Finally, the media pick up on Coalition split on offensive poster vans

There’s a big lesson to learn from the offensive poster van fiasco this week. Sometimes we Liberal Democrats, including me, can be quick to feel a dividing line between those inside the Whitehall Bubble and the rest of us. This week, we spoke with one voice. Liberal Democrats inside Government were every bit as livid as those of us outside at the presence of these vans on our streets. With their stark message “Go home or face arrest”, illustrated by handcuffs, they can only inflame tensions in communities.

We now know that the Tories have pulled a fast one on us. Sending these vans to boroughs where they hope to pick up votes in next year’s local elections is a cynical and opportunist move. As I reported the other day, no Liberal Democrat knew about or cleared this proposal and given that one senior Liberal Democrat source described them to me as “morally repugnant”, I don’t think we will be seeing them again at the end of the current pilot.

The media, usually quick to pounce on a coalition row, have been sluggish to report the Liberal Democrat dissent, with the Guardian catching up last night and ITV this morning.  And very interesting that the Daily Mail has a headline describing them as Tory posters. Just as a point of interest, I was the first one to mention shredding the darned things here. I am glad he gave that line a much wider audience, though.

Some party members have expressed concern that no Liberal Democrat ministers have come out on the record and condemned these vans. Undoubtedly, Nick Clegg would have been asked about them had there been a Call Clegg yesterday, but he’s on holiday this week. Jeremy Browne, the Liberal Democrat Home Office minister, is in Japan and South Korea as part of his drugs policy study. It’s unfortunate both that they were away and that Liberal Democrats inside Government took so long to latch on to what was going on. If Sarah Teather was on it straight away, so should everyone else have been. It is galling that even Nigel Farage has been getting coverage out of condemning them yet none of our ministers have gone on the record, even though we know that they are as annoyed as party activists. There are definitely lessons to be learned for the future, not least that we need to keep a better eye on what the Tories are up to.

However, once people did realise what was going on, senior party figures and parliamentarians have been quick to say the right things.

Tim Farron has been actively talking about this on Twitter:

Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece said:

 This so called ‘campaign’ is a disgrace, exactly the kind of dog whistle politics the Tories think will resonate with potential UKIP voters. It’s divides communities, and will damage community relations. I’m very pleased to hear that Lib Dems colleagues in government are completely opposed to, this shameful stunt.

MEP Catherine Bearder said:

It’s grubby and demeaning for all right thinking Brits to have this thing on the road and can and should be taken down immediately. its the thin edge of the wedge and reminds me of posters that appeared in the ’30s Germany. If Cameron can get on the front pages for waving a comic book on the Euro Parliament as a waste of money, he can be also be challenged on £10,000 for a racist poster van.

My hero of the week, though, is our Lord Roger Roberts. He was first to question them in the House of Lords – and, interestingly, the Minister didn’t seem to know much about it. It sounded like she thought it was a City of Westminster initiative.

 Does the Minister agree that so many of those who are homeless and rough sleepers are the most vulnerable and fragile in society and that we must do everything possible in order to give them confidence in their communities? Is the present Home Office campaign not also against immigrants, with those billboards going around saying, “Go home or face arrest”? Does that not cause a great disturbance in our communities, possibly also for the homeless people who may feel under threat?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, there are two important questions there. On the first, about rough sleeping, as noble Lords know and as I have made clear in this House, the Government are intent on stopping rough sleeping. There is the No Second Night Out initiative, in London, The Passage and other initiatives by organisations such as St Mungo’s and St Basils. There is support for rough sleepers and we do not expect them to have to stay rough sleeping for very long.

Regarding the second matter raised by the noble Lord, this is a new initiative that has just been undertaken by the City of Westminster to try to encourage those who should not be here and have not got accommodation to think about going home. It is intended to be helpful; I do not think that it is meant to be intimidating but to address the reality of the situation, as there are people coming here without jobs and accommodation.

