Opinion: Evan Harris’s major error

So defeated Oxford West & Abingdon MP and left-liberal firebrand Evan Harris doesn’t like the coalition and worries about the message it sends to his preferred allies on the old left of Labour. Or so says in his article for The Guardian.

What’s new? Evan has shown disquiet about non-lefto-neo-revisionist-libero-economism by the party leadership for much of his career. He is about as likely to embrace a broad centre-ground positioning for the Liberal Democrats as Bob Crowe welcoming a restructuring plan on the London Underground.

He isn’t, though, a thoughtless polemicist, and much of what he says is balanced and fair. Clearly the Liberal Democrats need to think about marketing the party as well as the government before the 2015 election, and clearly there will be points of difference worth highlighting that should not be sacrificed purely for the sake of apparent unity. Clearly people who joined the party thinking it was some kind of pressure group for reforming Labour will be unhappy.

Where he makes a major error is in assuming that the quest for difference is in itself the goal of the party and in particular that we are in “a position to dock with the Labour party if the parliamentary numbers work and there is a relevant policy overlap”. He gives far too much weight to the anti-conservative feelings in the party and ignores an equally proud tradition of anti-socialism. Worse, though, he seems to forget what defines us is the broad spectrum of liberal thinking, not just what we oppose.

Questing for difference implies that when your larger, better-funded opponents concede you are right and adopt your language and policies — as has happened with New Labour under Blair, and the Conservatives under Cameron — you retreat from that ground and promote other ideas, sometimes in the spaces they have left behind. Good tactics for permanent opposition, it’s a great way of mopping up the ‘plague on both your houses’ vote. But it’s lousy for establishing a core vote to sustain the party in power.

The Liberal Democrats need to be more confident in asserting a claim to the liberal centre-ground and highlighting difference with the extremes of the other two parties, rather than the electable parts with whom we share goals and history. How hard is it to say: we are liberals, we oppose social conservatism and economic socialism, and welcome liberal ideas across the spectrum?

The language of positioning to ‘dock with Labour’ then is entirely the wrong way around. It is Labour who are now out of power, Labour who need to reconcile their ambitions with the voters, and Labour who need to reach out to the Liberal Democrats if they wish to form the next administration. Labour has never been elected to government from the left and if the current strategy of attack and deficit-denial promulgated by the ‘Ed-cases’ (Balls and Miliband) continues they will become increasingly insular. We need to do precisely nothing to dock with that party, just reach out to their liberal moderates and encourage defections.

It is only if Labour can re-unite around a broad platform for government by learning from their mistakes and adopting elements of the coalition agenda that are popular beyond their core vote that we’ve got some work to do. I should note, tribally, we don’t want that to happen: Labour’s periodic desire to commit electoral suicide is a joy to behold, and occasionally holds out the promise of political realignment. From a political viewpoint though we want electoral reality to force Labour to change to be more like us, so future coalition is plausible, and the threat of future coalition keeps our current partners honest.

That is the power of a centre-party, and one that holds the promise of various shades of liberal government in almost permanent power. Abandoning that opportunity for reasons of left-wing tribalism simply empowers social conservatives in both other parties. It is a world-view that says there is a left and right and a no-man’s land inbetween where nothing can survive. Note Mike Hancock’s recent ravings as though Nick Clegg has moved the party from soggy socialism to neo-conservatism overnight. This is rubbish.

In reality the reverse is true. Most voters are moderates not radicals or tribalists, aspirational not backwards-looking, and we sincerely hope more liberal than authoritarian. That’s our core vote and we have to continually prove ourselves to that vote against flirtations by our opponents in order to win power to deliver liberal policies.

If we can do that by being distinctive, great. If not, if our opponents are wearing our clothes, we need to hold our nerve, welcome the change, and wait for their natural constituencies to unfrock them, not panic and reach for the dressing-up box ourselves.

If we’d done more of that in the last decade, rather than retreating from Cameron’s advance, we might not have had to dock with anyone to win the election, and Evan Harris might have kept his seat.

* Andy Mayer is a Liberal Democrat member in Bermondsey and Old Southwark.

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39 Comments

  • Paul McKeown 21st Sep '10 - 1:36pm

    Good article, with which I find myself in complete agreement.

  • “Labour who need to reach out to the Liberal Democrats if they wish to form the next administration”

    The electorate will decide who forms the next administration, not you.

  • It’s this kind of article which really gets my back up on the coalition.

    Tim Farron summed things up well yesterday – like many of the Tories, we came into politics because of Thatcher, but in my case it was to oppose what she was doing and all she stood for. Thatcher wasn’t a liberal, wasn’t even close, and there are many people and many parts of my council ward which are still affected by the decisions she too.

    So yes, a lot of us who joined in the late 1980s and early 1990s are of the “soggy” left, I guess. Not socialist, not authoritarian, but predominantly more socially liberal than economically. The author also forgets that many of the original party membership were themselves former members or supporters of the Labour party, leaving during its period of hari-kiri in the 1980s to join the SDP.

    But we realised that, on a pragmatic level, we couldn’t prop up a fag-end government which had run out of ideas, let alone steam, and the only realistic option was to go with the Tories, either in a full coalition or on “supply & confidence.” Initially, I’d have preferred the latter; but the full coalition does provide the opportunity to enact some Liberal Democrat policies directly and – more importantly – avoided a costly second election, probably around now.

    So you have to accept that for many, the coalition isn’t a comfortable arrangement. It’s not something I’m able to confidently defend on the doorsteps – not yet, at least.

  • “He gives far too much weight to the anti-conservative feelings in the party and ignores an equally proud tradition of anti-socialism”

    But in what sense is the Labour party a socialist party? Your entire post is replete with tired old right-wing strawman arguments.

    ”Labour has never been elected to government from the left and if the current strategy of attack and deficit-denial promulgated by the ‘Ed-cases’ (Balls and Miliband) continues they will become increasingly insular.”

