Not quite “making it happen”

The siren voices told us that the way to find fame and fortune was to announce a dramatic policy shift.  Either to the left or to the right, according to taste.  Well, we’ve tried that now.  The broadsheets gave us inside pages.  TV News gave us a mention.  The commentators politely pointed out that big tax cuts might not be terribly practical in hard times.  And that, more or less, was that.

We can compare and contrast “Making It Happen” with a much more effective piece of instant publicity, our plan to target 50 Labour seats.  That was a story which dovetailed neatly into the running news agenda.  The Press gleefully reported another nail being driven into Gordon’s coffin.  Whereas with “Making It Happen”, we were trying to conjure up a news item from scratch, all on our own.  It didn’t set the world on fire.

Now before too many people get upset, I will quickly accept that we did need something like “Making It Happen”.  After all, the pollsters warn that people still see us as close to Labour.  So we needed to distance ourselves from Labour’s policies of overpromise, overspend, overcontrol, and overclaim.  “Making It Happen” does that for us.  It puts down a useful marker.  But clearly, it’s not going to be the magic bullet, the Big Idea, which will transform our electoral prospects.

So why isn’t it?  Why was tax cutting such a potent electoral weapon for Thatcher’s Tories, yet when Lib Dems talk about it, nobody seems very convinced?

Well, credibility matters, for a start.  If your friend is Gordon Gecko and your slogan is “Greed is Good”, then you are a Thatcher Tory, and you have credibility, of a sort.  You can be trusted to raid the national coffers and enrich your supporters.  But if you are a serious Lib Dem with noble ideals, you don’t have that kind of credibility.  You are not really going to wreck the economy or the planet, just for the sake of offering tax cuts, are you?

Reputation matters too.  When Cameron plays the statesman on tax, instead of promising a return to the Thatcher years, do we honestly believe he has made a tactical error?  Or has he tuned into the mood of the moment, and opted for sober realism?

At the 2005 election, while we won a moral victory on Iraq, some of our domestic policies had less appeal.  Andrew Rawnsley’s comment was to the point: “Never mind the bungs, where’s the vision?”Opinion within our party is fairly evenly balanced on the question of “Making It Happen”.  The consensus way forward should be to go ahead with the policy, but put it firmly into perspective, and avoid unrealistic commitments.  The biggest change we offer should be to cut back on Labour’s wasteful spending.  The biggest tax change should be the revenue-neutral Green Tax Switch – which, with its 4p cut in income tax, will surely provide quite enough financial fireworks to be going on with.And so where’s my vision, then?  Well, as a new writer for LDV, I won’t push my luck on that.  Not until the next article, anyway!

David Allen is local party chair in Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire, and was a founder member of the SDP.

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  • You’d be more convincing, David, if you got right the name of the document you’re criticising 🙂

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 19th Aug '08 - 11:16pm

    “Nick Clegg could have told us that this is the policy he wanted when he tood for leader. At least if he got elected the policy would have some legitimacy. On the other hand he probably would have lost.”

    Well, considering how narrowly he won, he would certainly have lost if he had been honest about his intentions.

    I didn’t bother to vote in the leadership election because I didn’t see anything to choose between Clegg and Huhne. I know I wasn’t alone in that, but what a mistake!

  • No offence Geoffrey, but you strike me as someone on the ‘left’ of the Party (such as it is) and so it doesn’t exactly surprise me that you oppose a reduction in the tax burden. The thing I think about it is, if it can be done, it would be a brilliant way of making the tax system fairer for low and middle earners – which is presumably something you would support?

    Clegg’s Candid Friend – not too long ago you were criticising Huhne for making policy up without consulting the party and for an illiberal position on 28 days. Perhaps you were right not to vote?

  • The press probably liked the idea of targeting Labour’s seats because its aggressive and exciting. ‘Making it happen’ is noticeably timid in comparison, even the title is meek and inoffensive.

