Opinion: What price democracy in the Lib Dems?

Over the past 21 months I have had many moments when I have felt close to despair about the behaviour of our parliamentarians. Sometimes, like voting in favour of tuition fees, they can rightly point to the Coalition Agreement – endorsed overwhelmingly – as Nick Clegg observed at the time – by a North Korean like Special Conference. Other times, like voting against party policy on Legal Aid and Welfare Reform – there is no such defence. Last night calls into question the fundamental values and principles of our party, not just in terms of flying in the face of our declared aim that “no one should be enslaved by poverty” but also in terms of the so called sovereignty of conference. How often have our parliamentarians and others crowed about the democratic nature of our party? What price that democracy now? Now that a motion overwhelmingly supported at Federal Conference last year can be so blatantly ignored?  Our leadership are demonstrating in just how much contempt they hold us.

Credit must go to those few who were prepared to stick to their principles last night, not least Ming Campbell – and earlier in the “other place” many of our peers, such as Meral Ece, Joan Walmsley and Paddy Ashdown.  Everyone else should hang their heads in shame. I have no doubt that many were squirming as they walked through the yes lobby, but squirming’s not enough. Hitting the most vulnerable, the seriously ill, disabled children, abandoned mothers. Mealy mouthed excuses about having won concessions won’t wash anymore. This is about honesty and integrity in politics, something we thought important enough to put on the front of our manifesto when seeking power, but clearly not important enough to demonstrate once in power.

On the benefits cap,  of course it is crazy the amount of benefits that are going to some large families, mainly living in the South East, but the problem could surely be better addressed through rent controls and building more social housing? This dreadful bill will achieve legally what Dame Shirley Porter (why was she never stripped of her honour?) tried illegally.

And on under occupancy, yes of course, invest in schemes that support and encourage people to downsize, but isn’t it ironic that the same people who argue against a mansion tax because it may mean folk have to downsize to a smaller mansion, are the same people who think it is OK to force poorer people to give up their homes?

I am well used to being accused of bringing the party into disrepute for daring to question the direction of our leadership – well to perfectly frank – I don’t think it’s me, or those like me, who are fighting to maintain everything our party says it stand for, who should be so condemned.

I am afraid I am sick to death of the facile arguments in favour of this bill. It changes the goal posts, this is no longer just about the deserving and undeserving poor, everyone is now being characterised as undeserving. The dehumanising that is going on now of all those who claim benefits is scary, verging on fascist and certainly not liberal.

Federal Policy Committee meets on Wednesday and Gareth Epps and I have asked for this to be on the agenda. It is high time our parliamentary party were taken to task for treating the wider party with such contempt, but even more important that they are taken to task for betraying the values they claim to share. And, as George Potter has eloquently pointed out, this is people’s lives we are talking about, people whose “side” we claim to be on.

* Linda Jack is a former youth worker and member of the party's Federal Policy Committee.

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  • I haven’t had lots of moments close to despair. I accept the democratic primacy of the coalition agreement. I’m happy with a lot of stuff the coalition’s doing. I don’t have a huge problem in principle with the benefit cap. I think some of the bishops’ amendments were a bit random (notably on child benefit). In fact, welfare as a whole has never particularly been a pet issue of mine.

    But yeah, this is taking the piss. It’s about more than the bill now. I don’t always agree with how conference votes, god knows, but if the leadership can’t take crystal clear and obviously widely held opinion on things like the 12-month ESA limit, then what is the actual point of the exercise? We might as well all turn up and wave little flags on cue like the Tories and Labour do.

  • “verging on fascist ”

    Can I claim Godwin’s law and end the debate immediately?

  • Thank you for writing this, and good luck to you and Gareth on Wednesday. I am glad that there are people in such roles in the party who take a humane view of this, even if those in Government have given in to arm-twisting.

  • Kevin McNamara 2nd Feb '12 - 6:20pm

    what alix said, basically. spot on the money.

  • Rent controls? Seriously? Even pretty left-wing economists disparaged rent controls for the damage that they did after failed attempts at implementation in the 20th century. We’re meant to be liberals.

  • Here here! Why does internal democracy have to go out of the window when we are in government? I wish you the best of luck!

    Re: the coalition agreement I would have to say that next time round conference should have to approve a coalition deal paragraph by paragraph with any clauses rejected requiring renegotation. It’s clear in retrospect that tuition fees should have been a red line, and although it is acceptable that the coalition agreement should overrule conference it should be only possible to drop an issue like that (even if just for a parliament) by getting conference to agree to drop it specifically, rather than approve dropping it amongst a bunch of other measures.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Feb '12 - 7:00pm

    Perhaps we should arrange an ‘Alternative Conference’? Or just go shopping at the MetroCentre. 🙁

  • Sid Cumberland 2nd Feb '12 - 7:05pm

    Nick Clegg observed that the Coalition Agreement was overwhelmingly endorsed by a North Korean like Special Conference? Astonishing …

  • One thing that irritates me about politicians is that they like to be philanthropic with public money. Charity starts at home Linda!
    That aside, we are supposed to be the arty of fairness. Our federal policy committee should be addressing the HR&EC report on “How fair is Britain” with a focus on what affects the majority.

  • daniel furr 2nd Feb '12 - 7:19pm

    So, you criticise the special conference and subsequent policies for not doing what you want, then include the word ‘democracy’ in the title? Your interpretation of democracy is the government doing what you think is right. Odd definition of democracy.

  • Wow,Linda Jack and George Potter,both mentioned here.Put the leadership to shame.I would vote for the Linda Jack,s and George Potters of this world.

    But never for the Nick Cleggs or Danny Alexanders.

    The young,upcoming LibDems look a promising lot.Don,t hold much hope for the old crew though.

  • “So, you criticise the special conference and subsequent policies for not doing what you want …”

    If you read the article properly, you’ll see the author didn’t say that at all. She said that in some cases the special conference could be rightly pointed out as a defence, but that this wasn’t one of those cases.

  • It’s not easy to see how “rent controls and building more social housing” is going to help this family get themselves out of finding it not worthwhile to work.

  • Richard Swales 2nd Feb '12 - 7:43pm

    Deselect your MP if he voted for increasing tuition fees. It’s the only way to recover credibility for party democracy and with the public.

  • Rent controls are not necessarily illiberal if they enhance individual liberty significantly at no great cost to other individual liberties. But they are massively problematic.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Feb '12 - 7:44pm

    @Mark Pack:

    what Nick Clegg …. did do was joke about the size of the majority that there was in favour of the coalition being North Korean like.”

    Many a true word. . . . . 🙁

    I was there and I voted for the Coalition. I still think it was the right thing to do but rather poorly executed, so far. The difference between the North Koreans and the Lib Dems is that in voting by such huge majorities, none of the the North Koreans really trusted the leadership………

  • Linda, there are a lot of ways to improve the price of housing without digging out of the Old Labour policy archive. How does it help families to live in dilapidated and unimproved housing, which the government has gutted the incentives for? Gunner Myrdal, one of those horrible family-destroyers who helped set up the Swedish welfare state, said “In many cases rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city—except for bombing.”

  • As I see it, our MPs have to balance party and manifesto policy; their own views; the views and needs of their constituents (someone mentioned democracy?); getting re-elected (and local councillors too); maintaining a coherent coalition Government; and current – and often rapidly changing – circumstances. There can be no simple solution.

