Reaching out to the ‘Left Behind’: what policies should we put first?

The pitch which the Leave campaign successfully made to the poorest 10% of UK citizens in last June’s EU Referendum was that their problems of low pay, insecure jobs and waiting lists for affordable housing were all due to competition from immigrants, and would be eased by leaving the EU. The budget, with little on social housing and less on funds for schools or other public services in deprived areas, has made their situation worse, rather than better. Labour has been hesitating about how far to buy into their grievances about immigrants. How should Liberal Democrats respond to their resentments and needs?

The peers’ working group on ‘The Left Behind’ is now drafting an initial report. We have worked through a mass of relevant material, from think tanks, foundations and parliamentary reports. We’ve also discussed, among ourselves and with others, our direct experiences from campaigning in urban working class communities and rural and seaside towns – the places, BBC News detailed breakdowns suggested, that had the largest majorities for ‘Leave’ in the UK. Studies like last year’s Suffolk Community Foundation on ‘Hidden Suffolk’, and the Open Society Foundation’s report on Higher Blackley, have been very useful: can any of you point us to other studies elsewhere?

At the Spring conference in York on Friday evening (2015-2130, Novotel Meeting Room 1&2), we look forward to hearing from others about what policies we should be pushing forward. Some of you represent such communities, many of them taken for granted by Labour and ignored by the Conservatives. How do we win more of them over, rather than leaving them to be picked over by UKIP or worse? Support for families and small children, education through from primary school, closer links between schools and local employers, support for local industrial regeneration, and investment in social housing, are the main elements in our emerging package.

We’re also aware that there’s a larger problem of political disengagement and community decline that needs to be addressed, on which we welcome comments. The shrinkage of local public services means that ‘the state’ is in many ways abandoning these communities: local authorities are cutting children’s services, beat policing, bus routes and more as government grants disappear. Resentment is increased, many observers report, by the perception that ‘metropolitan elites’ now demonise these communities – journalists as well as politicians. But there’s also a poverty of aspiration in some of these communities, which holds the younger generation back: how do we tackle that?

These are our fellow-citizens: denigrated by the political right, neglected by Labour, with even those local authorities who want to help struggling in the face of budget cuts to make a difference. Liberal Democrats care about inequality, about opportunity, and about social mobility – all of which are at stake in the long-term neglect of these marginalised communities. We already represent some of the wards they live in, and are beginning to win by-elections in others. So what policy responses should we offer them – and how do we persuade richer groups within our national community to pay for them? Come and give us your views on Friday evening if you can.

* William Wallace has fought five parliamentary elections in Manchester and West Yorkshire. He is a former president of the Yorkshire regional Liberal Democrats.

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  • This sounds very useful: hope it goes well.

  • Little Jackie Paper 14th Mar '17 - 11:25am

    ‘can any of you point us to other studies elsewhere?’

    If you are interested in the EU aspect in particular I suggest

    Notably p26-32. What to do about it is anyone’s guess.

    My sense at the referendum (and it was only a sense, I claim no evidence) was that remain arguments tended not to refute the points made by the left behinds so much as try to explain them away. Like simplistic arguments that EU migrants pay higher tax.

    Generally this was my big problem with the REMAIN campaign – there probably are things that the UK could do WITHIN the EU to help left behinds (things that might not go down well with the LDP mainstream). But REMAIN made none of those arguments and it left the impression that LEAVE, however flawed, at least had thought about ‘change.’

    So good luck with this work – it’s important stuff.

  • The LSE’s “Social Policy in a Cold Climate” is a very useful resource.

  • The Heseltine Institute has produced some interesting research and perspectives on this across a range of areas.
    Social Enterprise and developing the community base for it could offer an interesting topic. It both chimes with LD philosophy and – when done properly – works. Two groups too often neglected: women and older people. The Women’s Organisation has done a good deal to train, promote and facilitate women’s enterprise. Success in this area has both increased economic strength and enabled many to escape from the benefits trap. It has probably saved the exchequer £40m since it was founded. It is a good result that might just persuade people to invest in it. As for older people, much could be done for young people, through mentoring and skills transfer that is not being done now. Finally, our schools are too reminiscent of the Gradgrind school of education. Creativity, imagination and experience are too often sacrificed to SATS especially at primary level. Many of our HEIs could do more – as LIPA and Edge Hill University have done – to encourage children in poorer areas – in this case Toxteth – to see the world in a new way.

