Times reports Lib Dem “infighting” but misses out David Laws’ dismissal of their “highly misleading” story

Yesterday, the Times reported that the Liberal Democrat leadership were preparing to ditch policies from our manifesto which wouldn’t get agreement from either the Conservative or Labour parties. I wrote of the dangers of such a move, arguing that our manifesto needed to be brimming with liberalism.

David Laws, who chairs the manifesto group, wrote on the party website that the Times story was highly misleading.

The latest example of this is the highly misleading article on the front page of today’s Times (18 February) under the headlines ‘Lib Dems Axe pledges for coalition deal’ and ‘Lib Dems seeking policies to suit rivals’.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Chair of the Manifesto Group, I see it as our role to set out a clear Liberal Democrat vision of where we would like to take Britain in the next Parliament – this is why our Manifesto themes paper at the Glasgow conference has a chapter on the Liberal Democrat Vision for 2020. I certainly do not envisage us ‘pre-negotiating’ a possible future coalition agreement by watering down the idealism of our own manifesto.

In today’s Times (£), several members of the Federal Policy Committee and the Social Liberal Forum, including our own Mary Reid,  former co-editor Mark Pack, SLF Director Prateek Buch and co-chairs Gareth Epps and Naomi Smith, have written a letter saying that the sort of action the Times reported yesterday would be “an act of folly”:

At a time when political leadership and vision are in short supply, to present a manifesto devoid of either, as you report some Liberal Democrats as planning (“Lib Dems axe pledges for coalition deal”, Feb 18) would be an act of folly.

Thankfully, the democratic nature of the Liberal Democrats means that our elected Federal Policy Committee has the final say over what goes in the manifesto.

It is in the event of a balanced Parliament that compromises shall be made — not before. While commitments made in a manifesto must be affordable — like ours were in 2010 — the central message is what ultimately matters. For Liberal Democrats, who seek a fairer, more sustainable future, what we want is to fundamentally change the way British politics works — not to become a pale imitation of the two old parties.

Prateek Buch, Gareth Epps, Helen Flynn, Evan Harris, Lucy Care, Mark Pack, Tony Greaves, Kelly-Marie Blundell

Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee

Naomi Smith, Mary Reid, Mathew Hulbert, Paula Keaveney, Michael Steed,
Linda Jack, Gordon Lishman

Social Liberal Forum

As an aside, I did have a wry smile at one of the comments, a grammar pedant saying:

as ours were”, please. ‘Like’ is a preposition, not a conjunction.

There is a “how much is your inner pedant under control” quiz going round Facebook at the moment. A Lib Dem minister got 0%, I managed only 10% but generally Liberal Democrats aren’t scoring terribly highly. The irony of such a comment is therefore amusing.

The Times smells infighting (£) in a follow up story today. It reports the FPC/SLF letter but, strangely, fails to mention Laws’ unequivocal denial of their earlier report.

Journalists are so used to toxic internal strife in both Conservatives and Labour that they can’t get their heads round the very genuine, passionate and reasoned debates on policy that take part in our party. I think that those discussions are necessary and ultimately a force for good. I’m sure the leader would love to be able to write the manifesto unencumbered by such things as party democracy, but even he knows that that wouldn’t be good for either him or the party. He needs his activists to turn out on the doorsteps. They will only do so if they are taking with them a set of ideas that inspire them.

The Party does get this, I think. After all, the Manifesto Group has done widespread consultation and its website is still open for ideas from  members.  Make sure you submit your idea soon.

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

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  • Hostile right wing press in wilfully trashing Lib Dems shocker.

  • To be fair to The Times, they dug an obvious trap & both The SLF & LibDem Voice jumped right in. Its quite legitamate for our Enemies to call us divided when we are so willing to beleive the worst of each other. Why didnt LDV or The SLF make some attempt to find out if there was any basis to the Times story before they responded ?

  • “I managed only 10% but generally Liberal Democrats aren’t scoring terribly highly.”

    Did you have to bring up our current polling?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th Feb '14 - 11:53am

    Paul, if you read my article yesterday, I did say that the Times were most likely making too much of this. The result, though, is that David Laws has completely trashed the story, something that they didn’t bother to report today.

  • “The result, though, is that David Laws has completely trashed the story, something that they didn’t bother to report today.”

    “Completely trashed” in this context presumably meaning “denied”?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th Feb '14 - 1:07pm

    Chris, I would have thought that was blatantly obvious.

  • Caron

    What will be “blatantly obvious” to most people is that it’s not safe to take denials by David Laws at face value.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th Feb '14 - 1:43pm

    What is your evidence for that assertion?

  • A different Chris 19th Feb '14 - 1:59pm

    Murdoch newspaper says something innacurate about the LibDems. Make up your own response about what bears do the pope in the woods.

  • Tony Greaves 19th Feb '14 - 3:31pm

    What no-one here has noticed is that the story was not pure inventionby the Times but came from inappropriate talk from a “source” described as a “senior aide” – that is to say an immature SpAd with an over-inflated view of their importance, or perhaps an agenda of their own. (Or someone else?)


  • Tony greaves is right to highlight that without the briefing a senior aide we would not have had this problem. So who was the senior aide?
    It,would help if the individual owned up. Otherwise people will play a guessing game. They might look down the Daily Telegraph list of 25 “most influential” Liberal Democrats. People who believe in democracy and transparency might be surprised by how many of the top 25 are unelected special advisors.

