Conference Comment: Is Nick Clegg “worse than Michael Foot”?

Michael FootIf you only read the Independent, it would be grim news. The paper reports that Lord Oakeshott popped his head above the parapet to tell Parliament’s The House magazine that Nick Clegg is “worse than Michael Foot”.

We have to accept that Nick’s ratings have been poor and have been for a long time. You’ve got to be frank that his ratings are down at levels which, if you go back, were only seen by Mrs Thatcher shortly before she left and Michael Foot.

Well, that’s his view and the Telegraph’s venerable Benedict Brogan dismisses it outright:

His views have been discounted to irrelevance from over-use. We’ve heard it all before, from him.

Continuing with Brogan, a man with his finger on the Tory pulse, he thinks the Lib Dems are not facing the wipe out in 2015 that Oakeshott and other gloom merchants predict:

Clegg heads for Glasgow in relatively good shape. He’s finally beginning to get some credit for his resilience in the face of disaster. The more difficulties the other two leaders experience, the better his situation looks.

Not bad from the Tory heartland. Over in the New Statesman, even Raphael Behr finds the Lib Dems in good shape, albeit he is writing through gritted teeth:

Nick Clegg is no matinee idol but neither is he the object of mass derision… He will address his party’s annual conference as a man determined still to be in government after the next general election – and with reasons to think it possible. There is growing confidence in Clegg’s inner circle that parliament will stay hung after 2015.

We’ve summarised recent commentaries by Menzies and Paddy in another article. Ashdown was also interviewed by Total Politics, which seems to have an obsession with plumbing. (I sympathise, my central heating doesn’t work either.) Paddy’s messages are much the same as the comments in his Telegraph interview:

The days of easy oppositionist politics are over… We have to behave like a party in government and we have to fight an election like one. The fundamental difference that Nick has won for our party is that he has moved us from the third party outside the system of power to one of the parties contending for power, and that alters completely the way you have to behave in an election.

Well that’s clear enough then. Meanwhile, back to the Telegraph Peter Oborne claims that:

[Clegg’s] party, slowly but surely, is breaking in half. There is open hostility between the governing wing of the Liberal Democrats and the generally Left-wing party activists and MPs. The departure of the former minister Sarah Teather this week was the most ugly sign yet of the smouldering antagonism felt towards the leadership. The timing, on the eve of Lib Dem conference, was vicious and looks calculated.

I can’t recall Peter saying anything good about the Lib Dems and he certainly lives up to that in this article:

It had always seemed to me almost certain that the Liberal Democrats would have collapsed under the weight of their own contradictions by now, and that the Coalition would have fallen in turn. Yet it has staggered on.

I guess that he would have preferred the country to have gone skids up with Cameron and Osborne trying to keep a minority government on the road. Martin Kettle in the Guardian is rather more positive about the Lib Dems:

The party mood in the run up to Glasgow remains strikingly resilient. I have talked to a lot of Lib Dems this week, and I have not found a single one – from senior figures down to the grassroots – who believes that the party is marching towards a wipe out [in 2015].

Several things help to explain this almost perverse refusal to panic. The first is that the party as a whole still owns the situation in which it finds itself. The party voted for the coalition with the Conservatives in 2010. They believe, almost to a man and woman, that they must therefore make the best of it without recrimination… A second explanation can be given in a single word: Eastleigh.

Any Liberal Democrat party conference is inherently more rewarding as an expression of party mood than any Tory or Labour conference – for the simple reason that the Lib Dems still allow proper debates about causes. Glasgow will be no exception… This is a party that likes being in government, believes it has made the coalition work, and is convinced it has some signature achievements to be proud of. The Lib Dems’ hunch is that the electorate is more open to giving them a hearing than it was a year ago. And that’s my hunch too, whatever the polls say.

I’ll raise a glass of milk to that. We should never allow the angst we have felt about the ugly compromises in coalition, or the Lib Dems traditional self-doubt about whether we can run the country, to get in the way of recognising that if we build on the last three years we can avoid wipe out in 2015 – whatever Lord Oakeshott thinks.

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116 Comments

  • It’s not that the decision to go into coalition that is wrong, nor the fact that we have obviously had to make unwelcome compromises in order to make it work. It is that too often when Nick Clegg has had to think on his feet he has either been too slow to respond to the situation, too muddled in his response, or not behaved in the way that an instinctive liberal would have done. The Tories have run strategic rings around him on numerous occasions, and only very rarely have we seen him hit back. I admire and respect him for the way he has stood up to unjustified levels of vilification, but I hope that by this time next year the party will have a new leader to take it into the 2015 election.

  • It is a question of the current leader or the party, it is not both. The party is destroyed, hardly anyone is voting for it. If we want the party to continue on a national basis there has to be a change. The leader may be a good bloke, doing his best, but that is not what is required. The party needs a change of strategy, a fresh face and a new image on the street.
    Down there Nick is badly burnt toast. With the present public perception, realistically how many MPs after the next election, probably less than 10 .
    Oakeshott may get shot down but he has a very valid point that cannot be ignored, to many of us it is reality.

  • Well Michael Foot got 27% of the vote in 1983. I know times have changed, but I imagine Nick Clegg would be delighted if he could replicate that. He also oversaw a 25% or so drop in support for Labour, again, I imagine Nick Clegg would be reasonably happy if that were the drop recorded at the next election.

  • Another post from Lib Dem Voice that is loyal to a fault. The party is breaking in half, and has been ever since Clegg took the Blairite approach to power and party management.

  • Peter Watson 13th Sep '13 - 6:05pm

    @tonyhill “It’s not that the decision to go into coalition that is wrong, nor the fact that we have obviously had to make unwelcome compromises in order to make it work.”
    For me the problem is that Clegg and some of those around him (Alexander, Laws) have given the impression that the compromises were welcome. Or worse, that they were not even compromises but something that Lib Dems wanted.

  • Alex Harvey 13th Sep '13 - 6:15pm

    “Is Nick Clegg is”?

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Sep '13 - 6:18pm

    To be fair, Alex, given a cat that can write in English, we perhaps shouldn’t cavil that its grammar isn’t quite up to scratch.

  • Michael Foot had intellect and integrity.

  • paul barker 13th Sep '13 - 7:11pm

    The odd thing is that the gloomsters always like to quote “The Polls” Yet they have Clegg on 24%. The idea that Clegg is unpopular comes from the tribalism of British politics, voters boo the “other two” & cheer their own, as third Party we get more boos.
    Anyone who thinks we are the most divided Party need to read some Labour blogs.

  • @ Peter Watson
    That is exactly how I feel. It was that fact that Clegg and Alexander absolutely looked to be in the element sitting on the front bench cheering on the Tories rather than reluctantly making difficult compromises in the National interest. Clearly there are those Lib Dems like Paul Barker who loathe Labour and worships every move Clegg makes but as far as I am concerned Clegg has killed off the party I thought I was working and campaigning for.

  • @ Theakes
    “The party is destroyed … realistically how many MPs after the next election, probably less than 10.”

    The party is not destroyed but it is in bad shape with lots of members either leaving the party or becoming less active. I wonder how it compares with 1950-59? I do not think it is probable that we will have fewer than 10 MPs after the general election (back to before the 1970s). I think we could lose about a third of our MPs.

    I also would like to see a new party leader, someone who hasn’t been in government would be good and someone who isn’t an economic liberal so they can rebuild the party and they really need to be elected before May 2014.

  • A Social Liberal 13th Sep '13 - 8:22pm

    The puss quotes Kettles piece extensively but misses out a telling paragraph.

    “On the face of it, this is nothing short of delusional. If the party remains at around 10% in the polls, the chances are that the Lib Dems will lose upwards of 45 seats. Even if they managed to recover to 15% nationally – and there is absolutely no sign of that – they could still be looking at losing about 30 seats. Either result would leave them a humiliated rump with minimal leverage, even in a hung parliament. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats’ local government base – built up so assiduously over so many long years – continues to haemorrhage councillors.”

    Does that sound like the day is going to be saved?

  • Richard Dean 13th Sep '13 - 8:44pm

    Anyone in Nick’s position would have had to accept compromises, it’s the nature of the position not the person. The party needs to stop complaining and start capitalizing on the experience of government, the successes, and the benefits to the electorate that have been achieved as a result of the party’s contribution to the Coalition.

    We need to grow up from being a party of protest. The very worst that the membership could do would be to continue its apparently unrelenting criticism of the leader and of many MPs. That criticism has probably done as much damage to the party’s standing with the electorate as compromise has, perhaps even more.

  • The LibDem Party is now very different politically than it was say, five years ago. The party has taken a huge lurch to the right under its current leadership and is now a totally different political party – just a supportive ‘managerial’ appendage of the Conservative Party. It’s very simple really – for the LIbDems the end came at the beginning (if you see what I mean!), with Tuition Fees – followed as this was by many more Leadership-Inspired changes in policy. A principled position of abolishing X, being changed to a principled and enthusiastic tripling of X (whist keeping a straight face) is not survivable. Lord Oakeshott is spot on. My opinion is that in order for the party to rescue itself, the current leadership neads to be cleared out totallly. Only then could the LibDems hope to survive. Unfortunately this will not happen so, very regretably it is politically R.I.P. Sorry, but in words of the late Alan Watkins “Politics is a rough old trade.” and in the light of their bebaviour the LibDems are now the British politial “Unforgiven” (apologies to Clint Eastwood who now, incidentally, would be a political soul-mate of the current LibDem leadership).

