Opinion: it’s no good counting on those rose-tinted spectacles

We’re a generally an optimistic lot aren’t we, looking on the brighter side when the world and his wife thinks we should be walking around with our heads in our hands. I even wrote a piece about how genuinely cheerful we are for the New Statesman the other day…

But whisper it gently… and just between us… you don’t think we’re fooling ourselves do you?

I say this because we seem to be taking it as read that the mid term polls are generally where we are now. “It’s always this bad’ seems to be the general gist…

Problem is – it’s not true.

I like to look at the combined polling average and a quick glance at January 2008 – the equivalent poll in relation to the May 2010 General Election as now – shows the following poll results

Conservatives 38%, Labour 30%, Liberal Democrats 17%

A few points here. The current UK polling average shows us polling at – just 10%. So it’s not true to say this is where we ‘always are’ at this point. It really isn’t. We were doing much better this time five years ago.

And nor, in the last election, did things shift that much from now. The final polling at the General Election was:

Conservatives 36%, Labour 29%, Liberal Democrats 23%

Now the sharp eyed amongst you will no doubt be shouting at the screen ‘we moved, we moved, we put on 6 points…’

Yes, we did, didn’t we. But look what we did the month before

Now I’m not seeing change the leader. I’m not saying throw all the toys out of the pram. And I’m not saying lets get all negative – I’ve gone out on a limb today myself and said we should be targeting big wins at the 2015 election.

But let’s stop pretending that it’s ‘always like this’ and if we carry on as we are, it will all come right. History says it’s just not true.

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  • No one’s never said “it’s always this bad” about us, they’ve said it’s often this bad for incumbent governments mid-term during times where money is tight.

  • Moggy

    Why s criticise Guardian readers so much. If Guardian readers, centre-left and more liberal than authoritarian, don’t like you then which paper’s readers are you trying to attract?

    The Guardian supported your party in 2010 to no great complaint from the readership. Since then things have changed, you don’t think that your support of this right-wing coalition has anything to do with it do you?

    This article is right-complacency is your biggest enemy

  • @Moggy
    The Guardian readers are your voters. If Lib Dem voters want to see the party annihilated, as you suggest, then that suggests the dismal polling is accurate.

  • paul barker 18th Jan '13 - 5:33pm

    Ive said this before & now Im saying it again, getting grumpier everytime. We cant use polling averages because the balance of polling has shifted, something like 80% of all polls now come from one firm, Yougov & that matters because are at the lower end of the range in estimating our support. Conversely ICM which usually put us near the top of our range has cut its mid-term polling substabtially.
    Comparing polling averages with 5 years ago is not comparing like with like.
    What we have to do is take one polling firm, averaged over a reasonable number of polls, say 4 or 5 & compare with the same measure 5 years ago. Ive done it several times in the past few months & the fall in our rating came out as 4-4.5%, rather than the 7% the average would suggest.

    There are a couple of general points I would make – first that a lot of posters on Labour sites seem to beleive that the polls mean we will get 10% (or even 7%) in 2015 not the 17% Richard Morris is suggesting. They genuinely think the Libdems face wipeout & are in for several nasty shocks however badly we do.
    Secondly its very hard to know if we can compare now with 2008 or 2003 because we have never been in Government before; one possibility is that we are getting a “double-whammy” with our usual fall in mid-term polling added to another hit from being in Government. We dont know & we cant know.

  • I don’t think you can draw any firm conclusions at all from comparing polling at ‘equivalent ‘ points in the electoral cycle either for the Liberal Democrats or the incumbent government. The variables are just too significant, specifically the variations caused by the existence of a coalition government and the novelty of Liberal Democrats in government.

    More interesting to me is the recent YouGov polling I saw on the politicalbetting blog suggesting that (given a forced choice) 23% would like to see a LD coalition (14% with Labour, 9% with Conservatives) compared to 30% and 29% a labour or conservative majority.

  • Yes, the Guardian Comment is Free world is a strange place that sometimes seems to be almost equally divided between UKIPers and wannabee Trot fantasists, who have been hiding under a stone throughout the Blair era.

    Lib Dems are certainly up against it, but in a rather more real world.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jan '13 - 7:13pm

    paul barker “something like 80% of all polls now come from one firm, Yougov & that matters because are at the lower end of the range in estimating our support”
    Recent yougov polls have shown a slight uptick for Lib Dems (though not today). But in the Ipsos-MORI poll this week support for the Liberal Democrats has fallen to the lowest the firm has recorded since 1990.
    At UKPollingReport this week we have (changes from that firm’s last poll):
    Ipsos MORI: CON 30%(-5), LAB 43%(-1), LDEM 8%(-1), UKIP 9%(+2)
    TNS-BMRB’s: CON 31%(+2), LAB 37%(-2), LDEM 9%(-1), UKIP 13%(+1)
    Angus Reid: CON 27%(-1), LAB 42%(nc), LDEM 10%(nc), UKIP 11%(nc)
    Yougov: CON 34%, LAB 44%, LD 9%, UKIP 8%
    Subject to all of the usual caveats, this snapshot shows remarkable consistency over the low level of Lib Dem support.
    Whilst we can all quibble about the precise figures and their usefulness in predicting this year’s local elections, next year’s Euro elections, and a general election more than 2 years away, it strikes me that they should prompt the party to address a couple of important questions:
    Are we popular now?
    Does it matter enough for us to do anything about it?

  • @ Peter Watson.

    You seem to have forgotten to include most of the (more positive) Yougov polls this week:
    Tuesday: 11%
    Wednesday: 10%
    Thursday 12%.

    In response to your questions: No we are not popular now, but not as unpopular as you think we are.
    Yes it does matter enough to do something about it.

    If you look at what has happened to our 2010 vote, between a fifth and a quarter of it hasn’t gone to Labour, it has gone to Don’t Know. If we can get back that crucial 5-6% of don’t knows plus another one in ten who have gone to the Tories (???why???), we are back into the high teens percentages, a point where we can keep most of our current MPs.

    Now is the time to start working toward that end, rather than throwing our hands up in despair.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jan '13 - 8:47pm

    I did refer to the recent results being better than today’s – though to be honest 9-12% is all margin of error stuff around a flattish 10%, and the yougov results were consistent Lib Dems with the other pollsters.
    “Now is the time to start working toward that end, rather than throwing our hands up in despair.”
    That is the whole point. Those who dismiss polling sound complacent and give the impression that nothing needs to be done; the “usual” electoral cycle will fix the transient poor polling. Those who believe that polling shows the party will be wiped out also give the impression that nothing needs to be done; it’s too late now so save our energy to rebuild afterwards. The truth, as is the Lib Dem way, is probably somewhere in between. Polling gives useful information about who the party needs to appeal to, what its core support is and who it has lost, how big a task it has, etc. (that’s why the tories’ Lord Ashcroft puts his own money into it) so should be used as a tool to help direct the party’s strategy and achieve the aims you list.

  • If Richard’s article has done one thing, it has been to divert at least one regular poster on here from his past routine practice of making wild assertions based upon the weirdest interpretations of ‘net negative’ polling I have ever seen.

    But I have a feeling that in the land of the clotheless emperor, the reading of this article will bring about much wailing and gnashing of teeth – and the singing of the first part of a certain Danny Kaye song.

    As Pete Watson says above, it is one thing to ask ourselves honestly “Are we popular now?”. One has to move on to : “Does it matter enough for us to do anything about it?” I presume Pete means doing something sensible, coherent, concrete, sustained and positive. So the jury appears to be still out on that one.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jan '13 - 11:12pm


    We’re playing in the big boys league now where we have to take responsibility for actions in government and not rely on the cushion of eternal opposition.

    No, we don’t have to. It’s a government dominated by the Conservative Party. We have an influence in it which seems about proportionate to our share of the Parliamentary seats in it. Why should we be afraid to say that it isn’t our ideal government, given that it’s predominantly of another party there’s a lot of things it’s doing which we wouldn’t be doing if we were the lead party in government?

    We ought to be shaking off this idea that somehow we “chose” this government and could have just as well chosen something else. The British people chose it by the way they voted for a Parliament in which there wasn’t another viable government. We ought to be using that to get off the hook of constant accusations of “propping up the Tories”.

    I appreciate the Guardian reader type who can quote the exact details of nasty Tory policies the LibDems have supported as part of the coalition may not be as dominant among the people of this country as a whole as among discussion groups and people we end to mix with in our lives. But what’s said at that level tends to sink down to a vague feeling among those that don’t follow politics that something’s gone wrong with the Liberal Democrats and they’re a bit of a joke. We can still win where we work hard – which is all the more reason why the party leadership should make absolutely sure it is not p-ing off it membership. I regret that much of what comes out from Mr Clegg and those immediately around him does not seem to be thinking that way.

  • Matthew Huntbach: You say:
    “The British people chose it [coalition government], by the way they voted for a Parliament in which there wasn’t another viable government.”
    You have suggested this on several occasions. It was not true the first time you said it, or this time. The voting public did NOT request that the Lib Dems get into bed with the Tories, and no matter how many times you suggest it was the desire, or consequential result of the peoples choice in 2010, does not make it true.
    Only a second vote would have determined the will of the electorate.

  • Aaron Trevena 19th Jan '13 - 7:06am

    “I appreciate the Guardian reader type who can quote the exact details of nasty Tory policies the LibDems have supported as part of the coalition may not be as dominant among the people of this country as a whole ”

    It’s worth appreciating that it’s not just CiF commenting lefties that care and have made note of absolutely dreadful Tory Policies (none of which were in the Coalition Agreement, and many breaking promises made during the election) that the Lib Dems have voted through parliament former lib dem grassroot members like me have left the party in disgust and disappointment, also former supporters like Ben Goldacre who has gone to previous party conferences as well as previously supporting the party have been moved to oppose it because of the it’s support and voting for bills like the NHS reforms.

    “We can still win where we work hard – which is all the more reason why the party leadership should make absolutely sure it is not p-ing off it membership. I regret that much of what comes out from Mr Clegg and those immediately around him does not seem to be thinking that way.”

    Exactly right, the reason why the recent poll about how happy the party membership were about things was very misleading as so many unhappy members have quit or just not bothered to renew their membership or turn up to local fundraisers or help on phone banks or leafletting.

    Heads should be rolling at the top, the SpAds should be fired, and Cowley Street and the leaders of the parliamentary party need to rethink their relationship with the grassroots of the party.

  • jenny barnes 19th Jan '13 - 8:56am

    But the impression given by the LD leadership is that it IS pretty much the ideal government. Clegg, Alexander, Laws – all neo-liberals; and at conference last year Clegg in particular said that the social democrats in the party should go away and vote labour. That’s not the party I joined.

  • Matthew Huntbach “I appreciate the Guardian reader type who can quote the exact details of nasty Tory policies the LibDems have supported as part of the coalition”

    But Matthew, even here I have seen many Lib Dems totally opposed to things your leadership is actually supporting in Government now. . Examples: Vince and ‘rights for shares’ , Clegg and ‘secret courts’, Jo Swinson and ‘ equality rights’ which is actually a current thread. Some of these if not all, are being supported despite your Conference passing the OPPOSITE position. It perplexes me how Lib Dems, the most democratic party , can simply allow the leadership to support the Tories against the wishes of the part membership, and everything the Lib Dems hold dear. Does Coalition mean capitulation then?

  • In Opposition the Lib Dems would have refused to vote for any increase in Tuition fees, in Government, they happily troop through the lobbies with the Tories. That’s what makes the Lib Dems look a joke. Yes that’s a facile interpretation but it’s the one that sticks.

