Challenging this Conservative-led narrative on the economy


  • Building the green economy to take Britain forwards sustainably.
  • Improved support for victims of domestic abuse.
  • Better access to vocational and further education.
  • Providing sanctuary and support to those fleeing conflict and drought.

We can (I suspect mostly) agree that these are good aims for us as a party, and that Lib Dems back in government would work hard to deliver on them. But they all cost money.

One of the great political successes of the Cameron-Osborne Conservative party has been its relentless narrative on the economy. That Labour ‘failed to mend the roof when the sun was shining’. That the recession was caused by government spending not reckless behaviour by the banks. That getting the deficit under control should trump all other concerns, no matter how serious.

But by what definition? At first the ‘structural deficit’, an estimate of where the public finances would be in a normal economy, and with allowances for investment spending. Now, not even that. At a time of record low interest rates, even investment spending that could be used to strengthen Britain while borrowing money at almost no cost is still verboten. If I ran a business where I only ever bought the cheapest possible materials regardless of quality, or only considered renting a home because I couldn’t afford to buy it outright, I’d rightly be dismissed as foolish. Yet that is what George Osborne wants to persuade the British public is the best way to run the public finances.

And so we see cuts. Deep, painful cuts that fundamentally limit government’s ability to help people. Cuts that leading economists calculate have caused a permanent damage to our economy by taking away support when it was most needed. Cuts that disproportionately land on the shoulders of those least able to cope – and yet tax cuts for those most able to help. Cuts that, within my local area, will soon leave the council unable to fund even the minimum services it is required to provide by law.

Within this framework, we can campaign for all sorts of improvements, and even deliver some. But every win delivered is a loss for someone else; it pitches needs against each other in a zero-sum game, competing over scraps the Conservative government chooses to throw their way.

If we are to deliver the society we campaign for, where no-one is enslaved by their circumstances and we are all free to live out our lives, we must challenge this Conservative-led narrative on the economy. Not just argue that we can do a better job of living within narrow Conservative ideas of a national budget, but to show their work for what it is – an ideologically driven push to shrink the state to levels not seen in generations. Not to oppose every last cut and pledge more money for every ill – but to show the sleight of hand in Conservative arguments to cut dangerously, and explain how well targeted support and investment benefits us all.

Let the Conservatives control the debate and we see cuts upon cuts enslaving people in inescapable poverty through no fault of their own, no matter how hard they work. Let Corbyn’s Labour control the debate and we see the policies he so enthusiastically supports in countries such as Venezuela causing the same catastrophic collapse they have every time they’ve been tried.

We can’t win by accepting the Conservatives’ flawed assumptions; we shouldn’t even try. Instead we need to campaign for the fair, liberal outcomes that draw us together, and the fair, affordable funding that can grow a Britain for all, not just for the few.

* Greg is a freelance software engineer, LibDem activist and voluntary youth worker living in Derby

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  • The Lib Dems will not be back in government until 2030 at least. We have moved a mountain with the latest IPSOS MORI poll giving us 9% and third place. It may be a one off but it does appear to replicate current local election voting.
    Please forget about government, we have to try and be a credible opposition, and in view of our very limited chances or opportunities in the Commons must concentrate on campaigning in the country and getting some gains next May., even the odd one or two in Scotland where we could be completely eliminated from the Assembly. Anything else is day dreaming again. Lets us keep it realistic, people failed that test from 2012 to May 2015, lets not repeat that failure.

  • Dave Orbison 26th Sep '15 - 3:07pm

    There is much more in common between the LibDems and Corbyn’s Labour than you may think, in my opinion. Dismissive comments aimed at Corbyn from Farron and those typical of this article where Corbyn is referenced to Venezuela would lead people to think there is a huge gulf between the two parties. Of course, there are differences, inevitably. But both share views of the need for increased reliance on progressive taxation, protecting the vulnerable, investing in public services, housing, rail infrastructure etc. These are just some areas where there is common ground. None of these areas are ‘owned’ by any one political party. I would urge the LibDem Leadership to ditch their opportunistic policy of knocking Corbyn to gain some short term kudos from the Tory Press. Why not reach out to Labour, and other parties for that matter, where an alternative to the Tories exists? Rather than just dismiss Corbyn in a knee-jerk reflex, why not read what he says? Try it and honestly ask yourselves is it so terrible and so far removed from the LibDem manifesto? I don’t think so.

