LibLink: Stephen Tall: Early stages of Labour

Photo by Riots Panel - Riots Communities and Victims Panel receptionOur Stephen Tall has written a column for Total Politics in which he suggests that the Liberal Democrat manifesto next year will have much more in common with Labour than the Conservatives.

First he sets the scene in the wake of the European and local election results and the Oakeshott coup:

Clegg knows he needs to do more than just survive. Limping towards 2015, acknowledged to be a survival election for the Lib Dems, won’t be good enough. He must inspire the troops that a great liberal victory is possible (or, more realistically, that a truly awful defeat can be avoided).

So Clegg’s sought to re-focus the party’s sights on the 2015 election. In a major speech in June at Bloomberg, he extolled its “unique mission” and promised “a manifesto which will set out our own distinct ambitions for Britain”. Here was the Lib Dem leader differentiating himself from the deputy prime minister. Gone was his usual talk of “anchoring the government in the centre ground”. Instead, he declared, “I have never been interested in power for power’s sake. I have never been interested in coalition at any cost. What I am interested in is Liberal Democrats in government to build a more liberal Britain.”

And wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could just implement them all. Actually, there’s a bit of a reality check:

This is the kind of attaboy-go-get-em-no-compromise spirit the party needs. But it doesn’t alter the fundamentals.

As no-one, including us, believes we’ll win a majority in 2015, there’s only one way to implement liberal policies in government: by co-operating either with Labour or the Tories. In which case, we’ll have to accept some of their illiberal policies we don’t like, they’ll accept some of our liberal policies they don’t like, we’ll each jettison some of the impossible policies we’ve had to include because our activists cleave to them, and on the rest we’ll work out a compromise.

After describing our manifesto making process, he sees a pattern emerging in the polices that have emerged so far

I’ve totted up the number of Lib Dem policies which overlap with Ed Miliband’s.

I make it 21 to date, including tax-cuts for low-earners, the introduction of a mansion tax, a major council house-building programme, cuts to universal benefits for wealthy pensioners, rent reforms for private tenants, a living wage for public sector workers, and an elected House of Lords.

If Labour ends up the largest party in a hung parliament there’s plenty of material for a Lib/Lab pact. The same cannot be said of the Lib Dems and our current coalition partners. As the Queen’s Speech showed, the cupboard is bare of ambitious reforms both parties can unite behind.

There is, however, an absolutely massive BUT which will give a fair few readers some serious collywobbles:

Yet the trend in the polls is now turning in the Tories’ favour. It’s always the economy, stupid: Cameron and Osborne are becoming the beneficiaries of the austerity-delayed recovery. My current bet would be that it’s they who end up with most MPs, though short of an overall majority. The Lib Dems and Tories might hate the thought of continuing to work with each other, but the voters may leave them with little choice.

You can read the whole article here.

Photo by Riots Panel

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  • It is time to consider carefully and realistically, how Lib Dems could operate under a minority Tory administration.

    Without bringing back electoral reform in some kind of radical form, I cannot see a realistic coalition agreement. This was the clinch factor last time – I do not see any other such factor. Not only can I not see a Tory-LD coalition achieving agreement from members, it would be yet more damaging than the last time.

  • matt (Bristol) 14th Jul '14 - 12:49pm

    And there is still the (theoretical) prospect of there being a differential between seats and proportion of the vote. Which party Clegg (if it is him) decides to negotiate with first (if he is in a position to negotiate) will hold enormous symbolic significance for many; not least the media.

    I am of the naieve and idealistic opinion that the pressure in a hung parliament should not be on the leader of the minor party, but on that of the leader of the major part(ies) – irrespective of what one thinks about the compromises our party made and the blame that should or should not be faced up to for the results of them.

    In 2010 Cameron deserved the benefit of the doubt and to be given oppportunity, as the leader of the largest party, to show whether he could lead a consensus, compromise-based administration, recognising that his party’s manifesto and approach did not have universal approval. I misdoubt seriously whether he has demonstrated that ability to the extent that he truly deserves to lead a further coalition.

