Tim Farron MP writes… Are two Eds better than one?

Are 2 Eds better than one? I’m not sure – but the two Eds said something very interesting over the weekend: apparently they don’t have a ‘Plan B’ for the economy after all!

As I drove into the village of Haverthwaite on Saturday morning to do some residents’ surveying, I was preparing to turn the radio off and then Ed Balls popped up. I listened with amazement. In his interview he admitted not only that the programme of cuts being carried out by the Coalition government were right, but that Labour would not over turn them if they were in Government. Unfortunately however he didn’t go as far as to admit that the cause behind all the cuts – the dire economic situation – was in fact largely his fault.

You’ll have heard Simon Hughes and me over the weekend rightly calling on the two Eds to apologise. We want them to apologise to the British public for deceiving them for 18 months before finally admitting that what the Liberal Democrats have been doing in Government is broadly the right approach. However, there is one apology we didn’t call for publicly, but which they still should make – that’s an apology to you!

Last May across the country, from Lancaster to Sheffield and Manchester to Newcastle, many of you lost your council seats to undeserving Labour candidates who were fighting their elections on a false platform with dishonest messages. They stood on a platform that the Eds now admit was wrong. Shame on them – but I’m proud of you.

In addition, Nick Clegg deserves an apology. Nick has been berated and abused by the Labour leadership over the last 18 months for having the guts to stand up and work as part of the Coalition in the best interest of the country. Now Labour have admitted that their attacks were inaccurate – but there’s no hint of apology. They have gone from being in the wrong place, to all over the place.

I don’t expect the apology to come, and we definitely didn’t need Ed and Ed’s endorsement to motivate us for the next set of elections, but their cack-handed u-turn is certainly an encouragement.

This May I expect us to beat Labour in areas we couldn’t last year as their dishonesty has now been exposed (voluntarily, which is nice of them!). Of course we now have the inevitable Labour infighting as the Unions start going potty, accusing Ed and Ed of betrayal and breaking pledges (sound familiar?).

That leaves the Liberal Democrats as the only political party with the backbone to tackle the country’s problems, but with the heart to do everything to ensure that fairness, compassion and justice are written through everything we do.

As this article from The Times recognises, the Liberal Democrats are a progressive force in Government. We are the Party delivering tax cuts for working people, we are the party investing in the poorest school pupils, we are the party delivering the largest ever state pension rise and importantly, we are the party prepared to take the tough decisions needed to get this country back on track.

Anyhow, after Mr Balls had stopped not-quite-apologising on the radio last Saturday, I turned the car radio off, got out and spent 3 hours knocking on doors. The response I got, by the way, was fantastic. It struck me that just as Labour was making its U turn, the Lib Dems may have just turned the corner…

So don’t hold your breath waiting for an apology from Labour – but rest assured you are most definitely owed one!

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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  • No Eds are better than some.

  • david thorpe 18th Jan '12 - 1:27pm

    well said Tim.

    Most Liberal Democrats have been saying for a long time that cuts are inevitable, its nice of Labour to catch on, just as they eventually caught on to the idea that the Iraq war wasnt all that great an idea, that the economy was in trouble as Vince had been saying, that ID Cards were not a good idea……that tuition costs would have to rise….

    Their Slogan Should Be,

    Vote Labour, Eventually we catch on…

  • Ed Balls was happy to run a structural deficit through many successive quarters of growth.

    As for Ed M, I won’t have a word said against him. As MacK (of this parish) says, Labour are surging into the lead under his stewardship

  • David Allen 18th Jan '12 - 1:56pm

    The Eds should apologise to Alastair Darling, to the ghost of Vince Cable (who used to be a live independent thinker), and to the public.

    First, they should apologise for a year spent pretending that all the cuts could be opposed. Secondly, they should apologise for a U-turn worthy of Captain Schettino, leading to the equally disastrous and irrational conclusion that none of the cuts could be opposed.

    Labour, with Darling, could have maintained a principled and viable stance: that the deficit had to be cut at a rate the markets would accept, but not faster than that, not primarily at the expense of the poor, and not at the expense of growth. They missed the opportunity. So did we.

  • David Allen, for once I am in near complete agreement with you!

  • mike cobley 18th Jan '12 - 2:39pm

    The smugness and self-satisfaction in this article and most of the comments is unbearable.

