“The Guardian view on the Lib Dem Orange Book”

The GuardianAs we noted earlier this week, the tenth anniversary of the publication of The Orange Book was marked by a conference hosted by CentreForum on Tuesday. Today The Guardian publishes an editorial reflecting on the book’s impact a decade on. Here’s an excerpt:

The book certainly signalled that the Lib Dems were not – or not only – a party of protest for those who resented tuition fees or the Iraq war. The market-minded emphasis of David Laws, who proposed a social insurance model for the NHS in his essay, and of Paul Marshall, the Lib Dem donor and chair of the charity Ark Schools which runs several academies, prefigured the informal contacts that prepared the way for coalition negotiations ahead of the inconclusive election result. Ideas about liberation through the small state, that may have shocked many Lib Dems in the boom years, moved into the mainstream in the age of austerity. …

As much as charting a distinctive new course of Liberal Democracy, the book’s co-editors, David Laws and Paul Marshall, arguably exploited the zeitgeist, locating the Lib Dems in a debate already entrenched among many Conservatives and New Labourites. Their enduring relevance reflects what came afterwards. The tax-and-spend policies that they sought to challenge have been challenged more effectively by an era of austerity which, disappointing tax receipts continue to suggest, may not be over for many years yet.

You can read The Guardian’s editorial in full here.

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13 Comments

  • David Evershed 28th Jun '14 - 5:15pm

    I have been a Guardian reader for 50 years, primarily because I considered that it kept opinions out of the news stories which it reorted objectively.

    Of course it has done some good reporting, most notably with news reporter hacking and the Snowdon affair. However, over the last five years I have noticed that more and more opinions have crept into news stories and the news stories have become more and more slanted.

    In my view the opinion which has been most prevelent in their political news stories has been that Lib Dems have betrayed the Labour party by going into coaiition with the Conservative Party. The Guardian editorial line is also very much against Lib Dem Orange Book principles and in favour of the tax and spend policies of the Labour Party.

  • David [email protected]

    Is the Guardian not entitled to have an opinion,?
    It endorsed the Lib Dems for the 2010 election and are still dodging the flak for doing so, particularly as things have panned out.

    Also, are you reading the same Guardian that I do ?
    It seems to be packed with anti-Labour and anti-Ed Miliband pieces lately, and Clegg and the Lib Dems get ignored or an easy ride.

  • David Allen 28th Jun '14 - 7:04pm

    The Guardian leader reads as a classic balancing act, suggesting that some of its opinion formers regret supporting the Lib Dems in 2010 while others do not.

    On the one hand, I am pleased to see the frank acknowledgement that the Orange Book “prefigured the informal contacts that prepared the way for coalition negotiations ahead of the …election”. In other words, it was part of the stealth take-over by the Right.

    On the other hand, the article makes this curious case for austerity:

    “The tax-and-spend policies that they sought to challenge have been challenged more effectively by an era of austerity which, disappointing tax receipts continue to suggest, may not be over for many years yet.”

    which seems to mean “The rich won’t pay up any more, so let’s learn to love it”. Well, maybe we should reluctantly accept a state poverty budget, maybe we should try to stop the rich getting away with murder. Either approach would be different from Tory austerity policy, which amounts to embracing, encouraging and building up the power of the rich and the powerlessness of the poor.

  • Tony Dawson 28th Jun '14 - 7:54pm

    “David Allen:

    ” I am pleased to see the frank acknowledgement that the Orange Book “prefigured the informal contacts that prepared the way for coalition negotiations ahead of the …election”. ”

    Of course it was. Don’t forget that the particular coalition option which was available in 2010 was far from predictable before the articular quite fluky election result and this was only there, among other factors, because of the failure of the Lib Dem central campaign that year. A greater degree of success would have created more Lib Dem MPs and fewer Tory ones, giving the serious possibility of a coalition with Labour as a genuine viable alternative. It would have been very interesting, to say the least, to see which way the ‘Negotiating Team’ and Nick Clegg behind them would have jumped in such a scenario. Particularly as to whether Nick Clegg would have then revealed to the world, immediately after the election, his ‘revised view’ that the economic policy upon which he officially fought the election was ‘wrongly-based’.

