Observer: Clegg and Alexander have “sold their souls”

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Writing in the Observer, Will Hutton writes an excoriating assessment under the title: “Cameron, Alexander, Osborne, Clegg: how the austerity ‘quad’ sold their souls”.

Particularly relevant quotes include:

Alexander, in short, is facilitating a China that is suppressing Uyghurs and Hong Kong alike…


But the reality remains. As leader of the Lib Dems, (Clegg) would have been leading the charge to limit Facebook’s power, on the same side as its critics. Now he is Zuckerberg’s human shield, the company’s acceptable face. That invisible line has been crossed.

You can read the full article here.

And why not sign up for Shirley Williams Lectures and hear what Nick Clegg has to say for himself when he gives a talk to the association on 26th May?

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  • Does mammon have a soul?

  • John Marriott 16th May '21 - 10:02am

    Oh dear, like Bill Murray’s character in ‘Groundhog Day’, we are back to the Coalition again. Those of us, who were happy to support peacetime coalition government and still believe that we really did need to try to make it work – after all, that would probably be what a change to PR would give you – are clearly struggling to justify our position. The words ‘let done’ come to mind.

    It would seem that it has been the members of ‘The Quad’, who largely ran the show between 2010 and 2015, who have gone on to ‘better things’ in terms of future lucrative employment, although in terms of reputational damage, the one who appears to have taken the worst nosedive is Mr Cameron. However, despite the mangling he appears to have taken at those Select Committee ‘hearings’, and getting his fingers burned with his Aussie ‘chum’, do we honestly think that he is down to his last £million?

    You know, Nadine Dorries might well have been right when she described Dave and George as “two posh boys”, who have no idea how ordinary people have to live. You could certainly add Sir Nick to that list. I’m not sure about Sir Danny in terms of his background and education; but, like his former Lib Dem boss, he would appear to be making the most of the opportunities the corporate world has to offer upwardly mobile people like him.

  • George Thomas 16th May '21 - 10:24am

    “would appear to be making the most of the opportunities the corporate world has to offer upwardly mobile people like him.”

    I think the issue is who/what is being pushed down while they’re rising up. A fairer article would point out that the coalition came closer to reform (progressive electoral reform) than most others, but with it being such a weak attempt that is probably nothing to jump to defend.

  • John Marriott 16th May ’21 – 10:02am……Oh dear, like Bill Murray’s character in ‘Groundhog Day’, we are back to the Coalition again……

    But, unlike Bill Murray, we seem to have learned nothing and keep trying to ‘defend’ and cry ‘move on’..

  • Brad Barrows 16th May '21 - 11:05am

    @John Marriott
    The lesson of the coalition years and their aftermath is that the Liberal Democrats main error was being so desperate to join a coalition that they were willing to agree to a deal that should have been ruled out as completely unacceptable. A much smarter move would have been to agree a confidence and supply arrangement in exchange for a Tory agreement to implement a couple of key Lib Dem demands … but, of course, that would have meant no ministerial salaries etc. In any case, the opportunity has come and gone and the Liberal Democrats are paying the price for the decisions made at that time. Whether a similar opportunity will arise in future is unlikely as the SNP is now firmly established as a more significant player.

  • You’ve forgotten the peerages, knighthoods and M.B.E.’s bit, Brad.

  • @ John Marriot Danny boy ? Can’t see him for dust. Off to the Bank of China to celebrate human rights.

  • And why not sign up for Shirley Williams Lectures and hear what Nick Clegg has to say for himself when he gives a talk to the association on 26th June?

    I believe that the correct date is 26 May.

  • John Marriott 16th May '21 - 11:35am

    @Brad Burrows
    The problem with building a coalition in peacetime was so new over here. Our continental neighbours are quite used to the idea, even if it took about a year in Belgium not that long ago. Accomplishing it in barely a week was probably too good to be true.

    I seem to recall that, at the start of the 2010 GE, pundits were already predicting a decline in Lib Dem support after the 2005 ‘high’. Indeed, as it turned out, the party did lose seats. The real game changer was “I agree with Nick”. Although he probably peaked too early, there is no doubt in my mind that the Lib Dems’ 23% overall had a great deal to do with those Leaders’ Debates.

    Let me remind you and other contributors yet again. If you want to change the way we vote, then, more than likely, you have to accept that coalition government may become the norm, so you need to adjust your campaigning accordingly. In the case of minority parties it has to be a case of reality triumphing over fantasy.

  • How Liberals love to wallow in bitterness, recrimination & guilt.
    We Elected Clegg along time ago, we could not read his mind or see into his soul, we just had to go on what was said in a very limited field of two. If you have forgotten who the other choice was – he served a Prison Sentence.
    There is a rational case for choosing a Parliamentary Leader from our tiny cohort of MPs & a Leader in The Country/Countries who could be anybody from a much wider field of talent.
    There might be some point talking about that rather than blaming ourselves or each other for past mistakes.

  • I don’t really get why this site would want to make a big thing about what Clegg and Alexander are doing now as private citizens who are no longer active in UK politics. They’re best forgotten TBH. Bringing it up only helps our opponents.

    Brad Burrows: Confidence & Supply would have been seen by voters as the same sort of betrayal as a formal coalition. We are not the DUP; they could sell their votes for a bung for their constituents because they weren’t affected by all the other stuff the government was doing and were not competing with the Tories electorally. The Tories would have called another election 6 months later, and would probably have won outright, blaming the lib Dems for standing in the way of stable one-party government.

    John Marriott: What you have to ask is *why* was Lib Dem support so poor at the beginning of the 2010 GE campaign, and also why couldn’t Clegg sustain the Cleggmania bounce that came as a result of the first (and ONLY the first) Leader debate. And as I keep saying, it wasn’t the decision to go into coalition that was the problem, but how our leadership conducted it. Peacetime coalition wasn’t particularly new, we had done it successfully in Scotland and Wales (without losing 90% of our seats at the time). The problem was that Clegg refused to heed advice from those who had been there and done that.

  • Thank you Mohammed – no corrected.

  • Paul Barker: Of course the reason we had that leadership election was the 2006 coup against our most successful leader in terms of seats won, Charles Kennedy (RIP). Our problems can probably be ultimately traced to that event.

    With hindsight, we should have noticed Clegg’s naivety earlier, when in 2008 he pulled our candidate from a by-election in a (then) winnable seat, caused by the vainglorious resignation of the Tory MP (a certain David Davis) ostensibly over 90-day detention. This was equivalent to if we’d stood aside for Zac Goldsmith in the 2016 Richmond Park by-election (clearly we’d learnt one lesson at least).

  • @Brad Burrows and @David Raw

    The coalition was signed off by a big majority at a special conference of the party in Birmingham.

    I don’t think you can argue that the average attendee at that conference was swayed by the prospect of Nick Clegg being driven round in a limousine and getting a knighthood.

  • I wish people would direct their angst in the direction of this present government who have some senior figures seemingly, receiving extra remuneration while actually in power?

  • Alex Macfie 16th May ’21 – 11:52am………………….The Tories would have called another election 6 months later, and would probably have won outright, blaming the lib Dems for standing in the way of stable one-party government…………….

    Not that old chestnut..Cameron had just failed to win a GE against the most unpopular Labour government in history..Opinion polls for the ‘Tory response’ to the financial crisis was unpopular and opinion polls in 2010-11 had the two major parties neck and neck (with Labour ‘shading’ it) and this party on middle teens…

    Would Cameron have risked his political future on a ‘second go’? No chance!

