Our party has nothing to lose by being bold now

It has seemed as if our party leaders may have been hanging back from committing the party to radical policies which we hold, such as the pledge to build 380,000 new houses, reasserted at the Bournemouth Conference after a Young Liberal amendment, and the policy passed at the Spring York Conference to tackle poverty in general and end deep poverty within ten years through the establishment of Guaranteed Basic Income.

Lack of commitment by the leadership to promote these policies, together with the announcement of ending our policy to add 1p on income tax to pay for investment in the NHS and social care, seem to suggest a fear of putting forward radical policies which will cost large amounts of taxation to implement.

The Labour Party seems to be holding back similarly on costly proposals, but it is understandable that they would fear Tory equating of them with the expensive policies of the former leader Jeremy Corbyn if they promote them, while pointing out that British citizens are already highly taxed. We have no such need to be silent.

The electorate is unlikely to be making any such comparison with our policies, which have been found to be properly costed in our previous Manifestos. People may instead well be disappointed not to have, both a clearer idea of Liberal Democrat policies, and especially, knowledge of those which sound most relevant to them.

Where our policies may coincide with Labour’s, moreover, perhaps they are borrowing our ideas: Sir Keir Starmer is now announcing a policy to build several New Towns, while Liberal Democrats already have a policy to build ten!  There are areas in which our policies may sensibly dovetail with theirs – possibly in the areas of NHS funding and development, where new plans are so much needed.

But in other areas we are promoting policies uniquely ours, of which the policy mentioned above of introducing welfare reforms and a Guaranteed Basic Income to tackle poverty head on is of great significance. It is not a policy voters who have been used to voting Conservative should condemn, provided it can be paid for with fair taxation increases and reforms. And one of its aims, of eliminating the need for food banks which have grown so much lately, should be widely welcomed.

Now to hang back from making our most significant policies public and promoting them seems counter-productive. Surely also we must not aim to placate usual Tory voters in our target seats, since we are a party proud to offer a fair deal to all our citizens. We need to tell the  country of our policies, and be confident that our national poll rating, so long in the doldrums, will rise accordingly, and people who have voted Tory in the past may well continue to choose to vote for us next year.



* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Cumberland.

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  • Not sure our NHS policies do dovetail with Labour. We seem to go for untrammelled NHS worship where they are talking about reform.

  • rural liberal 13th Oct '23 - 1:12pm

    ‘We need to tell the country of our policies, and be confident that our national poll rating, so long in the doldrums, will rise accordingly, and people who have voted Tory in the past may well continue to choose to vote for us next year.’

    Well the rub’s in the second half of your final sentence isn’t it? Or they may not… There’s a tightrope to be walked out here in the shires between the party membership who tend to be quite radical, and the potential voters who, er, don’t. Soft right shire Tories in a host of locations will vote Liberal when the Labour Party doesn’t look to be too much of a threat to them nationally (as now), but only when the Liberal manifesto is similarly constrained. On the other hand, I can see how a lot of what you’re saying would go down well with a more urban electorate.

    Go too far and scare the horses in the rural second places though I think. In my experience out here in l’Angleterre profonde the old jibe about ‘Tories without their kicking boots’ is spot on – that’s what many of the potential electorate want.

    So then it comes down to whether we want their votes (and seats) or not, or at what price…

  • rural liberal 13th Oct '23 - 1:18pm

    sorry, meant to clarify – UBI will probably fly with the sort of rural voter I talk to. 10 new towns won’t unless their location is announced upfront, so the electoral poison can be confined the affected seats… Going into an election shouting about 10 new towns, in unspecified locations, seems to me to be an interesting way to alienate rural voters that might otherwise give us a hearing. A few extra houses per village, yes if they’re affordable and primarily available to locals with need. Building a new Milton Keynes on their quiet green acres, on the other hand…

  • Steve Trevethan 13th Oct '23 - 4:59pm

    Thank you for an important and timely article!

    Might an antidote for a somewhat passive.leadership be a set of assertive policies which do not rely upon the currently engineered belief that taxes are too high?

    Taxation talk without the essential connection to infrastructures and actual living conditions is somewhere between dumb or deceitful.

    The efficiency of a country depends upon the size and quality of its infrastructures. A well funded, assertive public sector provides the essential compétition for the private and so raises quality of delivery of both.

    The tax set up needs reform as it lacks staff and favours the rich, who do not pay NI etc.

    Bank rates extract money from the regular citizen to go to the banks and is set by an oligarchy which mostly advantages the finance industry. Taxes go to the public purse when they are not wasted by dodgy PPE deals.

    A great attribute of LDism is assessment by outcome not by theory. Whether it is private, state, non-profit etc is best judged and used by outcome not ideologue words.

  • David Symonds 13th Oct '23 - 6:58pm

    Labour’s housing policy (with Sir Kier Starmer proudly stating he is a YIMBY) gives me some concern. We all know that housing is needed to be stepped up but he stated he would “ride roughshod” over local communities in the pursuit of new housing and towns. I live in a London Borough which is a Labour stronghold and the socialist council salivate about agreeing to high rise towerblocks. Labour seem to be relaxed about concreting over the green belt (remember John Prescott’s views). Labour have never been keen on rural Britain and their views about changing planning rules are pretty undemocratic.

  • David – if you object to densification and also object to building on greenbelt then you’re effectively saying that we should never build anywhere.

