Nick Tyrone: “What the Lib Dems keep failing to understand about the Labour Party” ****WARNING: CONTAINS ORANGE BOOK MENTION****

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On his website, writer Nick Tyrone has written a typically astute and pithy article which cuts to the heart of the relationship of the Liberal Democrats to the Labour party:

What I’m trying to say here, Liberal Democrats, in a long winded way, is this: Labour people hate you. They really hate you. And the hatred runs deep and dark. They don’t want to form some “progressive alliance” with you. They want to destroy your party. And once you understand the Labour mindset, that goal seems totally rational. If you think the Labour Party is the source of all good, the one true faith, the only way to salvation, why would you want the Lib Dems to succeed?

Nick concludes that the available political space for the LibDems to move forward is “very Orange Book shaped”.

You can read the full article here.

* Web Magpie, collecting shiny things from the internet (and, yes, we know such a characteristic has no ornithological basis). Magpie photograph by Steve Bittinger, Flickr CCL CCL licence

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  • David Becket 27th Jan '20 - 3:17pm

    As usual Nick Tyrone make very good and sound reasoning. He is right, Labour hates us, and that is not going to move any time soon. Layla Moran appears not to understand this at all. Labour would love her to be leader, not so that they can offer an olive branch but rather that they can go on about fake e mails.

  • Yousuf Farah 27th Jan '20 - 3:35pm

    Brilliant article from Mr Tyrone. We keep trying to run after Labour, trying to befriend them, trying to be their mini-me. But all they want, is for us not to exist. There’s a bit cluelessness in the party regarding this matter, what Layla Moran said is a great example of that. This imaginary coalition or pact with Labour will never happen, it’s a symptom of heads-in-the-clouds in the party. We should stick to standing on our own two feet, and showing people there is an alternative to Labour and Conservative.

  • Simon Hebditch 27th Jan '20 - 3:46pm

    I know this is an old hat argument but the Lib Dems seem incapable of deciding who their principal political enemy is. I have always believed that the Tories are the enemy and so everything should be done to try and reduce the Tory vote. This was a failure yet again in December 2019. We all know that electoral reform will be the only way of achieving fair representation in Parliament. In the meantime, tactical voting will not succeed without the active participation of Labour.

    The two big parties are still locked in a belief that the binary FPTP system will preserve their joint dominance of Parliament. In one way, they are right but this shared commitment is, in reality, to the superior advantage of the Tories. Labour has only one 8 general elections to the Tories 20 over the last hundred years! Labour has to be persuaded that their long term interests lie in electoral reform and the consequent more collaborative politics implied by a proportional representation system.

  • Andrew Toye 27th Jan '20 - 3:52pm

    Finding an “Orange Book shaped” niche is not what we’re about. Labour hate us because on certain issues, we’re trying to occupy ‘their’ political space – that does not mean we should run, tail between legs, in a Tory direction, because they hate us too. OK, Tories will be polite about it and worked with us in coalition, but that was simply for convenience, and look how they rewarded us for our efforts. No, we fight for liberty and social justice, and will take on all comers for that space.

  • Paul Barker 27th Jan '20 - 3:54pm

    There is a very good reason why Labour have spent the last 120 Years trying to destroy The Liberal Tradition in Britain : they think they have the best Ideas/Values, thats why they are a Party. That sounds perfectly reasonable to me.
    The question is : why dont We have the same sort of belief in Our Values ?
    Are We a Party or just a sort of Think Tank that comes up with Good Ideas for the Real Parties to take up ?

    I have argued for Us to build an Alliance with The Greens in England & Wales because I think the two Parties have enough in common & because (I hope) they have given up the idea of replacing us. Neither apply to Labour.

  • I’m afraid it must be said the bedroom tax (which could be applied, for example, within three months of a death of a child), Universal Credit (with a five week waiting period, reduced payments, and punitive sanctions), the two child limit, the Lansley NHS sell off, the cuts to social work, the differential central government grant favouring the Tory shires, cuts to Sure Start etc., etc., etc., were all rather hateful things.

  • Barry Lofty 27th Jan '20 - 5:08pm

    One of the reasons I have supported the Liberals/Lib Dems over the years has been, A Plague On Both Their Houses, whatever our perceived wrong doings they compare favourably with the other two, so far!!

  • Tristan Ward 27th Jan '20 - 5:25pm

    More important than the “they hate us argument is that so Italian and liberalism are simply philosophically not comparable.

    For furthr details read Maynard Keynes on “Why I am Liberal” and Karl Popper’s “The Open Society and it’s Enemies”. Especially the volume on Marx and Hegel, but the volume on Plato is pretty good too.

  • Tristan Ward 27th Jan '20 - 5:29pm

    Pls correct to “More important than the “they hate us” argument is that socialism and liberalism are simply philosophically not compatable ”


  • Judith Abel 27th Jan '20 - 5:37pm

    But surely Barry supporting the Lib Dems because they are not the two main parties will only ever take the Party so far. It is more powerful to vote for things. One of the best Lib Dem policies over the past decade was raising the tax threshold (which the Tories appropriated) – it was a really good idea – we need more practical ideas like this.

  • I agree with Nick Tyrone about the Labour Party’s views on our party.

    However that does not preclude tactical alliances where appropriate.

  • Judith Abel
    Raising the tax threshold was NOT a good idea, for two reasons:

    1 Because it lowered standard rate tax for everyone, not just the less well off.

    2 Because it lowered the amount of income going into public services, which does hurt the less well off more.

    I commented on another thread that this party is riven on the issue of spending / austerity, and this kind of discussion just emphasises it more!

