Opinion: Back in the front line – both of them

joinThis week, I applied to re-join the Liberal Democrats after a two and a half year absence.

Back then, I’d felt deep shame at what the party was (and wasn’t) doing in government: austerity, welfare reform, tuition fees, ham fisted attempts at both electoral and Lords reform, to name a few.

I’m still angry, and still ashamed, about much that Coalition has done. I’m a fierce critic of Nick Clegg, and I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the Orange Book. So why, you may ask, have I rejoined now?

There are two answers to that question.

Firstly, I know I won’t be alone. I’ve kept in touch with enough party friends and colleagues to know that there is deep discontent with the Party’s direction of travel from a sizable group of social liberals who have stuck it out and remained.

Secondly, the massive scale of the electoral rout that the party endured last week made my blood run cold. The prospect of no credible Liberal force in British politics fills me with horror. In spite of actively considering alternatives, I did vote Liberal Democrat in the European Elections last week. It’s like being a football supporter; once you have picked your football team, you stick with it for life. It symbolizes part of who you are and what you are. You stick with it through good times and bad. You may disagree with the tactics, you will single out individuals for not performing, and you will call for the manager to be sacked. But, inspite of all of this, you stick with your team and hope that fortunes change and that the situation improves.

With these thoughts in mind, I decided to bring to an end what I now refer to as my ‘Great Sulk’. I logged on last Monday and re-applied for membership. I did so in the knowledge that there is a campaign to be waged on two fronts: internally, to help the party find its way again and externally, to try to prevent electoral meltdown.

The latter would benefit hugely from the former being won first, but woe betide us if we get consumed by civil war. It isn’t pretty and we need to avoid it at all costs. This is why we need to act swiftly to resolve that which divides us the most:  the leader of the party.

Irrespective of whether you are for or against Nick, Orange Booker or Social Liberal, you have to agree that the debate surrounding his future is sucking a huge amount of energy from both camps.  The inescapable truth is that, as long as he remains, he will continue to fuel both factions.  If he continues as leader what will inevitably follow will be an electoral disaster at best or a catastrophic, and potentially fatal, internal schism at worst. It is the latter that we should fear the most.

* Energlyn Churchill is a pseudonym. He is a Welsh Liberal Democrat. He is active in his local party and serves on a Welsh Party committee. He blogs at Towards Gunfire.

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  • paul barker 2nd Jun '14 - 11:35am

    Welcome back. Its in the hands of people like you to end the ongoing conflict over the Leader. Surely both the LDV survey & the pathetic response to the Oakshotte Petition both show that you are in the minority. Its time to drop discussion of the Leader till after the General Election.

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Jun '14 - 11:35am

    @Simon Oliver

    On what scientific grounds do you disagree with the Royal Society on fracking ?

  • Joe Otton

    Surely a better response is anger with Labour for landing us in this mess.

    They caused you to change your ‘fully costed’ position on tuition fees? They caused you to botch electoral reform? They caused you to vote for the rearrangement of the NHS? They caused your support to collapse? They made you elect Nick Clegg as leader? They forced Chris Huhne to lie about his driving?

    Are you responsible for anything you’ve done as a party or in government, or is it all Labour’s fault?

  • “It’s like being a football supporter; once you have picked your football team, you stick with it for life.”

    My party right or wrong?

  • Jenny Barnes 2nd Jun '14 - 12:04pm

    “Any government that inherits a deficit of 10% of GDP will bring austerity. So how can you be ashamed of the inevitable? Surely a better response is anger with Labour for landing us in this mess.”

    A big boy did it and ran away.

    Actually, Labour dealt reasonably well with the aftermath of a global financial meltdown. But it suits the Tories (and the Orange Book Crew) to pretend it was all Labour’s fault. Let them eat credit.

  • Joe Otton,

    Oh, so it was Labour’s fault the global economy went in recession? Undoubtedly there are specific events concerning regulation of the banks that they hold some responsibility for, but remember there was broad cross party consensus on financial regulation at the time. It certainly wasn’t a campaigning issue for anybody.

    Weak. Very weak.

  • Paul, the discussion will start up again with a vengence on Friday if the result at Newark is as bad or worse than we expect.
    We cannot go on and on in this dream like state that the Lib Dem management appears to exist in. Just listening to Daily politics a few minutes ago the Head of Com- Res was on saying there surveys show how so many Lib Dem voters feel “betrayed”. We have to worry more about what the voters think and they identify Nick Clegg as the most disliked party leader. Much better to lance the boil now and move on in a new environment. We are sitting ducks as a party led by a lame duck leader. That is the reality. It is a despairing situation.

