History doesn’t repeat itself: why the Lib Dems won’t split

“A healthy pedestrian mowed down by a runaway omnibus” – Trevor Wilson’s metaphor to describe the fall of the Liberal Party between 1916 and 1931 is quoted approvingly by Professor John Shepherd, co-director of the Labour Research Unit at Anglia Ruskin University, in a fascinating article in the summer issue of the Journal of Liberal History.

One of the Coalition memes doing the rounds among some of the commentariat is that, by embarking on a partnership with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems have sealed their own fate, that a split is inevitable. After all, the argument goes, Lloyd George’s pact with the Tories, which reached its apogee with the ‘coupon’ election of 1918, saw the party divide into Coalition Liberals and Asquithian ‘Wee Frees’, a rupture from which the party never recovered.

The latest commentator to slip into the ‘history repeats itself’ error is Stephen Pollard, writing in the Telegraph, who argues “there is a lesson to be learned” from the past, before tendentiously concluding: “Given that the party is already so divided, there is surely little chance of history not repeating itself.”

So let’s take a brief look at Professor Shepherd’s article, The Flight from the Liberal Party, to remind ourselves of the conditions under which the Liberals previously split:

  • The Liberal Government of Asquith entered into the First World War with a “lack of clear war aims”, and having failed to “declare the nature and extent of the British military undertakings” – three Liberal cabinet minsters resigned in protest;
  • The Government introduced the Defence of the Real Act in 1914, with Liberals responsible for implementing “illiberal policies undreamt of by British Liberals … including press censorship, identity cards, food rationing and other state controls”;
  • Then the Liberal Government introduced conscription – a painful act for a party with a strong pacifist contingent – with the Military Service Act in 1916 in the face of opposition of 50 Liberal MPs and the resignation of the Liberal Home Secretary, John Simon;
  • The Liberal Prime Minister, Asquith, was ousted from his post by Liberal War Secretary, Lloyd George – but with Asquith remaining Liberal leader, triggering “this crucial rupture within the party, now divided into two bellicose factions”, as exemplified by the ‘coupon’ jointly signed by Lloyd George and Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law;
  • This schism was compounded by the Coalition Liberals “post-war foreign and imperial policy and its attitude to the punitive Treaty of Versailles”, alongside the Government’s intervenetion in Bolshevik Russia, the Chanak crisi which almost precipitated war against Turkey, the 1919 Amritsar Massacre in India, “and the ruthless policy of using the Black Tans’ in Ireland”;
  • Simultaneously of course the insurgent Labour party was able to take over “the Liberal mantle of radicalism in domestic, foreign and imperial affairs”, and by 1922 had surpassed the parliamentary representation of the Liberals who were now more or less equally split between the Asquith and Lloyd George rumps.

It is hard to imagine a more ‘perfect storm’ that could be faced by any political party, let alone a Liberal (with a capital L) government: the first ever world war, a failing war leader and a sharp-elbowed rival, a split leadership, a party forced to curtail citizens’ liberties, a government seemingly unable to make peace abroad, and a new, plausible rival for radical politics.

All of this is familiar historical terrain for students of Liberal history. But it’s worth recalling quite how dire was the situation which triggered the initial demise of the Liberal party. And though I’ve no doubt the Coalition years to come will be tricky ones, they will in no way be as difficult to navigate as were the years 1914-22.

Is it possible the Lib Dems could split? Of course. So is it also possible that the Conservatives or Labour could. But if the party did split, we can be sure the causes would be quite different to those which precipitated the party’s years of wilderness after the First World War.

So, yes, let’s be sure to look both ways to make sure there’s not a speeding omnibus heading straight for us – but the pedestrian looks to be standing his ground pretty well right now.

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  • I think it will- for the reasons exemplified in the Sheffield by-election. As the Lib Dem and Tory votes converge into one anti-Labour vote, the Lib Dems will have to keep closer to the Tories than the few social Liberals would like. You’ve burned the bridges when it comes to Labour tactical voters- never again will great numbers vote Lib Dem to keep the Tories out- and if you annoy the Tory-minded you’ll be in bad shape. The Lib Dems only have a future alongside, probably inside, the Tory party.

    If the AV vote fails, and I think it will, you’ll be in a hell of a situation. No way back and with no choice going but to remain close to the Tories going forward.

  • Ian Patterson 29th Aug '10 - 3:53pm

    what sheffield by election?

  • @ian presumably the one last week where our vote went 21.8% to 21.3%. Labour had been telling everyone we were going to be slaughtered.

  • @SmCg: And the Tory vote fell from 14% to 4%. It’s likely that a lot of them have started voting Lib Dem tactically, which hid the fall in distinctive Lib Dem support. Hence my point as to the Lib Dems becoming more reliant on Tory-minded voters and the damage they’d suffer if they ever wanted to split from the Tories.

  • Is the Stephen Pollard quoted as forecasting the demise of the Lib Dems and treating us in a totally negative way the same person as the editor of the Jewish Chronicle ? If so his real hatred of Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg has got thoroughly out of control. We are tarred completely wrongly as being anti-semitic, anti Israel and everything else to try to destroy any Jewish support which we have enjoyed. I think that he is incapable of giving any unbiased, objective opinion of the Liberal Democrats.

  • Grammar Police 29th Aug '10 - 5:07pm

    @ Mike – it’s impossible to tell what happened to the votes from a by-election with such a small turnout. So close to the recent elections in a very safe Labour seat, I think you are deeply misguided to claim with such confidence that “It’s likely that a lot of [former Tory voters] have started voting Lib Dem tactically, which hid the fall in distinctive Lib Dem support.”
    Just because you’d like it to be true won’t make it so.

  • Tony Greaves 29th Aug '10 - 5:07pm

    The danger is not of a split but of activists drifting away one by one (as happened to Labour under Blair). Most just giving up rather than defecting elsewhere. I suppose there could be a “big issue” (like Iraq) but there will be lots of individual issues which could be the sticking point for particular members. We need to think hard about how to counter this (it’s certainly not more propaganda from the leadership or the government).

    Tony Greaves

  • By entering a coalition government with the Tories we made a brave decision to put the country’s interests before political advantage. This will inevitably cost us activists, councillors and members, and possibly, although I profoundly hope not, MPs. However, a faster than normal rate of attrition is not the same as a split, and I don’t believe that will happen. Despite having campaigned for the Party for more than forty years I have never believed that we were ready to run a government: in fact, for most of that time the prospect filled me with horror! However, by 2005 we had accumulated substantial experience of running local authorities throughout the country, and involvement in coalition governments in Scotland and Wales. We are now gaining that experience in national government too. The compromises and unpleasant decisions we have to make by being in coalition with the Tories will, I hope, provide a spur to deeper and more extensive thinking and debate within the party about liberal ideology and policy objectives than has been the case during the years since the merger with the SDP. The activist membership of the Liberal Democrats do not, by and large, defer to the leadership, and will not allow the Party to be taken in a direction that is at odds with the preamble to the constitution. At the end of the five years of coalition I hope that we will be a party with a more mature understanding of the realities of power at all levels and that this will allow us to present ourselves to the electorate as a legitimate contender for power on an equal basis with the Tories and Labour.

  • @Grammar Police: I said it’s *likely*, because it’s the most plausible scenario. Any alternative theories as to why around 70% of the Tory vote disappeared in the seat after years of the Tory vote holding more or less steady?

  • John’s argument is quite limited as it does not factor in that the Liberal coalition had always been schismatic even from the 1840s. he also does not consider the parties failure to engage with economic issues from the perspective of the working class. Agreed, in the scheme of things personalities are relatively unimportant – these conflicts always existed Joseph Chamberlain in the 1890s to name but one ego crisis. However, the Liberal parties decline was produced by the emergence of a Labour party which engaged with core issues relating to the electorate – health, education and equality. This is the real lesson of history parties only split when there are electable alternatives and if Milliband produces an effective Labour team, well that when the pressure really begins.

  • @JohnM: It wasn’t Labour’s decision that killed the Lib/Lab coalition. The Lib Dems never wanted it. Did you watch that programme with Nick Clegg talking about how Gordon Brown had to go for any coalition to happen, then Gordon Brown went, and the narrative changed to “now there’s nobody to do a deal with, so it can’t happen.” So how was it ever going to happen? Especially when the Lib Dems were arguing for early, double-dip threatening cuts.

