Andrew Stunell writes… We will have a greener, freer and fairer country than when we started

It’s less than a month to go until Election Day in England, and for the Parliamentary elections in Scotland and Wales. Many of you have been out on the doorstep, talking to people and showing them what we are achieving both nationally and locally.

You should already have your big messages in place, and number one has got to be your local record of service – all year round, not just at election time.

But what about the coalition? I’ve been making visits to Lib Dem council groups up and down the country (Stoke, Warrington, Newcastle and Redcar in just the last few days), and when I’m out meeting people, and talking to our activists I remind them of the eight key things to tell voters when you’re asked questions on the doorstep.

  1. Every day this year we have had to borrow £400m. That’s because for every £300 coming in we are spending £400. Around £150bn extra will be borrowed and added to the national debt this year. Labour got rid of the boom and left us bust.
    As any debt counsellor can tell you that means we’ve got to cut down our spending and increase our income, concentrate on the essentials and stop spending money on tat. We need to remind people how we got into the mess we’re in, and why we’re having to make the cuts in spending that are essential to help get Britain back on track.
  2. We are protecting the most vulnerable in society, promoting green growth and sticking to our core values – more money for the NHS each year in real terms and keeping on course to deliver on Britain’s foreign aid targets, for instance.
  3. We’ve restored the earnings link to the state pension, giving pensioners an extra £234 this year, guaranteeing an end to the 75p rises under Labour and ensuring an increase of at least 2.5% each year. Plus Steve Webb’s announced plans for a flat-rate pension of £140 per week as well, which would see pensions rise by almost a third.
  4. Remind people that we’re delivering the first step on increasing the personal tax allowance, going up by £1,000 this year to £7,475, and rising to £10,000 by the end of this Parliament. That’s real money back in the pockets of real people and 900,000 people lifted out of income tax completely.
  5. Remind people that we’re introducing a pupil premium that will target extra money and support at the most disadvantaged children, ensuring that they can have a fair start in life as well. Remember, if we don’t tell people, no one else will.
  6. And on top of all this (and despite the internal grief within the party), we shouldn’t forget that 500,000 students will now receive bigger maintenance grants; 200,000 part-time students will be freed from paying up front tuition fees for the first time; and every graduate will face lower monthly repayment figures from now on. The system is better than the current one, and there are positives to sell, and if we don’t tell people these things, no one else will.
  7. And we’ve been hitting the bankers hard too with a £2.5bn a year bankers’ levy, the continuation of the 50p tax rate and the first steps on the road to bringing capital gains tax in line with income tax.
  8. On top of that, there’s also £900m invested in the battle against tax evasion that should see £7bn more recouped by the Treasury by 2014-15 from the fat cats and city slickers.

So, everything’s all right then?

No, everything is not perfect, and there’s real pain out there, but even so, by 2015, we shall still be employing the same number of people in the public sector as in 2006 (that’s 2006 not 1906!), and we will have a greener, freer and fairer country than when we started. It is going to be tough for everyone, but it is necessary, and it is going to be worth it.  Now go and tell them on the blogs, on the leaflets and on the doorsteps.

Andrew Stunell MP is Minister for Communities and Local Government and Chair of the Liberal Democrats Local Election Campaign Team. A version of this article was originally published in the all-member edition of Lib Dem News in February.

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  • Unfortunately, Andrew, the Liberal Democrats completely changed the electoral platform on which you stood at the General Election. Many in the country feel very betrayed at what the Liberal Democrats have done. Your change to the Conservative economic position is shocking when you stood for something completely different at the election. If you changed your mind, you should have let the voters know, or had a new election to give people the opportunity to show whether they agreed or not.

    My wife voted Liberal Democrats in Watford, she is a nurse and is appalled at what you are doing with the NHS. I don’t think she will vote for you ever again.

    The NHS bill is a rushed and inept piece of legislation. It shows of how bad a bill can be when it is not properly consulted and considered.

    I have asked on this site about EU competition law will affect the tendering process, whether small organisations can seriously expect to compete with private health care companies in the tendering process. There is no answer yet.

    A totally undeclared policy not in the Liberal Democrat manifesto or the Coalition agreement.

    I work with people with dementia in an inner london borough, I cannot offer the Day Care that they desperately need due to the cuts. Your claim to be protecting the most vulnerable is shocking. I feel sorry for the canvassers being sent out onto the doorsteps with the advice that you have given them.

    I find it very concerning that you seem to be so out of touch with the feelings of the people in this country. Maybe May 5th 11 will wake you up to the reality.

  • Gareth Jones 11th Apr '11 - 1:21pm

    @ Jack – As a carer I too am worried by the Cuts, particularly to benefits and health services,But the grass roots and activists of the Lib Dems certainly and it appears our ministers are very worried about the NHS bill. Which is why Liberal Democrat conference DEMANDED changes to the bill. If you read other articles on this site and others you will see we are moderating Tory policies as best we can.

