Opinion: Liberal Democrats must champion our economic achievements

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It’s the enduring burden placed upon liberals that we are often found to have made the correct policies calls in the crucible of history. But we fail to turn such perspicacity into a victory in the more immediate court of public opinion.

Whether it is on major issues such as the Liberal party’s historic pioneering of the welfare state before any other; the commitment to green issues which predated Cameron’s hugging of a husky by two decades; Caroline Pidgeon’s proposal for a bicycle hire scheme before either Boris or Ken; liberals have historically been ahead of the policy curve, nut been ignored when the electoral credit was being distributed.

In coalition, we have the chance to bend both the policy and public opinion curves to our will. With the economy recovering, we have the issue with which we can chime with the electorate like never before.

The debate for the first thirty months or so of the coalition’s existence centred on ‘stimulus versus cuts’. That debate is now over.

Another stimulus is not needed. The economy is growing. The debate now concerns how to both add velocity to the recovery and to reshape the wider economy to make it both liberal and sustainable. But stimulus was never designed to perform either of those functions.

The best way to make sure we liberals are at the vanguard of that debate is to champion the job we have done on the economy in coalition. We held our nerve, stayed the course. We prevented the Tories from abandoning the prudent, ‘orthodox Keynesian’ policy of the coalition for the more Thatcherite meme proposed by Cameron’s critics, notably John Redwood.

The reason the Tories have won so many elections is that they are the most ruthlessly pragmatic political machine on these islands. Come 2015, even those Conservatives who despise Cameron will drape themselves in his cloak and salve a slice of the credit for the economic recovery as the election nears.

That the economy is recovering with the coalition making most of the right calls should now be beyond doubt.

It’s not merely that GDP growth has returned. Delivering a confection of growth is easy. Creating the environment for sustained expansion is the challenge.

That the coalition are succeeding in creating this environment is beyond doubt. Manufacturing is expanding lustily. For the first time since 1992, all sixteen of the sectors which comprise the manufacturing data are expanding at the same time.

Exports and services are also expanding.

The housing market is in an elevated state. It’s not yet a bubble as mortgage approval rates are below their historical averages but it is a concern. Osborne’s funding for lending scheme was the product of a Chancellor losing his bottle, chasing a quick fix economic panacea as the election date crept closer.

In truth Osborne has been rescued by the data, rather than being engineer who made the data happen. His political will in resisting the political wailing of the Thatcherites is his greatest contribution to the recovery, rather than any economic skill.

His economic policies as Chancellor aren’t original, having been described as ‘textbook’ by former Bank of England governor Mervyn King. If you pursue unoriginal textbook policies, you don’t need imagination. That’s why Osborne has gotten this far.

But while the austerity versus another stimulus debate is over. The economic debate isn’t.

Now that growth has been verified, we need to present our manifesto plans to reduce the cost of living and tackle any housing bubble. We need to do this with the intellectual confidence and moral authority of a party that has been making the right calls on the economy for almost two decades. If we do that, the voters will respond. And the country will be rescued from more of the disasters caused by Labour or Tory economic policies.

* David Thorpe was the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for East Ham in the 2015 General Election

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9 Comments

  • “we need to present our manifesto plans to reduce the cost of living”

    Good luck with trying to do that, but it’s not within the remit of any UK government, given that it is dependent on things like international oil, food and commodity prices, currency exchange rates, the value of scarce land in relation to the number of people living there and its effect on property prices and rents.

    Even increasing wages is going to be a challenge, given the UK’s open labour market. All we can hope for is that Europe’s economy improves enough to choke off the supply of unemployed workers and that UK employers start having to pay decent wages again to their workforces.

    However, overall I agree with the general point about making our economic stance clear and the need to communicate it to voters. We need to lay out our plans of what a Liberal Democrat future would look like. I think with things like no income tax for those working full time on the minimum wage, Vince Cable’s framework for an industrial strategy and an emphasis on investment in training and apprenticeships. I think that it could turn out to be one of our greatest strengths going into 2015, as long as we can actually get the message through to voters in time.

  • david thorpe 15th Sep '13 - 7:13pm

    @ RC-yes and as the Uk economy recovers the value of sterling relative to the currencies of the countires from which we buy those imported goods will rise-pushing prices down…..a stimulus weakens sterking-pushing the prices up-which is what I have argued on tjhis siute repeatedly for two years

  • I really cannot comprehend that Clegg supported the HTB today…
    It really makes no sense as a policy and makes life for FTBs even more difficult for the future.
    For a party that supported a Mansion tax, HTB is an abomination.

    Reduce the cost of living? Since 2010 BoE has failed continously on their inflation remit and nobody has said anything.

  • Robert Wootton 16th Sep '13 - 7:08am

    The fiigures may well say that exports and the economy are on the up and up. But to someone on a low income, it is so much “pie in the sky”. While we have an economic system that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer and an economic policy that cuts benefits and entitlement and is therefore based on further impoverishment of the already poor, it will be difficult to get the Liberal Democrats to get elected into government, even as a coalition partner.

    I want the Liberal Demcrats to win a landslide victory at the next General Election. I even made it my mission statement to create the conditions for this in my year as chair of TWDLD. In my view the LibDems have got the current slogan “A stronger economy, a fairer society” and does not go far enough. To achieve a landslide victory, the slogan should be “A strong society, a fair economy”. And then to carry out the necessary actions to achieve that end and putting those steps into the manifesto.

  • david thorpe 16th Sep '13 - 9:29am

    ” robert-the poor are better off-according to the stats-because whilst real wages arent riwsing-the tax changes of this governemnt ameliorate that-

  • Robert Wootton 16th Sep '13 - 5:23pm

    I started my present employment at the end of June 2008. The first year I received £60 per week working tax credit. The second year, £30 per week. The following and sucsequent years, zero WTC. My partners children grow up and leave school, Child benefit ends, child WTC reduces, Housing and council Tax benefit reduces. The eldest tries to find work which he eventually gets at intermittent intervals. One is at college; no EMA anymore. The other getting into debt by going to university. Overtime is reduced because of the recession Utility bills continue to rise.
    I wont be going to my own funeral because I cannot afford to die. I am poor; but I suppose that is my own fault for not having the drive and commitment to start a successful business.

  • Robert Wootton 16th Sep '13 - 5:27pm

    In my first post, I meant to say that the slogan is the wrong way round. In my view, it should read, “A Strong Society; a Fair Economy”.

  • david thorpe 16th Sep '13 - 9:25pm

    robert the children of the poor dont pay to go to university-

    the very poor dont have a job

    you arent very poor now really areyou?

  • david thorpe 16th Sep '13 - 9:26pm

    todays vote at confernece indicates that the party are in fact committed to the current polciy and for that we can be glad

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