Malcolm Bruce: Lib Dems can stop spending sprees or right wing frolics

Sir Malcolm Bruce was on the Today programme this morning, making a robust case for voting Liberal Democrat, showing what we can bring to a coalition – stable government, with Liberal Democrat policies being implemented.

We can anchor UK to centre ground, not go off on a spending spree before we balance the books or go off on a right wing frolic where we punish people quite unnecessarily with cuts to service and benefits in order to fund tax cuts for the rich

We can break both Tories and Labour and hold the centre ground.

He said that coalition was a much more stable option than any confidence and supply arrangement:

Stable government requires coalition not confidence and supply. The junior partner can deliver its policies in government in a way it can’t from opposition. Our view is it’s in best interest of uk to have a stable coalition. LIb Dems need to be there in strength to be part of that. We an make a difference.

He was asked about our position on Trident and explained that we want to see Britain contribute to multilateral disarmament and had come up with a way to reduce our nuclear capacity by having fewer submarines. He said that it might be possible to delay the final decision on whether to renew Trident beyond this coming parliament but warned against anyone getting excited and thinking that its cancellation would immediately free up £100 billion to spend. He said that it would only save about £4 billion in the next 5 years.

Speaking about the Scottish context, he was “confident we can win and hold seats.”

You can’t assume that the SNP will automatically get enough votes to win seats in the north east.

We are finding that people are voting tactically because if you follow the polls all the way through,

Lib Dems have delivered for Scotland across a range of issues, we have a record and we want to do more.  I think people are beginning to realise that they don’t want another referendum and you can’t vote for the SNP if that isn’t what you want.


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  • Re Scotland. This is the SNP’s time and there is little or nothing that can be done to stop it. It is probably a moment in parliamentary history.
    Re the country as a whole, we offer nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing inspiring. What we do say is said by discredited and older generation leaders normally men. We are living in the past, out of touch.
    Something has to change on May 8th otherwise we are destined to slip away to the undertakers, having been passed by the Greens.
    Even in this desperate hour we sound utterly complacent.

  • I am glad I was not listening to the radio this morning.
    How will any of this help to rebuild a battered party after 8th May?

    Malcolm Bruce should start looking forwards instead of looking backwards; He may have his fond memories of Coalition and Referendum but the voters seem to have markedly different views, especially in Scotland.
    No wonder Liberal Democrats north of the border are doing even worse in the opinion polls than the 8% in England. If more than 90% of voters when asked are opting for other parties it is not a time for complacency.

    “…We can anchor UK to centre ground…”

    “…..Our view is it’s in best interest of the UK to have a stable coalition. ”

    “…..( On Trident) …he warned against anyone getting excited and thinking that its cancellation would immediately free up £100 billion to spend. .”

    “…..You can’t assume that the SNP will automatically get enough votes to win seats …”

    Malcolm, the more you keep speaking the language of the Westminster Bubble – the more likely it is that the SNP will wipe the floor with you.
    When a party is that far ahead in the opinion polls from Christmas through to Aprl, it is entirely reasonable to assume they will win seats.

    Have you not noticed the reaction of the public to the TV debates?
    Scotland’s first minister is the leader of the SNP and in TV debates (has she done 5 so far? 2 for a UK audience, 3 for a Scotland audience?) she is the acknowledged star.
    By wsayou contrast Nick Clegg does better for our party when he does not turn up.

    Get real! There are only 19 days to go and then we have to rebuild the party after the folly of recent years.

  • John Tilley “There are only 19 days to go and then we have to rebuild the party after the folly of recent years.”

    I’m looking forward to the next five years in coalition.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 18th Apr '15 - 3:51pm

    So, John, what do you suggest that we do? Completely change strategy 19 days out? That’ll help.

  • @Caron Lindsay 18th Apr ’15 – 3:51pm

    I’d suggest stressing some of the tremendous strengths the party has that don’t stem exclusively from having been in the coalition. I’d suggest stressing some of things the party brings to the table, not concentrating on what it takes off the table. I’d move away from this paralysing politics of fear, and try to build support around the politics of hope. The strategy is failing, the polls aren’t moving – do something about that. Grab the reins of the party’s future.

  • Tabman 18th Apr ’15 – 3:46pm…..I’m looking forward to the next five years in coalition…..

