Opinion: why I still support the Lib Dems

This has been a hard few months, and there’s been a lot of discussion about why some people no longer support the Lib Dems. But there’s a lot of us who still do. I thought readers of LibDemVoice might be interested in a thread where a few of us explain the reasons why we are still enthusiastic supporters of the party.

Here’s why I am:

Many leftwing commentators write as if there weren’t a £150bn deficit. If the coalition give this as an excuse for the severe cuts, some sigh in frustration, as if this were a tired excuse.

But the deficit is going to dominate the whole parliament, and fixing it is absolutely essential.

Over nearly thirty years of party membership, I’ve constantly been infuriated by the old cliché, that progressive politicians are irresponsible with the public finances.

There is absolutely nothing progressive about creating initiatives that have to be scrapped because you overspent. All you do is employ people you have to sack, and raise hopes you have to dash. That, and waste a lot of money. Labour avoided doing that in their first term, then, to their shame, they did exactly that in their next two.

But progressive politicians can be responsible. Labour in their first term ran a surplus. So did Roy Jenkins. Bill Clinton was extremely responsible in running the finances of the USA, especially when compared to his Republican predecessors or successor.

And the Lib Dems are being responsible too.

For me, sorting out the potential catastrophe of the deficit is central. But the party has done a lot more than that.

There are numerous examples of progressive policies: for example the higher tax allowance, the pupil premium, and the scrapping of populist authoritarian legislation. Perhaps the greatest victories of Lib Dem influence have been in the policies of Tory Ministers. Ken Clarke’s shift to a progressive penal policy is remarkable, and Ian Duncan Smith’s initiative to remove the poverty trap is potentially historic.

I applaud the fact that these policies aren’t just throwing money at a problem. Rather, they seem to me to be hard-nosed and evidence based.

I’ve mentioned in other threads that there is a lot I’m uneasy about and some things I really hate. This isn’t the thread to go into the negatives, but what reassures me is that I’m sure some Lib Dem ministers share my misgivings, and are working behind the scenes to try to mitigate the damage.

When I remember the last Tory government, who were in a much better financial situation but far more regressive, and compare it to the Coalition, the contrast makes me proud of the difference our people are making.

This post grew out of a thread in our members’ forum responding to Richard Huzzey’s resignation letter. If you are a member of the Lib Dems, you can join the discussion.

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  • dave thawley 14th Dec '10 - 12:52pm

    Why I don’t support our leadership (although I am liberal democrat)

    It is clear what our policy is – To come on the radio and TV to tell the world about Horrible Tory Policy and get the blame for them. R4 Today actually asked Paul Burstow (one of our MPs who the Tories have borrowed for a few months) why every time there is bad news a Liberal Democrat comes and tells it – He then went on to say something very similar to ‘are you just bullet proof clothing for the Tories’. – Again our representative couldn’t be swayed to telling the truth (i.e. ‘you lot were slow catching on weren’t you) and instead went on a rambling excuse for his terrible behaviour. Noting as well Gove came out and announced our policy about kids premium (which is a con anyway isn’t it because instead of giving poor people more it will tend to give working class kids less) it is now really obvious what our purpose in government it. Clegg has given us to the Tories to take the Flack so we get the blame and they don’t. This isn’t just a rash thought, just look at what has happened over the last 6 months and this is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn.

    We have our manifesto and a coalition agreement. And then we have whatever Nick and the leaders decide they want to do (or are told to do by the Tories). Our ship is sunk. People are leaving the LD by the droves. The general excuse I’ve heard about this is ‘they are going because they are closet socialists’. This is rubbish. They are going because they are liberal and our party isn’t. They have just made the logical decision that they no longer want to be party of a right wing agenda. I empathise with them greatly and may be off very soon myself.

  • dave thawley 14th Dec '10 - 1:00pm

    Also – if our leaders give the police permission to use water cannons or CS gas against kids I (like many many others) will never vote for us again. Shouldn’t say this really as there seems to be a deliberate policy of loosing as many people as possible at the moment so I may have just put the kids in danger.

  • Excellent.

    @dave – I agree that the police should not use water cannons or CS gas (or kettling for that matter)

    But what tactics shoudl they use against violent mobs?

  • To look at your list in more detail..

    higher tax allowance – I accept this is good, but not quite as good as many claim. Also it is swallowed somewhat buy rises in VAT etc. Lower earners spend a higher percentage of their money than higher earners so VAT hits hardest.

    the pupil premium – It’s just not new money I’m afraid. Whilst I applaud more money going to the poorest children it should not be at the expense of others. If it was new money this would be an excellent policy, as it is it will disadvantage many.

    the scrapping of populist authoritarian legislation – Good plan but it’s not really happened in any sizeable way yet.

    Ken Clarke’s shift to a progressive penal policy is remarkable – Anyone who has followd Ken’s retoric over the last few years would not be suprised he has followed this route. Of all the current Tory ministers he is his own man. I think he should be given the credit for this not the Lib Dems.

    Ian Duncan Smith’s initiative to remove the poverty trap is potentially historic. – IDS has been working on these plans for several years and if anything has been made to scale down his proposals by the coalition government.

