LibLink: Stephen Tall – At least five spectres haunt the Lib Dems.

In his fortnightly ConservativeHome column, LDV co-editor Stephen Tall has taken a look at the five fears (the “queasy quintet”, as he terms them) be thinks haunting the Lib Dems. The first two questions – ‘A May massacre?’, ‘Are we becoming irrelevant?’ – are self-explanatory. Here’s what he has to say about the third and fourth fears:

3) Have the Lib Dems done enough in government?

Oh, we have lists of achievements. There isn’t a senior Lib Dem alive who’s won’t rehearse, when challenged “But what have you done?”, the line that the our top 2010 priorities – tax-cuts for low-earners, the Pupil Premium, the Green Investment Bank – have been delivered. Or who won’t point to other achievements, like infant free school meals, or same-sex marriage, or more apprenticeships. Or who won’t highlight Conservative policies, such as hire-and-fire at will or the snoopers’ charter, which the Lib Dems have vetoed. Etc, etc, etc.

It’s a creditable litany, especially given my party is out-numbered five-to-one by our Coalition partners in parliament. And yet, and yet… There is a nagging worry inside many Lib Dems that our party’s successes are things which the Conservatives have no trouble with, but the Conservatives’ successes (too-tight austerity, benefits crackdowns, Andrew Lansley’s health reforms) are things we should have had no truck with.

4) Have we lost the opportunity to show that Coalition government works?

Lib Dem Plan A was simple. Wait for a hung parliament; negotiate electoral reform; secure Coalition government for the long-term. It’s not the first Plan A to have come unstuck when tested. First, the AV referendum was lost; though as PoliticalBetting’s Mike Smithson pointed out last week, that, ironically, is probably going to hurt the Conservatives more than the Lib Dems next May.

But something else was lost, too: the chance for the Lib Dems to make the case for coalition government itself. The Lib Dems veered from the Rose Garden love-in to hard-core differentiation within a year, a shift which left voters confused about what we stood for and suspicious that we mostly wanted the trappings of power.

We have largely failed to demonstrate that Coalition is a grown-up and pragmatic way of doing business which leads to better, not worse, government. In 2010, a poll by ComRes found 46 per cent of voters wanted a hung parliament. Yet by 2013, the same pollster reported that 67 per cent wanted one party to win outright at the next general election rather than there being a Coalition. True, part of this is simply voters protesting the status quo (whatever that status quo happens to be at the time), but we haven’t exactly helped.

You can read Stephen’s post in full – including the fifth fear: ‘Can the Lib Dems unite and recover?’ – at ConservativeHome here.

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22 Comments

  • Having read the whole article I can’t help feeling this is very damaging and almost couldn’t be posted in worse place. Every word of it is true, which is probably the most damaging aspect.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Dec '14 - 12:43pm


    The Lib Dems veered from the Rose Garden love-in to hard-core differentiation within a year, a shift which left voters confused about what we stood for and suspicious that we mostly wanted the trappings of power.

    The “Rose Garden love-in” was something manufactured by a few people surrounding The Leader, it was not something the party as a whole ever agreed to. The fact that party members could see the dilemma we were in, and hence agreed to the coalition formation does NOT mean they agreed to the particular way it was then presented by The Leader.

    “Hard-core differentiation” should be “very occasional mild disagreement”. Most people in this country seem hardly to have noticed it all, and the “Rose Garden love-in” still sticks in their mind as to how the coalition is working.

    I may be unfair on suggesting the “Rose Garden love-in” even was all down to the Leader. To a large extent, these things are down to how the media chooses to report them. The media started using marriage analogies, and writing it up as if it was almost a permanent merger from the start. The Leader COULD have reacted to that, and made more clear that it was an arrangement reflecting the balance in Parliament and based on the practical need for a government with a stable majority, rather than based on “love” with the idea of it being permanent as the marriage analogy would suggest.

  • paul barker 5th Dec '14 - 1:10pm

    I suppose my problem with Stephens article is that it feels too much like self-indulgence. I have no problem with its original appearance on Conservative Home, if it leads Tories to underestimate us thats all to the good – but it was never going to stay there. Our biggest problem is that we are underestimating ourselves leading directly to our failure to stand in Local byelections we could win. We have joined our enemies in talking us down.
    On Stephens first point can I suggest readers look at two pieces on the site Political Betting, this mornings one on the Ashcroft Polling of Tory-facing Libdem seats & the latest review of The Spread Betting market which “predicts” we will get 30 Seats.

