Tim Farron says our manifesto must be 100% Liberal Democrat with nothing pre-conceded

After the cockroach incident in March, you might be forgiven for thinking that you might have to read Tim Farron’s pre-conference interviews from behind a cushion. And the headline in the New Statesman is quite mischievous. It screams:

Exclusive: Tim Farron interview: I really like Ed Miliband, I don’t want to diss him

They make out like Tim just gushed about Miliband. But let’s be clear, Tim isn’t known for being horrible about anyone. He is not going to slate Miliband in the New Statesman or anywhere else.

They accompany the interview with an illustration of Miliband and Farron out picking roses together. Have a look. It will make you laugh, or something.

On Facebook, Tim was keen to clarify things:

Hi everyone, the headline is a MASSIVE linkbait (Because I would have said personally Cameron or Osborne are nice if you speak to them, but they didn’t ask!)

Once the Miliband stuff is out of the way, though, he says some very interesting things about our future manifesto. He wants to keep the commitment to scrap tuition fees, restore the 50% tax rate and build lots of Council houses. He’s given a fairly clear steer to how he feels on at least 3 of the Conference flashpoints. When you read that in conjunction with his comments on our manifesto, you might be forgiven for thinking that he was encouraging Conference to do its most radical work on all the controversial votes. He said:

There’s a danger that some people in the party might think we should concede and maybe write bits of our manifesto on the basis of what we think other parties would accept, rather than the basis of what we want to achieve.

He added:

The most important thing from our perspective, and I’m a member of the manifesto group, is that we ensure that our manifesto is 100 per cent Liberal Democrat. You don’t pre-concede on things. So if we think the Tories wouldn’t accept putting the top rate of tax back up to 50p, but we want to, then we stick it in there and we negotiate from that point.

I might be over-egging the pudding, because he could equally legitimately argue that he just wanted Conference to have its say and whatever that was, the people writing the manifesto would have to listen. However,  his comments have reminded me that it’s not so much coalition negotiations that we need to worry about. They are two years away. It’s the negotiations that take place within the manifesto working group which are of paramount importance. The decisions we take next week will underpin that process and that is why this Conference is probably the most important in all my years in the party.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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33 Comments

  • Robert Wootton 11th Sep '13 - 10:26pm

    A Liberal Democrat manifesto? How about “Taking the market out of the NHS” Allowing tachers and parents to organise the Education system? Give people the Freedom to innovate and strive for excellence in their fields of expertise.

  • Sarah Whitebread 11th Sep '13 - 11:04pm

    What makes you think parents should be organising the education system Robert Wootton?

  • Richard Harris 11th Sep '13 - 11:48pm

    “You don’t pre-concede on things” – No, we know the Lib Dems are much better at post-conceding on things. Manifestos from all parties have always been partially fiction, but really after the experience of the the last GE, the Lib Dems really shouldn’t bother publishing one at all. Even a cast iron promise whilst Clegg is leader is utterly worthless. I can hardly think of a more pointless manifesto pledge than the Lib Dems committing to scrap tuition fees.
    And this on the evening your government begins the 100% sell off of the Royal Mail – another broken manifesto pledge.

  • Shame Jeremy Browne in the same paper had to be so abusive about Ed Miliband. Comments like his will make it very hard for LibDems to support Labour in any coalition come 2015.

    What is the official position about the 2015 GE ? If there is no majority party, will Clegg advocate supporting for the party with most votes or is it the party with the most seats ?

  • I really don’t know what the answer is to the predicament the party has got itself into, but a manifesto commitment to abolish tuition fees is just going to be greeted with ridicule.

  • I’ve said elsewhere that if the NS think ‘Tim Farron is nice about someone’ is a story, they obviously don’t know him well. As Martin says, Jeremy Browne’s reported comments are much more worrying, particularly the claim that David Cameron’s ‘global race’ tosh is supposedly identifying the big issue of our time.

  • Peter Davies 12th Sep '13 - 12:20am

    @Martin B
    The policy is unchanged from the last election when we were somewhat vague. In practice, the possibility of being able to form a coalition with one other party is rare enough. It is very unlikely we will have a choice.

  • Why would a non-tribal voter want to vote for a party whose only hope of power is as part of a coalition, but which won’t say what it would be prepared to compromise on, and what would be non-negotiable?

    It wouldn’t be a rational decision to vote for such an unknown when the main parties can write a manifesto which they would be capable of following up on. The voter might not like the entirety of one or the others manifesto, but they would be able to make an informed choice.

