The Independent View: Confusing, exciting and terrifying times for those on the liberal left

These are confusing, exciting and terrifying times for those on the liberal left. By the liberal left I mean those of us who want to see people flourish, to make the world as they see fit – to do it individually but also collectively and therefore democratically and all that requires in terms of greater equality of power and resources.

The confusion is that few of us saw the Conservative-dominated Coalition coming and even fewer are aware yet of its effect on each party and British politics. But it will be profound.

Looking back I find it incredible that my Party, Labour, was so abysmally prepared for a hung parliament. The numbers made a progressive coalition virtually impossible but Labour wasn’t to know that. In terms of ideas, relationships and policy there was no Cook/McLennan Mark 2. Why on earth not? Even in the weeks running up to the vote Labour didn’t even do its last minute homework to see where there could be common ground on the centre-left. As pollsters like John Curtice predict that we might be seeing the start of an era of coalition style government, this is an omission that cannot be allowed to continue. But its about more than a compare and contrast job on manifestos. People need to understand and trust each other, values have to be shared and a direction of travel agreed.

This is where things might get exciting. Ed Miliband is starting to address the fundamental failures that led to the slump in the Labour vote last May. On Saturday at the Fabian conference he in effect said that Labour can’t trash its record – because the public already had. Tentatively but surely he is starting to rethink Labour’s addiction to the bureaucratic state as he pointed a finger at the top-down Fabian tradition. There is a long way to go and it involves many areas like civil liberties – but the journey has at least begun. It is in everyone’s interest on the centre-left for Ed and Labour to combine the desirable with the feasible and effectively renew itself.

Critically Ed is making more and more sensible noises about relations with Liberal Democrats. On Saturday he of course said he will welcome every Liberal Democrat convert – but he said too that it was equally legitimate for social-liberals to remain in the Party and fight their corner. Meanwhile it’s disappointing that Nick Clegg looks too often like he only does pluralism to his right. Ed can’t lose from his more open strategy. Either it helps produce a majority Labour government if that is what the people want or it creates the space for a centre-left coalition.

But of course that isn’t the only possibility. What is terrifying is the creation of a permanent centre-right coalition. In the by-election last week we saw Tory voters in large numbers switching to the Lib Dem candidate; a form of tactical voting not much seen in British politics to date.

There has always been the potential for a centre-left progressive coalition – deep political failures have denied its realization. I don’t expect such a coalition to happen easily or quickly. Real and deep relationships have to be built over time. They must be based on shared values by people big enough to recognize that difference within shared beliefs can be a strength not a weakness.

There are so many questions; what values, what forms of organisation and what policy ideas? We should talk more. There is no other way. Writers on this site have been incredibly generous in their reviews of recent work by Compass and myself. In turn we will keep inviting Liberal Democrats who want a more equal, sustainable and democratic world to our events and discussions. It’s our duty to ensure that an alternative to this Tory led government turns from possibility to a reality.

Neal Lawson is Chair of Compass

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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98 Comments

  • it’s disappointing that Nick Clegg looks too often like he only does pluralism to his right.

    Given that Milliband is quoted as saying he would demand Clegg’s resignation before working with the LibDems, it’s hardly surprising that Clegg’s not overly fussed about working with him, either.

    Milliband’s “appeals” to the LD grass roots also seem to me to be more about undermining the party, not working with it. If he’s genuinely committed to a pluralist approach, this is not the way to go about it.

  • “It’s disappointing that Nick Clegg looks too often like he only does pluralism to his right.”

    Nonsense. But otherwise a good article.

  • What amazes me is that Neal thinks that people who have maybe been in one political party for maybe 20 years should choose another one after only 8 months of BEING IN GOVERNMENT!

    If Neal Lawson doesn’t understand the preposterousness of that entreaty then Labour don’t have much of a hope in their efforts to gain converts.

    Quick note to Neal: Labour don’t have an automatic right to `left liberal` or any other thinking peoples votes or subscriptions.

    `But its about more than a compare and contrast job on manifestos. People need to understand and trust each other, values have to be shared and a direction of travel agreed.` Can you direct me to the URL with Labour’s detailed response to the CSR – ie detailing the 40bn of cuts and 20% reduction in public services.

    `It is in everyone’s interest on the centre-left for Ed and Labour to combine the desirable with the feasible and effectively renew itself.`

    Why?

    `But of course that isn’t the only possibility. What is terrifying is the creation of a permanent centre-right coalition. In the by-election last week we saw Tory voters in large numbers switching to the Lib Dem candidate; a form of tactical voting not much seen in British politics to date.`

    Why is it terrifying? Terrifying for whom? It’s the assumption that just because people WISH, BELIEVE or WANT these things in a kind of `competition of compassion` that people won’t try and analyse left-leaning politicians to see if they’re credible.

    Having invested so much emotional, psychological and time investments in `left-liberalism` there are probably two `terrors` in Neal’s life:

    1. That perhaps the Coalition is a political/economic success – either as two separate forces or even as a merger with Cameron on the right, Clegg in the Centre and Farron on the left. In an FPTP system that latter party would be like Richmond Council – mostly run by LDs except when people want a change to someone else for a few years to see what happens.

    2. That perhaps `liberal conservatism` can deliver a fairer society than Labour! That Social Democracy as a project might have been debauched by new Labour – that might not even be wanted by the majority of voters as they don’t accept its main premises.

  • I agree with both maehara and Andrew Tennant: Ed M’s so-called overtures to the LIb Dems are nothing but attempts to undermine the Coalition; from a political point-of-view of course that’s fair enough, but it’s not (as suggested by the author) a mature laying of the groundwork for a future Lib/Lab coalition.

    I’d like all parties to be more grown-up about this, but it’s Labour activists right now who are too often spitting out their dummies.

  • “What is terrifying is the creation of a permanent centre-right coalition. ”

    Why is this any more terrifying than a permanent centre-left coalition? Neither are good for democracy.

