart as Paul Krugman and Milton Friedman, while disagreeing on many things, have agreed on the undesirability of rent control. See Krugman here: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/06/07/opinion/reckonings-a-rent-affair.html

    “Benefits for some exceed average pay? Either cap benefits or work to raise average earnings!”

    If only it were simple to wave a magic wand and increase average earnings. The sustainable way this happens is when the economy’s productivity improves; this is not within the gift of governments, though they can improve the economy’s future growth potential through things like planning liberalisation and other supply-side reforms. Raising wages by law (eg through a big rise in the minimum wage) would simply increase labour costs and therefore unemployment. It would be especially bone-headed in the current economic climate.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th May '12 - 6:54pm

    Growler

    We had the choice of confidence and supply. We chose coalition.

    I wish people who say this could remember what “supply and confidence” means. It means voting for THEIR budget (“supply”) and for any of their policies they or Labnour chose to make an issue of confidence (“confidence”). I.e. we would have to vote for the worst horrors of a pure Tory government.


    We had the choice of being seen as passive and supine or as active and standing up for our values in negotiating with our coalition partner. The world sees us as having rolled over and asked for our tummy to be tickled,

    Sure, I think we have been badly led in many ways (both on issues of plain competence and on issues of standing up for all the party rather than showing favouritism in comments and appointments to its most right wing elements). Nevertheless, it’s easy to be critical from the outside. There are many reasons why we can’t negotiate hard – first and foremost because we exited the election on a losing slope and have been slipping ever since. So we would be the biggest losers in an early general election, and that’s the only real card a junior coalition partner has to play. If we’d exited the general election going upwards, the Tories would be in a much weaker position as they;d be the ones scared to go for another election.

    The other problem, as I’ve said, is lack of recognition for what we have achieved. The right-wing press are rooting for the Tories against us in the coalition, rubbishing our policies in a horrendously misleading and biased way. And when we turn to see if we’re getting any support from the left – what do we see? Exactly the same. How are we supposed to be strong in negotiating when we get no support from anyone for our position? Look at the way the decent progressive things we managed to get into the last budget were rubbished not just by the right but by Labour and Labour supporters. So shifting financial support from high income old people to all old people gets called “granny tax”, and stopping subsidising the pet projects of millionaires gets called “charity tax”. And the sort of constitutional reforms that would stop the Tories having the power they have on just 36% of the vote get dismissed as “irrelevant” by the very people who moan about the Tories having so much power with so little real public support.

  • Matthew Huntbach @6:54: as I mentioned further up, I do not advocate confidence and supply. I state it as one of the many choices we faced post general election. I.e. there was not a binary choice “Tory coalition versus Labour coalition” as some are trying to imply.

    Sadly I disagree with much of the rest of your analysis. The right wing press is not the sole source of information open to many of us.

  • Richard Dawson 6th May '12 - 7:12pm

    @Peter – 5:53 pm

    My point about Labour is that is hypocritical to be giving the impression that they would not be making cutting very substantial expenditure cuts when the darling plan was only 1% different in expenditure terms .
    The big difference between how things were projected in 2010 and now is primarily the Euro crisis (not factored into any forecast) therefore I don’t think Balls’s assertion that its our Govt’s deficit reduction plan that caused a flatlining stands up especially when you all our neighbours experiencing the same thing even the Germans.

    ‘Events dear boy Events’

  • Richard
    Over the last couple of years everything blamed for Osborne’s blatant failure other than Osbourne. Snow. rain, the royal wedding, Europe and by the end of the summer he’ll be claiming that everyone was too busy watching the Olympics to spend. His policies don’t work. have never worked, not here, not there not anywhere, ever. They are bad policies. The fact that Labour advocated a lesser version of these bad policies doesn’t improve them.
    I suspect that in two years time, if the policies don’t change, we will be having exactly the same argument and right up until an election drubbing you will still be claiming that opposition is down for the count.

  • Peter Watson 6th May '12 - 8:05pm

    @Matthew
    “… it’s easy to be critical from the outside. There are many reasons why we can’t negotiate hard …”
    For me, this is the root of the mistakes our leaders have made in coalition. All negotiation is behind closed doors. We do not know whether they negotiated hard and won compromises, simply capitulated, or actually disagreed with the policies of their own party. In public they defend what was previously indefensible. This makes Lib Dems appear to be a party of U-turns and dishonesty. We all hope that this is a false impression, but our leaders give us little evidence to back it up.
    It is impossible to support a minority party without accepting that we will have to work with other parties, whether through coalition or some other arrangement. We also have to accept that our opponents in this parliament could be our partners in the next, so we need to be clear which policies are “ours” and which we had to concede reluctantly.

  • Richard Dawson 6th May '12 - 8:09pm

    Glenn
    Thats opinion not fact and you ignore external factors like the Eurozone which may yet be a game changer anyway.
    I remember countless Govt getting their forecasts wrong if you think 2 years is right timescale to judge an economic policy then your’re wrong. Economy’s are like Oil Tankers they take a long time to turn round and get blown of course.
    I’ll go with Lord Oakeshott on Marr today on this one thanks and not you with all due respect .
    Stick to the plan and get the banks lending and those infrastucture projects brought forward .
    Growth ,Growth ,Growth

  • Peter Watson 6th May '12 - 8:16pm

    @Richard
    “My point about Labour is that is hypocritical to be giving the impression that they would not be making cutting very substantial expenditure cuts when the darling plan was only 1% different in expenditure terms.”
    Labour did have the Darling plans so are not trying to hide the fact that they would have made cuts. Equally, in opposition I do not remember us or the conservatives giving much detail about what we would cut though we were both keen to point out the areas where we would not be looking to increase taxes or make savings (e.g. student fees, VAT, Trident, etc.). Before coalition, we campaigned against cutting too far and too fast: at least the tories are consistent.
    There is no point in blaming the opposition for opposing and not giving detailed commitments: the coalition parties have had years of doing the same. All we can do in government is explain our position and demonstrate that it is working. That is where we are failing. If it looks like we are wrong, then any alternative is attractive.

  • Keith Browning 6th May '12 - 8:25pm

    Europe is swaying to the left of centre and the ‘people’ are saying they aren’t prepared to help the millionaires keep the champagne in the chiller when they are living from day to day and meal to meal. The LDs ought to be in the perfect position but they still seem to be happy to compromise with the aims of extremist old guard right.

    Heels need to be firmly set in concrete in the previously agreed middle ground. Keep to the rules of the Coalition agreement and give them NOTHING AT ALL. If that splits the Tories that would provide a massive boost for the LDs. No more love-ins – business meetings only and no Cabinet Collective responsibility when in reality it is disguising Tory Party Collective responsibility.

  • Richard Dawson 6th May '12 - 8:34pm

    Peter
    Agree with you largely but what has changed since our days in Opposition is the sovereign debt crisis which was a key reason we formed the Coalition and now we have the the Eurozone crisis (currently in remission) .If I remember rightly our deficit reduction plan was roughly in between Labour and the Tories with all 3 separated by about £6 billion pa out of expenditure of £700 billion +

    My point is external events often blow you off course but if you believe you are right then you need to re-double your efforts .

    I just cant believe how flaky some people are judging an economic policy after 2 years

  • ………………………..I wish people who say this could remember what “supply and confidence” means. It means voting for THEIR budget (“supply”) and for any of their policies they or Labnour chose to make an issue of confidence (“confidence”). I.e. we would have to vote for the worst horrors of a pure Tory government……………..

