Liberal Democrats must think big and long to thrive. Craving exit from Brexit does neither.

The Liberal Democrats are not in a good place. They haven’t been for some time, but there’s now a risk that recovery will never come. Since 2015, the party has failed to rebuild support. Tim Farron talked of a “Lib Dem Fightback” which proved to be anything but, now Vince Cable is declaring the Lib Dems a “well-kept secret” – not much of a boast.

The rise in membership has been a success story and the party had a very decent showing in May’s local elections. Yet the big picture is one of a rot left untreated. The local election results show the Party is surviving – not thriving. We gained 75 councillors. That’s great but it’s based on losses of 310 in 2014 and 132 in 2010. With polling stuck in the doldrums of single digits since 2011, this has been a rot of effective leadership.

Vince illustrated this with his three reasons as to why people should vote Liberal Democrat. Two of them aren’t reasons at all. These are that we’re good at local government, and that austerity has gone far enough.

It may be that Liberal Democrats work hard in local government. Many would also agree that it is time to row back on seven years of austerity Britain. Merit aside, these arguments are not reasons to vote Liberal Democrat. All parties believe they are effective at local government and it’s reasonable to assume that the electorate expect them to believe nothing else. So, being good and hardworking isn’t a reason to vote Liberal Democrat. It’s a reason to vote for anyone – because that’s what everyone argues. It’s a campaigning truism. It would be absurd to argue anything else.

Austerity has gone far enough. This could be an argument flowing from the Socialist mouthpiece – and it has been since 2010. Now the Lib Dems are advocating it seven years later. To think that the anti-austerity message will bring voters to the Lib Dems now is fallacy. It won’t for two reasons. First, attempting to spout a Labour lite anti-austerity line appears limp when exposed to Corbyn’s comprehensive austerity demolition package (however flawed you think it). Second, it’s a contradiction in terms. In Coalition, Lib Dems signed up and even pushed for cuts. Despite preventing the Conservatives landing the sharpest blows, perception matters. Holding steadfast to the necessity of austerity whilst in government, then suddenly outraged against it when bumped out appears blatantly hypocritical.

Then there’s the one leg upon which the post-Clegg era has been built: an exit from Brexit. It’s a strategic mistake. Another example of an outdated argument, the 48 per cent strategy has a double fault because it’s one thrusted at those who don’t need persuading. The 48 per cent who voted remain have either moved on and accepted Brexit will happen (the majority) or haven’t and want to stop it. Vince Cable and most Liberal Democrat’s are in the latter group. The problem is that many remainers of the past are more interested in the form of Brexit, less the act. Therefore, the exit from Brexit slogan may have been suitable in 2016, but in 2018 it’s at odds with the probable reality.

Moreover, forming the Lib Dems into some UKIP 2.0 pressure group of Remain is a set-up for an almighty deflation once Brexit happens. What then? Simply move on and put it behind us? That’ll just be another principle bent; the flagship cause chucked in the dustbin; the last leg standing no longer.

Is there an alternative approach? Yes, and Vince Cable isn’t serious about it. He sees cross party cooperation as a tactic limited to elections or on specific votes for particular causes. However, the only way out is to use it strategically to forge partnerships with the 50+ Labour MPs desperate for a Corbyn alternative. Such a grouping share much more with one another than their frontbench. Vince should be investing in developing such a grouping into a coherent unit in parliament with clear principles based on what the people want. The campaign group, More United, are attempting just this.

If this doesn’t happen and the current path is maintained, regardless of the solid showing in local elections the Liberal Democrats will continue to drift. From that premise death is only so far. Organising the Liberal Democrats as a cross-party unit to develop a purpose to persuade the floating middle is a must. It involves thinking big and long about the future of British politics and then shaping a winning vision for it. Craving an exit from Brexit and campaigning to comforts of the converted does neither. Leadership is required.

* Will Parker is a Liberal Democrat member in Winchester. He is studying History and Politics at the University of Exeter and also writes at notboliticspolitics.

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  • “Austerity has gone far enough” implies:

    1. Austerity was the right policy at the time;
    2. It is no longer the right policy.

    Both statements are true.

    The UK was in a hole in 2010 and, lest it went the way of Greece or Ireland, the deficit needed reducing. In coalition we worked to reduce the deficit. It wasn’t nice, it wasn’t pretty and plenty of mistakes were made but it worked and by 2015 the UK’s finances were under control. The UK could, then, have eased the pressure.

    I do not expect to hear “Austerity has gone far enough” from either Socialists or Conservatives. Conservatives are ideologically committed to austerity at all times, Socialists can only shout “AUSTERITY” and “THE CUTS” whatever the state of the public finances.

  • chris moore 14th May '18 - 9:07am

    Your critque is coherent.

    But the solution offered isn’t.

    Cooperating more with moderate Labour MPs will not increase Lib Dem support (or indeed moderate Labour support.) . Nor is there any appetite for a new party formed around Lib Dems/Labour moderates.

  • Campaigning against austerity is wrong, actually it isn’t, agreeing to go along with the Tory policy was wrong. If we can’t learn from our mistakes we are destined to repeat them. As Einstein is reported to have said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. What is the Liberal insanity, well it is periodically for the sake of the nation getting into bed with the Tories, without realising the first and only priority of the Tories is the Tories and they will make you pay a heavy price.
    As to Brexit being a vote loser, perhaps but then shouting at lemmings not to jump might not make you popular with them, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shout and bellow at them. Just remember nearly two years in and still no plan, we can silently go along with this planless Brexit campaign or continue to shout “Mind the cliff”. A substantial number of Brexiteers I know are what I would call “The eternal teenagers”, everything is always someone else’s fault/responsibilty, nothing is ever their fault/responsibilty and they will scream when it all goes wrong we have been betrayed, the only question is who will they scream it at? Personally I’d like to be able to trot out the defence of I told you so, but nicer people may wish to forgo that small consolation.

  • Yes, challenging but on the ball, well said.

  • On Brexit.

    The EU is the greatest civilising and peace keeping project the world has ever seen. It underpins the UK’s way of life and the costs, social as well as economic, of leaving are incalculable.

