Seizing the centre: the road ahead

Tim Farron’s unexpected resignation ends another chapter in a tumultuous period of politics. With the wave of populism that carried Jeremy Corbyn to a triumphant defeat and shook the Conservatives, how should the next chapter begin for the Liberal Democrats? The next leader should strike out for the centre ground, and it is the Liberal Democrats economic credentials that should take centre stage over our unimpeachable social liberalism.

To begin with another exit, the loss of Nick Clegg perhaps signals the chance to rehabilitate the Coalition government. In too many ways the contribution of the Liberal Democrats has gone unnoticed; the pupil premium has been a lifeline for many schools struggling with constrained budgets, whilst the British Business Bank is one of the most recognised achievements of the happily re-elected Vince Cable.

We ought to champion such successes, and link them to our future strategy. Between state-led nationalisation and short-term cuts lies our own path. Targeted investment, support and stimulation of local enterprise, and recognition of the changing nature of the British economy and its vibrant tech sector (albeit a sector beset by the authoritarian proclivities of the current government). Now more then ever, it is vital that all corners of the United Kingdom see that the government’s economic strategy works for them, and we have been too coy about the benefits that liberalism can bring.

We must now proudly state our credentials as champions of a modern British economy, in which pragmatic government support best allows individuals and enterprises to flourish. Liberal Democrat policies would leave most people better off and better able to participate in growth, a message that ought to be hammered home at every opportunity. We have much to offer both the uncertain centrist Conservative and the hesitant Labour voter, discomforted by the polarisation of their parties. In this turbulent political atmosphere, centre-ground politics can offer credibility and certainty. With the return of parliamentarians like Vince Cable and Ed Davey, among others, we have the business clout to support such a stance, and these two will be prominent regardless of the result of the leadership contest.

Whilst Brexit does still loom over British politics, its hold has dissipated as domestic issues have come to the fore. Whilst a second referendum lacks resonance, the Liberal Democrats ought to emphasise the positive and often unmentioned benefits the single market brings. In addition to untrammelled access to our largest and closest market, European integration affects our society and economy in innumerable ways. Just-in-time inventory systems help to boost still stagnant productivity. Nurses, though application from the European Union has already fallen, help to support our stretched healthcare system. Intra-European cooperation on energy and the environment through Euratom and Horizon 2020 help to protect our environment and fuel our economy. Concise, convincing evidence of the benefits of our European ties. Whilst cross-party consensus is likely to be the order of the day, the Liberal Democrat voice should cut through the crowd, providing a confident business case for the maintenance of close relations.

Finally, our environmentalism and our enduring commitment to civil liberties ought to be profitable avenues through which to attract new voters and encourage the return of old ones. These policies must be ever present, if not as heavily emphasised as economic concerns. Younger people are a willing audience to both the moral and practical arguments against Theresa May’s authoritarian policies, a topic on which Labour has been tellingly silent.  Environmentalism and small-c conservatism, meanwhile, ought to go hand in hand, and there is a business case for green technology, in which the United Kingdom is a world leader.

If this election showed one thing it is that empty slogans cannot stand up to scrutiny. Practical, positive messages, and a focus on the economic credentials that run through all of our policies, can provide certainty in a shifting political landscape.

* Alexander Green works as an editor for an industry research firm having graduated from the University of Warwick in 2015.

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  • paul barker 16th Jun '17 - 3:03pm

    Policies are what we need for Government.
    What we need for campaigning are short, emotional Slogans.

  • Emotion trumps reason. You can have all the reasoned arguments in the world but if you can’t engage the electorates emotions you are stuffed.

    Did “For the many not the few” not teach you that?

  • Do we have an emotional enough message to trump the two major parties? Stronger economy, fairer society is all well and good, but I got a much better response whilst campaigning from our policies, which by and large people didn’t know as a result of our poor media coverage. I think the penny in the pound income tax and things like that come with enough emotional substance to appeal to people, offer something different from just a soundbite.

  • Want to know what would really make the Lib Dems stand out? Zero tolerance of Islamism – policy solution a `charter of values` that sets out both Britishness and how we got here via social reforms embedding womens and lgbt rights through a national conversation.

    Zero tolerance of rubbish work practices. Reform the Job Centre Plus make it into a `jobs factory`. Twin track the approach – you can go on Universal Jobmatch day after day on £73 a week OR for £100 a week you’ll have your work coach financially targetted to find you work within six weeks via placements, fast track interviews etc. Fast track free DBS searches, provide all stamps, printing and just destroy all barriers to entry level employment. Make the companies themselves train people up. There are jobs out there just silly hurdles to overcome just to get into them. Of course this will mean intervening in Lib Dem views on British workers rightst etc.

