Opinion: How much smaller would Labour’s cuts have been?

“Too far, too fast” – until recently you could scarcely switch on a TV without hearing Ed Balls repeating his four-word analysis of the coalition’s fiscal policy. It seems to be a line that Balls and Miliband are no longer sticking to. If I were to give them more credit for economic analysis than they deserve I’d speculate that this might be because they realised it is utter nonsense. More likely, their polling showed them that the public just weren’t buying it.

And the public would be right not to believe it, because, on a key measure, the difference between the cuts planned by Labour and those being implemented by the coalition amounts to just 0.13 percentage points.

Let me explain. In a thorough post over on his Telegraph blog, author Toby Young has the figures for the cuts being made to departmental expenditure limits (DEL – the actual spending on public services, excluding welfare and debt interest payments) over the course of the parliament:

Overall, DEL is set to fall from £375.170 billion in 10/11 to £331.900 in 15/16, a cut of £43.27 billion or 11.53%.

It’s worth noting that that 11.53% will not be evenly spread due to the government’s decision to protect particular departmental budgets (health, international development and energy) and particular spending areas within departments (schools, for example).

So how much would Labour have cut DEL by? Labour’s ‘plans’ were so skeletal that we can’t ask them for this information. However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies have analysed what information we know and concluded that the cuts that Labour would have made to DEL to make their figures add up would have amounted to 11.4% over the parliament.

Of course DEL is only one measure, and doesn’t include welfare spending which has been cut by a greater amount than the IFS analysis assumed. But looking at the figures does show just how nonsensical the debate over public spending cuts has been. And while cuts of 11.53% are clearly very large, the argument that the coalition is cutting spending more than necessary – too far, too fast – is proved utterly false by an analysis of the figures. The coalition is cutting more overall from than Labour says it would have, but not by much (you can see a breakdown of how the extra cuts are distributed over on Mark Pack’s blog).

So next time you hear a Labour spokesperson bemoaning one cut or another, ask yourself this: what exactly would their 11.4% have been?

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43 Comments

  • Sorry, but wasn’t the LibDem line before the election, and whilst in full possession of the data, that deep cuts were not the answer? So what changed? Nick going on about how the LibDem manifesto was FULLY costed. Was he wrong, misleading us or just incompetent as he sought our votes at that time? Your criticism of Labour may be valid – but I didn’t vote LibDem in the hope on seeing the Public Services demonised and slashed and to see the assault of the employment protection rights in this country. This Govt makes Thatcher look soft. Shame on you LibDem MP’s

  • ‘This govt makes Thatcher look soft’ — it’s living up to Labour’s promises then 😀

  • George raises a key issue. The issue is not just the level of cuts but their distributional impact and there have been numerous studies showing that the poor bear the greatest brunt of cuts, and that councils in the north suffer much worse than those in the south. Indeed, a number of LibDem leaders of Northern councils have made this point.

  • I thought the greatest sin possible on Lib Dem Voice was to be tribal…

  • Just face it – you can’t really get a fag paper between the three main parties. It wouldn’t suprise me if the coalition has planned stimulus spending since day one, but its been held back til now to set up the prudent austere narrative with the markets. Labour would have tried to do just the same, whoever formed the government would have had the same gun at their head. The difference perhaps is that the Tories would have cut public services for ideological reasons even if the economy was booming, and Labour might have cut slightly different areas to avoid the perception of so many spending U turns.
    But then Labour hasn’t presented any alternatives – and why they have Balls leading their thrust on the economy is anyone’s guess, putting him in charge of our economy would be like asking an arsonist to guard the town’s fireworks before bonfire night. Didn’t he do enough damage last time?

  • Simon Bamonte 29th Nov '11 - 5:04pm

    As a Northern Lib Dem, I agree with @John. The North is being hit particularly hardest by the cuts, but isn’t that always the case?

    I’d also like to point out that up here, the Tories are still seen as the enemy and working with the Tories is going to be one of, if not THE, issue which will hold us back. I don’t think a lot of southern-based Lib Dems really get just how loathed the Tories are up here, so can’t understand why so many members of the public here think of us now as “collaborators”. It is also very likely that when/if a recovery happens, it will mainly happen in the south and things up here will still feel as if we never recovered. There are many former mining towns who have still yet to recover from Thatcher’s scorched earth policy and, sadly, the cuts we are supporting do disproportionally hit the North more than the South, and the poorest in society rather than “those with the broadest shoulders.”

