It’s time to stop apologising for the Coalition – and use it instead

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We need a leader without the stench of coalition baggage

 
This is a phrase I hear a lot in the party. I see it under every Facebook post about the next leadership election. But by trying to scrub ourselves of the Coalition are we missing a powerful argument, one that rings especially true in those 80 conservative-facing second places?

When we were almost wiped out in 2015, most voters that switched from us to the Tories did so because they liked the coalition years – a period of relative stability following a deep financial crisis – and they credited the Tories with delivering this.

(Disclaimer: I have a lot of problems with the coalition. We, as a party, should look at that period with, well, frankly, with anger. We should have done more to push our values, we should have helped more people and we should have distanced ourselves early-on from the Tories. But it’s now inextricably part of our history, something we cannot erase.)

Imagine you’re one of those voters, watching the Tories take this majority and using it to plunge the country in to crisis. Their throwaway promise to hold a referendum on EU membership hung over the economy like a cloud. Their leadership during the referendum contributed to the loss. Then their extreme red lines and snap election seized up government like a rusted watch.

But the Tories, despite all the suffering inflicted during the coalition, showed themselves to be at least a stabilising force in those years. What went wrong?

It was clear to us during the coalition that, for all we couldn’t hold back (and all we didn’t hold back), we were a moderating force – but we were terrible at communicating this to the voters. We knew that, unleashed, Cameron would govern like a true Tory – just as he promised.

In 2015 we couldn’t make the counterfactual argument – that without us in coalition, the Tories would have governed with such inhumanity – because we didn’t have any proof of that. Today, after three elections and four years of failure, the voters we need to win back are pining for the relatively boring years of coalition.

We have the proof, and we have a compelling narrative for these liberal-leaning Tory voters – All you liked about the Tories during the coalition – yeh, that wasn’t them, that was us. Now vote for us. And by switching up this narrative we can use the endless coalition trolling as a tailwind – Yes, we were in coalition, remember that? – and look to win back those 80 Tory-facing seats.

And so denying the Conservatives a majority.

Then, with those new seats (and a clear, membership-driven agenda) we should seek to work with anyone who will help us fix this Tory disaster.

Because once we again achieve power, we can also clean up after ourselves.

* James Belchamber is Chair of South West Birmingham Liberal Democrats.

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36 Comments

  • James Belchamber 22nd Jan '20 - 12:30pm

    I should start submitting my own images, instead of letting Getty Images fill in the caps.

  • I have been saying for years that I was proud that the Lib Dems participated in the Coalition Government, for once in my life we had a part to play in the governance of our country during a very crucial time in our history. I know we did not get everything right during that time or after, but continually deriding our contribution must look very defeatist from outside of the party. Lessons will have been learned, I hope, for any future cooperation?

  • By defending the cruelty and misery inflicted on the weakest and most vulnerable you will just get more of the same results..decline and irrelevance. The Brexit boost the party received during the European Elections is over. The local Elections promise only further rot. The party should be apologising with a mega phone to left of center voters and when finally believed and forgiven then maybe there’s a way out of this mess.

  • Innocent Bystander 22nd Jan '20 - 1:03pm

    I don’t have to imagine being one of those voters, I was one. How many of the 40+ million voters do you actually expect to respond “Yes James, you make a compelling argument there. You are right and I was wrong. I must remember to vote LibDem in 2024″?
    The coalition is ancient history, like the Suez crisis. We are interested in the future and the entirety of Lib Dem voice is devoted to the past. Those who joined, and voted, did so because you were the rallying point for remain. They will drift away. There will be no sympathy for ” I told you so” at every hiccup along the road. The only things I see with any regard to the future are UBI, land tax, cannabis and identity politics.
    Best of luck with enthusing the British people with that.

  • John Bicknell 22nd Jan '20 - 1:05pm

    The Lib Dems have never recovered from the psychological trauma from being in coalition, and its electoral consequences. An aura of collective guilt hangs over the party. Those, like Silvio, who keep demanding ever more grovelling apologies, do not have the interests of the party at heart. Jo Swinson just looked pitifully weak when arguing ‘we screwed up really badly, but please give us another chance’. No wonder the public response was ‘why should we?’

