How can the Lib Dems get back to the centre of the pitch?

In January, I wrote a piece about the Liberal Democrats needing to ask themselves some tough questions about their low poll ratings. At the time, I also promised to write a follow up article on some potential solutions. Here it is – for what it’s worth!

There is an open goal in the centre of British politics, but somehow the Liberal Democrats are not really scoring in the polls, despite some positive announcements on education, for example, which received good media coverage. What do we need to do to turn things around on a significant scale? It’s certainly not easy. The Conservatives are now, finally, muting the idea of more money for the health service and have already announced salary increases in the NHS. This rather moves onto Liberal Democrat (and Labour) territory which is potentially difficult, but parties claim each others’ ideas all the time (as we know when the Tories took the credit for raising the tax threshold) and, likewise, the Liberal Democrats should not be afraid to espouse other parties’ policies where we believe in them. Trying to be distinctive actually leaves the Liberal Democrats with little room for manoeuvre. We need to decide on our programme, irrespective of what other parties are saying. We need to be in the centre of the pitch, not trying to make passes down the sidelines.

So what might that look like? Well, firstly, our policy priorities should be rooted in people’s concerns today – not those of 30 years ago, when the UK was a generally more prosperous society. The 2017 manifesto was great and full of imaginative ideas, but is the bigger picture, the unifying vision, still missing in the minds of the electorate? It has, of course, traditionally been ‘liberalism’, but liberalism is a concept that doesn’t really speak to people’s everyday lives – it speaks more to insiders. Here are some policy suggestions which could, taken together, offer a new kind of left of centre vision.

• NHS and social care services funded at levels comparable with other similar OECD countries, so people receive the best possible health and social care (including psychological services). This should be funded through additional taxation (whether ring-fenced or through general taxation). There is no freedom to live and work without good health and social care.

• A well-funded education system, with parity of esteem for technical and academic education (the former tied to specific qualifications, not just apprenticeships of variable quality), which also values the creative arts and which is fully inclusive of those with special needs. This will also require additional funding through taxation. There is no freedom to make positive life choices without a good education, tailored to developing a person’s talents and abilities.

• A higher education system more fully funded by the state, with a full acknowledgement by the Lib Dems of their part in creating the current inequitable system and an expressed determination to put things right. There is no freedom when burdened with unreasonable debt.

• A housing policy which ensures there is a mix of housing available to meet different needs, including for single people. This will require creative solutions such as micro-housing and some limits to foreign ownership of our housing stock. There can be no freedom for people without a proper home.

• Developing new, low-polluting (the term green gets overused), high-tech manufacturing and energy production systems, especially in older industrial areas, using the technical skills of a new, more balanced, trained workforce. State aid should be considered to assist with growing such industries if we leave the EU. There is no freedom without employment and some prospect of rewarding work.

• A commitment to being an environmentally-friendly country, which protects our air, waterways, seas and green spaces, so we can live in greater harmony with the natural environment. There is no freedom without clean air to breathe and protected open spaces to enjoy.

• A reversal of cuts to policing, probation services and legal aid, to ensure all citizens are guaranteed a minimum level of protection and access to justice. There can be no freedom without a measure of safety and legal representation.

• Transport systems should be run on a not-for-profit basis, such as is the case with TFL. This would mean lower rail fares, as profits would not be diverted to shareholders, but traditional business models would still apply. Rural bus services also need to be improved to reduce economic and social isolation. If people do not own a car or cannot drive, their lives are severely restricted without affordable public transport.

• Freedom of expression guaranteed – but always within the law and with regard to other people’s wellbeing – and a commitment that every citizen deserves equal respect, no matter what their background. There is no freedom if one cannot express one’s ideas, individuality and religious beliefs.

• Support for local communities and greater regional self-determination. There is no freedom without some measure of autonomy.

No, not even a word about Brexit – but rather an emphasis on policies which offer people the basic freedom and opportunities to live the lives they choose.

And to fund all this? Just some thoughts: higher taxation across the whole working population (for those earning say over £25,000), but particularly of higher earners with salaries over say £80,000); a moderate increase in corporation tax; higher VAT on large, polluting vehicles; perhaps on some forms of digital communications tax; and wealth creation to support increased public spending. And does this all sound a bit too much like Labour? Well if it does, does that really matter? We easily have enough unique Lib Dem policies to graft onto such an agenda. The Liberal Democrats will always be a party of progressive and creative ideas.

This is just one potential vision for putting the Liberal Democrats back on the map at the next General Election. I am sure others can do much, much better! But we do need a coherent rationale, giving the electorate a clear sense of what the party stands for – and why a vote for the Liberal Democrats will truly, materially, make their lives better.

* Judith Abel works for a think tank in London, particularly on issues of health policy.

* Judy Abel has worked in the health policy field for around 15 years, including at the British Medical Association, for the All-Party Parliamentary Health Group, and in policy roles at Asthma UK, the Neurological Alliance and Versus Arthritis until the end of 2021. She was also the Constituency Office Manager and Senior Caseworker for former Lib Dem MP, Sir Simon Hughes from 2012 to 2014. All views are her own.

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  • The Lib Dems seem to be forever stained by the dreaded Coalition years..people can’t let go of the ‘No more broken promises’ disaster..the cruel bedroom tax is also something ex Lib Dems voters can’t forgive and won’t forget…the party has been devoured by Labour in the big Cities and is a ghostly shadow of its once proud past. The answer I feel is that the party makes a full and honest apology for the Coalition years…Its probably your only hope.

  • Andy Briggs 2nd Apr '18 - 2:28pm

    Sounding more like Labour is the exact opposite of what the party should be doing. The more we sound like Labour, the less reason for many to vote Lib Dem. Being a pale imitation of Labour when their fantasy economics allows them to offer the earth at no added cost is not going to work.

    Also, as an aside, just because I can’t believe this still needs to be explained to Lib Dems, you *cannot* be enslaved by “unreasonable debt” stemming from tuition fees, as you *only* pay when you can *afford it*.

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Apr '18 - 2:37pm

    “Well, firstly, our policy priorities should be rooted in people’s concerns today – not those of 30 years ago, when the UK was a generally more prosperous society”
    The UK is much more prosperous than it was 30 years ago. GDP per capita is almost 50% higher

  • David Evans 2nd Apr '18 - 2:46pm

    I wish it were all that simple. The Liberal party had many great policies in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, but had allowed themselves to become ignored and of no consequence as far as the public were concerned. They were just nice people believing nice things should happen. From the late 1950s to the 2000s we built ourselves up as an improvement and a buffer to offset the worst of the other two parties’ extremes, but in 2010-2015 our leaders at the time proved there were unwilling or unable to do enough to offset the Conservatives’ worst instincts and were at best a five year delay mechanism on their crack pot schemes. In particular we had senior figures prepared and even happy to “take the blame” to show that we were fit to be in government. The Conservatives were happy for us to take the blame and the die was cast.

    We went from having the most popular leader to the most unpopular one in little more than a year. We lost all of the electoral gains made in previous decades and are now our policies are quite simply ignored, just like the Liberals’ were.

    Until we find a reason for the public to listen to us and a way to grab their attention, we won’t make any progress no matter how good we think our ever growing list of policies is. I can only hope our local activists make the 200+ net gains we need in May to get the national media to notice us for just one day, but in reality – Vince, Jo et al – You have to do something!

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Apr '18 - 3:07pm

    Judy, you are considering the same question as I raised in my current article here in LDV, called How can we be seen as relevant again? Obviously I should welcome a comment from you on that thread. Most of your suggested solutions cover areas where we have as a party already passed useful policy motions, in health, education, housing, environmental protection, regional development and so on, and it is to be hoped we all publicise them where we can. But they are not widely known. And they are not especially radical. My suggestion is that we should FOCUS as a party on one vitally important area, both because it is the most needed by the country, and because in campaigning on it immediately and consistently we can gain the public attention and the rise in the polls which we need and deserve. That area is the poverty and gross inequality which disgrace our country today. We should become known as THE party which demands and shows the way forward in social justice, in working for a time when everyone here has enough to live on without need to resort to food banks, when child poverty is ended, full employment is combined with adequate benefits for those who can’t work, and the wealth that has accumulated for the richest in our society is more evenly distributed.

  • I’m with others on this: it matters little what our policies are when nobody sees them, or if they do they don’t believe them because they don’t trust us.


  • Robert Irwin 2nd Apr '18 - 3:45pm

    Brando – what you call forever is not even three years.

    Part of the problem facing the LDs is that Corbyn is such a polarising figure that a lot of the centre is voting Tory to keep him out.

    Another part is the collapse of the Liberal vote in the heartland of the South West, as incomers to the region bring two-party politics with them.