    YES regarding their budget (which we have just about already done) but NO regarding ” we would have to vote for the worst horrors of a pure Tory government”.
    Confidence only refers to backing them on votes of ‘no confidence’. We would have retained the right to judge other proposals (NHS, etc.) on merit and would have been able to vote against the Tories on them.

  • While arguing the toss about the various methods and time-scales for facing down the deficit, it might be worth reminding ourselves how all main parties misled the electorate about the scale of both the deficit and cuts required. The IFS consider the LIb Dems were the least misleading by being only 75% out on the tax and cut measures needed to solve the deficit, while labour and tories were even more off the mark. See link below for those interested.
    Apart from the parties being worried that telling the truth would have spelled electoral disaster, crucially Alistair Darling did not hold a spending review before the election. Consequently, all parties free to not fill in the details without informed spending plans based on the true state of affairs.

    While those tempted to go with Ed Balls plan B, it was truly amazing to see him admitting to Andrew Neal on Sunday Politics that he has not costed his policy in relation to extra borrowing. I guess why bother, but still disconcerting to see opposition politicians eagerly repeating the 5 point mantra with no idea what it might actually cost to get it going. I guess Francois Hollande can now road test the anti-austerity approach. It should be instructive…

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/election-2010/7639406/General-Election-2010-Parties-misleading-voters-over-deficit-warns-think-tank-IFS.html

  • David Sea

    I saw the Balls interview – he didn’t answer because it is exactly what you in the Government want him to do. In answering he allows you to attack him and divert attention away from the Government’s own ills. Who is to say if he has costed it or not, and anyway why would he waste time costing something when the numbers will be out of date in 2015. You keep telling us with glee that there will be no election until 2015 so if I was him I would announce things based on that timetable – 2013/2014 and not before.

    In also with the austerity addicts would stop going on about Hollande’s policy as being a test which we can use for comparison. His ability to implement what he wants is extremely limited by being in the Euro – no 350bn QE for him, even if he wants to do it! He cannot get the ECB to print money for him to use to try and prop up the economy like the current UK lot have

  • Richard your replies are opinion.
    I say that two years is plenty of time. And if two years aren’t enough, why are you so certain that the green shoot growth Osbourne inherited weren’t the beginnings of further growth? And don’t trot a lot silliness comparing Britain’s economy to Greece,

  • Richard Dawson 6th May '12 - 10:19pm

    Glenn

    I am not comparing our economy to Greece I can’t see where I mentioned it . But the Sovereign Debt crisis is a reality unforseen by all but some much ignored commentators ( an inevitable consequence of personal and corporate indebtedness)
    As Francois Hollande will quickly find out you can’ ignore the reality of the bond markets

  • Ben Norman in the article above writes “Politics should be about achieving your party’s aims, not about perpetually preparing for the next election. Perhaps, if politicians kept both eyes on improving people’s lives rather than one eye on the polls the country wouldn’t have such little respect for its elected officials.”

    Practically, we have to be able to do both.To achieve our aims in government we need to see the economy quickly returned to a stable and improving state. This is an essential pre-requiste to halting and reversing the alarming increases in youth and general unemployment, taking effective measures to address inequality and social mobility and tackling the growing needs for social care in an ageing society.

    Achieving these aims will simultaneously furnish the platform for the local, european and general elections that we will contest in the next three years.

    Vince Cable along with others in recent months has been quite clear that the economic policy adopted by the coalition was based on the assumption that robust economic growth would have returned by now. If it is the case, as is now feared, that the best that can be hoped for is a slow recovery spread over several years, then we will achieve neither our aims in government or electoral success without adopting a much more aggressive strategy for economic growth and the compelling vision that Vince Cable speaks of.

    Re-balancing of the economy towards a greater focus on manufacturing and exports cannot be substantially achieved within the remaining term of this parliament – only the foundations can be laid. What can be done in the course of the next year is a direct focus on two pressing issues – unemployment and housing.

    Unemployment can be addressed head on with a move to a job guarantee program
    – first for under 25’s and then across the board.

    Housing provision requires only the political will and tenancity to meet the overwhelming demand that exists building an economic recovery.

    A determined and focused effort by our ministers and parliamentarians on these two key issues – in direct contention with conservative ministers if need be – would give us the platform on which to rebuild our electoral base.

  • Bazzasc

    Ed Balls should have at least a vague idea of what his policy might cost, as without costing in this situation the policy is meaningless. Or do you spend regardless and assume any growth will more than adequately cover the borrowing, whatever the sum? And if the government challenge him on it, all to the good. If his policy stacks up then he will gain more support for Labour. Some may be addicted to austerity but I doubt many on these pages see it as anything other than the sad reality of a economic system that is in deep crisis. As for Hollande, Labour will be the first to say their position is vindicated if he manages to deliver all he has promised by bucking austerity messages.

  • Richard,
    sorry about the Greece thing,

  • Peter Hayes 6th May '12 - 11:26pm

    In Cheltenham my Liberal councillor got back in with a good majority. How, hard work on his part and name recognition because of the Focus’s we delivered. That’s what we have to get back to in the Con / Dem constituencies, show we care in the grass roots and we’ll keep our MPs whatever the opinion polls say.

    Peter H

  • Richard Dawson 6th May '12 - 11:32pm

    Glenn

    No problem pleasure to debate with you

  • Richard,
    Here’s my problem. What I don’t understand is how sacking people creates jobs ? I also don’t understand how we can invented/print money for quantitative easing but need to borrow from the people we are giving it to for infrastructure expansion. It also sometimes seems to me that debt creation is a function of banking, loans being debt, mortgages being debt, interest rates being debt and what not. If debt is inherently bad, why then are we trying to get banks to loan money? If I’m honest, I cant entirely see how a country in charge of its own currency can run out of money.
    There’s also a devilish part of my brain that thinks tax and spend is possibly a better bet than borrow and spend.

  • Peter Watson 7th May '12 - 12:15am

    @David Sea
    “Ed Balls should have at least a vague idea of what his policy might cost”
    He probably does have more than a vague idea. But for the reasons bazzasc gives, in public EB won’t allow himself to be drawn even on revealing a vague idea of the costs because that starts giving his opponents (us!) a target. We cannot blame him for behaving like an opposition politician now that we have to behave like a government 🙂

  • Peter Watson 7th May '12 - 12:23am

    @Richard
    “Stick to the plan and get the banks lending and those infrastucture projects brought forward .”
    Wasn’t that Labour’s plan as well?
    It’s easy to forget that things like the Building Schools for the Future programme that Michael Gove cancelled was more than just an Education Department cost. It was an infrastructure project that would have provided work for building firms and contributed to economic growth.

  • Alex Sabine 7th May '12 - 2:22am

    @ Richard Dawson: “If I remember rightly our deficit reduction plan was roughly in between Labour and the Tories with all 3 separated by about £6 billion pa out of expenditure of £700 billion +.”

    You do remember rightly, Richard. The stark differentiation between the parties during the general election campaign was largely posturing. As you say, the debate focused almost exclusively on £6 billion of in-year spending ‘cuts’ (actually a reduction in increases planned by Labour) in 2010-11, which amounted to less than 0.4% of GDP.

    The significance of these cuts when they were announced by the coalition was that they were a signal to the markets, an earnest of the new government’s intent. Their macro-economic effect was bound to be very marginal.

    On the real issue – the medium term adjustment needed to fix the broken public finances – there was little substantive difference between the three parties, as far as their positions could be discerned given that all three were pretty opaque and avoided specific commitments.

    Vince Cable had indicated – when ‘freelancing’ in a think-tank pamphlet in September 2009 – that he thought the then Labour government’s plans were inadequate in scale and that a bigger fiscal tightening was required, equivalent to about 8% of GDP. As it turns out, George Osborne followed his advice almost to the letter.

