Vince on how the Lib Dems are transforming British politics – but can we do better?

In an article in the New Statesman, Vince outlines the three elements necessary to transform British politics from its current divisive, dystopian, dysfunctional state.

The first is following the example of the Canadian Liberals who went from third place to Government in just a few years.

Justin Trudeau was the result of a concerted effort to open up the Liberal Party to a wider support base through open primaries for the national leadership and MPs.

He talks a lot about open primaries these days although we’ve yet to see proposals of how this would work in practice and already many of our top target seats are selecting their candidates, so we may have missed the boat on this one. However we have more members than we have ever had and a whole suite of ways of reaching out from doorsteps to social media, so we just need to do more of it. Being on the right side of the major issue of the day is bound to help us here.

The second element is for those of like mind to work together:

Following constructive support from the Greens for my parliamentary campaign to defeat the Conservatives in Twickenham, I encouraged my local party to experiment with an agreement between themselves and the Greens, based on a common set of values and policies. The shared campaigning and leaflets proved popular and helped both parties. The Lib Dems won a big majority on the council, and the Greens have their first local representation (four councillors). This approach may not work everywhere – the model is mainly relevant where we are challenging the Conservatives and depends on local initiative and national goodwill. But it is grown up politics.

The organisational stuff is nothing if you haven’t got something to say, though. Vince talks about the ideas we are developing which will tackls the big issues of the day.

By contrast, the Lib Dems are fizzing with big ideas. In recent months we have proposed agenda-setting reforms on health (notably an earmarked tax for the NHS and social care), education (such as abolishing Ofsted), homelessness (including mandating end of life care for the terminally ill), and big tech (such as breaking up monopolies). In the coming weeks, I will set out radical plans to reform British capitalism and to increase housing supply.

We know that Vince has talked a a lot about tackling inequality. It’s something that has always been part of his political core beliefs. We also know that he is committed to making our party and politics in general more diverse.

Is he being too cautious, though? The ideas we talk about must be bold enough to get noticed and we might need to work at presenting them in a way that wins people over when they are not popular. For example, if we believe in open borders and free movement of people as our constitution says we do,  we need to shout it from the rooftop, not shoehorn what we say into something that might not get the absolute derision of the Daily Mail.

Like it or not, politics is done in primary colours these days, not nuance. Our message needs to be strong, simple and positive. It’s about showing that if we create a more equal society, then we all win. We don’t have to fight each other. When living standards were going up in the fifties and sixties, social divisions lessened and progress towards equality was made. Liberalism is about creating and celebrating a diverse society where everyone has the chance to fulfil their dreams, where we will not tolerate poverty, where everyone has the chance to learn and go on learning.

In my view we should be talking about what a liberal society looks like – and making the point that we have much more hope of achieving that aim if we junk this daft Brexit notion which is going to make us all poorer for decades. And we shouldn’t hold back.

Vince is absolutely right in what he says in his article. We just need to deliver it better – all of us.

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

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41 Comments

  • Who’s going to pay for the open primaries of a political party which obtained single figure results in the vast majority of the six hundred plus constituencies making up the UK parliament ? Will it be the taxpayer? George Soros?

    As to a party ‘fizzing with new ideas’, I suppose he’s got to say that… but….. Lots of us in the voluntary sector are still trying to pick up the pieces of the last lot of ‘new ideas’ such as Universal Credit which the country was lumbered with following the notion that 35% of GDP ought to be the limit of public spending.

    Sorry Vincent, but it’s going to take more than a wink and a doffing of the hat to convince many of us that there’s fresh thinking up the creek where the party currently resides without a paddle never mind any new ideas.

  • paul barker 2nd Jun '18 - 1:17pm

    The real question is “Can we do better Now ?”
    That depends largely on how well we do in Lewisham & how Brexit goes.
    I dont see that we can do better than continue what we are doing now, trying to build up The Campaign against Brexit & working with others when we can.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun '18 - 4:54pm

    The way democratic political parties work is for ordinary people to be able to work their way up to senior political positions through their activity in the party. The point of a local party is for its members to be able to choose one of themselves to be the candidate for a member of Parliament, through their own knowledge of each other.