  • @Richard Dean. Are you joking? Exactly what do mean when you refer to “the successes, and the benefits to the electorate that have been achieved as a result of the party’s contribution to the Coalition”. With respect, I honestly have no idea what you are talking about . [Yes, voted LibDem in 2010].

  • Andy Williams 13th Sep '13 - 9:36pm

    “Anyone in Nick’s position would have had to accept compromises”

    Absolutely right. We would also have had to accept compromise if 2010 had elected a majority Lib Dem government – That is the nature of being in government. Party policies are built on compromise and when you get into government you have to make further compromises.

    This is why Labour governments are unpopular with Labour members, many of whom are socialists – I don’t recall the Blair government introducing many socialist policies.

    Anyone who wants to belong to a protest group and not a political party of government should go and join 38 Degrees.

  • Richard Dean 13th Sep '13 - 10:35pm

    @DAVEN. It is not clever to be critical or bitter – anyone can do that in politics. There are 60 million different opinions on the way forward. The skill is in achieving at least some of what you set out to do, and in promoting those successes.

  • Andy Williams – “Anyone who wants to belong to a protest group and not a political party…” I joined a political party because I saw things wrong with the society I lived in: I wanted a better deal for the poorest parts of our society; I wanted animals to be treated with more compassion; I wanted greater awareness of the damage we were causing to our environment; I wanted a more equitable distribution of power. I joined the Liberal Party before Nick Clegg was born because it seemed to me to offer the best means of working towards those aspirations. I’m not sure what aspirations the leadership of the Liberal Democrats have now other than to stay in government, but I’m not surrendering my membership so that the bland managerialists can run the party into the sands of oblivion without dissent.

  • Andy I am still a party member but also donate to 38degrees. There are limits that members can not accept because they were not in the coalition agreement but the whips expect our MPs to vote for Consevative policies such as NHS or secret courts. There is a limit but where I live the alternative is a Conservative MP and a good Lib/Dem council so I have to support both party and a thorn in their side.

  • Tony Hill, we were both typing at the same time but I am in exactly your position, a supporter since Jo Grimond and wondering where the leadership is trying to take (drag) us.

  • “Anyone in Nick’s position would have had to accept compromises”

    True, but Nick has rarely “accepted compromises”. He has endorsed the key Tory policies with unbridled enthusiasm (remember the cheers all round the Cabinet table when the NHS Bill finally passed?)

    If you want to know what “accepting compromises” looks like, watch Vince Cable or Ed Davey. It’s awkward, it’s a constant struggle, it does mean accepting things you don’t like, and it also means winning, some of the time. Because it’s a coalition, they need us, so we can genuinely alter policy. If we try. Cable and Davey are trying. Clegg, Alexander, Laws and Browne are not.

  • Richard Dean said “It is not clever to be critical or bitter – anyone can do that in politics.”

    It is not clever to make mindless criticisms, and it is not clever to express mindless loyalism either. DAVEN’s postings did contain rational points. Did yours?

  • daft ha'p'orth 13th Sep '13 - 10:59pm

    @Andy Williams
    “Anyone who wants to belong to a protest group and not a political party of government should go and join 38 Degrees.”

    38 Degrees: 1,700,000 members
    Labour: 187,537
    Conservatives: 130,000
    Lib Dems: 42,501
    UKIP: 30,000

    Looks like a lot of people have done as you suggest 🙂

  • “Nick Clegg is no matinee idol but neither is he the object of mass derision”

    This is unfair commentary.

    Nick Clegg is really rather good looking, however, his ‘net negatives’ in the polls might well be described as ‘mass derision’.

  • Living and working in Plymouth I would like to point out that Michael Foot was a popular figure here. He was even registered as a player for Argyle in recognition of his 90th Birthday !

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/michael-foot-remembering-argyles-greatest-ever-leftwinger-1915652.html

  • Michael Foot was a very popular leader who was mercilessly pilloried by a virulent press and but for the Falklands and the betrayal of the SDP might well have been prime minister. History has not been kind to him but then history is always written by the victors. Truth is rarely told.

    What many Lib Dems seem to ignore about their leaders is that, unlike the rest of you, they have been in coalition with the Tories for 16 years. Most in the parliamentary party, prime among them Clegg, Browne, Alexander and Laws, are entirely tribal in their alliance with the conservative leadership. As long as there is a possibility of cabinet jobs for them there is only a rightward shift possible. The party has reverted to the liberal party of the 1970’s and the social democrats and social liberals will continue to be disenfranchised. The past three years has seen the party move from one that argues for equality to one that argues for social safety nets as being the only requirement for social justice. Your guiding philosophy has been hollowed out and left you as the defenders of nothing but negative liberty. Your admirable reputation for championing of civil liberties is just about shot and your proud claim to have invented the welfare state and the NHS is being bookended with your destruction of both.

    I suspect that the egalitarian liberals and social democrats in the wider party and in the voting public have already seen the writing on the wall. They won’t have left forever but they will probably stay away until your leadership changes.

  • “The party has reverted to the liberal party of the 1970′s and the social democrats and social liberals will continue to be disenfranchised. ”
    You know that’s just going to set Matthew Huntbach off again, don’t you?

  • Foot might have been an electoral liability with the coming of the age of image and the increased intensity and bias
    of media coverage but he was also considered a towering intellect by friend and foe. I can’t imagine anyone accusing Clegg of being the same.

  • I suspect that if Labour were in power now and having to make cuts to reduce the deficit, its own supporters would also be wailing about it having “swung to the right”.

    There is a whole load of nonsense being spouted about the party. Everyone wants lots of public money to spend on nice social objectives, but it isn’t there to be spent. That does not make the party “right wing”.

    @ JRC

    “Most in the parliamentary party, prime among them Clegg, Browne, Alexander and Laws, are entirely tribal in their alliance with the conservative leadership”

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an erroneous statement made on LDV. What on earth makes you think that if they wanted to be part of the Tory party, they wouldn’t have joined ages ago? After all, if pursuit of power were their goal, they wouldn’t have bothered with the Lib Dems in the first place. Your comment makes no sense at all.

    I find it very sad that so few people have kept faith with the Lib Dems. It shows just how shallow their thinking is and how little they understand the current political situation and how much they like to indulge in wishful thinking about what is possible given our awful voting system and the recent meltdown in our public finances. If comments here are anything to judge by, we will have to work very hard indeed to shift voters’ understanding of what has happened since 2010 if we are to make any progress in rebuilding our polling ratings. Many commenters here haven’t even reached first base.

  • Foot may have been a towering intellect, but he had the wrong answers to Britain’s problems at the time. He would have left Britain at the mercy of the trade unions by repealing labour legislation, focused our power output on coal (further strengthening TU control of the economy at the time), cancelled Trident entirely at the height of the Cold War, and withdrawn from the EU. Not to mention the use of five-year plans, direct controls of imports etc. etc.

    If isolationist socialism is your bag, then Foot was offering it. But to say his leadership was in any way comparable with Clegg, a (too) cautious pragmatist caught in an appalling situation of having few MPs and a major economic and public finance crisis to deal with is quite ridiculous.

  • sorry RC but you don’t seem to get it. The Benefit cap and the bedroom tax are prime examples measures which right wingers promote. It stems from their concept of the undeserving poor promoted with random examples by the right wing press. Has anyone worked out that Housing Benefit is awarded to families in need of income support and that taking part of that away because of where they have been allocated a dwelling worsens their condition?
    Clegg et al boast about support for ‘hardworking families’ (a Tory Mantra) but how about the families of the millions of unemployed? Pupil Premium is a significant plus but the withdrawal of the ring fence for Children’s Centres leading to closures and reduced service has gone unnoticed. Please re -read Tony Hills contribution and you might get it.

  • David,

    Every cloud has a silver lining.

    RC,

    If that is what I meant then that is what I would have said. I said that they have a tribal alliance with “the leadership”.

    Your sadness at the lack of mettle of those who have lost faith is telling. Those liberal egalitarians and social democrats who have lost faith would have a different perspective I’m sure. They, like me, would probably see a leadership that has allowed the government to attack the poor and the weak whilst undermining the state as a force for good and the protector of both positive and negative liberties, all done under cover of lies about the state of society and the economy.

  • @Richard Dean. I can assure you that I am not remotely bitter. I am simply describing the changes to the Liberal Democrat Party as I see them, and those changes are there for all to see. I would describe mysellf as an enthusiastic LibDerm voter as of 2010; my politics have not changed since then whilst the politics of your party (at least at the top) have changed considerably. I am hardly alone in with my views; you will know that since the 2010 election the LIbDems have lost as many as 25,000 members. As things stand with current opinion polls, the LibDems have lost potentially 3 million of their 6.8 million voters of 2010. I will be the first to concede that opinion polls and voter intentions can change dramatically and very quickly. Personally, however, I cannot see that happening. The ex-LibDem members that I know have no intention of re-joining, and the ex-LibDem voters will likwise be hard to win back (in my opinion). To point this out has nothing to do with ‘bitterness’ on my part, if my post is annoying to remaining LibDem members, that is regrettable.

