Regional Branding: the path to recovery

Christmas looks a little more cheerful for the Lib Dems after a string of November council by-election results but so far as national opinion polls go we are bumping along the bottom.

Given such data, it would be unsafe to draw the conclusion that are resolute anti-Brexit stance is paying dividends. It may well do so when some turn of events demonstrates to the vast swathes of voters that Brexit was a catastrophic economic and political mistake, but no-one just now is holding their breath. There may well come that Iraq moment when the party’s wisdom is demonstrably vindicated but until then there is the danger that all our limited national political bandwith is consumed by the Brexit issue and we become as narrowly defined in the electorate’s mind as UKIP.

I suspect that our impressive local council victories were not based around our stance on EU nor on niche issues that engage only fellow liberals, but on solid local campaigning. By that I mean campaigning on issues that genuinely impact on the diverse communities that make up this country. As Vince is known to observe ‘all politics is local politics.’

With that in mind I want to put forward the suggestion that our path to political recovery may not hinge upon something startling happening in Westminster but relaxing the metropolitan shackles on regional parties and allowing them to develop forms of Liberal policy and branding that speak to the communities they serve.

I have long argued that “Northern Liberalism” differs in flavour and priorities from “West Country Liberalism”, “Scottish Liberalism” and certainly “Metropolitan Liberalism”. The same values cast into different geographical, cultural and historical contexts give rise to different emphases and concerns. The point about Northern Liberalism has recently been made on this site by Ed Thornley.

I think it is time for Northern Liberalism to assert itself as a distinct brand within the Liberal Democrat family. I think that is the way to recapture political ground in our great northern conurbations and capture the imagination of the electorate. I believe there is a clear policy agenda that would do that,built around ideas like devolution by default, ending the internal market in the NHS, bringing all state schools under democratic supervision etc. I have endeavoured to explain why I think so and what I think a Northern Liberal policy agenda would look like.

My argument here though is to recognise that our national branding is muddied,tarnished and currently almost mono-focussed and making no impact on the polls. We can carry on as before in a Mr Micawber mood, hoping something will turn up or we can give the regions some headroom and a platform to do their own messaging. I favour the latter alternative because I think it would work and paradoxically boost the national poll ratings

In my own region the work has been done to show that we get a poor deal and that the Northern Powerhouse is a damp squib. I cannot expect our MPs in London to obsessively and exclusively underline this fact but if the party can give us the tools we might just finish the job – and so might our colleagues in the West Country and elsewhere.

* John Pugh was Liberal Democrat MP for Southport until 2017 and was elected as a Councillor for the Dukes ward of Sefton Borough Council on 2 November 2017.

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  • Peter Martin 4th Dec '17 - 9:11am

    Is there any evidence that giving more power to the regions actually works? We shouldn’t call Scotland and Wales regions, they like to consider themselves to be separate countries, but I would ask the same question about them too.

    Does having the Welsh and Scottish parliaments actually mean that their “recovery” has been any more advanced than the English “recovery”? Are, for example, the Scottish and Welsh NHS better than the English one

    PS Presumably “recovery” means from the the 2008 GFC, but I suppose it could be from the Tory/Lib Dem coalition period of 2010 to 2015 🙂

  • Peter Watson 4th Dec '17 - 9:58am

    Having given up on the party in recent years, I would probably vote for John Pugh’s Northern Lib Dems which sounds quite different to what I have seen since 2010.

    However, that is part of the problem I have with this article: it risks defining a party that tries to be all things to all people and which, if it ever found itself in the same position as in 2010, would fracture in the same way as it would inevitably disappoint one section of its supporters or another.

    Perhaps “metropolitan liberalism” and regional liberalism represent very different priorities and require very different parties.

  • David Becket 4th Dec '17 - 10:23am

    It is important to maintain a Liberal philosophy, that is what binds the party together. You would not expect Liberals from the south to campaign for improved rail links between Manchester and Leeds, or even for a bigger share of the financial cake for the north.
    Ending the NHS internal market and bringing schools under democratic control should appeal across the country, though the schools issue might have more relevance in the north where most of the failing trusts are.

