Welcome to my day: 6 February 2023 – the Party for the future?

I was pleasantly surprised this week by the proposal to increase pay for workers in the social care sector to £2 per hour above the National Minimum Wage, funded by an increase in Remote Gaming Duty. Surprised because it recognises that, in order to attract people to work in a sector with tens of thousands of vacancies, you have to accept that a free market includes everyone, not just the private sector, and by the astuteness of the means of funding it. After all, how much sympathy are online gambling operators going to get?

And, of course, if you can attract more workers into the sector, the consequences reach beyond simply social care, freeing hospital beds which are currently occupied by people who should be at home receiving appropriate support instead.

In short, it shows some joined-up strategic thinking.

And perhaps we, as a Party, could take that further. After all, our nation has some very big issues, very few of which can be solved quickly or easily. Our national infrastructure, both physical and human, needs significant investment in renewal and increased capacity, from the national grid to rail and broadband, whilst communities need better, smarter health and education provision.

Yes, that does require funding but it also requires a plan, and there seems to be little of that going around, certainly not from the Government and not much sign of it from the Opposition either. In Coalition, we came in with some long-term ideas – state pension reform, the pupil premium, increases in the personal tax-free allowance – that addressed significant problems in our nation, and where they were allowed to take effect, they made a positive difference. We need more of those ideas, even if they’re fated to be stolen from us eventually.

Elsewhere, Liz Truss is of the view that her problem was one of communication and a leftist elite which opposed her reforms. The fact that the markets (comprising of so many Marxists and fellow travellers) reached a judgement that her proposals would drive the British economy off of a cliff seems to have passed over her head. As with Nadhim Zawari, Matt Hancock, Alexander De Pfeffel Boris Johnson, Owen Paterson, and so many others, it’s always someone else’s fault. Truly, it does seem that personal responsibility is utterly out of fashion amongst Conservatives these days.

Mind you, with so many factions within the Conservative Party, the only policy areas they can agree on involve being unpleasant to foreigners, unkind to the poor and vulnerable, vindictive towards the enemies and generous to their donors. How much legislation they can pass over the next eighteen months will probably do little other than to make us look petty and vindictive, as they are determined to do nothing to help our economy.

The road back will be a long, hard one. At least liberals are optimists by nature…

* Mark Valladares is the Monday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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27 Comments

  • Mel Borthwaite 6th Feb '23 - 8:43am

    Sorry, but I don’t believe the reference to the Liberal Democrats supporting a Conservative government in a coalition strikes the appropriate tone. While there were a few notable good ideas and achievements during that period, we must all recognise that, overall, our decision to back the Tories was a huge mistake that alienated huge numbers of voters who backed us in the 2010 election, led to our near (and justified) electoral wipeout in 2015, and accounts for us today still being the 4th party at Westminster (with a quarter of the MPs of the 3rd party, the SNP.) Can I suggest that if any reference to the coalition years has to be made, it should be couched in language that makes clear our acknowledgement of the error we made and our intention never to repeat it.

  • Barry Lofty 6th Feb '23 - 9:02am

    I agree with the content of Mark Valladares’ Monday morning post and while, as Mel states, the Lib Dems sadly became unpopular with some voters due to the coalition, I believe they did the right thing as the country was facing another economic meltdown at the time and desperately needed a stable government to put it back on an even keel again!

  • George Thomas 6th Feb '23 - 10:17am

    It’s easy to laugh at Liz Truss but i) she became prime minister despite everyone knowing who she is which says something about our political system and ii) her viewpoints were only slightly more extreme than Cameron and Osbourne’s who did much more to weaken the economy and foundations of the UK.

    Seems unfair to criticise/laugh at an individual when they’re just the cherry on top of the cake.

  • Jean Duncan 6th Feb '23 - 11:01am

    @Barry Lofty
    That argument could be used to justify the Liberal Democrats backing the Tories again in future. That is not something I could ever accept and if I even suspect it could happen I would not risk voting Liberal Democrat. The party has to be clear that it is a moderate alternative to the Tories but will never again back them in government.