    The reality is that the current system is demonstrably failing. It is undemocratic and prioritises wealthy homeowners ahead of the poor and the young. And this has a cascading effect right across society – it is negatively impacting birthrates, for example, which has huge impacts upon the future workforce.

  • Katharine Pindar 13th Oct '23 - 9:51pm

    Thanks for initial comments. Some contributors’ anxiety about the possible ten new towns we have proposed are understandable, and we do need to suggest where they are to be; but as we are now committed to 380,000 new houses, much new planning seems essential. (Actually, though brought up myself in rural England, I can thoroughly recommend Milton Keynes, an extremely well-planned new town that I enjoyed working in, and hope will be emulated.)
    @ rural liberal – I hope your rural voters will like GBI rather than UBI, since that is what we are now committed to! And I think it will be much easier to ‘sell’ on the doorsteps.

  • Katharine Pindar 13th Oct '23 - 10:02pm

    @ Ruth Bright. The practical commitments Ed Davey has been advocating, such as being able to see a doctor within two weeks, and having your cancer treated within, was it two months? are surely desirable outcomes; but if you are right and we are going for ‘untrammelled NHS worship’ (please spell out what you are meaning), that doesn’t sound like a good idea. But if NHS shortage of doctors and nurses as well as standard of living are the first voter concerns, we will surely want to address both.

  • rural liberal,

    If you look at the top 30 seats where we came second in 2019, one is in Scotland, one is in Wales and four are in northern England. Five are in London. In most of the others in the south the majority of the population live in urban areas.

    David Symonds,

    Indeed, Starmer said he would “ride roughshod” over local communities in the pursuit of new housing and towns. Something we would not do. Our housing policy talks of working with local communities to meet to our housing targets.

    Starmer has talked about building on the grey belt – the areas of the green belt which are not fields. I see nothing wrong with local authorities’ allocating land which is not green in the green belt for new homes.

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Oct '23 - 10:46pm

    ” the current system is demonstrably failing. It is undemocratic and prioritises wealthy homeowners ahead of the poor and the young.”
    Which is why the conference motion on housing was right to focus on social housing not a national annual housebuilding target which there is little hope of achieving in the foreseeable future.

    Katharine – could it be that Milton Keynes was the only really successful of the new towns already built? Another – Crawley – while at one time it had a lot of industry, nowadays it appears dependent on the most environmentally UNfriendly form of transport – air travel, given its proximity to Gatwick Airport.

    “The two-dozen postwar new towns were rarely successes, except where they filled with home counties commuters. The towns were artificial settlements planned by architects, not grown organically from existing communities.”

    I share David Symonds’s concern over Starmer’s housing plans. Where is he going to build these new towns? In flood risk areas? The Flood RE scheme for providing insurance for properties in high risk flood areas does not cover new houses, doesn’t cover all dwellings and doesn’t cover commercial buildings.

    It may be practicable to build on brownfield sites in green belt areas but given the increasing frequency of heavy rainfall events we need green space to soak up excess rainfall.

    More sense to build on existing brownfield sites in existing cities, coupled with better public transport and other services.

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Oct ’23 – 10:46pm:
    …given the increasing frequency of heavy rainfall events…

    In the immortal words of W. Edwards Deming: “In God we trust. All others must bring data.”

    So let’s take a look at the data…

    Oxford is fairly representative of England and provides the UK’s longest time series of daily rainfall measurements. Here are the daily rainfall totals plotted for the past 195 years…

    ‘Time series: daily RADCLIFFE METEOROLOGICAL STATION OXFORD precipitation’:

    There is no upward trend or apparent increase in the frequency of unusually heavy rainfall. Below the charts, in the section headed “Compute extreme indices” one can select “Very heavy precipitation days (RR>=20mm)” to display a chart showing just those days. Again there is no upward trend.

    This should not be surprising as not even the IPCC claim to observe any sign of increased precipitation or pluvial flooding…

    ‘What the IPCC Actually Says About Extreme Weather’ [July 2023]:

    The IPCC has concluded that a signal of climate change has not yet emerged beyond natural variability for the following phenomena:
    • River floods
    • Heavy precipitation and pluvial floods
    • Landslides
    • Drought (all types)
    • Severe wind storms
    • Tropical cyclones
    • Sand and dust storms
    • Heavy snowfall and ice storms
    • Hail
    • Snow avalanche
    • Coastal flooding
    • Marine heat waves

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Oct '23 - 12:22am

    Nonconformistradical. I would guess that you are right, Milton Keynes was probably the most successful of the new towns; but its success makes me an enthusiast for new towns, if they are as well planned as MK was. I have often told people in my present rural surroundings how people there valued the small local centres that were built everywhere in the town, with community facilities such as meeting places and doctors’ surgeries as well as shops, and how every little industrial area had its green spaces, and everywhere there were flowering bushes and trees planted and waterways. Nowadays I grieve about local towns in Cumbria such as Workington, with streets and streets of houses built with never a community centre in them, or Cockermouth, where elderly folk living alone must get into the town centre for company. Thinking again about new towns, it certainly will help if they can include existing communities, as MK absorbed Stony Stratford and Wolverton – and then built Great Linford to show that a new part of the town could be just as attractive as Stony. Plenty of varied architecture, and a rational roads system! Plus industry, a hospital, and a wonderful university.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Oct '23 - 12:43am

    Steve Trevethan. I do agree with you, Steve, that taxation policy should relate both to infrastructure and living conditions. And it would be great as you suggest that we challenge the pervasive notion that taxes are too high; rather, say, our taxes could be said to be at present neither fair nor efficient. I think we can and should develop our taxation policies, as discussed in the comments on Michael’s current article here on ending deep poverty – a policy affordable with the right plans in place to pay for it.