  • I’m not decided if it would be brave of plain foolish to attempt to address the tuition fees debacle – which started the rout of our membership and concentrated public hostility to Nick Clegg’s leadership. Sometimes a U-turn is one too many, whatever the position one is turning from. I hope Tim Farron has a masters in costing policies at national level. Or maybe he is being clever and suggesting we should look at costings of tuition fees over the course of a parliament as that is keeping options open but showing a principle the party would like to be able to offer. One very obvious scenario for the electorate is that a plan to “abolish” tuition fees will lead to a further debacle at the polls as no-one will believe it!

  • Apologies for typo – obviously “brave or plain foolish”

  • Julian Tisi 12th Sep '13 - 9:29am

    I agree with Tim about council houses but I don’t agree with him about tuition fees. He says ““I would personally like to see fees abolished and replaced with a graduate contribution system purely based on ability to pay.”” – well what on earth do you think we have replaced the old system with? This is a perfectly good description of the new, much derided policy. What a shame we don’t defend it.

  • Julian Tisi 12th Sep '13 - 9:45am

    The biggest problem I have with what Tim has said about both tuition fees and the 50p rate is that while he claims the manifesto should be 100% liberal democrat, nothing conceded (and I totally agree with this) he is inadvertantly allowing Labour to frame the debate. The tuition fees system he claims to want is pretty much the one we now have – but you’d be forgiven for not knowing this. The 50p tax rate wasn’t even Lib Dem policy and according to the OBR was earning almost nothing on best estimates. Trying to push forward a policy on a tax that’s unlikely to take in much revenue seems to be responding to Labour not standing up for ourselves.

    I haven’t seen the Jeremy Browne article (link anyone?) but if he’s had a go at Labour for some of their hypocrisy, then good on him. It will strenghten our hand – not weaken it – if it comes to coalition negotiations, because Labour will realise that we have views of our own and we’re not going to just sign up for a Labour manifesto. And remember, Labour people havn’t exactly been nice to us recently, have they?

  • This looks to me like setting up a straw man- just who is suggesting we should “pre-concede”?
    I dont want us committed to abolish Tuition Fees because I think its a daft idea, concessions to other Parties are nothing to do with it.

    The real Question is how far we “pre-concede” to the voters ?

  • peter tyzack 12th Sep '13 - 11:10am

    Our manifestos have been wordy exercises open to interpretation by our opponents and the media.
    My manifesto would be a list of things I am for and against, something like this(this is off the top of my head, not sorted or in any priority order) It would need a link to a website giving the details, relevant facts and explanation:-
    Raise tax threshold to the minimum wage week
    Scrap Council Tax, replace with LVT and LIT
    Scrap Trident
    Fund renewables research
    Moratorium on any new nuclear power until current waste problem has been resolved
    no fixed tidal barrages in our major estuaries
    Free school meals for all primary pupils
    Class sizes in primaries reduced to 25
    Voting reform
    Lords reform
    electoral reform
    retail regulation to limit the domination of the supermarkets
    press reform to introduce a requirement for honesty and remove the right to partisanship
    regulation against genital mutilation
    establish parish/community councils where none presently exist, reduce the size of principal councils
    reduce the size of parliament, with job-share two-member seats
    define the role of elected persons, councillors and MPs, with a job description/conditions etc.
    paid allowances for elected persons to properly reflect the workload and responsibility, and to include pension provision
    For investment in High Speed rail
    no new runway at Heathrow, no new airports in our estuaries

  • Well, it seem that once your party as 100% against Tuition Fees but now are miraculously for them. Puts your Liberal values well into perspective.

  • “He says ““I would personally like to see fees abolished and replaced with a graduate contribution system purely based on ability to pay.”” “

    Well in that case he doesn’t want “to keep the commitment to scrap tuition fees”, because that commitment involved replacing them with funding from general taxation, not introducing a graduate tax.

  • Joe

    The policy in the 2010 manifesto was to replace tuition fees with funding from general taxation, not a graduate tax.

  • Joe Otton, if you pay fees upfront, or graduated before the current fees structure, then you don’t have to pay.

    If it’s a graduate tax then why doesn’t it apply to all graduates?

  • Of course the current system is not a graduate tax in all but name, but there is absolutely no point going through all those arguments yet again.

    But in practical terms, having a manifesto commitment to abolish tuition fees in 2015 will make you look ridiculous enough. If it turned out that the party was advertising that as its policy, while intending to do nothing more than rename the current system of fees and loans, then you would be asking for contempt as well as ridicule.