  • Im not here to answer for Ed but he is saying better and better things about pluralist politics – why not recognise that and encourage more. Its in the LIb Dems interests as you have to have more than one to negotiate with next time. and John I never said people should jump ship – i recognise why people don’t like Labour. But that doesn’t mean we cant work together for the things we believe in. And of course a liberal Conservatism is a legitimate route to take – I just don’t believe is will result in the the more equal, sustainable and democratic world I want to see.

  • Beware any overtures from Labour. They only want us when they’re in trouble.

    Look what happened in 1977-79 with the LibLab pact; or Blair & Ashdown in 1994-97: or innumberable instances on local councils. Cosy up to us when they lack a majority, dump on us when they have control. For example, what happened to the referendum on electoral reform promised in 1997 & 2005 ?

    There are very few Neal Lawsons around, but plenty of tribalists. Read the comments about almost any article on the Guardian website to see what Labour people think of Lib Dems when they believe we’ve stopped being their conscience or their useful idiots in areas they can’t win.

    Every Labour goverment i can remember…..Wilson’s in 1964, him again in 1974, Blair/Brown’s from 1997……gave me hope that they would be better than the preceding Tories. Every time has been a disappointment, every time has resulted in a financial mess.

    I’m not at all certain our coalition with the Tories will prove successful, but we are right to try in the country’s interests. None of us like a lot of things the government are doing but we are at least having some influence. And, unlike some Lib Dems who have jumped ship (for the best of motives), I’m prepared to wait and see what the next four years brings. A lot of grief for a lot of people in the short term, that’s for sure, but a brighter future eventually.

    Knee jerk opposition to everything is the Labour way of thinking. And they are not pluralists and never have been.

  • Grammar Police 17th Jan '11 - 12:52pm

    @ Neal Lawson “In the by-election last week we saw Tory voters in large numbers switching to the Lib Dem candidate; a form of tactical voting not much seen in British politics to date.”

    No, that’s one possible interpretation of what we saw (and the one most Labour supporters want to imagine). Similarly turnout was down (by 13%) and Labour voters are currently much more likely to be motivated to vote – with Tory voters much less likely to be motivated to do so. Sadly, it’s impossible to know exactly what happened.

    The reality was probably a combination of the two, and neither at one extreme or another.

    @ Neal “They must be based on shared values by people big enough to recognize that difference within shared beliefs can be a strength not a weakness.”

    Agreed. Perhaps Ed promising to make Liberal Democrats “extinct” do not help that.

    Similarly, one Fabian conference does not a Summer make. 13 years of Labour government leaves a lot of ground for Ed and his shadow cabinet colleagues to make up, especially as Ed and his colleagues were often the ones making the terrible decisions.

    What will be interesting, and it’s a difficult one, is whether there can be work on shared values that are not just based on attacking the Government (we’ve yet to see anything from Labour that’s not).

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Jan '11 - 1:14pm

    Neal you are absolutely correct that Labour was not prepared for a hung parliament. But you should also look at how the other parties’ preparations and what they told the electorate about how they behave in such circumstances. The Tories did make preparations at a late date, but didn’t tell the electorate or anyone else about their plans and the LibDem leadership put forward a totally dishonest agenda about how they would behave. Who would have thought that on the central economic question of the size and spped of deficit reduction that Nick Clegg privately agreed with the Tory position?

    Going forward democratic accountability means that all parties are going to have to be a lot more open and honest with the electorate as to how they will behave in any coalition negotiations. No party will ever be given the blank cheque that was in effect presented to Nick Clegg. if you look at those countries where coalitions are common you will see that there is much more pre-election discussion of coalitions pre-election – and post election coalitions are often seen as having poor democratic credentials.

    As a Labour member and supporter I would be more than happy to work with the social Liberals and Keynesians within the LibDem party providing that they can wrest back control of their own party (and if they were to do so it is extremely difficult to see how they would want Clegg as their leader – or whether he would want to be their leader)- or if they want to split off and form a true Liberal Democrat party. What I would never support is working with a LibDem party controlled by Manchester liberals/orange bookers who have a fundamentally different view on economics and markets to that held by most within the Labour Party.

    There are a lot of issues where practical people with nearly all political values and stances are able to reach an agreement which does not compromise anyone’s ideology – perhaps more than most in political parties are able to acknowledge. And I would be all in favour in strangthening such mechanisms (perhaps through involving select committees more in legislation and using a reforemed House of Lords). But that said where there are genuine disagreemments based on political values the reality is that there has to be a fair degree of overlap if you are to enter into a workable coalition.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 17th Jan '11 - 1:16pm

    … by voting Labour and the parties to its left. Not by trying to coax the Lib Dems down from the roof, because it’s too late for that. The party only hasn’t hit the pavement yet because of that blue rope around their neck.

  • `But that doesn’t mean we cant work together for the things we believe in. `

    Very good. One of the things I believe in is the desire for those that swing elections the need for parties to level with them on economic matters. I ask again – can you show me the details of Labour’s response to the CSR.

    `And of course a liberal Conservatism is a legitimate route to take – I just don’t believe is will result in the the more equal, sustainable and democratic world I want to see.`

    Why the delay? Ed can give the outcomes he wants and ask committees to get on and do them. It couldn’t be that Labour is such a broad church and vested interest groups that it’s impossible to achieve them – that the Lib Dems would be used like a parasite to get Labour elected?

    Define `equality`. Who will be the losers and winners from a social democratic state? How will increasing tax credits be better than raising tax thresholds? Sorry, Neal, sloppy thinking there from yourself I think.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 17th Jan '11 - 1:20pm

    An excellent article, Neal.

    @Grammar Police, it is Cameron’s kiss of death that is likely to make the Liberal Democrats extinct

    I am watching what Neal lawson and Ed M have to say with interest. I’m not yet ready to jump ship, but am preparing for the possibility (or even probability) that, following the 2015 election, the Labour Party may, for left-leaning liberals – be the only show in town

  • You can have all the `left-leaning` intentions you want – if you can’t budget for them they’re all a lot of hot air.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Jan '11 - 1:29pm

    @David -L “And they are not pluralists and never have been.”