    But I agree that the LDs are wrongly identified as centre-right because of Coalition, instead of the actual centre-left. Apology for Coalition would be disingenous as Labour would have carried out similar policies of austerity had there been a Lab-Lib Coalition instead. Whoever won in 2010 was damned by the Great Recession – it’s sad that the LDs carried the can for the Tories.

  • It’s not just a matter of not copying Labour – their policies aren’t really grounded in reality.

    Let’s start off with transport since that seems to be a big issue for many and nationalisation of it doesn’t alleviate the problems people have with it. TOCs (train operating companies) run on a 3% profit margin so getting rid of the profit aspect will largely do nothing as 3% is minuscule. What we could do though? Increase transport subsidises since we have one of the lowest train subsidies as a nation in Europe. Could we do anything more? Yes, we could get rid of advanced tickets and have only one price for each journey. This’ll hit those who book tickets in advance but it’ll mean buying your ticket on the day will cost a lot less. I think this is a reasonable compromise as more people buy their tickets on the day of their journey than people booking in advance.

    Education – this is a tricky one as tuition fees are tainted in the UK yet the system provides such a fair one; it’s based off income so if you can’t pay it then you won’t and those who earn a lot more pay more into the system. A lot of people say that income tax does this already but the repayment scheme is a lot more flexible than general income taxation since we can massively increase the repayment threshold but we can’t do that for income tax as it’d smash government tax revenue to bits. I’m a big fan of having a graduate tax as it’s something that can’t be paid off in one lump sum but I’d have it so that the tax disappears after 15 years instead of 30 – I don’t think a lifetime tax is fair if a person’s only gone to uni for 3 years. The graduate tax disappears if a person’s paid enough money into the pot (determined by the uni).

    I generally agree with everything else you’ve said.

  • Going forward: I honestly don’t think our current system is bad since it generates a lot of wealth but it fails in redistribution so we should start looking at our taxation system for improvement. It’s not built for the 21st century and we’ve built this abomination that’s our tax system since the 1850s and the result of it is that the middle class is squeezed while the top 1% are taxed less as a proportion of their income and wealth. Economists are broadly in agreement that taxes on income and capital are bad – taxes on income fall on the poorest and the middle class while the wealthiest are untouched and taxes on capital don’t raise enough revenue and hurt more in the long-term (the OECD calls corporation tax the most regressive tax in 1st world economies). I’d be in favour of moving the majority of taxation onto wealth (and the best wealth tax is the land tax) and turning VAT into a progressive VAT while stretching the upper bounds of VAT (if you consume a lot more then you should pay more in taxes). It’s quite radical and would have to be phased in over a long period of time (maybe over 3 parliamentary terms?) but I think it’d address the issue of redistribution since I don’t think our current system is that bad, it just doesn’t redistribute the gains that well. The best thing about the land tax is that it creates tax havens where they’re needed most; the North East doesn’t have that much in land value so land taxes there will be quite small, giving businesses an incentive to invest more there as taxation isn’t as heavy as somewhere like London.

  • Pursuing some mythical centre ground won’t butter many parsnips. People walking on a narrow white line in the middle of the road don’t have much room – and often get knocked down. What the party needs to do is,

    a) analyse the current state of society – what’s wrong with it (e.g. inequality of wealth & power) – then produce some evidence based radical policies to deal with this to give the wider public a bit of hope and joy.

    b) get some lively leadership with a bit of bravura, charisma, cheerfulness and wit. (Where from ?)

    c) a bit of media competence and gumption would help.

    Not much sign of any of that just now. Stuck on a Brexit one trick pony tread wheel and the 2010-15 pale blue record will take years to live down. Having been a party member since 1961 – and never lost my seat on five local authorities – I’m can’t say I’m happy about any of this.

    PS Katharine’s focus on poverty and inequality is spot on – as is young Oliver – though some of our economic liberals don’t understand it and don’t like it.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Apr '18 - 4:23pm

    A very good piece from Judy. Most of the ideas sensible, but Katharine is correct, many already much like our already god policies.

    Oliver, Jennie, make good points, as does David Raw, though the comments on the centre ground are a myth all by themselves, that is the middle of the road, and refers to cars, not a pathway ahead, the road less travelled and better placed.

    David’s key point was on leaders. My radical view is we should get rid of the requirement for being an mp to be leader, it should be like our president, anyone who can get some nominations, and should be salaried. I would abolish the president after Sal, and leader as mp only, Vince, require Sal and Vince to stay till new system, and real democracy. And Vince should appoint people who are more media savvy, as advisers and spokespeople.

  • John Roffey 2nd Apr '18 - 4:26pm

    @Katharine Pindar

    I don’t know if the rules allow this to be the case – but could your original article be posted again? There were 66 comments on the original – and I had the impression that views were crystallising among the commenters. A fresh start would show if this were the case and if so – likely to become even more focussed.

    It does seem a bit daft beginning again on this thread which starts from a different base.

  • Realistically, the Lib Dems would most benefit from dissatisfaction with a Labour Government. At the moment the Party is sort off the radar because the desire of left/progressive leaning swing voters, the young and those on lower incomes is more geared towards removing the Tories. Unfortunately there is no magic bullet and the centrist version (IMO too economically on the Right ) is a spent force. What’s needed is a more civic and social model of liberalism, stressing community, decent wages and things of that sort. Real liberalism rather than neo-liberalism.

  • John Marriott 2nd Apr '18 - 4:31pm

    Stop apologising for the ‘Coalition Years’! IF we ever do get PR the chances are that we will get coalition governments. If we stick with FPTP it will nearly always be a binary choice for the electorate in terms of a parliamentary majority.

    For most of my ‘political career’ the Liberals, SDP and finally the Lib Dems were able to portray themselves as different from the ‘old parties’. As I found out in my years as a councillor there comes a time when you have to compromise to move things forward. That reality dawned on the national party after 2010 General Election.

    You can be pure if you want; but then you had better be prepared for a permanent life on the sidelines, occasionally making a few waves at best. Most liberal minded people would find it hard to disagree with the policy positions that Judy Abel outlines. The problem is, as I have said before, that most people have developed a cynical view of politics and many of those who practise politics.

    The fact that FPTP now appears to be failing to deliver ‘strong and stable government’ ought to be persuading people in greater numbers that we need a change in the voting system; but try to get them to agree to a change will doubtless then unleash yet again the dark arts of the likes of Messrs Elliot and Cummings, as the AV Referendum did last time.

    Much as it will run counter to the arguments put forward by the more idealistic of LDV contributors nothing I have experienced in what have been over forty years of active involvement in politics has changed my view that the ONLY way the views I have can find resonance both locally and, more importantly, nationally, is by having a fair voting system and an acceptance that sometimes, in the immortal words of Mick Jagger (and more recently unfortunately a certain Donald J Trump), “you don’t always get what you want”.

  • OnceALibDem 2nd Apr '18 - 4:36pm

    I agree with Jennie (though we have perhaps taken our conclusions in different directions.

    There is nothing here that is new or will change anything. People seem obsessed with the idea that finding the right ‘policy flavours’ will some how restore the Lib Dems fortunes.

  • @ John Marriott. I wouldn’t dream of apologising for it, John. They just got it wrong and weren’t much cop at it – probably because the tight little group at the top were on the same page as the Tories. The Great Leader said it himself.

    Nick Clegg Caught Out By Microphone – YouTube
    Video for Clegg Cameron if we go on like this▶ 0:56
    24 Mar 2011 – Uploaded by Sky News

    I was in a Coalition with Tories as Cabinet member for Social Work. Kept smiling at them – did my own thing in private – got the money putting services before austerity (admittedly pre 2010).

  • David Evans 2nd Apr '18 - 4:53pm

    Ultimately, the reason we aren’t able to get back to the centre of the pitch is because in 2010 Nick chose to march us, clearly and definitely, out of that centre area, and so many of us chose to let him, and even adore him while he did it. So the British people thought – Fair enough, Goodbye.

    Until so many of us come to terms with that and accept that Nick was not the hero who took us into government and allowed us to deliver a few bits of Lib Dem policy which we liked, but instead let the Conservatives deliver a whole mass of stuff we should never have allowed and put back Liberal Democracy decades, we will continue to be hamstrung by the past and ignored and irrelevant as a result.

    The whole policy process is riven with problems of coming up with new ideas, while pretending that what we did in government was great. However, the fact that Brexit is happening and we are having no impact whatsoever on the debate proves what a mess it is we are trying to build on. Now we have our so called Strategy and the proposals for a Graduate Tax now being floated as the latest examples. They are both wrong in principle and wrong in practice, but it allows some people to go on pretending they are new ideas and we were right all along.

    We need to decide whether we want to be a party to build a better future for our country now or just be a party to defend the past for ourselves. To me there is no choice.

  • I agree with the many points and policies raised by Judy and feel they would resonate with many small c Conservative voters as well as Greens and soft Labour. Generally it is the type of direction the party needs to adopt, a radical and green centrist approach. But in addition I would like to see attachment to an idea of offering an economic system which offers opportunity and which supports small businesses, traders and co-operatives. One which levels the playing field with big business.