    I’d get our entire front bench talking up our chances of pushing Labour into third place. Every day, week after week. No-one would care if we didn’t manage it, and the press would love us for it.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 20th Aug '08 - 9:20am

    “it would be a brilliant way of making the tax system fairer for low and middle earners”

    Why do people keep banging on about “fairness” when what they’re actually talking about is lowering the overall levels of spending and taxation?

    Obviously there are two entirely separate issues here.

  • I think raising low earners out of tax and reducing it on mid-earners is fairer (certainly fairer than taxing and giving it back via the tax credit system). We can do that either by taxing somewhere else, or by attempting to reduce the tax burden overall, or indeed, a mixture of the two.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 20th Aug '08 - 10:00am


    What I’m saying is that the overall level of taxation is one question, and the issue of “fairness” what proportions of the tax take come from the rich, the poor and those in the middle – is a separate one.

  • As I said:

    “We can do that either by taxing somewhere else, or by attempting to reduce the tax burden overall, or indeed, a mixture of the two.”

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 20th Aug '08 - 10:41am


    What I’m saying is simply that the two questions – of fairness on the one hand and the levels of taxation and spending on the other – are separate.

    You could also make taxation fairer while raising the overall level of public spending, if you so wished.

  • Yes, you could. But you could also do it this way too.

  • Sounds like a communication problem to me.

    It doesn’t help if we send mixed messages, so perhaps we could stop arguing and present a concerted front.

    Fairness, yes. Raising and/or lowering in different areas according to need, conditions and policy objectives, also yes.

    Then, clarify the policy objectives we stand for, the particular needs of the people we are focussing on at that time and how we change our terms according to how the conditions change.

    So the two questions we must answer simultaneously are:-
    1)what is the effect on the overall balance, and
    2)how do we balance the full package of specific changes.

  • We’re having a debate, it’s not mixed messages – most Liberal Democrats haven’t had a chance to discuss this issue yet. Nick has outlined his proposals, nobody has voted for it yet, theres been no democratic process. It isn’t surprising people want to discuss the biggest policy u-turn the party has ever made, especially as it doesn’t seem to be getting us good press.

    To me, this is a losing strategy. It reinforces the image that we can say whatever we like, because we won’t get into power. On the flip, we give the other parties a reason to switch to tax-cutting policies, at a dangerous point to do so. Probably result – a Tory government and a drastic reduction in public services in about 6-8 years.

    When it comes to tax-cutting lies, nothing can beat a Tory. They’ll say anything. It’s not a battle we should of engaged in, we’ll get our fingers burnt.

    We can only hope that the other parties see the failings of “Make it Happen” and decide against similar commitments.

  • Alix Mortimer 20th Aug '08 - 12:56pm

    “the biggest policy u-turn the party has ever made”

    This is exactly what troubles me. It *isn’t* a U-turn. The basic package has been party policy for nearly a year, and the fairness/redistribution notion for several years, as I’ve said above. The new element is a longer-term commitment to looking at cutting the overall burden. In the short term, as I understand it, nothing changes.

    I guess the whole thing is a U-turn if you want to go back to a penny on income tax, but a U-turn which takes place over 5 years is, frankly, a U-turn with such a wide apex that the phrase no longer applies.

    Yes, I agree it’s a risk from the PR perspective in doing what we’ve done, which is to associate an existing policy with a “new” announcement, but what was the alternative? Nobody was listening to the existing policy (not even all the members, which is why so many of them now think it’s a “U-turn”).

  • Hywel Morgan 20th Aug '08 - 1:29pm

    “most Liberal Democrats haven’t had a chance to discuss this issue yet. Nick has outlined his proposals, nobody has voted for it yet,”

    The tax proposals in Make it Happen have been voted on – the Green Tax Switch has been policy for a few years.

    What we haven’t voted on is plans to find £20 billion of spending cuts (or identified them but that is a different point). That was something that came out in press comment rather than the black ink wording of the paper.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 20th Aug '08 - 1:57pm

    Alix wrote:
    “This is exactly what troubles me. It *isn’t* a U-turn.”

    Well, of course supporters of the new policy are going to try to persuade people that it’s been there all the time.

