Opinion: LibsLeft – because it’s the Left’s turn

Some 18 months ago, just before the Liverpool conference, The Voice kindly carried a piece by me about the need for a body I call LibsLeft.

It is a slight play on words, aimed both at those who felt excluded from the party of coalition, and indicating our direction of travel if the party is to survive the 2015 election. Liberals have always fared badly from coalitions, readers were reminded.

I wrote that the only party to emerge victorious from a coalition was Labour in 1945 – on the back of a Liberal programme. They stole Beveridge’s ideas for a health service, which Sinclair’s Liberals failed to support.

Instead, they took the please-sir, we-played-our-part-too line, tugging on Tory shirt-tails. That’s the same role we shall be forced into in 2015 – unless the party comes to its senses soon.

Although the concept of LibsLeft went down well, it was apparent that most delegates in 2010 were too excited about being part of government – any government. So individuals who believe in returning to our traditional values and principles continue the argument.

Essentially, that the party outside government should ignore the coalition; focusing instead on campaigning for a truly Left-leaning platform of liberty, equality and community.

All are core values of a progressive party of the non-socialist Left. So too are measures that ensure no-one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. The gravitational and reactionary forces of the Right and Centre are such that without constant vigilance all three automatically creep back.

A strong Liberal Democrat presence is essential in the next parliament if we are to protect our civil liberties and human rights. Both are at renewed risk from unrestrained Labour or Conservative administrations fixated by terrorism, evil spirits and the bad fairy.

Also at risk are Britain’s future in Europe, and fairness of opportunity and reward. But to promulgate ideas effectively, you need an organisation. It gives you more clout in the media and offers believers something to join.

So I made overtures to merge with Liberal Left (prop L. Jack) when news of it dribbled out, to save the bureaucratic tedium of writing rules, etc.

But as more details emerge, doubts grow as to whether Liberal Left truly stands up to its name. Would it comply with the Trades Descriptions Act? Certainly, opposing a coalition agreed by a special conference of members is neither Democratic nor Liberal.

And by advocating formal links with such a centrist, authoritarian, unprincipled, illiberal, power-obsessed institution as Labour – old or new, red or blue – raises all kinds of questions. Does Liberal Left really espouse let alone practise Liberal values and principles?

Tell me if you would like LibsLeft to spring back into life.

* Jonathan Hunt is President of Camberwell & Peckham local party and chair of the Southwark Co-ordinating Committee. He is an elected Life Member of the NUJ, and a former parliamentary candidate.

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  • Foregone Conclusion 24th Feb '12 - 1:44pm

    Why? In what ways do you differ from the SLF, for example?

  • How about Gauche Liberals?

  • “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.”


  • Oh come on. Like the Trots we will be too busy debating the dialectic to have any time for fighting elections.

  • David Allen 24th Feb '12 - 4:50pm

    This particular viewpoint seems to be that the Coalition is dreadful, but can’t be opposed, because it was agreed by a previous conference. So we should just let Clegg carry on governing, ignore what he is doing, and campaign for (sticking with Pythonism) something completely different.

    Well, it’s a view, I suppose. The dilemma, at any rate, is a real one. Different people favour different tactical responses to the Coalition, varying from SLF’s “let’s be nice to them and see if they’ll chuck us a few crumbs” to my own rather more nuanced approach of “let’s hang, draw and quarter them”.

    The question Adam Bell raises, however, is a good one. Another way to put it would be “Just because five people have five points of view which are slightly different in detail, why do we need fifty different factional groupings”?

    We would be better with just one. If the SLF got rid of its divisive stance, that it belongs only to those who put pegs on their noses and then support the Coalition, then maybe we would just have one.

  • Geoffrey Payne – “As for the last comment by David Allen, no one has ever said as far as I am aware that the SLF prescribes to that degree who joins it. Some SLF members back the Coalition and happily defend it. Other SLF members are also LL members and are opposed.”

    I’ve got a good idea – all the anti-Coalitionistas could join the SLF, become a majority, and change its stance.

  • Liberal Left was founded quite rightly in my opinion to prevent Liberalism from being crushed into the Tory behemoth as it opposes this unacceptable and illiberal so called coalition.

    Just because it was agreed initially by many to support the coalition (many of us never did) doesn’t mean that it still has to be supported, after many now must realise that it has been an abject failure. It has failed on the economic front; it has been highly illiberal and reactionary in many ways.

    The Tories in the coalition have always hated us and make no bones about saying so; often in silly and patronizing ways. The Right wing Tory back benchers constantly criticise us for supporting Europe and oppose everything about the EU and our membership and cannot stop berating us at every turn for supporting the Union.