  • Well said Linda……

    ……………………….daniel fur…r Posted 2nd February 2012 at 7:19 pm …………So, you criticise the special conference and subsequent policies for not doing what you want, then include the word ‘democracy’ in the title? Your interpretation of democracy is the government doing what you think is right. Odd definition of democracy………….

    Hardly! We democratically elected our MPs (to borrow a phrase from ‘Ronseal’) “To do what it said on the tin”….
    If they do not follow their/our election promises “because they have formed a alliance with a party whose views are (and certainly were pre-election) a odds with ours”, that, at least to my mind, is the antithesis of democracy.

    I, and many like me, feel betrayed. On the disabled, the unemployed, the NHS, etc. our representatives claim “We’ve made a difference”. Perhaps, but the final policies are Tory; not LibDem…

  • paul barker 2nd Feb '12 - 8:43pm

    Sorry, dont have time to get into this argument. I just wanted to say that I support The Coalition policy on this. I felt it was Ashdown et al who were against The Will of The Party, which is clearly to make The Coalition work.

  • @Adam

    “As I see it, our MPs have to balance party and manifesto policy; their own views; the views and needs of their constituents”

    But that’s the problem, in reality it never happens.

    An MP is elected by his constituents to represent those constituents in Parliament,

    Most Mp’s admittedly are elected on their parties manifesto , however, a good MP is also elected by having good links on the ground with their constituency.

    So when a Parliamentarian along with his/her canvassers have worked the doors for years, leafleting constituents with a set of Morals, Standards, Polices and Principles, gaining support from the community in order to win a seat in Westminster and to be trusted with those values and the voice of the people, for them to abandon those principles the moment their in government stinks.

    I never quite understood how MP’s can be whipped by their party to vote for a policy that not only betrays the basis on which they where elected but also betrays their own moral standings.

    An Mp’s obligation is to their constituent “Not” the party or to government.

  • Krissie Pearse 2nd Feb '12 - 9:28pm

    This is bad. Very bad. The resolution passed at the party conference was, as per the party rules, an absolute matter of party policy. It was passed, quite clearly, in opposition to the direction in which the leadership were going on welfare reform.

    Resolutions passed at conference are entirely democratic – it’s why the Liberal Democrats are democrats… and yet the parliamentary members of the party have just acted, with full complicity, against party policy even though there were no reasons stemming from the coalition agreement to do so.

    This has set a precedent. Previously, the Lib Dems were different from “the other two” (Labour and the Tory party) in that the leaders of the Lib Dems were unable to act against party policy as a matter of ethics, tradition, and arguably most importantly, the rules of the party. Never the less, they have just done just that, and the precedent set by it means that unless they are reprimanded for doing so quite heavily, the democratic rules and traditions of the Lib Dems are now absolutely meaningless, leaving the Lib Dems with a grass root following that’s just as toothless and voiceless as that of the Conservatives and Labour.

    The have sold both the party and it’s principles down the river in a lasting and game changing way. The Lib Dems need to contest them for doing so, removing them from the party leadership if the party is to retain ANY kind of democratic identity, and any chance of recovering from what they have done to the party’s previously good reputation. They have shown their true colours by doing this, they have demonstrated with crystal clarity that they do not represent the party, and they MUST go. It’s them, or the party itself.

  • Krissie Pearse 2nd Feb '12 - 9:53pm

    Actually, when the PLDP votes against party policy, then yes, they are. the PLDP were elected on the back of party policy. They have gone against it. They have not gone against it because of the coalition agreement. They have gone against it because they have culpably chosen to ignore it.

    in a party political system, MP’s are elected as representatives of both their constituency, and representative of their party. Constituents elect them on the basis that they are representative of the party. In voting against clear and official democratic party policy, they have shown their selves to be unrepresentative of the party, and undemocratic. It’s their way, or the highway.

    Again, the precedent they have just set renders the “democrat” part of “Liberal Democrats” meaningless. For that matter, the economic assault on the sick and disabled and the cost to life and limb of this bill rather renders the “Liberal” part meaningless too. The most inarguable of these two statements, however, is the former.

  • There is a limit to what can be justified by the economic mess that Britain is in. We shouldn’t go further than the coalition agreement unless we get something that justifies it. Unfortunately Clegg lost sight of this very early on and we’ve let the Tories get away with far too much.

  • A lot of talking about the benefit cap – don’t fall for this red herring that is thrown about as it is a populist measure that can be easily be spun. The reality of the cap is that is will affect relatively few, living the main in expensive London boroughs. The fact that these are families with children is irrelevant to the pro-lobby and the media will not show much interest in the impact as there will not be enough ‘right type’ of people affected.

    The fact that thiis will move numbers of potentially Labour voting people out of constituencies such as Westminster North is, of course, just coincidence.

    The smoke and mirrors of the cap though hides the really heinous parts of the bill which is where the HoL were focusing. The HoC has no real chance of decent debate on this.

    I would also like to hear the views on the Government using financial piviledge to steer this through with no further input from the Lords?

  • @Jason ‘Perhaps, but the final policies are Tory; not LibDem…’

    It’s pretty obvious that the final policies won’t be Lib Dem as the Tories gained more seats and votes in the General Election. The question is how much influence we have.

    A couple of people are writing about deselections and removing people from power. I’ve mentioned in the past this reminds me of the Labour Party in the early 80s and the disaster that befell them in 1983. It’s going to be difficult in the next General Election without making our opponents lives easier.

    @Gareth Epps Not sure if it’s the one you are thinking about but The Central pub is nearby. Only been in once but the real ale and food was good.

  • kevin white 2nd Feb '12 - 10:23pm

    I am completely and utterly disgusted with the majority of our MPs for attacking some of the most vulnerable members of society. My good wishes though to those MPs who stuck to their principles.

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Feb '12 - 10:23pm

    “I am well used to being accused of bringing the party into disrepute for daring to question the direction of our leadership”

    Actually it’s the fact you are advising the Labour Party on policy that brings you into disrepute. How you can think that it is still appropriate for you to be on FPC astonishes me.

  • Regardless of if you think Georges motion was right or wrong the think that worries me is not only have the delegates been ignored….So has George…From my information at no point after conference did any senior party official get in touch with him to discuss his concerns and try and come up with solutions. Thats even at a basic level is bad tactics

  • Pluralist: meet control-freak.

  • Caron Lindsay’s blog today says pretty much everything I feel. Especially the section in italics…

    Read Emily’s comment on it and weep (again).

    Krissie – I think it’s more that the leadership/parliamentary party were suckered into this. This decision on contributory ESA simply should not have gone through now, in the absence of proper evidence of a decent, functioning work capability assessment. It’s clear from Jenny Willott’s speech in yesterday’s debate that we don’t have that yet. I think the Tories will be rather pleased with the damage they’ve got us to inflict on ourselves.

  • I have written against the benefits cap, in an article in the Guardian, and my views have been widely reported. But I do not agree with Linda at all. Nick Clegg has a much bigger mandate from party members than any member of FPC, or conference voting reps. Ultimately we are in coalition, and while our parliamentarians have a duty to listen to conference, they also have to govern as part of a coalition. That will – inevitably – mean doing things we hate, just as the Tories hate the fact that we prevent them doing things they would like to do.