    But, of course, to declare an aim of cutting overall public spending, and to make a commitment that we “will focus all our attention on cutting taxes”, is a huge change from what the party stood for at the last general election – to say nothing of being a very strange preparation for a challenge to Labour in their traditional strongholds.

    It may have been on the way for a couple of years, but that doesn’t diminish the scale of the change.

  • CCF – less of a U-turn more of an L-turn.

    We’ve always been about fairness and we’re still about fairness, but this applies differently under different conditions: raising or lowering it’s all just a rebalancing act.

  • Alix Mortimer 20th Aug '08 - 3:03pm

    “Well, of course supporters of the new policy are going to try to persuade people that it’s been there all the time.”

    You’re putting words into my mouth. All I said was that the basic tax package underlying MIH was passed last autumn and has been in development for a couple of years before that, both of which are true. The only new bit is the additional undertaking to look at reducing the overall tax take in the long term, also true.

    Your argument that a substantial part of the shift has occurred since 2005 is thereby a valid one (see?? no need to misinterpret what I say after all! 😀 ) – though I might still, as I say, cavil at whether even three years of development can be described as a U-turn.

  • @ CCF “‘will focus all our attention on cutting taxes’, is . . . a very strange preparation for a challenge to Labour in their traditional strongholds.”

    Removing those on low pay from tax altogether, and reducing it for middle-earners, is not at all a strange preparation for challenging Labour in their traditional strongholds.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 20th Aug '08 - 3:14pm

    “All I said was that the basic tax package underlying MIH was passed last autumn and has been in development for a couple of years before that, both of which are true.”

    You also said “It *isn’t* a U-turn.”

    That’s what I quoted, which was a kind of clue to the reader that that was the part I was disagreeing with.

    The proposal to reduce overall public spending and the total focus on tax cutting have come only in the last few months. If Clegg said anything like that in the leadership campaign, I missed it.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 20th Aug '08 - 3:28pm

    “Removing those on low pay from tax altogether, and reducing it for middle-earners, is not at all a strange preparation for challenging Labour in their traditional strongholds.”

    That’s all very well, but it’s only one side of the equation. The cuts in income tax would be partly funded by a shift to indirect “green” taxation, and of course indirect taxation hits the poor hardest, proportionally.

    And now on top of that we have proposals for public spending cuts. We have no idea where these are going to come from, but I am very sceptical about the idea that large cuts in public spending can be made painlessly.

    And yes, for some of those affected, the effects will be compensated by cuts in inome tax. But obviously those who are paying little or no income tax will receive little or no compensation.

  • @ CCF “That’s all very well, but it’s only one side of the equation. The cuts in income tax would be partly funded by a shift to indirect “green” taxation, and of course indirect taxation hits the poor hardest, proportionally.”

    Clearly it’s only one side of the equation. Maybe this is why they want to make an attempt to reduce the tax burden, so as not to have to rely to heavily on making up the difference by increasing indirect taxation?

    I can’t help but feel with you CCF, that the Party is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn’t.

  • one of the biggest concern of the population is the gap between the rich and poor. thus I certainly agree with the ‘redistributive’ nature of the package. I have reservations about green taxes, as I do with most indirect taxation. I don’t think green taxes actually alter behaviour but almost act as a get out clause for governments not to raise taxes on the wealthy in a fair way. Although if I am wrong and they do work, what will happen to income tax levels then? Reducing the overall taxation burden spells disaster in my view. Virtually no government in history as achieved that so it completely lacks credibility – especially with commitments such as pupil premium and the elderly care gaurantee. The public just won’t believe it. Clegg is right to point out the inefficiencies of government spending, but surely the answer is to spend more wisely rather than making cuts? Can you ever spend too much on schools and hospitals? I voted for Clegg and his statement puts a clear vision and I agree with most of it. However, he has a media preception problem as a wet tory and I don’t think cutting the overall tax burden will help with that image to attract disenfranchised labour voters.