  • Looking at an article on UK Polling Report, this finding of a YouGov poll jumped out at me:
    “only 19% said they had an idea what the Liberal Democrats stand for these days, down from 26% a year ago.”
    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/8089

    I think this really gives the lie to the idea that there is a successful policy of “differentiation” from the Tories in operation. The same poll says that only 4% are definite that they will vote Lib Dem in 2015. Another 14% will consider it, but if people don’t have any idea what the party stands for, why should they?

  • @ Brian D

    “The Benefit cap and the bedroom tax are prime examples measures which right wingers promote.”

    What bit of 84 families in one London constituency alone being paid the equivalent of £120,000 pre-tax and more in benefits is either affordable or acceptable to you?

    How exactly would you make sure our scarce social housing stock is redistributed according to need rather than based on some presumed acquired “right” to live in one particular property, larger than that actually required?

    Benefits spending is growing, resources are exceptionally scarce. Yet none of this seems to register. Any attempt to limit spending is labelled as an “attack” on the poor or somehow demonising them. Well it isn’t. It’s an attempt to stem the tide of red ink in the balance sheet of public finances. That is the reality of it and it’s a reality some people just refuse point blank to accept that spending has to be focused where it is needed most.

    Any party that can’t accept the public finances have to be kept under control as the basis for providing key services and keeping society running frankly doesn’t deserve to be in power.

  • jedibeeftrix 14th Sep '13 - 10:12am

    @ RC – “Benefits spending is growing, resources are exceptionally scarce. Yet none of this seems to register. Any attempt to limit spending is labelled as an “attack” on the poor or somehow demonising them. ”

    hear, hear!

  • RC

    Do you really think it’s fair to penalise people for having a spare bedroom in cases where they have no choice because no alternative accommodation is available?

    Do you find it surprising that people think the poor are being victimised when the government behaves like that?

  • @ RC “How exactly would you make sure our scarce social housing stock is redistributed according to need rather than based on some presumed acquired “right” to live in one particular property, larger than that actually required?”

    Doesn’t stop the Royals living in their opulence in numerous ‘Royal’ accommodation does it? Nor, the numerous properties attached to ministerial posts our ‘beloved’ politicians reside in.

    Benefits spending is not increasing yet welfare spending is, and that is due to an ageing population and pensions.

  • @RC & Jedi

    Most of the benefit spending which is increasing , is being spent on pension related benefits.

    There are a lot of pensioners who also receive disability related benefits, DLA if they were already in receipt of it before turning 65, Attendance Allowance for those who claimed after the age of 65.

    Some Pensioners also receive Housing Benefit.

    Is it not time that we separated all benefits that are received by those over pensionable age from the welfare department.

    It is wholly wrong in my opinion for the government and the media and political parties to keep harping on about the rising cost of the welfare budget without acknowledging that a vast majority of it goes towards pensioners.

    I am not arguing here that pensioners should have their benefits cut.

    What I am arguing about is the perception that people and this government likes to portray is that welfare is spiraling out of control because of the unemployed, sick and disabled. It is simply not true.

    If the Government was more transparent instead of trying to use headline figures to vilify the unemployed, sick and disabled, there would be a lot less of this public attitude “off with heads” mentality towards the most vulnerable people in our society.
    But of course this Right Wing led Government does not want that.
    This is one of the reasons that I voted Liberal Democrats in 2010, because I thought that they would have used their position to moderate this sort of behavior and make politics more open and transparent. Sadly, that did not end up being the case

  • Reading all the comment the conclusion must be that the party is in a bloody mess.

  • A comparison between Nick Clegg and Michael Foot is idiotically wrong on almost all levels. The most important being that Nick Clegg is in government while Michael Foot was not. Although Lib Dems have divisions these are nothing like the internecine strife within Labour in the 80s.

    Coalitions are very rare in UK politics, so we are really in uncharted waters in respect to the electoral reaction in 2015. While a 1920/30s style wipe out is one possibility, the backdrop of an ascendant Labour movement is absent. The demise of the FDP in Germany is an important concern, but under FPTP the equivalence ends. Last election we gained votes but lost seats. This implies a cushion effect which may result in retaining seats while losing overall votes: we simply do not know, but many who are generally opposed to the Tories, may have to choose between a no hope Labour candidate and a Lib Dem Challenger or incumbent. Those few of the Guardian’s CiF provisionals brigade who claim to ‘never vote Lib Dem again’ (did they ever?) will likely be more than outweighed by some Tories who will migrate to UKIP.

  • RC,

    Re: your response to Brian D,

    Benefits are not wages. Applying the language of wages to benefits is the tool of the propagandist. If it is realism you are after then a real solution would be to cut the pretence and just evict those you consider to be over-occupying their homes. Sorry, ‘dormitories’ not ‘homes’, the right to a home only applies to those who own the property in which they live in our brave new safety-netted world. The bedroom tax does not cut spending, it charges poor people money to be paid from their benefits in order to stave off eviction subsequent to the original agreement. If a private landlord did this it would amount to demanding money with menaces. It is the purest example of asking the poorest to pay for the sins of the rich.

    There is no such party that thinks the way that you describe only those who differ on the means by which to keep those finances under control. However, any party that does not see that the basic key service that society needs to fund is that which provides homes for children and puts food on their table…..

  • @Martin. I am a Guardian (and Independent, and Telegraph) reader. I am not, that I know of, a member of any “brigade”. I did vote LibDem but I will not be doing so again. I know that there are lots who think like me. So I don’t know what category you would place me in. I think the 2015 LibDem voter shortfall that you describe caused by Guardian readers’ abstinence is very likely to be filled, to a degree, by ex-Conservative voters who now find the LibDems a very ‘safe’ place for their Conservative votes. No, I am not joking.

  • Richard Dean 14th Sep '13 - 12:25pm

    @David Allen: Yes.

  • paul barker 14th Sep '13 - 1:16pm

    @Chris yes the number of voters saying they know what The Libdems stand for has fallen But, its fallen after every General Election & risen again for the next one. What we have to grasp is just how little time most voters devote to actively thinking about politics. Away from General Elections most voters revert to their “Factory Settings” & forget the last 3 or 4 Decades. They will wake up in time for The 2015 Campaign or at least the last week or so.

  • @jedibeeftrix 14th Sep ’13 – 12:52pm
    @ Matt – “Most of the benefit spending which is increasing , is being spent on pension related benefits.”
    Sure. So What?”

    So you are quite comfortable to sit idly by and watch this coalition government and the right wing media continue this Propaganda against the unemployed, sick and disabled. Because the end justifies the means in your opinion of keeping spending below 38%.

    What a lovely society and Britain would be if we all shared that attitude

  • @jedibeeftrix. I don’t see the “direction that the coalition has pushed fiscal policy” as a “as a portent of the (secular) apoloclypse.”. I regard it as Tory and plain wrong. Whilst he poor are carrying the can, the money-men (bankers, private equity manipulators, private monopoly boys and the like) are still partying. I don’t regard myself as a “leftie”, just happily embued with common sense and a leaning toward justice and liberalism. And as I have mentioned in other posts, there are lots like me. What I (and many others) regard as a fiscal conservative take-over of the Liberal Democtrats has cost that party approaching 40% in lost membership. Is that supposed to be clever? So, carry on with ‘economic liberalism’ if that’s what a minority of LibDems crave, but whether you have a viable political party left at the end of all this is increasingly doubtful.

  • Out of interest, when have taxes been higher than 40% of GDP?

  • @jedi

    That’s not exactly the question that was put to you though was it Jedi.

  • “yes the number of voters saying they know what The Libdems stand for has fallen But, its fallen after every General Election & risen again for the next one. What we have to grasp is just how little time most voters devote to actively thinking about politics. Away from General Elections most voters revert to their “Factory Settings” & forget the last 3 or 4 Decades. They will wake up in time for The 2015 Campaign or at least the last week or so.”

    Paul, did you read what I wrote? – “only 19% said they had an idea what the Liberal Democrats stand for these days, down from 26% a year ago.” There wasn’t a general election last year, was there?

  • Jedibeeftrix,

    1 & 2 are codependent because just as the manifesto you propose for those who are ‘leftier’ than you is an impossible sell, so is yours if sold honestly. That is; to state clearly that we wil only provide for the poor, the weak and the elderly so long as it costs less than 40% of GDP. Whenever the economy weakens we will take money from the poor, the sick, the old, children and the disabled first.

    The sale of your proposal is dependent on the demonisation of benefit recipients because if people see them as fully human they won’t support taking the food off their tables to keep the rich happy. As in the USA, it is necessary to sell the message that prosperity is a product of moral virtue and poverty of moral depravity to get decent people to support such an idea.

  • @jedibeeftrix .And a winning position is…… a relentless and irreversible hemorrhaging of party members and voters. Your position will (and is) inevitably leading to the LibDems’ having a ‘small state’ philosophy with admirable liberal economic purity. And a non-existent political party. You are more than half-way there already. With respect, I am interested in just why voters don’t seem to be as important to you as your own rather keenly-felt ideology.

