Opinion: Pay, pensions and pupils

At the moment we have a communication problem. Every one of us knows that we’ve done brilliant things in government and have had a positive influence in almost every area. But tell people that and they don’t believe you.

The problem is that, whilst we’re getting stuff done in government, we’ve generally been pretty poor at letting the public know that. Our 2010 manifesto was put across to people rather effectively, and I’m fairly sure that we’ll be able to do the same in our 2015 manifesto – but that doesn’t help us in the meantime.

In the past, we’ve always seen a poll slump between elections, something which is probably partly down to our difficulties in communicating a coherent “message” to the public. Well, that’s not too much of a problem when you’re in opposition. But, as we saw this May, when you’re in government it’s vitally important that you’re able to communicate your achievements or otherwise you get punished at the polls. At the moment a lot of people take the view that we haven’t managed to do much at all in government and the only things that they clearly remember us doing (e.g. the u-turn on tuition fees) are things they don’t like.

But the fact is that we have done a lot that should be very popular. The problem is that people just aren’t hearing about it! In my opinion, part of the problem is that, when we do try to talk to people about our achievements, we either spend loads of time talking about one particular win to the exclusion of almost all else (I met one person who said “all you ever do is go on about the tax allowance, you haven’t done anything else”) or we bombard them with a list so long and so broad that there’s no coherency and no memorability to it.

At the next general election things will be different. We’ll be able to spend plenty of time to come up with a coherent message to take to the British public, one which will hopefully focus on our achievements in government and our ambitions for the future. But what about in the meantime? We have the London Assembly elections and the mayoral race next year, county council and some borough council elections the year after that and then goodness knows what else. It’s no good waiting until 2015 to develop a narrative about our time in government – we need one now, and we need one that can be taken out onto the doorstep.

So that’s why I’d like to say three words to you: pay, pensions, pupils.

This should be our message on the doorstep:

  1. Pay – We’ve taken well over a million of the lowest paid out of paying tax altogether by raising the income tax threshold.
  2. Pensions – We’ve restored the earnings link to pensions that Thatcher took away so from now on pensioners can be sure that their pension will always keep up with or exceed living costs.
  3. Pupils – We’re pumping two and a half billion pounds into a new pupil premium which will go directly to helping the poorest pupils in the country get a fair start in life.

There’s lots more we could talk about besides those but a three item list is simple, memorable and effective. Those three words, in my opinion should be at the heart of our message to people for the rest of this year. Next year, we’ll probably need a new list, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it. (Personally I’d favour “welfare reform, protecting the NHS, and the Green Deal” but that’s just me.)

If we want to start having our achievements in government recognised and applauded, it’s not enough just to talk about them amongst ourselves, we need to get the message out.

So remember, on the doorstep, “Pay, pensions, pupils.”

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Pensions are a ticking bomb and the restoration of the earning link is another dreadful lollipop for the over-cosseted boomer generation. Pensioners have got a free bus pass, an enhanced and extended fuel payment, free eye tests, protection for the NHS, overwhelmingly used by the old, free prescriptions and TV licenses. Plus no reform of planning which maintains thier hyperinflation in property. The young get the big society.

    More than that though, there has been a stream of articles on here that would have me believe that that this is all a problem of, ‘communication.’ Just a thought – maybe the people do know about all these things? As you rightly say, ‘loads of time,’ is spent on communication. That what you are seeing is the result of people making a value judgment on what they feel, fully aware of what Lib Dem influence/confluence is? And that repeating it over and over again might not make much difference?

  • Oh Dear, I would not mention pupils on the doorstep or anything remotely linked to education.

    Just like Basil Fawlty with his “Don’t mention the war” sketch, we must try to keep clear of this as every time we mention anything to do with education a picture of the pledge, and the “only in exception circumstances” comments appear in the electorates minds!
    Just don’t go there!
    Pupils, students, education must become taboo for lib dems in public until the student loan fiasco becomes a conservative problem.

  • David Allen 3rd Jun '11 - 1:04pm

    Duncan is right. The Tories are the party of the pensioners, so the Coalition has turned a blind eye to the supposedly horrendous deficit problem and thrown the pensioners massive tax bribes. The Lib Dems were once the party of youth, so the Coalition has taken care to put an end to that with fees, youth unemployment, and internship auctions. What a brilliant deal we did!

  • David Allen – Indeed. It is also worth noting that the restoration of the earning link was in the Conservative Party manifesto, so it is not totally clear to me how it can be chalked up as distinctly Lib Dem.

  • .

    I believe the reason the lib dems don’t get any credit is because these are policies not principles, and voters on the whole aren’t interested in policies. Take for example the pension earning link. Personally, i not in favour of it, when pensions remain unaffordable. For local government and other public sector workers facing an extra 3% of their gross pay going in increased pension contributions – which do you think they are going to focus on ?

    the we propose – we oppose manifesto offered a massive bribe to pensioners, but it was the group that gave the lib dems the lowest support.