  • Brad Barrows 16th May '21 - 12:40pm

    @Paul Walter
    Yes, the Party agreed to the deal negotiated by its leaders – as I said “the Liberal Democrats main error was being so desperate to join a coalition that they agreed to a deal as should have been ruled out as completely unacceptable.” So the deal was done and the Party paid the price at the ballot box in 2015. The Party may not get another opportunity as it has been replaced as the 3rd largest Westminster Party by the SNP – which looks unlikely to win less than 40 to 50 MPs any time soon – and if it ever looked like a hung parliament was likely and Liberal Democrats may find itself in an influential position, it would be asked which promises it would be willing to break to gain a share of power.

  • Gwyn Williams 16th May '21 - 12:47pm

    In times long gone, losing Tory MPs who had been in the Cabinet used to accept a peerage and retire to their estate in the country. By contrast Harold Wilson used to be brought to the House of Lords by his nurse to earn the daily attendance allowance to make ends meet. Things changed with Thatcher. Major used to send former Cabinet members to be Governors of what was left of the British Empire, David Waddington to Bermuda and Patten to Hong Kong. Blair “rewarded” Ashdown with High Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovinia. Blair himself set up the now defunct Blair Associates.
    The real damage of Clegg and Alexander is the example they have set to young people and particularly Young Liberals. So many say to me that they see a short political career as a stepping stone to the licence to print money of an international business career.

  • Peter Martin 16th May '21 - 1:02pm

    Maybe we should be prepared to give both Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg the benefit of the doubt and accept they were acting misguidedly rather than maliciously. We’ll not do that though for Cameron and Osborne! Many politicians at the time , for reasons best known to themselves, had bought into the concept of ‘expansionary contraction’

    It’s still there on the EU websites.

    “The Stability and Growth Pact is based on the objective of sound government finances as a means of strengthening the conditions for price stability and for strong sustainable growth conducive to employment creation.”

    This is fair enough if read literally. Who wouldn’t want ‘sound finances’? The problem is that nearly everyone, including the EU authors together with Messrs Clegg and Alexander, interpret these to mean balanced budgets, or close to them. The above SGP imposes a limit of 3% of GDP on allowable govt deficits.

    We now have more enlightened economists to turn to, who explain that ‘sound finances’ means doing what it takes to keep the economy functioning but not overdoing it and so cause inflation. Just like the we’ve seen happen during recent times.

    So, sadly for them, they went to the wrong university and read the wrong text books. Their political careers ended in failure as a consequence.

  • John Marriott 16th May '21 - 1:23pm

    I see that Sir Nick is featured today in the Sunday Times Magazine with a ‘picture’ on the front cover. He looks very preppy and certainly not his 54 years. However, I have a strong suspicion that the picture is a result of Photoshop. Otherwise he looks a proper dork.

    To be honest, I’ve wasted enough time on trying to analyse the coalition government. What intrigues me more is the fall from grace of David Cameron. I did read his memoirs and gather that he might have received some help in writing them. Didn’t he get a First from Oxford? Mind you, who am I to talk with a Third from Cambridge? My excuse is that I’m really not that bright, as some of my posts on LDV probably show. Mind you, back then, good degrees weren’t dished out like Smarties and I did spend an awful lot of time trying to get a Rugby Blue (failed) and a Half Blue in Water Polo (succeeded).

  • Helen Dudden 16th May '21 - 4:47pm

    Will there come a day, when going to a top university is the not answer to being a politician.
    Money can’t buy me love, or a job in the government.
    Honesty, transparency, and a willing to be a part of something to me, makes life easier.
    When I worked in Local Authority many years ago, I worked on Teacher Staffing, and running schools and police stations, we had changes of sections every now and then.
    I can remember my Managers words, give it your all, and work becomes more fulfilling. Most certainly I never did it for the salary, we took a pride in achieving the best for those taxpayers whose money we used, wisely.

  • John Marriott 16th May '21 - 4:51pm

    @Helen Dudden
    Going to a ‘top university’ didn’t do me much good, luv!

  • @ Paul Walter “The coalition was signed off by a big majority at a special conference of the party in Birmingham”.

    Indeed it was, Paul, and I would have voted for it with the rest of them (with some regret that talks with Labour failed) if I hadn’t been in hospital getting a transplant. It’s what they did next that matters.

    What Conference didn’t vote for was five years of austerity including cuts to benefits, reneging on promises about student fees & VAT bombshells, the bedroom tax, PIP, privatising the Royal Mail, NHS so called reforms……. that’s only half of it….and, I didn’t expect to become Chair of a Foodbank at the end of it to deal with the outcomes.

    Compared to that lot, the vanity of knighthoods is trivial – but it illustrates a mind set.

    @ Paul Barker, “How Liberals love to wallow in bitterness, recrimination & guilt”.

    I’m not wallowing, Paul, merely angry about the outcomes on people – and I’m certainly not guilty. You’ll be telling me the poor old 200 vote candidate in Airdrie & Shotts flew the flag for an encouraging result next.

  • David – Paddy and David Steel both received knighthoods. They weren’t in coalitions.

  • Russell Simpson 16th May '21 - 6:06pm

    Will Hutton’s article in today’s observer is a shoddy piece. The only one if the 4 who has really disgraced himself is Cameron. Austerity (if you want to call it that) was the only show in town 2010 -2015 and who’s to say it was the wrong course. Libdems can be proud of their contribution to the Coalition.

  • donna jones 16th May '21 - 6:26pm

    You can also add the abolition of the AWB to that list David Raw agreed by the party at that time. Only the well off and upper middle classes benefitted from all those austerity cuts. Most Lib Dems I know who are not that well off are not proud of the coalition in any way shape or form.

  • Denis Mollison 16th May '21 - 6:26pm

    @Russell Austerity was not `the only show in town’ in 2020; neither Labour nor we went into the 2010 election pro-austerity.
    Supporting austerity was one of the four big mistakes in the coalition agreement, along with agreeing a review of the NHS which both our manifestos had been against, settling for the chance of something not worth having on electoral reform, and selling out on tuition fees; the fifth mistake being to behave as though we enjoyed being in coalition.

  • Denis Mollison 16th May '21 - 6:27pm

    PS – sorry – 2020 should of course read 2010

  • John Barrett 16th May '21 - 6:46pm

    It’s not just the actions of those in the Quad during the coalition that are worth looking at in more depth.

    Just ask those running Post Offices, who were wrongly jailed, lost their jobs, or worse, exactly what our Lib-Dem Ministers did in response to their calls for help. Vince, Jo and Ed did not exactly cover themselves in glory during that period either.

  • @ Paul Walter True, as did the members for Ely and Rochdale…… and I wasn’t impressed with that at the time, and even less so later, …… I also remember another Leader who got into trouble for adding ‘the Right Honourable’ in his own handwriting on his passport.

    As I said, it illustrates a mind set…… which I know for fact my old friend Richard Wainwright wouldn’t have stood for.

  • It’s good to hear proper Liberals like Denis and John putting in their two pennorth…

    Unless this party recovers its radical soul PDQ it’s going down the plughole…… just as it did a hundred years ago for some of the same reasons.

  • Brad Barrows 16th May '21 - 8:35pm

    @David Raw
    The Liberal Democrats have not gone down the plug hole yet – the party managed to beat the Social Democratic Party candidate by 69 votes at the recent Airdrie by-election.

  • Paul Fisher 16th May '21 - 9:06pm

    Interesting reading!

  • The specific criticism of Clegg in the article was that he was involved in suspending Trumps Facebook account earlier this year.

  • In case anyone else is sick of the Gloom & Doom on this thread can I point to the latest Poll putting us on 11%.