    Corbyn’s policies at:

  • David Allen 26th Sep '15 - 4:20pm

    Our politics is in thrall to a malign myth. The myth, that a global financial crash was all caused by the British Labour government running a small pre-crash deficit, was relentlessly propagated by Cameron and Osborne, and echoed by Clegg, throughout the period of Coalition Government.

    It is manifest nonsense. It is risible. It does contain the tiny grain of veracity that is required of a malign myth. Labour’s small pre-crash deficit was indeed somewhat unwise. It made the effects of the crash in Britain marginally worse than they would otherwise have been. Big deal. Except that if you lead the Tory party, and you have a compliant press, the morality of the gutter and a determination to win by deceit, then you can turn a tiny grain of veracity into a monstrous indictment which buries your opponent.

    Why did Cameron, Osborne and Clegg do it? There is one obvious reason – to wreck the chances of their Labour opponents. Undoubtedly that was part of the reasoning. But I don’t think the primary aim of malign myth-making was an aggressive attack on the political enemy. No, it was defensive.

    The truth, which Cameron, Osborne and Clegg sought to hide, is that the crash was caused by capitalism out of control. That truth carried, and still carries, great danger for our kleptocrat establishment. If the great British public were ever to recognise that it was the rich, the bankers, the business leaders and the Tories within and beyond Britain who had caused the crash, the kleptocrat establishment would risk the wrath of justice. That is why Labour had to be dressed up as a scapegoat.

    One day, truth will out. When that happens, the Tories and their sympathisers will be the losers, and Farron will regret ever having pretended to agree with Nick.

    Under Miliband, Labour never made the decision whether to fight the malign myth or (as Blair advocated) to live with it and adapt to it. Corbyn, whatever else his faults, will fight the myth. Farron should not write off his chances of doing so successfully. Truth will out.

  • Greg Webb is right it is time we challenged the Conservative narrative on the economy that we have kept to since at least 2010 and the coalition agreement. We need to study why the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s were so successful in reducing inequalities. I would argue it was because of full employment and not believing have at least 1 million unemployed is acceptable plus that having millions of the long term ill and disabled unable to get work was unacceptable as well.

    We can add to Greg’s list – building 300,000 homes a year so everyone can have an affordable home of their own. This would be investment to greatly assist in creating more equality, it might even reduce unemployment, rents and house prices.

    It is vital we never buy into the Conservative narrative “That Labour ‘failed to mend the roof when the sun was shining’”. It was shining when unemployment never fell below 1.25 million? I think not.

    It is vital we never buy into the Conservative narrative “that having a large national debt will be a burden on our children”. History since 1694 shows this is not true, so long as there is economic growth the national debt is not a burden. In the same way that companies don’t normally buy back their shares, the government should not buy out those who invest in it.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Sep '15 - 12:39am

    In economics I think the left can have some more success. Who wants to argue against things like helping homeless kids? The whole platform needs to be credible though. People don’t need much of an excuse to vote selfishly.

    There are now nearly as many self-employed workers as public sector ones. But you wouldn’t know this from attending left wing conferences. Check out the graph on page 15 of this report:

  • Simon Shaw, you’re right to point out Tory hypocrisy – to favour the old and penalise the young, then boast about how marvellous Tory policy is to avoid burdening the young!

    The deficit matters, but it matters nothing like as much as the Tories have sought to pretend. It principally matters if the markets decide that it is out of control, which the markets have never shown any sign of thinking, irrespective of whether Brown / Darling or Cameron / Osborne have run the show. That’s why Osborne, while keeping up his bogus rhetoric about austerity, has in fact cut taxes on his rich supporters, and has thus happily allowed the deficit to remain high.

  • david thorpe 27th Sep '15 - 10:32am

    1> most of the things you mention are not economic polciies-they are social polciies and are not run by george osbonre.

    2. the uk has beena sanctuary for refugees for years-indcluding thousands from syria lat year-lib dems werent talikng much about it then because it wasnt in the media.

