Chris White writes: a chance meeting

I bumped into a young council official yesterday. I was wearing an ID tag so she could see who I was and knew that I was a Liberal Democrat.

It turned out that she had voted Lib Dem in the General Election and had in fact joined the Party under Charles Kennedy because of our clear and unbending stance on the Iraq War. She had recently resigned over tuition fees (quite a rare event but still disappointing). One of the benefits of leaving was that she no longer receives the centrally produced emails to party members justifying (for instance) the position on tuition fees – these, she felt, do not help the situation.

So far, so depressing.

But events of the last few days have made her think again. She can now see that Liberal Democrat ministers have not sold out – that they are fighting their corners and standing up for the manifesto on which they were elected.

She doesn’t like the Tories and has no intention of voting Labour. And now she regrets voting Lib Dem rather less than a week ago.

At times like these every straw looks like a life raft but she is certainly not alone in feeling better about political life.

The Telegraph – much to its own chagrin, no doubt – has done us a huge favour by highlighting three things: first, that Lib Dem ministers are essentially honest, even painfully so. Second, that they are standing up for our policies and our philosophy even though they find the circumstances frustrating. Third, that there is and always was a difference between Merger and Coalition.

I was genuinely puzzled when people started asking in May whether the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would in future field candidates against each other. Some, including nearly everyone at the BBC and in the print media, simply don’t get how Coalitions work.

Merger is getting into bed together. Coalition is not sharing a bed or a room or even a house. It’s separate houses and separate lives. Such is the nature of the current Government.

The twelve page document produced by Cowley Street this week analysing all the Lib Dem wins under the Coalition is never going to get currency in the weasel press. The article headed ‘Eight months of solid Lib Dem progress’ is unlikely to appear in the Telegraph – and especially not in the near hysterical Guardian.

But now the public is now fully aware of the anger and candour of Liberal Democrat ministers – regardless of the reality of their achievements – we are perhaps on the road to political redemption.

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48 Comments

  • Leviticus18_23 23rd Dec '10 - 3:03pm

    Really…?

    Then why the hasty apologies. Either someone gets up your nose or they don’t.

    Surely this bad mouthing is unprofessional.

    I’d like to see LibDems standing up for what they believe. I’m still waiting to see some evidence.

    Issuing an apology as soon as you’ve been caught isnt standing up and fighting your corner.

  • Dominic Curran 23rd Dec '10 - 3:14pm

    @ Leviticus18_23

    Why the hasty apologies? because it’s a polite thing to do. We all slag off people we have to work with at some point -and if they find out about it it’s embarrassing and you apologise if you’re a decent person and don’t want to hurt feelings, and more pragmatically, if you want things from that person in the future. It’s called good manners, as well as good politics and diplomacy.

  • The public might well be asking itself why Lib Dem ministers can’t tell the public or their party members their concerns, but instead they have come to light thanks to newspaper skulduggery. The public also might be asking themselves why Lib Dem ministers are consistently voting against what they and their party appear to believe in. The public might be wondering what the advantages of high office are that ministers will shred principle and pledge to keep it. Then, they might also wonder why on earth Vince Cable destroyed his reputation, his career and his credibility while simultaneously handing Rupert Murdoch control of BSkyB on a plate. At the very least lib dem ministers look like incompetent, unprincipled fools who’d shaft their voters for a chance at power, and once they’ve attained that they’d blow it in spectacular style.

  • I think the problem for Vince and his colleagues isn’t that so much that they’ve revealed that they disagree with government policies.

    In fact. for many of us, it’s good to hear confirmation of this.

    The problem is that Nick Clegg has gone out of his way since the election to suggest that the coalition are all singing from the same hymn sheet. He and Dave hardly ever disagree about anything, if you listen to the two of them.

    The current approach is doing damage to coalition politics in my view. This isn’t how a coalition has to work. It’s also doing considerable damage to the Lib Dems, by the looks of the latest opinion polls.

    Coalition should be about making clear that there are differences of opinions. It should allow the Lib Dems to set out their views, while the Conservatives set out theirs. This can be done honestly and in public. Clearly it will be necessary, in some cases, for Lib Dem MPs to vote for things that they don’t particularly like. That’s the nature of collective responsibility.

