Opinion: Lib Dems must replace Labour as the party of the Left

Gateshead is hardly likely to go down in Liberal Democrat history as a mould-breaking or even memorable conference. On the key issue of the NHS, the spoils are divided. But our image among non-committed voters is bound to rise as a result of the look-again victory on Sunday morning.

Back in the real world, polls show us still struggling to reach double figures, the party’s tally of councillors is at its lowest level this century, and continual calls of betrayal from some former voters leave us in urgent need of good cheer.

To obtain it, it would help to ignore government implemention of measures we gave a democratic ‘yes’ to via the coalition agreement (unlike the NHS Bill). It is increasingly clear that while coalition politics is finding favour among the wider electorate, those who like its actions so far will vote Tory.

Instead we should look to Labour for salvation. Not to collaborate or work with them, nor merge or join, as one embryo new group, Liberal Left, advocates.

For our task is nothing less than to replace Labour as the principal party of the Left. The opportunity is greater now than at any time since the early 1980s. Labour has lost its way. Under its current leadership it lacks direction and is going nowhere fast.

It is too soon for them to discard such errors as creating the deficit disaster, courting bankers and rich bosses, and fraternising with the corrupt Murdoch empire. Most of all, for embracing and extending the self-centrered Thatcherite mantras of ‘me’, ‘now’ and ‘fill-yer-boots’.

Lacking anything else, Labour returns to its default position of a centralising, power-retentive, authoritarian cabal of politicians who ‘know best’.

Our concepts of freedom and liberty are anathema for them, as witnessed by a series of terrorist-obsessed home secretaries desperate to lock away citizens for 90 days at a time without trial and targeting many of our long-cherished human rights.

Our leadership is showing welcome signs of starting the fight back. – Restoring the 10p income tax band, keeping the 50p band, taxing £2m-plus mansion owners and other examples of “muscular” liberalism are essential to building that position. The tycoon tax could usefully be employed to establish a suitable safety net for those not caught by the last two.

Our message must be clear and simple. Because the rich caused the financial problems, the rich should pay for it. By ‘rich’, we mean the financial manipulators and owners of capital; not wealth-creating entrepreneurs. To paraphrase Churchill, when it comes to deciding between finance and industry, we back industry.

We may not have won many leftie points on the NHS Bill. But we have shown commitment to a great Liberal idea, created by William Beveridge and enthusiastically endorsed in 1945; the electorate then correctly ignored the broken economy in favour of immediate social justice.

Most of all it shows voters that Lib Dems reject Tory attempts to further open up public services to private profit. Developing and adopting more radical ideas is long overdue.

Then let’s plan to end the formal coalition in 2014 to allow campaigning on this and other policy platforms. An electorate tired of austerity and ever-falling living standards will welcome radical new ideas with the same enthusiasm shown for Labour in 1945 and reforming Liberals in 1906.

* Jonathan Hunt is President of Camberwell & Peckham local party and chair of the Southwark Co-ordinating Committee. He is an elected Life Member of the NUJ, and a former parliamentary candidate.

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  • Andrew Emmerson 19th Mar '12 - 11:29am

    Rubbish. We are are a party of the centre. We should learn the lessons of the last 15 years. All parties rush to the centre to be elected and we’ve been happy to let them occupy our home turf.

    Now is the time to replace labour, and the tories. Let them retreat to the comfort zone of their respective extreme wings and get elected!

  • The bitchiness about Liberal Left is hilarious, but I’m afraid replacing Labour is a pipe dream, and we should seek to dominate our natural home in the centre ground of politics. Not left, not right – liberal.

  • To the last two posters

    All very nice management buzz speak but what does that mean to me an ex-LD voter with conventional left of centre leanings?

    Something concrete rather than ‘leading me, informed and enlightened, into the radical centre’.

    From where should I look for this enlightenment – you, Nick, Dave, Georgie, Dougie, God, myself?

  • Is this more satire? Quite apart from the notion that a party struggling to retain 10% electoral support can replace a party currently topping 40% (and apparently just with wishful thinking); with such statements as “coalition politics is finding favour among the wider electorate”, “Our leadership is showing welcome signs of starting the fight back […] keeping the 50p band”, “muscular liberalism” (a phrase I’ve only previously seen used by advocates of the Iraq war) and “we have shown commitment to a great Liberal idea [the NHS]”, it simply has to be satire.

  • Will Millinship 19th Mar '12 - 11:53am

    What Dave said.

  • The trouble with being a committed centrist is that you must adopt a policy of inclusion, which inevitably means accomodating yourself to policies that you loathe but which you take on board because that’s what you do at the centre. But hey, that’s just one bone in an entire skeleton of post-Campbellian Liberalism, the non-socialist alternative to Labour, as I once heard an activist trumpet. But as is clear, some of the vocal liberalists will have no truck with any association with any left of any kind.

    Ongoing interaction with the right and its market obsessions is, however, perfectly acceptable.