    Open primaries destroy this. They give massive advantage to those who already have fame and wealth and so are more likely to win the votes of those not involved in politics, and massive disadvantage to ordinary people trying to get somewhere in politics by joining a political party. They take away the devolved power that a liberal democratic political party should be about, since they mean that being a local member no longer gives you any sort of local power.

    Donald Trump is an example of what open primary systems lead to. But also all those cases where USA politics seems to be turning into a hereditary system, as those related to powerful politicians are bound to have an advantage in gaining primary votes over those who have no such links.

  • Sandra Hammett 2nd Jun '18 - 5:01pm

    Without a bold move to garner some attention followed through with a cohesive plan of how to present these effervescent new ideas to the public, these bubbles may just turn out to be a lot of hot air.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Jun '18 - 7:14pm

    ‘I will set out radical plans to transform British capitalism and increase housing supply,’ That’s the only point that interests me in the above piece. If the plans are endorsed by Conference there really could be some hope of transformation of politics, especially if we can also adopt some of the ideas on industrial strategy suggested by John Littler’s comment. Political primaries seem not for us, though in Mark Pack’s take on the article the plan for having supporters sounds good, while the political alliance question is indeed questionable, as has been much observed in a previous LDV thread.

  • Malcolm Todd 2nd Jun '18 - 7:17pm

    Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun ’18 – 4:54pm
    Absolutely. I don’t know why open primaries are sold as some sort of democratic ideal-cum-magic bullet … well, I think I do know, really; but they’re pure poison.

    Oddly, though, similar arguments could be made against STV – ordinary voters are required to express preferences between competing candidates from the same party. It’s why I’ve never been convinced that it’s the best form of PR for public elections.

  • William Fowler 3rd Jun '18 - 7:08am

    “I would like to see the CT surcharge converted from an 8% surcharge on taxable profits to a 50% tax charge on interest earnings arising from the element of mortgage loans related to the acqusition of land and a return to a standard 20% corporation rate on banking companies business profits.
    A similar rate of Corporation tax (50%) should be applied to the land element of all non-banks rental income (net of applicable mortgage interest payments).
    The interest deduction should be restored for private landlords at marginal rates of tax, but profits attributable to the land element of rents charged at a top rate of income tax of 50%.”

    I am sure Vince will be able to articulate this in a way that captures voters’ attention but it is so full of holes that accountants will be booking themselves new Merc’s. It would be much more interesting to tax property in such a way that the mortgage costs are not covered by the rental income…

  • Innocent Bystander 3rd Jun '18 - 10:18am

    The Canadian liberals were the dominant party for decades. They collapsed, temporarily, due to scandals. They have bounced back. They have not reached government from nothing. This is a typical Vince claim. Fatuous.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Jun '18 - 10:20am

    Use accurate language, failing which there is the usual risk of getting an accurate, but misleading answer. Home Secretary Javed was on the Andrew Marr show on 3 June 2018.
    Andrew Marr asked about “deportations”.
    The Home Secretary replied about “deportations and other removals” and continued with a breakdown into categories such as “violent offenders”. Andrew Marr then said “deportations”. Shame on him.
    This is the key difference between Deportation Orders, signed by a Minister, and other removals, caused by factors such as the expiry of a visa.

  • William,

    the tax community (HMRC and tax practitioners) are perfectly capable of drafting tax regulations to capture economic rents in the economy. An example would be the taxation of lease premiums apportioned between capital gains and taxable income on the basis of pre-determined formulas. Tax deductions for lessees are limited to the amount of taxable income assessed on lessors.
    Mortgage interest payments on land comprise a very significant element of rentier income in the economy.

  • Those who are calling for a magic industrial strategy should think of calling it the National Enterprise Board set up by Baron Wilson of Rivelaux (aka Harold). It was set up to do exactly what you suggest as well as specifically saving British Leyland, Ferranti, Alfred Herbert, Inmos and Rolls-Royce. RR is all that’s left of that lot and they had to sell off the cars.
    Who do you see running your incarnation? Lord Sugar, Attenborough, Clare Balding? You are old enough to know what will happen. Some organization with a spiffing name will be set up but staffed with the usual collection of the boastful, self Important serial failures who mess up everything now. An industrial strategy is pathetically useless until the essential precondition of a national urge for wholesale reform is created.