    It is not something for fine electoral calculation. We must oppose Brexit.
    Talking to those Remainers who are now either supporters of Brexit or continue to support a Brexit supporting Labour party, I find the reasons can be broadly characterised into:
    1 Respect for public opinion
    2 It’s too late now
    3 It’s not that big a thing
    4 Labour are anti Brexit

    All three are either false (2, 3, 4) or fallacious (1 is circular: the public should be pro Brexit, because the public is pro Brexit, which they are because the public is pro-Brexit). We should be arguing against these misconceptions settling for the ruin that Brexit will bring.

  • Matt (Bristol) 14th May '18 - 10:19am

    A large part of the membership boost has been people keen to campaign against Brexit.

    The party’s policy remains to seek a second referendum on the deal with remaining in the EU as an option, and if that cannot be secured, to campaign against too hard a separation from the EU, for now and for the future.

    I have concerns that ‘exit from Brexit’ mis-sells that policy (partially), but you cannot recruit a lot of tank drivers committed to driving in a certain direction, and then expect them to turn their tanks around when you tell them to.

    The membership must be consulted on future policy direction. Tim Farron’s ‘leap in the dark’ on the Brexit policy was right on 2016, but lightning doesn’t strike twice and as we move on, policy must not be made by thinktanks, it must be made by members. Turning the party into a think tank in all but name would not help.

  • If the LibDems becomes just another pro-Brexit party as Parker advocates, I would cancel my membership like a shot, and I imagine thousands others would too! A pro-Brexit Liberal Democrats party would be indistinguishable from the Tories and Labour.

  • “Thinking of voting LibDem?” “No, they’ll just go into coalition with the Tories again.” – *that* is the main existential threat to the LibDems. Backing Brexit, as Parker advocates, would essentially be a second coalition with the Tories, and finish off the party for good.

  • Stephen Yolland 14th May '18 - 11:23am

    The essential problem with this analysis is that it is based on a fallacy – that somehow the party miraculously got to 60+ MPs, and all that we have to do to get back there is somehow to “get the policies right”.

    The party got to where it was under Charles Kennedy bexause of DECADES of patient community politics. Community politics isn’t about “being good” at local government, it is about returning control over political decision making to the governed. This is not understood by many members who have joined since the Clegg disaster began. It was not understood by the leadership, and not understood by the members that joined in enthusiasm for them.

    I wrote BEFORE the disaster of the election before last that it would take 20 years to get back to pre-Clegg levels of support, and it would require the same patient building up based on principle that we saw in the 60s, 70s and 80s. For one thing, it will take that long for the electorate to forgive us for comprehensively betraying our principles in the conduct of the Coalition.

    Get on board for a long and sometimes fruitless slog, abandon the magical thinking and looking for short cuts. Or if power at Westminster is all that matters to you, join Labor or the Tories. Bexause we are not a major party any more, and it will be a generation until we are again.

  • William Fowler 14th May '18 - 11:47am

    May be time for a name change to British Democrats or just Democrats. Corbyn and co have the Far Left vote in their pockets so no point chasing it, nor what Vince describes as their Fantasy economics. Whilst spending is more to less under control, doubling the debt by the time of the next election means there is no room for a return to silly spending pursuits, just servicing the debt will take a huge chunk out of overall spending so no escaping “austerity” in the future. How to spend the money fairly becomes the question given that most tax rises will result in a lowered tax take. Radical tax and welfare reform within a sensible budget is a good starting point whilst downsizing the government to more sensible levels including a rollback of intrusive and excessive laws (should have been done in the Coalition but closing depts would have meant not enough jobs to go round for the policians).

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th May '18 - 12:23pm

    William Fowler

    Radical tax and welfare reform within a sensible budget is a good starting point whilst downsizing the government to more sensible levels

    So, what do you propose? Public services are already at their minimum, with many of the expenses coming about because of the expensive long-term effects of cuts made in the past. Do you propose doing for the NHS what was done in the Coalition to pay for universities? Do you think that would be a vote winner?

  • As a party which champions the individual, we must always be happy that people who have no experience of winning anything politically can sound off their ideas about how to make our Party win. And we should listen to them too. We should not, however, necessarily dnn the lemming outfits and jump over the cliff. 😉

  • Matt (Bristol) 14th May '18 - 12:39pm

    What Matthew Huntbach said.

    One possible reason the party have seized on Brexit as a defining issue, is that creating any other narrative is problematic in view of the continued internecine guerrilla warfare in the party about what it’s defining economic theory / family of theories is. And this article is just another tiresome shot in that war.

    I do not agree that the decided democratic will of the British people is for ‘small government’ and ‘downsizing’ and if a party member thinks that, I fear that they are on one end of a spectrum than ends in Rees-Mogg.

    I am weary and wary of the rhetorical trick of are ascribing personal opinion to the ‘centre-ground’ and then saying we should side with the ‘centre’ (but only when they speak with one’s pre-determined opinion).

    The centre ground has been walked over so many times it is mushy mud. I think I am in the centre of British politics, but I didn’t mean to end up there, as there is not a place, it’s a reactive accident. I do not want a foundation to any political party to be built on mud. They tend to fall over.

  • Matt (Bristol) 14th May '18 - 12:43pm

    Oops, I fear I accidentally conflated William Parker and William Fowler there. But I still stand by most of what I just posted.

  • Will, it’s an interesting analysis but like most of those who challenge our anti-Brexit policy, you talk about it entirely in the context of electoral strategy, ignoring the fact that those of us who support it do so because we actually believe it is the right thing to do. Even if it was true that it is electorally damaging (which I think is at the very least unproven) I would still want us to stand as the one party unashamedly offering an exit from Brexit. I think Brexit is a real tragedy for this country, and even if we fail to stop it I want to be able to look back and say that at least we tried.
    On whether we should be talking about other issues, I think you miss the point. Brexit will impact trade and our economy, which means jobs, wages and growth. Its impact on migrant workers will hit the NHS and other key industries like agriculture. It will also hurt our culture and social diversity, and how the world sees us. Now, I do agree that we should be developing other policies (and actually I think we are doing that, e.g. on mental health). But I think you are wrong to see Brexit as a kind of esoteric single issue that exists in a bubble. It impacts all of the day-to-day issues that matter to people, and that is why we are right to address it as the top priority.