  • Plus… Michael Howard ran on a similar platform on tax cuts in 2005 and looked what happened there… It is quite scary that the Liberals would be adopting a similar platform. I hope Clegg comes back revamped and ready to go. His inexperience has shown over the last year, particularly with Lisbon. This statement goes a long way in defining his narrative, which he must have in order to shine. I hope at the conference we shall see what Liberalism under Clegg really means

  • Alix Mortimer 20th Aug '08 - 5:20pm

    “You also said..It *isn’t* a U-turn.” ”

    That’s right. Because I don’t think it is.

    “The proposal to reduce overall public spending and the total focus on tax cutting have come only in the last few months.”

    That’s right. Exactly as I said when I said this:

    “The only new bit is the additional undertaking to look at reducing the overall tax take in the long term, also true.”

    So to summarise (again) – I think we should remember that the basic tax package dates from last autumn in this format, its underlying principles have been fermenting for several years (since 2005), and the only new bit is the actual reduction of the overall tax take.

    So, er, we appear to be pretty much in agreement in what we think is brand new. Your ability to invent and cultivate disagreement, at some considerable trouble, continues to astound me.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 20th Aug '08 - 6:16pm


    Yes, we agree that the redistributive taxation policies aren’t new. I don’t think anyone has claimed they were.

    How about explaining why you don’t think that declaring an aim of cutting overall public spending, and making a commitment that we “will focus all our attention on cutting taxes” is a U-turn, rather than just saying so and accusing others of “inventing and cultivating disagreement” because they don’t agree with your opinion?

  • Hywel Morgan 20th Aug '08 - 6:36pm

    “making a commitment that we “will focus all our attention on cutting taxes””

    Where is this commitment in the paper?

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 20th Aug '08 - 6:41pm


    It’s not in the paper. It’s something Nick Clegg came out with in a speech in May:

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 21st Aug '08 - 9:09am


    For heaven’s sake, you yourself agreed above that “fairness” was a separate issue from cutting overall spending – you went so far as to say “We absolutely must keep the two distinct in our minds”.

    Yet now when I ask why you don’t consider that declaring an aim of cutting overall public spending, and making a commitment that we “will focus all our attention on cutting taxes”, is a U-turn, you go on yet again about how long “fairness/redistribution” has been party policy!

    But at least you acknowledge this is a “substantial shift in emphasis”. I’ll settle for that.

    But please drop the silly personal stuff. It really doesn’t further the discussion.

  • I really don’t like all this talk of U-turns.

    We are perfectly clear on what we want, so perhaps it is the wind direction that has gone through a 180 degree shift with us in exactly the same boat moving in exactly the same direction, if anything we have only just gibbed and the negative commenters are checking their compasses because they’ve lost their bearings.

    Geoffrey, ‘funding public services properly’ is rhetoric which can get you into danger unless you tie it into a system where you have a strict policy of checks and balances to make sure cash isn’t wasted, because there is no limit to how long people want to live and there is no limit to the amount of knowledge a person can learn – but there is a definite limit on how much is affordable.

    The whole debate surrounding ‘taxation’ and ‘spending’ is an area where you have to be very careful with the language you use, because you must balance relative proportions with real sums of cash.

    In effect it is possible to everything you want if you do it properly, but the challenge is to prevent your opponents from manipulating your quotes by taking them out of proportiate context.

    Elsewhere people have questioned Julia Goldsworthy’s claim to be able to make £20bn savings, but is cautious beside the £25bn in revenue from tax fraud lost to the treasury every year.

    So instead of sniping I encourage you to show a little liberal understanding for all our benefit.

  • This is rediculous. The “substantial shift in emphasis” is a U-turn. Precisely because no-one is being specific about what is going to be cut, then it is clear that the new committment is beng made for ideological reasons, rather than a belief in ensuring that public services are properly funded.

    I’m not sure that it is a U-turn, and I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing even if it is.

