Opinion: Liberal Left have short memories

Liberal Left want to be careful what they wish for. In 1977 Liberal Leader David Steel struck a one-year deal with Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan that the 13 Liberal MPs would support the Labour Government in votes of confidence and supply. [Of those 13, nine are deceased, one is still an MP (Alan Beith) and one is in the Lords (David Steel).] In return a number of Liberal Policies, most notably PR for European elections, would be enacted. After the pact, the Liberals eventually voted for a motion of no confidence that brought down the government. In the subsequent general election we got 13% and 11 seats.

As an exercise in achieving our policies the results were mixed at best. Labour ratted on us at every opportunity, especially on the main plank of the deal PR for Europe. The Liberal MPs stuck to the deal, Labour dumped on us from a great height.

The deal was a disaster for the Liberal Party. In the local elections of 1977 and 1978 we lost swathes of councillors. Our opinion poll ratings fell drastically. The national press was vitriolic in its attacks on the Liberals. In the 1977 county council elections, we were spat on, had doors slammed in our faces and were called traitors. People, who had previously helped us on Election Day refused to do so. Long standing Liberal voters stayed at home and refused to vote. Despite squeezing the Labour vote and raising our own, we lost overwhelmingly to the Tories. Sounds and feels very familiar doesn’t it?

So even if Labour didn’t have a record of shame on Iraq, civil liberties, running the economy and much more, doing a deal with them – had it been numerically possible – would have been just as electorally damaging as forming the current coalition with the Conservatives. Actually, it would have probably been worse, because we would have been supporting a party on the way down, just as we did in 1977/8.

As someone who has always been on the radical left of our party, my 48 years experience of campaigning has shown me that it is almost always impossible to trust Labour. Labour has an expectation that our role is always to support them when they need it, though they have no obligation to reciprocate. The main reason for the current sound and fury is not only did we not support them but we went and got a deal to deliver many of our policies with someone else. Labour simply can’t accept that we didn’t roll over and back them.

Liberal Left need to learn a bit about our history with Labour, before they start limiting our options. So whilst I don’t support all the coalition does, the idea of coalition with the current Labour Party appals me.

In a future piece I will comment on the activities of local Labour Parties, their scurrilous attacks on local Liberal Democrats and how they fight elections, especially in big cities.

* Dr Michael Taylor has been a party member since 1964. He is currently active in the Calderdale Party.

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67 Comments

  • A salutory reminder. Labour have been intent on our destruction since their birth.

  • A fantastic piece and one that I hope is read widely. I look forward to the sequel as quite a lot of members in many of our Tory facing seats have never seen what the Labour party is like on the ground. If they had I’m sure many of them would be a lot less romantic in there views of them.

  • David Allen 2nd Mar '12 - 3:19pm

    So let’s get this straight. Forming coalitions with big parties can be bad for your health. They can double-cross you. This means that it’s OK to trust the Tories but terrible to place any confidence in Labour. Er, what?

    Liberal Left would like to explore the possibility of working with Labour, or the Greens, as well as with the Tories. This is suitably described as “limiting our options”. Er, WHAT?

  • mike cobley 2nd Mar '12 - 3:30pm

    @David Allen – quite so. And isnt Dr Taylor missing a crucial point, namely that Labour, for all its faults (and much of Blair’s record), has been the main standard bearer for social justice, certainly more so than the Tories. Yet it is Labour which attracts the good doctor’s opprobrium rather than the Troobloo Business Party. Shurely shome mishtake?

  • The tone of this article is very patronising. I know who Labour are, I also know who the Tories are.

  • Liberal Left want to rule out coalitions with the Tories. That is limiting our options. I didn’t say I was happy with a deal with the Tories or that I trusted them, but on civil liberties at least, I’d sooner trust them than Labour.

    Labour, the standard bearer for social justice? Don’t make me laugh. Every Labour Government since 1945 has widened the gap between rich and poor. The party of ID cards, the war in Iraq, 28 day detention without trial and control orders a progressive one?

    Come on, open your eyes and see Labour for what they are.

    And the Greens. Yes, lets have a coalition with the party that wants to abolish elections for a time when they come to power to make sure their green policies can be implemented fully. And before you come back on this I heard this from one of their founding members at a Green Conference I attended in Glastonbury.

  • Perhaps Labour do want to destroy the party but the Tories actually are destroying it.

  • Can I just echo the comments of Mike Cobley

    I do not agree with the LD bashing that comes from the Labour grassroots although, as a left-leaning ex-LD voter myself, I do have some sympathy with some of their comments.

    Saying that I would ask the same question – can someone give an example of a Conservative policy since 1979 that has specifically aimed at improving social justice? Not just a criticism of what Labour has/has not done but a focus on your Coalition partners and treating them by the same standards.

    There is no reason that any left-leaning person should immediately support the Labour Party and some of us are in limbo at the moment and the LD are supporting many policies now that they would have vehemently opposed under the last Government.

    By the same token as the author of the article says he would not dream of sitting with Labour, how can he expect a large number of ex-LD voters support a party which is enabling the continuation of the neoliberal, market-worshipping policies we have had for the last 30 years whilst previously promising to do something new. And please don’t give me ‘the junior partners in a Coalition’ explanation. A lot of the most contentious policies are not in the agreement

  • David Allen 2nd Mar '12 - 4:40pm

    “Liberal Left want to rule out coalitions with the Tories. That is limiting our options.”