    Outlaw lack of choice for ZHCs. If people want them so be it. A lot of people don’t. There is a sharp labour market – make it sweat for those at the bottom. A sort of `hand in hand` approach until you can let go – then that person can hand hold for someone else.

    The Lib Dems are perceived as a privileged middle class party. Change that perception with radical, innovative pragmatic policies.

  • The trouble with this party is that we don’t agree at all on the issues that actually affect people.

    Some want us to be to the left of Corbyn, others to the right of the Tories.

  • Andrew T,

    Same as all parties. What you need is a driving force. Corbyn has become that is the Labour party. Even though the majority of his MP’s really don’t agree with him, they will follow along. If May had won her landslide then she could have had the Brexit she wanted and the doubters would have tagged along. We need to set course and follow it. To be honest the best course is probably the one that doesn’t fulfil the dreams of either of the groups you have identified but contains enough Liberal aims to keep us together.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Jun '17 - 4:53pm

    Does Theresa May really want the Brexit she is understood to want? She wanted to squash UKIP. Done.
    She needs to keep tories in the commons united, so far.
    But what do the DUP mean by their attitude to terrorism? This is a party whose founder went into coalition with Sinn Fein.

  • @frankie

    Yes I agree, however we need to keep the party together but also be radical enough to actually attract voters and also activists to the party. It’s a hugely difficult task. I’m amazed how many members we have that hold complete opposite viewpoints on major social and economic issues.

  • “Seizing the Centre”; now where have I heard that before?

  • The LibDems don’t have an economic policy apart from John Maynard Keynes and pray for a huge miracle. The push for green technologies is simply a sop to delicate consciences.
    Where do the new industrial giants come from and how do they emerge? I mean the British Hyundais, samsungs, huawei, BMW, Daimler Benz, ABB, Toyota,?
    What investment in local enterprise? Haven`t we got enough coffee shops and hairdressers?
    It`s the time honoured fantasy that increasing personal taxation will somehow encourage the enterprising and energetic to earn more so they can fund social liberalism. No doubt the response will be that entrepreneurs love paying tax. I know a few and they engage accountants to pay as little as possible and they begrudge every penny.


  • Palehorse – As I have consistently said, we need to provide export-oriented policies and domestic supply chain development. Hyundai and Samsung emerged from such policies. An enlarged British Business Bank (we need a BBB with at least £20 billion of capitalization and a full ability to raise funds on capital markets by issuing state-backed bonds like German KfW) will be the main tool for these policies, as we will be able to use it to provide cheap funding to industries and to adjust financial support to firms based on their performance. On way to do so is to turn RBS into an arm of BBB.

    Investment in local enterprises means investment in supply chain development (and must be so). This will allow us to produce industrial components that currently have to be imported.

    An extremely radical business policy is to give successful manufacturers (manufacturers only, please) free lands. In postwar Korea and Japan back then, the lands were confiscated from the dukes and big landowners via land reforms, and they were compensated with bonds paying below-inflation yields. The likes of Duke of Westminster need to be treated like that.

    Funding flows to the real estate sector must be slowly strangled and shifted to industries.

    Investment spending on infrastructures should be doubled from £100 billion to £200 billion, with £50 billion on automation technology. In other words, a £50 billion Automation Fund.

    R&D spending must be raised to 4% of GDP (UK current level is only 1.8%).

    Libdem currently has Keynes’ economic strategy and must stick to it. It is far better than Tories’ trickle down fallacy that had been debunked multiple times in the US, or Labour’s anti-competitive strategy of propping up failing companies (like the British Leyland abomination). The difference between Libdem and Labour will be how to spend, not how much will be spent.

  • Palehourse,
    So you want us to support national champions. It is an approach that seems to work, but strangely not when we tried it. By the way personal taxation isn’t an issue with that approach as the national champion gets everything. The champions get free money, or at least in South Korea they did, not so much the general public.