  • @ Peter Martin “Are, for example, the Scottish and Welsh NHS better than the English one”.

    As someone who has experienced both, yes, certainly the Scottish NHS is better than in England. The Welsh have also been ahead of England on organ donation. Adult social care in Scotland, despite some problems, is better than in England and Scotland has been ahead of England on Minimum Pricing of Alcohol and the smoking ban.

    Another benefit is much easier access to politicians on a personal basis when necessary.

  • @ Peter Martin The other major benefit in Scotland and Wales is an absence of Tories in many aspects of governance thank you very much.

  • David Evans 4th Dec '17 - 11:16am

    David Beckett, I’m rather bemused by your comment “You would not expect Liberals from the south to campaign for improved rail links between Manchester and Leeds, or even for a bigger share of the financial cake for the north.” Why not? It is covered by the fundamental value of equality, where those lucky enough to live in affluent areas recognise and support action to enable less affluent areas to catch up.

    So yes, I would expect metropolitan Liberals to support initiatives in the North, just as much as I would expect able bodied Liberals to support action to help the disabled.

    Liberalism has to be so much more than just ‘liberty for me and people like me’ or it is nothing more than selfishness dressed up as a political philosophy.

  • I understand the frustration at feeling like we’re morphing to mono-issue party and I think a large proportion of LD activists are approaching (or past) a point of Brexit fatigue, but I would truly urge anyone in this position to “Hold Fast”.

    Joe Public doesn’t follow politics as closely as we all do, and he’s only just beginning to feel uncomfortable about Brexit… when he looks around we must still be here talking about Brexit in national terms, with a consistent voice (though inevitably with variable shades of orange!).

  • paul barker 4th Dec '17 - 12:42pm

    Its true that so far our Recovery is restricted to Local support but that is in line with our previous experience. National Recovery has usually begun 6 Months to A Year behind, that would suggest that we might see some shift in our Polling in the first half of 2018. We hit rock bottom in July, its only been 5 Months.

  • Peter Martin 4th Dec '17 - 12:43pm

    @ David Raw,

    I’m sure we could find others who would disagree on the Wales and Scotland. I’ve nothing against devolution of power per se. Conceivably, theoretically, it could all work quite well.

    We know how it works in practice though. Government devolves the responsibility but doesn’t devolve the real power. That remains in Westminster. So when anyone in Scotland complains about the cuts to education, or whatever, the central govt just turns around and says “Look, it’s not our problem. Take it up with your MSP in Holyrood”.

    Scotland could have the real power it needed. But it would have to be fully independent with its own currency and its own fiscal policy. Just swapping the pound for the euro wouldn’t do any good at all and it probably would be even worse. The UK govt may have its faults but it isn’t so harsh as to insist on only a 3% of GDP budget deficit. I believe its about 3 times that!

  • Phil Wainewright 4th Dec '17 - 1:02pm

    As a Liberal Democrat who lives in south London, I feel appalled at the lack of investment in the regions, which ultimately impoverishes the entire country because it prevents large sections of the population from achieving their potential.

    It is part of this party’s makeup to emphasize devolution of power to the communities it affects, which implies supporting greater regional (as well as local) powers.

    So there is a lot of sense in empowering regional parties to set their own campaign priorities, at the same time as strengthening their influence on national policies. Ultimately I’m not sure that we should go down the path of having completely different policies in different parts of the country – self-evidently not if they’re going to be contradictory – but having specific policies being more strongly emphasized in some regions clearly makes sense.

    This will be more difficult to manage than having everything controlled from the centre, but if we as a party can’t make that kind of distributed decision making work, then we’re not trying hard enough.

