The Independent View: Labour and Lib Dems must show a willingness to work together

As a long-term believer in the need for a more progressive politics, I take no great joy in the spate of polls showing the Liberal Democrats in free fall.

The latest projections from UK Polling Report show that a Lib Dem collapse to 15% in the polls would deliver a Conservative majority of 18 and the balance of power being held by the Tory right rather than the Lib Dem right. The Lib Dem concessions on inheritance tax, capital gains tax, and Europe – for which they should be praised – would go in a flash.

But the Lib Dems have not delivered on Nick Clegg’s promise of a “fairer Britain“. On many of the issues where progressive voices, including Left Foot Forward, had praised the Liberal Democrats – such as immigration, Trident, and nuclear power – the Lib Dems in government have effectively capitulated.

Meanwhile, the about turn on VAT and the timing and size of public spending cuts has been extraordinary. In January, Vince Cable said:

My party takes the view that the government’s eight-year plan, with a four-year halving of the deficit, is a reasonable starting point … The time to start cutting the budget deficit and its speed must be decided by a series of objective tests which include the rate of recovery, the level of unemployment, the availability of credit to businesses and the government’s ability to borrow in international markets on good terms.

With growth forecasts down, unemployment up, credit availability falling, but borrowing robust, he and his Cabinet colleagues are now giving cover for an additional £32 billion of public spending cuts over this Parliament. Worse, the cutting will start this year. Some compromise is necessary in a coalition but sacrificing a well thought through rationale for the pace of deficit reduction is perverse. Little wonder, that only 40% of Liberal Democrat voters approve the coalition’s performance.

There is a temptation here for progressives, particularly those within the Labour party, to look on from the side lines and allow the Liberal Democrats to dig their own grave. But this would be a mistake. Progressives of both parties, and of none, must work together to support the Lib Dems in Government to create a more progressive Britain.

The shopping list of Lib Dem “achievements”, published recently on this blog, was no more than a rehashing of the better bits of the Coalition Agreement. Very little has actually been achieved so far. But for those of us who supported the Liberal Democrats on their approach to climate change, constitutional reform, and civil liberties, there is an incentive to help them.

First, their approach on these issues is – broadly speaking – the right one. Both Lib Dems and Labour agreed in their manifestos on the need for electoral reform, fixed term parliaments, and greater devolution. And since the election, a number of Labour’s leadership candidates have accepted that ID cards and the Heathrow extension were wrong. There will and must be debates on sticky issues like the planned review of constituency size or the distributional impact of green taxes, but that should not prevent wider collaboration.

Second, Labour must show that it can work with the Liberal Democrats on areas of common interest. Whatever the electoral system we are likely to see more hung parliaments, rather than fewer, in the future. Indeed, there has to be a reasonable chance that the 2015 election will make Labour the largest party in another hung parliament. In these circumstances, Labour may have to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to get its hands back on power. Indeed, if polls are to be believe a Lib-Lab coalition may take place in Scotland next May. Showing that the two parties can work together is therefore essential.

The AV referendum is an interesting test case for this collaboration. Scupper it and the chance of a fairer voting system will be lost for a generation. Support it, and a Labour manifesto commitment will be realised with some good will thrown in.

Both Labour and Lib Dem should admit that the Conservatives are winning the argument across a range of issues at the moment. Within Government, the Lib Dems must show more spine. In opposition, Labour must continue to expose the worst elements of the coalition’s programme including its unfair approach to deficit reduction. But they must also show a willingness to work together where there is common ground.

Will Straw is the editor of Left Foot Forward.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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  • Fair article. Good one. I think Lib Dems can sign up to this. Now, can you persuade your Labour colleagues to?

  • Hi – I think Labours attitude only a few weeks ago – & then in 1997 to us shows no difference to their attitude since 1923 – they want to screw/destroy us at every opportunity.

    Please read the Journal of Liberal History Autumn 2005 article ‘Holding the Balance’ (available on-line?).