  • Jenny Barnes, Clegg did not say ‘that the social democrats in the party should go away and vote labour.’

  • @Phyllis. You are spot on. I believe the voters see the LibDems as having caved in to the Conservatives lock, stock and barrel. So the answer to the question “Does [this] Coalition mean [Liberal Democrat] capitulation then?”, is a ‘Yes’, as far as the electorate is concerned. As you infer, the LibDem leadership do not see things like that at all – the Leadership is much more sympathetic to Conservative ideology than the LibDem party. I would submit that the general politics of the LibDem party still mirror those of LibDem voters of 2010. The direction that your leadership has taken the party has aliented a very large section of your 2010 voters; in 2015 the votes of these people will go to Mr Milliband, and personally I fear that the current 10–12% LibDem polling will not be much improved upon in the 2015 election, I predict 14% max.

  • @Z. On the 26 September 2012 Mr Clegg said “If people want just protest politics, if they want a sort of ‘I don’t like the world let me get off” party, they’ve got one. It’s called the Labour Party.” This has been described as his “if you don’t like me vote Labour” moment. I’d say that is a suggestion many, many people will pick up on! And vote accordingly.

  • Tony Dawson 19th Jan '13 - 1:32pm

    @John Dunn:

    “Only a second vote would have determined the will of the electorate.”

    There is twaddle and there is twaddle but this comment takes the supreme twaddle biscuit. You think a ‘second vote’ would automatically have broken the log-jam, presumably forcing people to polarise through fear of uncertainty. And that is ‘the will of the electorate? Or would that have been represented ‘properly’ in a third vote, or a fourth one?……

  • @Steve, that is one of those popular political myths we always hear about. Actually, more people who voted for us last time read the Mail on Sundany than the Guardian. I think that fact speaks for itself.

    I know the Guardian generally has a number of writers who are softer towards us than most newspapers and common sense would suggest that the people whose views are reflected in that paper are most similar to ours, so surely they must be our core voters. However, the true is this. Newspapers have a lot less correlation to voter habits than is believe.

    @Z, that is the big myth clegg haters like spread to turn the people against him. I was actually there at that speech. Sitting with spitting distance (no testing involved) of Clegg as he said the speech that people like to use as their example of ‘big meanie Clegg is an anti social-democrat’, and what he actually said was that, if you want to be an eternal party of opposition, go away because I want to make a party of government. The Social Democrats never came into it.

  • Liberal Al ” “I want to make a party of government.””

    A laudable aim but one which is likely to fail if one jettisons much of what the party stands for. For examples see my earlier post ( and that’s not even counting the obvious examples of NHS or Tuition fees!)

  • Tony Dawson 19th Jan '13 - 3:17pm

    @Liberal Al

    “…if you want to be an eternal party of opposition….”

    There appears to be a growing divergence of view as to which particular Lib Dem politicians are and have been acting (as opposed to just talking) in a way which will truly guarantee that guarantee (or is it ‘pledge’?) of irrecoverable near-oblivion. 🙁

  • @Liberal Al
    I assume you are referring to the YouGov survey of LibDem voter readership habits.However, almost ten times as many people buy the Mail as buy the Guardian. As such, the fact that more Lib Dem voters. in absolute terms, buy the Mail than the Guardian is not very revealing at all about the political preferences (in a discussion about newspaper choice being a proxy for such preferences) of LibDem voters. We also need to consider the considerable number of Lib Dem voters who vote Lib Dem in Lib/Lab marginals to keep Labour out. It’s hardly surprising that some of these tactical voters read the Mail/Telegraph/etc.

    More importantly, the Guardian is the most friendly paper to the Lib Dems and the Mail/Telegraph the most hostile. When Guardian readers attack the Lib Dems with such venom, you are being attacked by people who were more likely to have voted Lib Dem on the grounds of policy and not protest – hardly a surprising conclusion if you consider the likes of the 2005 manifesto, which was to the left of the other two parties .

  • All the evidence suggests that pushing for LibDem policy in government is not what Nick Clegg (or indeed LibDem MPs) are about; Mr Clegg is pretty comfortable simply enabling a Conservative government to function. The LibDems seem destined to keep their ‘pro-Conservative’ voters in 2015. How well the LibDems do in 2015 therefore seems to depend on how many of their 2010 voters were/are ‘anti-Conservative’, and thus likely to support Labour in 2015.

  • Simon Shaw @Phyllis
    You imply that the Lib Dems have jettisoned what we stand for in relation to the NHS, but without being specific.

    What are you concerned about?”

    I am concerned about the fact that Nick Clegg signed off the White Paper quite happily. Then had to retract when Shirley et al raised objections.

  • Martin Lowe 19th Jan '13 - 5:56pm


    ( “I want to make a party of government.”)

    “A laudable aim but one which is likely to fail if one jettisons much of what the party stands for.”

    But they haven’t. They’ve had a sizeable chunk of the manifesto implemented. A minority party in a coalition isn’t going to get all of its manifesto implemented because by definition it is a minority party.

    Expecting otherwise is a mark of political naivety.

  • Martin Lowe

    So the party is in favour of secret courts and ‘rights for shares’?

  • Simon Shaw 19th Jan ’13 – 5:48pm
    Glad to hear that you are OK with the Act as passed. Complaining about the Bill that wasn’t passed seems to be taking “oppositionism” to extremes.

    You are ‘hearing’ things that were never said.

  • Barry George 19th Jan '13 - 9:18pm


    I believe Jenny was inferring from this Clegg quote:

    ” “There were some people, particularly around the height of the Iraq war, who gave up on the Labour Party and turned to the Liberal Democrats as a sort of left-wing conscience of the Labour Party.

    “I totally understand that some of these people are not happy with what the Lib Dems are doing in coalition with the Conservatives. The Lib Dems never were and aren’t a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour Party. There is no future for that; there never was.”

    Which could be read as “If you are a left of centre voter who is unhappy with the Labour party (which coincidently was the opinion of most centre left voters at the time of the last election) then we don’t want your vote or your support.. Not now, not in the past, not in the future.

    Quite a remarkable vote loosing statement in its own right!

    Considering that ALL political parties are dependent on the “dissatisfaction” of the current government of the time in order to get votes, it was also a remarkably foolish thing to say too.

  • Barry George 19th Jan '13 - 9:41pm

    Incase it isn’t obvious. “social democrats “ are mainly left of centre in their opinions and “probably” were feeling “dissatisfaction” with the Government at the time.. So the above qoute applies equally to them. Hence the link made my Jenny

  • I’m not sure Clegg has ever overtly told social democrats to go away. However, Richard Reeves did quite openly in a CIF piece and more opaquely in a New Statesman article. Both were after he left his post with Clegg but perhaps people are equating one’s stated viewpoint with both.

  • Bigdave at 11.20 and Barry George at 9.18 have found two separate quotes from Clegg which both indicated that certain voters should vote Labour rather than voting Lib Dem. In the Bigdave quote, these voters were described as protest voters. In the Barry George quote, they were described as people showing left-wing dissatisfaction.

    There are two remarkable things about these quotes. First of all, they represent an active aim by a politician to turn away voters. That’s just about unheard of.

    Secondly, the categories of people being warned off are in fact remarkably wide. A lot of people are rising up in protest against what the Tories are doing. Matthew Huntbach, to take an example, would no doubt want such voters to consider a Lib Dem vote as a way of expressing, amongst other things, antipathy to many Tory policies. Clegg’s response is an indignant no to that. Clegg wants to make it quite clear that you should only vote Lib Dem if you are pretty happy with most of what the Coalition is doing.

    Similarly, Mark Pack indicates that Clegg has not specifically picked on “social democrats” as a group of people who have been told by Clegg to go away. Well Mark, going by the precise letter of the law, you are right, as I’m sure you knew. However, if you are a social democrat, how do you react if Clegg talks about those who express “left-wing dissatisfaction” with Labour? Do you think “This sounds a bit like me”? I’ll bet you do!

    So here we have a leader who makes repeated, strident, appeals to wide classes of voters, and appeals for them to vote Labour rather than Lib Dem. Oh, and by the way, he never asks anybody to vote Tory rather than Lib Dem. No equidistance here.

    Mark Pack, Simon Shaw, coalition loyalists all, here’s a question for you. Why do you think he is doing it? What do you think he is trying to achieve?

  • I suspect that what Clegg was trying to say was that the Liberal Democrats are (or are supposed to be) their own party, with their own principles, policies, and agenda, and that the Liberal Democrats could lose their autonomy and unique point of view if they were reduced (as he sees it) to being nothing more than the place where disgruntled Labour voters go when they want to teach Labour a lesson. Since it is probably fair to say that many Labour voters who voted for Lib Dems as a protest would go back to Labour once they felt that Labour had learned its lesson, one can see Clegg’s point about “no future” — from his point of view.
    On the other hand, the idea of making the Liberal Democrats so welcoming to ex-Labour voters that they would seriously consider becoming long-term Lib Dem voters doesn’t seem to have occurred to Clegg, and it’s not at all difficult to see his viewpoint as one which is essentially hostile to not just ex-Labour voters but to left-wing Lib Dems in general.
    There’s something very interesting psychosocially here. I’m not really sure how widespread it is, or where it comes from (I know the history, but it might be somewhat misleading as a guide to the present), but I get the impression that both Labour and Liberal Democrats view the Conservatives as “the honourable enemy”, whereas Lib Dems and Labour mutually view each other as renegades, traitors within the same family. The result is that even, and perhaps especially when there is a confluence of interests, Liberal Democrats and Labour view each other with greater mistrust and suspicion of double-dealing than they view the Conservatives. Which in turn raises the question: even under electorally favourable circumstances, would the Lib Dems and Labour ever be able to work together in the same government?

  • This all seems a weird discussion to me and I am not sure what people are referring to by ‘social democrat’. In the days of the Alliance, the David Owen types were certainly to the right of the Liberals and some not at all Liberal in their thinking. In many ways the Lib Dems in government are operating very much in the social democrat mould.

    Clegg’s words on those dissatisfied with New Labour seems an obvious enough statement that the Lib Dems are not positioning themselves to the left of Labour.

    Curiously, if Labour are back in power in 2015 and the economic difficulties continue as many predict, Labour will be making all the ‘right wing’ policies and simply by pointing out some of the harsher consequences, the Lib Dems will again appear to be to the left of Labour in government.

    Such is the politics of opposition.

  • Paul in Twickenham 20th Jan '13 - 9:04am

    “Social Liberals should join Labour” is an article by Richard Reeves in The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/19/libdemconference.liberaldemocrats.

    Reeves say “Social liberals in the Lib Dems have a perfectly respectable set of political principles, but they are the principals of another party” (I can’t work out if the “principals” is a deliberate pun or a typo).

    Now this dates from the time of the 2008 conference, but the overwhelming evidence is that these views are shared by the party’s current leadership.

    In answer to David Allen’s interesting question, I have for some time now been of the view that Clegg wants to create a party that combines a modestly “progressive” social agenda with a conservative free-market economic policy.

    If I may paraphrase Reeves: “Economic conservatives in the Lib Dems have a perfectly respectable set of political principles, but they are the principles of another party”.