  • Geoffrey Payne 12th Sep '13 - 12:43pm

    Of course I would like the Lib Dems to be able to offer free education for higher education students, but I do question how much of a priority that should be.
    I hope we will get the opportunity to put right what we did wrong in the next Parliament, I would start by restoring the benefit cuts, and ideally make them even more generous, enough to actually live on given people on low incomes pay more on food and fuel and have therefore suffered more from inflation.
    I think we would also need to put right the NHS which is in an appalling state right now if the report on Channel 4 News is anything to go by.
    In short I think we need to redistribute wealth and improve our public services before we tackle tuition fees. Once students graduate they will be better off, and those on low incomes do not have to pay back their loans so quickly or pay anything at all. The only thing wrong with loans is the amount that has to be paid back, particularly for those on middling incomes such as teachers.
    Of course even if we do have a brilliant policy on student loans we will not be believed.
    So although I was encouraged by what Tim said, I think he needs to consider carefully what policy we should have on this when he becomes leader in a couple of years time.

  • peter tyzack 12th Sep '13 - 12:49pm

    the problem is not the policy, nor the pledge, but the WORDING of the pledge and the lack of foresight.

  • David Allen 12th Sep '13 - 2:44pm

    It’s actually quite simple. If we claim we are going to scrap fees this time around, the election will be dominated by our opponents laughing us out of court. If we say that we have nothing to say about fees and we are now happy to endorse what the Tories forced upon us, the election will be dominated by our opponents laughing at our spineless lack of all principle.

    So we had better not do either of those things!

    The present scheme has some similarities with a particular variant of graduate tax. And some differences too. Most obviously, the graduate tax is not a Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of the indebted student. It is not a psychological encouragement to believe that being hugely in debt is a natural condition of life, so why not do a bit of Wonga as well, it’s normal? It is not something that is fixed in concrete. As one goes through life paying a graduate tax, successive governments may change it – quite unlike a student debt.

    So let’s propose a graduate tax, and let’s propose something which is a bit less onerous than what we have now, so that we can show we are trying to do something – but something practicable this time – to help young people.

  • richardheathcote 12th Sep '13 - 2:56pm

    from peters list i would forget half of them as they have been blown out the water with this current coalition.

    im not sure voting reform for commons or lords is worth bothering with after the failures this term or does the fact a referendum was lost make no difference, most people will think the answer from the referendum was confirmation they wish to stay with FPTP

    Trident was supposed to be an acheivement but feels like a failure as i can still see us going with original proposals if just a little later.

    “press reform to introduce a requirement for honesty and remove the right to partisanship” cant see that going anywhere when MPs dont even meet that requirement.

    reducing size of parliament again has been a failure this term.

    Going to be very difficult to come up with policy or new ideas that wont look like a complete reversal of the positions held this term people will read the manifesto and think well what the hell happened whilst they was in government

  • Tony Greaves 12th Sep '13 - 5:02pm

    Most people here are missing the essential things that Tim is saying.

    The Tories will be fighting the election on rightwing Tory policies way beynd what the coaliton is doing. Labour will be cobbled together a more or less distinctive Labour manifesto.

    So are we to fight the election on Coalition policies or Liberal Democrat policies? The former (apparently preferred by some in high places) will be electoral suicide.

    Oh and by the way: “reduce the size of parliament, with job-share two-member seats” is crackers!

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves: ‘So are we to fight the election on Coalition policies or Liberal Democrat policies? The former (apparently preferred by some in high places) will be electoral suicide. Oh and by the way: “reduce the size of parliament, with job-share two-member seats” is crackers!

    This seem yet again to show the complete disconnect between ‘ordinary’ Liberals and the high ups! Hopefully the LibDem Conference will not be saying, ‘we know our place’

  • “Chris, it is unworthy of you to suggest such a deception. If we took this route we should be quite frank that your payments would not be different, but that they would be called graduate tax rather than debt repayments. That is what makes the point.”

    I’m not suggesting any deception.

    I’m suggesting that if you say your policy is to abolish tuition fees, when in fact your policy is simply to rename tuition fees, then the response is likely to be contemptuous.

    And the reason it’s not called a graduate tax is that it isn’t a graduate tax. It’s a loan, of which the terms of repayment can be changed unilaterally at the whim of a future government. Pretending it’s a tax “in all but name” really does amount to deception.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Sep '13 - 9:02am

    Chris
    “It’s a loan, of which the terms of repayment can be changed unilaterally at the whim of a future government.”

    Actually, that makes it more like a tax, which by definition “can be changed unilaterally at the whim of a future government”. Whereas governments tend to be more cautious about retrospectively changing loan terms, regardless of whether they can legally do it.

    There are other ways in which the current system isn’t a graduate tax, however, and is in fact better than a graduate tax — trying to call it a graduate tax is ludicrous and “changing” it into a graduate tax in name would be rightly mocked. (None of which constitutes an excuse for abandoning the “pledge” and doing a U-turn on the policy, of course.)

  • Malcolm

    Your faith in the trustworthiness of future governments is touching, but I think you’ll have a hard job convincing people that the ability of the lender to alter the terms of repayment unilaterally is a positive feature for the borrower!

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