Should Liberal Democrats get more angry at Corbyn and the Tories?

I’ve been getting more angry in my politics. In 2015, it was the post-coalition Tory savaging of the low paid, last year it was Vote Leave’s deceits, this year the hypocrisy of Corbyn in supporting welfare cuts.

But this week I was brought up short, when told I should stop looking for the speck in the eyes of my political opponents.

That stung. That section of the Bible has influenced me enormously. As a teenager, I memorised most of it. I constantly think of the impossible standards it sets, try to follow them, and of course dismally fail.

I think for Liberal Democrats, whatever our views, the influence of the teachings of Jesus runs deep. There are reasons for our reputation as the ‘nice’ party, perhaps through our nonconformist roots or our British culture.

But I have a love-hate relationship with that niceness. In the 2017 election, the Tories supported £9bn welfare cuts, Corbyn £7bn, we campaigned for no cuts. Yet, when Corbyn supporters claim the moral high ground on welfare, we let them.

Sometimes when faced with an obvious hypocrisy, it is best to ignore it. Matthew 5:22 says it can even be wrong just to get angry. It’s hard, but the teachings of Jesus were never meant to be easy.

Yet is this what the Bible as a whole always calls for, for Christians, or indeed for any who base their morality on the teachings of Jesus?

When Jesus saw traders ripping off the poor in the temple, he got angry. Was he right to? If so, maybe there are situations where anger is a good thing. After all, if neuroscience shows that anger is an intrinsic part of us, maybe it’s there for a reason.

I think there is a clue in the quote about the speck in our brother’s eye. It says: ”why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” I take this as a call to reflect on our own failings, not that we should never criticise. After all, in some situations, Jesus actually suggested criticism.

Is this lack of self-reflection something we Liberal Democrats are guilty of? Not from where I’m sitting. In the private members forum of LibDemVoice, at times we’ve done little but agonize over the Coalition. Most of us are acutely aware of how, for the sake of a stable government and to reduce a record peace-time deficit, our party supported some awful welfare cuts.

Were those actions justified? Some will feel there was no justification, and perhaps, if they remained members of the party while it happened, agonize over their own culpability. Others feel it was wrong, but a lesser wrong than breaking up the government, and the consequences that might then follow. Privately, we’ve argued endlessly. At times I fear, there’s been little self-reflection, and a lot of pointing at the specks in each others eyes.

But isn’t there a point where we need to put this behind us? We have reflected on it. In our 2017 manifesto, we allocated money to reverse a number of these cuts, including the ‘bedroom tax’.

The country now has a Leader of the Opposition who claims to fight for social justice, yet has supported £7bn more welfare cuts. Surely, we have a duty to provide a progressive alternative. If we don’t, won’t it be like seeing crooks swindle the poor in the temple, but being too polite to do anything about it?

So, if we are to provide that alternative, how should we go about it?

Too many politicians use personal attacks as a way to undermine their opponents: such as when they tried to destroy Ed Miliband’s image with a video of him with a bacon sandwich; or Theresa May’s, when she made a speech with an incessant cough; or, to my shame, when I laughed, on first reading the libel about Cameron’s supposed activities at university.

Instead, we should point to what is important. Vince showed us how this can be done, when he stood up for the PM, while making serious points about the disloyalty and incompetence of some of her colleagues.

We all make mistakes; we all have planks in our eyes, all too visibly in the case of some of our past political leaders. Before we throw accusations at others, we need to reflect. But, once we have done so, we should not abdicate our responsibility to fight for what we believe is right.

Did I reflect enough on my own short-comings, before I recently attacked the hypocrisy of Jeremy Corbyn in Labour Uncut? It’s hard to be sure, but I think I did.

And that doesn’t mean we can’t attack the individual at all. Some may argue that I should attack Labour, rather than Corbyn himself. But that would be to attack the Labour MPs who are as appalled as I am. And much of the problem is the cult of personality around Corbyn which, if you like, raises him up like a “false god”.

They say he provides ‘straight talking, honest politics’, yet not only does he break his promise to reverse past child tax credit cuts, but he supports future cuts. He claimed he would bring in a ‘kinder, gentler politics’. He’s delivered a culture of antisemitism, of misogyny against female Labour opponents, and has appointed as Shadow Chancellor a man who, only five years ago, celebrated rioting.

Don’t we have a duty to warn the country of that?

But we also need to keep our passion under tight control. If we stray from the facts and descend into angry personal abuse, we start on the very path that led to bodyguards for Laura Kuenssberg at the Labour conference.

* George Kendall is chair of the Social Democrat Group, which is being formed to celebrate and develop our social democrat heritage, and to reach out to social democrats beyond the party. He writes in a personal capacity.