  • @ Gareth Epps

    “One of the surprising (to some) aspects of the last few days has been social liberals rejoining the Party. I’m aware of others”

    This is really good news. Leaving the ship means you can’t steer it. It’s one of our arguments not to leave the EU even if you’re unhappy with the way it works right now.

  • A Social Liberal 2nd Jun '14 - 12:27pm

    Welcome back Energlyn.

    Try and make the SLF conference next month, it gives a real boost to your enthusiasm to be amongst hundreds of others who share your thoughts on the coalition and direction the party has travelled.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Jun '14 - 12:27pm

    @paul barker “the Oakshotte Petition”
    This is the second time you have claimed that Oakeshott is behind the LibDems4Change website (https://www.libdemvoice.org/nick-clegg-announces-review-into-local-and-euro-election-campaigns-40465.html#comment-297093 – that thread was shortly afterwards closed for comments). I have not seen this reported in the news, so what is the basis of your accusation? If it’s true, then fair enough, but if it is not, then it’s the sort of comment that could get LibDemVoice into trouble.

  • A return is always a welcome one.

    @Jenny Barnes.

    Brown did a good job in getting everyone around the table and staving off what may have become a depression, but an absolutely awful job in running budget deficits from 2002 onwards. Sensible management of the economy in the good times would have offered far greater protection of public services when the crash came – which Labour of course thought never would come.

    They gambled on an ever-expanding economy and public services and people’s jobs lost, with even Darling saying in 2010 that cuts would need to be deeper than Thatcher – they dodged the bullet and never had to go through with it.

    The die was cast before we even heard of sub-prime mortgages. If we, as Liberals, care about the welfare state we played a fundamental role in creating then we should always seek to secure its continuation by not building our economic house on sand.

    And, least we forget, Brown’s adulation for the City and Lehman Brothers when he became PM…

  • daft ha'p'orth 2nd Jun '14 - 12:34pm

    @Joe Otten
    Out of curiosity, could you point me at a readable, accessible, moderately detailed (sourced) analysis of just how much money has been saved by each policy justified by austerity and how overall government spending has altered during the Coalition period? I think it would be an interesting read. There are a good number of articles out there that suggest that austerity hasn’t been particularly successful (I note a more optimistic deficit figure in spring 2014), so it would certainly be interesting to see a detailed breakdown of what the government thinks it’s achieved, written in accessible English suitable for the non-expert. As an ignorant layperson, I’d certainly like to learn more.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Jun '14 - 12:37pm

    @Energlyn Churchill
    Brilliant pseudonym, by the way.
    This is the sort of post that gives me some hope that I might be able to return my vote and maybe my membership to the Lib Dems (I stopped being a member some 20 years ago, so only my vote was lost by the current incarnation of the party).
    For now though, I’ll wait and see what happens, as I see no sign that the party is going to change direction before 2015.

  • Geoffrey Payne 2nd Jun '14 - 1:20pm

    Welcome back.
    I always say that politics is what you make it, and the same applies to the Liberal Democrats.
    I suspect this time next year we will quickly conclude that Orange Book Liberalism was a disaster and we will have a new leader who will want to put this all behind us.
    Repairing the damage will be very hard work but we certainly need people like you to help us do that.

  • Kevin White 2nd Jun '14 - 1:26pm

    Clegg has a -65 rating with the public. He has presided over the loss of 1,700 councillors, 18,000 members inc. countless activists, the loss of many LibDem councils and groups, 11 out of 12 MEPs and we even lost Parliamentary seats in 2010 under him. He is an unmitigated disaster as leader who has sent us into a political Somme. He must go.

  • Steve Comer 2nd Jun '14 - 1:35pm

    I agree with you Geoffrey, but some of us want to minimize the damage NOW, not clear it up after the2015 car crash!
    The only advice we’re getting from the supporters of “cling-on Clegg” (apologies to Star Trek fans) is to that we’re still driving at speed towards that brick wall,so fasten your seat belts.

    Even King Juan Carlos knew when it was time to go with dignity, and he didn’t have approval ratings to worry about, or an electorate to face. Maybe Nick Clegg should ask his in-laws how this was done, and how the damaged institution of the Spanish monarchy is being revived as a result.

  • ATF 12.30….Brown did an absolutely awful job in running budget deficits from 2002 onwards. Sensible management of the economy in the good times would have offered far greater protection of public services when the crash came – which Labour of course thought never would come. ….