  • Barry Lofty 27th Jan '20 - 6:05pm

    Judith, I did say it was one of my reasons for being a Lib Dem supporter. We do get things wrong but the general philosophy of the party resonates with my take on life.

  • …………….. writer Nick Tyrone has written a typically astute and pithy article which cuts to the heart of the relationship of the Liberal Democrats to the Labour party…………

    I disagree with every word.. I didn’t hear any ‘hate’ from the Labour leadership; in fact quite the reverse. As for Yousuf Farah’s “We keep trying to run after Labour, trying to befriend them”?? When Jeremy Corbyn offered talks with Jo Swinson her petulant refusal was unworthy of a party leader. Her constant attacks on Jeremy Corbyn certainly helped Boris Johnson when they were repeated ‘word for word’ in the Express, Mail, Telegraph and on the BBC.
    Reading most of the above posts it seems to me that the ‘hate’ is from this side: I wonder why? Could it be that Labour, under Miliband, did the job that this party should have done in opposing the coalition cuts to social services, the bedroom tax, Universal Credit, NHS ‘reorganisation’, etc?
    That an article suggesting a return to the ‘Orange Book Values’, ‘values’ that almost destroyed this party, can be so applauded suggests, at least to me, a collective madness.. Sophocles’, “wrongness appears as good in the minds of those whom god leads to destruction”, seems to show the future of this party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jan '20 - 6:32pm

    The Liberal Democrat’s did just what Nick Tyrone says needs to be done in 2010 and onwards, and that’s what most people think it is about now: giving the impression it is about the economics of the Conservative Party but without any conservatism i.e. a wish to keep some old fashioned things going. Did that win us more votes like he says it would, and Nick Clegg and his cronies said back then?

  • Simon Hebditch:

    I think it’s trickier than that, in that whichever of the other major English parties the Lib Dems oppose more in the long-term, they tactically have to attack the other one in the short- and medium- term. And that means no-one can agree on what to actually do, other than to hope for PR one day to avoid the issue.

    If you want to get rid of the Conservative majority and then the party, then the easiest way to do this is by presenting yourself as a safe alternative to the Conservatives for their voters- “Orange Book” if you like – saying that you won’t coalition with Labour but will with the Conservatives. Soft Conservative voters can then vote for you safely in Con-Lib marginals, and you needn’t worry about taking votes off Labour in those Con-Lab marginals. (And just hope that if Lab-Lib is the only viable coalition they offer day 1 PR)

    Conversely if you want to replace Labour as the party of the (very broad) “left” there’s no point trying to win over Conservatives at all – you rule out a coalition with them, but not with Labour. You need to attack the Tories strongly so that Labour voters feel safe switching to Lib Dem in both Con-Lib marginals (which benefits you) and Con-Lab marginals (which benefits the Conservatives and in the longer-term also you). It likely prolongs the Conservative government, but leaves the Lib Dems much stronger at the eventual end of it.

    The current “we’ll support (n)either depending on circumstances” stance I think mainly gets read as “and knowing my luck it’ll be the other one” by the voters, so appeals to no-one outside the Lib Dem’s small core vote.

  • Brian Ellis 27th Jan '20 - 7:14pm

    Simon Hebditch is right. Our main enemy are the Tories. Whilst we sat in coalition they organised in every seat that we held. The result was plain to see in 2015 from Yeovil to all points North South East and West they took our seats. They had a plan to destroy us and it very nearly worked. We should remember that at every level of the party. The Tories seek to destroy us.
    With regard to Labour they are no better, I well recall election counts where the Labour Party congratulated the Conservatives for beating Liberal Democrats and vice versa. We should stand by our Liberal Democrat philosophy of tolerance, compassion and openness. Build our policies around them and campaign accordingly against both Conservative and Labour Parties, and when in a position to do so invite them to support our policies.

  • Judith Abel 27th Jan '20 - 8:00pm

    Tim – raising the tax threshold does not mean lowering it for everyone. Really anyone earning less than £12,500 trying to afford their rent and bills – certainly in London – cannot be paying tax. Surely let people in the upper tax band pay a little more? The inequalities in this country are growing and need addressing.

    Barry – fair point – I was just meaning that a positive vision is more likely to attract new voters, although with our predominantly right-wing press nothing left off centre gets a fair hearing in the print media these days.

  • Jeremy Cunnington 27th Jan '20 - 8:13pm

    For once I agree (partially at least) with Nick. Labour really don’t like us and as someone who is an activist in a Labour facing area (Haringey) the feeling is somewhat mutual, they are vile. I have had the pleasure being called “Lib Dem scum” in the past and it’s amazing how so many Lib Dem stakeboards disappear at election time while no Labour ones do.

    While “expat” might not have seen any harsh words from the Labour leadership, one will note that their form of negotiation was “you do it our way or it doesn’t happen”. You just have to look at their actions in sending out activists to knock up on polling day in seats they could not win, but we could eg Wimbledon, Finchley & Golders Green and the Two Cities seat to see how much they dislike us. They would rather a Tory won than a Lib Dem.

    Whether the “orange book” is the solution I somewhat doubt, and while there are decent Labour members and activists out there don’t be under any illusion that the Labour party will do anything to do us down if they have the chance.

  • The fundamental difference is they believe in Buggins turn and top down management and we don’t. They are not dissimilar, they know best and the electorate should know their place, all be it they differ in what the electorates place should be, the Tories believe it is forelock tugging under them and Labour believe it is singing the Red Flag under them. Both are wrong, decsions should be made at the lowest level.

