Opinion: sometimes Liberal Democrats just can’t win, but we won’t stop trying

Everyone this week has pretty much agreed that the Liberal Democrats did a good job on tempering the worst of Tory excesses in the budget last week. There is also universal agreement that we did well in getting our message out and I was particularly pleased with the splash page on the homepage of the national site.

But if you read Deborah Orr in the Guardian on Saturday, it is quite clear that in the eyes of some we will never get it right. Deborah started off her article by bemoaning leaks from the budget and laying the blame squarely at the door of the LibDems in leaking key announcements. Does she give any evidence for her claims? No, of course not, that would be far too easy to do.

But she then went on the claim that leaking information from the budget, even if positive, won’t do us any good anyway. Why? Because, like many other areas of the national media, Deborah Orr and others still don’t think that Lib Dems have a place in government and believe that we are on a path to eternal distraction.

The Lib Dems, here, are in a no-win situation, just as they always have been. Their refusal to see they cannot gain from their position is just one long, embarrassing advertisement for their lack of political acumen.

I really don’t know how she can make such a sweeping statement without any factual analysis. When you read the polls and then compare them against by election results, we are turning those polls on their heads in many cases. We have made gains from the Conservatives in seats and held on to others that it was claimed loudly we would certainly lose. We are proving them wrong nearly every week.

Claiming we have a lack of political acumen is simply wrong. Whilst I may have my own issues with the coalition, the very fact that the Lib Dems negotiated their way into a coalition with the Conservatives in the first place to form a government was a political master stroke. We all know that it would have been far too easy to sit back and remain a party of opposition but instead we took the decision to form the coalition and have an impact in government. Ms Orr and her counterparts simply believe that we have no right to be there in the first place and nearly two years into the coalition, they refuse to see that things could have been a whole lot worse if we were not there. The blinkered view of some still remains it seems.

Her later comment had me even more bemused;

It’s a shame really. One could have made much better arguments for this budget being “Lib Dem” than Lib Dem cabinet ministers themselves managed, if only they could master the art of being constructively critical coalition partners rather than being doggedly, almost mechanically, focused on flagging up the parts of the coalition agreement that the Lib Dems have achieved.

LibDems have done this nearly every single day of the coalition. OK, the message hasn’t always gotten out as we would have hoped, but we have done it. To then criticise us for “focussing on getting out the parts of the coalition agreement that LibDems have achieved.” is laughable. Isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing? Should we not be celebrating the fact that 75% of the Lib Dem manifesto has been implemented in government since the coalition was formed. Should we not be celebrating that millions of low paid workers have been lifted out of paying tax altogether? Shouldn’t we be yelling from the rafters that pensioners will now get the biggest increases in their state pension in years?

In my mind yes we should be shouting it and we have been. Deborah Orr and her journalistic buddies simply need to get over themselves and get used to the idea that until 2015 at least, Lib Dems are in government and they are making a real difference. The shame is that for some, we just can’t win whatever we do but we must keep on trying.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of this post. It is imperative that we are consistently “yelling from the rafters” our coalition achievements and identifying where we have made a serious, positive impact.

  • I find it increasingly difficult to spot the difference between the Daily Mail and the Guardian :/

  • Andrew Suffield 27th Mar '12 - 2:31pm

    I find it increasingly difficult to spot the difference between the Daily Mail and the Guardian

    That’s easy. Sometimes the Guardian prints things which are true.

  • @ Andrew – but so does the Mail. That minor royal really was wearing a hat, and whatsername of that thing on the telly almost certainly really did trip over 😀

  • “Everyone this week has pretty much agreed that the Liberal Democrats did a good job on tempering the worst of Tory excesses in the budget last week. There is also universal agreement that we did well in getting our message out”

    It is difficult to see how you can criticise Deborah Orr for making sweeping generalisations without a basis in factual evidence when the whole article strats with a sweeping generalisation without much evidence.

    From the newspapers headlines and reports I’ve read, it doesn’t seem to matter what end of the spectrum, many many many people don’t believe the Lib dems did a good job and many people I know say the opposite which is that the Lib dems enabled the Tories rather than tempered them.

  • Mark Smulian 27th Mar '12 - 3:20pm

    Deborah Orr is, or at any rate was as recently as last November, a member of the Lib Dems. I met her at the Hackney local party agm.