    So I am with Stuart Wheatcroft here.

  • Krissie Pearse 2nd Feb '12 - 11:12pm

    @Valerie T: I would like to believe that, but the evidence is against it. Party policy was clear. The leadership even tried to fight the motion… but it was passed anyway. The leadership voted to overturn every Lords ammendment, including the one on time limiting which was perhaps the single most clear aspect of party policy – yet they still voted against and in so doing betrayed their own party.

    There can be no mistake – the PLDP knew exactly what they were doing, and even without regard to the rights or wrongs of the subject itself, they have set a horrible precedent that will haunt the party and radically change it’s values unless they are held to account for it. Even the media have, until now, made a point of reminding us that the Lib Dems are different from the other two main parties as the leadership can only operate with the democratic consent and policy of the party members. The leadership has just ridden roughshod over the party in the pursuit of their own views and interests. This is bad, nomatter how you lok at it, and devastating for the Lib Dems as a democratic party.

  • Tim – yes, of course we do some things we don’t like doing, and they do some things they don’t like. But this isn’t part of such give-and-take – it’s the Conservatives deliberately taking things too far, because they know it will damage our morale/support while not damaging theirs (I’m talking more about the disability proposals now). The Tories expect their members/supporters to think “well, the government must just be weeding out the fakers, good for them, I know they must be doing the right thing”. They know that our members/supporters will be more vulnerable on the issue.

    If we had the upper hand, an equivalent would be for us to push them further than need be on Europe.

  • The other thing I’m going to say is that between then and now we should have been continually reminding them of the policy, of its importance to us, that we were paying attention etc. George has done so admirably. Gareth and others got a letter together from candidates and I’m sure other good stuff has been happening as well. But in general, I think it’s true to say we’ve been too silent. Which is only partly our fault, of course – hard to talk when there’s been silence coming the other way.

  • and I really apologise if I underestimate the efforts that have probably been going on – what I’m talking about is the open debate on the issue that hasn’t been there.

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Feb '12 - 11:57pm

    I am not sure why child benefit is a random issue. In my view it is one of the most important issues (and one of the most important betrayals by this government).

    Rent controls? Seriously? Even pretty left-wing economists disparaged rent controls for the damage that they did after failed attempts at implementation in the 20th century. We’re meant to be liberals.

    I am now in favour of a new system of regulating rents in “ordinary” privately rented accommodation (combined with some security of tenure for tenants). There is no other way of controlling the ludicrous and exploitative rent levels that now exist in areas of shortage.

    Tony Greaves

  • Andrew Suffield 3rd Feb '12 - 12:20am

    I don’t agree with a great many of the things said here, but buried in the ranting are a few salient points. There were clear defects in the government’s proposals on child benefit and ESA, and the LD whips pushing to reinstate them (especially in the face of conference voting otherwise on ESA) would seem to be a blunder.

    The party leadership can and will be called to account for their actions at the spring conference in 5 weeks. This means the people responsible for these decisions will have to explain themselves. It does not mean they will be put into a ring and beaten with sticks in some ridiculous tabloid fantasy.

    The party elects leaders with broad powers to make this kind of decision on when to go against party policy. not to slavishly follow instructions that may be several months out of date, or get tied up in weeks of internal bickering when policy turns out to be impractical. If the party decides it does not like the way those powers are used, it has some fairly indiscriminate ways to respond – it can attempt to get the current leadership to promise to act differently (but cannot compel action), it can attempt to replace the leaders with people who make more appealing promises, or it can decide this is not worthwhile and bring down the government.

    Conference voted to express an opinion on what should happen to ESA. In March conference will, either explicitly through voting or implicitly through inaction, decide how important this single issue really is – not every word of party policy is a sacred cow. I could easily see it going either way.

    But one thing is for certain: there is no shortage of internal democracy here, and this is not the final word on the issue.

  • Tim Leunig,

    “Nick Clegg has a much bigger mandate from party members than any member of FPC, or conference voting reps.”

    Yes, Tim. Nick Clegg even had the vociferous support of the author of this thread. (I couldn’t resist getting that one in, but it does have a ring of irony to it.)

    Having got the dig at Linda out of the way, let’s unpack this idea that Nick Clegg has a democratic mandate to do what he is currently doing.

    For a start, he didn’t have a democratic mandate from me, because I voted for Chris Huhne. And it is arguable that he didn’t get a democratic mandate from the members as a whole, because more than half voted for Huhne (some 500 papers came in late, Florida style, and didn’t get counted). And it is at least highly doubtful that he would have got a democratic mandate to generate mass unemployment, stall growth and stealth privatise the health service (here I am remembering the party of old, which was centre-left and massively uninterested in the free market fundamentalism that drips from the pens of sundry aficionados on this site, all claiming to have captured the essence of pure liberalism).

    The blank chequers say that once a leader is elected he can do what he likes. While the opposite extreme say that he is irrevocably bound by every promise he made. The truth must be somewhere in between, I suspect. Perhaps the test should be: “Would I have voted Liberal Democrat if I had known that (1) the party would prop up a Tory government, (2) sign up to the Tory deficit reduction strategy lock, stock and barrel (the one Nick Clegg said was “irrational”), and (3) help the Tories destroy the NHS”? In my case, the answer would be “NO”. I would have spoiled my paper had I known. How would other members have felt, if they had known, in advance, what Nick Clegg would do?

  • Tony Greaves,

    I’m not really surprised that you’re in favour of rent control, but I do find the idea that there’s “no other way of controlling the ludicrous and exploitative rent levels that now exist in areas of shortage”, simply stated as fact without any reinforcement puzzling – when there are both numerous other ways and the vast majority of economists don’t support rent controls.

  • Stephen Donnelly 3rd Feb '12 - 12:30am

    “Federal Policy Committee meets on Wednesday and Gareth Epps and I have asked for this to be on the agenda. It is high time our parliamentary party were taken to task for treating the wider party with such contempt……”

    Nick Clegg was elected by the whole party the Federal Policy Committee was not.

  • I take back what I just wrote about Florida. If the US rule that votes posted before the election will be counted even if they arrive after the election had been applied to our leadership election, the leader would be Chris Huhne. Whether or not Chris would have acted differently from Nick Clegg is something we will never know. I like to think I have some faith left in human nature, but then I am probably being over charitable.

    Also, if Linda had supported the left candidate, perhaps the failures of Royal Mail would not have been enough to hand the leadership to the right.

  • Krissie Pearse 3rd Feb '12 - 12:57am

    When did the fact of “not saving money from something you were already paying out” become a “cost to be paid”?

    … and frankly, what is the point of having a democratically determined party policy, decided by a means that gives all members a say, when ministers in government are free to pick and choose what suits them.

    It’s true – the Government is indeed run by the Tories, and I’m glad to hear such an admission from a Lib Dem. However, the welfare thing was not in the coalition agreement, and so it can’t be said at all that hands were tied. They CHOSE to vote against party policy. A fairly well supported party policy, and one that meant everything to the most vulnerable in our society – the ones the LD’s are supposed to be protecting. This is one of the excesses that the coalition supposedly exists to reign the Tories in on.

    Or is it the case that the Oranging process is now complete: 100% blue?