    And so those two Liberals Keynes and Beveridge haven’t had any influence on the thinking of the Labour Party over the years? Or perhaps you never considered as being true LibDems in the first place – which is a fair enough viewpoint given the current LibDems in government. It is an interesting pluralist who starts by rubbishing the ideas of those he disagrees with.

  • “the Labour Party may, for left-leaning liberals – be the only show in town”

    At the election, several people thought, that for left leading labourites – the lib dems were the only game in town.

    It seems as though the left of the libdems (if such a thing exists) are subserviant to it’s right-leaning sections, who are in turn subserviant to the Tory’s. Not a happy state of affairs.

    For those of a left leaning persuasion – we are reaching the state where there is no game in town.

  • @toryboysnevergrowup said, “the LibDem leadership put forward a totally dishonest agenda about how they would behave [in the event of a hung Parliament]”… so, when I heard – literally every day of the campaign – that the Lib Dems would, in the event of a hung Parliament, give the party with the most votes (the Tories) and the most seats (the Tories) the first opportunity to form a coalition government, and then when the Lib Dems honoured that commitment, that was “totally dishonest”, was it?

    You seem, Neal, this is the voice of too many Labour members… utter partisan nonsense.

  • paul barker 17th Jan '11 - 1:50pm

    Neil Lawsons mistake is to imagine that the “Liberal Left” can be reconciled with the Labour tradition, it cant. There was a period in the 1950s & 60s ( when The Liberal Party were at their weakest) that saw many liberals working in the Labour tradition, making real gains like the Divorce reforms.
    That all ended 30 years ago with the formation of The SDP, its not coming back.Of course we will work with Labour people when we agree, as on The AV referendum. We will talk to Labour in the run-up to 2015 to look for common ground but thats years away.
    If Labour really want to improve relations with us the best thing to say would be nothing at all.

  • “.. and then when the Lib Dems honoured that commitment, that was “totally dishonest”, was it?”

    If only they were a little more consistent at sticking to their commitments.

    The criteria seems to be “we’ll stick to the commitments that suit us – as individuals”.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Jan '11 - 2:05pm

    Stuart

    As I made clear the dishonesty was in relation to the main economic issue of the election – the scale and speed of deficit reduction. Peeple are not interested in who parties will negotiate first – but what they are prepared to negotiate away.

  • There is no such thing as a “left Liberal”, so the premise of this article is flawed.

    You’re either a Liberal or you’re not (in which case you’re a Socialist, Social Democrat, or Tory). Unfortunately, too much tribal politics has got in the way of this and STV would enable it to come out of the tribal woodwork and properly be expressed in new party groupings.

  • The real give away that this is another part of Ed M’s plan to destabilise the Lib Dem is the use of the phrase ‘Tory led government ‘. Remember a few weeks ago Ed M issued an edict that Labour supporters were not to refer to the Coalition as it was rather a popular idea, rather it was to be referred to as ‘Tory Led’.

    No doubt there will be some ‘useful idiots’ who want to talk to Labour. Whether participation in Labour party groups is compatible with membership of the LDs is surely open to doubt.

  • Dan Falchikov:

    “Socialism is dead – thank god – and in its lifetime proved to be one of the most evil ideologies of human history.

    Working people are far better represented by independent trade unions – free of one particular political point of view.
    The state is not always benign and when it becomes too bloated and overweaning it is just as bad as unfettered capitalism.
    People should be allowed to live their lives as they see fit – provided they don’t interfere with the liberties of others.
    I realise now the Labour party has been a 100 year mistake and cannot ever be redeemed.
    I resign. ”

    Succinctly put 🙂

  • @Andrew Tennant

    The way things are going there won’t be any of you left to talk to – well not anyone that the LP would be interested in talking to – but you’ll always have the Tories or maybe even be in the Tory party by then 🙂

  • Neal Lawson 17th Jan '11 - 2:27pm

    There is a rich cross over between the traditions of liberal socialism and social liberalism. They are separate from either market of state fundamentalism both of which we should reject. Whats in those traditions and what it means for ideas and organisation is a worthwhile conversation. Or we can stick in our trenches and lob bombs at each other. I know what feels more appealing and prodcutive to me.

  • Neal Lawson – Social and economic liberalism have more in common with each other (indeed are intertwined) than either has with socialism (and liberal socialism is an oxymoron).

    The fact is, that many Liberals have over the years misguidedly found a home in the Labour Party, which has borrowed many Liberal ideas (Beveridge and Keynes passim) and then implemented them partially and disastrously.

  • Gareth Epps 17th Jan '11 - 2:44pm

    I find Neal Lawson’s piece quite refreshing, as someone who instinctively sees Lib-Labbery as a dead end.

    It is certainly far better balanced than both the regular outpourings of bile and Trojan horses pushed our way by various figures in the Labour movement who should know better on the one hand, and the puerile posturing of those in the Liberal Democrats who were always more comfortable with Lib-Con alliances on the other.

    Neal is also right to recognise the spectacular failure of what passed for a post-election balanced Parliament strategy on Labour’s part as the starting point. What would they offer us now, if they really wanted power? Where is the spirit of Cook-Maclennan, fifteen years on?

    And for that matter, how do the Liberal Democrats demonstrate that even in Government pluralism involves looking in more than one direction? As issues not in the Coalition agreement are raised with Government solutions that are not progressive and go against existing Liberal Democrat policy, why shouldn’t (say) Simon Hughes or Tim Farron look to Opposition parties to pursue fairer solutions?

    These are all generally answers for the more sensible among those in Labour and other parties (and none) to seek. Dialogue will be important, not least for Liberal Democrats, as a Liberal party committed only to co-operation with the Conservatives would be a much smaller party than that which exists at present.