  • Lucy Johnston 18th Jan '12 - 2:54pm

    I am in a agreement with Mike, I got a link to this through the Lib Dem mailing list, being a young member of the Lib Dems I have found myself scorned by the coalition, as I going to uni in September 2012, it is this type of behavior that turns people off to politics. Tell people why they should vote for you, not why they shouldn’t vote for the others.
    Try again Tim.

  • sometime we should say well done when someone changes their policy to agree with us on the substantive point of the economic strategy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jan '12 - 3:54pm

    I agree with Mike Cobley on this one. The two Eds’ comment is an admission of defeat – we have stared them out and we have won. It would be best now for us to be magnanimous in victory. I fully expected the Labour strategy to be to carry on stating until the next general election that every public expenditure cut is evil and every tax rise is evil and the Liberal Democrats are particularly evil for not taking a simple position of opposition to all of them. Even if one agrees, as I do, that there is much wrong with the current government’s strategy, the position that one will mindlessly oppose it in order to get back into power and then say “Uhh” is not really tenable. Still, it was giving signs of getting Labour a good deal of support when our own more nuanced position seemed to be getting nowhere. I hope the message is slowly getting through that if we don’t carry on what is being done under the current government we will need to do something pretty radical as an alternative. Pretty radical might be painful, but I hope it would be painful to people who can more bear than pain than those whom the current government’s painfulness most afflicts.

    The two Eds’ new position gives us relief, because “the LibDems are evil for supporting the Tories” looks silly when they too are now supporting the Tories, in outline if not in detail. It is really stupid to turn to abusing them when they have done something difficult for them which will mean we survive. Let’s stop the silly name-calling and instead get down to serious thought. We need to be able to show an alternative strategy which would come from a government where we would work with Labour. Even for those who would much prefer the current coalition to continue, it is essential if we are to keep our independence that we are at least open to the alternative. We are not going to build up so strongly from now until the next election that it results in us being the largest party, and as in 2010 we may be in a position where we have no real choice over coalition partner. But if we go into the election giving the impression the only outcome we are prepared to think about is a continuation of the current coalition, we are doomed, because we will be seen as a junior branch of the Conservatives, a party to vote for only if you are Conservative-inclined and live in a place which is already LibDem held or the LibDems are the main challenger to the Tories. That is how the Liberal Party nearly got wiped out in the middle part of the last century.

    Our line at the next election should be that we will form a government, should we hold the balance, with whomever we can best work with and is most willing to work with us. We don’t have to demonstrate it with the Tories, we are living under it. An even-handed approach which makes clear we are independent means going now to the Eds, thanking them for giving in and seeing sense, and saying “OK, what do YOU have to offer us?”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jan '12 - 3:56pm

    LibDems are the main challenger to the Tories.

    Sorry, that bit should have been “LibDems are the main challenger to Labour”.

  • Tony Dawson 18th Jan '12 - 4:53pm

    “LibDems are the main challenger to the Tories.

    Sorry, that bit should have been “LibDems are the main challenger to Labour”.”

    So what’s the difference? Labour spent 13 years pumping up the distance between rich and poor a la M Thatcher.

    In regard to belief in necessary cuts, I must point you to the NHS which is still in the throes of implementing Labour’s twenty per cent cuts programme. (only they call it “efficiency savings”). The Coalition is signed up to not cutting beyond Labour’s plans in the NHS in real terms but I think many people still think, wrongly, that this is a ‘gentle’ position. There will be considerable lag in the effects of these cutbacks on services and some will be quite serious. Some will be genuine efficiencies, others will be harsh slashings to make the budget in XXXXX NHS Trust balance. Labour would be attacking the government more heavily on these issues were it not for a limit/ceiling to their dishonesty or perhaps cowardice/fear of having these cutbacks brought back to their own door. I mean, we wouldn’t want the public sector unions getting cross with Ed & Ed, would we? Hang on a minute……..

  • David Allen 18th Jan '12 - 7:00pm

    “Even if one agrees, as I do, that there is much wrong with the current government’s strategy, the position that one will mindlessly oppose it in order to get back into power and then say “Uhh” is not really tenable. Still, it was giving signs of getting Labour a good deal of support when our own more nuanced position seemed to be getting nowhere.”

    Yes. I am reminded of our son’s behaviour when six months old. He had tried beaming smiles, and gained a reasonable amount of gratifying attention. He had tried screaming, and found that this also gained him a fair amount of gratifying attention. So he attempted to optimise his appeal, one day, by rapidly alternating between brilliant smiles and piteous screams. He did not understand when this clever approach brought him only hysterical laughter. In his defence, he was only six months old at the time. Ed and Ed claim to be a little older, but their approach does seem to be remarkably similar.