    I believe by moderating some Tory policies and implementing our own the Liberal Democrats are doing good in government; whether it is enough to balance the damage caused by the Tory policies we can’t moderate or stop remains to be seen.

  • The NHS changes were not in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. They were not announced by the Conservatives. This is a change that is completely undemocratic.

    You should not be moderating the Conservatives on this issue but preventing and stopping the bill altogether. The electorate will never forgive you if you do not.

    An issue such as the NHS and any reorganisation needs a Royal Commission to carefully consider the change. It should involve all users, workers and politicians across the political spectrum to discuss and ensure that the NHS can change and innovate in a positive way.

    Tinkering round the edges is not enough. It is a hastily thrown together and there are so many that GPs, Nurses, Health Professionals, the electorate including Liberal Democrats and even Conservatives do not think is a good idea. Good bills need time and consideration for eg take a look at the Mental Capacity Act and the Court of Protection. Careful consideration and consultation on the issues were carried out. The result ? A robust piece of legislation that will last 20 years.

    There are so many flaws in regard to accountability, the breaking of trust of GPs, the possible closure of hospitals, the opening up to competition that will expose the NHS to court cases via the EU Competion law, the tendering process that will leave big private health providers the defacto winners as due to scale and cost, no one will be able to compete with them, it will herald the break up of a national organised and integrated health service. Private managers or remployed PCT managers will end up doing the same job. There will be no effective savings.

    The change to the NHS in regard to PCTs is changing as we speak before the bill has even finished. The only people who seem to be in favour of this bill is private health and other private sector companies who provide public services. It is the break up and privatisation of the NHS. There is no mandate for this.

    All Liberal Democrats need to realise that if you proceed with allowing this change, that was not in the manifesto or discussed in the election (and it goes horribly wrong as looks extremely likely), it will herald the end of the Lib Democrats, the voters will not forgive you. The LDs should not underestimate the general public on this.

    That is the not the reason why the bill should stop, it should stop because it is a badly thought out piece of legislation that has no support or mandate.

  • Gareth

    I would also like to add that without LD support, the Conservatives would not be able to implement any of their policies. The LDs were (are) in a much stronger position than what the leadership has led you to believe.

    It is not necessary to turn into defacto Tories for a few scraps and a grubby AV compromise. The LDs should of and could have made their own redlines on policies.

    It is such a waste of over 30 to 40 years hard campaigning by activists across the country.

  • Gareth Epps 11th Apr '11 - 2:14pm

    Any Liberal Democrat campaigner going out and ‘selling the positives’ of the tuition fee fiasco would be indulging in spin of a degree to make Malcolm Tucker blush. Whatever the positives of the new scheme are (and there are some), nobody wants to listen. The issue is toxic for the party and it’s astonishing that someone of the experience and calibre of Andrew Stunell doesn’t recognise this.

    What is far more important to tell is what the real answer to Jack Timms is. Liberal Democrats are using our role in Government to prevent damage to the NHS from the Health & Social Care Bill. We didn’t agree to a market-based, top-down approach in the Coalition Agreement and we don’t now. Nick Clegg’s top advisor Norman Lamb has said he would resign if it goes through without substantial changes, We agreed the need for some reforms which a radically amended Bill would achieve; it would if it includes our proposals result in much better accountability and reject the marketisation that Labour started in Government. That’s taking responsibility in Government seriously.

  • @Gareth Epps

    That would why the Lib Dems MP’s voted for the original bill en masse? Preventing the damage of the Health and Social care bill by err voting for the bill. That’ll really show those Tories whose boss.

  • Gareth Epps 11th Apr '11 - 4:20pm

    kmag – Second Reading is not about the detail, and voting against would have effectively meant quitting the coaltion. The Party is looking to significantly amend the Bill.

  • “voting against would have effectively meant quitting the coaltion.”

    And what would be the eventual result of quitting the coalition? another election perhaps? given the state of the polls at the moment that is something the LDs would want to avoid at all costs (though a few votes may be gained as the LDs show some backbone at last) lets face it the party is caught between a rock and a hard place and tinkering around the edges is all the party can risk atm and principles be damned.

  • LondonLiberal 11th Apr '11 - 5:50pm

    @ nige

    “(though a few votes may be gained as the LDs show some backbone at last)”

    a popular view, but i don’t think it would hold. it takes more backbone to continue to the end rather than throw your toys out of the pram the moment things get tough. better to be in the train pissing out, than running along along the platform, trying to pee in. it’s a brutal but honest political calculation.

  • Over this issue, in particular the Conservatives are the ones who are pushing everyone in the Liberal Democrat beyond which they should go. The Conservatives are putting the Coalition at risk. The LDs are in a stronger position than the leaders suggest. The Conservatives need to be reminded that they are reliant on the LDs for support. Saying no over this issue would not break the coalition, it may make the Conservatives mindful of the sacrifices that are asking the party and activists to make. It would also indicate to Cameron that the LDs are not prepared to stomach the destruction of the party. That a real risk if this bill goes ahead.