    It’s going to be a long, hard slog to re-build the party up here and I do worry we may never recover in the North for going into Coalition and being seen as the “enablers” of a right-wing Tory government.

  • Jen – Labour was far from perfect over their 13 years of Government on a whole range of issues. But when it comes to employment issues, they did introduce a number of significant benefits. See http://www.journalonline.co.uk/Magazine/52-5/1004135.aspx

    Could they have gone much further? I expect so. But these same reforms were hardly ever supported by the Tories who are intent to roll back the clock as much as they can. No let’s see where we are today and where this Govt is heading giving full credit to the LibDems for the influence they think they have.

    The nation’s debt, created by the need to prop up banks, is to be paid for from the lowest paid and most vulnerable. Student applications for next year down 13%. Swinging cuts are imposed upon the disabled by a discredited Atos Healthcare assessment system finding so many unfit as ‘fit’ for the purpose of the balance sheet.

    Portraying the Public Sector as the ‘enemy’ by repeatedly banging on about how they have ‘gold-plated pensions’ unlike the private sector. Pay freezes imposed on the public sector followed by 1% pay caps; making it easier to hire and fire and portraying Health and Safety as the enemy of small business. What next allow children up chimney stacks – after all they are jobs aren’t they?

    I am worked in the private sector nearly all my life. I have no ill will towards my fellow workers in the Public Sector. I refuse to be drawn into this Government’s disreputable game of ‘us against them’. Just look at Michael Gove, this week going on about ‘militant union leaders’ as the enemy within (a Thatcherism if ever there was one) do you really think the right wing have had their wings clipped? Labour was far from perfect but in this field I cannot buy that the current Govt is more employee-friendly. Since we appear to expect these same employees to contribute to pulling us out the mire how about treating them with a little but of maturity and respect. They haven’t worked all these years to be slagged off, insulted and have their rights cut by a Government that has no concept of what low income families have to put up with week in week out.

  • David Allen 29th Nov '11 - 5:47pm

    This post:

    ““Too far, too fast… Ed Balls repeating his four-word analysis of the coalition’s fiscal policy…..The public would be right not to believe it, because, on a key measure, the difference between the cuts planned by Labour and those being implemented by the coalition amounts to just 0.13 percentage points.”

    Nick Clegg at Conference (21/9/11):

    “Labour says: the Government is going too far, too fast. I say, Labour would have offered too little, too late. … Another term of Labour would have been a disaster for our economy.”

    Now, come on guys. Use your loaf. You can lambast Labour for concealing the “fact” that they would do just the same as the Coalition. Or else you can lambast Labour for being a dangerous bunch of maniacs who would do things wildly differently from the Coalition. But unless you’ve been taking lessons from Mitt Romney’s speechwriter, you can’t say both of those things at the same time and get away with it.

    (I’ll pause now and wait for you cynics to tell me “oh yes we can”!)

  • Tony Dawson 29th Nov '11 - 7:10pm

    @Dave Allan:

    “You can lambast Labour for concealing the “fact” that they would do just the same as the Coalition. Or else you can lambast Labour for being a dangerous bunch of maniacs who would do things wildly differently from the Coalition. ”

    No, actually, you can honestly do both. Because Labour planned to cut almost exactly what has been cut (in total) by the Coalition but, in reality, they would have chickened out on much and sent us half way to Italy if not a little further.

  • Andrew Suffield 29th Nov '11 - 8:05pm

    Nick going on about how the LibDem manifesto was FULLY costed

    And that was true. The LD manifesto came somewhere between the Tory 11.5% and the Labour 11.4%. I don’t see what your problem is.

    It wouldn’t suprise me if the coalition has planned stimulus spending since day one

    I would certainly hope that you would be unsurprised by this, because the coalition has talked about stimulus spending from day one.

    but its been held back til now to set up the prudent austere narrative with the markets

    Perhaps. But it hasn’t really been held back, it’s just taken this long to organise. The coalition still moves at the speed of government.

    Labour would have tried to do just the same, whoever formed the government would have had the same gun at their head.

    This is true. Despite all the handwaving, there was never really any prospect of this government’s budget looking very different to the way it currently does, regardless of who was in charge.