    Evidence?

    This particular supporter of LL was initially in favour of a deal with the Tories, albeit opposed to the bad deal we ended up agreeing to. The LL website says:

    “A future coalition with Labour and others on the liberal left is more likely to secure Liberal Democrat goals than a further coalition with the Conservatives and we should actively work to make that possible.”

    and I agree with that. It does NOT reject outright the option of a further coalition with the Tories.

  • LondonLiberal 2nd Mar '12 - 4:41pm

    a great article, thanks. it reminds us why ‘a plague on both your houses’ is an essential element of being a libdem, in my view.

    However, Labour is certainly the less bad option in terms of social justice than the Tories, of that there is surely little doubt. Do we want to more closely identify with the party of the human rights act or clause 28? The party that founded the NHS or the one which attacks disabled benefit payments? The party that opposed the minimum wage or the one that brought it in?

    All those nasty Labour policies you mention are times when the (New Labour) party acted more like Tories than Labour. Remember, the Tories cheered Labour on in Iraq and control orders, and half the Tory party would love to see ID cards. Plus, although Labour are dinosaurs in many ways, and horrifically tribal and backward in many ways, they are not as fundamentally evil, racist, bigoted, greedy and unprincipled as the Tories.

  • paul barker 2nd Mar '12 - 5:59pm

    A great article, says what I feel completely. On the damage that joining the Coalition has done us, I have started a running 3 month average of vote shares in Local byelections. For December through February the shares were
    Con 36%
    Lab 22%
    Libdems 28%
    That suggests we can look forward to May with hope.

  • Paul Barker

    I have just perused the ALDC website for all the council by-election results for the period you cover and I think you may be over egging the situation a bit. The main areas of LD success are in seats where the Tories are their main challengers. In most of the cases where Labour has a significant presence thinks look less rosy (one-off results in local by-elections are difficult to gauge as local issues can be key) . I am happy to see LD holding up against the Tories and would like to see continued success. The problem is that in order to attract Tory swing voters then the party will need to become more attuned to that demographic – in most cases much to the right of where the party has been portraying itself in the North and Scotland.

    The data you show is not really relevant to VI in a national poll as the contested seats are not evenly distributed – someone perhaps could show how these seats compare to the last pre-coalition vote but to be honest I am not sure that will help much. It would be like saying the Labour Party will get a landslide based on the results of the Parliamentary by-elections since 2010 (average over 50%) – what we have seen in those cases though is that in Labour seats the Lib Dem vote has struggled – oh to see a Lib Dem/ Con marginal come up!

  • Stuart Mitchell 2nd Mar '12 - 7:06pm

    I think it is very short-sighted for any Lib Dem to rule out coalition with either Labour or the Tories.

    It is easy to imagine a situation where, given electoral arithmetic and 10 or 15 years of the sort of Tory administration we saw last time, the country might NEED the Lib Dems and Labour to work with each other. Articles like this are not helpful.

  • Andrew Suffield 2nd Mar '12 - 7:43pm

    Saying that I would ask the same question – can someone give an example of a Conservative policy since 1979 that has specifically aimed at improving social justice? Not just a criticism of what Labour has/has not done but a focus on your Coalition partners and treating them by the same standards.

    No.

    Few LDs would be shy about admitting that most (although not all) Tories are the enemy. However, an enemy that keeps their promises is one you can cut a deal with. It doesn’t make them a friend, but it does mean you both get something you want.

    All this article is really saying is that Labour are also the enemy, but one which is frustratingly hard to work with.

  • paul barker
    There is something admirable about your consistently upbeat assessment of Lib Dem electoral prospects. Last May you predicted the Lib Dems would lose 200 councillors. The actual result was 748 losses. A lesser man would have given up trying to read the electoral runes but somehow I get the feeling we will be treated to more wildly optimistic “predictions”.

  • I don’t rule out a future deal with the Labour Party, though they’d have to change a great deal if it was to come about. My main purpose is to point out that had we done a deal with Labour we’d have been just as attacked and vilified in the press and by the opposition. The electoral effect would have been the same, if not worse. There are no easy options in coalitions as any council group leader who has done a deal will tell you.

    What is needed in our party is a realisation that you can’t continue the politics of opposition when you’re in government and have to recognise that the government will not deliver every policy the conference votes for, only those upon which the coalition has agreed. To hear some of the people in Liberal Left they’d rather we had no bread at all rather than 60% of a loaf. Of course we have to swallow things we’d rather not – thats because politics is the art of the possible. The upside is that we get a lot of what we campaigned for in 2010.

  • mickft

    You are probably right in what you say and to be honest there was no realistic way of supporting a Labour-led Government. In this I am sympathetic to the LD as the arithmetic dealt them a bad hand and there was only one option – work with the Tories

    I am still skeptical that there was a need for a full Coalition and I think the party has been badly damaged by the experience.

    You are right about media vilification but that is also due to the right-wing bias of our media – the LD are still attacked even when supporting the Tories and if there is a LD/Labour Coalition it will be a bloodbath. In some respects that may be good as it could possibly lead to a drastic reform of the press and media ownership in general.

