Eight former Liberal Democrat candidates take part in Labour’s policy-making process

On Friday former Liberal Democrat policy director and Parliamentary candidate Richard Grayson announced more details of his response to Ed Miliband’s invitation to encourage Lib Dems to take part in Labour’s policy review. The details came in the form of an article due to be published in Liberator:

I saw that invitation as part of an effort to move Labour away from the tribalism which has been such a feature of its past. I have long been committed to pluralism and have a history of working with people from other parties. I have done that for some time through Compass, and will be speaking at the Green Party conference in February. Consequently, I was very happy to accept, although I would not have done so unless I believed it was a genuine act of pluralism.

I appreciate why many Liberal Democrats have reservations about this offer. I understand the why some clearly in the centre-left mainstream of the party wish to remind the public of the failings of the previous Labour government. So they should. I would counter some of the more florid comments (such as the party’s formal response, ‘why would any sane progressive even give them [Labour] a second glance?’) simply by pointing out that Liberal Democrats already engage with Labour on an almost daily basis through think tanks. We have even recently learned of parliamentary discussions between Labour and both the Leader and Deputy Leader of our parties. However, many of the criticisms of my role are based on misunderstandings about what it involves.

The key part of his explanation is the view he takes of Ed Miliband,

Some in Labour have long been against the tribalism which has dominated the party, but they have seldom been in positions of influence, let alone leadership. Consequently, when Liberal Democrats have considered co-operating with Labour, the Labour leadership has been a barrier. However, I believe that Ed Miliband is different. He is clearly on the centre-left, firmly rooted in the territory inhabited by social democrats and social liberals. He is also different because he has opened the door to co-operation with people in other parties over policy development. He said last year, ‘Wisdom is not the preserve of any one party. Some of the political figures in history who I admire most are Keynes, Lloyd George, Beveridge, who were not members of the Labour Party.’ I am not sure how far Liberal Democrats have understood the significance of this. For the leader of the most tribal party to say it is groundbreaking. For him then to act on it by calling on people from outside Labour to engage in Labour’s policy process, while remaining in their own parties, is nothing less than revolutionary. Indeed, it goes further than the Liberal Democrats have ever done. While our policy process routinely encourages ‘experts’ to engage with policy working groups, we have never gone out of our way to seek contributions from people from, for example, Labour or the Greens.

After stressing that he is, and fully intends to remain, a Liberal Democrat member Grayson gives details of who else is joining him in this venture:

Thus far, in addition to myself, there are seven other former parliamentary candidates: Dr Ron Beadle (Newcastle-upon-Tyne North 2010), Ruth Bright (Hampshire East 2005), Linda Jack (Luton North 2005, Bedfordshire Mid 2010), Margaret Phelps (Cynon Valley 2005, Witham 2010), Nick Rijke (St Albans 2001), Tim Starkey (Chesham and Amersham 2010) and Prof John Howson (Reading East 2005). They will make contributions on issues such as public services, crime, the environment and business. They are joined by others with specific expertise: Prof Stephen Haseler (banking and finance), Simon Hebditch (charities/voluntary sector) and Dr Jo Ingold (labour markets). Some of these people have expressed concern about the coalition and the direction of the party, some are relatively happy with both and are engaging because they believe in pluralism. All can be relied upon to sound the alarm at the first instance if this is anything other than an exercise in political pluralism. But we can never know that unless we engage in the first place.

Given the previous reactions to news of Ed Miliband’s invitation, I’ve no doubt that Richard Grayson’s moves will provoke lively debate in the party. There should however be wide agreement on his final point, which is that nobody in the Liberal Democrats should want working with the Conservatives to be the only conceivable option in the party’s future. The question is more about what the best route is to avoid being trapped in a one-choice only future.

You can catch a discussion on the Today program with Richard Grayson 1 hour 20 minutes in at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00y5ckx/Today_11_02_2011

Progress has also published a stimulating pamphlet about how Labour and the Lib Dems could prepare the ground for future cooperation by learning the lessons from 2010 which you can read here.

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47 Comments

  • I’m sure they mean well. But …

    The history of Liberal dealings with Labour is not a happy one, and can be summed up as:

    1) They promise us a lot and deliver nothing

    2) They steal attractive Liberal policies, then implement them in a half-ar5ed way that leads to their failure because fundamentally they don’t understand what Liberalism means

    3) They see us as the competition and ruthlessly seek to destroy us where possible

    I just hope they check their metaphorical wrists after shaking hands

  • “For the leader of the most tribal party to say it is groundbreaking”.
    “Some in Labour have long been against the tribalism which has dominated the party, but they have seldom been in positions of influence, let alone leadership”.