    But it doesn’t mean that there has to be a pretence that no disagreements exist.

    The current approach is damaging the party. It may also be undermining the “Yes” vote for AV, if the public are left believing that this is what coalition politics means.

    The reason that this story has done further damage is because Vince & Co are saying one thing in public and another in “private”. Honesty, as ever, really would be the best policy.

  • Anyone who is so easily swayed probably isn’t that representative of the general flow of opinion amongst erstwhile supporters of the LD’s who are now abandning you in droves. Nobody I know who voted LD at the last GE is planning to do so again; that may be subjective, but it is telling in that all of them are long term LD voters. It won’t make much difference in the GE (vacant electoral reform) as this is a safe Tory seat, but you can kiss goodbye to my vote in local elections too.

  • Foregone Conclusion 23rd Dec '10 - 4:13pm

    “Nobody I know who voted LD at the last GE is planning to do so again…”

    Y’see, when I hear something like that I always think of Cleggmania. In late April, it seemed like the whole country agreed with Nick. Now he’s the most hated politician in the country. Now, you might argue that a loss of trust is irreversable – it’s like losing your virginity – but it does remind you how fluid politics is. We are barely one-tenth of the way through the Coalition’s term of government. It is simply too early to tell what the voters will say in 2015.

  • @ Foregone

    You may not have until 2015, and whilst it is true that a week is a long time in politics, let alone 4 years I’m not sure the LD membership can afford to be as sanguine as many seem to be!

    Cleggmania was a bit of an over-reaction….but it did signify how much people wanted change, and thought the LD’s would be a real, positive influence for change. I doubt you will find many outside your ranks who feel the same now. More worriyingly for your purposes however is whether long term supporters will desert you.

    If the answer to that question is (as I suspect) “yes”, then you are in deep trouble.

  • “first, that Lib Dem ministers are essentially honest”

    In that case they would have been honest and open about their views. Since being published to a man they have apologised and nearly all have backtracked. Two have stated they disagreed with tuition fees but didn’t even take the option allowed in the coalition document. Nice try to spin, but when ministers start giving views openly perhaps then thay can begin to rebuild the trust they have lost.

  • George Morris 23rd Dec '10 - 5:01pm

    “The twelve page document produced by Cowley Street this week analysing all the Lib Dem wins under the Coalition is never going to get currency in the weasel press.”

    Is this available online?

  • @Dominic Curran 23rd December 2010 at 3:14 pm who stated: ‘Why the hasty apologies? because it’s a polite thing to do. We all slag off people we have to work with at some point -and if they find out about it it’s embarrassing and you apologise if you’re a decent person and don’t want to hurt feelings, and more pragmatically, if you want things from that person in the future. It’s called good manners, as well as good politics and diplomacy.’

    Wow, now I know why I never made a cabinet minister. Yea I got educated but my working-class background and lack of breeding let me down. You see, any time I’ve had a beef with someone I work with I tell them to their face what the problem is and I have no embarrassment about it because I don’t go behind their back.

    It’s called clearing the air and often it does lead to people feeling hurt usually because they ain’t decent people and can’t provide a reasonable explanation for their actions/words/gossip that caused you to challenge their actions in the first place.

    ‘And as to apologising to someone because you might want something from them in future being called good manners, good politics and diplomacy – well no wonder LibDems Ministers are in such a mess. There is no actual evidence so far that they have fought their corner in cabinet or the coalition but just bellyached to strangers. When I was politically active an MP had these conversations with his agent and a few trusted senior activists and not someone walking-in off the street.

    Thankfully I know the vast majority of party members aren’t as portrayed by you Dominic, they ain’t sleazy, self-seekers, prepared to change their tune at the drop of a hat. I’m sure, like me, that if they make a mistake they will offer a genuine apology but I’m equally certain that if they were telling the truth, in the first place, they won’t be apologising to keep the Ministerial Mondeo but sticking to their principles.

