Opinion: We do not belong to Labour!

Across Britain on May 6th people voted for the Liberal Democrats because they liked our policies, or they liked our values. Some voted for us because we were not ‘the other lot’. No doubt a goodly number voted Lib Dem because they felt (quite rightly) the party they truly wanted to vote for – the Labour Party – has lost its heart and lost its soul. People voted for us hoping, but never ever expecting they’d get a Liberal Democrat government.

After the votes came in it was clear that the Conservatives had won the election, but without a big enough majority to govern successfully. Labour made it clear that they no longer wanted to govern or work with the Lib Dems, and then there were only two possibilities for government – a minority Conservative government or a Liberal Democrat Conservative coalition. A minority government in the current economic crisis would have been a disaster for the country.

A Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition actually results in those people who voted for Liberal Democrat policies and our ideals getting far more of what they wanted than they ever expected. So why all the complaints from the outraged left? I can’t help feeling that it’s because those people who felt Labour had lost its way imprinted their vision of what the Labour Party should have been on the Lib Dems. They viewed, as many Labour MPs do, the Liberal Democrats as an extension of the Labour Party. The truth of the matter is that we were never Labour’s surrogate party.

The Liberal Democrats have our own beliefs and our own values – we are not and never have been Labour Mark II as so many disaffected socialists wish us to be. Labour simply doesn’t believe in individual freedom and valuing people’s right to be autonomous and make choices. Labour has always thought that the state knows what’s best for us, whether we agree or not – and this is something that no liberal could ever agree with. So – to all those tribalists on the left: we are doing what is best for the country, whether it costs us or not. We are putting the interests of the country above our own interests, and seeing through key Lib Dem policies.

The problem with Labour is that it cannot see that its own interests are separate from the interests of the country or the world, because it cannot tolerate people with different views to its own. Well long live differences in opinion I say. Long live cooperation and compromise. Long live doing the right thing in spite of the personal cost. And long live freedom.

Long live liberalism…

Steve Cooke is a Lib Dem councillor in Salford

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  • Nishma, Harrow 14th May '10 - 11:15am

    Hoorah! Thank you so much for speaking up for liberalism.

    I joined the lib dems because I hated the illegal war in Iraq, the erosion of civil liberties and the nanny state, which were the main achievements of Labour in power!

    Why is it some people still resent the Tories for the 80’s but seem to have forgotten everything that Labour has done, or indeed in areas like political reform – not done, for the past 13 years?

    If we never go into government we will never prove to the people that a vote for liberal democrats is not a wasted vote.

  • Very good article.

    I know several people who’ve said “I didn’t want the Tories, I voted Lib-Dem but I support Labour”. My response would be that you shouldn’t vote for what you don’t want. I want Conservatives elected so I always vote Tory, simples.

    If people in the Conservative Party or the Lib-Dems don’t like what we’ve done then they are welcome to leave. Go join the Labour Party of ID Cards and the DNA database, or go join UKIP. I daresay that whilst some will leave others will look at our two parties and think that we are being grown up, sensible and putting country before party.

    Furthermore, I think there are a lot of people who, as you say, seem to see the Lib-Dems as Labour’s little brother, which is insulting and silly, given that Liberalism and Socialism are two very different world views. Okay, so the SDP were all ex-Labour, but then the old Liberal party wasn’t. It is the same with some of my lot who think UKIP are just an off-shoot of the Conservative Party, which is equally insulting and quite baffling given that UKIP would never have signed the Single European Act whereas we did.

    I’ll say again – this coalition is the best thing for the country and I really hope it lasts.

    p.s. I still think it will be odd to see Simon Hughes and John Redwood sitting on the same benches when the House of Commons opens for business – but hey, if they can accept things as they are I can see little reason for any sensible people in either party not to give it a go and give it our backing.

  • we should have only done a confidence and supply agreement. Many may not be Labour but it was our duty to ensure that cuts were not made too quickly – we caved on that and have put the entire country at risk.