  • James Belchamber 22nd Jan '20 - 1:05pm

    Silvio:

    The problem with that approach, regardless of the argument about whether or not we should have entered coalition (which honestly is a different debate), is that it endears us to Labour switchers instead of Tory switchers. If we want to kick the Tories out of office we need to take _their_ voters, and those voters see the coalition as a relatively good thing.

    If we choose to use this narrative we win Tory voters, at the possible expense of Labour voters, without changing a single plank of our manifesto or our policies. We also get to attack the Tories and ignore (and not counter) any attacks from Labour (since their attacks actually help push our message) – allowing them to shore up their base and us to encroach on the Tory base.

    Is that a bad thing?

  • Good thinking, James. A sure fire way to persuade the four and a half million people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 (but didn’t in 2015) to come back to the party and admit their mistake.

  • Julian Tisi 22nd Jan '20 - 1:34pm

    Thanks for this article James, I agree. I had commented on a separate thread with some similar points before I read yours! I completely agree that during the coalition we made some concessions that we should not have made; likewise we were, as you say, rubbish at marking out clear blue water between us and the Tories. With hindsight though we had an almost impossible ask – before the coalition, the common view was that any coalition would be weak, hugely divided and would fall apart easily; plus the smaller party would always hold the larger one to ransom. We had to counter that, but we went too far; in the public’s eyes we were just going along with the Conservatives. The truth – as ever – was somewhere between; this was always going to be a tough one to communicate and we certainly failed.

    But overall I believe that we should be proud of our role in coalition for the reasons you mention; had Labour been in charge at the time and delivered the same they would I’m certain now be telling us how well and how fairly they governed in the most difficult economic circumstances. We Lib Dems like to beat ourselves up and then wonder why voters aren’t attracted to us.

    @ John Bicknell – completely agree!

  • Paul Holmes 22nd Jan '20 - 1:51pm

    The LD role in the recent Coalition was an utter disaster for us. We averaged around 20% of the vote across all the GE’s from 1983-2010 (low of 17% high of 25.5%) which consistently gave us the highest ‘Liberal’ vote in Europe. In the three GE’s since then we have taken under 8% in two and 11.4% in the third.

    There is absolutely no sign at all of this mythical ‘Liberal Conservative’ surge in our direction. Of the increase in our vote in 2019 two out of every four came from Labour and only one from the Conservatives.

    We need to get back to identifying and campaigning on the policies we believe in instead of constantly trying to identify mythical blocks of voters who we can supposedly manipulate like chess pieces.

  • Mohammed Amin 22nd Jan '20 - 1:59pm

    I agree. For the Liberal Democrats to retrospectively reject the 2010-2015 Coalition is a serious mistake.

    We should talk about what we achieved during that period.

  • Mohammed Amin 22nd Jan ’20 – 1:59pm……………..I agree. For the Liberal Democrats to retrospectively reject the 2010-2015 Coalition is a serious mistake…We should talk about what we achieved during that period……………

    The electorate rejected the 2010-15 LibDem performance. Voting for NHS reorganisation, cuts to disability and benefits, Universal Credit, secret courts, bedroom tax, Vince Cable’s disastrous time as Business Secretary, to say nothing of the tuition fee debacle.
    Still, tell the electorate how good it was; after all, there are only 4.5 million ex-LibDem voters who disagree with you.

  • John Bucknell
    I am accused of not having the party’s interest at heart because I am an ex Lib Dem voter who believed the lies in 2010. I felt disgusted with myself for assisting the party into that dreaded Coalition and when the cruelty and misery wiped out so many weak and vulnerable that disgust deepened. The truth is my vote is probably not wanted anymore but hey ho good luck in Birmingham Manchester Liverpool etc…good luck getting that soft Tory vote back.

  • Richard Malim 22nd Jan '20 - 3:06pm

    Two out of four of the increase in LD vote in 2019 came from Labour. Evidence that LD with its views sometimes overlapping Labour shd find the red wall etc much easier to break into than the Cons should (and they did last month). Roll on the Gladstone Asquith Ll-G axis!