Not only that, but he’s tabled a series of  written questions:

1. At the request of which Government department were the “Go Home or face arrest” posters prepared and displayed ?
2. What London boroughs and other areas have been covered by mobile “Go Home or Face arrest” vans.
3. In what languages have the mobile Bill boards been printed ?
4. What are the languages of those expected to be influenced by this campaign ?
5. Who prepared the written brief used by the advertising agency instigating this “Go home or face arrest” campaign ?
6. . What is the total cost of the “Go home or face arrest” campaign ?

And one final word. As I wrote on my own blog the other day, Labour’s howls of protest wear a bit thin when you think that they locked up kids and told gay people that they should just be discreet in their home countries.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Frank Booth 26th Jul '13 - 1:58pm

    What’s the point in ‘getting annoyed’ by stuff? The Tories will only modify their behaviour if they think the Lib Dems might leave the coalition. Like any abusive partner, if you know your spouse won’t leave, you can carry on treating them as you like.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Jul '13 - 2:10pm

    Just think what life would be like if the Tories were governing alone. Housing benefit taken off under 25s, tax cuts for rich, dead people, employers able to hire and fire at will, no human rights act, destructiveness on EU, no child benefit for more than 2 children. Ok, they pulled a fast one this time, but generally we’ve well punched above our weight in this coalition.

  • Caron, we had tax cuts for the rich, lowering of the top tax rate. We still have destructiveness on EU (Cameron’s “veto” that wasnt). Universality on Child Benefit is lost. So, I think you could say they have pulled a lot of fast ones. We may have punched above our weight in terms of the number of MPs but we have punched well below our weight in terms of how many votes we won at the GE vs the Tories. We dont even have Nick Clegg running an important ministry as you would see with a junior coalition partner abroad. Sure, things could be worse, but they could be a lot better.

  • Martin Pierce 26th Jul '13 - 2:35pm

    It’s not impossible in this day and age to comment from east Asia. Has Jeremy Browne issued a statement?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Jul '13 - 2:36pm

    I’d much rather Nick Clegg had an overview of Government rather than run a big department. His time is taken up with that.

    You know where the Torie s want to be in terms of Europe and human rights and they have been able to get nowhere near that.

    You can’t complain that we have lost the universality on child benefit and say “oh but you’ve cut taxes for the rich”. In fact, the tax lost by the lowering of the income rate to 45% has been more than made up by other tax rises on wealth.

    There’s plenty I don’t like in this coalition, but lots where I can see the Lib Dem influence.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Jul '13 - 2:58pm

    Maybe, Martin, and I think they need to look at that in case anything like this happens in the future.

  • nuclear cockroach 26th Jul '13 - 3:11pm


    I’m glad the universality of Child Benefit has been lost. A ridiculous waste of money.

  • A Social Liberal 26th Jul '13 - 6:47pm

    Caron said

    “Just think what life would be like if the Tories were governing alone. Housing benefit taken off under 25s, tax cuts for rich, dead people, employers able to hire and fire at will, no human rights act, destructiveness on EU, no child benefit for more than 2 children.”

    No Caron you are wrong. If the Tories had governed alone then we could have taken each policy on its merits and voted it down if it did not meet our criteria. The Tories might well have gone for another election but I disagree with what the right of the party are insisting – that the Tories would have won a majority. They (and we) became toxic so quickly (and would have been even more so if not for the brake we put on some of their more extreme ideas) that they would have lost an early GE

  • Nonconformistradical 26th Jul '13 - 7:03pm

    @A Social Liberal
    “they would have lost an early GE”
    Nonsense – the tories are the only party which could have AFFORDED an early GE

  • A Social Liberal 26th Jul '13 - 11:08pm

    Is that a valid reason to support such a disgraceful party? Because we can’t afford it?

