What did you make of Nick Clegg’s conference speech?

Liberal Democrat Voice at Conference

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As the music fades, and the hoardes of conference delegates file out of the Liverpool hall, what did Voice readers make of what he had to say? Here’s my first impression…

First, and above all, this was a sober speech. It wasn’t a barn-stormer, it didn’t grip by the throat or tug the heart-strings. This was a serious analysis of why the Lib Dems have gone into government, and what the party wants to get out of it for the country. Nick was careful to go through the famous four pledges — fair taxes, a fair start for children, a fair and green economy, and fair politics — and re-state how this is now being implemented from the position of coalition. Moreover, he nailed-down the specifics: the Freedom Bill will be published in November, ID card laws will be abolished by Christmas, the bank levy will be in place from New Year’s Day. In other words, these are no longer merely Lib Dem pledges: these are real pieces of legislation, of Lib Dem policy being enacted.

But, secondly, there was no sense of triumphalism. Nick listed many Lib Dem achievements now being legislated by Lib Dems in government, but the over-riding sense was of the party leader reassuring the party faithful — and the public at large. This was most noticeable on the issue of the economy, where the message has changed from last year’s “savage cuts” to what Nick is now terming “balance and responsibility”. Just as George Osborne was forced to row back from his stark austerity conference speech in 2009, so is Nick now signalling that, actually, the cuts aren’t going to be all that severe, “not slash and burn”. This is a significant shift in approach, away from confronting the public with the shock-and-awe of cuts and towards a more softly-softly message.

Thirdly, there was something missing from this speech compared with Nick’s previous efforts: no attacks on the Tories. Not that he garlanded them with praise; even David Cameron got only one compliment for “thinking beyond his party”. But there was a significant chunk of Labour attack; almost a third of the speech referenced Labour’s failures in government or their failures to provide constructive opposition. That’s understandable in the first flush of Coalition, and with memories of Gordon Brown’s government still fresh in our minds. It will be interesting to see how a Nick Clegg conferenece speech in 2013 or 2014 will look, as the party starts to put clear yellow water between ourselves and the Conservatives ahead of the next general election.

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  • As Iain Dale said this afternoon , he could imagine Cameron making the same speech. I don’t expect to see your prediction of a Clegg speech putting ‘clear yellow water between ourselves and the Conservatives before the next general election’. I think Nick has become too ideologically entwined for that to happen. Think about the practicalities. How to you oppose what you have been promoting in Govt. Electors are not stupid but I doubt they will fall for that.

  • Platitudes and an inability to grasp that the coalition is going to be defined by one thing an one thing only.
    Nick can call them ‘fiscal pruning’ or ‘public sector downsizing’ now he’s signed up to the worst excesses of Osborne, but they will still be savage Thatcherite cuts that hit the poor the hardest. And the public knows it.

    “Hang on and hope for the best while I rubber stamp everything Cameron and Osborne do” is Nick’s strategy for oblivion.

  • because, as alex said, it could have been a cameron speech. Perhaps it was.

  • John Fraser 20th Sep '10 - 7:23pm

    “balance and responsibility”.
    Nick may have spoken about balance and responsibility to keep the audience on side but was he really still thinking ‘savage’ cuts . There was no specifics no mention of not bludgoning those nasty lifestyle choosing unemployed . I still suspect there is a misunderstanding thats its fine to give a poor kid a pupil premium and ignore the fact that his parents can’t put shoes on his feet .

    Not a badly delivered speech but one apparently designed to get him through conference rather than one that indicated an acceptance that anyone else in our party has a veiw point worth listening to unless then are from his centre right clique.

  • Stephen – can you confirm what Benedict Brogan in the Telegraph has been saying on his blog today – that Nick cleared the speech with Cameron first?

  • John Fraser 20th Sep '10 - 7:28pm

    @ Red Rag
    I hadn’t heard about the speech being shown to Cameron.

    What’s your source ??

  • john the guardian in the report about the speech by clegg which is on the web site if you want to look. I wonder if cameron will run his speech past clegg.