  • @peter.tyzack. “………… our internal democracy which ensures (most of the time) that the democratically expressed view of the membership is the one that guides our Leader.” That definitely is not how it looks to me – or I suspect to a large section of the electorate. It seems that the LibDem Leader and the Leadership in general, in Coalition, take very little note or notice of the Liberal Democat Party’s policy decisions or the ‘general will’ of its membership. Might I mention (with respect) the NHS (the futher introduction of commercialisation and competition – rubber stamped by your Leadership), Tuition Fees, the Benefit cuts, the tax cut for the rich, Education Manitenance Allowance, local public sector pay bargaining……… and so on. Also, the government’s use of reactionary language regarding “skivers vs. strivers”, as well as the constant verbal rubbishing of the entire continent of Europe and its inhabitants, seems to go unchallenged (apart from whimper) from the LibDem Leadership.

  • “Hi, thanks for all the comments but to be clear – the point of my article was to point out that, whenever folk say ‘this is where we always are in the polls at this point in the cycle’ they are quite wrong, and if we continue to poll like this, we will do very badly in 2015. What’s more, we took fairly dramatic action in the last cycle to change things.”

    Indeed. When people say the party is only a few points down on its poll ratings of five years ago, what they don’t mention is that that was the nadir of its popularity over the whole parliament, and that that situation precipitated the replacement of Ming Campbell with Nick Clegg.

  • @Simon Shaw. I am not David Allen but might I give an answer to your question nonetheless. The LibDems should be (in my opinion) at……. 2. broadly in the same place as Labour [on economic and social issues] – but with a much stronger vision and emphesis on individual freedom and individual responsiblity.

  • Pardon me. The word is spelt ’emphasis’.

  • My impression was that the Liberal Democrats were not “to the left of Labour” or “to the right of Labour”, but were rather about taking politics in a new direction, especially one which resisted the centralizing, authoritarian, nationalistic tendencies to be seen in both Labour and the Tories.
    I am, however, quite prepared to admit that this may have been a form of ‘projection’ — seeing what I wanted to see. If the real mission of the Liberal Democrats is to exploit the vanishingly small “middle ground” between the Labour and Conservative parties, then one might well say “There is no future for that; there never was.”

  • Mark Pack’s obvious understanding: “simply that the future of the Liberal Democrats isn’t about just being a party for people who thought Labour weren’t being left-wing enough” has to be correct, but as I mentioned above, in the event of a Labour government in difficult economic circumstances, Simon Shaw’s no 1: to the right of Labour will neither be possible nor desirable and simply criticising some of the effects of government policy (the Conservatives will be doing this anyway as well), the Lib Dems will appear to be to the left.

    This kind of discussion ignores the Lib Dems characteristic concerns for Liberal and Democratic values, which together with the party’s more international and European outlook sets it apart from Labour and Conservative.

    The truth is that any party that does not make a pitch for the centre ground will only retain a restricted interest. It is the distinctive additional features that make the difference. For Labour a big part of its distinctive difference has been its connection to the unions and what the unions stand for. This is less strong now. The Tories main feature has been its adherence to conservative values (hence the ripples caused by gay marriage), but there are right wing ultras that are anything but conservative (small c).

  • Simon, are you suggesting that the Liberal Democrats have no ambitions beyond appealing to “the middle 20% to 30% of the electorate”? I thought the Liberal Democrats aspired to be a majority party.
    It’s hard to see why people are speaking about the “middle electorate”. The Labour Party isn’t a left-wing party any more, but a centrist party with some archaic left-wing elements. The Tories are a party of the center-right. With both parties looking to occupy the same center ground, simply labeling the Liberal Democrats as “center” isn’t enough. I’m not saying they should be moving to the left of Labour or, for that matter, to the right of the Conservatives (though judging by certain suggestions I see about trying to outdo UKIP, I get the impression that’s under consideration by some) but that they should at least be Center Plus. There’s no hope in a project merely to siphon off disgruntled right-wing Labourites and left-wing Tories — because the parties are now so close that fringe members can simply jump from one party to the other, and will, if they see political gain in it. The Liberal Democrats have got to offer something different, something which is not on offer from the larger parties, and which appeals to people all across the political spectrum.

  • So from the above I have come to conclude that :

    1=If a massive proportion of our voters are our ‘stereotyped’ supporters, we should ignore them.

    2=Nick Clegg and Reeves are the same person.

    3=The NHS and secret courts are all our manifesto had in it .

  • Sorry, should be:

    are not our ‘stereotyped’

  • paul barker 20th Jan '13 - 6:36pm

    Well, I still think the emphasis of the article is wrong for the reasons I gave before in post 7. In the past week both UKIP & the LIbdems have scored both their highest & lowest “poll” ratings for years. To me that simply emphasises the uselssness of voting intention polls, outside election campaigns.
    I dont think anyone in our party is complacent about our prospects, my point is that we face huge opportunities as well as huge dangers.
    All 3 main parties are divided, have unpopular leaders & face declining memberships. Part of what we can do to maximise our chances is entirely negative, not bitch about our leader, not appear split & not talk ourselves down.
    I beleive the next election will be decided by which party gives the best impression of being united & positive. I think we can be that party.

  • @Liberal Al
    “1=If a massive proportion of our voters are not our ‘stereotyped’ supporters, we should ignore them.”

    The problem is that the majority were ‘stereotyped’ Lib Dem supporters. Hence the reason the Lib Dem poll ratings are less than half the 2010 general election performance. The current strategy will almost certainly retain all those Mail readers who voted tactically to keep Labour out, but it won’t retain all those that (a) tactically voted Lib Dem as they wanted to keep the Tories out and (b) voted Lib Dem because of the Lib Dem manifesto best matched their philosophies. This latter group certainly exists – I know lifelong Lib Dem voters that have switched to Labour in post-2010 local elections – we’re not talking disaffected protest voters here (another one of those perpetually trotted-out myths).

    My perception is that this party is seeking to solicit the negative tactical votes (those angry Mail readers) at the expense of those that voted for positive reasons. The problem with that strategy is that it only takes a small percentage of previous core Lib Dem voters in Lib/Lab marginals to switch to Labour to unseat the incumbent. There may well be a few more Tory voters willing so support the Lib Dem candidate now, but in situations where this has been tested so far (Oldham East & Saddleworth, Leicester South), the number of Lib Dem voters switching to Labour has been greater.

  • Paul Barker “I beleive the next election will be decided by which party gives the best impression of being united & positive. I think we can be that party”

    Which brings us neatly back to ‘rose-tinted specs’.

  • Peter Watson 20th Jan '13 - 7:01pm

    What do we mean when we say that the Lib Dems should be a party of the centre? In particular, what does it mean when Clegg says that?
    It seems to mean that Lib Dems have a few left-wing views and a few right-wing views that will average out in the middle. The problem with that pick and mix approach is that we all seem to have chosen a different combination of left and right policies, apparently characterised by social and economic liberalism. One benefit of this is that the party can woo tactical voters by emphasising suitable areas when campaigning, becoming all things to all men. The disadvantage becomes apparent in government when the party is forced to make decisions and act upon them, and sections of the party (and its supporters) realise that their priorities are not shared by others.
    It might be that comments by Clegg and Reeves are an attempt to clarify which bits of left and right policy define the Lib Dem party they want, but the implication appears to be that the party will not accomodate those with alternative views. It does seem brave to put out any sort of message about who the party does not want support from: most parties want to encourage as much of the electorate as possible to vote for them.

  • Peter Watson 20th Jan '13 - 7:14pm

    @Simon Shaw “You appear to suggest that you think that both the Labour and Conservative Parties are fairly centrist.”
    I can’t speak for David, but I don’t believe that either party is centrist but I do believe that both are broad churches which overlap in the centre (and probably cross over in some areas). That is why it could be difficult for Lib Dems to carve out a unique position in the political centre.

  • @Simon Shaw @BigDave The problem, from an outsider’s point of view, about a left / right discussion of LD politics is that the high command of all 3 main parties have been balancing on the same economically conservative pin-head and it is hard to tell apart a Cameroon from an Orange Booker from a Blairite. This worked for Blair, sort of worked for Cameron but is a disaster for the LDs. In a world where everyone is heading for the middle ground, the party of the middle has an existential problem. In 2010 we could imagine that the LDs were a progressive party and many people voted for it in that belief. The reality, in terms of the leaders, not the members, is now clearer. If you are an instinctive conservative why not vote for the real thing? If you dont like that sort of politics you have now lost any reason to vote LD. What I fear is that, as Cameron drifts off to the right to fend off UKIP, LDs see right-of-centre ground as an opening (which is where the leadership is already positioned). Not much of the traditional support will follow there. (2/5 according to polling?)

  • I used to think I new what liberalism was. 1) Internationalism. (which now seems to have become blind Europeanism – the world is not Europe) 2) Social tolerance. Still got that though everyone has sort of caught up. 3) Pragmatic support for a mixed economy. Even writing “mixed economy” makes me feel old.

  • Guy Baily. I think (re. your first post above) you have hit the nail squarely on the head.

  • Can someone please tell me which party represents the best voting choice for supporters of ‘social democracy’?

    Remember that social democracy advocates the sort of gentle evolutionary transition towards socialist economics supported by Gordon Brown which was thoroughly defeated under his premiership after the crash he and it delivered.

    History tells us that social democracy is an unworkable pipe dream, and no serious politician supports it, so which party should social democrats vote for?

  • Richard Morris, I completely support your point. Rose tinted spectacles have been a feature of Lib Dem politics for as long as I can remember, but they are especially dangerous now. They used to have the function of encouraging us to carry on building our strength against all the odds. But now they are being used to deny that we have suffered real and major losses, and that we will not recover unless we make major changes to what we are doing.

    Peter Kellner and others have shown that it is possible to identify specific groups of people as the voters we have lost since 2010. One group are the protest voters. Another are those who identified as social democratic and/or left of centre, very many of whom would now vote Labour or Green. Logically, we either have to win back one or both of those groups, or we have to attract a new group of people who have not yet, after two and a half years of coalition, been attracted to us.

    My view on this is simple. We need to win back the centre-left, and if possible some of the protest vote. We will never attract a right-of-centre vote which has not warmed to us already.

    Clegg’s view is clearly very different, and much more “complex”. He has made statements which naturally act to repel both the centre-left and the protest voters. And please, don’t anybody say one more time that because Clegg didn’t actually include “b*gger off” in his statements, therefore they cannot have been designed to repel people. Clegg is not stupid enough not to know what effect his deeply negative statements would have had.

    I really liked Mark Pack’s formulation: “I think the point Nick Clegg was trying to make is simply that the future of the Liberal Democrats isn’t about just being a party for people who thought Labour weren’t being left-wing enough.” Somehow, Pack has contrived to turn Clegg’s negative statement into a positive. Clegg wasn’t JUST wanting to attract the left, oh no, he must have ALSO been wanting to attract a whole lot of other people as well! So, what ignorant buffoons like David Allen might have thought were negative statements were actually very positive, broad church appeals to welcome as many people as possible into our fold! And phrases like “no future”, “never” and asking certain people to support Labour are just, well, a specially smart way to be positive!

    Well Mark, I hope they pay you well for such clever verbal manipulation, but, you know what? Go back to Richard’s point. It ain’t bringing them in in droves.

  • Oranjepan said:

    “History tells us that social democracy is an unworkable pipe dream, and no serious politician supports it, so which party should social democrats vote for?”

    Well clearly Oranjepan, following your logic, they shouldn’t vote for anybody. They should just jump into the protoplasm vat and get themselves remade into proper human beings who have beliefs that Oranjepan finds acceptable.

  • David,
    a lot of commenters here are happy to simply criticise and say what’s wrong, but very few are willing to propose any real or workable solutions. Following the logic of the critics leads to endless ideological bickering and perpetual disappointment – it’s an electoral dead end. Just like the tedious Occupy moralising. By the tone of your comments over a consistent period of time I’d put you in that camp. So I’d like to hear you say what you actually want to achieve.