  • Peter Watson 6th Feb '23 - 1:47pm

    @Jean Duncan “That argument could be used to justify the Liberal Democrats backing the Tories again in future. That is not something I could ever accept and if I even suspect it could happen I would not risk voting Liberal Democrat.”
    That approach begs the question, what is the point of the Lib Dems, then? Or any party that positions itself in the political centre?
    However, the party’s strategy these days appears to be to put a compassionate face on conservatism/Conservatism that will appeal to soft Tories, suggesting that the role to which it is best suited is the social conscience of a Tory-led government.
    Oh no, not again! 🙁

  • Peter Martin 6th Feb '23 - 2:24pm

    @ Jean,

    “The party has to be clear that it is a moderate alternative to the Tories but will never again back them in government.”

    Don’t you, and the many other Lib Dems who would share this sentiment, want it both ways? You would like a system of PR but you’re not prepared to enter into the coalitions which would be necessary to make a PR system work. Except perhaps you’d be prepared to co-operate only with the Labour Party?

    If so why not join up with the Labour party internal ‘coalition’, which is, under Starmer, also a “moderate alternative to the Tories”? Why bother waiting for PR? It could be a long wait in any case!

  • Alex Macfie 6th Feb '23 - 2:39pm

    Barry Lofty, Jean Duncan: The Coalition was a product of its time. There is no way any such arrangement could happen now. The Conservative Party of Johnson, Truss and Sunak is a different animal from that of David Cameron. The Lib Dems have also shed their leadership team of the time (most of whom have left active politics). Hopefully we have learnt from the experience about how not to do coalition government. Our current leader Ed Davey, who served in the Coalition government, has ruled out working with the Tories after the next General Election.

  • Peter Martin 6th Feb '23 - 2:51pm

    I’m totally at a loss as to why Liz Truss thinks her reforms were brought down by a “leftist elite”. She’s complained that the Treasury and BoE hadn’t warned her of the danger her proposed changes might create for the pension industry. Isn’t this just an admission that she and Kwasi Kwarteng didn’t know what they were doing and were completely out of their depth?

    Even a non-economist could have advised them both to do their homework before making any substantial changes. It was quite predictable there would be major opposition, so the timing of any battle with the supposedly leftist establishment had to be carefully chosen. They both could hardly have chosen a worse time!

    MMT is considered to be a leftist economic theory at the moment. Yet it doesn’t have to be. If any right-wing politician wants to move to a low tax and low govt spending economy, a knowledge of MMT would indicate how to best go about it. The right usually come to grief over their misunderstanding of what Government deficits and debts actually mean. MMT would help them get that right at least!

  • Barry Lofty 6th Feb '23 - 3:22pm

    Alex Macfie: I agree lessons must and should have been learnt from the last coalition but I still believe it was the correct decision at that time.

  • Michael Cole 6th Feb '23 - 3:26pm

    Barry Lofty is right to point out that “… the country was facing another economic meltdown at the time and desperately needed a stable government …”

    The mistake which cost us so dear was the naivety of the leadership in dealing with Cameron & Co.

    Throughout the final year of the coalition I thought that Clegg must have a ‘cunning plan’ to enable us to disassociate. Sadly, this was not the case.

  • Jenny Barnes 6th Feb '23 - 3:44pm

    “Clegg must have a ‘cunning plan’ “…to get himself a sinecure outside politics. Job done.
    Collateral damage – 80% of the LibDem party, NHS “reforms”, bedroom tax., etc.

  • Mick Taylor 6th Feb '23 - 3:48pm

    Peter Martin. We don’t join with Labour because they are centralising statists and are not Liberals. Perfectly happy to work with them on issues we agree on, but the Liberal tradition is wholly at odds with much of what Labour believe in. [It’s also totally at odds with the current Tory Party]
    Jean Duncan. What more do you want Lib Dems to do? Ed Davey has already ruled out any coalition agreement with the Tories. Surely that’s enough reassurance?
    If Labour don’t do as well as current polls are suggesting, then we will have difficult choices to make as a party if they don’t have a majority. Personally, I would not support any kind of agreement with Labour that did not include proportional representation for all future UK elections. Quiet apart from anything else, that would be the only thing that would prevent us suffering another post coalition collapse that all junior partners seem to suffer.