  • Sue Sutherland 4th Dec '17 - 1:15pm

    I’m originally from the West Country and was active in politics in Bath so I know about the disadvantages faced by that region, and was looking through John’s Northern Liberal policy agenda to see if there was anything that I disagreed with from a South West perspective and I couldn’t find anything. Both areas have suffered from disadvantage, though in different ways, but even in Bath there were industrial jobs that were lost although on a completely different scale of course. Tourism has helped to replace those jobs by ones in the service sector.
    I have found differences in the North of course some of which were unexpected. For example my new doctors’ surgery in Davyhulme seems much more willing to refer me to specialists than my previous surgery in Bath, but that might just be individual differences rather than regional. I love being in a much more multi cultural area too, though it’s mainly that the fight against social injustice is needed much more here. I was Chair of Housing in the 90s in Bath and often used to think ‘ if we can’t get it right here, where can we get it right?’ Sadly I can’t be active any more because of illness.
    So I think the differences are more to do with degree rather than absolutes, but I think this is a great summary of what we should be campaigning about. In particular it seems to highlight the necessity of changing the way money is allocated to different regions and for different services. I also hope we would be campaigning for an increase in the amount of money there is available for services, which is where, I believe, we should be concentrating our national policy making. Social mobility must be important for us as well as equality, especially as areas of low social mobility voted Leave. In other words if you think your life or your children’s is never going to get any better you don’t really care what happens, you just want change.
    Is it possible for these proposals can be voted on at conference to go forward as a basis for more detailed policy making? That would mean we don’t have to wait to tell people what we are about.

  • paul holmes 4th Dec '17 - 1:45pm

    John is right in many ways.

    The cult of centrally decided and dictated campaign themes, sometimes on just a single track/policy, did us no favours and positive harm from 2012 (ish) to 2017. From what I have been told by various people including some of the MP’s, more than a few of our successful 12 MP’s downplayed the Brexit mono policy theme and majored instead on local reputation and the key local issues in the June General Election. Yet I have read articles since in which purportedly ‘key players’ argue for a continuation of the centrally decided and dictated campaign theme. For example the suggestion that a new statement of ‘Liberal Principles’ will be decided upon and then some (unspecified people), will come up with a few ‘core’ whizzy policies drawn from those principles and local literature, campaigns, street stalls etc everywhere ‘will’ concentrate on these central messages. Didn’t work very well in the years of ‘Strong/Fair/Stable/Unified/Decent/Look Left/Look Right/Stay in the Centre -Get Run Over between 2010-2015; or in the ‘Party Of In’ campaign when we lost 13 out of 14 MEP’s in 2014; or in the largely single issue campaigning of 2016-2017. Even a major National Party like the Tories complained bitterly that this approach had not worked for them in 2017 so how much more is that likely to be the case for a small Third/Fourth Party (depending on whether you measure by vote share or MP’s elected)?

    Different issues do play differently in varied areas. As an MP I campaigned hard on ID Cards and DNA databases but my constituency postbag on these was tiny compared to colleagues in places such as Cambridge. On the other hand opposing the destruction of Council Housing was more important in Chesterfield than in say affluent Richmond where the then MP complained in one Parliamentary Party meeting that Vince’s proposed Mansion Tax was very negative because “everyone owns a house worth over £1 Million”. Equally the Scottish Tory revival of 2017 was not based upon the disastrous ‘Strong and Stable’ Theresa campaign and a recent article on Conservative Home noted how they had previously won a particular London Borough by campaigning on issues of specific prominence in that Borough and how in 2018 they needed to hold it by campaigning on the newly prominent local issues of today.

  • David Evans 4th Dec ’17 – 11:16am…………..David Beckett, I’m rather bemused by your comment “You would not expect Liberals from the south to campaign for improved rail links between Manchester and Leeds, or even for a bigger share of the financial cake for the north.” Why not? It is covered by the fundamental value of equality, where those lucky enough to live in affluent areas recognise and support action to enable less affluent areas to catch up……………..