    I disagree…During the 2000s inflation remained low and the deficit was just 2% which is low by historical standards and, certainly, well under the Maastricht criteria of keeping budget deficits to less than 3% of GDP)…The problem was due to manipulated asset markets, worldwide low interest rates leading to rising house prices and a hidden financial bubble.
    Government spending was not the cause. Even if Labour’s public spending had been halved there would still have been an asset bubble and credit crunch……

    It appears that there are some who wish to blame all our ills on somebody else…As Jenny Barnes so aptly put it…”A big boy did it and ran away”

    Until we take responsibility and, more importantly, make changes things will just get worse….

  • “Surely both the LDV survey & the pathetic response to the Oakshotte Petition both show that you are in the minority.”

    The trouble is that the organisers of the LDV poll make no claim that it is representative of the membership as a whole. In fact, it’s quite plausible that an online poll would have a higher proportion of younger respondents, and that – given the shift to the right under the present leadership – older members may be less happy with Clegg than younger and newer ones.

  • Nick Clegg may have an approval rating of -65 (which is of course, 35% approval), but the party has an approval rating of -90.

    An inconvenient fact for the Clegg bashers.

  • “It’s like being a football supporter; once you have picked your football team, you stick with it for life. It symbolizes part of who you are and what you are. You stick with it through good times and bad. You may disagree with the tactics, you will single out individuals for not performing, and you will call for the manager to be sacked. But, inspite of all of this, you stick with your team and hope that fortunes change and that the situation improves.”

    What depressing tribalism! Politics is not a game; nor should your political identity be rooted in any particular party. The Lib Dems will get my vote if they stand closest to what I want to get from that vote and lose it when they move from there.

  • @Steve Comer

    Nope. The point is there is absolutely no plan beyond Nick going. Do we stay in the government? No idea. Who will be that leader? Probably Tim, but he his strongly backing Nick to stay – I guess he is another Orange Booker driving us towards a wall….What changes in policy do we make as a party with a new leader? No agreement. Do we disown the record in government? So knows.

    We kick Nick out and then what? Without a proper answer to that we’d spend months and months before the GE talking and arguing amongst ourselves whilst the Other parties get to put their message out. Nick going isn’t the end of the problem and argument, it is the beginning of countless others.

    If there was a unified movement and plan I’d give it real consideration, but there isn’t. I absolutely understand that many, many people can’t stand Nick, but there are surely candidates out ther on a local level who you do. Now is the time to support them – which is what most of you are doing.

  • Mr Joe Otten seems to believe the deficit is the most important issue and asks what would people do if they don’t support the Govt policy. Personally I never bought into the ludicrous scare mongering that Britain was the new Greece. Our debt was not nearly as bad and we were not in the Euro. This meant we had many more options than the Greeks. We also had at the last election a growing economy of about 2%. The chancellor (for idelogical reasons decided to ram the economy into a brick wall) this gave him the excuse to scare monger and make cuts to most departments. The lib Dems went along with this with glee. Osborne had no problem finding 7 billion to bail out the Irish banks after telling us we were at deaths door.

    If I was facing a large deficit I would not have cut taxes fot the richest 10%. Corporation tax on billion pound companies reduced by a third from 29% to 20 %, income tax reduced by 5 pence in the pound for people making over £150,000 per year. You then has the gall to parrot the ridiculous claim that “we were all in this together.”

    Finally his claim that if you don’t like the NHS reforms go and live in Wales shows everything that is wrong with the lib Dems and explains why the party is being taken down brick by brick, piece by piece by the voters. It is deeply sad to sad to see a once great party which has worked so hard at local level for 30 years be destroyed in a blink of eye just so a few neo liberal Thatcherites can be in govt.

  • This article pretty much mirrors my thoughts.

    Though I wouldn’t hold out much hope of a ‘welcome pack’ as I am still waiting for mine after four months.

  • paul barker 2nd Jun '14 - 2:43pm

    The bizzarre thing about this “debate” is that its happening in a vacuum. Can I repeat my advice to read Tory/Labour blogs to see how our real rivals feel. Take as an example Labour List , the neareast Labour equivalent to this site. The lead article 2 days ago was headlined “We have to hise Ed in the crowd.” The piece is still there, down the page.
    We are not the only Party obsessed with the “Disaster” we face & our dreadful Leader.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 2nd Jun '14 - 3:07pm

    @iain: Over 12 months and still waiting. I’ve had my renewal pack and told them to stick it until I get my welcome pack. No more money until I get a card.