  • I agree that a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and Labour ir preferable to one between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, at least in the abstract. I know of plenty of decent people in the Labour Party with whom I and many other Liberal Democrats would be happy to work. The majority in both parties believe in fairness, and virtually all Labourites and most but not quite all Lib Dems are opposed to the privatisation of the NHS. There are, however, some areas of real difficulty. The main ones being US foreign policy and civil liberties. While there are plenty of Labour members and supporters who opposed the Iraq war and are sincere defenders of human rights, it is an uncomfortable fact that the Blair/Mandelson “New” Labour Party was a servile puppet of the US military and economic elites and an enthusiastic agent for the control agenda.

    How do we go forward? An end to the cataract of repetitive posts from Labour trolls on this site would help. These are having the effect of strengthening support for the coalition, (presumably) the exact opposite of what their authors intend. From the Labour side, movement on international affairs and human rights would be required. And from the Lib Dem side, the scuppering of Lansley’s NHS “reforms” would undoubtedly be a prerequisite.

    The Liberal Democrats are not in free fall. Real elections where real people actually vote indicate that our support is holding up. but that is not guaranteed to last. In my opinion, the point of no return would be persisting with the coalition after the necessary actions to deal with the defecit have been taken. I would be very unhappy to find myself a member of a party proppring up the Tories two years hence.

  • Andrea Gill 23rd Jul '10 - 2:36pm

    Sensible article, thank you 🙂

  • I think Will should face it – he and his father have little influence over Labour policy and Labour should simply have its own internal dialogue – though Darling has a role in actually setting out Labour’s stall on the cuts that will be required.

    Labour lost the election for roughly three reasons – a) Independent voters deserted them due to economic incompetence b) lower-income voters deserted them as they disagree with a system where in David Blunkett’s words `ordinary people are subsidising other ordinary people` not to work or live in Westminster and as a rebellion against the `disability industry` and c) older people with fixed incomes deserted them

    Labour has to first apologise for its mistakes before it can start to win these people back. It must then engage with the deficit and the new politics by setting out its own budget response in detail. In fact this could be a masterstroke that could wrongfoot Osborne.

    Labour can then post-deficit posit a brutally honest vision of a Social Democratic future stating ALL the `downsides` as well as the upsides. What’s happening now is that Labour are playing the old game of flagging up all the downsides of the coalition without mentioning the downsides of their own programme – all well and good for the long-term `catchy monkey we’ll win an election one day` game – yet it’s not the smartest way to do opposition politics.

    The problem many ordinary floating voters see at the moment is that yes they are unhappy about future cuts yet they realise that they may be necessary to stabilise the economy so that hard work is rewarded and that we fully cut out the waste in the public services (by that they mean pen-pushers). They don’t regard the state as the economy (which Labour does) and they think that immigration should be contained and the books should balance. My guess is that they are sanguine about defence cuts and are divided on lfl Trident.

    The problem for Labour is that articles such as these sound so arrogant as if Labour have a right to govern and that just makes Lib Dem voters like myself dig their heels in even further.

    My feeling is that they won’t trust Labour for a generation to govern in a majority circumstance and that the Labour brand is seriously tarnished.

  • Intersting many are already writing about the death of the Lib Dems – I’m sorry to disappoint our Labour friends – we are not going to go away!

  • Grammar Police 23rd Jul '10 - 3:11pm

    @ Will “On many of the issues where progressive voices, including Left Foot Forward, had praised the Liberal Democrats – such as immigration, Trident, and nuclear power – the Lib Dems in government have effectively capitulated.”

    Will, IMO your article falls rather flat, because the Labour party is not a progressive party in respect of (m)any of the issues you highlight (for example, the ones above), and so you’re effectively just complaining that the Tories are in power at all. Sadly, the British public voted for a mainly Tory Government, and that requires some level of compromise over policy positions.

    You say: “Very little has actually been achieved so far”.

    I’m concerned that you think that taking the very lowest paid out of tax, restoring the pensions-earnings link; targetting child tax credits more effectively; increasing CGT; placing a levy on the banks; closing the children’s wing of the faciltiy at Yarl’s Wood (and stopping the detention of children); kicking into the long grass the serious threat to the HRA; providing cover for a Tory Justice Secretary to admit that short-term prison sentences don’t work; the introduction of a bill on electoral reform etc – would have all happened if we’d had a majority – or even minority – Conservative Govt.