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd Jun '18 - 1:48pm

    Erm, I don’t think we are actually transforming British politics at all at the moment. We would like to and are trying to come up with policy ideas to do so (I think) but as you say Caron, we’re not being bold enough or savvy enough with our message and I’m afraid, although I find Vince very reassuring because he knows what he’s talking about (unlike Corbyn and May) I’m afraid he’s no Trudeau. Trudeau’s cabinet also personify Liberal beliefs and we have a long way to go before we will be able to do the same.
    At the moment, British politics is being transformed by extremism in both main parties. This means that , not only do their usual supporters vote for them, but also their usual opponents are voting against them by supporting the other main contender. It’s only the brave 8% or so who are willing to run the risk of voting for us, everyone else is running scared that the other side might win.
    Once we have decided what we want to do to get the country out of the current mess, and I don’t just mean Brexit, I think we should be building on Vince’s reassuring presence in presenting the message and let someone else have the role of firing up the voters to accept the significant changes we want to introduce to help them.

  • Innocent Bystander 3rd Jun '18 - 1:51pm

    Could I suggest that those calling for a magic industrial strategy call it the National Enterprise Board? As set up by Baron Wilson of Rivelaux (aka Harold). It was set up to do exactly what you are proposing as well as saving British Leyland. Alfred Herbert, Ferranti, Rolls Royce and Inmos. Only the aero division of RR has been saved out of that lot.
    Who will lead yours? Lord Sugar? Clare Balding?

  • Innocent Bystander 3rd Jun '18 - 5:15pm

    I understand that John but my point was that sort of good stuff has not, and can not, happen here in the UK. Our dysfunctionality is our inability to implement the sort of programmes you advocate not in thinking them up. Any of us could list the miscarried projects, in fact it’s easier to think up ones that have succeeded (I can’t think of one).

    So my point, again, is not to suggest industrial strategies can’t work but to ask for a step back in thinking. Why have none of our attempts worked so far?
    My answer is that we have a layer of serial failures who have inveigled their boastful way into all the key quangos and initiatives. They go from disaster to disaster with no consequences at all and miraculously reappear in another key role.

    My point about Sugar and Balding was facetious but Ministers love appointing “names” the public know. Mary Portas was appointed High Street Renewal Tsar. And what happened to our High Streets?

    I have long thought that the public would massively follow a Liberal Reform Party who stopped talking about tinkering with welfare but proposed a ruthless and aggressive clear out of every quango and public body (offices of state included) and reviewing every senior post holder with no quarter given, at all, for those who could not demonstrate success. Kick them out and replace with fresh blood.

    Sounds harsh? We owe our grandchildren no less and no new industrial strategy will succeed until a broom with very stiff bristles has swept away the useless, but overpaid.

  • @John Littler – that seems like sound advice. We need to try to learn from the German model. At the end of the day, the electorate want solid policies on things like the economy, jobs, the health service, welfare, education and transport. At the moment the Lib Dems are mostly talking about #Brexit – and cannabis. We will not be taken seriously if we don’t seem to have at least some convincing ideas for preventing the UK from becoming a banana republic. We are nearly there if our railways are anything to go by.

  • Innocent Bystander 4th Jun '18 - 10:28am

    Judy, we can no more turn into Germany by adopting a couple of their initiatives than the Central African Republic can become as wealthy is South Korea by copying a few of theirs. We can not just acquire Teutonic thoroughness by wishing. It took them centuries.
    John’s proposals are fine but they have been suggested before. And umpteen times.
    Those contributing to this site are political thinkers. I implore them to do just that and reflect on why these ideas have been launched and failed for decades.
    To repeat the same actions, over and over, and expect a different result is what our politicians have been doing for years and has led the public to distrust and despise them.
    I realise I am a line voice crying in the wilderness but I remain convinced that we can not progress until we have implemented strong and decisive national reform first.