  • David Pollard 29th Nov '11 - 9:04pm

    We have to remember that the Coalition negotiations were being carried out at just the time Greece was in melt down and everyone panicked. I am comfortable that Governments should live within their means and should follow Keynes. The problem with now is that, contrary to Keynes, Gordon Brown and Balls ran up debt at the same time as private debt was increasing – as pointed out by Vince Cable at the time. And don’t forget – state pensions go up by over 5% the highest cash increase EVER!

  • orbyuk
    It was sickening to hear Mark Littlewood, ex LibDem press officer, Nick Clegg and coalition supporter, in an interview this evening saying Osborne should have cut further into the public sector even though it would cause more losses than have already happened and are projected to lose in future.

    It’s the old old story, unemployment is a price worth paying as far as Tories are concerned, and as has been demonstrated today the price the Dems too are happy to pay, all knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

    At such a hellish time any Govt worth its salt would do all it could to keep it’s citizens onside, but we again have war declared against certain, mainly the lower paid and defenceless,sections of our society.
    Good luck to all those on strike tomorrow.

  • Dan Falchikov claims that Labour’s public spending included: “crowding out entrepreneurialuism in the north and inner cities”.

    Dan, I live in the north, in an inner city (do you?) How exactly did public spending under Labour “crowd out entrepeneurialism”? They built a smart new Sure Start centre along my street – how did that prevent entrepeneurs starting up businesses? Our local hospital received extensive improvements – how did that prevent entrepeneurs starting up businesses? Our town’s bus station was rebuilt – how did that prevent entrepeneurs starting up businesses? I simply don’t follow this argument that if you spend money improving public services, for the good of the local community, then it somehow harms the private sector.

    Now that spending is being cut (and northern councils are being hit much more harshly than those in the south), I don’t see any surge in local entrepeneurialism – just shops closing due to a fall-off in demand and rising unemployment in both public and private sectors.

  • It would be odd if Labour’s polling showed the public “isn’t buying” the idea that the cuts are “too far, too fast”, because whenever this question has been asked by independent pollsters, a clear plurality (and sometimes a majority) agree that the cuts are indeed too far and too fast. Oh, and Ed Balls used the phrase in his response to the Chancellor today.

  • @Tony Dawson,

    Yes, with our party in the emotional state it is in now, I did expect someone to solemnly tell me it was quite OK to attack an opponent’s policies both for being the same as your own and for being very different from your own. I really didn’t expect it to be you, though.

    Your particular brand of sophistry is to argue that if one postulates that an opponent will say one thing but do another, one can then attack that opponent for both their statements and their (hypothetical, presumed to be different) deeds. Neat!

    Let me just add, I hold no brief for Labour. They did make many mistakes, including saying one thing and doing another. However, all the parties are guilty of that.

    What I’m trying to say is – Who do we think we are kidding with this stuff? We’re only hastening the day when people start feeling (misplaced) sympathy for Labour – because of all the ridiculous attacks that are being made on them!

  • Dan – if you think that the rise in the public sector in (say) Middlesbrough crowded out entrepreneurialism, look at Easington, where the public sector remains small. It is a good test case as to what M would be like without the rise in the public sector. The answer is – sadly – even poorer. (I wrote an article on this for Prospect magazine about a year ago, but I think you have to pay to read it – sorry)

  • As a Northern former member I want to emphasise the growing resentment. I can only talk about where I live but here the idea of a coalition with the Tories has always been difficult to say the least. Those who try to justify almost every action however incompetent (and much has been) or unfair might like to run a street stall as we once did. You will find the level of hostility from people who have voted Lib Dem in the past will give you food for thought.

  • Absolutely agree with Tim Leunig.

    If anyone wants to know about the economy of Easington Colliery, just look at the satellite view of the town on google. That’s what will happen to the entire economy of the North when the public sector ‘ceases to crowd out the private sector’.

  • Dan Falchikov….. Posted 29th November 2011 at 9:55 pm ……. Brown, Balls and co on things like NHS computers that didn’t work, management consultants, ID cards, crowding out entrepreneurialuism in the north and inner cities and providing handouts to their client voters condemning them to dependency and the poverty trap……

    So that’s all they spent it on? Nothing beneficial; no extra doctors, nurses, police, etc?…. Mouthing the “Tory Line” has become ‘de rigueur’ on this site.
    Perhaps those who espouse the ‘Osborne Way’ might try explaining why ( if Labour’s Public Spending is the cause of our woes) did Osborne, right up to the crisis, continue promising if elected to “Match Labour’s Public Spending”?

