LibLink: David Hall-Matthews – Barnsley: a Lib Dem communication failure

Over on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free site, chair of the Social Liberal Forum, David Hall-Matthews, has a piece urging Liberal Democrats – both members and the party’s leadership – to be a little more vocal in our trumpeting of Lib Dem successes in government; not just those things we are doing, such as raising income tax threshold, but also those things we are stopping the Tories doing.

The whole piece is well worth a read, but I thought this line was particularly good: “Losing protest votes – or those who thought the Lib Dems were to the left of Labour – cannot be regretted by a party with serious ambition (with the caveat that disliking authoritarianism or the Iraq war is not a leftwing position; it is a liberal one).”

Here’s a slightly longer extract from David’s piece:

Clegg’s desire to take responsibility and show discipline in government is understandable – and a Barnsley byelection is not a sensible way to measure the merits of that position. But that strategy has led the Liberal Democrats into a curious dilemma. How can any party expect to attract support if it does not advertise its successes – or even articulate its position?

Thousands of voters in Barnsley Central are benefiting from progressive Lib Dem policy, having been lifted out of income tax. No one believes the Tories would have done that on their own. Labour wouldn’t have done it either. In 13 years Labour did little to redistribute tax burdens away from the poor – indeed, the 10p rate debacle did quite the opposite. So here is an important good news story. The Lib Dems’ willingness to compromise has led to positive outcomes for the least advantaged. That is something that could be sold to voters.

Dominic Carman could have taken to the streets of Barnsley with a message that the Liberal Democrats are stopping the worst excesses of the Tories, while Labour sits idly by. Without Lib Dems, there’d have been fewer cuts to the defence budget and more to environment programmes. Again, this hasn’t just clipped Tory wings; it’s reversed Labour’s lame record too. A more bullish line would not have won Barnsley for Carman, but he’d have done better. Trying to defend the coalition’s handling of the economy in South Yorkshire was always inviting a lost deposit. The couple of thousand who believed it voted blue.

You can read the whole piece here.

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40 Comments

  • Depressed Ex 12th Mar '11 - 2:53pm

    Thousands of voters in Barnsley Central are benefiting from progressive Lib Dem policy, having been lifted out of income tax.

    I think you do need to bear in mind that real people are actually experiencing the flip side of that coin – increases in indirect taxation and cuts in benefits – so they’re unlikely to be easily conned by facile propaganda like this.

    The other thing to be borne in mind is how reluctant many people are going to be to believe ANY claim that comes out of the mouth of a Liberal Democrat politician these days. Dishonesty does have a price.

  • So a political party, that needs votes for success, should not regret the loss of up to 2/3 of its votes? It must require great political nous to come up with that one.

  • Lib Dems – protest votes = 0

  • Obviously the increase in Personal Allowance (PA) by £1K for 2011-12 is welcome for everyone who pays income tax but obviously more than wiped-out by the VAT increase, inflation, wage freezes and fuel duty increases.

    A lot of LibDem posters seem to ignore that PA rises virtually every year and I have undernoted figures for the last 10 years. It will be interesting to see if there is any further increase in PA for 2012-13. To reach a £10k PA would require annual increases of £625 in PA for the next 4 years and I just can’t see that happening.

    Part of my reasoning centres round the 65+ Allowance, currently £9490, which will be raised to £9940 for 2011-12. It has been frozen since 2009-10 like the PA but didn’t get a £1K hike like the PA but only £500. I think pensioners would be on the warpath if they saw their age allowance lose its differential against PA especially at a time of rising inflation and low interest rates.

    PA also remained the same in tax years 2009-10 and 2010-11 – I fully realise the freeze came from Labour presumably to keep tax revenue higher considering the economic crisis. But the taxpayer views the £1k increase as covering 3 years which doesn’t sound as good as claiming it was increased by £1k in a year. However that’s politics but then people ain’t daft either.

    2000-2001 = £4385.

  • Oops sorry pressed the wrong button.

    Personal Allowances

    2000-2001 = £4385. 2001-2002 = £4535 (£150). 2002-2003 = £4615 (£80). 2003-2004 = £4615 (0).
    2004-2005 = £4745 (£130). 2005-2006 = £4895 (£150). 2006-2007 = £5035 (£140). 2007-2008 = £5225 (£190).
    2008-2009 = £6035 (£810). 2009-2010 = £6475 (£435). 2010-11 = £6475 (0). 2011-2012 = £7475 (£1000).

