Not had your fill of Henley analysis yet?

Then why not seek out former Lib Dem media chief Mark Littlewood’s analysis in today’s Telegraph? I don’t agree with it all, but here’s a thought-provoking extract to chew on:

The truth is that the Liberal Democrats have yet to develop a compelling narrative to deal with the threat posed by Cameron – and with many Liberal MPs defending small majorities over the Tories in the south of England, the threat is very real indeed. Many may now conclude that a record of being a hardworking constituency MP and championing local causes will not be enough to save them in the face of the rising tide of Cameronism.

Greatly to his credit, Nick Clegg has dropped some hints that the LibDems could become the party of low taxation at the next election. But he has yet to adopt the policies to make such a claim truly plausible. Supporting changes in current tax rates without committing to reduce the overall tax burden is too complicated a message – and not one that is obviously attractive to soft Conservative voters. But if Clegg was willing to take the next logical step – and support a lower total tax package than the Tories in the party’s manifesto – this could make a considerable difference to the party’s prospects in the electoral battlegrounds of southern England.

The LibDems need to spend more time and effort in honing and developing their key national messages. They should start now. And they need to become a little more circumspect about the upsides of spending a six-figure sum and deploying hundreds of activists in one-off contests that sometimes look and feel like little more than glorified local council by-elections.

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This entry was posted in Parliamentary by-elections.


  • passing liberal 27th Jun '08 - 3:52pm

    The man has never been a Lib Dem. He doesn’t care about us. My feelings towards him are unprintable.

    The fact as he follows the Brown/Cameron strategy of calling us “The Liberals” to try and make us sound old fashioned in this piece just goes to prove it.

    Beware false prophets.

  • Agreed, the article misrepresents our position to one which the author personally favours.

    We are not the party of ‘low taxation’, we are the party which can legitimately promise ‘economic competence’ from which lower taxation can be afforded without damaging our social infrastructure.

  • *while strengthening our civic infrastructure

  • Cheltenham Robin 27th Jun '08 - 4:01pm

    Completely agree with the analysis that there is no point spending a bucket full of money on a by-election where we end up standing still.

    And yes if we do, lets stop running a glorified council election and begin to hammer home some of our key messages (whatever they turn out to be)

  • James Shaddock 27th Jun '08 - 4:15pm

    I agree that in the current political climate people care more about national rather than local issues and I’m sure many Lib Dem strategists know that.

    The problem will be trying to convince the more locally minded party membership that it’s the line we have to take

  • passing liberal wrote: “The fact as he follows the Brown/Cameron strategy of calling us “The Liberals” to try and make us sound old fashioned in this piece just goes to prove it.”

    Personally I don’t think that “liberal” sounds old fashioned. Actually, I think that the Lib Dems should rename themselves “Liberal Party”, or if that isn’t possible because of the splinter group that has appropriated the name, just “Liberals”. That sounds more clear and meaningful than “Liberal Democrats” (Liberal democracy isn’t even an ideology, and as liberals are supposed to be also democrats, it also sounds like a redundancy), or worse yet “Lib Dems”, which doesn’t mean anything, but invites opposition to invent mean nicknames like “Limp Dims” etc.

  • Cheltenham Robin:
    “And yes if we do, lets stop running a glorified council election and begin to hammer home some of our key messages (whatever they turn out to be)”

    I’m afraid that parenthetical remark expresses the problem in a nutshell.

  • passing liberal 27th Jun '08 - 5:06pm

    Julian H –

    1. Yet spends considerable amounts of time doing interviews on TV, openly criticising us, about how we need a narrative/how the Tories are going to take all our seats/ how we say different things in different parts of the constituency. (You can try denying this, but I have seen him saying every one of these things since he left the party’s employment)

    2. And??? It was his job.

    3. If you calm down enough to read what I wrote, I did not accuse him of not being a Liberal, I accused him of not being a Lib Dem – Ie. someone who is willing to do considerable damage to the party by way of his “interviews”

    “What exactly have you done to assume the authority of deciding whether or not he or anyone else is a Lib Dem?” Uh, nothing, but I am perfectly entitled to my views. What have you done to assume the authority to declare that people cannot justifiably criticise people associated with our party?

    Anonymous – Like you, I don’t have a problem with the name Liberals, I am one. but our party is called the Liberal Democrats and Brown and many others have set out a deliberate strategy to call us “The Liberals” I have been told by someone in the Labour party that the intention is to make us sound old fashioned. Now, why would someone committed to our party play in to their hands by saying it themselves?