  • Jenny Barnes 2nd Jun '14 - 3:26pm

    “Where do you find the missing £160bn a year from in that case?”
    If you can afford to have large swathes of the population doing nothing, then you’re wasting real resources, not made up ones. And they could be building houses, for example, producing something useful, saving money on housing benefit, paying taxes etc, which would get the economy moving. It’s economic nonsense to cut government spending in a recession.
    There’s always money for stuff the government REALLY want to do.
    let’s see. 50bn proposed on HS2? How much wasted on Universal Credit? How much wasted on the wars in Afghanistan, Libya? And then there was the bank bailouts, quantitative easing, etc.
    There’s something uniquely irritating about well oiled trustafarians waffling on about “tough decisions” that only hurt other groups.

  • @jenny Barnes

    The point you are missing from the Keynes example you raise is the need for cheap, easily available credit to fund such projects – such as the loans made the the UK by the US following WWII. There aren’t such funds available to us now, unless China takes on vast swathes of our debt – not sure they would seeing how much of the US’s they have taken on. Would we even want to be in debt to such an illiberal country?

    If I remember rightl it was, of all people, Jim Callaghan who argued that the mode of Keynesian economics you cite was over. Perhaps he was right, I know I wish that wasn’t the case.

    If someone was willing to fund a UK recovery that would allow us to persue classic Keynesian policies I’d very much go along with it, but there isn’t. If anything, the austerity measures helped us maintain decent yields on our bonds – they could have been much higher and left us in a worse state if we hadn’t.

    I agree with some of other other points you raise – though the bank bailouts were necessary, Elizabeth Warren makes an excellent, liberal case for them. We have to build, if we don’t we are just storing up another mortgage crisis for the future and we all know where the last one left us.

  • @Dave Page

    Hard not to agree with every word of what you said!

  • @ATF: “If anything, the austerity measures helped us maintain decent yields on our bonds – they could have been much higher and left us in a worse state if we hadn’t.”

    This is a highly questionable claim. The reason we maintained low yields is because we have an independent currency; there’s no reason to believe that we’d have suffered crippling rate rises if we’d chosen to raise more money. The rest of your argument about who we borrow from is being answered anyway: the coalition have failed to get the deficit down so we’re borrowing regardless.

    The best way to deal with a deficit is growth, the next best way is inflation. We should have followed a programme based on both. The coalition chose the worst route possible: half-hearted austerity. They both talked down the economy through promises of austerity whilst actually delivering exceedingly modest cuts in spending thus stifling growth without garnering the deficit reducing effect of actual austerity.

  • Nick Collins 2nd Jun '14 - 4:59pm

    @ Energlyn Churchill, Gareth Epps and other Social Liberals.

    So what will you do when the Orange Bookers come up with a manifesto for next year’s general election most of which you will not agree with? Will you go out to try to persuade people in your areas to vote for it? What on earth will you say to them on the door-steps?

  • Kevin White 2nd Jun '14 - 5:09pm

    Latest opinion poll shows us on 6% ! What will it take for some members of this Party to realise that Clegg is a disaster and must go ?

  • The average voter when asked what they would do if upon having an appraisal with one of their staff they found their every response to any negative questioning was “it’s my predecessors fault “… 4 years of peddling the line of it’s all the last Labour govt’s fault doesn’t seem to be doing you much good with the electorate.

    It’s not that your messages aren’t being heard or not understood by the electorate , it’s that yours and your Tory partners’ policies have been seen and experienced; and we don’t like them.

    Actually, I apologise for that . I mean your Parliamentary party’s policies – I’d like to think that most grassroot LibDems are still people I’d have a pint with unlike many of your MPs.

  • @jack

    Some fair points, though I’m sure you’d agree that when it comes to economics all claims are highly questionable 🙂

    The currency was important, and clearly why the Eurocrisis didn’t bite as strongly, but even then the market fell below 5000 once more. This second heart attack in Europe is also a key reason why growth has taken longer than it should, but we are now in a period of modest but manageable growth – and growth, I agree, is the best way to deal with a deficit.

  • daft ha'p'orth 2nd Jun '14 - 6:13pm

    “The trouble is that the organisers of the LDV poll make no claim that it is representative of the membership as a whole.”
    ‘Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.’

    That’s about half a claim, really – ‘not fully representative’.

  • Welcome back Energlyn.

    I hope more people who were deeply ashame of what Clegg mismanaged in coalition will come back and join us again.

    We need people who had the principles and the gumption to be appalled at some of the atrocious things which went so far beyond the Coalition Agreement as to render that document a joke. Unfortunately the document wasmwhatLiberal Democrats signed up to to the yesteryear tour thatmClegg has been on since. That is why the opposition to Clegg is not about Coalition but about the leader who touched the Coalition.

    You are absolutely correct in your final paragraph when you say —
    “…,,,  The inescapable truth is that, as long as he remains …..
    If he continues as leader what will inevitably follow will be an electoral disaster at best or a catastrophic, and potentially fatal, internal schism at worst.
    It is the latter that we should fear the most.”