    Your sentence is 3 words short…..What you mean is “I’m looking forward to the next five years in a Tory led coalition”

  • Expats. Only if it annoys you more 😉

  • Philip Thomas 18th Apr '15 - 4:32pm

    I think it is important to emphasise that you can’t avoid Blukip by voting Conservative- unless you want Blumaj (DUP+UKIP will have less MPs than us so every extra Conservative seat makes it easier for the Conservatives to choose them over us).
    (We can’t do this with regards to SNLAB- because the SNP are likely to have more MPs than the Lib Dems, voting Labour (in non-LD seats) has the effect of making it easier for Labour to pick us over the SNP- of course it also risks Redmaj).

  • Philip Thomas 18th Apr '15 - 5:14pm

    Caractacus: I don’t think it would be helpful for Nick to step down right now. We haven’t got time to have a leadership election and so there would be no new leader to replace him and give a clear new message to the voters. The result would be even worse than it is predicted to be at the moment. Also, it would not be entirely clear whose fault the result was. Some might say Nick stepping down caused the disaster.

  • Caractacus. You claim Nicola Sturgeon is immensely popular with 9% support but lambast what is ostensibly your party for being deeply unpopular …. yet it also has 9% support. Which is it?

  • Alex Sabine 18th Apr '15 - 5:39pm

    You think?! That is a masterpiece of understatement Philip. It would be simply farcical for Nick Clegg to step down “right now”. I think Caracatus meant he should announce now his intention to stand down straight after the election. But that too would be utterly bizarre: to say less than three weeks before a general election that you plan to resign your leadership irrespective of the result. It would make the Lib Dems a laughing stock if the party leader were to throw in the towel at this stage.

    No, the Lib Dems have chosen (rightly or wrongly) to row in behind Clegg and nothing would be achieved by changing course now. The next decision point – for Clegg and the party – will come once the result is in and the scale and nature of Lib Dem influence in the next parliament comes into clearer focus. That much is surely obvious.

  • Philip Thomas 18th Apr '15 - 5:47pm

    Alex Sabine, oh yes he was talking about a “lame duck” announcement, thanks for spotting that. But I would say much the same about that. Look at the damage done to Cameron by his “no third term” slip, and that was about events 5 years away.

    I agree the election result will make things clearer.

  • Caron. Re John’s remarks. Well we have got to do something. At the moment we are in the pits and sinking even further. The leadership seems only interested in themselves not the party. It is never too late to change something, if I was in charge of the campaign I would advise Cleggie to shut up and back off, perhaps going sick for a fortnight and a better face becomes the spokesperson, a different image which might catch the attention, with something differeent and original to say. So much is just down to presentation, it is not what you say, how you say it. In 1983 changing the apparent leadership of the Alliance from Jenkins to Steel transformed our campaign and in within 10 days doubled our potential support.
    We have been left with a discredited “leader”, a deputy leader who is leaving parliament and as such could well be leaderless on May 8th, Hallam gone Conservative not Labour.
    Our campaign has been lifeless, as John says, and as I said this morning, but not published, backward looking offering no future, no change and no prospect of change. It is so frustrating, embarrasing and humiliating. Even you must feel it.
    However we have had every chance of changing things over the past two years but have completely failed to do so. Do we deserve what we are getting? First they came for the Councillors, then the County Councillors, then the MPs, only the party itself is left and they will surely come for that.
    Does the party realise that pictuires of the old gang do not help at all, chief among them is Ashdown. Somehow some of us have got to try and resue this beleagured and decimated force after the election, but we will need people with vision, drive and importantly who are not locked in the past.
    I submit if you had followed our recommendations over the past 12 months we would at least be in 3rd place with some hope..

  • Caron Lindsay 18th Apr ’15 – 3:51pm
    So, John, what do you suggest that we do? Completely change strategy 19 days out? That’ll help.

    I have to admit thatit is not at all clear to me what the strategy is tat is being followed by the top of the party. If anyone can enlighten me I would be interested. I had once thought was to fight 50 byelections building on the popularity of entrenched coal MPs. That obviously cannot be the strategy because the top of the party are concentrating all media attention on Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and coalition with Cameron.