    “Many leftwing commentators write as if there weren’t a £150bn deficit. If the coalition give this as an excuse for the severe cuts, some sigh in frustration, as if this were a tired excuse.”

    t becomes a tired excuse when overused or innapropriately used. For example the Tuition fees debacle. Also it becomes a tired excuse when in reality both parties of Government would have had a similar deficit had they been in office during the financial crisis. I accept Labour mismanaged the economy, but the scale of the deficit is not due to that mismanagement but “events dear boy, events.” Clear reading of hansard, particulalry when Tories and Lib Dems responded to Budgets and PBR’s show where they would have been.

    It is not all bad though and you are right to highlight this. However the good does not, in my opinion, outweigh the loss of trust. The two biggest areas for me would be that Clegg and Co changed their mind on deficit reduction during the campaign but neglected to tell the voters, and of course the pledge.

    The final point is they need to stop the love in with the Tories. No one will believe their influence was made to tell if everything is presented as a united front. That only benefits the Tories. There needs to be evidence of disagreements (both won and lost) so people can see they are acting as Lib Dems and not closet Tories.

  • I agree with Dave above. Every single time a policy is announced that spells bad news for the people, the Lib Dems are taking 100% of the flack. I barely heard a Tory say a word to the media about Tuition Fees.
    But whenever something good comes out – such as the Cancun agreement – Dave Cameron shoves his face on the front, and the media ignores the Lib Dems who worked hard.

    That said, clearly a gigantic chunk of Lib Dem voters are pretty upset with the party for going back on a pledge – me being one of them. And that’s not going to help them either.

  • For me, having the lib dems in Government has been an awakening to just how much of a muddle there was with the past Government about the role of the state and the private sector. It seems like they had it the wrong way round. On the one hand they used private companies, at a huge cost to the tax payer, for infrastructure projects such as building hospitals and train companies, where they is an arguable case that the public sector should pay and manage these projects, and on the other hand many charities, which I had assumed would be financed by donations, membership etc, were actually financed by the Government and then told what to do.

    This is where we are distinct from Labour and the Conservatives. We know there is a role for the state, but the presciptiveness of Labour was too much as was the lack of care over our money. I’m glad Nick Clegg is talking about “new progressives”, which looks a lot like liberalism to me, and how we free people to help themselves achieve what they want. There’s much to be done, but we’ve only had 6 months and it has been a time of economic crisis. I think we’ll look back and be proud of what we’ve achieved.

  • In response

    – The left don’t act or write as if there is not a £150bn deficit. this is a red herring
    – Your policies are using the deficit as a cover. Tuition fees are not in any way related to reducing the deficit – indeed they are due to rise after he deficit is reduced
    – You keep listing small policy ‘victories’ as justification for your presence in Government. Actual people couldn’t care less about this. They care about how the government impacts on their lives. And the fact is that this Coalition is making decisions + choices that will impact hugely on people
    – You claim credit for Ken Clarke’s justice policies? I wonder what Ken would think of that. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ken on a fair few occasions. Trust me – you’ve had no impact on Ken.
    – IDS’ big policy can be summarised as cutting benefits + wrapping them into 1 payment. He still believes that if you don’t have a job it’s your problem to solve.
    – “I’m sure Lib Dem ministers share my misgivings”. Evidence? That seems awfully optimistic. They seem to be justifying every policy they objected to 6 months ago on behalf of their Tory masters and saying it was fantastic all along. Why was a Lib Dem health minister defending Lanlsey’s Catastrophic NHS reforms for example?
    – The last Tory government was more regressive was it? I htink you’ll find that actually – Dave is proud to be going further than Thatcher ever did.

  • John Roffey 14th Dec '10 - 1:37pm

    I don’t think the problem is the cuts – but where they fall. Knowing that the nation is in dire financial straights, the people would accept cuts if they seem fair, but when stark injustices are waved in their faces like the MEPs awarding themselves salary and expenses increases –


    when the majority did not want political union with the EU and that our annual contribution would help reduce the cuts significantly, I am afraid water canons are going to be needed – perhaps worse. Dictatorial styled government is bound to be challenged by civil disobedience because there is no alternative.

  • David Allen 14th Dec '10 - 1:45pm

    “many charities, which I had assumed would be financed by donations, membership etc, were actually financed by the Government”

    True. Donations and membership provide nothing like enough money to fund most charities, apart from the big sexy ones like animals and cancer. Even charities which use a lot of volunteers rely on winning government-funded contracts to do useful jobs. What is the Coalition going to do? Cut funds, drive the volunteers away, and then prate about the big society?

  • I think these seem like “small victories” because we’re waiting to see the effect on the ground. We’ve had lots of announcements – the increased tax threshold and the pupil premium – but it’s only when we see the difference in our lives that we’ll notice. For example, the tax allowance has changed but it’s for next year, rather than being retrospective. From April 2011 we’ll see the change. Equally, when the pupil premium kicks in, it will be interesting to watch how schools spend this. One advantage of this money is that, I understand, the government aren’t telling schools you have to spend it on such and such, but instead letting them experiment. That is one of the differences of having liberals in government is that we don’t have ministers without expertise in teaching or working with disadvantaged children telling professionals what to do.