  • thanks red rag I had not read the link that you showed. By the way – big society small government and lie dectectors mmmm bit odd

  • Was this a speech that could have been made by Cameron?

    Not quite.

    Cameron would not have said that he thinks the Iraq war was illegal (although he knows perfectly well that it was), and he would never have uttered anything remotely critical about the Cheney White House (or of Cheney’s pet monkey).

    Still, I suppose the cynic could say that Cameron has allowed Clegg one or two licensed points of dissent so he can prove to his supporters that he is still a Liberal Democrat.

    Two conspicuous omissions – (1) “Equity & Exellence” and (2) reducing the number of MPs. Perhaps Clegg now realises that defending the worst excesses of Cameron’s Tory government leaves him vulnerable to attack from his left (quite a big region when all said and done).

    Overall, my impression was of a description of a reality which isn’t exclusively real.

  • lynda turner 20th Sep '10 - 7:49pm

    come on lib dems get some backbone and stop acting like a load of labour back benchers,after all it was there inadequences that have put is in this position.Back in 1964 Joe Gtimmond promised me three things,Iwas 10yrs old and had rheumatic fever, he said 1,that I would get better,2,that England would win the world cup,3,Liberals would change the face of politics for the good of the country forever.I didn’t doubt him then and 46yrs later don,t doubt his promise now.If it takes a coalition with the Tories and lets face it cuts that have to be made,much as we would wish otherwise,but I for one trust the judgement of both Vince Cable and Danny Alexander and know they would not take us down a road that needn’t be travelled.As for Nick Clegg,and I will be the first to admit he wasn’t my first choice as leader,I have come to appreciate his vision and candor,and that comming from a die hard Liberal is some admission,so lets pull up the braces,tighten the belt and found that bulldog British spirit,because like it or not we’re in this for the long term,and unlike rats that leave the sinking ship we should fight tooth and nail to make sure this one stays.And unlike David Lloyd ,no woman or Tory will bring us to our knees.

  • Andrew Suffield 20th Sep '10 - 8:27pm

    Cleggs minions were telling the press

    (As usual, statements made by “red rag” are probably fiction or parody or something)

    The Telegraph is not Clegg’s “minion”, and they did not cite a source (just said “we are told”).

  • Can we have a new edition of Godwin’s Law to state that anyone lazy enough to shout “Thatcherite” in a comment can be barred?

    Or at least asked to provide some evidence?

  • Of Course Clegg showed drafts of his speech to Cameron – the Deputy PM showing the PM his speech – nothing at all wierd about that. Perfectly normal Government business. Makes perfect sense to me. Cameron will do the same with Clegg I don’t doubt.

    The obsession with this bit of colour in this thread is more revealing however.

    Does the fact the DPM showed the PM his speech diminish it? The inference from the lead poster is that it does.

    That just shows a complete misunderstanding of ‘new politics’.

    But then it is in some people’s interest to or belittle the changes happening to our politics.

    Me – I’ve always hated the Tories, but I’m sure up for Britain being more liberal – that is what, for me, nick seemed to offer.

    Let’s just see.

  • I have a feeling of sadness and joy when I read these blogs. I’ve been where you are, full of hope knowing deep down thats whats coming is not going to be pleasant. The joy is that some of you deserve your fate, you’ve sewn the wind you will reap the whirlwind – Nick Clegg.

    From the perspective of the left, the smear of the condems have failed – Labour has rebutted charges of incompetence by tapping into the deep prejudices against the Bankers in a most effective manner, logic does not beat a prejudice. Labour will elect a new leader on saturday and he or she will be presented with an opportunity to have a unified left, Cleggs realligment of the Lib Dems as a party of the centre-right is that opportunity. Labour’s strategy will be to enter a dialogue with the social democrats in your party whilst preparing a vicious onslaught against the neo-con orange book brigade, targeting their seats, particularly those in the north of England and Scotland. Labour will use every trick in the book and some but you know that, however mark my words a few things will be coming out that are going to really distress you, really distress you and for once the Daily Mail is our allie – you couldn’t make it up.

    Interesting times indeed.

  • Clegg claimed in his speech today:

    “We have protected the funding for the NHS, the biggest public service of all.”