  • nigel hunter 14th Oct '23 - 1:38am

    New towns!? Why not new VILLAGES.Less in your face for Tory voters that would turn away from us re towns..Could be built on the grey belts nationally.That way someone who lives in the south has obtained a job in the north can move near that new job.The same applies re councils building social houses.

  • Nonconformistradical 14th Oct '23 - 8:14am

    “Why not new VILLAGES” Possibly – but not if imposed from above.

    “That way someone who lives in the south has obtained a job in the north can move near that new job.”
    Provided they can afford to buy or rent in the local market.

  • Leekliberal 14th Oct '23 - 8:43am

    BREXIT: there l said it! The great unmentionable for our leadership. Their failure to provide a vision of what a Lib Dem UK would look like is why we are stuck on ten percent in the polls. Oh for a Charles Kennedy or Paddy Ashdown.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Oct '23 - 9:41am

    An interesting viewpoint, Leekliberal. I certainly think that we should remind the public that we were the party leading opposition to Brexit, which so many Leavers as well as Remainers now see the harms of, and keep stating our intention of building up our relationship and trade with the EU. You remind me that our slogan, For a Fair Deal, needs some teeth of that kind. As Tim Farron said at the time, Brexit denies our children the same opportunities of easy travel, residence and jobs in the EU that we the older generation had. I think our party has to be constant in seeking to greatly improve the lot of our debt-ridden, housing-deprived young people as far as we can today.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Oct '23 - 12:37am

    The question remains: why are we still stuck at around 12% in the polls? Could our President distill the essence of the enthusiasm for us in the last four great by-elections we won and let us know? Because we need to carry that essence on for the next year.

    The Times advised us, in an editorial at the end of September, “Liberal Democrats must say what they stand for, not just what they are against”. Well, our Pre-Manifesto Policy Paper (F23) offered five key themes, but they don’t roll off the tongue, and wouldn’t brighten a leaflet.

    Will the public have to accept just that we are fair and decent people? That won’t have the votes rolling in. I am suggesting we have to headline our outstanding policies, on health issues, poverty reduction and housing growth, and keep driving them home – while reminding the public that we were the leaders of the Remainers, so people of pretty good judgement. Any other ideas?

  • Peter Martin 15th Oct '23 - 10:23am

    @ Katharine,

    “Any other ideas?”

    Do what Charles Kennedy did. If Labour are moving to the right, the Lib Dems should take advantage of the vacuum created on the left.

  • Hi Katharine
    I don’t think the amount we plan to raise is in any way adequate to cover social care recruitment, Dilnot and our promises on waiting times and mental health.

    What I meant by “worship” of the NHS is that we have had so many interesting ideas over the years about reform of our great institutions but with the NHS we seem to leave any analysis at home and just wish to chuck money at it. It is not blasphemous to question aspects of an organisation with poor outcomes on many measures, an organisation that is racked with obstetric scandals and litigation by patients.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Oct '23 - 2:35pm

    Hi, Ruth, thank you, but I believe we can pay for our proposed reforms, as extensively discussed after the article posted by my friend Michael Gooding on October 6, on ‘Ending deep poverty by 2029’ (I tried to give the reference but my half-written comment to you then disappeared). Last time I looked that article had 77 comments, and between him and Joe Bourke, I think raising the finance necessary for all our progressive policies can be seen to be covered. As to reforming the NHS, could you perhaps suggest what you are thinking of in an article here?

    Peter Martin. I think our party is Left-of-Centre anyway, Peter, and we in the Social Liberal Forum are determined to keep us on the Left track. Whatever the Labour Party ends up being, if they take power in a year’s time, the Conservatives have I think pretty comprehensively ditched the appeal of the Right to the public for now.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Oct '23 - 3:07pm

    I have to repeat – we surely need to be bold now. That is both because we need to fight poverty and no other party is committed to that (many people agreed with my article on this, posted here on October 2, judging by the 90 comments), and because we need to raise our national poll rating, to give us a chance of power in the next government. Let our leaders speak out loudly and write firmly, please! The five themes of the Pre-Manifesto policy paper that I mentioned above frankly don’t cut it: lengthy and turgid reading. Yet we do have these important stand-out policies to tell the public.

  • David Symonds 15th Oct '23 - 4:16pm

    As i said earlier, Labour’s new housing policy appears to be very undemocratic and centralist, but that probably reflects on its collectivist views that still frame much of the party’s thinking. Lib Dems would not “ride roughshod” over communities and not everyone wants high rise tower blocks evident. Remember that Labour are bankrolled by the collectivist unions and the barons still influence a great deal the party that they helped to form in 1900. Labour’s tax policies are pretty cautious though in comparison but they are probably worried about Tory attacks on them. Lib Dems could do worse than work more closely with the Green Party, which is centre left but cares more about the environment than Labour. Remember that most Labour MPs represent urban constituencies so that is their basic powerbase.

  • Regarding new towns: They are only going to work if they are built in places that people want to live in, which is probably why @Nonconformistradical the successful ones tended to be in home counties commuter-land. By the way I’m not sure I’d cite Milton Keynes – with its hugely car-dependant planning, as a great example of how to design them. Maybe Welwyn Garden City is a better one?