  • paul barker 14th May '18 - 1:42pm

    There are a few small things that Will Parker is right about but on all the big stuff he is completely wrong.
    The idea that we have simply not made any progress since 2015 is factually wrong. Our NEV of around 15% in The Locals was dissapointing but still a lot better than the 10% we got in 2015. Our Polling figures have begun to shift : after 8 Months of being steady around 7.5% our average began to rise in March & is now around 8.5%.
    We have 319 Days left to stop Brexit & I have always expected that if we do succeed, it will be in the last few Weeks of that period. If we fail then we go on campaigning to rejoin at the earliest opportunity, why would we do anything else ? If The EU didnt exist we would be campaigning to create it.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th May '18 - 2:38pm

    A very good effort from Will and response, as good.

    Exit from Brexit is crass and does not do this view justice, a referendum on a withdrawal agreement , should not be hammering home the exit merely asking for the right to decide.

    The one trick pony has become a sideshow or circus act for a big tent politics that could be, and to be thus, that needs new material.

    Big tent is the potential area for us. People are primarily in the radical centre whether they say it, or moderate centre left, which they often say.

    We are there and should bring together those who are.

  • Tony Lloyd 14th May ’18 – 9:05am…………………..The UK was in a hole in 2010 and, lest it went the way of Greece or Ireland, the deficit needed reducing. In coalition we worked to reduce the deficit. It wasn’t nice, it wasn’t pretty and plenty of mistakes were made but it worked and by 2015 the UK’s finances were under control……………………………..

    There was no comparison between the UK and Greece; the fact that Clegg/Alexander kept saying it didn’t make it true…
    There are too many differences to list but, just for starters… 2010 the UK debt accounted for 78.4% of the country’s GDP compared with 148.3% for Greece

  • Steve Trevethan 14th May '18 - 4:05pm

    Might “Austerity” and its derivatives be based on a false assumption and therefore invalid?
    “If a government spends and lends currency into existence, it clearly does not need tax revenue before it can spend.” (Modern Money Theory etc by L Randall Wray: it’s on Kindle!)
    Households need their government to issue currency before they can pay their taxes.
    Sovereign governments do not need to borrow their own currency in order to spend.
    Beware of insufficient and excessive inflation.
    If the banks and associated conventional governmental thinking we’re accurate/reliable, would the 2008 crash have been possible?

  • Peter Martin 14th May '18 - 4:24pm

    @ Jenny Barnes @ Steve Trevethan

    10/10 for economic understanding!

    I do struggle sometimes to get otherwise intelligent people to see the obvious.

    The only slight quibble I might have is Jenny’s “sufficient credibility to borrow in it” . If we consider a £ to be an IOU of government, which it is, then is swapping a pound IOU (in cash) for a pound IOU as a bond or gilt, really borrowing?

  • We have for a long time promised to work harder than the opposition for residents. It has been the foundation of the party for a long time and we can’t give it up. The other thing we were was an opposition party to the Conservatives. We dallied with being an opposition party to Labour and that reduced us to 5 MPs. And when there is a Labour government we have opposed them on certain issues. There are no alternatives which will work for us.

    We do need to have policies for after Brexit. It is astonishing that in a recent consultation paper on policy the premise was that we were not leaving the EU.

    Any Labour MP who left the Labour party to join another grouping in Parliament would be have to be mad based on the experience of the SDP. Has any MP ever left their party and got re-elected for the same seat at the next general election in the last 73 years?

    Will Parker points out that when in government we supported austerity and so saying austerity has gone too far will not work. However, if we admit we were wrong to support austerity and that it was based on a faulty economic theory and that we now support running the economy so everyone who wants a job has one, maybe we can break from the recent past and restore the party to its liberal values.

    We already have a policy of restoring benefit levels to higher than Labour, we need to go further and have policies to eliminate relative poverty in the UK. A great liberal policy.

  • Peter Martin 14th May '18 - 4:33pm

    @ Tony Lloyd,

    “The UK was in a hole in 2010 and, lest it went the way of Greece or Ireland, the deficit needed reducing.”

    The UK is a currency issuer. Greece and Ireland no longer are. That makes all the difference.

    The Uk government creates pounds when it spends and gets some of them back to put in the shredded (usually done digitally) when it taxes. It can never get back more than it has created which is why it’s usually in deficit and always in debt.

    The Governments debts are everyone else’s assets. The Govt deficit is just the change in those assets over a period of (usually) one year. So if you are saying the deficit is/was too high you are also saying that everyone is/was saving too much.

  • William Fowler 14th May '18 - 5:07pm

    There are plenty of countries that print too much of their currency that go into hyper inflation mode and occasionally it gets so crazed that they stop printing their own currency and adopt the US dollar! Sterling has already been ruined to an extent and there are many who think the combination of a bad Brexit and a Marxist Labour govn will see a huge further devaluation and some mind bending inflation as a result. Unfortunately, the UK is not a self-sufficient economy (and unlikely to be any time soon with so many people packed in) and has to work in a free(ish) trade world and with the doubling of the servicing of the debt austerity of sorts will persist for decades to come and the best thing the govn can do is get out of the way of business and let some decent growth happen.

  • Michael BG – “Has any MP ever left their party and got re-elected for the same seat at the next general election in the last 73 years? ” In 1983, David Owen, Ian Wigglesworth, Bob Maclennan and John Cartwright got re-elected for the SDP after having left Labour in 1981.

  • Michael BG – “Has any MP ever left their party and got re-elected for the same seat at the next general election in the last 73 years? ”. In Feb 74, Dick Taverne got re-elected as Democratic Labour after having left Labour some months before.

  • Michael BG – “Has any MP ever left their party and got re-elected for the same seat at the next general election in the last 73 years? ”. All 5 got re-elected for the same seats they had previously stood for Labour in before.