    Of course that does not mean that we are on 11%, its an outlier; but it is the second 11% we have got in less than three Months. Before that you have to go back to last June to find another. It may suggest that we are beginning to break away from the Average 7%
    ( a range of 4-10% ) that we have been stuck on for the last Year.

  • Peter Watson 17th May '21 - 12:35am

    Paul Barker “In case anyone else is sick of the Gloom & Doom on this thread can I point to the latest Poll putting us on 11%.”
    Interestingly, that FindOutNow poll puts the Greens on 9%. It also attempts to predict the distribution of seats, suggesting Lib Dems would have 9 (losing 2) and the Greens would have 2 (gaining 1). The big winners would be the Conservatives and SNP, at the expense of Labour who appear to have replaced a leader who appealed to a narrow section of the electorate with one who appeals to no-one! (Or maybe after 4 years of directing their energy inwards, plotting and undermining their own leader, senior Labour figures have simply forgotten about the outside world).
    I suspect the poll is an outlier as you suggest, and it is probably heavily influenced by the outcome and reporting of the local elections. I can’t find yet a link to the details/tables for the poll.

  • Nonconformistradical 17th May '21 - 6:59am

    @Russell Simpson
    “The only one if the 4 who has really disgraced himself is Cameron.”
    So in using the phrase ‘really disgraced’ are you implying that the others have only ‘sort of’ disgraced themselves…? And that ‘sort of’ disgracing themselves’ doesn’t matter?

    I’m struggling to see how Clegg becoming ‘Zuckerberg’s human shield’, presumably for a substantial financial return?, is in keeping with LibDem values as they relate to the less well-off.

  • Alex Macfie 17th May '21 - 7:33am

    The main thing I’ve been able to find out now about the FindOutNow poll is that it predicts the SNP to win every single seat in Scotland. I don’t think this is terribly likely, but it implies (if we make a net loss of 2 seats) that the loss of our 4 Scottish seats is offset by a net gain of 2 seats in England and/or Wales. So I’m curious about where it predicts we make gains.
    It’s an MRP poll, and seems on the face of it to be more accurate then the Focaldata MRP poll of earlier this year, which predicted that we would win only 2 seats based on highly questionable assumptions. But the prediction of an SNP clean sweep suggest that the FindOutNow poll also probably isn’t taking much account of local constituency-level factors.

  • John Marriott 17th May '21 - 9:41am

    All this talk of individuals has got me thinking (now, that’s a change, some might opine). I am sure that David Raw will steer me back to the path of righteousness, if I get it wrong. Looking at some of the ‘Leaders’ of the Liberal and Lib Dem parties since the days of Gladstone – himself someone with ‘interesting’ private pursuits, and I don’t meaning chopping down trees – there were some very clever but essentially flawed characters. In that list I would include both Asquith and Lloyd George; but also Jeremy Thorpe and Charles Kennedy. At least two of them were what you could describe as ‘rogues’. I’ll leave you to decide which two I am singling out.

    My point? It would seem that Liberalism has the most impact when its standard bearer has a bit of Johnsonian chutzpah about him. It would seem also that your average punter likes someone, who lives close to the edge.

  • “proper Liberals”

    David, have you been reading that book “How to win friends and influence people” again?

  • David Franks 17th May '21 - 10:41am

    Observer article is spot on!!! Clegg, Alexander, Laws et al threw away the product of 40 years hard work for the sake of getting their bums on the seats of ministerial cars. Just consider for a moment what opportunities there would be for Liberalism right now if we still had 60 MPs instead of being relegated to fourth party in the Commons. I find it impossible to apologise for my anger.

  • It is not easy to regulate for what people do following positions of power in politics. We rely on their sense of duty. Still we have ample talented members to replace them. I wonder what would tempt them back.

  • To my disgrace I supported the Coalition that is until the appalling handling of Tuition Fees. However it is all history now and rather interesting this subject should be brought up just before a by election which might be a game changer. Focus on 2021/2 not 2010.

  • @ Paul Walter Nice one, Paul, though I would diffidently suggest that those calling the shots in this party are a bit more in need of a library ticket than me.

    If only 220 out of 63,355 good folk in Airdrie and Shotts (and 349 out of 70,100 Hartlepudlians) can be bothered to show some sort of approval then it suggests there’s a bit of a vacuum somewhere.

    Ed’s coffee’s has gone cold, the cupboard is bare, and events shouldn’t be swept under the carpet.

  • Tuition Fees destroyed the Coalition. We are now 11 years on. Lets deal with now, the party is in a perilous position, 1% here and 1% there. It is probably not a coincidence that the coming Chesham by election might well produce a result that will put Labour back several months at least. Hence the article. Ignore it and lets conmcentrate on the present otherwise we could be passed by trhe Greens.

  • David Evershed 17th May '21 - 11:24am

    The Liberal Democrat Party has to choose between compromise and irrelevance.

    Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander chose compromise and relevance at a time of crisis for the country.

    What do you choose?

  • David Franks 17th May '21 - 11:34am

    David Evershed…..accepting that it really does not help to keep dwelling on the past when most of us are working hard to rebuild, it is nevertheless impossible to forget that masses of advice was available to Clegg & Co from people with years of experience of working with other parties. They had a choice and chose not to listen.

  • I have a strange wish, that is that the Liberal Democrats regain their support and become a true opposition party opposed to this present so called government. The coalition, which did not get everything right but did a good job in the face of a monetary meltdown, and which I supported, but the party will never recover if we consistently keep harping on about the past, the present and the immediate future for this country is the most troubling problem for me.

  • As a minor opposition party facing a government with an 80-seat majority (recently increased by 1, Gee thanks Labour) we don’t have a choice — we are irrelevant anyway. There is no compromise to be made with a government with such a large majority, except in the (unlikely) case of a mass Tory backbench rebellion.
    It wasn’t that Clegg & Co compromised to achieve a coalition deal, but that they it badly. The choice of going into coalition was the right one; but the choices made in striking the deal were bad ones.

  • David Evershed – Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander did not choose compromise. They chose surrender. Surrender led to annihilation and that led to irrelevance as Alex Macfie points out. You really need to accept the consequences of the decisions of those you choose to support.

  • Alex Macfie 17th May '21 - 1:50pm

    John Barrett: I too am interested in what Ed and the others knew about the Post Office scandal at the time. However, I don’t suspect any malice, more likely they were simply too ready to believe what Post Office execs told them what was happening, and really should have done more investigation rather than take at face value the official line that nothing was wrong with the system. Although it isn’t an excuse, a Tory minister wouldn’t have done any better.

  • John Marriott,

    Asquith wrote that ‘there is only one way in which liberalism can be killed and that is by suicide’.
    According to A J P Taylor, the historic Liberal Party committed suicide on 9 May 1918 in the ‘Maurice’ debate which saw Asquith openly inferring that Lloyd George had misled the House of Commons about the number of British troops serving on the Western front during a German attack in March of that year
    Jo Grimond inherited a fractured party with strong sympathisers to both Labour and the Conservatives. Megan Lloyd George eventually defected to Labour, while Lady Violet Bonham Carter urged an antisocialist alliance with the Conservatives.
    The SDP-Liberal Alliance came in the wake of the Jeremy Thorpe affair and the poor performance of the Liberal-SDP Alliance at the June 1987 election prompted David Steel to call for the unity of both wings, after only 22 seats were secured by both sides. Paddy Ashdown inherited a party that was demoralised, shedding members and almost bankrupt after the long-drawn-out process of merger. By 1992, however, the party had stabilised. The election results – 17.8 per cent of the vote and twenty seats – proved that the Liberal Democrats were not going to disappear, as had seemed possible in 1989. Labour’s fourth successive election defeat in 1992 paved the way for Ashdown’s attempts at realignment of the left with Tony Blair. Something Blair has recently revisited in his New Statesman article. Under Ashdown, the LibDems successfully rode the rising tide of support for centre-left sentiment that swept Labour into power in 1997,
    When Charles Kennedy took over he positioned himself in opposition to New Labour. emphasising the differences, especially on civil liberties after 9/11 and then on Iraq in line with public opinion. His leadership combined with effective targeting produced a gain of six seats in the 2001 election and then 10 more in 2005, after the Iraq war, taking the party to 62 seats in the House of Commons.
    The Iraq effect was waning by 2010 when Nick Clegg made an impact in the Leaders debate and that was reflected in a reduction in seat numbers to 57. 65% of these seats had the Tories in second place. 2015 saw the Conservatives take 27 seats back from the Libdems and a rampant SNP take 10 of the 11 Scottish seats.
    Asquith’s warning remains as true today as it was a century ago.