    Regarding where… Just off the top of my head, I can think of three places where we should think about:
    Worcestershire Parkway, where the local council has pretty decent looking plans around the new railway station.
    Ebbsfleet where the Government’s plans have turned into a disaster of car-based housing with no community planning. In principle the area would be very suitable for taking some pressure off London. But surely we can devise something better here.
    Thamesmead/Belvedere (my own area) where local councils are already working on huge developments on what was largely industrial land. There’s some local opposition but it seems to be more like, opposition to a perceived lack of community hubs and services plus people not trusting the developers rather. than opposition to new housing per se.

    I can’t imagine it’d be that hard to identify some more places where there are already good transport links and near to where there is already demand.

  • Leekliberal,

    You didn’t state what you wanted the leadership of the party to say regarding Brexit. It seems that their position is that it is unlikely we could join the single market until after 2028. It is unlikely we could join the single market if the Conservatives had a policy of withdrawing us from it again and there was a possibility of them winning the 2028-30 general election.

    Peter Martin,

    Charles Kennedy didn’t move us to the left. Before 1997 we had policies which you might define as to the left of Labour and this continued under Charles, who became leader in August 1999. We do need to be more radical than the Labour Party now,as we were in 1997-2005.

    Ruth Bright,

    There is no knowing how much we want to raise in taxation changes and increases to pay for social care recruitment, Dilnot and our promises on waiting times and mental health, plus our childcare and benefit policies. It would be good if the Federal Policy Committee would set up a working group to bring a policy paper on our taxation policies to our next Autumn Conference.

  • David Symonds,

    I am concerned about calls to work closer with the Greens. They are not a liberal party. We must remember the Gladstone-MacDonald pact of 1903 where in 31 seats “the Liberals agreed not to put up a candidate. 24 of the 29 LRC MPs elected in that election were in seats where the Liberals did not stand” (Wikipedia). In the two elections of 1910 this agreement still applied and there were additional seats where there was not both a Liberal candidate and a Labour candidate. Excluding Ireland there were 570 seats. In 1906 the Liberals stood in 528 and Labour in 50. In January 1910 the Liberals stood in 511 and Labour in 78. In December 1910 both parties fielded fewer candidates – 467 Liberal, 56 Labour.

  • Ruth Bright 16th Oct '23 - 9:42am

    @Katharine I outline part of the problem (admittedly with fewer solutions!) in an LDV article: “Fat and anxious”. Please correct me if I am wrong but I understand we are raising
    5 billion for our NHS shopping list. Dilnot alone would cost 5.4 billion.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Oct '23 - 10:44am

    Shocked to read that analysis of the impact of the party conferences on voter intention by We Think polling on October 12-13 found no change for Labour or the Conservatives but Liberal Democrats DOWN one point at a miserable 9%. I don’t know about the validity of We Think polling (supplied by Mark Pack, whom I must ask), but if that result is general – and the big polls Mark supplies also seem to show us down a point for the most part – then I would wish to change the headline of this article to, OUR PARTY NEEDS TO BE BOLD NOW. No positive impact from the Conference? Then speak out on the radical and well-thought-out policies we offer, party leaders, because we are not only a party offering community politics, but one still aiming for power. Aren’t we?

  • David John Symonds 16th Oct '23 - 11:14am

    The reason i thought closer co-operation with Greens might be considered is that they are progressive in a way that Labour are not. Much of Labour’s time has been spent in denigrating Liberals, Alliance, SDP and Lib Dems. Their history is one of believing they are superior to other centre-left parties and indeed want to regard themselves as the only party apparently that non Tories should vote for. Labour are not in my view progressive and appear to be a pale Conservative Party, albeit with a nasty collectivist streak reminiscent of the old labour party when the union barons ran the party – Scanlon and Jones used to go to No10 with Wilson and have beer and sandwiches during the “Social Contract”. Greens may appear to be more interested in the environment and saving the planet than Labour, who are more interested in concreting over the Green Belt and “riding roughshod over local communities”. Labour will do anything to not work with others to get the Tories out as they think they are the only ones who matter. Their behaviour in Mid Beds is disgraceful as they would rather Tories hold on than support Lib Dems. I know Tories who prefer Labour as well.

  • Peter Martin 16th Oct '23 - 12:55pm

    @ Katharine,

    If it’s any consolation, there’s no evidence to suggest that either of the two bigger parties had any benefit from their conferences. I doubt if many voters took any real notice of them, and many wouldn’t have even known they were happening. The margin of error will be something like +/- 2% so a fall of 1% is statistically insignificant.

    Having said that I would say all the party leaders are bland, boring and electorally unappealing. I doubt if more than about 30% of the voters would be able to correctly name the Lib Dem leader. I haven’t done any polling myself on the question but I’d be interested to know the results of anyone who has.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Oct '23 - 1:45pm

    David Symonds. Thanks, David; I think on housing we should both challenge and complement Labour, asserting our own credentials in this vital area, and as you suggest not agreeing to ‘ride roughshod’ over the wishes of local communities. On the ‘complement’ side we should surely build up our own policies, whether on new towns or even expanded villages. Labour’s apparent intentions to build them around Cambridge and other south-east conurbations would surely only accentuate the north-south divide, whereas we aim for serious regional devolution and development.
    Simon R., I think is very helpful of you to suggest three possible new town sites, since that is the sort of development of our policy we need to be discussing. I could defend Milton Keynes about car use, given the ease of navigation in their grid pattern of roads limiting traffic jams and hold-ups, but consideration for sites for the new towns we propose is more useful.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Oct '23 - 2:07pm

    Peter Martin. Thanks for your sympathy, Peter, and I guess you are right in your view of the various competing leaders! Well, we can’t change our leader, having no reborn Paddy Ashdown to offer, but we can and surely should try to get Ed Davey speaking about our best policies repetitively, until we are heard. On housing policy, we have plenty to say, and to relate to Labour’s policies as I have suggested.