  • Peter Martin 14th May '18 - 6:09pm

    @ William Fowler,

    “There are plenty of countries that print too much of their currency that go into hyper inflation mode…”

    Just on a point of information: ALL currency issuing countries print (or more accurately create in a computer) ALL their own currency. Hyperinflations are generally associated with more than just the creation of currency. Both Zimbabwe and the Weimar Republic (1920s Germany) experienced post war situations where the productive base of their respective economies was substantially reduced.

    It’s not just the “too much money chasing..” it’s also the “..too few goods” being chased.

  • Steve Trevethan 14th May '18 - 6:39pm

    Historians have stated that the German/Weimar hyper inflation was a deliberate policy to mitigate the financial terms of the Versailles Treaty. There were some 450 paper mills the sole product of which was currency paper.
    External as well as internal players and factors affect currencies.
    Is it chance that the currency etc. currently dominant in the World is that of the country with the most powerful armed forces?

  • Peter Martin 14th May '18 - 7:00pm

    @ Steve,

    The Allies were sufficiently aware of the nature of currencies to insist that reparations should be paid in gold. It wouldn’t make any sense for Germany to deliberately wreck their economy even further than had happened during WW1. The French were particularly vengeful and occupied key industrial areas of the Germany which greatly diminished their productive capability. Once prices had started to rise sharply then everyone holding marks wanted to exchange them for something more tangible. There was an avalanche effect.

    It’s rather like the trading of commercial bank. Under normal circumstances, everything is fine, but if everyone wants their money all at once then the bank is likely to go into meltdown. Central banks usually, and up to a point, guarantee against that. But if the central bank/government itself is in trouble then money becomes much less valuable. Something has to give.

    As far as the dollar is concerned, the USA is also the world’s largest economy. That alone doesn’t mean that the dollar becomes the world’s reserve currency. No amount of military might can enforce that. For this to happen the other countries of the world have to wish to hold dollar reserves . So where do those dollars come from? They have to be obtained by selling stuff to the USA. The USA takes in Mercedes cars and pays with their IOUs (dollars) and says ‘thank you very much’.

    If Germany wants the euro to have a share of the status of ‘reserve currency’ then German ordolibs have to understand that this can only happen if the EZ (including Germany) runs a trade deficit too. You can’t run a reserve currency without allowing others to accumulate reserves.

  • Steve Trevethan 14th May '18 - 7:16pm

    “For globalisation to work, America can’t be afraid to act like the mighty superpower that it is. The hidden hand of the market will never work withou a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish withou McDonnell Douglas, — and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valleys technology is called the U.S. Army, Air Force and Marine Corps.”
    (Thomas Friedman: New York Times 1998)

  • @ Tim Hill

    Yes, indeed 4 out of 28, silly of me to forget.
    Ian Wrigglesworth’s seat was Thornaby until 1983 and Stockton South between 1983-87. Bob Maclennan’s seat of Caithness and Sutherland was special in the sense that we held the seat 1964-66 and were second until October 1974. John Cartwright was MP for Woolwich East 1974-83 and then for Woolwich. He nearly held his seat in 1992. David Owen’s seat seems to have remained unchanged.

    Dick Taverne – a stunning by-election victory in 1973 and as you say held in February 1974, but lost in the October (but only by 984).

  • Sadie smith 14th May '18 - 8:18pm

    Listen to Ian Shires.
    There are problems. In many places Labour will never Vote with anyone else. So today’s three party event in useful.
    We have all Party Health policy which Norman Lamb pushed.
    There will be other areas of agreement to push.
    But we also need distinctive ideas and we may well get these. It will take time. One of the dangers is that the economy gets wrecked before we get back to radical ideas. Hence emphasis on Brexit.

  • Mark Blackburn 14th May '18 - 9:02pm

    Our 2010 manifesto did not espouse austerity, far from it. But the leadership were never really in sync with that, and the Coalition was a good excuse to ditch an anti-austerity approach. I remember having a ‘discussion’ with Messrs Clegg and Alexander about a ‘balanced recovery’; frankly, they were wrong and time proved that. Many of us fought against austerity during the Coalition and we’ll go on fighting it now.

  • John Roffey 14th May '18 - 9:27pm

    I do find that I am troubled by the, almost, global aim of prosperity by political parties at a time when climate change is the most threatening issue faced by the [increasingly unhappy] young – assuming a nuclear war is avoided.

    Prosperity is understood to entail the use of energy [presently mostly from fossil fuels] and a finite supply of minerals. It seems to me that policies that can interrupt this model would be well received.

    An example of this might be to introduce taxes that discouraged the production of new commodities and encouraged the repair of existing items. This would have the additional value of providing jobs that are not easily automated – thereby likely to preserve jobs as well as reducing waste along with undermining the ever increasing power of the global corporations.

    The motor industry is where this is best demonstrated – but would also apply to others.

  • You are right of course David – but the model I have offered should provide greater opportunities for self employment, small businesses and increased commercial activity within communities – which, in theory, should help to bring increased wealth to the least well off – at the expense of the most wealthy.

  • Geoffrey Payne 14th May '18 - 10:37pm

    I can’t cover all your points which look to me as though they exceed the 500 word limit by a lot.
    Anyway there are 3 questions to ask about any policy stance; 1) Is it popular? 2) Is it right? and 3) Will anyone notice? Ideally you want to answer yes to all 3 but on the issue of austerity it is impossible for the Lib Dems to answer yes to all 3. If you read David Laws book on the Coalition you will know that Vince was never a true believer in the austerity policies of the Coalition and since he is still there whilst the main protagonists have gone (Clegg, Alexander and Laws) he has earnt his right to decide what he thinks is the best stance for us to take on this – and no one is seriously fighting back. But you are right in saying this will not win us votes, but then neither would your position of supporting more austerity do so either.
    I partly agree we should be working with Labour which I suspect we are anyway but Labour MPs are keeping a low profile in doing so. However we should not overlook that one of the reasons Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership was that the other contenders were so uninspiring in the first place.
    There is an irony that despite the huge gulf in the centre of British politics, we are struggling to kind our defining issues beyond Brexit, and this article tries to do that but does not in my view really succeed.

  • To sum up, all the party needs to do is abandon LD policies and that will apparently result in people voting LD?