    To answer you other question —
    I suggest

    1… we campaign as if we believe in the words in The Preamble to the party constitution, highlighting our beliefs rather than droning on about marginal adjustments to tax thresholds and the supposed merits of Coalitionism

    2… we put all our remaining resources into seats where the polling says we can win – I have mentioned this before in LDV and there is still time for people to get down to Torbay. ( I realise that in Scotland you would have difficulties with this approach – but if you want more Liberal democrat MPs than pandas you need to stop kidding yourselves now).

    3….we keep in mind that in 20 days time the election will be over and that the urgent task will be to rebuild the Liberal Democrat Party; the priority is NOT to keep Cameron in Downing Street.

    4….we do and say things which will attract back Liberal Democrats members and supporters who have been forced out of our party in recent years by people whose aims and objectives differ from those of proper Liberal Democrats.

    5….we do and say things that build on our strengths as a party and forget all about bums on seats in grubby deals

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Apr '15 - 6:14pm

    Malcolm Bruce speaking about the Scottish context: He is “confident we can win and hold seats.”

    I admire his optimism. It doesn’t look good though does it? I don’t get the impression that an FDP-style positioning strategy is going down well in Scotland.

    Still, 19 days to go.

  • Philip Thomas 18th Apr '15 - 6:26pm

    Well I would say that a big Priority IS not to keep Cameron in Downing Street, based on the appalling content of the Conservative Manifesto. But I agree renewal of the party matter too. Perhaps we would best be served by a Labour minority government in the short-term with a possible coalition with Labour once we have resolved matters internally

    (On the assumption we don’t pull a yellow rabbit out of our hats, do much better than anyone is expecting etc etc).

  • Philip Thomas 18th Apr '15 - 9:17pm

    But it would do nothing to persuade them to vote Lib Dem on May 7th, because he will still be leader then.

  • Paul, we all share a responsibility for our appalling state of affairs. In my humble opinion you are wrong.
    Philip: it is the image people remember and they may well respond to another. A week is a long time in politics, two weeks a lifetime. A different face, a different personality, a different image, a different style, people soon forget and associate with the new face. Clegg can still be the defacto leader but in the background. Jenkins did not resign in 1983.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 18th Apr '15 - 10:21pm

    If anyone were to be having trouble posting comments in this thread, the solution would be to send us an email to [email protected] from a valid, verifiable email address. Given the hour, they shouldn’t expect an answer this evening.

  • @Paul Walter 18th Apr ’15 – 6:24pm
    ‘And if they don’t agree with you, you don’t think they agree with the preamble and are therefore not “proper Liberal Democrats”.’

    I think you’re right in the sense that one could take the line “in which the state allows the market to operate freely where possible but intervenes where necessary” and say but of course I agree and should we ever come across the rather unbelievable circumstances where an intervention becomes necessary we will do something but it’s never happened yet and I’ll quite happy argue those conditions never will happen… and be a believer in the preamble.

    But its a rather slippery and devious kind of adherence to the preamble – the kind of logic that appeals to a mind in love with its own supposed cleverness. John Tilley appears to me to have an openly honest embrace of those words; and it’s a kind of open, honest, caring face of the party that historically has been used in the media to represent it; not the alternative, clever-clever, ideologically-driven, ‘sophisticated’ adherence to the words, that’s rather less kind but more committed to expanding the free-market at all costs. My beef is not with those people being in the party – its with them being kept out of sight while the John Tilleys of this world, councillors, local activists, good honest folk get wheeled out out to convince me to vote, particularly around election time.

    If you’re going to say this is a party for selfish people too, at least let the voters know what they’re in for. Have an advert where one of the free-marketeers gets to say how important it is that tobacco companies get to kill us for a profit because we’re just to weak or stupid to say no to addiction.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Apr '15 - 11:19pm

    Labour’s budget responsibility lock is a sham and all parties need to go to town on it. Clegg is right that it means nothing without a date for the deficit and I can’t believe Miliband is reaching over to “moderate tories” and telling them he is the leader of fiscal responsibility.

    I like Miliband, but he is letting the election get to the head and seems out of touch and unaware of the weaknesses of some of his own arguments.