    As to the follow the Orange Brick road, tried that doesn’t work it is just another form of leaders know best and they don’t, they just show they have no connection or feeling for Joe or Joesphete Bloggs ( other names are available). So connect with the electorate and don’t preach, which is the Tory and Labour way and why would you want to be pale Pink Tories or pale Blue Labour both parties are not what we should aim to be especially pale versions of them.

  • Going forward I’d leave tax rises alone, I’d suggest raising employee NI leaving more in a paypacket. A payrise for the grafters would be a nice slogan.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jan '20 - 9:20pm


    If you want to get rid of the Conservative majority and then the party, then the easiest way to do this is by presenting yourself as a safe alternative to the Conservatives for their voters- “Orange Book” if you like – saying that you won’t coalition with Labour but will with the Conservatives. Soft Conservative voters can then vote for you safely in Con-Lib marginals, and you needn’t worry about taking votes off Labour in those Con-Lab marginals.

    That is precisely what most people think the Liberal Democrats are about since 2010.

    So, cim, has that given us an increase in votes in what were the Con-LibDem marginals in 2010/ You claim it will do that. Tell me what Con-LibDem marginals in 2010 saw an increase in LibDem votes and a decrease in Conservative votes in the elections after that.

  • Judith

    Raising the tax threshold reduces tax all the way up the income scale. I certainly agree with you that people in the upper middle and top of the income scale need to pay more, and of course inequality should be addressed. Equally we should not make the problem of paying for public services more difficult by reducing the amount of tax coming in. I think most of us agreed that the Labour approach of taxing just top earners extra simply won’t cut it for a real improvement in service, there needs to be a good sliding scale of tax. I simply cannot understand why in the computer age a sliding scale has not been readopted – for goodness sake, quite complicated scales were used in the analogue age – it would be so much easier now!

  • Paul Barker 27th Jan '20 - 9:31pm

    Our “Main Enemy” is Authoritarianism/Illiberalism as practised by Tories, Labour & SNP. Right now & for the next 4 Years we will be mostly attacking The Tories & The SNP because they are the Governments. We should focus our minds on convincing more Voters to back us, not worry about which of the Three Authoritarian Parties we hate most.

    I dont discriminate, I hate all Three.

  • Most of Nick Tyrone’s comments don’t stack up. The tactics that he suggested lost us votes and the direction that he suggests we take is a regressive one, which merely seeks to justify Tory policies. Unfortunately, the Coalition lost us the votes of many progressive supporters AND made it difficult to attract the tactical votes of usual Labour Supporters. The approach that he suggests would be disastrous!

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jan '20 - 9:46pm

    Judith Abel

    Tim – raising the tax threshold does not mean lowering it for everyone. Really anyone earning less than £12,500 trying to afford their rent and bills – certainly in London – cannot be paying tax.

    Clegg claimed that increasing the tax threshold was in line with what was in the 2010 manifesto. But the 2010 manifesto proposed raising the tax threshold as part of shifting from income tax to other forms of tax, not overall decreasing tax. The increase in other taxes that was proposed in the 2010 manifesto did not happen and was not even mentioned by Clegg.

    So, instead, as it was an actual tax cut, how was it paid for? Well, by cuts in government services elsewhere, most obviously in paying for universities.

    To be fair, it may have been that the Conservatives would have preferred some other tax cut that would have benefitted wealthy people more and less wealthy people less, so that Clegg achieved something by making it a rise in income tax threshold.

    But this should have been made very clear after the Coalition, as a good illustration of the way the Coalition as very far from what the Liberal Democrats really wanted, and all that could really be achieved was altering things just slightly from the even more right-wing economics the Conservatives wanted.

    Instead, none of this was even mentioned, hence our votes crashing down, as we used to win votes as the best opposition to the Conservatives, but are now seen by many as a version of the old Conservative Party that differs only by opposing Brexit.

  • Still waiting for Moby Tory, the mythical great white soft Conservative vote that fails to turn up at every election!

  • I wonder what Nick’s record of success in political campaigns looks like. It’s a fair question to ask of someone setting out a political strategy.

  • How much is the Labour Party going to Red Book shaped is what will determine relations between the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

  • This soft Tory vote is motivated mostly by fear of Labour. Not just Corbyn, but any Labour government. I’m thinking of voters like my mother, who isn’t particularly right wing, but in any conversation probing why she always votes Conservative you can start the stopwatch and wait for the inevitable “but we don’t want to let Labour in”.

    Such voters only give us a sniff when Labour is seen as essentially harmless – as during early to mid Blair.

    Otherwise we rely principally on anti-Tory voters. Either people who are offered nice soft Home Counties Labour and are indifferent between that and the LibDems, willing to back the one with the best chance. Or people who are offered nasty complacent inner city hard Labour and would prefer politicians willing to work for their vote and ideally with a few brain cells to offer.

    Either way, to win these people, we need to be anti-Tory.

  • Peter Watson 28th Jan '20 - 7:39am

    Have to say I was a bit depressed by the article and the initial positive response to it but reassured by the change in mood further down the thread.
    However, it re-emphasises the need for the party to resolve this aspect of its identity. There may be agreement on a desire to realise the vision outlined in the preamble, but it is difficult to define what the party is really about because of an apparent schism over the extent to which the party is Orange / economically liberal / nice Tory / small state (or whatever term is most appropriate!).

  • “which the party is Orange / economically liberal / nice Tory / small state (or whatever term is most appropriate!).”

    I believe the technical term for this is Orange unicornism. It sounds ” nice” but the reality is you end up totally annihilated by the voters as Mr Clegg found out.