    Tuition fees have been a disaster for the party – firstly it failed to realise that the gain in seats since 1992 had less to do with targeting and more to do with demographics. Secondly, it clear shows that the principle – people shouldn’t have to pay for education – was turned on it’s head. Now there are very good arguments as to why people should pay for education, especially at degree level, but that it not what Nick Clegg said before the election.

    Same with the £10,00 income tax – it is a policy, the latest in a long line of tax policies, remember the 4p of income tax, the green tax switch, local income tax, mansion tax,

    keep the 10p tax rate. It is a policy not a principle. We canb have accademic arguements over whether it does or doesn’t make the lowets paid better off, but

    it is nothing like as simple as Iain Duncan Smith trying to ensure your better off in work than on benefits. Everyone can graps that principle, they don’t wnat to read the detailed policy paper.

  • Tony Dawson 3rd Jun '11 - 8:40pm

    “Our 2010 manifesto was put across to people rather effectively, ”


    If one person in 30 had a clue about our manifesto, I’d be amazed. And that is just among Lib Dem members.

    Not that it’s any better or worse in/with other Parties. Voters do not care about manifestos. They care about whether the MP or Party can be trusted to represent them – or will be best-placed to be able to beat the *********ds they hate.

  • You know the problem is also one of putting spin on limited success. That’s not saying that there haven’t been success strories, just that by over egging them th epublic dismiss them out of hand. To give examples:

    1.Pay – We’ve taken well over a million of the lowest paid out of paying tax altogether by raising the income tax threshold.

    This is an excellent start to implementing the 10K policy. However for most of those it affects it will not make the huge differences claimed. For example, some will see their means tested benefits reduce accordingly. That’s not a bad thing as it is better to keep your own money than to have to ask the state for a top up, but let’s tell it as it is, a small step, ripped from the chancellor’s purse against his own principles. As the policy progresses it will have more effect.

    2.Pensions – We’ve restored the earnings link to pensions that Thatcher took away so from now on pensioners can be sure that their pension will always keep up with or exceed living costs.

    Earnings are currently rising far more slowly than inflation and the use of CPI means even a double lock will not guarantee keeping up with real living costs. The move to CPI from RPI for linking most public sector pensions will affect many pensions negatively.

    3.Pupils – We’re pumping two and a half billion pounds into a new pupil premium which will go directly to helping the poorest pupils in the country get a fair start in life.

    There is not 2.5 billion being pumped in. It is being diverted from other pupils. Again this should be told as it is, not new money but money the chancellor would probably have earmarked for somewhere else. The total schools budget is simply not going up by inflation plus 2.5 billion.

    So, my point is that whilst progress is being made in these areas, it is not as simple as you make out, and that the public know this. After years of Blair spin people are jaded by claims that they know are exagerated. Stick to the facts, explain why it could have been better without the Tories and people will listen.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 4th Jun '11 - 8:48am

    “Everyone of us knows that we have done brilliant things in government”

    Err em: “Everyone of us” (?) brilliant (?)

    I think that many LibDem members do not “know”anything of the kind.

    Borrowing a phrase from Ricky Ponting, I would describe the performance of this government, and of the LibDem members of it, so far as “pretty ordinary”

  • Pay – We’ve taken well over a million of the lowest paid out of paying tax altogether by raising the income tax threshold. – this is easily countered by the rise in vat and drop in benefits. if it had been paid for by higher income tax for the well off fair enough, but as it is the poor are actually losing money.
    Pensions – We’ve restored the earnings link to pensions that Thatcher took away so from now on pensioners can be sure that their pension will always keep up with or exceed living costs – this is paid for by raising the retirement age!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Pupils – We’re pumping two and a half billion pounds into a new pupil premium which will go directly to helping the poorest pupils in the country get a fair start in life – again this gives money to poor students in middle class areas rather than the poorest in deprived areas. this idea it was extra money is untrue – why drop effective measures such as ema and free school meals, which have had a proven effect on poor children, to pay for it

    Rather than thinking ” were amazing but the elcetorate is too stupid to realise this” there needs to be serious changes in policy. i see a very regressive government and the electorate do not believe these amazing achievements because it is obvious to them that minor improvements are wiped out by a savaging of the most vulnerable in this country.