  • Stephen , an excellent article presenting most things as they are, not how we might like them to be. I suggest there is a sixth spectre, as the election campaign develops and if it is a close contest between Labour and Conservative, people may well move to either of these or order for one to gain power or to prevent the other from getting power. That could then hit the minority parties hard and we could be on a knife edge, the 10 -15 seat scenario. .

  • The Lib Dems need to end this whole obsession with coalition. Would a Tory/Ukip coalition be better than a Tory government? Than a Labour government? Rather than proclaiming how wonderful the coalition has been it would be better for the Lib Dems to point out the things they’ve achieved but also how much better things would be if they were unencumbered by the Tories and been able to do all sorts of other things. You get the feeling this Thahcherite dominated government is close to Nick Clegg’s ideal, so it’s no wonder so few people now back the party.

  • Apologies to paul barker who I have in the past dismissed as a hopeless optimist. Even he is now talking UP the possibility of as many as 30 Liberal Democrat MPs on 8th May.
    But I agree with him about an element of self indulgence in Stephen Tall’s article. All this stuff about “making the case for coalition government”. Who ever voted Liberal Democrat because they wanted us to “make the case for coalition government”? No voter I have ever met (and I have met a few over four decades) has ever said to me – “I will vote for you lot if you make the case for coalition government”.
    How ironic that those who make the false attack on activists that we are “afraid of government” are actually only interested in promoting “coalition government”. I unashamedly believe in majority government, Liberal Democrat majority government. It is what I have worked for and a local level what I have achieved. Why on earth should I be inspired by the insipid and implicit failure built into coalition government? It is the coalitionists who are afraid of government, who have limited ambitions and do not have the strength of belief to go for an all out win.

  • It is quite possible that the next government will be a simple Labour or Conservative majority. It is rather less probable that such a next government will be demonstrably better than the Coalition government, but certainly not an impossibility.

    It will only be possible to assess whether coalition works after the coalition has come to its full term and has ended.

    Paradoxically, what would be difficult for the idea of coalition, would be another parliament with no overall control, putting pressure on continued coalition with Lib Dems.

    Personally, if there is a precipitous drop in seats – 25 or so down for example, I would like to see the leader announce his resignation, thereby rendering any prospect of coalition with Lib Dems impossible for at least 4 months. Unfortunately, in practice, it would not be possible for Nick Clegg to announce this before the election without creating huge electoral difficulties.

    In practice, however, we do know, more or less, that defeat for Labour or Conservative would initiate a resignation from their leaders; it really should be the same for Lib Dems.

  • Peter Watson 5th Dec '14 - 6:16pm

    “There is a nagging worry inside many Lib Dems that our party’s successes are things which the Conservatives have no trouble with, but the Conservatives’ successes (too-tight austerity, benefits crackdowns, Andrew Lansley’s health reforms) are things we should have had no truck with.”
    It’s more than a nagging worry.
    The tories have happily taken ownership of raising the tax threshold. Pupil premium and green investment bank were in the tory (and labour) manifesto (and strictly speaking I think the green investment bank was not in ours). Same-sex marriage was achieved more by Labour support than Lib Dem. Free school meals arose from trials commissioned by Labour which were opposed by Lib Dems.

    Lib Dem Plan A was simple. Wait for a hung parliament; negotiate electoral reform; secure Coalition government for the long-term.
    Which makes it so very disappointing that Lib Dems seemed so ill- prepared for coalition government. We wanted it, we planned for it, and we were outsmarted by the tories at every step. Lions led by donkeys?

  • Stephen, Yes

  • Jonathan Pile 5th Dec '14 - 7:45pm

    Stephen
    That sounds like a plan. We must return to being ourselves. We will feel better and find our voice. Looking at Osborne’s bleak plan to destroy government and put the working class on the road to serfdom it can’t come soon enough.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Dec '14 - 9:17pm

    It’s partially on topic, but the Lib Dems need to sort out their position on the EU. I’ve been translating documents from French to English for free, but now a website is refusing to work with me because EU copyright law says I have a right to charge them and I can’t give up that right.

    The thing is, I don’t want to charge them because they mark it for free and I am only a beginner, so it is mutually beneficial. The EU has the potential to become overbearing and Lib Dems need to watch out for it.

  • “The Lib Dems veered from the Rose Garden love-in to hard-core differentiation within a year, a shift which left voters confused about what we stood for and suspicious that we mostly wanted the trappings of power.”

