LibLink: James Graham – Lib Dems must agree to publicly disagree

Over at The Guardian’s Comment is Free website, Lib Dem blogger James Graham argues that Nick Clegg needs to admit the party’s economic differences with the Tories in public – the alternative, he warns, is that the Coalition will become rudderless. Here’s an excerpt:

That the government is embarking on a programme of deep cuts is not in question; but nobody seems to be able to explain what it is all for. The coalition can’t explain because, frankly, the coalition can’t agree. That’s why the government’s “vision” has been dominated by empty flannel such as the “big society”, which can somehow mean both liberalism and an aggressive full-frontal assault on the state at the same time.

Clegg’s speech about social mobility last week was welcome, but it was largely notable for what was not in it. … Ultimately, social mobility cannot be bought at the cost of increasing relative poverty – the greatest single cause of social immobility we have. …

Clegg needs to find the confidence to articulate the differences and resist the temptation to restrict himself to areas where he agrees with Cameron. To prevent the coalition from collapsing from its own internal contradictions, both parties need to start being much more frank with the public and each other on where they disagree.

You can read James’s article in full here.

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  • Dominic Curran 24th Aug '10 - 5:12pm

    Fellow LibDems would do well to read the comments below. While many are the usual frothing trolls, there is enough genuine anger from voters – ours and others – to show that we are ploughing an extremely dangerous furrow. Nick may have got us into Government, but his and others’ actions since will decimate us in local elections, in wales and in Scotland, and may well have set our party back 15 years. What’s needed is a revolt against the Tories’ NHS and Housing proposals – which weren’t in anyone’s manifesto or the Coalition Agreement and as such have no democratic legitimacy whatsoever – not only because they are bad ideas but also because we will show welcome independence.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Aug '10 - 5:22pm

    The coalition’s economic policy has been sold to reluctant Liberal Democrats using the lines “really sorry, but big cuts are necessary due to the dire economic situation”. The problem is that there is a supicion that some are delighting in the big cuts not due to necessity but due to a political ideology of low tax and minimal public services. Now, if this is the case, it makes it MUCH harder to sell the cuts to the reluctant on the basis of the first argument.

    This is where the crunch is coming. At the time the coalition was formed, we were very much told it was crisis management with cutting the deficit being the main aim. I believe it was on THAT basis that the party membership agreed to the coalition. Any suspicion that this was just a ruse to disguise what they wanted to do anyway, and my feeling is that the party has a right to be very angry with Mr Clegg, to accuse him of lying to us, and to table of motion of no confidence in his leadership.

    We have taken an ENORMOUS risk in our party in agreeing to the coalition, Mr Clegg benefits by getting a nice job in government, the rest of us lose because we didn’t get any nice job, just the loss of the electoral support we’ve been building up using our time and money. Now, I think this is a little unfair, because we didn’t have much other choice. It’s of course in Labour’s interest to get people to think we had a free choice, but obviously we didn’t – Labour didn’t win enough seats to make a coalition with them viable, and the dire economic state (in part due to past bad government from Labour) really did mean the minority government option wasn’t going to work.

    Mr Clegg must now and urgently re-connect with his party. He just has not been doing this. He just has not managed to give any impression that the deficit-cutting line wasn’t just a ruse to get what was always his personal agenda. I’m not saying that’s the case, that it really was a ruse, just saying that if it wasn’t a ruse Mr Clegg needs to show that by something which makes it clear and his denial believable. If Mr Clegg were an honest and decent man, he would see the need to return the confidence the party gave in him by showing that he respects our concerns and that he is fighting hard for OUR views in the coalition.

    If Mr Clegg does not re-connect, I would urge Liberal Democrats to stay and fight, not let him take our party away. The party is NOT his personal property, we put him in as steward, but we the members own it.