  • Dave Eastham 3rd Feb '12 - 1:15am

    One of the classic old time Trot mantra’s was “Never trust your leaders because they will always betray you” I dunno – but perhaps there may be some truth in that recently, after this fiasco over the WRB. Thank you Linda Jacks for writing this contribution to LDV. Personally I do feel a tadge let down by thy PLDP lot. Come on Peeps, the three previous party leaders have either voted against the WRB – the really nasty stuff, or apparently absented themselves. (Dunno how Charlie voted, but he apparently abstained, by, it has been suggested, by not being there – no idea if this is true or not). Does that not tell you something, Parliamentary PLDP?. (and no, you were not necessarily right to get rid of any of them!)

    When I tried earlier to access the actual LD voting record on the WR(Bill), I was unable to get it. Apart from finding out that Ming had voted against the Gov. But well done to the four LD MP’s who voted to retain the Lord’s amendments (ok who voted for what bit I dunno, yet waiting to see before pouring final praise or disapproval.). However, I did find this article published in the Daily Mail (not usually known for being a bastion of liberalism I would suggest) which was totally in support of those aspects of the WRB that had been corrected by the Lord’s amendments.

    Remember, this is the Daily Mail. What are our PLDP reading exactly at present?.

    I am rather tempted to have a rant – but after too many glasses of wine (Claret of course, me being ex SDP n’ all) and a couple of days feeling really angry with the PLDP, it would probably not be a good idea. A more considered (sober and less cross) post tomorrow methinks.

    p.s. @ Stephen Donnelly
    “Federal Policy Committee meets on Wednesday and Gareth Epps and I have asked for this to be on the agenda. It is high time our parliamentary party were taken to task for treating the wider party with such contempt……”
    Nick Clegg was elected by the whole party the Federal Policy Committee was not”.
    Come on!. We all know what the “final score” was in the last Party Leadership election was. Far be it from me in other electoral forums, to deny that, “one vote is enough for victory” but; as a Party that believes in PR, even in a “two horse race”, such as the last Leadership election, we all know how close it was. A little respect to varied opinions rather than crass “seize the time” is called for I would suggest. And why is comparing “apples and pears” in electoral terms with Leadership elections and FPC elections got anything to do with it.? Evidence based contributions please.

    Trah. Off to bed now me.

  • Richard Grayson 3rd Feb '12 - 1:15am

    @Simon McGrath
    ‘advising the Labour Party on policy that brings you into disrepute’

    I’ve seen you use this phrase or something akin to it on several occasions, and you can be forgive for doing so because of what the Guardian piece you cite said. But that article vastly overstated what was ever intended to happen. If you take this paragraph:

    “Professor Richard Grayson, the Lib Dem director of policy from 1999 to 2004, is to work alongside Liam Byrne managing the groups. Grayson will liaise with Andy Burnham in drawing up policy prescriptions for families alongside Margaret Phelps, a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Witham, Essex.”

    I was never ‘managing the groups’ nor was I ‘drawing up policy prescriptions’. All that I ever did was say to Labour that there were some Lib Dems who would have some interesting things ot say in a spirit of pluralism. These people then went and spoke to working groups – no more than once in any case as far as I am aware – and what they were trying to do was expose Labour to the thinking behind our policy. I think everyone who spoke to a group found the people they spoke to to be open-minded and pluralist. But these were very much one-off conversations. We were simply talking about policy in a spirit of pluralism ourselves and the process was not what was implied by ‘advising’ Labour, any more than those Lib Dems who talk to Tories are ‘advising’ them on Tory policy.

  • Krissie Pearse 3rd Feb '12 - 2:18am

    Stuart Wheatcroft –

    Economic liberalism and social liberalism are not the perfect bedfellows the book describes. The fact that the book makes this case makes it a book in the promotion of economic liberalism, not social liberalism. Frankly, Social Science 101 makes that point very clear. It was Hayek who promoted most strongly that economic liberalism was the perfect bedfellow and means to achieve social liberalism. That gave us first Margaret Thatcher (for whom Hayek was a hero and her major influence), and then Blair, and now Cameron. It’s also why the Lib Dems are now being seen as Tory-lite (and more recently… simply Tories in sheeps clothing). I would say that this assessment of the Lib Dems is unfair… but I will hold my tongue on that for now until I see the outcome of this fiasco… it’ll speak volumes.

    And with respect, the WRB was (and is) a massively high profile issue… and this is going to come back and bite someone in the bum very soon. Is it going to be the Tories and current PLDP, or is it going to be the whole Lib Dem party for standing by it’s unrepresentative PLDP members on this – because one thing is for sure: If the Lib Dems do stand by this and roll over for it, it’ll be the Lib Dems alone who take the flak. This kind of thing is expected of the Tories, but the Lib Dems got their 1/3 share of the electoral vote in 2010 for entirely different reasons – not only has the party itself just been sold out, but that’s on top of selling out the people that elected it to the coalition too.

    And dare I say, I spotted your contradiction: How comes a policy on the NHS agreed within the coalition is non-binding, but one on welfare reform isn’t? Is it a “when it suits” or a “when we’re worried about losing our new right wing friends and supporters”? I hope not!

    Finally, of course, this was voted for in this way in full knowledge of what the Tories were about to do; to call financial privilege on a bill originally intended and processes such that the Lords would vote on it just because the Lords realised that there were serious problems…. and why did they realise? Because the electorate informed them of the problems having seen that the Government was covering it’s ears and continuing to issue lies about it all. That’s democracy… and so the PDLP has effectively just betrayed not only the party, and it’s members, and the people who voted it into power, but has just betrayed the electorate a second time.

    As I said earlier – this is game changing. How the Liberal Democrats deal with this issue now will determine the future shape, identity, and meaning of the party, and perhaps even the survival of the party as a meaningful political force in the time to come.

  • Robert Boyd 3rd Feb '12 - 2:51am

    I think the criticism of the parliamentary party has a point, but calling their decision “undemocratic” is ugly. After all, the word “Democrats” comes from the Social Democratic Party, which was founded partly in order to escape Labour activitists who thought that they were the sole owners of the party, and believed that MPs were traitors because they disobeyed decisions of the sovereign party conference.

    The constitution of the SDP, and later the Liberal Democrats, is pluralist. It rejects the idea that there is any one organ entitled to speak on behalf of all Liberal Democrat members. Instead, power is shared between various democratically legitimate bodies: Conference, to be sure, but also the Leader, MPs, the Federal Executive, etc., etc., etc.

    If MPs disappoint, then pressure should be brought to bear. Conference should assert itself. However, suggestions that Conference is the sole repository of “democracy,” and that disobeying it represents betrayal, are unbecoming of the heirs of the SDP.

  • Grammar Police 3rd Feb '12 - 7:56am

    @Krissie Pearse “including the one on time limiting which was perhaps the single most clear aspect of party policy”

    Except, of course, that the Labour amendment on time limiting was also directly in contravention of our party policy.

  • Grammar Police 3rd Feb '12 - 8:25am

    @Gareth Epps. “Nice try”; yes, quite – says it all about you Gareth, says it all.