  • If you look at it realistically, it’s the Right of the Conservative party’s vote that shows the most willingness to place their X elsewhere. What are being called soft Tories are not motivated by fear of Labour, but by actual conservative views on things like crime, planning permission, the countryside, personal responsibility and social structures. They don’t support reforming the voting system or getting rid of the house of lords or banning things like fox hunting. The low tax, small state, stuff is more prevalent in the libertarian wing of the Conservative party and they’re more like American Republicans than UK liberals, which is why they never turn out for the Lib Dems at election time. What you should tap into is the huge numbers of people who currently don’t vote at all.

  • Judith Abel 28th Jan '20 - 9:41am

    Glenn – I suppose in an ideal world one wouldn’t think ‘what do we need to do to get voters’ but how can we make the most difference to people’s lives whilst also defending civil liberties? I think focusing on issues such as assisted dying and the legalisation of cannabis whilst they will appeal to the core of Lib Dem voters are not really vote winners in the current climate. Emphasising them makes the Lib Dems seem more like a campaigning organisation again rather than a mainstream political party.

  • Mark Blackburn 28th Jan '20 - 9:54am

    Nick Tyrone doesn’t in my opinion write “pithy and astute” articles, he writes simplistic diatribes dragging up dodgy evidence to urge a return to the Orange Book disaster, something he was at the heart of last time round and should know better. I wish LDV would stop giving him fuel; his lot had their chance and blew it.

  • Peter Martin 28th Jan '20 - 10:44am

    “Labour people hate you….”

    What nonsense!

    We’ll all have friends, family, work colleagues etc who don’t as individuals share our political opinions. Some of us are even married to them! Disagreement isn’t at all the same thing as hate.

    I liked Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown a lot. I didn’t much care for Tony Blair! Especially when Lib Dem policy was much more in line with Labour members and supporters over our involvement in the invasion of Iraq than was Labour policy.

  • Nick Tyrone is correct lots of Labour Party members hate us. He is wrong about what is needed in our target seats which are Tory-held. We need to advocate social liberalism and convince people who voted Tory last time that it is a good solution for the country’s problems and is better than Conservatism or Socialism. We need to remember that ‘soft Conservatives’ are soft because they are prepared to vote for another party other than the Conservative one and are likely reluctant Conservative voters.

    As an opposition party we should mainly attack the government. ‘Time for a change’ is often a factor in a government party losing a general election, making it difficult to support a party which has been in government for some time and which has fewer MPs after a general election. During a general election we must appear to be able to join a government led by the largest opposition party.

  • Lib Dems should be striving to replace Labour as the main opposition throughout the 2020s just as the Labour Party supplanted the Liberals in the 1920s.

  • The main theme I gather from this thread, with a few exceptions, is that we ‘hate’ Labour (the devil and all his works) and want soft Tories (except that they have shown that they don’t want us)..
    As for targeting those who don’t vote????? They are mostly at the bottom of the social ladder; those most affected by the the coalition’s cuts to social services, the bedroom tax, Universal Credit, NHS ‘reorganisation’, etc. How will you explain away the 2010-15 years to them?
    As for “We need to advocate social liberalism”,,, A catch-all term that is right up there with ‘Brexit meanz Brexit’.

    What the article doesn’t mention, nor do any of its fans, are a list of Labour ideals with which we are so outraged. After all, working together is far more about policies than personalities.

  • Amazing that there are still coalition loyalists in 2020.

  • I believe it is the opposite. There is no spare room for centre right parties in the UK under FPTP, and little even if PR was brought in.

    The Tories are a broad coalition of the right and own that area already. They are toxic getting closer to, as was proved. The voters do not want a me too ( a bit) LibDem lite conservative party. They dumped the LibDems mostly in 2015 and most went straight to the right.

    Labour activists who hate the LibDems are again fighting past battles ( which they keep on doing) and are not representative of voters out there, while the wider memory of the coalition is fading anyway. I don’t understand why the LibDems never even made a list of achievements and published it?

    The LibDems had their best years as a progressive centre left liberal party with a social democrat aspect. They have to be progressive and think the things that labour cannot, since it is weighed down by all the failing old baggage. The shrinking and increasingly irrelevant Unions ( I used to be a rep) and the failing Co-op movement who no longer even own the bank ( I have an Account).

    The world is changing fast out there and Labour are looking irrelevant and unable to change enough, even if a reformer wins. It is like turning the carthorse into a race horse and can’t be done.

    The LibDems should consult economists, experts on IT, technology, sociology, government, public opinion, industrialists, financiers and people of expertise and influence as well as mavericks and come up with a blueprint for the future. They can do it but the two bozo parties or Greens or nationalists can’t

  • Julian Tisi 28th Jan '20 - 1:57pm

    Nick Tyrone is bang on about Labour’s attitude to us. Nor is this likely to change much with a new leader, whoever that is. My main disagreement with him comes where he says “Labour voters are never going to vote Lib Dem tactically in big enough numbers for lots of reasons. This means the space for the Lib Dems is very Orange Book shaped.”

    I think there’s an underlying flaw in this which is to conflate Labour activists (who I agree generally don’t like us) with Labour voters. The latter group are many and sundry; most Labour voters are not as tribal as Labour activists; they are not one homogeneous group. Likewise Conservative voters, indeed likewise most voters. For this reason I don’t think we as a party need to tack in any direction, either left or right. We DO however need to have a distinctive USP and communicate this clearly and confidently.

  • Julian nails the key issue here.

    We need to be anti-Tory, but in a way that presents voters with a more rational alternative than does the Labour Party.

    So long as we retain our voting system, British politics both nationally and locally amounts to Conservative versus non-Conservative. Our job is to present a more electable alternative to the Tories than does Labour.