  • Apologising fully and honestly for the Coalition nightmare would be a massive start..recognising the misery that many vulnerable people suffered and accepting the party’s full blooded support of it would possibly w
    In back a significant number of voters…the cruelty of many Coalition policies is a stain on the party.

  • @Rick. Thank you for your comments Rick and others. I haven’t read today’s child poverty article yet, but it’s really part of the same argument. We need better public services, and policies to support the poorest in society. The reason we have the awful Brexit debacle now is precisely because so many people felt left behind and left out.

    When I talked about getting back on the centre of the pitch though, sorry I didn’t mean the centre politics-wise, but the centre in terms of being taken seriously again, not being reported for our more fringe policies on things like up-skirting (although I think it’s an excellent policy initiative by Wera) and cannabis cafes. Being reported for a little bit of this and a little bit of that puts us back in the box of begin a protest party with no coherent big picture.

    I accept my ideas are not really new, but, on the other hand, for the Lib Dems to be pushing a strong public services agenda is somewhat new – and it is what most of the electorate actually wants! Given that so many former LD voters have moved to Labour, I think we could do worse than to reflect that in our offer.

  • @ Jennie – I agree, think we need to apologise wholeheartedly for our tuition fees stance, which I alluded to in one of my bullet points. We have the highest fees in the world and even the Government has recognised this too, yet we are stuck in the mud, unwilling to admit we got the economics completely wrong. The high interest rates on loans at 6% is also quite disgraceful.

    Almost half of all school-leavers go to university and they will almost all feel the current fees are excessive compared to anything paid in the rest of Europe (university tuition is free in Germany and around £1,000 a year in France). Their parents will also feel the same. That over time amounts to almost half of the electorate!

    Every student doing a humanities course knows they are being completely ripped off for their tuition. It amounts to a scam.

  • @David Raw. Oh dear. I DIDN’T mean going back to the centre politically, as my title might have suggested, but going back to being taken seriously as a party i.e. being a contender – on the pitch as opposed to on the sidelines. That really wasn’t clear! My fault. I believe we need radical policies which increase public spending in the areas I mentioned so all people are guaranteed a more decent life.

    @Simon. I think with wage rises stagnant for the past 10 years we are definitely worse off than a decade ago, maybe not 30 years ago as I said. But with social housing in decline, sky high rents in London, huge rises in rail fares, parents having to contribute to the cost of text books because schools are so hard up etc, I think things are not quite as positive as as you suggest.

  • @Oliver. Yes, you are right, but one country only as far as I can see. And it was Theresa May herself who said we have amongst the highest fees in the world! How ironic it all is.

  • Anything involving renationalisation / opposition to outsourcing or free trade is a no no.

    Anything remotely socially conservative or anti free movement is also a no no.

    Too many people seem to think we should move to the left on economics, and move to the right on social issues. Both would be an absolutely crazy move.

    The party should be economically liberal, socially liberal, proudly Europhile and globalist in outlook.

  • Sometimes it is good to ask people what they want, as well as telling them this is what we want to give you. Everyone I speak to wants better public services, particularly health and social care services, cheaper train fares and lower tuition fees. Everyone also knows we need to raise taxes to deliver these things. Why do we need to make it quite so complicated?

  • @Glenn. I agree with much of what you say.

  • Defending the Coalition or apologising for it cuts little ice with the vast majority of people who can still be bothered to vote. The party is not short on policies or values, offering a solid base for the risks we have to take if we are to end up with Labour and Tories hating us with a passion while colluding with one another. You could say that this is where we are on EU membership but it is probably the least helpful issue on which to campaign in this respect – not least because both Labour and Tories have articulate and credible rebels who recognise the seriousness of our national folly and deserve cross-party co-operation. Meanwhile, however worthy our position on many of the issues helpfully alluded to above, we for our part need to be perceived as rebels against unjust systems – and not as phoney rebels like Farage and his ilk.

  • John Marriott 2nd Apr '18 - 6:54pm

    The coalition might of have ‘a nightmare’ for you. It’s always easy to be wise after the event. I seem to remember that the decision to go into government was endorsed by the party membership. As David Raw said, we weren’t very good at it. Mind you, we’d had no practice at national level in peacetime since before WW2; but not at Local Government level. Perhaps Laws and Co should have sought the advice of those who had negotiated coalitions in hung councils, especially when dealing with politicians used to having their way (and I include Labour here as well).

    Welcome to the world of Realpolitik! By all means stay in your comfort zone if it makes you fell better. Trying to work with Tories or Labour, you can be dealing with some pretty ruthless operators – and I don’t just mean the men!

    So campaign on what you believe in; but don’t be afraid to work with others, whose Weltanschauung you may not share. As David Evans said to me on an earlier thread, don’t give everything away, as you may well be taken advantage of. Or just take David Raw’s advice, if it salves your conscience, and keep smiling while doing your own thing in private!

  • John Marriott 2nd Apr '18 - 6:58pm

    Sorry. The first sentence should have read ‘ The coalition might have been…’

  • @Geoff. So what’s our USP? The Tories advocate a smaller state and people keeping more of their money etc, Labour advocate a much bigger state with more centrist control and a strong emphasis on public services and wealth redistribution (which I tend to agree with). I tried in my article to argue for us advocating much greater public spending, but making the case for this through a Scandi-type vision where everyone accepts that society needs good public services as the bedrock for a decent and just society. One can then build the liberalism on top of that. We just don’t do this consistently.

    At a village in Gloucestershire near where I live there is one bus a day. Assistance for deaf children in schools has been cut. Children are going into school starving. And we are talking about liberalism. Let’s put the basics right and then we can talk about the icing on the cake.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Apr '18 - 7:13pm

    Judy, you have not responded to my comment, and it seems a pity to reinvent arguments. Adding a demand for better public services will no doubt help, but I was suggesting we need to make our major pitch our fight against poverty and inequality. John Roffey, thank you for suggesting my article, and the many helpful comments on it which followed, should still be read. It is still in the Most Read column on the front page of LDV, entitled How can we be seen to be relevant again? so it can still easily be accessed and commented further on. Rick Heyse suggesting here support for small businesses, and David Raw there support for co-operatives, are suggesting further ways in which we can as a party help to fight poverty by supporting worthwhile jobs. But in my view it is important that we should focus on this theme: fighting poverty and inequality by all means possible. We should be asking Vince to lead us on this immediately, and get known as the party which most cares about and fights for it.

  • Good policies are essential, and those suggested are the sort of thing that many voters would and do like, but most voters are oblivious to our policies, and when we do communicate them, there’s someone insisting we’ll say anything to get elected. The latter being the exact reason that a ‘full and honest apology’ is a hiding to nothing. It would just draw attention to mistakes, and make us appear culpable for things that weren’t actually our fault. That’s not to say that certain aspects of the coalition government shouldn’t be addressed when discussing a relevant policy, at which point there is the opportunity to explain and provide the detail that can give a change of approach credibility.

    IMO, the more serious issue is getting attention for anything, let alone our policies. I’m beginning to think it’s because the Tories and Labour are so awful that the media can’t resist talking about the latest mind-numbingly awful thing that happened, that there is very little interest from them for sensible policies. I’m fairly sure that a lot of voters think that the only way to get rid of the Tories, or to avoid Labour is to vote Labour/Tory, in spite of their concerns with those parties.

    On the other hand, there are definitely people who take an interest in the more low-key work, and who are an existing vested interest in the sort of policy that doesn’t grab headlines. It may not be enough to give big swings in polling in-between elections, but it’s still of value.

  • paul barker 2nd Apr '18 - 7:16pm

    The question to ask about The Coalition Years is : “Why was our vote so soft “? And following that, how can we built up a core of loyal Voters ?
    My disagreement with Judys approach is that it trying to please lots of people, mostly those who currently vote Labour. We know that far more Voters agree with our values than Vote for us at National/Westminster level; to persuade them that actually Voting for us is right & has a point, we need to create an image that matches our values. We need to spend far more time talking to Voters who already partly agree with us, to get them to take the next step.
    We are having some success at the Local Government level, we need to build on that.
    At National level I dont think there are any things WE can do that will speed up our breakout, its just a matter of plugging away.

  • @Sorry Katherine. I am out this evening but will respond later

  • @Lorenzo Cherin “David’s key point was on leaders.”

    Oh, no, it wasn’t.,…… . If the policy is weak or nonexistent you might as well try selling refrigerators to Eskimos.

  • Judy,

    you ask “So what’s our USP”. As Katherine and other have argued it has to be grounded in the fight against poverty and inequality.

    To be effective we have to be be able to understand what are the root causes of poverty. The last decade has seen a period of austerity that emanate fro the so called sub-prime mortgage crisis in the USA.