  • David Evans 17th May '21 - 4:24pm

    It is disappointing to see the same old flawed arguments trotted out (usually by the same old people) to excuse the mess our leaders at the time made of things in coalition. The first, and most easily debunked is the “The coalition was signed off by a big majority at a special conference of the party in Birmingham”. On numerous occasions, I have pointed out the full facts on this matter, which shows the feet of clay of this argument. However, it has never been responded to never mind rebutted by any of the proponents of the “It wasn’t the leaders. It was everybody’s fault (and therefore nobody’s fault). Stop blaming someone I like,” approach to learning from our mistakes.

    Quite simply the key facts were:-
    1) 7 May – General election results in a hung parliament
    2) 7 May – Nick selects his negotiating team
    3) 8 May – With little prior planning our negotiators begin
    4) N.B. – Conservatives already have clear pre-developed plan
    5) 11 May early evening – Brown resigns, Cameron announced as PM
    6) 11 May about 9:00pm – agreement finalised by teams
    7) 12 May about midnight – Lib Dem MPs (after only 3 hours debate and no review) accept
    8) 12 May – Nick and Dave Rose Garden Love In

    Oh yes and one other thing …

    9) 16 May – Too late to change anything, LD Conference meets, followed by
    9a) 16 May – Lib Dem members vote down disastrous proposals, despite numerous speeches from most MPs, leader, some ex leaders Lords etc in favour, after eight re-counts demanded by the great and the good.
    9b) Party condemned in press as bottling it and unfit for government.

    Oh sorry those last bits didn’t happen. I wonder why?

  • @ Joe Bourke “According to A J P Taylor, the historic Liberal Party committed suicide on 9 May 1918 in the ‘Maurice’ debate which saw Asquith openly inferring that Lloyd George had misled the House of Commons about the number of British troops serving on the Western front during a German attack in March of that year”.

    Well, he had misled the House, hadn’t he ? But it also sadly revealed the loss of Asquith’s powers and his lack of forcefulness. The old ‘Sledgehammer’ would have finished off LLG.

    For those with a nose for a good story for the coming long nights of next winter (e.g. former Councillor Marriott) try Better World Books, The Maurice Case by Nancy Maurice £ 7.85…… or, The Maurice Debate, 1918 by John Gooch is on line.

  • John Marriott 17th May '21 - 4:54pm

    @Joe Bourke
    Yet again, you have got the wrong end of the stick. Your knowledgable trawl down the memory lane of history, while regurgitating a load of facts that few could dispute, fails to respond to the nub of my argument, or observation, if you prefer.

    What I was saying, or attempting to say, was that policies and even events have nothing to do with personality. What I was arguing was that character seemed to have as much to do with being remembered as what was achieved. Let me put it simply. Gladstone apparently spent some of his spare time with ‘ladies of the night’. The reasons given for this are ambiguous; but hardly a normal pursuit for a Prime Minister or ex Prime Minister. Asquith spent a great deal of time in cabinet meetings apparently writing ‘billets doux’ to a certain lady, young enough to be his daughter, who was not his wife. His Knick name was, I believe, ‘Squiffy’. Enough said? Where to start with Lloyd George? Wine, women, cash for honours, the ‘Political Fund’? Jeremy Thorpe? The Norman Scott Affair, Peter Bessell and that possible CIA file. Charles Kennedy? I think we all know where the problem lay, without having to spell it out. Of all of those illustrious former leaders, it is Kennedy for whom I personally have the most sympathy.

    As for the rest, the two who emerge with the most credit in my opinion are Grimond and Ashdown, although even the latter had his moments. It seems to me that not only does ‘liberalism’ attract a certain type of idiosyncratic person; (and I include myself here); but, quite often, these persons actually get to take charge. Can the same be said of the Conservatives and Labour?

  • Alex Macfie 17th May ’21 – 1:50pm………..

    The ‘Private eye’ coverage is rather more scathing about Ed Davey, Norman Lamb and Jo Swinson (strange that they are all LibDms?) and as for, ” Although it isn’t an excuse, a Tory minister wouldn’t have done any better”.. A Tory MP (Andrew Bridgen) certainly did!

  • @David Raw

    Perhaps we have too many Liberals in the Liberal Democrats?

  • @David Evans
    20th May Final Coalition agreement published.

    16th May wasn’t too late to change anything (David Cameron said as much at the time) and even if it was you appear to be suggesting that Liberal Democrat members are more gullible than they actually are.

    But I enjoy your oft repeated piece, so please do continue wheeling it out.

  • John Marriott,

    depends what you define as idiosyncratic. During Harold Wilson’s second term in office, he became convinced that he was being spied on by British intelligence. He would shush visitors dramatically, finger on lips, pointing at the light fittings where he believed bugs to have been planted. At the same time rumours began to snake across the country: Wilson was a Soviet agent; the KGB assassinated Gaitskell so as to manoeuvre Wilson into power; he was an adulterer, embroiled in some unspecified but nonetheless unspeakably sordid sex scandal with his secretary.
    The centrepiece of the Wilson plot was his conviction that there existed a secret plan to topple him. A coterie of secret agents, military generals and aristocrats, he said, had cooked up a plot to seize Heathrow, the BBC and Buckingham Palace. This done, the Queen was to read out a speech urging people to support the coup and Mountbatten was to act as interim prime minister.
    An internal inquiry into the affair under Callaghan concluded that there had been no conspiracy. But a decade later, a former security officer wrote a book called Spycatcher in which he confirmed all Wilson’s worst fears. The author, Peter Wright, claimed that he and 30 other officers had been involved in the attempt to destabilise the prime minister, who they believed to have been turned by the KGB.
    MI5 denied the charges vigorously and in the end Peter Wright himself appeared on Panorama and confessed that his book had been a great exaggeration. But in 2006 others involved told BBC journalists that there was a Secret Service anti-Wilson agenda and the possibility of staging a coup was discussed.
    Now, that is what you call a real political scandal even if it was just in Wilson’s imagination.


    “David Cameron has revealed he was not “totally sure” what sort of government he would lead when he met the Queen to become prime minister.

    Talks between the Tories and Lib Dems were ongoing and he could only tell the Queen he “hoped to form a coalition”.

    Mr Cameron added that, on the day before entering Downing Street, he had told his wife Samantha he was sure he would not become prime minister.”

  • Steve Trevethan 17th May '21 - 6:43pm

    Are we assisting our fellow citizens, our party and ourselves by giving prominence to the real and/or projected shortcomings of our leaders?
    Might one of the reasons for the current success of the Conservatives be their resolute refusal to criticise their leaders in public?
    The attached article expands on this.