    To get back to politics, however, the fact that wild flip-flopping is unpopular does not prove that those who do otherwise must be winning. As Matthew Huntbach says, Labour were previously finding a fair amount of support for the sugar-coated proposal to have almost no cuts at all. Meanwhile Osborne is finding a fair amount of support for the proposal that cuts have to be savage, there being many people who are instinctively attracted to hair-shirt proposals and rampant pessimism (think Fraser in Dad’s Army). However “our nuanced position”, I fear, may still get nowhere. People don’t like endless nuance, equivocation, running with the hare and chasing with the hounds. We have to get away from being nuanced and find concrete alternatives we can offer.

  • Labour’s ‘admissions’ may help future election prospects but just because Labour thinks there’s no economic alternative doesn’t mean its true. There is a Keynesian alternative. Across Europe, the response to the economic crisis has been the same neo liberal consensus which got us into this mess and we are starting to see the results. Over aggressive cuts and the failure to boost spending is already leading to lower tax revenues and creating a downward spiral, which will make even the revised timescale of the coalition unachievable. We will shortly see the fig leaf of Triple A rating drop earthwards with resultant higher costs of government borrowing. It is inevitable that, as the squeeze gets tougher, tax revenues will fall further, and the government budget crisis will deepen.
    History is littered with evidence of the failure of such measures and most recently you only have to look at the calamitous effects of austerity in the Baltic states and the increasing gap in Greek finances. It will happen in other countries forced into over severe austerity. It will happen here and the coalition can only blame Labour and Europe for so long.
    We should be challenging this consensus. We have to slow the cuts now! The private sector cannot take up the slack because productive industry in particular has been so badly savaged for thirty years. Boost demand, through, for example, scrappage schemes and print money and direct it not to banks but to the public; all quantitative easing has done is give banks better balance sheets. It may sound counter intuitive but it all helps maintain employment, boost spending and increase tax revenue.
    It’s all very well arguing that Lib Dems are having a positive effect on the coalition (true), in terms of fairness. This may help our election prospects but we’re committed to an economic strategy which will turn out to be disastrous in concept and implementation. The country will pay the price.

  • Kevin Colwill 18th Jan '12 - 11:41pm

    mmmm…call me cynical but Labours woes help the Lib Dems because?? You are falling into a trap of thinking there will be a box on the ballot paper marked coalition..there won’t!
    The Tories are the winners here. Anything that makes an outright Tory majority at the next election more likely is bad news for the Lib Dems.

  • The main question I have for the Eds is how do they have the bare faced cheek to take money off the Unions while simultaneously screwing them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Jan '12 - 2:28pm

    Kevin Colwill

    mmmm…call me cynical but Labours woes help the Lib Dems because?? You are falling into a trap of thinking there will be a box on the ballot paper marked coalition..there won’t!

    I think it is pretty clear I am saying the opposite. My line is that what you call “Labour woes” (but I don’t think of them as woes myself) opens the door to there NOT being a box on the ballot paper marked “Coalition”. It is a huge fear of mine that we will do so, that was the point I was making. If Labour continue the fantasy line that the Liberal Democrats only went into coalition because they are nasty unprincipled Tory-lovers and there’s an easy-peasy solution to the nation’s problems which they’ll reveal once they get back into power again, the election WILL end up as Coalition v. Labour and you might as well call it Reaiists v. Fantasists. In effect, the “Coalition” box will be the Tory one, except in LibDem held seats and Labour seats where the LibDems are in second place. If that’s the case, the LibDems end up the relic party as the Liberal Party became when its Parliamentary existence relied on Conservative-Liberal deals in a few Tory-inclined places where for historical reason the “Liberal” label had a little worth.

    If the Labour Party is able to show a sense of realism, then it is possible to talk with it about alternatives to the current government situation. This is essential for the long-term survival of the Liberal Democrats so they don’t become the “Coalition” box in a few dozen constituencies and nothing more. It looks like Labour have also realised it is sensible for them, as people have had the sense to see that “Uhh, evil LibDems, evil Tories, we’re not them” is not a sufficient manifesto for the next government.

    The Tories are the winners here. Anything that makes an outright Tory majority at the next election more likely is bad news for the Lib Dems.

    Why? It would enable the LibDem to re-establish independence. Whereas continuation of the current coalition probably means the LibDems would never be able to escape it – it would be the National Liberals all over again.

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