LibLink: John Kampfner – Yes, I feel queasy. But I don’t regret backing the Lib Dems

Back in March, former editor of the New Statesman and current Chief Executive of the Index of Censorship John Kampfner publicly came out as a Lib Dem supporter – as reported by Lib Dem Voice here. Fast forward five months, does he have any regrets?

Doubts – yes, citing the Lib Dems’ failure to gain credit for Ken Clarke’s liberalising justice reforms, and the Tories’ zeal for austerity:

… in spite of various opportunities to do so, I have not repudiated my original decision. For sure, a number of attributes and decisions of this coalition government have left me feeling queasy. The most important is tone. That is not a euphemism for spin, but something more fundamental.

And he has some advice for Nick Clegg:

For the Lib Dems, definition is key. As their support falls fast, and as the Tories’ remains strong, so the need for Clegg to strike out a distinctive position grows ever more acute. … He needs to demonstrate that being part of a Conservative-led coalition will still deliver much of what his party’s core supporters – a majority on the centre-left – have craved. He must ensure that his reform bill on civil liberties is not watered down by Whitehall mandarins (probably more likely to frustrate him than Tory ministers). He must have some battles and win them. Some fire, some anger would not go amiss.

But he remains scathing of Labour’s tribalism:

Labour MPs are bizarrely seeking alliances with the rump of rightwing Tories on objections to the bill instituting a referendum on AV, and in denouncing some of the more liberal moves on criminal justice. … Labour’s unedifying leadership contest has failed to address the schism at the heart of the centre-left debate. Is the party a tribe or does it embrace pluralism? The evidence so far sadly suggests the former.

He also gives the Lib Dems credit where it’s due:

Clegg, if he is to make coalition politics successful for his party and the country, needs to ensure that it is collaboration between different groups, not a merging of them. He has already secured the abandonment of ID cards and the third runway at Heathrow. Now that the Ministry of Defence will have to pick up the tab on Trident, it is just possible that this grandiose folly might over time wither away.

And concludes his assessment with this summing up:

… so far, so bearable, with the prospect of better to come. In any case, whenever I get the wobbles, as I do from time to time, I recall two words – Iraq and banks – and feel more comfortable, though not complacent, with the decision I took.

You can read John’s article in full here.

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22 Comments

  • Kampfer was sack by the new statesman for being a turncoat so its not suprising he backed the lib-dems,as you dems like to keep saying “there was no alternative”.

  • Good, sensible thoughts. A bit more of that from The Guardian and Independent would be helpful in delivering more progressive policies over the next few years.

  • Labour fractured its base within the urban intelligentsia by backing Cheney’s illegal war for oil in Iraq, and has still not recovered it.

    The true home of progressive politics in the UK is the Liberal Democrats. Unless, of course, one wants to break bread with the likes of Dr John Reid, Lord Prescott, Ed Balls and the megaphones cluttering up the threads on this site.

  • @Sesenco..heres a hypothetical question for you.If cameron had been if a coalition at the time how do you think the lib dems in government would have voted and would you have taken the coalition agreement into consideration.

  • David Allen 2nd Aug '10 - 4:39pm

    “Clegg …. must have some battles and win them. Some fire, some anger would not go amiss.”

    Absolutely. It’s also important that they are not phoney battles. It doesn’t count for a great deal that we “secured the abandonment of ID cards and the third runway at Heathrow”, since the Tories would have done these good things without prompting from us. It doesn’t count for much to go back over past history and declare the illegality of the Iraq war. It doesn’t honestly count as a big demonstration of independence and power, as was claimed on this site, when Clegg does no more than go out campaigning on Tory territory.

    It doesn’t even count for quite enough if the battles are about civil liberties, because that is not a simple left-right issue. It doesn’t count for quite enough if the battles are about electoral reform, since that is something which is clearly in our own interests as a party.

    It needs to be a real challenge to the new Thatcherism.

  • “The true home of progressive politics in the UK is the Liberal Democrats.”

    Somewhat hard to swallow when Liberal Democrat careerists are in charge of the stationery cupboard and making the tea for the most right-wing Tory government in living memory, one which is hell-bent on privatising the NHS and education, and destroying the welfare state.