  • John Marriott 17th May '21 - 7:05pm

    @Joe Bourke
    By the time he was talking about plots, Wilson was already suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s. That’s why he stood down two years after returning to No10.

    I suppose that this is your response to my question whether idiosyncratic behaviour could apply to Conservative or Labour leaders as well. You’ve offered us Harold Wilson for Labour. What about Churchill for the Conservatives in his final administration? There’s enough evidence that he was past it by then. However, could any of these leaders – and I suppose you could add Ramsay McDonald in his final years to the list – compare with some Liberal leaders?

  • Going into coalition with the Tories will never end well.

    Do people really think that anything could have been done differently that would have avoided electoral calamity? I think that is unrealistic. The Lib Dem’s blocked lots of regressive policies but got no credit whatsoever.

    I will never understand the type of Lib Dem who wants to outflank Labour from the left only to then put the Conservative party into power (encroaching into Labour territory makes this outcome more likely). The Lib Dem’s actions were bewildering to New Labour figures.

    To build up a core vote it is necessary to pick a side.

  • Steve Trevethan 17th May ’21 – 6:43pm,,,,,,,,,,,Might one of the reasons for the current success of the Conservatives be their resolute refusal to criticise their leaders in public?……..

    Possibly; but the main reason is their utter ruthlessness in replacing a leader as soon as they start to lose public confidence..(St. Maggie was a prime example)..
    In the Blair years they tried. and discarded, Major, Hague, IDS and Howard before settling on a Blair ‘lookalike’ in Cameron…

  • @ Marco “The Lib Dem’s blocked lots of regressive policies but got no credit whatsoever.”

    Blocked what, in particular, Marco ?

    @ expats “Possibly; but the main reason is their utter ruthlessness in replacing a leader as soon as they start to lose public confidence”.

    A lesson to be learned there if the Lib Dems are to rediscover their radical soul…. assuming, of course, such a thing ever existed.

  • Indeed David Raw, but don’t forget that the Lib Dem Leadership spent a huge amount of time ensuring that many crazy ideas put forward by the Conservatives did not happen. The fact that so many Lib Dems miss, is that the Conservatives deliberately put forward these crazy ideas so that Lib Dems would have to waste time on them. The ideas didn’t even need to be likely to gain support of many Conservatives, certainly David Cameron would never have found time to enact them if he had won an outright majority.

    Marco is right, Nick and Co did stop them, but in all honesty most of them were only proposed so that Nick and Co would waste time on them and ultimately persuade themselves they were doing a good job, so they were too busy to notice the real nasty stuff going on under the radar. That was why Theresa May’s Hostile Environment went ahead, Nick was fooled into concentrating on stopping fake policies and missed the important, nasty real ones.

  • Peter Martin 18th May '21 - 1:31pm

    Lib Dems seem split on what to say to put the best spin on the Coalition years. At time we hear that: We had to do it. It would have been worse if we hadn’t done it. Labour would have done it anyway.

    The favourite claim, often used by Jo Swinson, is that they had to go into government to exercise a restraining influence on the Conservative Party. Despite running against an unpopular Labour government, in power for over a decade and grappling with the worst economic crash since the 1930s, David Cameron was unable to win a majority in parliament, He fell a dozen seats short.

    It is difficult for a party without an effective majority to get its agenda past Westminster. So why do it? By adding their 50+ seats to the coalition, Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems gave Cameron and Osborne a massive boost, making it a simple matter to push through their radical, but misguided, austerity program,

    There was nothing reluctant or half-hearted about the support Clegg and his mates gave to Conservative economic policy. Ever since the Orange Book manifesto of 2004, the Lib Dems had been moving in a rightwards direction and towards the same ground as Cameron and the Tories. They were all up with the idea of “shrinking the state” under the pretext of reducing govt debt.

    It would have been much better for the Lib Dems if there had been some high profile disagreements and even better still if someone like Jo Swinson or Ed Davey had got themselves sacked. Then they could have at least claimed they weren’t in total agreement with what had been required to vote for.

  • David Evans 18th May ’21 – 12:21pm,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, so they were too busy to notice the real nasty stuff going on under the radar. That was why Theresa May’s Hostile Environment went ahead, Nick was fooled into concentrating on stopping fake policies and missed the important, nasty real ones..,,,,,,,,,,,,

    C’mon, David, There was nothing ‘under the radar’ about NHS ‘reorgansation’, tuition fees, bedroom tax, secret courts, etc..and, as for ‘hostile’, don’t foget that. as business secretary, Vince Cable out-toried the Tories on reductions in employment rights H&S and a whole host of ‘nasties’ (to say nothing of the (expensive) Royal Mail fiasco…

    As Peter Martin wrote..” There was nothing reluctant or half-hearted about the support Clegg and his mates gave to Conservative economic policy.”

  • John Marriott 18th May '21 - 2:30pm

    @Peter Martin
    From my recollection, the only Lib Dem Minister to query Tory attitudes in Cabinet was one Chris ‘Mr Points’ Huhne. We all know what happened to him!

    As regards which came first, I believe it was an approach from Cameron to Clegg. I think that the note left by departing Labour Treasury minister, Liam Byrne, to the incoming David Laws more or less summed up the Labour side. We hear a great deal from you about what is wrong with Liberal Democracy but very little about why you parted company with the Labour Party, if, indeed, you have.

    Just to think how the Blair/Brown era began under the song “Things can only get better” – the ‘welcoming’ crowds outside No 10 greeting the arrival of that ‘breath of fresh air’ and his wife, all apparently paid up party members and their families, stage managed to perfection, Robin Cook’s ‘ethical foreign policy’, Brown’s ‘Tory lite’ budgets, the weapons of mass destruction, the Camp David love in with ‘Dubya’, ‘he’s not Flash, he’s Gordon’.

    Yes, of course we had money for education and the NHS, devolution for Wales and Scotland and the Good Friday Agreement; but what about a Written Constitution, a Bill of Rights, Reform of the House of Lords and our antiquated voting system, to give just a few examples of the opportunities missed by Labour when it had the chance and a Commons majority to die for? By the time the financial crisis hit, our reliance on the City made our country more vulnerable than most and when the subprime market crashed and burned, the damage had largely been done.

    Yes, it might be argued that without Brown’s late intervention, it could have been a lot worse. However, by then, the country was losing faith in Labour’s nostrums; but had still not quite been won over by Cameron’s chumocracy, aka the ‘new’ Conservatives, to give them the kind of majority in 2010 that they were prepared to concede after five years of a coalition, whose active life, many pundits had put in months rather than years.

    Remembering the glory days of 1997 and the fag end antics of 2010 for some unfathomable reason reminds me of those lines at the end of TS Eliot’s seminal poem ‘The Hollow Men’ (by the way, I hope it’s not the epitaph for the Lib Dems either):

    “This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper”.

  • Will Hutton is normally quite good, but there is little of real substance in this piece beyond calling out the obvious defects in David Cameron’s dealings with Greensill. For a realistic assessment of coalition economic policy, Craig Berry of Manchester Metropolitan University tells it as it is

  • @ David Raw, David Evans

    Specifically I meant
    1) blocking £bns of welfare cuts that George Osborne implemented in 2015
    2) blocking the immigration bill that was introduced on 2015
    3) blocking the snoopers charter
    4) blocking hire and fire at will (the Beechcroft report)
    5) blocking a Brexit referendum

    I accept that 4) above was not a serious proposal but you can clearly see that since 2015 there was more austerity, more cuts and less protection for human rights and the environment.