  • Mick Taylor 6th Feb '23 - 3:55pm

    Jenny Barnes. I have no time whatsoever for Nick Clegg and the sheer stupidity he showed in running his side of the coalition and in refusing to listen to the many in the party who has had experience of coalitions.
    However, he did not land his job with Facebook until several years after the coalition ended and after he had lost his seat in 2017. Hardly signs of a cunning plan. [And frankly not a sinecure {?} any sensible ex party leader would want]

  • >George Thomas: Seems unfair to criticise/laugh at an individual

    Truss (with Kwarteng) tanked the economy with their disastrous mini-budget, costing the country billions in a matter of weeks. Clobbered the pension pots of ordinary folk who had to watch the values plummeting daily. So no, not laughing. But yes, happy to also criticise those who allowed such a clueless hardliner to rise to the role of PM.

  • Mel Borthwaite 6th Feb '23 - 5:54pm

    @Peter Martin
    I would identify with Jean’s feelings on this matter – I also wouldn’t be willing to vote Liberal Democrat if I thought that my vote could help the Tories to the keys of 10 Downing Street. I disagree that people like me want things both ways – we want PR to prevent an unrepresentative bunch of extremists running the country on a minority of the vote. That said, our values are far more in line with mainstream labour activists that the Tories as we both believe in social justice in a way Tories just don’t understand.

  • Barry Lofty and Michael Cole,

    After the 2010 general election the UK was not facing economic meltdown. Greece was because it was in the Euro but the UK wasn’t because we were not in the Euro and the government could still borrow. There were worries about our rating but during that parliament we lost the rating people were worried about and there were no bad consequences.

    At the time I thought we should enter a coalition government with the Conservatives but we should never have accepted that tuition fees would increase as all our MPs had pledged to vote against any increase in tuition fees. And we should never have accepted Conservative economic policy and having a mini budget to cut investment in 2010 followed by government expenditure cuts. Our policy in our manifesto was to have an economic stimulus before addressing the deficit. A compromise would have been to keep to the Labour Party’s expenditure plans and the economy would have grown more than it did under the coalition and unemployment would have been lower.

    In hindsight a minority Conservative government which we didn’t support in any way would have been better for the party, and it is possible that any Conservative majority gained in 2011 would be small and short lived and they would go on to lose the general election in 2015 or 2016 and there would have been no Brexit.

  • Alex Macfie 6th Feb '23 - 7:04pm

    I agree with Mick! What Nick Clegg does now as a private individual with no active involvement in UK politics is of very little interest to me, or indeed to most voters.

    Mick’s not quite correct about one thing though. Electoral collapse is not an inevitable fate of a junior coalition partner. We avoided it after the coalitions with Labour in the Welsh and Scottish devolved authorities — indeed we actually increased our seat total in the Scottish Parliament in the 2nd election, following 4 years of coalition. This only goes to show that with the right leadership a junior partner can make a success of coalition, and Clegg’s Rose Garden love-in approach was obviously the wrong one.

    And honestly i my experience the Coalition rarely comes up on the doorstep nowadays. When it does it’s from tribal leftists with an anti-Lib Dem agenda, the sort who always thought a Lib Dem was a yellow Tory. Mark’s purpose in mentioning it seems to be to contrast a period of stable government with the chaos of the current single-party government. Going over the same old ground is really rather pointless when we should be focusing on how to get rid of the Tories here and now.

  • @ Peter Martin

    We would be more likely to accept coalitions if we had PR because PR provides some protection against being wiped out as a result of going into government. I personally prefer to work with Labour. I think that confidence and supply agreements are viable and are the norm in many countries where PR is used.

  • James Fowler 6th Feb '23 - 9:58pm

    It’s amazing that there are evidently still people who really think that the mid-noughties Lib Dems under Charles Kennedy would be a viable proposition if only the coalition hadn’t happened. The truth is simple: the politics of that period is as dead as the Coalition itself. Britain has become smaller, older, meaner and poorer. It’s not fertile ground for liberals, but even less for pro-European social democrats. I think we’ll survive, none-of-the-above and anyone-but-the-tories will do the trick, but most LD instincts are at odds with the times. Right populism followed by left interventionism… we’ll have to hope for happier times.

  • Peter Martin 7th Feb '23 - 5:46am

    @ Mick Taylor

    The significant differences between the old, more socialist, Labour Party and the Lib Dems are obvious.