  • Echo what others have said – I’m stunned to see Lib Dems writing that they should communicate to people on low incomes the rise in personal allowance, discarding the fact that the money those people will lose from the VAT rise alone is more than double what they’ll gain from PA rise. Does Nick Clegg think people are stupid? They’re obviously going to realise they’ve got less money at the end of each month.

  • @Daniel
    Surely you appreciate that what you say is manifestly wrong? Do you think people are stupid?

    A lower earner will gain by £200 per year from the increase in the Personal Allowance (i.e. £1000 @ 20%).

    To be neither better nor worse off that low earner would have to be spending around £9500 per year on standard rate VATable items (that would be after paying for rent, council tax, gas, electricity, water, public transport, most food etc – all of which are not subject to standard rate VAT).

    If they spent less that £9500 on standard rate VATable items (as, of course, they would do) they would be better off.

    Anyone who is able to spend that much is clearly nowhere near being a low earner.

    It’s called progressive taxation.

  • Old Codger Chris 12th Mar '11 - 5:58pm

    With the coalition partners keen to present a united front it is difficult for the junior party to trumpet successes, especially if these are on the lines of “you may think the government’s dire but it would have been even worse without Lib Dems”.

    Turning to specifics I wouldn’t boast too much about cuts to defence. No country with serious pretensions to naval power can get by without an aircraft carrier. Is it sensible to throw newly – and expensively – trained pilots onto the dole? And the army has never been so stretched.

    Meanwhile, our partners in government are determined to press ahead with the nonsense of Trident.

  • Losing votes of those who thought the LibDems were to the left of Labour cannot be regretted….OK, that is a slight paraphrase but I think the meaning of the article is intact. That seems to be Clegg’s view as well. I know the whole left/right thing is a contentious can of worms for Liberals, but to say something like that is either sloppy thinking, or indicative that the ideological centre of the party has shifted strongly towards the right. The Labour Party has normally been a very conservative grouping, the largely middle class intellectual radicals overwhelmed by the trades unions. The capture of the party by the Blairites (along with a loss of ideological muscle caused by the collapse of eastern European socialism) meant that New Labour was, at best, a wishy washy social democrat party, and at worst Thatcher-lite. Liberal Democrat policies on the environment, on constitutional reform, on civil liberties, on the regulation of the financial sector, on the redistribution of wealth, in fact on pretty well everything, were to the left of those of the Labour government. We were perceived by the voters, correctly, as being to the left of Labour, and had enthused a generation of young people new to politics as a result. Clegg has destroyed a hard-won constituency, and there isn’t an alternative one waiting in the wings to come to his aid.

  • yes Simon Shaw but you would expect the allowance to go up anyway wouldn’t you? Then factor in the NI increase, inflation, the VAT increase, freeze in pay for many and it doesn’t look a great deal.

  • Depressed Ex 12th Mar '11 - 6:27pm

    We’ve seen some pretty breathtaking manipulation of statistics by Lib Dems recently, but surely no one is going to try to deny that people in lower income groups will be worse off as a result of all this government’s budget measures, taken together?

  • daft ha'p'orth 12th Mar '11 - 7:19pm

    @Depressed Ex

    Optimist. ‘Denial that Works for You’ is currently front-runner for the 2011 Lib Dem campaign slogan.

  • @Depressed Ex
    As the last Labour Government left a position where they were borrowing around £2,500 per person per year (i.e. £150 billion budget deficit divided by 60 million men, women and children) it is hardly surprising that people in all income groups are worse off.

    Or did you have some other secret plan to fight the deficit (with apologies to Josh Lyman)?

  • Depressed Ex 12th Mar '11 - 8:03pm

    Simon Shaw

    So long as we’re clear that any benefit from the increase in the personal allowance has been more than wiped out by other measures – even if it is all “somebody else’s fault.”

  • Positive outcomes for the least advantaged, of course you must be forgetting the least advantaged are those sick, disabled and the poorest, those on benefits that gain nothing, but lose on every indirect tax increase, most will see no benefit in rising of PA at the moment, we don’t know the tax plans once most benefits come under the Universal Credit system
    As far as I can see the least advantaged are being hammered and will continue to be so, never mind at least the 50p tax rate may be dropped, wonder how we will pay for that?