  • John Marriott 22nd Jan '20 - 3:31pm

    Yes, Mr Belchamber, the Lib Dems should stop apologising. Before, as some might argue, they supped with the devil, they made a career out of being ‘different’ from the ‘old parties’. I am sure that Paul Holmes is right with his polling figures. It was thanks to people like him and places like Chesterfield that the ‘third party’ of English politics ran the other two so close for so long. This has much to do with how poor the ‘old parties’ were back then. He is also right when he says that these figures would be something that most European liberal parties would have died for. Even then, 20% max doesn’t deliver you a Liberal government, especially under the FPTP.

    Let’s be honest, this country is not a majority ‘liberal thinking country’, despite what some LDV contributors would have us believe. So, to get liberal ideas across requires teaming up in some way with others, some of whom may have ‘Conservative’ tendencies. Coalition, when offered, is surely a valid way of achieving this. I’ve served in coalition administrations in local government so I have a pretty good idea about the compromises that are often required. They are clearly no places for purists.

    I’m currently reading Cameron’s autobiography. It reinforces my view that, while difficult for both sides and far from a perfect fit in the national political psyche, the Coalition did deliver in many areas. Don’t forget the state the economy was in when Dave and Nick made their vows in the No10 Rose Garden nearly ten long years ago. The ‘experts’ reckoned their 2010 deal would come apart before the year was out. How wrong they were. The difficulty both Leaders and their parties had was how, at the end of the Parliamentary period deemed by the FTPA, to find a sensible way to end the arrangement and, at the beginning, more significantly, how to explain its ‘raison d’être’ to a bewildered electorate who kept telling them “we never voted for this”.

    The problem is that we do not really understand coalitions at national level, at least in peacetime. However, as I keep writing, that’s what we are more than likely to get if ever we do get PR for Westminster elections. It’s about time that both the electorate in general and all those people advocating a change to fairer votes in particular got that into their heads.

  • The jury long ago delivered its verdict on the Lib Dems in coalition and it wasn’t a positive one. The sad thing is it was obvious it would end badly but far to many had invested far to much to face that reality and the party flew over a cliff and crashed. There are lessons to be learned

    1. Don’t abandon your voters for the prospect if unicorn voters. The bird in the hand is worth two in the bush lesson.
    2. Listen to other views, if someone is taking the trouble to warn you your (expletive deleted by editorial team) things up they may well have a point.
    3. Just because someone looks nice doesn’t mean they are right, the halo effect often conceals stupidity.
    4. If you don’t listen to the voters and pay attention to their main concerns no amount of minor policies will help.

  • “But by trying to scrub ourselves of the Coalition are we missing a powerful argument, one that rings especially true in those 80 conservative-facing second places?”

    Yes! Clearly this argument will work in Cons facing second placed because it was so damn effective on Cons facing FIRST places not that long ago!

  • John Roffey 23rd Jan '20 - 6:08am

    Question: Is this a serious attempt at defending the Coalition years – or an attempt to prevent the Federal Board member’s special status being challenged?

    From what I have read on LDV the Federal Board is effectively the Party’s board of directors. Based on the Party’s disastrous results since their agreeing to the Coalition – shouldn’t all of the Board’s members be sacked and elected by the party’s members? Also shouldn’t the nomination system be scrapped?

    From: Our President and co-leader writes: How you can get involved in helping to run the party

    Chris Cory 20th Jan ’20 – 7:11pm
    Looked at the list of posts on the LD website. Six are for Federal Board members only and of the rest alll bar one require nomination by two members of the FB. So these posts will go to people who are already well in with the upper echelons of the party.

    I appreciate that the Federal Board has created a system whereby they cannot be sacked for incompetence – but it seems worth having the facts laid out for all to see – if this is the case and the purpose of the article.

  • Mohammed Amin

    “I agree. For the Liberal Democrats to retrospectively reject the 2010-2015 Coalition is a serious mistake.

    We should talk about what we achieved during that period.”

    Is it just me, or does it seem a bit cheeky saying “what we achieved”… you were after all a member of the Conservative Party during this period, so for you, “achievement” meant getting the Lib Dems to support your then party’s policies. Meanwhile, lots of Liberal Democrats – including my mother in law who joined the Liberal Party at the beginning of the 1950’s – are now gone, and won’t be coming back.