    No, I think voters had the party pegged as part wanting the trappings of power, part Pontius Pilate, endlessly washing his hands, blaming the crowd.

  • I put the whole mess down to misunderstanding who was voting Lib Dem. The reality is support fell of rapidly from day one of the coalition. There was a lot of talk about protest votes, but most of the Lib Dems seats were in old Labour stomping grounds and came from people with a marked left of centre bias who were voting for an alternative. It was like trying to sell nut brittle to people with a nut allergy.

  • @Stephen W

    “Clegg should resign now and let Tim farron lead an election campaign independent of the Coalition. ”

    Tim Farron shows no desire whatsoever to throw his hat in the ring before the election. If he or Vince Cable or anyone else were going to do it, they would have done it by now.

    I think they all realise what a poisoned chalice the leadership of the Lib Dems is at present.

  • @Eddie Sammon, I agree with your wider point – the pro EU position is too extreme and doesn’t leave room for people who disagree to stay in the party – but the reason they want you to charge a token fee for translating is so that your transfer of copyright to them is part of a valid contract and they own the copyright outright – which is the same as traditional English law, a contract must have consideration on both sides.

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Dec '14 - 8:08pm

    Hi Richard S. Thanks for the explanation. They are trying to find a way around the “de facto” EU citizen ban anyway, but it the meantime it is not ideal. We should debate this topic more often – more people on the internet is going to mean more people coming into contact with copyright laws and it will become a bigger issue.

    Regards

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Dec '14 - 9:23pm

    Glenn

    There was a lot of talk about protest votes, but most of the Lib Dems seats were in old Labour stomping grounds

    No, they were not. Most LibDem seats were in places which used to be “true blue” Tory and where Labour never did well, and the LibDems had taken over as the main opposition to the Tories.

  • Matthew
    Perhaps Glenn could explain what he meant by “most Lib Dem seats … were in old Labour stomping grounds”. I suspect we are at cross purposes somewhere. Do you mean now, Glenn, or some other time, or what? And what do you think the term “protest vote” means, exactly? (because that may also be contributing to the confusion?)

  • David Evershed 8th Dec '14 - 5:05pm

    One of the achievements of which the Lib Dems can be proud is the 2m jobs created and the sharp reduction in unemployment during a recession.

    Part of the reason for the fall in unemployment is surely the benefit sanctions which contribute to the change in thinking of those who had fallen into a benefits culture but now seek work.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec '14 - 8:56am

    David Evershed

    One of the achievements of which the Lib Dems can be proud is the 2m jobs created and the sharp reduction in unemployment during a recession.

    Why should this be listed as a LibDem achievement? Is there anything in particular the LibDems did as part of the Coalition that it should be attributed to them rather than the dominant coalition party?

    Part of the reason for the fall in unemployment is surely the benefit sanctions which contribute to the change in thinking of those who had fallen into a benefits culture but now seek work

    No. Everyone I know who is out of work is DESPERATE to get a job again. What you write here is VERY offensive to such people. If you want to know why the LibDems are losing votes, comments like this, which used to be the sort of ting nasty right-wing Conservatives came out with, are the reason.

    Of course, many of these jobs “created” are very low paid, and are given to casual workers from other countries who are able to live in the sort of cramped accommodation that people with families cannot go for. Loads more waiters and waitresses in London, almost all people come here to learn English, does nothing for native unemployed people, who don’t get such jobs, and couldn’t afford to live in London to get them anyway.

  • David Evershed 8th Dec ’14 – 5:05pm

    What exactly you expect Liberal Democrats to take pride in ?

    Here is a case study —

    A woman used to have a proper job with the local council, serving the community as a home help, with a proper contract, decent wage, holiday and pension arrangements.

    The Coaliton cut the funding to the local council and this woman’s job was “outsourced”. Now she has a zero-hours contract, no holiday or pension entitlement, and a reduced wage which varies from week to week depending on how quickly she can drive in her own car (at her own cost) to fit in as many old ladies as possibly in the hours that she is allowed to work.

    This woman’s “new”, “private sector” job has been created by the deliberate policies of The Conservatives who think that society should be run in this way. Liberal Democrats must hang our heads in shame that our leadership was happy (or ignorant and naive) enough to support a Conservatve Government that does this sort of thing.

    Proud of this sort of “new” job created by the Coaliton? Not me.

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