  • @Depressed Ex
    Two questions:

    1. Whose fault do you think it is that the last Labour Government was borrowing around £2,500 per year for every man, woman and child? Was it their fault (in part or whole) or was it somebody else’s?

    2. Do you have some other plan, or is it a secret?

  • @Simon Shaw

    The facts simply don’t support your argument. Clegg argued during the election campaign that the “Tory VAT Bombshell” would result in the average low-earning family losing £400 a year – double the £200 they’ll gain from the rise in personal allowance. And that’s before we begin to examine, cuts to childcare credits and EMA.

  • “1. Whose fault do you think it is that the last Labour Government was borrowing around £2,500 per year for every man, woman and child? Was it their fault (in part or whole) or was it somebody else’s?”

    How come Vince Cable consistently agreed with Labour’s spending plans, and, during the recession, called for even bigger stimulus? Do you really think the deficit would be smaller now had the Lib Dems (or, indeed, the Tories) been in government for the last 13 years?

    “2. Do you have some other plan, or is it a secret?”

    Well, for a start, how about not giving a tax cut to bankers? How about at the very least keeping Labour’s 50% tax on bonuses, instead of letting bankers claim them in full?

  • Lib Dem Titanic 12th Mar '11 - 8:29pm

    The communication failure is profound.

    The voters are saying loudly and clearly what they think of the Liberal Democrats under Nick’s guidance and Clegg and his acolytes aren’t listening. The blame for May will lay squarely on Nick and those supporting his suicidal path for ignoring and blaming the voter.

  • Daniel
    “Clegg argued during the election campaign that the “Tory VAT Bombshell” would result in the average low-earning family losing £400 a year – double the £200 they’ll gain from the rise in personal allowance.”

    No he didn’t!
    No it doesn’t!

    Apart from that, thank you for your contibution.

  • Lib Dem Titanic 12th Mar '11 - 9:10pm

    @Simon Shaw

    Yes, he did.

    Nick Clegg reveals Tories’ £13bn VAT bombshell
    https://www.libdemvoice.org/nick-clegg-reveals-tories-13bn-vat-bombshell-18755.html

    “This leaves a £13.4bn black hole, equivalent to a 3% rise in the standard rate of VAT. This would mean an extra tax of £389 on the average household.”

    Unless you are seriously trying to pretend the £11 makes all the difference to your ‘unique’ style of fact based rebuttal ?

  • Depressed Ex 12th Mar '11 - 9:39pm

    “Oh no he didn’t … Oh yes he did”

    If it’s any help – and it may be, because I know Simon Shaw is a big fan of the IFS – their analysis of last year’s Tory budget indicated that across the lower income deciles, up to about the median income, the overall cost of the indirect tax measures was fairly uniform at about £5 a week. I believe that’s equivalent to about £250 a year:
    http://www.ifs.org.uk/budgets/budgetjune2010/browne.pdf

  • @Lib Dem Titanic
    Firstly, are you Daniel under a pseudonym?

    If you only read what you (Daniel) said previously, you would see that you have completely undermined your own argument.

    Consider this:
    1. At 8.19pm you referred to the “Tory VAT Bombshell” causing the average low-earning family to lose £400 a year.
    2. At 9.10pm you had changed this to average households.
    3. Do you not understand that this thread (or at least my contributions to it) have been about the impact of tax changes on low earners not on average households, which is what what Nick Clegg clearly referred to? Clearly the impact on low-earners will be a lot less than on average households.
    4. Finally, when at 8.19pm you referred to VAT changes being “double the £200 they’ll gain from the rise in personal allowance” you seek to compare the impact of VAT changes on an average household (when it should be on a low-earning household) with the income tax gain to a single person.

    So, all in all, not very imprerssive.

  • @Simon Shaw

    No, I and Lib Dem Titanic are not the same person… I find it perplexing that you assume that two people who are critical of the Coalition must be the same person, although it goes some way to explaining why a lot of Lib Dems have such misplaced complacency about their meltdown in Barnsley.

    If you care to look at the IFS analysis, you’ll see that low-income earners will lose £250 a year from the VAT rise, as opposed to gaining £200 from the rise in personal allowance. This shows you were simply wrong when you claimed low earners would be better off as a result of the Coalition’s policies.