    Wasn’t it our party who had in our manifesto the promise not to ring-fence NHS spending?

    So…he has claimed credit for policies that haven’t happened yet (closing Yarl’s Wood); claimed sole responsibility for policies that our Tory Masters also had (pupil premium); and now claimed responsibility for policies that he vigorously campaigned against in the election (ring-fenced NHS spending).

    The man’s arrogance is breathtaking.

  • No conference boost in the polls as of yet. Down to 11% in tonight’s YouGov. It’s ok though, just stick with Nick, and all will end well.

  • Hopeful Cynic 20th Sep '10 - 10:16pm

    I’m always wondering how Labour will react to those of them that might go and fraternize with “the enemy”, as Lib Dems have been defined. We had David Lammy at a fringe panel talking about the prospect of the fabled Lib-Lab Westminster coalition at Westminster, and if Labour did go into coalition with Scottish Lib Dems next year in the Parliament, how would that work? Are these people suddenly “evil”? Are they to be condemned for not adhering to the line that Labour is the One True Party of government?

    A lot of the anti-Lib Dem crowd seem to have this way about them – Lib Dems should come and join Labour, the Lib Dems should cease to exist as a party or have influence, etc. and that’s actually a far more conservative view than the Tories in what’s proved to be quite a bizarre turn of events. Indeed, if the next Labour leader proves to be a tribal bile-spitter rather than someone who can adapt to the idea of Westminster coalition politics, they might be doing the very opposite of getting Labour back to power.

  • >Labour has rebutted charges of incompetence by tapping into the deep prejudices against the Bankers i

    Remind me again how Labour kept the banks in line.

    >for once the Daily Mail is our allie –

    You’ve lost me. Who is ‘our’? Mail’s lead story today was nasty lefty Lib Dem Clegg wants to bully ‘middle class’ tax dodgers (because who doesn’t have an accountant to help them evade tax?). Using lie detectors. Hundreds of comments on online version – plenty of them about ‘pinko lefty’ Lib Dems.

    If ‘our ally’ = Labour’s then does Labour not want rich people to pay tax?

    Other DM ‘stories’ today:
    # Blow for Clegg as Lib Dem delegates vote down coalition’s flagship ‘free schools’ policy
    # Now Clegg likens Danny Alexander to Beaker the Muppet (with helpful photo of said Muppet, to show how outraged the DM is by this wounding insult)
    # Cameron slaps down Clegg over prisoners’ right to vote as No10 brand the plan ‘unfortunate’

    The right-wing Daily Mail hating us won’t cause anyone to lose any sleep.

  • Hopeful cynic in the beloved country – Scotland, our great Labour party if need be will form a minority government, no cabinet seats for the Lib dems in sunny jocko land thats the official and unofficial party line. We fully expect to liquidate both the SNP and the Lib Dems and form a majority government which will be some acheivement under PR. If need by we will look to enter an agreement with another left-wing party the Greens who are expected to demage a number of Lib dem MSPs.

    As a party Labour must really demage the Lib dems in the Scottish parliament as a political force and that as you know is doable, look at your majorities – this is vital if we are to replicate their destruction at the Westminster elections. This may sound harsh and it is, but under Clegg they are our enemies – Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam. As for David Lammy, yesterday’s man he speaks for no one but himself – no deals and no compromises with the neo- con orange book brigade.

  • I don’t think any Liberal Democrats should defect to Labour.
    Those who don’t want to embrace Cameron shouldn’t be bullied out of the Party by a right wing leader.
    Because Nick’s the one who doesn’t want us here and is trying to stifle all dissent.
    He is the one saying centre left voters are no longer welcome in what used to be a centre left Party.

  • Cassie it is an open secret in Westminster that a certain newspaper is carrying out a sustained and comprehensive investigation into several Lib dems MPs for tax evasion. You couldn’t make it up and I’m not. I repeat, a few things will be coming out that are going to really distress you, really distress you. A few MPs have set themselves up for this and I don’t have any sympathy for them or your party – there is a fine line between righteous and self-righteous and I am afraid your party is well acquainted with the latter and sadly not the former.