  • It is hard to believe these claims. For a start the pensions link was in the Tory Maifesto – look it up! In exchange for the pupil premium our negotiators betrayed the personal promises on Tuition Fees! True to form the Tories with support from cheerleader Teather have reduced grants for Children’s Centres – actually the funding could stay the same if local Authorities care to reduce funding for children’s social care (take a chance on another Baby P) Pupil premium is also mentioned in the Tory manifesto. Along wiht all this Gove is in the process of nationalising secondary schools in reducing Local Authorities to spectators and whistleblowers on standards. This Coalition, with our acquiescence doest believe in Local Government. And how about Health? Clegg was a signed up enthusiast for the Lansley proposals. Likewise Burstow who hasn’t the bottle to resign when the Conference repudiated his ehtusiasm for Lansley. Get real George

  • George wrote:

    “At the moment a lot of people take the view that we haven’t managed to do much at all in government…”

    Actually, I think “we” have managed to do much in government. David Cameron is still Prime Minister and a Tory government elected by only 36% of those who voted (despite the media onslaught and the Ashcroft money) remains in power. Now, in saying that, I am taking the cynical view that the only function that the Liberal Democrats have in government is to keep the Tories in power. And that once we are no longer required for that purpose, we will be discarded like a soiled bandage, never to enjoy any electoral support or public respect again.

    George, nothing, absolutely nothing you can say is going to persuade our existing and former supporters that going into “coalition” was the right thing to do. It was a catastrophic error from which this party could take 30 years to recover. It’s so obvious, isn’t it? 800 councillors down, no more Scotland. Thousands of students who cheered us on a year ago now hate us. Add to that a sizeable slice of the urban intelligentsia. And plenty more besides.

    Nick Clegg is now talking about “muscular liberalism” (whatever that is), and Vince, who always was cool towards his Tory cabinet colleagues, is going to be “transactional”. Only after losing 800 councillors and being hammered in Scotland, of course. Before that, Vince was only muttering his distaste in private, and Nick Clegg was talking as if liberalism and conservatism were not antipodes but twins. How can Nick Clegg assure us that the Tories won’t privatise the NHS while he’s around, when a few months earlier he actually signed and commended the Health & Social Care Bill? How can he claim to believe in fairness when he’s helping the Tories wage war on the poor?

    Why don’t we rename ourselves the “Lembit Opik Party”? We might get more votes.

    Sorry to be so negative, George. If you stuck to advocating Liberal Democrat policies and values rather than defending the indefensible, you might win the party some support.

  • @Duncan

    Pensioners have got a free bus pass, an enhanced and extended fuel payment, free eye tests, protection for the NHS, overwhelmingly used by the old, free prescriptions and TV licenses…..all part of dreadful lollipops for the over-cosseted boomer generation

    And if you are prepared as a Lib Dem to say that … the party does have a rather large communication problem with the electorate.

  • peebee – I say it because it is my opinion, not a member of any particular party.

    If, of course, you think that the Coalition is a model of generational fairness, please – I’d be interested to hear your analysis.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Jun '11 - 9:48am

    The government we have at the moment is one where the Conservatives draw the picture and the Liberal Democrats colour it in. That is, given the balance in Parliament, the broad thrust is as the Conservatives would have it, but we are able to fill in some of the details.

    That’s fine and it probably makes sense for it to work that way, The people of this country in May 2010 voted for a Conservative government – that is what our electoral system does, it gives government to the largest party by distorting representation in its favour. While unusually in 2010 it did not give a full majority to the largest party, it did set up a balance which meant a government dominated by that party was the only viable possibility. The way the system works was endorsed by the country in its vote against AV in the referendum. The “No to AV” campaign was pretty explicit about this – they said the good thing about the current electoral system was the way it generally led to one party government and that was better because it is more “decisive”. So, even if it did not quite work out that way in May 2010, it almost did with the weakening of the LibDems due to the electoral system which Britain endorsed last month being a big part of that. That is, any argument that our current government is unfair or unrepresentative has been destroyed by the referendum vote. In particular, many strong Labour areas voted “No”, and that should be held up as a particularly valuable endorsement for Cameron’s government – even those places opposed to it politically endorsed it democratically by endorsing the system that led to it.

    We need to find a way which campaigns on this basis. The disaster from the start of the coalition was to try and play up our role in it, when we should have played it down. Our line throughout should have been “It’s not what we wanted, but it’s what the country voted for, so as democrats we’re playing our part in it”. Our part is to fill in a few details where we can. We didn’t draw the picture, so people shouldn’t blame us if they don’t like the picture. Quite obviously we ought not to have brought down the government so soon after people voted for it, and now they have voted in support of the electoral system which gave it to them, we can hardly bring it down in the near future as the one argument that would have permitted this democratically has gone.

    The real lesson – you’ve got the vote, use it. And if the result isn’t what you like, well, that’s democracy for you, if you didn’t vote don’t moan, if you voted for the other lot, don’t moan about us, if you vote for us, don’t moan about us because sadly you were in a minority and we wish as much as you that it were otherwise.

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