  • Simon – you ask for alternatives to the current programme of spending cuts.

    I won’t list them all, but not spending £1.8 billion on NHS reorganisation would be a start.

  • Lib Dem Titanic 12th Mar '11 - 11:11pm

    @Daniel

    I’m impressed. I was beginning to wonder if there was two of me there. 😀

  • Daniel
    “If you care to look at the IFS analysis, you’ll see that low-income earners will lose £250 a year from the VAT rise, as opposed to gaining £200 from the rise in personal allowance. This shows you were simply wrong when you claimed low earners would be better off as a result of the Coalition’s policies.”

    We are in danger of going over old ground here, but suffice it to say that certain IFS comments in relation to VAT and people with low incomes are thought to be problematical. In the light of those difficulties the IFS did end up saying that it considered the VAT changes to be mildly progressive.

    I appreciate that the changes could be mildly progressive and still cost low income earners around £250 per year, however I would suggest to you that, from first principles, that £250 pa figure must be wrong.

    I say that because for someone to pay an extra £250 a year in VAT, they have to be paying just under £12,000 a year on standard rate goods and services.

    What that would mean is after all the VAT-exempt, zero-rated and lower (5%) rated items, as well as after income tax and NI, this “low-income earner” still spends around £12,000 on items taxed at the standard rate of VAT.

    I would simply say that if someone can afford to shell out £12,000 on such items, after spending on more essential items such as: Rent, Council Tax, Water, Gas, Electicity, Public Transport, most Food, etc (all of which are not subject to standard-rate VAT, then they cannot be a low earner.

  • Depressed Ex 12th Mar '11 - 11:59pm

    Simon Shaw

    It’s nice to hear you finally admitting that there are problems with the IFS figures. Back in the days when they were saying that raising VAT wasn’t regressive, they could do no wrong in your eyes, as I recall.

    But I hoped we had at least agreed that the net effect of all the measures introduced by this government was negative for those on below average income. Are you really trying to deny that?

  • “We are in danger of going over old ground here, but suffice it to say that certain IFS comments in relation to VAT and people with low incomes are thought to be problematical. In the light of those difficulties the IFS did end up saying that it considered the VAT changes to be mildly progressive.”

    I have no doubt it’s problematical for the Lib Dems, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Attacking independent and highly-respected thinktanks is always the first sign you’re losing the argument.

  • David Allen 13th Mar '11 - 1:36am

    As tonyhill says:

    “We were perceived by the voters, correctly, as being to the left of Labour, and had enthused a generation of young people new to politics as a result. Clegg has destroyed a hard-won constituency, and there isn’t an alternative one waiting in the wings to come to his aid.”

    I’ll just add that only five years ago, Charles Kennedy made quite sure that voters would see it that way, by regularly characterising his opponents as “the two conservative parties”. Clegg is way out of line with all his predecessors.

    It’s time we recognised that Clegg’s drive to get rid of left-of-centre supporters is outrageous. He is advancing his personal ambitions in a way which he knows will harm his party. What sort of leadership is that?

  • David Allen – “just five years ago” (2 March 2006) Ming was being elected after Kennedy’s defenestration.

    Besides, his characterisation of “two conservative parties” (note the small-c) was not to do with their economic strategy, but their approach to politics and their authoritarianism.

    Yours is an agenda-driven re-writing of history that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

  • Depressed Ex
    “It’s nice to hear you finally admitting that there are problems with the IFS figures. Back in the days when they were saying that raising VAT wasn’t regressive, they could do no wrong in your eyes, as I recall.”

    You sound just like a politician.

    It is not I who is admitting it. My understanding is that the IFS admitted that there were methodological problems, and that their overall conclusion was that the increase in VAT was “mildly progressive”.

    Also, your recollection is incorrect. I have said all along that I felt, instinctively, that the VAT increase was likely to be progressive, not regressive. The reason is simple. Poorer people are likely to spend a far greater proportion of their income on things where VAT has not been raised. This includes Rent, Council Tax, Water, Gas, Electicity, Public Transport, most Food, etc.

    Where the IFS said something different, I said I thought they were wrong.

    As I understand it, the IFS finally came round to my point of view (although not because of anything I said!).

  • Depressed Ex
    “But I hoped we had at least agreed that the net effect of all the measures introduced by this government was negative for those on below average income. Are you really trying to deny that?”