  • “the party’s tally of councillors is at its lowest level this century,”
    This is just not true and not even close to being true. In both absolute and percentage terms we have more than we did up untill about 1988.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 19th Mar '12 - 12:10pm

    @ Hywel

    Which century are you in? !988 was so last century!

  • Oh yeah – misread that as “for a century”!

    It is still ridiculous hyperbole

  • James Sandbach 19th Mar '12 - 12:18pm

    Attempts to do away entirely with left-right politics with perpetual triangulation will not succeed – nice idea – but every political system and State has some sort of left/right discourse going on – possibly even linked to basic human psychology..

    The idea that the Labour partry is going to puts its legs up in the air and simply die seems also a bit off the reality mark – been tried before with the Alliance and early lib dem initiativies – Paddy Ashdown used to warn against this sort of hubris; Labour will always find ways of re-inventing themselves and their 100 year tradition of building around trade unionism and social justice campaigns will not simply whither away,

    Our best strategy has always been carving out our own political space around concepts of community and liberty – part of a broad progressive left but with our own distinctive brand, identity and reformist message,

  • Channel 4 news May 2011…..In the Lib Dems’ worst local elections showing since the 1980s…

    Hywel, no insult intended but this is the 21st C.

  • The last thing the Lib Dems should become is Labour-lite! One Labour party is enough thanks! It annoys me that so many good Lib Dem ideas are drowned out by the sense that all the party is for anymore is blocking Tory ideas. Hope we get a Coalition Agreement II and a cabinet shake up soon. People like Vince Cable aren’t good for UK business/growth, but people like Lansley are terrible for the NHS. I see a swap being a big success.

  • @Eoghan O’Neill

    Labour are probably perceived as left-wing as they’ve been for ages. And it’s not helping them in the polls.

    Yet Labour are muddling along with a small lead over the Tories, while the ‘liberal principles of localisation and freedoms, whilst pursuing aggresive fiscal policies, ‘ have lead to massive drop in support for the Lib Dems.

    It helps to be realistic when discussing politics, and there is no way anybody with their realist head on would seriously suggest that the Lib Dems are in danger of either supplanting Labour on the Left, or the Tories on the Right, or expanding the middle.

    What the Lib Dems need to be doing is working out how to shore up their current support and membership in the short term while they work out their long term future.

  • @eoghan – “By sticking to liberal principles of localisation and freedoms, whilst pursuing aggresive fiscal policies, they can do exactly that.”

    In other words, trying to achieve social liberal aims with economic liberal means. Sorry, but this is nonsense, obsolete 19th century liberalism which should have been left mouldering in its crypt. What we need right now is a new critique of modern capitalism and markets, and quite clearly the Libdems under Clegg have no interest in providing it.

  • Britain certainly needs a party which is capable of replacing Labour. It used to be our mission. Sadly we abandoned it, and it would take an internal revolution to make it a credible aim now.

    So it looks like a ridiculous long shot. Almost as crazy, in fact, as what would appear to be our actual strategy now, viz, tie ourselves to the Tories’ apron strings and expect them to look after us in 2015.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 19th Mar '12 - 12:43pm

    I see one direction of travel for the LibDems, now: downwards

  • Mr Hunt you say “We may not have won many leftie points on the NHS Bill. But we have shown commitment to a great Liberal idea, created by William Beveridge and enthusiastically endorsed in 1945”. I don’t accept that the LibDems have shown ‘commitment’ to Beveridge’s idea or ideals (and of a certain Aneurin Bevan , nor do a few million voters if the polls are even roughly accurate. The LibDems find themselves facilitating the Tories in commercialisation the NHS, as such I believe they (the LibDems) will take a huge electoral hit. I have met no-one who is happy with with what is happening to he NHS, people seem (yes this is anecdotal) to be angry with the LibDems – not with the Tories. I believe that Messrs Clegg, Alexander and Laws are genuinely enthusiasts of ‘The Market’ for the NHS, your party is much less so; but for some reason just goes along with what the leadership decrees.

  • If the Lib Dems actually occupied the centre ground then your polling collapse would have not occurred. You are now firmly a party of the centre-right/right. The problem is, your recent election manifestos were to the left of Labour and the Tories and were moderately centre-left. You’ve alienated at least half your voters for the foreseeable future (or at least until some time after the next general election). If you move back towards the centre ground then nobody would believe you – you wouldn’t win any of the centre/centre-left voters back and the few centre-right voters you’ve picked up would desert. Strategically, it’s better for you to remain as a party of the centre-right and displace the Tories. You lack any credibility as a centre/centre-left party.

    Eoghan O’Neill
    “Labour are probably perceived as left-wing as they’ve been for ages. And it’s not helping them in the polls.”