    The largest outgoing for most families is rent or mortgage payments. The amount attributable to buildings is a small fraction of the cost compared to the amount attributable to land.

    Technological and social advances (including education and public services) increase the value of land (natural resources, urban locations, etc.) and, thus, the amount of wealth that can be demanded by the owners of land from those who need the use of land. In other words: the better the public services, the higher the rent is (as more people value that land). The tendency of speculators to increase the price of land faster than wealth can be produced to pay, has the result of lowering the amount of wealth left over for wages, and finally leads to the collapse of enterprises at the margin, with a ripple effect that becomes a serious business depression entailing widespread unemployment, foreclosures, etc.

    It was the theory of Henry George that poverty tended to increase and wages were forced down even though productive capacity and wealth increased, “because land, which is the source of all wealth and the field of all labor, is monopo­lized.” Private property is justified only by the labor expended to produce it, hence labor provides the only right to property— what a man makes is his own; the process of exchange does not change this fact.

    He drew from this proposition the obvious conclusion that no man had a right to anything which he did not produce. Never­theless, said he, men exact rent for the use of land which they did not create, and reap the increase in value for which society alone is responsible. It is this toll exacted by the land owner that fosters poverty and stifles progress.

  • @Katharine and @JoeB I absolutely agree. I will look at your article Katharine. Reducing inequality and poverty must be our top priorities. I talk in my piece about reinstating legal aid, lowering tuition fees, the need for micro housing initiatives and cheaper transport which would, up to a point, reduce inequalities and make life more affordable for many. These are social justice issues as I see it. I also spoke about state aid for supporting new industries in old industrial areas post-Brexit, if we do, indeed, leave the EU. The public services agenda is also about giving people greater access to social goods.

    I am unfortunately not an economist, but I know from the many expensive cars on our roads and the pricey apartments in London that there is room for much greater wealth distribution. We are such a divided society.

    I agree that if the LDs want to be relevant again we need to urgently address these issues.

  • paul holmes 2nd Apr '18 - 10:13pm

    @Paul Barker. “The question about the Coalition is why was our vote so soft?”


    For 13 years (not just up to close of polls in the 2010 GE) we fought against Tuition Fees. Then virtually overnight ‘we’ decided that trebling Fees to the highest level in the Western world (outside of a few elite private universities) was a great idea.

    Up to close of polls in the 2010 GE we argued that an austerity programme on the lines being proposed by the Tories would end the nascent recovery that was underway. Indeed for the best part of a century we had argued, along with J M Keynes, that recessions should not be dealt with by austerity cuts -the reverse in fact. Then we acted as patsies for Osborne’s cuts and 2 years later had to reverse some of them to prevent sliding back into recession – if only someone had known better…………oh wait!

    For half a century we argued for devolution, empowerment of Local Government and Community Politics -then overnight we agreed to 40% cuts in L Govt funding.

    Not to mention police funding cuts, 2012 Health and Social Care Act etc etc etc.

    All that on top of a really good 2010 GE broadcast about ‘No more broken promises’.

    What surprises me is that we kept a third of the 20% who had been voting for us across 7 General Elections from 1983 to 2010. Until we face up to the fact that this was all a result of ‘our’ -or rather ‘our Leaders’ – deliberate decisions in 2010 then we cannot expect to make any sort of recovery. As for the much touted Core Vote of the future, what sort of voters do we expect to stay loyal at some future point if we reverse ‘Core’ policies immediately after persuading them to vote for them in a GE?

    What should those, not to be abandoned at the drop of a hat, policies be? Judy makes some good points in her article above. I especially agree with her repeated point that Liberal freedoms are of little use on their own. As Lloyd George put it in 1908 ‘ Let Liberalism proceed with its glorious work of building up the temple of liberty in this country, but let it bear in mind that the worshippers at that shrine have to live.’

  • Bruce Milton 2nd Apr '18 - 10:25pm


    Great at policy poor at politics is also my view of where we need to improve on to;

    The Brexit message is current and many opportunities to help people is dependent on the best outcome.

    That said, what is the plan in or out?

    Either way it needs;
    To galvanise support we have to understand and give hope to those that voted leave which although for many reasons was undoubtedly about fairness of society.
    – Wealth not distributed for the benefit of everyone centred predominantly in London.
    – Investment to infrastructure not supporting the opportunity of poorer regions.
    – The feeling that governance was from a far and disconnected to local needs.

    The heartlands of the South West could be won back if our POLITICS faces into people’s fears and shows how our POLICIES over come these fears.
    – The elephant in the room in all this Is immigration and we need to show how in or out of EU our policies into politics demonstrates the effectiveness and control that a majority clearly want but is our Achilles heel.

    Members should drive policy, policy should drive politics, politics needs a clear simple message that delivers a killer punch within its message that immediately resonates positively with our electorate.

    If we gave the key message as much thought as we do our policies then we will #LibDemGiveMeHope and this will #CreateLibDemMovement and the ability to put our policies into place and to govern could be achieved.

  • Ed Shepherd 3rd Apr '18 - 6:12am

    Tuition fees higher in the USA? Is that definitely true? I have read somewhere that federal and state funding for.students in the USA means tht they end up paying less than students in England. Anyone got the figures or this?. The tuition fees system England is a scam akin to a Pomzi scheme. Better to scrap loans and have a system funded by progressive taxation not by loans. All.the leaders of the Coalition benefitted from such a system, after all. Good article by Judy.

  • Innocent Bystander 3rd Apr '18 - 7:54am

    This is Labour’s Electoral Proposition. As the authoress says “the Liberal Democrats should not be afraid to espouse other parties’ policies where we believe in them. ” but does not explain why a voter should choose Labour’s Mini-Me instead of simply voting for the real thing.
    This is more likely to reduce the current support rather than increase it.

  • Ian Hurdley 3rd Apr '18 - 8:02am

    “No, not even a word about Brexit –” I both agree and disagree here. I think that we should avoid the use of this brand name which only reinforces the ideas that attracted so many people to vote for it. On the other hand, ‘Exit from Brexit’ lacks pull because it expresses an aspiration but doesn’t adequately flesh it out. Taking each of the public services policies, one by one, with the strap line suggested, we can then link through to the fact that these necessary changes cannot come about if we spend the sums necessary for leaving the EU whilst at the same time cutting ourselves off from EU funding that would enable these goals to be achieved. Finally we would actually be explaining WHY we want ‘Exit from Brexit’.

  • John Roffey 3rd Apr '18 - 8:22am

    @JoeB: ‘The largest outgoing for most families is rent or mortgage payments. The amount attributable to buildings is a small fraction of the cost compared to the amount attributable to land.’

    I do agree that it is necessary to get to the root cause of poverty and hardship and that cause is primarily the ownership of land – it is quite remarkable that so many individuals born and bred in the UK do not own a square inch of the land of their birth [particularly if you add in those who are trying to own some land via a mortgage].

    I do believe that if the Party’s USP was the redistribution of land – this would give it a chance to rise above the suffering that has been caused by the austerity measures it supported whilst in the Coalition.

  • @John The redistribution of land may certainly be part of the answer, but is that a broad enough concept? The reason I set out my article the way I did was to lay out one version of a new sort of rationale (as an example even): the Lib Dems believe in giving every person the foundations on which they can build themselves a good life: excellent healthcare; a world class education; affordable housing for all.

  • Robert (Somerset) 3rd Apr '18 - 8:56am

    Brexit – Brexit has now become a cult with all the trappings of one, wealthy leaders peddling lies to its followers and we should treat it as that. I notice from his most recent TV interview head guru Nigel Farage is toning it all down a bit as he’s now finding that things aren’t turning out as he told everyone they would.

    VAT – the brave thing to do on VAT is to simplify it and get away from the ludicrous situation where we have court cases over whether or not a Jaffa cake is a cake or a biscuit. It’s a complete nightmare for business so the logical thing to do is drop VAT to a standard rate that’s applied to everything.

    Tuition Fees – the mistake was not to rename it all Deferred Graduate Taxation (DGT) as it’s not proper debt. I don’t know of any other arrangements where one can borrow a load of money and in the right circumstances pay nothing back and after 30 years it’s all written off.

    Public support for graduates paying towards their University education soars when the issue is referred to as graduate taxation rather than debt. There is no such thing as ‘free’ education, ‘free’ health care ‘free’ parking, or ‘free’ anything else. It’s all got a cost and it’s just a question of how and who pays for it. So it’s time to move to a proper and simple system of graduate taxation based on income tax.

  • Arnold Kiel 3rd Apr '18 - 9:12am

    It is fascinating and frightening that against a traditionally wealth-averse and redistributive (now on steroids) Labour party, and Tories, who at the first time in their history have turned provincial and hostile to wealth-generation, the LibDems should join them in their introspective poverty-perpetuating corner by offering yet more redistribution and silence on Brexit, the greatest avoidable wealth-destructor. This is not an alternative to, but a compound of them.