    There’s an old quote for which I can never find a reliable attribution (variously attributed to the Duke of Wellington, Disraeli and Keynes by some people who are obviously confused) which goes something like this: “When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do?”. The facts have changed in the last decade, in that we now have vastly higher public spending across a whole range of government activities. I don’t have the precise figures to hand, but government spending in the mid-90s (under Major) was around 32% of GDP – low compared to Europe although not all that low compared to most of the 20th century. It is now up in the high 40s. Lots of new money has come in and the challenge is now twofold:

    1) Management and prioritisation of that spending. A current example might be the choice over whether we want to pay for new cancer drugs. The argument is made that to do this means taking money away from the rest of the NHS (obviously bad), but why not take the money away from, say, the ID card project (see here for a better advocation of this argument)? There’s obviously room to cut spending in some areas which gives us a choice over what to do with those cuts. And in some cases, reducing overall tax levels might be the most useful way of ‘spending’ that money. We do have to admit the fact that when taxes only ever go up, spending only ever goes up and at some point this leads to waste as the government loses sight of the question of how much their schemes benefit ordinary people. ID cards are the most gratuitous example, but there are plenty more.

    2) Fairness, or who pays the taxes. This is a question which is somewhat separate from the first in that we have to decide upon whom the tax burden falls irrespective of what the overall level is. At the moment it falls too heavily upon the poor, so our objective must be to relieve that burden which, by definition, would mean a higher burden being shouldered by those who can afford it. Of course, if the overall level of tax is falling then it becomes even easier to alter the tax system in favour of the currently over-paying poor. We seem to be the only major party that even recognises the need to re-balance the tax burden and we should be encouraging that line of thought.

    A redistributive tax system can’t easily co-exist with ‘big’ government. The money spent on the initiatives of government has to come from somewhere and it could certainly be argued in the case of some such initiatives that we’d be better off simply giving the money to the poorest to help look after themselves. I don’t think that we can seriously argue that every penny that the government spends is worth it, and we have to identify that spending which would be better placed directly into the hands of people who need it most, at the cost of those projects which people have the least desire for. After 11 years of this government, there should be plenty of those.

    There is, in fact, a third strand of thought here which is about localisation of spending, passing control down to devolved bodies and local councils, which necessitates spending cuts at Westminster level in order to give those local bodies a budget that they can decide to spend based on local priorities. They might choose to spend the money exactly as it was being spent before, but they might choose to spend it on something else entirely. Again, this cannot be done if the UK govt. keeps on gathering up all available resources. Cllr Richard Baum makes that case here.

    The shift in emphasis comes about entirely because these questions were not the questions that we faced 10 years ago. If that’s a U-turn then it’s an entirely sensible one.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 21st Aug '08 - 10:05am

    Oranjepan wrote:
    “Elsewhere people have questioned Julia Goldsworthy’s claim to be able to make £20bn savings, but is cautious beside the £25bn in revenue from tax fraud lost to the treasury every year.”

    I think you’re a bit confused. Julia Goldsworthy was apparently asked to find £15bn of savings so that the money could be reallocated to our spending priorities. That was in 2006 when she was shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

    This year it has been reported that her successor, Jeremy Browne, has been asked to find £20bn of savings. The implication of much of the press coverage has been that at least some of these savings would be used to fund tax cuts.

    What has been questioned is whether Julia Goldsworthy managed to find those savings and, if so, why Jeremy Browne has been asked to repeat the exercise (and, if not, why not).

    Or are we talking about £35 of savings in total, £15bn of which have already been identified?

  • CCF, I’m glad you’ve started nit-picking because what is clear is that there are plenty of nits in the government’s current spending plans.

    Simplifying the tax system and making it fairer reduces the incentives to commit fraud and avoid paying the correct share while simultaneously boosting the economy by making it behave more honestly. Just as lowering the overall burden may actually increase the pure tax take by reenabling growth – thereby potentially preventing a slide into recession while simultaneously increasing support for essential services.

    If you want to quibble over figures you’ve also got to contradict the theory before you undermine the desirability of the policy.

    What principles do you think we should be basing our reasoning and calculations on? Are fairness and affordability so terrible as to mean we are unrealistic to want to build a policy framework around the two together?