  • Bill le Breton 27th Mar '12 - 4:08pm

    The budget communication was a disaster. Hold your seats and please hear me out. It had to be a disaster or the Government would not have had to use Friday for a statement on alcohol unit minimum pricing – only the fourth such Friday statement, two of the others being for war and the third for (I think) foot and mouth.

    Why did they have to do this? To “bury” (to use a reminder) coverage of the “Granny Tax”. All of Thursday was negativity for any Government spokesperson. Who led for the Government on Radio 2 Budget Special that day? Our leader. Who did Question Time? Our Biz Sec.

    Yes , they tried to counter the Granny Tax tsunami by speaking about tax thresholds, but just as the Home Secretary had to ‘wear one’ for her team on Friday, so our leader and Vince were made to be human shields for Cameron and Osborne.

    Did they have to volunteer? A stronger Lib Dem Coms Director would have said, “No way – you defend the Granny Tax. We are going to watch this one out.” Maybe, just maybe that is why this journalist made her points.

    Also there is a fascinating blog on how budgets were put together by early New Labour and how civil servants’ pet ideas that had been rejected by the Brown team had got through the selection process and into the Darling budgets. Could the “Granny Tax” have been one such of those?

    While Osborne was thinking about communicating his ‘win’ on the higher tax band and we were thinking about communicating our win on the allowance did someone miss the political ‘hospital pass’ of the Granny Tax?

    You won’t like the messenger, but that fascinating blog is here http://dpmcbride.tumblr.com/post/19717319716/at-half-time-in-last-nights-arsenal-game-i-was?tw_p=twt

  • Bill le Breton 27th Mar '12 - 5:28pm

    Lisa, but then why the panic stations Friday statement?

  • Bill le Breton 27th Mar '12 - 5:33pm

    Might be worth reading this from Wells at UK Polling: The other questions in the Populus and ComRes polls deal with the budget, and echo the findings we’ve already seen in the YouGov and ICM polling over the weekend that the reduction in the 50p rate of tax and the “granny tax” are deeply unpopular. One positive finding for the Conservatives in the Populus poll is that despite the cut in the 50p tax rate the poportion of people who think the Conservatives “represent ordinary people, not just the better off” has remained constant at 31%, rather than dropping. This doesn’t entirely surprise me, most people thought the Conservatives cared more about the rich anyway, the cut in the 50p is probably going to entrench existing damaging views of the Conservatives rather than create new ones. Personally I suspect it’s the “granny tax” that has done real harm.

    The big question is, by becoming spokespersons for the whole budge at high profile monents on Friday did we ship some of that damage?

    I think a more skillful coms approach would not have risked that.

  • @lisa

    It may be true that the Lib Dems got their meesage out but I wouldn’t be so confident that it is accept that the party tempered the Tories. The evidence of numerous articles and headlines, and alos the vitriol on message boards, suggest s the party is not getting much credit.

  • David Allen 27th Mar '12 - 8:40pm

    Deborah Orr’s final paragraph is the killer message. All loyalists should read it, and, sadly, recognise its truth.

    “The Lib Dems have got a little wiser since the early days, when they were forever on the stump, disingenuously flogging Conservative policies and looking shocked because no one was thanking them for their trouble. But not much wiser. They are still nakedly thrilled that they got to hang out with the big boys at all. This only serves to emphasise what little boys they are themselves.”

  • ……………………………………. the fact that we have 75% of our manifesto in place being implemented proves otherwise…………………….

    Ah, I wondered when that phrase would crop up. Surely a variation on ‘Godwin’s law’?