    For me, I want to see liberal democracy succeed, and that requires LibDems stop faffing around with backward talk about incoherent economic systems at odds with what our party stands for. I am not nostalgic to return to the 19th or 20th centuries, I want to move forwards into the future.

    For too long the party has avoided a constructive debate about principles because we’ve spent so long depending on protest votes. This has harmed our ability to communicate our true beliefs and allowed our opponents to peel us apart. For too long we’ve failed to put in place a robust strategy because internal vested interests were more concerned with tactical point-scoring. We’ve been out of power for so long that too many members of the public simply don’t know what we want to use it for. We must be able to explain.

    Ideologically speaking, social democracy caused the financial crash. It can’t be the solution.

    Social democracy has never and will never work because it implies making people poorer, encouraging waste and irrationally restricting hard-won freedoms. Social democracy is unsustainable because it is inherently unfair, and eventually the public always stops buying into it as a result. Liberal Democrats cannot and do not support social democracy – we support liberal democracy. The clue is in the name.

    I completely agree with Richard that we must want to win large numbers of seats to advance our parliamentary position, and to reconstruct a meaningful political movement we must express our messages built from our core principles.

    Your efforts to prevent a real debate indicate you don’t. Prove me wrong.

  • Peter Watson 21st Jan '13 - 10:11am

    @Oranjepan ” Liberal Democrats cannot and do not support social democracy – we support liberal democracy. The clue is in the name.”
    To be honest, I thought the name was arrived at through a prolonged process of trying not to alienate members of the original Liberal and Social Democratic parties who were hung up about words rather than policies, the previous “salad” nickname having proven a bit of an embarrassment.
    It was during debates about naming the merged party that I let my membership (originally of the Liberal party) lapse. At least it wasn’t like the Spitting Image sketch (“We’ll take two words from my party’s name, ‘Social Democratic’, and two words from your party’s name ‘The … Party”, “Ohhhh, David”).

  • Mark Pack ” ….driving away the centre-left”

    Whether Nick Clegg intended it or not, isn’t it true that the centre -left voters have been driven away? Isn’t that why support for the party is so much reduced, as evidenced by the polls? And I have seen many contributors on here say that they haven’t changed but the party has moved away from them.

  • Paul in twickenham 21st Jan '13 - 11:09am

    So what economic model do “Liberal Democrats” think is right? Are Lib Dems just Thatcherites who support gay marriage?

  • Peter Watson 21st Jan '13 - 11:43am

    @Simon Shaw ” ‘It seems to mean that Lib Dems have a few left-wing views and a few right-wing views that will average out in the middle.’ That’s a strange thing to say.”
    I don’t think so. We might consider the Lib Dems to be a party of the centre, but on this site I have read many passionate left-right debates between long-standing respected Lib Dems, all of whom appear to have a legitimate claim to their views being liberal and democratic. The voter’s point of view can only be based upon how the party presents itself to them, and the party does seem to have left and right wing views circling around the centre, rather than a clear single position there.

  • Peter Watson 21st Jan '13 - 11:49am

    @Simon Shaw ” Although a voter in the centre might have a few left-wing views and a few right-wing views, I think it is rather more likely that their views on most political issues will be broadly centrist.”

    But what do we mean by centrist? I think this is an interesting and important point for the party to address.

    Analysis of the polling that we have discussed before showed that most people think of themselves as centrist. The misfortune for the Lib Dems is that in the same polling the party was usually viewed as either to the left by some or to the right by others, but not in the centre by many.

    Is the Lib Dem party’s position as an anchor in the centre-ground to be simply defined by being halfway between Labour and Conservatives at any given moment, or is it to be defined by a particular set of principles?

    Most people will have some leftish opinions and some rightish opinions, but a party of the “centre” may still not satisfy those people if it backs the ‘wrong’ mixture of left and right policies and priorities. Lib Dems might attract tory voters with support of free market reforms, but repel them with our demand for electoral reform. Lib Dems might attract economic liberals and big business on the right with support for liberal immigration policies whilst alienating the working classes and employment-protecting trade unionists of the left (along with the nationalists of the right).

    I don’t think there are many true “centrist” voters. I believe most are readily swayed by arguments on both sides in different policy areas at different times, and overwhelmingly, most are driven by self-interest rather than left or right ideology. We are right-wing when asked about how much tax we pay, we are left-wing when asked what we want from the NHS. We are right-wing when asked to support those out of work, we are left wing when we need support. We are right-wing when inconvenienced by union strikes, we are left wing when benefiting from working conditions that trade unionism has brought. We are anti-immigration when our jobs are at risk, we are pro-immigration when we want cheaper services. The list goes on, and sometimes we are all of these at the same time!

    I think that a risk for Lib Dems being “in the centre” is that nobody really knows or agrees what that means, and I believe that being in government is forcing the party to be much clearer about what it stands for and what its priorities are. I think that voters have a better idea of what trade-offs they are making when they back tories to the right or Labour to the left, even if they do not agree with all of that party’s policies. Defining exactly what Lib Dems stand for is probably good for the party, but I am saddened that the Lib Dem party appears to be coalescing around a set of policies that I cannot support.

    Rant over – hope some of that made sense.

  • Mark Pack,

    “David: How very Victorian of you to use my surname; hope you don’t find me using your first name too informal :)”

    Nice piece of ageism there. However, as there is at least one different poster on this thread who simply calls himself “David”, I think surnames help.

  • Mark Pack:

    “As for interpreting Nick Clegg’s remarks, …. It’s also, by the by, the sort of view that people such as Charles Kennedy have expressed too”


  • Oranjepan ” Liberal Democrats cannot and do not support social democracy – we support liberal democracy. The clue is in the name.”

    As Peter Watson points out, the Liberal Democrats were formed by merger between the Liberal party and the Social Democrats. The original merged party name was Social and Liberal Democrats. The word “Social” was then dropped because our detractors started to call us Salads. However, there was a clear commitment to recognise what the SDP brought to the table: a commitment to fairness, and to the importance of community as well as individual freedom.

    Oranjepan, like Clegg, would rather define a narrower range of beliefs that are acceptable. It is a retreat into a small ideological bunker, where everybody agrees, but few are allowed in. The inevitable consequence is loss of support and dwindling into insignificance.

  • Peter Watson 21st Jan '13 - 12:38pm

    @Mark Pack
    I notice in the Kennedy quote on your link that in the same breath he said, “Disillusioned Tory and Labour voters were equally attracted to the party’s commitment to scrap university tuition fees and provide free long-term care for the elderly.” Whatever happened to that first commitment?

  • Peter Watson 21st Jan '13 - 1:00pm

    @Mark Pack “a distinctive party with distinctive beliefs – such as those laid out in the preamble to our constitution”
    What exactly though, in that preamble, is distinctive? Is there anything in the text that Labour or Conservatives would oppose on principle? It seems too much about motherhood and apple pie to set Lib Dems apart from any major party. Whilst we might be able to point to examples of policies implemented by Labour and Conservatives that are not consistent with it, I am sure that our opponents could lay similar charges against the Lib Dems now that we are in government.
    I think it is important that Lib Dems have a clear and distinctive identity, and it should certainly be consistent with the vision set out in the preamble to the constitution, but the party needs to put more flesh on those bones if it is to have an identity other than as a “neither of the above” option. Alternatively the party might, with good reason, believe that it will achieve more electoral success if it avoids a clear and distinctive identity which excludes groups of voters, and maintains a position where it can act as a counter-weight to whichever of Labour and Conservative it finds itself in coalition with.

  • Peter,
    I can understand some confusion, but as I say this is because we haven’t sufficiently articulated how ‘liberal democracy’ fits into the proper historical context.

    My position is that ‘liberal democracy’ evolved in response to the end of the polarised worldview which existed throughout the post-imperial period and Cold War, epitomised by the coincidental foundation of the Liberal Democrats as a pluralist party at that seismic juncture at the end of the 1980s.

    With this in mind we can agree that the party stance is ‘broadly centrist’, but encompassing aspects of leftist and rightist politics to synthesise those opposing economic and social philosophies, with the added ingredients of environmental and cultural analysis, to develop a fresh balance to cope with the newly globalising world order that became apparent after the literal and symbolic wall was brought down by a mix of institutional failure and people power.

    Labour and Conservatives have both struggled to come to terms with new paradigm: we should consider New Labour, Blue Labour, One-Nation Labour, Red Tories, libertarianism, liberal conservatism etc as similar efforts to up-date/renew in the face of the same forces. However these are all equally doomed to messy factional inconsequence because of their members’ sentimental attachment to outdated brands, and the blue and red teams have retreated to old-fashioned tribal personality politics (such as the Blair-Brown axis, or the Cameron-Boris split ) as a result of their intellectual stalemate.

    That LibDems have not just survived, but thrived (by and large), in this new environment is significant. It indicates we do hold the strategic advantage, despite the fact that a combination of our own personality weaknesses and the financial crisis has meant we’ve not fully translated it into wholesale gains to become a majority party – yet.

    Should we start to find the new language needed to communicate how we can reconcile political divisions by integrating the positives each side bring to the table then a majority of parliamentary seats are within our grasp.

    However, it isn’t just about language or electioneering methods and technology, we also face a serious challenge of constitutional restructuring of the party – simple examples might include the failure of Women LibDems and LGBT to stand on a unified platform with universal anti-sexist appeal, the failure of Liberal Youth to talk about lifelong strategies with parents and pensioners with an anti-ageist agenda, or the failure of different internal ethnic groups to present a coordinated anti-racist approach.

    Arguments over particular policies in LibDem manifestoes are inevitable because as a party we haven’t yet acknowledged how parochialism affects us – we haven’t fully identified our own problems, and until we do we won’t be able to properly address them.

    Furthermore we might also say that the rise of public disillusion and populism engendered by new fundamentalist trends across the spectrum (such as corrupt celebrity culture, UKIP’s anti-Europeanism, Occupy’s anti-capitalism, the rise of radical religion and pseudo-science movements etc) is in direct reaction to our own failure to seize this window of opportunity, and we risk allowing a new and more extreme political divide to open up which is likely to cause new forms of harm to society lasting for another lifetime, possibly even mortally wounding democracy itself.

    I think the current debate in the LibDems can’t be emphasised enough.

    So pointing fingers at leadership decisions is to miss the point. The real issue is how the membership actively participates.

  • @Simon Shaw: Thank goodness we have you to explain centralism to those of us with little brains. Actually, in truth, I do agree with your point that there is a market out there for people who do not see themselves as ether left or right, and if we can capture this market it would provide votes. The questions are:

    1=Is this Clegg’s aim?

    2=How many of these voters exist nationwide?

    3=Will they trust us after this Government?

    I find it interesting, or maybe ironic, that we have gone from being seen as the little Labour party to the little Tory party, and that could be a big challenge for us to overcome. What we need to convey to the voters, if we are to achieve this aim of being the true Centre Party, is that we do not take or reject ideas based on whether they are considered left/right ideals. Instead, we take evidence-based ideals which use both sides most effective policies when their policies are appropriate. We then need to show that this is because we wish to make balanced, non-partisan, evidence based policy, not ideological policy.

    If we do this, then we could capture the centre vote as most centre voters tend to agree with bits and pieces of both sides of the Left/Right divide without believing in either side.

  • Simon, the reality is that all major parties contend for the centre ground. However each party brings with it, its own distinctive ‘baggage’ you appear (though I am sure this is not so) to discount the distinctively Liberal and Democratic stances that Lib Dems bring to the political arena.