    While it would be wrong to over-accentuate this issues, it is totally-clear that Nick Clegg is the most right-wing leader the Lib Dems have ever had in terms of his postion within the Party or its predeccessors. with the possible exception of David Owen. None of his predecessors would have ever dreamed of joining the Conservative Students at university and he had been on the losing side in a considerable number of Conference motions/amendments. The Orange Bookers (ie those behind it rather than those contributing, who were more widely-based) were clearly trying to re-locate what they expected to be a significant party of opposition, regardless of the outcome of the election.

  • Tony Greaves 28th Jun '14 - 9:53pm

    This is the wettest Grauniad editorial I have read for quite some time.

    Tony

  • This really is desperately poor stuff from the Guardian. It does not signal that the Lib Dems are not – or not only – a party of protest when they join the 30+ year cross-party consensus just when it has imploded catastrophically. It signals only that they (or at least some of them) are merely desperate to join the establishment which is an entirely different thing.

    A party that really wished to demonstrate a fitness for power would do so by developing a penetrating critique of the failed approach and a programme to correct its errors. It’s all very well for the Guardian to slyly call this the “zeitgeist” and speak of it as “…locating the Lib Dems in a debate already entrenched among many Conservatives and New Labourites” but it’s a funny zeitgeist when the popular antipathy towards Westminster and the established parties is higher than it’s been in living memory. I would prefer they could speak of locating the Lib Dems in opposition to that which lead to crisis. A functional democracy requires a serious opposition. You can have as many parties as you like but if they are distinguished only by the colour of their rosettes then there is democracy in name only.

  • I think it is strange that of the four paragraphs in the Guardian the LDV’s Newshound quotes the two which look at the Orange Book positively. Here is the third paragraph:

    “The Orange Bookers know they will have a fight on their hands to keep their ideas alive after next year’s anticipated electoral battering. They have never managed to build alliances in the wider party, although the desertion of so much centre-left support may disguise this by flattering their relative strength. But it is not only the collapse of popularity that shows the real cost of coalition. The promise of electoral and wider reform of parliament has gone, probably for a generation. And it may be that the apparent triumph of Orange Book ideas in government owes less to their inherent appeal than to the change from the boom of 2004 to the bust of 2008.”

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 29th Jun '14 - 11:54am

    Isn’t it likely that the centre-left of the party will be ready to return when the OBs hold proper conversations with the former – and re-build the party. However, if the OBs, by some fateful electoral voting, become the major grouping in parliament – the centre left may need to split from the LDs. Looking at the voting percentages of the parties in UK , there is a fair balance of left and right – but after the Scottish Independence vote, English parties will have to re-position as Scotland is so clearly left-leaning. The first milestone of re-assessment will be this Autumn.

    My hope is that during the next year or two, we become a significant party of opposition with LDs together, not apart, and spend time developing the policies which mark us as a distinctive party once more – either centre-left or holding the two wings of the party together in agreed balance. To be in government again with the Tories is not going to be a sustainable position – so we should start the policy re-positioning as soon as our party can do so.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Jun '14 - 10:00am

    I have recently started using the phrase “right-wing and elitist press” rather than just “right-wing press” in order to include the Guardian newspaper in it. This is to cover the way in which the Guardian, though clearly not of the political right, covers the Liberal Democrats – as it ALWAYS has, back to the days when it as the Liberal Party and the SDP – in a way that shows an enormous bias to the right of the party. As long as I can remember, the Guardian has often given space in its commentary pages for those on the right of the party but almost never balanced by those on its left. Its coverage of the party has almost always been in terms of its Westminster leadership, and it has always taken the side of that leadership when the left of the party has been challenging it.