  • Bill le Breton 27th Mar '12 - 10:30pm

    Lisa, thanks for keeping in touch in this way, but I am surprised that you as a campaigner so easily dismiss polling and its analysis as ‘vitriol from bulletin boards’. Anthony Wells at http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/ is a reputable pollster even if YouGov’s methodology is questionable. He is commenting on the results of other firms’ polling.
    Clearly Downing Street doesn’t choose to fly blind. They will have received polling info back on the budget and decided that the hit that was being taken on the Granny Tax (and on the 50% rate cut) required an emergency undertaking to try to try to knock the story off the weekend media agenda . Hence the unprecedented Friday statement forced onto the Home Secretary.
    What is interesting from the Mc Bride description of selecting topics for budgets is that there is a small possiblibility that Osborne’s short sentence suggesting the change in allowances for some pensioners was to make it easier for them might have been the way the policy was sold to him by civil servants. Once uttered, Osborne had to defend it. Not so a Liberal Democrat spokesperson.
    Ditto the move away from 50%. Polling on this shows that it did not increase the damage to the Conservatives because they were already seen as ‘pro the rich against the poor’, but by defending this ‘Conservative’ element in a Coalition budget we pinned ourselves to it and unnecessarily risked being contaminated by it.
    A savvy coms team would have argued against allowing its leadership to get into that position. We took more flack on Friday than we need have and should have.
    Surely one can accept the political wisdom of that tactic of reputation management even if one support s both issues – which of course I don’t. That is why a ‘critical friend’ of the Party might question our coms strategy on the budget and on other issues since May 2010. We are not very smart.

  • Peter Andrews 27th Mar '12 - 10:32pm

    There were good things in the budget for us, especially the raising of the tax threshold, however I don’t think we made the best of this. partly due to the media leaping on the ‘Granny Tax’ non-story

  • Peter AndrewsMar 27 – 10:32 pm……..There were good things in the budget for us, especially the raising of the tax threshold, however I don’t think we made the best of this. partly due to the media leaping on the ‘Granny Tax’ non-story………..

    Please, please can we stop blaming the media(and Labour) for everything. It wasn’t a ‘non-story’; the media are not stupid and are, certainly , not pro-Labour but they know what makes a good story.
    As for Lisa’s, “Its not what I am hearing on the door step”, I don’t know what doorstep she’s listened to but I’m a pensioner and , last saturday evening, it was the main topic of conversation amongst a large group of us and the comments were not favourable and, trust me, the LibDems were getting far more flack than the Tories.

  • @Lisa: “Im not sure the Granny tax is that big a deal anywhere other than the media and in Labour to be honest.”

    The media and the Labour Party both initially ignored it, buried away as it was. All the focus was on the 50p rate. It was a landslide of outrage on social media, from ordinary voters, that made “granny tax” a major issue in the media and got Labour talking about it. Gransnet (a somewhat embryonic OAP counterpart to Mumsnet) were the first to pick up on it, I think.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 28th Mar '12 - 9:20am

    @ Peter Andrews

    The Tories and the LibDems have no-one to blame but themselves for the fact that the media “leapt on the Granny tax story”. Practically everything else in the budget had been leaked, trailed and spun before the Chancellor got up to speak, He then disingenuously introduced the phasing out of the age-related allowance as a “simplification of the tax system”, rather than as a tax increase , which is what it was. So this was practically the only piece of “news” in the entire speech.
    Even the Times and Sunday Times; which, almost alone among the press, were broadly supportive of the measure ; was highly critical of the way in which it was handled and introduced.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 28th Mar '12 - 9:25am

    @Lisa: “I’m not sure the Granny tax is that big a deal anywhere other than the media and in Labour to be honest.”

    Have I been dreaming, or did the “Granny Tax” also provoke more debate on LibDem Voice than practically any other item in the budget.?

  • @Lis Harding
    With respect, the public’s response to the budget has been overwhelmingly negaitve and, IIRC, most of the comments on LDV were negative also. More surprising was the reaction of the right -wing press who were even more hostile. Two opinion polls in the last few days have shown Labour with a 10% lead over the Conservatives. The Lib Dems are still flat-lining on ~10%. The voting public’s opinion of the budget is unequivocal. Whether that is because of misinformation & misunderstanding or because they understand all too well is a matter of debate. However, the fact that the budget has been an unmitigated disaster with regards to public opinion is beyond dispute, despite what some people on the door-step have said to you (I always find it laughable when politicians ignore opinion polls and base their analysis on door-step anecdotes – it’s a bit like the people who refuse to believe the CPI figures because some random item in their locality has gone up by a greater percentage).

  • And another thing…

    Referring to the Guardian as the enemy (a frequent complaint by a number of commenters here) strikes me as bizarre in the extreme. The Guardian supported the Lib Dems at the general election and is a liberal paper. These kind of attacks just confirm to me what I suspect – that certain members of the Lib Dems are living in a bubble, divorced from the outside world. Can you really not tell the difference between a knee-jerk, reactionary, low-brow rag that absolutely detests your party and a high-brow paper that is sometimes critical of the Lib Dems (and many times not)?

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