  • @ RC (and jedibbeftix)

    The “bedroom tax” saves very little and effects the welfare budget by a miniscule amount and the deficit by a fraction of 1%.

    If a family needs £120,000 to live I don’t think it is right to only pay them £26,000. If their housing is too large for their needs then they need government help to move to a smaller house but making them homeless is not an answer so they can be housed by their local authority in bed and breakfast. Building more social housing is the way to reduce housing benefit costs by reducing rents not starving people especially those with children or making them homeless.

  • jedibeeftrix 15th Sep '13 - 10:49am

    @ DAVEN/JRC/Almaric – Welcome to the front page of the Lib-Dem GE manifesto in 2015:

    “Look chaps, the state has never managed to part you blighters with more than 38% of the nations wealth on any sustained basis, which is a problem for us because we think there are important things we need to spend your money on. We’ll raise your taxes and spend it on benefits, vote Lib-Dem!”

    Knock yourselves out. 🙂

  • Jedibeeftrix,

    You miss my point. I agree with you on your point that the message, if made on your terms, is unsellable but so would yours be if sold honestly. It is your characterisation of your two points only being conflated through lazy logic that I challenged. It is not lazy any more than your logic that the provision of basic subsistence as a priority for spending should be characterised as a blank cheque to spend on benefits. Your two points are related the first only being acceptable if the ground is prepared by active engagement in the second.

  • @ jedibeeftix

    I think you have missed my points that any savings from the benefit cap or the bedroom tax are so small they make no difference to the percentage spent by governments and that if the people who have their benefit cut end up in bed and breakfast the cost to local government will be more than the cuts in benefits.

  • jedibeeftrix 15th Sep '13 - 6:31pm

    @ Almaric – I’ll concede the point, even if I am confused as how I got dragged into the bedroom tax in the first place.

  • jedibeeftrix 15th Sep '13 - 6:36pm

    @ Almaric – I’ll concede the point, even if I am confused as how I got dragged into the bedroom tax in the first place.

    I imagine whoever gets in next will scrap it.

    By that point it will have achieved its objective of bringing several hundred thousand new rooms into social letting.

    So they quietly reap the benefits while getting the kudos for being such ‘nice’ chaps.

    Principled politics, i love it!

    @ JRC – “That is; to state clearly that we wil only provide for the poor, the weak and the elderly so long as it costs less than 40% of GDP.”

    I’d concede this point too, were it the case the only the state could provide such relief.

    Another point made by MatthewH, correctly, that the service will still be needed and will still cost, it is merely a matter of who provides it.

    Given that I don’t want to see the state occupy more than 40% of GDP i must accept that non-state actors will provide this succor.

  • A Social Liberal 15th Sep '13 - 6:53pm

    Jedi said “I am quite right wing”

    Nooooo.

    I thought all Grens were :o)

  • jedibeeftrix 15th Sep '13 - 7:05pm

    What’s a “Gren”? 🙂

  • Jedibeeftrix,

    Of course others can provide such services but that does not change the central point that as a political manifesto: “We offer to provide for the needs of those who are unable to attend to those needs themselves up until that provision costs what remains of 40% of GDP after defence and then they are on their own or can go to a charity or food bank”, is as unsellable as the caricature you provide for the alternative.

    To sell such a message it has proven to be the case that something must be done to undermine the notion that the recipients are in need rather than undeserving architects of their own poverty. Hence, the tories saying; “those thieving scum, it’s their suffering is their own fault, and we should not encourage their folly with taxpayer subsidy!”.

    Your requirement that there be a 40% cap would mean in practice that the financial crisis would have required the state to deliberately stop providing for those in need (or charge them for the spare bedroom they happen to have had in their home) in order to pay for the destruction of the banking system by those in greed. Good luck putting that on your manifesto.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Sep '13 - 11:07pm

    David (quoting JRC)

    “The party has reverted to the liberal party of the 1970′s and the social democrats and social liberals will continue to be disenfranchised. ”
    You know that’s just going to set Matthew Huntbach off again, don’t you?

    Indeed. I joined the Liberal Party in 1978. The Liberal Party I joined was NOT a party of extreme free market economics. I am APPALLED to find so many people, JRC being just one example, writing up history just assuming that was so. IT WAS NOT!!!! JRC, if you believe that, you are a victim of massive political fraud, an ugly rewriting of history, the sort of thing the worst dictators do.

    Let me put it straight – when the Liberal Party and the SDP merged, the Liberal Party was TO THE LEFT of the SDP and NOT to the right. Do you get this JRC? Please apologise for writing such untruths.

  • jedibeeftrix “What’s a “Gren”? ”

    And how is it related to a Jedi?

  • Richard Dean 15th Sep '13 - 11:33pm

    @Matthew Huntbach

    I too remember the merger.

    My impression at that time was that the Liberals were somewhere between centre and Tory right, and the Social Democrats were somewhere between centre and Labour left. Which was why the merger made some sense.

    My subsequent impression is that Labour moved right and Tories moved left. I wonder if half of the LibDems are now trying to move to where Labour used to be, and the other half wants to move to where Tory used to be.

    Which is perhaps why opinion polls suggest that voters now think that LibDems make no sense at all.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Sep '13 - 11:57pm

    jedibeeftrix

    “Look chaps, the state has never managed to part you blighters with more than 38% of the nations wealth on any sustained basis, which is a problem for us because we think there are important things we need to spend your money on. We’ll raise your taxes and spend it on benefits, vote Lib-Dem!”

    When you write “benefits” you give the impression the entire spending of the government is on money paid to people who are too lazy to work. When you write “which is a problem for us because we think there are important things we need to spend your money on” you give the impression that Liberal Democrats are some sort of eccentrics who wish to take people’s money away and spend it on thing that only Liberal Democrats care about. Right-wingers like you love to use this sort of language to trick others, you get away with it because your voice is so dominant, the wealthy own newspapers to make sure this message gets pumped out, they fund think-tanks to pump it out, they pump out the message that politics is bad, ordinary people should not get involved with it, in order to ensure there is no-one around to contradict this nonsense.

    If people REALLY felt like you, they would not moan so much when government spending was cut. They would be cheering the abolition of subsidies for university education. They would be cheering cuts to the NHS. They would be calling for their bins to be emptied less, for school class sizes to be increased, and so much more, all of this to save on government spending which you call “benefits”. But they aren’t, are they?

    No, it is not, as you so misleadingly suggest, just the Liberal Democrats and other nasty lefty politicians wishing to spend government money on things. It is the people of this country who are constantly demanding better schools, better hospitals, better government services in all sorts of other things. People want the things that taxes get spent on, but people like you try to fool them by making them think there is no connection between good services and taxes, making then think taxes are just collected because politicians get a kick out of it, and like to give it to scroungers.

    Sorry, if you wish to be seen as an honest commentator on this sort of thing, you need to use honest language. I think politics needs honest language in order for people to be able to think straight and make good decision.

    An honest debate on this topic would centre around the main issue, which is that there is much more now we can do (at a cost) to keep people alive than we could in the past. Therefore, if we wish to have a health service which is paid for out of taxation, taxes will need to rise. It is not the Liberal Democrats forcing this as an unpopular idea on an unwilling population, as your language suggests – it is the people themselves who want it. Your language will be correct when the people of this country decide they do not want a National Health Service and would rather pay for their medical care directly from their own pockets. However, when you write “benefits” people just don’t think this includes health care – and I think you write “benefits” knowing this, because you want to mislead people into supporting policies which are against what they really want. If people are kept alive longer, there will be more people of pensionable age. As a consequence, if we wish state pensions even to be kept at the level they are now, taxes must rise to pay for them. I don’t see big call for state pensions to be cut, so your implied suggestion that this is just nasty Liberal Democrats taking people’s money away to spend it on things only Liberal Democrats care about is laughably incorrect. And I think you know this to be the case, but you just use this sort of language deliberately to fool people.

    While the rise in life expectancy is the biggest issue causing state spending to rise, there are many others. Mostly they are various aspects of the more complex world we live in which require more complex infrastructure than we had in the past. When most people were peasants living off the land, there was little need for any state services, so little need for taxation to pay for them. Most of the time you ate what you grew on your own patch of land, and all you needed to communicate with the rest of the world was a muddy path to the next village. You didn’t need schools, because mum and dad taught you how to do what they did i.e. grow food on your patch of land. If you got sick, and couldn’t be cured by what could be found growing around, you died. So no need for an expensive health service and all the taxes needed to support it. Mostly you died of something or other before you reached old age, so no need for a system of old-age pensions paid for out of tax.

    But our world CONTINUES to move further and further away from that sort of existence, hence the reason why taxes are rising. Even in my lifetime, the sort of transport infrastructure that was enough when I was young, would be totally inadequate now, a more complex society needs more roads etc, and people expect them to be paid for out of taxes. It is not just eccentric Liberal Democrats forcing them to do so. A more complex society requires more educated people – the days when most people could leave school at the age of 15, because most jobs did not require extensive education are over. If industry demands, as it does, a more educated workforce, it has to pay for it. Since I don’t see the big companies willing to pay directly for schools to give potential workers the skills they expect them to have, it has to be done through taxation.