  • @John Roffey
    “I don’t think the problem is the cuts – but where they fall.” Absoloutely right. For example the Pupil Premium won’t compensate for ending EMA or cutting Connexions (I know some Councils are trying to maintain a Connexions service, but not in my Tory area).

    The latest piece of brilliance is closing the best forensic science service in the world because it “loses money”. The service which identified the Ipswich rapist and Ian Huntley. Of course private companies will offer an alternative at a price, but will they pioneer the continuing advances in which the UK leads the world?

    We won’t need to debate whether Ken Clarke is right to reduce the prison population – the b…..s must be caught first! Come to think of it, how much profit does the police service make? Couldn’t we just pay a few nightclub doormen to do the job more cheaply?

    Sorry, but there’s precious little about this gang of Westminster chancers that’s either liberal or democratic. And like the bosses of many failed businesses they’ll walk away with a fat pension and leave the rest of us to clear up the mess.

  • @Maria M 14th December 2010

    I would observe that tax threholds are adjusted upwards regularly. However, what militates against any advantage from an for an increased threshold is a rise in NI contributions; a VAT rise; rising food and fuel prices; a wage freeze, rising inflation and cuts in services. I rather think that these factors and many more will far outweigh the tax relief gained by the poorer sections of society who spend more of their income, as a proportion, in areas involving the basic necessities of life.

    As to pupil premium I find it rather disconcerting to read the comment that it will be interesting to watch the experiments that different schools will carry out in relation to the spending of this money. This money, which isn’t additional to the educational budget, is meant to be for improving the lot of disadvantaged children.

    But there appears to be no mechanism to ensure that this happens and I wonder just how flexible and innovative the experimentation, in how to transfer this money into the general running costs of a school, will be. Let’s pray that the ‘experiments’ bring actual benefits to disadvantaged children but I have my doubts.

    I also haven’t a clue what is meant by your statement: ‘. . . . one of the differences of having liberals in government is that we don’t have ministers without expertise in teaching or working with disadvantaged children telling professionals what to do.’ I would advise that liberals do not have a political monopoly of expertise in teaching or working with disadavantaged children and I have often seen occasions when professionals have to be controlled in their activities by politicians through oversight of their activiites and a measuring of their effectiveness against some agreed scale of pupil achievements.

  • John Roffey 14th Dec '10 - 2:34pm

    @ Chris

    There are bound to be disputes about which is the most or least deserving program to be funded, however, in the final analysis it is what the people believe is the case – it is why I gave the example of the EU.

    If this is a true statement, the Party’s salvation from its existing difficulties would be for branches to make every effort to ask their constituents, particularly those who have a sitting MP, and to be guided, as far as possible, by their views.

    This would certainly help to increase the popularity of the Party and lower the risk of civil disobedience.

  • Steve Way
    “Lower earners spend a higher percentage of their money than higher earners so VAT hits hardest.”

    I think you’ll find you’re wrong there, Steve. The IFS confirm that the increase in standard rate VAT is (mildly) progressive.

    The reason is simple: Lower earners spend a far higher proportion of their earnings on items which are zero-rated, exempt or only subject to 5% VAT (i.e. gas and electricity) which isn’t going to increase .

  • The best way I can describe this (without expletives) is very sad and hugely mistaken. I (yes, I) was promised, and I voted for:- new, principled politics; an end to politicians saying one thing in order to get elected and then doing something different when elected; no broken promises; honesty; progressive (non-Tory) politics; a gradual, balanced reduction in the deficit; a “crack-down” on bankers’ excesses (Cable soon caved in to the Tory right on that one); progressive politics (that’s a laugh); a fairer Britain (that’s not so much a laugh as a sick joke); and yes of course an end to tuition fees. What did I get? I got Clegg and Cameron and their millionaire entourage of reactionary right-wing politicians who seem to enjoy kicking the less well-off. Between them they have turned everything I voted for on it’s head. I note that Colin Firth has had enough, he is in very good and very numerous company. I really can hardly wait for the next opportunity to vote.

  • Rather agree with George here.

    The £150bn deficit is the mother of all problems facing the country, and until it is dealt with, everything else is mere froth. I think we gain far more than we lose in the long term by showing that we’re prepared to get down and dirty making really difficult decisions to set the country back on an even economic keel, even at the expense of short term popularity.

    But I think LibDem MPs and spokespeople could do far better in explaining the situation we are in. Again and again I hear them debating issues without reminding listeners of the reasons these cuts are having to be made – because of NewLabour’s appalling mismanagement, waste and incompetence over the last 13 years. In every government department and ministry there is a catalogue of the insane decisions and financial incontinence that have led us to the situation we are in, and we do ourselves no favours by not constantly alluding to the worst of these.

    I made just this point to Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd last week, and he agreed that we were allowing Labour to define the terms of the discussion by not reminding the electorate quite how incompetent and profligate they were. I have yet to see any evidence he has persuaded his colleagues of this, however. Paul Burstow this morning on the Today programme was a case in point. He did have a positive story to tell on top of the cuts agenda, but how much more persuasive it would have been if he just given us a few examples of where NewLabour pissed away hundreds of billions of the NHS budget – NHS University anyone, or IT systems and databases? This is why the Coalition is having to make these painful cuts.