    I’m actually beginning feel sorry for Cameron being landed with this bunch – I’ve watched them on telly today and their footwork is more slippery than Vince’s although they only seem to know the side-step although there’s time to brush-up on the last waltz 🙂

  • @Foregone Conclusion 23rd December 2010 at 4:13 pm who said: ‘We are barely one-tenth of the way through the Coalition’s term of government. It is simply too early to tell what the voters will say in 2015’.

    I agree with what you say Foregone although I’ve always believed the max term of this coalition won’t go beyond 4 years as Cameron will want clear blue-water between the Tories and LibDems before a GE and he will manufacture a split.

    As he will want a give-away budget to ‘prove’ the economy has turned the corner and he won’t want the LibDems able to claim any credit. No way will he allow them a share in economic ‘success’ – he will let them have their own ‘baubles’ which might mean a lot to LibDems but little to the general public.

    However Foregone I think we are entitled to wonder if things are in such a mess now for the LibDems, what’s it going to be like when the cuts really bite next year?

  • David Allen 23rd Dec '10 - 5:49pm

    “you might argue that a loss of trust is irreversable – it’s like losing your virginity”

    Yes, that’s right – for a famous individual. Gordon Brown makes a good example. In truth, the banking rescue was an impressive achievement, though it came in the middle of a pretty undistinguished career. What did the bank rescue do for Gordon’s ratings? Almost nothing, because the public had by then decided that he was a boring manipulative unprincipled creep. They weren’t going to give him any credit for saving the world, even if he really did. Gordon believed that if he kept on and on to the bitter end, something might turn up for him. Of course, nothing did, not even the bank rescue, because people had made their minds up about him.

    Clegg is probably in the same position.

  • @MBoy

    You’re wrong – I regret voting for the party and I did vote for the party and am likely to continue voting for the party.

    8% in polls, Nick Clegg minus 23 approval rating (rising every time he goes near the camera), Conservative spin doctors running the coalition machine (who’s interests are they working in?)…. something is very wrong and you can’t just say it always happens in between elections because the LibDems are not ignored by the mainstream media anymore.

    Clegg is an error and should be replaced by someone prepared to speak for party policy.

  • @George – it’s on the Lib Dems Huddle site, under Policy Response. If you’re not a member, you might be able to see it here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/45615933/Lib-Dem-Achievements-in-Government

  • david clayton 23rd Dec '10 - 7:27pm

    Well as a Labour supporter I am pleased to see you looking so relaxed about the position the Lib Dems are in. Carrying on believing everything is fine, your popularity will return, your policies are getting into coalition Bills and your minsters are paragons of straight talking new politics.

  • Did you have any chance meetings with these public sector employees?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12066537

  • @Chris White, I read it a tad differently, the Telegraph stories prove that Lib Dems aren’t standing up for what they believe in, hence voting for something they didn’t believe in when there were other options.

    I agree however that they show frustrations amongst Lib Dem MP’s, which is to be expected even if the Lib Dems were running the government alone, people won’t all agree, which is healthy.

    However, actions speak louder than words, it’s Lib Dem actions that people will remember most.

  • Man on the Bus 23rd Dec '10 - 10:00pm

    So just to check, when someone says “Don’t trust Cameron” and then “Of course I trust Cameron” that proves they’re essentially honest?

  • @Man on the Bus. Well said. I have noticed (who hasn’t?) that in the “new politics”, your erstwhile pre-election political enemies suddenly become good guys, post-election, policies that you once hated suddenly have merit….and so on. Where all this leaves principled behaviour I am not at all sure. I voted for a “new political way” – LibDem, I have still not found nouns and adjectives that would accurately describe what I actually got. I can only assume that, as a simple voter, I must be missing something therefor it’s all my fault in that I just don’t comprehend how lucky I am to have this new-style government.

  • amazing to me how many Labour supporters read libdemvoice and post comments. Good piece Chris.

  • david clayton 24th Dec '10 - 11:59am

    “amazing to me how many Labour supporters read libdemvoice and post comments. Good piece Chris.”

    cos your lot are all too embarrassed to be seen to be involved 😉

    Merry Christmas and ditch the stupid coalition before it wipes you out. UK politics needs the Lib Dems as radical third voice but at this rate it is going to be two party politics forever.