    I’m sorry, but this is complete rubbish. Has he not read Paddy Ashdown’s Diaries? Does he not remember something called “New Labour”? A party leader called Tony Blair? I have a lot of respect for the Liberal Democrats that I know who are taking part in this process, and I can quite understand that it probably feels better to be working with people with whom one has some kind of instinctive political sympathy rather than trying to ignore or explain away the party’s latest capitulation to the Tories, but my fear is that it is a process that leads only one way, which is to being swallowed up by the Labour Party. I would be very interested in Simon Hebditch’s views on this as he is someone who has been there and come back again.

  • “I saw that invitation as part of an effort to move Labour away from the tribalism which has been such a feature of its past.”

    As opposed to the tribalism that is such a feature at present within the Lib Dems, any poster who disagrees here (LDV) towards the leadership of the party runs the risk of being labelled a ‘Labour Troll’ irrespective of party membership.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Labour, I’ve never supported/voted for them having always voted Liberal/ Lib Dem but I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been labelled in such a way and always by the same few party loyalists, or should I say tribalist. Maybe those posters need to look to themselves before decrying others.

  • I see no Iceberg 12th Feb '11 - 12:40pm

    1) They promise us a lot and deliver nothing – erm… are you quite sure now is the best time to speak of promising much and delivering nothing ?

    2) They steal attractive Liberal policies, then implement them in a half-ar5ed way that leads to their failure because fundamentally they don’t understand what Liberalism means – Sadly, most of the attractive policies have had to be jettisoned way of Nick’s coaltion agreement and Some might wonder if Nick understands what Liberalism means now days, because the public don’t think he’s very Liberal at all.

    3) They see us as the competition and ruthlessly seek to destroy us where possible – unlike Cameron and Osborne ?
    There are two wings of the ruling Conservative clique, Cameron’s who declares in every thought and word to be with Clegg to the bitter end, and Osborne’s who are far less overtly friendly and actively plotting for electoral domination. More worrying perhaps should be the thought that the two wings are merely a P.R. front and the real position.

    You’ll see how genuine the boy Ed is by hisYes to A.V. campaigning as that wil have to pass the Liberal smell test before it’s taken seriously. It’s not beyond the realms of possibiilty that he is.

    And he could just be keeping his options open in case of a hung parliament..

    OR

    Your suspicions might be correct and he’s going to glean every conceivable piece of information about what dissatisfied and unsure Liberals want, then tailor not just policies but speeches and presentation to come after the unhappy Liberal Democrat voters in a serious and relentless way.

    To be honest, you can’t seriously kick up too much of a fuss about this when Clegg just dropkicked Oakshotte and the upset councils into touch. If more and more important and exasperated people do not think they are being listened to or taken seriously by Clegg’s ruling clique, then that has repercussions.

  • Depressed Ex Lib Dem 12th Feb '11 - 12:49pm

    They see us as the competition and ruthlessly seek to destroy us where possible

    And since when has that not been every bit as true of the Tories?

  • Poppie's mum 12th Feb '11 - 12:51pm

    As someone who joined the Labour party this autumn in response to the coalition [and I nearly voted Lib Dem so am no tribalist]…please keep Lib Dems as far away from Labour party policy making as possible.

  • Poppie's mum 12th Feb '11 - 1:00pm

    [email protected]
    “It is important that we remain united through these interesting times.”

    That sentiment is the very reason Labour are polling well and the Lib Dems becoming as unpopular as a sexually transmitted disease.

    You see loyalty to the coalition as more important than the effects of Tory economic policies on hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of British people.

    How about loyalty to the 14 or 15% of voters you have let down ? Those that now regret which box they ticked on May 6th ?

  • Mark Smulian 12th Feb '11 - 1:58pm

    The full version of Richard Grayson’s article will appear in the issue of Liberator that will arrive with subscribers next week, along with a contribution from the Social Liberal Forum that takes a different view of this process.

  • As a party activist who has recently delivered Lib Dem leaflets for someone who defected to Labour two weeks after I would simply rule out doing ANYTHING for anyone who was connected to Labour and didn’t offer me the information they were giving to Labour as well as how they would say where the money was coming from.

    Labour are steadily becoming in `3rd party mode` – just say how you wish things could be and don’t talk about the bloody budgets!

    We all know that Labour would have to make similar cuts – it’s just they wouldn’t effect their core supporters – people on benefits and snobs earning over 40k. What about raising tax thresholds – would they have implemented those?