    I am really disappointed in this party.

  • James – a minority Conservative government would have been able to start cutting immediately. Why? Because Parliament never votes on public spending, it only votes on money raising.

  • If we look back to history over 100 years, I don’t actually see, why so many Liberal Democrats prefer Labour to Tories. It’s like a young cuckoo, which after growing up has done everything in its power to strangle its foster parent. In the 1906 General Election the Liberal Party gave Labour a free run in certain constituencies, which enabled it to become a credible parliamentary force. Since then it used the Liberal division to its benefit, and run candidates also in constituencies it knew it couldn’t win, so that the Liberal incumbent would lose his seat to the Conservative opponent; this benefited Labour in long run, because it eliminated Liberals as a credible force in many areas. Later, in the 1940’s, Labour gerrymandered the electoral system and abolished the multi-member seats, which further benefited it and damaged the Liberals. If the Conservative Party wouldn’t have given Liberals a free run in some constituencies, it would probably have been finished as a parliamentary force at 50’s or 60’s. Then there’s the betrayal of Labour on the work of Jenkins Commission… and there are plenty of other examples, these are just the ones that came first in my mind.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 11:50am

    “iii. Why a super-majority for dissolution of Parliament would be needed to maintain the stability of Coalitions.”

    Because fixed-term parliaments were in both the Lib Dem manifesto and the Labour manifesto, and fixing the term of a parliament obviously requires that a majority of MPs don’t have the power to dissolve it.

  • Grammar Police 14th May '10 - 12:02pm

    I’ll take two of these. The rather confusingly numbered “iii” and “iii

    “iii. Upteen-thousand leaflets calling a vote for the LibDems to be a vote to keep the Tories out;”

    Unless you haven’t noticed, we don’t have a Conservative Government, and plenty of people don’t have Conservative MPs.

    True, I’d prefer an entirely Lib Dem Government, but that thing called “democracy” got in the way – more people voted Tory than for the other parties. The real scandal is that Labour gets only 5% more share of the vote than the Lib Dems but hundreds more seats.

    On that basis, a Lib Dem-Conservative Govt is better than an entirely Tory one.

    “iii. Why a super-majority for dissolution of Parliament would be needed to maintain the stability of Coalitions. If they’re not Governing by their consensus, let alone the public, they should not be there.”

    Er, the 55% rule isn’t about the stability of the coalition – it’s to give the idea of fixed term parliaments real meaning, to reduce the chance of an opporunistic larger party calling for an election (if/when coaltions become common) to suit it, at the same time as allowing for flexibility if no one in a Parliament can form a Govt.

  • @Walter West: “I know several people who’ve said “I didn’t want the Tories, I voted Lib-Dem but I support Labour”. My response would be that you shouldn’t vote for what you don’t want. I want Conservatives elected so I always vote Tory, simples.

    If people in the Conservative Party or the Lib-Dems don’t like what we’ve done then they are welcome to leave. Go join the Labour Party of ID Cards and the DNA database, or go join UKIP. I daresay that whilst some will leave others will look at our two parties and think that we are being grown up, sensible and putting country before party.”

    Exactly. I think both sides were surprised by how well we seemed to get on and how much we could agree on so readily (I think the Tory negotiation team had convincing arguments for starting cuts now, although David Lawes and Nick Clegg had both argued for this in the past anyway), and it’s the only stable and grown up solution. 🙂

  • Alec, there are evidence in the public domain that Labour didn’t want to form a coalition with the Lib Dems. First, it rejected very publicly the offer of the SNP to join the coalition. Without SNP the coalition wouldn’t have had a majority, unless it would have be willing to deal with the DUP. And would you really call a coalition involving DUP “progressive”?

    Second, though Gordon Brown was willing to offer Lib Dems a referendum on PR in order to clinch power, many of Labour’s backbenchers openly criticised this, asking why doesn’t Brown ask them first. Many of them also told in the beginning, that Labour should go to opposition. Without their backing, a deal on referendum, and the whole coalition, was a nonstarter, especially since it wouldn’t have had a majority in the first place, after Labour rejected SNP.