    A bit of context does wonders when you have a challenging brief.

  • Grammar Police 14th Dec '10 - 3:02pm

    @ Steve Way – it is new money, at least in part – it’s what makes the education settlement a near “real terms” increase (depending on inflation – it was previously a real terms increase, but now is not because the rate of inflation has gone up).

  • @Pimkie. You are looking for something “good” to say about the cuts. There isn’t anything. Try the truth. Try this: “Mr Clegg and the rest of the current LibDem leadership (along with the vast majority of Tories) really do believe in cutting back the state. It is ideologically attractive to out LibDem leadership to make people pay for services (ask Mr Laws)…. State help for the poor? state education? NHS? services for the old and infirm? help for the unemployed? We LibDems now believe (like Dave) that all that stuff is Marxism. We’ll get rid of it all. Nick and Dave will finish the job that Margaret started”.

  • @SMcG

    @dave – I agree that the police should not use water cannons or CS gas (or kettling for that matter)

    But what tactics shoudl they use against violent mobs?

    Tanks perhaps? Oh what about four policemen dragging a young man suffering from cerebal palsy out of his wheelchair and across a road. Previously a policeman had hit him with a baton.
    So Mr Kendall, is this what the Lib Dems stand for now?

  • @Anne. “So Mr Kendall, is this what the Lib Dems stand for now?” I look on as an ex-LibDem voter, I read these blogs and listen to LibDem politicians and I have come to the conclusion that the average LibDem party member/supporter/MP/councillor doesn’t know what they stand for any more. They all seem shell-shocked. I note that Colin Firth has had enough – he’s off. Join the queue Mr Firth.

  • Andy Robinson 14th Dec '10 - 3:40pm

    I’m afraid the pupil premium is only ‘new money’ for a pretty creative definition of the phrase new money. In reality it’s just a different way of distributing the same money.

    Now, don’t get me wrong: I think the pupil premium is a good policy. I’d just rather we celebrated it for what it is – a way of targetting the education budget at those most in need. That’s a laudable policy and the right thing to do. But the government’s attempts to spin it as £2bn or so of extra money are at best disingenous, and certainly very irritating.

  • Well said Anne.

    The Lib Dem silence on the matter is telling.

  • @Simon Shaw.

    The party really needs to decide how it views the IFS. Clegg has yet to make up his mind.

    When it supports policy claiming it to be progressive – like VAT – Lib Dems quote it. When it doesn’t, claiming it to be regressive – like the budget – Lib Dems criticise it.

  • And here’s another example of the hypocrisy at the centre of this Coalition.

    Human trafficking – do the Lib Dems support it?

    Apparently so.


  • @DaveN

    I am not “looking for something good to say about the cuts”. I am expressing an opinion based on a number of years as a close observer of government and politics.

    I think there is something a bit childish about those who cry “Betrayal!” and throw all their toys out of the pram because LibDem members of this Coalition government have to vote for and defend unpopular policies following 13 years of NewLabour’s best efforts to bankrupt the country.

  • @Cuse
    Thanks for that link on human trafficking. Just about says it all, do Lib Dems really know what they are doing or what they are party to on anything? Are they ignorant or looking the other way? Either way is worrying.

  • Just to remind Pimkie and others that this deficit issue is not all it’s cracked up to be – someone calculated that we operated for most of the 20th Century with a deficit of a greater proprtion of GDP than it is at present. I fear that paople have allowed themselves to be coaxed / steamrollered into this mindset. Once you accept this as a startpoint, the activities of the Government become rather less legitimate. Once you factor in the fact that global climate change and other environmental problems eg the huge rate of species extinction, are considerably higher in the pecking order of emergencies to be dealt with, you realise that an entirely different set of priorities should be being addressed. One immediate one, of course, is how to ensure that “markets” respond to democratic and real priorities, not ones defined by the lemming like behaviour that can characterise them!

    Now it would be a big jump for Tories in the Govt to take this agenda fully on board, but it was down to the Lib Dems, who by and large, understand the needs here to ensure that any coalition / agreement for government they took on reflected those priorities, or else to say, “no deal”. They have not done this, and I will take a lot of convincing that they have taken the right course.

  • Janet Cramm 14th Dec '10 - 4:54pm

    One born every minute.

  • @Matt,

    You have to be joking! NewLabour piled layer after layer of bureaucracy onto the Health Service, ending up with one manager for every nurse! And badly thought through Government targets did terrible damage to health provision by distorting clinical priorities.

    Remember Mid-Staffs NHS Trust? Some 1,200 people lost their lives needlessly because the Trust put Gordo’s targets and cost-cutting ahead of patient care. And none of the doctors, nurses and managers who failed patients so egregiously has suffered any formal sanction.

    And the 150 new hospitals? Don’t make me laugh. PFI jerry-built crocks of shite that my grandchildren will still be paying for long after they’ve fallen down. My local PFI hospital in Kent has closed a third of its wards (yes, over winter, the time of highest need) because the Trust can no longer afford to pay the PFI contract. Wonder why Gordo didn’t insist on PFI for all Scottish hospitals?