  • William Fowler 3rd Apr '18 - 9:13am

    Like many pieces on this site it misses the fundamental point that although there is a lot of wealth in this country the actual government was all but bankrupt post Labour and to allow for a relatively soft landing rather than being forced to do a Greek or Spanish resetting of public spending we have racked up a huge debt, the servicing of which (let alone paying some of it down) will take an increasingly large chunk out of the spending budget in the future. Joining Labour in their fantasy economics will not get the LibDems very far. Also, the leadership are convinced that post Brexit will be a time of economic disaster with net govn tax receipts down so lovely as all the increased tax and spend sounds it makes no sense unless you want to get rid of the debt via hyper inflation and a ruined currency (effectively wiping out a large chunk of the country’s wealth), if so be honest enough to say so.

  • John Roffey 3rd Apr '18 - 9:16am

    @Judy: I am not suggesting that this is the only policy that the Party should pursue – but for it to be its Unique Selling Point. The other policies you suggest are not unique to the Party – in fact those that are common to most. However, as others recognise, the period whilst in Coalition has been the downfall of the Party because of the austerity measures agreed to by NC and others – which were a reversal of much of what the Party stood for prior to 2010. This coupled to the fact that it was these austerity measures that has prevented progress, in fact caused a decline, on the issues you mention.

    I do believe that there has to be some overarching purpose that has great appeal to the vast majority of voters if the Party is to have any chance of improving its popularity.

  • Ian Hurdley 3rd Apr '18 - 9:29am

    Maybe it’s time to appeal to the disillusioned side of the British voter and just make the bold claim “We couldn’t be any worse than them!” (Said with tongue firmly in cheek).

  • David Evans 3rd Apr '18 - 9:51am

    Ian, The problem is that as far as many are concerned (possibly as many as 93%), we were given a chance and we were worse than them (or at least just as bad). Tongue sadly not in cheek.

  • @Ian – yes maybe that should be our USP!
    @Robert – I agree education has to be paid for, but £9,000 a year, for sometimes no more than 4 or 5 lectures a week, for a 24-week teaching year, amounts to around £90 a lecture. It’s quite simply daylight robbery and no one who is in higher education or has children in higher education can easily vote Lib Dem again. That cuts out rather a lot of people!
    @William. Taxes have actually come down over the past few years, especially for higher earners. In modern progressive countries like Denmark and Sweden – which are amongst the happiest in the world – they are both wealthier – and they pay more tax. We need to look to these countries for new socio-economic models.
    @Arnold. I absolutely hate the idea of Brexit, but people are suffering from Brexit fatigue. If we only focus on this, whether it goes ahead or not, the Party could just evaporate.

  • @ William. Denmark’s top income tax rate is 60.4 percent, Sweden’s is 56.4 percent. But then they believe in a strong society, supported by strong public services – the argument I was trying to make.

  • @David. It all became a bit too much about power, but that doesn’t work so well for a Party strongly identified as being principled. It’s easy to point the finger, though, and we all get things wrong and make some bad calls. The Lib Dems did argue for the Pupil Premium, free school lunches and a higher tax threshold though. Let’s try to be fair.I really think people will give the Lib Dems another chance if we can show we really care about the things that matter to them – the big picture stuff.

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Apr '18 - 10:29am

    I’m coming round to the view that we won’t get much shift in the polls ratings until we settle the Brexit question one way or another and then allow a pause before the electorate is ready to contemplate altering their views on who to support. It was a huge shock to most people to have a referendum and then the result. Most people can only hold so much computing space around politics in their heads and at present this is all taken up with leaving or not the eu and in what form. So be patient and let’s hone our policies so we’re ready for when the electorate is ready to be influenced once again.

  • John Marriott 3rd Apr '18 - 10:31am

    It would appear that most contributors to this thread have been picking at the carcass of Judy’s article many with many quite detailed arguments. Here is my rather simplified take on just a few of her ‘policy suggestions, starting with one of my own:
    Introduce a system of Proportional Representation based on the models used in the NI, Welsh and Scottish Parliaments/Assemblies for all Local Elections in England and for Westminster.
    Abolish all Academy Chains and bring back a ‘light touch’ control to democratically accountable Local Education Authorities.
    Introduce a new Diploma at 18 to replace GCSE AND A Levels that gives equal parity to vocational and academic education. Simplify the National Curriculum.
    Introduce a minimum standard of numeracy and literacy which all children in mainstream education must attain before moving from primary to secondary school.
    Traditional university courses need to be augmented, even in some cases replaced, by courses that realistically lead to employment. Tuition fees should remain; but bursaries for medical degree courses, for example, should be offered on condition that the recipient agrees to work for a specified period in the NHS before offering their services elsewhere. Failure to comply would mean repayment of the bursary.
    Bring back Council houses. End staircasing in shared equity homes and END THE RIGHT TO BUY. Limit the time developers can hold on to building land without development. Before any new major development is approved, the developer and the Highways Authority must ensure that the relevant transport infrastructure eg roads, cycleways, buses, are in place FIRST.

  • @John Marriott John, You’ve hit the nail on the head about Academy Schools and Council houses. Not only are you right on the detail of that – but the policies are easily understood bread and butter issues compared to the more esoteric (tho’ probably correct) matter of land taxation.

    “Eight out of 10 academies in deficit, say accountants BBC News-16 Mar 2018
    Academy budgets are in an even worse state than those of council-run schools with eight out of 10 in deficit, suggest figures from their accountants. Two more years like this and the entire sector could face insolvency, says a report from the Kreston UK accountancy network which looked at 450 schools.”

    Add the excessive gender pay gap in academies, absurd high salaries for the few and the lack of democratic accountability and there’s something that is both radical and right that people will relate to. Let’s give the Brexit echo chamber a bit of a rest until the autumn.

  • Nonconformistradical 3rd Apr '18 - 11:23am

    @John Marriott
    “,,,bring back a ‘light touch’ control to democratically accountable Local Education Authorities.”

    I agree we need LEA control over all our schools – but why ‘light touch’? Isn’t ‘light touch’ regulation what got banks – and hence millions of people – into so much trouble?

  • @John. I agree with almost all of this apart from the need to lower fees to something more reasonable like £3,000 – £4,000. The interest rates are also eye-wateringly high.
    Now I think we are getting somewhere! I rally agree we need more council housing too. Good point.
    Just a word on healthcare. Out health outcomes are significantly worse than many comparable countries in Europe. We must aspire to a more modern healthcare system with better outcomes on things like cancer. For example, our lung cancer outcomes are worse than Mexico.
    So yes, healthcare, housing and education need to be our key priorities – and PR of course. The one issue is, how can we build up our wealth base so we are not just reliant on higher taxation?

  • @ Judy Sorry Judy, but if the Health Service is so wonderful in Mexico why is it they come 46th in the world ranking for life expectancy (male 73.9, female 79.5) whilst the UK comes 20th (male 79.4, female 81.2) ?

  • John Roffey 3rd Apr '18 - 12:28pm

    @Judy: I do agree that the policies and simplifications suggested by John M are needed and would be a great help – particularly increasing the responsibilities of local authorities. However, are you convinced that there is anything included that would really catch the voters attention – and get them to listen to what the Party has to say and trust it again?

  • John Marriott 3rd Apr '18 - 12:39pm

    Yes, ‘light but FIRM touch (when necessary)’, perhaps. You see, as a teacher for 35 years, having taught abroad, as well as here (starting in a Boys’ Grammar School in 1966 and ending in an 11 to 18 mixed comprehensive that went GM in the early 1990s in 2001) I’ve worked under ‘dirigiste’ regimes (in Canada and Germany where only certain text books could be used and in Notts and Calderdale where policy was largely decided from County/Town Hall) and one like Lincs., which was more laissez-faire. My conclusion is that, whilst we don’t want schools to be singing from the same hymn sheet on any given school day in the year, we just don’t want the ‘survival of the fittest’, which appears to my jaundiced eye to be the leitmotif running through state education today.
    @Judy Abel
    Don’t get me started on health care. As someone who probably owes his life to the NHS and who, for his sins, has also experienced healthcare in the past in the private sector, I am more than willing, on my modest retirement income, to pay a little more in direct taxation to keep the NHS up to scratch (please excuse the unintentional pun).
    As regards how we build our ‘wealth base’, that’s probably above my pay grade. However the obvious answer would be to make more things and sell them around the world. That’s of course the Tories’ mantra. Labour is very good at finding ways to spend the money. It doesn’t seem to have much idea how to increase it, however. As for the Green Party, well, of course, everyone wants to go back to nature; but few of us want to go on foot!