    I’m not sure it’s helpful to discuss relations with the Greens (sorry, David), which perhaps can be managed at constituency level, depending on local strengths. I take your point – under a local Labour-run council, it is difficult to regard them as progressive, and they are still top-down and autocratic nationally; but it’s in relation to them that our future as sharers of power surely lies.

    Ruth Bright. Thanks, Ruth, I’ll look at your article, and I’ll question the financial experts on what you say about present commitments. As one of them, Michael BG, suggests, it would be good if Federal Policy Committee would set up a working group to bring forward proposals on taxation policy. But I think we should consider economic and taxation policies as soon as possible; we are now virtually in Election Year.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Oct '23 - 10:42am

    Update: Mark Pack has kindly replied about We Think, the polling company which found voting intention for us to have reduced by 1% to only 9% (see my comment of 10.44 am yesterday). Mark writes, “We Think are a new polling firm, not yet tested by having their polls compared versus an actual General Election result. But they are a member of the trade self-regulation body and come from a firm with a reputable track record as a marketing operation.” He adds – like you, Peter – that a one point shift here or there on vote share is well within the random variations to be expected.

  • Peter Martin 17th Oct '23 - 11:36am

    @ Katharine,

    I’d like the Tories out at the next election but I don’t want Keir Starmer to have a clear majority either. He’s even more duplicitous than Boris Johnson. He used to say things like “Jeremy Corbyn would make a great Prime Minister”. Now he can’t even answer the question of whether he really meant that. So, regardless of where we are on the political spectrum, and whether or not we think JC would have been, we shouldn’t support anyone who is so obviously untrustworthy.

    Other recent polls have been slightly more favourable to the Lib Dems with one putting you on 14%. Smooth out all the recent results and you’re probably on something like 11%. The Greens similarly will be on about 6%. That’s 17% between you which is putting you back more into the ‘fun-zone’. There’s not a lot of difference between your voter pools -although more partisan voices may well disagree,

    As a non-committed neutral I would recommend concentrating doing an electoral deal with them rather than a supposed ‘non-deal’ with Labour. This, in itself, would be newsworthy, and in a positive sense, which in would add a few more percentage points on to your aggregate total.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Oct '23 - 2:31pm

    Thanks, Peter. I hope your neutrality won’t prevent you eventually voting for us in the General Election! But as to electoral deals, I think those will be limited to local constituency decisions, and there can’t be many constituencies where the Greens appear to have a better chance of success than the Lib Dems. Much, in the continuing First Past The Post system, will depend anyway on liberal-minded voters who want the Tories out deciding for themselves which of the progressive party candidates locally has the best chance of defeating a Tory incumbent in the GE. But I suppose the next May elections may again enhance our chances, thanks to so much continual dedicated work by Lib Dem activists in their local communities.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Oct '23 - 3:01pm

    @ Tom King. Thank you for your encouragement, Tom. I hope all Liberal Democrat members who feel we have become too lily-livered will make their feelings known to the leadership this winter. As you say, Labour has come from their conference looking bolder and more radical than we do. I think dropping the one-penny proposed addition to taxes was a mistake, and we need as Ruth was suggesting rapidly to work out what our good plans for the NHS and social care, and benefit increases, will cost and how we will pay for them. (Michael BG and Joe Bourke are suggesting the party set up a new working group to report/ advise on our taxation policies, which seems right.)

    I suppose it is the euphoria of the four amazing by-election successes which has made our leadership perhaps too short-sighted about our party’s prospects – that and the decision to concentrate on the ripe-fruit appeal of getting Tory voters to vote for us in target seats. Yet we can’t be a party that concentrates just on getting a few more MPs and some retained or increased second places! We are the party with which nearly half the country agreed, in opposing Brexit. Despite the mistaken hubris of our 2019 election campaign, I maintain that we should recognise our latent strength again now.

  • David John Symonds

    I agree with you concerning the Labour Party “regard(ing) themselves as the only party apparently that non Tories should vote for” and “appear(ing) to be a pale Conservative Party”. Keir Stramer in his speech at Conference called for conservative people to join the Labour Party.

    Peter Martin,

    In 2010 we received 23% and the Greens 0.9%; in 2019 we received 11.6% and the Greens 2.61%. In the opinion polls before the 2019 election the Greens seemed to have a maximum of 13% and we had a maximum 23%. Therefore having a joint opinion poll rating of 17% is not really good enough. We need to be above 16% as we were at the 1997 general election.

    It is difficult to have a deal with the Greens because I think they only came second in one seat (Bristol West) in 2019 and that was where we didn’t put up a candidate and we had the MP from 2005 to 2015.