    The only benefit for a LD/Labour Coalition is that I think a number of Labour voters would actually be grateful to the LD for bringing a liberal perspective to centre-left politics and neuter some of the authoritarianism we frequently see (based on a completely unscientific and anecdotal discussion with my mates!). I don’t think Tory voters see the LD as a positive influence on their party.

  • Foregone Conclusion 2nd Mar '12 - 10:21pm

    I think this a very welcome article, not because it’s all yah boo sucks Labour are awful, but that it reminds us exactly what the electoral consequences of tying ourselves to a dying Labour government would have been, and that our past experiences have not exactly been overwhelmingly happy. Of course we have had fruitful coalitions with Labour in Scotland and Wales, and in local authorities up and down the country; sometimes they’ve turned sour. Much the same could be said for the Tories.

  • David Allen 3rd Mar '12 - 12:10am

    Mickft said:

    “I don’t rule out a future deal with the Labour Party, though they’d have to change a great deal if it was to come about.”

    Well, clearly a large party doesn’t decide to change “a great deal” when it enters coalition with a small party. So what you’re saying is, you would like to claim to be open to coalition with Labour, while in practice erecting barriers to make sure it doesn’t actually happen.

    Do you believe that the Tories changed “a great deal” in order to make a coalition with us? If so, do you think that their new health and education policies – which were not in their election manifesto – represent a great shift toward the centre ground? Or is it simply that the Tories, unlike Labour, meet your requirements as a preferred partner without much need to change?

    Look, what’s wrong with arguing honestly and openly for what you believe in? You state “I didn’t say I was happy with a deal with the Tories or that I trusted them, but on civil liberties at least, I’d sooner trust them than Labour.” Now, why put in that little weasel clause about civil liberties? Isn’t the truth that you are simply miles closer to the Tories than to Labour on pretty much everything, but you would like to fuzzy that around the edges a bit, because it suits your argumentative tactics to do so?

    You say about Callaghan’s government: “Labour ratted on us at every opportunity, especially on the main plank of the deal PR for Europe. ” Translation: You would like to call Callaghan a rat, but you can only find one example, and that was Labour’s espousal of a somewhat less than perfect form of PR for Europe. Well, if that’s “ratting”, it hardly compares with what Cameron did over the AV referendum, does it?

    In truth, Callaghan’s government was a lot more honourable than Blair’s or Brown’s. Yes, the Liberals in 1979 suffered by association with a government which was perceived as tired and not coping well with economic problems. Just as happened 31 years later, the nation found out what economic incompetence was really like when they let the Tories in instead!

    And yes, from my side I should acknowledge that Blair and Brown did some terrible things, and that dealing with Labour in future may well prove to be very far from plain sailing. Mind you, I know what you’re going to make of that statement. You’re not going to recognise that I am showing a sense of balance and fairness in presenting my opinion. You’re just going to look for a way to turn the words back against me, aren’t you?

  • Dan Falchikov

    So that will be a no then

    The only concrete example you give is ‘selling off council houses’ which could be considered socially progressive if it was part of a structured housing policy which did not forbid the use of funds to build more social housing. What in fact happens is that some people were essentially given state property from which they made a lot of money and some would argue helped file the house price boom which contributed to the early 90s recession.

    I don’t think Tories are necessarily all evil which is why I chose 1979 as a cut off – I have not experienced anything from the Tories in my lifetime, I must admit, that has helped improve social justice. Labour has done precious little either I may add

  • Stuart Mitchell 3rd Mar '12 - 7:45am

    Mickft: “My main purpose is to point out that had we done a deal with Labour we’d have been just as attacked and vilified in the press and by the opposition.”

    If you had done a deal with Labour you would have been attacked and vilified but for different reasons – mainly because Labour had fewer votes than the Tories, and the resulting coalition would not even have had a majority. It was not a viable option.

    However I think you are reluctant to see the reasons why the Lib Dems have been so attacked and vilified (at least by the opposition) since the election. It is not the fact that you entered into government with the Tories, it is the manner in which you did it. From the moment of Clegg and Cameron’s political “wedding ceremony” in the No 10 rose garden you have tied yourselves far too closely to the Tories. I warned Lib Dems at the time on these pages that this would be a disaster for your party and I have seen nothing yet to suggest that I was wrong.

    It has been mainly a problem of presentation, though there have been strategic blunders too. You have not always used your power in the coalition wisely. For example, making the farcical AV referendum a “red line” issue, while caving in over tuition fees, gave the impression that you were much more interested in using your stay in government to further the interests of the Lib Dems rather than the people who you claimed so dramatically to support while in opposition.

  • Stuart Mitchell 3rd Mar '12 - 7:49am

    Dan Falchikov: “So any policies that might be suggested – such as selling council houses (for example) – would be immediately discounted”

    Well try and see.

    Selling council houses would certainly be discounted on the undeniable grounds that the availability of affordable housing has fallen in direct correlation to the reduction in social housing.

  • David Evans 3rd Mar '12 - 8:21am

    “the Liberals eventually voted for a motion of no confidence that brought down the government.”

    NICK!! There is a plan B!!!