    Some at the top of the party mistakenly talk on TV and radio about all this discontent being over in a few days and wee will get back to uniting behind Clegg. They could not be more wrong. Whilst Clegg is there the disunity will continue. That is not a threat, it is a reasonable assess,ent of the facts of the situation. As Stephen Tall has pointed outin his blog, Nick Clegg has become an impediment to success. Those who want a united party to which people like Energlyn can return in droves to rally around Liberal Democrat campaigns and causes need to carrion organising and working to shift Clegg. There is still a chane for him to go with some dignity, without being forced out by a grassroots revolt. He could tell the parliamentary party meeting tomorrow that he recognises that he has become an impediment and he is prepared to do hats best for the party and step aside. That does not have to be the end of his career. David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Ming Campbell, Charles Kennedynall continued to play an important role for the party long after theynceasedmtombe leaders. Shirley Williams still commands respect long after she ceased a front line role. Clegg’s political career does not have to end in tears; the trick is to know when to go.

  • That’s about half a claim, really – ‘not fully representative’.

    Hmm. I’d say it was a statement that no claims are being made, phrased in such a way as to give the impression that a claim is being made.

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Jun '14 - 6:58pm

    Joe Otten – On deficits, I would make two observations.

    1) My understanding is that the Coalition has followed a deficit reduction strategy based on a preferred mixture of tax increases and spending cuts of 20% tax rises and 80% spending cuts. Now, of course, we can argue about what, if any, ratio is best. But when you say that there needs to be a focus on money that has continued to be spent it’s true in isolation. There also should be a focus on tax-raising. Assuming of course that you regard deficit reduction as the priority over tax cuts?

    2) We have had a fiscal consolidation that has protected certain areas. The flipside of these protections is deeper cuts elsewhere. Pensioners and the NHS are pretty much untouchable whilst other budgets, most notably local government, defence and HE have been clobbered. I am yet to hear any coherent (economic) reasons for the ringfences. And it should be noted that the Conservatives appear to have promised that they will have an election campaign that will include a very expensive triple locked pension to 2020. When you say the focus has to be on money spent, that either has to include ringfences or an explanation to granny as to why we really can’t borrow another £2bn+ for fuel payments.

    On top of all this there remains the fact that post QE sterling is basically toilet paper and we may well be paying back debts in devalued currency. I have seen arguments that QE is not far short of stealth default. We are yet to see what happens with Quantitative Tightening.

    Now, to save you saying it, I’m not saying that Labour would be any better/worse in handling the current situation. I simply think it is a bit glib to talk about deficits and not consider the tax:cuts ration of fiscal consolidation, or the questions of ringfences.

  • daft ha'p'orth 2nd Jun '14 - 11:49pm

    @Joe Otten
    “daft, those figures are around”
    Well, the reason why I asked is I went searching for them on Google and found a large number of sources that essentially carried the message ‘holy moly, this isn’t working!’ So I assume I am looking at the wrong sources, which is quite possible.

    If this is supposed to be the line that is marketed to the electorate then the least they could do is publish a leaflet full of infographics, possibly entitled Austerity Reduction For Dummies: Why We Did What We Did And What The Nation Got Out Of It. Does such a leaflet exist?

    let me question your premise.
    I wonder what you think my premise was… if it was that austerity is a shibboleth, you’re half right; sometimes I do wonder.

    As regards the deficit not being reduced enough etc, my impression is that the government’s predictions seem to have a similar order of accuracy to the Met Office’s decadal weather forecasts. This does not impress me. Whilst the Met Office forecasts are a marvel of technology, I think they would not be happy to see human beings being deeply unpleasant to each other now because of something a decadal forecast claimed reasonably likely to occur in a few years’ time. I’m very curious: what predictive power do we actually have about the state of the future economy? What variables do we control? Which textbooks should I be reading here, because understanding this is clearly key…?

  • daft ha'p'orth 2nd Jun '14 - 11:51pm

    On a completely different note, @Energlyn Churchill, I wish you the best of luck and hope that you send bulletins back to LDV from time to time.

  • Welcome back Energlyn.

    @ Joe Otten – “Any government that inherits a deficit of 10% of GDP will bring austerity.” And “Where do you find the missing £160bn a year from in that case?”