  • @Grammar Police who stated: ‘What will be interesting, and it’s a difficult one, is whether there can be work on shared values that are not just based on attacking the Government (we’ve yet to see anything from Labour that’s not).’

    I think you miss what Labour’s role is in Opposition and that’s to question Government policies and to hold them to account. You may well view that as attacks but others may see it either trying to improve legislation or to prevent or amend legislation which has a disproportionate effect on sections of the population which the LP wishes to protect.

    If you weren’t in the Coalition then you would be doing exactly the same as Labour – although I’m possibly wrong there. Maybe you would still be backing the Tory cuts because the LibDem is quite clearly moving to the right as a party.

    And what about the current Labour – LibDem discussions on opposing EMA cuts – is that co-operation or an attack on Coalition policy because if it’s an attack then it would appear that it’s not solely a Labour attack but a LibDem one too – yes I know it’s all very confusing.

  • I think the whole business of reaching out is not the right approach, in 4 years time if there is a hung parliament what will be required is a coalition not a love in (with either main party)

    Instead of reaching out for other parties supporters try identifying areas of policy overlap. Historically there have been more areas of overlap with Labour, hence Welsh and Scottish coalitions. This probably wasn’t an option in 2010 but may again be one in 2015.

    I don’t care if Clegg / Cameron / Milliband love, hate or are indifferent to each other. I don’t care whether Clegg would prefer to stay with Cameron, the party must insist that the partner chosen, if the Lib Dems are in that position, is the one which achieves the most Lib dem policies (and crucially proposes the least authoritarian policies which both Labour and the Tories have a habit of doing). If that is Labour then so be it, if the Tories likewise.

    Voters need a clue in advance though. And this is why initial negotiations between parties must take place prior to an election and the public told what positions are held. Without this we lose democratic accountability and leave the choice of Government to a few men in a room (which thanks to Labour is no longer allowed to be smoke filled!!).

  • @toryboysnevergrowup: “As I made clear the dishonesty was in relation to the main economic issue of the election – the scale and speed of deficit reduction. Peeple are not interested in who parties will negotiate first – but what they are prepared to negotiate away.”

    In which case, might I suggest you re-read our manifesto again, read the particular section on the economy/speed of deficit reduction, and then come back and write it out in full.

  • @toryboyswhatever… @Henry is absolutely right; the speed and degree of the cuts we are supporting is totally consistent with our manifesto. The recession has been over for some time, you know.

    @Terry Gee: We’ve stuck to many commitments; visit http://www.scribd.com/doc/45615933/Lib-Dem-Achievements-in-Government to read 12 whole pages of manifesto commitments kept… don’t just listen to the Labour blog echo chamber.

    And, finally, full marks to Neal Lawson to responding to points made – many bigwigs write for LDV and then ignore the comments made.

  • Depressed Ex Lib Dem 17th Jan '11 - 3:43pm

    “the speed and degree of the cuts we are supporting is totally consistent with our manifesto”

    No it’s not. The manifesto was based on an assumption that the cuts wouldn’t begin until 2011-12.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Jan '11 - 4:10pm

    @Andrew Tennant

    I wasn’t basing my argument on the £6bn of cuts this year – although the LD manifesto only had a working assumption about cuts starting in 2011-12 (as Cable was then professing Keynesianism he realised that cuts were conditional on growth being in place – see his pamphlet where he talks about the stages of Keynesianism)

    you will also note the following from his pamphlet

    “The range of estimates is wide, but the Government’s estimate of a 6.5 per cent
    of GDP correction over an eight year period is optimistic. A fiscal
    contraction of around 8 per cent of GDP may be required over a shorter
    period – perhaps five years – to persuade the UK’s creditors that the
    government is serious.”

    This is less of a reduction than is now being proposed by the government – and the whole tone is about not having fixed and precise commitments (as would be expected from a professed Keynesian).

    @Henry – I’m perfectly aware what the manifesto said – it did not make commitments regarding the amount of deficit reduction or its timing apart from saying that its working assumption was for cuts to start in 2011-12. The more detailed pronouncements came from Cable during the course of the election – based on his earlier pamphlet.

    You still haven’t addressed Clegg’s statement that he changed his mind during the course of the election without telling the electorate.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Jan '11 - 4:30pm

    What I find interesting here is how many LibDems feel that the onus should be on the Labour Party to make its views and values acceptable to the LibDems – there appears liitle recognition that the process has to work the other way and that the party with less elctoral support is the one that would normally to be expected to compromise to a greater extent. How could the principles underlying Orange Book liberalism ever me nade acceptable to ordinary Labour Party members. Pluralism is meant to be at least a two way street.

  • The Confusing and terrifying times are the next few years for the people of this country, and if the coalition makes 2015 GE, then what is to talk about… Liberal Democrats are hoping that the country will turn around by that time.

    Unfortunately I don’t think it will work like that, and I am not going to make claims of what will happen to the country… although I can guess as having lived through the glorious Mrs. T years and they had a meatier basket to start with then…

    What I can say is that no matter what happens; the perception of the Liberal Democrat Brand has changed for the foreseeable future; oh I know you don’t believe that at all. So will any other party want to talk, I don’t know, Conservatives?

    The next few years will change society and the coalition will be held responsible, now, today all we are hearing is what is to come, the cuts, the pain that is to come and we are all in this together, when the result of the measures that the coalition have introduced are known, that is when we will all realize how bad life has become (especially for those at the bottom).
    Liberal Democrats start point to this is not very good, if we are generous say 10% – 13% not counting those who have already left, they left because of the election campaign pledges and promises that were broken, the start point to the measures is before those measures begin to hurt, I think liberal Democrats are standing at the precipice facing oblivion…
    May LE and referendum is important, get past that with AV and who knows, without AV….

    No! Really I am ranting, Liberal Democrats will be fine, by the next election you can expect good polling and good results, it is too late to worry about now anyway, you are committed for 5 years.