  • Richard Swales 3rd Mar '12 - 9:12am

    “Can someone give an example of a Conservative policy since 1979 that has specifically aimed at improving social justice? ”

    It depends on the definition of “social justice” and also you have to be able to look into the motivations of the people proposing a policy to be able to answer.
    Most people who use the term regularly seem to define social justice as “financial equality”, so they don’t consider it “socially just” if a person having learnt skills which the market needs (i.e. other people want) and using them 10 hours per day, has a much higher income than someone who is staying home. Instead, they (people who use the term regularly) would consider it “socially just” if both those people had the same. The Tories (and most Liberal Democrats) don’t agree with that definition of justice, so no, I’m sure they have never proposed a policy which had that as it’s underlying aim rather than as a side effect.

  • Richard Swales.

    Nice setting up of a straw man there.

    Again a LD firmly planting the party alongside the Tories when it comes to social justice. Do other LD agree that this is where you see yourselves?

    I do not believe in income equality but equality of opportunity and the reduction, as far as possible, in obvious unfairness

    I do not think the Tories care anything about these things, and neither do some LD or Labourites. In fact the LD were the best bet for a change of political philosophy and have unfortunately dropped the ball

  • Dan Falkikov

    Well what constitutes a Lib Dem – 5 votes out of 6 possible in a GE? I have never volunteered or been a member so I suppose in your view I should not have any right to comment on LD policies? Not really very customer-focused. I post here because I enjoy the debates and I do not think my views are inconsistent with official LD policies (albeit from a leftish point of view) – I think it is your views that are inconsistent with official LD policies – I did not see this keen rapprochement with the Tories prior to the election, perhaps a few of your MPs but not the whole Parliamentary party.

    That LD canvasser that was around my way last week who still insists you are to the left of Labour on most policies, believe in Social Justice (but clearly does not understand it) and says that the party is listening to its disaffected voters was fibbing then! Essentially you do not want to listen to us disaffected LD .

    To get back to the subject in hand I still do not see what evidence you give for visionary Tory policies that tackle social inequality but you still seem to be happy to defend them as right-wing companions.

    Again, share ownership. In some ways a good idea but does it really help people feel a part of the company? What power does this give them in comparison to a strong trade union – employee participation in work’s councils would be a better ideas (and I believe is supported by the LD) – the Tories are not so keen though. Neither are they very keen on trying to reign in the reward for failure seen at the top of companies. Again at odds with the LD

    Your views seem to be more libertarian rather than liberal with the focus on individual endeavor/merit, this is not the view I take where the ‘market’ and ‘individuality’ is biased in favor of certain demographies (i.e. a cleaner working 60 hours a week at minimum wage compared to the idle offspring of the landowning aristocracy) and so the state has to intervene. I do not believe the Tories philosophy accepts the importance of this state intervention at anywhere above minimum level

  • “However I think you are reluctant to see the reasons why the Lib Dems have been so attacked and vilified (at least by the opposition) since the election. It is not the fact that you entered into government with the Tories, it is the manner in which you did it. From the moment of Clegg and Cameron’s political “wedding ceremony” in the No 10 rose garden you have tied yourselves far too closely to the Tories. I warned Lib Dems at the time on these pages that this would be a disaster for your party and I have seen nothing yet to suggest that I was wrong.”

    Not at all. I fully expected that coalition with anybody would be misrepresented and pilloried. There had been no coalition of any sort since 1945 and the British public were totally unprepared for it. If you are used to confrontational politics, then the idea of a government that has to compromise with its partners is difficult to grasp. For months, every disagreement or compromise was going to bring down the government. Of course some people still like to pretend it might, but the fixed term elections act means that barring collusion between parties that make up 2/3 of parliament to vote for an early election (unlikely, since I can’t see Labour and the Conservatives both voting together) or a vote of no confidence followed by no parties being able to form a government [seems fanciful, because it will prove that the Lib Dems can’t be trusted to honour a coalition deal] then we already know when the next general election will be, May 5th 2015.

    Of course, in the beginning both Cameron and Clegg had to show they could work together and that coalition worked. Now both parties are prepared to argue openly for their policies within the coalition and Clegg is demonstrating the different Liberal Democrat agenda.

    A coalition is not a merger or even a marriage. It’s an agreement by two parties who by themselves can achieve little to join together to enact a proportion of their policies together. It’s a political arrangement for an agreed period on an agreed set of policies. Neither party can get all it wants. The two parties don’t even have to like each other! Of course in mainland Europe no-one would see this as at all strange, because it goes on all the time.

    That is a lesson that many in the Lib Dems have yet to learn.

  • mickft

    I think you are underestimating the intelligence of a number of your colleagues and voters. Many of us knew that the result of the last election could only lead to one type of Coalition based on the maths and our antiquated FPTP system (this is where your comparison with the continent fails as on the continent the LD would have been virtually equal partners in a coalition due to PR).

    What is frustrating to a number of us, mainly it seems from the north, is that none of the LD policies seemed to have any consistency with a continuation of neoliberal philosophy. Also you were the only party to oppose Iraq, the only party to seriously believe in civil liberty improvements (I would not trust the Tories on this, wait for the next major terrorist alert) , the only party to believe in a higher education free for all and the only party to oppose trident/nuclear power. We voted for you on that basis and now some of us feel let down and, for me, what is more annoying is the pompousness (coupled with enthusiasm) of the right-wing of the party telling us we were wrong to assume things and you were all neoliberal Tory bedfellows all along!