  • Bob well said, your the kind of person all parties are built upon. Good luck and you would be both welcome and an asset in any centre left party. Labour or the Greens would be lucky to have you.

  • Hopeful Cynic 20th Sep '10 - 11:00pm

    The Greens don’t like Labour much from what I see, and in fact in Scotland they’re quite close to the SNP in supporting a referendum on the dreaded “I” word. The SNP don’t like Labour much either, so no hope for being in a coalition with them either. I suppose they could discover a mutual hatred of the Westminster administration but unlike with Plaid in Wales, independence is very much on the agenda and Labour wouldn’t want that as a huge rump of their seats in Westminster would get torn off and much of South-East England is naturally Tory by inclination.

    And of course, all parties want to form a single government but any system that has any element of proportionality prevents that – it tends towards either minorities – “Scotland, our great Labour party if need be will form a minority government” – or formal coalitions. A minority Labour government in Holyrood isn’t really a bad thing as it will have to negotiate and compromise thus having to make deals with others, and I suppose under the definition of many that will make it “the enemy”, because it will have to actively engage with others and work together with people of other political persuasions which some in the Labour party appear to believe is one of the official Bad Things.

    “We fully expect to liquidate both the SNP and the Lib Dems and form a majority government which will be some acheivement under PR” – technically possible, but then looking at the Scottish local council elections under STV there’s 2 fully controlled Labour councils to an awful lot more coalitions. Labour would have to try and get a large number of SNP votes both constituency and regional to get a majority, and I don’t think Labour are getting those any time soon. Unless, of course, Labour decide they want to go for a referendum on independence.

    David Lammy hit the nail on the head: “I would certainly put myself in the pluralist quarter of the Labour party but it may be shrinking to 10%. I don’t think any one political party has all the ideas. We need to get used to ministers being able to publicly disagree within government.”

    Indeed, if the next Labour leader takes that approach rather than just spitting venom about ConDemNation and expecting to win on a “Not The Tories/Lib Dems” ticket, they might have found the next big idea that could get Labour back into government. Unless, of course, they say “pluralism” and suddenly get torn to pieces by a crowd of rabid activists…

  • Alex, the fact that both Cameron and Clegg are dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s of each others speeches really isn’t something that’s going to please a great many Liberals. It flies in the face of Nick’s protestations that the Party and he will ever be thought of as independent of the Conservatives. Both leaders should really know their respective positions on cuts and other policies by now. Assuming they have any major differences left to even quibble with.

  • Alex are the tax affairs of every current Lib Dem MP for the tax years 06th April 1998 to the 5th of April 2010 in order? Start getting used to that question because who read what and where pales into insignificance. I repeat, a few things will be coming out that are going to really distress you, really distress you. It’s a tough game politics and just for the record this dirt is not coming from anyone in the Labour party but your own coalition ‘colleagues’ some of your new best friends are putting the knife into your own party members. I really have never seen the likes of it, my word I can agree with Clegg on at least one thing, this really is a new politics.

  • Hopeful Cynic 20th Sep '10 - 11:22pm

    Indeed, bryan, politics a very tough game. By the way, more thoughts about the places where Lib Dem and Labour councillors actually work together – are the Labour politicians who do believe in working with “the enemy” also “the enemy”? Would the minority Labour government you allude to in Holyrood be “the enemy” for reaching out to other parties for votes? Would, gasp, a pragmatic Labour/Lib Dem coalition in Holyrood be an “enemy”?

    Given that most of the UK is set up for multiparty politics nowadays if Labour supporters are now going to be hostile to coalitions it’s going to be quite difficult for the Labour Party in future UK politics…

  • Hopeful cynic, my former colleague, John Curtice Director of the Centre for Research into elections and Social Trends is predicting a Labour majority Government in Scotland which if it comes to pass will be a remarkable achievement. In many ways this is first stage of the campaign – it is essential for many reason to decapitate the Lib Dems in Scotland, particularly those identified with the Orange Book. Scottish Parliamentary representation and funding is disproportionately significant to the Lib dems by weakening this we strengthen ourselves whilst sending a clear message concerning our capacity to engage with the electorate and to win.