    Policies such as tuition fees and Cameron’s not remaining neutral in the AV campaign aside this government has instituted very illiberal Right wing reactionary polices such as supporting so called Free Schools & Academies, going for back door privatisation of the NHS and wholesale ‘reform’, attacking public sector pensions and then attacking public sector workers when they rightly went on strike; supporting (un fair) work fair ie virtual slave labour for the young unemployed; attacking the European Court of human rights; and general following neo-Liberal economic and social policy – anathema to LibDems. Look at how recently they have tried to divide the working poor from the unemployed poor.

    We even have had the likes of Norman Tebbit more or less saying, a few weeks ago, that the Tories should ignore the LibDems as irrelevant and just run the country as if the Tories hold a majority.

    The Tory backbenches constantly barrack us and ridicule our ideas (coming from them that’s rich of course!) – look who we now have to call ‘hon friend’ – they have never been my friends and never will. For me the, ever since I became a Liberal in 1974, the Tory party has represented a type of narrow little Englander self interest at its most pernicious and nasty (ala Thatcherism) – we have gained nothing for our Party, nothing for the people, and merely undermined our values and philosophy.

    We need Liberal Left to start talking with other like minded folk on the Left and Centre left about a new honest coalition that will benefit the ordinary people of this country.

  • David Orr – the right wing of the Tories hate the Lib Dems, and the left wing of the Lib Dems hate the Tories. Meanwhile, others rise above the name-calling, look at the realities of life, and get on with doing the best they can.

    (And before Mr Allen and other leap in with “closet Tory!”, if the dynamics had led us to a coalition with Labour, I would be arguing for the same approach)

  • David Allen 24th Feb '12 - 7:00pm

    @ Geoffrey Payne,

    Your approach makes very good sense, but others seem to differ a little. Here is a quote from the SLF website, “what we stand for”:

    “believing that, given the inconclusive outcome of the General Election, the creation of the coalition and its policy programme as set out in the Coalition Agreement was the best available option for promoting Liberal Democrat policies and values during this Parliament”

    To be fair, the SLF statement then goes on to talk about what it doesn’t like about the Coalition and the policies it would oppose. However, it has already made yours truly feel rather out of love with some of its core beliefs.

    I don’t want to fall into the Tabman trap, and campaign to try and make it say the opposite of what it says now. I just think SLF ought to try harder to follow your own line and encourage a broader church. We can change things, if we can all work together!

  • David Orr:

    [T]his government has instituted very illiberal Right wing reactionary polices such as:
    – supporting so called Free Schools & Academies

    Please explain why Free Schools and Academies are illiberal. My party card calls that none should be enslaved by poverty, ignorance, or conformity. Too many of our children are – and I applaud efforts to provide diversity in education.

    – going for back door privatisation of the NHS and wholesale ‘reform’,

    Are you seriously trying to argue that we should not reform the NHS? Furthermore, you are using an emotive word – privatisation – that means to most people that they will have to pay for their treatment. You well know that this is not, and never will, happen – the central principle of the NHS is and should be free at the point of delivery according to need. But you also well know that in practice resources are finite and rationed and it is incumbent on us to ensure they are used as efficiently as possible.

    – attacking public sector pensions and then attacking public sector workers when they rightly went on strike;

    Public sector pensions need reforming. Too many are unfunded schemes (current taxpayers support pensioners directly, rather than pensioners paying into a retirement pot) which fail to recognise the increasing burden falling on taxpayers due to demographic change. This is also true of the funded schemes which are going to become a liability on future taxpayers as pensioners live longer. To their credit many public sector workers recognise this and hence the strike was not as well supported as its organisers hoped.

    – supporting (un fair) work fair ie virtual slave labour for the young unemployed;

    I presume you’r ereferring to the entirely voluntary 4-week scheme recently discussed? How can something voluntary be “slave Labour”?

    – attacking the European Court of human rights;

    We should not be always uncritical of the ECHR; some of its judgements are perverse as are some of the judgements of national courts.

    – and general following neo-Liberal economic and social policy – anathema to LibDems

    This is over-emotional and under-defined.

  • Richard Cahill 24th Feb '12 - 7:48pm

    As a new member of the Liberal Democrats, I would hate to see the party I so recently joined abandoned economic liberalism. I think the the Lib Dems should of course continue to champion equal opportunities, as well as opposing crony capitalism and corruption in all its forms, whilst also championing a fair, open form of capitalism and free trade. Socialism is slavery.

  • “because it’s the left’s turn”???
    As democrats don’t we believe it is the turn of whoever the people vote for?

  • Lee Chalmers 25th Feb '12 - 7:14am

    I think one of the things that emerges from a discussion like this is that it’s very difficult to understand what the centre ground is. It seems to the electorate that there are policies of the right and policies of the left. Some of us are Lib Dems because we are left but don’t feel represented by a wholly state driven Labour party. Some of us are Lib Dems because we can’t quite face up to being a Tory, though our views are very much in line with them. (I see Lib Dem Voice comments being full of what are very clearly right wing views and again, clearly left wing views.) I suspect that is why we have so many factions appearing, we have no clear identity in our own minds and certainly not in the minds of the electorate, hence polling between 7 and 10%.