  • Keynes` ideas were nonsense when the factories were in Birmingham and the customers were in China. It`s disastrous now it`s the other way round. Whose economy are we pumping money into? Crossrail is German tunnelling machines drilling holes for German trains to run on French metals. Hinckley Point is enriching French and Chinese power station builders and providing a 40 year income stream for French and Chinese pensioners.
    Desperate governments have far fewer tools at their disposal than they think and investment in infrastructure definitely isn’t one of them. Like skills and training, it’sa following process not a leading one. The British Industrial Revolution didn’t begin by the govt. of the day digging canals between random towns they thought might be developed. The infrastructure came after the wealth creating enterprises needed them.
    I have to say, Thomas, that your response was measured and intelligent but Britain won’ t progress until the seductive grip of Keynesian thinking has been broken and them limited range of options has been faced up to but then these exploited to their maximum.

  • We need new policies on raising tax to pay for​ the NHS. In the most recent copy of the ‘Liberator’ magazine is a variant of land valuation tax that would be paid by non-doms on their properties and could raise around £10 billion. We need to work to work this up and if it is viable start selling it hard to put our stamp on it as an imaginative LIb Dem policy

  • Palehorse – Thats why I am talking about regional supply chain development. “Import substitution” and “Reindustrialization” is too blatant in the context of Britain, but thats what I mean, and regional supply chain development is just a more glorious name. But this must be together with export-oriented policies to actually yield results.

    And we need to invest in automation in manufacturing and increase R&D spending to 4% of GDP.

    Keynes’ Yellow Book in 1928 seriously talked about how to improve British firms’ appalling industrial efficiency, not just infrastructures. For the last forty years, Britain adopted Hayek and Friedman, not Keynes, thats why our manufacturing was gutted. Laissez faire was the worst strategy.

  • Palehorse – Industrial Revolution was backed by state in Germany and Japan, and was state-led in South Korea and Taiwan.

  • Whisper it quietly but actually corbyn’s policies are thatcherite! Under Thatcher the top rate of tax for a long time was 60%, railways were nationalised, and water, no university tuition fees and greater government spending than corbyn as a percentage of GDP.

    Remember the lib dems correctly gave taxpayers a £30 billion tax cut through raising the personal allowance and the annual deficit is now about £50 billion.

    Our mantra should be building Britain from the middle out not the Tories trickledown economics which doesn’t work and fairness in income tax. Remember that the richest get a massive tax reduction with employees and employers national insurance being less for them.

    A large number of people now continue in post 18 education or training. It should be free post 18 education is now what post 16 was 50 years. Germany is going that way. America even very nearly voted that way and would have if the democrats had chosen the right candidate. A healthy and highly skilled country is also a wealthy one.

    Our policies should back the middle classes that rely on public services. It is no good having low taxes if I have to find £500 for a private consultant appointment as friends of mine did due to a massive NHS wait or £15,000 which the Tories wanted to cut from my state pension when I get to pensionable age. Allied to this should be revolutionary progress on renewable energy, and staying in the single market. Backing fairer taxes like local income tax instead of council tax and no marginal rate of tax no higher than 50% for the lower paid as well as the higher paid

  • Michael – Governing from the centre is good (not the right please), but we should campaign from the left or centre-left.

    Increase top tax rate to 50-55%. Repeal Health and Social Care Act and abolish NHS internal market (introduced by Mrs Thatcher). Abolish tuition fees by raising income tax on all bands and convert current student debt into government debt. And housing, can we consider prefabrication tech to increase housing target from 300k a year to 500k a year?

    Also, a genuine industrial and manufacturing strategy, combined with export-oriented policies, investment in automation and doubling R&D spending as a percentage of GDP are a third way for us. To sum up, industrial policy deserves a separate chapter in our next manifesto.

    But it seems that the Orange Book will return. I had hoped that it would be kicked for good when Tim Farron became leader.

  • John Littler 18th Jun '17 - 3:40pm

    LibDems need a stronger economic policy. I suggest a combination of the Scandi/German models with industrial and regional support, more infrastructure, training, R&D support, exporter support, support to firms to retain and re-train staff over a recession ( as Germany ), financial support and some greater flexibilities and support for start ups, even re-starting the old Enterprise Allowance to get people off benefits and starting micro enterprises. It is closer to the McDonnell offering but there is loads of scope to differentiate it and it is exactly what is needed in a lot of de-industrialised areas in Central belt Scotland, S.Wales, Midlands & North England.

    Proper regional and industrial policy, tying in education and the foreign and environmental departments, could build an industrial renaissance and take back industries lost to China and Easter Europe as automation cuts the cost of differentials. It would tackle the UK’s under skilling, under investment, low productivity and wages, the differences between regions and societal groups and would cut the balance of payments deficit. It has to be done and the Tories won’t.

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