    Tom King,

    I am surprised that you think the Labour policy on housing is more radical than ours. Keir Starmer has said he hopes to build 1.5 million homes over five years, this less than 380,000 homes a year we have as our housing target. It is less liberal. I agree with you that we need to be bold again.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Oct '23 - 10:26am

    Michael, well done in pointing out that our house building target of 380, 000 a year is greater than that of Labour. In fact I believe they have nothing to compare with the detailed and comprehensive policies we set out in policy paper 155, Tackling the Housing Crisis, endorsed by the Bournemouth Conference in the policy F31. We were already committed to building 150,000 social homes a year, and the policy demands binding targets for affordable and social housing, with local authorities allowed to build themselves to meet their targets. Local authorities will also be given new powers to control second homes and holiday lets. And there will be ‘a fair deal’ for renters, with measures including a national register and minimum standards for landlords. This is just a snap-shot of the comprehensive policy we passed last month.

  • Peter Martin 18th Oct '23 - 12:15pm

    @ Katharine,

    I suppose Labour will say that you can promise what you like knowing that you’re extremely unlikely to win the next election. If you do enter Govt in some form of coalition you’ll be able to claim that you’ve only limited influence so you won’t be held to account.

    You may well have the ” detailed and comprehensive policies we set out in policy paper 155″ but hardly anyone will know what they are – so they aren’t going to get you any significant number of votes. To do well in the election you’ll have to somehow emulate what Charles Kennedy did in 2005 when Lib Dems won 50+ seats.

    It means being more radical that Labour, which isn’t going to be difficult, with Starmer in charge but not so radical that you scare off potential Tory voters. You can do that by exposing Starmer for what he is. Someone who is critical of Tory policies but is only offering Tory policies as a supposed alternative. You need to offer a more hopeful message but at the same time keep it simple.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Oct '23 - 5:29pm

    Setting aside your cynicism, Peter, because we remain a party aiming for power, you are quite right to point out that ‘hardly anyone will know what they are’ of our detailed and comprehensive housing policies. And that’s why I am asking our party to begin shouting about our radical and progressive policies in this near-to General Election year. There will be various means of doing so, apart from our leader and spokespeople making speeches, and I hope to help facilitate some of those. Meanwhile, you also have a point in urging us to show Sir Keir Starmer’s conservative tendencies – er umm – best avoided on all sides!

  • Peter Martin 18th Oct '23 - 5:56pm

    @ Katharine,

    The Australian Democrats, a centrist party, did very well some years ago running under the slogan of “keep the bast*rds honest”. There wouldn’t be much disagreement from the electorate with this description the politicians in charge of the two major parties but I appreciate that Lib Dems would have some difficulty with the non-PC word used.
    Not many in Australia will remember anything about their policies but they do remember the slogan.

    Maybe ” Keep the not very nice popel

  • Peter Martin 18th Oct '23 - 5:58pm

    Sorry that shot off before I was ready!

    Maybe “Keep the not very nice people honest” or something similar?


  • Katharine Pindar 18th Oct '23 - 8:11pm

    I think our party has not been entirely free of using unladylike language, Peter – I seem to remember a popular two-word slogan of which the second word was Brexit! Quite deplorable, of course!!

  • Peter Martin,

    When Charles Kennedy was party leader we gained 6 seats in 2001 and 11 seats in 2005. Before he was leader in 1997 we gained 26 more MPs than in 1992.

    We should not accept that the smaller party in a coalition government has less influence than the larger party. Indeed, we need to position ourselves as being more radical than the Labour Party. If we were ever in government with the Labour Party we need to make the government less conservative and more radical.

  • Peter Martin 19th Oct '23 - 9:13am

    @ Michael BG,

    Increased radicalism on the Green agenda is one policy which won’t attract a negative response from the type of Tory voters you’ll be chasing. This would make an alliance with the Greens more of a sensible proposition too. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t get back to 20% + of the vote with this strategy.

    Any alliance shouldn’t be simply on some kind of quid pro quo basis. There’re no prizes for second place. It’s wins that matter for both parties.

  • David Symonds 19th Oct '23 - 11:07am

    I support Compass, which is trying to get the Progressive parties working together to achieve a non-Conservative UK. There seems to have been and is a lot of bad blood between Labour and Lib Dems and that is almost entirely down to Labour, who are not necessarily progressive and also their total determination not to work with Lib Dems, although at local level we did have a “shared administration” in my london borough between Lab and LD, though in 2006 Lib Dems came second there in terms of seats but went running back into Labour’s arms. The Beds Mid result is completely unclear and unpredictable but i fear a Tory hold or Labour sneaking it. I hope Tories can come third, but maybe that is wishful thinking. Sunak thinks he can smile at people and they will be entranced, without thinking how much damage Tories have done though Labour helped wreck the economy in the 1970s when they caved in to the union barons and awarded massive pay rises without good productivity. If and when PR is achieved, people can vote according to what they want without fear of losing their vote. Tactical voting isn’t really the best option but under FPTP it has to be done.

  • Peter Martin 19th Oct '23 - 11:39am

    Whether the Labour Party used to be Progressive and Authoritarian is debatable, but it’s now even less debatable that they are Progressive. Starmer himself proclaims the virtue of the authoritarian nature of his regime so there can’t be any debate at all on that.

    Yet Lib Dems now seem to no longer pursue this aspect of their traditional criticism of Labour.

    Why would that be?

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Oct '23 - 2:36pm

    David Symonds. I agree with Compass and with you, David, in ‘trying to get progressive parties working together to achieve a non-Conservative UK’. Whether Labour can be counted as progressive or not, they are likely to be running the next government, so we do need to relate to them. That has to be done in elections at constituency level, and unfortunately our party and their’s will sometimes be competing with each other in an election. But in between we should as I am asking put forward our own policies more boldly, while accepting those of their’s that we will like to support. I think in relating to the NHS, which has been so neglected by the Tories, both parties are putting forward good policies, and the sooner this failing government takes up any of them, the better for the country.