    I am a member of the SLF because I believe that the raw market will not bring equality. I see that with my own eyes. We need to care for people who have bad luck. We need to be an ethical society or we are lost. I see the right as being an anathema to that. So even though I was in favour of the coalition at the time, I have a hard time seeing meaningful Liberal influence inside this govt whose direction of travel is clearly to the right. The economic polices are failing. The NHS reform is a shambles. Workfare is not voluntary (see a recent Guardian Fact Check article), we are demonising the unemployed in an environment which has no jobs for them to get. And we are paying the companies for the pleasure of taking on this free labour. That is not a free market. That is welfare for business. We are meekly limping along with the Tories and we will be slaughtered for it in the General Election. That is the problem we need to face up to and soon. Anti-coalition people, please do join SLF. You are welcome there.

  • Lee_Thacker 25th Feb '12 - 9:27am

    Jonathan Hunt writes that Sinclair’s Liberals failed to support the Labour governments health programme. I would be interested to see a source for that. It is true that some liberal associations failed to support the establishment of the NHS, but I am not aware of that being the attitude of the party as a whole. Clement Davies who became leader in 1945 seems to have supported the Beveridge Report. Lady Violet Bonham-Carter, a senior figure in the party, persuaded Beveridge to join the party


  • It would be wrong to regard William Beveridge as merely a ‘rank and file’ member of the Liberal Party. He was elected Liberal MP for Berwick in a 1944 by-election. He lost the seat in the 1945 Labour landslide (Sinclair lost his seat too).

  • Jonathan Hunt 25th Feb '12 - 11:25am

    Some contributiors say ‘we don’t need another faction’. I agree.

    I am (at last look) a member of SLF. It is an estimable body, supporting and promoting many of our traditional beliefs with reason and moderation, as far as it goes. The problem is that it never goes very far.

    To win the next election, we need radical, almost revolutionary, ideas, based on our core values applied firmly in a world where selfish right-wing attitudes have taken root. Our task must be to reverse the Thatcher legacy of me, now and fill-yer-boots, and start to restore ethical standards where a sense of community sits alongside proper personal ambition; where people again believe that what is good for their neighbours and workmates is good for them.

    The key lies with establishing our Three Rs: Redistribution, Redistribution and Redistribution – of wealth, power, and rights and responsibilities.

    Wealth: Let’s not tinker with this. The rich and their greed caused the problems we are in. It is only right that the rich should pay for it. By rich we mean those who made money, rather than created value. We remain the party of enterprise, the Tories remain representative of landlords and finance.

    Power: A massive transfer of power from the State and other centralised institutions, the wealthy, people-who-know-best and similar socialist paternalists. As the party used to say, power should be exercised at the lowest possible level consistent with efficient administration.

    Rights and responsibilities: Change where individuals in their communities take the main decisions; a brief example would be for pension and investment fund members and insurance policyholders to decide what shares they collectively own and how those companies are governed and its managers rewarded. A start towards the John Lewis pattern of ownership.

    Our movement is one to changing our nation to one where an informed population is involved in the running of all aspects of the way society is run. Citizens’ Britain.

    My concern with Liberal Left is that they are bereft of any radical ideas or driving principles, other that forcing the party to renege on the majority coalition agreement; and to form alliances with Labour.

    I will join Liberal Left – if they will have me – to urge revolution and give them the benefit of doubt. But I suspect from the response I have received that LibsLeft will back again in the summer.

  • Jonathan Hunt 25th Feb '12 - 11:39am

    Lee Thacker: There are refences to Archbald Sinclair in many political histories. This extract s is taken from the Liberal History Group web site, written by Richard Grayson.

    Biography of Viscount Thurso Archibald Sinclair

    Party campaigns were effectively suspended on the outbreak of war, and Sinclair strongly believed that military victory was the main priority. This meant, for example, that he did not campaign vigorously for the Beveridge Report, which had provoked much enthusiasm within the Liberal Party and the country, but was put aside until after the war by the coalition government. After pressure from party members he did commit the Party to contest the post-war general election as an independent entity, but he personally favoured the continuation of coalition long after the war. With the war in Europe won, the general election took place in July 1945, and the Liberals did poorly, winning only twelve seats. Sinclair himself lost his seat, and was replaced as leader by Clement Davies (q.v.).

  • Jonathan Hunt – and further to your point about waiting until after the war, in July 1945 most people were expecting a drawn out and bloody campaign in the pacific for another 2 years. Remember Okinawa had only just happened.; we were still very much at war. The capitulation a month later after the atom bombs took everyone by surprise.