  • I see no Iceberg 12th Feb '11 - 2:28pm

    ” where the money was coming from.”

    The City and the Bankers like 51% of Cameron and Osborne’s Party finances ?

  • I see no Iceberg 12th Feb '11 - 2:48pm

    “I personally wouldn’t campaign for anyone standing as a candidate who was foolish enough to deal with Labour.”

    Sometimes it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/election-2010/7635631/Nick-Clegg-drops-opposition-to-coalition-deal-with-third-placed-Labour.html

    The Liberal Democrat leader said he would work with the “man in the moon” as long as the first-past-the-post electoral system is scrapped and a deal on his other policy priorities is reached.

    He ruled out a coalition with Mr Brown at the helm but indicated he was open to a deal if David Miliband or Alan Johnson was Labour leader, even if the party comes third in the popular vote.

    “Has he not read Paddy Ashdown’s Diaries?”

    A more pressing question might be why Clegg doesn’t seem to have bothered to read them or he might have been more wary of being outmanouvered and used by a disonest Party Leader whom he thought was his friend despite being warned by so many others against trusting him. Someone like Cameron in other words.

  • To all those above who in response to my post at No 2 say “well so do the Tories”, I say “Exactly. But at least you know where you stand and can plan accordingly.”

    Far too many people in our party have some rose-tinted view about the Labour Party, that somehow “we’re all on the same side against the Tories”. I even held this view myself before 1997, and voted for Labour in that year (God forgive my mortal soul).

    The scales have long since fallen from my eyes on that one.

  • I see no Iceberg 12th Feb '11 - 2:59pm

    @ Andrew Tennant
    The confusion is entirely yours as we can see.

    “I personally wouldn’t campaign for anyone standing as a candidate who was foolish enough to deal with Labour.”

    I take then you did not campaign for Nick Clegg by your own admission ?

  • “A more pressing question might be why Clegg doesn’t seem to have bothered to read them or he might have been more wary of being outmanouvered and used by a disonest Party Leader whom he thought was his friend despite being warned by so many others against trusting him. Someone like Cameron in other words.”

    Always worth a read, of course, but there’s little comparison between a pre-election accord with someone who goes on to win a 160-seat majority, and a post-election coalition negotiation with someone who doesn’t have a majority.

  • Didn’t the Lib Dems successfully govern in coalition with Labour in Scotland for years without much fuss?

    Too bad the Lib Dems are going the way of the Tories there now. It’s unlikely to happen again.

  • I see no Iceberg 12th Feb '11 - 3:33pm

    “but there’s little comparison between a pre-election accord with someone who goes on to win a 160-seat majority, and a post-election coalition negotiation with someone who doesn’t have a majority.”

    Oh I think we both know that’s not true.
    They aren’t a perfect match but the dramtis personae are remarkably similar in attitudes.

    We all know the cut of Mr Blair’s jib verywell by now and some of us knew it long before 97.
    Blair would have eaten Paddy alive in any negotiation as Paddy was totally taken in by Blair.
    It didn’t happen of course but the fact that Blair had a hung parliament contingency plan to sucker Ashdown tells you as much about him as it does about the other Politician who developed a hung parliament contingency plan and had informal discussions and sent signals about it before the election.
    Blair’s adept student and “heir” Cameron, has learned much from the master as Nick’s stubborn and ever more inexplicable loyalty to Cameron proves.

  • Emsworthian 12th Feb '11 - 3:34pm

    There is so much policy cross dressing going on that it’s diffilcut for people outside the wonkocracy
    to know what precisly are the differences nowadays. Originality is dead so now it’s all about re- branding and nuancing and plagerism while up front the choice is between three weallhy Oxford Educated, white middle-class men trying not to sound like each other.

  • Depressed Ex Lib Dem 12th Feb '11 - 3:40pm

    To all those above who in response to my post at No 2 say “well so do the Tories”, I say “Exactly. But at least you know where you stand and can plan accordingly.”

    Well, the current plan seems to consist of handing them a sharp knife, baring your throat and then giving them a few extra tips on vascular anatomy.

    The Tories must think every day is Christmas!

  • “Well, the current plan seems to consist of handing them a sharp knife, baring your throat and then giving them a few extra tips on vascular anatomy.

    The Tories must think every day is Christmas!”

