No return to two-party politics, but we need to trumpet our successes

A couple of post-budget polls show post-budget combined support for the coalition parties remarkably steady – one at 59% and the other 56%, but with a move from the Lib Dems to the Tories, with Labour also picking up a bit of support  and “others” squeezed down.

Unsurprisingly, the budget is less popular with Lib Dem voters than Tory voters.  It’s less popular with our activists too.  Most Lib Dems recognise the need for tough action to sort out the mess the nation’s finances are in, and Nick and Vince have been talking about it for long enough.

But the measures in this budget appear to be hitting the very poorest harder, in large part due to a VAT rise that the party campaigned against (whilst not ruling out) in the election campaign. and there are plenty of people asking if there was another way to raise that money – say through an increase in income tax – that falls less heavily on the poorest.

When you’re in coalition, you have to swallow measures you wouldn’t otherwise support, and your ministers have to stick up for them and lead your MPs through the lobby.  That’s the nature of the beast – and you’ve got your policies that the other lot wouldn’t support without that quid pro quo.

Labour had exactly the same problem, of course.  How many times did the left-wing of the Labour party have to swallow its pride and vote for the Blairite agenda, in that long-term coalition Labour has established in their (politically sensible) surrender of doctrinal purity in the pursuit of power?  And they didn’t even get part of their agenda in return.

Over at Political Betting, Mike Smithson asks if we’re tipping back towards two-party politics with support for the Lib Dems and others being squeezed.  As Mike acknowledges, it’s a question that can’t be settled based on a couple of opinion polls.  Plenty of  polls over the last decade have seen the main two parties polling even higher, but it’s votes that count.

My hunch is that isn’t what’s happening.  Instead there’s something else.

When the headline measures for whatever the Government is doing are more Tory than Lib Dem, as now, it’s hardly surprising that the Conservatives gain support and the Lib Dems lose it.

There are several strong Lib Dem measures in the budget like the increase in the income tax threshold, restoring the pensions earning link, the bank levy, £2 billion to the child tax element of child tax credits to protect against child poverty and the increase in Capital Gains Tax.  Some of those were the big talking points in the run up to the budget, but have understandably been drowned out since.

Where it’s Lib Dem measures in the headlines, the Lib Dems poll better.  Where it’s Tory measures, we poll worse.

We all know that there are a barrow-load of Lib Dem policies coming up over the next few years – they’re in the coalition agreement and there’s every sign they’ll be delivered, so there’s no cause for real concern.

And there’s something we can do locally – which funnily enough is what the good people at the Campaigns Department are telling us to.  That’s promoting the Lib Dem successes from the coalition.

There are many successes and will continue to be, but don’t expect them to appear on the front pages of the Mail, Express and Sun too often, let along the Mirror.  As always, it falls to us to tell people about them in our Focus leaflets and on our websites and blogs.

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29 Comments

  • paul barker 27th Jun '10 - 2:02pm

    We have to remind ourselves that our poll ratings usually fall after a General Election & that all the pollsters have changed their methodology precisely to reduce our figures. Lets wait till next May & some real votes.

  • Conservative 27th Jun '10 - 2:29pm

    without wanting to disagree with this post I really think you chaps need to get your leadership in order – Cable and Clegg have been relatively ineffective dealing with the media – John Humphries, QT and Andrew Marr were all not very good. I get that you are defending difficut choices but you have to stop your loose cannons like Hughes and Russell from throwing their weight around and at least give a semblance of unity. We can’t have you bail now when we have so much still to fix…

  • Tony Greaves 27th Jun '10 - 2:43pm

    It’s a good job I didn’t see Cable defending free schools on Question Time or I might have both smashed the set in and torn up my membership card on the spot. If all the LD ministers are bound by full collective responsibility to advocate and defend coalition policies even when they are dangerous and stupid Tory stuff (like free schools) then we are completely finished.

    Tony Greaves

  • Anthony Aloysius St 27th Jun '10 - 3:02pm

    “If all the LD ministers are bound by full collective responsibility to advocate and defend coalition policies even when they are dangerous and stupid Tory stuff (like free schools) then we are completely finished.”

    The fact that the coalition agreement includes opt-outs for certain policies, which confer the right on the Lib Dems to speak (but not usually vote) against them, suggests that they have signed up to collective responsibility for the rest of the government’s policies.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 27th Jun '10 - 3:04pm

    “you have to stop your loose cannons like Hughes and Russell from throwing their weight around and at least give a semblance of unity”

    Or you’ll do what, precisely?

  • “It’s a good job I didn’t see Cable defending free schools on Question Time”

    I hadn’t noticed any Lib Dem spokepeople on anything much !