  • Neil Sandison 4th Jun '18 - 11:59am

    Vince is on the right track regarding bringing fresh ideas to the table .We should be making more of the circular economy why import expensive raw materials when you can reuse and recover much of those materials from what we throw away.,life long learning and training to continuously up skill a work force that is unlikely to have the luxury of a single career for life . build volume pre- fabricated affordable homes that meet our housing needs rather than just increase in value of homes for those who have already got one . We need to be brave and challenging of the conventional wisdom if we are to breakthrough the polarised politics we currently have to endure.

  • @Innocent Bystander. What exactly do you mean by decisive national reform? You are probably right about us not being able to become like Germany because we have sold off or closed down so much of our manufacturing capability. I would like to hear more about what you had in mind though.

  • Innocent Bystander 4th Jun '18 - 11:35pm

    Judy,
    Er… tricky. What I had in mind is incendiary stuff but please read for amusement only. I am the only person I know who thinks like this.
    My two themed approach would be Decapitation and De-Victorianisation. The first I covered a bit, but as an example I watch the Public Accounts Committee in tears of despair. The MPs are just grandstanding and showboating. Have they never held positions of responsibility? Have they never held a Financial Period End Review? Have they never spent hours going through budgets and results, line by pitiless line? Parliamentary Committees should be sacking public sector post holders wholesale if they fail to perform. Sir Humphrey should have simply been told to clear his desk, too slippery by half and no team player.
    Just take the MoD, as one example. Nimrod, Chinook, Clansman radios, SA80, the list goes on and on. Who got held to account? No one for any of it. far from it. Those responsible went on to ever more senior roles. And every Office of State has as big, or bigger catastrophes.
    My belief is that the first party that proposes to, upon election, summarily dismiss 95% of senior civil servants and quango executives and replace with new blood will win with a huge landslide. The nation is crying out for someone with guts to “do something, anything”.
    As to De-Victoriansation, well that is even more radical, but it does not impinge on the poorest. They have nothing to lose anyway and the super rich are international and immune. The ones affected are the comfortable middle. They will cope but they have to be convinced that Victoria is dead and they have to give up their two centuries of smugness and entitlement. I can’t go into detail but it involves taking away the comforting toys and teddybears to which the British currently desperately cling and inspiring a new wealth earning epoch across a broad swathe of activities from media and the arts to primary manufacturing with the aim of bequeathing our grandchildren the tools they need to earn a living in an increasingly competitive world. The details are scary but we start with a completely new upper house and revising chamber, as the current incarnation is, whether you like it or not, widely despised. (But there is much more).
    Sorry, Judy, but you did ask.

  • Innocent Bystander 5th Jun '18 - 1:51pm

    I certainly agree on a reboot (and a no-holds-barred one at that) and I have no disagreement with industrial strategies but only after the miscarried implementations of all the previous ones has been faced up to and the useless miscreants who have failed their way to our highest levels have been excised. More money is no answer. It goes into the wrong wallets now and will just be even more gratefully received by the cunning and greedy.
    I am not sure on English Assemblies. Scotland and Wales are historical nations, not regions. I don’t see the English liking it. Would it mean that the “London Region”, being rich, would have to send “its money” to the North West? There lies resentment and there is plenty of that over money flowing across the Tweed.
    But if we do can we have our own flags? currency? anthems?
    My contribution (hope you like it)
    “Home Counties North, of Thee we sing,
    From Stevenage to leafy Tring,
    And nowhere else is half as pretty,
    As our Welwyn Garden City.”
    I admit it’s not “Land of My Fathers” or “Flower of Scotland” but it makes me cry.

  • @Innocent Bystander. I couldn’t quite follow all of what you were saying, but so many new policy strategies, industrial or otherwise do seem to lead us down blind alleys. Parliamentary Committee findings are also often overlooked or not acted upon despite the hard work that goes into them.

    We almost keep reorganising as a substitute for sorting things out. The Institute of Government in its 2017 report All Change talks about “near-constant upheaval” in policy-making. We never give anything a change to work and as soon as we lose confidence in a reform, there is another consultation – and then more change.