    Why don’t you refer back to what I said at 7.35pm yesterday:

    Simon Shaw
    “@Depressed Ex
    As the last Labour Government left a position where they were borrowing around £2,500 per person per year (i.e. £150 billion budget deficit divided by 60 million men, women and children) it is hardly surprising that people in all income groups are worse off.

    Or did you have some other secret plan to fight the deficit (with apologies to Josh Lyman)?”

    I don’t recall you suggesting any alternative way of cutting that deficit. Or would you just carry on trying to borrow? Do you think our children should have to pay back what you want to borrow?

  • Tabman, you well know (through the many arguments you have had about this subject, with among others, my son!) that although this specific quote may have been about authoritarianism – no evidence known by me one way or the other – Charles K has held different views on economics from the “Leadership view” now. And certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence that he still believes similar. Nick Clegg, on the other hand, was on record several times, before he was leader, and certainly in the period of his leadership, of saying that he wanted rid of the perception “that we were to the left of Labour”, and he is now taking delight in saying that Lib Dems are centre politicians or similar. This all adds to the correctness of Richard Grayson’s analysis, that the party leadership has been assumed by a right of centre group. So David Allen is certainly right in spirit, if not about this specific quote.

    Whether yesterday’s NHS vote represents the first signs of a fightback by the party’s mainstream centre left or just a blip because of the very special position of the NHS in British politics, I don’t know. The move to the right didn’t happen overnight, of course, and many are those who have left the party or become disenchanted over the years. The term “left” has also become discredited over the years, mainly because of the writings of the right wing press of “loony left” etc. This has meant that Charles and all other Lib Dem leaders have always shied away from using the term to describe our positions. The left outside the party have also tarred us with the right wing economic brush for at least 10 years of course (“the 3 neoliberal parties”). My memory – anecdotal of course – is that the economic left in the party has never quite had the strength to put in genuine radical policies, usually losing 55 – 45 or thereabouts in Conference votes. It is, however, very disturbing that the right has moved to shore up its influence, through which the Coalition agreement and approach to cuts was a key weapon. I just hope yesterday was a turning point…

  • Looked at another way, the party has often used “left” campaigning rhetoric, but been frightened away when we have come to “serious” policy formation!

  • Depressed Ex 13th Mar '11 - 10:32am

    I have said all along that I felt, instinctively, that the VAT increase was likely to be progressive, not regressive. …
    Where the IFS said something different, I said I thought they were wrong.

    Exactly. When the IFS disagree with your “instinctive” feelings about things, you say they’re wrong. When their conclusions back up your preconceptions, you happily quote those conclusions without making any mention of how flawed the data are.

    And don’t accuse ME of sounding like a politician, when you won’t agree with the simplest factual statement about people being worse off, and instead ask me to produce an alternative economic policy (!).

  • Lib Dem Titanic 13th Mar '11 - 12:05pm

    @Tim13

    It’s also worth remembering that Charles did better at the ballot box than Nick and right now Charles is one of the very few high profile Lib Dems that the public still has a lot of time for and likes. Nick Clegg, not so much, as his minus 46 approval rating on the latest YouGov polling tells us.

  • David Allen 13th Mar '11 - 1:04pm

    Tabman,
    “David Allen – ‘just five years ago’ (2 March 2006) Ming was being elected after Kennedy’s defenestration. … Yours is an agenda-driven re-writing of history that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.”

    It sure doesn’t stand up to truly rigorous nit-picking! To please Tabman, I should acknowledge that the Kennedy era ended five years AND ELEVEN DAYS ago.

  • Lib Dem Titanic – “It’s also worth remembering that Charles did better at the ballot box than Nick ”

    In 2005 Labour were a rickety shed waiting to be kicked in, the Tories had had 8 years of disarray – the most propitious conditions since 1983, and we blew it due to too many years of inaction. to his credit CK had at least started distancing us from Labour, but it was too little too late.

    Last year we faced far harder electoral conditions. A resurgent Tory party and a consequent firming up of the Labour vote in its heartlands. And yet our vote actually rose by one million compared to that which CK garnered in 2005.

    Yes, CK gained more seats than Clegg, but he gained far fewer votes and should have done much, much better.

    Your revisionist view does not stand up.

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