  • 1. “blocking £bns of welfare cuts”….. Oh no they didn’t.
    5. “blocking a Brexit referendum”….. that went well didn’t it ?

    What about messing up (and speaking in favour of) the bedroom tax, discomniverating the NHS, privatising the Royal Mail, putting up VAT and student fees (both pledges’) ….. and did Vince Cable really first discover the “true state of the economy” in May, 2010 ?

    Come off it, Marco, I was born a long time before yesterday.

  • Peter Martin 18th May '21 - 6:09pm

    @ John Marriott,

    I’m still a Labour Party member. But maybe not such an enthusiastic one as I once was.

    The Labour Party, or at least those on the left, can be described as a bunch of neoliberals with red rosettes who are fighting a class war which they don’t know how to win. The LibeDems (and the Labour Right) are neoliberals with the yellow (red) rosettes but think that class conflict that doesn’t exist. The Tories are neoliberals who mistakenly think neoliberalism is the way to reduce the size of the state.

    So the problems that all parties create for themselves are similar, and are related to a faulty understanding of economics.

  • To understand economics you need to start with its purpose i.e. the study of how societies use scarce resources to produce valuable commodities and distribute them among different people. Behind this definition are two key ideas in economics: that goods are scarce and that society must use its resources efficiently.
    The discipline involves
    – developing an understanding of what happens in markets and the macroeconomy.
    – Interpreting economic statistics ascertaining their significance
    – Understanding different policy options and evaluating their likely outcomes (The desired outcomes may differ depending on political orientation and priorities).
    That understanding is then applied to issues like:
    – Addressing shortages of raw materials
    – economics incentives vs redistribution
    – the extent of government intervention in the economy and the provision of public goods
    – the opportunity costs of choices made e.g. Spending more on subsidising free university education may mean higher taxes and/or lower spending elsewhere
    – social efficiency i.e. providing solutions to overcoming market failure such as traffic congestion and pollution.
    – evaluating the costs and benefits of issues like free movement of labour and immigration.
    – economic forecasting as a guide to financial planning
    – addressing periodic economic downturns
    – assessing the likely costs and benefits of state versus private provision
    – gaining an understanding of the economic behaviour of investors and consumers, particularly so as not to put too much reliance on traditional aspects of economic theory such as rationality, utility maximisation and profit maximisation.

  • David Evans 18th May '21 - 7:13pm

    Marco, I agree that George Osborne did a lot of extra bad stuff in late 2015 and 2016 after he and Cameron had let us spend 5 years destroying ourselves, just as Theresa May and Boris Johnson subsequently spent the the last four years undoing even more.

    But that is the problem.

    Nick and Danny spent 5 years helping them destroy us. They may not have meant to, but they did.

    Now there are not enough of us left to stop the Conservatives destroying more than they ever dreamed of.

    and it will go on for a long time, simply because our leaders allowed it to happen.

    Pretending it was somehow a success to stop nasty some stuff happening for five years when by our acceptance of annihilation Nick, Danny, David Laws et al gave them the ability to do even nastier stuff later, is no success or comfort whatsoever.

    And the reason why this is still important now is?

    Because, until we accept that fact and learn that lesson, why should people trust us not to do it all over again?

  • David Evans 18th May '21 - 7:50pm

    Paul, you seem to want to imply I think that Liberal Democrat members are more gullible than they actually are. The only way I think Liberal Democrat members at the special Birmingham conference in 2015 were gullible for was believing that their leader and his allies could not be so incompetent as to accept and refuse to do anything about the destruction of our party for five whole years.

    That is exemplified by how some of us can still pretend that

    An agreement
    – put together in only four days,
    – by a team selected personally by a leader,
    – overseen and approved by a leader;
    – then approved with less than three hours time to think and analyse by MPs
    – many of whom would look on it as their one big chance,
    – and by a small group of members very loyal to the man at the top.
    – which had already been accepted four days earlier,
    – as a basis for making David Cameron Prime Minister by the Queen,
    – where our leader had then engaged in a mutual admiration fest
    – with the leader of the Conservatives
    – telling the whole nation how good it was going to be,
    – where David Cameron had already moved into 10, Downing Street,
    – where rejection or even any demand for amendment,
    – which the media would portray as the party running away from government.

    was amendable at Conference and so the responsibility of the party members.

    Believing Conference could say “2 out of 10 must try harder”, now that would have been gullible!

  • @ Martin

    “Side with one and we lose a large chunk of support, leading to further dwindling support.”

    I disagree as if you say you are equidistant and don’t pick a side voters act as if you are on the side they don’t like and you lose votes in both directions. Labour leaners assume you will enable a Tory govt. and Tory leaners assume you will enable a Labour govt. There is an opportunity to save one set of votes only.

    @ David Raw, David Evans unfortunately you seemed not to notice when I said that I thought the coalition was actually a mistake (although by 2015 saying that we were seeking a 2nd term for the coalition might have saved some seats).

  • John Marriott 18th May '21 - 9:47pm

    @Peter Martin
    Not quite everything boils down to ‘economics’. Most of what I was referring to was not about economics, which I know fascinates you. It was about democracy, as I understand it. Surely, if you believe in it, you can’t really put a price on it.

    Political life in this country over the past few decades has been a catalogue of missed opportunities.

    @David Evans
    If you believe in fair votes, then you will more likely than not end up with coalitions. So we need to learn from the mistakes of 2010, if fair votes ever do become a reality. I wouldn’t hold your breath, though.

  • Peter Martin 19th May '21 - 9:12am

    @ Joe B,

    As often I’m not at all clear about the point you are trying to make in your previous comment! Such as pointing out “goods are scarce and that society must use its resources efficiently.” Who’s saying anything to the contrary?

    @ John Marriott,

    This thread is about “how the austerity quad sold their souls”. Austerity is an economic policy which is possibly justifiable if there is an inflation issue to tackle. It wasn’t justifiable in the period 2010 -15. Of if it was, the need for a counter inflation policy should have been explained.

    So, while you are quite right to emphasise the importance of democracy, it is a necessary, rather than a sufficient, condition for a healthy society. Faulty economic thinking led to WW2. Arguably WW1 also. So our entire history has steered by the health or otherwise of our economies. In recent times, the GFC of 2008 and the mistaken policies which followed which have led to Brexit.

    Those mistaken policies were very much dictated by the EU itself so its future is far from rosy.

  • Marco 18th May ’21 – 4:51pm…..
    Specifically I meant
    1) blocking £bns of welfare cuts that George Osborne implemented in 2015
    2) blocking the immigration bill that was introduced on 2015
    3) blocking the snoopers charter
    4) blocking hire and fire at will (the Beechcroft report)
    5) blocking a Brexit referendum

    David Raw has dealt with 1) and 5)

    Regarding 2)..I seem to remember that the ‘hostile environment’ issue wasn’t blocked by Clegg…Theresa May’s “Go Home” vans were part of a that 2013 policy and they were withdrawn only after a public outcry..
    Regarding 4) I suggest you review Vince Cable’s attempts at reducing employment rights (a court case found one of his ideas illegal) before applauding this party’s actions on that front..
    Regarding 5)..Had a referendum taken place before 2015 the UK would probably still be in the EU…Nick Clegg did his best to bolster Farage’s party with his two ill fated debates in 2014*..After these debates Farage went from strength to strength and the rest is history,,
    *The YouGov survey suggested 68% thought Farage had performed best in the debate, compared to 27% who favoured Clegg with a Guardian/ICM giving similar results. The BBC’s Nick Robinson wrote in his analysis: “History will record that Nigel Farage was the winner of these debates….”