  • Alex KN
    “You will find the level of hostility from people who have voted Lib Dem in the past will give you food for thought.”
    With so many people saying they voted Liberal Democrat I am surprised there isn’t an overall Liberal Democrat majority.

  • Tony Dawson 30th Nov '11 - 9:51am

    @David Allen:

    “if one postulates that an opponent will say one thing but do another, one can then attack that opponent for both their statements and their (hypothetical, presumed to be different) deeds. Neat!”

    But David, this is precisely what Labour are doing. Attacking the Coalition for the results of cutbacks which are ‘only’ being achieved at roughly the level that Labour said they wanted to impose. Without saying at all where they would have cut back to reach this level. Then, when they feel really tough, they attack us for really wanting to cut back deeper and faster. 🙁

    Labour’s policies are NOT the same as our own because ours involved identifying specific areas for cutbacks to reach certain levels (not all of which I agree with). Labour makes no such attempts and looking at them, they could never exercise such responsibility, given their level of wishful thinking.. So their real policies are to spend more and expect the tooth fairy to pay for it ad infinitum.

    On the politics side, I am with Bill le Breton. We are boxing ourselves further and further in. And every day which passes which allows the great British public to see the really wealthy untouched while the public and private sector workers fight for diminishing scraps at the table, while we sit side by side with the Tories make it harder and harder to promote any credible Liberal Democrat identity.

  • “With so many people saying they voted Liberal Democrat I am surprised there isn’t an overall Liberal Democrat majority.”

    The Lib Dems netted 23% of the vote, a mere 6% less than labour and 13% less than the Tories. So no, it’s not really that surprising that you actually do find quite a few people who voted Lib Dems. Not to worry though, I’m sure it won’t be happening on that scale again.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Nov '11 - 12:38pm

    Simon Bamonte

    I’d also like to point out that up here, the Tories are still seen as the enemy and working with the Tories is going to be one of, if not THE, issue which will hold us back. I don’t think a lot of southern-based Lib Dems really get just how loathed the Tories are up here, so can’t understand why so many members of the public here think of us now as “collaborators”.

    So why do you think that in those parts of the country where politics is Conservative v. LibDem that the Conservatives aren’t also seen as “the enemy”? There is a big problem that many on the north seem to think of the south as if everyone there has a well-paid City job or is a top civil servant. Part of the reason for this is the electoral system which by giving almost no non-Tory MPs for the south outside London hides the existence of the millions of southerners who are not Tory voters.

    I don’t think it’s as much of a north-south thing as you suggest, and in fact I’m aware of plenty of southern former LibDem supporters who have reacted to the current situation in just the way you say happened “up here”. Though I’ve lived inner London for many years, the rest of my immediate family live in Sussex, and I can report from therm strong loathing of the LibDems for what is happening now in parts of Sussex which northerners would suppose to be completely “true blue”.

    Now, the reality is that the balance following the May 2010 general election meant we either had the coalition we have now, or we had a minority Tory government followed by another general election in a year’s time which would have resulted in a majority Tory government – they’d have kept the big cuts till after they got the majority, confident that any economic unease before that could be written off as “due to the uncertainty caused by there being no majority in Parliament – getting rid of the LibDems in a new general election will solve that”. What our party has achieved in holding back some of the nastier elements of the Conservative Party due to the coalition may seem small, but consider what would have happened if the Tories did have an absolute majority. Now consider that a majority Conservative government IS what we would have now if all those people saying “Dirty rotten LibDems, working with the enemy, I’ll never vote for them again” had their way.

    I’m in a quandary here because I fully agree that our party leadership has handled this all very badly by giving the impression that somehow this coalition was what we always wanted, by looking and sounding so smug to have ministerial posts, by exaggerating our influence in the coalition, and by using lines such as “75% of our manifesto implemented” which make it sound that what this government is doing is what we stand for. But I just CANNOT join in with those moaning “dirty rotten Liberal Democrats” on the basis of the formation of the coalition because such people are being totally unrealistic and I have NEVER seen ONE of them suggest a workable alternative. That is, they are ALL living in a fantasy world where Labour somehow won the 2010 general election but were cheated out of it by the Liberal Democrats – and that is complete rubbish. Once again, if it were not for the Liberal Democrats we would have a majority Conservative government now. THAT in effect is what all these “never vote LibDem again” people are calling for – a majority Conservative government, with themselves as smug supporters of a Labour opposition.