    And so on, many more examples could be given.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Sep '13 - 12:07am

    Richard Dean

    My subsequent impression is that Labour moved right and Tories moved left. I wonder if half of the LibDems are now trying to move to where Labour used to be, and the other half wants to move to where Tory used to be.

    Er, no, Labour moved right and the Tories moved even further right. When I joined the Liberals, my politics were more or less “centre”. I now find that though my views have not changed much, they are pretty much to the left of any mainstream UK politics.

    Now, however, that left-right, though convenient terms to use, are not all politics is about. I’ve never liked the Labour Party, not now, didn’t in the past. It may be or have been at some time at about the same position that I was on the left-right scale, but I didn’t like it then any more than I did previously or now. I’m a believer in political pluralism, very strongly opposed to the central idea of Labour that there should be just one party of the left, and that policy making and politics should be done within that party, with the democratic chambers just a rubber stamp of what the party has already decided.

  • “Let me put it straight – when the Liberal Party and the SDP merged, the Liberal Party was TO THE LEFT of the SDP and NOT to the right. Do you get this JRC?”

    As an SDP member from 1981, let me try to give my perspective.

    OK – I joined the SDP rather than the Liberals because I could see clear commitment to social justice by people like Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins. The Liberals had many good ideas and were in many ways more forward-thinking, but many of them were rather too disinterested in the bread-and-butter issues. (However, Matthew Huntbach is quite right to say that they were light years away from the Orange Book – which only crawled out of the woodwork some twenty years later).

    The takeover of the SDP by David Owen, however, led to a big shift to the Right. By the time of the merger, yes Matthew, the Liberals were to the left of Owen’s SDP. I was a big supporter of the merger, which created a merged party with the centre-left principles I went into politics to support.

    Ironically, Paddy Ashdown in those days made a pretty effective centre-left leader, but he has since drifted rightward. Whereas Owen, almost Thatcherite at the time, has now drifted back to the left!

    With me so far? If not, here is the digested read – It’s complicated!

    And here is the most important comment – It is all quite irrelevant to the present day! Richard Dean’s posting, I am afraid, is quite wrong. The Cleggites are an alien species, nothing to do with either the 1980s Liberals or the 1980s SDP. The Cleggites want to join the Greater Conservative Movement. The rest of the party don’t – and whilst they would prefer to work with Labour, they are also quite distinct from Labour, otherwise they would join Labour. The centre-left Lib Dems don’t want to be run by trade unions, don’t want to ignore civil liberties, and don’t want to be governed by egomaniacs like Blair and Brown.

    So let’s stop overanalysing the SDP / Liberal Alliance. It is irrelevant to sorting out today’s mess. Let’s concentrate on that!

  • A Social Liberal 16th Sep '13 - 12:20am

    Jedi
    You should be asking “Why do you think I was a Gren”

    One more reason for me to think that you are a Grenadier

    :o)

  • A Social Liberal 16th Sep '13 - 12:22am

    Sorry Jedi

    That should read ‘were a Gren’

    Myself, I was teeny weeny

  • Richard Dean 16th Sep '13 - 12:35am

    @Matthew Huntbach
    The Tories moved left, definitely. Perhaps, though, you’re too young to remember how far right they used to be!

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    I didn’t write the untruth’s that you are so offended by but my expression of what I was trying to say did seem to imply a meaning different to my intention, one that did read the way you describe. One that you correctly point out. Not quite the apology you demand but an acknowledgement that you are right to defend history from being abused.

    My intention was to point to the fact that the Liberal Party of the 1970’s was a narrower church than the Lib Dems are now and confined itself to a narrower definition of liberalism. It was not a party of liberal leaning social democrats. It was a party that took a view of liberalism and argued for it. That party would not have drawn Conservatives, socialists, social democrats or trade unionists into its fold very easily but then it would not have been an entirely welcoming place for neo-liberals or libertarians either. It was this disenfranchisement through narrowness that I tried to describe and that the present day narrowness being of a more neo-liberal/classical liberal ilk would disenfranchise the left. I hadn’t intended to make any comment on the views of the Liberal Party of the1970’s only to say that it was just that; liberal.

  • I wasn’t a member of either the SDP or Liberal Party in the 1980’s but I was interested in politics and voted Labour in 1979. As the Alliance developed it became clear that the Liberals were more radical than the SDP and its conference appeared to be more “left-wing”. However neither party was a party of clones; there were differences within each party. David Owen was more “right-wing” than Shirley Williams and David Steel was more “right-wing” than the majority of those who attended Liberal Assemblies. While David Owen moved ever closer to the Thatcherite position neither he nor David Steel were economic liberals. In my opinion by the mid 1950’s there were no economic liberals in the Liberal Party, I would be surprised if any MP was an economic liberal by 1955.

    Margaret Thatcher was a monetarist and while she sounded like an economic liberal she wasn’t one. She did move the Conservative party to the right and David Cameron moved the party from the right towards the centre before 2010. Under Michael Foot the Labour party moved to the left but moved towards the centre after his leadership and with Tony Blair moved further to the right. Gordon Brown moved it a little to the left. The point is that political parties move their positions over time. However while David Cameron gave the impression his party was more liberal it is still very authoritarian as is the Labour party.

  • jedibeeftrix 16th Sep '13 - 8:26am

    I am still unsure what a “Gren” is…

  • Oakeshott needs to pipe down, Clegg is excellent.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Sep '13 - 2:09pm

    JRC

    My intention was to point to the fact that the Liberal Party of the 1970′s was a narrower church than the Lib Dems are now and confined itself to a narrower definition of liberalism. It was not a party of liberal leaning social democrats. It was a party that took a view of liberalism and argued for it.

    It did not view liberalism as meaning an adherence to extreme free market economics. In your message of 2:31am on 14th September you wrote “The party has reverted to the liberal party of the 1970′s” along with an attack on the party for abandoning social aspects of liberalism. There is no other what or reading what you wrote in that message except to interpret it as a belief that the Liberal Party of the 1970s was a party of hard-right economics. It was not. There is no way I would have joined it and become active in it if it was.

    It was most certainly NOT a narrower church in those days. In fact there was a flux of ideas, many different streams. The more moderate members did not see themselves as very different from social democrats, in fact some identified themselves as such, and looked forward to a “re-alignment of the left” in which the Labour Party would split, leaving a hard-left socialist party which would keep the Labour Party name, and a social democrat party which would be a “modernised” version of Labour, and which would combine with the Liberals. However, the second most dominant stream which called itself “radical Liberal” was looking for radical decentralisation – much more power to local government, and industry run by co-operatives, it was more like today’s Green Party than today’s Conservative Party. Some even termed themselves “libertarian socialists”. Those who viewed liberalism primarily as being about the free market were small in number, and generally combined it with a strong belief in Land Value Taxation.

    The Liberal Party of those days proudly used the slogan about building a society in which “none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”. This emphasis on poverty being the first thing that needs to be tackled in order to build a liberal society is TOTALLY AT ODDS with your claim about what the 1970s Liberal Party was like.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Sep '13 - 2:14pm

    Richard Dean

    @Matthew Huntbach
    The Tories moved left, definitely. Perhaps, though, you’re too young to remember how far right they used to be!

    Well, my political memories go back to when Edward Heath was leader of the Conservative Party. Was it more right-wing under his leadership? I don’t think so.

    Of course, it depends what you mean by “left” and “right”. If you see it just in economic terms, the Conservative Party has moved massively to the right. I don’t think a few fairly token changes which are socially liberal, such as Cameron’s endorsement of gay marriage, which perhaps is what you are thinking of, means an overall shift to the left.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Sep '13 - 2:23pm

    David Allen

    OK – I joined the SDP rather than the Liberals because I could see clear commitment to social justice by people like Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins. The Liberals had many good ideas and were in many ways more forward-thinking, but many of them were rather too disinterested in the bread-and-butter issues.

    Very few people sat down and considered both the Liberal Party and the SDP and made a choice between them. People whose political views were identical ended up in one or the other for reasons of chance. The Liberal Party was patchy in existence, and then as now poorly reported by the press and when they did mention it, it was almost always in negative terms. So, if like me you had happened to have come across an active Liberal Party campaign and found that it was indeed motivated by a commitment to social justice – as I did when I encountered Des Wilson’s Hove by-election campaign in 1973 – you might well have joined the Liberal Party. However, people whose only knowledge of the Liberal Party was from what they read in the press, would be much less likely to join it, and much more likely to feel the SDP when it was founded was offering something new that the Liberal Party was not.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Sep '13 - 2:32pm

    Amalric

    David Cameron moved the party from the right towards the centre before 2010.

    No he did not. He issued a few meaningless slogans which suggested he might be doing that, but on the main issue he carried on pushing the party rightwards. To me, the primary meaning of “right” is a belief that power and wealth should be in the hands of those who already have it, because they are the best people to keep it safe. The primary meaning of “left” is to oppose this and believe instead that power and wealth should be more widely spread. Power and wealth ave become concentrated more and more in the hands of the few under Cameron’s government, and as a direct consequence of his policies. He has pushed many policies this way which Margaret Thatcher did not dare to go with, privatisation of the Post Office being a recent example.