    But, the thing is, I don’t really think I see Labour denying the deficit. There is another straw man. Of course Balls and Miliband are going to dig the boot in, but that IS what politicains do…. even Liberals politicains. Of course they will criticse the government without costing their own proposals… but I have not seen a person high up in Labour denying the deficit needs to be tackeled. May a remind you, the original Lib Dem position as put forwards by Vince Cable in regards to the deficit was essentially the same as Labour’s. Don’t tell me ‘the circumstances have changed’ because the deificit is in fact 10 billion LESS than originally forecast.

    You are also wrong on the point that Labour has never been elected from the left. Maybe if you are talking from 13 years ago that is the case… but all Labour positions prior to Thatcher could essentially be called left-wing (in some cases, from today’s standpoint, ‘far-left’). Especially the Attlee governments socialist platform in 1945. Your post seems to betray a profound historical ignorance. Not only that, but you have the audacity to claim Labour is a socialist party whilst seesntially simultaneously denying it is a left-wing party.

    You are being unrealistic if you think that our party could get into power at the next election without the support of another party. From the way the wind is blowing, Labour wold simply be the logical choice.

    Use of silly stereotypes and bad logic are not only weak, they seem somewhat patronising. I sincerely hope that you are not providing your genuine reasoning in this article, it is full of holes, I would prefer to think you are just taking short-cuts out of disregard for the reader.

    Evan Harris is a highly impressive and highly intelligent man, I’m not convinced your analysis is of the intellectual calibre to provide a refutation of his points (not to say that it couldn’t be, but you have not made it so) .

  • @KL

    “But we realised that, on a pragmatic level, we couldn’t prop up a fag-end government which had run out of ideas, let alone steam, and the only realistic option was to go with the Tories, either in a full coalition or on “supply & confidence.” Initially, I’d have preferred the latter; but the full coalition does provide the opportunity to enact some Liberal Democrat policies directly and – more importantly – avoided a costly second election, probably around now.

    So you have to accept that for many, the coalition isn’t a comfortable arrangement. It’s not something I’m able to confidently defend on the doorsteps – not yet, at least.”

    I suppose I agree with your points. I do not thinka coalition with Laboru would have been good thing. Hopefully they will sort themselves out.

    That said, the way that Clegg and others seem to be trying to link Lib Dem policy directly with COnservative policy, instead of talking about how they ‘softened it’ etc. etc… seems to place the party in the complete opposite ideological position to the one they campaigned upon in the last election…. and that is not good.

    Whilst I still grudgingly accept that a Lib-Con coalition is not a bad thing in itself, I wonder if it was always foretold we would lose our identity in a way that would not have happened if we were with lother options.

    Part of me feels that this could go very badly, worse than the original alternatives.

    If we had joined a coalition with Labour, or supported a minority governemnt, there is no doubt we would have lost votes. That said there are two issues. FIrstly, perhaps it would have been better to tie ourselves to a somewhat negative tradition (Labour) or go into a minority governemnt than to now endorse actions that we opposed the entire election…. policies which people like myself feel are genuinely immoral. Just to join a conservative ggovernemtn for ‘national stabi;ity’ is not a good reason if we are essentially supporting evil actions in doing so. Not only are we compromising, Clegg seems intent on being more enthusiastic than David Cameron about them.

    At the end of the 5 years I’m not sure yet whether we will have more votes with the conservatives than we would have retained by supporting Labour or supporting a minority government.. I am beginning to doubt that. A lot of people explicitly voted for us on an anti-Conservative platform, but not many really voted on an anti-Labour platform so far as I can tell. Not only do these options begin to seem more preferable morally, I wonder if they would have been more preferable politically.

    Here is the real killer. WIthout Labour voter’s or left-wing support, or the support of many who don’t vote (or vote for smaller parties) we can’t win a referendum on AV> IF Labour voters (or for that matter disenfranchised Lib Dem memebers, many of whom I know) decide to punish the lib dems… they will probably do it by voting NO for AV.

    Now the Conservatives never would have helped us, and the vast majority ofconservative voters, being reliable and maleable, wont vote YES. Labour probably would have endorsed AV, and with that we would get Labour voter support and a likely majority YES vote.

    Now I think the AV vote will fail, and if it fails we are truly doomed as a party unless we sort out our leadership.

  • I always apologise for my poor spelling. I am (truly) dyslexic and it causes me much heartache. I probably should try to check my posts more frequently but I do find it difficult to proof read.

  • @ Andy Mayer

    What makes a party on the ‘left’ or the ‘right’ is not where it says it is, but on the platforms it campaigns upon in relation to the the current political climate.

    If we took the climate of the 1970’s Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democratswould all be right-wing, and all would be right-wing of the iterations of their parties in that time period (except maybe the Conservatives on issues like immigration and Europe… but they would be more egalitarian generally) .

    In our current political climate, the Liberal democrats campaigned on a platform that was a essentially more radically egalitarian than Labour. The issues it campaigned upon such as civil liberties, a sesnible approach to prison and immigration as well as a sensible approach to nuclear weapons…. ahave all been tradtionally anti-authoritarian left-wing positions. You could say that we campaigned on a platform to the left of Labour.