  • stuart moran 18th Apr '15 - 11:28pm

    Eddie Sammon

    One reason I have seen is that he is waiting to see the mess that has been left by the Coalition (and yes I do think they are leaving a mess with an economy based on low pay, asset inflation and trickle up). The LD changed their economic policy based on, apparently, a meeting with Melvyn King so I think he is possibly right to give himself some wriggle room

    IIRC the IFS said that he can actually avoid any further cuts if he uses 2019-20 as the date but he has said that there will be further cuts – mainly in response to SNP pressure to say otherwise. Probably it is a bit more sensible not to tie himself down to a date without having seen all the numbers and then give a hostage to fortune

    The financial policy comedians out there at the moment are not Libdems or Labour they are the smaller parties (who can get out of this because they will never have to implement it) and, most importantly the Tory ‘Track Record pays for £25 billion of unfunded spending’ Party.

    By the way I have been very kind in mentioning you in the same breath as the Tories and Labour as your polling indicates you will be at best the 4th party interns of votes come May 8th

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Apr '15 - 11:46pm

    Also, the Guardian has temporarily suspended high journalism standards in order to become a Labour Party vassal. Apparently the Conservatives unfunded promises are a “reinvention that doesn’t stack up” whereas Labour’s unfunded deficit is a “smart gamble”, according to an editorial the other day.

    The Conservatives have also lost the plot, along with its newspapers too. Shares bonanza and Boris’s “Battle for Britain” – scraping the barrel or what?

    Rant over. 🙂

  • stuart moran 18th Apr '15 - 11:58pm

    Eddie Sammon

    Can you provide me a link to the Guardian you are talking about please. It is not the one I see that has supported the LD since 2005 and endorsed them at the last election

    We can have a little wager that they do not support Labour at the next election….

    Also, the Labour Party should have more slack as the Opposition – they do not see the state of the finances until they are in power so will be understandably more reticent to commit – you and the Tories used the same arguments in 2010 and have never ceased to use that stupid note from Byrne as a back-up despite knowing what it was…..the Tories know the financial situation as it was they who have created it and have had the Treasury’s help in drawing up their numbers. That makes their unfunded commitments the more ridiculous

    Your party will be deservedly hammered in May – and no-one will be to blame but your own leadership and those who support them. I only hope we can see a return to a more principled party in the aftermath that we ex-voters can return to

  • @ Paul Walter
    “Theakes: “I submit if you had followed our recommendations over the past 12 months we would at least be in 3rd place with some hope..” Yes, it’s all about you and your opinion. Again, ridiculous.”

    The idea that those members of the party who have been saying that Nick Clegg is the problem and we need to do things differently because we are not going to pick up votes because “we did the right thing and put country before party or because “fair minded people” are going vote Liberal Democrat, are all about themselves is ridiculous. They believe if the party had followed their recommendations if would be higher in the opinion polls now and it would have been better for the party. One thing is true that following the path as recommended by the leadership and their supporters has not improved how the public see us.

    I agree the time to change our leader is not now, it was last summer. However much I would like us to have a different leader there is nothing that can be done now. I am not convinced that Nick saying he will ensure there is a leadership election within a year of the general election would help.

    There are two problems for the party, the nature of our message and trust.

    The SNP have said they will make Labour more progressive, we should pick things from our manifesto and make them red lines. If we need people who are thinking about voting Green or SNP or Labour to vote for us we need to appeal more to them. People don’t thing we have made the Conservative fair or given them a heart. We need to be specific on what we will do. No if and no buts. If we have to form a coalition with the Conservatives we will not agree to more than £3bn worth of cuts to welfare. We will ensure that the Work Capacity Assessment is scraped and replaced with one based on the needs of the person. We will abolish sanctions for those with health problems so they never again will have to use food banks or consider that suicide in their only option. We will amended the sanctions systems so nobody has their benefit cut or removed for the first two offences, that no body can have their benefits stopped for missing an appointment and we will reduced the maximum time somebody can be sanctioned for to weeks and from years. We will ensure that the bedroom tax is abolished and that 300,000 new homes are build in 2019/20. With regard to Labour I don’t know if our message is working with Soft Tories, if it is then there is no need to change it to we will work with Labour to ensure that the structural deficit has been dealt with by 2020 and that mental health gets the resources it needs and that the NHS will get the £8bn it needs. I would hope these changes of emphasis might change the mood music away from the coalition government was the best government since 1906 to we will ensure that those things we didn’t get right last time we will fix if given a second chance.

    The trust issue is problematic. Could Nick Clegg promise that he will ensure that MPs will be bound by the agreement as agreed by our Conference and they will never go against a conference decision during the course of the Parliament and that he will change the party rules to ensure that any MPs that breaks the new conditions will be expelled from the party? These new rules will ensure that if MPs ever did anything like breaking the tuition fee pledge they would never ever be able to stand for the party again!