  • Tony Greaves 14th Mar '17 - 12:19pm

    As well as “offering” policies to the most disadvantaged communities, we need to be in there campaigning with them and as part of them. These are areas which care not about policy platforms as such, and they are places where a lot of people have given up voting. And it’s the poorest and least powerful people (ie the people who are coping the least with the society and economy in which they find themselves) who have stopped voting altogether.

    My article in the new issue of Liberator is relevant to all this.

  • Tony Greaves 14th Mar '17 - 12:20pm

    I should declare an interest as a members of William’s working group.

  • Interesting report on building better and more affordable housing. No sure it is the whole answer but food for thought.

  • Sue Sutherland 14th Mar '17 - 2:05pm

    This is very welcome, but one thing I noticed was absent from your list of research tools and that is asking the people concerned for their own opinion on which policy is the most crucial. My experience is very dated but if consultation is carried out after a plan has been made, criticism of that plan by consultees is met with a negative response. This may just be because the owners of the plan have looked at the particular alternatives suggested in great detail and have valid reasons to reject them, but it results in total frustration on the part of the consultees. It’s much better to consult at the initial stages and consult and consult again otherwise the response will be ‘Well what do a few Lib Dem Lords know about our lives anyway’. So initially we should be concentrating on how we consult about improving their lives and how we as a party can fund that. Don’t let’s get so far ahead of ourselves that we are dictating a solution rather than giving people what they actually want and need.
    I’m not saying that all the research shouldn’t have been carried out because of course our party needs to be informed before taking action. We also have to know how we as a country would pay for the cost of improved welfare services as you suggest, otherwise any suggestions for improvement are meaningless.
    I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for me that I’ m unable to attend the Spring Conference because I have an illness that disables me but I look forward with great interest to hearing how it goes.
    I believe that this is the most important work the party is doing other than fighting Brexit. So fight Brexit, fight the causes of Brexit and fight the economic theories that caused the causes!

  • Tony Greaves 14th Mar '17 - 2:36pm

    I like your last paragraph, Sue Sutherland!

  • To address Lord Wallace’s central question, here are three policies to start with : Abolishing higher education fees. I know that we are mentally scared by the whole topic, but this dreadful policy threatens to impoverish a generation, with consequent impact on housing market and aggregate demand.
    Citizens income. Other countries are looking at this, the Labour Party is interested, it provides a basic income, takes a lot of people off welfare and allows people to do something a bit more entrepreneurial, creative, without the fear of total financial meltdown.
    Finally, since there is going to be some tightening of migration laws, lets have investment in our young people. To give one example, we are often told that overseas doctors keep the NHS going, but by the same token, how many intelligent young Brits never get a chance to become doctors because government won’t fund the training places. Cheaper to pinch doctors from developing countries….how moral is that ?

  • I’ve always wondered what people are supposed to have been left behind from! It’s not like everything has been a rip snorting success since 1993 or that young remain voters saddled with student loans until they’re in their forties, with little prospect of home ownership are really in a better position than their parents and grandparents who voted leave. It’s strikes me that the real left behinds are those suffering from hubris caused by the collapse of the idea of The End of History as history trundles on throwing up change as it always has and always will.

  • Peter Watson 14th Mar '17 - 6:08pm

    This sounds like a very important endeavour and could be vital in defining and communicating what Lib Dems stand for apart from opposition to Brexit. I wish it well, and I agree with much of what has been written in the article and the comments below it.

  • Chris Cory – I think the Party should reduce the ambition to just abolish tuition fees for specific courses, maybe start with Medicine, but not at the expense of higher tuition fees for others. This would be more realistic. Or make uni education free or not based on social backgrounds. I think Libdem should begin the policies that are totally applicable.

    Affordable housing program is always good. Basic income is also a good idea. Also, more funding to NHS. But Libdem must put greater focus on Education.

    Changing Mr Hunt’s new law regarding part-time GPs would be another move.

    Never ever go to a Coalition with Tories again. You will never have a majority in that Coalition. I think Libdem should have realized that all three Coalitions in the history ended up damaging Liberal rather than Tories. Libdem now must calculate their moves carefully and only choose paths that benefit their party position at least 5 years in the future. If a 2010 scenario happen again, Libdem must stay out and force the Tory to form a minority government, which make it easier for vetoeing their policies.

  • Abolishing tuition fees would be difficult . A lot of universities are rapidly expanding and investing in building programmes. Also the numbers of youngster entering higher education is getting larger. Introducing them was, IMO, was a mistake, but reversing the funding model now would be very expensive .

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '17 - 2:24am


    Abolishing tuition fees would be difficult . A lot of universities are rapidly expanding and investing in building programmes. Also the numbers of youngster entering higher education is getting larger.