    From 2006 to 2007 the national debt increased by £37bn; from 2007 to 2008 by £25bn; from 2009 to 2010 by £143bn not £160bn. The increase of national debt as a percentage of GDP for 2009 to 2010 was 0.36% not 10%. The increase as a percentage of GDP for the other two years were 0.35% and 0.39%. (http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/spending_chart_1900_2015UKb_XXc1li111tcn_G0t)

    @ ATF – “an absolutely awful job in running budget deficits from 2002 onwards. Sensible management of the economy in the good times” This assumes that the good times were after 2002. A case can be made out that the best year was 2005 when unemployment was about 4.5%. However I don’t think even then it would have been right to give up on those unemployed people and assume we were at the height of the economic cycle.

    Keynesian economics is not dead. Party policy is to build 300,000 homes a year. The increase of the money supply could have been used for investments to create jobs instead of just helping the banks and creating very little investment in the economy.

    @ Jack – “nor should your political identity be rooted in any particular party. The Lib Dems will get my vote if they stand closest to what I want to get from that vote and lose it when they move from there.” For the majority of people this is true. However some people look at the political philosophy of a political party and what sort of society it wants to create and join the one that matches theirs. For them their political identity is rooted in that political philosophy and that political party. This is why I haven’t left the party. I still believe we can get the party back to having policies based on liberal principles.

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Jun '14 - 7:35am

    Michael, how refreshing to be given some data.

    “From 2006 to 2007 the national debt increased by £37bn; from 2007 to 2008 by £25bn; from 2009 to 2010 by £143bn not £160bn. The increase of national debt as a percentage of GDP for 2009 to 2010 was 0.36% not 10%. ”

    Would you be able to remind us, for 09/10 when the national debt rose by £160 billion, what had happened to tax revenues as compared to the previous year?

    All three Parties supported similar fiscal policies at that time.

    The real villain was monetary policy which remained tight as the economy went over a cliff.

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Jun '14 - 7:36am

    Sorry Michael … by £143 billion …

  • Fiona White 3rd Jun '14 - 7:47am

    The article which started this off has made me feel so much better. Welcome back and I hope a great many more social liberals realise that they can help rebuild this party. Too many good people have left and we need them back.

  • SIMON BANKS 3rd Jun '14 - 11:46am

    Joe: you too are mixing up two points. If it’s agreed that the deficit must be reduced, there are then questions about the balance of cuts and tax hikes that will achieve that and also where the cuts occur. What has particularly depressed many Liberals is that we’ve let the Tories clobber the people at the bottom of the pile (who don’t pay income tax) in favour of protecting the people in the lower middle and not increasing the tax burden at the top. It also depressed me that late Labour’s Total Place programme, which was turning up some really interesting ways of achieving good outcomes cheaply by doing things differently, was quietly dropped in favour of old-fashioned cuts.

    As for the opponents of Nick Clegg being in a minority and falling silent till after the general election, I agree that once Nick Clegg made clear he was not resigning, the choice became a messy, damaging struggle with a possibly better new leader emerging damaged, or resigned acquiescence. But I read the LDV poll differently. 54% were opposed to him resigning and 39% wanted it. That’s a pretty dire statistic for a leader. 7% completed the survey but did not respond on this question – hardly a ringing endorsement of the leadership – but even if we assume they’d come off the fence in the same proportion as the rest, that gives 58% to 42%. But among the 58% are people – I know some – who do not rate Nick Clegg highly as leader and want him to go soon after the next election, while believing changing our leader now would be damaging. If only 8 of the 58 are like this, our leader would have the confidence of only half the activists (I don’t think LDV is representative of the whole membership, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t be of the activists, who are the people who need to campaign with fire in their bellies to the point that the rest of their lives suffer, if we are to avoid being crushed.). This would be reasonably in line with other LDV polls which show Nick’s level of support lagging behind other indicators of agreeing with some of his approach, for example on whether the Liberal Democrats are doing well or poorly in government, what level of influence we have in the government and whether we should stay with the coalition till May 2015. So the original point is valid: unless something quite dramatic changes, we’ll be led into the election by a leader who does not have the confidence of nearly half the activists.

    Maybe an excellent leader could turn this around. I disagreed with many things happening in the first year of the merged party, and we were near nil in the polls, but Paddy Ashdown’s fighting qualities and vision, plus the grit of the activists, gave us another chance which we took.