    Our party policy was for no arbitrary time limits. The amendment didn’t remove the time limit, merely gave the minister a power to set a time limit by order/regs: “a prescribed number of days which must be at least 730”.
    The problems caused by a one year time limit will be the same problems caused by a two or three year time limit, and the reason conference voted for “no arbitrary time limits” (including myself). I certainly understand why a lot of

    This part of the bill is directly in contravention of our party policy, but pretending that particular amendment is in line with our policy, “main thrust” or otherwise is pure nonsense. Claiming the amendment was the “single most clear aspect of party policy” is equally nonsense.

    I do expect our parliamentarians to vote in line with policy, but I am also aware of some of the other considerations – like their consciences, the way coalition works (which actually does mean winning and losing some battles – and trade offs. Of course we can and should criticise the trade offs, but let’s not pretend they don’t happen) and heaven forfend, arguments in parliament.

    The problem with the Contributory ESA isn’t actually the time limit. It’s the WCA and the level at which the means testing kicks in. They’re the bits we need to sort. Not a Labour amendment intended to spread division in the Lib Dems at the same time as making very little difference to the people affected.

    I have to hand it to them. They’ve succeeded in that. It will be brilliant to have the FPC pop up and down after every bill highlighting the ways in which they feel it falls outside the “main thrust” of our policy, which will be used by The Guardian and others to spin into their narrative of how we don’t believe anything and can’t be trusted.

  • Grammar Police 3rd Feb '12 - 8:26am

    “I certainly understand why a lot of” – should have read “I certainly understand why a lot of our Lords abstained on this amendment” ;o)

  • Excellent article Linda. Good luck to you and Gareth. I am one of the many foot soldiers looking on in dismay at what our party has become. IE a semi-detached addition to the Tories.

  • Yes, this determination by some to focus solely on the single word “arbitrary” (and Jenny Willott did it in the debate, too) is lamentable. The two-year amendment was a decent compromise that was more *in the spirit of* the policy than was the 12 months – how many more times does this need to be said?

    I’m a fan of the Orange Book, but I’m completely against what we’ve done on ESA. Not fond of the benefit cap, either, but it’s the ESA changes that are the worst.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Feb '12 - 9:01am

    The Parliamentary party is managing to temper some of what the government would be doing were it a majority Conservative Party government. The cost is that it has to give in on much else. It’s a difficult position to be in, but it’s how being a junior coalition partner is. I do not believe it is being led well at the moment, as I feel a good leadership would be making it much more clear to the public that this is how it is. The mistakes go right back to the “rose garden” initial presentation of the coalition. It is on this ground, rather than what policy grounds, that I have no confidence in the current leadership.

  • Grammar Police – yes, it’s the WCA we need to sort out, but since it hasn’t yet been sorted out, wouldn’t you agree that a two-year limit is better than a one-year one which, in the meantime, is going to throw all sorts of people off contributory ESA who don’t deserve to be? It’s also better in terms of the evidence on recovery times.

    What I’m not sure about is how the Labour amendment would have left us with regard to the retrospective introduction of the 12-month limit, i.e. the bit that will ensure some people’s contributory ESA stops this April because they’ve already been in the work-related activity group for a year (even if wrongly placed there).

    We did get a good concession on deteriorating illnesses – if you’re in the work-related activity group and your condition has deteriorated by the end of the year, you can be reassessed and put in the support group – but, as was pointed out by Lib Dem Lords, there are also issues regarding what happens if you’re not exactly deteriorating but aren’t any better (e.g. people who’ve had strokes).

  • Grammar Police 3rd Feb '12 - 9:20am

    @George Potter and Valerie T: “more *in the spirit of* the policy than was the 12 months”

    I don’t agree that any time limit could be “more in the spirit” of a policy that was no time limits (I too have said this many times to all those who seem to think that not backing that Labour amendment was contrary to our policy – that clause is contrary to our policy, as is the amendment).

    Secondly, I don’t think it would be much comfort to those still affected at the end of two years – the awful problems for them would still be the same just slightly delayed (yes, it might affect slightly fewer people, I do see, but I don’t think that’s why Labour placed the amendment particularly).

    It’s not a decent compromise because it doesn’t touch the real issue at the heart of the problem with the time limit – the WCA and the level of means testing.

    There were good reasons to vote for that particular amendment, and some reasons not to. But in order to “follow our party policy” is not one of them.

  • Grammar Police 3rd Feb '12 - 9:27am

    @George Potter “It has done a good job of causing division but only because our parliamentarians transparently didn’t make any attempt to change the time limit at all”

    *in parliament*. We’ve no idea whether they tried to change the time limit through discussions – bills are always massive compromises and the process of internal debates between civil servants, departments, interest groups, MPs, Lords and ministers. All we can see is that they did lose this particular argument prior to the bill being put before parliament. And also what we can’t tell is whether they compromised that, to win other concessions.

    “for them to then use that as an excuse to pretend they’re following the motion is absolutely reprehensible.”

    The bill may not be in line with our policy, but the Labour amendment is not in line with our policy either. For some at the margins the Labour amendment may make things slightly better. The thing that will make a real issue to those people is sorting out the WCA and the means testing, not the time limit.

  • Sid Cumberland 3rd Feb '12 - 9:29am

    Mark – yes, I know Nick Clegg didn’t say that … I was objecting (evidently rather too obtusely) to Linda’s suggestion that he did.

  • Grammar Police – of course it affects the issue with the WCA – the WCA will be in better shape after two years than it will be after one year. Some changes to the WCA (not enough) were introduced last year and some are still to be made, but fewer people will be wrongly thrown off contributory ESA in the meantime. And with regard to recovery time, it won’t affect “slightly fewer people”, it would affect many fewer people, given the evidence.

  • Ruth Bright 3rd Feb '12 - 9:56am

    George Potter deserves a medal for pointing out on his blog that one of the ESA cuts would cost a mere £10 million to restore – meanwhile the government has found £250 million to help restore weekly bin collections (because Eric Pickles tells us that a weekly bin collection is a human right!).

    The excuses about the “compromises of coalition” simply don’t wash. We have had one round of this already, for example, our leadership did not drag its heels but took the lead enthusiastically when the health in pregnancy grant was abolished.

  • James Sandbach 3rd Feb '12 - 10:08am

    It does seem that over the course of this Parliament our Parliamentary Party get heavily whipped and pressured to push through any legislation that that has the Treasury’s deficit reduction imprematur on it, and not make a fuss over over any aspect or clause – the problem is that almost measure can be justified on this basis however iliberal or contary the policy of one of the Coalition Parties.

    As David Ward MP said in the Legal Aid Bill debate in the Commons when stuck his neck out as a rebel “It is a very dangerous thing if we are going to use deficit reduction as a justification for almost everything we might do…Someone once told me that the world is divided into two groups of people. There are those who, when they see somebody walking down the street with a walking stick, believe in kicking the stick away because it will make that person stronger, and there are those who believe that if they kick away the stick, the person will just fall over. We are in grave danger of making some of those who are, by definition, the most vulnerable in our society fall over, and we will still have to be there to pick them up, at even greater cost to the public purse. It does not make sense; we should not do it”

  • Simon Hebditch 3rd Feb '12 - 10:28am

    Well, at least Linda’s trenchant article has sparked an important debate within the party! The decisions the parliamentary party have made around the WRB simply follow a well worn path – some leaden reference to the party’s democratic structures followed by a supine approach to our coalition partners. What interests me is – are there any red lines at all which would produce a reaction? Clearly, the impact of welfare reform cuts does not constitute a red line. Neither did the Tory approach to electoral reform, the so-called European veto, the health and community care bill, legal aid reform etc.