    And Guido Fawkes got hold of documents showing the coalition to have been done and dusted far earlier than we’d been led to believe- http://order-order.com/2010/08/24/the-hand-of-god/

    Clegg manufactured excuse after excuse in order to favour the Tories. You’re not right that it has given you independence- if you think you’ll be able to hop between parties as you please you’ve got another thing coming. It will not change from an era of Red-Blue to Orange-Green. You’re tied to the Tories, and it suits.

    The old, pre-election Lib Dems may have seemed like loose Labour allies, sure. You would if you said things like this-

    “There isn’t a serious economist in the world who agrees with the Conservatives that, right in the grip of recession, with two and a half million unemployed, we should pull the rug out from under the economy with immediate spending cuts.” (Nick Clegg)

    But now the things you’re actually doing and facilitating show you to be far more in the pocket (hell, in the zipper!) of the Conservative party.

  • Ian Patterson 29th Aug '10 - 7:24pm

    Have checked aldc website, by election in woodhouse ward.

  • Patrick Smith 29th Aug '10 - 8:05pm

    Liberalism as reborn in the Liberal Democrats is a creature that is `permanent rather than transient which changes its detailed aims from period to period in accordance with changes in the general environment’ – Michael Balfour in `Britain and Joseph Chamberlain’ (1985) in `The Liberal Party’ by G.R.Searle ( my mentor when I was a student in Liberal Govt.at UEA) thirty years ago.

    It is salient to the present mood of all those Liberal Dems.in 2010 with a hungry appetite for further constitutional reform and AV as the Liberal historian GR Searle proclaimed the caveat ,

    `Electoral reform could have still saved the Liberals in 1918.The narrow failure to carry either the Alternative Vote or PR at the end of the Great War therefore left the Liberals in a very weak position…’

    Let us not revisit 1918 next May 5th 2011 on the question of AV as this is critical alone to rejuvenate the fortunes of Liberal Democracy today..

  • I had a go at Mike(the Labour One) on a previous thread about the Woodhouse by-election. As he repeats the argument at the top of this thread I thought I would have a look at his contention that the anti-Labour vote (i.e. Lib Dem + Tory) is coalescing. There have, by my reckoning, been 25 principal council by-elections since the general election which were contested by the three main parties this time and the previous time (which could be from 2007 to May this year). The Labour share of the vote in these by-elections was 40.4%, up by 6.0%; Tory 32.8%, down by 3.9%; Lib Dem 26.8%, down by 1.9%. In five of these contests it could be argued that the Lib Dem vote collapsed to the benefit of the Tories, and in five that the Tory vote collapsed to the benefit of the Lib Dems. Mike could argue that this proves his point, but the variation in the performance of all the parties is such that I don’t actually think it does, and of course there are a lot of other by-elections which I haven’t included because there was not a full slate of candidates each time to allow meaningful comparisons to be drawn. Labour are certainly doing well, however, and I would not rule out the possibility that Mike’s contention could increasingly be borne out by future results.

  • Paul McKeown 29th Aug '10 - 9:03pm

    Further to Patrick Smith’s comment, which I agree with, I would say that not only is AV important to win, but extending the popular enfranchisement to the Lords using STV, will be an absolutely necessary achievement for the Liberal Democrats during the next five years of government to demonstrate their ability to push through democratic reforms.

    Liberal governments in the early 20th century failed to deliver this; Labour’s last 3 terms, seduced by ermine and the power of prime ministerial patronage, also failed to deliver this. It is a reform whose time has come, but it will be fiercely resisted. I understand even David Steele opposes it. The objections of semi-retired politicos must not be allowed to obstruct the right of the people to choose who should govern them.

    I think it is essential that STV be the electoral system of choice, as it will allow everyone in the country to have some experience of the electoral system that is favoured by the Liberal Democrats. That is beyond it’s inherent advantages, of course!

    And a reformed Lords (“Senate” or however it might in future be named) will provide an important impediment to excesses of Prime Ministerial diktat. The current constitutional arrangements are unbalanced and provide too little oversight over the government of the day, and, by extension, the cartel of two political parties which provide those governments. A reformed Lords, with a democratic mandate, would help redress the balance, perhaps ultimately overthrowing the shackles of the Parliament Act, which propounded the principle that the will of the public should hold sway over that of landed interests and, later, political placemen. It will almost certainly provide the Liberal Democrats with a stronger basis with which to sway national government towards its philosophy.

    As to the basic thrust of this article, well, of course. There are no Lib Dem splits, nor are there likely to be. A share of national government was always likely to make the Liberal Democrats examine their aims and philosophy more closely, and clarify what they are about. That will be a positive development. The loss of a few unhappy voters, activists, councillors is certainly going to happen, but it should cause no lasting damage. It seems likely that a competent display in government will in the end attract more to the party that it will lose.

    I think it is important to deal with the sustained media (and Labour party) onslaught as vigorously as possible. The danger otherwise is that some of these bits of nonsense might become self-fulfilling.

  • paul barker 29th Aug '10 - 9:04pm

    Sorry to be boring but the voters in general see the Libdems as fairly united & Labour as bdly divided. In the AV campaign Libdems will be campaigning for YES & Tories for NO. Labour, whatever the official position, will be seen to be fighting on both sides with prominent figures in both camps.

  • Tony Hill,

    “Labour are certainly doing well,”

    Only inside their own ecumene. Not in areas such as North Somerset and Medway, which they have to win in order to form a government. That is something that Ed Miliband is going to have to wake up to fast, and is why he will lead the Labour Party from the right if he becomes leader (as Neil Kinnock did before him).

    Now to the subject matter of the post.

    I don’t think the Liberal Democrats will split. I say this for two reasons:

    (1) The membership lacks the appetite for schisms. Memories of Owen’s “Continuing SDP” are fresh.

    (2) My reading of Clegg (and it may be entirely wrong) is that he would pull the party out of the Coalition rather than face a split.

    If I am right about reason (2), then we have a means of ending the Coalition and restoring our party to its independent status. It might take a motion of “no confidence” at Conference, or two or more ministers to walk. Either way, it’s achievable. If we continue to help Cameron pursue his radical Thatcherite agenda for two years while failing to campaign on our own policies for a FULL FIVE YEARS (!!!), then I think the party will die.

  • The party wont split but the damage will be unrepairable ,And once the cuts real,y kick in, and people loose there jobs and homes ,for cuts you said didn,t need to happen ,and not one Lib Dem voter voted for ,and not one Lib Dem said cuts had to happen ,never mind accelerated .A COUPLE OF JUNIOR JOBS AND YOU SOLD OUT remember it was only 3 month ago,The VAT poster ,but i forgot Nick changed his mind over a weekend after seeing Greece on sky news.I would be embarrassed to have Voted Lib Dems

  • Well boys and girl you won’t mind if your ‘lover’ ditches you, you are quite confident that you will be rewarded in the polls. If you are right all will be sweetness and light, if you get it wrong the country won’t need AV or ST it will have PR in the two party system – Labour and Conservative. You really are playing for the highest stakes but you do seem in denial. The Gasworks (Westminster) is awash with Lib Dem discontent, keeping it together going to be hard I’ve been there and I don’t envy you teams chances.

  • @JohnM: Some MPs came out against a deal with the Tories from them too. Lib Dem MPs came out against a deal with the Tories, and a deal with Labour. That’s nothing compared to what was going on behind closed doors- it was decided long before that.

    If you think that it wouldn’t have worked because it would have relied on the SNP and Plaid, that’s fine, but that’s not Labour’s fault.

    If you disliked the Labour party as much as you say, and I don’t disbelieve it, then it’s absurd to blame them if you think it was their fault the coalition wasn’t formed. Shouldn’t you be giving them credit?

    But really, the credit goes to Clegg, who only used Labour to screw more from the Tories and never actually intended to go in any other direction.

    @tonyhill: Yeah I don’t think it’s proved, it’s just a scenario that I think fits. It wouldn’t be pronounced in by-elections between the Tories and the Lib Dems, and it wouldn’t be pronounced early on in the coalition while the two were still getting a feel for each other, but it would get more so as time goes on (if I’m right).