    But what are the defining differences between yourselves and Starmer’s Labour Party?

  • Mick Taylor 7th Feb '23 - 6:05am

    Peter Martin. As I said before, Labour’s solutions to problems are not Liberal. Labour are not European, Labour favour concentrating power instead of dispersing it. For example favouring elected Mayors rather than proper devolution.[Gordon Brown’s suggestions are not really devolution]. Starmer’s Labour is anti immigration to the same or a greater extent than the Tories. They will continue the break up of the NHS just like Blair and Brown, whilst claiming at every election that we have to save the NHS. Unlike the LibDems they are not federalist nor do they support a written constitution. Need I go on?

  • Chris Moore 7th Feb '23 - 7:17am

    Also Labour will never vote for PR.

  • Peter Martin 7th Feb '23 - 9:49am

    @ Mick,

    Aren’t you overlooking that the present day Lib Dem party isn’t meant to be just a continuation of the old Liberal Party? The ‘Dem’ part is supposed to acknowledge the incorporation of Social Democratic concepts. There can be little doubt that Starmer wants to ditch the socialism of the old Labour Party in favour of a new Social Democratic Party in all but name.

    So although there will be some small differences, such as whether to have elected Mayors, between the now dominant wing of the Labour Party and the Lib Dems they don’t seem to be huge. They are no greater than we’d expect to see in the present day Lib Dem party. I can’t imagine that support for the principle of elected mayors would be an expulsion offence in the LibDems. Labour and Libdem EU policy is pretty much the same, much to the annoyance of pro-EU activists in both.

    Somewhat ironically, the difference on immigration you mention is only between some on the right of the Labour party and yourselves. The 2019 Labour manifesto’s commitment to a humane policy was hardly something you could have disapproved of, and still has widespread support throughout the party.

    The Labour Party has always had a good record on increasing support, and spending on the NHS, as the first graph in this link shows. There was uninterrupted growth in the period 1997 to 2010. It started to flatline in 2010 and remained flat until 2015.

    https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/21664/economics/nhs-spending-cuts/

  • Alex Macfie 7th Feb '23 - 10:22am

    James Fowler:: “…most LD instincts are at odds with the times” Actually social attitudes among the overall population are far more liberal than in previous times. However, the difference in attitudes between the most and least liberal people is also much wider than it used to be. And the illiberal people are much louder than they used to be, particularly on social media (which has provided them with a soapbox that was previously umavailable to them). There is also a much wider gulf in attitudes and voting patterns between younger and older people. Current polling evidence shows differences of as much as 40 percentiles in intention to vote Tory between the youngest and eldest cohorrts. Contrast this with the 1980s (the last time the Tories had a large Parliamentary majority), when younger voters were just as likely to vote Tory as their elders. Younger voters weren’t particularly radical in the ’00s either.

    Far from being “at odds with the times”, the Lib Dems are ahead of the curve. This is true on the EU as well. Polls now show a significant majority of people in the UK regrest Brexit, even if this does not (yet) translate to a wish to rejoin the EU. The Tories, by focusing on narrow nationalism and culture-war wedge issues, are living on borrowed time because they are appealing primarily to older voters.

  • Alex Macfie 7th Feb '23 - 10:25am

    “Right populism followed by left interventionism” appeals mainly to older voters in the Red Wall, where we as a party are virtually non-existent. There is no point in us making policies to appeal to a demographic that’s never going to vote for us anyway. It might work for Labour, but not us.

  • Have to agree with Alex rather than James. Polls suggest that as many as 35% of the public broadly agree with Liberal values – far more than current Lib Dem support – which could be tapped into better.

    Furthermore when right and left wing populism is on the rise there will always be a backlash among people who don’t like either of those things. There is evidence of a Liberal revival across Europe as a reaction to populist movements.

  • Peter Hirst 9th Feb '23 - 5:06pm

    The proposal to increase the minimum wage for care workers is excellent. Leaving aside how it is paid for and widening the remit, it alone would show the value that our society places on these people. It should be part of our manifesto and we should produce a policy paper discussing the benefits and challenges with implementing it. Apart from funding there is a risk of dividing those who deserve this from those that are not thought to do so.

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