  • Great discussion point but really it aint going to happen is it? With the small number of MPs we will have a coalition involving the Lib Dems does not seem realistic. An awful defeat appears inevitable. AND maybe all that will be for the best, it will enable the party to regroup quietly over the following 2 – 3 years. If neither Conservative or Labour have a majority why not a grand coalition between them, the Germans do it for one. Ed Milliband Deputy Prime Minister, I love it!!!!

  • matt (Bristol) 14th Jul '14 - 1:30pm

    Theakes, I suspect you may sympathise with me on policy a bit, and I agree the party are (so far) doing a very good impression of cruising for a parliamentary bruising at the next election, but the Eeyoreishness is getting a bit OTT.

    Could you please you commit to be more specifically doom-laden, rather than vaguely so, and name a predicted number of seats (not a range), so that post-election you will not then proceed to say ‘I told you we were doomed, it’s all the fault of X’ whatever happens?

  • matt (Bristol) 14th Jul '14 - 3:51pm

    Caracatus: Well, then, if we’re not in a position to negotiate, we’re not in a position to negotiate and we should assume we will be (which I don’t think I did, in my post). That part of Theakes’ argument, I take. But is that ‘an awful deafeat’? What is an ‘awful defeat’? Terms are not being defined.

  • matt (Bristol) 14th Jul '14 - 3:53pm

    Sorry, should NOT assume…

  • Jenny Barnes 14th Jul '14 - 3:54pm

    ” we’ll each jettison some of the impossible policies we’ve had to include because our activists cleave to them,”
    Those, in our case, would be party policy as agreed and voted for at Conference? Is this a semi-accidental declaration of UDI for the parliamentarians from the rest of the party?

  • Stephen Howse 14th Jul '14 - 4:06pm

    @Jenny – surely it’s more of an acceptance that we are going to make policy and have made policy that neither of the two bigger parties would ever want to implement, and that as a party which will not be winning a majority any time soon, that policy will be impossible to implement.

    Politics is, after all, the art of the *possible*.

  • Nick Collins 14th Jul '14 - 4:18pm

    @ Stephen Howse

    So you will go into the next election with a manifesto which includes things which your leaders have no intention of implementing (even in the unlikely situation that they are in a position actually to implement anything)?

    Did you not try that once before: why does the phrase “tuition fees” come to mind?

  • Jenny Barnes 14th Jul '14 - 4:29pm

    In the old days, people used to say they didn’t know what the LDs stood for because they had not been in government for a very long time, and therefore ” what would they really do”. Now NC seems to be saying that the manifesto / party policy is meaningless (silly old activists) because the other parties might not like it in a coalition – and that, to me, looks like the parliamentary LDs believe in nothing but being in power, even though that “power” doesn’t include the ability to implement party policy. I seem to remember a whole series of speeches about ” a new sort of politics” and “no more broken promises”…but then I woke up.

  • I am of the naieve and idealistic opinion that the pressure in a hung parliament should not be on the leader of the minor party, but on that of the leader of the major part(ies)

    Why? The major party, by definition, won more seats: surely that means the pressure should be on the minor party to compromise as they were not the voters’ choice?

  • Awful defeat is 9 – 15 MPs, less is bl…. awful!!
    If it we got AN UNLIKELY 19 that would be terrible, then we lose 38 and years of working up a party gone into the dust.


  • matt (Bristol) 14th Jul '14 - 5:07pm

    @ Dav :”The major party, by definition, won more seats: surely that means the pressure should be on the minor party to compromise as they were not the voters’ choice”

    Well, it’s like this: the major party won more votes, but not enough to win an outright majority – the major party has won the ‘right’ to a minority administration, nothing more.

    If the major party wants something more than that, a workable coalition, they need to deomnstrate how they will lead a combined administration and facilitate the compromises that will make that tick administration properly and sustainably. If they have a track record of blaming the junior partner for everything that goes wrong, and taking credit for everything that goes right, maybe a prospective junior partner will not sign up.

    – The prospective junior partner, obviously, has not won enough seats to get its programme through and cannot expect it, but needs to see and demonstrate how being a junior partner in a coalition benefits those voters who voted for its policies.