    I for one don’t see why that would be the case and I’d imagine that many current LD voters would abandon the party, while people who don’t vote LD would just say they might as well continue to vote for the Conservatives or Labour, since one or the other would deliver those “new LD policies”.

  • Sandra Hammett 15th May '18 - 12:59am

    Constantly harping on about Brexit alienates not just the 52% but those who just wish the politicians would just get on with it. We don’t want to become a one issue party, the anti-Ukip; we all saw what happened to them. It seems obvious to me that while we should continue to fight a hard Brexit it would be best to broaden our appeal ASAP.
    Then without mentioning The B-Word we should start by apologising for the mistakes made between 2010-2015; our time in Coalition has poisoned so many against us. If we are ever to be heard clearly again this needs to be done.
    Following that offer them an optimistic, vision of the future where we can atone for past mistakes.
    When people trust us again and are prepared to listen we can then begin to persuade them. Until they can hear us clearly as a fully rounded party we’re wasting our breath.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th May '18 - 6:05am

    Michael BG

    However, if we admit we were wrong to support austerity and that it was based on a faulty economic theory and that we now support running the economy so everyone who wants a job has one

    Why is it that we seem to go along in the first place with the idea that whatever the Coalition did was what Liberal Democrats regard as the ideal, and so what a pure Liberal Democrat government would have done?

    The 2010-15 government was a five-sixths Conservative and one-sixth LibDem government, and its policies reflected that. If there had been more LibDems and fewer Conservatives – as there would have been if we had proportional representation – what the Coalition did would have been different. Why can’t we say that?

    We didn’t voluntarily chose a coalition with the Conservatives, it was the only viable government, again as our distortional electoral system pushed our number of seats down, so that a Labour-LibDem coalition would not have had a majority. Given that there was only one viable government, that very much reduced our power to make it do what we wanted. Why can’t we say that?

    Liberal democracy means a representative assembly coming together and forming policies. Inevitably that does mean making a compromise, so you may have to agree to something that is not your ideal. Government would come to a halt if everyone voted against everything that was not their ideal.

    By the way, why do we use the word “austerity” to mean a government which supports luxury living for the rich by having low taxes? That’s not what it used to mean. It used to mean the opposite to that, with the classic example of a government of austerity being the 1945-51 Labour government. I.e. high taxes to support better government services.

  • The thing about austerity that it , aside from not working, isn’t supposed to be a permanent policy. It was sold to the electorate as a temporary measure. Thus we are not talking about austerity as such, but about the role of government. On one side advocates of the failed, and toxic for the Lib Dems, small state economic orthodoxy of the pre-2008 era and on the other side advocates of a more mixed economy. Personally, I can’t see how wanting to end austerity is anymore Labourlite than wanting to continue it is Tory-heavy.

  • Alex Macfie 15th May '18 - 6:58am

    Sandra Hammett: What exactly does “just get on with it” mean? For politicians to “just get on with [Brexit]” there has to be a plan for them to “just get on with”. There is no such plan, they seem to be just making it up as they go along. And the idea of “just get on with it” implies that the elite know best, ad we ordinary people should not worry our pretty little heads about the complex business of government, the politicians know best and they have it all under control. Well, they don’t, there is no plan, and probably there cannot be any workable plan for Brexit. If no-one else is saying it, then we should say it. And we are not a party that believes that the “elite” know best, and that entire concept sounds dictatorial.

    Any party based on principles is bound to “alienate” some people. A large party can get away with being a “catch-all” party that tries to offend as few people as possible (as Labour is doing on Brexit), but a small party like ours does not have that luxury. The only way we have any hope of reviving is by sticking to our principles. The fact is that those who are put off voting for us by our policy on Brexit are never going to vote for us anyway; trying to modify our policy to chase their votes would make us look silly and unprincipled.

    as for the idea that we should “apologise” for our period as the junior coalition partner government, all this would do is validate the narrative that our opponents, particularly on the Momentumite left, peddle about it. I agree with Matthew Huntbach on this, we should be taking every opportunity to point out that we were the JUNIOR coalition partner with 1/6 of the seats in the governing coalition, so what was implemented was largely Tory policy with small Lib Dem influence. “Apologising” for it would be saying that what was done in the Coalition was what the Lib Dems wanted all along. We should also have done a lot more at the time to say what undiluted Lib Dem policy WOULD have been.

  • William Fowler 15th May '18 - 8:01am

    “It’s not just the “too much money chasing..” it’s also the “..too few goods” being chased.”

    I was listening to Corbyn make a good case for building auxiliary navy ships in the UK, even though more expensive the extra tax and spending from the workers would make up the difference and perhaps more. I was actually hoping that Mr May was listening and whispered some sense into his wife’s ear but…

    I then had the idea that even after making these ships, to keep the workers in dignified work, and the economy turning over, they could go on making ships and Labour would open another factory – more well paid work – to dismantle them and melt down all the metal for use in the newly nationalized British Steel – more well paid work – that would then be used to make more ships, which would then be dismantled, etc. As well as all the well paid workers there would be even more well paid civil servants checking the process from beginning to end, making sure no-one over-exerted themselves and there was the right mix of genders, races, disabled etc. A bit of extra currency printing, some higher taxes and everyone would wake up in the morning singing the joys of the new socialist paradise of Great Britain.


  • Neil Sandison 15th May '18 - 8:02am

    Will Parker .You raise some good points but putting your eggs all in one basket of More United is a little optimistic .I agree we should war game beyond Brexit 2019 so that we are not damaged beyond repair like UKIP perhaps this is something we should have a session on at the Social Liberal Forum in July ?One of the problems we have encountered in cross party working is we put all the effort in and our adversaries just steal all the credit for our good ideas and because the media has now decided we have returned to two party politics we are starved of any coverage for our well thought out proposals and policies.For example PR has been one of our top ten but we had to campaign for a referendum on a type of PR none of us really supported .

  • William Fowler 15th May ’18 – 8:01am….