  • clive english 28th Jan '20 - 2:06pm

    There is nothing Liberal or Radical about the Orange Book, its warmed over very out dated Conservatism of the most un-inventive sort, which can offer nothing on social justice or climate change, or even basic economics. If that is our future i suspect most of our activists and members whatever our reservations would end up joining Labour, our remaining voters certainly would.

  • Sue Sutherland 28th Jan '20 - 2:35pm

    The Labour Party and the Tory party would both like to see us disappear because they both, at their deepest level, have the same view of society as competitive, so one group has to do down the other in order to have a good life. We think that everyone can have the best life through cooperation and nurturing rather than oppression, by a little give and take and an appreciation of difference rather than seeing it as a threat.
    We can appeal to non voters and the soft elements of the other two parties only if we persuade them about the validity of our world view, but so far we have failed to point this out to people, partly because the way we think is obvious to us so we think it must be the way they think too. They don’t, but a lot of people who vote for other parties might vote for us if they understood the implications of authoritarianism.

  • Sue, regarding the Lib Dems disappearing, think we have been making a pretty good fist of that oursaaelves with all the critical decisions we have got wrong since 2005.

  • David Becket 28th Jan '20 - 3:38pm

    @ Julian Tisi
    Spot on
    Forget Orange, Red, Left. Right and Centre.

    We need to promote liberal solutions to the issues of today.

    On the EU we should by this Friday outline how we see our future with Europe, protecting jobs, people, trade, security, environment. Then we can hold the government to account
    That is not rocket science, we have said most or it before.

    We should be developing policy based on the Alston Report

    We should be promoting a Green Deal

    That is just three. It could be built up to six, but then stop.
    We are not seen to be moving forward. We are spending too much time attacking others, whereas people need to know where we are going, And we need to remove last years messages from our web site and leaflets.

  • Paul Holmes 28th Jan '20 - 4:09pm

    @t -since 2010 you mean.

  • Ruth Bright 28th Jan ’20 – 4:01pm…………….expats have you won a council seat almost purely on increased turnout? (31% up to 40%) or produced a significant swing in a parliamentary seat based largely on increased turnout (64% up to 70%). I have, it can be done, but then unlike most Lib Dem candidates my origins are from the “bottom of the social ladder”!……………..

    May I assume that you are the Ruth Bright ( VC of ‘Liberal Left’) .,,, If only the party had listened it wouldn’t be where it is now
    As for the “bottom of the social ladder”, I meant nothing disrespectful in mentioning that group; as a volunteer in helping rough sleepers I often had pangs of, “There but for the grace, etc.”

    BTW…congratulations for the increased vote. I imagine you targeted them from a far different perspective than that espoused in this thread?.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Jan '20 - 5:33pm

    In the mid 20th century it was considered inevitable that socialism was the way society would develop, so politics was mainly about how quickly it would be pushed.

    However, towards the end of the 20th century, what was happening in Communist countries, where socialism had been pushed quickly, made it clear that it would not deliver what it promised. So politics changed, with “free market” economics being the dominant idea, and politics being mainly about how fast that would get pushed.

    We are now, however, in the same situation with free market economics as we were a few decades earlier with socialism: it is clearly not delivering the truly free and happy society it promised, and the main issue is why not, just as earlier the main issue was why socialism did not deliver the truly free and happy society that simplistic thinking suggested it would.

    So, for the Liberal Democrats to be seen now mainly as the party of free market economics, as pushed by the “Orange Book”, is a bit like adapting conventional socialism just as the Communist countries were clearly showing that doesn’t work.

    The Conservative Party has managed to escape from being seen like this by letting the concept be pushed that the problems caused by free market economics were due to membership of the EU, and leaving the EU would return “control” to us. Which many former Labour Party voters in effect seem to think means a more socialist society, in the sense of one where democratic government control has more say on how the country works.

    By just opposing Brexit, but doing nothing to explain to Leave voters how the EU actually works and why leaving it under the Conservatives will have the opposite effect of what they want from it, the Liberal Democrats helped support the Conservatives in developing their new support, and helped push the idea that the Liberal Democrats are the party of the sort of economics that the Conservative Party used to be about.

    This seems to be believed by those who don’t like that, but not by the true super-rich, who know that the real reason the Conservatives supported Leave was to push our country even further into being one run by and for the super-rich.

  • Interesting to get Matthew’s take on things 100 years ago. I’m currently researching letters sent to Liberal M.P. Arthur Ponsonby by soldiers in the First World War.They reflect how some saw it then and have resonances today.

    Ponsonby was Campbell-Bannerman’s personal secretary,and succeeded him as Liberal M.P. for Stirling Burghs in 1908. In 1914, with Charles Trevelyan M.P. and others, he opposed the war and set up the Union of Democratic Control. Both were deselected by their constituency Liberal Associations. The UDC was to become a conduit for a number of radical Liberal M.P.’s to move to the Labour Party.

    In July, 1917, Ponsonby received a letter from a conscripted, Tommy, Lance Corporal E.H. Heywood, 4th Royal Sussex. Heywood wrote,

    “It is just a little comic to notice a certain sort of patriot who thinks he is justified in taking men from their homes and families and send them to the trenches, pay him 6 pence a day, and if a victim dares to complain call him a Pacifist, Peace Monger, Pro German or what you will. It is the weapon of the moral bankrupt.

    If it is necessary to continue the war in order to achieve liberty and freedom for Englishmen, excellent. Well, we will go on fighting, but if the war is to be carried on to get economic monopolies a share in plundering a beaten foe we ask for a chance to express our views before such a change in the objects for which we set out in August 1914 takes place”.