    There is of course the argument of ‘it’s a financial crisis, we have a higher need for a stable government that makes coalition more imperative’ that we had last time round – but that is not an argument that can be deployed at every hung parliament, should there continue to be hung parliaments in future.

  • Polls today are 7 and 9% respectively. Do we seriously say we are a player. Come on. The end is nigh.
    The only chance is to get rid of the leader, hopefully have a different image, perception and focus as a result. Then we might creep back onto the boundary of the field. At the moment we are not on the scoreboard at all.

  • Leekliberal 14th Jul '14 - 6:38pm

    Threakes – it’s all woe woe and thrice woe with you! You remind me of Seneca in ‘Up Pompeii’, the farce on TV starring Frankie Howard, all those years ago. Can’t you throttle down the doom predictions just a bit?

  • Actually, the most recent poll trends contradict the assumptions in Stephen’s article. The Labour lead is lengthening at the moment. I think it is most unlikely the Tories will be in a position to form a Govt, minority or majority.

  • paul barker 14th Jul '14 - 7:40pm

    Even I accept that we are not going to be the major force in the next Parliament unless one or both of the two “Big” Parties split.
    Ther is precisely zero chance of Labour being the largest Party, even in seats. Yes they have a huge lead now but thats all protest votes. Ask those voters who “intend” to vote Labour “Tomorow” if they actually want to see a Labour majority, or Milliband as PM or if they trust Labour with the Economy & generally only half say yes. They will be lucky to get the 30% they got last time.

  • Passing through 14th Jul '14 - 8:48pm


    Well given that Seneca was proven correct in the end that perhaps a poor analogy to make 😉

  • “You remind me of Seneca in ‘Up Pompeii’ …”

    Her name was Senna. And as Passing says, it is a spectacularly inappropriate analogy!

  • Stephen Hesketh 14th Jul '14 - 9:46pm

    @paul barker 14th Jul ’14 – 7:40pm

    Paul, leaving aside the welcome revelation that even you don’t believe we are going to be a major force in the next parliament, I must challenge your “There is precisely zero chance of Labour being the largest Party, even in seats.”

    How can you reasonably say this under our electoral system? Given the (temporary??) strength of UKIP, the Tories, Labour, ourselves and possibly, vote-wise at least, the Greens and the FPTP system could throw up just about anything!

  • Julian Critchley 15th Jul '14 - 12:12am

    @paul barker

    There is currently far, far more chance of Labour having an absolute majority than any other outcome.

    I am genuinely concerned at the ostrich-like refusal to see what’s in front of your face. You seem to think that by just repeating your hopes, they’ll become facts. Like a passenger in a crashing plane saying “we’re not going to crash, we’re not going to crash”. Yes. You are.

    As long as there’s this bizarre denial cult going on in the LibDems, the crash is going to be nastier too, because the denial merely supports a refusal to take even the smallest steps to improve the tiny survival chances.

  • Julian Critchley: Without wishing to promulgate denial, today’s ICM poll really does put Labour and Conservatives neck and neck, with Lib Dems up a couple of points.

    The key proviso in your comment is ‘currently’. ‘Currently’ is very different to the run up to the election. Do you really think Labour is enough ahead to emerge with an overall majority in May? I know an answer is difficult as it is not really easy to foresee a Conservative majority. Given the vagaries of FPTP, it could tip either way.

    The Tory Cabinet changes are still being announced, however the indications are that there will be a foreign secretary and other ministers who will push for policies that are inimical to Liberal Democrats. It seems that the Conservatives too are embarking on a differentiation strategy. Their hunch is that Europhobia, opposition to the ECHR, greater anti-terrorism surveillance, increased defence spending and further restrictions on welfare benefits will have popular appeal. They may even campaign on the basis that Liberal Democrats have impeded recovery.

    We may be in for a bi-polar government. ‘Currently’ will soon be some time ago.

  • Leek Liberal: why it is reality, we have to face this otherwise nothing will change. Ignore the bl…… obvious and you are firmly at the bottom of the sea.

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