Nick Harvey: ‘If you think we are going to spend another five years being shafted (this time) by Labour, you’ve got another think coming’

The Liberal Democrat coalition negotiation team leave Cowley Street HQ for the fourth day of discussions with the Conservatives May 10th 2010.

Earlier this week we highlighted Nick Harvey MP’s report “Beyond the Rose Garden”. In it, he recommends a range of changes in arrangements for any future coalition governments.

In the wake of his report’s publication, Nick has now given an extensive interview with Huffington Post in which he gives some frank and fascinating views on potential outcomes after the May election. It really is a “must-read”.

Here are some juicy morsels, from the interview, to whet your appetite:

On whether the Lib Dems would join a coalition again

It will be much harder to convince the party again. We have lost a third of our members, we’ve lost almost half our councillors, we are going to lose a lot of our share of the vote, we are going to lose some parliamentary seats, most people think. We have paid an awful price for it. I don’t know whether the party will sign up to another coalition but what I do know is there will be a really meaningful debate and you won’t get a situation where 1,500 souls gather at the NEC and only ten rebel.

On the prospect of coalition with Labour

First elected to parliament in 1992, Harvey’s politics are closer to Labour’s than the Conservatives. “Philosophically, yes,” he said when asked if he would prefer a coalition with Miliband than another with Cameron. However he said there were practical problems.

Miliband and Cameron must also be prepared for an “older, wiser and uglier” Lib Dem coalition negotiating team than was deployed five years ago.

“I think that most Lib Dems feel that the coalition government has been a success, but that we have been quite bruised by it. We feel we have spent five years being shafted by the Tories and I think our attitude sitting down at the outset of any further coalition with either party would be to say: ‘now look here, we’ve just spent five years being shafted by the Tories, if you think we are going to spend five years – I suppose I am thinking here about talking to Labour – being shafted by you, you’ve got another thing coming’.”

On whether Labour are prepared for coalition

I don’t underestimate how difficult it would be. I don’t underestimate how tribal the Labour Party is by comparison with quite a pragmatic Tory party. I don’t sense that Labour are working on this at all. I think they are just going for a victory on their own. I don’t think they have opened up communications channels. I don’t think they have game planned how they would respond to the hung parliament scenario,” he said.

If they are anywhere near as ill-prepared or as negative in their attitude in 2010, when Harriet Harman was more or less telling Chris Huhne to go off and be a glorified research assistant when he was sitting on the offer of a cabinet seat from David Cameron, they will just need to really up their game drastically, if they are serious about wanting this as an option.

On the rise of the SNP

They [the SNP] are now an element in the equation in a way that nobody could have anticipated and which is almost exclusively at Labour’s expense,” Harvey observed. “It is now much tougher for Labour to win, but not impossible. It is pretty unlikely they are going to win outright on their own. As the polls stand at the moment they are are still on course to be the largest party.”

On the unlikelihood of the Conservatives emerging as the party with most seats

(Nick believes Labour will be the largest party in the Commons after the election.) However Harvey marvelled at why none of his colleagues in parliament shared his view. “Nobody in the Westminster beltway appears to believe that is going to happen. Absolutely everybody seems to think the Tories will come out as the largest party. Which might be true, but something is going to have to happen to cause that, that is not the trajectory.”

“I think the Tory and Labour Party votes will each be around 32% or 33%. The number of seats will be around about the 280 or 285.

“Then the question is do we have enough to get them to 326 [a majority]. The more SNP MPs there are the less likely we will.

“It’s not the view in the beltway. The view in the beltway is the Tories will get through the 300 barrier and Labour won’t come back with many more seats than they have got now. For that to be true something has got to shift. And I have been hearing from the Tories for four and half years now that it will all swing their way at the end. I’m still hearing that from the Tories.

“It was all meant to happen when the economy started improving. Well the economy started improving in June 2013. We are now in February 2015.”

Harvey added: “They are leaving it devilishly late.”

You can read the full write-up of the interview

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • But shafted is exactly what we are going to be if we go into a government with only 25 MPs compared with Labour’s figure of approaching 300 – twelve times as many. Just remember, the Tories had “only” five times as many MPs as the Lib Dems did in 2010, despite us getting two thirds their share of votes.

    I sincerely hope we can keep a reasonable tally of MPs (30+), yet Labour win enough seats (just) to govern on their own. Then they would face all the unpopularity of being in power at a difficult time for the public finances plus all their unfunded promises would come back to bite them on the behind. Their poll ratings would plummet immediately to sub-Hollande levels.

    Or maybe Labour will be foolish enough to tie up with the SNP. If they do, God help them in the rest of the UK.

  • Incomplete picture? I thought there was a Wallace in the team? But no Grommit.

  • I’m one of those who have left the LibDems and will vote Labour, but if it is to be a coalition I would much prefer it to be with the SNP. The LibDems need a complete change in leadership before anyone but the Tories could work with them and I think most Tories would prefer to do a deal with UKIP.

  • paul barker 7th Feb '15 - 12:15pm

    Coalition will be much tougher this time & not just because we have been hit, both Labour & Tories have become more extreme & more divided.
    On how Labour will do we need to factor in that the Polls have been shifting slowly. Labour were averaging 43% at their peak 2 years ago & were still 3% ahead before Xmas, their lead now is probably between 1 & 2 % & will decline further. I cant see Labour getting more than 30% in May, add in the loss of their Scots contingent & they wont have the most MPs.

  • Interesting point raised by Caracatus. With Malcolm Bruce standing down (and would have lost to Alex Salmond anyway) and Nick Clegg appearing set to lose his seat, the Lib Dems would be going into the post-election power brokering with no leader or deputy leader. It is difficult to see how they could credibly put together a negotiating team and position when any remaining MPs will be jockeying with each other for position in relation to a leadership election. Nor would having such a power vacuum make them an attractive group to negotiate with.

  • According to Lord A over at Conservaive Home –“……in Doncaster North, Ed Miliband is a full 30 points clear of his nearest challenger:”
    Whereas Lord A has Our dear leader losing his seat and Labour winning there if not by a country mile.

    Andrew Neil on This Week on Thursday night asked the question — “…if everything is going so badly for Miliband and Labour – why aren’t the Tories ahead by ten points?”

    It is the key question for early Feb. Cameron, the Tory media Moguls and their BBC poodles, along with the Tory Non-Dom businessmen (they are all men) have thrown several kitchen sinks at Miliband in the last few weeks but still he remains on course to lead the biggest number of MPs.

    Could it be that the voters are sick and tired of warmed up Thatcherism?

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Feb '15 - 12:59pm

    To Lib Dems hoping on going into coalition again: What can you say to us to convince us that:

    1. A coalition with the Conservatives from 2015-2020 won’t be one of the most hated ever and finish the party in some areas.