    Yes it is. A poll last week had Labour at seven percentage points ahead of the Tories. That lead clearly owes more to policy than it does to Miliband’s personality and skills at oration – when I say policy, what I mean is that they don’t share the same insane passion for more neo-liberal reforms – it’s the absence of that policy that’s making Labour popular.

  • So we’ve largely lost the left wing, anti- New Labour protest vote (who have gone back to their natural home) but the solution is to lurch to the left and alienate centrists and the liberal right?

  • We are a party of the Centre. Labour is welcome to the Left; much good may it do them.

  • paul barker 19th Mar '12 - 1:36pm

    There are are a number of points here – the libdems are a party of the centre-left but the left in that is a very different tradition to the left that labour belongs to. We see people, individuals. Labour see members of categories- neatly labelled according to class, gender, ethnicity etc & put in boxes.

    Our aim is to be a major party, comparable to the tories & that means replacing labour, either destroying them or or driving them to the fringes. Can it be done in the near future ? Absolutely.
    Can I stress that before coming to any conclusion we should all spend an hour or so reading labour blogs – especially the comments, so much bile & despair. Think in decades not days & weeks, labour are an old party, tired & bitchy, with an aging & falling membership, no sense of direction & crippled by debts.

  • jedibeeftrix

    Thais is a very ambitious plan to remove Labour as the alternative to the Tories

    Have you got a roadmap for that? I thought that in 2010 you could do so but no more. The current VI is around 15% according to all the polls and you are locked into a right-wing coalition that is not gaining you any friends on the left whilst not challenging the Tories on the centre-right.

    You seem to think that the current leadership, along with that ‘expenses cheat’ Laws are the way forward but I would say that there is no chance of you challenging Labour with this cabal in charge.

    The 2015 election will likely have again no OM and the need for a Coalition – will you go into the election with an open mind or will you have to align to one of the major parties beforehand (Clegg will be asked this question from 2014) – I cannot see how you will survive that situation as an intact party to be honest

  • @Eoghan:
    “Ed Balls’s reputation as a socialist (fully deserved!)”

    Hang on, people keep saying Ed Balls was Gordon Brown’s mini-me. You can’t be both a socialist and the faithful follower of a Thatcherite.

  • Malcolm Todd 19th Mar '12 - 2:58pm

    I think you’re making the mistake of assuming that jedidominatrix is one of us. He (she?) is a Tory; albeit a very polite one.

  • Dave Page

    I am not convinced that this will work without splitting the party – it seems easy to say but less easy in practice

    Scenario 1: Labour but no OM

    Do you think that the Labour Party would make big concessions to the LD based on the mutual distrust. At the very least there would have to be a change of leadership from the LD. It is also dangerous as the LD would have supported many of the policies the Government would want to change. To me difficult to see being stable

    Scenario 2 Tory but no OM

    Same as I suppose but it would wed the LD inexorably with the Tories (10 years). It would be the easiest intellectually but I cannot see the LD party being unscathed.

    Scenario 3 Labour OM

    Best probable result in my view as it would break the connection with the Tories and enable a repositioning and independence from the other 2 parties

    Scenario 4 Tory OM

    Like 3 but very difficult to be an opposition as the Tories would continue a number of the policies they have implemented with the LD but to a greater degree. Would lose credibility

    I think the situation is very difficult for the LD in 2015 as they are caught between a rock and a hard place. I hope that it can be resolved without damaging the party irreparably

  • Dave Page

    Perhaps you are right – who knows with the Labour Party. I do not think so though.

    At the very least there will be hostility to the LD leadership and the demand will be that Clegg goes. I just cannot see it working in a stable fashion

  • Daniel Henry 19th Mar '12 - 4:22pm

    Sometimes I feel like left/right/center debates turn into people trying to say similar things in different ways.

    For example, Dave Page’s very nice wording of liberalism above didn’t require the “left” terminology. At the same time, someone might look at what’s being suggested and consider it to be a “center left” position, maybe even “left of New Labour”.

    I personally see us as a “left” party but I agree with arguments that talking in left/right terms isn’t necessarily helpful. “Radicals” and “rational problem solvers” are probably labels more helpful to us.

    I dislike “center” because it sounds like weak compromise rather than a radical distinct position, and kind of defines us as between our opponents rather than letting us set the stage.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 19th Mar '12 - 4:40pm

    “I dislike “center” because it sounds like weak compromise rather than a radical distinct position, and kind of defines us as between our opponents rather than letting us set the stage.”

    Quite so. In the extremely unlikely event of the LibDems actually replacing one of the other two parties and/or becoming the majority party, where, then, would the centre be?

  • Jonathan Hunt 19th Mar '12 - 5:04pm

    A tedious constant in life has been the timid deadbeats in any organisation who say We tried that once, and because it didn’t quite work then we should never attempt it again.

    Liberals and Social Democrats have always been on the non-socialist Left. As Gareth and others correctly say, Radical Centre is a contradiction in terms. It signifies a steady-as-she-goes approach, never, ever change course.