    Now you might pull out the old ‘left right, they don’t mean anytthing’…. but I think they really have significance. There is a lot of mixing up that happens between left and right, and the right-wing press always seem to get to define waht is left wing (i.e. left-wing is authoritarian etc etc.)…. yet most people instinctively can tell whether a platfrom is left or right wing (generally). Most people have political beliefs which coincide with other right-wing or left-wing beleifs. There is even evidence to suggest that it is somewhat genetic as well as, suprisingly, linked to intelligence. That is not to say that you don’t get geniuses on every side, but the average iQ of those who vote for progressive parties has been shown, on average, to be greater. Here is the study… the idea is that those with ideas about how to change their surroundings have had an advantage in natural selection.http://www.tgdaily.com/general-sciences-features/48586-intelligent-people-more-likely-to-be-left-wing-atheists

  • Paul McKeown 21st Sep '10 - 2:57pm

    On this point perhaps I could quote Jerry Hayes, the former Tory MP, who seems genuinely pleased that the current Tory / Liberal government is able to restrain the headbangers on the Tory right. His most recent blog post – http://thinkpolitics.co.uk/tpblogs/jerryhayes/2010/09/21/the-lib-dems-mustnt-allow-themselves-to-suffer-from-battered-wives-or-stockholm-syndrome-and-how-to-spot-a-defector-to-labour-before-it-happens/ – makes some very sage observations about the Liberal Democrats. With regard to Evan Harris he writes:

    The battered wives syndrome is best exemplified by the likes of former MP Evan Harris, who is desperate to get back into bed with Labour. Well hardly back into bed, the couple haven’t even had a snog or a brief fumble. Evan, old son, they hate you guys with a venom more poisonous than Peter Mandelson’s aftershave. They have beaten you, abused you and threatened political genocide. Why keep coming back for more?

    However, he goes on further, referring to the likes of Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander:

    However, Stockholm’s syndrome, whereby by the kidnapped tend to fall in love with their captors, is a more tricky label to cast off. Clegg and Cable don’t want any accusations of being kept underground in Cameron’s Austrian bunker and breeding Tory babies. They need to show a separate identity coupled to a loyalty to the Coalition ideal.

    I would recommend everyone to read the post, I think it sums nicely the two big dangers for the Lib Dems, people developing a rose-tinted vision of the Labour party, or equally not realising the dangers of getting too closely associated with the Tories. Both are potentially very damaging. The opportunity, though, which he doesn’t write about is that being in government should offer the opportunity that the Liberal Democrat identity can be both sharpened and offered more clearly to the general non-political public.

  • Excellent article.
    @Rob, you say:
    ‘But in what sense is the Labour party a socialist party? Your entire post is replete with tired old right-wing strawman arguments.’
    Socialist in that it sought to waste huge amounts of money, it was happy to let a welfare dependent group of people without work or hope grow up who it could then scare into voting for them, in that it brought in a repressive state with extra laws and a surveillance society.

  • @SMcG

    “Socialist in that it sought to waste huge amounts of money, it was happy to let a welfare dependent group of people without work or hope grow up who it could then scare into voting for them, in that it brought in a repressive state with extra laws and a surveillance society.”

    That argument is completely invalid, even if Labour’s spending was astronmically high (which it wasn’t… under Labour government spendin g proportionally decreased from what it was under Thatcher). Then logically, George Bush and Ronald Reagan who both ran up massive deficits that had to be tackeled by their successors, were socialists. As government spending was proportionally higher under thatcher, using your logic, she was a socialsit to.

    Not that personally, for me, the term ‘socialist’ is not as bad as ‘fascist’ because I know there are different kinds of socialism (although I wouldn’t call myself a socialist)…. but fore many people (presumably yourself) socialism and fascism are as bad as one another.

    Can I call the conservatives fascists because their ideology and direction has several things in common with fascism (more so than Labour’s ideology has with ‘socialism’ in the proper usage of the word)?

    I don’t think that would be reasonable, Labour is notg a socialist party and the Conservatives are not a fascist party.

  • @SMcG
    You might like to consider whether such rabid, paranoid right wing memes actually bear more than a moments scrutiny.
    Welfare spending as a proportion of GDP was considerably less under Labour than the last Tory government. Likewise unemployment. In any case people on welfare largely don’t vote. Most people voted Labour for the same reason most people vote for any party – it seemed to them the least worst of the available options.

    However, I do agree about the repressive laws and surveillance society.

  • Andrew Wimble 21st Sep '10 - 4:52pm

    Maybe labour are closer to the Liberal Democrats when it comes to economic policy but on many other issues we are polls apart. We believe in local accountability while the previous Labour administration believed in micromanaging everything from the center with a flood of targets. We believe in personal liberty while the previous government believed in piling on law after law designed to restrict personal liberty. Even on ecomonics there is a lot seperating us from Labour. The previous government did a good job at increasing public spending, past the point of sustainability, but were very ineffective at at reducing the unfairness in the system. Social mobitly decreased rather than increased and the difference in income between the weathy and the poor got larger not smaller.

    I hope that Labour will be a party that we can form a partnership with after the next election, if that is what the voters decide, but they have to change a great deal before I would be comfortable with seeing that happen.

  • @Rob, socialism and fascism both lead to the same thing – large, repressive states.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Sep '10 - 6:09pm

    Dear Olly,

    I understand that you are a former SDP and LD member. I can understand that you might find yourself repelled by the current coalition government. Perhaps you hate the Tories more than you love Liberal Democracy. I find it less comprehensible that you would look at Labour and not see that its glamour is merely skin deep, but nevertheless, it isn’t really difficult to grasp. That, however, you find this a reason to vote against the AV referendum, however, I find spiteful, rather in the way of a child not getting its own way. I don’t believe that when you give the matter longer rational thought, you will continue to prefer the continuing madness of unadulterated, alternating Tory and Labour governments, smothering dissent and stamping on alternative political views. For all your fervent desires for a “pure” Labour government in five years time, all you will actually succeed in doing in guaranteeing an equal and opposite “pure” Conservative government in some later reaction.

  • paul barker 21st Sep '10 - 9:06pm

    Great article, completely agree.
    The next election is more than 4 years away, its pointless wondering about who will be negotiating with who after. Lots of Labourites have convinced themselves that the Libdems wont even exist by then, let them dream on.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Sep '10 - 10:07pm

    Andy Mayer is echoing Nick Clegg’s recent comments, essentially saying the only way politics can go is to the right. To people like them, if politics moves to the left it’s “tribalism” or “ghetto”, but if it moves to the right it’s a sensible adaption to the spirit of the age.