    3> lib dems do need an economic narragibve0-talking about refugees isnt an economic narrative-its a social polciy, as is increasing support for domestic violence vixitnsms,,,great policy but not an economic policy.

    but a[art from that great post

  • Katerina Porter 27th Sep '15 - 10:54am

    Grey Webb is so right. THe Conservative and our attack on Labour as responsible for the recession was politically successful but dishonest, and after all Gordon Brown saved the banks after 2008 and paid off our postwar debt in 2002. THe economic policy was ideological, a way of reducing the state. I did not not get an answer when I asked if the cuts would be reversed when conditions allowed and if one reads Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman they spell out the policy which should have been persued without austerity by investing in infrastructure at present incredibly low interest rates so maintaining the purchasing power of the poor. In other words the policy of Roosevelt’s New Deal.
    NB Companies now often employ people on a self employed basis so avoiding paid holidays and pension contributions etc.

  • Eddie Sammon
    Self Employment is a bit of a red herring. It always goes up when the economy is unstable. because there are more people with mops an buckets trying to earn spare cash. Also IT workers are now increasingly working freelance because a lot of the stability has gone. To me it’s very telling that the earnings of the self employed have been plummeting in recent years and one might suspect that this is because there are simply more odd job workers who are technically in work, but who are in fact earning nothing or next to nothing.
    I agree with this article. Orborne’s economics are from wacky land and are very precarious.

  • Neil Sandison 27th Sep '15 - 1:27pm

    I think part of the problem is we are falling into the trap of the old economics when multinationals are moving into an era of new economics .Economics changed in the Victorian era when we moved from agriculture and canals to steam and rail .In our time we are moving from a fiscal and commodity driven economy to a resource, super broadband and low carbon economy but we are still using those old measurements of success. I recently visited a modern alternative fuel plant that was producing low carbon fuel for a high carbon energy use cement plant .They were not using outdated waste management models but instead use production tools more likely to be seen at a modern car manufacture. renewable technologies upgrade every 5 to 7 years whilst old energy technologies up date every 15 to 20 years. And that’s the type of economy we will need in the future .business is already doing it why isn’t the government .its time for the Liberal Democrats to reflect the new economics and reject the old models.

  • George Kendall 27th Sep '15 - 1:40pm

    @Katerina Porter “The Conservative and our attack on Labour as responsible for the recession was politically successful but dishonest”

    Katerina, have we ever blamed Labour for the recession?

    I think we’ve blamed a combination of the Tories and Labour for poor regulation of the banks. But otherwise, I think, we’ve only blamed Labour for increasing the cost of public services to a point where it was 30 to 40 billion pounds more than we were taking in in revenue.

    They did run a surplus in the early years, while they stuck to the Tory spending plans. But following that with a deficit was unfortunate. Public spending had a famine, then a glut of spending, which is very inefficient.

    After, of course, it was followed by a huge financial crisis that brought our cyclically adjust deficit up to about 100 or 110 billion. Labour wasn’t responsible for all that, just some of it.

    There is a strong argument that we should not have followed Alistair Darling’s plans to cut capital spending. Nick Clegg has said he thinks this was a mistake. But blame for that falls on all three parties. And would it have made more than a marginal difference if the coalition hadn’t?

    Paul Krugman, in an interview in Newsnight in 2012, said: “Give me a recovery … and I will become a fiscal hawk. I will be very happy to talk about finding ways to economise on public spending, finding ways to raise more revenue.” (About 11m 54s into the clip)
    We’ve now had seven quarters of growth of over 2%.

    As to whether the cuts that have already happened should be reversed, that’s probably down a government from about 2020 to decide. Probably not a good idea to plan that spending, before we deal with what is still a large structural deficit. For myself, I think we should be looking at substantial house building, I’d like to see the withdrawal rate for benefits reduced, to reduce the poverty trap, We need to spend more on the NHS, and there will be other urgent priorities.

    That said, there’s a good debate to be had about whether the cuts should be slowed down. There’s a lot of debate among economists on that point, and I agree we should review it.

  • @ Simon Shaw

    “If you are talking about a large AND increasing National Debt being a burden on our children, then I don’t see that as being particularly a Conservative narrative. In many ways it’s the reverse.
    I say that because if, like the Conservatives, you target a lot of your appeal at the retired, then it must be very tempting to want to divert expenditure towards the retired, even if it creates an increasing burden on the younger sections of society (who tend to vote less anyway).”