    Those who occupy the centre ground either get run over, or are totally ignored by those looking for something different and optimistic, as voters will in 2015.

    Our choice is to stay in the Radical Centre, pleading me-too-sir, we-were-part-of-it. If people like coalition policies, which despite our parliamentary party’s best endeavours always turn out to coloured deep blue, then they will vote Tory.
    Voters will easily forget our key victories:

    • Our teams really did make changes to the NHS Bill, but somehow the H came to stand for Haliburton, not Health.

    • We really did mean it when we talked tough about making the rich cough up; but somehow they ended up paying less.

    • We really did try to keep highways in public hands, but somehow private financiers took their toll.

    • We really did want to change the voting system, but somehow ended up with AV.

    Our radical policies must be based on our three Rs: Redistribution, Redistribution and Redistribution. Of wealth from the rich to the poor; of power, from institutions to people in our various communities; and of rights and responsibilities, strengthening individual influence, liberty and freedom.

    Labour will revert to central control, with scant regard for liberty and human rights; the Marxist mantra of the dictatorship of the proletariat never far from their thoughts.

    If Labour is polling near 40 per cent in its current Mea Culpa, vacuous state, we truly have gone wrong. Yet it also represents a huge opportunity to convince all those people that only we represent their real beliefs, hopes and dreams.

  • I have never forgotten the ‘on camera’ exhange between Des Wislon and Michael Meadowcroft at the time of the Liberal/SDP merger debate in 1988. Des said he wanted to create a ‘radical centre party’, to which Michael retorted ‘there is no such thing’.

    It is the increasing centrist drift of the party that has made the party’s former ground troops (like myself) that refererred to themselves as the Libertarian Left, desert you. Perhaps you centrists that fill Lib Dem voice these days don’t want us back? You are unlikely to have electoral success without us.

  • David Allen 19th Mar '12 - 5:42pm

    “Voters will easily forget our key victories”

    A nice line in black humour. Or as someone put it more succinctly, we’re stuffed.

    It’s worth reading back to bazzasc’s comment at 3.44 pm above, and recognising just how dire our situation looks in all four scenarios. (Bazzasc thinks a Labour overall majority would be best for us, but, when Labour governments make mistakes it’s usually the Tories who gain votes from it, not us).

    The idea of this party regaining its true beliefs looks fanciful under present leadership. But the worst thing would be to kid ourselves there is any point in carrying on as we are.

  • Bald Reynard 19th Mar '12 - 5:43pm

    For goodness sake, when will Lib Dems remember that the Party is a merger of Liberals AND Social Democrats. Liberals might be ‘in the centre’, but Social Democrats are definitely ‘on the left’ (and a legitimate alternative to Labour). If the Liberals in the Party want to keep banging on about being a truly libertarian / centralist Party – they can go off and join the (continuing) Liberal Party !

  • Steve Griffiths 19th Mar '12 - 6:36pm

    Bald Reynard:
    At the time of the merger, those Liberals (like me) who voted against merger with the SDP, did so because we believed (correctly as it transpired) that the inclusion of the SDP would take us to the centre.

  • “Lib Dems must replace Labour of the party of the left”
    Excuse Me? Have I travelled back in time to before the election and not noticed? or have I fell down a rabbit hole somewhere?
    A line like that would of been believed before the Lib Dems got into bed with the Tories and formed what is is now being seen by many as the (probably) most right wing adminstration for generations

    The self denial shown on these pages is staggering

  • My biggest problem with this article is that it sticks to the limitations of the 2-party structure that the Lib Dems have been trying to push our country away from since the year dot. Let’s create a democracy with space for a diverse political tapestry that has space for a centre-left, centre-right and radical-centre party, and others too,

  • paul barker 19th Mar '12 - 8:27pm

    Duncan stott, of course we have always wanted a vibrant, multi-party democracy but support for the tories seems to be pretty solid & we could end up with England, like Scotland having 1 big party & a bunch of small ones. Better for democracy to have 2 medium sized parties near the centre, ie us & the tories.

    On the question of whether we are doomed or not. Polls are based on the idea that if you ask people about party politics , between elctions, they will think & give you a considered answer. Its nonsense, most people dont think about politics till they have to, a few weeks before theres an election. Of course there are local elections in 6 weeks but less than 1 in 4 will take part.
    Mostly polls simply echo the media consensus which is that libdems are finished.

    There are other sources of information, leadership polls for example where labour & libdems are roughly level. Or the local byelections that happen every week where libdems are performing much better now than last summer & all 3 main parties have similar vote-shares, where they stand.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 19th Mar '12 - 8:45pm

    @ Bald Reynard

    Jo Grimond used to speak of the aim of a “realignment on the left” some two decades before the SDP appeared on the scene. Most of the Young Liberals I knew in the 1960s and 1970s were very definitely part of what was,in those days, referred to as “the new left” (no, not a precursor of “Nulabor”). There were, of course, also a number of people (mainly, but not exclusively, among the , then , older generation) who referred to themselves as “centrists” . So the Liberal Party was a sort of amalgum of left and centre (or, perhaps, of “left of centre” and “centre-left” ) long before it merged with the SDP.