    Anyway, enough cheerleading. I’m not going to pretend I’m happy about the Coalition. I’m not. I wanted, campaigned and voted for a majority Lib Dem Govt. However, I am aware that what we’ve got is better than what we had, and what we would have had if Cameron had won outright. That doesn’t mean I don’t want the Lib Dems in Government to fight harder, to shout louder. I do.

    I agree that the Lib Dems must work with progressives in Parliament. I agree that Labour should realise that a collapse in the Lib Dem electoral fortunes would see a majority for Cameron. I’m just not sure there are very many in the Labour Parliamentary party, nor that the Labour party are able to put political interest in attempting to re-create the two party system ahead of anything else.

  • So Will given that the Labour leadership is being held under AV – I take it all Labour people will be supporting the referendum. Because for me that’s the clincher. If you want the deal show willing. If there is any significant dissent for party political reasons that’s me then digging my heels in further.

    Also, I doubt if the majority of the public think that the cuts that are on offer are that bad – they might disagree with the direction of the NHS and education (I wonder how many of these things will come to pass?) – what they agree with though is that the Economy needs to be in equilibrium – interest rates higher than inflation, a healthy private sector promoting exports and the domestic economy and funding a public sector that is both effective and coherent.

    The problem for Labour is that it still isn’t thinking the unthinkable or challenging its own questions. Until it does that and gets away from this `Labour are always good or should be given the benefit of the doubt` perspective the people that might vote for them won’t. The Secretaries, shopworkers, hairdressers, office clerks and ditch diggers etc are those that they need to attract back. These people are no longer interested in hearing cloud cuckoo land `money tree` economics, they probably don’t care if some civil servants and quangos go to the wall and are happy with benefit reform. They didn’t think Labour were on their side at the end with their low savings rates, recession and benefits system that penalised self-reliance. Until Labour and the Lib Dems fully understand that Labour are going nowhere.

  • Grammar Police 23rd Jul '10 - 3:15pm

    @ Tom Miller “and he is mortified re. the government. I told him the solution is joining us,”

    A party that promotes a system of electoral reform that would make coalitions more likely has got to accept that it may sometimes mean coalition with people who are far from our ideal partners. If the Lib Dems could/would only ever be in coalition with Labour we might as well give up and join you.

  • Ben Johnson 23rd Jul '10 - 3:24pm

    I strongly agree with the sentiment.

    But can you really imagine Labour politicians campaigning with the libdems for a “yes” in the AV referendum? There is so much anti-libdem vitriol in the left wing press and from the Labour front bench, it’s hard to imagine them working together.

    It’s a great shame.

  • Here are the results of two elections (where real people actually voted) that took place yesterday. Someone tell me where the “free fall” is?

    Cherwell DC, Kidlington North
    Thursday 22 July 2010 12:00

    LD Alaric Rose 526 (42.2%;-11.4)
    Con 419 (33.6%;-12.8)
    Lab 216 (17.3%;+17.3)
    UKIP 86 (6.9%;+6.9)
    Majority 107
    Turnout 29.6%
    Lib Dem hold
    Percentage change is since May 2010

    Basildon DC, Nethermayne
    Thursday 22 July 2010 12:00

    LD Philip Jenkins 605 (33.5%;-2.9)
    Lab 461 (25.5%;+1.9)
    Con 372 (20.6%;-10.6)
    UKIP 280 (15.5%;+15.5)
    BNP 70 (3.9%;-4.9%)
    Ind 18 (1.0%;+1.0)
    Majority 144
    Turnout 20.4%
    Lib Dem hold
    Percentage change is since May 2010

  • Bill Kristol-Balls 23rd Jul '10 - 3:26pm

    In respect of Trident, given that the Labour and Tory positions before the election were virtually identical, I fail to see how a ‘progressive coalition’ of Labour and the Lib Dems would make any difference whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument may be.

    Also as others have said, give them a chance, it’s only been 10 weeks.

  • As an unaffiliated left-leaning voter, I haven’t found the post-election sniping between Labour and Lib Dem activists to be particularly edifying. I think that allowing Will Straw to post here, and trying to have some sort of civilised dialogue, can only be a good thing.