    Me too! Had David Beckett written “You would not expect Liberals from the UK to campaign for improved conditions in Sudan” we’d all be outraged…

    It’s all about Liberal values

  • Peter Chegwyn 4th Dec '17 - 3:54pm

    As Agent & Campaign Manager for one of our ‘impressive’ council by-election gains last week (a gain from Labour in Gosport with a 54% swing), I’d echo John Pugh’s comment ‘that our impressive local council victories were not based around our stance on EU nor on niche issues that engage only fellow liberals, but on solid local campaigning.’

    We didn’t mention the EU or Brexit once in our successful campaign. Neither did any elector mention the EU or Brexit to us. We won on good old-fashioned and effective local campaigning on local issues in one of the most pro-Brexit voting wards in the country.

    The route back to electoral success for our Party is through local campaigning and local government where we’re starting to make slow but steady progress again.

    I’m not sure John is right to say regional branding is the road to recovery but he’s certainly right to say that ‘our national branding is muddied,tarnished and currently almost mono-focussed and making no impact on the polls.’

    Time for a change…

  • paul holmes 4th Dec '17 - 4:12pm

    Likewise, Peter, our Borough Council gain from Labour in Chesterfield in September owed absolutely zero to our negative national policy/perception. Had the Council by election been fought on national issues Labour would have easily held the seat. We fought a ‘classic ALDC’ or even a ‘classic ALC’ campaign and won despite Labour being convinced they were going to romp home right up to when the ballot boxes were opened. Why their large scale canvassing in a Momentum campaign failed to warn them is a matter for interesting analysis.

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Dec '17 - 5:32pm

    Oddly, as a Northerner I don’t buy this. By all means make the Northern Powerhouse work – insist on better rail links and electrification. But I resist any empowering of specific regions: likely you’d start the Wars of the Roses again in miniature between the different demands of Yorkshire and Lancashire! What I think is needed is for the party to concentrate on areas of greatest poverty in Britain, with policies to divert resources to them. Some time ago the poorest regions were shown through a link here in LDV, which I wish could be located again – I remember Wales and the north-east were among them.

  • I don’t really understand what John Pugh’s issue is. Has the party become some centralised machine that doesn’t allow regions to pass their own policy? Does it now vet everything we put out?

    Regions can still pass their own policy and send it to the Federal Policy Committee who don’t seem to do anything with it. John Pugh can campaign for things that he thinks will benefit those living in the northern conurbations.

    As Tim13 points out in South West England the party is putting forward a programme different from the national one. The South West especially Devon and Cornwall has always done this (well until 2010 anyway).

    I don’t understand why John Pugh thinks ending the internal market in the NHS, bringing all state schools under democratic control are only policies for the north and not the whole country. I would also advocate giving government funding to district and unitary authorities to manage their own economic environment rather than the current policy of one size fits all national economic policy.

    @ Paul Holmes

    I would expect party members to ignore centrally directed campaigns if they felt they were not suitable for their area. However I do recognise the problem of centrally produced and delivered literature which is unsuitable for a particular area (which seemed to have happened in some places during the recent general election).

  • Talking of policies relevant to the needs of the regions and society, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I haven’t heard a peep from any Liberal Democrat spokesman on the latest Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report (a great Liberal name in the past – and a generous donor to party funds) ) about increasing poverty in the UK.

    This week the latest research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found almost 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners in the UK were living in poverty last year compared with 2012-13, the first sustained increases in child and pensioner poverty for 20 years. The foundation warned that decades of progress were at risk of being unravelled amid weak wage growth and rising inflation. (The Guardian today).

    Can it be that Brexit and an unlikely 2nd Referendums are a bigger academic interest and pre-occupation to modern Liberal Democrats ? Surely not ? Given that it was 75 years last week that Sir William Beveridge produced his report, he must be turning in his grave at Throckrington in Northumberland.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Dec '17 - 9:42pm

    David as in my old chum RAW

    Here here !