    The dropping of a few old-style Tory ways of thinking, such a more liberal attitude to homosexuality does NOT mean a general move to the centre. These old-style Tory things are all those Tory things that were not, or at least no longer are, part of the defence of wealth and property. Therefore dropping them does not imply a move away from the right in the primary political meaning of that term.

  • @Matthew Huntbach 15th Sep ’13 – 11:57pm

    Matthew, when I see you talking passionately like this and everything you say I am in complete agreement with.

    Your passion makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, gush i think i maybe falling in love lol.

    Seriously though, very well said. It is great to see you saying it like it is 😉

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    There is a different way of reading it, albeit not an explicit one, which is why I have tried to explain what I meant to say.

    As you say, the Liberal Party of the 70’s looked forward to a time when it could combine with social democrats, however, it hadn’t yet arrived there. It’s appeal and membership was more narrowly confined than it became once it had merged with the SDP. Many on the left were not comfortable with the Liberal Party, even though they were philosophically sympathetic to liberalism, but were encouraged by the merger to re-think. My point was that the modern party appears to becoming the Liberal Party rather than the Liberal Democratic Party. This is the reversion I meant to describe. It was not my intention to infer that the modern parties interpretation of liberalism is the same as that of the party you joined. I made no claim as to what the Liberal Party was like internally or of its philosophy only that it was specifically a liberal party and not an explicitly social democratic party.

    As I said my meaning was not explicit and the way you read it was not an unfair reading of it but neither was it as explicit as you claim. So I have tried to explain myself more fully. One thing you do have in common with your leadership though is throwing around meaningless demands for empty apologies. I hope my attempt to offer a better understanding of my meaning will give you greater satisfaction.

  • “David Cameron moved the party from the right towards the centre before 2010”

    He most certainly did not.

    David Cameron recognized that the party still held the title of being the nasty party in the eyes of the majority of the public.
    He tried to portray that the conservative party had changed by talking of same sex marriage, hug a hoodie and how he would protect the NHS and the NHS would be safe in Tory Hands.
    These where just platitudes, it certainly did not mean the Tories where moving to the left.

    Once they got into government they proved that in a matter of weeks.
    Top down reorganization of the NHS and allowing more privatization
    There was a massive rebellion of Tories on same sex marriage, not just from the Mp’s but the grass-roots as well, some of the comments being made where homophobic and insulting, Tory grandee Sir Roger Gale likened gay marriage to incest.
    If it where not for Labour and the Liberal Democrats ssm would have failed miserably.
    If the Tories would have been in government alone, there is no way SSM would have been passed in this parliament. Cameron would have gave in to his backbenches and grass roots

  • Whether David Cameron has personally moved left or right, or remained unchanged, is a question that can only be answered with an insight into Cameron’s convictions that I doubt he himself possesses.
    However, I can’t find any trace of him branding himself a “liberal Conservative” since 2010. At a guess, this formula was found not to go over well with the Tory base and right-wing press.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Sep '13 - 10:55pm

    JRC

    I hope my attempt to offer a better understanding of my meaning will give you greater satisfaction.

    No it doesn’t. Because (I will try to avoid typoes this time) there is no other way of interpreting what you wrote except as claiming that the Liberal Party of the 1970s was a party that was purely about extreme free market economics, and that it did not recognise or care about the extent to which freedom is stifled by lack of wealth. That is completely at odds with what I know, having actually joined the Liberal Party and become active in it during the 1970s, to be the truth. We are seeing this sort of line you are pushing come across more and more these days. It has come from a deliberate attempt to rewrite history by people doing so for a political reason. They want to pretend that “liberalism” meant this sort of thing, because it is the sort of thing THEY stand for, and it makes their politics look much more respectable if they can give the impression that it’s good old fashioned Liberalism. Either you know this, and you are part of this sinister rewriting of history, or you too have been fooled by these evil people. I do not use the word “evil” lightly – what they are doing with this rewriting is the sort of thing the worst dictators did, and something no decent person would do.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Sep '13 - 11:00pm

    JRC

    My point was that the modern party appears to becoming the Liberal Party rather than the Liberal Democratic Party.

    No it is not. In becoming more leader oriented and centrist, in pushing further the idea that a political party is about its leaders being enlightened people who make the policies, and its members there just to follow the party line, it is becoming more social democrat not more liberal.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Sep '13 - 11:11pm

    JRC

    Many on the left were not comfortable with the Liberal Party, even though they were philosophically sympathetic to liberalism, but were encouraged by the merger to re-think.

    No, I don’t recall it at all being that way. Many on the left were opposed to political pluralism, had the idea that there could only be one party of the left, could not see the need for a range of choices, wanted working class people to be voting fodder for them so that political debate and policy making stayed inside their party, and democratic mechanisms outside it would just be a rubber stamp of their party line. That’s why they hated the Liberal Party, because it showed there could be a different way of playing left politics. But my recollection is that they hated the SDP even more, because they saw the SDP as traitors to their notion of politics because its leaders originated in their party and broke away from their sacred principle of there being one party of the left. I assure you, I was there at the time – when the SDP was formed it was welcomed by the right-wing of the Liberal Party, who saw it as people like themselves, and disliked by the left-wing of the Liberal Party, who saw it as damaging the radical alternative left they were trying to build.

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    I have told you what I meant to say and whilst my writing might have been poor it was not so poor as to have explicitly said what you claim I said. However, I have repeatedly conceded that you interpretation is a valid one and more than that a likely one. I have also written what I intended to convey in my message. You seem intent on holding me to account over a position that I never intended to take. Ultimately what you appear to be asking for is an apology for poor writing skills, not the most liberal of standpoints. You have corrected the impression I gave of the Liberal Party of the 1970’s and I have conceded your point.

    On your sneer that the party is becoming more social democrat in its following of leaders; I have no axe to grind on behalf of social democrats but that is exactly the same kind of demonisation and misrepresentation that you accuse me of. It is also representative of the exceptionalism

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    I have told you what I meant to say and whilst my writing might have been poor it was not so poor as to have explicitly said what you claim I said. However, I have repeatedly conceded that your interpretation is a valid one and more than that, a likely one. I have also written what I intended to convey in my message. You seem intent on holding me to account over a position that I never intended to take. Ultimately what you appear to be asking for is an apology for poor writing skills, not the most liberal of standpoints. You have corrected the impression I gave of the Liberal Party of the 1970’s and I have conceded your point. I am not pushing any line.

    On your sneer that the party is becoming more social democrat in its following of leaders; I have no axe to grind on behalf of social democrats but that is exactly the same kind of misrepresentation of which you accuse me. It is also representative of the exceptionalism that Liberals tend to display. All political parties have moved towards a managerial style and none of their members have liked it. The Liberal Democrats have just got there a bit later than the other two.

  • Sorry about the double posting.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach and matt

    There are always differences within parties, but the position of a party should be based on their manifesto. The Conservative manifesto of 2010 under David Cameron was not as right wing as that of 2005 under Michael Howard and that is why I believe David Cameron moved the (Conservative) party from the right towards the centre before 2010.

    Last century there was something that was called “New Liberalism” and the Liberal government of 1906 enacted reforms based on this and recognised that for people to be free they need to be free from poverty. These ideas fed into the Yellow Book and Beveridge. Therefore for nearly more than a century the Liberal party had a social liberal wing.

    @ JRC

    I am glad you have accepted the view of the Liberal party as set out by Matthew Huntbach which implies that you have changed your position from that of 16th Sept 2.58pm.

  • Almaric,

    No I have accepted that my words had expressed my view badly. My view of the Liberal Party has not been expressed at any point in our exchange.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Sep '13 - 10:43am

    Amalric

    Last century there was something that was called “New Liberalism” and the Liberal government of 1906 enacted reforms based on this and recognised that for people to be free they need to be free from poverty. These ideas fed into the Yellow Book and Beveridge.

    Even before that, the Liberal Party was very much about having a social conscience and about good quality public services. It should be recalled that private business then was all about small scale local businessmen, we did not have the international corporations big enough to play one country against another that we do now have dominating our economy. So when the Liberal Party in the 19th century did come out in favour of free market economics, it was a very different sort of thing to what it means now, in fact it was seen as challenging what were then the dominant powers in society, which were the landed aristocracy and the established Church.

    So the idea that liberalism was EVER about this sort of dog-eat-dog greed-is-good mentality, and that it is somehow a betrayal of our inheritance if we don’t go for it now and hand over what remains of democratic power to the global finance super-elite is laughably wrong. The idea that this sort of way of thinking is “classical liberalism” or “19th century liberalism” has been pushed out by this super-elite and those who back them to try and make their domination of us look more respectable, to try and link it to a historic political stream which was actually something very, very different. When people like JRC tell us that this is what the Liberal Party was like in the 1970s, they are part of this plan (consciously or unconsciously) to rewrite history in order to give absolute power to this new global aristocracy. I wouldn’t be so concerned if JRC was just an isolated case, but I’ve seen this same line he put in his message of 2:31am on 14th September coming out so many times from other people, who obviously weren’t there at the time so don’t know how ludicrously wrong it it.