    Radio 4 seems to have dumped the idea that the Lib Dems are a seperate party and is back to the Con/Lab double act.

    Free schools are a particularly awful policy which fails even in its own terms.

    The trouble with the FOCUS route is that even a moderately strong constituency, with the Lib Dems in second and with a reasonable number of local councillors, will struggle to deliver much more than half the hosueholds, probably reaching little mroe than a third with regular leaflets.

    It seems to me the coalition deal had a number of flaws.

    1. Not securing STV for something – and something soon – be it the Lords, Euro-Elections, Local Government
    anything would have been better than a referenudm on Alternate Vote.

    2. A reduction in the number of MPs without PR – this will wreak havoc to LIb Dem seats, AV or no AV.

    However, it is clear that ALL of the Labour leadership contenders publically oppose a proportional voting system for the Commons.

    3. While the policy concessions are great – the implementation and presentation is key – I’d have rather had a few more top level or cabinet ministers than policy concessions. This is not about jobs for the boys, it’s about the difference between “policy” and reality. Yes personalities are important – the differnec between Eric Pickles and Lord Greaves running Local Govt would be profound, despite both being signed up to the coalition.

    Scottish Sceretary and Deputy PM are essentially non-jobs, and cheif secretary to the treasury is suborinate to the chancellor, so the only departments run by LIb Dems are by Chris Huhne and Vince Cable

  • Paul McKeown 27th Jun '10 - 4:55pm

    @Conservative

    What the Lib Dems really need is for their MPs to start getting mouthy and hitting back at the naysayers. It’s nice to be polite, but it won’t help when your enemies are one eyed, loudmouthed, spittle spewing liars. Vince is too nice; he and his colleagues need to get down and deliberately dirty. The more you allow bullies to taunt you, the more you encourage them. Low blows are called for and plenty of them. Perhaps a little less time on the brief and a little more time given to planning the media campaign.

  • Patrick Smith 27th Jun '10 - 5:25pm

    Many Liberal Democrats this weekend including myself have attended support the British Armed Forces local marches and rallies across the Country..

    It is important to remember the courageous service that is marked by these parades to honour all regiments on this special commemorative public event on the British Armed Forces Day.

    If you believe that most of the conflicts since 1945 and over over modern British history have been in the name of freedom and liberty then it is time for a new Freedom Bill to be passed and sanctified by Parliament in the name of liberty.

    The debate on the emergency Budget is the mother of necessity as it keeps the solvency of the UK above water mark but now we must turn the page to civil liberty and constitutional reform.

    The real Liberal Democrat `wins’ in this `Coalition Government’ will yet to be fought and won on the passage of the Freedom Bill and the date to be set on the Referendum to change the face of voting towards fairness.

    A vote on AV is now awaited on by the Electorate.

  • Tony Greaves 27th Jun '10 - 5:35pm

    The fact that the coalition agreement includes opt-outs for certain policies, which confer the right on the Lib Dems to speak (but not usually vote) against them, suggests that they have signed up to collective responsibility for the rest of the government’s policies.

    The Academies Bill was not even in the coalition agreement – yet it’s the first Bill to appear. That has not stopped us being very critical in the Lords (where it is still in committee). Whether there will be any changes remains to be seen.

    Tony Greaves

  • John Fraser 27th Jun '10 - 5:53pm

    First we have to find successes to Trumpet .

    If we are not going to get a total collapse of rsupprt . perhaps the first important stance is to tell the Conservatives we can no longer support their childish and economically illiterate ideals for Free Schools . Which will backrupt the schools budget by diverting money from existing schoold and ensure no democratic accountability for our childrens education.

    Coalitions are about compromises not selling out to stupid extreme and damaging ideas such as this .

  • Roger Shade 27th Jun '10 - 5:55pm

    @ Tony,
    It really is a pity that Labour didn’t have the bottle to get rid of an extremely unpopular leader, it is quite clear that the people of Britain were not that enthusiastic about the possibility of a Tory Government. Brown’s phoney boom has left this country in a deep financial mess and happily for the Conservatives, the Labour Party and the media they can all blame the Lib Dems, how convenient. What would have happened to the financial markets had the Lib Dems opted to allow the Conservatives to govern as a minority Government, indeed how soon would the Conservatives have called for another election and the electorate by then would have been persuaded that they needed to vote in a majority Conservative Government. The Libdems may well suffer for being in this coalition that is why I feel that Libdem MPs including Mr Clegg and Mr Cable must indicate where their RED LINES are.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 27th Jun '10 - 5:57pm

    “Low blows are called for and plenty of them.”