    2. A coalition with Labour won’t ramp up red tape, taxes and destroy jobs and businesses.

  • Simon Hebditch 7th Feb '15 - 1:16pm

    If the Lib Dems end up with fewer than 30 seats we should not seek a role in any ensuing coalition. The electorate, in those circumstances, will have pronounced on the party and we would be well advised to spend the next five years transforming and renewing the party so that it began the slow, agonising process of establishing a clear, centre left position. I will also need to re-establish credibility with centre left extra-parliamentary movements and campaigns and that will take both time and an explicit change in the party’s leadership – not just the Leader but all those who have compromised our integrity over the last five years.

  • Peter Chegwyn 7th Feb '15 - 1:29pm

    I totally agree with everything said by Simon Hebditch. We need to re-build our party post-May from the ground up, re-establish our credibility as a centre-left party, and start winning again all those local council seats we’ve lost since 2010. That will be made far harder if we enter another coalition at Westminster with either Tories or Labour after losing half our MPs (or more).

  • Tony Dawson 7th Feb '15 - 1:30pm

    Wise man, Simon.

  • Dr Michael Taylor 7th Feb '15 - 2:29pm

    A poll carried out for Unite? Hardly an unbiased purchaser. And Ashcroft, surely not a man who wishes Clegg well. Look at the past 5 years. Lib Dem councillors still form the vast majority in Clegg’s seat and Lib Dems have been consistently ahead in those local elections. Labour is following Goebbels in believing that if you repeat a lie long enough people will believe it. All you Clegg haters out there may wish him to lose, but the reality is he won’t. Sadly a number of Lib Dem MPs will lose, but not as many as you think.

  • Since there is a fixed term parliament there will be less pressure for a coalition as there cannot be an easy option for a party to convert a minority government to a majority one. We could just set out to vote on item and item basis.
    I do hope some thought is going into how a no majority parliament will operate so that business can be dealt with sensibly.
    If a coalition is agreed then it must be on the basis that when there is differences between the government policies that the line to be taken should be guided by a vote of parliament as a whole. For example on Trident replacement; government should not plough ahead until parliament wishes to replace or not. Then after a steering vote a government will adopt that policy and that an appropriate minister with full Civil Service support will take responsibilty for the passage of the bill.

  • Not wanting to get shafted again ? That’s what millions of people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 are thinking.
    But the party are sleepwalking to May, despite warnings from all directions.
    Looks as if Clegg could be booted out if polls for Hallam are correct.

  • stuart moran 7th Feb '15 - 3:10pm

    Michael Taylor

    You do realise that the polling organisations have a Code of Practice and means all tables have to be published

    Are you accusing these companies of underhand tactics? That is a serious accusation to make….I hope you have the evidence to back it up – so where is the evidence based on the questions asked or the analysis of the results that they have misinterpreted the results?

    Funny that both polls show the same result though!

    I would also like to say that I find it unbecoming that he has likened another particular party to the NSDAP and accused then of being economical with the actuality – I am sure I would have had my post removed for that

  • Dr Michael Taylor@

    It isn’t just a poll commissioned by Unite [carried out according to usual polling standards] it is also one by Ashcroft.
    There was an error by the company he commissioned [he says he won’t use them again] and their 3% lead for Clegg was wrong and Labour were ahead in Hallam.

    As YouGov’s polling expert Antony Wells points the methodology Survation used is the same as they use for for all their clients. For example, should say….errr…Vince Cable be looking to do a little private polling then they would use the same methodology.

  • stuart moran 7th Feb '15 - 3:28pm

    Simon Shaw

    I hope that Clegg is showing the same degree of complacency as you!

    Labour have never won this seat – it being formerly Tory – and for a leader of a party to be in danger of losing his seat, even if he does hang on is a massive vote of no-confidence in him

    Perhaps he will be helped by the lack of interest by the government in ensuring people are registered to vote – spent all the money on ‘Help to Buy’ and other hair-brained schemes in an attempt to glean some votes. It seems only some councils and the Labour Party are trying to ensure that everyone who is entitled to vote can do – funny isn’t it that those most likely to be affected will be from a demographic unlikely to vote for your Tory masters!

  • stuart moran 7th Feb '15 - 3:31pm

    In last post meant to focus on the advertising for ‘Help to Buy’

  • The SNP is mainly a threat to Labour?! We had 11 seats there, out of our total of 59. and will do well to keep 3, though I think it’ll not go below 2. I dread to think what the UK total will be in May.
    Labour had 41 seats in Scotland out of a total of 258, and will make some dozens of gains in Wales and England, quite a lot from us, undeserving of that as they may be.

  • Simon Shaw 7th Feb ’15 – 3:16pm
    Simon, you ended your comment with the words —
    “…..he and his local party don’t deserve to win.”

    According not just to Ashcroft, but two additional opinion polls, that is what the people at Hallam currently think.
    It seems unlikely that three different polling organisations commissioned by three different people from three different parties would conspire to put out false information. Would you agree?
    A clue as to what people at the top of our party think is the presence of Lord Ashdown of Norton Sub-Post Office.
    If the High Command was confident about Hallam – they would not be using Paddy in Hallam.
    Or maybe you know better?

  • Although I think it unlikely that Clegg would lose, surely he would still be the leader of the Party even if he did. He would have to resign and a rather interesting election of a new leader would ensue; I presume any negotiations would have to be put on ice.

  • Tsar Nicolas 7th Feb '15 - 5:29pm

    Simon Shaw

    The best-selling book of the 2015 election will likely have the title: “Were you still up for Clegg?”

  • Simon Shaw 7th Feb ’15 – 5:06pm
    “…….Well clearly I know better than you.”

    Three separate opinion polls, and Paddy out in the snow in Hallam are inconvenient facts.

    Could you clarify what you mean when you say that the party is “seriously targetting” 60 seats.

    Can you list 60 seats that are being “seriously targeted” ?

    Can you list 30 ?

  • Nick Harvey’s main point is that both Labour and Conservatives have been instrumental in ensuring that the price of coalition has greatly increased. In the scenario that Nick Harvey portrays, I cannot see any realistic prospect of a coalition. I cannot realistically think of any offer that might appeal to the Party.

  • I am probably right of center in the party BUT can we forget coalition, ever since Cleggie mentioned we would be in coalition with the Cons or Labour our dire prospects have become even more dire, and he appears now likely to lose his seat. In one way that could be a blessed relief, we can then get on with trying to save the party,, review our policies and attitudes and come back refreshed and reinvigorated. It will take 2 –3 years. I suspect in the final analysis there will be a move to the Cons, against the prospect of a Labour/SNP coalition – the latter have hit us as hard as Labour, in some places more so, and that may well result in a lot of our English seats going to the Conservatives who will form a majority government as a result.

  • Tsar Nicolas 7th Feb '15 - 6:59pm

    Simon Shaw

    “Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the Ashcroft poll is an accurate reflection of current voting intention. Based on those current figures, if the Lib Dem candidate doesn’t ultimately end up winning, and winning by a good margin, then he and his local party don’t deserve to win.”