    It would be a problem for Labour in the short term and the Lib Dems in the long-term, but it would help you in the short term.

  • david thorpe 29th Aug '10 - 10:27pm

    the gap between those on the ‘right’ and those on the ‘left ‘ are minute relative to the gaps between dennis skinner and peter mandelson, or between bill cash and ken clarke in the tories, and thsoe parties havent split, simply because all parties are coalitions.

  • I think my final sentence has included some extraneous words – “for two years”. Clegg and his supporters want to keep this agony going for FIVE years.

    The Labour trolls have nothing to crow about, they are crowing from the top of their own midden heap. I don’t think it has sunk in yet. In May of this year, Labour was hammered in the polls, scoring only one percentage point more than Michael Foot in 1983. Political parties take years to bounce back from trouncings like that. Last time, it took Labour three general elections. Yet the Labour trolls on this site seems to think they can win tomorrow!

    Whichever Miliband becomes Labour leader is unlikely to become Prime Minister. Neil Kinnock never did, neither did Hugh Gaitskell. Why is it that the media is taking so little interest in the contest? Why is the candidate most favoured by the US military-industrial complex and families not being hyped in the way that Blair, Cameron and Clegg were hyped? Is it perhaps because said elites don’t expect Labour to be back in office any time soon?

    Every time I read a Clegg loyalist claim that our record in government will win us votes I want to scream. Clegg is promoting Tory policies, not Liberal Democrat policies. He holds the office of Deputy Prime Minister in a Tory government currently pursuing a radical Thatcherite agenda. No-one is promoting Liberal Democrat polices and values, least of all our leader. The Liberal Democrats are in hibernation and will remain so for five years, if Clegg gets his way.

    The Clegg loyalists believe the party can rise from the dead after five years. I don’t think so. Cameron is fixing the electoral system to ensure that it doesn’t. AV will breathe life back into the Labour Party in areas where we have eliminated it, thereby fragmenting the opposition; and the accelerated, unappeallable boundary review could reduce us to 20 seats.

    Clegg and his supporters are destroying our party and doing little for the country other than to prop up a right-wing Tory government. The future of our party is in our hands, and we should seize it back from Clegg.

  • Do Labour trolls not *do* bank holidays?

  • It has always been my view that the party could split, ever since the powerful emergence of the Orange Book tendency (I give it that title deliberately, because they have been “entryists” rather as Militant were under Labour). I think the jury is still out on whether the conditions will be created where it actually will, although I now think we have strong personalities on both sides who might lead substantial groups, which I suppose is the essential precursor of any split.
    David Thorpe – do you really believe your last comment? There are extremely sharp differences in ideology between different parts of the Lib Dems, especially on economics, which also underlies similarly sharp differences on the environment and international affairs.

  • As lib dem voter I am certainly not happy with the coalition.

    The real problem for me is that politicians like Nick Clegg are anow actively campaigning for policies that they spent the entire election campaigning against.

    The truth is that the Lib Dems campaigned on a platform to the left of Labour, me and many others saw this as the possible beginning of a new ‘liberal-left’. The Lib Dems have now lost for a long time the Labour voters who switched to them at the last election.

    The onl thing that keeps the coalition together, and many lib dems still supporting the party, is the prospect of electoral reform.

    Yet AV isn’t even a proportional system of voting, the only thing ‘proportiona’ about it is that it gives the Lib Dems a more proportional number of seats.

    The fact is that the only way the Liberal Democrats could ever win a referendum on AV is with the support of the Labour voters (the Conservatives will enver vote for it). Lib Dem votes are not enough to gain a majority in the refernedum.

    If the referendum fails (the only good thing about the coalition for people like me), the coaltion will fall apart and it is likely the Lib Dems will split.

  • Sesenco an excellent analysis! I am not offended by being called a troll or living in a midden ( a lovely Scottish word) but the reason why we think we can win is for the reason you elequently outlined. Sadly for your party you and people like you are not being listened to, if you were we would really be up shit street because you would be clearly distinct from the Tories.

    In respect to 1983 I was there, I worked for Ron Brown MP at the time and that was really bad they are not really comparable in terms of capacity or organisation and quite simply the parliamentary numbers are better.

  • I think the Chiltern win shows we can now start to take even more votes from Tories in their own heartlands. A message to take forward to the next election is that we are now a party of government and can’t just be dismissed as irrelevant, as we have been in the past.

    The problem at the moment is not the old one of lack of media coverage. It is the fact that ALL the media coverage is hostile – both from the right and the left. Despite that, we continue to win council byelections and some opinion polls (not the ridiculously weighted Yougov ones) show us in the mid to high teens.

    As for the Labour trolls, my question for them is: given the appalling state in which you left our economy and our democracy, as well as our international reputation, what the hell have you got to crow about? Where are your policies? They currently have the easiest job in the world: sniping from the sidelines while other people clear up their mess.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 30th Aug '10 - 1:01pm

    @JohnM: Read what I’ve written. I *get* that you aren’t a Labour person. That has no relevance to what you were replying to.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 30th Aug '10 - 1:09pm

    @Robert C: You know this happens in every thread? I try to talk about Lib Dem issues from a non-sycophantic perspective, try to inject some realism, and you always want to turn it into a “well Labour done this!” whinge. Go find the other hundred times I and others have been asked that, because I’m sick of it.

    I suppose that result just shows how the Lib Dems are no longer seen as an alternative Labour party by Tory-minded voters- you’re one of their own and they can vote for you without fear. It’s a strange result nonetheless, if Labour hadn’t been so dire in that area- if Labour was second to the Tories- I would imagine the Tory vote would have held up.

  • Paul McKeown 30th Aug '10 - 1:47pm

    @Labour sycophant

    “I suppose that result just shows how the Lib Dems are no longer seen as an alternative Labour party by Tory-minded voters- you’re one of their own and they can vote for you without fear.”

    I’m afraid you just don’t get it. The electorate for several decades now no longer see elections as Red versus Blue. Three party politics has been a fact for a long time, and now increasingly parliamentary seats are being contested as genuine four way contests, as Plaid, the SNP, UKIP, the Greens all have grown in strength, too. Your idea that a Lib Dems should be seen as an alternative first to Labour and then to the Conservatives is silly. You suffer from a political bipolar disorder and should seek treatment for it. I would recommend openminded reading from sources across the political spectrum.

  • @ Mike (The Labour one)

    My “Well Labour done this whinge” is a reply in the same spirit of your partisan postings here, so you shouldn’t be suprised.

    The fact that you think the Lib Dems were ever “an alternative Labour party” just shows how deeply misguided you are. We never have been and never will be. We have a different world view – one does not see the world from “out of the bowels of the trade union movement” like the Labour party. But you just don’t seem to get that.

    The problem for the Lib Dems is that we lack the backing of vested interests – of trade unions and public sector employees for Labour and the rich and powerful for the Tories. At the moment, we are caught in a pincer movement between the two.

    Labour, on the other hand, is now having to reckon with its paymasters in the form of the trade unions. Let’s see what kind of policies and leadership emerge from that situation and how united Labour manages to be when either New Labour wins out or old Labour makes a comeback and sends the Blairites packing. Then it could be the Lib Dems who are welcoming defectors, not the other way round.

  • Paul McKeown 30th Aug '10 - 2:21pm

    @Robert C

    “Labour, on the other hand, is now having to reckon with its paymasters in the form of the trade unions. Let’s see what kind of policies and leadership emerge from that situation and how united Labour manages to be when either New Labour wins out or old Labour makes a comeback and sends the Blairites packing. Then it could be the Lib Dems who are welcoming defectors, not the other way round.”

    That strongly echoes what I have been thinking for a long time – on both ends of the political spectrum.

    The Conservatives are strongly split between moderate fiscal conservatives, social conservatives of various sorts, anti-European bores and libertarian tea party wingnuts. If one reads any of the main Conservative blogs the divisions are very clear and very open. UKIP polled close to a million ballots at the last General Election. One can only wonder how long it might be before elements from the right wing of the Conservative party jump horses.