  • @Depressed Ex Lib Dem – Which is indeed the financial year in which the Spending Review period begins.

  • @Steve Way: I don’t think the answer is to decide things in advance – what if that had happened before last May, the Lib Dems and Labour had suggested they’d align together and then the result meant only a Lib Dem/Tory tie-up worked… ppl would be jumping up & down saying they were lied to. Last May it was the voters (through the prism of our weird voting system) who decided the outcome, and so it should be.

    What, Steve, I think there should be is honesty from each party about what their most important policies are – i.e. the ones they would really want to deliver. If you look at the Lib Dem manifesto, in retrospect, we kind of had that in with four prominent boxes each containing core issues. I used that time & time again at hustings meetings (as a candidate) and it’s those core issues that we are really delivering on (the pupil premium, for example).

  • TBNGU – Blair (remember him?) Talked the language of greater choice* in public services. ISTR ordinary Labour Party members found him acceptable**.

    * a shame he never implemented it
    ** until Iraq

  • Nick (not Clegg) 17th Jan '11 - 5:26pm

    @ Steve Cooke, I agree that with a few exceptions, the Labour Party is not hospitable territory for left leaning liberals. But then, neither is the Tory Party: and this ghastly coalition certainly is not. So where am I, and the large number of people who think like me and who have supported the Liberals and the LibDems through thick and thin for many decades? If not to Labour, perhaps the only other destination is to swell the growing ranks of those who say “your all the same, so there’s no point in voting for any of you”. I don’t want to do that so, if the only way to get rid of the current government is to vote Labour, I may have to hold my nose and do it

    @Tabman “There is no such thing as a left liberal”. Your arrogance is breath-taking. How dare you tell me that I do not exist?

  • @Niklas Smith

    “It’s nice to read sensible and thoughtful posts like Mr Lawson’s. The problem for the Lib Dems is that a lot of Labour members (including heavy hitters) are convinced that the solution to Labour’s woes is to demonise the Lib Dems and so isolate the Tories. ”

    . No, you’re wrong. It’s not about political tactics but ideology. I am a member of the Labour Party and a socialist and I don’t believe in coalitions with the supporters of capital because they are an impediment to the implementation of socialism. How can we seriously consider working with the Lib Dems when they have demonstrated their enthusiastic support for the present coalition’s Thatcherite dismantling of the Welfare State and the National Health Service? The Liberal Democrats, like the Tories, are the party of Capital. True, there is some congruity between Labour and the Lib Dems over certain social issues but there is a central and fundamental dichotomy between us which can never be synthesised. The Labour party is the party of the workers. If there are “left” lib dems out there, they are in the wrong party. If they want to join us, fine, but we should never forget that the Liberals and the Tories have always operated on behalf of the interests of the ruling class. Look at what they are doing now in connection with EMAs and convince me that any principled socialist could work with them. Nice try, Neal Lawson, but I don’t think you’ll sell your ideas to the Labour membership when people are sleeping in cardboard boxes in the Strand yet again.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Jan '11 - 6:07pm

    @tabman “ISTR ordinary Labour Party members found him acceptable”

    I (and some other LP members) did and still do. I’m afraid you will find that most of us in the Labour Party do not fit into the conveniently labelled boxes that you would like to put us in.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Jan '11 - 6:18pm

    MacK

    Just as there are differences of ideology and dominant tendencies which vary from time to time in the Labour Party – the same can be said of LibDems. I would agree that there are some the Labour Party could not and should not do business with – but not all.

    It is not correct to say that “yet again” there are cardboard boxes on the Strand – sadly they never went away after 1997

  • NNC – take a look at MacKs comment. Not arrogance, just a statement of fact – Liberalism is not a left wing philosophy (neither is it right wing). Its about increasing personal liberty, something left and right eschew.

    TBNGU – so how do you square with TB’s market-based and choice-based philosophy, given you are against the Orange Book?

  • @Rich

    And Clegg wasn’t interested in securing his personal position?

    Personally I don’t think there’s a hope in hell of a future LibDem/Lab coalition – firstly I think AV will fail and if the 40 per cent rule applies then it will probably be on turnout.

    The LibDem Party at the next GE will not be the same party as went into the last election and indeed it may not actually exist. I think if things keep going the way that they are then the party that is left is not one that the LP will want to go into Coalition with and anyway the reality may well be that there are likely to be so few LibDem MPs that they will not hold a balance of power position and therefore be of no strategic use to anyone.

    I could be totally wrong in my perception but I truly feel that the public isn’t liking it’s experience with Coalition Government and I don’t see that getting better and I feel a direct consequence could be to squeeze the LibDem vote at the next GE with the vast majority of voters attempt to ensure there is a majority Government elected.

    I also don’t think it’s necessarily a given that if the economy does make the magical recovery that Cameron has pinned his fate on that the LibDems would necessarily benefit from a voters’ reward.

  • Depressed Ex Lib Dem 17th Jan '11 - 7:37pm

    “Which is indeed the financial year in which the Spending Review period begins.”

    We’re not talking about the Comprehensive Spending Review.

    The Lib Dem manifesto said the assumption was that there would be no cuts until 2011-12, but days after the election the party agreed with the Tory policy of cuts beginning in 2010-11.

    You must be aware of this. There has been a huge amount of discussion about it, and a variety of stories have been offered by Clegg and the others to explain the change of policy.

  • Andrew Suffield 17th Jan '11 - 7:54pm

    The Lib Dem manifesto said the assumption was that there would be no cuts until 2011-12, but days after the election the party agreed with the Tory policy of cuts beginning in 2010-11.

    This is a lie. The Lib Dem manifesto promised immediate cuts to several major projects, not because of immediate financial gains but because those projects needed to be killed fast. This notably included ID cards. That’s pretty much what happened. Another manifesto promise delivered.

