LibLink: Richard Reeves on stepping away from the Tories

David-Cameron-and-Nick-CleggOn Comments is Free, Richard Reeves argues that, in 2013, Nick Clegg needs to establish a more assertive identity and win voters over for bold, new reasons:

The coalition will be a play in two acts. Act one had the parties acting largely in tandem – reforming public services, reversing Labour’s encroachments on civil liberties and, above all, gripping the public finances. In act two, the Liberal Democrats step away from the Conservatives. Still partners, but an arm’s length apart.

…The government is established. The boat can be rocked without serious risk of capsizing. Next year will be crucial for the Lib Dems and, by implication, for the coalition.

On 17 December Clegg will set out his own script for the year ahead, testing the idea that coalition governments can function even as the two parties clearly show their separate colours. The inner workings of government will be on display as never before. The Lib Dems will make their own position clear long before the government does. The necessary compromises will become badges of pride for a mature, open government, rather than dirty secrets, tucked away.

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  • Liberal Neil 17th Dec '12 - 6:00pm

    ‘Act Two’, as Mr Reeves calls it ,should have been the strategy from day one. We should have clearly acted as a separate party with separate priorities from the start. The only realistic approach for our party, with our limited impact on the media narrative, is to keep it simple and be consistent. Sadly Mr Reeves’ clever strategy cost us a lot of support and it will now be an uphill battle to win just some of it back.

  • Bill le Breton 17th Dec '12 - 6:41pm

    Neil is absolutely right. But not only did the Reeves strategy cost us a lot of support, it destroyed the reputation of the messenger – bad cop cannot suddenly become good cop. The leader’s credibility is shot through. The Reeves strategy is thus fatally flawed.

    Nor is there any evidence that the leadership is consulting widely among the party or, through the party, the wider electorate. Inside the bunker there is obviously a lot of thrashing about.

    If now, 17th December is the time to show the inner workings of the Coalition, why wasn’t the Party’s position on the Autumn Statement just a few days ago produced openly in this manner with activists engaged in the issues and asked to consult in their wards and constituencies on the key issues. We could have been campaigning on these issues all summer and fall, building support, strengthening our negotiating position.

    Now we are told Coalition 2 will be produced like a rabbit from a top hat – or more accurately the Lib Dem special advisers in No 10. Today’s speech is yet another example of dictat – not leadership.

    We still don’t use the activist base. We still don’t campaign in an integrated fashion. Is no one in that Office a listener?

    They ensure that the leader looks as if the doesn’t trust the answer he may get from the public and our supporters.

    As Gladstone taught us, ‘Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear’.

  • As Gladstone taught us, ‘Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence.

    The trouble is that these days, Prudence has been well and truly dumped in favour of good old fashioned recklessness.

    People want quick and simple solutions like Labour’s “spend even more because it’ll all come right” or UKIP’s “blame the foreigners” or even the Tories’ “slash, burn and privatise. God works through the market. Rules are for cissies”.

    How can we compete with that?

  • John Broggio 17th Dec '12 - 11:22pm

    As that Liberal Keynes taught us, a deficit is not the big problem in a recession & that austerity makes things worse not better. But hey, those prime economic towel folders George & Danny knew better and everything’s turning out… Oh.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Dec '12 - 12:29am

    In the decades before the coalition was formed, in all those years since the February 1974 general election when the possibility of the third party holding the balance became an issue likely enough to be worth considering, it was blithely assumed this would give the third party an immense power, that it would be able to pick and choose which party to form a coalition with, and then pick and choose which of its policies it would let through.

    Much of the criticism of the Liberal Democrats since the formation of the coalition in 2010 is based on this assumption. It is assumed that the Liberal Democrats could have made a coalition with Labour but chose not to, could stop all Tory policies in government but chose not to.

    The reality is that small third parties have very little power in coalitions. If they make a stand against the larger party in government it will always looks petulant, and be dismissed both by that party and by the largest opposition party. If they don’t make a stand, but instead work behind the scenes to gain concessions, what is visible will always be the third party seeming to give uncritical support to the largest government party.

    The line from the Cleggies “We didn’t realise it would be like this” is unsupportable, because anyone who has looked at how junior coalition partners fare elsewhere or in UK local government would see it’s a thankless task. There should have been a cautious handling of the coalition situation from day 1 to protect us as far as possible from the inevitable consequences, instead the leadership seems to have gone out of its way to make a difficult situation worse.

  • Paul in Twickenham 18th Dec '12 - 7:53am

    So you generously thought that the parlous state of the Party might be due to cock-up, not conspiracy. But no, apparently it’s all part of Richard Reeves’ cunning plan.

    What I find particularly insightful is Mr. Reeves comment that “Coalition act two is not about trying to reassert a Lib-Dem identity c 2010. It is about establishing a new identity, and winning people to the party’s side for new reasons.”

    I assumed the “Lib-Dem identity c 2010” was the one we all campaigned on in the last election. The one that attracted all that support when Clegg described it in the debates. The one in the manifesto. You know, the one that was the result of the expressed will of Conference. But now we are going to have a new identity. A sort of “New Liberal Democrats”, if you will..

  • “The siren voices on the Labour benches would lead the party on to the rocks.”

    Er … no Mr Reeves. The rocks is where your pilotage down false channels took us and where we sit right now. The question now is whether we can patch up the holes in the bottom in the right manner in order to make it back to the beach for proper repairs.

  • I just don’t see how we can credibly distance ourselves from the Tories and their policies when LibDem MPs are voting for them.

    Having waited for decades to become part of a government, we now need a period out of office to de – toxify (or should that be de – torify?) the LibDem brand 🙁

    @Matthew Huntbach – the problems of coalition are why I think we should have gone for confidence and supply.

  • Bill
    ‘Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear’

    Strange how so many so-called liberals have been so quick to distrust and fear Clegg… or perhaps distrust and fear is synonomous with prudence, at least as far as previous PMs have redefined it?

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Dec '12 - 12:39am


    @Matthew Huntbach – the problems of coalition are why I think we should have gone for confidence and supply

    As I have argued many times, that would only work if the country had such great support for us that it would be happy to see us holding up the process of government over any piece of legislation we don’t like. It doesn’t. We have seen that time and time again in this coalition where when we do make a stand, the rest of the country isn’t with us. They regarded as as obscurantists over AV, they fell for the Tory argument against Mansion Tax, they let Labour side with the Tory right in forcing the government to back down on progressive elements we managed to get into the last budget, misleading labelling them as “granny tax” and “charity tax”.

    Under these circumstances, supply and confidence is like being in coalition but without any influence. “Supply” means voting for the Tory budget with all its cuts, “confidence” means voting for ANY Tory policy which in order to embarrass us the Tories or Labour decided to tack a confidence clause onto.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Dec '12 - 12:42am


    reading all this whingeing, I wonder how many of these contributors have actually stood for office, even held office..

    Does five years as Leader of the Opposition in a London Borough count?

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