    Do you think Uncle Vince and our team of economic gurus are either evil, foolish or both? Or do you (as I) think that some of our supporters aren’t quite of the same level of expertise and experience as they?

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 21st Aug '08 - 11:30am


    I scarcely think that trying to clarify whether we are proposing £20bn or £35bn of public spending cuts qualifies as “nit-picking”!

    Nor is it “quibbling” to ask whether or not Julia Goldsworthy managed to identify £15bn of spending cuts two years ago, or not.

    If you don’t like these questions being asked, you are going to have a very uncomfortable election campaign, because the press and our opponents are going to be asking them repeatedly and forcibly. And if we can’t answer them, our opponents will feel quite entitled to make up their own answers …

  • CCF, I don’t understand why you prefer to attempt a difficult own-goal while your opponent has an open goal gaping.

    I can imaging that £20bn sounds like a lot of money compared to the average mortgage, but it is less than 2% of annual government expenditure, so considering that inflation levels are around 5% year-on-year savings of that volume should be considered quite simple.

    Clamping down on growth of the PSBR would change the financial dynamic swiftly as a fundamental shift by reducing interest payments, but if you want to pick up on individual savings you end up creating a huge list before you start approaching relatively small sums which can be abused as political ammunition by our opponents (cut tax credits – why, that’s hurting the poor man!).

    There are difficulties in that this government has made long-term commitments which will impact on the ability of the next generation to change spending habits, but these are not insurmountable and the contract terms could be adjusted if it can be shown to be in the interests of the country’s finances and we can grow political support for any changes in priority.

    Quite simply, you are indulging in self-flagellation because you don’t have enough imagination or comprehension of the scope of government movement.

    This is nothing new and is has been proven to work in the past to massive popular approval. Examples of the same argument can be found in LibDem speeches made in the run-up to 1997 which were then used by Labour to their temporary advantage. Dare I even say that some of the early budgetary tricks made during the Thatcher era had been first proposed earlier by the Liberals. It is nothing world-shattering.

    Perhaps this time we should be silent in our own interests to prevent our opponents from stealing our ideas again, even if that is in the interests of the nation.

    Or instead maybe it’d be advisable for you to read more closely up on some of our historic legacy before you attack the detail (or lack of it) of current proposals.

  • Thanks for the fact check on the budget, Neil, £20bn is 3.4% of government spending for 07/8, 3.25% for 08/9, 3.1% for 09/10 and 2.96% for 10/11.

    Can you match that by backing up your assertion about the opinion of the party membership in equal detail?

    Right-wing, left-wing – or liberal? My view is that few of us like to be defined according to the forced choice you describe.

  • David Morton 21st Aug '08 - 1:48pm

    Dennis has hit on two nuggets in his article.

    1. the absurd quantity of coverage we achieved for the “50 Labour seats” press release was simply because it fits neatly into the existing press narrative. The urgent, perhaps singular priority of the party over the next 6 months is to insert its self into that Anti labour narrative in the way no one doubted that we were party of the Anti Conservative movement pre 97.

    2. One of the partys strengths is a certain honesty. No one wanting the cheapest possible goods would ever shop in M and S or Waitrose. I remain to be convinced that those voters wanting promises of large tax cuts will ever arken our door. If Cameron holds his nerve and sticks to the current line of not ruling out tax cuts because in the dire circumstances they are unaffordable i really worry. I worry that he will look statesman because he would be and I don’t know how we would look unless this £20bn is (a) water tight (b) not one off savings. you need ongoing revenue savings to pay for income tax cuts.

    Morton’s First Law of Politics is that “People aren’t Stupid.” they will tell you all sorts of things in Focus groups but they aren’t stupid and won’t belive you if they think you are promising the Moon. Even if getting the Moon is one of their priorities.

  • Hywel Morgan 21st Aug '08 - 2:18pm

    “Since about 5% of the civil service leave every year such savings are clearly easily possible.”

    A pretty big logic breakdown. At least some of that 5% will be replaced each year and in any case the cost of the Civil Service isn’t all of government spending.