  • Lee_Thacker 25th Feb '12 - 3:51pm

    In your post you wrote: “They [Labour] stole Beveridge’s ideas for a health service, which Sinclair’s Liberals failed to support.”

    I am aware there are references to Viscount Thurso in many political histories, but I have never come across anything to say that he or the offical Liberal Party opposed the Beveridge Report.

    The government decided not to implement the report immediately due to the war, though nine Liberal MPs voted against that line. Labour seems to have been lukewarm towards some of the recommendations in the report. Point 4 of the 1945 Liberal Manifesto states: “With the Beveridge schemes for Social Security and Full Employment, the Liberal Party leads a frontal attack on this fear [i.e poverty].”

    Beveridge was a candidate for the Liberals in the 1945 election. I remember reading an article in Liberal Democrat News some years ago saying that he later explained that he supported the Liberals due to the fact they were the only party to have consistently supported his proposals.

  • Jonathan Hunt 25th Feb '12 - 3:59pm

    But it was Labour that campaigned on it as a manifesto commitmnet — and won by a landslide at the Liberals’ expense.

    What we need is a similar campaign based on what is right — not what pseudo Tories think is acceptable.

  • I won’t make lengthy comments on all your other responses except to say you appear to be an open apologist for the Tory Party (from your own mouth you are condemned – so please do not say predictably I am accusing you of being a Tory in disguise)

    1. LibDem policy before the last election was to oppose so called Free schools and Academies because they are undemocratic and among other things tend to cream off resources away from the state sector. Our children today enjoy universal free education with no discrimination and are not segregated by ability – this will change if Free Schools and Academies continue unopposed; which is why so many parents and teachers oppose them
    2. Actually privatisation by stealth is what the tories are after and yes I fear (unlike you who naively assume that the tories have our best interests at heart) do believe we will end up with a system not dissimilar to that in the USA
    3.public sector pensions – i am one of those public sector workers who feel betrayed by removal of promises in cutting my pension and ‘ illiberal’ pension reform’; we had no say in this disgraceful carve up. Actually the strike was well supported despite what the Tories & media stated
    4. ‘- supporting (un fair) work fair ie virtual slave labour for the young unemployed;

    I presume you’re referring to the entirely voluntary 4-week scheme recently discussed? How can something voluntary be “slave Labour”?’ etc

    Actually as someone who works with Job Centre Advisers I can tell you it is not voluntary that is a media hype – it is mandatory and furthermore if a youngster takes part and leaves (because they realise they are not being ‘trained’ or getting real experience) he or she will lose benefit. Furthermore it has been shown that most who do this end back on the dole and some companies have been using it as cheap labour – get a free worker for 8 weeks they leave and get another and so on. This is why most firms are increasingly having nothing to do with it; it is actually undermining those already working at that company as well as preventing some one from really being taken on with a real wage.
    5. Can you name me such ‘perverse’ judgements please – I would be interested. This court was set up to protect civil and human rights and as a Liberal I fully support such a body.
    6.’and generally following neo-Liberal economic and social policy – anathema to LibDems

    This is over-emotional and under-defined.’
    As to why it is over-emotional I fail to see – neo-liberal economic & social policy the sort pursued by Right wing governments in the USA under Bush & Britain under Thatcher and succeeding Tory governments etc as opposed to Liberal Keynesian economic policy of a mixed economy and welfare state. Why my saying it is ‘over-emotional’ is curious but there is a basic definition if you wish

    You seem to enjoy clipped reposts to people’s comments – sadly always you seem to be defending the Right wing of the Tory Party including the ghastly Mr Gove as opposed to Liberal Dem philosophy and policy put before the British people at the previous general election; no wonder some folk might see you, Mr Tabman, as a Tory stalking horse.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Feb '12 - 8:30pm

    Jonathan Hunt

    But as more details emerge, doubts grow as to whether Liberal Left truly stands up to its name. Would it comply with the Trades Descriptions Act? Certainly, opposing a coalition agreed by a special conference of members is neither Democratic nor Liberal.

    On, what nonsense. You appear to be yet another of those people whose argument if you look at it is that the vote to support the formation of the coalition in 2010 was a vote to move towards merging the Liberal Democrats with the Conservative Party. Really and truly – the only logical way of interpreting your argument is that.

    If the 2010 agreement to the coalition was not intended to be a move to merge, then what on earth is wrong with the idea of campaigning to keep links open to an alternative coalition?

    And you would appear to have a thoroughly Leninist view of political party – once a decision is made, that’s it, that’s the party line, and no alternative may be discussed again. Sorry, but that’s not MY politics, and I do not believe it is LIBERAL politics. I very much believe that those who have lost an argument should be free to carry on pursuing it and trying to build converts. I very much believe that politics is fluid, people should have the freedom to change their minds. It seems to me to be entirely right that two years down the line we should be free to question whether we wish the coalition to continue. We should most certainly have the right, now we’ve seen it in action, to question whether the promises made when we agreed to it have been kept (wasn’t there one about reorganisation of the NHS which is rather hard to fit in with what the government subsequently did?).