    This may be because of Labour supporters in the Guardian who have an interest in portraying the Liberal Democrats are more to the right, or of pushing them that way in order to free space for Labour. But I think it is more the elitist thing – the Guardian really is about an elitist form of liberalism, very much Westminster-bubble oriented, very much “people like us know best” and hardly aware of what life is like outside the establishment elite. Sure, it may side with the liberal (in the old sense of the word, not the newly invented “authentic” sense à la Jeremy Browne) side of the establishment, but so many times it means well but gets it wrong because of the elite background of those who run it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Jun '14 - 1:28pm

    Tony Dawson

    Of course it was. Don’t forget that the particular coalition option which was available in 2010 was far from predictable before the articular quite fluky election result and this was only there, among other factors, because of the failure of the Lib Dem central campaign that year.

    Sure, but Clegg and his close supporters have pushed the line that the “Orange Book” marked some sort of permanent change in the party, that somehow it brought about this wonderful coalition of which we are all so proud (last 10 words in sarcastic tone, but to MOST of our ex-supporters, a lot of what comes out from Clegg and the Cleggies sounds just like that – and without any sarcasm).

    So, the line that I would like to use, and still DO use, that the current coalition was just the outcome of the fluky nature of our electoral system, something we were forced to support through circumstances and can’t really get that much out of are destroyed by the Orange Bookers.

    I appreciate that when the Orange Book was written, there was no reason to suppose a Parliament in which a Conservative-LibDem coalition was the only stable government was the most likely outcome. However, the presence of the Orange Book, and the way those Clegg has chosen to promote tend to be those who were Orange Book contributors give support to the notion that has been used to pull away most of our voters that at the time of the election we were far more right-wing than we let on, and we just pretended otherwise to get into power and do what we are doing now i.e. supporting economic right-wing policies. Thanks to the Orange Bookers, attempts to talk sense on the situation are drowned by “lah-lah-lah, we’re not listening, you just rolled over and supported the Tories”.

    By the time the Orange Book was written, the idea that a more market-oriented approach to everything was the way to make things better was already old hat, lazily pushed in the right-wing press as if it was a universally accepted truth, with those remaining little bits of scepticism about it needing to be squeezed out of existence, so that all of us were 100% united behind the Thatcher revolution. So, to be sure, a reminder to liberals that the market can be used in a liberal way was fine, but actually I don’t think it was that much needed, given that it wasn’t hard to find that argument enthusiastically put forward back then. The more interesting question back then, and even more now, is why it hasn’t worked, why most people DON’T feel that the shift towards market economics that has been political orthodoxy since 1979 has given them true freedom.

    The market is a a tool and the state is another tool. Liberals can use both. But we need to think of them as just tools, and have a deeper idea of freedom beyond them. If we confuse liberalism with one of the tools that may be used to promote it, then we have lost what true liberalism is, because we no longer have a measure of it against which to test whether the tool is doing the job. That is why to use the term “liberalism” to mean “devotion to free market solutions”, is so wrong. The Orange Bookers started talk about “economic liberalism”, but we’ve reached the point where their greatest devotees are dropping the “economic” from that phrase. In doing so, they are destroying liberalism.

  • matt (Bristol) 30th Jun '14 - 1:47pm

    Matthew Huntbach,

    When I do agree with you, I agree with you very strongly, and I just did.
    Thank-you for a very clear and succinct statement of what a broad-based liberal party could be.

  • MH: “The market is a a tool and the state is another tool. Liberals can use both. But we need to think of them as just tools, and have a deeper idea of freedom beyond them. If we confuse liberalism with one of the tools that may be used to promote it, then we have lost what true liberalism is, because we no longer have a measure of it against which to test whether the tool is doing the job. That is why to use the term “liberalism” to mean “devotion to free market solutions”, is so wrong. The Orange Bookers started talk about “economic liberalism”, but we’ve reached the point where their greatest devotees are dropping the “economic” from that phrase. In doing so, they are destroying liberalism.”

    Beautifully put.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Jul '14 - 10:23am

    matt (Bristol) and Stewart, thanks for your kind words.

    I did once apply to go on the Liberal Democrat approved Parliamentary candidates list, but they rejected me on the grounds that I was “poor at communication”.

    Our current national leader is someone who was pushed to that position with the biggest argument used for him being that he was a “good communicator”.

    I have a working class accent, he does not. Does that say anything to you?

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