  • Alec: It’s called compromise. It is essential to make a coalition (and hung parliament) function. The alternative that you seem to support would have been for all parties to hold onto their policies with a cast-iron grip. This would have led to a minority government struggling to run a country in a time of financial delicacy. It would have been disasterous for the economy and would have proved the public right – politicians are too self-interested to make important decisions – then where would we be. Bitter anti-sentiment about this coalition doesn’t change the fact that it is the right and mature thing to do. Therefore, Labour, stand aside and let the grown-ups govern… feel free to to spit your dummy and throw the toys out of the pram now.

    Entering this coalition does not mean that we have ‘sold our souls’ or ‘got into bed with’ anyone and to suggest that we ‘fluttered our eyes’ is ridiculous. It belittles the hard work that was put in and the hard choices that were made on both sides of the table in order to make this government work for the good of the country. Then again, in my experience, Labour prefers not to work with anyone, including the people it purports to value so highly, so perhaps this is a concept that is beyond their understanding.

    Ultimately, we have compromised on policy but that doesn’t mean we have compromised our beliefs. We stand firm on those beliefs and we will come back fighting for them in future elections.

  • We got the Tories to agree to cut taxes for the lowest paid and RAISE capital gains tax and scrap their cap on inheritance tax. No small feat & far more progressive than anything Labour had on their manifesto.

  • David Morton 14th May '10 - 1:51pm

    The article makes excellent and unimpeechable points. However when was the last time you saw a Focus or squeeze leaflet in a Labour area that challenged the idea that Labour and Lib Dems were non identical twins?
    While this belief may not be true the party has done very well out of it. The ground from Labour taken can’t be occupied while we are in government much less government with the Tories much less still government with the Tories making the biggest public spending cuts for 50 years.

    Making no comment about the rights and wrongs of the agreement its self the problem is that the strategic thinking behind it is currently no more sophisticated than your artciel.

    The agreement for good or ill burns three of the parties boats.

    – that we aren’t in power ever

    – that we aren’t the Tories

    – that we stand for scandanavian levels of public services and protect everything “local”.

    It might actually do the party good to leave all this behind but an alternative strategy is needed, very, very quickly with appropriate levels of bereavement counselling for those that can’t cope. Or else this will all get very “interesting” very quickly.

  • We got the Tories to agree to cut taxes for the lowest paid”

    That is if it is the whole 10k promise, even over time

    So out of the £17 billion it is going to cost, exactly how much is going to the poorest paid?
    Probably less than £1 billion… so sorry, I have to disagree, the biggest beneficiaries are not the lowest paid… although I can see where you seem to have got it wrong… the real poor will not see any benefit at all.

    What you got was a Tory Fantasy that now they can enact with glee, and you know what? It has nothing to do with them… in fact the lowest paid are going to be screwed over when any Vat increase is announced, any increase in indirect taxes like Vat, fuel tax, all hit the poorest hardest, their spending power shrinks the most in ratio to income, it would have been better to spend the £17 billion guaranteeing a minimum amount to target the poor only… ah well I suppose it is fair £16 billion tax cuts to those who really need them, middle and upper earners… Fair indeed

  • Well I can honestly say any future election the Lib Dem party will see very few protest votes coming from labour, because you have now made it quite clear where you stand.

    Now to those of the not center and not right of your party, many of them are going to very unhappy indeed…

    You have in many, many seats now created a vacuum, you can never again say “a vote for us keeps the Tories out “you should start to practice saying “a vote for us keeps labour out”…

    For years your party has gained ground from labour because of that… well I don’t think it will work any more

    What I wonder the most is… how long will it be before the first LD MP walks across the floor of the house… smiles

  • Kat – Don’t be so naive. If it were roles reversed and the Tories had just lost an Election after 13 years in power, and Labour had the most seats but not an outright majority then of course Labour would have been more willing to do a deal, and likewise the Tories would not have wanted any of it, for pretty obvious reasons. I would also hazard a guess that even in this situation, had Labour and the Libs gained enough seats to command a majority between themselves, then perhaps Labour would have taken the talks a bit more seriously, but don’t try to make it sound as if the Tories have suddenly become the all inclusive party. They haven’t and this is a coalition out of necessity, not choice.