    The low blows at the moment seem to be directed mainly at the poor and vulnerable. The ones the party promised it would be its priority to protect …

    But as principle has been thown out of the window, I suppose self-preservation is the only thing left. And I have no doubt that politicians are capable of fighting _very_ dirtily indeed when that’s at stake.

  • Roger Shade 27th Jun '10 - 6:21pm

    @ Tony
    The boom was based on ‘earnings’ in the City of London financial engineering not productive reality, it was a boom founded on credit not reality. All is well described in Cable’s book ‘The Storm’. I would suggest that the real reason Labour did better than expected at a time of recession was because of the fear of what the Conservatives would do, remembering what Thatcher did in the 1980’s. I have suggested that had Labour entered the election with a new Leader they would have won, However perhaps they didn’t want to win after all the Governor of the Bank of England said the party that won the election would be faced with such a massive problem that they might be faced with being out of office after the next election for a generation.

  • David Allen 27th Jun '10 - 6:29pm

    “The fact that the coalition agreement includes opt-outs for certain policies, which confer the right on the Lib Dems to speak (but not usually vote) against them, suggests that they have signed up to collective responsibility for the rest of the government’s policies.”

    It would be nice to know what exactly has been signed and sealed. The coalition document is prescriptive about a whole lot of things, but the informal agreement seems to go further. Cameron didn’t have to say anything about his intention not to campaign against AV, but he did. Clegg didn’t have to talk about the great importance to his coalition partners of the marriage tax break (when recently writing a wide-ranging article, which could easily have just omitted that topic) – but sadly he did.

    Now, if you believe in a growing and ever-strengthening unity of purpose between the two coalition partners, all this sweetness and light is wonderful. However, if you believe that the Lib Dems and Tories will eventually separate and go their separate ways, it is not so marvellous. If the coalition presents itself as a single united political brand, it is not the Tories whose brand image will disappear.

    We may have to abstain on things like free schools, we will no doubt have to pass up the chance of voting them down, because to do so would be to break our agreement (and invite the Tories to do likewise). But we must not actively defend policies we do not believe in. We should do what the Tories themselves have done over things like capital gains tax. That is, simply to say that this is a coalition, and that the coalition programme includes proposals which came from our partners. (And, that we shall be watching progress like hawks, ready to spot problems, demand monitoring and feedback, promote discussion and criticism, and insist that things that don’t work should get stopped!)

  • err vat up on your bike up evicting people in the south so that unemployed can take houses, massive cuts in pubic sector jobs, no waiting time targets to see gp, money diverted so that schools can be set up in nice areas, disability living allowance to go, pensions and welfare set to rise at a much lower pace, and all for a thousand a year, and this is just the beginning. The lib dems made this happen , do you really think that nodding to tory announcements like this will endear the public.

  • @Iain, you claim the restoration of the earnings link for pensions to be a good thing that the Coalition’s done. Which party’s idea was to use CPI rather than RPI which will most likely mean the State Pension in April 2011 rising by less than it would have done using the existing formula.

  • you will quickly learn that all the leaflets in the world won’t change a negative media narrative.This is something the Lib Dems have taken advantage of and will now find impossible to overcome. In short you are now responsible for ‘bad things’ ,and that’s a vote killer.

  • *Low blows are called for and plenty of them. Perhaps a little less time on the brief and a little more time given to planning the media campaign.*

    What if the public no longer believe a word you say?

  • ROB SHEFFIELD 28th Jun '10 - 6:37am

    “How many times did the left-wing of the Labour party have to swallow its pride and vote for the Blairite agenda”

    Hhhmm- but the crucial difference is that the ‘left wing’ of Labour was (and is) a busted flush and is not the mainstream of the party but merely a fringe ginger group outside Labours centre left mainstream.

    Conversely the ginger group extremists outside the Lib Dem mainstream are in fact the orange book wet Tories who have taken over the leadership and are so happy, content and comfortable both with the coalition and its first budget.

    It is as if the Campaign group were in charge of the Labour party.

    Be honest: this is a recipe for disaster and its going to end in tears if not a total split. We should know because it happened to us in 1979-1983…..

  • Vince Cable looked incredibly uncomfortable for the whole of Question Time, not just on education. I am not a Lib Dem but think that Cameron has been very, very clever in the allocation of jobs. The Lib Dems are the ones in the firing line when things go wrong and the Tories are the ones who get to blame the Lib Dems. Then, of course, there are the likes of Frank Field!

  • On Question Time and Any Questions there are no longer both Conservative and Liberal Democrat representatives, but either a Conservative or a Liberal Democrat.

  • Philip – as in a representative of hte Government (Coalition)

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