    The more I see comments like this, the more strongly I feel that the sudden influx of both former Conservative remainers, and Labour social democrats is going to swamp the Liberal core of the party and kill it.

  • “…sudden influx of both former Conservative remainers, and Labour social democrats is going to swamp the Liberal core of the party and kill it.”

    And this is exactly why we aren’t reaching anybody. Outside the party, no one thinks of themselves in terms of these labels, nor much cares, and precisely because of the fixation with labels like this, we look introspective and insular.

    Whether you think they were good or bad, we have to own the Coalition years anyway, so why not embrace the achievements, rather than accepting as ‘truth’ the Labour accusations against Lib Dems which completely let the Conservatives off the hook regards their responsibility for the hostile environment, swingeing cuts to the social care, etc.

    The Conservatives want to pursue a mercantilist trade policy, fan the flames of the culture war and enact measures for a minimalist government state where (social) care is rationed to its voter-clientele. Even life long Conservatives will find plenty in that to object to – in the real world of providing opposition and accountability, what earthly purpose is served by Lib Dems being fixated on who is a true Liberal and what that means?

  • Peter Watson 23rd Jan '20 - 11:44am

    @Jo Wan “Whether you think they were good or bad, we have to own the Coalition years”
    That’s a very important point, ownership of the “Coalition years” not just the good bits with the bad bits being everybody else’s fault, especially since the approach to collective responsibility meant that senior Lib Dems were prominent in the media defending Government policies.

    Tim Farron was a bit semi-detached as far as Coalition was concerned (and he voted against increasing tuition fees) so his leadership was a missed opportunity for an attempt to take some credit for good bits and create some distance from the bad stuff in a way that Cable, Swinson and Davey cannot.

    The crux of the problem is not just “Coalition bad” or “Coalition good” though as so many other issues are caught up in it. Just taking tuition fees as a well-trodden example: reversing policy and personal pledges (especially after that “no more broken promises” video!) raises serious doubts about “trust” in the party, and if the new fees system is so good then it implies the previous policy must have been bad so it raises questions about the party’s policy-making “competence”. Away from just this one policy, those concerns colour the way that everything else the party says or does is perceived, and human nature being what it is, we all pay more attention to the evidence that supports what we already believe! Simply owning it or apologising for it is not enough, and marks more of a starting point than an ending.

    In the past Lib Dems have been able to successfully attack Tories and Labour for what they have done in Government, but the party seemed ill-prepared for the loss of that virtuous position.

    Perhaps the party hoped that Brexit would make everybody forget about the Coalition, but perhaps instead it prevented Lib Dems from re-establishing their own political identity so the party has looked like a Remain wing of the Tories.

  • Bernard Aris 23rd Jan '20 - 1:05pm

    Being Dutch I’m plenty prejudiced; but
    1) all over Europe we see big parties (socialist/SocDem are prime examples) shrink to 20% of their former steady strength; in the UK Labour is out of Scotland and weakened in Wales and Londen; and the Tories are weak in their former London bulwarks and out of Scotland;
    2) If Labour carries on like this, they’ll never govern unless in Coalition (the Ramsay Macdonald taboo broken);
    3) If the Tories get flummoxed by the impossibility to keep both the EU and Trump (or Biden?) on their side (Huawei, Iran, EU-country Tech Taxes, European security instead of Atlantic ties to a Trump who doesn’t warn you about strikes), and crash out without a decent-size EU trade deal, they’ll get butchered. The (ex)miners in the Red Wall won’t invite them for their big do; giving the North good Railway connections will take decades even without HS2; so there is no relief for them there: they will lose many seats they just gained.
    My prejudiced conclusion: even in the unwieldy British FPTP systems, you’re heading to Coalitions.

  • Sensible stuff from Peter Watson. The Coalition was something that most people in the Liberal Democrats saw as the right thing to do but with a diversity of views about how it was prosecuted, how the balance sheet of “good” and “bad” panned out etc. The last thing we need to do is rely on time being the great healer but pro-active rebuilding was always going to be a long haul. One of our political instincts should be a suspicion of quick fixes. Regardless of Labour people chuntering incessantly about it, we have to recognise that five years and three General Elections were unlikely to produce sustainable recovery. I wish Dorothy Thornhill and her panel well but our experience over that longer period can hopefully inform deep thinking about future strategy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Jan '20 - 1:49pm

    Due to the disproportional representation system, the Conservative-LibDem coalition was the only stable government that could be formed, and with just one-sixth of its MPs we had only a minor say in it.