  • David Allen 21st Jan '13 - 1:16pm

    Mark Pack,

    Brian Sedgemore was a defector from Labour with a fairly far left reputation. Charles Kennedy chose to let him join, a diametrically opposite policy from Clegg’s (and, indeed, a policy which you argue on your blog was mistaken). Faced with the need to explain this to the public, Kennedy simply sought to maintain a bit of balance. Essentially he was arguing that whilst Sedgemore belonged in his broad church, Sedgemore would not be leading the preaching any time soon.

    The Sedgemore episode proves the opposite of what you claim it proves. You are arguing that when Kennedy admitted Sedgemore, he showed how similar he was to Nick Clegg. I think that once again, you deserve very high marks for the quality of the sophistry required to create such an argument!

  • David,
    are you telling us that Clegg kicked Sedgemore out of the party?

  • David Allen 21st Jan '13 - 1:33pm

    Oranjepan: “Ideologically speaking, social democracy caused the financial crash. It can’t be the solution.”

    The financial crash was caused by the collapse of a private sector bubble. House and share prices worldwide had soared to unsustainable levels. When prices collapsed, debts could not be repaid, and financial institutions crashed. As a knock-on effect, tax revenues also collapsed, and so governments who had maintained a balanced budget were suddenly thrown into deficit.

    Gordon Brown, with the full support of David Cameron, had made the error of not running a surplus in the boom years. Had he done so, the deficit problem would have been somewhat less serious. However, his error had nothing to do with social democracy. It was simply an error of overconfidence, shared by Cameron and by the great majority of financial commentators at the time – though not, or at least not completely, by Vince Cable.

    The story that is endlessly repeated by the Tories, that Labour caused the bust, is a piece of dishonest, self-serving propaganda. That our party should repeat the same false story, despite the fact that our candidate for Chancellor had rightly said the opposite things at the right time, shames us. The British public, though not economic experts, can see enough to recognise how shabby our behaviour is.

  • Peter Watson 21st Jan '13 - 1:35pm

    @Simon Shaw “And I now repeat what I consider the key question for the third time: “Who do we expect the middle 20% to 30% of the electorate to vote for predominantly?””

    I don’t think there is a simple answer, again because even everybody in the centre prioritises differently every issue on the left-right spectrum, so the choice of party becomes a compromise of those priorities. This is probably more significant in the centre than at the extremes where the priorities are probably more consistent. I do not believe that there is a single set of opinions that characterises this middle ground, so whatever Lib Dems do to court centrist votes will appeal to some and repel others.

    Although rooted in the traditional left and right, the Labour and Conservative parties certainly reach out to the centre, crossing over occasionally, so it might be difficult for Lib Dems to find a position which is both unique and attractive to sufficient voters. One of the things that attracted me to the Liberal party originally was because I felt that neither a left or right wing approach was intrinsically correct and that the truth was somewhere in between. Unfortunately, in the first-post-the-post system that we are lumbered with, I feel that an issue-by-issue approach to politics might not be pragmatic: it is probably easier to rally support for one of two main parties which have a vague left or right position, and accept the inevitable compromises (or fight within one of those parties for one’s priorities). That is why I always believed (going back to the days of the Alliance in the 80s) that electoral reform was the most important issue for the party as the first step towards asserting a strong centrist position (if that’s not a contradiction in terms).

    As I post in this thread, I am trying to work out exactly what my own thoughts are/were on Lib Dem politics, so please excuse the wordiness and I hope I don’t appear to be attacking or criticising anyone. Also, apologies for drifting off-topic.

  • David Allen 21st Jan '13 - 1:38pm


    You know very well that the answer to your question is no. Clegg did not kick Sedgemore out. He retired.

    However, Clegg said “There were some people, particularly around the height of the Iraq war, who gave up on the Labour Party and turned to the Liberal Democrats as a sort of left-wing conscience of the Labour Party. … The Lib Dems never were and aren’t a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour Party. There is no future for that; there never was.” That is a pretty clear statement of opposition to accepting defectors from Labour, isn’t it?

  • Simon, I suppose you could say that Consevatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats are all bipolar, but it does seem to be more acute amongst Tories. Even so they have a clear eye towards a conservatively minded centre ground constituency. As for Labour, why do you think they are keeping stum so far as possible, about policy? They know that they would be doing very little different at the moment but do not wish to admit as much in order to maximise support. Amongst Lib Dems, on these very pages there is ample evidence from activists who support radical and non-centrist policies and who are unhappy with the very centrist constraints that the party is in as a result of its participation in government.

  • David,
    you’re starting to sound very unreasonable.

    1)A private-sector bubble did not cause the financial crash alone, it allied with the failed tri-partite regulatory system, artificially manipulated monetary policy, over-stimulated consumer demand, and individual criminal acts among others – all of which reflect different strands of a dominant ideology which had become incoherent under the weight of previous choices.

    The hegemonic ideology of the preceding decade which drove the successive political choices across the globe was social democracy. The global nature of the crash was a manifestation of social democracy’s universal failings.

    It was not over-confidence, it was over-reach.

    2) No, you’re now undermining your own argument. If Clegg didn’t expel Sedgemore then his wasn’t a ‘diametrically-opposed’ policy to Kennedy accepting him into the fold.

    What Clegg said was that LibDems are not ‘Old Labour’ in a yellow coat, we are an independent and distinct party, with our own proud traditions and separate philosphical groundings. We have different values, we like different things, do things differently and often we reach different conclusions.

    Talk to any long-time member of both parties and this is patently obvious: Labour is deluded, we’re merely subjective.

  • Peter Watson 21st Jan '13 - 2:22pm
  • Peter Watson 21st Jan '13 - 2:29pm

    @Simon Shaw “Although Cameron clearly wishes to contend for the centre ground he clearly has to contend (different sense) with a strong right wing element in his party (just consider gay marriage)”
    Interestingly, recent polling showed that LGBT support for the Conservative Party has increased since the 2010 election. Perhaps it was enough for a wing of the tory party to reach out to those voters in order to neutralise gay rights as a reason to vote against them, an example of why the centre might be a difficult battleground because of the mix of policies and priorities.

  • Bill le Breton 21st Jan '13 - 2:48pm

    What a wonderful thread this is …

    However, could we all be in for a shock, the liberals, the libertarians, the social democrats, the liberal democrats, the community politicians, the centre-lefters, the centerists, the neo-liberals, the proto-liberals, the economic liberals, the social liberals, the Thatcherites who believe in gay marriage (thank you Paul in Twickenham for that one), the Reevians, the young Stuart Millites, the old Stuart Millites, the Grimondists, the Kennedians, the Ashtrays, the Ming Vases and the Huhnmungans – even the Cleggovians?

    Let us explore the idea that Nick Clegg is a rationalist. More precisely a Super-Rationalist. For him there is not a problem to which the reasoned approach cannot provide the right answer. Time taken analysing wrong answers is wasted. We are united against waste. We are in favour of right answers. We are pragmatists or we are wastrels. The right answer if your views are different to ours is not to waste your time with us but to realise your potential (which is what we all desire) in a more conducive, more appropriate party. Why can’t you all be more pragmatic?

    Nor should you vote for us if your view of us is misguided or delusive. It is in your interest to vote for a party more in line with your practical requirements. We shall not deceive you any longer. We are reformed.

    The right answer to the question, ‘should we be a party of government or a party of opposition?’ is manifestly to be a party of government. Too obvious to explain.

    The right answer to a balanced Parliament is to talk first to the party with the largest number of seats. The right answer in May 2010 was to be afraid of Greece. The right answer was to accept the stability and insurance of a Coalition. The right answer to show markets not a hint of a gap between the two elements of the Coalition, just as the right answer today is increasing differentiation.

    It is a mistake (though easy for non-super-rationalists, that is for most of us) to interpret this as slippery, or arch, or – be warned – as support for your ideology. Support for what you wanted yesterday is no guarantee of support for what you will want tomorrow.

    Clegg – and perhaps Cameron are post-ideologues. So, Mathew Parris, this Saturday, was reflecting similar queasiness to the disorientation that humans can feel in the presence of super-rationalism.

    The event horizon for super-rationalists is thus pretty close to their nose. It is right to sign a pledge one week and to respond to changed circumstances by breaking the pledge the next week. It is right not to hang on nostalgically to the redundant. One just has to handle the consequences of taking the right decision.

    It is always right to do the right thing. That is all ye know and all ye need to know.

    It is therefore possible that, come 2015, it will be the right thing to talk to Labour first, and even to expect to gain a hearing, if, but only if they have the largest number of seats in the Commons.

    The people will decide; how right that is.

  • David Allen 21st Jan '13 - 2:58pm

    Bill, you missed out the Blairites. Unforgivable! Tony always knew what was the right thing to do. It was whatever he happened to believe in on the day that he made his decision. Interestingly, the more certain Tony became that he was always right, the more certain the nation became that Tony was not the right man.

    To be fair, the nation took less time to get to a similar view when it came to Nick.

  • Peter Watson 21st Jan '13 - 3:29pm

    @Simon Shaw “You will appreciate that writing “just consider gay marriage” was a lot easier!”
    I wasn’t disagreeing with you as such, it was just that the issue of gay marriage reminded me of an interesting point that seemed relevant to the hunt for votes in the centre. Cameron might be chasing one section (with some success) while losing voters elsewhere (strangely to a party whose raison d’etre superficially has nothing to with gay rights). However, in a general election Cameron at least has some confidence that the vote will return to the conservatives as there is no realistic chance for another party of the right. Equally, Labour can afford to alienate some of its more left-wing supporters knowing that they too have little alternative in a general election (especially now that the Lib Dems are avowedly not “a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour Party”). However, I do not know the extent to which Lib Dem voters will believe that they have no alternative if they are unhappy with the party’s direction: a problem with occupying the centre ground is that disgruntled supporters can jump to either the left or the right (or especially in Scotland and Wales choose another ‘none of the above’ party).

  • Steve Griffiths 21st Jan '13 - 3:37pm

    @Liberal Al

    So we end up in “the true Centre Party” with no “ideological policy”? That really is the vacuous middle of nowhere and that is why many activists and and those on the left of the party have departed or ‘withrawn their labour’; we saw that was the direction it was going under the current leadership.

  • paul barker 21st Jan '13 - 3:43pm

    On the question of which party is most divided, it has to be Labour. We tend to forget that Labour has an affiliate structure including Unions. Several of the largest of those Unions are controlled by various Communist sects.
    At the other extreme parts of “Blue” Labour have alot in common with UKIP & are certainly to the right of the current Conservative leadership.
    The Libdems are the least divided of the “Big 3” parties & that can be an enormous advantage if we dont give the impression of being more split than we really are.

  • David Allen 21st Jan '13 - 4:00pm

    “The Libdems are the least divided of the “Big 3″ parties & that can be an enormous advantage”

    The theory that a narrowing of the party, to encompass only those who believe in the one true way, has been tested to destruction. It ain’t working, which is – I think – where Richard Morris came in.

  • Bill le Breton. “It is always right to do the right thing. That is all ye know and all ye need to know. ” What a beautiful but simplistic way to look at the world – and its politics!. IF ONLY……. . But the reality of life and politics is much, much more complex and thus more difficult. “It is always right to do the right thing.” suggests a world of Blair and Clegg, where policies and principles (previously agreed upon by like-thinking people in a given Policical Party in a democratic and civilised fashon)are forgotten for those instant ‘OH-so-pragmatic’ daily or hourly decisions. The way you describe the political process (or is it the current LibDem process) suggests that elections, where different Political Parties vie for electors’ support by presenting them with differing political views, is frivolous and and thus unnecesarry. What you are saying, loud and clear, is that we just need mindless, incredibly sensible and incredibly pragmatic people to run our country. Why bother with elections? Is it any wonder that politics and policians are currently regarded with such low esteem by the ‘the people’.