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Dec '17 - 9:50pm

    David… continuing as pressed wrongly

    The Rowntrees , good Quakers, like the Cadburys, a lost era of classical ,social liberal, capitalist, I and many of us would like to see the party promote the legacy of, missed you David on my article on here a week or so ago, many like me who are in a field of potential commercial success, find the lack of such businesses puts paid to social enterprise.I won’t let it, my heroes , Ustinov and Attenborough , actors , producers, businessmen, humanitarians, inspire me. Our party could push this issue and I want to and am. Your area , education, is a vital connection, we need to instill values that translate to policy because people see things in less of a dog eat dog way.

  • @ Lorenzo Thanks, pal. I sometimes think certain Lib Dems live in a little bubble talking incessantly about their own obsessions, rejoicing when they get 1% with a paper candidate, and forever attending some sort of Federal Committee meeting where they talk on and on and on for evermore about their Brexit obsession.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, my local Foodbank, of which I get no pleasure as a Trustee, has had an almost 50% increase in demand for its services this year, largely because of Universal Credit which was introduced here last January (and was voted for in Parliament, when it was introduced, by said Lib Dem lot).

    To use a Yorkshire phrase, if the Lib Dems have nowt to say, then the electorate in their wisdom will have nowt to vote for………….. and they won’t.

  • paul holmes 4th Dec '17 - 11:30pm

    @Michael BG: I agree that experienced campaigners are likely to ignore unsuitable central dictat but:
    1. Up to 60& of our Members are new in the last 2 years and have no or little experience to base their judgements on.
    2. In 2012/12 to 2015 any Constituency seeking to be a Target Seat had to sign up to ‘the program’ and barely any of the employed Target Seat Organisers had ever run a General Election campaign before. In previous GE’s the Campaigns Dept had supported already high performing Constituencies to expand and improve on what they were doing rather than being used to dictate a central message.
    3. In the 2017 GE everything provided was based around Brexit and Corbyn bashing.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Dec '17 - 11:49pm


    Good to ear from you. It is not , I think , that they, have nowt, as you rightly put it, to say, but that which they do have is said , very little these days, on the subjects you mention.

    I have just done that quiz that shows your stance, this one was an American one, some think at times, maybe you sometimes, I am not remotely left , this said I am eighty four percent Liberal, seventy three , social democrat, thirty two communist or radical left !

  • Michael Mullaney 5th Dec '17 - 8:58am

    Excellent article John much of this could also apply to us here in the East Midlands

  • Gordon Lishman 5th Dec '17 - 9:04am

    Peter Martin: “Is there any evidence that giving more power to the regions actually works”. Yes; the international evidence is overwhelming. David Putnam’s work on Italian regionalisation draws also on examples from other countries including the postwar experience of Germany and Japan. It clearly demonstrates that federal countries with strong regions have less inequality and greater economic development throughput the country than the few remaining large centralised states. The income and GDP per head disparity between richest and poorest regions in the UK is greater than that between richest and poorest regions in China or the US. (Source: the Economist).

  • David Evans 5th Dec '17 - 10:40am

    David Raw, looking at the coverage of the Brexit Chaos today, I agree totally with you when you say “certain Lib Dems live in a little bubble talking incessantly about their own obsessions” but in fact it is even worse than that because in fact most Lib Dems in a position of influence only talk to each other about it in echo chambers like Great George Street, LDV or in a small room in the HoC.

    The simple fact is that today, when the crisis of Brexit has finally exploded around Theresa May with a media firestorm, the one party I have seen or heard nothing of in the national media is the Lib Dems. The one issue we focused on between 2015 and 2017, where we are being proved to be absolutely right in our conclusions, and still the media consider us to be irrelevant.

    Looking back to the coalition period, LDV almost entirely focused on supporting the disaster and propping up Nick, rather than join the fight to save the party when it could have been saved. The total inaction so many including LDV promoted at that time, has now reached its inevitable conclusion: despite occasional good results in a local council by-elections, to almost everyone except ourselves we are of no consequence.