    That such a party has , as Nige puts it, ” got into bed with the Tories and formed what is is now being seen by many as the (probably) most right wing adminstration for generations” ( I don’t know about “generations”, but this government is certainly as nasty as the Thatcher Government) is a tragedy. I voted against the coalition at the Birmingham Conference in May 2015. The performance of the LibDems in government since that date has exceeded my worst expectations

    Although I respect and sympathise with those members of The Social Liberal Forum and Liberal Left who are trying to keep the flame alive within the Liberal Democrats,I fear that the reputation of the party will, by 2015, have been damaged beyond repair,

  • Bald Reynard 19th Mar '12 - 8:49pm

    Steve Griffiths

    I think your comment might have been true at the time of merger, but recent events now demonstrate that the ‘Liberals’ in the Party are the ones now mostly in favour of this Coalition. The ‘Orange Bookers’ are the ones most closely identified with the Tories – and (with a few truly Liberal exceptions like Lembit and Ed Joyce) are the ones closest to Cameron / Osborne et al. It’s (inevitably !) mostly those on the Left / Social Democratic wing of the Party, who oppose the Coalition – and want some DIALOGUE (no more than that !) with Labour. Most of the (previously) ‘left-inclined’ Liberals (like Simon Hughes) are now equally supportive of this disastrous Coalition sell-out !

  • Bald Reynard 19th Mar '12 - 8:51pm

    Nick (not Clegg)

    I agree with pretty much all you’ve said. I do think though that SLF and Liberal Left should at least TRY and bring the Party back to its senses !

  • Paul Barker

    I must sound like a broken record but please take a look at this analysis done by Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report – a very good discussion forum and remarkably polite and non-partisan


  • Malcolm Todd 19th Mar '12 - 9:50pm

    @Jedi — beg pardon. I stand, whether left, right or centre, corrected.

  • Bassaszc. I read the piece by anthony Wells with interest, when it was published. You do have to remember that Wells works for yougov, hes not some unbiased observer. Actually VI polls can be some use when used properly, comparing like with like. They never are used like that though, certainly never by labour bloggers that I have read.
    Compare polls by one company with polls by the same company at the same point in the electoral cycle & theres some chance they will mean something. The last time I did that libdems seemed to be about 5% down, suggesting a vote share around 19% in 2015, about the same as 2001, not good but not wipeout either.

    Actually I have tweeked my vote-share estimates to take account of the big differenc in numbers of seats contested by labour & tories. The idea is to give the shares that would have happened if all 3 parties contested all the seats. For all the locals over the last 3 months the shares come out as
    con 29%
    lab 26%
    libdems 27%
    I think that gives us a much better idea of what might happen in 6 weeks than the VI polls.

  • Paul – I remember your confident prediction this time last year that the LibDems would lose less than 200 seats in the local elections. So you’ll forgive me for taking your latest prediction with a pinch of salt.

    If the LibDems do aspire to replace Labour as a party of the left, I’m not sure that supporting the Health Bill and a cut in the top rate of tax are the best way to win over left-wing voters.

  • Jonathan Hunt 19th Mar '12 - 11:27pm

    The debate has become more adult, thanks to some thoughtful contributions. Of course Left, Right and Centre are shorthand terms, and as such hide many variations within them. They are, however, ones that are easily recognised and understood. We will never have chance to choose an exact favourite until we get a proper STV system.

    But it would be interesting if someone would conduct a poll that tests opinion not on the names of parties, but what they actually stand for. I believe the kind of left-leaning radical platform we advocate, based on liberty rather than compulsion; on community rather than institutions; on people taking contral rather than bodies that know best, would come out first every time.

    We should also learn from history. In 1945, Labour engaged in grand larcency of Liberal ideas. But only because Sinclair, our leader, and his main supporters denied the radical option of a fighting for a welfare state in favour of trying to keep the coalition going.

    We make that mistake again at the real risk of being cast into the political wilderness.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Mar '12 - 11:41am

    One of the most basic divisions in politics is between those who have power and wealth and those who agree to them keeping it on the lines “it’s best that way, and any change is dangerous and/or will make things worse all round”, and those who believe power and wealth is too concentrated in a small number of hands and that can and should be changed. These are “right” and “left” respectively. The details of what exactly may count as “right” and “left” may change because those with power and wealth change – it used to be the landed aristocracy, now it’s the top figures in the “finance industry” – but the question will never go away. Indeed, as we have seen a growing divide in wealth in this country over the past 30 years, the right-left division should be becoming far more important, so to claim it is irrelevant or not as big an issue as it was in the last century is nonsense.