    For example high number 19 on the list is the Senior policy and strategy adviser to Nick Clegg. Described in The Telegraph as —
    One of the Lib Dems’ brightest young talents, she was Clegg’s senior policy adviser when he was Home Affairs Spokesman and resigned her post to be part of his leadership campaign team. She exercised great influence over policy and wrote Nick Clegg’s important speeches. After the election she was catapulted to the centre of the coalition as deputy to Steve Hilton in Downing Street. Despite a break for maternity leave – with another one later this year – she remains one of Clegg’s closest and most trusted advisers, and will have a key input into the election manifesto and the election campaign.

    I use this example because she is a she and The Times report refers to a he. So I am not trying to ” out “the individual responsible but to show how the press see people in the party. Members of elected party committees do not interest the press. The SpAds interest the press because they walk the corridors of power, eat in the same trendy London restaurants as journos and are a constant source of gossip .

  • David Allen 19th Feb '14 - 4:35pm

    “Hostile right wing press in wilfully trashing Lib Dems shocker.”

    Simpler than that. Press create news to sell papers shocker.

  • “Now don’t get me wrong, it is important that we are a democratic party, and this is worth saying to people we want to join us. I just don’t think it is worth troubling the voters with our beliefs about the merits of our internal party structures.”

    Federal policy committees should be seen and not heard?

  • Bill le Breton 19th Feb '14 - 6:23pm

    There is no reason to doubt that the view aired by the senior aide was describing it as he or she saw the situation from the point of view of the Leader’s office. You don’t dream up such a view – clearly that is how the manifesto compilation is being viewed in the DPM’s office.

    One imagines that the reaction within the Parliamentary Party was such that a retraction from the highest possible source other than the leader (ie DL) was essential to placate the complainants’ fury.

    It shows two things: a comms team around the leader in utter chaos and a campaign designed to make the Leader look less right and more left, which is more about what may follow post Euros.

    As I wrote yesterday, our candidates in the field, local and Euros, deserve better that such a self-preserving tactic.

    Surely there is only one subject for discussion with journalists. How and why we are the Party of In !

  • Voters are not going to be impressed with ( or even impressed by) the thoughts of Joe Otten .

    Now don’t get me wrong, it is important that we are a democratic party, and this is worth saying to people we want to join us, that we take the thoughts of our members seriously even if they are Joe Otten. I just don’t think it is worth troubling the voters with Joe’s thoughts on our internal party structures.

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Feb '14 - 7:40pm

    Bill le Breton – ‘Surely there is only one subject for discussion with journalists. How and why we are the Party of In !’

    Well, yes. But there is a problem there, and it does have a direct relevance to 2015. If (stress, if) the message about the party of IN goes badly at the euro-elections then it would be unwise to simply ignore it come manifesto drafting time. I would imagine that the Conservatives will probably have an in/out referendum in their manifesto in some form and perhaps Labour too. If there are then Coalition negotiations it is going to be rather hard to oppose a referendum in Coalition if the two main parties committed to one and will likely have the lion’s share of votes. Plus the UKIP vote too. Being the tallest man on a pro-EU Lilliput won’t help in a negotiation and it does matter.

    By all means talk to journalists about the party of in message, but my sense is that it is a message that may well have a shelf-life which directly affects how 2015 is approached.

    It does of course rather beg the question of how many Lib Dem voters (rather than members) are actually pro-EU, but perhaps best leave that for another day.

  • “If there are then Coalition negotiations it is going to be rather hard to oppose a referendum in Coalition if the two main parties committed to one and will likely have the lion’s share of votes.”

    Especially when the Lib Dems in the last parliament were so passionately committed to a referendum … !

    Given Clegg’s gyrations on the issue, it’s more like the party of “In, Out, In, Out, Shake it all about” …

  • A Social Liberal 19th Feb '14 - 8:21pm

    There is a train of thought that anonymous, contentious briefings like this are given in order to test the water. If people shrug their shoulders but voice no concerns then the briefings subject becomes policy. If people get up in arms then some senoir politician denies everything.

    Is Laws that senior politician, is this letter a lifting of arms?

  • Julian Tisi 20th Feb '14 - 1:58pm

    @ John Tilley
    “Voters are not going to be impressed with ( or even impressed by) the thoughts of Joe Otten .”
    Miaow!!!!! That was rather uncalled for. What exactly in his response called for this ad-hominem attack? I thought both your initial contribution and Joe Otten’s were reasonable, helpful and reasonable once more. So why personalise? Please try not to!

  • @Julian TIsi
    In answer to your question please see the final para of Joe Otten 19th Feb ’14 – 5:59pm
    And then look at my comment on it. You will see that I am using the same words that Joe used. I was trying to point out to him how his dismissal of those who wrote the letter to The Times might feel if applied to him.

    I did not think of it as an ad hominem attack. I thought of it as a polite reminder to him.
    I thought it was obvious but your reaction shows that it was not. So apologies from me to you Julian.
    But no apologies to Joe because they were his words after all.

  • Simon Banks 25th Feb '14 - 9:29am

    I’m not a big-time admirer of David Laws’ political philosophy, but I thought his denial was pretty convincing. Moreover, it was couched in such uncompromising language that if he allowed or promoted this sort of thing actually happening, he’d have given hostages to fortune.

    Even from the most cynical point of view – do dealers seeking to sell in “Put your Money where your Mouth Is” start with “As you may have noticed, it has some damage and as it happens it’s been stuck on my shelves for six months, so…”. You’d always start negotiations with some positions you expected to have to withdraw from, groaning, so the other lot preen themselves and let through the difficult stuff you most wanted. I’m sure Laws is realist enough to see that.

    On the point about free and reasonable debate – I treasured Nick Robinson’s insightful line from Glasgow: “The debate…and they do have debates here…”.

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