    But even the watered-down position that the Lib Dems took during the election campaign sought to present the party as more hawkish than Labour – more willing to take ‘tough choices’, including for example scaling back tax credits. See for example Nick Clegg’s article in the FT in January 2010: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cf8268e0-0141-11df-8c54-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1u8aE0m8h.

    The whole U-turn/betrayal ‘narrative’ is vastly overblown when judged in relation to the actual position the party took and the actual fiscal policies since pursued by the coalition.

    The real betrayal was not Lib Dem U-turns after the election but the failure of all three parties during the campaign to level with the British people and set out the true nature and implications of the fiscal crisis. David Sea makes this point very effectively above.

    @ bazzasc: “Who is to say if he has costed it or not, and anyway why would he waste time costing something when the numbers will be out of date in 2015.”

    How convenient for him not to have to cost policies! The fact that events in the world economy are fast-moving is a legitimate reason for opposition parties refraining from making too many policy announcements; however, it does not relieve them of the need to cost the policies they do push as part of an alternative programme.

    As you will no doubt have noticed, Ed Balls’s tactic is to make commitments that apply only to the immediate situation and not to what he would do if in government post-2015. His stock-in-trade is to say, ‘If we were in government now, we wouldn’t be doing X, we’d be doing Y.’

    When pressed if he would reverse X or implement Y in the future, answer comes there none. Thus he hopes to gain the maximum political benefit from opposing austerity measures (dressing up his opposition as a question of principle rather than macroeconomic judgement on timing) while ‘banking’ any gains the coalition makes in reducing the deficit and giving himself the maximum wiggle room for the run-up to the next election.

    I guess people have to decide for themselves whether this is just smart politics or rank opportunism. I know which it is in my book.

  • Alex Sabine 7th May '12 - 2:31am

    @ Glenn: “What I don’t understand is how sacking people creates jobs ? “

    I’m not sure what target you’re taking aim at here… but presumably you are denying the need for public sector job losses? The problem is that you can’t realistically reduce public spending without reducing some combination of manpower levels and pay levels.

    As even Ed Balls appears to recognise (to be fair to him) – but many public sector unions reject as a matter of theology, believing as they do that money would grow on trees if only the Treasury bothered to fructify them – to a large extent there is a straight trade-off between pay and staffing levels.

    By implementing a near-freeze on pay the coalition has sought to minimise the job losses, but it is up to public sector managers to determine the appropriate trade-off in each case that will best maintain service delivery. Although the job losses will be substantial (mainly through voluntary redundancies), they do need to be set against the background of a large rise in the public sector workforce over the past decade, much of it funded by borrowing and/or ‘bubble’ tax revenues and therefore unsustainable.

    It is not the case, as some people tendentiously argue, that public sector job losses somehow result in a net cost to the Exchequer. It is of course true that the taxes paid by public sector workers will be foregone, and that there will be unemployment benefit to pay until the person concerned finds a new job. But in the vast majority of cases these two costs combined will be much lower than the salary previously paid (average hourly wages in the public sector are £18 for men and £15 for women, equating to approximately £37K pa for men and £31K pa for women assuming a 40-hour week).

    In reality, all public sector employment – valuable and important as much of it is – is paid for by the tax revenue generated by the private sector. Self-evidently, the taxes paid by public sector employees contribute towards, but do not remotely cover, the cost of their employment. (I say this not to make an ideological point, but as a matter of arithmetic. But it does emphasise the point that we must be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs!)

    also @ Glenn: “There’s also a devilish part of my brain that thinks tax and spend is possibly a better bet than borrow and spend.”

    It’s certainly more honest, fiscally responsible… and unpopular! It’s notable that no British government over the past 20+ years has been able to push the tax burden above 38% of GDP (as measured by total public sector receipts; around 35-36% on the ‘net taxes’ measure), and that therefore whenever public spending has risen above this threshold it has been funded by deficits. I’m not saying there is anything ‘magic’ about this particular ratio, but it’s an interesting trend nonetheless.

    As Hamish McRae of the Independent has noted: “The Government has not been able to sustain a tax take of more than 37-38 per cent of GDP for the past 25 years and spending has to reflect that. Unless you believe that the electorate is willing to pay more tax than at any stage for a generation, there is no more money.”

    If, Glenn, you meant tax-and-spend would be a better stimulus than borrow-and-spend, that is an interesting and, I suspect, heretical view to those of a more classical Keynesian bent on this site. But, given the length of these posts, I will leave discussion of the so-called “balanced budget multipliers” to another occasion!

  • @Alex Sabine
    “In reality, all public sector employment – valuable and important as much of it is – is paid for by the tax revenue generated by the private sector. ”

    I can’t believe I’m still reading this kind of thing on here. It’s the kind of economic illiteracy I would expect of from far-right American tea-party activism.

    Private sector producers are not responsible for the creation of money. Money is created by the central bank and the lending banks. Public and private sector companies, organisations and individuals then use the money as a means of exchanging public and private goods and services. This is really basic stuff.

    The private sector does not pay for the public sector any more than the public sector pays for the private. The only way there can be a net transfer of wealth between the two sectors is if one is more efficient than the other. Given the scale of the bank bailouts and the constant cronyism from the government (e.g. using taxpayers money to underwrite property developers & lenders, selling off public assets at less than market prices – right-to-buy, etc, etc) then it is the public sector that has actually been subsidising the profits of the private sector in recent years.

  • @Glenn
    “Here’s my problem. What I don’t understand is how sacking people creates jobs ? ”

    Exactly. The alternative to sacking public sector workers is to raise taxes to reduce the deficit. This would lead to private sector job losses rather than public sector job losses. So the questions is, which does the government prefer as a means of re-balancing our economy and creating a healthy, wealthy and prosperous economy? The answer is clearly that it prefers public sector job losses. I just wish they could be honest about it and explain why they think that is the better way to go.

  • @Glenn
    “It also sometimes seems to me that debt creation is a function of banking, loans being debt, mortgages being debt, interest rates being debt and what not. If debt is inherently bad, why then are we trying to get banks to loan money?”

    Quite. I’m pleased someone gets it. Money is debt and it is created by the lending banks. The rapid expansion in personal debt by the lending banks that caused the financial mess (personal debt expanded from ~400bn in the early 90s to ~1500bn today) did not feed into higher wages for the population due to the supply-side economics and anti-union laws introduced into the UK over the last few decades. If it had, then people would be able to service their bigger mortgages, etc. Instead, peoples’ ability to service debt declined as a result of a combination of the syphoning off of wealth by the monopolist rent-seekers in the City and trade imbalances.

  • Alex Sabine

    I am not defending Balls’s policies or approach. What I do defend though is his right not to make himself a hostage to fortune

    Labour still hark back to the Smith shadow budget which played a part in losing the 92 election

    If we look back to the last Parliament I cannot remember seeing concrete economic programs with full costing being shared by the LD or your new pals in 2007

    I remember promises to keep the same spending as Labour, massive cuts to inheritance tax, tution fees pledges etc but nothing about the detail of budget cuts at that time. To do so would have been folly, just like your tutition fees pledge was a mistake

    Your party has agreed that there will not be an election to 2015 and so whatever Ball promises now would not be implementable until then – Ithink in that case it is sensible to wait.

    I would much prefer YOUR Government to tell me where the growth will come from and how the independent OBR cannot even forecast 6 months ahead. If Balls uses any of the numbers that come out of YOUR Government then they will be out of date in a week never mind 3 years.