    The reason why Labour didn’t want the coalition has less to do with them only wanting to work on their own, and more to do with the fact that many in the party saw it as unfair that the parties that finished 2nd and 3rd govern ahead of the Tories. Now I hear loads on this site and others about Labour not being very democratic, and when they do something that is democratic they are berated for it. Throw that in with the fact that many felt that they need a period in opposition to regroup and they made what seems a sensible decision. It’s certainly not outside Labour’s understanding to work with various parties, they just won’t do it at whatever the cost.

    Whether you agree or disagree with this coalition has little to do with whether you are ‘grown up’ as you said, and more to do with whether you believe that your certain aspects of your beliefs (I’m afraid your policies should reflect your belief’s and as such you can’t compromise one without the other, no matter how hard you try) are worth compromising. Those who think that abstaining on votes regarding Trident is worth getting an elected house of Lords etc will probably enjoy this partnership and those who don’t, won’t.

    Can I also assume that from now on, the Lib Dems will publish in their election manifestos which of their policies they will actually push through and which policies they would be willing to drop as part of any possible coalition agreement? Perhaps, you could print 2; One for if Labour gain more seats, and another if the Tories get more. That way, people could be sure what they are voting for when they vote Lib Dems, and wouldn’t get any nasty shocks.

  • Andrea Gill 14th May '10 - 3:23pm

    @Les – I never particularly agreed with the leaflet style that focused mainly on keeping one or the other main party out. However, with hopefully AV and actually having given people time to see our policies in action, actively in government, we will not NEED to resort to this strategy any more.

    The strategy was very much dictated by two things, FPTP and being seen as the party that doesn’t stand a chance of actually getting into government, just perpetual opposition.

    This is indeed a new politics, and you simply cannot apply outdated (and IMHO as far as those bar charts are concerned, bad) electoral strategies to them.

  • Andrea Gill 14th May '10 - 3:26pm

    @Rock – we got a hell of a lot of our policies through in this agreement, possibly more so than we “deserved” for the share of the vote we had. To expect us to push ALL of them through, as the minority in a coalition government, would not only be undemocratic but also frankly delusional.

  • Andrea – Your missing the point. I don’t expect you to push them all through as a minority in a coalition government, and that’s not what I am asking if you read my post. Are we able to assume that in future that the lib Dems will clearly mark in their election manifesto what are and are not deal breakers in any potential coalition government, and the order of importance for all policies, so that voters know what will and will not (or at least may or may not) be conceded to any majority coalition partner in the case of a hung parliament.

    Some people will have voted for the Lib Dems on the basis that they thought (or were led to believe) that not only were the party against Trident for example, but that Lib Dem MP’s would vote accordingly, regardless if it had an effect on the eventual outcome. To some, it’s a matter of principle, and as the Lib Dems have for so long now told us that they are the party of principle, I think this is important.

    I’m not debating whether what the Lib Dems have done is right or wrong, but I do feel that voters in future should be given a clear indication what the Lib Dems would be willing to sacrifice in a coalition. Alternatively, if they were to say ‘These are our policies that if in power we would enact, but we really need to sit down and talk to the other parties after the election to see which ones we can get through’ then they will not be misleading anyone who votes for them.

  • Peter Dunphy 14th May '10 - 4:26pm

    Of course there are people who are ‘Labour’ whatever that is these days (certainly neither socialist nor left) who voted Lib Dem to keep Tories out but of our 7 gains, 5 were from Labour – did the good people of Redcar, Bradford, Burnley, Norwich South or Brent Central etc vote Lib Dem to keep the Tories out – I think not, they voted Lib Dem to get rid of Labour. If going into coalition with the Party that got 36% and most seats is a ‘betrayal’ then what do we call going into coalition with the Party that got 29% of the vote and was ousted by Lib Dems in most of our gained seats ?