  • Malcolm Todd 3rd Apr '18 - 12:48pm

    John Marriott 3rd Apr ’18 – 12:39pm
    “everyone wants to go back to nature; but few of us want to go on foot” – thanks for that, rather made my day! 😀

  • Steve Trevethan 3rd Apr '18 - 12:50pm

    Is society to be organised to support a theory of “Economics” which, with its related practices, is generally harmful to society at large and to the environment, or do we work for theories and practices of “Economics” which contribute to a society which is robustly healthy?
    Austerity economics is but one of many economic theories.
    As it results in greater wealth for the few whilst children starve and greatly increasing numbers of the destitute live on our streets, is it a healthy or democratic choice?

  • John Roffey 3rd Apr '18 - 1:00pm

    @Steve Trevethan: “Is society to be organised to support a theory of “Economics” which, with its related practices, is generally harmful to society at large and to the environment”

    Land Value Taxation is a system that does help to avoid the worst excesses of most economic theories – it also sits tidily beside Land Redistribution.

  • @John Roffey. Yes I do think people will trust us again actually, if we put principles before power to build up trust again – and have a broad policy base. Although people say my ideas are not new – which of course they’re not really, but I tried to present them in a fresh kind of way! — I still don’t think people identify with the Lib Dems as a party that has a coherent plan for the bigger picture stuff. That’s partly media reporting too on things like our cannabis policy.

    I think we need to sound more like Labour on public services and social justice. I think we need to be a sort of Labour+ (given that Labour are veering so far to the left anyway some real opportunities are opening up)

  • Steve Trevethan 3rd Apr '18 - 2:20pm

    As a prime purpose of, and justification for, the state is the protection of its citizens, it is reasonable that that those who have the most to protect should pay the most in taxation.
    This fits in with the application of Land Value Taxation which also has the benefit of being difficult to off-shore.

  • OnceALibDem 3rd Apr '18 - 2:30pm

    Still everyone thinking that the solution is just a case of ‘find the right policies….’

  • The policies suggested by Judy Abel are fine; they show that we care and that we are a left of centre party which rejects the idea that the free market is the best way to provide lots of services. It is a return to our tradition position as an opposition party to the Conservatives. We must never be a Conservative lite party again. I would like us to go further and promise we would ensure enough homes were provided so everyone who wanted a home of their own would have one and that we would also ensure that everyone who wanted a job had one.

    @ Stimpson

    “The party should be economically liberal, socially liberal, proudly Europhile and globalist in outlook.

    Of course we should be socially liberal. The party should never again support “economically liberal” economic policies because as the history of the last 38 years show the rich get richer and economic inequalities grow. We need to become again a Social Liberal party. We need to retain our internationalism – we live on one planet and we are effected by what goes on even in far-flung corners of the world. However, once we leave the EU being Europhile will not impress the majority of British voters and if we can’t get the same terms as we have now it is debatable that re-joining would be in our economic interest.

    @ Paul Holmes

    Great post!

    @ Bruce Milton

    Please don’t include hashtags in our comments. What is the point of them?

    @ Innocent Bystander

    Having policies to the left of Labour helped us in 1997, 2001 and 2005 to reach 62 MPs and 22% of the vote.

    @ William Fowler

    We were not nearly bankrupt in 2010 and the evidence is the growth in the National Debt since. We were never like Greece. It is possible that if we hadn’t when in Coalition nearly turned our recovery into a double dip recession with spending cuts and a VAT increase the value of the economy today would be greater than it is now. If the economy is going to grow slower once we leave the EU then it is the government’s role to pursue economic policies to restore growth to what is would have been and this will mean the government spending more and increasing the deficit and so letting the Multiplier work.

    @ Judy Abel

    Free school meals was never party policy until Nick Clegg did a deal with David Cameron so he could have the Marriage Allowance and then he got conference to make it party policy after years of our councillors opposing it!

  • Robert (Somerset) 3rd Apr '18 - 2:53pm

    The idea that developers are so say land banking is by and large nonsense. Neither the market nor a serious business model would support that. What major developers do have is about three years worth of land at various stages in the planning process. It is not possible to run a significantly sized development company on a hand to mouth basis in something as volatile as the housing market.

    Anyone who has been a member of a planning committee as I was for 15 years will know that on major developments planning permission is often granted with conditions or subject to reserved matters which often involve major issues on infrastructure. It is these conditions or reserved matters that bog down development sites with ‘ planning permission’ for months if not years after a planning permission has been ‘granted’.

    It’s the thing that development companies complain about the most and the government still hasn’t done anything about it.

  • thanks Paul Holmes. Could I just add that David Laws, in his book on the Coalition mentioned that Danny Alexander was still in favour of continuing Welfare “savings”
    says it all?

  • Land reform is recognised by the UN as the means of fighting inequality and poverty:
    “LVT is the appropriate instrument for the urgent fight against global inequity and poverty” UN HABITAT, 2006 – in awarding contract to Alanna Hartzok, Pennsylvania-based Green Party of America LVT campaigner, to establish an online course for government officials on land reform policy
    “The taxation of future growth in land values to eliminate the fever of land speculation that has ended up destabilising the entire global economy … is what Labour should have done and should commit to in future.” Polly Toynbee, in Guardian article 13/7/2010
    “The underlying intellectual argument for seeking to tax economic rents retains its force.” Mervyn King, in the standard textbook on the British tax system :Kay & King, 1990 p.179
    “The wealth produced over the centuries by the efforts of the community is reflected in land values and is therefore a proper target for taxation.” Dr Vince Cable, 2009 in Foreword to A New Peoples Budget.
    We should not follow Labour and repeat the mistakes of the 1970’s. Simon Radford in a post on the Social Liberal Forum spells out what is needed.

    “We need to deal with micro causes and not just macro consequences: … swathes of financial services provide no social value and encourage real intellectual talent to chase dollars rather than bolster the human capital of Britain’s real economy, capital is still locked up in land speculation rather than investing in enterprises and skills.”

  • John Marriott 3rd Apr '18 - 6:06pm

    I admire your devotion in the many threads where you have championed the case for LVT (it makes a pleasant change from wall-to-wall Brexit). HOWEVER, as, I seem to recall, David Raw succinctly put it elsewhere, what turns you and the Scottish Lib Dems on would struggle to enthuse the average citizen. It certainly stretches what brain cells I have left. If you want large numbers of converts, for goodness sake, KEEP IT SIMPLE!

  • @ Once a Lib Dem “Still everyone thinking that the solution is just a case of ‘find the right policies….”

    A profound truth. The best policies under the Sun won’t deliver success if the electorate don’t trust or believe the Party any more. It’s the elephant in the room. In all situations and relationships in life – once trust goes it’s virtually impossible to get it back.

    I joined the Lib Party fifty six years ago (an adult life time).. wore out shoes, gave money, worked socks off (inside the shoes) and should have given more time to family and career……. because until 2010 I believed in the integrity of the party. I admit feeling angry and let down …… but there are many thousands like me.

    Sir Vincent, you have a mountain to climb to regain trust. The only way is fess up and admit it …….. ‘We got it wrong – but we’ll try to learn from the experience’.

    2010-15 was a Gerald Ratner moment. 93% of the electorate can’t be wrong on flawed products. If Vince doesn’t tackle it – then it’s Kaput.

    @ Joe B. You may be right – but trying saying it in three sentences on the doorstep. If you don’t – jwatch folks’ eyes glaze over.

  • @ David Raw. A rather bleak assessment, but it has proven to be true so far. There is no room for playing safe any more. We firstly have to revise our tuition fees policy and say we will do everything possible to put the situation right – and mean it. We then have to set out a bold social justice vision. Dinosaurs become extinct. It’s now about evolving to survive.

  • Would be quite simple to sell LVT to the public:

    “We’re proposing a tax plan which will shift the burden of taxation onto the 1%. It’s supported by the UN, think-tanks and economists worldwide. It’ll reduce the taxes you have to pay.”

    I think we need to go further than what we’ve proposed though – replace council tax, business rates AND offer a reduction in income tax.

    Next challenge would be to change VAT from a flat tax to a progressive one.

  • John Marriott 3rd Apr '18 - 6:51pm

    Shifting the burden of tax into the 1%, hey? A sure winner. But wait a minute, there are some of us, perhaps not enough to make a difference, who actually think we should be paying our share of tax, suckers that we are!

  • John Marriott/David Raw,

    As Churchill noted a centrury ago “All comes back to land value, and its owner is able to levy toll upon all other forms of wealth and every form of industry.” This was never more true than today.

    When monetary and fiscal (tax and spend) policy generate an ever widening gao between landowners and tenants and force most people tp spend the greater part of their earnings on rent or mortgage interest payments, poverty and inequaity are the inevitable outcomes.

    Land’ and Capital are quite distinct. Labour interacts with land to produce wealth. Capital means any item of wealth [e.g. factory buildings, lorries, machine tools] intended to assist in further production.Land is a gift from Creation. Capital stems from enterprise and effort.