    Labour is close to broke, with enormous debts, and one major source of funding, from the Trades Unions. The Trades Unions have, with only a few minor exceptions, continued to support Labour. However, it is clear, that relations between the two have become increasingly strained, as Labour has shown no sign of wanting to rescind the legislation democratising and curbing the excesses of the unions from the 1980’s and the 1990’s. The Labour party sits painfully on the horns of a dilemma; pander to the unions, lurch leftwards and risk the utter unelectability of 1983 all over again: or try to maintain an electorally minded centrist course and risk loss of union funding. Either way I can easily foresee major ruptures in Labour between the social democratic elements and hardline leftists.

    I think that the era of Big Tent politics is gradually coming to an end: people are able to see clearly that red and blue give merely nod and wink to lots of ideas that they have absolutely no intention of implementing in government, to the intense frustration of many. Liberal Democrats should hasten the process by pointing out every hypocrisy and pointing out the alternatives to left and right of Labour. Every vote to UKIP, the Greens, or other parties of the left or right are in a way votes for the Liberal Democrats, too, as they lower the threshold for Liberal Democrats to gain parliamentary seats even under FPTP.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 30th Aug '10 - 2:48pm

    @Paul McKeown: My point is that they *are* becoming an atlernative Conservative party, not that I think they should or that it’s the only way. The faces of the party are all crypto-Tories supporting poor-bashing neoliberal policies with a fake philanthropic gloss.

    @Robert C: I said they wouldn’t be *seen* as an alternative Labour party by Tory-minded voters. Big difference. Go back, read it again. Try and understand it, it’s in plain English.

    I do not care that you dislike the trade unions, of course I disagree. I think it’s deeply hypocritical for your party to be seeking anti-union legislation while pretending to be in favour of liberties, but that’s not this thread. This thread is about the problems the Lib Dems face and whether or not the pressures will become too great for the party to withstand. I think that as the Left abandons the LIb Dems and the Right adopts you, the party will be faced with having to tack even further to the right. There will not be a place for the social Liberals there.

  • @ Mike (the Labour one)

    1) What anti-union legislation are you talking about? Lib Dems are not against trade unions at all. They play a vital role in defending workers’ rights and in acting as a counterbalance to excesses of big business power. Whether a party’s sole existence should be to pursue trade unions’ interests at the expense of the nation as a whole is, however, an entirely different matter.

    2) We are not being ‘adopted’ by the right. You should see the regular tirades of right wingers (whingers?) in the Telegraph saying the Lib Dems should not be in charge of tax policy/voting reform etc. etc. We got FOUR FIFTHS of the share of the vote obtained by Labour. It is only our barmy electoral system that deprived us of much greater influence. We are not some bunch of poor orphans who need adopting by anyone, thank you.

    It seems that Labour supporters have yet to find an attitude to strike towards the Lib Dems now they can no longer be patronising and dismissive towards us. Whatever this attitude is, to us it seems more and more like a simple case of sour grapes.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 30th Aug '10 - 4:01pm

    @Robert C: Your pary has consistently supported giving the government the right to overrule strike action in industries where it’s not supposedly in the public interest. New Labour wasn’t good in this area either (strange considering how they’re supposed to be under the thumb of the trade unions, but whatever).

    @2: No. Read what I’ve written. It is a fact that the Lib Dems have gained in recent elections where the Tory vote has fallen. It is right-wing voters adopting the Lib Dems as their own.

    As for the last paragraph: Fine. You lot believe that. Everything’s fine in the Con-Lib Garden of Eden and all disagreement is dishonest, sour grapes, tribalism. Indulge yourselves all you want.

  • Paul McKeown 30th Aug '10 - 4:17pm

    Watch out, watch out there’s a load of crypto-Lib Dem neo-bashers about… what a load of nonsense! When people grasp the old “cryptos” and start labelling other parties, you just know they haven’t anything of value to say, but are merely grasping in the dark for the worst possible insults in their threadbare lexicons. Amazing the last few rants didn’t throw in a few “Orange Tories” as well… 😉

  • Correct, Dave Page. However, I am well aware there are a number of perspectives on quite a few subjects written by a varuety of authors. However, Orange Book-ism has come to mean a particular (ultra-free market) variety of liberalism. It was in this light that I was commenting. I agree, it would, I am sure, be better if I, and I am sure others, who use the term derogatorily, were to read it. Maybe I will make it a New Year’s resolution some time in the future.

  • Paul McKeown 30th Aug '10 - 4:39pm

    @Labour sycophant

    The Lib Dems are alternative to both Labour and the Conservatives, not an electoral prop to either. I know Labour thought for decades that the Lib Dems were the Labour “B” team, but it was a myth of their own making. And if they had actually delivered electoral reform for the Commons, they might well have found themselves in government, albeit with a strongly modified, liberal democratic prospectus for government. They didn’t though, for there exists too large an undemocratic streak within the Labour party that would prefer howling in opposition to compromise and sharing. Labour’s problem in the end. Get over it.

    The Liberal Democrats are not a Conservative “B” team either, no matter how much Labour’s activists and trolls would like to portray that propagandistic image.

    Some day the Liberal Democrats will be the largest party in parliament and they will pick their partner’s in government with great care, looking for the party of parties most capable of negotiating fairly, make reasonable compromises and behaving reasonably even when they don’t get everything their own way. It is an open question which parties those will prove to be.

    It is clear that Liberal Democracy is a very difficult philosophy and internally more coherent than those espoused under the banners of Conservatism or Labourism.

  • mike cobley 30th Aug '10 - 4:45pm

    Sesenco, interested in your views on coalition viability. Contact me via michaelcobleydotcom – you can leave a message or drop me an email.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 30th Aug '10 - 5:06pm

    @Paul McKeown: Read what I wrote. There were, and oh look- there still are!- plenty of words surrounding the “alternative Labour party” bit that show the meaning of the sentence to be different to what you think it is. That’s how language works.

  • Paul McKeown 30th Aug '10 - 5:35pm

    @Labour sycophant

    Lots of “neo-crypticism”, drawn from the ever shallower lexicon of Labour’s synthetic outrage, nothing rational of note. I’m pretty sure that most Liberal Democrats, their friends, supporters and voters have heard it all before and are completely underwhelmed. Also expecting it to continue in the same vein all the way until the next general election, unless and until whichever half-entity is leading Labour goes for another despairing bout of agreeing with Nick.

  • Heard it all before. Indulge yourself all you like- keep fantasising. But don’t bollock up a perfectly reasonable discussion about the future of your party. I’ve given my reasons for why I think it’s future lies with the Tory party- that’s not partisan, that’s an assessment of the situation that you’re entitled to disagree with- disagreement would be welcome, there wouldn’t be discussion without disagreement- if you tried using reason instead of kneejerk attacks based on my support of the Labour party.

  • Paul McKeown 30th Aug '10 - 7:49pm

    @Labour sycophant

    As you haven’t dealt with any of my reasoned points, I cannot see how you claim the moral high point.

    Can you explain to me how Labour is to remain financially viable, whilst its paymasters wish to change the party’s direction into a leftist electoral wasteland?

    Given its 25+ million pounds of debt?


  • charliechops1 30th Aug '10 - 8:30pm

    History never repeats itself exactly but it does remind us of things that do and could happen. I agree with Tony Greaves: the danger to the Lib Dems is that activists and supporters drift away. It is impossible to deny that any loss in Conservative support will go to Labour: that sort of drift dismays many Lib Dem MPs who may vote against the Government over economic policy. Those in office tend to cling on. The Lib Dem dilemma is how to deal with a probable Lib Dem Parliamentary split.

  • Tony,

    I’ve heard it all before. Remember the merger of the Liberal Party with the SDP? We were told that the new party had become so unpopular (less than 10% in the opinion polls) and had offended so many of its erstwhile supporters that its local government base would collapse. But its local government base did not collapse. Despite some damage around the edges, it held.


  • Charliechops wrote:

    “It is impossible to deny that any loss in Conservative support will go to Labour:”

    You should have gone into the priesthood.

    How about this one? “It is impossible to deny that Father Christmas exists.” Not because he does exist, but because I say so.