    And by advocating formal links with such a centrist, authoritarian, unprincipled, illiberal, power-obsessed institution as Labour – old or new, red or blue – raises all kinds of questions. Does Liberal Left really espouse let alone practise Liberal values and principles?

    So there we are then. In reality there are only two other parties we are going to go into coaltion with unless there is an unimaginably big upset – Labour and the Conservatives. Since you use the above argument to rule out any sort of discussion which might lead to coalition with Labour you are in effect saying the only possibly coalition is with the Conservatives.

    All that you write above about the Labour Party applies also to the Conservative Party, yet we have formal links with that party in the shape of the coalition. As the 2010 general election showed us, we may not always be in the position of being able to pick or choose. Just as it was a valid argument in 2010 – and the only reason I was willing to support the coalition – that the balance in Parliament meant a Conservative-LibDem coalition was the only viable government with a clear majority, so it may be after the next election that a Labour-LibDem coalition is the only viable government with a clear majority. It seems to me therefore entirely sensible that we should keep some sort of links in case it turns out that way.

    I ought to be clear that if our party is to go into the next election as an indepedent force, it MUST be open to coalition with Labour as an alternative. If, as you seem to be saying, it is a crime against democracy for us even to think about such a thing and those in favour of it to try and push things in that way, well, we might as well have merged with the Conservative Party – what you are saying, Joanathan, is that we should become what the National Liberals were in the 1950s – see what happened to them.

  • Jonathan Hunt 26th Feb '12 - 11:47pm


    I don’t particularly like being in coalaition with the Conservatives. But in a democratic party we have to accept a majority view. My line has always been to ignore the coalition, and for the party outside government to concentrate on developing policies and strategies to ensure we maximise our votes in 2015.

    That won’t come about by replying on our record ion coalition. And that’s why we need to campiagn on something truly radical and revolutionary, like Labour did in 1945.

    Reversing the effect of Thatcherite policies and attidudes of greed and society-denial is one idea.

    Let’s look for others. That is what a body calling itself Liberal Left should be about. Not reneging on the deal agreed by the party. Nor showing its lack of any ambition or aspiration or invention for new ideas that are truly Liberal.

    All they can think of is working with Labour now, three years before we have to beat them in a general election. If that election produces a result that means we have to form a coaltion with Labour, fine.

    If we had a choice of partner, I would pick Labour. But first we need those truly revoltionary ideas that capture our values and the mood of the people robbed by the rich and offered by litte hope by the onward advance of multinational corporate bodies running the world. We are moving towards a world where any choice would be between state capitalism and corporate Stalinism.

    Only Liberals with a belief in a society run directly by its people would counter either of these threats.

    That is what I hope any body calling itself Liberal Left would be offering.

  • David Allen 27th Feb '12 - 1:18pm

    “My line has always been to ignore the coalition, and for the party outside government to concentrate on developing policies and strategies to ensure we maximise our votes in 2015. ”

    We can’t ignore the coalition! We can’t ignore the elephant in the room. We can’t maximise our votes in 2015 without thinking about what the voters will be thinking about. That will be overwhelmingly concentrated on our record in government, rather on whatever (discordant? credible?) promises we might make as to our policies in the future.

    Of course the “party outside government” should “concentrate on developing policies and strategies”. But we don’t need a new faction just to do that. So these words “LibsLeft” just don’t help.

  • Jonathan Hunt 27th Feb '12 - 6:04pm

    Voters in 2015, inasmuch as they think alike on anything, will be reeling from the effects of seven years of austerity and ever-falling living standards.

    They will be looking for something new, or packaged in a new form, that encourages hope for their future and that of the country.

    If we truly want to replace Labour as the party of the Left, we have to provide that faith and belief. But sadly, those in our party who profess to be on the Left, appear to be lacking ambition or aspiration.

    Unthinkingly, they seem to accept that Labour will represent the Left in politics forever, and we must deal with them on that basis. I disagree.

    Given the vacuous state Labour is in, a leftward-leaning Liberal Democrat party truly committed to radical policies, such as declaring war on the bankers and rich, and reversing most of what Thatcher stood for, could achieve amazing results.

    Of course we will lose Tory votes; but anyone who actually likes the coalition will vote Conservative.
    This is not just a dream, but an attainable objective. To get there, some form of organisation is required, and a body calling itself Liberal Left should be qualified to fulfil that role.