  • Bill le Breton 21st Jan '13 - 9:36pm

    Big Dave, does it really read like I am in *favour* of what I described?

  • Simon,
    your preferred appeal to right-of-centre voters is obvious from the way you identify generalised bloc-constituencies, rather than treat people as individuals. Such right-wing collectivism has been standard operating fare for Labour and Conservatives for the past century. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right? And there I was thinking you disagreed strategically with the self-proclaiming nothing-of-the-sort lefties!

    That’s harsh, I know, but that’s not how we win. Swinging the see-saw back and forth will make anyone who is standing in the centre dizzy and unable to look groups on either side in the eye. We don’t want eternal swings or the social unrest and economic turmoil which comes with such volatility, we want stability – we want a proper balance of powers.

    The Cold War is a great model for explanation – a superpower on the right and a super power on the left means the little guys all get crushed while they get fat and lazy by holding everyone hostage under the cloud of an existential threat.

    We can’t treat people that way, we must understand humanity is both much more simple and much more complex than that. Everyone has a combination of interests according to their position and background, and though there are many overlaps every combination is slightly different. In Southport that may mean the family next to a noisy neighbour has a slightly different view to the one next to the noisy road.

    By appreciating slight differences we can make limited appeals to both sides, even where others may say this is hypocritical.

    of course narrowing the party won’t broaden our appeal, so why do you insist on doing it?

    please don’t take Matthew Parris’ view on it, politicians aren’t Olympian gods in control of both time and the tides. Parris merely expresses his own irrational insecurities – he clearly explains his queasy feeling of disorientation when he can’t rationalise the super-complexity and occasional randomness or perversity of humanity. That’s where his conservatism and artificiality comes from, it’s his modus operandi and the reason his column is occasionally valued – it means he can be supplicated to his master’s wish.

    I largely don’t agree with Parris, Clegg and Cameron are similar in that they’re flexible and pragmatic. They’ve been partially successful by and in partially imposing a flexible pragmatism, and they’ve only been able to do so by developing their unholy marriage of convenience together. That’s not anti-ideological, or post-ideological, that’s strongly limited, restrained ideology. Which also explains that the ideological failures on right and left hate them so much because any successes of the coalition highlights puts previous unrestrained ideological failings so much more starkly into contrast. Strange as it sounds, pragmatism is an ideology too!

    It’s also to admit the political fight is not against each other, but against the misunderstanding and miscommunication within the public debate communicated through a reflexive and self-obsessed media: the media must have a headline, where every headline must be bigger than the story. The media must have a narrative which fits into 140 character text boxes. Elsewise, how would so many people employ themselves? Gainfully? Productively?

    In a society where we’ve seen it all, done it all and essentially resolved the problems of the past, what do we do next? we must create artificial neuroses to stimulate unnecessary desires, or economic innovation will grind to a halt and the rich will stop getting richer, either in real terms, or relative to the average suburban omnibus traveller. A consumer society must end by eating itself. The middle classes are already well on the way to self-absorbtion.

    if you keep repeating the mantra, you won’t change the tune.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '13 - 9:29am

    John Dunn

    Matthew Huntbach: You say:
    “The British people chose it [coalition government], by the way they voted for a Parliament in which there wasn’t another viable government.”
    You have suggested this on several occasions. It was not true the first time you said it, or this time. The voting public did NOT request that the Lib Dems get into bed with the Tories, and no matter how many times you suggest it was the desire, or consequential result of the peoples choice in 2010, does not make it true.
    Only a second vote would have determined the will of the electorate.

    Why do you use the phrase “get into bed”? I seem to recall this phrase first being used at the time of the Lib-Lab pact, and I believe it as done then deliberately to encourage homophobic dismissal of the Liberals at the time of the Jeremy Thorpe affair. I believe politics is about arriving at the compromise which has the most support – that may not be the ideal for both sides. We have a system which gives us skewed representation in the UK Parliament which means such compromise will be skewed towards the largest party and against third parties more than their share of the vote would dictate. However, in 2011 when the British people were asked if they wanted to change this system, they replied by voting two-to-one in favour of keeping it. This was after a campaign where the victorious “No” side put this skewing effect as the best feature of our current system. This skewing effect makes the Conservatives much stronger in the coalition than their share of the vote would make them if parties were proportionally represented and it makes the Liberal Democrats much weaker. The weakening of the Liberal Democrats also meant a Labour-LibDem coalition was not viable. If the British people did not like this, did not want this, they had a chance to vote against. They voted in favour of it , by two-to-one.

    I had previously asked you to say what YOU would say is what the British people voted for in May 2010 if it is not for what we have now. I do not think you answered my question before. My view is that they vote representatives and those representatives form a government, the government which is the compromise that has most support in Parliament, which as I have argued is the one we have. It’s most definitely not the one I want, I am not arguing in favour of it because I like it. On the contrary, my argument is that if people don’t like it they ought not to have voted for it. They ought not to have voted Conservative in 2010, but more people did so than for any other party, and they ought not to have voted in 2011 for the distortion of representation that led to the Conservatives having the power to dominate the only viable coalition as they do.

    You have not agreed with me that the underlying problem is the distortion. You seem instead to be suggesting that you are happy with the distortion and would think it right to have whatever single party government that gives. If the Liberal Democrats had spread their campaigning about a bit more evenly in the 2010 they could have won just as many votes but fewer seats, as the Liberal-SDP alliance did in 1983. So then the Conservatives with just the same share of the vote would have won a majority and would be governing as such now. If that would be wrong, then it should be considered equally wrong that Labour formed the government alone from 2005-2010 as they had a lower share in the 2005 general election than the Conservatives had in 2010.

    You are trying to wriggle away from thinking through the logical consequences of your line by suggesting there should have been an immediate second general election. And if that still did not deliver a majority in Parliament to one party, would you propose a third? Which party do you think would win a majority in these later elections? I think it clear – the message would be “don’t vote for the Liberal Democrats, because they can’t possibly win a majority”. I hardly think Labour would pick up and win a majority, so it would be the Conservatives.

    So John, in practice this is what you are arguing for, a full Conservative government. If you think the only legitimate government is one composed of just one party, the one which won the most votes even if well under half, then surely you should be arguing for some sort of system which awards the largest party in terms of votes enough extra MPs to give them a majority. Then there would be none of this nasty coalition stuff you regard as so wrong. Indeed, this line of thinking was quite popular when tried in Italy in 1922, and a few years later in Germany – all with the argument better a strong government of one party than multiple parties arguing in a coalition which “nobody voted for”.

    If that is what you want – and to me it is the ONLY coherent line which comes from what you are saying – then surely your argument now is that the Liberal Democrats should give us the nearest equivalent possible under the current system – which is to allow a pure Conservative government by abstaining in every vote, which means the Conservatives would have a majority over all the rest and be able to do everything they want. So the logically coherence line of attack you should be making on the Liberal Democrats is not that they are “propping up” the Conservatives, but rather you should be attacking them for NOT doing so sufficiently, for trying ti change their policies and water them down from the strong one party government your line seems to be saying is all we could possibly have that you would regard as democratic.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    Matthew you constantly peddle the fallacy that the British people voted for FPTP and against change. That is patently untrue. The question was:

    “At present, the UK uses the “first past the post” system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the “alternative vote” system be used instead?”

    AV is not proportional, even the ERS list it as as a “Majoritarian” system. In many constituencies, such as mine, there would still have been around 40% wasted votes. The ERS state it can even produce a more disproportionate result than FPTP. In short both systems are unfit for electing MP’s.

    The No campaign did include personal attacks on Clegg, but Clegg was not entirely truthful either. Take his speech transcribed here:


    Note the promise to ensure “no one’s vote is wasted”. AV would have done nothing of the sort mine would have been, as it has since I moved to this constituency.

    There was no choice for a proportional voting system, there was only a choice between two systems one of which had the chance to give us the lowest common denominator to represent us. You cannot use the rejection of AV to be a positive endorsement of FPTP, or a rejection or PR. People voted against AV.

  • Richard Dean 22nd Jan '13 - 10:32am

    The British people voted for a form of government that could work with the numbers of different parties’ MPs that the election produced. It wasn’t a conscious decision, nor was it taken by individuals using their synaptic gaps, but it was a decision even so, taken collectively. It seems likely to me that coalition was the only truly feasible option, so in effect, yes, we voted for coalition.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Jan '13 - 10:54am

    @Richard Dean “we voted for coalition”
    We voted for a bunch of MPs, each of whom stood for election on a particular party’s platform. From the options before them, some of those MPs decided that, a coalition between two of the parties was the best way forward. Then some months later we voted not to replace a flawed system with a slightly less flawed one (or to spite Nick Clegg).

    As voters, we just ended up with a situation that none of us specifically chose or voted for. But looking back (and debating semantics) is not helpful: we can only hope that next time round, the aggregation of our votes leads to something better. The challenge is to achieve that, and it is made more difficult by the failure to secure electoral reform. Simply exhorting more people to vote Lib Dem (a significant challenge anyway thanks to our leaders’ approach to coalition) might not be enough under first-past-the-post which means we lack seats rather than votes.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 22nd Jan '13 - 11:14am

    So “Social Liberals” should join Labour, Why?

    I left Labour precisely because it had walked away from its socialist principles, and the Liberal Democrat Party had over decades, both at a local and a national level demonstrated a commitment to social and welfare reform that was far to the Left of that offered by the ‘City’ adoring New Labour leadership.

    As for the current Coalition, well as much as I may moan and groan about it, there was no real alternative other than to form a partnership with the Tory Party given the situation in 2010.

    Do I agree that we should ‘rubber stamp’ all that the Tory Party is trying to push forward, that was NOT included within the Coalition Agreement? No!

    The electorate did not vote for the destruction of the welfare state, they did not vote for the rights of the populace to be significantly reduced in favour of corporate profits, and they did not vote for (as they were not asked, and hopefully never will be) for the nonsensical jingoism rhetoric surrounding our membership of Europe.

    I firmly believe that if we start to turn our social and welfare rhetoric into meaningful action, with achievable outcomes, then we can actually attract Social Labour members to our Party.

    Who do I fear most, to be honest it is Ukip, for they are a Party of the extreme right merely donning the outer clothes of “Middle England” respectability. They are attracting disaffected people from across the political spectrum, who do not fully realise all of their aims and objectives, which are very concerning for many of us. Who will they harm at forthcoming elections, ALL of us.

  • Steve Way: no matter how you present what happened, in effect any vote against AV was a vote for FPTP. Those that did vote NO have to defend the result of their vote. Many of us clearly pointed out that suggestions that anyone pro PR should vote NO were a scurrilous smoke screen. Have these people shut up now that they have achieved their aim of quashing any change to the electoral system? Yes they have, as we all knew they would.

    It is clear that the chances of any change to FPTP have receded. When the question arises again though, the outcome of the AV referendum should be used to dismiss this ‘miserable compromise’.

  • David Allen 22nd Jan '13 - 1:19pm

    Oranjepan, I’m sorry, I have only just found your comment above, including this little gem:

    “Talk to any long-time member of both parties and this is patently obvious: Labour is deluded, we’re merely subjective.”