  • @Paul McKeown: What exactly has that to do with this article? You have made no reasoned points, as ever. You haven’t engaged with the subject whatsoever. Try and understand that I understand that you don’t like the Labour party- it just isn’t relevent.

    And if I want to vote for a left-wing candidate, I will. Stop talking rot about “paymasters”, just because unionised workers support the party with a levy that they can choose to opt out. It’s foolish- but if you want to fight the class war, that’s up to you. Do it in a relevent thread.

  • Paul McKeown 30th Aug '10 - 10:19pm

    @Labour sycophant

    So no answers there, then, just a refusal to consider quite a widespread observation, which is that Labour if it doesn’t take on board a raft of pro-union and other hard left policies is in danger of losing the support of a number of the more militant unions, whilst if it does take on board such policies, it is in danger of losing the electorate. Labour, due to its financial disorder, is in a much more precarious position than the Liberal Democrats are. If Labour were to lose two large unions, it might simply be unable to finance its debts, which means that the unions have it over a barrel… how bad was 1983 for Labour? 27.6%? With comparable pre-New Labour policies it would fall of a cliff. And the moderate social democratic elements in Labour know it. It is small wonder that many observers are predicting a very rocky time ahead for Labour….

  • Sesenco – Where I think Tony is right, although he doesn’t explicitly make this point, is that there are more influential Labour leaning LD tactical voters than there are influential Tory leaning ones. That is because we have always (in our lifetimes) had a lot more Lib Dem / Tory close contests than Lib Dem / Labour ones. So it would seem to follow that at periods of Tory strength, as both in the 80s with the SDP split, and now with the coalition with the Tories, that we might lose more to Labour now than we did to the Tories in the 80s (although clearly that effect was there too). I think only time will tell. Tony, you are factually wrong in saying that the Tory rock bottom is 200+ It hit just over 180 in 1997.

  • Putney Dandridge IV 30th Aug '10 - 11:30pm

    “Whichever Miliband becomes Labour leader is unlikely to become Prime Minister.”

    I don’t agree, Sesenco.

    David Miliband has indeed warned Labour supporters that the party could be out of power “for a long time”. He said it had stayed in opposition for many years each time it had lost power, but added: “I want to buck that trend”. Most of the evidence, current and historical, suggests otherwise. David himself wasn’t being strictly accurate, since when Labour lost office in 1970, it was back in power within three years and nine months.

    Speaking on ‘This Week’ a few months ago, Michael Portillo reminded us that virtually all governments in modern times have lost popularity once they’re in office. The exceptions were in 1966, October 1974 and 1983. In 1966, after existing on a single-figure majority for seventeen months, Labour called a fresh election and won by 96. After the hung result of February 1974, Labour called another election just eight months later and emerged with an overall majority of 3. In 1983, Thatcher increased her majority from 1979, winning a landslide largely because of ‘the Falklands factor’.

    All other modern election results fit Portillo’s theory. In 1987, the Tory majority fell from 146 to 101. In 1992, it fell to 21 and in 1997 the Tories suffered their worst result since 1832. Labour’s majority of 179 in 1997 fell to 167 in 2001 and 66 in 2005. Now the Tories have returned to power but without enough MPs to rule on their own. History suggests that unless another election is called within eighteen months, the only way for the Tories is down.

    Opinion poll evidence reveals that the Liberal Democrats, are already down – and almost out. All new governments have a ‘honeymoon period’, which has sustained the Tories so far; their spending cuts haven’t really started to bite, and the Labour Party doesn’t even have a leader. However, there’s been no honeymoon for the Liberal Democrats. The latest prediction from UK Polling Report on what would happen in a general election now says that the Tories would win 306 seats (down 1), Labour 295 seats (up 37), the Liberal Democrats 23 seats (down 34), leaving 26 ‘others’ (down 2). When the rest of the unnecessarily large spending cuts are revealed later this year, and when people begin to realise what impact they will have on their lives, the honeymoon of this government will be well and truly over.

    Mervyn King has been known to get things wrong, as Professor David Blanchflower has pointed out with regard to interest rate cuts, but King could well be right when he says that this government will become so unpopular that the Tories (and Liberal Democrats) could be “out of power for a generation”. That tends to contradict David Miliband’s fear. When Labour started its eighteen years in the wilderness in 1979, the party was so split that some of its leading members were plotting to start a new party, the SDP, which eventually became a part of the Liberal Democrats. Not so in 2010, when Liberal Democrats have been switching to Labour in droves, not just party members but voters, as that evidence from UK Polling Report confirms.

    David Miliband has every reason to be confident when, in all probability, he becomes Labour leader next month. Unless Cameron provokes the Liberal Democrats into quitting the coalition within the next year or so, and an immediate election follows, the Labour Party is best placed of the three main parties to win the next election. In my humble opinion, the writing is already on the wall for this government.

  • Putney Dandridge IV

    In writing your PR script for David Miliband, there are one or two things you have negelected to mention:

    (1) In October 1974, most of the opinion polls before and during the campaign indicated that Labour would be returned with a substantial majority. The same polls, before the campaign began, suggested that the Liberal vote would collapse.

    (2) You are mistaken in attributing the scale of the 1983 Tory victory to the Falklands War. The Tory vote actually went down in relation to 1979, even though the number of seats went up. A more significant factor was the unpopularity of the Labour Party and its manifesto which Peter Shore called “the longest suicide note in history”.

    (3) In May of this year, Labour went down to its second worst defeat since the Second World War, achieving only one percentage point more than Michael Foot in 1983. Labour under Brown actually did slightly worse than John Major in 1997. The scale of the defeat has yet to sink in.

    (4) In order to win, or to win convincingly, in 1997, Labour had to ditch many of its core values and policies and install a leader who was visibly un-Labour and led from the centre-right. Blair-Mandelsonism succeeded three times in a row, but on the fourth occasion it failed to deliver. How is David Miliband going to pull the same trick that Blair managed in 1997?

    (5) The outgoing Labour government is perceived to be at least in part to blame for the financial mess that the new government is now endeavouring to sort out. Do you think the electorate will be willing to install a government led by people who were involved in that previous government’s mistakes?

    (6) There is no hard evidence of any loss transfer of support from the Liberal Democrats to Labour. When real people vote in real elections, the Liberal Democrat vote holds firm, despite the Coalition.

    (7) Fewer and fewer people consider themselves to be working-class or belong to a trade union. Add to that a smaller public sector in two years’ time, and the demographics don’t look good for Labour. Oh, and if Labour thinks it can rely on ethnic minotirites to propel it back into office, they should take a look at what happened in Brent Central, where ethnic minorities are a majority.

    (8) When Labour won in 1997, 2001 and 2005, it had the vocal support of the Murdoch press. It won’t have that next time.

    (9) All the indicators suggest that Labour is in long-term decline, Blair-Mandelsonism being a blip. Look at the map of England south of Birmingham and count the number of Labour seats outside London. Labour is now coralled into an ever contracting ecumene, much as it was in 1983, with the difference that the Liberal Democrats now have a vastly greater infrastructure in the areas that Labour has vacated than it did 27 years ago.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Aug '10 - 12:37am

    The events of 1988 were reported as a massive split, whereas they weren’t. The press were so enamoured of David Owen and so clueless about how third party politics works that they really did think he and a few of his Westminster cronies and the few SDP nutters who went with them at grassroots level were equivalent to the massed ranks of activists who accepted the merger.

    If it does end up with Clegg leading some sort of “National Liberal” group, I doubt he’ll take many of the party members with him, and so he and anyone who goes with him will be reliant on the Conservative Party machine to get re-elected. There won’t be any viable party for him to lead, he’ll be no different from the Co-operative Party MPs within Labour – who knows who they are as they appear no different from the rest?

    So, we’d be hit by it for sure, but I think as in 1988 we will eventually recover, maybe better for it.

    This is the only sort of split I see as having any likelihood of happening.

  • Putney Dandridge IV 31st Aug '10 - 12:50am

    Sesenco. Thank you for such a detailed and thoughtful reply.

    The only reason I referred to the October 1974 election was that it was one of the exceptions to the Portillo theory about governments losing support. Labour did better than in the February election, a fact which you do not dispute.