    What rot.

    What we have seen since around 2007 is the collapse of many of the assumptions about politics that have dominated the arguments since 1979. Long-term problems that were building up since then have exploded. We have found out that we cannot all make money just by selling houses and shares to each other. We have found that the “Iron woman” who supposedly was protecting UK independence was actually starting a process whereby control of much of our country was being shipped off abroad, or put in the hands of people who would ship themselves abroad if you dare not to kowtow to them. We have found that in many areas, competition tends to drive down quality, not up. Look, for example, at how crap television is now despite many more channels. Look at how school education is so damaged by this constant compettiion to be top of the league tables.

    So, the modern right-wing in politics has been shown up to be a sham. However, we have the issue that Labour had moved so far onto their ground that they were part of it. Also, since many in Britain still see politics as Labour v. Conservative, and since there is no-one decent putting a strong left-wing alternative, when the mess hit under Labour’s watch, people turned to the Conservatives, even though the Conservatives were only offfering more and deeper of the same.

    What people like Andy can’t see, or don’t want to see, is that it is possible to be left but not to be like Labour. A lot of what people disliked about Labour was not their general left-wing nature, but the authoritarian and anti-pluralist idea of party that is absolutely central to Labour. Indeed, when Labour under Blair threw away everything that was left-wing, it kept that authoritarian belief that all power should be with the party, made even worse by the idea that all power in the party should be with the Leader. That is, it was moving towards fascism. Fascism is still an idea that delights the elite of this country, though they do not call it by that name. That is what to them politics is all about the leaders at Westminster. That is why they are so obsessed with this idea of executive mayors, and say with a straight face – how on earth they can do this I don’t know – that having executive mayors is “spreading power” when it’s the opposite, itl;s taking shated power and putting it into the hands of one person. That is why the cult of the super-businessman is so strong, why the only model of business that is considerd is the CEO at the top pulling all the strings. The Liberal ideas of co-operatives and shared power are nowhere to be seen, or are derided where they still exit as in conciliar local government. These fascist-lites even want directly elected police chiefs, unable or unwilling to see what a dangerous step that is.

    Now, what I have always stood for, and until recently thought it was what the Liberals stood for, was politics which is to the left but which utterly rejects the Labour idea of one dominant left party which must always be in power and where debate takes place with the official mechanisms of the state just there to rubber stamp. But now Nick Clegg tells me that is some sort of “ghettto” and people like me are not welcome in his party. My reply is that it is not his party, he does not own it. It is a Liberal and Democratic party, and as such ought to be opposed to the cult of leader, and ought not to accept being bullied by its leader. True Liberalism means we are his master, not vice versa, and we should not be afraid to show him that.

  • Matthew, I feel as ever you renforce the point above that “It is a world-view that says there is a left and right and a no-man’s land inbetween where nothing can survive”…

    And to answer your assertion, I agree it’s perfectly possible to be left in the UK and not Labour. There are the Greens, the SNP, Plaid, Respect, Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the continuity SDP, the SSP, Solidarity, various communist parties, and about 20 other registered fringe groups. Where I suspect we disagree is that the Liberal Democrats have a better future coalition building in that space rather than the centre competing for the mainstream liberal opinion currently spread across the three big parties.

    Rob I’d love to have a debate about what left and right mean throughout history, but in the context of this piece I don’t think the point is unclear. Nor is it controversial to describe Labour as a socialist party, all five of their current leadership contenders use the label on themselves. On your other point, Evan and I are both secular humanists, scepticism of dogma and authority is a wider liberal tradition rather than left and right. I suspect we also agree on many asepcts of civil liberties, parliamentary reform, internationalism, localism and europe.

    Therein lies a basis for a broad liberal coalition.

    Where we evidently disagree most is on economic policy and political strategy. That debate will run and run. I sincerely doubt though the answers lie in planning a coalition with Labour four years before the next election.

  • Hes been excellent on health
    I doubt the nhs white paper would have ripped out any Democracy out the NHS would have gone through

    I see that now even scraps Overiew & Scrurtiny Committee of Councils

    where is the new democratic accountability in the NHS

    not Foundation hospitals – who nolonger hold meetings or produce board papers
    not pct board meetings

    not councils

    WHERE IS THE NHS ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE NEW NHS WHITE PAPER

    so I will stick by Dr Harris

  • “#

    #
    George Kendall

    George, I should have explained my point better in regards to IQ.

    It wasn’t really the crux of my argument, but my point was not that left-wingers tend to be more intelligent ( a stupid pat on the back based on not very much evidence, especially as views range too widely across all of the spectrum) but that left-wing views tend to be genetic. I used that study, which seemed reasonable, to make my point that the left/right divide may be partly genetic, because IQ ismainly genetic. I think IQ socre is useful in some circumstances, but it doesn’t really seem to measure what most people would define as ‘intelligence’, and there are statistical problems with it also (to name the Flynn effect)With that study you of course have the problem that some people’s views are influenced by their social background, as well as their IQ score (which seems to have a social factor of up to 15 points). In addition, since the questions asked aren’t clear, it might be biased in the way it attributes ideology (although I did see a test which took the average IQ of voters for parties into account).

    Sorry Andy if I was a bit unfair above, and sorry for posting a bit off topic now… I just wanted to make clear I’m not trying to sell progressive values as ‘more intelligent’.

  • @George

    By ‘evil’ (a word which I perhaps used a little in jest) I didn’t mean in the ‘terrible’ sense I meant ‘evil’ purely in the sense that the actions are against what the party as a whole seems to believe in (just like in the traditional sense of the word, you could describe leaving the bathroom light on an ‘evil’).