  • @Toryboysnevergrowup

    I am dismayed to learn that people are still sleeping in cardboard boxes at night in the Strand. When I was working in London in 2002 I strolled through the Strand late one night and actually thought things had improved enormously since the eighties when you couldn’t move for people taking shelter in shop doorways. Interestingly, at the time I attributed the improvement to Tony Blair’s influence, so you are right, one shouldn’t make halo effect presumptions about members of the Labour Party.

    @David Cox.

    @Mack, you are a Labour Party member and socialist, where have you been for the last 13 years! Shouldn’t you be in the Socialist Party, SWP or SPGB?

    Actually, I have been living and actively campaigning in the North of England for much of that time. Plenty of socialists in the Labour Party up here. No need to join other parties.

  • @David Cox
    “I recall, socialist prime minister Tony Blair’s ‘Rough Sleeper Tsar’ Louise Casey, accusing charities of “perpetuating homelessness” by giving soup, food, bivvy bags and sleeping bags to rough sleepers. Which for me epitomizes the Fabian state socialist approach.”

    Thank you for your information. I could never agree that giving soup, food, bivvy bags, sleeping bags or any other necessities to rough sleepers ‘perpetuates homelessness’ But then I am no ‘fabian’ and never have been.

  • Paul Kennedy 17th Jan '11 - 9:35pm

    Miliband’s playing a clever game. By taking a leading role in campaigning for AV and other Lib Dem causes, he will get more Lib Dem support at the elections in May (including the STV local elections in Scotland), and if AV gets through this will convert into many more Lib Dem second preferences for Labour at the next general election. Something the Tories had been hoping they would get out of the coalition.

    I am always suspicious of the motives of other parties, particularly former Gordon Brown spindoctors who just a few days ago were writing to the BBC demanding that the Lib Dems be airbrushed out of the coalition government.

    But I think we as a party should welcome Miliband’s support for AV. If we do, we will get AV and many other policies we share with liberal-minded Labour supporters, we will find Labour supporters a lot less hostile in places where we are the main challengers to the Tories, and above all we can raise the stakes with the Tories.

    I love a good auction. Well, Mr Cameron, how about supporting a change to a fairer voting system? The only parties opposing AV are the Tories and the BNP, which says it all. Surely you don’t want the Tories to be on the wrong side of history again?

  • Depressed Ex Lib Dem 17th Jan '11 - 9:53pm

    “The Lib Dem manifesto said the assumption was that there would be no cuts until 2011-12, but days after the election the party agreed with the Tory policy of cuts beginning in 2010-11.
    [Andrew Suffield:] This is a lie. The Lib Dem manifesto promised immediate cuts to several major projects, not because of immediate financial gains but because those projects needed to be killed fast.”

    You need to learn some manners.

    Of course we are not talking about savings resulting from the cancellation of specific projects that the party was opposed to in principle. We are talking about the timing of the cuts intended to reduce the deficit.

    This is what the manifesto said about that, in black and white:
    “We must ensure the timing is right. If spending is cut too soon, it would undermine the much-needed recovery and cost jobs. We will base the timing of cuts on an objective assessment of economic conditions, not political dogma. Our working assumption is that the economy will be in a stable enough condition to bear cuts from the beginning of 2011-12.”

    Five days after the election the party had agreed with the Tory policy that the cuts would begin in 2010-11.

    What is astonishing is that people like you are trying to deny that there was a change of policy, when it is so well known, has been so fully discussed – and indeed has been the subject of so many attempted explanations and excuses.

  • @David Cox.

    @Mack, you are a Labour Party member and socialist, where have you been for the last 13 years! Shouldn’t you be in the Socialist Party, SWP or SPGB?

    I am very proud of the socialist advances made by the Labour Party on behalf of the proletariat. Advances which are being annihilated by the Tory dominated coalition with the support of the Liberal Democrats; both parties which act on behalf of the interests of capital

  • @ Paul Kennedy.

    AV would keep the Liberal Democrats in power for perpetuity. Enough people realize that now to ensure that it gets voted down, and I shall be one of them.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Jan '11 - 10:39pm

    @David Cox”but as a volunteer for a homelessness charity, I know rough-sleeping is a choice, many rough sleepers and sofa surfers accept our help, but refuse to talk to the council.”

    Wrong – for some it is a choice, but then for some it isn’t and many are not able to make choices. Stop making generalisations based on what is clearly limitred experience. My original comment was just to make the point that those sleeping in cardboard boxes on the Strand have never gone away – it does get better/worse depending on the level of unemployment and action by the national and local state and charities. But it is a very complex problem and not suceptible to simple solutions or cheap political points. I am very glad that you are seeing less people sleeping rough than used to be the case – but it is not my experience over the past year.

    Look here if you want some context http://www.poverty.org.uk/81/index.shtml

    And yes I am a Fabian – and if you bothererd to read what a few Fabian society pamphlets you might find that they have moved on somewhat from the days of the Webbs.

  • Cllr Nick Cotter 17th Jan '11 - 10:48pm

    Laugh Out Loud ?!!
    toryboysnevergrowup (‘4.30pm) ………”the party with less elctoral(sic) support is the one that would normally be expected to compromise to a greater extent” ……………. he referring to Lib Dems having to crawl on all fours to the Master Labour Party in the event of Coalition Talks ……..
    Well Done you have got it in one !! The reality of Coalition Government !

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Jan '11 - 10:52pm

    @tabman “so how do you square with TB’s market-based and choice-based philosophy, given you are against the Orange Book?

    Quite simply because they are not the same – it is quite possible to believe that there is a role for markets and allowing consumers choice across a whole range of economic philosophies. Roles for the State and the private sector are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually beneficial. And if you haven’t noticed unregulated financial markets haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory in recent years – only an idiot would want to argue that such markets were pricing risk efficiently.