    The only elections to be held in the next 3 years are local (which as you keep telling us should focus on local issues but you perhaps could remind YOUR leader about that after seeing the election broadcast) and the EU ones (which should focus on our relationship with Europe).

    I can wait until 2013/2014 to make a decision on the GE which takes into account the situation at the time

    Perhaps you could focus on getting the Government of which you party is a part to get their house in order before criticising the opposition

  • Mike Jeffries 7th May '12 - 10:09am

    I voted Lib Dem in 2010 because I thought I was helping to stop a Tory MP being elected in a two party race here in West Country. I and so many like me now feel totally betrayed which is why you are getting hammered in these local elections and will do so in 2015, which is not so far away.
    My Lib Dem MP campaigned against so many things in 2010 that he is now saying are just fine and voting for. I might as well have voted for the Tory. The Lib Dems are now thought of of as just an extension of the Tory party. You did not have to make your bed with a party that you campaigned against for so many years . You are hammering the poor, the public sector and taking us all back years, For gods sake ditch this appalling Tory agenda or face total ruin. You may not put this comment up but I hope you do. I am just an ordinary voter but am far from alone.

  • Richard Dean 7th May '12 - 11:01am

    @Joe Bourke. Questions.

    Building houses creates long-term debt, for house buyers or builders or governments. Long-term debt reduces consumption over a long term, and so also reduces demand (the familiar X paradox) . So will your “solution” not simply move the problem to the future, ie delay the recovery?

    Money seems to go where it’s safe. With low inflation, it’s safe in bank vaults, doing nothing. Can we purposely create enough inflation to force it out of the vaults – ie.make sure it loses out by being there? Can we do it in a way that keeps the money in the UK, rather than encourage it to move into cheap wages abroad?

  • Stuart Mitchell 7th May '12 - 11:18am

    “In reality, all public sector employment – valuable and important as much of it is – is paid for by the tax revenue generated by the private sector. Self-evidently, the taxes paid by public sector employees contribute towards, but do not remotely cover, the cost of their employment. (I say this not to make an ideological point, but as a matter of arithmetic. But it does emphasise the point that we must be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs!)”

    This really is nonsense. The private sector would have a hard time laying any “golden eggs” without the help it gets from the public sector (in terms of infrastructure, a healthy and educated workforce, etc etc etc). A right-wing ideologue might believe that the private sector would be able to do this on its own, but in reality every advanced economy that has ever existed has been a mixed economy. You should be thinking of wealth creation as something that happens as a result of effective partnership between public and private; it is wrong to think of one sector entirely subsidising the other.

  • Peter Hayes wrote: “In Cheltenham my Liberal councillor got back in with a good majority. How, hard work on his part and name recognition because of the Focus’s we delivered. That’s what we have to get back to in the Con / Dem constituencies, show we care in the grass roots and we’ll keep our MPs whatever the opinion polls say.”

    I really think this is a bit complacent. There were a lot of hard-working LibDem councillors who lost seats last week, and if things don’t change, there will be plenty of LibDem MPs sharing the same fate in 2015.

    No doubt some of the Tory MPs swept away in the 1997 landslide saw themselves as hard-working fighters for their constituencies – but it made no difference, their party was hated at national level.

    North and south of the border, the Liberal Democrats are in a death spiral, the only difference being that it is more advanced north of the border.

  • I do not deny the need for public sector restructuring , but I think until growth is secured it’s counter productive, Canada cut at the right time. . The other problem is that the public sector and the private sector are linked. For instance rubbish disposal is nearly all done by private companies, but the funding is through tax. so the lines are often blurred and there’s a knock on effect., The reduced spending power caused by unemployment hits the private sector.
    Tax increases just seem to me more honest and would reduce the need for borrowing,, whist giving you leeway for restructuring. At the moment we are offsetting low private wages through the tax system, anyway., The trickle down effect hasn’t really happened, which has increased private debt, which translates into public debt. So as a temporary measure a more pragmatic approach might be preferable. The deficit problem is as much as anything else a Tax problem

  • Richard,

    “Building houses creates long-term debt, for house buyers or builders or governments. Long-term debt reduces consumption over a long term, and so also reduces demand (the familiar X paradox) . So will your “solution” not simply move the problem to the future, ie delay the recovery?”

    Lord Oakshott was urging a big house building program on the Andrew Marr show yesterday. George Osborne referred to the governments mortgage assistance program as a measure designed to encourage new build. All the candidates in the London GLA campaign emphasized the need for major house-building.

    What we need now is implementation. As Martin Wolf of the FT frequently points out – the UK is one of the few European countries that has the capacity to borrow for investment at very low rates. Affordable housing for resale/shared equity tenure may be funded by short/medium-term government borrowing that can be recovered from the buyers of property and not future taxation. It is the quickest and easiest means of generating substantial extra demand and jobs in the economy – as was seen in the 1930’s.

    Mortgage repayments replace rent as a component of consumption spending. Rents are a factor of demand for housing and the costs of borrowing. Mortgage debt does not reduce consumption over a longer-term anymore than rent payments do.

  • Richard Dean 7th May '12 - 1:47pm

    @Joe. Thanks. You should probably ignore me because I am cranky and difficult and skeptical. The idea that mortgage repayments or rent are components of consumption spending seems inconsistent with Keynes or with the IS model that I am reading about in a book on macroeconomics. The book is endorsed by the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England. In that book, consumption is what people consume – goods like food and cars, and services like concerts, healthcare, and hairdressing. I think mortgage payments and rent are what the book calls “transfers”, but maybe the next few chapters will say different.

  • Alex Sabine 7th May '12 - 2:42pm

    @ Steve and Stuart Mitchell

    You have misunderstood me. I did say that I was making a point about how public sector wages are actually financed, rather than an ideological point about the relative merits of public and private sectors – but I obviously wasn’t clear enough. So, here goes:

    1. Of course there is an interdependence between the public and private sectors – for example businesses relying on the custom of public sector workers, or on the infrastructure provided by the state, or on public sector contracts.

    2. Clearly, therefore, a reduction in public sector employment has knock-on effects on levels of private sector activity, though these are unlikely to be so large as to wipe out the entire saving to the Exchequer of reducing its pay bill (and are also unlikely to be permanent, assuming many of those losing their jobs eventually find employment in the private sector, whereas the savings are permanent). But if you believe public sector employment always has more benefits than costs, and that reducing the public sector workforce will always be self-defeating for the economy as a whole, then logically we should expand the public sector payroll as much as possible – indeed we should never reduce it again on wartime demobilisation etc. Which is clearly absurd.

    3. Above all, I’m not saying that public sector workers don’t do vital jobs. These represent the investment (on infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, schools) and spending (on policemen, nurses, teachers etc) of the wealth created that the government collects in taxes, for purposes agreed by the community as expressed in elections.

    4. Insofar as both private and public sectors supply goods and services, both create wealth whether these goods and services are paid for out of taxes or in the marketplace. In this sense, everybody pays for everybody else’s salary (except for subsistence farmers and survivalists). The difference lies in payments that are made voluntarily through the market or coercively through taxation, and what the balance between these two should be taking into account freedom and efficiency considerations.

    5. I agree that public sector workers support the productivity of other workers: nurses help to keep people healthy, policemen to keep them safe etc.

    All that is granted. I’m just making the elementary point that, since government has no money of its own to distribute – unless it resorts to the printing press as a means of financing its expenditure – then the cost of its activities and of the people it employs must ultimately be paid by taxes levied on the private, profit-driven sector. Therefore a reduction in the government’s payroll, as a matter of arithmetic, represents a net saving to the Exchequer.