  • passing liberal 27th Jun '08 - 5:06pm

    In point two, I mean country, not constituency

  • passing liberal 27th Jun '08 - 5:08pm

    And I meant point one, not point two. Thank god its Friday

  • I’d prefer he called us social democrats myself

  • passing liberal 27th Jun '08 - 5:18pm

    I do not believe that someone who, whether I am right or wrong, certainly appears to spend a lot of time on TV undermining us is someone with the interests of the party at their heart. If they do not have the interests of the party at heart, they are not a Lib Dem, whether they pay their subs or not.

    There are other people who are very much “in the party” who I do not believe are Lib Dems. Lord Carlisle is one very good example.

  • To passing liberal…I worked for the press office whilst Mark was in charge. I can cofirm he IS a liberal. Was brilliant at his job. Held up the polls almost single handedly whilst in charge – honing arguments and developing a narrative that the press and wider public did understand. it is noticeable to many that the polls fell away dramatically with in weeks of his leaving. We should all give thanks to his brilliant work. Since he left his comments have been incisive, accurate and much needed to keep the often lazy and frequently inept leadership on their toes. Long may he continue.

  • er, who is Lord Carlisle ? Was he a councillor in that splendid border city?

  • Ian Stewart 27th Jun '08 - 6:28pm

    this might not be the best place to continue the chat about names, but here we go……….
    ………the problem may be in having two words making up the title (six syllables)…
    …’s just too many for those simple souls in the media…….they can’t deal with more than two, viz To-ries;La-bour; LibDems………oops!
    Seriously, this is not the time to be naval gazing to this extent, but I suggest that we know there is progress to be made and we are currently not being progressive.

  • Mark, which means a misrepresentation of emphasis, not a misrepresentation of fact. Maybe I misrepresented myself…

  • Mark, I agree with your description of Clegg’s position, but I think the important point is in the reasoning for it, which has a knock-on effect beyond the detail of the specific point.

    The problem we have usually been faced with it the forced choice between two equally desireable or undesirable options, when really we need to take a dual (or multi-pronged) approach.

    Yes, to tax cuts for those who need it.
    Yes, to continued funding for essential public services.
    Yes, to a more balanced tax take to encourage economic stability and growth.
    Yes, this is a policy position which sets a standard for economic competence which business leaders and financiers can trust.
    Yes, this is a symbolic policy area for Clegg which defines his leadership style, but also, yes it is a strategic position which is designed to expand our core appeal.

    Two concepts of liberty, see?

  • “What about the impact of global warming? Shouldn’t someone do an audit of how much that is going to cost?”

    Global warming? Surely no one’s interested in that old stuff now.

  • Andrew Duffield 27th Jun '08 - 11:01pm

    Abolishing income tax would be an economically positive, socially just and electorally popular “longer term goal”. I look forward to the day our party sets this out as the logical extension of our Green Switch.

    We already have a 16% basic rate pledge, which we could realistically shift to 15% in time for a 2010 general election. Couple that with some fiscal options to honour our promise for CHOICE in local revenue raising, and the prospect of zero rating LIT also becomes feasible.

    Reducing the overall tax burden is entirely possible if we follow through on our commitment to shift from deadweight, inefficient and avoidable taxes on work and value added, to more efficient and unavoidable charges on unearned wealth and value removed.

    Thankfully we now have a Leader and a Shadow Chancellor who understand this and are increasingly articulating it as a progressive and sustainable strategy for our party and our country.

    Henley just shows that we must move further and faster in this morally just, economically sound and undoubtedly vote-winning direction.

  • Of course. Abolish income tax! What could be more popular? Not to mention morally just, economically sound and divinely ordained.

    How could we have been missing the obvious answer to all our problems for all these years?


  • passing liberal wrote: “Like you, I don’t have a problem with the name Liberals, I am one. but our party is called the Liberal Democrats and Brown and many others have set out a deliberate strategy to call us “The Liberals” I have been told by someone in the Labour party that the intention is to make us sound old fashioned. Now, why would someone committed to our party play in to their hands by saying it themselves?”

    That sounds like a daft strategy from the part of Labour, if it is true. The only reason why somebody could think that “Liberal Party” sounds old fashioned is that that name isn’t anymore used by Lib Dems. If Lib Dems would take the old name in use, that problem would disappear.

    Besides, if Labour would really like to make Lib Dems sound old fashioned, it should call them “Whigs”.