    The Institute said in its report “The cost of all this reinvention – both human and economic – is high. In further education [used as one policy example], thousands of students and employers are faced with a confusing and ever-changing set of qualifications, with no certainty that those same qualifications will exist a few years down the line.”

    The answer? Strong leadership and moral courage rooted in fairness and a vision of a better society. People will listen if they hear the voice of reason spoken by someone with integrity and a measure of self-belief.

  • Innocent Bystander 5th Jun '18 - 9:10pm

    Judy,
    I agree but the constant upheaval is largely because our implementation is so flawed (for the reasons I highlighted) that nothing succeeds so many launched in desperation. I am not joking about the dead layer. Carefully follow any major disaster. Note the names and you will see that for this privileged elite the reward for failure is promotion. It was bad enough but many years ago the Civil Service introduced the “Fast Track” scheme that has enshrined and perpetuated this club of mutually protective serial failures.
    Your final paragraph is word perfect. That is what the nation craves and will follow and not a list of the same old stale proposals offered time and again.

    John,
    I am less sure about support for the breaking up of England. I recall one region was asked once and turned it down. My national anthem had a point. The concept starts to wobble when the hard questions come in about tax and spending. The Barnett Formula is grudgingly tolerated to keep our nation together. The minute Home Counties North are “instructed” (and by who – they are supposed to be independent?) to increase taxes to pay for improvements in a different region then you can expect fireworks. It won’t all be seen as a wonderful advance in localism but a new source of inter regional rivalry and jealousy.
    I agree with your point on academia (except that my own proposals would realign academias mission 180 degrees) but I can not agree that we can find answers in the initiatives of other nations. We are not and can not be German or Dutch any more than Venezuela can become Scandinavian just by wishing. We have to mould with the clay we have here ourselves, in our nation and our key problem is that second best has become second nature (look at Grenfell) and we will betray our grandchildren if we constantly look for the pot of gold at the rainbows end instead of finding the courage to take the surgeon’s knife to our national decay.

  • “My belief is that the first party that proposes to, upon election, summarily dismiss 95% of senior civil servants and quango executives and replace with new blood will win with a huge landslide.” a populist approach but who do you replace them with? Do you replace them with the management of British industry, they hardly set the world alight and in fact many are already on quangos. Where are these mythical replacements, are they just going to rise up from the ground like the Spartoi of Ancient Greece. Beware of the peddlers of easy solutions and quick fixes. The solution to the issues facing us are hard and much as we may like to fall for the quick fix, it is unlikely too fix anything but on the contrary make things much worse.

  • Innocent Bystander 6th Jun '18 - 7:41am

    David,
    ” Sir Oswald M.”
    I have never uttered, or felt, the slightest racist view and your response is entirely uncalled for.

    Frankie,
    The next layer down. And then the next until the winners emerge. Stalin purged 95% of the Red Army’s leadership and still ended WWII with the most powerful army on earth. The talent was there all along. It’s always there. We have it too. In abundance. It is just frozen out by this layer of immovable tar at the top.

    And BTW, as soon as it emerges that failure has consequences you will see energy and performance dramatically improve – honest.

    I offer also the myth that CEOs have to be paid millions in salary “because they are worth it” and irreplaceable. Nonsense. There will be scores in the same organisation who could do as well or much better.

    So to you and David and Judy and John I concede that my views are going nowhere and will fall on deaf ears. I realise that.
    But please just study any British bungled programme if you don’t believe me and check out the people involved.

    FWIW my second theme – a De-Victorianisation programme is even more scary with traditional British institutions completely re missioned and set to work on winning the (economic) war which we are now losing. If you thought Decapitation was uncomfortable then part 2 is not for you.
    I can only repeat that no initiatives will work while we not only accept failure but reward it, that people are always the key, not programmes or ideas, and we must liberate our frustrated talent by decisive means, that we must re order our institutions and wake them from their cosy, post-imperial torpor and above all, we are honour bound to leave our grandchildren the means of earning a prosperous living as our own forefathers bequeathed us.
    (Now squandered of course).

