LibLink: David Allen Green – What the Liberal Democrats should do next

Over on his New Statesman blog, lawyer and Liberal Democrat member, David Allen Green, has posted a piece setting out his thoughts as to what the Liberal Democrats should do now to avoid another round of election results like the one we have just experienced.

Here’s an excerpt:

If the Liberal Democrats are to be a serious party in respect of central government, there are two things to be done. First, they need to be more realistic and consistent in what they campaign for: manifestoes and pledges now need to practical and attainable. The luxury of striking populist poses is for politicians in opposition, not those who actually have to implement policy. One hopes the Liberal Democrat MPs who made the pledge not to raise tuition fees and then voted to do so have learned this lesson.

Second, the party has to be distinct. As this blog has said previously, the blurring of lines between Tories and Liberal Democrats makes one want to adapt the ending of Animal Farm:

“The voters outside looked from Tory to Clegg, and from Clegg to Tory, and from Tory to Clegg again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

The Liberal Democrats in the Coalition need to emphasise differences with the Conservatives. Clegg should ration his appearances alongside Cameron. One realises it is perhaps not practical politics for the Liberal Democrats to go into opposition and offer their support on a vote-by-vote basis (though there is no constitutional or legal reason why they cannot); but it is crucial that the party develops a ministerial reputation separate from that of the Conservatives.

You can read David’s piece in full here.

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  • Jedibeeftrix – I take ‘European Institutions’ to be more wide-reaching than solely the EU.

    More generally, I keep hearing this line about being, ‘distinct,’ (whatever that means) from the Conservatives, and presumably any other party. But what does that actually look like? As distasteful as it is, the party has come across as a majority for hire. Fair or not.

    But it is is very difficult to be distinctive as a party whose only real route to power is via coalition. Indeed, it is often pointed out on here that 75% of the manifesto is being implemented. That alone should indicate how much of it was in at least one of the two main parties’ manifestos in one way or another, This is why it is very tough to picture a TRULY, ‘distinct,’ party.

    It is not about being, ‘distinct.’ It is about credibility and that got shot to pieces the moment that tuition fees came about. Worse, that was purely self-inflicted – nothing to do with the tories. The best policies in the world can be brought forward, if no one sees the party as credible, it can be as distinct as it wants to, no one will listen. It seems to be becoming common currency that all that is needed is better presentation. But how can one present the current situation? Sorry about that, can we press reset now please and have a free go?

    A leadership that appealed during the election to the classic left and students, only to lurch to the Conservative line and sacrifice students into the bargain is not an unfair caricature. Sure, Clegg had a tough hand, no doubt, but who does anyone expect will listen to him now? Let me be clear, I am not accusing anyone of lies or bad faith. What I am saying is that there is a credibility problem now and I don’t think that efforts to be distinctive will be treated with anything other than suspicion at best and contempt at worst.

    So – what to do? Tough. But distinct is not enough. Leave the Coalition? That would look like, and may be, little more than a stunt. Replace the leader? Very, very risky, also politically unwise and personally unfair and not to mention that there are no obvious candidates. Best hope to me is that Cameron feels his position is weak-ish and that NHS reform is a price worth paying for the coalition. But this is the problem – without credibility the party is dependent on Cameron’s good will, or more specifically the good will of the Conservative Party. And would a threat to walk out of Coalition have any credibility in any case?

    The way to be distinct AND credible would have been not to have had a 6 month love-in, but the horse has well bolted on that.

    It might also be worth dwelling on some of the treatment (fair and unfair) meted out to Gordon Brown – it is difficult to complain about a lynch-mob atmosphere not long after being part of the lynch-mob.

  • Stuart Mitchell 9th May '11 - 9:20pm

    This would be the David Allen Green who joined the Lib Dems despite finding their leadership indistinguishable from the Tories?

    I don’t trust his judgement.

  • Jedibeeftrix – Yes, being distinct is important, but it is not enough on its own.

    Certainly I agree on not leaving the Coalition. But I really worry about a snap election. Right now the 1922 Committee will have its polling and its calculators out. I’d also agree with you on Nick Clegg’s aims, but the reality is that the credibility problem is real. Yes, he got a bad hand and yes Coalition was the right thing – and yet I do struggle with a lot of what followed, and the tone of, ‘the voters don’t understand,’ really grates.

    The article is correct, there will be no more fanciful tuition fees style pledges. But the position now is that the party is wholly dependent on tory goodwill. Was it totally unavoidable?

  • Surely, the point here is to be distinct in the sense of “the new politics” is not really populist. It is radical. It involves a new economics (or a version of various old economicses). It involves a lot of creative thought, and a lot of persuasive power, because we will have to take the tabloids head on, as I have often previously said. It is not centrist. But it is not achievable with the current leadership, because they are essentially centrists (if not right of centrists).