    Indeed. Thomas goes on about this and that, all of which would cost a great deal of money (with the NHS, due to people living longer the number of people requiring expensive NHS treatment is getting larger as well), but says nothing about how all this should be paid for.

    So, what do we do when the Tories do at least propose raising taxes? Denounce them for it. Maybe they weren’t the best taxes to raise, but if not those, then what?

    If you don’t say how you will pay for these things, then you’re stuffed, because people will get angry with you if you do try to put up taxes to pay for them. This is what hit us in the Coalition. Because we had gone on about opposing tuition fees, but not mentioned that doing that means raising taxes to pay for universities, people didn’t put two and two together and realise that we were stuck because to keep to our pledge we’d have to raise taxes, and the Tories would never agree to that.

    What we need in this country is HONEST political discussion. Part of that honesty means when you talk about doing things that cost more money you also talk about how you are going to raise that money.

  • Glenn – Reduction of fees for British students sounds far more credible and practical, with greater reduction in STEM.

    I think Libdem should have an article summarize their domestic policies to tell the voters that they will not neglect the domestic issues for the sake of fighting against Brexit.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '17 - 2:36am


    If a 2010 scenario happen again, Libdem must stay out and force the Tory to form a minority government, which make it easier for vetoeing their policies.

    OK, so supposed we vetoed the Tory introduction of tuition fees. Then what? You can’t just veto cuts without also proposing ways to pay for what is not cut. If you vetoed tuition fees, but did not propose any other way to fund universities, the result would be that all universities close down because there is no money to fund them.

    The argument used against the LibDems on this issue was that the cost of fully subsidising universities is simultaneously so low that it can be done through taxation with hardly anyone noticing, and so high that it cripples the next generation having to pay for it by paying back loans.

    Personally, I’d rather university education was funded by tax, and I think it would be right to fund it by raising inheritance tax. However, I find that if you start talking about inheritance tax, most people think you are a horrible person.

  • Matthew – there are still FTT and LVT. Personally I would go for LVT because taxing financial transactions (of course primary transactions are exempted) like the EU proposed would mean directly going against the City.

    Inheritance tax, well, Libdem must tighten the loopholes. Recently the Duke of Westminster died without paying taxes thanks to a series of trusts. The European Parliament had proposals that oblige not only private companies but also trusts to make the names of their beneficiaries public. I heard that Libdem are pro-EU, lets tackle the trusts.

  • Peter Watson 15th Mar '17 - 7:49am

    @Glenn “Abolishing tuition fees would be difficult”
    Politically it would be a nightmare. Having told voters that increasing fees has not discouraged students (and having linked it to increased social mobility), how could the party credibly justify reducing them for anybody, and how would it deal with all those ex-students who would have seen their older and younger peers pay much less. The enthusiasm with which the party defended increased tuition fees also undermined its opposition to the scrapping of various grants for those from poorer families and opened up the principle of income-contingent loans for other things (e.g. surgery).
    Sadly, when it comes to tuition fees the party has made its bed and must now lie in it. It should look for other imaginative and radical ways to achieve its goals for further and higher education (and education as a whole), but first it should communicate what those goals are (with more detail than “not being enslaved by poverty or ignorance”).

  • Personally, I would favour a mixture of LVD, closing Inheritance Tax loopholes and income tax. I think trumpeting taking people out of Tax was another huge mistake because it sets a dodgy principle. However, I concede that it would be very unpopular.
    However, if the Tories do raise tax levels, then I would support them on that policy and believe it would be sensible for opposition parties not to try to take political advantage.

  • Little Jackie Paper 15th Mar '17 - 9:55am

    Joe Otten – I suspect that there is something in that argument, but surely the real question is what to do about it.

    Put another way. Whenever I reflect on this referendum I entirely take the point you make. Equally I always struggle to get past a sense that if 2+m young UK un/underemployed could all tomorrow head to the A8 or A2 countries for wages/housing/in-work benefits and send back handsome remittances then we would just have had a 95% IN vote. Talk about the (diffuse) benefits of globalisation is great – but there has at some level to be some actual touch-and-feel reciprocity. We simply don’t have that in any meaningful way in the EU.

    It all just feels rather close to saying, ‘well globalisation might mean that workshops have gone east but EU free movement means that there are lots of French tax paying bankers to fund your welfare. And globalisation means you’ve now got poundshops so your welfare goes further.’ The EU has to mean more than economic dislocation and I don’t think some people quite realise that, still less have an idea of how to respond.