    If there were a more realistic approach to the reality of the situation outside the Liberal Democrats it would be easier to build and alternative to it inside the Liberal Democrats. But it’s a tall order asking the Labour Party to be realistic, and at present I see no sense of realism in them. They are acting as they always do after they have lost – pretending that there are miraculous solutions to the problems of the world which would all fall into place if we only had a Labour government, failing to admit just how much of what the non-Labour government is doing that they too would have to be doing if they were there, failing to develop and build support for radically different policies (which is why last time they came to power they just carried on with Tory policies) and having a game plan which consists of 1) We shout abuse at the current government 2) We win power when that causes the two-party pendulum to swing our way 3) Er …

    Still, it would be nice to have a LibDem leadership which was better able to handle this situation, communicate to the country what the reality is, and make quite clear that the current government is NOT our ideal.

  • David Allen 30th Nov '11 - 1:39pm

    Tony Dawson,
    “But David, this is precisely what Labour are doing.”

    Sure. Labour often use dishonest arguments which aren’t credible and so don’t enhance their standing. What I’m saying is, let’s not join them in this race to the bottom!

    Besides which, they do have a partial excuse for tendentious oppositional statements. They are the opposition! Our job is to get on quietly with governing. We will therefore be the more quickly condemned for talking out of turn if, instead, we spend all our time trying to blame the previous government for everything.

  • I love the idea that, come the next General Election, the LibDems manifesto will be based around, “Just think how much worse it would be if the Tories had a working majority…

    Tell that to the 700,000+ public sector workers out of work
    1,000,000 young people
    Students
    The vast majority, including the public sector who are in work (with reduced job security), who have seen executive salaries soar whilst their’s falls in real terms.
    etc.
    etc.

    I know what their answer will be (expletives deleted) “Explain just HOW much worse it could be?”

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    “Now, the reality is that the balance following the May 2010 general election meant we either had the coalition we have now, or we had a minority Tory government followed by another general election in a year’s time which would have resulted in a majority Tory government.”

    Your defence of the Lib Dem role in the coalition appears to be have been pedicated on the quote above and its apparent conviction in the certainty of your vision of what the future may have been. As a history teacher one thing I always advise students is that history should not be seen as inevitable. There is no ‘reality’ about speculation.

    It may well have been the case that the Tories could have won a subsequent election. There is however an alternative vision… A second election in 6 months time might have allowed Labour to select a leader more appealing to the voters than Brown and then seen off the Tories in a straight shoot out . Lib Dems might well have been marginalised by the electorate treating the election as a straight race. Meanwhile the Conservatives could have been divided between those who supported and those who opposed Cameron’s failure to secure a majority.. Despite the poor state of the economy and Brown’s deep unpopularity the Trories didn’t manage to win the election so why is it so certain they would win a second? Presumably all those swayed by Lib Dem promises of slower deficit reduction wouldn’t have lent the Tories their vote. Given such a prospect the Lib Dems entered coalition in an act of self preservation.

    You may well completely disagree with my vision but then that only serves to prove the point that history is not inevitable and what we are both speculating on is purely conjecture.

    We didn’t have to facilitate this Tory government – we chose to. Argue all you like over whether that was a wise decision or not but THERE WAS A CHOICE. It wasn’t inevitable and we didn’t have to do it.

  • Old Codger Chris 30th Nov '11 - 3:54pm

    @simon
    ” THERE WAS A CHOICE. It wasn’t inevitable and we didn’t have to do it”.

    The Lib Dems went on and on for years about the virtue of “balanced” parliaments and coalitions. If the party had spurned its first realistic chance in 90 years of participating in government the old cry that there’s no point in voting Lib Dem because they’ll never be in government would have come true, and how! England and Wales would have returned to a purely 2 party battleground (3 party in Scotland with the SNP).

  • Simon
    The result of a second election may not have produced a majority or only a very slim
    one as in October 1974.Do you think endless political deadlock would be good
    for the country or a massive run on Sterling something to be welcomed?