    Essentially, we were only able to shift things a bit where the Conservative Party itself was divided. We were not able to get the Conservatives to drop their main policy commitments, with keeping tax low being what they were and are all about. That was the issue with Tuition Fees – the Conservatives would not have agreed to raise taxes to be able to continue funding universities directly, so keeping to our policy on that would have been met with hugely bigger cuts elsewhere to pay for it, and also major cuts in the number of university places.

    We needed to make this clear, but we did not. Most ordinary people don’t seem to get the link between taxation and government spending, and so seem to suppose that the Coalition could have combined LibDem spending with Conservative taxation. Also that everything the Coalition did is what the LibDems really support, and what we would do if we ran the government all by ourselves.

    Note – it was in the Conservatives’ interest to pretend they would have given in to us more if we insisted, because they are the main beneficiaries of us losing so many votes in all those places where we used to be seen and supported as the main opposition to the Conservative Party.

    The idea being pushed here that the way to win back votes in that sort of place is to become like soft Conservatives is completely wrong. In places where Labour is weak, ordinary people tend to see Labour as a party of intellectual elite types, and for that reason shift between Conservative and Labour if no alternative is provided. But that doesn’t mean they like right-wing economics, and actually providing a left-wing alternative showing a genuine concern for their lives by working hard locally was always the best way the Liberal Democrats, and Liberal Party before that could and did win votes.

  • Terry Pavey 23rd Jan '20 - 6:01pm

    Why are people concentrating on the past? Its gone. Bernard, our friend from Holland seems unfettered by this naval gazing. In presenting a coherent vision of UK in 5 years he ckearly guves the clue. A set of strategic visions needs developing and policies and costed action plans set out for delivery at the appropriate time.
    This is where the parties efforts should be directed.
    All we need now is a leader. Come back Tom Brake.

  • David Garlick 23rd Jan '20 - 8:40pm

    Sounds superficially positive but do we really want to up the coalition?

    Take it policy by policy but don’t talk about a coalition as a possible way to get credit for our positives and our restriction of Conservative’s negatives. Unfortunately it will open the door to Student Fees and all the other stuff we rolled over on.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Jan '20 - 9:50pm

    Terry Pavey

    Why are people concentrating on the past? Its gone.

    Yes, and so are you suggesting people won’t think about the past when it comes to deciding whether to vote for us? We continue to have large number of people saying they will never vote for us because of what happened in the 2010-15 Coalition. They assume that what that Coalition did is what a Liberal Democrat government would do if we won a majority. That’s destroyed us. So we needed to act urgently to break out of that way of thinking. Only we didn’t. Instead, we seem to be run by people who want us to be seen as the real heirs of the Thatcherite Conservative Party, and don’t mind that that has lost us most of the seats we used to have.

  • Jane Ann Liston 24th Jan '20 - 12:44am

    I maintain that the fact critics continue to harp on about the Coalition and us, while other errors perpetuated by other parties seem quickly forgotten is because we do not have a friendly newspaper or other widely-read/watched/listened to media outlet unlike the others. Classic example – tuition fees. When did you last hear anybody point out that Labour, with an overall majority, introduced them in the first place, having promised not to, and then increased them again after saying they would not? Or that in Scotland it was the LibDems who persuaded the Lab/LibDem coalition to abolish up-front tuition fees – the SNP now claim the credit for that, also free personal care for the elderly which came from us. They have the supporting newspapers and journalists; we just have Focus.

  • John Roffey 24th Jan '20 - 4:56am

    I do agree Jane.

    If the Party does manage to resolve its inner conflicts and can agree on what its key policies should be – that would just be the start of the battle to return to prominence. With only an occasional spot on Question Time and few other opportunities to inform the electorate what these policies are via the media – it is going to be a long and painful route back.

    Why doesn’t a Lib/Dem supporter start an online newspaper providing the news with a Lib/Dem slant? Until the Spring of last year I did just this for a few years – mostly concerning environmental issues – but also other important issues of the time.