    I probably shouldn’t be a ‘doomsayer’ … I was simply expressing my profound pessimism. I really hope you are right, because it would be a terrible shame for the Liberals to be put back to square one. If I have a point to make it is that we should be prepared to do something should the vote on AV fail, because for many left-leaning Liberals it is the one sweetner keeping their support for this coalition.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd Sep '10 - 12:55am

    @Olly

    “All I will say is that IMO the AV referendum will be lost and it will be lost largely due to the contempt that Nick Clegg shows toward Labour voters. What exactly is the Lib Dem strategy for winning the referendum because it sure as hell escapes me”

    For a while I would have agreed with you that the AV referendum looks lost, I have, indeed, despairingly already made that point. For several reasons. The Yes campaign has started later than the No campaign. The larger part of the Conservative Party and press opposes it, for personal, selfish reasons of defending incumbency, for fear of the mythical centre left majority, as well as an unthinking attachment to the idea that the constitution as established in 1911 is already perfect. Large parts of the Labour party have a horror for any electoral reform, and those parts of Labour have also always despised Liberal Democrats and only contemplated AV as the very minimal concession that they might offer in cashing in their insurance policy of a coalition with the Lib Dems. Many in Labour are now contemplating “screwing” the Lib Dems for their “perfidy” by opposing AV. Indeed reading many of the mad comments on CiF along those lines makes that mindset very clear.

    However, following the discourse in the Telegraph (e.g. many of the comments to todays’s article http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/8015681/The-Alternative-Vote-is-a-rotten-bag-of-fruit.html) or on ConservativeHome, makes it clear that many rank and file Conservatives see that the choice AV offers, empowers them. Although the party machinery opposes it, the voters themselves may not.

    Similarly, with the commentary in the Guardian or on LabourList one sees that, despite the sometimes hysterical abuse hurled towards the Liberal Democrats, that many people on the left simply shrug their shoulders and accept that whatever the current political hooha, AV simply empowers voters better than FPTP does.

    As it is, besides the LDs, the SDLP, APNI and Greens, whilst recognising AV’s faults, have already come out in favour of the Yes campaign. I think it seems likely that several other significant political parties will come out in favour, too.

    Obviously the Yes campaign will struggle against the entrenched forces of conservatism. In the Conservative Party, in parts of Labour, in the DUP and, no doubt, elsewhere, too. However, I can also see that many people are also actually considering the issue on its merits, rather than along stupid tribal lines.

    I am a little more optimistic than I was a couple of months ago, but only time will tell.

    As for Nick Clegg and his treatment of Labour, is it not the case that he is simply returning a compliment? Has Labour not been engaged in a hysterical campaign against the Liberal Democrats ever since the coalition was formed, based on little more than the lazy assumption that the Liberal Democrats were nothing but a wayward clan of Labourites? I am sure that the abuse will level off at some point and normal relations will resume.

    “The generalisations, non-sequitors and gratuitous insults that typify your posts are, frankly, not worth wasting time on.”

    If I have insulted you specifically, then, please point it out. To my recollection, I have always been courteous in addressing you, and, if not, I am happy to rectify it. I am also happy to have any non sequitur or unwarranted generalisation pointed out.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd Sep '10 - 1:14am

    @Matthew Huntbach

    “it is possible to be left but not to be like Labour. A lot of what people disliked about Labour was not their general left-wing nature, but the authoritarian and anti-pluralist idea of party that is absolutely central to Labour.”

    I would agree with that.

    But should that preclude a party of the “left” from working with a party of the “right”, when working with another party of the “left” is not possible?

    Was Nick Clegg not really saying that Labour is likely to go to into the next general election on a platform that will deny that deficits need to be eliminated, that debts can be maintained indefinitely, that any cut whatsoever is excessive? Whilst simultaneously maintaining its illiberal policies on civil rights, nuclear weapons, unthinking support of the military and diplomatic partnership with the USA, the use of war as a means to resolve international problems, et cetera? And therefore the Liberal Democrat party will need to find its own political space?

    I understand that many people are very upset at the decisions being taken to eliminate the structural deficit, but is it not the truth that whatever political party or parties had formed the government, the structural deficit would still have had to be eliminated? As I understand it, and correct me if I’m wrong, but at the end of this parliament, government spending will be at the level it was in 2006-07. Is that really a disaster? The apocalyptic way that it is described at times would make one think that the parliamentary Liberal Democrats had metamorphosed into extreme libertarians, but the image of Simon Hughes (who has made clear on several occasions that he views the current coalition as not only a necessary evil, but also as an opportunity to promote Liberal Democrat ideas) as a sort of Sarah Palin Tea Party conservative just doesn’t strike me as likely at all.

  • ‘Was Nick Clegg not really saying that Labour is likely to go to into the next general election on a platform that will deny that deficits need to be eliminated, that debts can be maintained indefinitely, that any cut whatsoever is excessive?’

    But see, that is the problem, Labour and the Liberal democrats went into the last election with almost exactly the same platform on how to deal witht he deficit. The deficit is lower than forecast, by about ten billion, and twenty billion less than the scar-figue the conservatives were using…. so you can’t say ‘oh we had to change our mind due to the deifcit being worse than expected’.

    I can understand Clegg’s speeches froma realpolitik point of veiiw, but at the conference he seemed to keep the same style up for other lib dem memebers as he kept for the gneral population. Ordinarily it would be agood thing, but to me it feels like he considers us all thoroughly stupid and won’t be honest for in regards to the budget. The Lib Dems are supporting it because they need to as part of a coalition government, not because they believe it is the best policy for the country (or why would they campaign on the same deficit reduction statergy as Labour at the last election?). I would rather he was honest.

    In regards to governemnt spending, I haven’t read the report, but apaprently people are saying that it’s a cop out. Government spending is being increased in regards to paying off debts, but it is not being put into the economy.