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28 Comments

  • George,

    the Golden rule is “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you”. (Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12).

    Say what you mean and mean what you say. If a person or institution is deserving of criticism then we should do so unresevedely, just as if we are deserving of criticism we should reflect on that criticism and consider how we can do better.

  • We tend to get angry when we see injustice and feel we are ignored. The problem with anger is we lash out (Brexit anyone) and not always in the right direction. I think we should try to take the following advice “Don’t get angry, get even”. So hold those that promise the unattainable to account , but be aware they may not be liars just a little delusional (and we all do delusion one way or another just look at football fans). Now if only i could take my own advice when it comes to brave Brexiteers.

  • Corbyn simply cares for the section of society which falls into his “public sector / organised labour / enemies of corporate power” narrative. Which means that extremely highly paid RMT and ASLEF rail militants, well paid militant black cabbies, upper middle class doctors and NHS clinical professionals, highly paid police, fire brigade and armed forces personnel and well paid teachers and prison officers are more important to him than many of the genuine poor if they are not part of his coalition of voters. The genuine poor are not in the least bit interested in free university tuition, nationalised industries, increased trade union power, increased pay for police, staff on trains, more wind power, opposition to fracking, opposition to free trade / privatisation / outsourcing and globalisation, opposition to foreign ownership of property nor preserving the pensions of well paid public sector workers.

    Far better someone has a job with Uber / Deliveroo / Sports Direct / G4S / Ryanair, than to be regulated out of existence or priced out of the market – which is what Corbynism will achieve.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Oct '17 - 5:00pm

    I value and very much welcome the sentiments of George,

    I think the reaction he had to a recent headline, his actual proposal not as bad as the headline, was good for him, as it made him up his game as our , shall we call him,Social Democrat in Chief !

    It is proven that laughter is far better for us than anger, which is probably why over some many posts I have rather taken to the style , if not always the substance , of the postings of David Raw, who , as with me, seems to do and know , humour, well, and we sarcastically disagree .

    It is why another , of similar vintage, I rate , is too irate , for me, the noble Lord Greaves, who sometimes seems to leave his sense of humour in his ermine, not too readily to hand !

    That said, I would concur with all of them , there is a lot to be angry about, and George touches the surface, but I share with Mr Corbyn, a sense of indignation.The stae of our NHS alone makes me very angry!

    Just as I share with our Mr Stimpson, as we can see here, a sense of humour, as I think,partly, at least, surely, I mean, he must be joking !!!

  • Simpson
    On Corbyn you are simply wrong, I don’t doubt he cares for the poor, I rather doubt his prescription to cure poverty will work but I don’t doubt his good intentions. Some politicians are in it for themselves he isn’t one of them. It doesn’t make him less dangerous as the road to hell is paved with good intentions but to attack him for something he isn’t doesn’t help and dare I say it isn’t fair.

  • Peter Martin 13th Oct '17 - 7:01pm

    @ George,

    The problem is that the Great British Public public generally agrees with you on economic matters. So, the worse the economy gets, the greater will be the public demand to have ever more welfare cuts. Because ‘we can’t afford them any more’. ‘We have to cut our coat according to our cloth’. ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be’ etc etc etc

    I’m sure I don’t have to explain neoliberal economic thinking to you! And that’s what all politicians are up against. On the one hand, they want to be honest with the electorate, but on the other they want their votes. It’s rather as if most of the electorate thinks the world is flat. But you know it’s spherical. So what do you do? Tell them they are all stupid and lose their votes?

  • The answer is no.

    We should try to ensure we accurately criticise other parties and their policies and not write that the Labour Party “supported £7bn more welfare cuts” rather than wanting to reverse £5.345 billion less of them than us.

  • Tit for tat doesn’t work in this age of the clever meme or FB viral post. It also doesn’t work for us, post-coalition.
    We need a new thoughtful way of engaging with the public generally, and yes voters particularly, that doesn’t make a ‘holier than them’ approach that people just won’t stack up. Labour introduced tuition fees, the Tories hikes them – and we got the blame because some of our MPs went along with it. Life’s not fair, so move on …

  • George Kendall 14th Oct ’17 – 8:10am………..I agree. But it’s not that Corbyn doesn’t care about the poor, it’s that he doesn’t care enough….

    You chased me across several threads to get me to answer a question…
    I’ll repeat here what I said there…
    “As to your specific point on Labour reversing ‘cuts’ I wish it had gone further but, considering the attacks from LDV, about paying for what he HAS announced, the extra £billions per year would just draw more ‘unaffordable’ comments..