    As David Allen wrote, “The deficit matters”. However it was a Liberal Democrat ideal to bring in the triple lock for pensions. But I wasn’t talking about spending money to help pensioners, but to build more than 4.5 million homes in the next ten years, to get full employment and make it easier for those who are ill or disabled be hired. There is a need to consider the size of the deficit in relation to the size of the economy and the rate of economic growth and what it is being spent on. If you believe there should be no economic growth then the national debt could be a burden on our children.

  • Cllr Mark Wright.
    There were plenty of economists and indeed Lib Dems on LDV saying the policies enacted by Osborne were muddled and wrong headed well before Corbyn had any kind of platform. The emergency budget was not about balancing growth, It was a list of cuts. Up until 2013 the policies followed by the coalition actually cut off growth. The revisionism is what happened since mostly because The Lib Dem tried to claim a bigger influence over what the government did than the reality of the situation supported.
    Bringing in Corbyn, who is not in power to imply that this is something no one was saying all along is almost the definition of a straw man argument especially has virtually no one mentioned Corbyn until you did.

  • Katerina Porter 27th Sep '15 - 4:38pm

    For the first 30 years after the War when countries in the West were creating welfare states transforming the well being of most of the population the marginal rate of Income tax in the US was 90% for the first 20 years and 80% after. I think I remember it was 98% in Britain. The French name for this period is “les trente glorieuses” and the British “you have never had it so good”. Then came OPEC with the oil crisis and its huge inflation and robber baron unions as we have robber baron bankers today. Dutch friends more recently have said that they have 50% income tax but as they get so much for it they are happy. Jedibeeftrix – cutting the state for the Conservatives seems to mean outsourcing as well as privatising and that becomes permanent.


  • Eddie Sammon 27th Sep '15 - 5:08pm

    Glenn, the thing is sole-traders are often weaker and less powerful than the big co-ops, such as John Lewis. I think the left should embrace the self-employed (besides the super rich ones) as a means for dispersing power.

    Embrace co-ops too, but there’s nothing inherently illiberal about self-employment and partnerships.

  • David Allen 27th Sep '15 - 5:44pm

    Mark Wright “The word “Corbyn” appears 8 times before I use it.”

    Gotcha there Glenn! Except that 6 of the 8 mentions were in one post by Dave Orbison, who as a Labour supporter is understandably keen to talk about his new leader, although his post also argues for co-operation between Labour and Lib Dems. The other two mentions were, in each case, secondary references (one by the OP, the other by me) in posts which weren’t primarily about Corbyn.

    As Glenn says, many economists and politicians of many parties have explained many times why it is dishonest to blame Labour for the crash, over many years. To talk about “the Corbyn-led wave of revisionism we’ll now see”, as you do, is – Well, yet another attempt at malign myth-making!

  • Katerina Porter 27th Sep '15 - 5:50pm

    I can say that people sometimes mention being ready to pay more tax for this or that special case.
    Of course nobody could bring back 90%, but one could have a different narrative when talking about tax.

  • Katerina Porter 27th Sep '15 - 6:09pm

    PS I think Gordon Brown spent 62 billion on saving our banks.

  • Katerina Porter 27th Sep '15 - 7:30pm

    I certainly never meant that anyone said the global, actually particularly European crash was Labour.

  • Peter Watson 27th Sep '15 - 7:40pm

    @Simon Shaw “As I recall the main complaint is that they overspent in the good times on the assumption that there would never be bad times.”
    Didn”t the Lib Dems and the Conservatives promise to match Labour’s spending plans?
    e.g. “Tories will match Labour’s public spending for next three years” in 2007 (
    and in the Lib Dem 2005 manifesto: “Labour has increased spending, an increase only the Liberal Democrats were honest enough to propose at the last election.” (

  • Peter Watson 27th Sep '15 - 10:21pm

    @Simon Shaw
    “The problem for Labour, Peter, is that they were in power in 2007 and for 10 years before that.”
    Indeed they were, and they made plenty of mistakes. But when it comes too spending too much or spending at the wrong stage of the economic cycle, it seems that Lb Dems and Conservatives did not want to spend any less. Calling for Labour to apologise and blaming them for crashing the economy seems to be with the benefit of hindsight rather than because everybody else had better economic insight than Labour at the time.