  • @ Mrs. B

    No just Labour members or supporters! Many are probably like me… bitterly disappointed people who have voted LD for years, and now wonder where we can go politically. Unless the LD’s change course there is no way I’ll be voting for them again….. if you were honest you would admit that this is a huge problem, as evidenced by recent polling showing a 50% reduction in your support in 6 months!

  • Quite MrsB, all these ‘I’ll never vote Lib Dem again’ and ‘your doomed’ folk have an uncontrolable urge to comment on LDV. How many people said “i’ll never vote Labour again” after Iraq.

  • @g “The public might well be asking itself why Lib Dem ministers can’t tell the public or their party members their concerns, but instead they have come to light thanks to newspaper skulduggery.”

    The skulduggery in question being that the journalists possed as members of the public.

    I thought the person who came very well out of it was Jeremy Brown who comments seemed so reasonable it was no wonder the torygraph left them to the very last to print them.

  • @Simon – yes, seeing as Nick spent the leaders’ debates saying that the Tories’ EU partners were “nutters and homophobes”, the fact that Jeremey Browne wasnt even as harsh as that is hardly news. But that’s what the Telegraph is reduced to these days.

  • “amazing to me how many Labour supporters read libdemvoice and post comments. Good piece Chris.”

    Sorry to disappoint, not a Labour supporter for years since Blair became leader. Will not go back, but you have disappointed me and I am left with little choice as you have lost my vote as well.. Am checking on the Raving Loony Party, they can’t be more raving or loony than the three pantomime parties we have.

  • @Simon

    I thought the person who came very well out of it was Jeremy Brown who comments seemed so reasonable it was no wonder the torygraph left them to the very last to print them.

    True, a couple of others seem competent too. Sarah Teather, while of course outrageously voting for tuition fees despite a history of objection, seems to say the same things in private as in public.

  • @ Kev

    I imagine a lot of people said “never again” to Labour after Iraq… altho in my case it was a good deal before then: I always thought New Labour were nauseating, but then I wouldn’t have voted “old” Labour either.

    Why is it so surprising that many former (or disillusioned current) LD supporters and voters would be interested in posting here? Has it occurred to you that we are genuinely hoping that those of you still within the fold might be persuaded to stop your party driving itself off a cliff?

  • @david clayton

    “UK politics needs the Lib Dems as radical third voice …”

    Of course, the chances of Labour coming up with anything radical are vanishingly remote!

  • david clayton 24th Dec '10 - 3:24pm

    “Of course, the chances of Labour coming up with anything radical are vanishingly remote!”

    …….at least we are not destroying the welfare state in the name of economic liberalism. I am well aware of the limitations of new labour but you need to have a long look at yourselves in the New Year and think what it is you are trying to achieve. When you have increased unemployment by a million or so just think about the misery and mayhem that will have caused and see if you can justify it to yourselves. And meanwhile a very unpleasant cabinet full of public schoolboy millionaires will be getting richer and more powerful.

  • @kev
    “How many people said “i’ll never vote Labour again” after Iraq.”

    And look at how reduced their majority was after that. It wasn’t Iraq that was my final straw with Labour, but I think you miss the point. Some people, like me, are genuinely dissapointed that the leadership of party they voted for has seen fit to betray their trust. Whilst the current course of action is followed I will not vote Lib dem again.

    It is not the coalition in itself, more the way it being handled by Clegg. I still believe the coalition is the only game in town, just not the current love in which is making Ministers liars.

    It’s not your members that win elections, it is always those voters who are not tribal but vote based upon the policies and principles of the parties. It’s not the core vote that makes a difference but those who decide in the run up to elections. There are some on here who undoubtedly would never vote Lib Dem. However there are also many who feel betrayed and abandoned by the party they voted for and continuing to insult them and their intelligence will surely consign the party to electoral decline.

  • ‘@Galen10

    “Has it occurred to you that we are genuinely hoping that those of you still within the fold might be persuaded to stop your party driving itself off a cliff?”