    ‘Whilst simultaneously maintaining its illiberal policies on civil rights, nuclear weapons, unthinking support of the military and diplomatic partnership with the USA, the use of war as a means to resolve international problems, et cetera? And therefore the Liberal Democrat party will need to find its own political space?’

    The things is, the conservatives are even more guilty of everyone one of these than Labour. The conservatives voted in favour of the Iraq more to a far greater proportion than Labour (1/10th), where about 1/3 voted against. The war would not have happened without them, and you can bet they would have been just as cosy with the USA.

    People like to keep blaming Labour for deregulation, but your simply allowing the conservatives to get away with the fact that as late as 2007 the conservatives were demanding even MORE deregulation than Brown was willing to provide, and that they opposed the bank bailout. If that opposition had been successful we would have been truly fudged, the Conservatives (David Cameron) even admitted as much and said he ‘changed his mind’ AFTER the event. A bit late really.

    I think Labour made a whole hoest of mistakes, but what some other Lib Dems like yourself don’t get is that on every issue for which Labour made a bad and illiberal choice or stupid economic position, the Conservatives either supported them in parliament or decried it as too ‘soft’ (detention without trial etc etc). You also have to consider that Labour was often pandering to the right-wing press and Rupert Murdoch, who is now on the Conservatives side.

    You can hardly criticise Labour for these things and say that the Conservatives are a better option because ‘Labour did x’. That is because often a high proportion of Conservative members voted for these silly things than Labour ministers, and more often than not you were getting Conservative calls to go even further.

    Labour were bad, and the Conservatives were even worse. Labour might have made enough mistakes to move far away from us at the last election, but the conservatives had made even more, and to a greater extent.

    As part of a coalition of the willing with the COnservatives we can’t keep bashing Labour for things the Conservatives were even worse at.

  • ‘everyone one’.- ‘every one’ ‘iraq more’iraq war

    Holy Mary…. forgive me for my sins!

  • “A lot of what people disliked about Labour was not their general left-wing nature, but the authoritarian and anti-pluralist idea of party that is absolutely central to Labour.”

    But this is even more the case with the Conservativesv if anything, and that is the problem. It is disgenous to suggest the Conservatives are a better option than Labour or more ‘liberal’ when they took an even worse stance on the real civil liberties issues, such as detention without trial and surveilance.

    About the only civil liberties infrigement they opposed was ID cards, and in the grand scheme of things I never considered it a big deal, apart from being a monumental waste of money.

    IF you want to use all these arguments against Labour, then you ahve to use them against the COnservatives, who Labour had to turn to in order to pass these bills (seeing as a higher proportion of the Labour party opposed them than the conservatives).

    The fact that the Conservatives weren’t the majority party doesn’t abdicated them from their even worse illiberalness and economic stupidty They voted for many of these policies. gust look at their voting records. The Liberal card that some Libertarian Conservatives are playing now is simply a cynical ploy by a populist leopard that will change its spots to anything in the name of upholding its only core principal… the distribution of mopney upwards. The right-wing press seems to be the most authoriatarian in outlook as opposed to the, left-wing press.

    DO you think they will support scientific evidence if it calls for decriminilisation of drugs (that is to say, if the Californian referendum fails)?

    The Conservatives have shown themselves to be, if anything, even more illiberal and non-scientific when it regards to policy than Labour. That was true both under Thatcher (where, lest we forget, government spending was an even higher proportion of GDP) and had been true whilst they were part of the opposition.

    You can’t criticise Labour for these things and give the Conservatives a free pass.

    I think these illiberal policies have a lot less to do with the myth of the British ‘illiberal authoritarian left’… and much more to do with the stranglehold that the authoritarian right, represented by the papers, excercises of UK politics.

    Labour did not become authoritarian in the name of ‘left-wing socialism’ however any superficial analysis tries to dress it up, Labour became authoritarian BECAUSE it moved to the RIGHT on a failing populist platform… which was still less authoritarian than the Conservative one.

    And Andy, I thinnk you know as well as anyone else ehre that ‘socialist’ in the sense that the Labour candidates use it has no meaning, just in the same way that you use it as a perjorative. Labour candidates HAVE to call themselves ‘socialist’, but they simply try to make its meaning broadly in support of ‘communitarian’ and egalitarian policy.

    The thing is, if the Labour party leaders are socialist because of what they say makes them a socialist ‘support of the NHS yadda yadda’. Then David Cameron, who campaigns on the same platform, is ALSO a socialist. Nick Clegg and VInce Cable, by your definition of socialism, are rabid left-wing horrid socialists as well.

    Socialism means placing the means of production (industry) in the hands of the ‘workers’. Most socialist governments interpret that as meaning that the means of production should be entirely within the hands of the ‘state’, which, of course, (cue irony) is inevitably the democratic manifestation of the workers. That was what ‘clause 4 was’ and that has been removed.

    We have never had a truly ‘socialist’ government in this country (even if there have ben plenty of socialists in the Labour party) , although Attee’s govenrment came closer than any other. If nationalisation of some industries alone is the same a socialism then both Winston Churchill and Lloyd George are socialists.

    Using the silly idea that ‘Labour are socialits’ to explain their authoritarianism is wrong on two accoiunts.

    1. The last government definetely was not a socialist govenrment, unless you consider Margeret Thatcher a socialist and WInston Churchill a communist.

    2. The last goverment’s authoritarian attitude was generally less severe and less supported (by their party), than the conservative opposition’s position.

    3.The Labour governemnts authrotarianism was not a result of their being left-wing, or being ‘authoriatrian socialists’. On the contrary, the Labour party became authoritarian because it moved to the right in order tomake a populist appeal to uniformed voters with vaguely right-wing opinions.

    The Labour party was constantly chasing after the approval of the right-wing tabloids. If you compare the left-wing and right-wing press, you will see which side the real authoritarians were on.