    With reference to your latest instalment on ‘Private Good; Public Bad’ may I draw your attention to this snippet…
    Off the rails – The troublesome East Coast rail service looks set to be renationalised or run as a “not-for-profit” concern by the government. The existing franchise will be replaced by 2020, the transport secretary is expected to announce in the coming days. Its operators, Stagecoach and Virgin, will lose a £165m performance bond and other penalties, but critics say it amounts to them being bailed out. Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef, said: “This is the third time in 10 years that a private company has mucked up the East Coast main line. In contrast, when it was run in the public sector, it returned £1bn to the Treasury.”

  • Martin Walker 15th May '18 - 8:21am

    I do agree with the thrust of your analysis and specifically that we need to think bigger and bolder.

    However, More United are not the answer. They lost all credibility when they supported a pro-Brexit, ardent misogynist in the Stoke-on-Trent byelection last year. To be perfectly honest, I’d forgotten they existed.

  • William Fowler 15th May '18 - 9:10am

    expats, no idea how to sort out the trains, we have an outrageously expensive system that barely works compared to most of the EU with the govn taking out a chunk of money in the form of franchise fees and the private companies sometimes making a profit. There is little competition and no real way of injecting any so like the NHS probably best in the public sector though Brown/Blair inflating of public sector pay beyond what the country can afford is going to be an ongoing problem for decades to come. Good job we are British and used to muddling through.

  • no idea how to sort out the trains, we have an outrageously expensive system

    I’m sure I read somewhere that actually our system isn’t that much more expensive than elsewhere in the EU; it just looks that way because:

    (a) a higher proportion of the cost is paid directly by travellers, rather than by the taxpayer; and

    (b) we use fares more aggressively to manage demand, setting very high fares on popular routes and times to encourage people to find alternatives if they can, whereas other countries use more standardised fares (and as a result have more overcrowding at peak times).

  • Expats
    Exactly. Some things have a natural monopolies and rely on infrastructure that does not really allow actual competition. We then get franchising like the selling off of water which increase the cost to the customer, whilst producing a poor record of maintenance. You can’t really change your train provider or water supplier. Ironically this dogma is oddly reminiscent of the soviet logic of more soviet policies being the answer to the failure of soviet policies. Thus we’re supposed see the failures of this free-market belief system as being the result of it not going far enough.
    You also end up with blatant absurdities like the idea that it’s alright for the nationalised utility companies of other countries to own British assets, but that British ownership of the same assets is a terrible immoral thing.

  • William Fowler 15th May ’18 – 9:10am..

    I find your assertion that the rail network and NHS be in public ownership rather at odds with your
    ………..”As well as all the well paid workers there would be even more well paid civil servants checking the process from beginning to end, making sure no-one over-exerted themselves and there was the right mix of genders, races, disabled etc.”…

    As to your overpaid public sector staff…Ask the nurses, care workers, etc.

  • You can’t really change your train provider or water supplier

    No, but at least in theory, the government can change which company it employs to run these services. That incentivises them to do a good job as otherwise they can be replaced.

    Whereas if these services are run by the government itself, then those doing them have absolutely no incentive to do it well, as they are civil servants whose jobs are safe no matter how badly they run things.

    It works, provided it’s clear in every case exactly who the customer is who is holding the employed company to account.

  • I don’t even know what neoliberalism is. I just know that people won’t do a good job unless there are real consequences to them for not doing so.

  • Geoffrey Payne 15th May '18 - 1:11pm

    Dav, if you do not know what neoliberalism is, look it up, Google it. There is no shortage of articles about it.

  • Peter Martin 15th May '18 - 1:14pm

    @ Tim13 @ Dav,

    I know neolibs are keen on privatisations, but that doesn’t define neoliberalism. It is possible to have successful economies which are to a greater or lesser extent capitalist providing they aren’t run according to other neo-lib tenets which are just a misunderstanding how economies actually work.

  • Matt (Bristol) 15th May '18 - 1:17pm

    Will Parker, come back and see this rolling monster of bickering and diversionary digression that you have created (and wandered off to leave it running), and ask yourself, is it just that no two Lib Dems can agree about ANYTHING?

  • Expats,

    I do not need to establish that the UK was at a destination to establish the direction of travel.

    The coalition took horrible action, but milder than Ireland and Greece, at a time when it was still possible to take horrible action, but milder than Ireland and Greece. As a result the actions of Ireland and Greece were not forced on the UK (e.g. Ireland didn’t just effectively cut public sector salaries, they were actually cut). The continuing and deepening austerity since 2015 is purely ideological (it won’t be if we Brexit, but that’s a different issue), the cuts of 2010 were not and were agreed policy amongst the three main parties (the argument was “how much, where, and when should we” not “should we”).

    Peter Martin

    Being a currency issuer is not the panacea you seem to make out. The UK was a currency issuer in the 70’s and still needed bailing out. The UK was a currency issuer in the post war years and still needed austerity.

  • Peter Watson 15th May '18 - 1:54pm

    @Matt (Bristol) “is it just that no two Lib Dems can agree about ANYTHING?”
    This site often gives me the impression that disagreements between people slightly to different sides of a notional political centre can be more vigorous than those between parties which are more diametrically opposed.
    Perhaps it is because those further out to the left and the right know better where they stand and what they oppose while Lib Dems, each with a slightly different mix of leftish and rightish ideas, are competing to impose their own definition of the centre on each other.

  • Dav, if you do not know what neoliberalism is, look it up, Google it. There is no shortage of articles about it.

    Okay I tried but now I am none the wiser as there are loads of articles but every one says it’s a different thing.

  • Anyway that has nothing to do with the fact that people will not do a good job unless there are consequences to them for doing a bad one, like being fired, which is just common sense.

  • Matt (Bristol) 15th May '18 - 5:15pm

    Peter Watson – heheheheheheh.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    We disagree on how a coalition should work. I don’t think we should have supported an economic policy of austerity, this is not to say we should have been able to implement our promised economic stimulus in the first year of government. A compromise position should have been agreed where we could say – here are the Conservative plans, but we are not implementing them. What we did was to accept the Conservatives economic policy. The Conservatives could not have implemented their policy without support from others and this we willing gave; enthusiastically gave.

    @ William Fowler

    I take it you are not aware of Keynesianism and the idea that if there is not enough demand in the economy the government should provide work to provide it no matter if it is productive or not.