    The “longest suicide note in history” quip was made by Gerald Kaufman. You are quite correct in stating that Thatcher’s share of the vote fell after 1979, so in that sense the 1983 election is not an exception to the theory. I think you’ll find that the Tories were third in the polls before the Falklands War, when David Steel was telling SDP/Liberal Alliance supporters to “go back to your constituency and prepare for government”.

    On vote share, Labour did indeed record its second worst result since the Second World War in May, but while we still have FPTP, it’s seats that count. 258 was a far better result than what the Tories achieved in the previous three elections – 165, 166 and 198. In any event, you can’t just discount the way in which Labour has bounced back in the polls in the last three months, despite not having a leader, despite the new government’s traditional ‘honeymoon period’, and despite Osborne’s draconian cuts not really starting to hurt yet.

    Labour had to move to the right after 1983, but I don’t think it was necessary to move as far as Blair, Brown and Mandelson took it. I reckon that Scargill could have led Labour to victory in 1997! Public opinion was to the left of the government for a number of years after 1997. In fact, I believe there is a permanent centre-left majority in Britain, consisting of most of those who vote Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, SNP and Plaid.

    You ask if the voters would “install a government led by people who were involved in that previous government’s mistakes”. Yes, they just have. Take a look at the Tories in the present government and you will see people like Hague, Clarke, Maude, George Young (who thinks that the homeless are “those you step over on the way out of the opera”), and even Cameron himself (who “advised” during the ‘Black Wednesday’ debacle) – all part of that unpopular Tory regime of the 90s.

    Labour is well aware that the working class has declined, hence the advent of New Labour, a very successful attempt to build a coalition between the progressive middle class and what’s left of the working class. The party is not in long-term decline, it’s been in power for 13 years and has suffered the unpopularity that catches up with all governments sooner or later, as the Portillo theory explains.

  • PrincessPerfect 31st Aug '10 - 2:12am

    Do I think the Liberal Democrats will split? Like any scenario, circumstances and choices that follow those circumstances dictate outcomes and conclusion. It is in my opinion, that the one thing the Liberal Democrats as whole have learned from is history, and since in the last two decades they have formed a very democratic way of working as a party as a whole, I believe (in contrast to Labour and the Conservatives) that issues will be an issue of debate in a productive manner, not a destructive one likely to see splits.

    Of course, you’ll likely to get the real extreme parts of the Liberal Democrats who seek to destroy the coalition, but overall I think the majority of Lib Dems will see that is not the coherent way to go. What is done is done and we need to make the best out of this situation. An authoritarian Labour party is not a coherent option, neither is a right wing Tory government with no Liberal Democrat influence whatsoever. And those who tactically voted for us in May, or voted for us because they didn’t like Gordon Brown, or even people who misjudged the Liberal Democrats as a wholly social democratic party on the whole are not only, not going to vote Lib Dem ever again no matter what, but the majority of those voters were going to be temporary anyway.

    Those tactical voters on the whole may vote Lib Dem once in a while, but in the long term there home is with Labour. Those who just voted for us because they didn’t like Gordon Brown would have likely gone back to Labour at the end of their leadership contest when one of the Millibands won. And considering no party is ever really dominated by one fraction consistently, it was only going to be a matter of time before those Social Democrats realise there are parts of the Lib Dems who have noticeable Liberal ideological differences with the Social Democrats, and their roots are more instinctively a liberalism in a classical sense, than a social one but not necessarily a wholly classical one.

    Overall, I would like Clegg to be more decisive in the coalition. I do think PR wise he needs to improve. But I don’t doubt the fact the man has good intentions. I also see it that establishing an identity within the coalition, to enable us in a position to create scenarios of positive debate with our temporary coalition partners to exceed our influence is going to take time.

    Liberal Democrats on this forum, don’t quite grasp the fact that things aren’t has simple as they envisage it to be, and that what looks good in theory is usually quite difficult in practice. The Liberal Democrats within government are unfamiliar with it roles and responsibilities in a real sense, so establishing the balance between that and representing the coalition as a whole is likely to take time as well.

    The party conference is important because it will give a chance for MPs and party members to address their concerns with the leadership. I hope that the conference season concludes in a link of understanding being established between the Liberal Democrats and the leadership. That would overall, be the most positive outcome. In fighting and undermining one another is a pathetic solution.

    Though I find Scenasco comment ‘’take the party back from Clegg’’ somewhat amusing. Until Clegg, in a long term manner leads the party down a level which is alien to any kind of Liberalism (be it classical or social) and leads it down a wholly Conservative/Socialist etc manner which overrides any Liberal Democrat values he has not taken the party anywhere for it needed to be brought back. As you all are Liberal Democrats, despite their being clear differences amongst us about what defines the party I would expect all of you to have some understanding of European politics (since the party as a European outlook, or for a more definitive instinctive definition ‘’internationalist outlook’’) and the fact European politics a filled with coalition governments particularly in Nordic countries and Germany. Since this is the case, I would expect you to not only realise the influence our party would have in such a circumstance, but how much time it takes to establish one’s party in a coalition which is bound to largely dominated by Conservative thinking due to the numbers anyway.

    As for the fact the Orange Book may not be necessarily mainstream within the party – that’s a debate for another day. I don’t think it’s quite simple as simply dismissing Orange Bookers as an very small minority, although I don’t doubt we aren’t in the mainstream of generally social liberal thinking among Lib Demmers, at least on this forum may I say. I honestly find it quite insulting that I am told time, and time and time and again that my views are wrong because they don’t fit into a social liberal agenda of wholly state approaches to things like poverty etc.

    I would like to debate with other Lib Dems on many issues, and Lib Dems of all ideological perspectives, but I would love to know, why Orange Bookers as a whole demonised? I don’t want to destroy the left of the party, but I would like to bring us to centre ground and encompass the ideas of both our social liberal and economic liberal traditions. I’ve read the Orange Book itself, and I would not state it is against social liberalism – in fact in some areas it embraces it.

    What I would state, is that the Orange Book advocates a more economic liberal agenda in our values, but still encompassing social liberal values as well. Many have stated that economic liberals as a whole do not necessarily have a pure mission to reduce state, but merely keep it at levels where it does not infringe on liberty. I consider myself not an extremist when it comes to think type of thinking, and while I am preference to a small state, I would happily promote a halfway mark as well.

    I would also go with a halfway mark as well economically. While I’m generally a free marketer (but on trade, I guess I’m more fair than free trade) I believe that when it comes to market we need more analysis of what do now as we see the wreckage of the crash, than just knee jerk regulation – in the same knee jerk way we opened the flood gates after the decline of Keynesian economics in the 70s. Overall, I believe some markets do regulate themselves, other do not and it is analysing the differences between the many markets which is important, as well as for those markets who need regulation, regulating them in a such a fashion where it is productive, but also does not infringe on the need for healthy competitiveness amongst the market system as a whole.

    Because, to me at least what we’ve been seeing in recent years prior to the crash is an Authoritarian kind of capitalism (championed as ‘’neoliberalism’’) I don’t consider myself either, I am a democratic capitalist with no vested interests and if anything feel that a kind of democratic capitalism which champions initiatives to support our small businesses in a poverty ridden communities can bring prosperity to these communities and ensure a truly healthy competitive market where we can actually make a system productive for good purposes, rather than a vested interest purpose.

  • PrincessPerfect 31st Aug '10 - 2:58am

    To the left of Labour? You don’t even respect the Liberal Democrats enough to measure us our own ideological scale thank you very much. We campaign on centrist type of liberalism – there was to be no kind of alignment of the left considering we are such a big church it would be unfair to define us a espousing wholly left wing values just as it would be unfair to define us as espousing wholly right wing values. Vince Cable was right when he said we are not necessarily a centre of left party. Indeed, in some areas we do lean to left ideals such as the idea of progression taxation, but then again because of my own personal politics, I’d say that point was more debatable due to the fact economic liberal thinkers were advocating progression taxation such as Adam Smith, nearly 200 years ago.