    We can do a quick thought-experiment to illustrate this. Imagine that the government says that it will henceforth exempt all public sector workers from paying income tax and NI, but that they will receive the same take-home pay, ie their gross pay is reduced correspondingly. This sum would then have to be met entirely from taxes levied on the private sector, with no contribution from public sector workers. Instead we require public sector workers to pay taxes, thus contributing towards the cost of their salaries, but this is an accounting distinction: it leads to higher gross salaries being paid, and higher tax receipts, but the same take-home pay for the workers concerned.

    Steve, I agree with the distinction you make between money and broadly defined wealth. (I wasn’t talking about the creation of wealth but about how public sector employment is financed.)

    A similar point can be made about the limitations of GDP (or even GDP per head) as a measure of economic welfare. GDP measures the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country within a given period, but it does not measure those activities which contribute to welfare but do not have a monetary value (eg leisure time, or household work where this is unpaid). Nor does it distinguish between beneficial and detrimental activities: an oil spill can increase GDP because of the subsequent clean-up operation but it obviously doesn’t increase welfare. Nonetheless, GDP – and more particularly GDP per head – is a valuable measure because of its broad correlation with welfare, and because other, more comprehensive, measures of welfare arguably have even bigger limitations.

    I agree there was an ideological implication in my point that ‘we mustn’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs’, and I should have made this point separately since it was really about the need for a large and thriving private sector as an essential means of driving wealth creation and productivity improvements, which in turn makes more resources available for social (ie non-market determined) purposes.

    This is hardly an ultra-liberal contention, but one that I would have thought was common ground among most conservatives, liberals and social democrats alike (though of course there are important differences of emphasis between them). Even Gordon Brown implicitly recognised it, which is why he kept a lid on tax rates and watched the money to roll in to the Treasury’s coffers…

  • @Alex Sabine
    Thanks for the reply.

    Your thought experiment regarding the financing of the public sector is still fundamentally wrong though:

    “We can do a quick thought-experiment to illustrate this. Imagine that the government says that it will henceforth exempt all public sector workers from paying income tax and NI, but that they will receive the same take-home pay, ie their gross pay is reduced correspondingly. This sum would then have to be met entirely from taxes levied on the private sector, with no contribution from public sector workers. Instead we require public sector workers to pay taxes, thus contributing towards the cost of their salaries, but this is an accounting distinction: it leads to higher gross salaries being paid, and higher tax receipts, but the same take-home pay for the workers concerned.”

    Public sector workers, like private sector workers, pay taxes because they consume public sector goods and services. Some public and private sector workers pay for more than the value of goods/services they receive and some less, given the redistributive element of the taxation/public-spending system. Public sector employees, even if they were to pay no tax and have their gross salary reduced by the amount they previously paid in tax, are still private sector consumers (in addition to being public sector consumers) – they spend their money on privately created goods and services. So, the money the private sector receives for their goods and services comes from public sector employees and organisations, in addition to the consumption by private sector employees and organisations. One sector does not finance the other – they both finance each other as money circulates around the economy. The money is created by the central and lending banks.

  • Alex Sabine 7th May '12 - 4:20pm

    @ Steve

    On the financing question, I think we are getting bogged down in semantics. I’ve already acknowledged that, as you say, public sector workers are private sector consumers, and that private businesses therefore rely for part of their profits on the custom of public sector workers.

    In normal circumstances (QE aside), the government does not finance its expenditure from the banking system, since this would be hyper-inflationary, but from a claim to a percentage of a given amount of money already in circulation. I take your point about redistribution, although it’s worth noting that the tax system in isolation is not redistributive in most western countries, including the UK; the redistribution comes on the spending side.

    You say: “The alternative to sacking public sector workers is to raise taxes to reduce the deficit. This would lead to private sector job losses rather than public sector job losses. So the questions is, which does the government prefer as a means of re-balancing our economy and creating a healthy, wealthy and prosperous economy? The answer is clearly that it prefers public sector job losses. I just wish they could be honest about it and explain why they think that is the better way to go.

    No sensible politician is going to talk of ‘preferring’ one type of job losses to another, for obvious reasons. Ask Norman Lamont about the reaction when politicians occasionally do make economically literate but politically naive statements.

    (I’m thinking of unemployment being a ‘price worth paying’ to get inflation down in the early 1990s. This was political dynamite – but, regardless of your opinion of the economic policies actually pursued at the time, the point that low and stable inflation is a precondition of sustainable falls in unemployment is uncontroversial economically. Jim Callaghan had taught the Labour Party conference the same lesson in 1976, though they didn’t want to hear it.)

    However, setting aside the politically loaded term ‘prefer’, surely the government has been perfectly up-front that the outcome it is seeking is a shift in relative employment levels between the public and private sectors, ie a fall in public sector employment and a rise in private sector employment. The OBR has even estimated the number of public sector job losses it expects.

    There is no hidden agenda, and both Conservative and Lib Dem ministers have made the case for this shift, arguing that the economy became over-dependent on public spending and public sector employment during the Labour years.

    One clear indicator that this was unsustainable was the persistent structural budget deficit from 2002 onwards, which itself understated the problem because tax revenues were artificially inflated by ‘bubble’ proceeds from the over-heated financial and housing sectors (which were additional symptoms of the unbalanced economy). This over-dependence on public sector employment was especially striking in some regions and nations of the UK.

    As you say, Steve, the government could have made different choices. It is already raising the overall tax burden from 36.6% to about 38% of national income, but it could have raised taxes still further.

    One clue as to why it decided not to is that, as I pointed out above, 38% seems to be about the highest tax take any Chancellor in the past 20-25 years has been able to sustain, before resorting to funding expenditure by borrowing.

    I think Hamish McRae of the Independent makes a persuasive argument when he says: “The Government has not been able to sustain a tax take of more than 37-38 per cent of GDP for the past 25 years and spending has to reflect that. Unless you believe that the electorate is willing to pay more tax than at any stage for a generation, there is no more money.”

    Public spending and tax levels in 2007 – before the crisis – were both relatively high, at approximately 41% of GDP and 38% respectively.

    Moreover, the huge widening of the deficit during the crisis and recession was largely driven by a rise in the public spending share of GDP, not a fall in the tax share. Spending rose to 47.5% while taxes fell to 36.6% (obviously there is both a numerator and a denominator at work here, but the effect is striking all the same, and a contrast to the US, where the drop in the tax ratio was much more pronounced than here). Spending grew by £106 billion between 2007-08 and 2010-11, while tax revenue actually rose by £3 billion over the same three-year period.

    So, independently of any ideological considerations about the size of the state, there was a strong case for relying mainly on spending curbs rather than tax rises to close the deficit. Indeed, all three parties accepted this, with the range being about a 67/33 split between cuts and tax rises in the Alistair Darling plan and about 80/20 in the coalition plan. Under the coalition plan spending is heading towards (and eventually just below) 40% of GDP while tax revenues should settle around 38%.

  • Alex Sabine 7th May '12 - 4:29pm

    And on the politics of this, as I have posted before, both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable were quite adamant before the election that the main adjustment should come on the spending rather than tax side.

    Apparently expressing official party policy, Clegg claimed the Lib Dems favoured an entirely spending-based consolidation except for a bank profits levy, and implied that Labour and the Tories would be tempted to go for the ‘soft option’ of additional tax rises beyond those already announced by Darling.

    He wrote in the FT in January 2010: “The sense is growing that the next government may lack the courage for cutbacks and resort, instead, to painful tax rises. That is not the approach of the Liberal Democrats now, nor will it be in government.