    With Nick, then Tim and finally Vince steadfastly refusing to own up to the consequences of what they did and more importantly didn’t do in coalition, I seriously doubt if there is any way back for Liberal Democracy as a force in UK politics ever again. At best we are back to the 1960s with a few MPs who are well known in their local area holding on, but how they get replaced with so few other winnable seats left, and so few with a decent majority, I cannot see anyone who has any idea of a way out.

  • Nigel Jones 5th Dec '17 - 11:07am

    Gordon, I feel you are right, but need to make clear that giving more power to the regions must include revenue raising powers and/or a system of sharing national resources in a way that helps poorer areas without dictating to them on issues like elected mayors etc.
    The other element involves a change in culture, where people in localities work out the part they can play in social and economic development, together with the need to work with ‘outsiders’. Thus where I live, skills development has been lagging behind and yet there was reluctance to bid when clear opportunities came for EU money for this. The general attitude is so narrowly and locally focussed. Many told me on the doorstep “we vote Lib-Dem locally, but not for English elections” and that was in the County Council campaign, not the general election !

  • Sue Sutherland 5th Dec '17 - 12:49pm

    A fair number of the people I think of as being the great and the good in the party are contributing to this discussion, the people I would have thought of as being able to influence the way the national party operates, but that obviously isn’t the case, and if they are feeling so frustrated there must be a serious disconnect between our local parties and the national organisation. Over on the Newbies Facebook group this has also been discussed and one contributor commented that Vince had said he ignored the national campaign in the last election. Now, for many Newbies, Vince is the national party spokesperson so this was greeted with a certain amount of consternation.
    In fairness to our MPs the messages they are giving are for the most part ignored by the media, although Vince is in demand as a commentator on economic affairs as well as Brexit. I sometimes think that without Brexit we wouldn’t be noticed at all.
    Rather than retreating into regional organisations and policy making I think someone needs to get hold of the national organisation by the scruff of the neck, start serious consultation with members, local and regional parties about what they need and start putting it into action. Would this be Nick Harvey, our new Chief Exec?
    I’m sure most of the party would rally behind John Pugh’s policy statement so why aren’t members being consulted about it properly? That seems to me the way to marry internal democracy with the strong executive action we need nationally. We’re Liberal Democrats so we don’t take kindly to diktats but we do need a strong message we can all promote otherwise we’ll carry on being ignored by everyone except that amazing 6or7% of loyal followers.

  • Sue Sutherland 5th Dec '17 - 12:51pm

    Lorenzo, congratulations on discovering your inner radical!

  • @ Paul Holmes

    In hope your negative view of the party’s members is false. Our members should know we don’t follow central direction, but each individual member has to be convinced on the right way to do things. I don’t know how many members there were in 1980, but the SDP was made up mostly of people who had never been in a political party and as the years passed they learnt from Liberal members how things should be done locally. I think that those activists and councillors who survived the Coalition years are those best at distancing themselves from the national party and new members would learn from this experience.

    I suppose the problem with the Campaigns Department is the lack of activist control. I don’t know how this can be changed with the new Federal Board. ALDC is supposed to inform its members of best practice, so maybe that is where activists have to take control.

    @ David Evans

    We must not give up. The Liberal Democrats are still the best vehicle in Britain to get us to a truly liberal society. We need to convince those elected to Federal Conference Committee and Federal Policy Committee and those who attend Federal Conference that the economic policies of the last 38 years have failed and we need to reject them as the Liberal Party rejected economic orthodoxy in the 1920’s. Part of this is accepting that between 2010 and 2015 we betrayed our two main support bases and our economic promises in our 2010 manifesto. We have to assume that our members are rational and can be convinced by us.

  • Peter Watson 5th Dec '17 - 4:13pm

    Some of the discussion here gives the impression that Lib Dems in different places could have contradictory policies, and that just sounds wrong to me.
    Surely the Party’s policies should be determined/agreed nationally (by whatever process it finds most effective) while the regions and constituencies should be free to prioritise and communicate those policies as they see fit as long as they don’t contradict them.