    I do not know what the answer could have been – I am not close enough to how the negotiations were carried out – but the party leadership seem to be delivering votes to the Tories without much in return. My comment has always been that in a coalition like this the idea of collective cabinet responsibility is undefendable and the LD members of the cabinet should be allowed far more freedom to voice dissent. A much looser coalition would probably have been better for us all

  • bazzasc

    I know that there was no other numerical coalition possible, but many voters still think there was. Only yesterday I was challenged as to why we had done a deal with the Tories and that person clearly hadn’t done the maths. I suspect there are many others like that.

    If you haven’t already done so I suggest you look at http://www.whatthehellhavethelibdemsdone.com which explodes the myth that Lib Dem manifesto policies have been abandoned.

    As far as I know the government hasn’t engaged in any illegal wars, hasn’t ordered any replacement for Trident and is making the case for green energy and putting money into greening the economy. Do you seriously believe a majority Conservative Government would be doing the same? I don’t.

  • mickft

    Sorry not convinced – some things have been done but it is tinkering at the edges. As to the illegal war – we will wait and see what happens if the opportunity arises for Iran (remember also Hague said that they would have attacked Iraq if they had been in Government and the Tories were also more enthusiastic than Labour). The trident decision is fair enough but we know both Tories and Labour support it so it will happen – good try though. On green issues I think you have been hamstrung by your Coalition partners who are on track to make this Government a very poor example.

    I do not think that the Tories would be doing exactly the same, but then again there are the small issues such as welfare reform, NHS etc where you have not done much to stop them. Remember also the Tories have not got a majority and cannot do things without your support. I consider that they have thrown you some things which are listed on the website you linked to but are using your votes to propose things that will have a lasting effect to the detriment of our society.

  • The main reason we were doing so in elections badly in the late 70s was the Thorpe scandal which made the then Liberal Party look like a complete joke! Our old etonian ‘pillar of establishment’ leader on trial for arranging his secret gay lover to be bumped of, but getting the dog instead – of course we were doing badly and not seen as a serious political force. David Steel’s ‘stability’ pact with Labour actually did a huge amount to restore our political credibility and laid the foundations of the realignment that came later with the Alliance. I think the above article is completely bereft of historical context.

  • Anon is factually wrong. Prior to the Lib Lab pact the Liberals had, for the first time with a Labour Government since the war, started to prosper at the expense of Labour. We had won a number of council seats from Labour and looked set to do quite well in a future general election. David Steel’s pact destroyed all that and did nothing to improve our credibility. All it did was keep an unpopular Labour Government in power. It was made far worse by Steel doing absolutely nothing to sell the deal to the public, despite urging from many in the party at the time.

    David Allan commented “You say about Callaghan’s government: “Labour ratted on us at every opportunity, especially on the main plank of the deal PR for Europe. ” Translation: You would like to call Callaghan a rat, but you can only find one example, and that was Labour’s espousal of a somewhat less than perfect form of PR for Europe. Well, if that’s “ratting”, it hardly compares with what Cameron did over the AV referendum, does it?”

    Actually we didn’t get PR for Europe at all, because Callaghan refused to whip his MPs to support it even though it was part of the agreement. FTTP continued till 1999, when the Blair Government was forced by the EU to adopt a propertional system and chose the least democratic option, the closed list system. I only used this as an example. Labour actually failed to deliver any but the most trivial parts of the Lib Lab pact. The Cameron Tories never agreed to support AV. They only agreed to allow a referendum to take place, so although I might deplore their tactics during the referendum, they did not rat on the coalition agreement.

  • Julian Tisi 3rd Mar '12 - 6:06pm

    Dr Taylor,

    An exceptional article and one I wholeheartedly support. “The main reason for the current sound and fury is not only did we not support them but we went and got a deal to deliver many of our policies with someone else. Labour simply can’t accept that we didn’t roll over and back them.” – this is exactly the attitude I’ve had from Labour supporters all over. What saddens me is that any Lib Dem who broadly supports the Coalition, even with reservations is labelled as to the right of the party. Some of us left-leaning Lib Dems actually dislike Labour because their policies ended up hurting the poorest by putting us all into debt and increasing the culture of dependency.

  • Richard Swales 3rd Mar '12 - 8:20pm

    @Bazzasb, ok so if we were to keep raising the income tax rate, a what point would you say it is socially unjust? What if it was 50 percent, so we would work all morning for the government before being able to work the afternoon for ourselves, what about if it was 60, 70 or higher. Is 90 percent socially unjust? Regardless of how you personally define justice, I’m willing to bet it’s not a definition the Tories share, so the answer to the question of whether they have done things in the past motivated by social justice as you define it is going to be “no”.