    “We have proposed one new tax on the profits of banks, until they can be split up, to ensure they pay for their ongoing implicit taxpayer guarantee. Beyond this, I believe deficit reduction should be focused on spending cuts.”

    And on the politics of this, as I have posted before, both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable were quite adamant before the election that the main adjustment should come on the spending rather than tax side.

    Apparently expressing official party policy, Clegg claimed the Lib Dems favoured an entirely spending-based consolidation except for a bank profits levy, and implied that Labour and the Tories would be tempted to go for the ‘soft option’ of additional tax rises beyond those already announced by Darling.

    He wrote in the FT in January 2010: “The sense is growing that the next government may lack the courage for cutbacks and resort, instead, to painful tax rises. That is not the approach of the Liberal Democrats now, nor will it be in government.

    “We have proposed one new tax on the profits of banks, until they can be split up, to ensure they pay for their ongoing implicit taxpayer guarantee. Beyond this, I believe deficit reduction should be focused on spending cuts.”

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cf8268e0-0141-11df-8c54-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1u8aE0m8h

    The previous September, writing in a ‘personal capacity’ (itself pretty remarkable for the Treasury spokesman of a major political party), Cable took a similar line, writing:

    “The emphasis for fiscal consolidation must fall on controlling public spending, not higher taxes: to commit to additional tax revenue raising from the outset undermines any commitment to setting priorities in spending.”

    He noted: “Government spending as a share of GDP has risen to 48 per cent, partly reflecting the increased demands on public spending in a period of recession.

    “But there has been an extraordinary growth in the share of public spending over a decade – by over 10 per cent of GDP. This is quite an increase, especially in a briskly growing economy.

    “In the UK public spending has been allowed to grow very rapidly on the back of what was a windfall in tax revenue. Tax revenue depended to an unhealthy degree on a “bubble” economy in financial and housing markets. Much of that revenue has now been lost and, though it may return in part and at some stage, it would be foolish to base future spending commitments upon it.”

    He also made what some commenters here would no doubt regard as some appallingly anti-state ideological points if I were to make them!

    Cable wrote: “A related point is that the rapid increase in spending has often been inefficiently spent without adequate democratic accountability and with declining productivity, to the extent that we can meaningfully define and measure it in public services.

    “The Office for National Statistics estimates that public sector productivity declined by 3.4 per cent from 1997 to 2007 while private sector productivity rose by 27.9 per cent.

    “The sudden deluge of funding (in relation to comparable OECD countries) has been likened by Reform to a “flash flood” and there is a strong argument for focusing on how resources can be better spent rather than validating current spending levels with higher taxes.

    “In addition, direct taxes create disincentives to save, work and take risks while indirect taxes are generally regressive. Moreover, the overall tax system is widely perceived to be unfair with low income groups paying disproportionately and the very wealthy treating tax as a, largely voluntary nuisance.

    “So the emphasis should be on spending control; though the magnitude of the fiscal adjustment required is such that taxation cannot be ruled out… To commit to additional tax revenue raising from the outset undermines any commitment to setting priorities in spending.”

    http://www.reform.co.uk/client_files/www.reform.co.uk/files/Tackling%20the%20fiscal%20crisis%20FINAL.pdf

  • Stuart Mitchell 7th May '12 - 4:46pm

    @Alex

    Just a minor historical point.

    “Public spending and tax levels in 2007 – before the crisis – were both relatively high, at approximately 41% of GDP and 38% respectively.”

    Relative to what? The tax burden in 2007 wasn’t much higher than it had been during the previous 10 years, and was actually much lower than it had been throughout the 1980s. Also, UK expenditure and tax levels were both significantly lower than the EU average.

  • Alex,

    Important points that you make there. Maintaining an efficient and effective balance between goods and services provided by the private and public sectors is a vital element of government policy. When you consider, for example, the % of national income we spend on health services in the UK, this compares very favourably with the US where they seem to spend almost double the level of their income on comparable services. (Surely, it can’t all be down to cosmetic surgery?). The US also devotes a much greater proprtion of GDP to its defence budget. Medical insurance in the states is largely paid for by employers. They have been able to carry this extra burden of cost as a consequence of greater levels of employee productivity and GDP per capita than in the UK.

    We tried widespread nationalisation of industry after the war and only succeeded in damaging the international competitiveness of our industrial base as a result. Simarlarly, greatly increased spending in education and the health service in recent years has not delivered the kind of transformation in outcomes hoped for.

    Ultimately, improvement in living standards and in the quality of public service provision can only come about by achieving increasing levels of productivity in both the private and public sectors. Productivity improvements in output per employee come about as a result of continuous investment in technology, education and skills development. They are not achieved by over-centralised, over-staffed bureaucracies. The bulk of public sector staffing has to be in frontline services. Administrative support of frontline workers must be both professional and cost-effective – based on the operational needs of the organisation not political fiat.

    I don’t think public sector restructuring can realistically wait until the economy has fully recovered. For this reason among others, I would advocate a Job guarantee program as a means of supporting staff displaced from the mainstream public sector during this recession.

  • The main problem with cutting the public sector is that you are tackling the middle classes. Most of the grunt work was farmed out years ago. And the thing about the middle classes is they ain’t going to accept limited job guarantees because they have careers and turkeys’ don’t vote for Christmas.
    This is why natural wastage and restructuring when a recovery is secured make more sense. Democracy has a funny habit of removing people.

  • I am no economist but I did a bit of maths. Governments impose taxes which essentially take a proportion of every transaction. Whenever money changes hands, government taxes a part. So if I give a civil servant £10,000, some of that comes straight back as the transaction tax, income tax in that case. I’m not trying for real numbers here, just some to illustrate the process, so say 10% returns to the government. But what does the civil servant do with the money? He buys things. So he buys goods and the government gets another 10% as the transaction tax. The person who sold the goods takes some of that as profit, records it as his income, and pays yet another 10% of that portion to the government. Then he uses the rest to buy more goods. Yet more transaction tax. The producer of the goods probably employs people. So they get paid, and a further 10% returns to government. Do you see the point? Eventually every penny of that £10,000 will be back inthe hands of government.

    This would be true if it was a closed system, but it isnt. Some of these goods come from abroad, and then money leaves the country. Some people never spend their money but save it. Even here there will be transaction taxes if they try to earn interest, but their starting share just sits there out of the hands of government.

    So if a government can prevent the leakage abroad then it doesnt matter how much you spend, the capital sum must eventually come back to government. If in the process that money caused something to change in the economy which made it more efficient or productive, then maybe more than 100% will return to government. In the meanwhile everyone else was doing something with that money, buying goods for themselves and making goods for others. So all these people are materially better off, and presumably therefore well pleased with their government.

    So on this analysis the two enemies of the people are those who buy goods from abroad and those who save their money. What we absolutely do not want is tax cuts for the rich and more taxes for the poor, because this will have exactly the opposite effect to that needed, putting money into the hands of people who will just save it.

    Government still has to worry about its interest bill, but right now that is at record lows with record length of time over which to pay. Given that inflation is higher than the interest rate, why the government is really being paid to borrow money. It cant lose. Or it shouldnt be able to.

  • @joe bourke
    Nationalisation as applied in the UK in the last century doesnt really tell us much about how good governments are at running companies. The criteria for choosing which companies to nationalise was that those companies were bankrupt and losing money. What would the private sector do with such companies? The answer is obvious… they were going bust and in the private sector would have ceased operating. The private sector had already tried to run them, and had failed. No other private sector buyers were looking to take them over and run them. Before you blame the government for being incompetent at running business, consider that it only tries to run business which the private sector has failed to make profitable.

