Dick Newby writes … revisiting the Limehouse Declaration

William Rodgers, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins & David Owen with funds from SDP supporters, Feb 1981On the wall of our downstairs loo is a framed copy of the Limehouse Declaration, issued at the inception of the SDP on 21 January 1981.

In the light of Matthew Oakeshott’s parting contention that Nick has led us as a party without roots, principles or values, I have re-read it to test his contention.

On international affairs the post-2010 Lib Dems have followed Limehouse to the letter – not just by being rooted and principled over Europe, but by our record on international development – underpinned by giving 0.7% of GDP in aid for the first time ever.

On civil liberties and human rights, we have not only resisted calls for retrenchment, but by championing same sex marriage, more effective action on FGM and shared parental leave, have made significant advances.

On constitutional reform – barely even referred to in Limehouse – the failures of this Parliament to reform the voting system and the House of Lords lie at the door of both Labour and the Conservatives, who hate change. To implicitly blame Nick is simply ridiculous.

But Matthew’s principal dissatisfaction – though not explicitly stated – is I think economic. The Limehouse Declaration speaks of equality. Nick does not. But here the difference is more apparent than real. The flagship policies which we have achieved in Government – increased tax threshold, pupil premium, better childcare, free school meals, a fairer and more comprehensive pension system, more apprentices – all aim to give greater opportunities to the disadvantaged and protection for the vulnerable. They are straightforwardly social democratic policies. So are the policies successfully championed by Vince – from ring-fencing the banks, promoting women directors, curbing excessive corporate pay, forcing companies to declare their beneficial ownership and developing arguably Britain’s most successful industrial strategy ever.

Perhaps the biggest change in British politics since Limehouse is that the “sterile and rigid framework into which the British political system has fallen” has now irretrievably fractured – as the SDP founders wished and which we initially failed to achieve. This change is wholly to the good, and owes more to the Lib Dems than any other force. A natural consequence of such a fracturing is that no party can expect to enjoy a Parliamentary majority. This inevitably leads to coalition. And coalition leads to compromise. In such circumstances it is crucial that that parties live by their roots, principles and values. I believe that Lib Dems in government have done so. I wholly accept that we have yet to win this argument in the country. But this is a failure of communications not of substance. And it is one which we have just under 12 months successfully to address.

* Dick Newby is the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.

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  • There is so much that is factually wrong with this article I don’t know where to begin or have the time to address, so I’ll just stick to this small point:

    ” free school meals”… “all aim to give greater opportunities to the disadvantaged and protection for the vulnerable. ”

    How does extending free school meals to the children of the wealthy give greater opportunities to the disadvantaged and protection for the vulnerable?

    Black is white.

  • Phineas Campbell 2nd Jun '14 - 1:27pm

    This is another in series of articles in which the Lib Dems are in denial over the impact of their economic policies. ‘all aim to give greater opportunities to the disadvantaged and protection to the vulnerable’ via the bedroom tax, via arbitrary benefit caps, via the demonization of the unemployed? We now live in a world where the standard view of the right, which includes the Lib Dems, is that the unemployed are unemployed because they don’t spend enough time on their bicycles. The Lib Dems are the party of zero hours contracts and food banks. If you get into bed with the nasty party you can’t be surprised if some of it sticks to you.

  • David Evans 2nd Jun '14 - 1:34pm

    If Dick could explain how the vote in favour of Secret Courts after two votes in Conference that opposed it was in any way a “failure of communications not of substance,” I would be very, very interested.

  • A Social Liberal 2nd Jun '14 - 1:42pm

    And as a supplemetary to Davids question, how does taking away the right to recourse to law for poor people (divorce proceedings – and would have been welfare appeals if the Lords hadn’t sent it back) fit in with that statement.

  • paul barker 2nd Jun '14 - 1:48pm

    Or if we look at Ashcrofts Mega-Poll of 26 marginals, 22% wanting a Government involving Libdems plus 19% Dont Knows some of which will be shy Libdems.
    VI Polls usually go a bit wonky around European Elections precisely because they are so different from Westminster ones, different issues to the fore & (apparently) no effect on Government.
    Some time this Summer The “Polls” will get back on track & then it will be Labours turn to panic & turn on themselves. Politics is a long game & we need to think in Decades not weeks.