    I have to say to Simon McGrath that I am in politics to try and achieve radical change in our society through engaging the centre left of British politics. That involves being prepared to talk to other parties and politcal movements to see, for example, whether it is feasible (or not) to create an alternative political programme which would allow the possibility of an alternative to the current reactionary coalition. In that endeavour I am in favour of talking with Labour reformists, the Greens, UK Uncut, 38 Degrees etc etc. I believe in that old concept of the realignment of the left and so reject all tribalism – including examples emanating from some parts of the Lib Dems.

  • Am I the only one who thinks the Tories are playing a very calculating and clever game within this coalition. They are steadily stripping away the appeal of voting Lib Dem to groups of people who would be inclined to vote either Lib Dem or Labour. In Lib Dem Tory marginals this aids them directly and it matters not a jot to them in Lib Dem Labour marginals. It could be counter productive in a three way, but how many of those are there really ?

    Some, like myself, are unlikely to vote Labour unless there is a seismic change but feel a Lib Dem party that does not look after the most disadvantaged in society is not worthy of my vote either. Every time I feel better disposed there is another issue. NHS reforms are a shambles and the attack (and I think that is the correct word) on some disabled through this Bill is a disgrace.

    @George Potter
    On your blog you state “By voting the way you did you enabled Labour to get off the hook for their own appalling record on disability benefits” Absolutely correct, the bad boys on benefits will be the Lib Dems, just as the fact Labour brought in, and then raised tuition fees will be all but forgotten. Labour, the original party of the ATOS medicals etc, will come away smelling of roses..

    Meanwhile Tory satisfaction levels go up a notch.

  • Richard Swales 3rd Feb '12 - 10:53am

    Two completely separate (and slightly inconsistent) points. First, that Lib Dems who find the compromises of a junior coalition partner intolerable make poor advocates for PR.

    Second. I am surprised you (Linda) are so quick to dismiss the student fees issue. My view is that everything else comes from that.
    The reason is that you can have 3 different kinds of state:
    1) a provision state where everyone is being provided with things.
    2) a redistribution-only state
    3) a minimal, libertarian, state

    In rejecting that idea that the state should pay tuition fees (and also universal benefits like child benefit) you are rejecting 1) and the social contract that goes with it. Politically you are then left with a polarised choice between types 2) and 3). Type 2) basically means calling some people (most employed people) donkeys and making them carry other people called riders, and is unsellable to the public without the wider social contract that goes with 1). Type 3) is the political space the Tories are already bedded down in.

  • Steve Way. Posted 3rd February 2012 at 10:38 am……..Am I the only one who thinks the Tories are playing a very calculating and clever game within this coalition. They are steadily stripping away the appeal of voting Lib Dem to groups of people who would be inclined to vote either Lib Dem or Labour..

    Agreed! Is it just me or are there an untoward number of LibDems (Danny Alexander comes to mind) being trotted out to defend policies which are at odds with our manifesto.

  • I think what’s dismaying me most of all are the party members saying “well, these changes are very popular – no one I talk to wants to support dossers and fakers” but who make very little attempt to consider whether the changes actually do that and what the actual costs will be – human, political and (hidden) monetary.

    And the ones who think that being pro-coalition means taking it all on trust.

  • Linda Jack Prateek Buch 3rd Feb '12 - 11:12am

    May I remind all those posting comments to stick to LDV’s comments policy please?


    Wouldn’t want to spoil a discussion on an important topic by having to moderate the thread…

    Cheers 🙂

  • Grammar Police 3rd Feb '12 - 11:41am

    @Gareth Epps – I’d hardly have called my post a “personal attack” – it was certainly no worse than your “nice try” jibe. I think readers will note that you haven’t responded to the points raised (unlike George Potter or Valerie T).

    My pseudonym is largely because of my employment; but a number of people here know who I am.

    @Valerie T – I certainly don’t take it all on trust, and I think the media is a perfectly valid way of trying to force the coalition to do more of what we’d want (one of the criticisms of Labour in Government was how stunted criticism from the Party was). But I do think that achieving our within a coalition is an incredibly complicated process. It is very difficult to know whether our parliamentarians could/should have achieved behind closed doors, and what the trade off has been. I do also think that both Labour and Tories are canny enough to get headlines about how our MPs/Lords have done x, y and z against policy and can’t be trusted. I think declarations from FPC probably buy into that. I wish I had all the answers but I don’t. I do believe that our MPs are doing the best they can from a horrible position. Whether they’re doing well enough is another thing.

  • Simon Hebditch ” I believe in that old concept of the realignment of the left and so reject all tribalism – including examples emanating from some parts of the Lib Dems.”

    The Liberal (Hint …) Democrats are NOT a left wing party. I suggest if you view yourself a left wing you attach yourself to an appropriate groupuscule.

    Gareth Epps / Simon Shaw – we all know that in the majority of constituencies voting reps are not elected in any meaningful sense and cannot be deemed to be representative of majority party membership views. In my previous constituency we struggled to get 10 people from a membership of 90 to the AGM. Voting posts were doled out to those who actually wanted to go to conference – usually those with an axe to grind. When you couple that with the cost and necessity of taking a week away from work, those going to conference will tend to be pretty hard-core and therefore unlikely to be representative of our arm-chair membership.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 3rd Feb '12 - 12:33pm

    It is pretty clear to me from the above debate there are two distincy schools of political thought within the LibDems which are fundamentally unreconcilable. For many years the two tendencies have been able to rub along by defining the LibDems as the antithesis of the other parties – and that didn’t really matter as there were never any fundamental decisions to make. The social liberals may want to make a final push to try and obtain control of their pary – but they probably need to ask themselves what they do when they fail.

  • TBNGU – “The social liberals may want to make a final push to try and obtain control of their pary – but they probably need to ask themselves what they do when they fail.”

    You’re setting up a false dichotomy here. I am a Social Liberal, but I’m also an Economic Liberal. The real issue is those who call themselves Social Liberals yet disavow Economic Liberalism. You can’t have one without the other.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 3rd Feb '12 - 12:50pm


    I was only pointing out what I saw here – happy to hear how you would reconcile economic and social liberalism when it comes to the benefit cap, without using rental controls.

    Someone earlier quoted how Keynes had spoken approvingly of Hayek’s philosopy with regard to personal liberty – what he failed to point out is that at the same time he said “What we need therefore, in my opinion, is not a change in our economic programmes, which would only lead in practice to disillusion with the results of your philosophy; but perhaps even the contrary, namely, an enlargement of them” . Orwell also made a similar point in his review of the Road to Serfdom about how free competition could destroy individual liberty.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 3rd Feb '12 - 12:55pm

    @tabman – The Liberal (Hint …) Democrats are NOT a left wing party. I suggest if you view yourself a left wing you attach yourself to an appropriate groupuscule.

    Well they are clearly not a left wing party anymore – but it is worth noting that the Party’s vote was built up under leaders who were not averse to calling for a realigment of the Left in which they saw the LibDems having a role.

  • TBNGU – I think there’s a difference between those who are happy to explore all options to achieve equivalence of opportunity, including market-based approaches; and those who reject all such approaches out of hand (even when all the evidence suggest that the alternatives to non-market-based approaches have failed utterly).