    I am sorry that this line has had to be brought up so shortly after the coalition was formed. Like many, I swallowed hard to accept the coalition, and really wanted to give it time, but Mr Clegg is just messing up time and time again by giving the appearance that he’s smugly in the job he wanted, and if the rest of us don’t like it, tough, we can walk. Well, there’s an old Sussex saying that applies to me here on this: “I won’t be druv”.

  • Good article James.

  • Not entirely sure I agree on the economic front, NHS and education yes fair enough, and those are platforms we can will develop our own policies in which will differ markedly at the next GE.

    But having listened to and read what Clegg and Cable (who suggested £80 billion cuts last September and said the economy seemed about ready to start cutting) said a year, two years ago, and the commitment to cuts in spending and the public sector in the manifesto, as well as commitment to time cuts by circumstances, I honestly cannot see where the big “rift” is supposed to be.

  • Bruce Standing 24th Aug '10 - 6:05pm

    The Labour Government went on a massive spending spree, which the Coalition Government has to pay for.
    With our future mortgaged it is necessary to make huge reductions in Government spending now. Otherwise the country will be in even bigger trouble.
    So don’t blame Nick Clegg or the Coalition. Blame the Labour Party. They are not fit the govern us ever again.

  • Bruce Standing 24th Aug '10 - 6:08pm

    Sorry… They are not fit to govern us ever again.
    Every Liberal Democrat must clearly understand that.

  • David Cameron has said that the reduction in the size of the public sector is to permanent. I don’t remember this being in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto or the Coalition Agreement.

    It looks as if the Tories are just plouging on regardless with their pet Thatcherite projects and are treating the Liberal Democrats with absolute contempt.

  • Dominic Curran 24th Aug '10 - 6:50pm

    @ Andrew Tennant

    “but the housing policy, remind me again what’s wrong with it?”

    It seeks to remove security of tenure to those most disadvantaged in society. It proposes to make tenancy of council homes dependent on (low or no) income. It thus removes incentives to work and better oneself. it removes what is the most secure part of someone’s life, often when they are on the margins of the world of employment. it would ghettoise council estates into sink places where only the most incapable of work can live (as if they aren’t bad enough, and close enough to that already). it turns on its head the best part of a century of the notion that the ‘working man’ deserves a decent place to rest his head, just at a time in our history when the propect of home ownership (in southern england at least) is remote for most first time buyers. It is essentially the extinction of council housing.

    That’s just security of tenure. Housing Benefit reform is a trickier beast, as the most outrageous (but numerically few) examples of, say, unemployed somalis getting £1000 to live in notting hill on HB have riled us all. the number of people on HB, and its level, like the argument that we must ration council houses for the very worst off only, is essentally an argument about re-arranging deckchairs, about reacting to scarcity of affordable housing. The answer for the right wing is to blame those who are poor for their status, and to find new ways to make them compete against each other for declining resources. The more socially progressive way is to build more of those resources (build more housing, in other words). IDS’s proposal to take 10% off your HB is you haven’t had a job for a year, in these of all times, is especially nasty.

  • Dominic Curran 24th Aug '10 - 6:52pm

    @ Matthew. Well said. Very well said.

  • Andrew Suffield 24th Aug '10 - 8:13pm

    The problem is that there is a supicion that some are delighting in the big cuts not due to necessity but due to a political ideology of low tax and minimal public services.

    I’d say that most of those people, and several in this comment thread, are delighting in the sound of their own voice.

    What they enjoy is not my problem.

  • @Kehaar: “Agreeing to disagree” is one of the greatest cop-outs available.

    No. This is not the case. A cop out would be retreating, changing nothing, and staying on the sidelines. What James is talking about is called democracy, sharing, co-operative, and the humility to realise we are not always right. It is all down to Mill again: Where two people disagree, it is rare that one has the whole truth, and the other is wholly wrong. Far more likely is that each individual has a part of the truth, and that is what compromise, humility, agreeing to disagree is a realisation of – but yes, a bit of arrogance may be the source of this – from any side.