  • Paul Pettinger 2nd Jun '14 - 1:49pm

    The leadership has no credible answers for what has happened and few ideas to improve matters. Paddy wants to help fill the leadership vacuum by propping up his protégé and encouraging members to stop questioning. This direction of travel is completely unsustainable.

  • Dick – ‘ In such circumstances it is crucial that that parties live by their roots, principles and values. I believe that Lib Dems in government have done so.’

    The trouble is, I’m not sure that we have and nor clearly are many of our past supporters. I accept that some MPs and peers have tried very hard to do so and I accept that coalition means compromise. I also understand that mistakes get made – from the rose garden love-in to the bedroom tax. This latter is a good example of a liberal value ( proper decent social housing for those who need it ) being subverted by a simple mistake ( making it retrospective in a situation where it couldn’t possibly work).

    If I’m wrong and Dick is right, then the people who failed to communicate this in the past are not likely to be the people to communicate it in the future because their credibility is shot.

  • David Evans 2nd Jun '14 - 2:04pm

    Paul (barker),

    I love the way your loyalty to our leader always return to your ‘Labour is more split than we are and will fall apart soon,’ implying that once that happens all will be well for us. They won’t (99.5% likelihood) and it won’t (100% likelihood).

  • Some time this Summer The “Polls” will get back on track

    No doubt! But once on that track, we are unlikely to enjoy either the scenery or the destination. Perhaps this would be a good time to switch tracks.

  • Shaun Cunningham 2nd Jun '14 - 4:34pm

    Latest Poll…. 6%


  • “Latest Poll…. 6% “

    That is down from 8% over the last week, with the previous two weekly polls having shown 9%.

    It’s worth recalling that the dumping of Ming Campbell in 2008 was partly attributed to panic after a poll showed the Lib Dems on 11%.

  • James Sandbach 2nd Jun '14 - 5:19pm

    Dick. With great respect this feels like another one sided communication – on civil liberties and human rights you say there have been advances, this is true but there’s also been retrenchment at the same time – secret courts, legal aid destruction, using immigration Bills bills to abrogate Article 8 of ECHR, watering down employment rights and access to tribunals, stripping back the scope and role of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, criminalising squatting and delivering a harsher prisons regime.

    Similarly with other social democratic policies you mention especially education its all very welcome, but what’s the offset? Massive welfare cuts ? So I guess the question is how does the party live by its roots, principles and values when so many of policy advances are operating in a zero-sum gain – we can tell our story, but there’s another side to it which can’t be airbrushed.

  • If I am ever on a life raft, in a stormy ocean, when the ship has already gone down, and the rain is blinding me and the wind is freezing those parts that Paddy Ashdown would cut off….

    … I just hope that paul barker is with me. Because he can take any disaster and spin it like it was a sunny day on a picnic in Putney.

    He seriously suggests — “Some time this Summer The “Polls” will get back on track….. ”

    Perhaps paul barker thinks ,back on track” like early May 2010. ???
    (when we were seen as a left of centre party set on course to change politics from the remote and out of touch government parties)

    The following is taken from an LDV piece by Stephen Tall just before the 2010 General Election
    Four polls published early May 2010
    YouGov in the S.Times ……………………………,……. LIB DEM 28%
    ComRes/ for the S.Mirror/S.Independent ….. LIB DEM 25%
    ICM in the S.Telegraph ……………………………..,..,…. LIB DEM 27%
    Angus Reid in the S.Express … …………………,,,,,…..LIB DEM 29%

    19% of voters think the Lib Dems have the best policy on immigration
    21% believe the Lib Dems have the best policies on taxation and public services 
    Nick Clegg is rated the best Prime Minister by 27%, 

  • One irony of the Lord Ashcroft poll – after all the agonised discussion of the Lord Oakeshott poll in Sheffield Hallam – is that Clegg would also lose that seat on the Ashcroft figures, according to Electoral Calculus:

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