    Ideologically, the only thing governments of any stripe have done with companies they find they own which are making money, is they sell them. What would happen to a private investment company which sold every profitable business it owned and kept on buying ones which lose money?

    over centralised, over staffed beaurocracies may or may not exist in the UK government. I dont know. I do know every government for 50 years has promised to get rid of them, so either they have all failed, or it is untrue by now that we have overstaffing. I also know that if I was a private company I would be seeking the best employees I could find, and I would have to pay them the going rate for that level of expertise.

    It may have escaped peoples notice that these various governments seeking efficiency improvements or simply for ideological reasons have outsourced as much of the function of government as they can. This usually means the menial or productive elements, not the administrative ones. The low salary jobs. So all that is left is the essential, expensive, management functions, which might be expected to represent a much higher proportion of staff than in a private company making identical goods day after day.

  • Alex Sabine 7th May '12 - 8:29pm

    Joe, I totally agree with you on the huge healthcare and defence spending in the US. They will have to address both if they are going to put their own finances on a sustainable course.

    Stuart: The tax burden in 2007 was high-ish relative to the whole of UK peacetime history except for the 1967-89 period. (Also bear in mind that during the 1980s the figure for public sector receipts was boosted by North Sea oil revenues.)

    It’s true that the underlying tax take was high for much of the Thatcher decade – particularly as a result of the tax-raising 1981 budget – before it fell sharply under Nigel Lawson’s Chancellorship.

    Since 1990 it has fluctuated in the 35-39% range on the public sector receipts measure (peaking at 38.7% in 2007), and 32-36% on the net taxes and NI measure (peaking at 36.3% in 2000 and 2007).

    Coalition plans will take both close to the upper end of those ranges, approximately 38% and 36% on the respective measures by the end of the forecast period (2016-17).

    Public spending in 2007 (at 41% of GDP) was at the highest level since the 1991-95 period when it was forced up by recession costs. The 2007 figure is after 15 years of uninterrupted growth – this was the notable feature, as Vince Cable pointed out in the report I quoted from above. By contrast spending stood at just 36.3% of GDP in 1999-2000, before Gordon Brown shifted gears.

    The only period when it was substantially higher than 41% during non-recession periods was in the mid-to-late 1960s before the Wilson government ran out of money and Roy Jenkins had to bring it back down again during his 1968-70 austerity drive.

    In any case, the coalition was confronted with a level of public spending not of 41% of GDP but of almost 48%, just short of the previous peacetime peak (in 1975-76, just before Denis Healey had to go to the IMF).

    You are right that the UK has historically opted for a somewhat lower level of tax and spending than the EU average, although around the average level for industrialised countries as a whole (EU countries have unusually big states by international standards). As it happens, this difference was narrowing before the crisis under Brown’s policies and has now disappeared on the expenditure side.

    According to Eurostat, which uses internationally comparable National Accounts metrics (general government expenditure and general government revenue), the average tax burden for EU member states in 2007 was 44.7%, compared to 41.7% in the UK.

    The average expenditure ratio was 45.6%, against 43.9% in the UK. Our public sector share had overtaken Germany’s, which had steadily reduced spending from 47.9% of GDP in 2002 to 43.5% by 2007, under both the centre-left Gerhard Schroeder and the centre-right Angela Merkel, who used the good times to get their finances in order.

    The latest figures, for 2011, show that the average EU tax burden is almost unchanged at 44.6% of GDP, compared to 40.8% in the UK. Average EU spending is now 49.1% of GDP versus 49.0% in the UK. Strikingly, the average EU government deficit is 4.5% of GDP; ours stands at an eye-watering 8.2% of GDP (down from 11.4% in 2009).

    As I mentioned, when you look at figures for the G7, G20 or OECD members, a different picture emerges, because the big-state EU nations are counterbalanced by the USA, Japan, Australia etc. By these more global standards the UK level of tax and (especially) spending is now a bit higher than average. Basically the range is about 30-50% for both tax-to-GDP and top income tax rates.

  • Alex Sabine 7th May '12 - 11:01pm

    Minor correction of my figures above: The UK tax share in 2007 was 41.2% of GDP (rather than 41.7%) on the general government revenue measure used by Eurostat and the OECD.

    @ danny: “So on this analysis the two enemies of the people are those who buy goods from abroad and those who save their money. What we absolutely do not want is tax cuts for the rich and more taxes for the poor, because this will have exactly the opposite effect to that needed, putting money into the hands of people who will just save it.”

    This idea that saving is ‘wasted money’, that it serves no beneficial purpose for an economy’s development, is a dangerous fallacy. The main reason we are richer than we were three centuries ago is the accumulation and increasingly productive use of capital, which depends on investment, ie the deferral of present-day consumption for future gains.

    And where do you suppose that the supply of loanable funds for investment came from if not from savers? Now, I agree that the precise relationship between domestic savings and domestic investment is complex in practice, but globally these two identities must be equal.

    At the simplest level, households supply capital goods indirectly, by choosing to save a portion of their income and lending these savings to banks. Banks, in turn, lend household savings to firms, which use these savings to purchase capital goods. Of course firms may invest from retained profits, but to the extent that they rely on bank loans they are dependent on the supply of loanable funds.

    By all means make a (Keynesian) macroeconomic argument based on a liquidity trap and high unemployment that there is a global savings glut looking for somewhere to go, that firms are not investing, and that government borrowing mops this up, thereby sustaining aggregate demand and GDP, rather than crowding out private savings and investment.

    Classical economic theory may be wrong to assume that interest rates automatically bring saving and investment into a productive balance. Ultimately, saving and investment will be brought into line by the cost of capital, but this may not be true in the short term, and the costs of this mismatch may be too severe to leave uncorrected.

    But the idea that there is something inherently futile in private saving – that savers are ‘enemies of the people’ – is not just wrong but the opposite of the truth.

  • In all this talk about cutting the public sector, I do wish we could make more of a distinction between cutting productive, front line jobs and slimming the bureaucracy that exists in some councils and the NHS. Others have talked about how the low level jobs have been outsourced which is true, but it is equally true that the number of people involved in managing contracts, compliance etc in LA/NHS is far greater than would ever be acceptable in the private sector.

    Whilst it is true that the public sector did not cause the current crisis, it is undeniably true that public sector budgets ballooned in the last 10 years and given that Labour were using Wonga.com to fund capital projects (or PFI as they preferred to call it), the vast majority of that went on extra staff without much of an eye on the long term sustainability of the number and salaries attached to those new jobs.

    And there are far too many councillors who, rather than look at structures in detail, will delegate the cuts to senior officers to acheive, and not surprisingly those self same senior officers tend to value jobs at their level far more highly than they do the jobs of those dealing with the public and providing services on a daily basis, leading to the sort of situation we have locally, where virtually every Ranger and Rights of Way officer has been fired, yet we still have a £75,000+ Manager supervising the 2 that remain, which just defies common sense.

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th May '12 - 11:47am

    @ Redndead
    Lansley and co ar very fond of making scapegoats of ‘bureaucrats’ as are the right wingpress and it now seems Liberal Democrats.

    How hypocritical when the rise in the number of NHS bureaucrats came about as the result of the ‘Internal Market’ in health care introduced by the Conservatives, a move that was not altered by Labour.

    The internal market which was supposed to introduce competition that would increase efficiency and quality required an increase in managers to commision services, negotiation of contract, the purchase services , accountants etc. etc . More bureaucrats were needed and transaction costs rose.

    It was PCT with professionals like Gp’s and pharmacists sitting on them which were responsible for buying services from other groups of ‘bureaucrats’.