    This therefore makes it hard at least to define progressive taxation as a purely left ideal. We do support progressive ideals, but whether that can be defined as left wing is debatable too. I consider progressivism as an ideology oppose to traditional conservatism, but not compatible with socialist ideals in real terms either. I guess what I’m trying to say is progressivism doesn’t necessarily have a specific ideological home, nor does it have to be in the form of a massive social or economic change either. Sometimes it can just be building on the traditional foundations of an already positive idea.

    I guess one area in which we clearly take a left wing stance is on Green politics. Another area, which I don’t think you could define as left wing, is our economic liberal thinking as Vince also stated in an interview with Total Politics on November 2009. Another key Liberal Democrat issue is our support for a more devolved state. Now this is clearly reducing state, not bigger but at the same time is it making state overall small? I’d argue this issue is a pure example of our centrist stance, because in essence we don’t argue for big state bureaucracy but we don’t argue for an ideological small state either.

    What about on education, on giving schools greater autonomy? Could you class that as a left wing stance? After all, traditionally the left champion the state as something which can be used for a positive purpose in most circumstances, but in this instant the Liberal Democrats reject state in favour of liberty regarding education. Some say, the foundations of liberty – and libertarianism are left wing, but ideologies like classic liberalism which are not left wing are generally at the forefront of ideas which reject state in many aspects in favour of liberty.

    This kind of thing, therefore leads us to question what defines liberty & libertarianism in an ideologically traditional sense. I propose it would be ludicrous to define libertarianism and liberty by a simplistic left and right axis. In essence there are many kinds of libertarianism, anarchic capitalism to left wing libertarianism. In fact, I’d argue the many forms of libertarianism make it so that it would be unfair to define it as either left or right wing because by doing that you’d be marginalising certain kinds of libertarianism and that would be insulting to ideology and a belief system of politics itself.

    I’d argue the kind of liberty we argue is a pragmatic centrist one – that holds no purely ideological vested interests – in the traditional left and right sense at least. On issues such as gay rights, more equality for women, that itself in a modern day liberalism encompasses social liberalism and not necessarily civil liberties but social rights that I guess is one of the aspects of where we are left wing.

    On civil liberties, and pure personal freedom I’d argue we are advocating those principles in a classical sense in a reaction to state. Again, this is a singular issue, so I wouldn’t define it as a centre – of – right stance at all, but I guess some of the classic liberal traits in our party do not make us right wing but they certainly contest and make us in reality something different from those who characterise the party in a general sense as left wing, particularly (in a general political way) as if we exist purely to prop up Labour, something which I contest deeply, as I would if the score turned and the myth was now with propping up the Conservatives rather than Labour.

  • “And those who tactically voted for us in May……are not only, not going to vote Lib Dem ever again no matter what, but the majority of those voters were going to be temporary anyway.”

    PrincessPerfect. Many of those people live in southern areas where the Liberal Democrats are the only party with a chance of defeating the Tories. Some may have voted tactically many times previously, and therefore weren’t temporary supporters. They will probably now say that if we vote Lib Dem, we’ll still end up with a Tory government.

  • “The only reason I referred to the October 1974 election was that it was one of the exceptions to the Portillo theory about governments losing support.”

    But what about the 1950s Tory governments? The 1951, 1955 and 1959 general elections saw progressive increases in the Conservative majorities. Portillo seems to have forgotten these. Throughout 1963 and in early 1964 there were big Labour opinion-poll leads which evaporated by election day, and it was only the increased Liberal vote that saved the day for Labour.

    “I think you’ll find that the Tories were third in the polls before the Falklands War,”

    They were. but those were opinion polls, not real votes. There was even a poll putting the SDP/Liberal Alliance on 51%, just after Crosby, and that never came to pass, as opinion-polls very frequently don’t. The Tory opinion-poll share was beginning to rise shortly before the Falklands War, indeed just before the Hillhead Byelection which the Tories very nearly held – an inconceivable feat in today’s Glasgow! In 1983, the Cold War was still raging, and there was a real fear that Labour would make Britain defenceless, nationalise every last rhubarb patch and let the trade union militants loose on the economy. And there was the Murdoch press to blast home that message.

    “I believe there is a permanent centre-left majority in Britain, consisting of most of those who vote Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, SNP and Plaid.”

    That may be correct, though do remember that many Liberal Democrat voters would not put Labour as their second choice.

    “Labour is well aware that the working class has declined, hence the advent of New Labour, a very successful attempt to build a coalition between the progressive middle class and what’s left of the working class. ”

    It was successful because (1) the Major government was deeply unpopular, and (2) Blair-Mandelson was hyped by the media and had the enthusiastic support of the Murdoch press. Labour has to make this work a second time – without Murdoch’s help – and I am doubtful that this can happen. Do you, seriously, think Labour is ever going to win St Albans again?

  • Putney Dandridge IV

    Sorry, forgot to head my reply with the poster’s ID.

  • PrincessPerfect 31st Aug '10 - 2:02pm

    @Bert Finch
    They were tempoary supporters. Voting Lib Dem, two or three times still makes you tempoary, because you only voted in a tactical manner. And the fact is, because the Lib Dems did go into coalition with the Conservatives, because of that reason only they have left the party – that makes them tempoary in nature, because for a start they decided to assume we were purely anti Tory to the point we would never consider sharing power with them.

    If you don’t care about our values overall, and are just anti-tory in politics vote Labour. Those who do not share our values and do not recognise our board church but simply see us as a anti-tory are people we owe nothing to. These people did not vote Lib Dem, as a supporter of Liberal Democrat values. They voted Lib Dem because they hated Conservative values. And the Liberal Democrats, are a party where we champion our values foremost not someone’s dislike of another party. I dislike both Labour and the Tories but I am more pro Lib Dem in my values.

    We are not simply a vechile to keep a party out. Labour may have postitioned themselves as an anti Tory party, but the Lib Dems are much more than that. And I don’t care what they (tactical voters) think or say – as they are people who are not Lib Dem supporters they have no right to be angry at the coalition. Tactical voters weren’t voting with their heart, they were taking an idealogical risk. It is simply their all fault if it blew up in their face – it is not our fault they presumed we would never go into a coalition with the Tories.

    Perhaps these people should go find a party which suits their own values.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 31st Aug '10 - 3:53pm

    @Paul McKeown: Try posting something on topic instead of trying to turn every single comments section into a whinge about Labour. Do you just see red at the “Labour” in my name, inserted because I noticed several Mike’s on the site and to be able to post without being accused of pretending to be a Lib Dem, and decide you have to tell me that you don’t like Labour? In every thread?

    I’m not going to waste time reading your comments any longer. You’ve had replies to your every moan in other threads.

  • PrincessPerfect. I’ve voted tactically for the Lib Dems on quite a few occasions in the past, when I was living in a ward or constituency where it was the most sensible thing for a non-Tory to do. I was comfortable with voting Lib Dem, I am pro-euro and in favour of PR (how can any politician claim to believe in fairness if they don’t even support fair votes?). I suspect that people who start out voting tactically can eventually vote in the same way out of conviction if it becomes a habit. You shouldn’t be dismissive of any votes, political parties need them from wherever they can get them, and all parties get support from people who see them as the least worst option.

  • “All parties get support from people who see them as the least worst option”

    Which is why I would like to see more effort focused on changing people from reluctant supporters into convinced believers. But I suppose all these things take time and maybe people prefer to spend their time (in blogs) on enthusiasms rather than hard-headed work

  • PrincessPerfect 31st Aug '10 - 4:52pm

    @Bert Finch
    Agreeing with two Lib Dem polices doesn’t mean you share our values on the whole. You have voted tactically that’s your choice but we owe nothing to tactical voters. They do not vote with their hearts. It may be the most sensible thing to do in your perspective but that doesn’t mean on the whole tactical voting is jusified especially since on the whole the party you support generally (Labour) did nothing on electoral reform for 13 years. Clearly they didn’t believe in fair votes.

    Yes, those who vote tactically can be become people of conviction. Conviction of having a politics that is anti tory/anti Labour/anti Lib Dem etc.

    And yes, I will be dismissve of certain votes. Tactical voters do not vote with any political conviction, because they lack it, because they have no values nor beliefs on a postitive element. If they did, they would vote for the party in which they believe in, and if they do tactical voting because of the flawed FPTP system, then they should be voting for the Lib Dems or any other party in support for PR as a supporter of that party and those beliefs, not as a tactical voter. In fact, tactical voters have made the system even less propotional than need be. So you tactical voters claim to believe in fair votes, and fair political system but instead of at least voting with your hearts to try and make the system somewhat more propotional you make it even more unpropotional by voting tactically.