  • Sorry it was me – i wrote the wrong name

    Richard Swales, why do you keep on writing about tax rates and their increase? I have never mentioned taxation as it is but one plank of promoting social justice

    I have some radical ideas on what would constitute and help social justice, including abolition of private education charitable status, free education/training for all until tertiary level if desired, taxation on wealth (land, unearned income, inheritance) rather than earned income, the living wage, social housing investment, reduced defense spending, green investment, science funding increase, Lords reform and, finally, abolition of the monarchy. I would also look for a reform of the welfare state which should be focused on localism and community (this is not what the current Government is doing before you say, in fact they are cutting local funding).

    Now I do not want a discussion on these ideas as it is off-topic but I would like to know what you think the Tories philosophy is on this matter – seeing that you see yourself aligned to them. By the way not many of these ideas could be found in a Labour manifesto which is what I am always being accused of being a proponent of

  • Steve Comer 3rd Mar '12 - 9:45pm

    Thanks Mick for a very useful article reminding us of the Lib/Lab pact era. As a young activist at the time, I remember it as a mixture of the best and worst of times. On the plus side, nobody could say that a Liberal vote would always be ineffectual or ‘wasted’, the negative side was the 1977 Local elections which saw a generation of good Liberal Councillors defeated at the polls. And in many London seats in the GLC elections wee were fourth behind the National Front. You criticise Callaghan, but we need to remember that a large part of his Cabinet, and an even larger part of his parliamentary party never wanted the Lib/Lab pact at all. They were effectively playing a game of ‘dare’ with Liberals and Ulster Unionists, and only when it looked like this might not work any more did they go for the pact.

    At that time many were predicting meltdown for Liberal at the subsequent General Election, but in the event we recovered quite well and lost only two seats. I think there are a lot of parallels with the coalition now. One problem is that at UK level the media and voters are still not used to Coalition (or even no overall majority), whereas this is common in local government and in the devolved assemblies. Yet as John Curtice has pointed out , ‘hung’ parliaments are statistically more likely in future, so Labour’s tribalists will have to get used to the idea.

    Like Mick I consider myself to be on the radical left of the Liberal Democrats, yet I think its noticeable that few of those leading ‘Liberal Left’ seem to come from areas where Labour have been dominant for years. Those of us that do, know how reactionary and illiberal the Labour Party can be when it is in power.

  • Richard Swales 3rd Mar '12 - 10:14pm

    @Bazzasb – no you didn’t mention the tax rate, but you didn’t define what you personally understand by the term “social justice”, I was attempting to elicit a definition from you, as you’ve said it doesn’t mean that everyone has the same, – the things you mentioned, such as about charitable status for private schools are policies, not values. In any case, my basic point still stands, that as the definition of social justice depends on the speaker then your idea that other people are not intriniscally motivated by (your particular definition of) social justice could be applied to anyone at all.

    The Tories themselves (and I would hope most Liberal Democrats) would probably argue that reducing the top rate of tax from 60 percent to 40 percent in 1986 was socially just, as the government getting more than half the sweat of someone’s brow is unjust – and I’m pretty sure that “justice” as they understand it was the real motivation rather than the expedience-based justifications about the incentivization that they may have trotted out for public consumption.

  • Steve Comer is of course absolute;y right. The deal was between Steel and Callaghan not between the Liberal and Labour Parliamentary Parties. Steel didn’t even get conference approval for it just went ahead and did it.

    My point still stands however that the Liberal Party would have done far better in the local elections ofd ’77 and ’78 without the pact and probably much better too in the GE of 1979. The pact failed with the electorate because it wasn’t sold at all. The coalition is now, belatedly, being sold after a number of totally inept policy changes namely tuition fees and the NHS, both of which could have been prevented if their presentation had been different.

    Steve is right again to point to the appaling nature of Labour when in power locally. I will write about that from my experience in Leeds shortly.

  • Richard Swales

    The only subject you talk about s taxation – is all that matters reducing the top rate of taxation. Taxation is just one strand and I mentioned my preference for taxation on wealth and land rather than income. You will be mentioning the laffer curve next! Is that all the right cares about —tax?

    Also my vision for education would involve the abolition of private education completely as it is a reinforcement for unmerited privilege I know this does not go down well though so I temper it a bit. The best way to do that is to invest properly in schools, give teachers the status they deserve and stop using education as a political football every change of Government. It involves the state spending money though and for that we need taxation

  • Richard Swales 4th Mar '12 - 10:36am

    @bazzasc – no, tax is the one word you keep picking out of my posts. The main point is that everyone has a different definition of social justice. What’s yours? How does a socially just society look? Is your definition the same as the Tories?
    KEY POINT > If it isn’t the same why should any of their policies be motivated social justice as you define it?

    On the Laffer curve, I take it then that you don’t believe that if taxes were 100 percent then the total tax take would be lower than now? (by the way, I agre e we are to the left of the peak at the moment)

  • Richard Swales

    I am asking you what your definition is of social justice – mine simply is that we should strive to have as meritocratic a society as we can do and try to remove inherited privilege (I have proposed some of the policies above). I would also say that part of a socially just society would prevent those who have to continually use their power to grasp more to the detriment of society (look at the comparison between CEO salaries and average salaries over the last 30 years for example), especially when not linked to added value. I have no issue with entrepreneurship and innovation allowing people to gain wealth – it is the abuse of that status once attained that is the issue.

    In terms of the Laffer Curve, you have picked one extreme that really does not help your argument.