    It might just be me, but there does seem to be a considerable intersect between the “explore all options” and “pragmatism and compromise” grouping, and the “reject the market” and “ideological purity” grouping.

    I am a Liberal precisely because I do NOT want a single idealogical approach to politics, and I struggle to understand those that do.

  • jenny barnes 3rd Feb '12 - 1:27pm

    ” fundamentally, our MPs are there to to the best they can for their constituents.”

    No, they aren’t. They may be the MP for Bristol, but their responsibiliity is to do the best they can for the UK…

  • @Tabman
    “You’re setting up a false dichotomy here. I am a Social Liberal, but I’m also an Economic Liberal. The real issue is those who call themselves Social Liberals yet disavow Economic Liberalism. You can’t have one without the other.”

    I find that a very strange statement. You accuse someone else of creating a false dichotomy and then make an absolute, black and white statement that implies that Social Liberals MUST also be economic liberals, which is utter tosh (as well as being a false dichotomy). Economic liberalism may OR may not be socially liberal – orange-bookers claim it is, but it doesn’t mean they are right. Social liberals tend to argue for greater regulation of markets to prevent vested interests from creating monopolies and abusing their power, undermining efficiency of the markets – regulation creating a more efficiencient market than laissez faire. They may or may not be right.

    To effectively state that you can’t be a social liberal without being an economic liberal is very much an ideological argument, as opposed to evidence-based impartiality on greater/lesser regulation, greater/lesser redistribution, etc. But this is the very thing you’ve just been arguing against. I’m confused.

  • Steve Way/Jason/Alex – completely agree – that’s what I was trying to say when I said the Tories were deliberately taking things too far.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 3rd Feb '12 - 3:30pm


    I think you misunderstand myself, Keynes, Orwell and the social democratic position in general to think that we reject market based approaches in all cases – we just have the view that on their own they are not sufficient to deliver either on the economy or individual liberty, and we are prepared to learn from when they have failed in the past. We don’t think that non market approaches have failed utterly in all cases – although clearly some have just as many market based approaches have also done so.

    All I can say is that the market based approach to benefits has failed utterly in the past and I see no reason why it will not do in this case.

  • Gemma Roulston 3rd Feb '12 - 5:21pm

    I have been a member of the party for nearly 20 years. I joined as I wanted to make things better for the disabled and those who cannot speak for themselves. I have worked hard in the party to make people think about disability and carers. And yet I am being kicked into the dirt because I have disabilities and my children have disabilities.
    These welfare reforms are just there to save money – totally and honestly. The transition fund is not going to be ring fenced, so how can councils be guaranteed to spend it on those who will be hit by the reduction of housing benefit – the excess bedroom rule?
    If the changes are reviewed after a year – and have shown to have failed – what then? I cannot see IDS or Miller going back to Parliament and saying – sorry folks we have messed up – these changes are not doing what we wanted, are hitting those we did not think it would it??? Nothing will change.
    The consultation on the change from DLA (disability Living Allowance) to PIP (Personal Independence Payment) was a total con – it was supposed to be 12 weeks – but it was deemed that it would be only 9 – as it was only the principles that were being looked at. The closing date was the day after the WRB was published – which had PIP in it – so what was the point of having the consultiation on it? Many people took part in the consultation, and have been totally ignored.
    The Tories under Cameron, seem to want to hit the disabled, Maggie never did – as she had the sense to realise that it was a step too far. Does anyone really know what the figure for fraud on disability benefit is?? IT IS 0.5%.
    These changes are going to hit many people very hard, Cameron, Clegg, Alexander and co will be ok – so will their friends – after all – they are not going to have to apply for ESA or PIP. It seems that this party does not seem to really care about what happens to the disabled. If so say that to people – it seems that you are shouted down. How the heck we can encourage disabled people to vote for us, join us, stand for us I just do not know. I do not know how much more of the disability bashing I can take. I care about the party and the disabled. But does the party care about the disabled????
    Steve Webb said at the conference at Birmingham – that disability benefit spending is going to be the same at the end of the parliament, as it was at the end. So why deny people what they are entitled to? There are 10.6 million (approx) of the population – who are disabled, and yet only 28% of them actually claim any benefit – this is not going to help those who need the benefits get them.
    Disability is the only sphere of equality that can hit at any age.We have all been young, we will all be old, you can choose to have a faith or not, you cannot do much about your skin colour, your ethnic background, gay/lesbian – is a choice, but disabiltiy can hit anyone at any stage of live, regardless of background (class, ethnic, etc.. Disabillity does not know any restrictions. So it could be you next, or your family, friends etc..
    I agree with what Linda, George, Valerie, Gareth and Kevin have written.
    I could not join the Tories – I would kill myself first – as I originally come from the North East. I do not trust either of the Labour Parties – so where do I go if I leave? The Tories and Labour have never really done anything for that area of the country – why should the Tories – they will never get massive support, Labour do not want to be seen as looking after their supporters.
    I feel ashamed of what the leadership has done, and forced some of our MPs to do. I want to stay in the party, but I am finding it really difficult to stay in. Give me some reasons why I, as a disabled person, and parent/carer of 2 disabled people. and a daughter carer of an elderly disabled person should stay in the party!!! Clegg, Alexander and co are certainly not giving me any reason to stay in. I thought that Tim’s reply to George was very weak and waffly, and full of spin.

  • Tony Dawson 3rd Feb '12 - 5:58pm


    “The Liberal (Hint …) Democrats are NOT a left wing party”

    I think you misunderstand or misrepresent what ‘left wing’ means. Socialists are only one kind of ‘left wing’ politicians. The term ‘left wing’ is defined by what you are against ie ‘right wing’ but also (I quote wikipedia because although not always a fan, they appear to have it fairly spot on here).

    “Left-wing and leftist generally refer to support for social change to create a society with a more egalitarian structure. They usually involve a concern for those in society who are disadvantaged relative to others and an assumption that there are unjustified inequalities (which right-wing politics view as natural or traditional) that should be reduced or abolished.”

    Of course a lot of people object to being defined ‘left wing’ because of marketing/branding issues, and they may be correct (not right!) to do so.

  • After the first Osborne budget, I and others posted on this site pleading with Liberal Democrats not to go along with the Welfare Reforms. Disabled and sick people have been living in fear since then but we were derided, insulted and our comments blocked, but the comments doing this were allowed on here. Why did you not listen then? The horse has bolted.

  • Anne, we listened, we agreed, but unfortunately the leadership of our party didn’t listen or agree and sadly they’re the ones that matter.

    All I can do, as a councillor and ordinary member, is say on the doorstep quite loudly that I don’t agree with the decision.

  • Richard Grayson 3rd Feb '12 - 8:06pm

    @Simon McGrath

    ‘Compass, a Labour party thinktank’

    No it’s not. It’s clearly closer to Labour than any other party, but it recently allowed people who are members of party other than Labour to be full members. That means it is a very different organisation to, say, the Fabian Society, which is formally part of the Labour Party, and Lib Dems and Greens are not able to take a full role in its activities. Compass has also had a strong record of being critical of the Labour Party over the past decade as more. Re-writing history? Glass houses and stones spring to mind.