    What has happened is that practical politics to the left has been almost destroyed. One reason for this, I believe, is the takeover of the left by elite group politicians who appear remote from ordinary people and who tend to get obsessed with what are actually side issues. The political right can than play on that to build up their support – most obviously we can see this done in the US where many who one would suppose form their social situation would be sympathetic to the left have been converted to far right politics by the way it’s become linked to religion. But note also here how UKIP, a party which is more and more obviously just one of right-wing economics, manages to get a big chunk of working-class support by making appealling to nationalist sentiments. Right-wing propaganda, see much of the Daily Mail, often works on making out the liberal elite are those who hold power, with big business somehow being rebels on the side of the people.

    I would not like to see the Labour Party destroyed, as I believe in political pluralism. However, I believe it has failed to be an adequate party of the left, leaving a big gap for such a party. The Liberal Democrats COULD be such a party, but, sorry, not under the present leadership, and even sorrier, not with the influx of economic right-wingers who seem to be the only people positively attracted to our party at the moment.

  • Jonathan Hunt 20th Mar '12 - 12:50pm

    Thanks, Matthew, for that helpful and incisive contribution to the Left – Right debate. Leftish progressive parties have always sought a degree of redistributing wealth. In an age of an aware and educated electorate, it should be about much more than that.

    Power, for a start. Community politics is about devolving power, so that people take over those things that most affect their everyday lives, in their various communities, at home and at work.

    Rights, for workers, consumers, pension-fund holders and other investors, commuters, all groups of minorities and those who experience prejudice and discrimination on grounds of disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, faith, etc.

    And a reassessment of responsibilities. Indeed, why should our contributions to society be measured solely in monetary terms. Giving up time and expertise to help the community should also count. ,

    These are some of the ways we can pursue our desire for greater liberty, equality and community and ensuring no-one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. They will not be obtained by parties of the Right or even radical Centre. And on the Left, Labour has again failed to recognise these fundamental values.

    I share Matthew’s view that Liberal Democrats are best equipped to be that progressive, non-socialist party of the Left attuned to this agenda. And heed his warning that the party is in danger of being hi-jacked by right-wingers pretending to live in the centre.

    But we are the only people capable of filling that vast void left by Labour on the Left. I believe we can and must, but that faith faces severe tests this week.

  • “Lib Dems must replace Labour of the party of the left”

    Good Lord, no. I wish people would stop trying to drag us into being Labour-Lite.

  • On the idea of replacing Labour as a party of the left … Don’t you think that supporting the most vicious welfare cuts in history and voting through a massive expansion of profit-making in the NHS might pose, er, presentational problems?

  • Leekliberal 20th Mar '12 - 7:22pm

    Labour – you stand in the dock charged with the offence that during 13 years of majority Government you did fail to bring in any form of proportional representation never mind the inadequate AV alternative. This offence means that the ghastly first past the post sytem of Government where realistically only two parties can contest for power is STILL in place. You are found GUILTY as charged! Thus you give us no alternative but to seek replace you as the only alternative to the Tories, While I as a Social Liberal have devoted 30 years to defeating a Tory Party who will always be there I understand that in a system that only allows two parties it is YOU we must seek to replace. We shall not seek to replace you as a state capitalist party but as social liberal party which tries to make the market work for ordinary people and where it does not do so to restrain it or where appropriate have state administration. If we were starting politics again there would be NO Labour Party only a modern Liberal Party to oppose the Tories. Your are sentenced to be painlessly put to death. Goodbye!

  • 2001 to 2010 was the opportunity for the Lib Dems to replace Labour as the main party of the left (while Labour was busy dominating the centre). Now, Labour has ditched Blairism and is moving back from the centre to the left, as are the electorate. The opportunity has gone.

  • paul barker 20th Mar '12 - 9:18pm

    McClusky, we actually did a pretty good job during the labour government in replacing them. The vote gap between libdems & labour went from 26% in 1997 to 6% in 2010.
    I cant see that labour have moved anywhere unless you count hopping from one foot to the other. Their problem is that half the party think they need to move left & the other half right. Thats why Ed seems so useless, he is lumbered with an impossible job.

    The crucial question is whether 2010 was more like 1979 or 1974 ? Labour lost 10% between 1979 & 1983, even half that loss in 2015 would destroy them.

  • paul barker

    I think you should stop all the projections of the future which seem to based on taking a number and using it totally out of context

  • But so far, Paul, Labour is gaining and the Lib Dems are losing. We did close the gap between the LDs and Labour to 6%, but what is up to now, 30% or even more than that? And the crucial question isn’t whether 2010 was more like this year or that year in the past, the crucial question is what needs to change right now in order to make sure the Lib Dems win at more than 10 seats in 2015, because if we fall below that level I don’t see what future there is.

  • I keep saying this, but the Liberal Party was much more radical than the SDP – this re-writing of history and 80s politics must stop!

