Opinion: Ed shows why we must disagree with Nick

‘Red Ed’? Congratulations! To all the newspapers that preferred easy rhyme over rigorous analysis. Because anyone who watched or read Milliband Minor’s Conference speech can see where he is aiming to position Labour: “This new generation that leads our party… will fight for the centre ground…”. And it’s this aim that shows why we must disagree with Nick.

At conference Nick Clegg quite rightly rejected creating “some synthetic differences” that would trade short term headline wins for long term damage to the Coalition. But that ‘synthetic’ misses the point. When the two other parties are leaping into the centre ground, playing political ‘Sardines’, now is exactly the time that we need to shout our real differences loudly and clearly.

We could focus narrowly on these distinctive differences as being all about electoral appeal. After all, it was David Cameron’s successful shift of his party (still kicking and screaming) into the centre that largely gave the Conservatives the (half) win they craved in May. Blair knew Labour needed to be in the centre to be electable. Ed knows it too. In the meantime LibDems have been in the absurd position of being stuck in the electable centre ground with the mantra on the doorsteps ringing in our ears: “I’d vote for you if I thought you’d get elected”. But the real reason for making clear our differences is that it gives voters a real and distinctive choice.

One of the defining features of voters is that they are grown ups. They understand that it’s possible to disagree with someone about an issue, but to support a course of action for exactly that need: action. They understand that it is completely consistent to say the LibDem position is this, the Tory position that, and the coalition agreement is the other. For the sake of real choice, it’s not just consistent. It’s essential.

The two alternatives are intellectually disingenuous. Either we are no different from Cameron’s Conservative in which case we might as well self-lobotomise now and enjoy our bonuses guilt-free. Or we can choose to dig our heels in on every issue we differ on and watch the wheels spin off the coalition. Vince Cable said it succinctly at Conference: “to hold our own we need to maintain our party’s identity and our authentic voice” while supporting the coalition.

So, with both the Tories and Labour jostling into the centre, far more importantly than disagreeing with Nick, we need to disagree – loudly and clearly – with both Ed and Dave.

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14 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Sep '10 - 2:14pm


    it was David Cameron’s successful shift of his party (still kicking and screaming) into the centre

    What move to the centre? He’s running the most right-wing government this country has seen for a hundred years.

  • David Evans 29th Sep '10 - 2:30pm

    Matthew, now let’s see

    – a government which will hold a referendum on AV;
    – a government which will increase tax free allowances to benefit the less well off;
    – a government that is having a real go at sorting out the biggest mess our economy has been in for generations;
    – a government that isn’t instinctively authoritarian and so dare say it should be removing short sentences wherever possible, because they don’t work;
    – a government of two parties who are prepared to work together to keep the country afloat in spite of their manifest differences and the cheap gibes of Labour who saw tough times and ran off into opposition in relief.

    “Most right wing in a hundred years”, were you a comic in an earlier life, or didn’t you live through Thatcherism?

  • david thorpe 29th Sep '10 - 2:34pm

    matthew the cameron government certainly isnt centrist, its less rightw ing than tories normally are but not centrist.
    its much less right wing than any tory government in memory,

    lords reform
    defence cuts
    gay marraige legislation
    increase CGT

    all would be an anatehema to thatcherites…
    but thats not just my opinion…the thatcherites are comaplining

  • David Allen 29th Sep '10 - 2:45pm

    Thatcher didn’t plan a complete takeover by private industry of our education and health systems. That’s where Cameron is headed. Thatcher didn’t try to shrink the state by 40% and pretend that the economic situation demanded it (and then own up that it was policy anyway and nothing to do with the deficit).

    Lords reform etc are mostly very small beer compared to the above. I agree with Matthew. Cameron is acting as if he had a landslide majority and a mandate for massive and radical right-wing “reform”. He actually has a parliamentary minority. We have allowed him to act as if he had total command for the next five years. In return, we have a dubious referendum and a few highly paid ministerial jobs.

  • The free schoosl programme has so far been a flop – but hey, it’s much like grant maintained schools (thatcher)
    or acadamies (Blair and Brown)

    Also all this shrink the state criticism is absurd. For starters Liberals are less concerned about the size of the state than what it does. Secondly, while there undoubtedly some in the Conservative Party who want a “small state” the fact is the size of the state is going to change very little. You don’t have to be a raving libertarian to realise that even after all the cuts the state will be pretty much the same size as it has been on average since 1997. Why a certain % of GDP should be good under Labour but bad under anyone else is a mystery only Labour supporters can solve.

    Thirdly, the real take over of education and health by the private sector has already atken place under new labour and teh Private Finance Initiative. That is why the tax payer has been funding the private sector and paying 4 times the real cost of new hospitals, schools etc. keynesian it aint, Labout policy it was.

  • Mouse, why was there no political storm over PFI with Lib Dem pointing out the four-fold cost?