  • Peter Watson 15th Mar '17 - 10:04am

    @Matthew Huntbach “If you don’t say how you will pay for these things, then you’re stuffed”
    Indeed. Off the top of my head, in recent years Lib Dem MPs seem to have warned against Tory VAT increases, supported reducing the short-lived highest rate of tax, raised the income tax threshold, supported the Tories’ married couples’ allowance, opposed Labour’s motions on a so-called Mansion Tax, and recently criticised Tory plans to raise NI for the self-employed.
    How will the party fund the things it would like to see without appearing to contradict itself?

  • Peter Watson – Maybe gradually reduce tuition fees overtime would be less noticable and easier to implement. Expand vocational training to provide young people another path. Also, you forgot inheritance tax (but make it progressive tax to protect the lower classes), Land Value tax, and EU Financial Transaction Tax (Libdem can tax financial transactions by just allowing the EU the pass the tax, with the only condition that the revenue must go to national budget).

    Glenn – Agree. And if UK could stay in EU, Libdem should not block FTT, just let it passed and get the revenue raised to the budget. Another way would be departmental cut to simplify bureaucratic system. Besides, they should consider devolution of various to local governments to save budget.

  • Slash the inefficient military spending, a classic Liberal watchword. It is a fact that military procurement in the UK tend to face delays and be overpriced. However, joining European Army would be too far.

  • Sue Sutherland 15th Mar '17 - 12:25pm

    Joe, globalisation has help lift some people in some countries out of poverty and it would be silly to blame it for all our ills. Obviously our manufacturing decline is down to our inability to compete with low wages in other countries but I believe our problems lie much closer to home. We are the most unequal country of the long established EU members and it’s this inequality which has resulted in Brexit. We have low wages and lack of investment in our public services and it’s this kind of society the leading Brexiteers want, untrammelled by any of this EU nonsense about workers rights or human rights. If we want a truly Liberal society I think we have to go right back to our principles and do a sort of zero base budgeting exercise about what we want to provide.
    In this context I would suggest that tuition fees come quite a long way down the list. Indeed I never understood why our MPs didn’t just say we didn’t think we could fund them when we realised how much the weak, vulnerable and badly housed people were going to suffer as a result of the recession. Things have got much worse under the present Government. People who are dying are considered fit for work and not entitled to benefits for goodness sake. I can totally understand why people think if we can’t look after our own why should we be expected to welcome immigrants.
    All this is happening and the government is still searching for the Holy Grail of balancing the books by cutting, cutting and cutting again, still adhering to trickle down economics when surely it must be obvious by now that it just isn’t working. Even David Laws thinks things have gone too far. I for one don’t want to live in a society where every whim of the wealthy is catered for, while others have to go to food banks in a desperate attempt to make ends meet.
    Tinkering at the edges isn’t going to sort out the problems of a post Brexit little Britain, we have a huge job to do to find solutions and then persuade voters that we are offering genuine hope.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '17 - 3:46pm


    Matthew – there are still FTT and LVT. Personally I would go for LVT

    Sure, and I’m in favour of LVT too. However, if we suddenly introduce it, how is it going to go down? See how the recent change in Business Rates is going down – LVT may be on land values rather than other aspects, but it would be much the same.

    What about people living in big houses but with small incomes? Suddenly they get huge LVT bill they don’t have the income to pay?

    Whatever neat answers we might give, I suspect the right-wing press would hammer us on it.

    Similarly on inheritance tax. I’m in favour of big increases in it, I don’t see why someone who gets hundred of thousands of pounds through inheritance should pay no tax on it, but someone who works hard to earn it pays a lot of tax on it. However, I’ve always found that a hard argument to make. Somehow most people dislike the idea of inheritance tax, and you can be sure thr right-wing press would play on that.

    Now, my point is that it might be easier to get people to accept these things if you bring them in to say they are needed to balance the requirements for government services that people want. If, however, you just go on about cutting tuition fees, and doing whole loads of other things that require more government money, but don’t mention how you’re going to pay for them, you’re stuck. Because when you do what is necessary to raise the money for them, people are outraged. Unfortunately, innumerate political debate in this country which does not make the link ends up with people thinking that better government services can be provided as a policy entirely separate from any policy to with taxation.