    I want to comment on Iain Roberts’ discussion of the “betrayal” point. Obviously there’s no serious argument that the Lib Dems “betrayed” Labour, because opposing parties don’t owe each other anything. However, I think it is a grave mistake to discount the extent to which an alarming percentage of people who voted for the Lib Dems do feel betrayed. Specifically, I believe there were many voters who were fed up with Brown, Iraq, ID cards, erosion of civil liberties, etc., but also disagreed strongly with the Tories’ plans to threaten a fragile economic recovery by cutting too much, too fast, and consequently decided to support the Lib Dems, who campaigned vigorously against the Tories’ economic plans.

    I am sympathetic to the argument that the electoral mathematics left the Lib Dems with “no choice” but to form a coalition with the Tories. However, by entering a coalition agreement that endorses lock, stock and barrel the Tories’ agenda of cutting too much, too fast, I believe the Lib Dems did “betray” a significant percentage of their voters, and committed an enormous strategic blunder (not to mention the risk of that agenda’s plunging the UK back into severe recession). Given Cameron’s obvious eagerness to secure a coalition deal, there is no doubt that the Lib Dems could have obtained significant concessions on the cuts agenda. The failure to secure such concessions was, in my view, a betrayal of the Lib Dem party as a whole by its “orange tory” contingent (e.g., Clegg and especially David Laws), whose economic views turn out to be much closer to George Osborne’s than they ever were to Vince Cable’s.

    I am not among those who want to see the Lib Dem party consigned to the dust bin of history, but I fear for the party’s survival if it does not find a way to regain the trust of those who thought they were voting for a centre-left party and got one substantially to the right of centre instead.

  • @Elizabeth – (However, I think it is a grave mistake to discount the extent to which an alarming percentage of people who voted for the Lib Dems do feel betrayed. Specifically, I believe there were many voters who were fed up with Brown, Iraq, ID cards, erosion of civil liberties, etc., but also disagreed strongly with the Tories’ plans to threaten a fragile economic recovery by cutting too much, too fast, and consequently decided to support the Lib Dems, who campaigned vigorously against the Tories’ economic plans.)

    I disagree with this analysis – the Lib Dems should do what they think is right and not constantly be looking over their shoulder. Again it is up to Labour to state where its 44bn of cuts would have been (not to mention the 20% cut in state funding) before we can set benchmarks and give analysis in five years time. That’s if Labour is serious about mature opposition. Labour must also say how much the extra borrowing costs would be by not doing these things faster.

    When it comes down to it we come to the core fact – the majority of the British public want some sort of fiscal conservatism in a socially modern society – the party or parties that persuade them that their way is the most economically able to bring about a prosperous balanced economy that both rewards hard work and looks after those that can’t and the educational/health needs of their families will be the party or parties to reap the electoral harvest.

    In short, they want fiscal prudence that works for ordinary people with the surpluses invested in enabling public services, supporting those that genuinely can’t and raising tax thresholds. They sense that both parties of the coalition are working towards that aim – they are clueless what Labour is for except to spend more money or tell them how evil the other lot are.

  • gramsci's eyes 23rd Jul '10 - 4:15pm

    @Iain Dale “The real challenge for many in Labour is to get over their gut feeling that the Lib Dems are somehow “betraying” someone or other, or being “treasonous” or even “collaborators”

    You don’t really get this politics thing. That is not Labours problem or challenge, that is the Lib-Dems problem and challenge.

  • A welcome olive branch from Will – would Jack have done the same?

    I would also be grateful for some slightly more productive debate on the “left” (though I view all our major parties as centrists with sporadic delusions of “left-/right-ness”). It’s about time we dropped the defensiveness and allowed some more criticism from the opposition, but beating off Labour trolls (oo-er) has landed many of us with a bunker-mentality.

    I think Grammar Police and Sesenco make some good points: picking Trident, immigration and nuclear power as the worst-offending capitulations is a little strange, given that Labour’s policies were much closer to the Conservatives on all those issues. Also, the Lib Dems *have* negotiated on all those points: the immigration cap looks like being relaxed for very high skilled workers and academics; there are questions being asked about downsizing the nuclear deterrent and new nuclear power stations will have no government subsidy (last I checked anyway).