    What upsets me is, instead of supporting Labour’s ‘good bits’ (housing, education, childcare, etc.) you are demanding we get angry with Corbyn…

    As for accusing him of hypocrisy??? We are now promoting ourselves as the ‘guardians of the poor’ and attacking Corbyn’s policies on benefits, … Very Easy, when reduced to 12 MPs with no hope of any major influence, to promise to reverse the cuts we supported when we had 57 MPs…
    A better memory and a little more humility would not go amiss

  • Dave Orbison 14th Oct '17 - 3:04pm

    Stimpson – the to suggest that Corbyn only supports the ‘hit list’ of those in the professions you seemingly have issues with is just pure fantasy. Corbyn is one of the most steadfast campaigners in tackling poverty.

    Presumably you liberal (illiberal more like) labelling of all railway employees as militant says much more about you than Corbyn.

    Given that public sector workers suffered year-on-year reduction in their standard of living under the Coalition Government which Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg seemed proud to lecture them as to the need to take their share of the pain (excluding MP’s of course) beggars belief.

    Corbyn at 43%,LibDems at 8% – there’s a reason for this.

  • @ George Kendall

    Perhaps you misunderstood what I wrote. What I was quoting is being presented as a fact, but it is not true. The Labour Party did not support and has not supported in Parliament “£7bn more welfare cuts”. However during the general election they proposed reversing £5.345 billion less cuts than us. The point is the first is not true and the second is.

    However your examples are not facts, both are opinions. In the first you are giving an opinion and presenting it as factual, however most people will understand that you are giving an opinion, even though you haven’t used the words “I think”. In the second you present what Conservatives hope will be the outcome and state you disagree.

    Not doing something is never the same as doing the opposite. This is why I have a problem with your accuracy. “Supported” is a past action that can be checked with the historical record. “Reversing” in this context is a future action and can only be checked against what is being proposed. You could say that a future Labour government would be supporting £5.345 billion more cuts that a future Liberal Democrat one.

    I think using being passionate rather than getting angry is a much better word choice.

    @ Jenny Barnes
    “The national budget is not like a household budget; … There was no need whatever for the welfare cuts; sensible economic management would have increased government spending on useful infrastructure, housing etc.”

    You are correct. Sensible politicians would not have thought that the UK was like Greece. It seems very strange that in 1929 the Liberal Party understood that the economic consensus was wrong, but in 2010 the Liberal Democrats went along with the incorrect economic consensus having not learnt the lessons of the 1930’s.

    @ expats

    We are not promising to reverse all of the welfare cuts made during the Coalition years, I think only the bedroom tax and the cuts to LHA, less than £1 billion.

    In another thread you wrote, “On 21st June 2015 George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith proudly announced, “In all, the last government legislated for £21bn of welfare savings”— £21 billion was a Treasury estimate of the effect of all the decisions taken since the 2010 election. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, using more up-to-date figures, estimated that the policy changes actually saved £17 billion”.

  • David Orbison:

    Rail employees in the unions are militants. The rail unions are highly illberal with their attacks on foreign investors and foreign state rail networks – typical Faragist economic nationalism. All of the rail unions repeatedly strike with high majorities to do so, despite the fact that Thameslink trains run perfectly safely with 12 coaches on very busy stations at the London rush hour, with no guard and with no station staff, with drivers doing everything. The reason for the strikes is simply arrogant militants out in the sticks up north, the midlands or in the west country who want a job for life and no liability or responsibility and to keep their little fifedoms stitched as they are – despite London showing us how safe modern railways are, whilst the money rolls in from the overcharged commuter – and they paint foreign governments and Chris Grayling as the big bad evil people.

    Public sector work is a calling and is not a get rich quick scheme. Pensions are far better in the public sector so it is not like public sector workers aren’t doing well long term. Police, teachers, fire brigades, squaddies and so on are not in poverty. They are just annoyed because they have had to tighten their belts and have missed out on an extra holiday this year or new car.

    Corbyn is on 43% because he has a coalition of public sector and militant trade unionists supplemented by 1) upper middle class millienials who think they should be entitled to a house, a final salary pension and no debts, 2) Red UKIP voting working class militants who are effectively right wing nationalists who support a bit of nationalisation, hate free trade and want the state to bully the rich, foreign investors and corporations, 3) the anti globalisation / SWP mob.

    The Lib Dems have 8% because largely prosperous western citizens in many nations are railing against liberal democracy and either electing extreme leftists or extreme nationalists, because they are unwilling to work with globalisation and free trade and wish to shut the door on the world – thinking a romantic view of national service, the dog licence, a world pre-BBC2 and beat bobbies, no immigration and / or nationalised industries, credit unions, working mens clubs soapbox militants, Made In Britain, bus conductors and traditional hard graft will somehow return. They don’t like the message that Clegg has because it challenges their prejudices, and scares them.