    And despite increasing expenditure on the NHS by 80%, productivity fell 20% since 1997, and 1 in 11 patients acquired serious infections in hospital – by far the worst rate in Western Europe. Oh yes, and we have the worst cancer and respiratory disease survival rates in Western Europe. These have actually got worse since 1997.

    “This coalition government seem damn set on rampant to undo all the good that had been achieved over the last 13 years (sic)!!!”

    I tell you Matt, if the Coalition manages to undo half of the “good” that Gordo and his band of corrupt incompetents achieved in the NHS over the last 13 years, both you and I stand a lot better chance of surviving until old age!

  • @Maria M
    “Equally, when the pupil premium kicks in, it will be interesting to watch how schools spend this. ”
    Most I suspect will not see a rise. Only those with a substantial number of children who qualify for FSM’s wil have any extra money. What may be more interesting is how the schools losing money under this scheme cut spending..

    @Simon Shaw
    “The IFS confirm that the increase in standard rate VAT is (mildly) progressive.”
    I noted that at the time. That is quite correct for the very lowest earners although “mildly”. Once you move into those who are still (and would consider themselves still) low earners the arguments cease to hold water. In fact if you look at any Lib Dem literature on this prior to the coalition they used to agree….

  • Emsworthian 14th Dec '10 - 5:16pm

    Let’s see how things stand after Oldham, the locals in May and of course the refendum.
    Right now nobody but a hyper optimist could feel confident. You can’t help imagining
    that ‘ I’m singing in the rain’ is George Kendall’s favourite song

  • @Pimkie. May I express an opinion based on many many years as a close observer of government and politics (the first general election I followed closely was that of 1964), since then I have voted variously Labour, Liberal and Liberal Democrat, LibDem last May. In the light my past observations, I have not a shred of doubt that this last general election was by far the most disgraceful piece of non-democracy that I have witnessed. The Liberal Democrat leader garnered thousands if not millions of votes for policies he himself disagreed with, but, undaunted, he used them go gain votes nonetheless. The Conservative leader never campaigned on a big “cuts’ and “roll back the state” platform, but that is patently what he (and Clegg) had in mind. Neither the Tories nor the LibDems have a shred of a mandate for these cuts, with their inevitably bigger effect on the poorer amongst us. If Clegg and Cameron are sure of their support, then they should call a “cuts” general election. I would suggest neither of them have the simple guts to do that. I remember Mr Harold Wilson was something of a ‘chancer’; he was not in same league as Clegg.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 14th Dec '10 - 5:40pm

    Nonsense, complete and utter. The NIESR has said that deep cuts, nevermind the social affects, aren’t even the best way to get rid of the deficit. They say half the cuts, less than even Labour wanted, are the optimum amount because of the affect cuts have on growth.

  • David Allen 14th Dec '10 - 5:49pm

    “This post grew out of a thread in our members’ forum responding to Richard Huzzey’s resignation letter. If you are a member of the Lib Dems, you can join the discussion.”

    Bad idea. Far too many Lib Dems are now retreating into the bunker mentality of the private site rather than engaging all comers as George, to his credit, has done here. If pro-coalition Lib Dems want to develop policies and campaign themes that will regain trust and save our bacon, they won’t do it by hiding away from their critics.

  • John Roffey 14th Dec '10 - 6:29pm

    @ Dave Allen

    Yes, developing ideas behind close doors can lead to a total misreading of the public mood. Those engaged in this intellectual fantasizing, which produce such apparently brilliant solutions to that very narrow cross section of the people included, can explode into public outrage when exposed to the real world!!!

    Far better to test your solutions on a both hostile and friendly audience in the open – then you will know how good the solutions are.

  • Philip Rolle 14th Dec '10 - 6:54pm

    The test for the Lib Dems now is whether they can persuade their Conservative coalition partners to abandon policies that are detrimental to the sick and disabled, and the poor.

    If they can, there is still some hope. But if they are seen to endorse cuts in ESA, DLA and housing benefit, then they should not be surprised to remain very unpopular.

  • I think the concern many have with the coliation focus on the deficit is the lack of understanding of what a deficit is:

    I remember a Lib Dem MP who wrote on here about it being a ‘national credit card’, which is so clueless as to not be funny.

    Nick Clegg always confuses the ‘nation’ with the ‘government’, so you get absurdities such as saying the nation can’t afford to pay tuition fees in support of a policy that raises them,

    And there was a Tory MP the other day who thought the defict was the same as overseas borrowing (which in a way is what Nick Clegg thinks as well).

  • @Liberal eye

    I agree with you about the importance of narrative for the Lib Dems, and I think its absence explains why we don’t have a totally coherent set of policies. I think it’s one of the main reasons that David Laws edited the Orange Book to stimulate people to think about what is liberalism as opposed to us having a whole bunch of policies that don’t add up to a big picture. It’s also the change in positioning of the Lib Dems from left of Labour on many policies (but not all) under Charles Kennedy to the centre with Nick Clegg. I think from all the comments we’re getting that not everyone noticed Clegg move the party back to the centre, and instead there is a mistaken expectation that we are also a left/socialist party. I think also that means that some members – and some of our MPs – who joined under Kennedy could rightly call themselves social democrats/socialists because that’s what the party appeared to stand for.