    There are many out there who believed our politicians when they said they wanted a new politics. They now feel desperately let down. But it is not easy, and it does NOT involve trying to argue black is white by sidling back into the mainstream of sub – or – not – so – sub – Thatcherreaganomics. It involves making practical the things we have said, which will mean ovrturning many vested interests. It is not the pre-election pledges which were populist, but our caving into the tabloids and big business and their pressure groups.

  • I agree that it is mainly a trust issue now and it will take a very long time before people see the LibDems as conviction politicians again, myself included. The very fact that the party showed its greatest anger at the no2AV campaign instead of showing anger at some of the Tories’ more right-wing policies which hit the poor the most was like a slap in the face to people like me. It isn’t the principle of Coalition for some of us, it’s trust. Acting in the supposed “good of the nation” and exaggerating our debt crisis while disowning the policy of debt reduction you campaigned on does not endear you to people who want to trust our politicians. Especially young, often first-time voters and people like me who voted LibDem to STOP the Tories (that, as well, was what my local LD candidate campaigned on).

    The LDs are now in a horrible position of their own making. IMO the only way you’ll gain the trust of many people is if you ditch Clegg and leave the coalition. Of course, I’m talking from a left-leaning viewpoint and I know I’m not the kind of voter you really want anymore.

  • An exit strategy might be the best thing.
    Last weeks election results show pretty conclusively that the path the party has taken has alienated the people who voted for it and has not really attracted new votes. The stance on the NHS is a good start,
    The point is that the project isn’t really working anyway. Down graded economic growth, is bad and no one is swallowing the “we’re all in this together” stuff or the hobbit-land nonsense of the Big Society. This is still fundamentally a government presiding over declining living standards, inflation, and job fears. The Conservative Party hasn’t got special electoral powers. Without it’s human-shield it would look less appetizing.

  • There’s no need to panic and do anything silly, Nick Clegg has to go but not before 2014 because the next year or two will see bad election results too but a leadership change now or pulling out of the coalition would mean you lose the centre right votes along with the centre left, hold your nerve.

  • @anthony

    you don’t really have many centre right votes to lose.

  • I really did think, in my naivety, that the policies the Liberal Democrats put forward were ‘realistic’ aims, able to be implemented. Trident, tuition fees, a slower pace of deficit reduction. Are you saying that it was so much hot air? Seems so.

  • My problem with the don’t panic it will all come right in five years school of thought, is that by then the boundary gerrymandering would have strengthened the Conservative Party’s stronghold in the South, the economy will still be shot because the central idea of just cutting things is historically wrong, the Lib Dems will have taken more unfair blame and Osbourne will stand on platform demanding deeper cuts. This coalition is not moderating The conservative Party it’s shielding it from scrutiny. Inflation is out of control, the economy is stalling, and no one is buying into the Big Society argument..
    As for the argument that the Lib Dems will lose the centre right vote. It isn’t really there, is it! The Lib Dem showing in the South of England isn’t indicative of a centre-right tendency. It merely demonstrates that the centre left, socially progressive vote is less tied to Party politics in the South.. The Green Party also do better in the South, they’re not centre right either. History also tends to indicate than conservative-liberal MPs eventually opt for the status of honorary Tories.
    Look it depends on whether or not you think The Party should reflect Liberal values or the the truisms of the economically discredited Right.

  • To jedebeefrix.
    Actually I think it is gerrymandering. I also think that this is, perhaps, one of the big problems with the voting system.. Every time anyone gets into power almost the first thing they do is order some sort of boundary commission to strengthen their vote, In this case The Conservative Party failed to win and are trying to carve Constituencies up in a way that diminishes opposition votes.. They felt that they should have won and are trying to ensure that they do next time. Further more IMO opinion. the changes to housing benefit limits, especially within London. were designed as much to lessen the strength of the inner city vote as they were to save money.

  • Jedibeeftrix.
    You have a very valid point. I’m a supporter electoral reform because problems still arises when you equate constituency sizes purely with landmass. One candidate might have a seat with a small number of voters the other a seat with a large number of voters. I think the flaw with the Labour and Conservative party is that neither have actually secured majorities that were majorities for well over thirty years. Also I’ll admit it, I’m a left leaning idealist, I don’t think it’s the job of a party with mostly left of centre voters to deliver a majority government to conservatives. I think that Lib Dems have to stand for than a rent-a-vote, And the evidence that I’m not alone in this is the pounding the party took in last Friday. You can’t just sweep your voters views aside because pundits praise a few nicely received TV appearances and you can’t simply repeat the mantra t New Politics if your own voters are saying “no it’s not, we didn’t vote for this”. To me the important thing is can we get some agenda of social progress rather than more small-government-free-market-cut-and-hope bobbins. I think it is morally wrong and economically wrong, and is failing, because it has a history of failing.

  • Jedibeetrix

    The point is that the Tories are reducing the number of MP’s purely to cope with the fact that their support tends to cluster geographically. This will alter the balance in parliament between backbenchers and the payroll vote, diminishing the power of parliament and our democracy. No government in my lifetime has so blatantly tried to rig the system in their own favour. It is utterly shameful.

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