Opinion: An open letter to Lord Adonis

Dear Lord Adonis (may I call you Andrew…?),

I read with interest your views on the similarities between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. It is with grace that Lib Dems accept your praise for Liberal politicians of the past, from Gladstone to Keynes and Beveridge via Lloyd George – many thanks for the history lesson, much appreciated. In return, most Liberal Democrats have no trouble acknowledging that in your 13 years in power, New Labour has introduced some progressive measures, including legislation on civil partnerships, the Freedom of Information Act and some constitutional and Parliamentary reforms (we shall revisit the latter). So we agree – both parties have some achievements in their trophy cabinet.

What I take issue with, however, is the conclusion you draw from the aforementioned love-in – that “The Lib Dems… have national policy similar to Labour’s.” With respect Andrew (I hope you don’t mind me dropping the ‘Lord’ bit), I beg to differ; not only do the Lib Dems have distinctive policies, we get there differently too – and process matters. So here’s how we’re not so similar after all.

Imagine yourself back in May 1997, full of hope; hope that a new government would bring with it an era of cleaner, more open politics; that the health, wealth and well-being of the nation’s most vulnerable would be improved beyond measure; that 18 years of Tory boom-and-bust would give way to a progressive, balanced and sustainable economy.

Now picture yourself as a Liberal Democrat, watching from the sidelines as each of these hopes were shattered, victims of the triangulation and timidness of New Labour’s approach; which, if I can humbly submit, history will record as being one of encouraging untrammelled excess in an unstable sector of the economy, the crumbs from which were allowed to trickle-down to mitigate the harsh consequences of the effective economic exclusion millions suffered by millions.

Imagine the disappointment as one step forward – devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – lead to two steps back as regards democratic reform – you had 13 years to implement both a fairer electoral system for the House of Commons and an elected 2nd chamber and failed to do either. As for your claim that in terms of electoral reform “the Lib Dems have an obvious vested interest,” I find this laughable; does New Labour, elected with a sweeping majority of seats but a paltry 22% of the eligible vote, not have a vested interest in the status quo? Is the party so in thrall to its union paymasters really in a position to lecture about vested interests anyway? And if so, why have we not had an overhaul of party finances during the last thirteen years, as Liberal Democrats have repeatedly called for?

We needn’t reach into the recesses of your party’s reign to search out further examples of how we differ – just take examples from the last year or so. Can you really claim that Labour, the party that summarily dismissed their chief drugs advisor because his advice was no longer politically palatable, is similar to the Lib Dems, who lead the calls for scientific advice to be given free from the shackles of political expedience? Can it be that Labour, who wheeled out their compliant MPs like so many whipped dogs-on-a-leash to force through the draconian and unworkable Digital Economy Bill in Parliament this week really be the same as the Lib Dems, not a single one of whom voted for the bill? Can you really claim that Labour, the party whose response to the greatest banking crisis in living memory was to write blank cheques to banks that carried on paying bonuses and lend less and less to sound businesses, is similar to the Lib Dems, whose policy is to get state-mandated banks to lend more and pay a 10% levy on profits while they require public guarantees? Can you really, honestly, hand-on-heart claim that Labour, the party under which a City executive pays proportionately less tax on his income than his cleaner, is in any way the same as the Lib Dems, who pledge to remove the burden of income tax altogether from 3.6 million low-earners by ensuring the super-rich pay their fare share?

So on policy, despite substantial overlap, there are significant gulfs between Labour and the Liberal Democrats; but where we differ the most, Andrew, is in the political philosophy at the core of these policies. Liberal Democrats believe that a locally accountable, pro-active State can nurture the freedom people need to achieve their best, whilst New Labour still clings to the hope that central control of both the economy and public services can deliver effective governance. The Lib Dems put civil liberties and economic, social and judicial fairness at the heart of our agenda; New Labour has trampled on our rights and presides over a hugely unfair political and economic settlement. If your party had delivered electoral equity, we would today face a genuine debate on the direction our nation takes in the future; instead we face the depressing sight of a government minister begging for Lib Dem support to cling on to another five years of broken promises. No more Andrew, the electorate deserves better.

Best regards,

P. B

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I like, I would have added a couple of paragraphs about the civil liberties campaign and perhaps the sentence ‘although we are with you in dreading the prospect of a Conservative government, we aren’t exactly enamoured by the prospect of another five years of labour!’

  • “Now picture yourself as a Liberal Democrat,”

    This is something Lord Adonis can do with little difficulty, because he actually was a Liberal Democrat, indeed a Lib Dem PPC, right up until 1996 when Tony “Cheney’s Lickspittle” Blair gave him a better offer.

    There is indeed a huge gulf between the Labour and Conservative parties, on the one hand, and the Liberal Democrats on the other. The former exist to promote the interests of the mega-rich and take their orders from Washington. The Liberal Democrats, by contrast, are in hoc only to their own members. That’s why we opposed the Iraq war and advocate a fair tax policy.

  • Julian Glover in the Graun on Labour’s vapid manifesto:

    “Labour’s answer is a warm, statist mush, wishing good things for everyone, but most of all a powerful state helping grateful citizens.

    “The argument of this manifesto is that we need to deliver a future fair for all,” Gordon Brown writes at the start, which means nothing. The document retreats from the more challenging individualist aspects of the New Labour agenda, developed late under Tony Blair – challenging and fragmenting public services, rather than promoting uniform inadequacy. Lots of people inside Labour didn’t like this agenda, of course. And now they have won. This will not pass unnoticed in Labour’s culture wars to come, the battle to pin blame for defeat (if there is a defeat) on those close to Brown.

    The word “tough” appears in the document 39 times, the word “reform” 83 and the word “control” 23. The words liberal and liberty don’t appear once. This is old Labour in a modern setting, a surrendering of progressive liberal ambitions for the future.”

  • Terry Gilbert 16th Apr '10 - 1:49am

    “In return, most Liberal Democrats have no trouble acknowledging that in your 13 years in power, New Labour has introduced some progressive measures, including legislation on civil partnerships, the Freedom of Information Act and some constitutional and Parliamentary reforms”

    Labour has also improved the NHS significantly. While their approach is too centrist, I think we are to slow to remember just how bad it was under the Tories – people used to wait literally YEARS for operations. Labour may not have got as much bang for our buck as they might have, but they have increased health spending to about the European average – 8 or 9 % of GNP, as opposed to 5% under the Tories.

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