    Oh come on! This is a poll in a seat where the Lib Dems had a 15,000 majority in 2010! That it is even in play shows what a disaster Clegg and the Orange Bookers have been.

  • Peter Chegwyn 7th Feb '15 - 7:43pm

    Does anyone take Simon Shaw seriously? Does Simon Shaw take himself seriously?

    Sorry Simon, yourunfailing optimism is admirable but completely out of touch with reality.

    Obviously you haven’t noticed all the opinion polls, by-election polls, council polls and european polls over the past five years.

    I’d love to think you are right and every indicator of public opinion is wrong but I fear too much Southport sand has got into your crystal ball and clouded your vision.

  • stuart moran 7th Feb '15 - 8:04pm


    Don’t worry, he takes himself very seriously indeed

  • @Simon Shaw

    “We are going to lose a shed load more councillors in May”

    Really, why is that?”

    Folk like you are only interested in your own isolated little bubble, look at the limited impact of coalition policy on Southport, Birkdale and similar areas and compare and contrast that with areas such as Bootle which I believe falls under the same local authority boundaries.

    As long as you hold onto the key areas which retain control of the council you could care less about the impact of coalition cuts on areas such as Bootle – right wing mentality.

  • Simon: Your first paragraph: good repost. Some people have a distinctly odd way of taking themselves seriously.

  • Stephen Hesketh 7th Feb '15 - 10:22pm

    In line with the apparent views majority of contributors here I believe the Liberal Democrats to be a party of the radical reforming non-socialist centre left.

    I don’t see how anyone can read the preamble to our constitution and conclude that we are anything but a party of the centre left.

    Clegg is a decent centrist Liberal but he simply does not hold mainstream Liberal Democratic views or objectives when it comes to economics and the redistribution of wealth.

    Although a life-long anti-Tory, I supported us entering a coalition with them. What I can not accept however is a small group of people attempting to move OUR party to the centre/centre-right without an explicit debate, vote and change in the constitution. If that were to occur then clearly I, as a person of the left, would be in the wrong party and would have to look elsewhere.

    So yes, there have been times we have been shafted – and there have also been times when the economics of Clegg, Laws, Browne and others on the centre-right of the party have ‘eased the entry’ of essentially Thatcherite policies as agreed government policy.

    The loss of so many members, supporters and voters suggests they too have taken issue with us not demonstrably adhering – or at least being seen to attempt to adhere – to the values of the centre left.

    This failure can only be placed at the door of one person.

  • Stephen Hesketh 7th Feb '15 - 10:51pm

    Simon Shaw 7th Feb ’15 – 9:24pm

    For my part, I should like to see a stand off whereby NC agrees that a leadership election will take place immediately after the GE and that ALL members and hopefully many ex-members would then unite to work for our party and its parliamentary candidates.

    In the real world this simply isn’t going to happen. NC should have considered his position last May resulting in us by now having that distraction behind us; but he didn’t. He decided to fight on, but rather than change his style and reach an accommodation with the membership, he has continued his own line and seems fully intent on keeping the party ‘anchored firmly at the centre’, effectively writing the party’s manifesto, hand-picking the post GE negotiating team and forming another coalition.

    This leaves members like myself, highly concerned for the continued survival of our party as a meaningful political machine with little option but to work only for politically like-minded Lib Dem candidates and keep fighting our corner concerning its return to mainstream values.

  • Matt (Bristol) 7th Feb '15 - 10:53pm

    (I don’t think anyone will bother reading this but who cares:)

    I was very taken by the mischievous tone of the interview in particular where he speculates wildly about Labour taking a long time to negotiate a government (presumably with the SNP, although I don’t think this was stated), Cameron resigning as PM and Tory leader simultaneously, and Nick Clegg as DPM being invited to be interim PM (IIRC, this was after standing down as LibDem leader, although this may be implied…)

    This was probably just intended to raise eyebrows rather than add to debate, but it made me think who’d be in that interim cabinet…

  • Stephen Hesketh 7th Feb '15 - 11:36pm

    Arthur Ore 7th Feb ’15 – 9:02pm

    No one has been more parochial in Sefton than those Labour councillors elected from Bootle in particular. The cuts made by them have been completely disproportionately inflicted on Southport . Unfortunately this seems to stem from the completely false belief that Southport is a prosperous town full of wealthy inhabitants and in pursuit of old style class-based politics. Talk about being shafted!

  • The key point is that if the logic of this coalition was to offer stability for the UK and the Lib Dems were willing to ditch election pledges to achieve stability. then refusing to do the same if there is a Labour lead government compounds the criticism of the party being a wing of the Conservatives. Otherwise the fate of The National Liberals looms large. IMO, Clegg losing Sheffield Hallam may actually do everyone a favour and put the Lib Dems back on track.

  • Paul in Wokingham 8th Feb '15 - 6:30am
  • Stephen Hesketh 8th Feb '15 - 7:25am

    … and it should have been the time for the Liberal Democrats to shine.

    Instead we have been left divided and wondering where the greatest risk of being shafted comes from.

  • With Labour on a lead of 2% in today”s Observer opinion poll, what can be inferred? – Probably not that much. In any case, FPTP makes a nonsense of overall opinion cells and when UKIP and the Greens are more likely to lose rather than gain seats despite the same poll having them above Lib Dems.

    The most obvious hypothesis that I conclude is that if Labour were to form a government there would not be any significant ‘honeymoon’ factor and that Labour and Miliband in particular would rapidly become deeply unpopular and subject to deep loathing from the all sides. A kind of parallel to Lib Dems and Clegg.

    Whether the number of Lib Dem MPs mean that their votes or abstentions are required to put a government together, I think that the real prospect that Labour would become very unpopular needs to be taken into account.

    There comes a point where the leaders have to pay more heed to the welfare of the Party and the Liberal ideas that it espouses than wheeling and dealing in Westminster.

    I deplore the rather personalised attacks on Simon Shaw. He and Matthew Huntbach, from usually opposing points of view, provide a consistently constructive, informed yet critical account of the Party; furthermore they support their viewpoints with evidence and the fruit of credible experience. It is clear that both look forward to what may be possible for the Party in the future and understand the practical realities of politics.

    This cannot be said of all commentators, some of whom it seems to me have other more personal, historical grumbles with the Party or are a few who are opposed to the Party and for whom posting on these pages have become something of an obsession.

  • Martin.
    Simon Shaw extensively quotes other people’s comments and comments on their comments. They in turn answer back and it sometimes ends up looking like a battle for who has the last word. Matthew Huntbach always takes the time to express his own views which can go back and fourth, but his views are always crystal clear. For the record I will probably still vote Lib Dem this time because I’m in a rock solid Labour seat and I hope the Lib Dems can recover from this alarming dip where every vote will count. My problem is that I don’t and never have supported this coalition which means I sometimes worry that my vote will be taken for support of the Lib Dems current stance.