    Land values benefit when local infrastructure is improved and the site-owners should contribute. Raising public spending from land value, if carried to the full, deters anyone from holding more land than they actually wanted to use. Land would cease to be a privatised capital asset producing an income or yielding speculative gains.

    Over the centuries, the public mind has come to see poverty as inevitable and many elegant theories (e.g. Malthusianism) have been devised to explain and justify it. But is this really the case?
    Some fear LVT will leave them worse off. At present the distribution of wealth is much more uneven than it should be. But LVT would reduce the disparities, not by confiscating from the rich and giving to the poor, but more by eliminating poverty at its source. Everyone could be as wealthy as they wanted to, provided they worked for it.
    To fully accept LVT, people have to abandon nearly all current beliefs about economics, which is especially hard for the experts. However the present crisis has been a wake-up call for many, and those in academia or in power are perhaps more ready to listen.

    In Churchill’s days as a Liberal minister they had soongs like the ‘Land Song.’. I understand today we need soundbites and twitter messages. The core message, nonetheless remains the same as it was at the dawn of New Liberalism in the first decade of the 20th century.

  • @ David Raw
    “but trying saying it in three sentences on the doorstep”

    How about:

    We will make the Council Tax into a genuine property tax so those who own the highest valued homes pay more than average people.
    We will tax Land Values on commercial land to make it uneconomic for land to stand idle (and reduce land speculation) and to encourage the owners of land to make their land the most productive it can be.
    We will ensure that everyone benefits from the money these taxes raise.

  • @John M I would be happy to pay 5p more tax in pound for better public services. Wonder what that would add up to across the workforce?. We also need higher VAT on large polluting vehicles – which are clogging up our roads.

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Apr '18 - 7:57pm

    Joe, you know we still sing the Land Song at Conference! Please bring a motion to the September one to make LVT the centre of our economic programme.

  • Jenny,
    ” all that reducing government debt does is reduce the money in the hands of the people.” What people is perhaps the question.

    In the early Hanoverian period, financing the cost of warfare had produced a system of ‘deficit financing’ whereby the government raised loans from financial institutions (such as the Bank of England or the East India Company) or private individuals. The repayment of these loans, plus interest, was pledged on the funds raised by specific taxes established and earmarked for these purposes by Parliament. Institutional or individual creditors – the ‘monied interest’ – thus gained returns on their loans in the form of interest paid from the revenue accruing from customs and excise duties on a wide array of commodities. This meant that much taxation was in fact structured around the repayment of debt.

    During the early 1730s Walpole’s financial strategy began to acquire a distinctly political character. To minimise the burden of the land tax on the property-owning classes (like himself) he began to use debt as an additional source for financing yearly expenditure, reducing the land tax to just 1s. by borrowing £500,000 funded on the salt duties for a three-year period. In 1733 he kept the land tax at 1s. by withdrawing £500,000 from a sinking fund created for the repayment of debt, setting a precedent for the future.
    To keep land taxes at their historically low level, Walpole attempted to introduce an enhanced excise scheme on imports in 1733. Although forced to drop the scheme, Walpole adhered to his policy of keeping the land tax low – at 2s. from 1734 to 1739 – despite rising military expenditure during the mid and later 1730s. Additional spending was routinely met through annual withdrawals from the sinking fund. Not until the actual outbreak of war in 1740 was Walpole obliged to raise the land tax to its former wartime rate of 4s.
    Walpole’s management of the public finances established a more tolerant public attitude to debt that would be widely exploited by his successors.

  • @ Joe B Oh dear, Joe. There you go again. I said three sentences not twenty two.

    I’m the wrong one to quote W.S.C. at. Did my Masters on Gallipoli and I can tell you WSC and Hamilton got up to some dodgy stuff in evidence to the Dardanelles Commission. Try reading Robin Prior and Jenny Macleod on him….. then try a dose of forced feeding the suffragettes as Home Secretary. I’m afraid the Liberal Winston wasn’t all that Liberal.

    Churchill said lots about lots when he was a Liberal Minister but I’d take it all with pinch of salt if I were you. He could have implemented LVT when he was PM – and Macmillan was rebuilding – but he didn’t.

  • @John Marriott

    A very noble policy but what’s the need for this when LVT could solve this and provide additional benefits? Taxes shouldn’t just be seen as tools to increase government revenue but we should also consider what effects our taxes have on the labour market and the capital market.

    A person can do 3 things with their money – save, invest or consume. A consumption tax (VAT) encourages people to either save or invest, 2 actions which are desperately needed in a world where we’re consuming everything we can set our eyes on, and saving and investing are 2 things we’d rather have the lowest paid in our society do more of. Income taxes on the other hand, hit all 3 things, so I’d rather us raise VAT than increase income taxes, but the problem with VAT right now is that it’s somewhat regressive as it’s flat (but we do exempt necessary goods so it’s not entirely regressive), so what’s an even better tax? Land value tax – it’s progressive as the wealthiest in society own the most land, it encourages businesses to invest more in areas which have low land value like the North East (post-industrial areas getting shunned is imo the biggest problem in Britain today), and it’s arguably the hardest tax to avoid so it’s guaranteed to raise revenue. What’s not to like?

  • @ Joe B Joe, I genuinely admire your commitment and tenacity – but Robert Walpole ? – a household name in the pocket borough of Kings Lynn – and do they still talk about him in Brentford & Isleworth ?

    You say, “Walpole’s management of the public finances established a more tolerant public attitude to debt that would be widely exploited by his successors.” Public attitude ? And how many members of the public voted in Kings Lynn, or anywhere else for that matter, between 1734 and 1739.

    Yes, give do give LVT a go at Conference, but please sharpen it up and make it intelligible to mini-brains such as moi.

  • John Marriott 3rd Apr '18 - 8:39pm

    So it’s Walpole’s fault that we haven’t got LVT, is it? Or haven’t I got the message. Perhaps we ought to stick to Brexit after all!
    @Judy Abel
    Here are a couple more ‘policies’ you might be interested in:

    To create a truly Federal UK we need to concentrate on England. Firstly local government in England should consist of Unitary Authorities and Parish/Neighbourhood Councils.. The remaining County and District Councils need to be abolished to achieve this fundamental change. Following restructuring we need to find a fairer way of paying for the services local government provides.
    The Westminster parliament should become a Federal legislature with representatives from the four UK nations, concentrating on Economics, Defence, Environment, Foreign Affairs, Human Rights etc. All other matters, such as Education, Police, Highways, Planning, Tax variation etc. should be eventually devolved to six or seven English Regions, that would have the same powers as the other UK nations.

  • Peter Chambers 3rd Apr '18 - 8:58pm

    @Katharine Pindar

    Your point on poverty is well made. The best way of making on headway on this, as well as getting broad backing is to make full employment the economic policy, not maximising the revenues of the City. Oddly the current government has a stated goal of helping the ‘just about managing’ but then has done precisely nothing. Each year finance submits its proposals to HMG for changes to regulation and legislation, which are timidly accepted.

    By full employment I do not mean a technical definition of having many thousands of people being “self employed” on in-work benefits with more in the gig-economy. I mean the living wage for the bulk of employable population.

    However this would run the risk of running counter to the conventional wisdom in economics, and attracting the venom of the red-top press. Would this be worse than sitting at 6% in the polls?

  • @ John M – like your Federal Parliament idea. Think that would help stop the London and the rest divide. It would be very empowering too and a vote winner I think.

  • David Raw,

    I am glad you mentioned Brentford and isleworth. A stones throw from where I live is Boston Manor House. The old stables building was used until a few years ago as a hostel for victims of domestic abuse but has fallen into disrepair under succesive council administrations here and will cost a small fortune to restore now. An unusual feature of these buildings is bricked up windows from the time of the window tax.
    The Window tax was introduced in 1697 in England and Wales under the An Act for granting to His Majesty several Rates or Duties upon Houses for making good the Deficiency of the clipped money, and was designed to impose tax relative to the prosperity of the taxpayer, but without the controversy that then surrounded the idea of income tax.
    At that time, many people in Britain opposed income tax, on principle, because the disclosure of personal income represented an unacceptable governmental intrusion into private matters, and a potential threat to personal liberty. Although, income tax was introduced as an emergency measure during the Napoleonic wars it did not become a permanent levy until 1842, and the issue remained intensely controversial well into the 20th century.
    Pitt the Younger introduced the hat tax from 1784 to 1811 on men’s hats. It was designed to be a simple way of raising revenue for the government in a rough accordance with each person’s relative wealth. It was supposed that the rich would have a large number of expensive hats, whereas the poor might have one cheap hat or none at all.
    Other similar taxes introduced during the 18th century were the dice duty (1711–1862), almanac tax (1711–1834), wallpaper tax (1712–1836), brick tax (1784–1850), glove tax (1785–94), hair-powder tax (1786–1869) and perfume tax (1786–1800).
    All this serves to point out that what we are talking about, levies on land, is not a new problem just one that landed interests and the British Parliament has shied away from addressing for centuries.