  • John Marriott 19th May '21 - 5:35pm

    Is it any surprised that Sir Nick bombed with lines like; “We are the party of IN, Nigel’s is the party of PutIN”?

  • Alex Macfie 19th May '21 - 5:36pm


    “…by 2015 saying that we were seeking a 2nd term for the coalition might have saved some seats.”

    YMBJ! That would probably have lost us all our seats. Voters who liked the Coalition generally voted Tory because they thought that that would lead to a 2nd term for the coalition, and saw no reason to vote for us instead of the Tories because we didn’t give voters any such reason. Saying “Vote Lib Dem for continued coalition with the Tories” would have killed us because we would in effect be saying “You might as well vote for the Tories as for us”.

  • @ Alex Macfie

    “ YMBJ! That would probably have lost us all our seats.”

    Not true, our vote collapsed in all directions and we lost votes to the Tories as well. Many of these voters preferred is, but their departure was precipitated by the fact they could see our vote collapsing into the Labour and SNP vote and they did not want to let in Miliband and Salmond so reluctantly switched to Conservative.

    If we had ruled out working with Labour we would have kept many of these voters on side. Some have been won back since due to our anti-Brexit stance but others continued to vote Conservative due to fear of Corbyn and they got 20% of remain voters in 2019.

  • @John Marriott 19th May ’21 – 5:35pm… John, Perhaps Nick fancied himself as a comedian: if so, the ‘joke’ was on us!

    Alex Macfie 19th May ’21 – 5:36pm..“You might as well vote for the Tories as for us”…..

    Alex, In answer to Paxman, who asked the same question, Danny Alexander gave no reason why voters should vote LibDem..

  • Alex Macfie 19th May '21 - 9:24pm

    Marco: “If we had ruled out working with Labour we would have kept many of these voters on side.” I don’t think so. Ruling out working with Labour would simply have underlined the perception that there was little practical difference between us and the Tories. Because we failed to differentiate oursleves meaningfully from the senior coalition partner, we lost not only the anti-Tory voters (for whom we were no longer worth even a tactical vote) but also the soft Tory voters (who decided that if there was no difference between us and the Tories then they might as well vote for the bigger more powerful party).

  • Sean Patrick Hyland 19th May '21 - 11:16pm

    I think perhaps it doesn’t really matter what anyone on LDV thinks about the success or otherwise of the coalition. At any point the opposition will wheel it out to ” bash you over the head with ” – either you cannot be trusted to keep your promises or that you are really red/blue behind the yellow/orange rosettes etc, etc.

    Perhaps only time can change it. All you can maybe do is put distance between it and the party now. Does it help to have a leader who was part of the coalition cabinet? Does still having Nick Clegg on the edges of the scene giving talks etc to Lib Dem associated groups give more ammunition to the opposition to say nothing has changed? I’m sure many other similar questions can be thought of.

    I don’t know the answers as my party membership lapsed along time ago. That is something for members, perhaps, to resolve if they are not already to split on the issue. I’m just a weary Lib Dem voter now waiting for a spark of something new and perhaps some policies that really matter to the wider population.

  • The actual deficit reduction that did occur (as opposed to the rhetoric) during the coalition was about half of the deficit that existed in 2010 and that came about principally as a result of higher inflation in 2010 to 2012 and stronger economic growth from 2013-2015. Government spending increased broadly in line with economic growth throughout the coalition and so was still at 40.6% in 2014- 2015 compared with 40.2% of GDP in 2007-08, despite the big squeeze in local government finance and working age benefits. The problem since the financial crisis and still remaining is comparatively stagnant productivity levels.
    As Larry Elliott wrote last year, the argument that it is all about the economy “would be more convincing if Labour’s defeat in 2019 was a one-off, but it wasn’t. There have been four elections since the start of 2010 and Labour hasn’t been remotely close to winning any of them. The first defeat was inevitable, given that Labour was in power during what was (up until then) the deepest recession of the postwar era; the other three were not. They took place against a backdrop of austerity and stagnant living standards: two things that in the past would have seen governments turfed out.
    Yet at the end of a lost decade for the economy, Johnson won an 80-seat majority and Labour had its worst result since 1935. The party has a mountain to climb if it is to avoid losing for a fifth straight time, and it has to start by accepting that it is now a damaged brand.”
    A compass article last year summarised the way forward for progressive parties
    “…ideas like Basic Income, a Green New Deal and a constitutional convention provide the basis for a Common Platform to emerge that sets everyone else up against the Tories. But cooperation has to be a two-way street. The Lib Dems, like the Greens, should not help Labour unless Labour is willing to cooperate in return. Hence both parties should demand Labour adopts Proportional Representation at its next full policy-making conference.”

  • Peter Martin 20th May '21 - 7:01am

    Joe makes the point that the Govt’s deficit was halved during the coalition years. Neoliberals would have us believe this was justification for a combination of spending cuts and higher taxes such as the raising of VAT to 20%.

    This is essentially a slight of hand. It is a deceit. If Government cuts its spending it also cuts its income. If it raises taxes it slows the economy and the total tax take. At the same, the government was reducing interest rates to encourage everyone else do the borrowing which was necessary to keep the economy functioning. It is a matter of simple arithmetic that the external deficit in trade has to be financed by someone in the UK doing the borrowing to finance it. So for a given external deficit, if the government is borrowing less the rest of us have to borrow more and vice versa.

    It has been a long time since the trade figures have featured on the National news. Which could be justifiable if we’d also lost interest in the extent of the government’s deficit and the level of borrowing, both government and private, to finance it. But somehow neoliberals have managed to convince themselves that it is only the level of government borrowing which matters.

  • Marco/Alex, The main reason people voted Conservative who had previously voted for us was because twofold. First, the Conservatives were seen by almost everyone as the ones running the coalition and so they got all the plaudits from those who liked what had happened – stability, tax cuts, no loony policies etc. Secondly though, our leaders had given no real thought to how we would convey our successes (of which there were a few) or more importantly what we would do to defend ourselves against the conservative onslaught in the South West.

    Yes we did stop a good bit of loony right wing rubbish from ever seeing the light of day, but all that did was make David Cameron’s job easier in squashing it – “Sorry, Boris, those b*****d Lib Dems won’t stomach it” was an easy answer. If we hadn’t chosen to stop it, but said to Cameron, “Bring it to parliament and let’s see where it goes!” we would have been able to vote it down and be seen to stop it.

    It’s a sad fact, but in so many areas of public life, you get no credit for seeing something about to go wrong and stopping it before it happens, but you get lots of credit if you let it happen and then put it right. Or at least you do if you get the publicity right, something we never did in coalition.

  • Marco 18th May ’21 – 4:51pm:
    5) blocking a Brexit referendum

    Following the precedent set by Labour’s 1974 manifesto an In/Out EU Referendum needed a General Election mandate. That didn’t happen until 2015.

  • Peter Martin,

    tax rates were reduced during the coalition with big increases in the personal allowance, cuts in corporation tax and freezing of fuel duties. These reductions more than offset the VAT increase. Tax yields increased as a consequence of inflation in the early years(higher nominal incomes) and economic growth in the latter years. Spending changes were more a government departmental redistribution than cuts at the macro level with health, education and overseas aid (that account for nearly half of spending) protected from cuts and other departments bearing the brunt of fiscal consolidation – particularly local government and working age benefits. Maintaining fiscal deficits in excess of 5% of GDP throughout the coalition did little to improve standards of living as real incomes stagnated.
    It will be important to distinguish the lessons of the last decade from the political rhetoric as we emerge from the Covid crisis. Productivity and income distribution (GDP per capita) are more important than aggregate GDP growth to the living standards of the population as a whole. Even with a return to the low unemployment levels of sub 4% seen in 2019, the same problems associated with ageing demographics and climate change will reemerge. Spending on health, social care and state pensions will continue to absorb an increasing proportion of government spending and energy costs will continue rising as fossil fuels are phased out over time.
    These are the economic challenges that prospective governments need to be able to meet with policy proposals like a guaranteed minimum Income and a Green New Deal.