  • Richard Grayson 3rd Feb '12 - 8:11pm

    @ Simon McGrath

    And by the way:

    ‘nice try at re- writing history’

    No, it’s simply giving you the facts on what has and has not happened, from someone actually involved, rather than believing a newspaper account. If you prefer to base your opinions on apparent evidence from the Guardian, that’s your entitlement, but it means that in this case you are just plain wrong.

  • “I could not join the Tories – I would kill myself first – as I originally come from the North East. I do not trust either of the Labour Parties – so where do I go if I leave?”

    You don’t have to be a member of a political party. Most people aren’t.

  • Simon McGrath 3rd Feb '12 - 10:17pm

    @Richard Grayson “Compass, a Labour party thinktank’
    No it’s not. It’s clearly closer to Labour than any other party, but it recently allowed people who are members of party other than Labour to be full members.”
    From the Compass Constitution, on their website:
    3. Membership
    3.1 Membership shall be open to individuals who are, or who are eligible to be. individual members of the Labour Party. Member of other political parties in the UK, other than the Cooperative Party, are therefore not eligible for membership of Compass

  • @Simon McGrath
    Richard Grayson said ‘recently’, and you replied with a version of a constitution with “As amended 15 September 2007” at the top.

  • @Simon Mcgrath
    I thought Compass had opened up their membership last year so I had a further look. The Constitution you quote was dated 2007 so probably requires an update on their web site. Their joining page states:

    Compass has recently changed. Membership is now open to all that want to work for a good society based on greater democracy, equality and sustainability.

    No matter what your Party colour (or if you’ve decided to wear no colour whatsoever) Compass is now a broad coalition for all centre-left campaigners, thinkers, and activists.

    So take action today to help build a Good Society and join Britain’s most influential political movement with over 40,000 members & supporters across the country.

  • Kevin Colwill 4th Feb '12 - 1:11am

    Case A- A banker has a legal claim to a huge bonus…we ask him not to take it but don’t dream of changing the law to set a crude money cap on bonuses because we believe it’s always right to pay according to talent and results and for the market to set pay and bonus levels..
    Case B- A disabled person has a legal claim to a big (but nowhere near as huge) welfare payment…we change the law so there is an absolute cap that can’t be exceeded because we believe it isn’t always right to pay according to need. When the need exceeds a given figure it must be adjusted down.
    The Tory and other enconomic Liberal supports both actions, the old school socialist supports neither. I used to think the social Liberal would support A but not support B. Now I just think “social Liberal” has no meaning and that it really is all about the economy.

  • “really is all about the economy”
    I am sure the North Korean government is concerned about giving welfare to its disabled citizens
    as was the government of The Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. In the light of the massive economic crisis in both countries neither government could do much.
    I remember being told in economics classes in the 1960s that governments had found away to make mass unemployment a thing of the past and that an economic slump such as that which happened in the 1930s could never happen again. The lessons of the 1930s became forgotten but now economic and finacial collapse is now a real possibility.
    We live in interesting times so what are Liberals to do? We must create a new economy which gives real opportunity for all and a welfare society that enables everyone to be taken care of when in real need.
    I am off to see The Lady and who knows I may be lucky enough one day to meet the Lady.

  • Simon McGrath 4th Feb '12 - 6:09am

    @Kevin – the 67% tax on the bankers bonus in case A is in fact going to pay the welfare payment for Case B.
    You would rather the bankers doesn’t get his bonus, the bank makes more profit , the government gets less tax and has to make more cuts?

  • Simon McGrath 4th Feb '12 - 6:21am

    @Steve – I suppose this from the Compass website (About us section) is also wrong:
    “At present Compass is open primarily to people who are eligible to be Labour members”
    and the pamphlet they produced last year on how to fight the Lib Dems never happened?

  • @Simon McGrath
    Don’t misread or misinterpret my comments. I have no idea what they generally do, and apart from links from this and other sites have never visited their site before.

    The change to Compass rules was reported on this site and was covered in a number of papers, which is why I checked. The fact their web site has not been updated does not change this.

  • @Simon McGrath
    “You would rather the bankers doesn’t get his bonus, the bank makes more profit , the government gets less tax and has to make more cuts?”

    I would, given we own the bank. If the bank doesn’t pay the bonuses then they have more money to pay us back. I would have thought that was rather obvious.

    For example, if we got back 50% of the 1m Hester bonus in tax, the taxpayer has made a net loss of 500k. If Hester doesn’t get a bonus, the taxpayer has made a net loss of 0k.

    Furthermore, since I’m a customer of the Natwest, the money to pay back the taxpayer (including me) is coming from myself (and many other customers). The less the likes of Hester skim off the top, the sooner the money flows back from the banks’ customers to the taxpayer.

  • @Manfarang
    “I remember being told in economics classes in the 1960s that governments had found away to make mass unemployment a thing of the past and that an economic slump such as that which happened in the 1930s could never happen again. The lessons of the 1930s became forgotten but now economic and finacial collapse is now a real possibility.”

    I’m not sure what your point is (about meeting the lady, etc – are you going to tell her about the mess her deregulation caused?). In the 1960s, financial collapse was much less probable because of the measures taken in the wake of the depression. Those regulations were discarded by the likes of Thatcher, Reagan and Clinton with the consequences now being felt.

  • Why are rent controls necessary, given that rents are currently rising in line with wage inflation (~2% see http://www.rentindex.co.uk/). Rents have been flat in real terms for the last three decades. It’s house prices and land values that are mental, not rents.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Feb '12 - 11:36pm


    On the benefits cap, of course it is crazy the amount of benefits that are going to some large families, mainly living in the South East, but the problem could surely be better addressed through rent controls and building more social housing?

    Why is it that people can’t say it straight? When there’s a big benefit payment, most of it is NOT going to the family, it’s going to their private landlord in housing benefit.

    This is an inevitable consequence of the right-to-buy. When it was introduced, I wrote to the then housing minister, a local MP in Sussex where I was then living, saying that while it sounded good for those currently in tenancies, how would the next generation be housed, particularly in places like our county where house prices were so high compared to average income? Mr Gow replied that I should not worry about it, as the houses would still be there. Well, so they are, but instead of being let out on the basis of those in most need getting them at a cost covering the historical cost of land acquisition building and current maintenance, they are let out to whoever is willing to pay the most regardless of need. Housing benefit struggles in vain to cover this – but we would not be shelling out large amounts of taxpayers money as pure profit to private landlords and to those who bought ex council housing and sold on and in interest to those lending money for this if we had not so cavalierly thrown away this cost-only safety net. The blame should fall on anyone who over the decades has sung the praises of right-to-buy without considering the long term costs of there being no replacements for the housing sold off.

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    “This is an inevitable consequence of the right-to-buy.”

    I won’t repeat what you’ve said, as you’ve said it far better than I can. However, it is worth repeating a million times that it is private landlords that are profiting from housing benefit as a direct result of right-to-buy (bribes).

    The people that have made profits out of right-to-buy are (a) those that bought public assets at a fraction of their true price and (b) those that rent to those on housing benefits. The people that don’t gain – those on housing benefits – are the ones being attacked by the coalition. They are being made responsible for the increased bill to the taxpayer – an increased bill caused by right-to-buy.

    The simple answer is to build more council housing, but the government isn’t interested in answers, only ways of misdirecting the blame for their failing ideology.

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