    I shall treasure that. Eat your heart out, Bill le Breton. You might think you had written rather a fine piece for comic effect, as well as for serious purpose. I might agree. But, Oranjepan’s unintentional humour trumps what you wrote, does it not?

  • David Allen 22nd Jan '13 - 2:15pm

    Bill le Breton said:

    “Could we all be in for a shock… Nick Clegg is a ..Super-Rationalist. ….Clegg – and perhaps Cameron are post-ideologues. … It is right to sign a pledge one week and to respond to changed circumstances by breaking the pledge the next week. … It is always right to do the right thing. … It is therefore possible that, come 2015, it will be the right thing to talk to Labour first”

    Interesting thoughts. I have always lumped together Clegg, Laws and Alexander as ideological soulmates, sponsored via the Orange Book, with a successful long-term project to turn the Lib Dems into a neoliberal FDP. Your implication is that, whereas this might be a fair description of Laws, Clegg is more the unprincipled careerist opportunist, with a Blair-like overconfidence in his own rectitude, but an un-Blair-like ability to change his mind according to circumstance and opportunity as to what is “right” at any given time.

    Well – I don’t know. Certainly Clegg doesn’t show the ideological fascination with neoliberal theoretics which Laws and others display. However, I am reminded of Communism and Communists when considering this question. Some Communists knew the Manifesto off by heart. Others could barely quote a line from it. They could all be equally fanatical about the cause. And when the Wall came down, it wasn’t always the ideologues who were slowest to adapt. Sometimes it was the instinctive Communists who remained equally enslaved by an ideology that had failed. Clegg’s instinctive commitment to neoliberalism could be a lot stronger, and longer lasting, than you might expect.

    However – You may have a point. Andrew Rawnsley has also picked up on a change in the political weather, to the effect that Labour now see a prospect that the Lib Dems could make a sudden and essentially cynical switch in their favour, in order to retain a presence in “power”. Whether Clegg could possibly hope to carry that off personally, even if he wanted to, is of course a highly moot point.

    A change in our leadership, and the election of someone like Farron or Cable with genuine centre-left opinions, would be one thing. Clegg trying to act as the ultimate Vicar of Bray would be quite another. I think it would finally condemn us to oblivion.

  • I am not a member of any political party, but I take an interest in politics and have done for many years. In the past I have admired the way in which the LibDem party’s membership arrived at policy decisions much more democratically than the Conservative or Labour Parties. I fear all the above talk of “pragmatism” is so much pie in the sky. The Liberal Democrat leadership and MPs have not behaved in a pragmatic fashion within the Coalition, they have acted and voted according to strongly-held political convictions – Nick Clegg’s. Nick Clegg and David Cameron are very close politically; apart from ‘Europe’ their very little, politically, on which they disagree. Therefore within the Coalition Mr Clegg has followed his own rather (C)conservative instincts; his MPs, by and large, have followed his lead. The voting record of LibDem MPs in the Coalition has been, in my opinion, at odds with expressed views and policy as arrived at by the Party’s decision-making arrangements. Therefore the LibDem Leadership finds itself at variance with the Party itself. An example of this was the ‘Health Bill’, Mr Clegg initially ‘signed off’ this Bill apparently without any consultation with his Party. Subsequently the Party in Conference seemed unable to decide what to do with the Bill. Eventually many LibDem MPs voted through the Bill, many claiming they “didn’t like it”! The Liberal Democrat Party seems unable or unwilling to address this situation; namely a Leader who will support policies as he alone thinks fit, while the Party, once proud of its internal democracy, sits on the sidelines not knowing quite what to do.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '13 - 4:10pm

    Steve Way

    Matthew you constantly peddle the fallacy that the British people voted for FPTP and against change. That is patently untrue. The question was:

    “At present, the UK uses the “first past the post” system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the “alternative vote” system be used instead?”

    Yes, I KNOW that, but many of the arguments used by the “No” campaign were actually arguments against proportional representation, and it was universally concluded that the result of this referendum had killed any chances of proportional representation being introduced in the next few decades. I know of NO-ONE, at least no-one with any sort of influence on public thinking who concluded “AV was not a big enough reform, we should treat its rejection as a call for a more thorough-going reform of the electoral system”.

    The REAL reason I have been making this argument is in order to point out how the people of this country were CONNED into rejecting electoral reform, by misleading arguments against and a campaign on the “Yes” side so stunningly incompetent one has to wonder whether it was infiltrated by opponents.

    That is why I am pushing and pushing the logical contradiction in the line “After seeing this coalition, and the way the LibDems have just given into the Tories, I don’t like coalitions so I don’t want to have electoral reform that would make them more likely”. In other words, people are saying because they don’t like the way the Conservatives seem so strong despite lack of true support in the country and the LibDems seem so weak despite the support they did get, they will support an electoral system whose supporters say the best thing about it is the way it over-represents the largest party and under-represents third parties. Or, what these people are really saying is that they don;t like having a Conservative-dominated government, so they’d like to see the Liberal Democrats destroyed so we get back to the old two party system, which would have given us right now … well, you tell me. Hint – had the Liberal Democrats not even bothered in 2010, I don’t think we would now have a Labour government in place.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '13 - 4:19pm

    David Allen

    A change in our leadership, and the election of someone like Farron or Cable with genuine centre-left opinions, would be one thing.

    Why do people call Farron left-wing or centre-left? He seems to me to be a coalition cheer-leader, backing the Cleggy lines “Isn’t this all so wonderful?”, one of the principal pushers of that disastrous line (which he has now dropped but so far as I know never apologised for) “75% of our policies implemented” which so many of our (ex) supporters interpreted as “Well, if that’s the case, either the Liberal Democrats are far more right-wing than I supposed, or they are very easily satisfied by not very much”.

    Farron seems to me to be the Liberal Democrat equivalent of John Prescott – a reliable cheerleader for the leader, not much in the way of any real challenging ideas against the leadership’s policies, but if the leadership keeps pushing him as their tame “lefty” it might help keep a few simple types on board who would otherwise leave if they thought the party had completely shifted to “Me too” to the Tories, and it will help distract attention from anyone with a more serious and policy-full left-wing challenge who isn’t afraid to say “I don’t agree with Nick/Tony”.

  • David Allen 22nd Jan '13 - 4:29pm


    I agree that Farron has imperfections, and should not have uttered the 75% line. Cable has imperfections, and should not have flirted with the Telegraph. Kennedy has imperfections, Huhne has imperfections, Shirley due to her age has some imperfections, etc etc. I would like an imperfect leader in place of a disastrous one, that’s all!

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '13 - 4:31pm

    R Uduwerage-Perera

    The electorate did not vote for the destruction of the welfare state, they did not vote for the rights of the populace to be significantly reduced in favour of corporate profits, and they did not vote for (as they were not asked, and hopefully never will be) for the nonsensical jingoism rhetoric surrounding our membership of Europe.

    They voted in more numbers than for any other party for the Conservatives, and these are the things the Conservative Party stands for. They then voted to keep an electoral system whose best feature, according to those arguing for its retention, was the way it distorts representation usually to give the party which won the most votes complete power. They voted AGAINST the AV system, which for all its faults has one thing in its favour – it breaks the “must vote X to avoid splitting the vote and letting in Y” line, which erects an almost insurmountable barrier against any new party challenging the dominance of the Conservatives and the Labour Party in British politics. So they voted for a Conservative-dominated government, they did so when they voted Labour because Labour backs the electoral system which means if you don’t have Labour you have the Conservatives.

    They may not have REALISED that’s what they voted for, which is my real reason for pointing out that it’s the logical consequence of what they voted for. If they can see they were conned into voting for what they so dislike, maybe they can be convinced to think a bit more deeply and vote differently next time.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Jan '13 - 10:14am

    David Allen

    I agree that Farron has imperfections, and should not have uttered the 75% line. Cable has imperfections, and should not have flirted with the Telegraph. Kennedy has imperfections, Huhne has imperfections, Shirley due to her age has some imperfections, etc etc.

    Farron didn’t just “utter” that line, he was in the forefront of pushing it, urging us all to use it. Yet anyone with any sense ought to have been able to see that the government we have now certainly does not FEEL like the sort of Liberal Democrat government we have been working so long for, not even 75% like one, so to make out it is when everyone can see it isn’t just makes us look bad.

    I can remember when Kennedy, Cable, Huhne and Williams were all the “party establishment”, the sort of people we who thought ourselves to be on the left of the party wanted to replace by more radical figures. That left-liberals like myself now see them as on our side just indicates how much our party has been stolen by an alien gang of what we would have called then “Thatcherites”.

    I cannot help think there is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy thing here – see how the press in this country will always promote young right-wing figures (Nick Clegg an obvious example) as “obviously the next leader”, “very intelligent” etc, while ignoring anyone who is more to the left. Then, thanks to this, as it’s the right-wing ones whom one has heard of, they tend to get thought of in terms of potential leaders, and those more to the left ignored as no-one even knows about them. See too how the neo-liberal apologist think tanks pour money into developing the careers of party right-wimngers, but there’s no equivalent on the left.

  • Simon,
    I’m not bothered who votes for us, I’m bothered that we get the maximum number of votes possible.

    Earlier in this thread, because I affirmed the openness inherent in liberalism and rejected ‘social’ as too closed, David accused me of seeking to exercise a veto over members beliefs, perversely claiming I’d attempted to define ‘a narrower range of beliefs that are acceptable’. He claimed ‘it is a retreat into a small ideological bunker, where everybody agrees, but few are allowed in’.

    And this is where the residual debate over the party name is highly significant. ‘Liberal’ does not mean centre, or centre-left, or centre-right, or at least, not one nor only, where ‘Social’ does; ‘Liberal’ must mean liberal.

    Well, it seems ironic to me that I can rely on David’s grounds to completely disagree with him, and yet you can do exactly what he criticised by stating an open refusal to appeal to those who might otherwise hold some views you disagree with, and I suspect David would also spite his face rather than admit the same.

    That’s the problem with prescriptive political doctrines which conform to the left-centre-right pattern, real people are more complicated than that. Different people make their minds up in different ways, and just because a voter may strongly disagree with this or that policy, or this or that position, this isn’t the whole story.

    Basically if you tell anyone you’re too good for their vote you’re begging to fail.

    of course it’s not a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    If you conform to the left-centre-right pattern described according to any real or notional poles of opposition, then you’re denying the terms of liberalism as set out in the party constitution – you’re enslaved to conform with their terms of reference, and you’re denying yourself.

    It is to play according to rules written by someone seeking to ensure you lose, which guarantees failure – it’s self-defeating.

    it’s funny that you think that line was unintentionally comic.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Jan '13 - 12:25pm


    of course it’s not a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    If you conform to the left-centre-right pattern described according to any real or notional poles of opposition, then you’re denying the terms of liberalism as set out in the party constitution – you’re enslaved to conform with their terms of reference, and you’re denying yourself.

    It is self-evident that the party has a left and a right. I know what I mean by those terms and I shall not be censored by the likes of you from using them. What gives YOU the right to dictate the language I may use? Why must I accept YOUR definition of the word “liberal”? I’m happy to use other terms such as “defender of the privileges of wealth and unable to see how inequality of wealth and income affects freedom, and to concerned with freedoms that mostly benefit the wealthy”, but for shorthand I’ll say “right” when that’s what I mean.

  • Peter Watson 24th Jan '13 - 1:14pm

    “That’s the problem with prescriptive political doctrines which conform to the left-centre-right pattern, real people are more complicated than that.”
    I totally agree. It is why I think the “centre” is so ill-defined and hard to win as it is not really determined by having a half-way house compromise for each and every policy.