    I stopped because Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion were by then making the news and my efforts were incidental by comparison. I also stopped because it was too much for me – I was feeling exhausted for most of the time!

    What LDV demonstrates is how many very capable writers there are within the Party – both from the articles written and from the comments made. More than enough, I would think, to provide enough ‘copy’ each day. The paper need not be too demanding at first – the ‘i’ seems a good model to begin with.

    https://inews.co.uk

    Such an approach would be outwards looking and might help to resolve existing conflicts more quickly – if the plan was agreed.

    I do think, however, that such a paper should not be controlled by the Party – but independent of it. A number of contributors have said that they had disagreed with some of the more dubious developments that the Party have taken since 2010 – but felt unable to express those concerns because of the Party’s structure.

    An independent paper would provide an outlet for those with concerns and possibly reduce the likelihood of such developments taking place in the future.

  • Innocent Bystander 24th Jan '20 - 8:04am

    Jane, I read the i and that has always been fair to the LibDems, although not in outright support

  • “I maintain that the fact critics continue to harp on about the Coalition and us, while other errors perpetuated by other parties seem quickly forgotten”

    The Tories were still using the winter of discontent to attack Labour in 1997 – and it was an attack that still had salience in 1992

  • David Evans 24th Jan '20 - 8:59am

    While I understand that giving an article a controversial start is a good way to generate a response, I must say I think that the first sentence chosen by James Belchamber “We need a leader without the stench of coalition baggage“ is totally misleading and ultimately damaging to the party.
    A Google search for the expression finds five links – all linked to James’ article. A search for “the stench of coalition finds seventeen results – six from James’ article; six from Australia; one from May 2010 and four in response to a Danny Alexander tweet.

    We still need a debate on coalition, but one framed by such a misleading and polarising comment is totally unacceptable.

  • So, some right-leaning members here still want to stick to the failed Orange Book platform. It failed, and its failure is clearly illustrated by the fact that our party lost 49 seats between 2010 and 2015, and hovered around 10-12 seats since then. These folks are like corporate leaders who say “hey, we are doing fine” after their company nearly going bankrupt. In the end, the results are only things that matter.

    The problem is that apolozing for Coalition mistakes is not enough, there must be fundamental changes in platform to show that we indeed break from the Coalition-era Orange Book. The Libdem haven’t done the latter, and if they have, they haven’t gone far enough.

    Matthew Huntbach – “In places where Labour is weak, ordinary people tend to see Labour as a party of intellectual elite types, and for that reason shift between Conservative and Labour if no alternative is provided. But that doesn’t mean they like right-wing economics, and actually providing a left-wing alternative showing a genuine concern for their lives by working hard locally was always the best way the Liberal Democrats, and Liberal Party before that could and did win votes” – This.

    In the long run, an alliance with Labour is the way to go. Labour’s nature of being overly concentrated in urban centres and our FPTP system that heavily favour rural areas mean that they WILL NEVER WIN AGAIN unless they go into a Coalition with us or they change the system to PR. These two features go way beyond Corbyn and his brand of hard-left politics, so they will eventually need us in one way or another to win.

  • Peter Watson – “if the new fees system is so good then it implies the previous policy must have been bad so it raises questions about the party’s policy-making “competence” – we can still go back to free tuition fee and support ditching this system even if this new fee system somehow is effective, by advocating for the principle of “universalism”. The problem with any fee-paying systems is that they are in nature mean-tested systems, which mean they are inherently more vulnerable to political attempts (often from the Tories) to cut and undermine them, by simply twitching the elgibility and threshold for tuition payment. Also, such systems can still cause bickering and resentment between different groups, because one group can simply earn £1 more of income than the other to start having to pay a boatload of tution fee. If the electorate doubt the ability to achieve a free college system, we can lay out a plan to gradually cut tuition in like, 4 phases, thus creating a reasonable middle ground between Corbynites and Tories.

    “Simply owning it or apologising for it is not enough, and marks more of a starting point than an ending.” – yes, as I said, a follow-up fundamental change in platform is essential and even more important. About which platform? Elizabeth Warren presidential platform is a very good starting point for a new progressive/social-liberal manifesto, we can take the core themes of her plan and from them develop a new plan for our own party based on British conditions.