    “I’m not clear what you think the 2005 Lib Dem Manifesto means, particularly as the next sentence says: “Given this growth in spending, most of our proposals at this election can be funded from savings in current budgets.” That sounds like economic prudence from us. Do you not agree?””
    The sentence after that says, “This means switching around £5billion each year from low-priority government programmes in order to fund our key proposals.” so Lib Dems did not want to spend less, they wanted to spend differently, and not necessarily prudently. Indeed, some of this different (additional?) spending was to be paid for by introducing a 50% tax rate.

  • Mark Wright,

    So the way to dump blame on Labour for the crash of capitalism, is:

    (a) Say, with Clegg, that (as you put it) “Labour crashed the economy”. When confronted with the truth that the crash originated primarily outside the UK and was due to a loss of confidence in faulty financial derivative products, backpedal smartly and claim that you and Clegg were in fact just making a specific point about the UK economy.

    (b) Then, the problem you face reduces to finding something that is specific about the UK, and pinning that on Labour. Well hey, it’s true that because the British economy is overweight in finance and underweight in almost everything else, Britain did suffer more from a financial crash than others did. So we’re halfway there.

    (c). All we have to do now is to find a way of blaming socialism for our out-of-control capitalist bankers. That’s trickier, since the City and the Tories had for years been demanding that governments must give bankers more freedom. But hey, Labour gave in to that pressure – so we’re there! It was all Labour’s fault for letting them get away with it. QED!

  • I’m glad that Simon Shaw and Mark Wright agree with me that it would be ridiculous to blame Labour for the Global Crash of 2008. However, Simon is factually wrong to state that “nobody has ever suggested (Labour) had sole responsibility for the Crash.” There is one politician who was foolish enough to say precisely that, and I’m afraid that politician was Mr Clegg:

    “It was verging on the bizarre that the Labour Party thought they had anything to teach anyone about the banks because they are single handedly responsible for the biggest collapse in our banking system in the postwar period.”

  • Peter Watson 28th Sep '15 - 12:50am

    @Simon Shaw “Which would have cut the deficit, wouldn’t it? ”
    Would it?
    That manifesto seemed to emphasise that the spending commitments were costed and could be paid for, not that it would reduce the deficit. The only deficit referred to in that 2005 manifesto was a “tourism deficit” and Vince Cable promised a golden rule that “government debt should be no higher that 40 per cent of GDP” at a time when it was less than that (
    Pointing out Labour’s terrible decisions is fine, but unless Lib Dems can show that they consistently called for less government spending or more regulation of banking then they should be a little less smug in their condemnations in this particular area. If I had got the Lib Dem government I voted for in 2001 and 2005 (or even the Tory one I did not want) it’s not obvious that they would not also have “crashed the economy”.

  • Katerina Porter 28th Sep '15 - 9:43am

    Some Labour spending was badly needed as public services were very run down after the Conservative years. I well remember my mother on trolleys in grotty hospital corridors and Ken Clarke saying later that his budget before the election was meant as a trap for Labour, -or words to that effect.

  • @Mark Wright “The reason is can be justified is because it’s a fact that the crash was much worse in the UK than in other comparable nations, and the reason for that was a) Gordon Brown’s encouragement of imbalance towards finance and banking in the economy, and stoking up a huge property bubble; b) Labour running a substantial deficit at the top of a boom. Both of these are things that we – Vince Cable – explicitly warned against at the time, which some of the Corynista economic fans in our party seem to have forgotten.

    “It made the effects of the crash in Britain marginally worse than they would otherwise have been. Big deal. First, it made the crash very much worse than it should have been; but second, saying “big deal” to the hundreds of thousands of extra jobs lost is an astonishing response from a liberal.”

    Exactly. It’s this contra-Keynesian behaviour by Brown that made our crash very much worse than it should have been, and is the reason we were right to blame Mr No More Boom and Bust Brown and Ball for the pain, anguish and suffering they visited on the UK economy and all those individuals who lost their livelihoods, houses, relationships and possibly lives in the crash.