    Also, your economic data is a bit out of date: growth far outstripped predictions in the second quarter this year and unemployment is falling again since the election. Of course they may both be blips, we will see …

    It would be nice if we could get a sort of unofficial forum for rapprochement between Labour and the Lib Dems. Maybe a truce in a pub somewhere with promises not to thrust membership forms at each other?

    By far the biggest failure of the orange team in my opinion is letting the Health Bill and Free Schools Bill proceed unchallenged. I’m happy with a few of the points but think they both need some severe neutering from government and opposition benches before being enacted.

  • Oops: apologies for missing closing tag.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 23rd Jul '10 - 4:22pm

    “Someone tell me where the “free fall” is?”

    Well, in the first of your two examples, the Lib Dem share of the vote is more than 11 points down compared with two months ago!

  • “Well, in the first of your two examples, the Lib Dem share of the vote is more than 11 points down compared with two months ago!”

    You obviously haven’t spotted that two months ago there was no Labour candidate in this formerly Labour ward. The 11.4% drop is substantially less than the 17.3% that Labour scored. The Conservatives lost 12.8%. Is that free fall too? And I would add that 42.2% is rather higher than the opinion poll figures gleefully being quoted by our enemies.

  • @John, the concern I was addressing involved the relationship between the Lib Dem party and people who voted for the Lib Dems. What Labour would or would not have done has little, if anything, to do with that. Lib Dem voters who feel betrayed by the Lib Dems won’t necessarily keep voting Lib Dem because Labour could be even worse — they might just stay home. And that just means even fewer seats for the Lib Dems than the disappointing number achieved this time, regardless of what anyone thinks about Labour. If someone is telling you “I voted for the Lib Dems based on their manifesto and I feel betrayed,” for you to answer “but here’s why you shouldn’t vote for Labour!!!!” is simply not responsive.

    You seem to be saying that it’s fine for the Lib Dems to to “what they think is right” without regard to whether what they now “think is right” is the exact opposite of what they campaigned on (which is the case as to the timing and depth of cuts). That approach strikes me as likely to breed even more voter cynicism than we have already, especially since the Lib Dems explicitly claimed to offer voters a “new politics” and promised to be different from those stereotypical untrustworthy old Labour and Tory politicians who would say one thing and then do another.

    If your proposed campaign pitch is “vote for us based on our manifesto, which we’ll then feel free to ignore and do whatever we please, just like we did this time,” then I fail to see how that can be anything other than electoral suicide for the Lib Dems.

    Finally, I don’t see how your opinion that “ordinary people” are pleased with the efforts of “both parties of the coalition” to date can be reconciled with the fact that the Lib Dems are now polling at 13-15 percent. Unless you just think all of the polling is wrong, it seems clear that, no matter what the voting public thinks of Labour, they’re far from being enthused about the Lib Dems just now. And if you believe the polling, but think it won’t last, then it seems to me that you’re taking for granted that the coalition will last long enough, be successful enough, and yield enough electoral benefits to both of its parties to prevent a wipeout of the Lib Dems at the next election. Those things may be possible, but you take them for granted at your peril.

  • Andrea Gill 23rd Jul '10 - 5:05pm
  • Rob Sheffield 23rd Jul '10 - 8:24pm

    Senseco- here are results from last week that you- oops- forgot to add to your list as current:

    15th July
    Preston CC Riversway ward
    Majority 502. Turnout 29.3%. Lab gain from Lib Dem

    Bradfield PC, Oughtibridge
    Majority 146. Turnout 16.3%. Con gain from Lib Dem.

    Bradfield PC, Worrall
    Majority 100. Turnout 15.8%. Ind gain from Lib Dem

    Knaresborough TC, King James
    Majority 488. Turnout 30.32%. Con gain from Lib Dem.