    Absolutely. Especially the ones who write into the Mail, Telegraph and Times saying that Cameron is a dangerous wet who has sold out everything to appease the Lib Dems. 🙄

  • I see no Iceberg 12th Feb '11 - 3:52pm

    The ones who write into the Mail, Telegraph and Times would say that Mubarak is a dangerous wet if they thought it would aid their case in pushing ever more far right policies by pressuring Cameron.

    The only thing that might ever satisfy them would be if they cloned Thatcher and she was running the Party again. (Luckily for humanity even mad scientists probably have their limits and would blanche at such an idea)

  • Depressed Ex Lib Dem 12th Feb '11 - 4:12pm

    Tabman

    I think you really have no conception of what’s going to happen when it no longer suits the Tories to prop up the Lib Dems. You certainly aren’t going to kid me into thinking the party has a “plan” to deal with it.

    But there’s one thing you won’t be able to say – that no one ever warned you what was going to happen.

  • Tony Dawson 12th Feb '11 - 5:15pm

    “There are two wings of the ruling Conservative clique, Cameron’s who declares in every thought and word to be with Clegg to the bitter end, and Osborne’s who are far less overtly friendly and actively plotting for electoral domination”

    WRONG!

    There are three wings of Toryism. The third and most dangerous one is the one which pretends it is something else. Run presently by Ed Miliband, who was a key figure all through Blair/Brown’s government. Didn’t see anything in his manifesto about reducing the inequality which Labour increased consistently over 3 years beyond Thatcher levels..

    Long spoon supping time!

  • @Tabman @Andrew Tennant
    If you can so easily rule out any deal or even consultation with Labour then you simply confirm that the Lib Dems will be forever able to deal only with the Tories. And the day the Tories have a majority they will drop the Lib dems, possibly Cameron as well, and then the likes of Osbourne and Fox will hold sway. By which time Labour will have camped out on the centre ground that the Lib Dems will appear to have deserted.

    I’ve said before if Labour are playing games they will lose leaving the centre clear, if not then their policies may be made less authoritarian. Played well it’s a win win.

    If the Lib Dems want to be the true party of plural politics they need to engage with both Tories and Labour and decide which most closely meet their aspirations after every election.

  • Tony Dawson 12th Feb '11 - 5:17pm

    “The Liberal Democrat leader said he would work with the “man in the moon” as long as the first-past-the-post electoral system is scrapped ”

    So that’s why he’s OK to work with Mr Ed on AV?

  • @Tabman. “The history of Liberal dealings with Labour is not a happy one….” And so the de facto merger with the Tories is a roaring success is it? Unbelievable. No, I am wrong, it is believable, such views are consistent with the current and ongoing LibDems’ self-destruction.

  • Dave Warren 12th Feb '11 - 8:29pm

    Ordinary members of the Labour party have minimal if any influence over policy
    so i can’t see how members of another party will fare any better.

    Miliband will have the final say, so although their intentions are no doubt the right
    ones any Lib Dem who engages in this fake process is being used by Ed.

  • I think Neil’s first sentence sums the situation up admirably. I fought Labour locally for 17 years and it might be comforting to hang on to my tribal baggage about Labour but we are in a very, very different political context now.

    As for being used,duped, etc. I was campaigning for the Liberal Party when Ed Miliband was still choosing which GCSEs to take and am unlikely to be sucked into some evil vortex of Labour defection just by offering him my policy thoughts on social care!

  • I see no Iceberg 13th Feb '11 - 8:56am

    “are LDs so unsure of what they stand for ”

    No. Not all, Just one.
    It begins and ends with Nick Clegg.

  • Alex – unfortunately when you are dealing with a party that is tribal to the very core of its DNA (as we witness by the “visitors” to this site, of which daveN is a good example), you have to suspect the motives of that party in what they are doing.

    So, let’s ask ourselves this question. Is Labour

    – engaging in a new spirit of pluralism and hoping to learn from and share ideas with another party, or

    – seeking a way to drive a wedge into a rival, to encourage discontent and dissent with the aim of splitting and weakening the party?

    Then let’s go away and look at the principled leader of the Labour Party (who let’s not forget knifed his brother in the back) and the long history of Lib/Lab “relations” and draw some conclusions.