  • Peter Chivall 3rd Jun '14 - 12:03pm

    The biggest danger of the current situation is that there is a ‘philosophy vacuum’ and we need a leadership that can provide that. Dave Page was correct in seeing us dividing into mutually exclusive ‘social liberals’ and ‘economic liberals’ if this carries on . There is a growing feeling among active (and successful) Liberal Democrats that there has been a long-term attempt to shift the basis of the Party to one which is purely economically liberal.
    The Coalition and the Deficit has been the excuse rather than the reason for our Party’s acquiescescence in some of the worst aspects of austerity Government, such as the ‘bedroom tax’ which has created almost no much-needed vacancies of family-size homes in the social housing sector, but has drastically reduced the living standards of tens of thousands (and saved the Treasury much cash). I was appalled when I heard what I thought was a young right-wing Tory MP on the radio last year defending the bedroom tax – who turned out to be LibDem MP Tom Brake! (I’ve never heard from him before or since by the way.)
    For me the most dangerous (and insulting) move by the Leadership last year was to appoint the wholly unrepresentative and unapologetic ‘Orange booker’ David Laws as Chair of the Manifesto drafting Committee. Duncan Brack had done an excellent job chairing the Working Party whose report to Conference in Glasgow contained coherent policies which brought together the social, environmental and economic streams of the Party’s policies into a coherent whole. When the Motion on Manifesto Themes came to Conference however, other than the motion’s preamble endorsing the working party report, every single reference to ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ aspects of policy had been redacted. Why is still not clear, but whowever in the Leader’s office drafted th motion felt that ‘green’ policies were not ‘popular’ enough with the electorate at large – despite Ryan Coetzee quoting polling which suggests that half those who have abandoned us since 2010 would be attracted back to us if we promoted our ‘green’ policies more loudly!
    I even suspect the Party HQ of not issuing Membership Cards to new (or rejoining) Members because they don’t want them to read the extract from the Preamble which is written on it!
    Ultimately, the position of Nick Clegg and the faction which he appears to represent in our Party does not depend on whether 54% of LDV respondents think he should stay it depends on the 94% of the electorate who appear to have no confidence in him.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 3rd Jun '14 - 1:39pm

    I’m also a returner, old member of 50 years but resigned as was annoyed with where the party placed itself as Tory lite. I returned a few months ago and as Energlyn says, we social liberals, or whatever you call us, have not been LD members because we saw that the coalition agreement went against what we believe – but horror, it got worse and worse over the last years. “Yes Mr Cameron” is not what we wanted to hear. We could only return when LDs put a stop to Tory policies on the nod, and started to return to LD principles – which is recently. We are not negative in a general sense but we want LD principles in government to be the only way we support Tories or any other party. Coalition cannot mean compromise and if some people think that is what you do to get our policies enacted they are unprincipled and as we see – wrong! So “supply” on agreed policies is all I would vote for in future as our party has found we cannot trust another majority party to deliver even on an agreement – that’s now both Labour and Tory in the least few decades.

  • Jenny Barnes 3rd Jun '14 - 2:03pm

    The idea that we have to pay more attention to “money” than to real resources being wasted is frankly bonkers. If we were in the Euro it would made some sort of sense, but as we have a fiat currency, it’s an indicator, not something real. I don’t know exactly how much of the deficit would be filled by putting people to work doing something useful like building houses, but certainly some of it. All this focus on the money, and who you borrow it from…There’s a nice scene in the “ragged trousered philanthropist” where he explains how recessions end up with all the money in one pocket, and everyone else starving and unemployed… which is a bit more extreme than where we are, but it’s in the same direction.

  • @ Bill le Breton

    How about Total Direct Revenue fell from £549.05bn in 2008 to £516bn in 2010 a drop of just over £33bn? In the same period government revenue from Income and Capital Taxed fell by £26.5bn.

  • What is happening is the Lib Dems are paying the price of supporting a Tory government of austerity. The party has been seen to shift to a right wing stance. This is what Lib Dems have been shown to do in government?

    Lib Dems should restore its natural identity. The best way to do this is for Nick Clegg arrange to transfer party leadership to a MP such as Charles Kennedy before the 2015 election, who is distant from serving ministers and somewhat critic of letting the Tories get too much of their policies past us. This might not actually mean redrawal of N Clegg or todays LD ministers from this coalition government but giving the party an identity which has been lost.
    An active LD party outside the coalition.

    How does this sound?
    A party leader does not have to be the party’s principal minister as a junior of a coalition government.

  • Joe Otten, labour did not create the recession. Several people have commented on this, but it appears the liberals have adopted the tory cry that labour is to blame for everything. Which might not be quite so bad, had they not also adopted the slogan that Conservatives can fix everything. Where in that mix is there any reason to vote liberal?

    It is much more correct to say that the conservatives did exactly the same as labour, but there is certainly scope for arguing that labour was correct to cut spending more slowly, and the conservatives insistance on pushing faster with cuts in fact caused the economy to falter, so that the policy had to be reversed. The same result as labour policy, but with an embarassing false start, and continued insistence on the policy which demonstrably failed.