    At the end of the day I will dismiss those who vote us not knowing our values, but simply guessing them. Tacticals only measure us idealogically by thew fractions of the party they like or consider worthy, or lump us together all as social democrats or very left leaning social liberals. They guess that we have some sort of idealogical alliance to Labour, and so we would only join in a coalition with them. They guess our values. Because if you knew our values, you’d be voting for us on that basis, not as a tactical voter.

    Tactical voters are temporary because they only vote us if they percieve us to be anti Tory enough for them nationally, or locally. As soon as we are no longer anti Tory enough for them, be it in a coalition, or on something like civil liberties they do not care for the Liberal Democrats. When times get tough, they don’t stay around. They don’t even know about Liberal Democrat politics itself. These are people selective in what they consider Liberal Democrat values. And that is why, in the long tem their vote is worth nothing. Political parties do not need to build a base of support of people who aren’t for sharing their values in the long term. That’s an unstable voting base.

    Political parties only get support in *some* cases when people see them as the worst option because of the electoral system. Which conveintally, Labour failed to do anything about in their thriteen years.

  • PrincessPerfect 31st Aug '10 - 4:56pm

    @Voter – can you turn someone who’s only willing in themselves to be an anti Labour/anti Tory etc supporter to someone with princples? When they, have not even bothered to search for beliefs which in line with their own convictions themselves?? Really? I very much doubt it.

  • PrincessPerfect. I mentioned only two Lib Dem policies which I supported as examples, but there were others – such as local income tax, no major spending cuts this year and no VAT increase. Not replacing Trident makes good sense as well.

    Yes, there are people who believe in Liberal Democrat principles, of course there are. But there are others who vote Lib Dem when they are disillusioned with Labour or the Tories who then return to their old allegiances. There are tactical anti-Tory voters in the south and tactical anti-Labour voters in some northern cities. You need every vote you can get, every party does.

  • Paul McKeown 31st Aug '10 - 6:48pm

    @Labour sycophant

    I really do suspect Labour is more likely to suffer from an open, visible and damaging loss of internal cohesion than the Liberal Democrats, for the reasons already given. I cannot see the Liberal Democrats splitting at all, the party is simply too compact for that, with a fairly clear philosophy that a large majority of its members and voters support. There will inevitably be losses from a relatively small minority who view the world as politically bipolar. They will be of no real significance; they don’t share the fundamental belief in multipolar politics which is core to Liberal Democracy, which in itself also inevitably implies coalition politics and the responsibilities that it also requires of its elected representatives.

    That you cannot see that does not surprise me: you support one of the two conservative parties that have misgoverned our country for most of the past century, and are only able to see politics as consisting of two tribes. Increasingly that is not the case, indeed at the last general election 35% of the electorate voted for parties not of your two cozy tribes; those electors simply do not share your two parties obsessions or interests. Your form of politics requires to Big Tent parties to sweep as many as possible into their tents as possible; inevitably today’s well educated and well informed electorate can see that your two conservative parties are incoherent, unfocused and promise (or give the nod to) much that they simply have no intention of implementing. That is the result of bipolar big tent politics, parties that try to be all things to all men. They are simply coming apart at the seams, they can hardly hold themselves together, never mind convince sceptical electors to cast their ballots for them. Do you really think you can continue with a party funded by the likes of Bob Crow, whilst simultaneously appealing to a broad enough swathe of the British public to gain a parliamentary majority, particularly when your party has a parlous financial position?

    The Liberal Democrats are a much more focused political party. The chance of damaging splits is close to nil because of this.

    Whether you wish to ignore me or not is of no interest to me: I will continue in the attempt to educate you, whether you stick your fingers in your ear or not.

  • PrincessPerfect 31st Aug '10 - 11:15pm

    @Bert Finch on our economy policy it states within our manifesto quote:
    ‘’We must ensure the timing is right. If spending is cut too soon, it would undermine the much-needed recovery and cost jobs. We will base the timing of cuts on an objective assessment of economic conditions, not political dogma. Our working assumption is that the economy will be in a stable enough condition to bear cuts from 2011 – 2012’’.
    Labour state:
    ‘’We have set out a clear, balanced and fair plan to more than halve the deficit over the next four years and we will stick to it.”

    I.e, the Liberal Democrat postition was being guided by economic circumstances, meanwhile Labour, like the Conservatives were basing their progammes of economic deficit reduction on political dogma. While we state our progamme is a ”working assumption” Labour state they will ”stick to it” referring to their plan, no matter what. So please, don’t compare.

    We also didn’t rule out VAT as well:
    “But in the recent chancellors’ debate, his Treasury spokesman, Vince Cable – yesterday 355 miles away in Cambridge – refused to rule out an increase in VAT.”

    You may agree with certain Liberal Democrat polices and that is fine – however agreeing with princples is another mattter. Policies will adapt and change, but princples stay the same.

    And no, we don’t need votes anywhere we can them. If we had that attitude, we’d build an unstable voting base and in the long term the future of the party overall would be dominated by a set of tribal preferences rather than circumstances, adaption but keeping in with our fair and freedom values. You say every party has these sets of people who vote for them. Difference is, Labour and the Conservatives already have at least 27% – 30% voting bases. The Liberal Democrats, at this point in time don’t. Which is why it is curical to build a voting base of those who support our princples, not those who are tactical and therefore not only create an unstable voting base, and are temporary in nature but contradict our wish for a more propotional system by not voting with their hearts.

    Those who are dislluionsed with two main parties, who vote for us on basis they know our values and polices, and agree that, I don’t mind. Tactical voters however, look to the above. We need every vote which contributes to a long term basis. Not votes based on tribalist animosities.

  • > Policies will adapt and change, but princples stay the same.

    If principles are not acted upon, then they are not really principles. They are aspirations.

    I am not against aspirations but they should not be confused with principles

  • john stevens 1st Sep '10 - 3:12pm

    Europe remains the wild card of British politics. The LDs need to decide if they are content to adapt to the anti-European bias of the Conservative Party, which the coalition will increasingly entail, and thus probably surrender the pro-European position to Labour. If they are, their survival as an independent force seems most unlikely.

  • ‘Keep on living the coalition dream. Three Lib Dem Councillors resigned today in Halton because “I haven’t been happy since the coalition was formed, but thought ‘I’ll give them a chance’. But I can’t see any good it’s done for Mersey ward…..because what my party is turning into can’t look people in the eye”. Oh and your opinion poll rating keeps falling.

    But hey….you lot keep living the dream.’

    Well said – when people voted Lib Dem in the last election they thought they were voting for a party that believed in not cutting back straight away and we find that we got the precise opposite. The Tories have also got them over a barrel now – the Lib Dems can’t easily back out – and of course they didn’t accept the Lib Dems wanting PR instead they got a promise of a referendum on AV (possibly worse and less fair that the current system) but of course linked to a change in boundaries and a reduction of seats ( which surprise surprise favours the Tories) and gives Labour the opportunity to vote against – remebering that the Tories will also vote against in any refendum held. What have the LibDems got – nothing! Except sllling their soul, ideology & beliefs for a few cabinet positions – not even major ones like the Chancellor, Foreign Secy or Home Secy.

  • James Watson 16th Sep '10 - 4:33pm

    Trust me, and speaking as someone who has voted Liberal or Lib Dem at every election since 1983, I will never be voting Lib Dem again. Stick your heads in the sand if you wish but, truly, the Lib Dems are utterly finished for a good many years now, maybe for ever. Good riddance for being such traitors. I never did like Nick “Tory Boy” Clegg. It seems my fears have been realised. Well, enjoy your very brief brush with power because it’s something the Lib Dems won’t be seeing again for a very long time. I will do everything I can to make sure my local Lib Dem MP doesn’t get re-elected at the next election. I will remind everyone of how the Lib Dems are traitors and deserted the poor and needy in this country. Shame on you. You deserve everything coming to you. And it is.

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