LibLink: Vince Cable: Labour and Lib Dems have to work together to beat Tories

In his Independent column this week, Vince Cable talked about the need for Liberal Democrats and Labour to set aside their differences and work together to oust the Tories in 2024.

He didn’t call for a formal pact, but for the sort of non aggression agreement struck up by Paddy and Blair pre 1997.

He waded into the broad appeal vs ideology argument:

The two centre-left parties are currently at very different levels. But they face essentially the same two problems: how to connect with a public which is confused, frightened and divided; and how to translate support into seats in parliament to effect a change in government.

As to the first, both parties have the same destructive tendency, in different ways: each gets hung up on abstract debates on values and principles. Labour has a long history of sectarian feuding over the relative merits of “social democracy” or “socialism” (now represented respectively by the Blairites and Corbynites). Starmer is smart enough to realise that the public has little interest in “isms”, is impressed by people who seem both practical and optimistic, and doesn’t like extremes. The Lib Dems, by contrast, don’t have ideological feuds but love talking to themselves about “liberal values”, which are either very vague or targeted at microscopically small groups. The tough lesson for both is that Britain’s most successful centre-left leaders – Wilson, Blair and, long ago, Lloyd George – were pragmatic to a fault.

He had a couple of ideas on economic policy:

Aligning capital gains and income tax, removing generous tax reliefs on pension pots, and removing perks for well-off pensioners. All this sounds like Lib Dem “alternative budgets” proposed over the years, and certainly too much to swallow for the Tory backwoodsmen. Ed Davey, in particular, with a strong economics background, has an opening to occupy the centre-ground while the right of the Conservative Party squabbles.

Then there is the wider issue of the direction of the British economy once it is cut loose from the EU. As it happens there is an immediate challenge: what to do about Britain’s only major global tech company, ARM, designer and maker of advanced microchips. Opposition leaders should be shouting from the rooftops to save it. Without a clamour, it is likely to be gobbled up by a predatory American company and then spat out in Trump’s new cold war with China. One of the successes of the coalition was seeing off a (Pfizer) takeover for Astra-Zeneca, now key to the work on a Covid-19 vaccine, and the wider revival of industrial strategy. Keeping ARM British is a campaign that could create a popular front page for both left- and right-wing press.

And a warning on how we should save the union:

And all the unionist parties risk a failure to appreciate that Scottish nationalism is rooted in emotion, and will not be vanquished by talk of pounds and pennies alone. One respect in which the Lib Dems can make a major contribution is to refresh its thinking about home rule within a federal UK. This would be welcome north and south of the border since many English people also reject our horribly over-centralised, London-dominated, system of government.

He warns that we leave the Tories to govern if we don’t work together:

A serious agreement could be done with a lot of self-discipline, but to be credible with the electorate it would need a common “offer”, as well as common candidates. The risk of such an approach is that it looks like a “stitch-up”, which could turn voters off. There should be serious discussion about how to cooperate, but where I suspect we shall finish up is a tacit understanding about priority constituencies, as in 1997, when Blair and Ashdown made a breakthrough for both parties.

The growing numbers who are angry and disillusioned with this government will expect no less than intelligent cooperation between “progressive” opposition parties. Both need to remember that pragmatism is the path to power, while continued self-righteous airing of differing “values” and “principles” will gift the Tories another decade in office.

You can read the whole article here (£).

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12 Comments

  • jayne mansfield 6th Sep '20 - 5:49pm

    @ Martin,
    Glad to agree with you that liberals overdo talking to themselves.

    Look, could we be less ‘Waffy’ when talking about liberal values? In particular liberty. When does liberty become the freedom to exploit ? Is it authoritarian to have rules that prevent this?

    When does evidence- based enquiry become a matter of ‘human rights’ because the evidence does not support the ideology?

    Just a few of the issues I have with your party.

  • No sure about this “Ed Davey, in particular, with a strong economics background, has an opening to occupy the centre-ground while the right of the Conservative Party squabbles.” The problem being that the Liberal Democrats just don’t do economics. Has there ever been an open discussion about where we should be on the economics spectrum? Generally it has been left to the party in Westminster to make it up as they go. If we did have that debate it would give a firm base for other policy. As an example the “21st Century Economy Working Party” which drew up the policy paper for the autumn 2018 conference was specifically barred from considering economics. Which as a working group member I felt was odd.

  • Nigel Jones 6th Sep '20 - 10:03pm

    Thanks HughW for your revelation about the Economy working party. Our FPC and FCC seem always to want to treat policy-making in narrow silos. They do not understand that for the purpose of public messaging, division into separate academic disciplines is unhelpful. Such disciplinary separation can be good for initial thinking, but bad for policy motions that are supposed to be in the public domain. No wonder we are poor at getting our messages across and of course, economics is usually number one in people’s minds when voting.

  • Nigel Jones 6th Sep '20 - 10:19pm

    I must add to my previous comment that what Vince says is an excellent contribution to our current situation. He talks about having a common offer. Simply being jointly opposed to the Tories will not be enough to convince people, so we must show where we would be willing to work with Labour for the good of the nation, but that must not obscure our Liberal credentials nor those issues where we would differ from Labour. It remains of course to be seen whether Labour will be more accommodating than they usually are at election times and whether we can be pragmatic while simultaneously inspiring people with a proper Liberal vision for our nation. That is where we failed in coalition.

  • Sue Sutherland 7th Sep '20 - 1:42pm

    I don’t entirely agree that the public doesn’t like extremes. I think people don’t like the extreme Left because they see them as revolutionary. However, I think they are much more lax about the extreme Right, possibly because they are heavily criticised by the extreme Left whom they don’t believe. We are now much closer to suffering an extreme right wing totalitarian government than a left wing one.
    Each Tory government has done more to dismantle the balance reached during the post war consensus than the previous one, until we now have greater polarisation between the very rich and the very poor. If we carry on like this we shall have large numbers of people who can manage financially as long as there isn’t a disaster and a few who have more money than they can ever spend, but have a huge reluctance to give any of it up to provide a safety net for others. We shall be back in the 18th or 19th century in terms of relative financial and political power.

  • Tony Greaves 7th Sep '20 - 10:28pm

    If Vince thinks we get “hung up on values and principles” that may say a lot about his failures as party leader, but even more about the failures of many LD Ministers during the Coalition?

  • @ Tony Greaves Absolutely spot on, Tony.

  • John Barrett 8th Sep '20 - 1:13pm

    If only former leaders would keep their mouths shut and let the present leader get on with the job, without their interference. As they know, it’s a difficult enough job as it is.

    For decades, Lib-Dem leaders have suffered from a variety of former party leaders making statements in the media, which have not helped the leader at the time get on with their job.

    Then surprisingly, when they are no longer the leader, they have done exactly the same thing to make life more difficult than it need be for their successors.

    When will they learn?

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