    @ Dav

    If the railways were run by the state the workers would not be civil servants they are more likely to be public servants.

    Civil servants and public servants can be fired for not doing a good job just like any employee. They don’t have a job for life.

    @ Tony Lloyd

    Greece and Ireland were forced by the EU to make their cuts. There is no reason to cut public spending once we leave the EU, we could just increase the deficit to manage the economy to ensure everyone in the UK who wants a job has one.

    There is some dispute whether we actually needed or used the IMF loan of 1976.

  • If the railways were run by the state the workers would not be civil servants they are more likely to be public servants.

    Same difference.

    Civil servants and public servants can be fired for not doing a good job just like any employee. They don’t have a job for life.

    But firing an incompetent public servant requires that public servant’s manager to be doing a good job (as opposed to, say, empire-building). Why would they do that? Only if they might be fired, which requires their manager to be doing a good job. And so on right up to the top.

    And the person at the top won’t be fired unless there’s a massive scandal, because for a government to fire a top-level public servant looks really bad (because presumably they appointed said person to begin with).

    So the person at the top’s incentive is to do as bad a job as possible which is compatible with pocketing their massive salary and stopping there being a major scandal: simply running the thing badly is fine and won’t get them fired. This then percolates all the way back down, with managers at each level concerned not with the standard of service they are providing but with simply covering their own backs.

  • John Probert 15th May '18 - 5:50pm

    The Battle for Europe is today’s Battle of Britain. Our international influence and economic prosperity will be at great risk if we leave the EU and Liberal Democrats are 100% right to demand a referendum on the final terms for quitting.

    Of course we also need a broad social agenda but if the forces of Brexit win the battle all else will be pie in the sky.

  • Peter Martin 15th May '18 - 7:00pm

    @ Tony Lloyd,

    Being a currency issuer is not the panacea you seem to make out. The UK was a currency issuer in the 70’s and still needed bailing out. The UK was a currency issuer in the post war years and still needed austerity.

    You might be confusing me with someone else. I’m pretty sure I didn’t say it was a “panacea”. It is a very useful instrument of Govt, though, and allows such emergency measures as QE. Euro using countries had to wait several years for the ECB to get it’s act into gear whereas the US Fed and BoE were quicker off the mark. Any country giving up its currency is giving up a huge chunk of its sovereignty.

    In the post war years, there was a requirement that the major economies should peg their currencies to the dollar. That was the consensus of economic thinking at the time. I’m not sure why. This does negate most of the advantages of being a currency issuer. Currencies should be allowed to freely float. If the pound had floated in the sixties we wouldn’t have had all the devaluation dramas that hampered UK economic policy.

    By the 70s the pound was floating but the Labour Govt were still in fixed exchange mode and panicked when the pound fell below $2.00. They called in the IMF to try to prop it up. That was unnecessary and also a big mistake. In 1985 the Tories let the pound fall to $1.08 and hardly anyone remembers that now. But they do remember the IMF being called in.

  • Arnold Kiel 15th May '18 - 7:52pm

    What is austerity? Achieving a surplus to pay down debt? Yes. Balancing the budget and issuing no new debt? Okay. Reducing the deficit to slow down the growth of debt? Not really. “Austerity” (using the commonly applied generous definition) was and is right, unavoidable, and will be a normal fact of British life forever: Government is evidently underdelivering on public services, private households and small businesses are struggling, and large corporations are reducing their UK exposure. Better stop talking about “austerity” and the even more fanciful idea of an end to it; especially if you believe that more austerity is the to be respected will of the people.

  • Tony Lloyd 15th May ’18 – 1:24pm…………..Expats, I do not need to establish that the UK was at a destination to establish the direction of travel…………….

    Hmmm? If I jump my direction of travel may well be the moon but there is no way I’ll get there!

  • Peter Martin 15th May '18 - 11:32pm

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    You ask: What is austerity?

    If you’re looking for a one word answer I’d offer “stupidity”. It’s the stupidity of not understanding that for every financial asset there is an equal and opposite liability. It’s the stupidity of not understanding that there is no such thing as an overall surplus. Because, penny for penny, eurocent for eurocent, one country’s surplus is another country’s deficit. Surpluses in one country create deficits and debts in another.

    One sector’s surplus is also another sectors deficit. If the Government is in surplus then everyone else, to the penny, is in deficit. Governments might think that a promise to deliver a surplus is a vote winner. But what about a promise to put everyone else in deficit? It’s the same thing.

  • @ Dav

    Civil servants and public servants are not the same. Where do you get your ideas on what it is like to work in the public sector from? Most people employed in the public sector want to provide a good service to the public and not “just cover their backs”. You also imply that there aren’t bad managers in the private sector and there are.

  • Steve Trevethan 16th May '18 - 6:34am

    Might the post WW2 pegging of currencies to the dollar be an outcome of the Bretton Woods “agreement”?
    Some say this enabled the USA to impose its financial dominance as a result of its post war power.
    That the U.S. Dollar was disconnected from gold, circa1971, may be another significant factor in the dominance of the Dollar.
    Alas, where there is dominance there is likely to be subservience.
    M Hudson and L Randall Wray are worth a read on such matters.

  • Peter Martin 16th May '18 - 7:29am


    ‘As Einstein is reported to have said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”’

    It’s always worth checking up on this sort of stuff. It doesn’t seem likely that Einstein would have ever tried to define “insanity” or mental illness in just a few words. In fact there’s no evidence he ever said it!

  • Peter,

    This quote is generally attributed to Einstein in most online quote collections, however there seems to be significant debate about the authenticity of this attribution. Others like Mark Twain, an old Chinese proverb and Benjamin Franklin have also been suggested as the originators, but general consensus concludes that they have a significantly lesser claim than Einstein.

    The earliest claim is that Einstein used and published the quote in his “Letters to Solovine 1951” however no specific reference has yet been supplied from that source. There is apparently an attribution to Einstein using this quote in a transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, Volume 71, p. 54, Wildlife Management Institute, published in 1975 although according to Bill Hood’s answer, this volume was actually published in 2006.