  • Steve Brundish 24th Jul '10 - 8:37am

    In the past I would be happy to work with Lib Dems to further the development of progressive centre left policies. The problem now is that Cameron is not progressive. Polices from free schools to health via a dismanling of the welfare state are the opposite of what the centre left believe in. Delaying inheritance tax changes and a slight increase in capital gains are no way balancing out the other conservative polices. The Lib dems have to decide what thay are in politics for. Do they exisit to just be in power or a real positive force for change. Clegg’s non stop attacks on Labour and close support for cameron has made him an Labour enemy. Centre left governance will not be resumed until he and Cameron are removed. So its up to the Lib Dems to ether nuckledown and support the Tories or make Clegg change direction and to be honest like Gordon Brown he may need to go. This is not only to make any deals with Labour possible but to save your party from destruction at the next election. Cameron is playing a two faced game he is happy for the Clegg to provde cover for his polices while Andy Coulson works with the Tory media to attack Clegg and the Lib Dems at every oppurtunity. The Conservative strategy is to use the Lib Dems as cover while undermining them ( it is already working look at the polls Tories 44 Lib Dems 13 Labour stuck at 35). So the ball is in your court you need to deal with the Tories before any deals can be made with Labour.

  • Charles Alex 24th Jul '10 - 10:02am

    Your article was very thought provoking and makes a change from the polemics on some other sites. We can all be partisan about our politics, indeed we should be, but being partisan doesn’t mean you have to fail to recognise realties. As a Labour supporter who has long supported electoral reform I would like to see my party offer a truly radical proposal. A majority within my party would not welcome proportional representation but AV is a ‘miserable compromise’, in fact I do agree with Nick. The wings of both main parties will kill the referendum, AV will be portrayed as a ‘second choice’ compromise and we will have lost an opportunity for a political generation.
    I have found it hard to stomach the constant ‘tacking to the right’ of the policy agenda and have not seen such ‘ambidextorous’ political posturing in my life time but that is no reason not to look at the longer picture.
    What do I want to see – If i’m honest, I would like to see the Tory right get their way and go it alone without the fig leaf of the Lib Dems. I would like to see a General Election within the next 18 months because the mandate being referred to at the moment is on extermely shaky ground. Will that Happen? Probably not – by-election results referred to in more recent posts show an alarming trends if you are a lIb Dem at local level. Holds are all well and good but 10%+ swings (average) do not bode well for May 2011 when the coalition cuts have been implemented. Public opinion is built on rhetoric at the moment but in May 2011 and more worryingly for the Liberals Dems in 2012. Since the cuts agenda will propel an agenda to weaken local democracy which is the base of the party, I fear that it will be the junior partners that pay the electoral price. Indeed the polls show that its the Tories that are taking the gravy and its the Lib Dems that are feeling the pain.
    My humble opinion, if worth anything, is we should stop talking about centre left/right and start to think about ideas – I want to see a Britain that values personal freedom, equality of opportunity, a state that helps people move through their lives by equipping them and supporting them through the challenges of the new economy and yes, I do believe the state is required to do that. The market unregulated is not good for society, it does not produce equality of opportunity and it does not contribute enough to the ‘common good’. I’m not a shareholder in the banks, i’m a shareholder in my country and by logical extension, the world so I want those banks to mirror my long term aspirations of less short term gain and more long term investments. I want to see a business, in its most difficult years, supported and I don’t want to see one business flourish at the expense of a myriad of others. Ramblings over and I beg your indulgence. One final point. Nick Clegg can redeem himself on the Forgemasters issue which is the coalitions Bernie Ecclestone moment. He can urge the Conservative party to pay the donations back to the odious little man, Mr Cook, a real modern day ‘mill-owner’ with the same mentality. Now that would be unique instead of hiding behind the affordability line which will do local Lib Dems in Sheffield much harm. A £80m loan to be repaid to the tune of £110m is good business by the government and allows Forgemasters to stay out of the clutches of Mr Cook. The failure to be able to raise the monies in the market place is a damning indictment on the financial sector. Bad politics and bad for society in general and is a real stain on integrity.

  • For as long as I can remember the party which formed the national government tended to do badly in local government elections.

    The price of national power is local losses.

    Is scrapping Labour’s Yarls Wood child detention centre and ID cards worth the loss of councillors. Very cruel for the councillors concerned but the answer must be yes.

  • Grammar Police 24th Jul '10 - 10:31am

    @ Will Straw – obviously you’re not a spokesperson for Labour, but you are relatively critical of the Lib Dem position and arguing that we should work with Labour on progressive issues. My point was there is no working with Labour on a number of progressive issues (like Trident, immigration & nuclear power) as they are not a progressive party (sorry). I think there’s certainly further for Labour to move before it is possible for us to work with them on anything. Are you having similar arguments within the Labour party, and do any such articles take a similar tone?