    We are in the position that 1/3 of the national debt has been written off by quantitative easing, whereby the bank of England has bought up the debt with money it effectively printed, and does not charge government interest on the notional debt. This has proved effective when at other times in history it has not, because there is little choice for investors. All other major countries are in the same boat: where can you run with your currency? Arguably we could and should have pressed this policy harder, because there has been no obvious down side, we have just written off debt. The national debt is effectively optional and we have one because we choose, not because we have spent too much.

    Energlyn, its a nice question when is the best time to return to the scene of a disaster and hope to pick up some pieces. Liberals seem to have missed the point that no one voted for them in anticipation of their forming a government. People voted liberal in national elections to make life hard for the two main parties, not help either one to power. Liberals probably had more effect in realising the wishes of their voters when in opposition than within government. UKip now has zero MPs, yet has had immense influence in getting its policies adopted, because it threatens to draw support from the main parties. To prevent this, those parties are obliged to adopt the challenger’s policies. What the liberals have managed to do is neutralise the threat they posed to established parties by joining one.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Jun '14 - 11:41am

    Joe Otten

    Michael, OK if you can find £143bn a year, that would be perfectly adequate for the purposes of this discussion. I’ll settle for £80bn in fact.

    Yes, I think we need to be honest about this. The trouble is that the Panglossian ad-man’s stuff that comes out from the people paid to make the party’s national image isn’t. There’s too much readiness to push the compromises need to get the budget balanced as if they are wonderful things and what we wanted anyway. Politics in this country is too much a battle between the right who make out that tax is just taken in order to be nasty to the wealthy, and a left who make out that public services don’t have to be paid for, so any cuts in them are just done to be nasty. See the continuing battle over student tuition fees – we were greatly damaged at the start by not coming out right away and saying it was a sad compromise, but we continue to be damaged because the left attack us for this with lines that say nothing about how THEY would pay for universities to be subsidised.

    We need to be straight about everything – say what it costs, and what taxes would need to be raised to pay for it. Why wasn’t this done on tuition fees? We were told our manifesto was “costed”, so let’s have the cost of abolishing fees listed alongside the tax rises that would pay for it. Let’s throw it back at all those who attack us on tuition fees by listing the tax alternatives and saying “OK, which of these would YOU choose to enable universities to continue being subsidised?”.

    We need to be pointing out what the top managers in the NHS are pointing out – demographic changes and advances in medicine mean that the cost of providing all with the health care they need and can be done is BOUND to be rising much more than inflation. Similar applies to many other things. Thus the real question in politics OUGHT to be “Do you want to keep this level of state services, and if so how would you pay for it?”. Not “These cuts are evil” coming from the left, and “But we’re keeping state spending at the same share of GDP as before, so there are no cuts” coming from the right. If you want state spending as a share of GDP not to rise, what the NHS is able to do MUST be cut. If it is cut because you are unwilling to pay the taxes to stop the cuts, then you will have to pay for the services you used to get from it in other ways – more private health care, similarly for other things, more spending on private pensions, more on educational support etc.

    The British people need to make an informed democratic decision on these things. Voting UKIP instead of thinking about them won’t help. If UKIP’s answer to the question is “We’ll save money by not paying contributions to the EU”, it needs to be pointed out just how many times they’ve spent the money of those contributions, and that’s on the (unlikely) assumption that leaving the EU would not have damaging financial consequences in other ways.

    Anyone whose answer to the question “How would you pay for it?” is “Our policies are so wonderful, that the economy will boom and that will pay for it” should be dismissed with contempt. Unfortunately, too often that IS what politicians are in effect saying. The ad-men may tell then that’s the way to win votes. Well, maybe, but see where it’s got us to. I think if we had the courage to go for a more mature attitude to politics, and were open about that, people would follow us.

  • Matthew Huntbach, I agree with you that much of the relationship between the electorate and politicians is not grown-up . There are two points I’d like to make. Firstly, much of the electorate are, sadly, too lazy to want to think about what the relationship between taxes/state spending. That’s what they want the politicians to sort out. Secondly, those that do engage in any sort if debate about taxes/spending often become polarised – those who have no children are not bothered about education, or childcare, or tuition fees etc, those who have private health insurance don’t want any more spending on the NHS, those who are single aren’t bothered about parental leave or married people’s allowance. I’ve heard so many childless people on phone-ins saying they don’t want their taxes to go on to education etc regardless of the fact that the whole nation benefits from an educated workforce. Of course there are exceptions to this but on the whole, isn’t that exactly why we don’t ask the electorate to decide what should be funded or cut ? Because everyone has different priorities. Of course this also applies to governments but someone has to make a decision.

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