  • Bert Finch you are right on the button. Such views will not be appreciated on this site, however. The LibDemmers are extremely touchy when accused of propping up the Tories, bless’em. The LibDems are beautifully unaware that your average Tory politician is a bonehead whose hates are, well, just about everything, but especially the State, Europe and low income people. Tory party member are, as an act of faith required to love fox hunting; they don’t know why, but that’s the way it is. The LibDems put and are keeping these people in power. I voted LibDems, so their pathetic capitulation to the Tories’ demands in the now famous five days has meant that I helped put the Tory party into government. Wonderful! I promise it will never happen again.

  • “for the most right-wing Tory government in living memory”

    Seriously?

    a) It is a coalition government b) progress towards sexuality equality, taking political power out of the hands of vested interests, including Trident in defence spending, liberalising our attitude towards prison, more money for disadvantaged school children, more direct state support for pensioners, cutting middle-class benefits to mitigate the impact of a wrecked economy on the poorest etc…

    Granted, Maude might like to claim they are more right wing than Thatcher, and some of the Tories are, and some of the cuts (eg legal aid) are atrocious, but that hyperbole is a bit much.

    And I think your average Lib Dem is well aware of what many Tory MPs and activists are like, some (but fewer) Labour MPs and activists are like this too. But that doesn’t mean, with a democratic mandate for coalition, an agreement can’t be reached where we share power – and that is kind of the point Kampfner is making…

  • David Allen 2nd Aug '10 - 7:33pm

    “the most right-wing Tory government in living memory”

    “progress towards sexuality equality, ”
    Well, they’ve backed away from clause 28 I suppose…

    “taking political power out of the hands of vested interests”
    Giving political power to private company vested interests – health, education, junk food…

    “including Trident in defence spending”
    Yes, they’re skint! Anyway, it hasn’t gone yet!

    “liberalising our attitude towards prison”
    Yes, they’re skint!

    “more money for disadvantaged school children”
    Well, this just reminds me of Labour trumpeting the wonderful fairness of their bursary scheme, which they brought in alongside top-up fees for students. Except that Clegg advertised his belief in the pupil premium for years, but has only now told us that free schools and academies for all are the other part of the package deal.

    “more direct state support for pensioners, cutting middle-class benefits to mitigate the impact of a wrecked economy on the poorest etc”
    OK. Alongside bigger cuts in lower-class benefits.

    “Granted, Maude might like to claim they are more right wing than Thatcher …. but that hyperbole is a bit much.”
    OK. Shall we settle for “on balance, about as right wing as Thatcher” then?

  • Nope. The influence of the Lib Dems in this government is palpable. Please do note though that an answer to ‘the Pupil Premium helping the poorest’ should not be ‘academies and free schools’ because this is a genuinely different policy, won’t affect the boost the pupil premium will provide and isn’t Lib Dem policy.

    So I ask you (David Allen) a question: do you agree that the stronger the Lib Dems, the weaker the Tory elements of this government?

  • “So I ask you (David Allen) a question: do you agree that the stronger the Lib Dems, the weaker the Tory elements of this government?”

    Ooh, can I answer? It doesn’t matter. Hell, Nick Clegg wanted 100% cuts compared to the Tories 80% cuts 20% tax. Thank God the Tories have taken the edge off of the Lib Dems I say. Nick Clegg seems to have retained the instincts that made him a supporter of the Tory party in the 80s.

  • Stuart Mitchell 2nd Aug '10 - 8:49pm

    I wonder what the “Chief Executive of the Index of Censorship” makes of the announcement that the government is to ban certain (completely legal) jobs in the “adult entertainment industry” from being advertised in job centres? I see the supposedly liberal MP Bob Russell has been prominent in calling for the ban.

    This may seem trivial to many but I am genuinely angry that our allegedly libertarian government should be acting like Mary Whitehouse. Any Lib Dems here agree with me, or does this civil liberties thing only go so far?

  • @Stuart, we agree.

    @Mike, that is a weak argument.

  • @Henry: What is? That Clegg said he wanted to deal with the deficit with pure cuts compared to the Tories who said they wanted it 80/20, therefore this is a hugely important area in which it is better that the Tories have more influence than the Lib Dems? That last 20% would be the harshest, it’s easier to make the first 5% of cuts than it is to add 5% to 25% of cuts already planned.

  • No, not that bit, the point about Clegg supporting the Tories in the 80s.