    There is a tabloid/saloon bar attitude about spending cuts that they would be easy to find (the classic “cutting waste” line). However the Tories in 2001 and 2005 couldn’t find cuts on this scale and they weren’t advocating additional spending of the sort we are proposing.

  • Neil, I think you must be underestimating the extent of your ‘suggestions’ and the method by which you presented them.

    Really, you exaggerate to say that talk is ‘forbidden’ within our party and anyway I doubt you speak with authority invested on behalf of anyone.

    It sounds to me more like you didn’t like being a team player. I hope you’ve reconciled yourself to more democratic behaviour in the intervening period.

  • No, you hold an opinion and, while you are fully entitled to it, it remains just that.

    It seems you are unable to agree to disagree.

    Authority is legitimated by the democratic balance of opinion, it is not objective – which explains why you still seek affirmation of your position.

  • I hate to raise the point, *but from reading through the vast amount of stuff on your blog* – I think you actually weren’t expelled for supporting traditional liberalism within the party, but for bringing the Party into disrepute because you forwarded confidential documents relating to a move to expel you to senior politicians of other parties.

  • Neil,
    Sorry, being pedantic but I never said I’d done a vast amount of reading – merely that you’d written a vast amount on the topic (which you actually invited people to read).


    You quote from the letter you received. I repeat it here:

    “. . . [T]hey were also extremely concerned that, despite the paper being
    made available to you on a confidential basis and your agreeing to
    maintain confidentiality, your response was sent to senior politicians of
    other political parties thus breaching that confidentiality.

    The Executive took the view that by doing this you had brought the party
    into dispute.”

    Nothing in that letter supports your claim “reason they wrote a document & voted to expel me was because they alleged I had already made that document public.”

    Lastly, most _companies_ let alone membership organisations have rules about employees bringing them into disrepute. I would expect that if I was in the middle of disciplinary proceedings at work, and I started publishing information about those proceedings in public forums and, particularly, trying to generate interest in the proceedings before the outcome, that I would get fired for bringing the company into disrepute.

    There’s certainly a reason that employment disputes tend to only get in the press once they become a matter for employment tribunals, rather than when the employee is still in the midst of the disciplinary process.
    Martin – I agree about the blogsphere; a number of things occur to me as possibilities. (A) Being thrown out of an organisation that you’ve given your time to, is always going to lead to hard feelings whether the reasons for it were good ones or otherwise. This slur on their character will niggle people and they are going to want to make sure people know how they feel. The internet and blogs enable people to put their viewpoint across whenever the opportunity arises. (B) Most people harbour some views that others would describe as slightly odd. Bloggers have the opportunity to make sure that everyone knows about their slightly odd views – in a public forum and in a way that leaves a permanent record. ( C) Dare I say it, but some people blog because they feel they need an outlet for their strongly-held views, and the traditional channels are just not interested. Such people are more likely to get into heated debates and end up saying things in a public and permanent forum that get them ‘into trouble’. (D) Lastly there’s something about the medium that encourages people to say things they never would in person, and in a way that’s inherently public.

  • Neil,
    your case is indicative of a wider change in historical processes and while I can understand that you may feel aggrieved individually I think you need to step back and gain some perspective on the charges you allege.

    The transition from being the ‘Liberal Party’ to the ‘Liberal Democrats’ was painful for a number of reasons which can be highlighted by your example.

    Strategically and theoretically the political debate moved on at the end of the cold war as the West proved resilient and the singular liberal argument merged with the pluralist democratic argument – centrism exploded and reconfigured to become decentralisation, even if we are still continuing to fine-tune our new balance. Elsewhere right and left-wing ideology imploded as they became associated with division and conflict – Thatcherism was the victim and Blair the immediate product of this change.

    Where there had previously been objectively ‘right and wrong’ answers (definable according to one’s politics) there were now only infinitely debatable subjective methods aimed at discovery of ‘what works’.