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    Sorry I didn’t respond to your second post. Yes, many on the left were and are opposed to your version of political pluralism and argued that solidarity was and is the best way of opposing the forces of conservatism. To characterise that as seeing people as mere voting fodder is opposed to the ethos of your determined attempt to have the truth told of the politics of the 1970’s. It expresses the view that liberal parties wish to push of the Labour movement because of their hatred of the idea that the working classes having the strength to fight for themselves against the powerful vested interests that keep them enslaved by poverty. Liberals hate the idea of the working classes having the power to achieve true freedom collectively so they try to define the Labour movement as a singular individual who is greedy for authoritarian power. It is an ‘evil’ rewriting of history and misrepresentation of the valid position that collective action is the best way for the weak to achieve true liberty. This hatred you describe did not exist towards the Liberal Party. It is a figment of a collective imagination and a bunker mentality that present day liberals exhibit. Until political Liberals can rid themselves of this belief that it is personal hatred rather than political difference that stops Labour members and supporters suddenly becoming enlightened and following the Liberal party version of liberalism then they will continue to be the most tribal of all the parties. See, two can play at that game.

    The hatred of the SDP was because they made a great public show of trying to break the party they were leaving. They did betray the party and made it explicit that they were doing so. The hatred was not because they tried to destroy some notion of how politics should work, it was because they tried to make sure that the Labour Party would be unelectable, not through valid political debate but through sabotage. This fantasy that the Labour Party was some centralised authoritarian behemoth is a greater lie than the lie you exposed about the Liberal Party of the 1970’s that I mistakenly implied in my initial post.

  • @ JRC
    “My view of the Liberal Party has not been expressed at any point in our exchange.”

    You wrote “My intention was to point to the fact that the Liberal Party of the 1970′s was a narrower church than the Lib Dems are now and confined itself to a narrower definition of liberalism. It was not a party of liberal leaning social democrats” (16th Sept 1.17am). “the Liberal Party of the 70′s looked forward to a time when it could combine with social democrats, however, it hadn’t yet arrived there. It’s appeal and membership was more narrowly confined than it became once it had merged with the SDP” (16th Sept 2.58pm). You were clearly expressing a view of the Liberal Party which is not supported by the facts.

    @ Matthew Huntbach

    I agree with you when you wrote, “Even before that, the Liberal Party was very much about having a social conscience and about good quality public services” and when you point out that the Whigs and the Liberal Party were challenging the power of the landed aristocracy. However I believe that Gladstonian liberalism was also economic liberalism wanting to balance the budget and reduce government spending to achieve this. I don’t see any contention with economic liberals in the Liberal Democrats with a “dog-eat-dog greed-is-good mentality” but they do have a contention with Gladstonian liberalism.

    @ JRC
    “Liberals hate the idea of the working classes having the power to achieve true freedom collectively”

    This is not true, a Liberal government made Trade Unions legal (1871) and were supported by J S Mills in Principles of Political Economy. Another Liberal government made strikes legal and safeguarded their funds from damages from employers (1906). Liberals have always opposed power and they supported workers combining against the power of employers. However Liberals oppose the use of collective action against democratically elected governments and this is why in the 1980s they mostly supported Trade Union reform. I can assure you that Liberals were not opposed to Trade Unions and I know this because my father was a Trade Unionist who held numerous offices in his unions but was also active in the Liberal Party 1956-70 standing in at least one council election. My mother often recalled Labour Party members who she met due to my father’s activism in the Trade Union movement saying they wished he would join the Labour Party.

  • Amalric,

    It is a fact that prior to the amalgamation with the social democrats the Liberal Party was a party of liberals after that point it became a party of liberals and social democrats. As Matthew Huntbach reported, and I have no reason to doubt him, the Liberal Party “looked forward” to such an amalgamation which self evidently shows that it was not yet there. If you amalgamate with a party of a different view you necessarily as a matter of fact, broaden your church. These are facts, there is no view or opinion in either of those statements. One is an historical fact the other is a mathematically logical fact.

    Regarding your second point, you did spot the sentence at the end where I wrote “See, two can play at that game.” didn’t you?

  • @ JRC
    I am not sure Matthew Huntbach or Liberals of the time would use the words you used for the “re-alignment of the left”. I am not sure that the SDP had as broad a spectrum of beliefs as the Liberals in the 1980’s so I am not sure your conclusion is necessary true but it could be. It is not a fact it is an opinion based on logic but not necessary the facts.

    I did see “See, two can play at that game” but I have no idea which parts of your post it applies to as it is the middle or what you mean by it.

  • Amalric,

    I’m not quite sure what you are referring to in your first paragraph but i’ll try and be as clear as I can: Liberals + SDP is more than Liberals or X + Y > X. This is a fact. I have no idea what either you or Matthew hope to gain by inferring meaning from simple statements, ascribing it to me and then discrediting it.

    What it referred to was that Matthew Huntbach had peddled myths about the nature of the Labour party, (the common liberal myth that the Labour movement is a singular individual greedy for power and resources that are taken from the state, not for redistributing the goods of society but for “the socialist” self, Margaret Thatchers favourite line of attack), at the same time as demanding apologies from me for having implied that I believed and was peddling myths about the Liberal Party of the 1970’s. To this end I posted comments that offered a caricature of his comments about the Labour Party only turned upon Liberals. It applies to the first paragraph.

    To be honest I am bemused as to why Matthew Huntbach is being so aggressive in this, after all I have conceded that he is correct in everything but his demand for an apology, yet he continues to say that I am peddling some evil and corrupt view, it’s quite rude. Perhaps he thought I was being facetious rather than genuine when I described him as a “silver lining” to this cloud.

  • @ JCR
    If you were only posting myths to wind-up Matthew Huntbach then sorry I posted to try to correct them with facts.

    However with regard to X + Y > X. This is true in maths and so with regard to numbers you are likely to be correct. However in 1987 it was X – F + Y – O = N. Therefore N is likely to be larger numerically if Y – O is larger than F. One of the problems of course is there were no reliable figures on the size of X. The Liberal Party always said it was larger than the SDP. However to talk of “broad church” is not to talk about numbers. If the Liberal Party had merged with the Labour Party you would be correct because there were some people on the Labour left who had views not included in the Liberal Party. However my point was that I don’t believe there were any views in the SDP that were further to the left than the left of the Liberal Party. There may have been a few to the right of the right of the Liberal Party but they didn’t join the new party but stayed with Owen. I hope this explains why I believe you are incorrect to say that the membership of the Liberal Democrats after merger in 1988 was broader than that of the Liberal Party in 1986, but I think it was larger in numbers.

  • Amalric,

    I replied to Matthew Huntbach because he misinterpreted what I said and I wished to correct him. Both you and he have assigned meaning to simple statements of fact and then gone on to wind yourselves up with my supposed evil rewriting of history. Matthew Huntbach has been quite rude in this and you seem to have jumped to his defence.

    On your substantive point your logic is not false but I made no mention of left/right only liberal and social democrat which are substantially different political views. There may have been some individuals who held social democratic views in the liberal party but that is not the same as being a social democratic party. Anyway a party that adds Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins to their number has become significantly greater than it was before. Furthermore I think that if it were announced tomorrow that the Liberal Democrats are in future to be known only as the Liberal Party then significant numbers would leave. Most of them on the left by the way.

  • @ JRC
    I think you will find that both Matthew Huntbach and I dispute your “facts” because they are often opinions and not facts. I recognise that today lots of people have great difficulty in the telling the difference between facts and opinions. It appears that you do not recognise that the Liberal “church” was wider than the SDP “church”. Roy Jenkins was a liberal Home Secretary and would have been at home in the Liberal Party of the 60’s and Shirley Williams sounds like a liberal to me. So while they did add to the party you have not provided any evidence that their political beliefs were outside the wide spectrum of liberal political thought. Is it possible for you to state which beliefs of the SDP were not included in the wide spectrum of the old Liberal Party.

    I can’t see the party changing its name again. When the name was changed from the Social and Liberal Democrats those who came from the SDP accepted it. They also no longer seem to get upset when opponents call them “Liberals”. Therefore I believe there is no evidence for your assertion that if the name was changed “significant numbers would leave”. Also you still seem not to recognise that the Liberal Party has always included radicals who you could say are on the “left”. So again there is no evidence if the name was changed to the Liberal Party any members on the “left” would leave, especially as lots of members on the “left” have already left the party because of Nick Clegg and others wanting to move the party to the right.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '13 - 1:06am

    JRC

    What it referred to was that Matthew Huntbach had peddled myths about the nature of the Labour party, (the common liberal myth that the Labour movement is a singular individual greedy for power and resources that are taken from the state, not for redistributing the goods of society but for “the socialist” self, Margaret Thatchers favourite line of attack),

    No, I did not say that. All I did was put across the orthodox socialist concept of The Party. The idea that there is and must be just one party of the working class is fundamental to socialism. The Labour Party believed everyone should be in a trade union, and all trade unions should be affiliated to the Labour Party, therefore it alone was The Party of the working class, there was no need for any other. The attitudes I am writing about I saw myself when a councillor in a borough run for years by the Labour Party. I am not saying those in the Labour Party were bad people or only in it for themselves. But I am saying this whole socialist ideology of there being The Party of the working class led them to have attitudes that meant they did not accept there might be other parties of the left. It led to a complacency because most Labour councillors had safe seats, so they did not have to go out and win votes. So the result was that politics became internalised in the Labour Party – the real elections were to get nominations within it, not to win seats outside it. Policy making was done inside the Labour Party, with the democratic mechanisms of the council there just to agree what had already been discussed in detail inside The Party. It led to the attitude – which I very much see in you – that could not accept there might be people who wanted social justice and redistribution of wealth and power but did not like the tight structure of the Labour Party, and so when those people appeared just kept accusing them of being another sort of Tory, of not being concerned about the very things that motivated them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '13 - 1:25am

    Amalric

    I think you will find that both Matthew Huntbach and I dispute your “facts” because they are often opinions and not facts.