    (The rest is either a) true – in which case claims of a betrayal are unfounded, and people voted by majority for cuts now or b) false – in which case, no issue. However, I was really just checking you up on the way you ended your argument…)

  • It’s true that Clegg said he wanted 100% cuts, but that they should be delayed until the recovery was secure, so they didn’t vote for cuts now. He said it, if you want to check up on it, in a Spectator interview (entitled Clegg: Heir to Thatcher?)

    And you might not think that it means anything for him to have been a Conservative, and it shouldn’t, if he didn’t feel he has to lie about that too. It wouldn’t be an issue if he was just honest.

  • David Allen 2nd Aug '10 - 11:34pm

    “Do you agree that the stronger the Lib Dems, the weaker the Tory elements of this government?”

    One might have thought so, but it doesn’t really look that way. OK, there is Huhne, rather off on his own, with a chance to put some good environmental policies into place. That’s fine, but it doesn’t do anything to hold back the Tory onslaught on the state in almost all other departments. Cable seems to be trying to make a difference but keeps getting slapped down by Osborne. Clegg and Alexander simply look like true enthusiasts for all things Conservative.

    You’re telling me that academies and free schools aren’t Lib Dem policy, but if we are propping up the government that is going to put them into place, isn’t that a meaningless distinction?

  • “isn’t that a meaningless distinction” – No. The whole point of a coalition (rather than factions within one party) is that we still very much fight the Tories in elections and aim to implement more of our policies over time.

    Mike, that is a far better point to make – the Conservative membership thing really doesn’t stack up – and I agree with you that the change in priorities for timing of cuts is not a good thing, having said that, we could a) wait for judgment on the economic impact and b) not cry foul over every cut, because everyone agrees that cuts were going to be made – even some of Labour’s probably would have been made in year (there really wasn’t the money for quite a few of the promises made) the later cuts would have to be pretty bad.

    But I am sure these discussion will now move on to – What do you think of the mansion tax proposal we launched last year? etc… 🙂

  • Whether the change in timing is a good thing or not, I think not, it is still evidence that Clegg is willing to lie to his own party and to the electorate and then use coalition discussions to do whatever he likes regardless of what the electorate voted for.

    The “there wasn’t the money” has been trotted out by the like of Gove, but the various departments have denied that’s the case. It’s an easy catch-all excuse in the same way that “we got in and the books were worse than we’d thought!” was before we found out things were actually better.

    As for Clegg supporting the Conservatives not stacking up- he’s certainly said that he has never had Conservative sympathies or anything like that, but what Clegg says and what is true are frequently worlds apart. Take this- http://conservativehome.blogs.com/centreright/2008/04/nick-cleggs-tor.html

    It’s a former Chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association who both remembers Clegg as a Tory and has scanned in a document showing the only “N. Clegg” in the uni as having paid the subscription for the CUCA. Clegg lied through his teeth yet again.

  • And Labour said they would have to cut, but there is a world of difference between seeking to cut the deficit with 66% cuts once the economy was back on its feet and with 100% cuts starting now.

  • Ian mitchell 3rd Aug '10 - 11:26pm

    This is a tory govt.
    Plain and simple.
    You all know it.
    Just accept it
    the real tribalism is in the people on here so dseperate to feel the years of hard campaigning were finally worth it they are willing to ignore everything they held dear for a few grubby years of kissing the Eton mafias backsides.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Aug '10 - 10:35am

    Stuart Mitchell, I STRONGLY disagree with you. This is not about banning people from making money by using their bodies to cause sexual arousal, it is about protecting vulnerable people from being forced into it. How can it be “liberal” for people to be made to feel they have to sell their bodies in this way? The role of a Job Centre is to use a certain amount of pressure to force people who are unemployed to take on jobs they might be a little reluctant to do. So, if a woman goes to a Job Centre, and goes through the discussion there which is all about what skills and attributes she has, what sort of jobs are available, and with a little bit of pressure on the lines “be realistic, you might have to take on something which you might find a little undignified but it is a job and brings in money”, and displayed on the walls and in the lists of available jobs are jobs as strippers and masseurs and the like, how is that woman to feel? Do we really want to live in a society where a school-leaver goes to a Job Centre and gets told “Look, with tits like yours, you could make a living as a stripper, or what about this massage parlour here, they pay good money, here’s the details, now run along there, and don’t forget your benefit get cut if you refuse job offers”?

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