    As for whether Trident, immigration and nuclear power were “posturing positions” – well, you could say that about any compromise that any party makes in any coalition: but coalition makes compromise on policy necessary. The coalition agreement provides there will be no public subsidy for nuclear power, which effectively stops it in its tracks. The immigration cap is hugely disappointing, but at least there is some flexibility being worked into the system, which the Tories wouldn’t have bothered with. On LFF Marcus Roberts said: “The commitment to scrutinise Trident renewal to “ensure value for money” and the absence of language on continuous at-sea patrols could well be an early indication of a willingness to reduce the number of new Trident-bearing submarines from four to three. The wording also omits the word “independent” which, given defence secretary Liam Fox’s warm words of praise for Anglo-French defence efforts in opposition could also see moves towards a join at-sea Anglo-French nuclear deterrent in the long term. On the Liberal Democrats’ intention to “continue to make the case for alternatives”, it will be interesting to see the extent to which government collective responsibility on the Trident renewal issue is maintained . . . ” IMO you play down other Lib Dem achievements because you don’t want to see the Tories in Government – you would expect the Lib Dem leadership to play up our achievements, and the reality is somewhere in the middle.

    Also, “posturing positions” imply some level of popularity amongst the general public. Our Immigration and Trident policies were certainly not popular, and most people don’t think too much about nuclear power.

    @ Rob Sheffield – Preston Riversway, is not really a surprising Labour gain. There were two seats up for election in May, the first was won by Labour with a large-ish majority. The Lib Dems won the second by a handful of votes, because the second Labour candidate was prevented (due to administrative cock-up) from having the Labour ballot paper description and logo. The Lib Dem councillor resigned after a couple of weeks.
    Quoting two parish council and a town council election is not exactly indicative either. Since the GE the Lib Dems have performed well in principal authority by-elections, and have seen a net gain of seats.

  • Grammar Police 24th Jul '10 - 10:43am

    @ Charles Alex

    I think you are wrong on the overall swings in by-elections, I don’t think they are showing massive Lib Dem losses, and not to the Labour party either. Since the GE we’ve seen 3 losses to Labour and 2 gains from them. We’ve seen a number of gains from the Conservatives too. Not bad for a party apparently on around 15% in the polls (well, after you make adjustments, like YouGov are doing, because they got the Lib Dem result at the GE so wrong).

    I agree with you Charles, with one qualification – “I want to see a Britain that values personal freedom, equality of opportunity, a state that helps people move through their lives by equipping them and supporting them through the challenges of the new economy . . . . ”

    But I don’t think this is what the current Labour party is offering (or did offer). And so I hope you are calling for equally big changes in strategy and position from the Labour party? Perhaps posting on LabourHome or Left Foot Forward (same with you, Will).

    I *suspect* most Labour supporters calling for this kind of thing aren’t willing to see that Labour also needs to change dramatically too (afterall, why did you lose the election?). Until they do, I’m afraid, I don’t have much truck with their criticism of the Lib Dems going into coalition with the Tories and apparently how terrible this is for progressive politics.

  • Rob Sheffield 24th Jul '10 - 4:27pm

    “Since the GE the Lib Dems have performed well in principal authority by-elections, and have seen a net gain of seats.”

    h ttp://

    Ahem: Principal Authority results summary for 2010 up to 22 Jul are:

    Tories net minus 6;
    Labour net plus 15;
    Lib DEms net plus TWO !!

    That is all of 2010- you have performed worse since the coalition and the loss of a third of your vote.

    I enjoyed your attempt at “not really a surprising Labour gain” along with asserting that Town Council /Parish Council contests ‘don’t matter’/ ‘aren’t relevant’…..

    That from the supposed party of “localism” 🙂 🙂

  • Grammar Police 24th Jul '10 - 10:42pm

    @ Rob Sheffield
    I didn’t say the Parish Council/Town Council elections were “irrelevant” I said that 2 losses on a parish council and one on a town council were hardly indicitive of a collapse in vote.