    The reason I focus on tax is the only example of a policy you give for the Tories increasing social justice was the reduction in top rate from 60% to 40% – if you have others then please enlighten us. I accept that my definition of social justice and the way to achieve it will be different from the Tories but you have not given me any indication of what your (and their) way is.

    For example, it could be said that selling council houses to long-terms tenants was one way of doing this and they would have a point. The fact though is that this was badly managed and actually led to less justice for those who missed the boat as there is now a lack of usable social housing.

    If you believe in deregulation of employee rights, abolishing the minimum wage, allowing hiring and firing, a flat tax rate for all etc then please say so. I would understand the arguments, even if I fundamentally agree with them. Just saying that they will be different from mine is stating the obvious but does not leave me any the wiser

  • jedibeeftrix

    I am not asking you to support it – I support very few of your values either! In fact to attain it is is impossible but striving for it will help.

    The right is always throwing up examples of the ‘undeserving idle poor’ whereas I would also say we should tackle the ‘undeserving idle rich’ who live off inherited land and wealth and make no contribution whatsoever to society.

    Liberalism should be about equality before the law, freedom of religion and thought etc etc. I am in full support of these. It should be against the acceptance of inherited power through inherited wealth. The abuse of power in this way is less obvious than it was in the past but the fact that are a more unequal society with less social mobility than 30 years ago should be a worry and should not be accepted as is.

    If you look at the list of those who have power, either political or through their ‘celebrity’ you see how many of them inherit that position through contacts and relationship – I do not believe that this is a tenet liberalism should accept

  • Richard Swales 4th Mar '12 - 8:48pm

    @bazza – I have no idea what the Tories consider to be justice. Perhaps that the price of services would be the same for all without distiction based on income – so the poll tax would be the most socially just policy ever. As for myself, I don’t have a definition of social justice as I use terms to communicate and ones like social justice, which everyone defines differently are useless for that purpose and I try not to use them..

    You accept that there are points at which higher tax rates lead to diminishing returns, at least at the extreme end, but you don’t accept the Laffer curve? Could you give more details on that one?

  • Richard Swales 4th Mar '12 - 8:51pm

    By the way, what is the point the author is making with the point that nine of the 13 Liberal MPs who supported Callaghan are now dead? Working with Labour can seriously damage your health?

  • @Richard Swales

    “Perhaps that the price of services would be the same for all without distiction based on income – so the poll tax would be the most socially just policy ever.”

    Can I ask why is it socially just for a family to pay extra for carbon usage (e.g. gas/electricity/fuel) but unjust for them to pay for the additional costs to the council, especially as some of those council services may attract a carbon levy. For instance, a couple without kids will pay the same council tax as a couple with 10 kids, so the council obviously have to use more resources to provide for the latter than the former.

    Personally, I thought the “Poll Tax” was actually a good idea, unfortunately in the real world of politics some councils saw it as a way to make extra cash or perhaps play politics, e.g. where as the previous council tax may have been £200 per house, people suddenly found it was £200 per person.

  • Richard Swales

    On your point about the Laffer Curve .- it is clear that if you take 100% of income from someone then there will be no incentive to earn. It is also the case that the tax take at 0% tax will be errrmmm 0!

    How the tax rate influences tax take in between is not easy to judge and is not as simplistic as the Laffer curve tries to show as there are sociological effects as well.

    So in answer to your question, I am sure that at a certain point a tax rate will be detrimental to overall tax taken but where that is and how that varies from country to country is beyond my knowledge – can you point me to a reptable study where they have this information?

    Anyway to me this is a moot point because I would try to move taxation away from productive labour to unearned and stockpiled wealth and land. This would also need certain controls in order to prevent abuse by those with financial power awarding themselves high incomes – I go back to my previous comments about the increase of CEO remuneration without comparable increases in shareholder value etc.

    Do you not believe that there is a skewed market at the top of the earnings scale which is leading to increasing inefficiency? I would imagine a free marketeer as you seem to be would be frothing at the mouth about the huge amounts of value being extracted by lawyers, chief executives and bankers. Lawyers for example have a closed shop trade union – surely the market should be allowed to operate in order to improve value? Funny I never here this being called for very often

  • Richard Dean 4th Mar '12 - 10:37pm

    100% tax rate, on marginal income, does not mean no tax take.

    Alistair Darling, in his book on the financial crisis, relates how bankers use their bonuses to indicate relative status. It is therefore theoretically feasible for a bank to pay bonus of 2 million to banker B, and for the government to take the whole lot. Banker B will still value the bonus, and work for it, because she knows that banker A is only getting 1 million, which the government takes all of too. The 2 million has given banker B the relative status she requires. And banker A works hard for his bonus too, even though he receives none of it. He works hard because his underlings are getting none.

  • I simply reported the fact that 9 of the 13 are not here to comment or otherwise on what they did. Only 2 are active in politics right now Alan Beith in the Commons and David Steel in the Lords. He seems to be trying to stymie reform of the House of Lords that he supported when he was an MP and which has been party policy since the Liberal Government passed the Parliament Act in 1911. The remaining two are John Pardoe and Jeremy Thorpe, who might have lots to say but aren’t active.