    But from what those pioneering it have said so far, they sadly lack idealism, optimism or confidence. I would like to see them change, and prove me wrong.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Feb '12 - 11:46pm

    Jonathan, the reality is that it isn’t going to happen. I would very much like our party to be about reversing the effect of Thatcherite policies and attidudes of greed and society-denial (although I interpret Thatcher’s words which are generally seen as “society denial” in a different way – however much I dislike the woman, she was actually making a wise point there – sitting back and waiting for “society” to do something won’t work, in the end it has to be up to some actual person to do something – and I would say exactly the same about “the market”). Right now, however, we are seem as the party which has gone along with Thatcherism by endorsing its continuation under Cameron’s government. Since the general public can’t even understand the point about the coalition – we weren’t in a position to push the Tories to drop their entire manifesto and endorse our instead, which is what everyone outside the Tory Party seems to be expecting of us – how can they be expected to understand the position that the party isn’t really Clegg et al but instead a bunch of activists saying completely different things? Sadly, media coverage of politics tends to paint the parties, and ours in particular, as if they are tools of their national leader, with the membership just there to be brainwashed salespeople.

    So, sitting back and devising wonderful left-wing policies, while stamping out anyone calling for something different right now that the current coalition won’t get us anywhere. It seems to me that the first step in rescuing our party has to be to make it very clear that the coalition was something forced on us by the way the people voted, it is not a permanent arrangement or an ideological coming together, and a practical way of doing this would be to be more open about the possibility of coalition with Labour.

    Your line on Liberal Left seems to me to have swallowed completely the rubbishing of it that has come from the right of the party and from stupid leader-loyalists in the centre. We had all this nonsense about Liberal Left being people planning to defect to the Labour Party anyway, or people who had a huge admiration for the Labour Party, when the reality is that it has tended to be the left of the Liberal Democrats that is most critical of the Labour Party, and stood against the “realignment of the left” (i.e. some sort of merger of our party with the Blairites) when the right of our party seemed to be pushing that way.

    From what I can see, Liberal Left want to open up a dialogue with the political left in general, rather than just uncritically endorse the Labour Party as it is. They also want to explore pulling out of the coalition early, which I think is essential if we are to go into the next general election as an independent force. Pouring scorn on this seems to me to be a very strange step from someone who claims to want to push our party to the radical left.

  • ‘I presume you’re referring to the entirely voluntary 4-week scheme recently discussed? How can something voluntary be “slave Labour”?’

    I can tell you how Tabman: Read the official DWP letter saying “voluntary” workfare scheme is compulsory:


  • David Orr

    1) “Not segregated by ability” – and as a result, has allowed a monopoly of the best higher education places by those able to afford private education where selection by ability is routinely practiced. We have been doing our brightest and best a grave disservice over many years by failing to prepare them for the competition they will face routinely in life after they leave school, and particularly when going to University. It makes me grieve to see how we are failing to challenge entrenched privellege in this way. See numerous reports from the Sutton Trust as evidence. It is the like of you, Mr Orr, who are keeping the privelleged where they are, by continuing to support the cosy stitch up between left wing egalitarians and right wing dynacists.

    2) You seem confused by the term “privatisation”. Medical services in many countries (and many with better health outcomes than the UK) are free at the point of delivery but not provided by State monopolies. Indeed, within the UK GPs surgeries are “privatised” by your definition, as they are for-profit private partnerships.

    3) When the Union activist in my team explained the benefits to me of career average versus final salary pension schemes I realised that in many cases the pubic sector defenders of final salary schemes were, how shall we put it, not entirely objective in their case. Go and read the IPPR’s papers on the demographic pension timebomb that has to e addressed, and then explain why the substantial pension benefits, taken earlier than most other workers, and with lower contributions, should be supported via the tax burden of the future shrinking workforce.

    And finally “You seem to enjoy clipped reposts to people’s comments – sadly always you seem to be defending the Right wing of the Tory Party including the ghastly Mr Gove as opposed to Liberal Dem philosophy and policy put before the British people at the previous general election; no wonder some folk might see you, Mr Tabman, as a Tory stalking horse.”

    When all else fails, and you cannot develop an argument that goes beyond emotive talk of “betrayal”, go ad hominem.

  • David Orr – the letter shown in the link you provide refers to an opportunity. It is unclear whether, as you suggest, this is part of the work experience scheme or is a permanent position. As one of those commenting also points out, it uses the word “could” rather than “will”.

  • ‘When all else fails, and you cannot develop an argument that goes beyond emotive talk of “betrayal”, go ad hominem.’

    ouch! (even stooping to use the Latin lol) –

    You actually do not bother to put a coherent argument against my points merely restating and amplifying your own – most of the points I support as I repeat were in the last LibDem manifesto which by the looks of it you don’t actually support. Well that’s fair enough but you must understand why you appear to be a crypto Tory as you seem to be supporting more of their beliefs and things in their manifesto.