  • @Old codger chris
    I understand the logical of what you are saying but it doesn’t disprove my central point that there was a choice. I suspect you are right that this would have been accusation leveled against the party and this would have resulted in some lost support. Personally I don’t think this would have been as great as the support we will now lose for seemingly turn 180 degrees on the expectations of many of our progressive supporters ……we’ll never know but I maintain there was a choice.

    @Manfarang
    who is to say there would have been endless deadlock or indeed a run on the pound? Possibilities perhaps but some see these as scare stories that it was politically expedient to accept. Resisting such Tory led blackmail would have been more courageous in my opinion. You ask if I believe these would have been good for the country…. no I don’t think they would though I don’t accept them as inevitabilities. Do I believe facilitating austerity Tories in pushing through a programme that we didn’t advocate at the election which has resulted in declining growth figures, high inflation, 1 million youth unemployed, rising unemployment, denigrating the public sector or introducing huge hikes in tuition fees to be good for the country? No I don’t think they would either. Political deadlock is a chance I would have taken to avoid this.

  • Simon Bamonte 30th Nov '11 - 5:01pm

    Sorry, but I’m in the camp that said we DID have a choice. It is simply not fair to the millions of people who voted for us, based on our manifesto, for us to do a complete U-turn on what we supposedly believed in. Clegg said he changed his mind about the deficit before the election, but he never told any of us. Am I the only one who finds this profoundly anti-democratic to stand and campaign on a series of policies that had, secretly, already been dropped?

    If we end up joining with the Tories again after 2015, especially if the economy has not recovered, is there really any point pretending we’re a separate party from the Tories at all? Sadly, I don’t think so. I’m of the opinion it is best to believe in something & have principles rather than trade beliefs and principles for power.

  • Tony Dawson 30th Nov '11 - 5:08pm

    It does not read too well that certain Lib Dems on here appear to be saying that the reason for accepting the Coalition in the form that we have done was to avoid the high risk of an early wash-out of half our seats in a second General Election within 2010 rather than suffering the more prolonged ‘death by a thousand (sic) cuts’ which we are presently enduring. In terms of the needs of the country, one might suggest that there was a better, different, coalition agreement to be had: one which did not make us out to be 80-90 per cent in common cause with our coalition partners but perhaps more 20-30 per cent (which I sincerely hope is closer to the reality).

  • Simon
    We live in an age of global finance. Not taking tough decisions will result in a financial meltdown.
    Thailand didn’t want to devalue its currency in 1997. It was an unpopular move. Attempts to shore up
    the Baht failed when the pressure on it became overwhelming and the Baht went into free fall.The result was contagion throughout Asia and bankruptcy and ruin in Thailand. People lost their life savings and jobs while incomes fell.It took years for the economy to recover.
    The financial crisis Britain faces is on a much larger scale and the potential devastation much greater.

  • David Allen 30th Nov '11 - 6:11pm

    The Blue Funk Faction platform is here revealed as follows:

    1. “We couldn’t have dared take on Mr Cameron, because that would have meant doing something obviously stupid and unpopular, such as propping up Gordon Brown’s premiership, or causing long-running instability and UK financial meltdown”

    Then again, we could have done something not so obviously stupid, such as providing confidence-and-supply to the Tories on the basis that they could run the economy just how they chose (and take responsibility for that), but couldn’t embark on radical new Tory projects such as Lansley or free schools. Much like the late 1970s Lib Lab pact, in other words. Or (this is what I’d have gone for at the time), we could have signed some sort of coalition deal, but then refused to accept the wholesale tearing-up of that document which we subsequently found the Tories trying on.

    2. “We still couldn’t have dared take on Mr Cameron, because he’d have just cut and run to the country at the first opportunity, and then we’d have been toast”.

    Oh really? There was Cameron, five years in opposition, a few months precariously in power, with Labour leading in the polls once Brown had gone. So it’s a sure thing, is it, that Cameron would just have jumped at the opportunity to become a six-months wonder, the loser of a speculative second election, another tiny footnote in Conservative history, a backbencher cheering for Opposition Leader Hague (???) against Prime Minister Miliband? Don’t you think he might just have considered making the policy concessions to us which would have kept his position, and his place in history, safe?

    3. “We still couldn’t have dared take on Mr Cameron, because he might still have cut and run to the country, and then the bond markets would have got spooked, and Armageddon would have happened. And worse than that, we’d have got the blame for it!”