  • MacK – “I am very proud of the socialist advances made by the Labour Party on behalf of the proletariat. Advances which are being annihilated by the Tory dominated coalition with the support of the Liberal Democrats; both parties which act on behalf of the interests of capital”

    Is this some sort of elaborate parody?

    TBNGU – “Quite simply because they are not the same – it is quite possible to believe that there is a role for markets and allowing consumers choice across a whole range of economic philosophies. Roles for the State and the private sector are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually beneficial. And if you haven’t noticed unregulated financial markets haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory in recent years – only an idiot would want to argue that such markets were pricing risk efficiently.”

    I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said there. I suspect you’ve never read the OB, because it says similar.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Jan '11 - 11:11pm

    Cllr Nick Cotter

    No I’m not – if you read what I said – I said that ALL parties should set out their stall with the electorate as to how they would approach coalition and the compromises they would be prepared to make. The point I’m making, which may be difficult for you to accept, is that those parties with less support from the electorate have less legitimacy than those with more support and should act accordingly. If parties were honest about their plans before the election – the potential for blackmail would be reduced considerably.

    Of course you see nothing wrong with the smaller coalition partner demanding who should be the leader of the coalition, yet seem to baulk if any compromises are asked for in the other direction. The LibDems were given one blank cheque by the electorate – you will not be given a second.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Jan '11 - 11:24pm

    Tabman

    I’ve read some chapters and summaries – and have also now seen the Orange Bookers in practice. I am pretty certain that I see a larger role for the State and market regulation than most Orange Bookers (and particulalry David Laws) – but that doesn’t mean I’m against markets or consumer choice. Social LIberals would also want to see a different balance (and I daresay even Osborne would see some role for the State beyond the army, police and rule of law), with whom I have more subtle differences. There is not an either or choice as some would like us to believe but a whole range of alternatives.

  • good article. But still the implicit assumption from the Labour side that the way to form an alliance on the left is for Lib Dems to go to Labour. Why on earth do people like Neal not leave Labour and join the Lib Dems?

  • “Why on earth do people like Neal not leave Labour and join the Lib Dems?”

    Simple answer – tribalism.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jan '11 - 10:33am


    But of course that isn’t the only possibility. What is terrifying is the creation of a permanent centre-right coalition. In the by-election last week we saw Tory voters in large numbers switching to the Lib Dem candidate; a form of tactical voting not much seen in British politics to date.

    It’s something you are bound to see under our current electoral system in a constituency where there’s significant support for all three major parties, but the Tories are clearly in third place. It’s something that’s always happened in what used to be Colne Valley constituency, though there are relatively few other places where the balance is such that it would happen. Many other places which are Labour v LibDem are where there never was much of a Tory vote, and the LibDem campaign is based on working on a longstanding Labour complacency and so picking up the left vote as much as the right vote.

    The terrifying thing about any idea that there will be an electoral pact between the Conservatives and LibDems is not that it will lead to permanent right-wing coalition, but that it will wipe out the country’s only significant third party. Neither I nor anyone else I know in the Liberal Democrats would see much sense in being a Liberal Democrat if its role was to be the right-wing party in those few constituencies where in 2010 it had managed to establish more of a presence than the Conservatives and were not so Labour that a Tory or Tory badged as LibDem wouldn’t stand a chance. It would be like the National Liberals once they formed a pact with the Conservatives – the name kept on for a while, but anything else identifiably not Tory disappeared almost instantly.

    Any attempt to impose such a pact would split the party with most activists going off. It would be like the 1988 situation, but even harder to pull back from – the press would be full of support for the leadership rump in Westminster as they were for Owen’s SDP-tick , and dismissive of whatever was formed by those who actually put in the work at grass roots level, and it would take years and years for the penny to drop that actually elections are won by people working the grass roots. That’s if any of us who have put in so much time and money to the third party movement could bear to start all over again rather than just say “Sod it, I can’t be bothered with this any more”.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 18th Jan '11 - 11:28am

    @Andrew Tennant

    I think you’ll find that many in the Labour Party have a view on Compass – it may be many things but taken for granted isn’t one of them.

  • @jedibeeftrix

    “I wasn’t aware that people who claim to be part of mainstream political movements still used language such as this without parody!”

    That’s because capitalist parties such as the Tories and the Lib Dems have used linguistic obfuscation to cover up the dichotomies. But the dichotomies will always exist. And that’s why Labour shouldn’t touch the Liberal Democrats with a barge pole

  • Having left the Lib Dems before Christmas and having put my political energies into campaigning against the assorted threats from the Coalition’s education/HE policies I find this thread quite interesting.

    I think Neal Lawson underestimates the difficulty of former Lib Dems joining Labour – it just doesn’t feel right to do so. However my experience of working in a couple of campaigns with Labour people over the past few months has been pretty good. I have found the people local to me to have strong focus on local needs and the campaign goals with minimum political point scoring. Perhaps this backs up points others have made that parties and people of different politics can work together in another neutral body more easily than they can work together directly.

    I suspect by 2015 there will not be much a ‘left’ within the Lib Dems or in its vote. Bit by bit I am seeing a civil liberties/economic liberal centre party emerge. My guess is that membership will settle at about 70% of what has been in recent years, slip back in some areas but maybe consolidate in the SE suburbs. It will be a natural partner for the Conservative Party in national and local govt and perhaps an occasional partner for Labour or Nats. Judging by discussion on LDV I think most people would be happy with that.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jan '11 - 11:57pm

    AlexKN

    I suspect by 2015 there will not be much a ‘left’ within the Lib Dems or in its vote.

    Judging by discussion on LDV I think most people would be happy with that.

    I most definitely would not.

    Is there really nowhere for someone who hates the whole socialist idea of “The Party”, who wants to see political pluralism, not a monopoly of one party on the left, but who feels the biggest problem with this country is its dominance by big business and the cynical way that increasing control by the power of wealth and decreasing democratic control is painted as “liberalism”? Because that’s me, and if the LibDems become a permanent Cleggite party in the way you suggest, there really does seem to be no place for me in party politics in this country (I should also say while I have strong environmentalist views, I find the new agey elements of the Green Party beyond bearing).