  • Glenn: The strategies both employ are actually pretty similar; you could have reversed the names in your comment. Interestingly neither is totally against the formation of the present coalition; both are critical, though Matthew has stronger criticism on how the coalition was formed and of subsequent strategy. Both are opposed to a coalition post the election, though Simon may be more clear cut on this. So far as I can see, both are committed classic Liberals in terms of the individual’s relationship to the state, though Matthew has a more left looking stance.

    Most Liberal Democrats were surely dismayed that the outcome of 2010 left the Conservatives as the only option for a coalition. Given the economic situation and the build up during the electoral campaign, a refusal to participate would obviously have led to derision of our stance all round and a most likely subsequent win for the Conservatives within months. With hind sight, you could say that we could have taken the hit and then tried to compete with Labour for the anti-Tory vote at the next election.

    The problem with what your “vote will be taken for” under FPTP is that no one can tell. I would like to know what genuine support there is for the kind of Liberalism that the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats have stood for in the UK over the last century. Sadly I fear that there has been less fundamental support than we have often imagined.

  • I just wonder if there is any way of ensuring any posts that are shown are on the topic of the thread, rather than the boring anti-Clegg posting that has been done to death by a small minority ?
    Every one who ever looks at this site knows the anti-Clegg position of a small number of posters. Does every thread have to be totally monopolised by them ?
    It really is getting intensely boring zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • I think it’s important for current libdem MP’s to focus first and foremost on getting themselves elected and challenging in other seats. All talk of any coalition dealing should be put to the side. I don’t think the public trusts coalitions as much as some MP’s think and it places a question mark on which of the promises are credible come June.

    Secondly, the discussions preclude the choice of the largest party may simply be to govern as a minority government with a confidence and supply agreement. This may then result in another election within a year. If other party supporters would prefer governing in minority, it seems misplaced as a minor party to seek to muscle in and assume power.

    The priority for the libdems in the 6 months after May is to revitalise a party, reconnect the leadership to the grassroots, ensure the Lords and MEP’s play a cohesive role and refocus on returning councillors back locally. The only coalition red lines should focus on constitutional reform devolving power to local authorities and broad principles for public spending and foreign policy (including an EU referendum)

  • Stephen Hesketh 8th Feb '15 - 7:48pm

    Tim Hill 8th Feb ’15 – 3:09pm

    Tim, just as a matter of interest, do you consider your own post to be ‘on topic’?

    As it happens my colleague Simon Shaw has more than double the posts of anyone else and has, if anything, taken a Cleggite centre party line in this thread. I might conclude that taking a position contrary to the views of anti-Clegg posters is considered ‘on topic’ according to your particular set of definitions.

    In your book, was our being shafted (the topic of the thread) during this parliament completely unrelated to the vision and approach of our leadership?

  • Stephen Hesketh: Has Simon Shaw ” taken a Cleggite centre party line”? This is not at all obvious, though I sincerely hope you are right for if true would mean that whatever Clegg is saying for pubic consumption, he would have no intention, short of a complete turn around in Lib Dem fortunes, of forming a coalition with anyone (which I think is the preferred position of Simon Shaw). Indeed, this position is hinted at by Nick Harvey.

  • Tony Greaves 8th Feb '15 - 8:03pm

    This was quite an interesting thread until Simon Shaw trolled his way in…

  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Feb '15 - 8:09pm

    Would anyone who has commented so far in this thread like to say whether they have read the interview the post was about???

  • Stephen Hesketh 8th Feb '15 - 8:22pm

    Martin 8th Feb ’15 – 7:56pm

    Martin, you may well be right and I am sure Simon will comment on his own views should he see fit.

    I may be guilty of focussing on one of my own hobby horses – that of us clearly being a party of the radical non-socialist centre left and Simon’s comment:

    “The problem with the Lib Dems being what they call a “centre left” party is that if that is what you really are, then how on earth can you countenance the possibility of being in a coalition with the Conservatives.
    If you want to be in a party that could only be in a coalition with Labour, then isn’t the easiest thing for all concerned simply to join Labour.”

  • Tsar Nicolas 8th Feb '15 - 8:36pm

    Tony Greaves 8th Feb ’15 – 8:03pm

    “This was quite an interesting thread until Simon Shaw trolled his way in…”

    Harsh . . .

  • stuart moran 8th Feb '15 - 8:55pm

    but accurate….

  • Tony Greaves: That is a totally unworthy trollish comment from someone who could provide a considered perspective on Nick Harvey’s comments about the prospects of another result of No Overall Control and possibly another coalition. Simon Shaw’s comments need to be dealt with on their merits, rather than gratuitous sneers.

    I took the comment to which Stephen Hesketh draws attention as a rejection of attempts to define the Party in terms of a two dimensional Tory – Labour axis. Stephen’s reference to “radical non-socialist centre left” suggests that he also is uneasy with this. If ‘left’ means like Labour, I think we are better off simply describing ourselves as Liberal or perhaps better socially and politically Liberal, since elsewhere Liberal is also taken to mean economically Liberal (and neither of the other aspects).

  • Simon Shaw: “centre left” is a phrase brought into the discussion by Simon Hebditch and Peter Chegwyn. I agree that it is a weasel phrase (as is ‘progressive’) that carries more than a whiff of self-congratulatory backslapping so anyone is right to inquire what it means in the context.

    Out of interest how would you prefer to characterise the position or outlook of the Party? Some in this thread seem to be making assumptions about your outlook that may well not be at all justified.

  • Simon Shaw: Out of interest how would you prefer to characterise the position or outlook of the Party? Some in this thread seem to be making assumptions about your outlook that may well not be at all justified.

    [The LDV vetting system is doing odd things – eventually this will appear as a double post]

  • A lot of this election depends on SNP’s effect on Labour. I tend to agree with Nick Harvey, but would add that SNP are looking strong at the moment, but as the election looms closer they could lose support because Scotland did not actually gain independence and to an extent its budgets will still be dependent on Westminster. I think the problem for the Tories is that the voters they tended to rely have changed and no one is really feeling an economic upturn that puts money in their pockets. They are to me trying to fight a 1980/1990ss election 20-30 years too late and a lot of people with long memories looking at 2015 are assuming the same sort of logic, imagining the mid Thatcher years or the “shock” Major win provides clues. But ireally if they were going to win they would be by now and all the available information suggests they have lost ground since 2010.

  • Stephen Hesketh 8th Feb '15 - 10:40pm

    Yes Martin you are correct, I do totally reject the two dimensional Labour-Tory reductive tactic. I strongly believe I belong to party which is more open minded, generous in spirit, greener, egalitarian, communitarian and internationalist than Labour.

    Liberal Democracy is so powerful because it can not be constrained within the lawyers, “well if it isn’t yes, it must be no” reductionist tactic.

  • Simon: So often, I fail to see what space there is ‘to the right’ of Labour. Would you always see Labour’s defence of Union power (such as closed shops) as to the right or the left? Perhaps it might be easier for some in the electorate to see the Party as a bit to the right of Labour, but surely that is a misrepresentation and as likely as the characterisation of the party as a bit to the left of Labour to obscure the socially and politically Liberal point of view.