    This should be a red line policy for the Liberal Democrats.

    If the Conservatives want to stake the coaltion than let them, I don’t think that they want to break the whole coalition agreement on this issue. By acknowleding that the bill is a mistake and listening to the electorate may actually be a smart move. It will strenghten the LDs as partners. It shows that the LDs are actually moderating Conservative policy. This will be a great boost for the elections and showing that coalition governments make sense. It is not part of the Coalition agreement so really shouldn’t be a deal breaker in any case.

    Attempting to ride it out and attempting to do nothing is not a good idea as it appears that the LDs are defacto Tories and have no real policies of their own. The majority of people are very sceptical of any listening exercise or tinkering round the edges. The whole thing needs to be stopped and started again. The legislation will be a whole lot better, tighter and provide real gains for the NHS.

    Really saying ‘No’ to the Tories on this issue may feel a bit strange initially but will make a lot of sense. Some of the lost ground may be recovered and it will show that the Liberal Democrats are a tough and independent party worth supporting.

  • “better to be in the train pissing out, than running along along the platform, trying to pee in. it’s a brutal but honest political calculation.”

    Even if that train isn’t going to your preferred destination? you could always just be wise and catch the next train that is whilst you still have enough money (or votes) for the fare.

  • @LondonLiberal

    better to be in the train pissing out, than running along along the platform, trying to pee in.

    Interesting analogy seeing as it’s the electorate who are the ones getting pissed on by this government. Price you pay to be in government I suppose ….

  • @jack timms – the problem was that in May last year there wasn’t a realistic option for stability other than the Tories (much as it pains me to say it.) We’d have had six to eight months of Tory minority government, then a big barney over something minor stirred up by the Mail and the Telegraph, followed by a General Election and probably a Tory outright victory. I can’t accept that this would have been better than what we’ve got, even if what we have would probably have been something like fifth on my list of options.

    What I would like to see hear though is the answer to the point “but you’re supporting the Tories.” Here in Scotland, it doesn’t matter what we do at Westminster, it’s still followed up by “but you’re supporting the Tories.” The Tories are still hated here, certainly more than most English politicians recognise, and there simply isn’t an answer to this one.

  • There are large chunks of England that hate the Tories with a passion equal to the Scots, The Tories could be led by the next messiah and it probably wouldn’t increase their popularity in these places but the most damning phrase I’ve heard from these places is ” You can trust a Tory to be Tory, Labour to be Labour but you can’t trust the Lib Dems at all”

  • I find these claims about “green growth” rather laughable when you consider that the coalition’s new planning policy (enthusiastically endorsed by Vince Cable) seems to involve dragooning local authorities into approving anything developers want to build. How exactly these new central government diktats that the answer to any planning application must be “yes” fit in with localism is beyond me – perhaps Andrew can explain?

  • Stuart Mitchell 13th Apr '11 - 11:41am

    Andrew, you’ve changed your tune on tuition fees an awful lot since October 2009, when you wrote :-

    “I look around Stockport, and more and more I see young people returning from university with no job and a bank balance tens of thousands of pounds in the red. What sort of future is that? Labour and the Tories are showing their true colours. They don’t care about young people – they just want to saddle them with staggering amounts of debt. University education should be free and everyone who has the ability should be able to go – and not put off by the cost. The Tories plan is deeply irresponsible in this current recession, when money is tight and jobs are scarce. We need to be getting more young people in to university, apprenticeships and training not fewer, which is exactly what will happen with the Conservatives’ outrageous plan.”

    The Tories’ “outrageous plan” being to charge £21,000 fees over 3 years – a good deal less than the £27,000 you eventually voted in favour of.

    When Lib Dem councillors are turfed out en masse next month, don’t forget for one moment that it will be a direct consequence of tuition fees and all the other Tory policies you and your fellow MPs have voted in favour of.

  • KL – By accident, I think, you have hit on the issue. Until we are ready to take on full frontal the big guns of the right wing media – as of course, we proved unable to do over immigration etc after the first TV debate last year, we will not win. Personally, I favour working and reworking lines of attack until we get it right. If we are pessimists, and view it that they are too strong for us, and we will NEVER beat them, then why are we ever bothering with a new more idealistic politics? And if we are not bothered about that, but just interested in bums on cabinet (or Council portfolio) seats, why don’t we just do what most others do, and join the party most likely to win?

  • D. A. SLAVIN 12th May '11 - 4:32pm


    If Local Authorities bought all repossessed homes at the greatly reduced price which the Building Societies offer they could rent the property to the unlucky sitting tenants.

    The government would have an asset which would increase in value over the next twenty years whilst enjoying income from the rent.

    The tenants would have an option to buy in later years if they could afford to.

    Central government could offer grants to willing local Authorities.

    This hammer used to attack government would be removed .
    MP’s at both ends of the political spectrum would be pleased.

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