    Exactly why I started posting after Osborne carried on with attacks on poor, sick and disabled with not a peep from the Lib Dems against the Tory ideology. Lib Dems were supposed to put a brake on the Tories and/or Labour but put their paws up begging for scraps off their masters. Bitter? Yes I am. We have very dark days ahead.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Dec '10 - 6:51pm

    We have been told by the Leader, and those surrounding him, that any approach to the coalition apart from we are all fully in agreement with it and finding it wonderful, would damage us. The right-wing press are repeating that message again and again in response to recent events.

    But we can all see it’s rubbish. It’s the same sort of rubbish the right-wing always give us. We always do badly as a party when we do what the right-wing press tells us we should do. Why should we believe a word any of those right-wing idiots say when they have been proved wrong so many times? We sit in a shattered economy which is as it is because the last government did what the right-wing press said governments should do i.e. pamper the rich and pretend that we can all make money by selling houses to each other, supporting that vast bloated and largely useless private sector bureaucracy called “the financial industry”.

    Remember when those right-wing fools sold us the idea that the solution to all our problems was to privatise everything because there’s this “private sector know-how” that’s so much better than human minds who are not bunsiness entrepreneurs? Well, now look – look at how our privatised railways and privatised airports coped with the snow. These things are run as badly as ever, there’s less coordination, and much bigger wage packets fior those at the top. All those who spend nights of misery in the cold did so in order to pay millions to those running the airports. There would have been enough money for snow ploughs and more had their salaries been capped at civil service levels.

    Our party should be SHOUTING THIS OUT, telling the people how they have been fooled by Thatcherism-Blairism, and now’s the time to get rid of it. Only problem is, we are in coalition with the ultras in that movement, and our Leader is either one of them, or someone whose tactic is to pretend he is.

    But the recent news shows even those he trusted enough to appoint as ministers don’t agree with him. The press were reporting it as if they did, as if we all did, as if dissent from Clegg’s “we must never show any disagreement with Cameron” was limited to a few “left-wing” extremists. As a result, our party’s support had been plummeting. Now, all can see we have not had mind transplants, we have not becomes “me too”s to the Tories. Even those at the top, apart from Clegg himself have strong doubts. And I think this will enormously boost our party, and we must make that boost by being open about it. What can the Tories do if we are?

    Our party is a democratic party, it does not belonging its Leader, he is our servant. Let’s stop pretending – we hate most of the Tory polices the government is pushing through, they are more extreme and stupid than the ones the Tories pushed through last time they were in government and the ones Blair’s Tory-Lites pushed through. They are a millionaire’s idea of “liberalism”, almost anyone on normal incomes and those who are local workers in services who have to work with this rot can see how it is going to fail. Let’s say this locally, and if Clegg doesn’t like it, stuff him – he’s our servant, he has to do what we say he should do, otherwise, we should get someone else in to do his job.

    Let’s do that anmd see what happens to our opinion poll figures. Can’t be worse than what’s happened to them up till now.

  • Andrew Suffield 24th Dec '10 - 9:08pm

    Has it occurred to you that we are genuinely hoping that those of you still within the fold might be persuaded to stop your party driving itself off a cliff?

    It has occurred to me that you are a Labour supporter genuinely hoping that the party can be persuaded to drive off a cliff (by convincing actual members to quit).

  • @ Galen10 , Steve Way, Anne.

    Some of us are fighting to save the party – because it’s our party. Join the Liberal Democrats and help us, slagging us off on LDV only helps the two conservative parties Labour and Tories.

  • @ Andrew Suffield

    Ah, of course, because that’s much the most likely explanation isn’t it? Any criticism MUST be a sinister conspiracy from Labourites bent on destroying your party.

    If you had actually bothered to read posts above, you will see that I am not a member of any party, and have voted LD since the inception of the party. It seems to me (and many others who share my point of view) that it is people like you who support the coalition who are going to destroy your party.

    Whether members quit, or stay inside and try to chance things, or fully support the current path is a matter for them. It does seem rather strange however that so many people who share your view are so loath to enter a meaningful debate, and are very fast to assume critics are Labour moles. It makes you look rather paranoid.