  • Julian Tisi – “We had to counter that, but we went too far; in the public’s eyes we were just going along with the Conservatives” – the public were not wrong. We already have the Obama Administration as an early example to follow when it comes to deficit reduction. Like us, he also inherited a large budget deficit from the Bush Administration, and worse than us, he came to power right at the time of the crash and his country was the heart of the global crisis. I mean, he pursued a much more gradual and pragmatic approach, as opposed to the Coalition’s ideological “reducing the size of the State” approach (yes, David Law literally said such thing). Yet, we signed up with the Tories’ “slash and burn”-style deep cut austerity policies, trying to do in 4-5 years what Obama did in 8 years. You know, I also follow Canadian politics, and I realize that Doug Ford is currently governing Ontario in a very similar style to the Coalition.

  • Peter Watson 25th Jan '20 - 9:28am

    @Thomas
    I only raised tuition fees as an example of how, regardless of any pros and cons of the policy, it meant that Lib Dems threw away voters’ trust in the party.
    Though as it happens, I agree with your concerns about the fees system and have whinged here quite a few times over the years about the changes! Especially attempts to label it a graduate tax. Also, there’s more than just the fees involved. The changes to the loan repayment scheme also affect the maintenance part of the loan which is means-tested based upon parental income so those from lower income families have bigger loans. Along with the ability of the wealthiest families to save money by paying up front and the highest earners to save money by paying off the debt early there seems to be a lot of unfairness baked in to the system.

  • Peter Watson 25th Jan '20 - 10:20am

    @Thomas “The problem is that apolozing for Coalition mistakes is not enough, there must be fundamental changes in platform to show that we indeed break from the Coalition-era Orange Book.”
    I think the most important thing is for the party to decide one way or the other and make it clear what sort of centre party it is. I’m no longer a Lib Dem member or voter so it’s not for me to decide which, but given that I gave up after 2010 (but can’t break the habit of this site to find out more about the Lib Dems’ direction) you can probably guess which I’d prefer!

    Despite a shared desire for and vision of “a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”, there is a lot of disagreement on how best to deliver it and what are the priorities. It turns out that leftish-rightish debates between people relatively close to each other can get just as heated as those between people much further apart.

    I don’t think that what looks like an impasse within the party can be resolved by arguing about the semantics and definitions of words like “centre”or “liberal”. Perhaps the only way to move forwards might be to ignore all that, don’t keep looking back (but accept that voters will), don’t set out to target a particular type of voter, and just focus on talking about, formulating and voting on specific, concrete policies that work towards realising that preamble vision without deliberately trying to be non-committal (e.g. grammar schools) or triangulating between Conservatives and Labour. Even better if you can communicate a clear and consistent position backed up by policies on the biggies like climate change, the entire education system, the NHS, poverty. Then Lib Dems might be able to step back and say, “OK then, it turns out that’s what sort of party we are now!”.

    Perhaps Lib Dems believe that is already the situation, in which case, great, but perhaps the question to address is why does it not look like that?

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  • User AvatarThomas 28th Feb - 10:42am
    David Raw - I know Tim is a good man. But he is boring, uncharismatic and thus cannot rally people to him. A charismatic leader...
  • User AvatarThomas 28th Feb - 10:37am
    wg - perhaps American cultural/media influence is too great. In America, climate change denial is a thing.
  • User Avatarwg 28th Feb - 10:34am
    Julian Tisi - yes, precisely. Most people don't deny that the climate is changing; that's what climate does - and has been doing for this...
  • User AvatarGordon 28th Feb - 10:30am
    An excellent article. LDs have always relied only on tactics and never had a coherent strategy – and never will as long as the party...
  • User AvatarNeil 28th Feb - 10:13am
    I agree entirely with Tony Greaves. Agree with him or not David Steel has contributed a huge amount to the Liberal Party and Liberal Democrats...
  • User AvatarGlenn 28th Feb - 9:57am
    Julian Tisi Well said. According to the evidence Anthropomorphic Climate Change is very real. It isn't a political debate. It's like arguing with biology or...