  • ‘two accoiunts’

    … and I put three down ‘sigh’

    Again, forgive my apalling mistakes… perhaps you might see a glimpse of dyslexia now. If anyone reads… would be nice of them to view the argument all the same. I should have gotten to bed earlier really but had to deal with some financial stuff.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '10 - 9:56am

    Paul McKeown

    But should that preclude a party of the “left” from working with a party of the “right”, when working with another party of the “left” is not possible?

    Although you are writing this below a quote from me, I am not saying that at all. Far from it – I have in these columns and elsewhere repeatedly defended the decision of the Liberal Democrats to enter into a coalition with the Conservatives following the 2010 general election. My complaints are only on how that has been handled since by the leadership, they are not at all in opposition to the general idea of fluid political co-operation. One of my complaints, however, is about the way some commentators seem unable to grasp the idea of this fluidity, and so suppose we must naturally move from this coalition – which I perfectly accept was best under the circumstances – to a merger, either real or in practice, with the Conservative Party. That disgusts me, just as it would have disgusted me had the balance of seats in the Commons been the other way round in May 2010, meaning a coalition with Labour was the only viable option, and from that we were urged to merge with Labour, a party I detest, and I have made no secret in these columns of the fact I detest it and why I detest it.


    Was Nick Clegg not really saying that Labour is likely to go to into the next general election on a platform that will deny that deficits need to be eliminated, that debts can be maintained indefinitely, that any cut whatsoever is excessive?

    Well, it certainly did not come across like that. I’m happy, of course, to acknowledge that the press put the headlines they want above their articles rather than the reality – I’ve been a victim of that many times – but if Mr Clegg felt he was being misquoted he ought to have protested about it. The pejorative word “ghetto” used to mean anyone who would prefer the party to move leftwards rather than rightwards ought not to have been used, it gave the clear indication that Mr Clegg would like to get rid of people like me who prefer that, even though we have given our lives to building up this party. The thousands of my pounds and my hours I have given to this party were not all done so that Mr Clegg can have a comfy job saying “me too” to a Tory Prime Minister. I would expect the Leader of our party to assume that the job of being Leader means he stands up for our party and its views in the coalition, not that he tries to convert our party to Tory views.

    On your actual question here, we don’t know. Yes, I’m happy to accept that at present the Labour Pary has no serious policy to tackle the deficit, and on those grounds alone it would be pointless right now even to consider a coalition with them. However, we do of course have to wait and see what it will look like when the next general election comes. Also, as it did this year, our choices on coalition formation may be severely restricted by circumstances. It’s good propaganda right now for Labour to pretend we “chose” to go into coalition with the Conservatives and could equally well have chosen to go in with them, but it’s lies because that wasn’t a possible option – they themselves didn’t want it, and it didn’t work in terms of numbers.


    I understand that many people are very upset at the decisions being taken to eliminate the structural deficit, but is it not the truth that whatever political party or parties had formed the government, the structural deficit would still have had to be eliminated?

    Yes, indeed, but we are to some extent tied by what our party leaders said before the general election. It does look bad to say so quickly “Oh, when we said we should be careful to avoid cutting too quickly and causing a double-dip recession, we didn’t mean it and now we’re going to do just what we said shouldn’t be done”.


    As I understand it, and correct me if I’m wrong, but at the end of this parliament, government spending will be at the level it was in 2006-07. Is that really a disaster?

    One of the things Tory commentators never understand, or if they do they keep quiet about it, is the extent to which there are a variety of factors which mean public spending would have to go on rising just to keep standards of service feeling the same. Most obviously, medical success means there’s a lot more intervention we can do (at great cash cost) that couldn’t be done before, and that means there’s a lot more elderly people than there would otherwise be, and all that costs in terms of pensions and dealing with the care and support issues that come with being elderly. They tell us the evil state has grown in power because it’s taking up more of the GDP, they don’t tell us that growth means things like more NHS geriatric wards. Inflation has been low because we’ve shipped so much manufacturing out to coolies in other countries to work dirt cheap for us under appalling conditions. Well, yes, but public services are overwhelmingly people here interacting directly with other people, so that can’t be shipped out, so its cost does not fall as the cost of goods has fallen. That’s not a difficult thing to see is it? Yet it is ignored every time we have some Tory commentator saying “Why should council tax rise faster than the general inflation rate?”.

    These same commentators will impose additional costs by their why-oh-whying – read any issue of the Daily Mail to see several why-oh-whys where the answer is “Because you’d moan like hell at the tax that would have to be raised to pay for it”. So, for example, social workers are evil because they snatch kids away and evil because they don’t (whoops, actually that was Lynne Featherstone and Ed Balls …), and even more evil if as a result of trying to get it right they impose even more bureaucacy on themselves. It really would be nice if we could have some sensible talk on all this stuff, which we don’t seem to be getting. E.g. Michael Gove’s “free schools” idea is just costly stupidity which is based on the man’s complete ignorance of how state schools really work, and his (and the media elite’s and Teapot people like Andy Mayer) obsession with one particular theory. And now our Leader wants to defend him rather than us on this issue.

    The great problem with Nick Clegg is that increasingly we are seeing (I saw it all along, and warned, my words are on record in these columns) that the man is rather thick. He has the sort of pleasing manner and ability to ingratiate himself that comes with people from his sort of background, and that’s what’s got him to where he is. But he has almost no capacity for original thought, and so just repeats parrot fashion whatever those around him are saying, and whatever he thinks will get him moving on in life. So, he said the right things to get the right-wing press to push him as “obviously the next person to be leader of the Liberal Democrats” and the right things for Liberal Democrats to support him on that. To me, it was plain bleeding obvious he was just saying what he thought would get him pushed up, and I could see right through him, but few others could (if, as I’ve heard, my former comrade in B&H YLs was responsible for “calamity Clegg”, belated congratulations, Carina – you got it spot on). So, now he’s moving with the Tories he just takes on all their arguments. In coalition more than any other situation, we needed a strong leader with brains and guts who would be able to stand up for us. We have the opposite.