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Mar '12 - 11:07pm


    Now, Labour has ditched Blairism and is moving back from the centre to the left

    I don’t see much signs of that. I don’t see Labour proposing anything radically left-wing. Actually, I don’t see Labour proposing anything at all. They moan about the current government, but they seem to have no answers to the question “OK, what would you do instead?”.

    as are the electorate

    Well, I wish that were the case, but I don’t see any signs of it. Sure, people will moan about “the cuts”, but I don’t see any great popular willingness to accept what would be necessary if we were REALLY to attack what is driving up economic division in our society. I still find if one suggest things like a serious inheritance or property tax, people tend to back off. It is remarkable that the “mansion tax” (a piddly token property tax compared to what is really necessary to reverse the house price boom Ponzi scheme that has wrecked our economy) is considered a vote LOSER in London. That shows just how much politics here is so skewed to the interest of the very rich and so much of the middle has been fooled into supporting policies which are actually pro-rich and anti-middle. The reality is that it is London more than anywhere else which is suffering from over-inflated property prices and so London more than anywhere else which would benefit from radical measures which would bring them down and make a home affordable to ordianry families again. Yet the interests of the few thousand who would lose seriously from the “mansion tax” are considered so much more important than those of the millions who would benefit.

    If the electorate REALLY were moving to the left, they’d be singing along with us “Why should we be beggars with the ballot on our hand?” and “Make them pay their taxes on the land just like the rest” and meaning it.

  • Here’s a bit of a history lesson ….
    The Vikings where a seafaring people who excelled in trading and colonising, their cultural influence stretched from the Americas to the Middle East and have their roots deeply embedded in European history.

    However, ask the man on the street what he knows of the Vikings he’ll say ‘rape and pillage’

    So in the same vain the Lib Dems will be remembered by the electorate for…………?? enabling right wing slash and burn.
    So either the Lib Dems come out fighting NOW against the Tories on the NHS, Welfare etc… or there will not be a Party post 2015 Left, Right or otherwise

  • Jonathan Hunt 21st Mar '12 - 12:11am

    We have to make a decision as a party as to what we are. We can’t shilly-shally about for ever, taking Tory votes when they are unpopular, Labour ones when they are out of favour. Or both at the same time in different parts of the country.

    I don’t think even our most extreme Radical Centre colleagues want to take over from the Tories, competing for votes on right-wing issues. That leaves us in our traditional place on the Left. Not as Labour Lite, Labour brite, Labour might or mite, trite or shite. We are different to Labour.

    Different, but as a liberty-led party more effective in championing equality and social justice, individual rights and the freedoms from as well as the freedoms to.

  • Andrew Suffield 21st Mar '12 - 12:23am

    Labour has ditched Blairism and is moving back from the centre to the left

    Looks to me like Labour is moving from the moderate right to the sleazy moderate right. In no sense have they been a “left wing” party in recent years – they talk the language but then never deliver.

  • “The vote gap between libdems & labour went from 26% in 1997 to 6% in 2010.”

    And has gone back to 29% since then, according to ukpollingeport.co.uk.

  • Jonathan Hunt

    exactly,and that is why I voted for you – I thought that was what your party was!

  • Why is it only the Lib Dem part of the govt that is suffering a midterm slump?

  • Jonathan Hunt 21st Mar '12 - 2:13pm

    The only junior partner in a colaition to have emerged victorious was Labour in 1945, on the back of the most radical programme since the 1906 Liberal government.

    Indeed, to repeat earlier comments, it was a Liberal, William Beveridge, who was the achitect of the NHS and the foundations of the welfare state as we know it.

    Sadly, to lose marks for more repitition, the then Liberal leadership preferred to continue in coal;ition with the Tories, despite the wishes of the grassroots.

    The party almost went under as a result. It is a salutary reminder in good time for 2015.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Mar '12 - 4:09pm

    Oranjepan, here I agree with you. The Liberal Democrats are trying to do a serious job, the abuse from anyone outside the party to the left is hindering them doing that job. Its result may be to destroy the Liberal Democrats, probably leading to a majority Tory government next time round. If there was a greater acceptance and support for what the Liberal Democrats are trying to do, I believe the Liberal Democrats could do it much more forcefully and therefore get much more in the way of concessions from the Tories.

  • How ridiculous!

    We shouldn’t do things because we are on the left or the right of the political spectrum, we should do them because they are right! Nor should we try to be on the left or the right – we should be LIBERAL.

    There are four axis on the political spectrum, it annoys me how much attention is focused on just the left/right debate (I’m neither!)

  • Nick (not Clegg) 21st Mar '12 - 4:45pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach

    It seems to me that your problem is that, in 2015, those who are content with the performance of this government will vote Conservative while those who, by then, have forgiven Labour and decided to give them another chance will vote accordingly. Why would anyone vote LibDem?