    Since this article is about coalitions, is it not the case that the an important politically Liberal impetus was to demonstrate that a politically plural coalition government is possible in the UK? Whatever else and at whatever the cost we have carried this through to the (perhaps somewhat bitter) end and incidentally, having done so need not feel quite so obliged to do so again in the near future.

  • Alex Sabine 9th Feb '15 - 1:32am

    @ Stephen Hesketh
    I appreciate your clear explanation of how you believe the Lib Dems should be different from Labour: greener, more egalitarian, more internationalist etc. Yet I must admit I’m perplexed. You complain about the “reductionist tactic” of putting parties on a left-right spectrum, yet seemingly fall into that trap yourself by insisting that the Lib Dems are (ir should be) on the “radical non-socialist centre-left“.

    And I notice that many Lib Dems who claim the left-right axis is anachronistic and obsolete seem to spend a lot of time denouncing supposed “right-wing” positions taken by the leadership and allege that a “right-wing clique” has taken over the party. They also often criticise Labour for being right-wing or insufficiently left-wing when in power… So is the left-right spectrum really obsolete, or only when it suits your purposes?

    Personally, I tend to agree that the left-right axis is less relevant than it was in, say, the 1945-1989 period. It still has some residual meaning, and I don’t think we can do without it altogether – but it isn’t how the average person thinks about political issues any more. The liberal-authoritarian axis has some merit as an alternative scale, and can be quite revealing, but it’s rather abstract and frankly I think it’s even less likely that voters categorise their political views in this way.

    For example, if the polls are any guide then the average voter holds most or all of the following views:
    – has no love for austerity but believes it is necessary
    – thinks the banks are up to no good but does not want to ditch either the market economy or the consumer society
    – supports higher taxes on the rich but not on the general population
    – likes the Lib Dem policy of raising the personal allowance
    – believes the Tories are more economically competent than Labour
    – believes David Cameron is a stronger leader than Ed Miliband
    – trusts Labour more than the Tories on the NHS
    – believes all 3 main parties are too ‘soft’ on immigration and are allowing it on too large a scale
    – strongly supports the household benefit cap (indeed thinks it should be lower) and moves to tighten the conditionality of welfare benefits
    – dislikes the EU in its current form but is unsure whether we should leave
    – believes petrol and energy prices are too high and has no appetite for green taxes
    – thinks the foreign aid budget is too high, especially at a time of dometic austerity, and the money should be spent on other things
    – takes a tough line on law and order and tends to support tougher security measures even at the expense of civil liberties
    – is relaxed about sexuality and personal morality and supports civic equality

    I’m not sure where such a voter would be placed on the traditional left-right spectrum. But insofar as these are views shared by a plurality of voters, you could argue that they represent the centre ground. Political parties should of course be guided by principles, not be slaves to public opinion. Yet, in a democracy, they do need to engage with it and make peace with it if they are to win, and maintain, popular support and get the opportunity to put their ideas into effect.

    I make no comment here about which, if any, of the above topics are ones on which Lib Dems might wish to reconsider their position. But I do notice how few of the party’s positions chime with the views of the public as expressed in opinion polls. I can’t help wondering whether this might help to explain the party’s current low standing as much as any personal or ideological failings of Nick Clegg and coalition ministers. Indeed, on most issues except for the EU (for which his obvious passion is emphatically not widely shared), it seems to me that Clegg the pragmatic triangulator is actually more in tune with public opinion than most of his party critics are…

  • Martin: “an important politically Liberal impetus was to demonstrate that a politically plural coalition government is possible in the UK . . . we have carried this through to the . . .end”

    But has that been demonstrated to most people’s satisfaction? Or has the impression been created, to the contrary, that a coalition (especially of very unequal partners, both in numbers and in political heft and skill) is a stitch-up and a betrayal of an electorate who had expected a different sort of result?

  • stuart moran 9th Feb '15 - 6:07am


    Do the Labour Party still support the closed shop? – isn’t this now illegal and have you any evidence that they have this as a policy?

    I find it interesting that these claims of left-wing Labour giving in to union power are based on things that happened over 30 years ago – it may have escaped your notice but we had 13 years of a (right-wing) Labour Government that did nothing to bring back those days

    Even though Miliband seems to be more sympathetic to organised Labour (and I would like to hear your reasoning why people should not join together to help improve their position) I have not seen it proposed anywhere that this should include a return to the closed shop and mass meetings

    The Tory Party (and others of the right) use a characterisation of 30 years ago to attack the unions but we see today the continued subservience of the Tories to big money – money flows into them and favours flow out. I cannot see the unions will, or have, received many favours from Labour since the 70s!

    Can someone on here seriously say that the loss in living standards, increased inequality and problems with the Birtish economy are due to politicians following left-wing and pro-union policies?

    The Lib Dems attacked Labour from the left during the Blair years.

    What this country misses is a radical, liberal, left-wing party. Not a conservative party like most of the the Tories, and a significant amount of the Labour party, who are only there to preserve privilege and the status quo. Not a radical, liberal right-wing party who liberalism only goes as far as laissez-faire and ignores those who are on the other side of the fence

    If Simon Shaw wants to be a party to the the right of Labour, then surely us on the left of the spectrum only really have the Greens or Labour!

  • Julian Tisi 9th Feb '15 - 9:14am

    Tim Hill 8th Feb ’15 – 3:09pm
    Hear, hear!!!!

  • Alex Sabine.
    Interesting point, but I suspect that few people at any point ever fell neatly into a left right axis. Most voters have always been anti–mass immigration. as well as sceptical of the EU and no one ever lost votes saying they would be tough on crime etc.

  • stuart moran 9th Feb '15 - 10:35am

    Simon Shaw

    I agree with your view that the Lib Dems are now an insignificant party on the centre -right, trying to gain this middle 20% in an ever-shifting political framework

    Wouldn’t it be better to have some principles and stick to them rather than aiming for this mythical centre ground

    I imagine these people who call themselves centrist have no real idea what they believe in and will go to the highest bidder!

    I am only a mere voter though – do your fellow members agree with you?

  • stuart moran 9th Feb '15 - 10:39am

    Oh and by the way Simon Shaw – even if you are right then it seems a good proportion this 20% has found someone else to vote for this time?

    Perhaps what you think your party stood for is not what the voters thought…perhaps they believed all that stuff Clegg talked about before changing his mind

  • matt (Bristol) 9th Feb '15 - 10:55am

    Not including myself, two people have mentioned ‘Nick Harvey’ in this thread: Martin and Glenn.
    I think the case for more posts / threads that exclude regular commenters is pretty much wrapped up.

  • stuart moran 9th Feb '15 - 10:59am

    matt (Bristol)

    and from whom do you obtain your authority?