    Peter Martin. I agree with much of what you say about Sir Keir Starmer, Peter, but as Tom King noted in his comment on October 17, Labour came away from their conference ‘looking ‘bolder and more radical’ than did we. I think that is except on housing policy, as I have discussed above; and our party does need to flesh out our ‘ten new towns’ plans, as Simon R was helpfully proposing on October 15.

  • Peter Martin 19th Oct '23 - 3:35pm

    @ Katharine,

    I’m not quite sure what Tom King is thinking but “Bold and Radical” are not adjectives to describe Labour policy at the moment. The so-called 5 missions are a mixture of wishful think and aspirations for the 2029 Parliament if by some chance Labour were to win a second term.

    Even if anyone can find anything like a promise or a “pledge” from Starmer we’d need, to first establish any credibility at all, to look at his track record as regards other “pledges” made!

  • Chris Giles has a recent piece in the FT following the Labour conference. The title sums it up The hard economic reality for anyone wanting to govern Britain.
    Housing and planning is likely to a key issue in the election Rishi Sunak’s electoral strategy is detached from policy programme

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Oct '23 - 7:01pm

    Joe, thank you, but those references confront us with the Financial Times’s pay wall so can’t be read by many of us. However, you remind me that we are going to have to suggest how we would pay for our promises, on health, social care and benefits (as Ruth was pointing out), and we need to have answers before any working group on taxation reform can report. Being asked myself by a non-committed person, I suggested Land Value taxation, Council tax reform, and a wealth tax. What is your instant answer on the doorsteps? I hope they had some good answers in the Mid-Beds by-election…

  • Peter Martin,

    It is not in our interests to attack the Labour Party. Mostly we do best when the Conservatives are in government and Labour are seen as an alternative government. However, we can still position ourselves as more radical than the Labour Party without actually attacking them.

    The Labour Party’s five missions seem to be long-term aims not a programme for a five year government. On their website they state – “Britain needs a mission-driven government to end short term sticking-plaster politics”.

    I thought they had made one promise – “By the end of Labour’s first government we will deliver the highest sustained growth in the G7,” https://www.ft.com/content/a12a1eca-35b9-4050-b32b-7e91e94b935e.

  • David Symonds 19th Oct '23 - 10:52pm

    I remember that the Alliance exercised an equidistance between Labour and Conservative, what David Steel and David Owen called “tough and tender”. Dare i say that the Tories and Labour are essentially adversarial class based parties that are at polar opposite ends of the spectrum. One is pro privatisation, profit, party of management, anti-union, cuts to public services and the other is pro-private sector, anti-profit, party of the trade unions with the outdated cloth cap image, profligate and tax and spend. Surely Lib Dems sit in the middle of these two polar opposites, exercising common sense and trying to break out of the class based dogma that should have gone 50 years ago.

  • Wow, amazing this discussion is still going so strong.

    As a more general comment: I agree with being bold and radical, but I do worry that too much of what we offer – and what this article seems to advocate – looks like tax-and-spend. To my mind tax-and-spend is neither radical nor workable. If anything it’s small-c-conservative, in the sense of being not much different from what has been frequently attempted for many decades: Tax-and-spend has been the basis of almost every Labour Government (with the exception of the Blair one) and to a large extent of Boris Johnson’s Tory Government.

    The radicalism I’d like to see is more like, us being unafraid to offer new, well thought out and innovative, solutions to the UK’s problems based on liberal principles, and also not being afraid to reform institutions (@Ruth Bright – yes!) (Yes I do realise it’s a long way from that vague statement to actual policies).

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Oct '23 - 12:04am

    David, we are not identifying ourselves in relation to either of the two largest modern parties. We are a historic party, with roots going back hundreds of years as a Liberal party, proud of our history in the early twentieth century, proud again of our plans which the newcomers, the Labour Party, fulfilled for us in the years after World War 2, and proud now of those ideals expressed in our Constitution which we try to fulfill as Liberal Democrats in our policies, practices and activities, and in our commitments through liberalism and social justice to better the lot of every citizen. Locally we will do that through our communities, nationally we will work with whichever party will be most likely to fufill our aims, and that is most certainly in this decade the Labour Party and not the Conservatives.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Oct '23 - 10:38am

    So, congratulations to Labour in Mid-Beds, commiserations to Emma Holland-Lindsay but thanks to all Lib Dems who helped in that well-fought campaign. Emma with 23.1% vote share got a 20% swing from the Tories, a good sign for the General Election campaign which I feel is starting right now. There was only a 44% turn-out compared with 74% at the last General Election, an indication of what a whole new ball-game the GE will be. What will be our plans?

    Simon R., I don’t see us as having been committed to ‘tax and spend’; we give careful commitment to well-thought-out policies and to fairer taxes which will both address the deep inequality of our society and help the poorest. But you are right that we should continue to look for ‘innovative solutions based on liberal principles’, and also consider major reforms, especially I suppose in the NHS.
    Tom King, if you are right that ‘Labour as a small c conservative party will never have the radicalism required to enact (necessary) renewal’, then our Lib Dem path ahead is clear: to be the radical progressive party now that our country so much needs.

  • Peter Martin 20th Oct '23 - 11:30am

    @ Kathrine,

    “We are a historic party, with roots going back hundreds of years as a Liberal party, proud of our history in the early twentieth century….. ”

    “Hundreds” is a bit of a stretch. It’s 164 years to be exact!