    1. ) You obviously pine for a return to grammar schools and selection – completely opposed by LibDems for years as unfair and divisive. No we have not been doing anyone a disservice the Grammar School system merely does a terrible disservice to ordinary children who fail the 11+. We need to provide a sound eduction for all children studying together and not segregated at 11. The grammar schools were themselves a bastion of privilege as is private education where the wealthy can buy privilege – they have no place in a free universal education system either.
    2.) No I am certainly not confused by the term privatisation – let’s put this simply I believe in the NHS will work better without this ridiculous Bill opposed by just about everyone (even some Tories). Any reform can be done without legislation. Please do not put words into my mouth which I never uttered – to my knowledge I never gave a definition of privatisation. furthermore I was certainly against as were LibDems Labour’s attempts at part privatisation. Yes I believe the NHS should be free at the point of delivery being financed by Income Tax (which will indeed need be increased to fund it in the future); many of us are suspicious that this is the long term goal of many Conservatives and run by private companies competing with each other as opposed to being run by the state for the benefit of all. I am against privatisation in any form in key sectors of the economy; which is why I was against privatisation of the utilities and as in LibDem policy against selling of the railways.
    3.) Actually it was explained very objectively to me by the union – you might not trust union but I do as the defenders of working people’s rights against poor employers and governments like this one!

    I notice the government now backtracking on these work experience programmes – it has admitted that people could lose benefits if they withdrew from the scheme (often after finding there was little if any training involved). Working with JCP officials the truth is that many young people were coerced to join; most did not end up with either an interview or a permanent job and that many employers seemed to be using it as a form of free labour – every 4/8 weeks getting a new worker. The training was often inadequate or non existent – not just a real shame but a real sham. By the way what is your name?

    I am looking fwd to the Liberal Left conference!

  • An important part of being Liberal is being the small voice of dissent in the larger crowd; I am that over academic selection. Mainstream opinion is wrong on this. We have got it horribly wrong over the last 40 years to the point where social mobility is now non-existent.

    I also agree that the NHS should be free at the point of use and financed by income tax. I just don’t believe it has to be provided by a state-run monopoly. I am against all monopolies and oligopolies because they are fundamentally illiberal; whether state or private.

    I hope you enjoy the Liberal Left conference; although I do worry that everyone will end up with a drink that no-one really wants, and anyone who dissents will be expelled.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Feb '12 - 11:18pm

    The controlled experiment is in place – if old-style selection was the solution, there are enough places wehre rthey still have it to test that – the whole administrative coumty of Kent for example. Do we see much higher social mobility in Kent than elsewhere? Are our top universities stuffed with Kentish boys and Kentish girls snatched from their poor backgrounds and houthoused to success in the grammar schools which still abound in that county? Er, no.

    It would help if there was not so much exaggeration in this matter. One might suppose from reading comments like Tabman’s that no child from a comprehensive school ever goes to any of our “top” universities. What actually seems to be happening here is that comment in this issue is dominated by the metropolitan elite who think of “comprehensive school” as the inner London school they don’t send their kids to, rather than the leafy suburbs comprehensives who don’t do too bad a job at getting their school leavers into decent universities.

    I’m not sure if Tabman would count the university where I was a selector for ten years as “top” (it’s more like middle, though like most of the others there it claims to be aspiring to be “top”), but we took a high proportion of our applicants from the rougher inner London comprehensives, so from this I know for sure it’s nonsense to suggest going through such a school rules out your chances completely. I’ve seen plenty of kids come to us from a poorly regarded comprehensive and go out and get top jobs.

    There’s definitely a problem, but I don’t think the simplistic “bring back the grammars” (and by implication, the secondary moderns) will solve it.

  • MH – thanks for your considered response.

    I’d like to characterise the problem as follows:

    – University entrance is meritocratically selective, and plays a significant determing factor in the entrance to the very top of those professions which have a profound impact on our lives
    – pupils attending a selective school are de facto better prepared for admissions to selective Universities
    – a few of these schools are open to the complete set of pupils within their area. Most are not as they are forced to fish from the limited pool of applicants who can afford to pay their fees
    – grammar schools were abolished for two reasons: 1) concern for those who “failed” and 2) gaming by the borderline middle classes who preferred a system that they could control through their ability to pay higher house prices
    – we now have many “comprehensive” schools that are more socially selective than the remaining grammar schools, or the grammar schools they replaced. These schools can select for an “aptitude” or by religion, or by being located in areas with high property prices
    – for some reason those on the left of the debate do not see a problem with this

    This can be summarised as: the best jobs go to those who attend the best Universities, which (with limited intervention by University admissions tutors) tend to be those who go to the best schools, which is those who can afford to go to the best schools.

    Thus – our political, judicial, financial, military, media, business and social elites are dominated by a self-perpetuating pool which has become increasingly hard to break into.

    Every experiment that has been tried to break this circle in the last 40 years has failed, yet still we persist with this failure.