  • Andrew Tennant:
    “I have no issue what-so-ever with individuals in houses larger than they require being asked to relocate to smaller dwellings to allow individuals in crowded conditions or without anywhere to home their family to live more appropriately.”

    Well now, what do you mean by “asked”? Do you mean, offered financial encouragement to choose something smaller, which they are free to turn down if not suitable? Or do you mean, forced to move wherever the council want to send them, whether they like it or not?

  • Alec/Kehaar, you are the sally (of Liberal “tory brownshirts” Conspiracy) fame, and I claim my £300! The cost of an ID card, or somesuch

  • Rob Sheffield 25th Aug '10 - 12:27am


    1) Faisal Islam twitter:

    “George Osborne’s Budget is ‘clearly regressive’, says IFS, in first study of new budget measures. Poor will pay more in cash terms…””

    2) Headlines tomorrow:

    “Poor families bear brunt of austerity drive” headlines guardian
    “Osborne’s budget described as ‘clearly regressive’ by respected think tank” sub heads Guardian
    “Budget hits families and pensioners twice as hard” headlines Telegraph

    3) YouGov poll

    Coalition net (dis)approval MINUS 2%

  • The truth is that since the election Cameron has got virtually all he wanted (cuts, kicking the NHS, kicking the poor and so on), Clegg also is happy, the Tory Party is, by and large, very happy with what has happened. That just leaves the Liberal Democrat Party, and from where I am standing none of that party are happy with the outcome. But it seems the LibDem party doesn’t count in all of this, least of all to Mr Clegg who seems to relish the cuts, kicking the NHS, kicking the poor and so on.

  • .DaveN
    Much as I sympathise with your comment here, actually there seem to be substantial parts of the Tory party which aren’t that happy with the outcomes, and are waiting their turn to rebel (from indications I am picking up locally and in various articles etc).

  • Nigel Quinton 25th Aug '10 - 8:29am

    @Dominic and Matthew – agree very much! Especially re the NHS White Paper which is a travesty of the manifesto commitments of both parties and the coalition agreement.

    @Rob Sheffield

    IFS report reiterates what they said immediately after the budget. When will we stop pretending that the LibDem elements in the budget were progressive. As we all should know by now, raising the tax threshold is not progressive – what made our manifesto progressive was the change in CGT – watered down by the Tories – and the abolition of higher rate tax relief on pension contributions – ignored by coalition. Unless and until we are honest about this failure to achieve our aims in discussion with the Tories we deserve all the opprobrum being heaped on us by the electorate.

    We may stand for fairness, we may even by arguing for it vociferously behind the scenes, but we are not achieving it.

  • Malcolm Todd 25th Aug '10 - 10:19am

    Andrew Tennant:

    David, I don’t believe council tenancy to be equivalent to ownership; that someone had a need and has been occupying a house historically I do not think justification for denying the house to someone who has greater current need for it. Do you?

    This is a bizarre argument. How about, “That someone paid the former owner £200,000 a few years ago and has been occupying a house historically is not justification for denying the house to someone who has more money now”?

    Of course, you’ve said you don’t believe council tenancy to be “equivalent to ownership”; but what has that got to do with it? Tenancy is not of course equivalent to ownership, because it confers no ability to realise the capital value of an asset (ignoring for the moment the ugly distortions created by Right To Buy). The issue is the right to occupy a home. The fact that a person would not now be allocated a given property because their circumstances have changed is no more reason to evict them than the fact that I could no longer afford to buy my house is any reason to evict me.

    If we build more social housing and get rid of Right to buy, then there will be no “need” (read, “pretext”) for this nasty little policy. If we don’t, then it won’t help anyway. It’s a typically Tory “blame the poor” distraction.

  • Dominic Curran 25th Aug '10 - 10:41am

    @Malcolm Todd – exactly.