    As to Mr Allen, I don’t think he’s ever made any claim to be a liberal.

  • TCO, I have been a member of the Lib Dems and before that the SDP since 1981. Your remark is rude and baseless.

    Let’s test your ability to read and respond to factual commentary. I have now shown at that despite all the protestations to the contrary, Nick Clegg did actually make the ludicrous claim that “the Labour Party … are single handedly responsible for the biggest collapse in our banking system in the postwar period.” What do you think of Clegg’s statement? Isn’t it the kind of nonsensical gross exaggeration which gives politics a bad name?

  • TCO,

    In response to your rudery, I would just mention that some while back, someone (I think it was John Roffey) pointed out that your username appears to stand for “Tory Central Office”. You never denied the charge. Would you like to issue an unequivocal denial that you represent or have any connection with the Conservative Party?

  • Eddie Sammon,
    Sorry not to get back to you earlier. I have some problems with my computer. I agree that embracing self employment is a good thing. I was simply saying that it’s a bit iffy to see the rise in that area as an indicator of growth or wider success as self employment increases when economies are under performing.
    Cllr Mark Right.
    With all due respect, I disagree about the emergency budget. Growth was actually higher before it was implemented and was choked of for the next 3 years. It also kick started a wave of protests, damaged the Lib Dems and IMO introduced a very bad idea into British politic. The worst of the crisis was actually already over in 2010 which was two years after the crash. So why didn’t Brown announce an emergency budget in 2008 and claim that the national crisis was so great that only a grand coalition of all the main parties could meet the threat?. Further more most of the measures put forward by Osborn had been knocking around Conservative think tanks and on a wish lists of the that Party’s Right Wing for decades. Well. imagine, if say the. Left Wing of The Labour Party announced an emergency budget after fighting an election on one set of policies and then found that the solution to all the Nation’s ills just happened to be hardcore socialism! But not only that, Osborn’s first act of this Government was another emergency budget! Truth to tell, to paraphrase. Mrs Thatcher the Conservatives were and are simply too frit to put their policies openly before the electorate.
    David Allen,
    thanking you for defending me earlier.

  • @ Mark Wright

    “Labour running a substantial deficit at the top of a boom.”

    “Michael BG makes the point that debt hasn’t been a problem if the economy can outgrow it, which is true but anyone thinking that the growth rates of our imperial times (when we were pillaging wealth from large parts of the world) can be recreated now when we are competing against growing economies around the world is dangerously mistaken.”

    “just 6% unemployment,”

    There is a lot of work to do on trying to get members to stop believing in the Conservative economic narrative. When we have over 1.25 million unemployed and between 1 and 2 million more not working because no one would employ them with their long term illness or disability we are not in a boom and we shouldn’t have been generating a budget surplus.

    To think that the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s achievement of full employment was the result of Britain having an Empire is simply wrong. To think that having 6% unemployment is an achievement is simply wrong. Beveridge defined full employment as having 3% unemployed and British governments achieved this long term in the 1950’s, 60’s and much of the 1970’s.

    There can be no liberal society in the UK where the number of people not being employed (who want to be employed) fluctuates between 3 and 5 million. If you believe it is fine to have 1.25 million unemployed and more than another 1 million not working because of their long term illness or disability you are left like Clegg just tinkering at the edges.

  • CLLr Mark Wright.
    And money was still being borrowed with less growth after the “emergency budget” The debt build up was mostly caused by pumping money into the banking system because it not the public sector had failed on an historic level. Indeed the phrase was too big to fail!
    Productivity down, trade deficit abysmal, borrowing up, exports pitiful etc. Not a good record.

  • @ Mark Wright

    You seem to accept the Conservative definition of a boom as a period of economic growth, but I consider an economic boom to be more than that – economic growth plus increased productivity, increasing wages and demand and rising inflation and full employment. As Keynes stated the economy can be at equilibrium but not at full aggregate demand. The UK economy was not at full production as there were large amounts of spare labour not being employed. If they had been in work producing and earning both aggregate demand and aggregate supply would have been greater. Therefore I don’t consider it an economic boom, it was only a period of economic growth and in no way could it be seen as “at the top of a boom” with all that spare capacity in the economy.

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