  • @ Michael BG “We need to convince those elected to Federal Conference Committee and Federal Policy Committee and those who attend Federal Conference that the economic policies of the last 38 years have failed and we need to reject them as the Liberal Party rejected economic orthodoxy in the 1920’s”. I totally agree with the first part of your sentence, Michael, but I’m afraid I can’t go all the way with your reference to the 1920’s.

    Peter Sloman, a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and a former research fellow at New College, Oxford in his book, “The Liberal Party and the Economy, 1929-1964” (Oxford, 2015) explored how British Liberals engaged with economic thought in the era of John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge.

    I’m afraid Dr Sloman shows the party’s enthusiasm for public works and Keynesian economic management was only intermittent. There was, as now, continuous tension between the party’s support for redistributive taxation and social welfare and the early neoliberal movement. The Liberal Ministers in the National Government quickly ditched Keynes and Beveridge and LL.G. went off in a sulk.

    Sloman’s book is well worth a read – and it’s on offer at Waterstones at the moment.

  • I’m not very keen on the use of the word “branding”, which implies presentationalism to me. At this point in our history we need to be focussing on our core ideology and the values which flow from it. There are, fortunately, still substantial differences in regional culture in this country, and our regional parties need to be seen to be rooted in that culture. I always used to push the idea of “ring fencing” constituencies: not easy of course with the national media so predominant in this country, and probably even more difficult today with the decline of regional and local newspapers and the growth of on-line information channels. But ask yourself, what is it that makes your constituency or region different from its neighbours, and are there ways that that distinctiveness can be integrated into our party’s message to the local electors?

  • @ David Raw

    I expect you and Sloman are correct. Would it have been better to have written “and we need to reject them as the Liberal Party rejected the economic orthodoxy with the yellow book for the 1929 general election”? I can’t give up the idea that we were the first party to reject the economic orthodoxy even if there were still some members and MPs who hadn’t.

  • Michael BG “We need to reject [the economic policies of the last 38 years] as the Liberal Party rejected economic orthodoxy in the 1920’s”
    Vince Cable is the pre-eminent economist in the Libdems. In After the Storm he wrote “The various economic policies that have been developed or revived, in response to the financial crisis reflect the particular circumstances of different countries – Japan, the Eurozone, the USA, the UK and China.
    For many commentators and policy makers, the main reference point is still the inter-war depression and the ideas of Keynes and Milton Friedman developed in response to events in the USA and UK. Keynes is frequently invoked as offering an alternative economic model to austerity, meaning falling living standards and job insecurity. To be sure, there are key elements of Keynesian economics that are relevant to conditions of weak demand and high unemployment, as have been experienced in the recent past. There are also surpluses of planned savings over investment on a global scale. The Keynesian approach points legitimately to limitations in aggressive monetary policy of the kind used today to support demand, and to the need for a better mix of monetary and fiscal policy. But monetary policy, building on the insights of Friedman and others from the 1930s, has been successful, at least in the short run, in staving off disaster in the USA, the UK, Japan and, more tentatively, the Eurozone. And the Keynesian model was not developed in response to a banking collapse, with its impact on government finances and the accumulation of debt – so it is of some, but only limited, use in resolving our current problems. Moreover, the Keynesian and monetarist approaches are complementary and have the same preoccupation with weak demand.”

  • @ JoeB Is what you have just described the reason why he went along (at least publicly) with Osborne/Alexander’s disastrous austerity policies ?

    And do you know what his views are on Piketty ?

  • @ Joe Burke

    You post Vince’s opinion which shows his lack of understanding of history. By 1933, nearly half of America’s banks had failed ( I remember being taught that there was a banking crisis that caused the financial crisis of 1931, which started with the failure of the Credit Ansalt in Austria in May and triggered a European banking crisis. Therefore Vince is mistaken to think that the recession which followed from the banking crash of 1931 was not similar to the recession which followed the banking crisis of 2008. This is why Gordon Brown proposed an economic stimulus and the leading economies of the world agreed.