    I think Clegg and Laws were getting there with the move to the centre, and in many ways they are grasping for the right ideas, which is why Cameron was also moving towards the same ideas. This is confusing because we accustomed to thinking of the conservatives as very right wing, and so the assumption is that if Clegg and Cameron agree, then Clegg is right wing too. I don’t think this is correct. I think Cameron is trying to occupy the centre ground too, though I’m sure he’ll be dragged rightwards in time.

  • Andrew Suffield 14th Dec '10 - 8:49pm

    In reality it’s just a different way of distributing the same money.

    That’s the only thing any government can do. There is a fixed amount of tax revenue and you can’t do anything more than distribute it differently. Complaining about this is farcical, especially after we’ve seen what happened as a result of Labour’s brilliant plan: “spend money we don’t have”.

  • I think we can all agree that (a) After 18 years the Tories had done little to improve the mess in public services which the country suffered through the 1970s. Some things were even worse. (b) Labour did make very many improvements and considerable advances such as the Minimum Wage. But they also wasted more money than anyone could reasonably tolerate and did dodgy deals including some iffy PFI (correct me if I’m wrong Matt, but I believe the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital was an especially bad example).

    But Lib Dems promised to do better.

    I don’t pretend to understand all the economics behind the debate of just how deep the cuts need to be before they do more harm than good to the economy. Hell, the economists don’t agree. What is incontestable is that, with the possible exception of the very poorest (eg those whose children get free school meals) it’s the poor who will bear most of the burden with the modestly prosperous the second most affected. And social mobility will go backwards – this ConDem government is reinventing the old class war that held the country back for generations.

    The best we can hope for our country is a pale imitation of the USA – with gross inequality and more losers than winners. I didn’t support the Liberals through thick and thin for this.

  • @Maria M. I think your analysis is spot on. Mr Clegg has moved the LibDem party firmly to the righ (or the centre, as you put it). Your comment that “I think from all the comments we’re getting that not everyone noticed Clegg move the party back to the centre…” illustrates precisely the massive problem that the party has (yes massive), and it will not go away before there is some kind of a split. And the problem is simple: Mr Clegg, Mr Laws and other top LibDems have taken it upon themselves to move the party to the right, with zero democratic consultation with the party. Why is this problem “massive”? It is because the majority of the LibDem membership and voters in the country are, in my opinion, firmly, very often extremely anti-Conservative. The majority of party members and voter do not want to a “change of positioning”, they do not want to be almost Conservatives. And I really believe the ‘anti-Conservatives’ are in the majority. If democracy takes its course in the Liberal Democrat Party (and it will) Mr Clegg will find out the hard way that he is in the minority in his party. This is going to be messy, but it will happen sooner rather than later.

  • Oh and by the way “The Liberal Democrats have dropped to just 11% with Ipsos Mori, their lowest rating with the pollster for 19 years, according to the latest poll, given to the Guardian”. Like I said, the LibDems have a massive problem. I am just one of many who voted for them last May, I can promise that I will never vote LibDem again. It’s all down to the “the change in positioning”.

  • DaveN

    I couldn’t agree more. The question is, how much damage will he be allowed to do first. The new IPSOS Mori poll in the Guardian now has the Lib Dems down to 11% (so it’s not just Yougov anymore).

    Maria M

    I agree about Clegg and Cameron, but you need to consider that many members of the government (e.g. Gove, Lansley, Pickles and Fox) are a long way to the right of Cameron. Clegg is often seen justifying their views, not just Cameron’s.

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11995229

    If true this would be the death blow…..

    I’m sure they will try to call the new control order something different, like a home based restriction of movement order and claim they have abolished them. But just like trying to turn student fees into graduate contributions people will not be fooled.

    Time for Clegg to show he can change Government policy methinks…

  • The truth is that there are many Liberal Democrats who have ideas and values similar to my own.

    The party has its faults and like all parties does not control its elected representatives while in office. This means that when a government minister has a problem that needs to be tackled they have to use their own intelectual resources and the advice of the civil service. I am sure that they try and implement party policy where possible but sometimes the best they can achieve is gradual modification of a policy rather than a giant leap forward – this is particuarly the case when serving as part of a coalition government.

    Personally I dont feel that a wide enough coalition was formed as with the economic problems the country faced I would have prefferred to see a government of national unity.

    This being said I still support the majority of policies that this party has and believe that it is making a difference. Any attempt to legislate on the basis of evidence rather than idealogical knee jerk responses will be an improvement for the country and I hope that the Liberal Democrat ministers will insist on evidence before supporting proposals.

    To get a more liberal society we need more people to join and campaign for justice, equality, and freedom and in my view leaving the party would just help to create either an authoritarian right wing state or a left wing authoritarian state and that would be a hell of a lot worse for the country.

  • Bernard Disken 14th Dec '10 - 11:20pm

    Liberals /Lib Dems spend 50 years promoting coalition. And as soon as it happens a fair number of acitvists go ballistic.
    All those years of people saying it’s a wasted vote/you are not a serious party.
    And then when we do have a coalition we play “Kick the Leader”.
    Too often we have picked up policies which Labour have rightly dumped as unrealistic eg health service, “free” tuition fees. Too many Lib Dem activists want to offer people a better yesterday.
    It’s about time the Lib Dems grew up.