    Hence what happened in the coalition – people seemed to think it would have LibDem policies on spending and Tory policies on taxation and were angry with us when that could not happen.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Mar '17 - 9:52pm

    More investment, economic growth, greater productivity – these are the goals I keep hearing about as desirable to lift the nation’s economy and the standard of living of ordinary people. I am no economist, but I read Larry Elliott in the Guardian recommending state intervention through a national investment bank, and recall that we set up through the Coalition government a Green Investment Bank. This has been I believe discontinued or sold (?) by the present government, but should it not be a leading demand of ours again? Future development, and facing up to climate change, surely requires investment in sustainable energy, more solar, tidal, and wind power, renewed financing of carbon-capture technology, and so on. (I hope Ed Davey will be called in on this.)

  • Katherine Pindar – Why just Green Investment Bank? Change it to National Investment Bank would mean greater coverage. People might concern about other high-tech sectors like life sciences, space and aerospace, robotic, computer and electronic, or advanced material. The term “Green Investment Bank” is too narrow. But maybe the Business Bank would take care of these sectors.

    Next, the Green Investment Bank and Business Bank should determine the amount of credit that each firm receives, especially for manufacturers, based on firms’ export performance. This strategy is called export discipline, which aim to prevent rent-seeking. South Korea had adopted this strategy with great success over the last century.

    All governments of the Asian Tigers in the past intervened in capital markets to direct the flows of funds away from unproductive speculations and toward productive wealth creating sectors. This policy is really great without vested interest, although in my opinion it may be contradict to the word “Liberal”.

    Also, Libdem must have specific, quantifiable goals regarding R&D and Investment rate. Libdem should declare that “we aim to raise the country’s R&D spending (currently 1.8%) to over 2% of GDP and raise the investment rate as a percentage of GDP (currently only 17-18% as I know) to over 20%”.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Mar '17 - 7:37pm

    Thomas – I like your ideas of a more powerful business investment bank, and that Lib Dems should have ‘specific, quantifiable goals regarding R&D and investment rate’, so I hope the author and his group will take those suggestions on board.

    Note to Peter Watson: Peter, I read you participating here and so potentially helping develop Lib Dem policy, well done! But I suggest your negativity expressed elsewhere, about focus on Brexit preventing wider thinking, and here about possible uncosted proposals, is rather unfair. Doesn’t it seem to you by now that we are a thinking, working, creative party constantly developing properly worked-out policies? There aren’t any simplistic slogans to fit the work of this creative body of serious left-of-centre politicians, nor is it fair to take snapshots of particular moments of policy development such as those to be discussed at the Spring Conference, when the work – based on defined principles and values, building on previous policy, open to intelligent input – is needfully broad-based and always ongoing. I suggest you commit yourself, join us, come to the Federal Conference in September and make your clear and thoughtful opinions count there too. You will surely be welcome.

  • Katherine Pindar – Overall, pro EU is good, but it is the domestic policies that will allow Libdem to gain a true long-term powerbase, what Libdem never really have since…the first world war. Labour stands for the working people, at least in name, while Tory stands for the middle and upper classes.

  • I would vote Lib Dem except for one reason. I am pro-EU, agree with increasing income tax to fund NHS and social care. I also think the LIb Dems would be kinder and fairer than the Conservatives. The reason why I won’t is INHERITANCE TAX.

    This is my own personal reason for finding Inheritance tax not only completely unjust, but also the cruelest tax in existence:

    My great-grandparents, grandparents, mother, my sister and I all grew up and lived in the house where my husband and I now live with my mother. It happens to be located in Greater London, in an area where the house prices have gone through the roof. My husband is an hourly paid teacher, and I am on a zero hours contract. Between us we earn total £30k gross per year. My sister is a stay at home Mum with two children, one of whom is autistic. Her husband works full-time on a modest income (less than £30k gross p.a.)

    When my elderly mother passes away, we will receive an inheritance tax bill of hundreds of thousands of pounds. Tragically, we will have to sell the house that generations of our family have grown up in. My grandfather died in 1941, so my grandmother brought up my mother as a single parent during the war. When my Grandmother died in 1991, the house value was lower than the IHT threshold, so my Mum inherited it. This will not be the case for my generation.

    An estate agent told us that to modernise our beloved house, it would cost £200,000. He said he knows the type of buyer it would be: someone on a high salary working in London. Our house is near an excellent station in the London suburbs.

    My sister and I, and our Mum are heartbroken. My Mum isn’t highly educated or sophisticated with money, neither my sister or I earn much, so we will lose the house.

    Australia has no inheritance tax and I don’t agree with its cruel existence in the UK. At least the (otherwise evil) Tories have started to increase the threshold. I won’t vote Lib Dem because it’s my impression you would reverse that and take everything my family ever owned at the sad time when our Mum has just died.

    I am certain there are lots of other people in this horrible situation in and around London. You could do well in the capital otherwise.

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