  • matt (Bristol) 9th Feb '15 - 11:21am

    Stuart, I speak with no more authority than you do. I’m just saying that having read the Nick Harvey interview and wanting to discuss with others about it, I find myself drowned out by a crowd of shouty voices (many of who are very keen on stating their own authority / experience / expertise) who have no interest in discussing the article or the interview, many of whom have their own pre-decided notions about the issue of coalition which they have rehearsed on here multiple times before, and like to attack and re-attack one another over and over again. Some of them appear ot have read the headline of the OP, but that’s pretty few and far between too.

    I feel like Arabella Weir’s Girl Men Can’t Hear – maybe I’m the LibDem Member Councillors And Ex-Councillors Can’t Hear.

    The comment policy on here is: ‘Our comments policy is very simple: be polite, be on topic, and be who you say you are.’

    I’d really like to know why you and others think your comments were on topic. Did you read the Nick Harvey piece on the Huffington Post? Or did you just see something that annoyed you in the ‘most recent comments’ column and click to reply without reading the article?

  • stuart moran 9th Feb '15 - 11:34am


    But I think a lot of them have been on topic…they pretty much all touch on how the liberal democrats will position themselves after the next election and what the best options are

    I liked Harvey’s contribution and agree with him on a lot of things but if you think that this close to an election and with the party at an ideological turning point that articles such as this are not going to become part of the ongoing argument then I think you are being very optimistic

    The party is split….you can see that surely and if the opinion polls are born out then it will only get nastier. Political parties can maintain a façade of unity as long as they are doing well! Your party has been doing well since 1997 and all the frustrations are coming to the fore

    By trying to limit who can comment aren’t you just trying to deal with the symptoms and not the underlying issues? There is a members area for those who want to become one and that is self-limiting, outside you have people who give you the view of the voters……I am a lfelong LD voter but it seems to you that my opinion should not count. At least I am engaging with the debate, and find many here who I agree with.

  • Matt#
    I am a regular commentator and usually on topic.

  • stuart moran 9th Feb '15 - 11:39am

    Simon Shaw

    I am not sure to be honest

    I am to the left of those 20% and I voted for you – so did a lot of my friends who are of the same opinions as me more or less!

    I expect your assessment is simplistic and some of that 20% voted Tory and Labour as well

    Have you any evidence that the majority your voters in 2010 came from that 20% and that you are the party that is most appealing to them?

    I am not sure who that 20% is to be honest…I doubt they will be radicals though if you asked them…probably hope to maintain the status quo – anybody I have met who says they are in the centre ground is usually disinterested in politics and has no opinion on anything! Usually followed by the – ‘they are all the same anyway’ nonsense

    I want a radical party, and my preference is a radical left-wing party. Being radical in the centre when the voters there are apathetic is not so easy!

  • stuart moran 9th Feb '15 - 12:07pm

    Simon Shaw

    I think the point being made on council elections is that because it is on the same day as a GE the number of losses is linked to how well the party does in the GE due to higher turnout – in this respect the assertion that there will be no loss from 2011 is not a robust one.

    In general though it is difficult to predict but my own view is that the Lib Dems will find that the vote being on the same day as the GE will be very difficult f or them

    As to your last paragraph…you are the past master at avoiding answering questions, focusing on dogma and refusing to give your views on what policy should be – it is a little rich you complaining of someone else


  • stuart moran 9th Feb '15 - 12:16pm

    Simon Shaw

    What are your Liberal Democratic principles? A few bullets would suffice

    I do maintain that the Lib Dem party you espouse is right-wing – I cannot say whether the party as a whole is but your leadership definitely is

    I base my views on people who call themselves ‘centrist’ based on personal experience – I have yet to meet a radical centrist to be honest….perhaps you have

  • matt (Bristol) 9th Feb '15 - 1:19pm

    Glenn, I know you are and so am I; but we are in a minority, generally.

    Stuart – a topic related to coalition is going to come up about twice a week in this election period. I don’t see why they should all become one rolling conversation between the same people about the same bl**dy things with almost no reference to the content of the original article.

    Most of these comments could be posted under the new ‘Coalitions 2.0’ post appearing today, with no changes and no one would be any the wiser. Many of them would be more on-topic for that thread. I think if the same issue is going to come up again and again, the crtieria for what is on-topic effectively becomes tighter.

    I am in a similar situation to you; I moved from being ‘only’ a voter to being a semi-engaged member only in the last 2 yrs. I say that no-one’s opinion is worth less than anyone else’s, but on a forum where people are directed to be on topic, people should as a matter of natural mutual respect to one another and the forum itself, try to be on-topic. It’s not rocket science.

    So, WHO (apart from Martin, myself and Glenn) READ THE INTERVIEW????

  • stuart moran 9th Feb '15 - 1:42pm

    Simon Shaw

    I think on a GE day you are at risk of losing more seats because you have, as a party, polled higher on a LE only day

    You believe what you want but to be honest I think Caractacus’s prediction will be more likely to happen than yours but we will find out on the 8th May

    I am sure Caractacus will come back and say he was wrong…will you?

  • Alex Sabine 9th Feb '15 - 2:34pm

    @ Stuart Moran
    “The Lib Dems attacked Labour from the left during the Blair years.”

    If we must rely on that pesky two-dimensional left-right spectrum again – and, as I’ve noted, the frequent disavowals of it in Lib Dem circles are exceeded only by the constant invocation of it – then I think you are broadly correct to say that.

    The position was in fact more nuanced – for example, in the mid/late 1990s the Lib Dems opposed Labour’s plans for a national minimum wage, and in the early/mid 2000s Vince Cable Mark I called for the old DTI to be scrapped and for even a relatively non-interventionist Labour government in terms of ‘industrial policy’ to be less interventionist (I urge those who dispute this characterisation to (re-)read  his chapter in the Orange Book).

    However, the one area where it is clearly true that the Lib Dems positioned themselved to the left of the Blair government was on the size of the state. They called for even higher public spending in 2001 and 2005, financed by higher taxation. They did so despite the fact that throughout this period Gordon Brown was increasing spending at a significantly faster rate than national income, and way beyond the level implied by the Lib Dems’ own longstanding proposals to put a penny on income tax and raise the top rate.

    These proposals seemed to have become immutables of Lib Dem policy: stubbornly resistant to the ‘facts on the ground’, they survived for years after they had been overtaken by events. Wisely, but too little and late, the Lib Dems finally recognised this and climbed down from their exposed position after 2005 by focusing on how to raise and spend money rather than calling for yet more to be raised and spent.

    So on tax-and-spend it’s true to say the Lib Dems positioned themselves (slightly) to the left of Labour in the 1997-2005 period. But while the 2005 manifesto read like a shopping list of spending pledges, It is hard to sustain the argument that it was ‘radical’ or would have offered the radical redistribution of wealth and power that Stephen Hesketh sees as the essence of the party’s identity.