    @ Andrew – your approach, of moving people on once they are over-occupying, is a reaction to scarcity, not a solution to it. Would you sanction the moving of an old dear whose husband of 50 years has just died? Would you want to see the home they had built together and the supportive betwork of family and friends built up in the local area just washed away so that an unemployed somali bus driver (TM- The Daily Mail, all rights reserved) and his mega brood can move in? By all means, ask people to look at options, offer them cash incentives and help moving, but do not compel them. Thatis whatt he Tories have in mind. And if you think they don’t, or that a large swathe of the party isn’t ideologically opposed to council housing principle, and that even more think it should a ‘home of last resort’, like some modern-day work(less) house, you don’t know the Tories.

  • Dominic Curran 25th Aug '10 - 10:46am

    @ Kehaar: “It must be great for the Islington set in the Party which thinks the country is there to entertain them to now be able to openly admit their loathing of the urban poor and socially deprived.”

    I don’t know how much you really know Islington, or indeed the party, but it is people from that borough (where i happen to live) who are more in touch with the need to protect council housing than most, i would imagine. The same is true for Southwark and Simon Hughes. People from inner cities see how valued and necessary council housing is, even if it isn’t always built or managed well. This is even truer in London and the South, where prices and immigration have forced many into the social housing queue.

  • @Dominic Curran said: “By all means, ask people to look at options, offer them cash incentives and help moving, but do not compel them. [sic]Thatis whatt he Tories have in mind. And if you think they don’t, or that a large swathe of the party isn’t ideologically opposed to council housing principle, and that even more think it should a ‘home of last resort’, like some modern-day work(less) house, you don’t know the Tories.”

    Pretty much agree with everything you say here, Dominic. The main ideological difference between the two parties, I suggest, is that the Tories believe inequality is such a feature of human society, that rather than discourage it, it should be embraced. We, or at least I, in the Lib Dems, believe that while inequality is unavoidable, we (individuals, voluntary groups and the state) can and should take steps to minimise it.

  • Dominic Curran 25th Aug '10 - 12:48pm

    @ Andrew

    “you mischievously and erroneously equate ‘each according to their need’ with ‘each according to their ability to pay’; one maximises the power of wealth, the other minimises avoidable suffering. ”

    er, where do i do that? Please explain your clightly cryptic comment, please!

    My portrayal of the Tories is formed from reading their current proposals for council housing, the articles and comments made on conservativehome about the subject and and from reading about their housing policies since 1945 (my current read is Lynsey Hanley’s ‘Estates’, which i commend to you). It’s a pity you don’t recognise it, maybe a little more reseacrh is called for?

    Hatred may be ugly – but are you allowed to hate the haters?

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Aug '10 - 11:13am


    D’you blame Labour for the worldwide crash; or d’you think it was part of an attitudinal problem across the board which, no matter how many questions Vince Cable tabled, the LibDems weren’t too het up about either during the boom years?

    Yes, Labour must take on a LOT of the blame for not making our country crash-proof. Instead, we had this ridiculous claim that they had abolished boom and bust – made when it was obvious we were in a boom which was about to bust.

    However, it goes back further, we were led into this mess by governments starting with Thatcher’s, who were all about the idea we could make money by spivvery and not by hard work. The Tories show that is what they are about by the way they frothed at the mouth when we tried to increase Capiaatl Gains Tax in order to cut jobs tax.

    Why anyone supposes it wasn’t obvious that no real wealth is created by selling houses to each other beats me.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Aug '10 - 11:02pm

    Dominic Curran

    I don’t know how much you really know Islington, or indeed the party, but it is people from that borough (where i happen to live) who are more in touch with the need to protect council housing than most, i would imagine.

    Indeed, it is a mark of how unequal our society are, and how invisible the poor are, that “Islington” now gets used to mean “wealthy southern elite types”. Islington is, in fact, a borough which has huge levels of deprivation, with much of its housing council blocks. There are big private properties, now very expensive and lived in by very rich people, but that’s most definitely not what all or even most of Islington is like. But perhaps those media types who live there have managed not even to see the poverty and deprivation that is around them, so spread this image of the place as all about wealthy and powerful people.

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