  • Theakes makes an important point – 1983 shows that it IS possible to make a major shift in direction. and even leadership, a few weeks from election day, and gain from that shift. If done properly, it can be presented as a sensible evloution, not a panic.

    So what could the Lib Dems do, now, to reverse the impending disaster?

    The key must be – as Caractacus points out – that the promises to make a difference in coalition do not yet ring true. Clegg boasts how much the Tory-LD coalition has been to his own liking. The voter can only conclude that Clegg likes the radical right-wing Tory policies that have been implemented, and that Clegg has neither the will nor the power to alter those policies substantially, because Clegg is only interested in working with one side – the Tories.

    The Lib Dems can change that, now, by announcing the formation of a high-powered team which will urgently seek to establish an outline basis for a Labour – LD coalition. This would acknowledge that the contacts and discussions already in train with the Tories need to be balanced with an equally serious approach to Labour. If Labour will talk to the LD team – fine: if they won’t, the team will simply publish their headline proposals (key points of agreement and key red lines). Vince Cable, Tim Farron, and a couple of “centrists” should form that team.

    Will the Lib Dems do that? Or will they show that there is, indeed, only one side of the Right – Left argument that the Lib Dems now belong to?

  • “I’m looking forward to the next five years in coalition.”

    “What you mean is “I’m looking forward to the next five years in a Tory led coalition””

    Yes! Only problem I see is returning a greater number of LibDems, so that actually have more sway!

  • I noted (at the time) that up to a year ago it was “too soon” to change Party leadership, and then immediately afterward it was “too late,” with absolutely no time in between.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Apr '15 - 2:13pm

    Hi Stuart, here is the link I was talking about:

    I am aware the Guardian wanted Miliband out a few months ago, but their recent editorials have been very sympathetic.

    I also think the IFS and even the BBC’s Robert Peston are being too sympathetic to Labour. I am not claiming bias, I am just saying I think they seem too confident in the abilities of economic growth to clear the deficit. Maybe they are right, but “cutting the deficit every year” means nothing. They could cut it by £1 per year. I have not seen any figures from them.

    Best regards

  • @ Eddie Sammon
    “cutting the deficit every year”
    This is a justifiable position. The Greens reject it.

    However we are inconsistent. We say Oh yes we didn’t meet the coalition’s original target date to clear the deficit, that is because we persuaded the Conservatives that it wasn’t necessary to do so as long as we were travelling in the right direction. For this general election the date when the deficit (or is it the structural deficit) has to be cleared is vital we can’t be flexible as we were in the last three or so years.

    It is laughable for us to criticise either the Labour Party or the Conservative Party about where the money is coming from for their spending commitments when three quarters of the £8bn for the NHS we say is coming from economic growth in the last two years of the next Parliament.

  • Philip Thomas 19th Apr '15 - 3:03pm

    Roland- that indeed is a very serious problem with a Tory coalition. Because there is much less common ground between our manifesto and Tory manifesto than between our manifesto and the Labour manifesto, us having fewer MPs than in 2010 and going with the Tories is likely to mean we get less than we did in 2010. (After all, the Tory position is now more extreme than in 2010, when, e.g. repealing the Human Rights Act was not on their agenda).

  • Phillip – I agree the hurdles this time around do seem to be bigger. A concern with a Labour coalition is due to the common ground is that it is probably going to be even less obvious what the LibDem contribution is than under the Conservatives. Also I think many do understand that whilst the LibDem’s may not have got very much, they did help to keep in check the extremes of the Conservative party… ie. the coalition was a success not so much for what it achieved but for what it avoided! But then that was also one of the successes of the Lib-Lab pact 🙂

  • Philip Thomas 19th Apr '15 - 3:46pm

    True. I hope would we would bring a number of things to the Labour party. Firstly a commitment to liberty and freedom to ward against their authoritarian tendencies. Secondly a commitment to financial rigour so that we can (at the very least) keep Labour to the spirit of their promise to reduce the deficit every year. Thirdly compassion for the poorest and most vulnerable in society, preventing further drastic cuts in benefits for young people and helping the mental ill be given parity of treatment with the physically ill.

    No doubt there are other things.

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