    The outcome ? When the Liberal Party stopped being liberal (conscription, Defence of the Realm Act, conscripting labour, imprisoning conscientious objectors/ trade union leaders, censoring private mail, selling peerages to war profiteers), some radical Liberals became Labour – to find more congenial company for their liberalism.

    If modern Liberal Democrats don’t rediscover radical liberalism after the Rose Garden dalliance with the Tories, then the disintegration of the 1920’s will move to its final completion.

  • @, Andrew T “Amazing that there are still coalition loyalists in 2020.”

    No it really isn’t. The coalition was, broadly speaking, a social and economically Liberal beacon of fiscal responsibility, internationalism and good governance in contrast to anything delivered or proposed by the opposition since.

  • @Paul Holmes no the problem was not working to take Labour seats from 1st May 1997, but especially during the wasted Kennedy years. Like the risible “Decapitation Strategy’ in 2005.

  • TCO: Most Lib Dem gains in 2005 were from Labour. Our failure to take many Labour seats before then was not through lack of effort, but because of the dearth of winnable Labour seats. It was only in 2005 that there became a substantial number of Lab-LibDem marginals, through effort put in during the Kennedy years. Our campaign strategy against Labour went wrong after Charles was replaced, and it was under Nick Clegg’s watch that we managed not only to fail to win several seats from Labour that should have been easy wins (e.g. Oxford East and Islington South & Finsbury), but also actually LOST seats to Labour. You cannot blame this on Charles’ leadership, because during that time we were GAINING ground against Labour.

  • “it was under Nick Clegg’s watch that we managed not only to fail to win several seats from Labour that should have been easy wins (e.g. Oxford East and Islington South & Finsbury)”

    But won some ‘harder’ seats like Redcar and Burnley. It is to some extent easier to win seats from a distance out as the opposition don’t see you coming (see also Manchester Withington in 2005). When you make a seat hyper-marginal the opposition are on full alert and have 4-5 years to put things in place organisationally etc – see also as an eg Haltemprice and Howden.

    All that said the ‘taking Labour seats’ point refers to a lot of seats that had been Tory in the recent past (eg Bristol West until 97, Yardley and Hornsey and Wood Green until 92, Leeds North West until 97, Falmouth and Cambourne until 97) – even going back to 83 places like Oxford East and Withington) Some of these were target seats when they were Tory held so were historical targets rather than Labour seats which organically developed into targets.

  • @Alex Mcfie that doesn’t wash. Clegg had barely two years between election as leader and GE 2010. It was the attitude of our left-leaning Labour-friendly strategists and activists that made the difference. We were not putting out an anti-labour message until it was far too late.

  • TCO
    Just look at all of our results, as soon as it was confirmed that we were on a “rightward trend” at the time of NC’s election. They immediately started going lower. I remember at a Conference in that period working in small groups to work on practical approaches to increase our support for what eventually emerged as the 2010 GE. I repeatedly challenged the organisers (following Clegg’s claim that “he would double our numbers of MPs in two elections”) to show what therefore our staging post would be in the next election. By that time, it was clear to me that our support was heading down, and it seemed illogical to predict any turnaround to over 120 MPs by what became the 2015 election! Those responsible for the ejection of CK after the 2005 election carry a heavy burden of responsibility. The unexpectedly good performance of Nick Clegg in the first 2010 TV debate and immediate media reaction leading to a few days’ Cleggmania, was the only thing that rescued the Lib Dems from a fairly disastrous 2010 result. As it was we lost some MPs. Once the media and our political opponents got to work on us following the initial post debate shock, our poll ratings were moving rapidly towards a cliff, and that was not helped by Clegg’s relatively poor performance in the second TV debate.

    Again I am fairly sure that if you TCO, look at the poll trends then, that our fall back was accompanied by a rise in Labour fortunes, suggesting the voters we were losing were predominantly left-leaning.

  • @Tim13 if for the sake of argument we accept your proposition that we started to lose left wing voters when we elected a Liberal leader (which I don’t), it still leaves this fundamental existential point.

    A Liberal Party is not Socialist, or left wing. If it attracts left wing voters, it is either no longer Liberal, or it will inevitably disappoint and Lise those voters

    Which do you believe?

  • According to TCO, “Clegg had barely two years between election as leader and GE 2010”.

    Don’t exaggerate, TCO. He had over two and a half years. I well remember attending a Dinner in the North West back in 2005 (Charlie expected but “indisposed”) where Clegg ( last minute replacement) was introduced as ‘a future Leader of the Party’ by Baroness Joan Walmsley – but his performance was a bit underwhelming.

    I also went to a 2007 Leadership hustings between Clegg and Huhne in Edinburgh after Ming had stepped down and felt pretty uninspired by either of them. The best that can be said is not electing Huhne turned out to be a narrow escape ….. Neither was in the same league as their predecessors over the previous fifty years of my memory.

    I’m also afraid the current bunch of aspirants don’t fill me with hope for future charismatic leadership, a good back story, a grasp of radical liberalism or the ability to compete with Johnson, Starmer, Sturgeon/Blackford, or Lucas in the Commons.

    I hope I’m wrong.

  • I don’t accept your proposition that Nick Clegg was a Liberal leader, which to me implies that those who went before were not Liberal leaders. Over the years we have seen many leaders of the Liberal Democrats (and the former Liberal Party), all of whom I think could be counted as Liberals, or certainly liberals. Your other proposition here is that Liberals are not (in your words) left wing. I used the term left leaning. Your apparent view that someone cannot be Liberal and left leaning seems completely wrong and without a shred of evidence. Interesting to read what others think, but having been in and around the party and its Liberal predecessor for 50+ years, I can say that that has not been my perception, and if it had been, I and many others would have left years ago!