  • All-party statement from LB Redbridge:

    A Statement on the Immigration Van in Redbridge
    July 26th 2013
    We were neither informed nor consulted about this Home Office initiative. We have no information from the Home Office about why they have chosen Redbridge to carry out such an unusual scheme, or what the purpose is. It is clearly most unfortunate that the Home Office should take actions which were bound to be controversial, about highly sensitive matters, without very careful discussion with the affected communities. If we had been consulted, we would have warned strongly that, whatever effect this campaign might be intended to have on people who are in the country unlawfully, that message is far outweighed by the negative message to the great majority of people, from all backgrounds, who live and work together in Redbridge, peacefully, productively and lawfully. We ask the Home Office to withdraw the campaign.

  • Roger Roberts/Wales 27th Jul '13 - 8:13am

    Massive contradiction in government response – one statement lists six London boroughs as the target for this campaign yet in the House of Lords it is presented as a new initiative “by the city of Westminster”. Is this just confusion or a blatant attempt to mislead ?
    Imagine the harm if those responsible for these conflicting statements take any further”initiatives”. I have tabled an urgent oral question, hopefully to be discussed before the recess.

  • Universality is important. If you dont understand why now, hopefully you will later when the working class is completely gone and the country has crystallised into an underclass and a middleclass.

  • The vans were disgusting. Do not know Nigel Farage’s motives in condemning them, but I agree with the sentiment.

    Caron, shredding? No burning on a pyre!

  • DefenestrateClegg 27th Jul '13 - 3:49pm

    @Caron Lindsay
    ”Just think what life would be like if the Tories were governing alone. Housing benefit taken off under 25s, tax cuts for rich, dead people, employers able to hire and fire at will, no human rights act, destructiveness on EU, no child benefit for more than 2 children”

    Good luck with peddling that line to the voters in 2015.

    The ‘look how the bullies haven’t been able to bully you quite so badly because of us’ is not a vote winner.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jul '13 - 4:36pm

    Peter, the old saying “never trust a tory”, is about as true as “never trust a leftie”, in other words: not at all.

  • nuclear cockroach 27th Jul '13 - 5:04pm

    “If possible, the Nasty Party are getting nastier still!”

    The irony is, that it is Theresa May, herself, who is responsible for borrowing this obnoxious slogan from Britain’s fascist lexicon.

  • Tony Greaves 27th Jul '13 - 6:17pm

    Nice comment in the Lords from Eric Avebury (né Lubbock) – a great defender of minorities including immigrants and asylum seekers and refugees. First time I have ever heard him call for the deportation of anyone. Name of Lynton Crosby. This appalling stuff has all the hallmarks of a Crosby stunt (witness the dreadful state of Australian politics over asylum seekers).

    To be fair to Joan Hanham (a nicer kind of Tory) she is a CLG minister and obviously had not been briefed on the offensive poster vans when Roger chucked in his (rather off the subject) supplementary!

    Tony Greaves

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 27th Jul '13 - 6:51pm

    As Catherine Bearder stated about this entire fiasco “It’s grubby and demeaning…”

    I am certainly nt going to advocate a ‘which hunt’ to see which of our Parliamentarians had prior knowledge of this, but chose not to intervene, but I hope that the is some soul searching by whomever in the Liberal Democrat Party was aware, or chose not to be fully aware of the facts.

    If we are to assure success in the 2015 elections, in my opinion it will be as a result of standing true to our principles and not acquiescing or tolerating to Tory intolerance.

  • So, which Lib Dem Minister at the Home Office (plus SPADS) has been asleep while on watch and let this through? 🙁

  • And I see that Bojo is now defending them in the Storygraph… All in all a grubby little exercise, that will not achieve its supposedly stated aim, but may well cause an increase in tension between populations in those borough’s selected for this rather nasty initiative. I mean, if even ‘Forage’ is willing to say they are a dirty tactic…P.S. R Uduwerage-Perera , were you being clever with your miss-spelling of ‘witch-hunt’, or just inadvertently causing mirth?

  • elaineupnorth 29th Jul '13 - 7:34pm

    Couple of cheap digs at labour caron but not effective compared to what the lib dems via this coalition sanctioning

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