    I hope Vince has modified his position and thinks that our current level of unemployment is too high to solve our social and economic problems.

  • David Raw,

    in his book Vince writes “Much of the theoretical structural argument about inequality, as in Piketty, relates to a long term trend of growing profit share in national income, relative to wages. That appears to be happening in other Western countries, though the story varies with the time period chosen. But is does not appear to be happening in Britain, where the labour share has been broadly stable.
    A more likely area of extreme inequality is in wealth – holdings of assets – and this has almost certainly been aggravated by the asset boom (mainly in housing) leading up to the financial crisis and growing since under the influence of loose monetary policy.”
    He goes on to argue for wealth taxation in the form of proportional or progressive levies on land values as detailed here

  • Michael,
    Vince Cable learned his economics at Cambridge in the early sixties when Keynesianism and economics were one and the same thing. His advice to novice economists is try at least skimming Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and Robert Skidelsky’s Life of John Maynard Keynes.
    His writings indicates he is well versed in the history and causes of the Great Depression. In After the Storm he writes ” A historical approach helps to identify the best conceptual framework for explaining the crisis and its aftermath of chronic instability. Understanding is to be found in the neglected work of Minsky and economic historians like Charles P. Kindleberger, who described cycles of speculative excess, bubbles, made possible by an accumulation of debt leverage, offset by inflated and largely fictional asset values. In due course, the bubble bursts, causing panic, debt default, distress and economic contraction as individuals, companies or banks try to reduce their exposure by deleveraging. The economic consequences of such contraction in the wake of a financial sector collapse were described two centuries ago by J.S.Mill, but were formalised much later by Irving Fisher as ‘debt deflation’, or by Knut Wicksell in his theories of credit cycles
    Richard Koo has described the contemporary variant as ‘balance sheet recession’ – based on a wider application of contemporary Japanese experience.”

  • @ Joe Burke

    It is depressing to read Vince’s views on inequality. I would be interested to see the figures on the increase of National Income taken by return on capital. In October LDV published an article by Geoff Crocker “Why Basic Income should be Lib Dem policy” ( which included a graph which shows that since about 2010 labour income has been below consumer spending and the gap is widening – He stated that 14% of consumer expenditure was funded by unearned income. This seems to be an increase in the return on capital. Using ONS figures he has another graph which shows that from 2005 until 2009 20% or more of unearned income comes from dividends, returning to above 20% in 2015 This again appears to show an increase in the returns on capital. We need to tax capital more.

    Vince also seems to be ignoring the fact that earnings have increased for the highest paid more than for the average worker. The figures for 2015 were 2% for average workers and 10% for the executives of Britain’s largest public companies

    I am sure Joe that you are aware economics is an art subject in the sense that a student is informed about different views and is encouraged to make their own decision on which they think are more likely. As a liberal I think anyone can discuss economics and a person does not need a degree in economics to do it, in the same way as anyone can discuss history without a history degree.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Dec '17 - 3:52pm

    We should maintain our stance on giving the British people the final say. We could improve the messaging in that it might appeal to the idea that politicians are not to be trusted or some politics is too important for politicians. Either way, it might resonate with independent thinking. This we we could merge our Brexit policy with other ones around regionalism and self determination.

  • Simon Banks 14th Feb '18 - 9:33pm

    Peter Martin’s question surprises me. Are we Liberals? If so, we believe in bringing power as close to the people as possible. “Good government is no substitute for self-government” (Gladstone). I think this will more often lead to better government than the opposite, but that actually isn’t the main point. It’s that standardisation that is not obviously necessary and that denies people local choice is wrong. That applies at all levels down to the individual.

    As for the Northern agenda, I agree that the Liberal traditions of different parts of the UK differ. But I don’t see anything in his summary of his agenda that would be irrelevant in Bristol or Cardiff or Coventry or Norwich and if we develop markedly different brands – not just policy agendas – in different regions, we’ll just further confuse people about who we really are.

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