    Where calling Paddy Ashdown a ‘Nazi’ might once have been the ultimate put-down, it suddenly became unacceptable as it was drained of all coherent intellectual content (though it still remains emotive). Such attempts to smear with allegations of guilt by association were truly an admission of failure and an acceptance of the inability to influence conditions on the ground.

    You may argue from a purist ideological position that any connection with genocidal murderers makes a person beneath contempt, but the reality is that through his actions in doing as much as he could to minimise the harm and suffering Paddy has become a hero of the peace by engaging the real enemies in the trenches, while you harp on from the sidelines only to be caught in the crossfire.

    We need all the help we can get (especially in building up our leafleting cult), so I’m sure we’d welcome you back with armfuls of focusses if you truly want to pull in the same direction and are both willing to participate to the internal debate and prepared to represent the side of our party in the external debate.

    Don’t take exception, take part.

  • Neil, is there only one way of liberty? and is it yours alone?

    I just wonder which faction you’d consider yourself an adherent of and whether you actually think that your interests are advanced by continuing old and interminable disputes or by putting aside difference to work on matters of mutual concern.

    I’d be interested to know, because for any liberal or Liberal party to grasp the nettle and become the party of government again we must somehow unify all possible support behind our agenda, and your experience is an exemplification of our challenge.

  • Neil, to be fair I’ve heard some less compatible descriptions from inside the party, so I don’t really understand why you find it so hard to hold your nose and pitch in.

    I agree that there are eco-fascists out there who’d ban all cars at the drop of a hat (or even worse), but there is also a liberal wing to the thing which we must ensure we support in all our long-term interests. In fact the liberal contribution to the environmental debate is precisely about developing technologies and raising efficiency levels while reducing the harm of our collective behaviour.

    Similarly on energy, foreign or any other policy it is important to recognise there is a difference between debating positions and policy positions, so there is never any reason or excuse to get exasperated, at least not with a party which is truly liberal and democratic at its core (as we are).

    The Irish economic question is interesting, but my feeling is that it is a bit of a red herring, partly because it can’t be considered out of its’ context as an off-shore hub off the shore of the UK which has enabled the Irish to profit at our expense to a not insignificant extent. However this is not to say that their historical context hasn’t enabled them to operate a significantly more liberal economy than Consecutive and Labour party governments have operated here or that we can’t look over there as a potential inspiration.

    I sometimes struggle to contain my enthusiasm in my desire to be more forceful in condemnation of opponents to liberty and have been almost reckless at times, but it’s important to remember that even if we are each flawed as individuals we can put our stengths to good use by combining for greater shared effect.

  • Hmm, more words.

    The point I was making about Ireland was that there are structural differences between economies which mean uniformity of policy would be damaging as any strict doctrinal approach.

    Similarly it must be expected that every branch has its own idiosyncracies, however my resolute feeling why we lag in the polls and the reason why we don’t win is because we don’t campaign enough (which means primarily delivering leaflets), because where we do campaign we do win seats.

    Even if you only offer to help out with a hundred focusses a couple of times a year that can make anywhere up to a hundred votes difference on election day. And for that you don’t even need to be a member!

  • Founder member of the SDP.

    Nuff said.

  • I’m just back from holiday, and delighted to read such well-argued responses. Despite their very different starting points, both Geoffrey Payne and Rob Knight make good sense to me. Together, I think they confirm that we should shout about cutting back wasteful socialist overspending – but go rather quiet about cutting the overall level of tax.

    Reading on, though, it does look as if we may all need PhDs in mathematical topology if we are to understand precisely what shape of turn our policy is going through. Comments such as “perhaps it is the wind direction that has gone through a 180 degree shift with us in exactly the same boat moving in exactly the same direction” add to the intellectual challenge. Well, I shall cop out here, and fall back on common sense. If it’s really so difficult to describe where the boat is going, then perhaps it’s just going round in circles and getting nowhere. And, perhaps that’s just as well.

    Are you listening to us all, Captain Apollo, I wonder? Being an incorrigible optimist, I shall take heart from your recent and much more inspired comments on energy policy, and conclude that … perhaps you are!

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