  • paul barker 14th Oct '17 - 7:23pm

    The short answer to the Question is Yes, we should be a lot more angry with both Tories & Labour & we should have more confidence in ourselves & in Liberal Values.

  • Dave Orbison 14th Oct '17 - 7:39pm

    Stimpson – “THEIR prejudices”???? Lol

  • David Evans 14th Oct '17 - 7:58pm

    Paul Barker, Unfortunately, the problem is that many of those posting here, had a ridiculous amount of confidence in ourselves & in Liberal Values between 2010 and 2015, when our party was being destroyed by a weak and arrogant leadership in coalition. Indeed some totally refused to get angry with our leader at the time, even as good Lib Dems were getting massacred time and again because of decisions made under his leadership.

    People have spoken about Bible teachings about specks and planks in eyes, and people have referred to how they have considered it. However, the one part very few refer to is their unwillingness to face up to the catastrophe when it was happening and something could have been done about it. Now, with the damage done and Tories and Labour rampant over areas that were recently ours, what is there left to do but get angry much too late and with the opponents that were let in, because it hurts too much to face up to the big nothing that was done at the time.

  • @David Evans
    In many ways you are right & I put my hand up as one those who put far too much faith in the Loyalty of “Our” Voters, a Loyalty which we didnt try to build on a National level.
    However, we didnt behave like a Party of Government, we acted like supplicants not like a Party who had as much right to be in power as The Tories did.
    I think we are rebuilding on a firmer basis this time but we cerainly should not enter Coalition again unless we get the leading role, ie The PM a Libdem.

  • Michael BG 14th Oct ’17 – 3:21pm
    @ expats………….We are not promising to reverse all of the welfare cuts made during the Coalition years, I think only the bedroom tax and the cuts to LHA, less than £1 billion.
    In another thread you wrote, “On 21st June 2015 George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith proudly announced, “In all, the last government legislated for £21bn of welfare savings”— £21 billion was a Treasury estimate of the effect of all the decisions taken since the 2010 election. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, using more up-to-date figures, estimated that the policy changes actually saved £17 billion”…………..

    It’s satisfying to see that some of my contributions are read, even if not by those they were aimed at..
    What those comments show is, to paraphrase George Kendall (14th Oct ’17 – 8:10am),”But it’s not that LibDems don’t care about the poor, it’s that we don’t care enough.”
    When we were in a position to help, we didn’t; now we are powerless, we wring our hands in sympathy…

  • Neil Sandison 16th Oct '17 - 10:21am

    I always go by that trusted adage dont get angry just get even . if people want to believe in jam tomorrow and that its always someone else who will pay the bill there is not much you can do to burst their bubble .likewise if people are so selfish and are only interested in their own personal wealth and never mind about others their not likely to vote Liberal Democrat . We need to target those who feel uncomfortable about what they see around them like for example services and jobs under threat because of Brexit ,Growing homelessness and housing insecurity because we are not building enough homes that are really affordable .Schools sending out begging letters to buy basic equipment or short staffed and classes overcrowded . This is drip ,drip, politics sure and constant messages that our politics offers a better way .

  • Peter Hirst 18th Oct '17 - 1:04pm

    getting angry won’t help. My impression is Labour especially are trying to side us out of any discussion. It would be so much more convenient for them if we did not exist. We need to be assertive and combine the other two parties. They are also playing a double edged strategy playing to both remainers and brexiteers. We need to stick to our values particularly of honesty and consistency. Being positive rather than constantly attacking them is also what the electorate want to see.

  • Neil Sandison 20th Oct '17 - 1:48pm

    Peter Hirst agree with you Peter but it doesnt do any harm to mention the preamble of our constitution which underlines our values of liberty,freedom and an open society .and reflect on Corbyns state socialism which undermines individual liberty ,accelerates state ownership ,and insists that we all become enslaved by conformity at someone elses expense.

  • Neil Sandison 21st Oct '17 - 1:27pm

    George Kendall The best way to instill passion within the party and support social democratic principles is to promote with pride a refreshed social market economy that meets some of the challenges facing our asset stripped services . Please note this is not social capitalism which is a corruption espoused by the tories but encourages the economic wealth of the nation to be put to constructive use to enhance and improve our social and community services .We dont need to take industry into state ownership or privatise public services to make them more efficient .We need new models of social ownership and stake holder/share holder control so that they become more responsive to their customers and less remote their end users.

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