    Do you really think that when the Coalition’s NHS is open to any willing provider these transaction costs will fall or that the need for people to administer the transactions will fall? They are more likely to rise, the only change will be that the taxpayers money will go the private firms of GP’s who then pay for the bureaucrats.

    As for the wider point of the a distinction between cuts between cuts in frontline staff and bureaucrats. My granddaughter is on antidepressants having survived the the stress of the first round of redundancies and now losing her job in the second round. She was a PCSO.

    When it comes to frontline staff in the NHS , I have personal knowledge of jobs that are disappearing when people retire or leave the area. Some are just no longer being funded.

  • All that will happen in a public sector cut is that a few more dinner ladies will get the chop and the big wigs will remain, unless you are prepared to take a hit on early pensions and golden handshakes. As Redndead points out the people charged with the task of trimming are not going to look at their own jobs or those of their senior colleagues and decide that they are surplus to requirements.
    And as Jayne Mansfield points out increased privatization actually increases bureaucracy. The public sector is full of waste, but most of it comes from the people in charge of it and restructuring invariable just adds more consultants and legal teams and reports and white papers and ministerial post and the result is they still only sack the tea boy.

  • @jaynemansfield

    In the same way that many Labour members did not embrace the New Labour policies, so do many Lib Dem members oppose some of the things our MPs are doing in government, including changes to the NHS.

    On the wider point, you make the case for me – any organisation has a choice either to reduce backroom jobs and increaswe efficiency or reduce the frontline ones. Your evidence suggests they are doing the former.

    In the mid 90s, I worked for Samsung when the Korean economy tanked.

    Over half the workforce were made redundant, and 2/3 of managers. Those of us left were expected, and did, do the work of those that had gone. Korean staff on site also had a 30% pay cut. In the section I worked, by the time I left, through making various improvements, we were doing 3x the work with less than half the staff.

    By comparison, some of the public sector reductions are modest but seem ill targeted by management intent on protecting their own jobs.

    In reality short term brutal cuts will always be more effective than the salami slicing that we play at in public bodies -it forces changes and improvements that can be resisted in the face of smaller reductions

  • Jayne/Glenn,

    I think we can all recognise the truth in what you say from our experiences with our own local administrations.

    There are no easy answers in confronting these issues. My own experience is that the larger the organisation (private or public) the greater the capacity for waste and inefficiency to develop, especialy during benign economic periods.. To the greatest extent possible, I would support decentralisation of management and administration to the local level. This is not just an issue of cost but, more importantly, having a direct connection between public sector staff and the local community being served. Such decentralisation might avoid the turbulent swings that arise from a constant build up and subsequent rollback of public sector staffing levels over the economic cycle.

    One example is tax and Vat offices, that have been shipped off to areas off high unemployment by various administrations. This has two unintended consequences. Firstly, the economic infrastructure and development of depressed areas is neglected and secondly the administrative efficiency that comes with local knowledge and smaller better focused teams is lost. The same principle can be applied to many other areas of public service provision where local authorities are often better placed than Whitewall departments to exercise professional managerial oversight.

  • @Glenn

    “still only sack the tea boy.”

    Not the tea boy!!! I started my working life as a tea boy at Manchester Corporation – in many respects, the best job I ever had.

  • Redndead – “we still have a £75,000+ Manager supervising the 2 that remain”

    Can I have that job please?

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th May '12 - 5:37pm

    @ rendead,
    The thing is , I can’t understand this backroom/ frontline division. The backroom staff allow the frontline staff to do their jobs.

    I find it ludicrous that the NHS will now be paying GP’s as Managers when they are trained as doctors. The managers in PCT’s enable doctors to spend more face to face time with their patient’s. Similarly, in the police force etc.

    I don’t pretend to understand economics but I do think that I have an understanding on par with the average voter, so you can hone your skills of persuasion on me!

    It seems to me that this backroom/frontline argument, this bloated bureaucracy argument is little more than a divide and rule tactic, a a diversion from the fact that the government is making cuts in employment and justifying it by saying that some jobs are of more value than others when in a complex society like ours, most if not all jobs are worthy.

    Again, a personal example . T he loss of a Macular Degeneration Liaison Officer. Did someone see the words ‘ liaison officer’ and decide that this was a ‘non-job’ whatever that might mean, because to those who are diagnosed or suffer from the disease, this is a very important frontline job.

    I am probably putting myself up for ridicule in saying this, but we as a society are losing people who do important jobs, people are suffering, and yet we are now in double dip recession. We have got the austerity measures , although I am told that we haven’t seen anything yet, but what have we got in terms of improvement in the economy?

  • Jayne Mansfield (are you a fan, btw?) – you make an interesting point: “It seems to me that this backroom/frontline argument, this bloated bureaucracy argument is little more than a divide and rule tactic, a a diversion from the fact that the government is making cuts in employment and justifying it by saying that some jobs are of more value than others when in a complex society like ours, most if not all jobs are worthy.”

    I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you’ve said here.

    However – the simple fact remains that every year of the coalition and for some more afterwards, the country will be adding to its stock of debt and its interest bill.

    This all boils down to an argument about priorities and the funding of public spending. No-one at the last election argued for raising taxes significantly which means if you want to reduce the deficit ,i>you haveto stop spending money on some of the things you are currently spending it on.

    So what would YOU cut?

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th May '12 - 6:07pm

    @ Tabman-am I a fan of whom?

    I have never been opposed paying my taxes because I believe that our taxes are the price we pay for living in a decent civilised society. I would like to see them increased and the rich made to pay their fair share. I think it says something about the hypocrisy of the this government brought Philip Green into government as an advisor!

    I would not have spent billions on the privatisation of the NHS. What we know from the leaks from the risk register is that GP costs will rise with identifiable( and possible unacceptable ri risks.. I would also have liked to know what the risk register said before it was signed off. We also know from other countries that privatisation leads to an increase not a reduction in costs and I would like to see evidence that privatisation increases efficiency or quality.

    If there is fat to be trimmed in our public services , so be it, but I do not believe that this is the case with this government. I believe that its attack on the public sector is ideological.

    I would have looked at reform of the welfare system but not in the vicious way that this scapegoating government has done.

    I would get rid of Trident at a cost of 97 billion pounds.

    Will that do for starters?

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th May '12 - 6:47pm

    @ Tabman- I also meant to point out that it is coalition policies that have taken the debt to beyond a trillion pounds.

    Of course we can’t keep spending more than we earn, but sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate. How will throwing people on the scrapheap increase tax returns? It just costs money ( as well as wasting talent).

    If this government is business friendly, why are business sitting on millions of pounds, possibly billions which they are too frightened to invest?

    Why will de -regulating the labour market help growth? Where is the proof that this will happen? Those people still in jobs are already working harder to keep theirs?

    It has just clicked that you mean am I a fan of Jayne Mansfield, I originally thought that you meant was I a fan of yours! No my name is Jayne and I was born in Mansfield so it is a nickname that I have had to live with. As with gays or black people I decided to take ownership of a name that was meant to make fun of me.

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th May '12 - 6:53pm

    @ Joe Bourke
    Do you believe in Local Education Authorities?

  • “If going into coalition and being wiped out in the next general election is the price to pay for raising millions out of income tax, creating a pupil premium to help the poorest students and pushing the Tories into accepting gay marriage, then so be it.”

    Well, needless to say Ben, I’m loving that. As Norman Lamont once said (yes, he who we marched through the House of Lords lobbies with in order to ram through the NHS marketisation), it is a price worth paying. Most assuredly so…

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