  • @Bernard Disken……Now let’s try to clear this up. As a LibDem voter (now very much ‘ex’) what exactly did I vote for? Was it ‘grown-up politics’ whereby politicians say one thing to get elected and do something different when in office, or is that old politics (sometimes referred to as “lying”)? Did I vote for ‘new politics’ whereby politicians say one thing to get elected and do something different when in office? Did I vote for a ‘phased reduction in the deficit’ or a car crash economics policy? Did I vote LibDem or Tory? – I honestly can’t tell the difference any more. Did I vote for Mr Clegg as he appears in TV election broadcasts or did I vote for the real Mr Clegg? (ditto the rest of the LibDem MPs). In the words of the marvellous Pete Townsend…. “won’t get fooled again”, and that goes for millions more ex-LibDem supporters, including now Colin Firth.

  • John Roffey 15th Dec '10 - 7:56am

    @ George Kendall

    Well at least you did not try to defend our membership of the EU as beneficial!

  • Grammar Police 15th Dec '10 - 8:38am

    There’s been no question for me about whether I’m staying or not. First and foremost, because I joined the Liberal Democrats not because of its leaders, not because of totemic policies – but because I am a liberal. People should be able to live their lives in the way they choose and find most fulfilling (subject to the ‘harm’ principle). IMO the state should be an enabler, ensuring an equality of opportunity, not an equaliser.

    I genuinely feel that there’s no monopoly on common sense, and that the best answers to the questions that face us come out through the messy discussion and debate of democracy, when the people affected are involved. This means I accept that sometimes I can be proved wrong, and occasionally I realise I have been ;o)

    It also means I am quite happy with coalition and minority government at national/local level – the idea that interim, temporary coalitions have to be built up and formed around a particular policy or decision is appealing to me.

    I’m also staying because I’ve put a lot of work in, because I’ve got friends in the party, because I want to support my friends on the council and help them as best I can, and because “giving up” doesn’t solve anything. And to be honest, I find the whole idea of throwing my hands up in the air a little self indulgent – for me it’s about what I can do to make a difference.

    @ DaveN “lying” is only if you knew you’d do the opposite when you said it. The proof The Guardian showed us was that up until relatively recently, it was always intended that Lib Dem MPs would vote in line with the pledge.
    I’m not denying there hasn’t been a u-turn, a mess up, and that some of our MPs going back on the pledge hands our opponents a huge weapon; or saying that I like the policy – but it’s not actually “lying”. I find it difficult to understand why someone who supported the Lib Dems can’t see that coalition Government includes stuff that both parties do and don’t want.

    You can criticise the party for not getting a good enough deal, or for not making the right things the “red lines”, or for not getting enough compromises from the other side going forward – but not simply because Government policy isn’t the same as the Lib Dem manifesto.

  • Thankyou, George for your efforts to answer everybody and “summate”. It is time I were told / shown how to join the Members’ Forum on here. Each time I try to get in, I am merely told my “password / username are incorrect” – haven’t been able to get past it!

    Just to reply to a couple of your points, George. Obviously part of the “massive deficit” is about the effects of 2007/8 financial crisis. You mention “peacetime” – one of the horrors of Blair’s NuLab was that in the initial years we were entering a new war every year – this clearly had its own effect. Another issue is that Brown and Blair, although finally ramping up spending to somewhere it needs to be in a modern developed economy, inherited and refused to change the taboo on raising income tax or similar. If Dane Clouston were here, he would also be talking of using inheritance or other wealth tax to narrow the divisions between rich and poor in society. I cannot say that I “don’t believe a deficit exists” or that “I wish to be irresponsible with public finance”, but I do believe that in a modern society a great deal more public (and thereby democratically controlled) spending is required than say 150 years ago. I do not think the post Thatcherite settlement works, and I think in order to deal with climate change etc we need to move on quickly to it, not have to spend a lot of time and political emotional energy on a deficit we can dealwith a lot less painfully than we are.

    A poster called Yellow Submarine on politicalbetting.com has well summarised our difficulty as discussed by LiberalEye, DaveN and Maria M here. He describes the party as a “hyperlocalist franchise”. This, unfortunately has allowed the growth of essentially rightist economic ideas, which had been very much in a minority in the period from 1960 onwards. I am not saying that historically they did not exist, but over 40 – 50 years they have been in a very small minority. Maria is quite wrong to talk of the Charles Kennedy period being the blip – it is the current period which has made the big change, and people are not liking it. See, for instance, Simon Hebditch’s letter to the Grauniad 2 or 3 days ago.

  • Grammar Police – It is no less “liberal” (in fact I think it is more) to be what you call an “equaliser”. “Enabler” has something of the right about it, ie if you haven’t the resources, you can’t do it anyway. Don’t much like that form of liberalism!

  • Grammar Police 15th Dec '10 - 9:39am

    Hi Tim13, I perhaps didn’t explain my terms clearly enough. An “enabling state” needs to ensure people have the resources to make the most of the opportunities they have – and that includes appropriate re-distribution of wealth, progressive taxation etc. You can’t have true equality of opportunity otherwise (and that’s why I’m not a conservative/Conservative).