    In this unlikely scenario, it would be Cameron who called the destabilising election and took the rap for doing so. He could deflect that rap only if he could convince the country that the Lib Dems were making outrageous demands that could not reasonably be conceded. We would therefore have to have seen to it that we did not make outrageous demands. Yes, OK, that might have given Cameron some leverage in imposing things like benefit cuts, even tuition fees. We might or might not have come out completely smelling of roses. We would, at the least, have been genuinely acting as a brake on far-right policies, and have been seen to be doing so.

    4. “We still couldn’t have dared take on Cameron, because nasty words would have been thrown at us about our unwillingness to enter government, and insofar as we couldn’t just laugh this off as routine political backbiting, we might have lost some support.”

    Yes, actions have consequences, and sadly you can’t please everybody all of the time. Then again, maybe we should have risked a little unpopularity so as to show we had principles. Then again, having some principles might not have made us quite as unpopular as – well, what we actually did do…!

    The real truth is, of course:

    The Blue Funk Faction were not calling the shots within our great party. They were shafted by the Cleggies, whose support for Cameron was not in the least a matter of expediency and fearfulness, but of conviction and political ambition. The Cleggies are not interested in equidistance or even political independence. They see our party as a new and thriving blossom within the Greater Conservative Alliance, and the y are leading us there. The Blue Funk Faction, meanwhile, are trying to make a virtue out of having been shafted.

  • David Allen
    “Much like the late 1970s Lib Lab pact, in other words.”
    The Liberals became very unpopular at the time of the Lib-Lab pact.
    It was Heseltine that accused the Liberals of being in a blue funk when they made the pact.

  • David Allen 1st Dec '11 - 12:41am

    Manfarang,

    True, the Liberal vote fell from 18.3% in 1974 to 13.8% in 1979 following the Lib Lab pact. A similarly limited deal with the Tories might well have had similar results – poor, but a lot better than what we have actually done!

  • Old Codger Chris 1st Dec '11 - 7:11am

    All serious political parties have to decide to what extent they are prepared to compromise to achieve power. There’s no easy answer and every set of circumstances is different.

    In May 2011 anything short of coalition would have spooked the financial markets. Tempting to say “serve them right” but the speculators wouldn’t have suffered – the British people would have been the losers. Greece, Italy and even the USA are in a worse situation than they really should be because political wrangling and deadlock is damaging.

  • Old Codger Chris 1st Dec '11 - 7:25am

    Of course I mean May 2010 not 2011.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Dec '11 - 2:02pm

    Simon Bamonte

    It may well have been the case that the Tories could have won a subsequent election. There is however an alternative vision… A second election in 6 months time might have allowed Labour to select a leader more appealing to the voters than Brown and then seen off the Tories in a straight shoot out

    Well maybe, but if we had gambled on that happening and it didn’t (and my own feeling is that the chance of it happening was close to 0), we’d have a majority Tory government now. Anyone who is serious about an alternative ought to start off with reality rather than fantasy. Reality is that a combination of the way people voted and the electoral system gave us a Tory government. It simply isn’t possible for the junior partner in a coalition where there is no alternative coalition to dictate terms to the senior partner. If we had a Labour Party which accepted that, and a Liberal Democrats leadership which was more honest about its lack of real power rather than trying to exaggerate its influence, we might be able now to build up more of an alternative way forward.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Dec '11 - 11:33pm

    Oranjepan, once again you have replied to something I have written in a way that makes no sense, unless you have a radically different interpretation of what I wrote than I have.

    You appear to be criticising me for saying the PRECISE OPPOSITE of what I thought I said. What I thought I said was that Liberal Democrats CANNOT dictate terms in the coalition, and I have been saying that throughout the existene of the coaltion in reply to attacks on us from Labour and Labour supporters for “selling our principles” etc because we have not done forced the government to enact all our policies and no Tory ones. Saying “X cannot do Y” is hardly equivalent to having a wish that X could do Y, and I can only make any sense of your comment if that is what you are trying to imply. What I also thought I said was that I ACCEPTED the way the people of this country voted, in May 2010 and May 2011, so how you can interpret that as me wishing to reject what the people voted for and instead dictate what I want even though I was on the losing side in both of the votes beats me.

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