    “It is to play according to rules written by someone seeking to ensure you lose, which guarantees failure – it’s self-defeating.”
    Some very interesting points, but conversely, it also makes me wonder, “Under a first-past-the-post electoral system, is there room for a party which is not definable in a simplistic left – right way (unless it has a unique regional position e.g. SNP, PC, etc.)?”

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jan '13 - 11:25am


    And this is where the residual debate over the party name is highly significant. ‘Liberal’ does not mean centre, or centre-left, or centre-right, or at least, not one nor only, where ‘Social’ does; ‘Liberal’ must mean liberal.

    In the same way you might argue that a socialist is a socialist, so it’s meaningless or conforming to some sort enslavement to try and distinguish between socialists who have a sense of liberalism and socialists who are complete authoritarian, that there was no difference between Roy Jenkins and Joseph Stalin on the grounds both were socialists.

    I think the point I was making was very clear. There has been a push in recent years to interpret “liberalism” more in terms of support for free market economics than used to be the case. There has been a strong push by a group of people within the Liberal Democrats in this way. Those people benefit because it often seems to be the case that they get more coverage and more favourable coverage in the press than those in the party who are less inclined to emphasise that aspect of liberalism over others.

    The line in our party’s constitution, it was in the old Liberal Party’s constitution and put in the merged party at the strong insistence of people who regarded themselves very much as defenders of the old Liberal Party tradition, about freedom from the enslavement of “poverty, ignorance and conformity” seems to me to be very much an indication of belief that there are more factors restricting liberty than the existence of the state and the taxation it imposes. I do not know the history of that line, but it seems to me to be such a riposte to the purely “economic” view of liberalism which has become fashionable among the social elite in recent years, that I suspect it was put there deliberately to make that point perhaps at an earlier time when there were attempts to push the Liberal Party down a purely “economic” route.

    I call the “economic liberal” view “right-wing” because I believe it to be a view of freedom which is skewed very much towards those aspects of freedom enjoyed most by the wealthy and against consideration of those aspects of freedom which affect poorer people more. It has been put down as “freedom to dine at the Ritz”, a view of freedom which does not see that what prevents most people from dining at the Ritz is not legislation banning them from it, but lack of money to pay for it. That is not to say that freedom to offer lavish services at high cost, and freedom to pay for those services if one wishes and can afford is such a worthless freedom that one should not wish it to exist. So I would not, for example, advocate demolishing the Ritz and putting a “workers’ canteen” in its place.

  • Peter,
    in my view the ‘centre’ is not a place or position, it is (in the mathematic sense) a moment, a point of balance, a fulcrum or pivot. It is the head of a pin, so lets not ask how many angels there are tiptoeing about.

    I’m not censuring you, we’re talking at slightly crossed purposes. I think debate is healthy provided it is productive and not circular or for its own sake, so I’d like to get beyond this back-and-forth.

    ‘Socialism’ was defined by opposition to imperialism, so the Georgian bank-robber Stalin certainly wasn’t one, and it’s arguable whether Roy Jenkins was merely using the term in the contemporary fashion out of expedience. Either way, nobody could argue they both subscribed to the same mission, and the idea that socialism is a sustainable or coherent ideology has itself massively weakened as every empire it faced crumbled.

    I hear your point, and I make a different one. ‘Liberalism’ is more than dogmatic support for the underdog or for a type of economic system, it is a mindset. It is a mindset of openness, the ability to change in the face of fact and the acknowledgement that there are always more facts to be found.

    I don’t agree with the free-market tendency as the objective means of advancing freedom, because freedom is constrained and has it’s limitations, whether self-imposed or otherwise. Yet I do support markets as an real and effective means of distribution, even if currently imperfect, and I am capable of resolving this by supporting an ‘open market’ theory (ie you can’t trade when markets are closed, but stores must because traders are human and have other requirements such as sleep). Proper regulation must direct when free trade is advantageous and when it isn’t: freedom isn’t an absolute absolute, and is equally protected and restricted by good regulation – the internal definition comes from the contradictions.

    The happy medium is the conclusive point of balance. And that’s where openness starts entailing equality.

    Of course there are vested interests with an axe to grind, but this needs to be taken into account and checked through effective balance, not vitriol and vituperation. Remember, whether justified or not, they will look at you and say you have a vested interest too and are therefore not unbiased or to be trusted.

    So, and equally, the poor and vulnerable do not deserve unqualified support at the expense of all else – just as doctors decide when to stop resucitation. The current debate about benefits is on this point – gone are the days when giros could be taken and spent at the bookmakers on the same day, nor should taxpayers ever have supported dealers plying the streets with dirty junk. We may like the story of the good Samaritan, but when reserves are depleted they are no more.

    Which gets me back to my deeper point. Oppositions are helpful in creating definition, but because oppositions always cancel each other out, the fact that liberalism has always struggled to find definition is a sign that it is the universal ‘meta’ philosophy most capable of remaining relevant by adapting to new demands.

    Socialism died when the old empires died, liberalism was reborn. Was the eastern or western empire more socialist? Neither, the people re-won their freedoms.

    Above I hinted that the dichotomy between ‘society’ and ‘economy’ was reconciled as it evolved to incorporate additional ways of understanding global systems, among them ‘environment’ being a new one and ‘culture’ being an old one. And the history of the party reflects this evolving understanding.

    Going back to the Whigs, Radical and Peelites, to the classical Liberal Party and the ‘new’ Liberals, to splits and the Alliance to the social and economic liberals of today, and under every leader, the party must continue to evolve. I reject your dualism as unnecessary and, frankly, a bit stale. Not because I don’t support the same ends, but because the way there has become blocked and we need to find new paths.

    I’ll offer a concession: if you want to talk about ‘left and right’ then lets define the oppositions ourselves and force our opponents to fight the political battle on our terms.

    I can tell you that there are some real headcases in other parties, as there are in our own – I know, I’ve seen them in action. I’m less worried about working with Conservatives or Labour or BNP or Greens or UKIP or BCP or whatever, than I’m concerned about avoiding those real headcases and keeping them out of office.

    I will define myself by opposition to the headcases. What do you do? What do they do?

  • or, perhaps, not unnecessary, but not necessarily complete.

  • David Allen 25th Jan '13 - 6:37pm


    “because I affirmed the openness inherent in liberalism and rejected ‘social’ as too closed, David … claimed ‘it is a retreat into a small ideological bunker, where everybody agrees, but few are allowed in’.”

    The problem is that you assume that everybody else understands exactly the same meaning of words as you do.

    You have your own idiosyncratic personal definition of “social democracy” as a “hegemonic ideology” which “implies making people poorer, encouraging waste and irrationally restricting hard-won freedoms”. Because you think that, you think that nobody sensible could possibly be excluded from your Party by directing insults at “social democrats”.

    But as Matthew points out, both Stalin and Roy Jenkins called themselves “socialists” or “social democrats”. We are the product of a merger between the Liberals and the Social Democrats! You are throwing out insults at social democrats, and you are not able to see that this is liable to shrink the Party!

    I think that in your case, you genuinely believe in a broad church party, and you simply think that “Liberal” is the word which everybody should understand as the sole essential definition of the broad church. Sadly for you, they don’t.

    Clegg is different. He knows full well that saying scary things about “left-wing dissatisfaction” and “protest voters”, and making explicit recommendations to those people not to vote Lib Dem, will indeed act to scare them away. he does not want their votes. He would prefer to lose their support, because he wants to abandon the centre-left and anchor his party on the right of centre. The ideology matters to him more than winning does.

  • James Sandbach 25th Jan '13 - 7:01pm

    what proof do you have that benefits are spent at the bookmakers or the drugdealers rather than on essential items such as clothing, heating and food – I really do find these kind of assertions offensive as unless they are acompanied by evidence they are only based on prejudice (quite nasty ones at that!)…and why on earth are you having a go at the “good samaritan”?

  • James,
    what? nobody gets a Giro any more and I clearly indicated this was past historic within a comment which refers to a broad sweep of history. Are you sure that’s a good question, because it doesn’t refer to what I actually wrote?

    what? Surely there’s something more than ironic about your use of ‘idiosyncratic’ regarding liberalism. I’ll defend your right to call whoever whatever, but that doesn’t mean anyone should agree just because you do. Are you sure you’re not overly reliant on fixed definitions and dogma? If I were you I’d know what to call myself.

  • “what? Surely there’s something more than ironic about your use of ‘idiosyncratic’ regarding liberalism.”

    Read what I wrote. I did not say anybody was being ‘idiosyncratic’ regarding ‘liberalism’. I said that your description of “social democracy” was idiosyncratic. You have said that social democracy was the “hegemonic ideology” which “caused the financial crash”. Presumably George W Bush, who presided over the crash, was a social democrat, then? Frankly, your extremely idiosyncratic view of what “social democracy” is about is – well, just out of this world. That is what I said, rather too politely perhaps, was “idiosyncratic”. Is it that you can’t read, or is it deliberate obfuscation? It must be one or the other.

    “I’ll defend your right to call whoever whatever, but that doesn’t mean anyone should agree just because you do.”

    No, of course not. Many people have different definitions of “social democrat”. Mine is one of them. It isn’t uniquely valid. I never said it was uniquely valid. You appear to think that your definition is uniquely valid.

    “Are you sure you’re not overly reliant on fixed definitions and dogma?”

    I am sure that you are overly reliant on fixed defintions and dogma.

    “If I were you I’d know what to call myself.”

    That’s just rude.

  • David,
    it’s really quite entertaining watching you vent in a debate which you lost before you started.

    For example your double standards are hilarious – one the one hand you claim Roy Jenkins was correct in his assertion that he was a socialist because he defected from Labour to the SDP which became the LibDems, and on the other George Bush wasn’t because he was a Republican. Pah!

    Your confusion between party identity and party philosophy is plain.

    Of course you can be a ‘social democrat’ within the LibDems, but that is to tacitly admit the flaws of social democracy and the advantages of liberal democracy, and that is what I explained earlier – liberalism’s openness encompasses a diverse spectrum, indeed requires a level of diversity and disagreement to prove it exists. Democracy is the means by which this plurality reaches a point of decision, and is all the more robust for it.

    There is an inherent paradox in liberal democracy that some people will inevitably be frustrated and unhappy because they were wrong to start with. Nobody’s perfect – I can happily admit my mistakes and I have moved on, whereas you are clearly desperately hanging on to some outdated vision of the past and I’m surprised you haven’t joined the Conservative party – which is after all where a large rump of the SDP ended up!

    When a party is clear about what it stands for and how it operates then it is capable of making a coherent appeal to the public. There is a residual element within the LibDems whose attachment to the past is preventing us from winning more seats.

    The UK is a liberal democracy, the rise of the LibDem party reflects our evolution into liberal democrats, so when the wider membership stops pulling in other directions and starts pushing liberal democracy then LibDems will be well on the way to becoming a party of majority government – and 126 seats won’t look at all far fetched as a target for 2015.

    In the meantime you whine on about non-existent rudeness rather than taking the opportunity to say something substantial. You’re a drag, man.

  • OK Oranjepan, so you will let me be a social democrat within the Lib Dems, provided I accept that I am wrong. How nice of you!

  • David,
    what is your ambition for the party?

  • To regain its soul.

  • and how many MPs is that?

  • David Allen 29th Jan '13 - 6:21pm

    Now let’s see, I wonder if Mr Oranje has stopped checking this thread? If he has, then I hereby claim the last word. (I’ve wasted it, of course!)

    If he’s still checking the thread, then a silly comment will now follow….

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