  • Andrea Gill 14th May '10 - 4:48pm

    Rock: Some have jokingly suggested maybe next time we should put some silly things into the manifesto so we can then pretend to generously drop them.

    All jokes aside however, how much you are willing to drop surely depends on how much of the vote you got, and how much the other party or parties has/have to bargain with.

    Our manifesto was built on 4 key points, fairer taxes, better education, greener future and political reform, and the agreement covered all of them. Some of the items dropped were ones that were by far not 100% agreed on like mansion tax (not a hit with members but ultimately necessary to fund other plans like the next 2), abolishing tuition fees (if this was not feasible), delaying the spending cuts (the latter 2 points were unsuccessfully pushed for by both Nick Clegg and David Laws, but overruled) etc.

    But a manifesto only ever outlines the ideal – not that everything in a manifesto ever actually makes it into reality. But my point is that the agreement delivers on each of the 4 key points, which for the minority partner in a coalition is not bad.

    You definitely have a point that in a Lib/Lab coalition, completely different things would have had to be dropped, such as civil liberties etc.

  • Noorderling 14th May '10 - 6:11pm


    Sarah Teather had no majority to increase. Brent Central had a notional Labour majority of 19%. Teather got an 11% swing, which, giver the other results in that part of London was vry good.

  • Hopeful Cynic 14th May '10 - 6:14pm

    Reading through the comments of some who say “never again”, I’m just wondering: why didn’t they stay loyal to Labour? If you want Labour, vote for Labour. That’s just it. The Lib Dems are not Labour and Labour are not the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems are at their hearts pragmatic in delivering their policies, which is why up and down the country Lib Dems govern in coalitions with parties as diverse as Labour, the Tories, various Independents, and the SNP. A full pantheon from left to right, unionist to nationalist and a wide variety of local concerns are represented there.

    Liberalism is a philosophy of its own, with elements of both left wing thinking in that it’s concerned about social justice, and right-wing in that it believes in free markets. There are quite a lot of people in this country who are genuinely liberal and want to see liberal policies enacted, and this time they voted for the Lib Dems and got a government that will enact liberal policies as part of the coalition agreement. It’s not perfect, and the reason why I’ve chosen the username I have is it describes my attitude towards it – I’m cynical about the Tories, but hopeful that we can actually implement some of the ideas we believe in using the coalition.

    If we didn’t aim to get into power, and only talk about very nice policies rather than trying to implement them, then we’re just a debating society for liberal thought rather than a party that tries to implement it. Labour try to get into power to implement their ideology, the Tories theirs – why should the Lib Dems be any different? If you want to sit at the sidelines carping at the other two, being “pure” rather than having to accept the realistic choices and consequences facing a party of power, then I’m just wondering why some even bother being activists. People voted Lib Dem, and they got Lib Dems in power. That’s what ultimately matters.

  • Stuart Mitchell 14th May '10 - 6:22pm

    I am grateful to the correspondents here for explaining to us why the Lib Dems are so much closer philosophically to the Tories than they are to Labour.

    I only wish the Lib Dems had explained all this to us BEFORE the election, then people would have known what they were voting for!

    Clearly there are issues on which the Tories and Lib Dems are closer, but there are other equally (if not more) important issues on which the Lib Dems ought to be much closer to Labour. Two words: “Social justice.”

    On the subject of civil liberties, I reject the assertions made here that the left are inherently authoritarian. A great many peple on the left – including myself – are passionate believers in civil liberties, always have been, and spoke out forcefully against many measures introduced by the recently deposed government.