  • @Matthew Huntbach. Stay and fight, the election of Tim Farron shows that the membership are social-Liberals.

  • Alex KN, Matthew Huntbach,

    The crucial reason why we must fight the Cleggites is because of the pivotal role they seek for themselves. They aim to attract a crucial 10% of swing voters to their cause, and use that vote to keep the Right in power. It is a stealth coup. Clegg and his closest allies have no intention of considering an alliance on the left. They only pretend that it might be possible in order to keep the likes of Cable and Hughes on board a little while longer.

    From the tactical point of view, Miliband is right to abandon the idea of simply trying to hoover up left-leaning Lib Dem activists and voters. That is because Labour would find it very hard to win a majority on their own against two allied opponents, a right-wing Tory party and an equally right-wing Cleggite party.

    An independent Lib Dem party which kicks out the Cleggites and returns to the political centre is not only important for Labour. It is vital if we are to avoid the permanent shift to the Right which Cameron is so urgently pursuing. Cameron and Clegg want to destroy State services and put them beyond repair in a single term, hence their revolutionary pseudo-Maoist urgency. If we collaborate with the Cleggites, we have joined the wrecking crew.

  • @Matthew Huntbach,@David Allen
    Having left a couple of months back I am fine with not being in a political party for now. Longer term I am not so sure. I hope to rejoin the LibDems when Clegg, Laws, Alexander and their gang have gone. I struggled for weeks about the decision and my instincts initially were to stay and fight. However ultimately I decided that I opposed so many Govt policies – free schools, academies, EMA, tuition fees, NHS, sell off of forests, housing benefit cuts plus more that I needed to put my energy into fighting them not internal LD activity. I had also grown sick of the defence of every policy by some of our MPs and the ludicrous attempts to blame Labour for every single ill – the worst of old style yah boo politics that as party we claimed to be against. The recent leaks from Islington Lib Dems on their strategy shows that Cleggite cynical politics has spread deep into the grass roots. It is going to take a lot of effort inside and outside to get the Lib Dems back to the centre ground.

    @Kevin
    Tim Farron. He needs to show whether he is just playing at being the voice of the social liberals or whether he is prepared to do anything about it. Needs to prove he isn’t just someone who likes an audience. His comments on the deficit last week on election programmes showed him to be very much on message with Osborne. I’d suggest the membership needs to make up its mind what it is. It seems decreasingly social liberal and increasingly seduced by being in Govt.

  • @ David Cox
    I never said that there weren’t more socialist advances to make, But one thing I know: your Tory dominated coalition’s policies are going make life impossible for the poor.

  • Nick (Not Clegg) 19th Jan '11 - 1:08pm

    AlexKN,
    My position is very close to yours (I have no knowledge of recent utterances by Islington LDs, so I cannot comment on that). I am keeping my membership paid up because I want to have a vote in the next leadership contest which i hope will be well before teh next g.e. I would urge all LDs who want to save their party from turn our party back from its present disastrous course to do likewise; why should we allow Clegg and his cronies to drive us out?

  • Nick (Not Clegg) 19th Jan '11 - 1:14pm

    Sorry, I pressed “Post comment ” too soon. The sentence above should include either “save their party” or “turn their party back fromm” (I meant to delete the former, but feel free to take your choice) but not both!

  • @Nick
    I was very reluctant to leave for the reasons you said. My other reason is that our organisation locally has taken a big hit because of the Coalition and hardly anyone is now willing to campaign publicly. Our street stall has gone, the LDs no longer go door to door and in November there were not enough people to deliver a leaflet in a supposed target ward. I’m in an area where dislike of the Tories runs very deep after the 80s so being seen as accomplices is not a place to be. After a while you cannot defend the indefensible.

    Re. Islington – not quite the new politics:
    http://tinyurl.com/6zl9fsv

  • Nick (Not Clegg) 19th Jan '11 - 2:50pm

    AlexKN,
    I assume you are in a predominatly Labour constituency (the type of seat the Cleggites and Cameroons will presumably want to target at the next g.e (if not abolish so as “to reduce the number of MPs”). If the LDs are in such disarray there, I wonder what sort of electoral future Clegg and Co think the party has anywhere.. In my area, we have been dependent on Labour supporters voting tactically to win seats fom the Tories. I can’t see much hope of them doing so now; so, short of a Labour revival, we could be in for a Tory white-wash.

    I feel a squeeze coming on*

    *Perhaps someone could set that to music for the Conference Glee Club!

  • @Nick
    Yes I am in a Labour seat. Labour here are quite traditional, benign but with deep roots derived from the former industries. We are neck and neck with the Tories but were second in local govt. I say were because I suspect the Lib Dems will be destroyed here in May, assuming candidates are found. I fear that 12 months of a coalition will wipe out years of slowly building in this sort of area.

    @George Kendall
    I feel for some of the MPs; for others I have a growing antipathy. The negotiating team, still seemingly hailed as heroes, ignored the approaches that worked in coalition in Scotland where a more consensual, common platform was worked on. There are different ways of doing coalition and we have opted for the one designed to deliver ideologically conservatives outcomes with minimal trimmings of our policies. The public expected us to moderate the Tories not facilitate the ideologically driven break up of education and the NHS. Many Lib Dems in the leafy suburbs or SW are underestimating the anger about things like EMA in poorer parts of the country.

  • Nick (notClegg) 20th Jan '11 - 10:07am

    AlexKN,
    I agree.

  • @AlexKN
    It’s no better for those of us in Conservative seats.

    For many years the Lib Dem slogan in every Focus here was “Only Lib Dems can beat the Tories here” accompanied by some dodgily selective bar-charts of previous elections. A Labour leaflet dropped through my door the other day bearing the slogan “Only Labour can beat the Tories here – the Lib Dems just join them”.

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