  • Incidentally the two people constantly posting about the esoteric nature of social justice are doubtless having a good time, but I can’t see what it has to do with the nature of coalitions or Liberal Left’s idea to commit us never to form coalitions with the Tories.

  • David Allen 5th Mar '12 - 7:08pm

    “Liberal Left’s idea to commit us never to form coalitions with the Tories.”

    Don’t you read? I have already refuted this once in this thread!

    Or maybe you follow the George W Bush principle that if you say something often enough, people will eventually believe it?

  • mickft

    Well we finished that conversation a day or two ago so you come to it a bit late. The discussion came from a comment from Mike Cobley about however you personally dislike the Labour Party they had achieved more in terms of helping social justice than the Tories.

    There was then a quite interesting discussion on the difference in ideas of social justice between right and left which may have been a bit off topic but was entertaining nevertheless

    I think you should reserve judgement on the potential duplicity of the Conservatives until around the time of the next election – I fear you may find that they treat the LD in pretty much the same way you were treated by Labour in the 70s. The two main parties are quite ruthless and, if anything, the Tories more so than Labour

  • When it comes to social justice , Labour have given up on the craftsman, technician,engineer, self employed and those running small businesses. Labour has overseen a switch of resources from the blue collar to the white collar. Labour has become the party of the white public sector employee. labour has had 13 years to copy the technical and vocational training of Germany without which we cannot rebalence the economy from South to North and from finance to manufacturing .

    The public sector unions finance the Labour party . The unions have always been antagonistic towards the self employed and those in SMEs. Where is the social justice in white public sector employees retiring in the late 50s and receiving a pension paid for by the taxpayer, that hardly any self employed tradesman will ever be able to pay for?

  • Michael Parsons 6th Mar '12 - 2:30am

    Oh Dear! Whatever the problems of coalition with Labour, we survived it: coalition with the Tories in the last Great Depression’s National Government for example wiped us out. Already this time round electoral reform has been sabotaged for a generation, money has replaced intelligence as a criterion for education, and we have lost it seems 75% of our membership along with the hearts and minds of the coming generation, who will either accept domination by the rich as a right, or turn elsewhere for reform. It is not the liberal left that needs a warning! No doubt Nick Clegg will steer us through- his latest brief on the NHS was superb – but it may still be touch and go!

  • Typo above , should be labour is the party of the white collar public sector employee.
    Where is the justice in the white collar public sector employees retiring in their late 50s, whereas the blue collar self employed tradesman will have to carry on working until after 65 years of age. In addition, rules and regulations from Europe have disproportionate adverse impact on the selfemployed tradesman and SME, yet tends to increase white collar employment, especially in the public sector.

    Human rights regulations are another income streams for lawyers but does nothing to increase the income for tradesmen. When comes to buying a home by increasing the income of the white collar worker and especially reducing the amount they need to contribute to the pension, it places them in a financially advantageous position compared to most tradesmen. Once outiside SE England, much of the middle class and upper middle class spending comes from those with above average salaries in public sector jobs ( especially parts of Edinburgh).
    The flexible work arrangements possible if one works in the public sector are rarely possible if one works in construction, farming, oil and mining industries, or in factories. If one is operating a tower crane on a construction site one cannot start at 9:30 Hrs when everyone else is starting at 8:00Hrs or even earlier.

    Under Labour, becoming a a public sector employee , especially outside of SE England, was like becoming a Communist Party official in China: the pay and con ditions of employment were far better than workingin the fields and factories. Perhaps it i stime the LD returned to their 18 Century roots and become the party of the tradesman and craftsman: none of the other parties are interested in representing them.

  • The problem is not the Coalition as such it is the string of tactical and strategic blunders that have followed since 2010. A few weeks ago Sarah Teather defended workfare on Any Questions by complaining about the ‘educated, liberal elite’. When Lib Dem MP’s are using ‘liberal’ as a swearword something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

  • David Allen – ““Liberal Left’s idea to commit us never to form coalitions with the Tories.”

    Don’t you read? I have already refuted this once in this thread!”

    Not so. Linda Jack couldn’t be more clear when she wrote:

    “we were wrong not to say clearly who we would support in the event of a hung parliament because we are not and never have been, equidistant.”

  • Charlie – I agree, the self employed and SMEs should be fertile territory for Liberals, representing as they do the engine of economic recovery and the means by which the monopolies of state and commerce are challenged. That they aren’t is a cause for regret and a challenge to our leadership

  • george roussopoulos 8th Mar '12 - 4:23pm

    The article and much of the discussion assumes the options are coalition or nothing. After the election I naively supported the idea of a coalition thinking it could not last long in any case, but never envisaged that M. Gove would have a free hand towards privatising the school system, and D. Cameron et al the NHS.

    More experienced heads on our LD Exec however opposed it – they preferred an adhoc alliance in which we would consider supporting a Tory minority government only on an ad hoc basis. They were right and I was wrong.

    If this NHS bill is not properly voted upon in the Spring Conference and later passed, the country and the party will suffer badly. One can only hope there will be a grassroots revolt to sink it in practice just as happened with the equally infamous Poll Tax.

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th Mar '12 - 6:26pm

    @ Bassasc, I love your radical ideas. ave you considered starting a political party?

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th Mar '12 - 6:36pm

    Oh dear, more typing errors.

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