    I can say this as I no longer have any official capacity in the Liberal Democrats (well, ok I’m still and ordinary exec member for my borough association, but no more), and have given up any idea of a career in the party. I hope, at least, that others are paying some attention. I say just what I feel now, if you think it’s crap, well ok, maybe. I’m glad I wasn’t at the Conference as I damned couldn’t applaud Clegg, and it would look rude to sit on my hands.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '10 - 10:10am

    Rob

    Again, forgive my apalling mistakes… perhaps you might see a glimpse of dyslexia now. If anyone reads… would be nice of them to view the argument all the same. I should have gotten to bed earlier

    That’s not dyslexia, it’s just typoes. There’s loads in what I write, not because I’m dyslexic or can’t spell, but because I have to do this stuff quickly and there’s a lot to say and limited time to say it, and I never learnt to type properly. But, unless you really are American, I won’t forgive you the “gotten”. If our very grammar is getting turned to theirs, how much more is their dominance of the entertainment industry also drip-feeding Americanisms into our minds? This is serious – USA political attitudes are based on assumptions that worked in the context of the geography of the USA but not here. They have festered into this Teapot lunacy (yes, yes, I’m being facetious – I know it’s really “Tea Party”), and we see a bit of that in the free market nutters here.

    There is no wild western frontier any more, not even in the USA, and there hasn’t been one in England for a thousand years or so. Political theory which denies the slavery caused by human beings owning nothing but their own bodies is inherited from attitudes, which you would expect in the USA, that there is a frontier beyond which those squeezed out can go. The Tea Party is essentially a cargo cult, hoping it can magic the frontier back into existence by adopting a few superficialities. And paid for by big money which fosters these attitudes as it is the real beneficiary of the politics it leads to. That, Andy Mayer, is why I describe it as “right wing”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '10 - 10:14am

    Rob

    Using the silly idea that ‘Labour are socialits’ to explain their authoritarianism is wrong on two accoiunts.

    1. The last government definetely was not a socialist govenrment, unless you consider Margeret Thatcher a socialist and WInston Churchill a communist.

    You ignore the point I was actually making – the socialist model of governance persists when the socialism itself does not. That is what I detest about the Labour party. You might as well say there’s no problem with North Korea, because it isn’t socialism, it’s monarchy. Well, so it is, but it started off with the trappings of the socialist model of party, and it uses them to prop up the monarchy.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd Sep '10 - 11:52am

    @Matthew Huntbach

    Thanks for your detailed reply. I understand it entirely.

    I heard Bob Russell (I think it was him) say that he does not feel bound by anything not in the Coalition Agreement. That seems an entirely defensible position to take. What he signed up to, he signed up to. What he didn’t, he’s free to treat on its own merits, bearing in mind the relative value of whatever horses are being traded by the parties (and within the parties) within the coalition. Naturally any item that materialises beyond the Coalition Agreement at this early stage in the Parliament, unless a clear oversight, can be treated with a considerable degree of prejudice, as the obvious question is whether that item was part of some hidden agreement.

    The “free schools” idea seems like a bit of a flop so far, as a mere seven (iirc) schools have taken up the initial offer. I understand some of your frustrations with the idea, but if it’s not going to have a great impact, is it worth the candle getting wound up by it? The problem is, sometimes you just have to let the Tories have their “successes”. Even if they turn out in fact to be bellyflops. At least, come the next election, you can always rubbish the whole idea if it didn’t work. I suppose from your perspective the idea might turn out to be a “success” and hence dangerous.

    I think the real danger is actually knowing what the line is that the Liberal Democrats have to draw. What issues are red line issues? And, of course, how do the Liberal Democrats mark out those red lines, without destabilising the government?

    I’m not offering solutions, just thinking out loud. Do you have any ideas yourself?

    As for the Daily Mail and its continual Tea Party railing against rational government, how do you change the narrative? “Tea Party” is a simple, easily digestible story, and large numbers of people accept it as if it were self evident. The same issues get beaten to death endlessly. Europe (sorry I meant EUSSR), climate change (sorry I meant lies told by Green Fascists), et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd Sep '10 - 12:09pm

    @Matthew Huntbach

    I agree entirely with you that a merger would be a disastrous idea and a betrayal.

    I can understand the attraction for the mainstream Tories: they could force out their own headbangers and have a party which would have a fairly broad public appeal. I can understand Labour wanting to play up the idea, as it obviously fits their chosen narrative of Yellow Tories, betrayal, bla bla bla. I can understand the press picking up the story, most of them don’t know the first thing about the Liberal Democrats and it gives them something to chunter on about until the next nine day wonder.

    I thought, though, that your friend, Nick C, had publicly ruled that out at the conference?

    Anyway, isn’t AV what people should be pursuing, instead?

    Simply let the elector mark his own preferred coalition on the ballot paper.

  • david thorpe 22nd Sep '10 - 6:39pm

    @matthew.

    You ahve completely misundersttod what nicknwas saying.
    He was implying that being a left wing party of protest is a ghetto, not that being left wing is.

    I think arguments about left and right are nonsense, its whether small government or large government is the way foprwrad, thats where the debate is.
    People trust governments less than they used to, but also trust big business less than they used to.
    decntralised power is soemthing which seems to be popular

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    I really am dyslexic… although I can’t really claim that is the reason for many of my typing errors.

    I attended a specialist school for dyslexics when I was younger and have been assessed numerous times. I know a lot of people (not saying yourself) don’t believe in the condition, but there were several good reasons why I was classified as dyslexic. Without attending to be self-aggrandizing, it was partially due to the fact that I had a much higher reading age (and other factors) than my real age.

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