    I have checked the 2005 manifesto and found nothing about this

  • Iain Hamilton 29th Sep '10 - 4:52pm

    To David Evans

    – a government which will hold a referendum on AV;

    In order for the the Tory party to form a government. Without it there was no coalition and no power.

    – a government which will increase tax free allowances to benefit the less well off;

    offset by an increase in VAT and swinging cuts to the public sector which will hit the less well off hardest.

    – a government that is having a real go at sorting out the biggest mess our economy has been in for generations;

    Caused by the Financial and Banking sectors, paid for by the poorest and most vulnerable.

    – a government that isn’t instinctively authoritarian and so dare say it should be removing short sentences wherever possible, because they don’t work;

    As it’s a crowd pleaser and may destract some from all the other nasty stuff around the corner. We also do not know at present whether the opposite will work. Short sentences may well not work but the alternative also has not yet been proven effective. If it isn’t the Tories will no doubt blame us.

    – a government of two parties who are prepared to work together to keep the country afloat in spite of their manifest differences and the cheap gibes of Labour who saw tough times and ran off into opposition in relief.

    A government propped up by another who are there purely as a means to an end. I fully expect the Lib Dem vote to be decimated as a result at the next local elections. That is not a pessimistic view, it is in my opinion a very realistic one.

  • David Allen 29th Sep '10 - 6:24pm

    “The real take over of education and health by the private sector has already taken place under new Labour and the Private Finance Initiative.”

    Not to defend PFI, but, getting a private builder to shove up a hospital which the state then runs is not a fundamental change in the NHS. Getting private companies to run the hospitals and organise the way patients obtain treatment is. Expect to see money talk and equal treatment become a joke.

    Not to defend New Labour, but when the private business lobby set its sights on running the nation’s schools, New Labour gave way to it on a selective basis, justifying the academies programme in terms of better schools for the poor. That of course was the foot in the door that private business wanted. Now the Tories are in charge, the business can happily be expanded to cover rich and poor alike. Expect to see developing educational apartheid, with the mass middle class striving for the effective provisions, while an underclass give up on the idea of education and turn to benefits, drugs or crime.

  • Simon de Deney 29th Sep '10 - 7:09pm

    Thanks for all the comments. Overall, it’s telling how much of the responses have been about the Tories, how centre ground they really they are. It suggests that we’re still a little uncomfortable sharing our twin bedded room (although I wonder if we should be a little less modest about who feels who’s politically screwing who – there are an awful lot of, what would conventionally be described as right wing, Tories, who may feel that David Cameron has made them our ‘bitch’.

    Jon – there’s a big debate to be had about the centre ground. Personally, I think it’s a huge mistake to try to position any party there. Why? Because – and I know I’ve referred to it in the piece – it doesn’t exist. But that’s for another post. I completely agree that this is politics not art. And that is exactly why we have to define what we stand for and what that means for our policies and, even more, how we are distinct from the Conservative party.

    Is it mealy-mouthed to be absolutely clear where the differences are? Look at the Monetary Policy Committee – we see the minutes, we see the faultlines among the members, we may even fiercely debate the decision, but we accept it. We understand there’s a debate and differences of opinion. If there weren’t, what would be the point of having a committee? Instead we might just as well have ‘Ask Mervyn’, save the MPC salaries and be done with it.

    As far as the public knowing the difference between yellow and blue, how mant times do we hear: “But you haven’t got any policies.” Why does our vote fluctuate so wildly? I’m not a statistician, but I’d lay money that the variance is much greater than the other two parties. How good a job really have we been doing in explaining our policies? And not just explaining them, but more deeply, connecting with people emotionally, showing how the values underpinning them are their values too.

    I agree with your analysis of what people want from a politician. Where I’d part company with you is in believing that clear accountability is only possible with total unity. In cooking terms, “Here’s the ragu, there’s the pasta, what you’re eating is spaghetti Bolognese”. The ingredients are jointly responsible, but you know which is which.

  • Andrew Suffield 29th Sep '10 - 8:07pm

    Overall, it’s telling how much of the responses have been about…

    Fair warning, this site is infested with a small number (estimated 1-3) of trolls who post in most comment threads under a large number of aliases. Don’t assume that the number of comments means anything.

    (With that said, most of the ones in this thread are identifiable as actual people. But that may change, so be careful)

  • Anthony Aloysius St 30th Sep '10 - 12:21am

    “Fair warning, this site is infested with a small number (estimated 1-3) of trolls who post in most comment threads under a large number of aliases.”

    So you say, but what evidence have you for that belief, other than mere wishful thinking – and other than the mindset in which anyone who disagrees with you is, by definition, a “troll”?

    I mean, given the evidence from polling, which suggests that about half of those whose voted for the Lib Dems at the election – or in other words about three and a half million people – no longer support the party, why on earth do you think the online dissent would be limited to “1-3” people?

  • At present, I’m a real person. But be careful Andrew, I may soon change. I plan to morph into an avenging angel of doom, whose mission is to seek out the denialists and wishful thinkers, and throw them back into the protoplasm vat!

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