  • Amazed where my article has landed us. Quite a history lesson for me. Shows there’s so much knowledge out there – and enthusiasm for change and a new sense of direction. Really wncouraging.

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Apr '18 - 12:00am

    David, surely ‘He only does it to annoy because he knows it teases!’ Peter Chambers, thank you, I entirely agree about the importance of getting full employment, which was apparently a party policy in 2000. There is some disagreement about the exact percentage of people who can’t be found work whose presence still allows the term to be used – whether 2.5 %, 4% or 5%. Whichever, that minority will still need benefits. which could perhaps be 60% of average earnings. The majority should earn at least a decent National Minimum Wage, which should possibly be 70% of average earnings, amounting to £10,605 in 2022, I am informed , on the basis of OBR figures.

    A difficulty can be seen when as you say we consider ‘full employment’ as not including the self-employed or people working in the gig economy, and what about part-time workers? Irregular employment already causes difficulty for those on Universal Credit. I am inclined to think that we do need to support Universal Basic Income too, giving a security floor to everyone and allowing then some degree of employment choice and variation..

  • JoeB
    I think a good example to illustrate what your sayings about LVT is to look at the concentration of wealth that basically relies on revenue generated by land owned since the Normans invaded.

  • @ I would levy tax on vehicles above certain cc – some cars are more like minibuses now and they leading to massive road jams and posing risks to other road users

  • @ Glenn and others – only trouble with LVT idea is will it sound bit too much like the Poll Tax?

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Apr '18 - 10:59am

    Vehicle and fuel tax – there are two separate problems here – the pollution problems which ought to be addressed via higher fuel taxes (penalty fits offence) and congestion problems – where it isn’t only the size of the vehicle but changes in shopping habits resulting in more vehicles on the roads – far more supermarket delivery vehicles, couriers etc. – all contributing to clogging up roads and imflicting more damage on said roads.

  • @ Katherine, I wish that was true.

  • Judy Abel
    I agree perception is a big problem and I do think that would be the spin. I also suspect it would be pretty hard to close the tax loopholes.

  • Judy in her article concludes “we do need a coherent rationale, giving the electorate a clear sense of what the party stands for – and why a vote for the Liberal Democrats will truly, materially, make their lives better.” She goes on to ask what is or should be the USP?

    Simon Radford in his articles on the Social Liberal Forum writes:
    “People vote based on a coherent economic vision of how to heal the economy: economics can’t be a genteel muddle in order not to offend people who joined the Lib Dems under false pretences that the Lib Dems had ceased to be a liberal party. Some folks will leave who we will team up with on other issues where we have more in common. But there’s a world to gain with coherence and unity on the issue of economics.
    We need to deal with micro causes and not just macro consequences: banks are still too big to fail, ratings agencies are still staffed by people paid a fraction of those whose models they are rating (and paid by them too to do so…), debt creation is still out of the control of government (and can be encouraged by an independent central bank) and should be under democratic control, swathes of financial services provide no social value and encourage real intellectual talent to chase dollars rather than bolster the human capital of Britain’s real economy, capital is still locked up in land speculation rather than investing in enterprises and skills. Populism need not be illiberal.”
    Land Value Capture is not simply a tax , it is an economic philosophy based on the root causes of the persistence of poverty in a technologically advanced society.
    David Raw’s points with respect to communication of this message in campaigning are well made and something we need to do a better job of.

  • John Marriott 4th Apr '18 - 8:38pm

    This is probably one of the longest threads I have taken part in. I do hope that Lib Dem policy makers take some of its points to heart. Thanks, Judy, for getting so many of us so excited!

  • @John Marriott. Ah thanks very much John. Comments much appreciated! We ought to have a rule similar to Parliamentary e-petitions that if a thread reaches over a 100 our Lib Dem MPs have to debate it!

  • David Evans 4th Apr '18 - 11:53pm

    Now that would be radical!

  • John Marriott 5th Apr '18 - 9:47am

    It would make a change from wall to wall Brexit!

  • John Roffey 5th Apr '18 - 10:14am

    Given that technology has advanced significantly since the Party’s current procedures were put in place – is there any reason why policies should not be changed when the need arises and voted on by members via the internet – rather than just at conferences?

  • David Evershed 5th Apr '18 - 10:54am

    Many of the comments above reflect the trade offs that have to be made between being a social liberal and an economic liberal.

    Too much emphasis on social liberalism and we look like the Labour Party. Too much emphasis on economic liberalism and we look like the Conservative Party.

    Could we perhaps put the emphasis more on being free?

    Freedom of the individual, free speech, free schooling, free health care, free markets, free trade. Yes regulation and intervention by the state where necessary but with a bias towards freedom.

  • @David Evershed – which is almost where I started in my article – each policy bullet was linked to the freedom the policy would bring (more on the social side though – totally free markets always end up favouring those with more not less).

  • David Evans 5th Apr '18 - 12:31pm

    Freedom is great, but 90% of the population believe they are totally free anyway, so what is there to gain? We need to appeal to at least 40% of the population to even have a chance of getting 20% – but freedom has a niche appeal only to Liberals.

  • @ David Evershed

    We need to reject economic liberalism as the failed policy it is.
    We need to reject the free market and be seen as supporters of the mixed economy which is regulated to control economic power and not allowed free reign.

    I support the idea that we should be about increasing freedom:
    The freedom to have a home of your own linked to the idea that everyone can have one;
    The freedom to have a job which provides you with some satisfaction linked to the idea that everyone who wants one has one;
    The freedom to have good education without having to pay for it directly;
    The freedom to be trained to do a job you want without having to pay for it directly;
    The freedom to make choices without them being limited by your lack of money.

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Apr '18 - 4:24pm

    Nobody is likely to disagree with those admirable aims for aspects of true freedom, Michael BG. What Liberal Democrats lack just now is the cutting edge of policies to attain them. Plus democracy. Plus community. Which are also vital. Between the ravages of economic liberalism (our identity with the Tories) and the dangers of state socialism (our possible identity with the Labour Party ) we need to stand out clear and loud.

  • I don’t want to extend this article in fairness to other threads, but to conclude, based on contributed comments, I would suggest our potential USP theme could be something like (sorry still quite clunky): the Lib Dems: supporting people to live the lives they choose; supporting the services we need for a healthier, greener future.

  • Peter Watson 6th Apr '18 - 10:39am

    @Judy Abel “I would suggest our potential USP theme could be something like … supporting people to live the lives they choose; supporting the services we need for a healthier, greener future”
    I don’t think that any short phrase can define a USP for a party. Would Labour, Conservatives, SNP, etc. say they opposed any of those things? It is a consistent set of specific policies that give a party a particular fingerprint.
    Having said that, perhaps “supporting people” is an interesting distinction. One might expect Liberals instead to emphasise “allowing people”.

  • Neil Sandison 6th Apr '18 - 10:46pm

    Judy Abel Hows this for our USP Liberating the United Kingdoms full potential on the world stage .Enabling and enpowering our communities to have a real say in their own future . campaigning for social justice and a more equal society where no one is enslaved by inequality and conformity and has the freedom to make their own life choices.

  • @ Neil Sandison Yes I like that (maybe apart from the point about liberating the UK’s role on the world stage – that might make people uneasy after Iraq). The Party needs to work on a mission statement which sets out the LD’s values and rationale in a coherent way which will resonate with voters.
    @Peter Watson. Yes you are right. A USP is not quite the right concept. I think I meant something more like a mission statement or paradigm. “Allowing” doesn’t quite work though. Without greater investment in healthcare, education and local services (youth clubs etc), people will not have the freedom and security to live the lives they choose.
    @Martin – couldn’t agree more. I don’t feel British, I feel European. I find the thought of leaving the EU quite traumatic.

  • Peter Watson 7th Apr '18 - 9:40am

    @Judy Abel ““Allowing” doesn’t quite work though.”
    I agree. One of my concerns in recent years has been what I perceive as a shift in emphasis by the party towards talking about the removal of barriers rather than the provision of support, more “freedom to” and less “freedom from”.

  • @Peter Watson. I agree – and as other articles on child poverty and inequality this week show there is little freedom in a life where people are simply struggling to survive.

  • Neil Sandison 7th Apr '18 - 10:50am

    Judy Abel and Martin .modern day Liberal Democrats seem to have forgotten our roots in history as a movement for the liberation of peoples from oppression and intolerance .This oppression still continues today and we should not be afraid to continue to call it out or rally others on the international stage to oppose it .Martin i would include the EU as proactive partners within that statement . Judy for a message to get across you do need to employ the KISS principle long wooly statements are fine for activists but you only get 30 seconds on the doorstep or in the Focus newsletter before the door or mind closes or the leaflet ends up in the recycling bin.

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