    You want “greater acceptance and support” for what you are doing in government. You are unlikely to get that from those of us who oppose this government ; are you really hoping to get it from some of those who voted Tory last time?

  • It can contain as many axis as you like.

  • Jonathan Hunt 21st Mar '12 - 6:33pm

    The last few comments reinforce the need for Liberal Democrats to fight the 2015 election on a manifesto not of the reforming, tinkering centre, but on a truly radical platform akin to those revolutionary politicians who won in 1906 and 1945. (And possibly of 1979).

    We have to go that much further to be noticed. Otherwise we will yet again be ignored as nice sensible, but unelectable, people in the middle who fail to address basic primeval tribal prejudices. That requires taking one side or the other, which is nowhere near the centre – even the radical one.

    Lib Dems and their predecessors have never fought on Conservative ground, although sometimes playing in an inside-right position (eg, cutting tax in 1979).

    That means addressing labour’s traditional aims and objectives, on the Left, and showing voters we ar better equpped to achieve those goals better than Labour. Nothing we don’t believe in –just promoting them more aggressively and playing with more obvious passion.

  • *facepalm* Of course I meant two axis! I originally wrote the sentence as 4 aspects but then thought that didn’t sound correct. My Maths days are obviously behind me!

  • Jonathan Hunt 23rd Mar '12 - 11:03am

    Thanks to all who commented, whatever their views. It is very encouraging that this subject has attracted so many comments,


  • JH – “Otherwise we will yet again be ignored as nice sensible, but unelectable, people in the middle who fail to address basic primeval tribal prejudices. That requires taking one side or the other, which is nowhere near the centre – even the radical one. ”

    Jonathan – if you want to take one side or the other, join one side or the other. I am not tribal, primeval or prehudiced and I will NOT be party to aligning with the neanderthals of the right or the left.

    You will find that the majority of people in this country are “nice, sensible people in the middle”; a long ignored but massive constituency. They are too often forced to choose between one of the lesser neanderthal evils. i will have no truck with this lunacy.

  • The short answer is that for Liberal Democrats to become the major opposition to the Conservatives, it would be helpful if it did not go along with major changes, which were not explicitly spelled out and mandated by the last election or Coalition agreement.

    The difficulty is that the Liberal Democrat main position is supporting mass free market liberalisations and fast paced deficit reduction and austerity. Social Liberals are wedded to this position. Whilst this is the case, it is difficult for the electorate to discern a real and tangible difference.

    It is true that Ed Milliband seems to be lacking in ideology, fight and strategy, outside of PMQ against the Conservative free market onslaught. This has lost support and may yet lose him the leadership.

    All three major parties are coalitions of different groupings, with different wings of the party. All current dominant factions show favour to free market solutions to society’s problems and the provision of service (alongside light touch financial regulation) and have done for the last 30 years, and look at the financial mess the markets and country are in.

    I would prefer to see some realignment and greater honesty in political party positions.

    Cameron and Clegg are classic free market Christian Democrats and could form a modern Conservative party without some of the wilder aspects of its right wing. The right wing of the Conservatives could join with the UK Independence party, and the Social Liberals, Moderate Green and Moderate Labour (if they can reign in their authoritarian impulses) would make a natural grouping. The radical Greens and Socialists could form a different grouping.

    It would be really helpful for the electorate to actually understand what they are voting for and what they are likely to get. Maybe minority governments could then be realistically formed which actually reflect what the electorate voted for.

  • Jack Timms says
    ‘I would prefer to see some realignment and greater honesty in political party positions.
    Cameron and Clegg are classic free market Christian Democrats and could form a modern Conservative party without some of the wilder aspects of its right wing. The right wing of the Conservatives could join with the UK Independence party, and the Social Liberals, Moderate Green and Moderate Labour (if they can reign in their authoritarian impulses) would make a natural grouping. The radical Greens and Socialists could form a different grouping. ‘

    It’s a lovely idea but with first past the post which enshines two party politcs it ain’t goner happen. So get out there and campaign for PR!

  • Bald Reynard 25th Mar '12 - 8:35pm

    Matthew Lambert

    I said it before and I’ll say it again – the Liberal Democrats are a merger between the Liberal Party and the Social Democrats. YOU might say, “we should be LIBERAL”; others (including me !) would say, “we should be SOCIAL DEMOCRATS” – ie ‘on the left’ ! If you insist on being (just a) Liberal, there is always the Liberal Party to join !

  • Jonathan Hunt 28th Mar '12 - 11:23pm

    But surely why the Social Democrats abandoned Labour was because they saw it as being too Left. In many places, like Southwark, the Liberals were much further to the Left than the old-guard Mellish /O’Grady Labour party, which was so right-wing that Liberals did not wish to endorse their councillors.

    Other Social Democrats who joined and are now mainstays of the current Liberal Democrats are undistinguishable from Liberals — indeed, many are much more Liberal. But that non-socialist, progressive party is on the Left and better placed to take over from Labour. .

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