    As for “
    Ahem: Principal Authority results summary for 2010 up to 22 Jul are”

    Clue is in the “2010 up to 22 Jul”. Please look which of those results are after the GE – and which before.

    Also, that site doesn’t include the 2 gains from Labour in Haverstock ward in Camden, which were delayed from the day of the GE because a candidate died – they’re technically not by-elections. However, “on the night” of the election, Labour did really well, and won many of the Camden seats. 3 weeks later they did not.

    In Riversway in the election for two seats: one Labour candidate got a large majority. The other Labour candidate had no ballot paper description or Labour logo (indeed they weren’t allowed a description at all). The second Labour candidate lost by a handful of votes, to a Lib Dem candidate who gained nowhere near as many votes as the winning Labour candidate. So, no, I don’t find the result of the by-election at all surprising. If the second Labour candidate had been able to run as “Labour” in the first place they would have won! Hardly an amazing gain . . . still, if you’re grasping at straws, you’re welcome to it.

    I know some people only see what they want to, but the facts just don’t back up the claims you’re making.

  • Rob Sheffield 25th Jul '10 - 9:55am

    “Clue is in the “2010 up to 22 Jul”. Please look which of those results are after the GE – and which before.”

    In your desperation to downgrade the Preston CC result (LD’s down 4.4) you declined to comment on the Walsall MBC gain (LDs down 6.5) and the Leicester CC gain (LD’s down 10.8). ‘Straws’ and ‘clutching’ is vastly more appropriate to your post.

    Oh and the summary table for “up to and including 22nd July” is….

    Tories net minus 6;
    Labour net plus 15;
    Lib Dems net plus TWO !!

    No one will doubt the LD performance is down either in opinion polls or by totting up the +/- of each individual LA seat (where they stood). But I guess you are one of those people who have gone out especially to buy the People today because they have the LD’s on 23% in their ‘OnePoll’ survey. As UKPR put it:

    “There is also a OnePoll survey in the People with topline figures CON 40%, LAB 30%, LDEM 23%. Regular readers may recall I gave these no credence to their polling during the election campaign, given did not publish the necessary information to judge whether their sampling and methodology were likely to produce representative findings. In the event their final poll bore virtually no resemblence to the election result, with shares of CON 30% (out by 7), LAB 21% (out by 9) and LDEM 32% (out by 9) – in the same way as I do not know how they conducted polling prior to the election, I have no idea if they have changed their methods since then.”

    “YouGov have topline figures of CON 41%, LAB 36%, LDEM 14% – which is still very much within the margin of error of the CON 42%, LAB 35%, LDEM 15% figures that YouGov have been floating around for the last few weeks.”

  • Very amusing – presumably if the Lib Dems had gone into coalition with Labour the price would have included
    immigration, Trident, and nuclear power, where Blue Labour and the Heir to Blair Conseravtives are pretty much identical.

    In fact, lets just put them to a free vote in the House of Commons. I don’t know if Will has noticed but to get things on the statute book, you need a majority in both house of parliament.

    How many Labour MPs voted in favour of STV when given the chance in the last Parliament ? Zero ? One ?

    Given 13 years Labour failed to deliver on theiir promise of a fairer Britain, (and all the rest from voting reform to an ethical foreign policy) but obviously the Lib Dems given 13 weeks and fewer MPs than they had in the last parliament should ahve had it sorted. How remiss of them.

    The Labour Party view on AV shows just how “progressive” they are – like Will Straw, they happily ignore the distortions of FPTP but complain that having equal sized constituencies is “gerrymandering”

  • Grammar Police 30th Jul '10 - 9:42pm

    @ Rob Sheffield

    If you *genuinely* don’t understand why the ‘gain’ of Preston Riversway is not some amazing Labour success, then you’ve got fairly serious problems as a psephologist. Indeed, I’ll suggest that from now on all Labour candidates run without a Labour logo or ballot paper description.

    I’m not sure why you can’t understand pre/post General Election by-election results, but it’s clear that your assertion in relation to local authority by-elections that “you have performed worse since the Coalition” is simply not the case. Indeed, the performance has actually been better.

  • I’d take it even further. All politicians should show willing to work together on occasion.

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