    To me it reads more like a paean to a ‘better yesterday’ of welfarist social democracy; the attitude to how the public services should be organised, provided and run is one of somnolent conservatism and defence of the status quo ante Thatcher/Major/Blair. It scrupulously preserved and extended the ‘middle class welfare state’ through the proposals to scrap tuition fees and introduce free social care. The big-ticket spending commitments were about expanding the public realm while releasing it from the restless Blairite reformers.

    In 2002 the ever-perceptive Jonathan Calder lamented this tendency of the Blair-era Lib Dems “while seeing themselves as radicals, to be remarkably conservative in their thinking… This conservatism has been evident in parliament, where for some years it has been difficult to tell Liberal Democrat education policy from that of the teachers’ unions. Nor has the traditional Liberal preference for local solutions been much in evidence: Liberal Democrats are as likely as anyone to complain of a ‘postcode lottery’ if provision varies from one area to another.”

  • Stephen Hesketh 9th Feb '15 - 6:58pm

    matt (Bristol)9th Feb ’15 – 1:19pm

    Matt, just to put you out of your misery, I also read Nick’s article in full.

  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Feb ’15 – 8:09pm
    Would anyone who has commented so far in this thread like to say whether they have read the interview the post was about???

    Just for the record as you have asked the question repeatedly — I read the article, I read the interview amd I read the Institute of Government booklet in Nick Harvey’s name.

    I agree with Tony Greaves’ comment that this was an interesting thread before Simon Shaw’s self-indulgent repeated, rapid-fire irrelevances. I apologise for not ignoring Simon Shaw.

  • Stephen Hesketh 9th Feb '15 - 8:45pm

    Alex Sabine 9th Feb ’15 – 1:32am

    Alex, apologies for not responding. I think you make some interesting points but work and other events have conspired to prevent me from doing so. I have saved your posts and will consider them when I have more time.

    I must also find some time to locate the reference in the constitution to us being the party of pragmatic triangulation. Now that really is inspiring stuff – please forget all my “more open minded, generous in spirit, greener, egalitarian, communitarian and internationalist than Labour” crap; I can’t wait to inform everyone at work about my conversion to pragmatic triangulation 🙂

  • Alex Sabine 9th Feb '15 - 9:39pm

    Thanks Stephen. Just telling it as I see it! Which is that pragmatism and triangulation are both characteristics of Nick Clegg’s – indeed in his political positioning and style he sometimes reminds me of Tony Blair before he developed his messianic foreign policy zeal.

    I agree that ‘pragmatic triangulation’ isn’t much of a marching tune. Nor is ‘what matters is what works’. Socialism was a great marching tune for the Labour Party, and they have never quite forgiven Blair for discarding it with so little sentiment and ceremony. Three thumping general election victories were regarded as scant consolation.

    Personally I agree with Jeremy Browne that ‘authentic liberalism’ is a more satisfying and better answer to the Lib Dem identity conundrum than tepid managerialism and splitting the difference; but of course that phrase begs its own definitional questions. Most Lib Dems would define this Holy Grail very differently from Jeremy. As an outsider but someone who considers myself a liberal, I would largely endorse Jeremy’s version, minus the faddish phraseology about ‘the global race’. I have no illusions that a classically liberal agenda would chime with public attitudes on subjects like immigration or civil liberties: but I do think it could be knitted together into a coherent whole which would offer a credible response to the modern world and Britain’s place in it.

    As things stand, the party under Nick Clegg has by and large stood for centrism, moderation and forgoing the luxuries of opposition for the realities and responsibilities of power. There is much to be said for these things; but they are not enough.

    The problem is that the fault lines within the Lib Dems that I discussed in another thread – over the role of the state in economic affairs and public services, over how to resolve the strategic dilemmas that junior coalition partners are inevitably faced with, and over whether politics is primarily about campaigning or winning power – make it impossible for someone like Clegg (and maybe any other putative leader in the current circumstances) to take a bolder and more adventurous path.

    Pragmatic triangulation is the best he can do; and, in the face of two larger parties retreating their comfort zones on the left and the right, it might ordinarily have found its niche. But I guess that in our current feverish political climate in which insurgents have the wind in the sails, the established parties are clinging on for dear life and trust is the most elusive of political commodities, the toxicity of the Lib Dem and Clegg brands are preventing the party from getting a hearing.

  • matt (Bristol) 10th Feb '15 - 1:12pm

    John, Stephen – I had forgotten I had read that previous thread; there is some good, informed comment in there.
    I’ve got over my strop now.
    I think what got lost in the mix was the playful, teasing nature of the interview Nick H did.
    I think Simon Shaw’s points / concerns about where do the LibDems sit on the left-right spectrum have some basis in reality (whilst not everyone may agree with his conclusions) and are not in themselves completely irrelevant to the article / interview (or rather they are capable of being made relevant) – but personally I think it’s lazy posting not to make the link overt.

  • SIMON BANKS 10th Feb '15 - 5:42pm

    Al’s point is interesting, but I suspect more likely is that Nick Clegg holds on (nowadays a party leader gets a big boost from national TV – unless, of course, he goes on TV and shoots himself in the foot more than once) but his nominated negotiating team leader, Danny Alexander, has lost and we’ve lost enough MPs for Nick Clegg’s leadership to be in serious doubt. He might even have resigned, though I have my doubts. In those circumstances we would not be well-placed to negotiate and other parties would be unable to trust us – but might possibly keep the door open once we’d sorted ourselves out, so we might have a decision to make a few months into the new parliament.

    I can’t see the SNP (however much Mr Fish would like to be a Westminster minister) actually joining a coalition with anybody.

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Feb '15 - 6:47pm

    Alex Sabine – My view is that there is a wider problem here though that all the mainstream parties face to a greater or lesser extent (and I include the SNP in this). We often hear on the part of the public this wish for, ‘change,’ but with not much coherence about what form that, ‘change,’ should take. It’s no longer left/right any more in that there really isn’t a classic working class any more. At least not in the sense of the term my grandparents would understand. Our politics, however you might classify it, has left us with an underclass, an overclass, a comfortable class (largely propertied boomers) and a coping class.

    There is a great deal of cant on the internet where people declare themselves working class. It’s prolier-than-thou guff by and large. If you drive a car or go on foreign holidays or pay a mortgage you are not working class in the meaningful sense. The coping class may well not be poor by the standards of the working class of the past. And indeed some of the coping class might be coping very well. I certainly do not think that coping = poor.

    But for all the partisanship what we have seen for 30+ years is a political consensus around what might be termed the, ‘open,’ agenda. Open markets, open borders, open to foreign interventions – the list goes on. Both Conservative, Labour and Coalition have all followed what I would term open. We can argue about what exact direction this has taken, most notably corporatist influences. But I would suggest that it is the open agenda that many have in mind when they say they want change.

    It is notable that the great divider in politics at the moment, the EU, is perhaps the ultimate in, ‘open.’ The idea of a Party of IN came over as, ‘open on steroids.’