    I don’t think they’re even opinions. What concerns me is the way a bunch of Ayn Rand fans have stolen the word “liberalism”, and then told lies about history to make out that their nasty ideology was what was meant by “liberalism” in the past. Because that ideology has big money paying to push it, and big money pays to push it because it advances the cause of big money, it has been so successful that people who know no better have started to believe it . JRC has been duped by these people. What he said about the Liberal Party of the 1970s was ludicrously untrue, but I suspect he has just picked it up second hand from the Ayn Rand fans telling him that’s what “liberalism” meant.

  • Amalric,

    The opinions you have questioned are often ones that you have extrapolated from facts that I have stated and then ascribed to me. Whether or not the Liberal “church” was wider than the SDP “church” it did not include it. After its inclusion the Lib Dems became a wider church than the Liberal “church”. This is not a contentious fact nor is it one that contradicts anything that either you or Matthew Huntbach have argued about the left/right balance of the Liberal Party of the 1970’s. Whether or not Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams are liberals, when they joined the Liberals Democrats that party became a wider church than the Liberal Party they had felt unwilling to join. Unless it is your opinion that they added nothing to the party. You are of the opinion that both of these individuals would have been at home in the Liberal Party, they obviously were not of the same opinion.

    You appear to be arguing that the opinion and thought of those who became the Liberal Democrats were already a subset of the body of Liberal thought and therefore they added nothing. This ignores the individual and subsumes individuality into a body of thought that exists independent of the particular individuals who constitute the membership and are actually responsible for thinking those thoughts. This is a very peculiar view of liberalism. Maybe I should concede your point as with you as a member the party seems to include the belief in the individual as autonomous and self-determined whilst simultaneously being a member of Star Trek’s Borg collective.

    My opinion that a reversion to the title Liberal would result in many people leaving the party was clearly stated as an opinion not a fact. The only assertion I made was that I think it to be likely. The evidence for this assertion is that it is in my head, where I do all of my thinking, and now it is written on this website where I made a record of that thought. There has been clear differentiation between those facts that I have stated and those opinions. You are correct in your assertion that some have difficulty in differentiating the two and have illustrated the fact elegantly.

    Your repetition of the assertion that I believe there to be no radical left thinkers in the Liberal Party is one of those extrapolations I referred to in the opening paragraph of this post. I have made no claims or denials on this issue at all.

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    I am fully aware what you meant by what you said but that is not exactly what you said. So what I did was extrapolate the most exaggerated version of what you said could be taken to mean and then ascribe it to you, just as you have done with me. To continue in the manner of debate that you have established I should continue to repeat it as if you really said it and then continue to denounce you for your insulting ill informed myth peddling and then conclude with straightforward insults to your intelligence and integrity but I won’t. I’ll instead follow the truly Lib Dem path and simply award myself the title of most morally superior and be on my way to a real debate about something that actually has a point.

  • I was overseas at the time of the formation of the SDP and the early Alliance time, having been an active Young Liberal 1964 – 70, and an active Liberal and Lib Dem from 1985 to the present day. I did, however, keep in touch with events while away. My take on the SDP is that there were two main “issues” driving the agenda for the Gang of Four – 1) The anti-Europeanism of the then current Labour thinking, and 2) The wish to hang on to a nuclear “deterrent”, with both underpinned by distaste for Michael Foot’s version of Labour, and his winning of the leadership “moving Labour leftwards”. It is probably true to say that on “Europeanism”, most Liberals were in favour of the political and economic development of Europe, and so were with the SDP on that. On Ban the Bomb, however, the Liberal Party was quite split, with furious arguments going on – being on the anti-nuclear wing, I and others at the time saw the SDP as “The Soggies” – a phrase used in one of the popular songs sung at Liberal Party an Lib DEm Conference “Glee Clubs”. Their song books of the time would show clearly some of the Liberal attitudes to the SDP. There were other Liberals around, however, who were very dubious of taking on board people with a Labour background – those were mainly on what you might call “the right” of the party.

    Where I would particularly take issue with JRC is that the Liberal Party was exclusively composed of “liberals” and the SDP of “Social Democrats”. Certainly, there were people who could easily be described as liberals in the Tory Party, and especially among Margaret Thatcher’s Wets, there were people who would now be thought of as SDs (remnants of the so-called Butskellite consensus of the 50s and 60s – some of these have joined the Lib Dems in more recent years, but many struggle on in the modern Tories – both my wife and I have worked closely with these on our Councils!) Many people happy to be described as SDs then remained in the Labour Party, prominent being Roy Hattersley. Members of the SDP in the early days can now be found in all three parties, showing that the SDP early thinking also contained an element of what Matthew, Amalric, and probably JRC would describe as unpleasant neoliberal tendencies. There were no doubt a few freewheeling Liberals on the right who shared some thatcherite thinking also.

    I thoroughly agree with Matthew that there has been a major attempt in right wing media, and in various political circles, to rewrite history, which has tried to justify the acceptance of the thatcherite economic consensus by all three major parties now. Like Matthew, I thoroughly reject that dishonest history. But I am sure, JRC, you are also trying to understand this in a way (from a Labour Party background?) In my experience over the years, Labour folk memories of Liberals will include anti Trade Union actions by Liberals, including Churchill’s strike breaking by use of troops, as Liberal Home Secretary, early opposition to women’s suffrage, and “betrayals” in working with the Tories, starting with Lloyd George and the Coupon election, through the National Liberal Conservatives in the 30s an 50s, and no doubt now including 2010! Trust is rarely on one side only!!

  • Just a minor contribution to the historical discussion: it was widely believed that Roy Jenkins would happily have joined the Liberal Party in the early 80s, but David Steel persuaded him to launch a new political movement instead. This interpretation of events is not actually ruled out by what Roy Jenkins writes in “A Life at the Centre”.

  • Just another minor point: it is not the case that there were no economic liberals in the Liberal Party by 1955. They drifted away after Grimond became leader but Oliver Smedley, for example, did not leave until the early 60s, and he was still hanging round assembly in the early 70s; I remember seeing him dancing to Hawkwind at Eastbourne in 1971 (?). And the fact tha Hawkwind were playing at a Liberal Assembly is some indication of the broad church nature of the party in the 70s.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '13 - 8:18pm

    JRC – this is what you wrote on 14th September:

    Most in the parliamentary party, prime among them Clegg, Browne, Alexander and Laws, are entirely tribal in their alliance with the conservative leadership. As long as there is a possibility of cabinet jobs for them there is only a rightward shift possible. The party has reverted to the liberal party of the 1970′s.

    I will repeat: there is NO OTHER WAY this can be interpreted except as you saying that the Liberal Party of the 1970s was a party which had the sort of right-wing economics of today’s Conservative Party and identified itself as an ally of the Conservatives. You keep squirming, but the truth is there in your message. That is what you wrote. It BEARS NO RESEMBLANCE to the truth as those like myself and Tim13, who were actually around and active in the Liberal Party know it to be.

  • @ JRC
    If you have accepted that the Liberal “church” was a wider spectrum of political belief than the SDP then the only way you can be asserting that the merged party was a “wider church” is because it now included people who had not been in it before. I think this is a poor use of the words “wider church”. Each member of the party adds something to it so I accepted that they both added to the party but Shirley Williams added more to the party because I believe that Roy Jenkins was not very active in the party after merger. I believe that those members of the SDP who joined the merged party would have been at home in the Liberal Party in 1980. For the leadership I think the creation of a new party was to try to bring more people along with them and to get non-active people involved (which they had some success with – a lot of SDP members were not active in any political party until they joined the SDP).

    The Liberal Democrats is not anything like the Borg collective for as you rightly state it is every individualistic, however because of the wideness of Liberal political thought they find themselves at home while not giving up their individual thoughts. Liberalism is as broad a church as the Labour Party was in the 1970s but different. I am not saying that Social Democratic political thought is included in Liberal political thought. I am saying that the way those members of the SDP applied their Social Democratic political thought gave rise to policies that could also be reached by applying Liberal political thought. At conferences in the early days of merger I heard no speaker attack a belief based on liberal political thought by applying Social Democratic political thought. If you know of some examples I would be interested in knowing them. The SDP added councillors, different members and things to the constitution (which if you are interested in I will try to list).

    You are correct you didn’t state that there were no radical thinkers on the “left” in the Liberal Party” however from what you wrote and what you haven’t written I clearly got the impression that you believed that you thought that some members of the SDP who joined the merged party had political positions that you could see as to the left of the leftist most Liberals of the time.

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