Labour and the Lib Dems

Liberal Democrat Voice at Conference

On Lib Dem Voice: Reportage | Live Twitter Stream | Contribute
On the official party website: Conference home
Watch Live on BBC Parliament

To the Marriott Highcliff Hotel for CentreForum and the Fabian Society’s lunchtime fringe: Labour and the Lib Dems: Allies or enemies? Squeezing myself between John Piennar and Rita Chakrabarti, it was standing room only as I watched Stephen Williams, David Lammy, Vince Cable and Charles Clarke argue their respective points.

Nabbing the free orange juice (it’s apparently politer to say “complementary”, but not once did the juice say how nice I’m looking) as I arrived, Stephen Williams was finishing his opening remarks and so I cannot regale you with the nuanced argument he made. Suffice to say, his overwhelming intelligence was clear from the way the audience were struggling to stay awake.

Labour minister David Lammy stood up, and the collective sphincters of the room tightened, expecting another long anecdote demonstrating how well he knows Barack Obama and is on the verge of being appointed his chief of staff. We relaxed our bowels, as we came to realise instead he was making a passable attempt at being articulate. Lammy was probably the most upbeat about the Labour-Lib Dem “progressive” (how I have come to hate that term) informal alliance. He identified what unites the two parties: equality, fairness, that sort of meaningless gumph, and believes whilst we are united on the ends, we divide on the means. The collectivism vs. individualism tension between Labour and the Lib Dems is obvious, and yet you don’t often hear it from Labour ministers any more, after they abandoned their socialist rhetoric in favour of PFI, wealth-generation rather than distribution and such fluffy anodyne nonsense. Probably his most interesting remark came when he contrasted the Lib Dem grassroots approach with Labour’s: “New Labour is not a grassroots movement”, said the Lammy one.

Vince Cable, guru of both economics, took the floor next. He reciprocated Lammy’s hero-flattering (Lammy had chosen Roy Jenkins as his, for his work on the early equality legislation) by eschewing the obvious, safe choices of Lloyd George, Mandela and Ghandi and picking John Smith and Tony Crossland, both former employers of the shiny-headed dance diva. Despite what Iain Dale reported earlier, Cable definitely did not, either explicitly or implicitly, call for a progressive (shudder) merger of Labour and the Lib Dems. He did, however, identify that after the next election there will probably be two progressive (somebody send for a doctor) parties in opposition, and the Lib Dems will be stronger in Parliament than the last time this occurred. File this observation under “bleeding obvious”, and his comment there will be a realignment of Labour policies in 2010 is probably about right.

Finally, the lumbering lion Charles Clarke rose onto his hind legs, and he was undoubtedly the most hostile. Both in the reception he was given and the remarks he made. He took the opportunity to criticise the Lib Dems on a number of fronts: our spending plans (he labelled the £20 billion of lower public spending “sorcerers money”); civil liberties, where he wrongly believes there is a dilemma in our approach we must resolve; and, perhaps most sharply, Clegg’s announcement earlier in the summer the Lib Dems are targeting Labour MPs will lead to more Tory MPs, undermining the progressive (I’m going to faint) alliance. This gave rise to a considerable murmur of disagreement from the audience, but he’s unfortunately right: with finite party resources, their redistribution is inevitably a zero-sum game. He denies there will be any realignment within Labour after Gordon’s downfall, as he can’t see any fundamental split in the party, the way there was in the early 80s.

With the posturing done, it’s back to the main conference venue to watch Nick Clegg’s Q&A. He refuses to identify a future coalition partner, but does say “of course David Cameron doesn’t describe himself as a neo-conservative, he describes himself as a cuddly toy”. Maybe there is a progressive alliance.

Gavin Whenman blogs at

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in Conference and Events.


  • Thomas Hemsley 14th Sep '08 - 6:31pm

    No wonder Charles Clarke opposes the ’50 seats’ strategy – he’s in line for a good sacking!

  • But just look at the comments on ID’s. Andrew Marr says we are Conservatives, Ian Dale says we’re Labour (sort of). The right- wing ranters go mad.

  • Gavin Geeds a Goof Geader 14th Sep '08 - 11:27pm

    “Complimentary” and “suffice it to say”

  • Not a Tory stooge 14th Sep '08 - 11:31pm

    It’s okay Justin, keep telling ’em that. We’ll be trying to squeeze Labour voters to defend our held seats.

  • Gavin Gorry Gor Geeming Gunnecessarily Garsh 17th Sep '08 - 10:52am

    Had been a long day. ‘Nuff said.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarSimon McGrath 19th Oct - 11:34am
    Which is it you are concerned about - inequality or poverty? The two are very different. We can reduce inequality by making the better off...
  • User AvatarChristopher Haigh 19th Oct - 11:02am
    @palehorse, yes the simplistic arguments of the leave campaign won through over the nuanced discussion of the remainers on this site.
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 19th Oct - 10:40am
    @ Matthew Severn "Welsh lib dems need an honest conversation with themselves and Wales about why they went from 4 MPs and 6 AMs to...
  • User AvatarJeff 19th Oct - 10:31am
    Palehorse 19th Oct '17 - 9:10am: I have long been astonished by the shallow expectation of economists, politicians and newspaper editors who actually thought that...
  • User Avatarnigel hunter 19th Oct - 10:26am
    One way to bring low pay into a higher pay bracket could be the development of robots being incorporated into human cooperation where the care...
  • User AvatarCatherine Jane Crosland 19th Oct - 10:24am
    Katharine, you say that as "an ordinary member", it "isn't your call". But "ordinary" members are supposed to make policy, including policy about how the...