    Apart from anything else, even a passing acquaintance with ideological titling would know that Liberals and Socialists and Democrats come in many different forms, and also that most political parties are coalitions of different views, and in fact wouldn’t last very long if they weren’t.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Jan '20 - 12:25pm


    The unexpectedly good performance of Nick Clegg in the first 2010 TV debate and immediate media reaction leading to a few days’ Cleggmania, was the only thing that rescued the Lib Dems from a fairly disastrous 2010 result.

    Complete rubbish.

    I was a Liberal Democrat councillor in Lewisham 1994-2006, leader of the opposition 1998-2004, and though I then moved to the neighbouring borough, continued activity in Lewisham up to the 2010 general election. In that time, we pushed things, so Lewisham changed from being a Labour-Conservative marginal to us being second place to Labour in all three constituencies.

    After that, it all collapsed thanks to Nick Clegg’s disastrous leadership.

    We most certainly did not push the Conservatives down by coming across as soft Conservatives in policy. Actually, we came across as more left-wing than the Blair fans who were in control of the Labour council.

    We pushed our votes up because of hard local work, showing good understanding and concern for local people, rather than just supposing we would naturally get their votes without needing to put in much effort, which tends to be what happens in seats that are seen as safe Labour or safe Conservative.

    The claim that it was Cleggmania that caused the vote rise in the 2010 general election is wrong. It was actually us local activists who, knowing the election had to come soon, put out a lot of literature just before it was formally declared. The vote share was actually rising in opinion polls in the week before Clegg appeared on television.

    The claim that the rise was all due to Clegg damaged us, because it switched attention from our local activity to him. That was why our share of the votes across the country went down again, whereas usually in the weeks of general elections it goes up.

  • @David Raw “Don’t exaggerate TCO. He had over two and a half years.”

    2007 leadership election results announced: 18/12/07.

    2010 general election date: 6/5/10

    Even being generous and assuming he started on 19/12/07 rather than 2/1/08 (which seems likely), it still constitutes 2 years and 136 days, or 2.37 years. It would seem your grasp of mathematics is not strong if you think 2.37 is “over two and a half”.

    @Tim13 I take this as my reference point: “Liberalism has its own history and its own tradition. Socialism has its own formulas and its own aims. Socialism seeks to pull down wealth; Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty. Socialism would destroy private interests; Liberalism would preserve private interests in the only way in which they can be safely and justly preserved, namely, by reconciling them with public right. Socialism would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise from the trammels of privilege and preference. Socialism assails the pre-eminence of the individual; Liberalism seeks, and shall seek more in the future, to build up a minimum standard for the mass. Socialism exalts the rule; Liberalism exalts the man. Socialism attacks capital; Liberalism attacks monopoly.”

  • Matthew

    I don’t knock local hard work, anywhere it occurs. It remains the fact, though, coming into the 2010 GE Campaign, that our poll ratings were lower than they had been – my contention is that they had got like that because of Clegg-style leadership (which as I understand your argument is similar to your position) and the perceived shift to the right.

    I saw a piece of analysis recently which showed that our performance in final run-up to elections has varied considerably. I remember 1992 as a very strong example where our vote absolutely poured away in the last week! I do support the argument that in most elections our vote and poll rating is very closely linked NATIONALLY to Labour’s rating vis a vis the Tories – we saw it in the 2019 election – and in 1997 of course. This does NOT, of course, impact on the claim you make that locally we can get strong swings between Labour and us, where various sometimes local factors are in play.

    I do rather resent your description of my argument as complete rubbish, by the way. And I think there needs to be an acceptance that national factors overall in a GE are those with the most powerful effect, irrespective of the local work done. I am NOT dismissing the huge amounts of work done by Liberal and Lib Dem groups and activists in all sorts of places over the years (for goodness sake I have done enough myself!) but…

  • David Garlick 29th Jan '20 - 3:08pm

    The feeing is mutual and is duplicated between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The confusion arises once you get beyond the died in the wool Labour, Tory and Lib Dem voters. Outside of this hard line core there are those who could work together. The reality is that the ‘could do’ group will never be big enough or powerful enough to bring about the progressive alliance the wistful fantasise about.

  • @ TCO There you go again, plagiarising that right wing jingo W.S. Churchill in the 1908 Dundee by-election without ant attribution.

    I’m surprised you didn’t quote him on eugenics when, in a memo to Asquith in 1910, he wrote, “The multiplication of the feeble-minded is a very terrible danger to the race”.

    As it happens the people of Dundee overwhelmingly rejected him in 1922 and within a couple of years, as was to be expected, he rejoined the Tory Party. Is that your direction of travel TCO ?

  • @David Raw is 2.37 > 2.5?

  • @David Raw there is this from Churchill’s biographer:

    “All the same, if Churchill was ever anything, he was a
    Liberal (as well as a traditionalist and a small-c conservative).
    There is a curious story about this, told to me by the Labour MP
    “Curly” Mal lalieu in 1962, when Churchill was in his eighties,
    though still an MP. There is, or was, a curious contraption
    called the “House of Lords Lift” in which peers were elevated to’
    the upper floor of Parliament, mere MPs being allowed to use it
    only if injured or decrepit. Churchill had permanent permission,
    and Curly had hurt himself playing football. One day when he got
    in he found Churchill there. The old man glared and said: “Who
    are you?” “I’m Bill Mallalieu, sir, MP for Huddersfield.” “What
    party?” “Labour, sir.” “Ah. I’m a Liberal. Always have been.” The
    fiendish glee with which he made this remark was memorable.”

  • @Matthew, regardless of what came after, you are (or were) living in a dream world I’d you think our short lived polling surge during the 2010 campaign wasn’t down to Clegg and the first TV debate.