    An “equalising state” however, is one that sees the equalisation of people’s resources as the end in itself, often sees state provision as *the only* way of doing things (as opposed to one option) and is a socialist one imo; and I will readily admit I am not that kind of socialist.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 15th Dec '10 - 11:24am

    ‘Regarding NIESR, we’ve discussed this in another thread, so I won’t go into details. Just to say that Ray Barrell of NIESR agrees with the rough timing and depth of the deficit reduction programme. But, as you say, he argues for tax increases instead: massive increases in income tax. If I were a betting man, I’d wager my life savings that Ed Miliband won’t be adopting that policy, and neither has the coalition.’

    Discussed it yet you still doggedly hold on to the idea that these cuts are necessary because of the deficit. They aren’t. I know Ed Miliband won’t be adopting that policy, and you know why? Because even if he wanted to your lot (Tories and Lib Dems, two sides of same coin as ever) would scream blue murder.

    You want to say ‘there is no alternative’ when it is your party that is creating that false perception.

  • @Liberal Eye. Very good post, I agree.

    @Grammar Police. Liberal Eye’s words: “….our top team went into battle without a clear narrative and armed with policies they did not support and did not think would work”. Now, telling the electorate that you believe in as set of policies that you don’t actually support [which is what I believe Mr Clegg did] is “not telling the truth”. That is the “trust” thing which is so damaging to him, and is never going to leave him. Dead man walking.

  • @Bernard Disken

    “Liberals /Lib Dems spend 50 years promoting coalition. And as soon as it happens a fair number of acitvists go ballistic. All those years of people saying it’s a wasted vote/you are not a serious party. And then when we do have a coalition we play “Kick the Leader.”

    Totally right, mate. I’m going to be out tomorow night trying to win our ward on the basis of LibDem policy and the catastrophe that was NewLabour.

    I’m confident.

  • @Pimkie. Ah yes. And Thatcher presided over utopia. The Tories are LibDems’ new-found heroes and heroines.

  • @George Kendall 14th December
    “Do you have other areas you think should be cut instead?”

    I’m over 60, not particularly well off, but my wife and I could scrape by without the bus pass and winter fuel allowance which even millionaires are entitled to.

    My County Council, which is making horrendous cuts, has decided to retain subsidised travel for children whose families send them to a “faith” school instead of perfectly good schools on their doorstep (we have some excellent schools in my area) – schools which select children on the basis of their parents’ beliefs and a letter from the Priest or whoever. Bishops have more “clout” than the families who will suffer from the ending of EMA and Connexions.

    What about the cost of directly electing police commissioners (a Tory gimmick) or yet another NHS reorganisation? I’m sure bloggers can think of other examples of waste.

    On a POSITIVE note. We are going to stop imprisoning the children of failed asylum seekers – and Nick Clegg was allowed to make the announcement!

  • @John Roffey
    Regarding the EU it’s unfortunate to say the least that it’s always the Eurosceptics who make the running, and many of the sillier anti-EU stories which get into the Press are simply fabricated.

    However………Just because the Liberals were the first UK political party to advocate joining the then Common Market back in the 1950s when we could have entered on excellent terms and helped to shape it into a more efficient and less bureaucratic body, does not mean that we should continue keeping silent about every example of waste, idiocy and corruption from Brussels. Did anyone hear the recent File on Four programme about how our money goes into the pockets of the Italian Mafia?

    Despite still being a faithful Lib Dem last year, I hesitated before putting my X against the Lib Dem party list in June 2009 because the man topping the list in my region is an especially extreme example of the “EU can do no wrong – let’s press on with federalism” brigade.

    At least Gordon and the Tories were right about the Euro!

  • daft ha'p'orth 16th Dec '10 - 9:11pm

    And I will continue to believe that Nick Clegg is indeed acting, but that sadly he is not a very good actor.

  • The comments above are (for the most part) breathtaking in their ability to miss the blindingly obvious. No amount of deck-chair rearranging is going to save the LD’s. Absent some grass roots uprising, which doesn’t (sadly!) appear very likely, you are stuck with the Coalition. The fact that so few members can see that you are heading for electoral disaster is interesting.

    Don’t you read blogs, or speak to “ordinary” voters?
    Do you know how many members have resigned since the GE?

    Huge numbers of non-members who voted for your party for many years will not do so again. What are you going to do to regain their trust?

  • @ oranjepan

    “For anybody who doubts it still: we are not Liberals, neither are we Social Democrats, we are Liberal Democrats!”

    What’s in a name? Grafting 2 different animals together, crying “voila…a viable new species is born!” is unconvincing. I can see why party members see the need to believe that there is such a beast, but I doubt you’ll find many outside who share your confidence that the beast represents a genuine hybrid, rather than a monstrous experiment in grafting that went all wrong.

    What is being done in your name isn’t what most of those non-members who lent you their support signed up for. The choice now is whether you stick your fingers in your ears, shouting la-la-la and hope things improve, or actually grow a pair and stop letting the Tories pimp you out.

    If you don’t do the latter, you will find that come the next GE you might as well revert to being like the Liberals in the 60’s and 70’s, because you’ll be back at that level of support and influence.

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