  • Jo White – Must be a different head of press we both worked for…don’t remember that being the case at all…

    I think Andy Mayer once described Mark as ‘not a part loyalist’ and ‘he never wants to stand for us’. So more of a journalist/commentator than a member then, which is fine, but don’t make out he’s anything but that…

  • Sorry – should be ‘party’ not ‘part’ obviously

  • yawn…

  • Mark Littlewood may be a sufferer of a horrendous case of short man syndrome, but he is spot on on the tax issue. It would provide us with a wedge issue to wrong foot the Tories. Lower taxes are a core Tory issue. There is no reason why we couldn’t decide to not re-spend all the money that could saved from the areas we want to makes cut, taxes are currently too high, just as pubic expenditure in the 90’s was too low. We are not ideologically a high tax party. Income tax really is one of the worst forms of taxation; people shouldn’t be taxed for selling their labour and on hard work, but on wealth. We should shift the tax burden onto assets, circa Liberal party 1906.

  • “pubic expenditure in the 90’s was too low”


  • I return to Mark Littlewood – the proposals listed do not all amount to cuts in public expenditure: scrapping ID cards means not increasing it further.

    Advocating a reduction in the overall tax burden is not a massive change of direction because when we began advocating an increase in the taxation to match expenditure levels the overall tax take hadn’t yet increased as it has in the intervening period – as you point out.

    I find it funny when someone pipes up to talk about raising or lowering any rate of this or that almost as though there is no natural balance which can be found and all economic activity must be either public or private.

    Absolutely nobody (at least not in the LibDems) believes that there is not a role for both public and private sectors and that a satisfactory balance can and must be found. So it is absurd, to say the least, that anyone should suggest we are wedded to any particular doctrine on the issue.

    Commenters need to remain constantly vigilant over how they use their language to describe any proposals they support, for if we don’t use adequate caveats and qualifiers to draw our picture accurately then we also fail to pass the standard for communicating our ideas.

    Each idea that can be proposed can be fully justified on its own terms, but I think we collectively need to look at how each good idea fits together and can combine to forge and fit with our full programme of reforms.

    Ultimately this pattern reflects our strategic outlook too.

    In comparing by-elections we need to compare all the relevant factors, and in measuring the scale of our achievement we must weigh the relative strengths and weaknesses on each side.

    As we grow our representation the significance that can be attached to each contest reduces and we look beyond the immediate.

    So what Henley means coming after C&N is the completion of a 30 year political cycle and we have reached a point which even the most senior MPs cannot recall.

  • Andrew Duffield 28th Jun '08 - 12:32pm

    Geoff said “it is not practical to replace income tax with the green tax switch. If the green tax switch works, then we change our behavior and pay less tax.”

    We seem ok with a pretty practical 4p switch already – and not all “green taxes” erode their own base. There are plenty of economically sustainable options for raising revenue from resource usage which, phased in over 2 parliaments say, could replace taxes on jobs completely. Practical AND progressive.

  • Wonderfully progressive for the rich. certainly.

    Not quite so good for the poor, who will gain little or nothing from the abolition of income tax, but will be hit hard by “green” taxes and their ramifications.

    But maybe it’s OK to be redistributionist, provided you’re redistributing wealth _from_ the poor _to_ the rich?

  • Andrew Duffield 28th Jun '08 - 1:21pm

    “But maybe it’s OK to be redistributionist, provided you’re redistributing wealth _from_ the poor _to_ the rich?”

    Unfortunately Anon, that’s exactly what income tax does – passed on in higher sales costs, with greatest incidence on those least able pay.

    Collecting economic rent (whether indirectly via carbon levies or directly at source) is what fair taxation is about. Society’s free lunchers would pay most! Progressive, practical and poorly understood – as you clearly demonstrate.

  • Yes Mark, that’s why I only mentioned scrapping ID cards.

    The other noted subjects we can be less unequivical about because they are not simple ‘baseline’ increases, but inefficient substitutions and ineffective distractions.

    Trident money could partly be used to bolster defence spending where it is vital and urgently required, DTI money ought better be used for regional development, while the Child Trust Fund is educational support in all but name.

    This government is addicted to ‘big ticket’ initiatives to try to prove that it isn’t failing, but these headlines detract from the actual story going on underneath.

    I don’t think there is lasting political value in simple opposition for oppositions sake, nor do I think it is worth coaligning with our competitors in order to do so.

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