    The divide we have now is between those that have done well out of open and those that have not. Hence the simplistic appeal of UKIP to the classic left AND right of the political spectrum. What UKIP offers (or purports to offer) is not left or right, but change from the open agenda. It is all well and good to talk about open as by definition good. But if you are, ‘coping,’ and you don’t have a job in a multinational, the schools have just had an influx of non-English speaking kids and your job is being outsourced to Latvia then open really is not doing you too many favours. It’s not that hard to see how UKIP score big by saying that open is not always great. They are saying what people see with the evidence of their own eyes.

    Some of the pro-open arguments I have heard have skated dangerously close to, ‘your workshop has gone East, but there are now loads of French bankers paying tax for your benefits, and there are poundshops now so the benefits go further.’ Why would anyone vote for this vision?

    It is, of course, the great irony of our politics. What would wreck UKIP right now is MORE free movement. If 3m UK young unemployed all headed to Romania/Slovakia/Lithuania for wages/tax credits/housing etc then all problems would be solved in our relationship with the EU. Indeed, even arguments about the size of the state are now conditioned by the open agenda. The recent discussion of tax credits showed that a bigger state may be perceived as more in-work benefits for open migrants.

    The question for all the parties is how the openness that they have pursued for 30 years can be more than coping made harder. I have to say that I see nothing from any of the main parties in this regard.

    I am mindful that in 20 years time we might have things like real-time translation technology. That would really open the EU. None of our current situation is fixed. However whilst I think that your laundry list at 1.32 has accuracy the real divide now is between those that have done well out of open and those that have not. The question is whether open can be made to work for more people than has been the case so far.

  • Alex Sabine 10th Feb '15 - 9:02pm

    Little Jackie Paper: I agree about the ‘open’ vs ‘closed’ fault line and I partly agree about the nature of UKIP’s pitch. It is a rejection of ‘openness’ in one respect in particular – open borders. In place of relatively open borders, they would pull up the drawbridge.

    It’s much less clear that they reject openness when it comes to product markets and capital flows. Leaving the EU does not, in and of itself, imply a rejection of openness; that depends on the reasons for wanting to leave and the approach to trade and the global economy in the post-EU future envisaged.

    The consequence might be higher tariffs (or non-tariff barriers) and less favourable access to the European single market, but it might also be a flurry of bilateral and multilateral free-trade deals. One of UKIP’s arguments for leaving the EU (exaggerated, but not entirely without foundation) is that the EU is a protectionist club which is bogged down in its own internal problems, stuck in a 20th century mindset, and looks inward rather than outward to the BRIC countries and other potential trading partners.

    (Though they make this argument in general terms, one of the weaknesses of UKIP’s position is that they don’t seem to have given much consideration to how the UK would use its greater independence in an interdependent world. It seems to me that for most ‘Kippers’ leaving the EU is an end in itself, rather than a means to other ends that they wish to pursue. In part this ambiguity is deliberate, since their focus is on marshalling the anti-EU forces from across the political spectrum, so they don’t want to restrict their appeal to those who share a particular vision of Britain’s future outside the EU. Like the Scottish Nationalists, they say the constitutional principle – self-government – is the primary question; the choices future governments might make is secondary. Yet, as we saw with the debates about the economic prospects for an independent Scotland, the two cannot be divorced so easily.)

    In my view these two positions – openness to trade, but not to immigration – are uneasy bedfellows. Yet I suspect that this stance is shared by a broad swathe of the British public. We have always been a trading nation, while the scale of immigration in the past decade has been unusually high. Polling evidence suggests support for a European trading alliance but a rejection of economic and political union, which in recent years has meant in particular a reaction against large-scale immigration in response to the increased numbers.

    Interestingly, the Greens are almost a mirror image of UKIP on this open/closed question: they want open borders but a siege economy, with capital controls, tariffs and a reduction in the volume of international trade. I think this combination is definitely less popular with ‘mainstream’ British voters (eg those who have in the past supported one of the three main parties). Its appeal is largely restricted to the anti-capitalist fringes, though it does find an echo in the preoccupation of some affluent middle-class types with ‘buying local’, ‘fair trade’, choosing British products over foreign imports, rejecting supermarkets in favour of farmers’ markets etc. This perspective on the open/closed question – favouring free migration but economic self-sufficiency and import controls – was represented in the 1970s and 1980s by Tony Benn, who used to say his protectionist ‘Alternative Economic Strategy’ would involve ‘waiting less time for a hip replacement and a little longer for a Honda car’.

  • Beyond the touchstone issue of immigration I think there is a deeper yet less tangible sense in which UKIP appeal to people who are uncomfortable with modern Britain, and particularly with the pace of social change that our ‘openness’ has brought about.

    This can take various forms, including unease about ‘multiculturalism’, about gay marriage, about feminism and the eclipse of the postwar nuclear family with male breadwinner at its helm, a sense that Britain is diminished on the world stage, a longing for the certainties and hierarchies of a more deferential bygone age (typically the 1950s). It is less about specific policies and more a general sense that the country is ‘going to the dogs’ and has been doing since the ‘progressive’ (that word again!) social upheaval of the 1960s.

    The striking age profile of UKIP’s support seems to bear this out: In ‘Revolt on the Right’ the authors (Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin) found that 57% of the party’s supporters are over the age of 54, while just over 1 in 10 are under 35. They conclude: “UKIP support is predominantly old because the party reflects the values and outlook of older voters: socially conservative; threatened by immigration; suspicious of diversity; attached to traditional, material values; and angry about the perceived breakdown of respect for authority and institutions. This is a worldview that was mainstream when UKIP’s voters were younger, but has gradually become marginalised as they have aged and the values of their more liberal children and grandchildren have become the new mainstream.”

    Though they have evolved into a catch-all party for the discontented – capitalising on the sort of anti-establishment voters who previously voted Lib Dem – UKIP do appear, as you say, to draw much of their support from those who feel left behind by economic as well as social change. Ford and Goodwin observe: “Contrary to those who argue that UKIP’s voters are middle-class Tories, we actually find that their base is more working-class than any of the main parties. Blue-collar UKIP voters outnumber their white-collar counterparts by a large margin: 42% of these voters work in blue-collar jobs or do not work at all, while 30% hold professional middle-class jobs… This is consistent with our analysis of wider social trends: support for the radical right in Britain is concentrated among the ‘left behind’ social class groups while the more privileged and financially secure middle classes, whose voters dominate the three established parties as well as the Greens, are under-represented in the radical right.”

    When I referred in my earlier post to public opinion on various issues and listed some examples drawn from polling evidence, I didn’t have in mind the same segment of the electorate as the ‘left behinds’ – or as you put it, those who have not done well out of ‘open’. The views I cited on the economy, the NHS, crime, welfare, immigration etc are those expressed by swing voters and those planning to vote Labour or Tory. Certainly there are overlaps with the views of the UKIP-inclined voters on some issues, but there is much more pronounced economic pessimism and frustration among the latter, and disapproval of liberal social changes whereas these have been broadly welcomed or at least accepted by the wider electorate.

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