    Other verifiable evidence of the quote’s original authorship come from:

    Rita Mae Brown’s 1983 novel, Sudden Death, published by Bantam Books, New York p.68 (attributed to Jane Fulton)
    Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) pamphlet – Step 2: A promise of Hope, p10, James G. Jenson, 1980.
    Narcotics Anonymous – The Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous which was copyrighted in 1981. It is found on page 11 of the final “Review Form” which was distributed to the fellowship in November of 1981. The quote in that text is “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results”. The quote appears on page 25 of this pdf –

    Now it may be wrongly attributed to him, but it doesn’t change the fact that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”’ and getting into bed with the Tories was reliving the insanity of 1920’s Liberals and expecting a different result. On the plus side I think we are inoculated against that decision for a couple of decades. Now all we have to live through is Neo Liberal economics crashing and burning and we can get back to an economy that values the whole and not just the rich.

  • Peter Martin 16th May '18 - 8:01am

    @ Steve,

    I’m not sure about Michael Hudson. He originally caught my attention with his 1972 book Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire. You’ll see from the title that it well appeals to left wing sentiment.

    The Americans were criticised when they were the last country to have their currency linked to gold. That gave them an unfair advantage. Then they were criticised for removing the link. Having all currencies referenced to the dollar gave them the same unfair advantage. They are still criticised because oil is priced in dollars. As if it matters in the slightest! Whichever way they turn, the left won’t like it!

    The Americans are generally smarter than the Germans when it comes to economics. The Germans think that they can run a huge surplus, putting their trading partners into debt, and then, somehow, they can and will later be repaid. How? The Americans took the more sensible view, after WW2, that if Germany owed debts based in dollars that it would need to be allowed to sell stuff to the USA to get the dollars to pay their debts.They were prepared to tolerate sizeable trade deficits.

    Of course they weren’t entirely altrusistic. The cold war was on, and they wanted Western Germany as a reliable ally. But, at least, they weren’t stupid and knew what they had to do to win it.

  • Steve Trevethan 16th May '18 - 2:48pm

    “In August 1945 the treasury concluded that Britain was virtually bankrupt.— To the government the only available option seemed to be to ask the US for a massive loan.—Again the Americans drove a hard bargain. — The British would accept US ideas for the structure of the post-war world which would enshrine American domination. –Britain had to agree to make the pound a convertible currency. — With the US holding two-thirds of the world’s gold reserves and the dollar as the dominant world currency, this was bound to place the British in a subordinate position and put serious strains on an already weak economy. Britain’s role as a client state of the US, which had become a reality in 1940, was again brought home by the fact that it was powerless to resist American demands.” [1940: Myth and Reality by C. Ponting]
    Facing reality is always wise, if sometimes uncomfortable?

  • Teresa Wilson 16th May '18 - 5:51pm

    The Lib Dems lost much public support and, as a result, most of our MPs and local councillors for one reason only – we were seen as having abandoned our political principles for a few years of power. We ‘got into bed with the Tories and would do so again’ in many people’s eyes. Memorably, we campaigned to abolish tuition fees and then voted to increase them.

    So now, having stood up for the (very large) portion of the population who wanted to remain in the EU, should we abandon that policy because it isn’t bringing instant electoral success? Should we disappoint the many thousands of new members who suddenly found themselves politically homeless following the referendum and came to us precisely because of that policy? Is it really a good idea to indicate (once again) that our principles are worth absolutely nothing?

  • I agree with most of the analysis but not with the conclusion.

    Yes, many people are crying out for change in the way the country and our economy are run, yet LibDems are trapped up our own blind alley of spending all our energy and airtime to defend the status quo. Yes, it was great to see big gains on a few councils, but beyond SW London and South Cambs we made no progress at all, despite being, still, at rock bottom. Yes, our leader and messaging are uninspiring.

    The solutions to this are about priorities, leadership, policy and messaging – not a return to obsessing about a quick fix with the machine politicians of Labour’s right wing, which won’t work and is not where we belong.

  • Sandra Hammett 17th May '18 - 10:56am


  • Sandra Hammett:
    What you are referring to is the Momentum/far left narrative about us, and about the worst thing we can possibly to is to vaidate any narrative about us that comes from our opponents. If we apologise for or disavow our record in the Coalition in its entirety, they will be dancing with joy and telling the publix, “You don’t want to vote in the Lib Dems, they were useless in government. Look they even said so themselves.” The two big parties have committed much worse sins in government than we did; if all parties had to apologise for every promise or pledge they broke in government, there would be a lot of apologising going on. The Coalition happened; it was, like all governments, a mixture of good and bad; whatever you think of it, its architects from our side have all left the building, and it’s time to move on. We will help move it on by campaigning for and talking about what we do; where we don’t do that, the only thing people hear about us comes from our political opponents which is why they get the sort of messages about us that you write about in your ALL CAPS.

    If we are “Sore losers” for our position on Brexit, then all opposition parties are sore losers for opposing the policies of the party that won the last election. I don’t get why people seem to understand that after an election, the losers continue fighting for what they want to do in government (form an opposition), yet do not understand this for referendums. This is probably one reason why dictators are so fond of referendums: a tyrant can win a referendum, then use the victory to silence all dissent from the resulting policy and claim this to be “democratic” and people will believe him, even though it is actually the exact opposite of democracy.

    Ian: You are wrong, the problem isn’t our message, it’s that, outside the areas we target, no-one gets to hear our message. The national media still ignores us (giving more airtime to UKIP than to us, despite UKIP’s near-complete collapse in support), so the only way we can make any headway at all with the voting public is through local campaigning. It would be like this even if we had a super-charismatic Macron-type leader, and whatever policies we were promoting.

  • Peter Hirst 18th May '18 - 3:19pm

    Under our present system of holding elections, it will take some adept political manoeuvring to regain our previous polling. It depends on some significant errors by one of the other Parties. When defending the murder of people protesting becomes acceptable the rules are against us. The immigration debate has also shifted the moral compass. The Brexit debate is in our favour and we should stick with it.

  • Don’t worry too much, folks – Labour and the Tories have been abandoned by the electorate at different times and have come back! … They have though had to change.

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