  • It makes me laugh when the Liberals talk of new politics and pluralism and do nowt but attack the last Labour government and the current Labour front bench, without a hint of criticism of Tory policy, past or present. I realise this is because your political strategy has been determined by Baroness Warsi and you have to start every speech by attacking labour spending ,etc,etc.
    And has anyone looked at the historical result of Liberals getting close to Tories ? Post 1918 you were replaced by Labour , you split 3 ways after the awful National government of 1931 and you virtually disappeared in the 1950s when some local parties did deals with Tories on joint candidates ( I think Huddersfield was one of the seats) .
    The Liberals have many fine individuals and traditions, and like Labour many faults as well, but at the moment you’re being used by the Tories – there was an Indy article recently which said ministers described you as an “insurance policy”at the next GE and maybe you’ll get virtually a free run in some seats, but at what cost – becoming an appendage to an increasingly nasty Toey party ?

  • @Linda Jack
    Well said, there needs to be the possibility of future coalition with Labour or the Lib dems become a minor conscience to the Tories whenever they don’t get a majority instead of the sesible voice of the centre that can influence Governments of either flavour.

  • @ Kevster

    “It makes me laugh when the Liberals talk of new politics and pluralism and do nowt but attack the last Labour government and the current Labour front bench, without a hint of criticism of Tory policy, past or present.”

    I think you’ll find we Lib Dems are all agreed on one thing: BOTH the other major parties are and were rubbish. It is just that Labour failed to get enough votes or seats to form a government. That, frankly, is the only difference.

    Does that explain things?

  • David Allen 13th Feb '11 - 6:57pm

    “I am very anti-Labour and don’t trust them as far as I can throw them. But then I have the same view of the Tories”

    Yes, fair enough. But we also need to understand that to most unbiased observers, the Lib Dems are now the most untrustworthy of the lot. Nobody else has so clearly promised one set of policies and philosophies, and delivered something totally different.

    All political parties contain a fair mixture of idealists, honest guys, scoundrels, and tribalists. In all parties, it is the tribalists who usually gain the upper hand when the chips are down. We need to recognise that as true of Labour, true of the Tories, and sadly, true of ourselves.

    I used to think differently. I used to argue that Lib Dems had a higher standard of moral purpose than the rest, because, nobody looking for the easy route to fame and power would have chosen to join the Lib Dems rather than Tory or Labour! I used to think we had stronger principles than our opponents, and would only make a coalition deal based on policies and principles, not on getting our Ministerial bums onto the seats in the limos.

    I was wrong. Far from being more principled, the current Lib Dem leadership proved itself less so. Having been excluded from power for so long, they were gagging for it.

    For many years, whenever the subject of hung parliaments has come up, we have had much the same discussion. We would not do a dirty deal just to make Paddy the Foreign Secretary in someone else’s government, we all solemnly declared. Oh no. We would eschew the trappings of power, and instead insist on securing our key principles – whether voting reform, or that penny in the pound on tax we used to be so keen on, or whatever. We were going to be saintly.

    Until it happened, and we settled for lots of Ministers (bungs), a possible change in the electoral system which would give us more seats though it wasn’t what we really believed was tight (another big bung), and, er, doing pretty much what the Tories wanted to do on everything else.

    Before we behold the mote that is in our brother Labour’s eye or our brother Tory’s eye, we hypocrites, let us cast the beam out of our own eyes.

  • David Allen 13th Feb '11 - 7:00pm

    Penultimate paragraph should say – “what we really believed was right” – not tight (sorry!)

  • David Allen. “Far from being more principled, the current Lib Dem leadership proved itself less so. Having been excluded from power for so long, they were gagging for it.”

    I should hope so too. Otherwise, quite simply, what is the point? Maintaining purity over power gets you nowhere. Others who are prepared to sully their hands will continute doing what they’ve always done.

    No Lib Dem or Liberal has acheived anything in national government for over 80 years. Until now. And that is worthy of celebration – for mark my words what you rail against happening now, would have happened anyway.

  • Simon Hebditch 14th Feb '11 - 9:44am

    I have got involved in this initiative because I am afraid that my starting point for achieving a real transformation in politics is that old concept – the realignment of the left. My warning antenna about the coalition was fully energised by the sight of William Hague standing on some Whitehall steps hailing the new realignment of the right! Personally, I have opposed the coalition from the start. It is vital that Lib Dems keep open channels of communication with Labour and the Greens, and one way of doing that is to contribute ideas to Labour’s policy review process. Radicals should use the coming period to refine a Lib Dem programme for government post 2015 and to discuss with anyone how it might be implemented in the event of another hung parliament.

    We also need to rethink general elections – both the Lib Dems and Conservatives will be jointly responsible for the success or failure of the current government. You can’t just highlight the “good” things Lib Dems have done and pretend that all the nasty things were the responsibility of the Tories.

  • As others have said, Nick Clegg will engage with Labour over AV

    And will try to make STV a redline in the next election

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