  • @ Joe Bourke “tax rates were reduced during the coalition with big increases in the personal allowance, cuts in corporation tax and freezing of fuel duties.” As were welfare benefits, funding for social care and the number of bedrooms you were allowed to have.

    How about this for high level competence ?

    Danny Alexander’s Question Time car crash – YouTube › watch
    Video for danny alexander car crash you tube
    Danny Alexander squirms as he is put under the spotlight on tuition fees. .

  • Peter Martin 20th May '21 - 4:11pm

    @ Joe,

    Credit where it is due on the increase in personal allowances. I’ve previously said that was probably the best thing the coalition did. The next best thing might have been the 5p levy on plastic bags!

    However there was no need to increase VAT to 20% to “pay for it”. The Labour govt had the right idea to reduce that to 15% from 17.5%. The coalition had the wrong idea to put it up to 20%. Corporation tax cuts were what we might expect from the Tories. So too were decreases in fuel duty. That’s probably not something to be supported by anyone with a concern for the level of carbon emissions or the effect of exhaust emissions on the health of our children.

    The difference between those who wanted a higher rate of VAT, to cut the deficit, and those who wanted a lower rate, also to cut the deficit is more than about a few percentage points. It is about a fundamental principle of macro economic thinking. Those who think it can be reduced by increasing levels of taxation are guilty of household economic thinking. They might plead Not Guilty but it doesn’t change anything! They are guilty as charged!

    Neither does it change anything if they try to do the same with reductions in Government spending. However they want to spin it, the Government’s deficit is everyone else’s surplus. That’s always going to equal what everyone else wants to save regardless of the level of taxation and regardless of what Govt spends. Of course it might work if they cut spending so hard that the economy is plunged into recession and so affect the ability of everyone to save. But is this what anyone really wants?

    Everyone knows that of course. This is why interest rates were lowered sharply after the 2008 GFC. It wasn’t explained in this way but the intention was to discourage saving and thereby reduce the Govt deficit. This is what brought about the actual reduction.

    As you’ve explained yourself the GDP share of Govt hardly changed (40.6% to 40.2%) over the course of the coalition. So this type of neoliberal thinking fails even under its own terms. It doesn’t do what neoliberals want it to do. If the desire is to have a relatively smaller govt sector they should ask someone who thinks along MMT lines for advice on how to do it. I’m open to offers BTW, on a no win no fee basis!

  • Peter Martin,

    i think the key lessons of the last decade is the economy did not react as expected by economic forecasters at the treasury/OBR. There was an expectation that the economy would continue rebounding from 2010 (as had been past experience). That did not occur and the fiscal changes of £6 billion in the 2010 emergency budget were too small too make any difference to that outcome. There is a good arguments that cutting capital expenditure from 2011 did slow the recovery. But the strong recovery that came from the 3rd quarter of 2013 until the Brexit referendum had much more to do with the global trading environment than any domestic economic policy and was a surprise on the upside for the OBR. So too was the rapid recovery in employment levels.
    Personally, I think the VAT increase was justified and that corporation tax rates should have been maintained (there were already considerable losses from the financial crisis that lowered taxable profits for several years). So too should the fuel escalator have been maintained. Coupled with maintaining these tax levels cuts in local government finance and working age welfare could have been mitigated. Government spending and tax levels would have been higher, but the overall deficit and level of economic growth would likely have been much the same.
    Similar tax, spending and borrowing decisions will have to be made as we emerge from this current crisis. The decision on corporation tax has already been made and infrastructure investment levels have been ramped-up. Repairing the social security safety net and tackling adult social care has yet to be addressed as has longer-term industrial strategy.

  • @ Jeff

    There is no requirement to have a general election mandate before holding a referendum. The UK does not have a written constitution therefore the overriding principle is that a government can pass legislation if it wins a vote for it in Parliament and cannot be bound by anything its predecessor has done. One decision by a Labour government in 1974 does not set a binding precedent.

    Article 50 could have been triggered by any government since we joined the European Communities subject to passing legislation for it in Parliament. No government attempted to do so because they did not consider leaving Europe a remotely sensible idea.

    @ David Evans

    Yes, agreed with most of what you said there.

  • Peter Martin 21st May '21 - 8:07am

    @ Joe,

    “Coupled with maintaining these tax levels cuts in local government finance and working age welfare could have been mitigated.”

    You’re saying that if the Govt’s income had been higher they would have had more money to spend. This is household economic thinking. This is how it works for everyone – except the currency issuer.

    It works the opposite way around for them. They should be spending more when their income is low in order to revitalise a sluggish economy. As Govts around the world are doing now to keep things moving during the Pandemic. On the other hand, if the economy is racing along, with lots of spending and private sector borrowing, tax revenues are likely to be high. This is a signal for the government to slow down its spending and/or consider if tax rises are necessary to prevent inflation.

    This is where Clegg, Alexander, Cameron and Osborne and co also went wrong. The only question is whether they genuinely didn’t know what they were doing, which seems incredible, or if they had some nefarious motive for putting their foot on the brake when they should have been pressing on the accelerator, but I don’t know the answer.

  • Peter Martin,

    “… with maintaining these tax levels cuts in local government finance and working age welfare could have been mitigated. Government spending and tax levels would have been higher, but the overall deficit and level of economic growth would likely have been much the same.” Through taxation, government allocates more of national output to these public services. That may or may not employ unutilised human or capital resources available in the economy and/or impact somewhat on private consumption. In practice, there is an element of both. That is real life.
    Inflation was well above target in the early days of the coalition. If that had been taken as a signal to curb spending further that would simply have exacerbated the downturn that was occurring during the eurozone crisis as would squeezing down spending further as economic growth returned from 2013. Fiscal and monetary stimulus is required to incentivise private sector investment and job creation. That is its purpose in a market economy – it is not generally a substitute for that investment ouside of periods of emergency relief as during the covid pandemic. The level of government spending remains broadly stable over the longer-term at around 40% of GDP with stimulus/borrowing filling troughs in demand during the economic cycle. Stimulus itself does not address the level of national output that a government allocates to public services. That is a political question based on aggregate tax and spending policies driven by electoral politics.

  • Peter Martin 21st May '21 - 10:20am

    @ Joe,

    “Inflation was well above target in the early days of the coalition.”

    We’re talking about the austerity policies during the whole of the coalition and not just in the early days. If austerity was the prescribed ‘medicine’ it was important that the ‘disease’ of high levels of inflation should have been properly diagnosed. In other words if the coalition was applying an anti-inflationary policy it should have said so.

    There can be conflicting requirements and it possible to have the occurrence of stagflation. This happens when we have too much inflation which would be indicative of too much spending generally at the same time as too many unused resources which is indicative of too little spending. This is a difficult problem to cure. But if that’s what we had the coalition politicians should have explained their quandary rather than giving us all that claptrap on the need to reduce the deficit.

  • John Littler 23rd Jun '21 - 9:47pm

    If the coalition and afterwards had concentrated on growth using supply side measures and moderated cuts, govt. funds would have held up better. Instead, growth that had restarted was choked off over a decade and as predicted by Keynesian economists, ended in and out of tech. recession, before Covid hit.

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