  • Innocent bystander.
    Agree with you entirely about the business elite who have to be paid mega salaries. When faced with this argument I have a one word response. Carrilion .
    Plenty of talent in the uk. If the boards of directors of the ftse100 companies were tragically and simultaneously to fall beneath a London bus (alongside their public sector counterparts), do you really think the nation would fall apart ? Problem is that people don’t strive to get power only to share it with others and that’s where politics comes in.

  • Innocent Bystander 6th Jun '18 - 9:51am

    Chris, you are quite correct about politics. I was accused of being populist but, truly, what do we think would actually arouse the public?
    My Decapitation? Or the LibDems new competition winner on supermarket sell by dates?
    Our politicians are timid, hesitant, unsure of themselves, desperate to be told what to say, no ideas beyond the one above (which is utterly pathetic of course). And they crave new leaders.
    If radical and strong, but also rational politicians can’t emerge the western world will fall into the hands of more Trumps. Or even worse than him.

  • Peter Hirst 6th Jun '18 - 3:11pm

    Open primaries might help to engage with especially young people though the Tories have been there before. Working with others is essential though not by losing our identity. We should focus on people such as these forced emigration stories. Show we care about individuals in a non caring world.

  • Not so innocent bystander you object to being compared to Oswald but laud Stalin; truly populists flock to the cult of the strong man. As to your assertion Stalin’s purges left the Red army stronger, the disasters of the Finnish war and the early months of the German invasion would suggest otherwise. In fact after the Finnish War many dismissed and even imprisoned Red Army Officers where reinstated, for example I present to you

    Konstantin Konstantinovich (Xaverevich) Rokossovsky (December 21, 1896 – August 3, 1968) was a Soviet officer of Polish origin who became Marshal of the Soviet Union, Marshal of Poland and served as Poland’s Defence Minister from 1949 until his removal in 1956 during the Polish October.[1] He was among the most prominent Red Army commanders of World War II, especially renowned for his planning and executing of Operation Bagration, one of the most decisive Red Army successes of the Second World War………..
    Rokossovsky held senior commands until August 1937 when he became caught up in Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge and accused of being a spy. His association with the cutting edge methods of Marshal Tukhachevsky may have been the cause of his conflict with more traditional officers such as Semyon Budenny, who still favoured cavalry tactics over Tukhachevsky’s mass armour theories,
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konstantin_Rokossovsky#Great_Purge,_trial,_torture_and_rehabilitation

  • Innocent Bystander 6th Jun '18 - 7:18pm

    Thank you Frankie, but I knew all that. I also am a student of that period and am a greater admirer of Rokossovsky’s talents than Zhukov’s. We could discuss some of his masterstrokes if we had time.
    And I did not “laud” Stalin, a man of evil, but pointed out that he still found lots of talent to win a war even after removing the entire leadership of the Red Army a few years before.
    We too, have a massive reserve of talent below the top layer of our national life.
    And we probably wouldn’t have to remove more than 50% of ours before the rest got the message and suddenly left or dramatically improved.

    To be fair we have done the same as Stalin (to a lesser degree!). The British traditionally start wars with incompetent military leadership which, after the inevitable early disasters, we too then purge and replace with the better men who were there all along.

    But my position remains the same. Unless, reasonable and restrained voices like mine do what I have suggested then the we can expect relentless deterioration and the inevitable consequences of mass poverty at some point. Then the rise of those who make my proposals seem moderate and proportionate and the word ‘Decapitation’ could take a less figurative turn.

    Please take a look round. The British are falling quickly behind. Everywhere there are failed plans, major programmes in disarray, our economy full of red flags and every single party with only banal and trite proposals. Why do you think populism is on the rise?

    Anyway, I write in vain. No one will listen – until the bad times come and then it will be too late.

  • Innocent Bystander 9th Jun '18 - 1:22pm

    I realise this thread has come to an end but I could not but observe that the reward for unprecedented rail chaos is the CBE.
    Anyone getting closer to accepting my Decapitation proposal?

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