    Your suggestion that it was due to the timing of delivering some leaflets is risible; and you had the cheek to describe someone else’s argument as ridiculous.

  • I was running a target seat in 2010 where we had put out a reasonable amount of literature prior to the debate and I also disagree with Matthew.

    There was a notable uptick in support and enthusiasm for the Lib Dems immediately after the first debate.

  • Peter Watson 30th Jan '20 - 1:43am

    @Ian @Hywel
    I’m not sure you are actually disagreeing with Matthew despite the tone of your posts! My reading of Matthew’s post is that he is acknowledging the transient effect that “Cleggmania” had on the polls but challenging the assertion that it “rescued the Lib Dems from a fairly disastrous 2010 result” in the actual election.

    Polling did show a moderate increase in Lib Dem support before the announcement of the general election ( and before the massive temporary boost after the debates. But that Cleggmania boost might well have masked the sort of pre-election polling increase seen in 2005 (, usually attributed to the party getting more media coverage during an election campaign than the rest of the time. The actual share of the votes was not much increased from 2005 (22.0% to 23.0%), so possibly not much of a Cleggmania effect after all.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Jan '20 - 10:13am


    Your suggestion that it was due to the timing of delivering some leaflets is risible; and you had the cheek to describe someone else’s argument as ridiculous.

    I am a long term member of the party, having joined the Liberal Party in 1979. It was always the case that the way we won votes was by local activity, where we reminded people of our existence and what we stood for and our genuine concern for was worrying them. I had a major involvement in our party growing to become the main opposition to Labour across the three constituencies of the London Borough of Lewisham. I was involved previously in Sussex where I grew up, in the days when we were seen as the main opposition to the Conservatives there, and reached a point where it seemed with a bit more activity we could win most of the Parliamentary seats there. I was also involved in Simon Hughes wining the Bermondsey by-election and Michael Meadowcroft winning Leeds West.

    In almost every general election up till 2010 our share of support in opinion polls rose steadily during the election weeks. And it really was the case that our support in the opinion polls in the 2010 general election had risen significantly just BEFORE the appearance of Nick Clegg on television. So that’s why I’m saying, the idea that the sole reason our votes went up in that election was Cleggmania is wrong.

    Sure, because Clegg had failed to come across at all before that, so the television appearance was the first time many became aware of him, and he seemed ok in it, that did cause people to think briefly of voting Liberal Democrat where they hadn’t considered it as an option previously. However, there were several reasons why that actually damaged us later, resulting in our share of votes not growing when the election actually took place, and the number of seats won going down.

  • @ TCO by Paul Johnson, a ‘popular’ historian. In the same volume,

    “He was not a party man. That was the truth. His loyalty belonged to the national interest, and his own. At one time or another he stood for Parliament under six labels: Conservative,Liberal, Coalition, Constitutionalist, Unionist, and National Conservative. This was partly due to his failure to find a safe seat, or one he could hold.

    However……., pleased to hear again about Curly Mallalieu – an old acquaintance who sat in front of Dad and me in the stand at Huddersfield Town in the 1950’s – the days of Bill Shankly, Denis Law and Ray Wilson. Nice man, Curly, came from a Liberal family.

    No doubt Curly spoke to Johnson in his New Statesman Labour days….. now 92, he’s a crusty right wing Tory. Churchill ? Johnson identifies him as an egotist always pursuing his own interests. Does that remind you of the current P.M. ?

  • It is amazing the vehemence with which TCO defends his liberal hero Nick Clegg’s seven years of disaster, leading, sadly but inevitably, in the Brexit referendum catastrophe and Jo Swinson’s Brexit election nightmare, while totally decrying the successes of the previous twenty years. But TCO is in essence an old school National Liberal – Economically very right wing, a do what you need to make money liberal, and also at the personal, individual rights level very liberal indeed.

    Of course the National Liberals were those liberals who split from the main Liberal party to side with the Conservatives in the Grand coalitions of the 1930s onwards and who finally joined with them after the Second World War. (They finally disappeared in the 1960s when the label “Conservative and National Liberal MP” was finally dropped.)

    Since then, and particularly after the merger with the SDP, the Liberals and Liberal Democrats focused on the less doctrinaire, much more Social Liberal line with increased emphasis on solving society wide problems such as poverty, racism and the massive inequality of opportunity in this country, and rather less on the politics of grievance and more individualistic, niche issues.

    However, TCO has remained a member of the Lib Dems, but wedded to the old ways. Hence to TCO all the progress we made up to and including Charlie Kennedy was totally inadequate (because whatever we did we didn’t hit the socialists hard enough) even though we went up from 11 MPs to 62. However the losses under Nick Clegg from 62 down to 8 MPs were perfectly OK, because we were supporting the Conservatives.

    Once you understand that, it is all perfectly straightforward.

  • Doug Chisholm 3rd Feb '20 - 8:30am

    Of course Labour and indeed the Tories hate us. They are our political opponents.
    Cant say I am hat keen on them either.

    However as in diplomacy and commerce – it is still possible to have dialogue and cooperation. The Scottish coalition worked very well – and in m opinion was only brought down by “London Labour’s” war in Iraq.

  • Peter Watson 4th Feb '20 - 10:07am

    @William Francis “raising the tax-free threshold was something Cameron himself dismissed as pie-in-the-sky and unworkable”
    In the pre-election leadership debates Cameron actually said, ““I would love to take everyone out of their first £10,000 of income tax, Nick. It’s a beautiful idea, a lovely idea. We cannot afford it.”
    So the question is which bits of austerity were implemented so that it could be afforded?

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