    I wonder if the Con-Dems will still be seen as champions of liberty in five years time, because it occurs to me that parties of all colours tend to become much more “pragmatic” (ahem) on this subject when in power. Witness the toings and froings over the Prevention of Terrorism Act from 1974 onwards: introduced by a Labour government, it was then passionately opposed (on civil liberties grounds) by the Labour opposition of the 80s and 90s. However, we all know what Labour then did in government following the explosion of Islamic terrorism in the 00s. Witness also Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo when he said he would. I would not be remotely surprised if, five years from now, David Milliband has become Shami Chakrabarti’s poster boy, with Clegg and Cameron consigned to the dartboard.

  • Hopeful Cynic 14th May '10 - 6:35pm

    Labour have a collectivist ideology dervied from socialism. The Liberal Democrats have an individualist ideology based on liberalism. The two overlap somewhat, but differ in the way they get things done. Labour favours a collectivist approach which is why ID cards and big central databases came so naturally to it. Sure, some people wouldn’t like it, but they figured the vast majority wouldn’t mind, the logic went.

    Liberals think that each and every person’s opinion counts, and believe that ID cards would be a tool used to force people to conform to groupthink rather than expressing their individualism freely, for example protesting against something that society may find “popular” but they disagree with. Labour and the Lib Dems can agree on things, and the Tories and the Lib Dems can agree on things because both of their philosophies contain individualist elements as well as collectivist ones.

    We are not Labour. We are not Tories. We are Lib Dems. The stupidest thing about the two-party system we have (should I use past tense?) is that even though the third party may side with one or the other, it’s co-operating on common areas of interest rather than participating in a full scale merger and adopting the ideology of the other.

  • Eventually you may get tired…
    or not.

    Keep plugging away though, “I voted Lib dem…” – if we took this as a representative sample we would have swept the board in the entire UnitedKingdom including Northern Ireland as well.

    No sign of the mass desertion which has been ramped up by various types as well……

  • Whilst some of the sentiment of your article is correct, you are right some Labour people have wrongly viewed th Lib Dems as a protest Labour vote but your wishful thinking and arrogance on the Liberals ‘liberalism’ beggars belief. Take immigration.

    Nick Clegg MP wrote in the Guardian on Sunday 26 August 2007 “We should never lightly deny the freedom of movement to others that we so fully enjoy ourselves.” No, quite. He has now signed up to the most draconian immigration restrictions in the UK since the imposion of migration controls after the First World War, an ‘immigration cap’. This is disgusting and racist, Lib Dem MPs who vote for this should be ashamed of themselves (or abstain, in effect voting for it).

    Let me quote from you.”Labour simply doesn’t believe in individual freedom and valuing people’s right to be autonomous and make choices.” Maybe not, but neither do the Liberal Democrats. They are quite happy to sign away the rights of British people to recruit foreign workers, the rights of individuals to marry people from outside the European Economic Area, and the rights of our educational establishments to recruit from outside the EEA, if there happen to be more than 10,000s of thousands of them.

    The Liberals have long attacked Labour over so called ‘draconian’ asylum and immigration policies, expect to have a taste of your own medicine.

  • Steve, they will not see sense.

    We have dared to even speak to teh evil Toriez.

    Anything they do or say is our fault.

  • The coalition surely means that people will start voting positivily FOR the LibDems rather than against one party or the other….

  • @Steve Cooke

    Abstention doesn’t cut it. The fact is we will be helping these policies become law. You’re trying to remove our accountability by saying, “we don’t support it, we’re just not voting against it”. I think a case of moral culpability can be quite easily made.

    Steve, we can’t have our cake and eat it. We are involved, however tenuously, in supporting policies at odds with our values. Is it necessary? Perhaps. But we, as a party in government, still bear responsibility. Its time for us to grow up and accept those responsibilities… and their consequences.

  • True, labour don’t value individuals, just blocks of votes and theoretical compassion. What finally killed off any idea of realignment for me was Iraq. Let no citizen be sent to war without the tools and armour to do the job – by a minority political party offering headline tax cuts to boost its popularity at home.

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