    However, the Liberal Party of the early 20th century didn’t really know what it wanted to be.

    “The Liberal Party lacked a unified ideological base in 1906. It contained numerous contradictory and hostile factions, such as imperialists and supporters of the Boers; near-socialists and laissez-faire classical liberals; suffragettes and opponents of women’s suffrage; antiwar elements and supporters of the military alliance with France…..”

    The present day Lib Dems have similar divisions.


  • @ Peter Martin

    > Even if anyone can find anything like a promise or a “pledge” from Starmer we’d need, to first establish any credibility at all, to look at his track record as regards other “pledges” made!

    I know it’s old news now, but I can’t resist a snort at the irony of this comment in a debate amongst Lib Dems!

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Oct '23 - 2:41pm

    Unworthy of you, Peter, to post an unsupported critical paragraph about the Liberal Party in 1906. For what it’s worth as a historical guide. Wikkipedia does say that the party established in the early twentieth century the beginnings of a welfare state, which is true. So began our commitment to social justice, so much developed by the thinking of Sir William Beveridge in the Second World War, and carried on by the Liberal Democrats today. Whatever Former Dem means, they should look for instance at the work of the Social Liberal Forum, and the consistency of our party’s support for social liberalism shown in our policies and publications.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Oct '23 - 2:50pm

    Just in, an instance of the continuing work of our parliamentary team to serve all our citizens. One of our MPs, Wera Hobhouse, has carried a Worker Protection Bill through Parliament which has now passed its final legislative hurdle and will become law. The Bill will give protections to employees from sexual harassment in the workplace, with a new duty on employers to proactively prevent/stop workplace harassment.

  • @Katharine Pindar in case you really don’t know, I meant this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vote_for_Students_pledge

  • Mary Fulton 20th Oct '23 - 3:08pm

    @David Symonds
    Your description of the class based nature of the Conservatives and Labour is historically true but is now outdated. Labour has moved to compete on Tory ground and the differences in voting by social class has almost completely gone. This makes it difficult for us to present ourselves as the ‘middle’ party between the extremes. However, there is a niche in ‘the market’ for parties advocating constitutional reform – it worked for UKIP, works for the SNP in Scotland, and could easily corner 15% to 20% of the vote from those disillusioned with the main two parties and desperate for a systemic change.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Oct '23 - 7:30pm

    To me, Mary, we are not a ‘middle party between the extremes’. We are the only Liberal party, with radical policies shouting to be heard, which I want our leading figures to take up. It really isn’t enough to sink back into openly planning just to take a few Tory seats in the south. That would mean most voters could think, ‘Oh well, I don’t live in one of those, so they don’t care about me.’ Voters should be able to think, ‘This candidate wants what I want.’ We do want to serve everyone – we are a party for everyone – so we need our leaders to keep reiterating a few radical and well-thought-out policies in the months to come, to tell them who we are and that we are for them. A country-wide drive that will rightly lift us in the opinion polls.

  • Simon R,

    There are many problems in the UK including poverty, a housing crisis and failing and underfunded public services after austerity and years of a Conservative government which failed to invest in public services.

    Markets are not going to solve these problems. We need social liberal solutions. Therefore we need to increase investment funded from borrowing and everyday spending mostly funded from increasing taxes. This is why we need to clearly set out our taxation policies.

    Peter Martin,

    If Katharine was including the Whig tradition going back to the 17th century then it is hundreds of years. The Whigs were in favour of reducing the power of the crown and the landed gentry and the idea of reducing entrenched power is a liberal trait as is trusting the people.

    Many political historians would disagree with Ian Packer and would instead say that the Liberal Party in 1906 included many different views of the liberal ideology. Later on in that Wikipedia article they state that other historians think that “five-sixths of the Liberal Party” were supportive of the ‘New Liberalism’.

    Mary Fulton,

    I am not convinced that a party which advocated constitutional reform as its main policy would be supported by even 15% of the electorate. As Labour moves onto conservative ground this should give us the space to be a radical party not a party in the middle as suggested by David Symonds.

  • Katharine Pindar 21st Oct '23 - 3:08pm

    After the by-election we should remember that we are a national party, aiming to share power, not a small party with small aims to win a few more seats next year. As discussed above, we need our leaders now to point out the conservative and authoritarian tendencies of Keir Starmer’s leadership, and show that we are a more radical and progressive party by constantly reiterating our radical well-thought out solutions to the nation’s problems. And meantime we party workers must continue to show that we can pay for them, and continue to develop our good solutions.

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd Oct '23 - 12:44pm

    I suppose many of us are resting from their by-election hard work, and all of us concentrating on the Gaza situation, thankful that the first two hostages have been freed, anxious about the conflict – with prayers in church this morning. But when we revert to Lib Dem national concerns, I hope we can go on as I appeal for us to do, to show that we as a national party can contribute to alleviating our own country’s hard problems, so should be listened to in the coming year. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this thread.

  • Peter Hirst 28th Oct '23 - 1:33pm

    Why not bring back the 1P tax increase for education? I feel it would be better used and perhaps equally attractive to the electorate as that for health. Funding for health is generally in the present whereas education is for the future. Many of our social challenges are exacerbated by our poor educational system and much of this is caused by funding. Class sizes used to be one of our discussion hits and smaller sizes could bring back some stay at home children and cause more cohesive lessons.

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