    When we had grammar schools, 30% of the population were able to enter the elite. Now it is 7%. How is this progress?

    (Dealing with the average and below average is a separate problem and relies on teh sort of high-quality vocational learning you have called for and I support).

  • The proportion of state educated entrants to the elite universities is far higher now than during the heyday of the grammars.

  • @AndrewR
    “The proportion of state educated entrants to the elite universities is far higher now than during the heyday of the grammars.”
    If there are fewer grammer schools than in their heyday, then surely that would be expected?

  • chris
    I’m not sure I understand your point. Grammar schools were selective state schools. Since they have been largely replaced by non-selective comprehensive schools the proportion of state entrants to top universities has gone up. It’s just a myth that grammars were engines of social mobility.

  • Andrew R – “I’m not sure I understand your point. Grammar schools were selective state schools. Since they have been largely replaced by non-selective comprehensive schools the proportion of state entrants to top universities has gone up. It’s just a myth that grammars were engines of social mobility.”

    Not so – look at Oxford’s historic intake figures between 1988 and 201. The percentage from the maintained sector has not changed, at around 47% – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Oxford_undergraduate_admissions_statistics

    What is even more telling is that of that 47%, 15% (numbers, or one third), came from the 164 remaining grammar schools, of which there are less than one tenth as many as there are comprehensives.

    All domiciles: applications and acceptances by type of school/college in detail
    Applications 2010 Acceptances 2010
    Total % Total %
    Comprehensive 3,440 20.1 625 19.8
    Grammar 2,069 12.1 472 15.0
    Sixth Form Colleges 1,467 8.6 273 8.7
    FE Institutions (1) 645 3.8 83 2.6
    Other Maintained (2) 123 0.7 22 0.7
    Maintained sector 7,744 45.2 1,475 46.8


    So – answer me this: why is it that our state grammar schools are 3 times more successful at sending pupils to Oxford than our state comprehensives, given that we also know that there are proportionately many more socially-selective state comprehensives thatn there are grammars?

  • Its worse: 15% vs 19.8%; that’s damn near parity when they’re only one tenth as numerous.

  • Tabman
    Almost by definition an academically selective school is going to be more successful at getting its pupils into a top university but all that proves is that academically bright pupils do well academically. The choice is not between grammars and comprehensives. It is between grammars/secondary moderns and comprehensives.The question you need to ask is whether academic selection applied across the entire population leads to higher social mobility as measured by entrance to top universities. It doesn’t. The system of grammars and secondary moderns did worse as a whole than comprehensives. In the seventies Oxbridge was taking something like 40% of its students from state schools. If your argument worked they should now be taking less.

  • Sorry, but it’s a false argument to measure the success or otherwise of education policy according to the single academic standard set by the most highly-regarded institutions.

    It’s pure snobbishness which imposes a hierarchic prestige distinction on different types of education, and the value with which they are regarded. An open society would not sneer at the different jobs required for society to function effectively, because it would provide the tools for each individual to be the best they can.

    Streaming in comprehensives and league tables produce much the same negative effect as academic selection, but without the advantage of specialisation.

    …a bit more imaginative thinking is required.

  • Andrew R – the absolute numbers entering Oxbridge has more than doubled in that period, so, given that private schools have more or less reached saturation, that’s unsurprising. What’s more relevant is the overall proportion. If Comprehensives were so wonderful they’d be knocking selective schools into a cocked hat. They’re not.

    Oranjepan – the point is not whether or not entrance to highly selective Universities is over-valued or not, its how open it is or not. I wholy agree with you on you point about streaming.

    Take these two paragraphs from the Sutton Trust report I link to:

    “One explanation for the admissions trends is the breadth of education provided by the most
    successful schools that sets their pupils apart from others and which provide additional attributes
    not necessarily measured by A-levels. Whatever potential the pupils had when they started out at
    school, attending the school enables them to develop in a way they might not have done if they
    had attended another school. They may acquire a range of research, writing, critical thinking and
    presentation skills for example as well as experience of leadership, and team-work.
    Furthermore, the culture, resources, and traditions of a school can also have a huge impact on
    attitudes and aspirations of pupils at a key stage in their lives. These schools offer a variety of
    practical advantages, from extra help with drafting personal statements, references from teachers
    who are more attuned to the expectations of admissions officers, encouragement to apply earlier
    in the applications cycle, and in the quality of written work they may be asked to provide.19
    Stability of teaching staff is also a major factor in a school’s success.”

    This is exactly the reason why selective schools are so successful – due to positive reinforcement. Bright pupils from backgrounds that don’t value education need this reinforcement in order to realise their potential; left where they are, in a culture of low expectation and denigration of education it it no wonder that they have a pverty of aspiration.

  • I go back to my party card – “None shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.” Far too many of our bright pupils from modest backgrounds are exactly that .

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