  • @Kev

    I’m less likely to join your party now than before, and certainly wouldn’t do so until they ditched Clegg and his cabal, and probably not even then. As I said above however, I have voted for your party both at GE’s and local elections since I could vote. I have decided that (absent a change in direction) I can no longer do so…. which is something of a problem, as I hate both the Tories and New Labour. Perhaps I’ll have to vote Green, or find a decent independent candidate.

    As for your concerns about giving comfort to your enemies… perhaps you need to be less precious? Some things are in any case more important than worries about whether Labour and the Tories will be rubbing their hands at your internal problems. A slavish devotion to Stalinesque unity isn’t going to convince the many people like me that you are worth voting for.

    If you are so attached to your party, you ought to be thinking about why you have slumped in the polls, lost members, and been deserted by even more voters. Good luck with that, and Merry Christmas!

  • Andrew Suffield 25th Dec '10 - 3:58pm

    We know that there are Labour supporters posting here and pretending to be ex-LD voters in an attempt to dissuade actual supporters. When you consider the Labour party’s behaviour over the past 13 years, it would actually be surprising if there weren’t any.

    It is also trivially obvious that anybody who is willing to astroturf can generate vastly more posts than the honest people (since honest people are limited by the rate at which events happen, while astroturfers are limited only by the rate at which they can type a new pseudonym into the box).

    Hence, any post encouraging people to vote Labour instead of LD is extremely likely to be one of them, because those posts outnumber the real ones by a lot.

    (All the meaningful debate has simply migrated to places where this noise cannot intrude – these issues get debated heavily and often, it just doesn’t usually happen here)

  • @ Andrew Suffield

    Perhaps there are Labour shills on this site, that’s one of the risks of such sites I suppose. Your post still reads as an exercise in paranoia however. I am not, and never have been a Labour supporter or voter, although I can see how it would support the narrative of LD’s in denial to insist that their paranoid fantasies are true.

    I don’t really see the logic of your point about astroturfers being able to generate more posts…. again, it simply seems like evasion on the part of the minority of LD’s left who actually support the Coalition. As is mentioned above, the fact that the response of those who disagree is not to actually debate the issues, but either try to close the debate down, retreat to your members-only ghetto, or insist that the critics are Labour party astrturfers simply demonstrates the weakness of your resolve, and ultimately of your argument.

  • I’ve resigned… ha, ha.. I feel great… free at last… la, la, la…

    I judge on what is done, not what is said and the Liberal Democrat parliamentarians trooped through the ‘aye’ lobby on tuition fees and their lords supported the bill. That’s enough for me. Not a party I could trust again.

    Goodbye and good riddance…

  • Andrew Suffield 27th Dec '10 - 7:12pm

    As is mentioned above, the fact that the response of those who disagree is not to actually debate the issues, but either try to close the debate down, retreat to your members-only ghetto, or insist that the critics are Labour party astrturfers simply demonstrates the weakness of your resolve, and ultimately of your argument.

    That’s exactly what an astroturfer would say. Also the idea that a person who claims to have abandoned the party should be participating in serious debates about the party is absurd. In or out, pick one.

    (You know you’re dealing with one of them when they start going on about “closing debates” and “ignoring critics”. Actual ex-supporters come with less rhetoric)

  • @ Andrew Suffield

    I’ve made no bones about the fact that I already HAVE picked one side. I’m not sure why you find it so hard to believe that someone like me who has voted LD in every GE and local election for 30 years should want to debate the reasons for this on this (or other) sites? you only have to visit sites like Liberal Conspiracy to see I’ve posted in like vein since well before the GE, but that wouldn’t fit in with your frankly whacky conspiracy theory that anyone who criticises the Coalition is automatically an astroturfer. So much easier to dismiss people out of hand than to actually think for yourself isn’t it?

    You are of course free to carry on believing your self-serving narrative that I must be an astroturfer; it is the usual tactic of those with closed minds who are not interested in real debate – they prefer their sites to be cosy little self congratulatory love nests. No wonder your party is going to hell in a hand cart with members who lack either the stomach to justify the fact that their party has alienated huge swathes of their long term support.

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