    As for Lammy beyond lightweight.

  • Bryan,

    “no deals and no compromises with the neo- con orange book brigade.”

    I think you’ve got your knickers in a bit of an unfortunate twist. The “orange book brigade” are Liberal Democrats with strongly free market views. Neocons are people who believe in the global hegemony of the United States. Among their number stand Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and most of the old Labour cabinet. By contrast, the only Lib Dem MP who came anywhere close to supporting the Iraq war was Mark Oaten. So if you’re on some kind of crusade of righteousness, I suggest you start inside your own party. Plenty there to keep any turner of money-changers out of the temple busy for quite some time.

    Good for David Lammy. It is good to see that there are people in the Labour Party who reject the sectarian tribalism of their leaders.

  • Hopeful cynic, at the national level the Lib Dem are now according to it’s leader a centre right party. There are many individual Lib Dem members, Councillors and MPs who are left-wing, probably more left-wing that a few of the Labour leadership candidates. I personally have no problem with working with these people, I respect them, people like Bob I’ve known all my life. However at a national level the Orange book brigade are our politically enemies, excatly like the Tories because that is what they are, they are beyond the pale – there can be no deal with them. As Clegg said about Brown its not personal, its political – they are not just my enemy they are the enemy of every Social Democrat in your party.

  • Sesenco, if the caps fits wear it. I am now going to be impertinent check up the definition of Manchesterstum and you will see I choose my words carefully. As for righteousness, I ask you the same questions are the tax affairs of every current Lib Dem MP for the tax years 06th April 1998 to the 5th of April 2010 in order? Not one has evaded paying UK Income tax?

  • @Hopeful Cynic: It isn’t like Labour are overly fond of the SNP either, just one of the reasons that the so called “rainbow coalition” was an absurd delusion. You’re very right though, devolution puts a lot of Labour safe seats out of the game while hurting the Conservatives barely a jot, so they won’t back a referendum unless they reasonably think they can guarantee a no vote. But maybe they think they can take them down if Salmond is out of the way, as the man is arguably the single greatest driving force behind SNP success and there are rumours that he may step down if they lose power in May. I’m doubtful though, he’s too big a figure for that and I’m pretty convinced that in opposition they will need him more than ever.
    @Bryan: Neo-Con? Is that supposed to be a compliment from the party that decided to follow GW Bush wherever he may lead in 2003? I can’t be sure.

  • Hopeful Cynic 21st Sep '10 - 12:06am

    I’m just reminded of the 1980s John Cleese adverts – “Struggle and fight and struggle and fight and struggle some more!”… it’s all about big battles and glory and who wins one hundred percent control. As I’ve said, the UK is overall run by a lot of coalition governments, with all manner of strange creatures popping up – we’ve had Lab/Con councils before, in what I would assume you, bryan, would regard as outright heresy and grounds for expulsion.

    That’s what I like about Scottish politics. While it has tribal elements, most of the governmental systems are specifically set up to stop the kind of nonsense we’ve had at Westminster for quite a long time. The element of proportionality in the Holyrood elections in itself means that parties have to be more considerate of others and include policies which appeal to voters who lean towards other parties. Labour will still have to try and include SNP and Lib Dem concerns in its manifesto to try and get a majority, so again, we’d see a less extreme version than the “total destruction” shouted about here.

    Seeing other political parties as the “evil enemy” is really a thing of the past: it’s only recently Westminster has caught up.

  • The thing that annoys me about most of the articles on the website, which makes it increasingly more banal and boring, is that I imagine that the some of the authors (who shall go unnamed) would never find the emtional strength (courage?) to write anything against Clegg. Everything Clegg does is perfect, and most of the articles here are completely bent around justifying everything he does with a retrospective and superficial analysis. It’s a kind of medieval religious heuristic or exegesis of the bible, with the bible in this case being the word of Clegg.

    Not only does it make the articles seem completely contrived, it makes me wonder why I should bother to vote Lib Dem again if every Lib Dem I see writing articles seems to share exact same opinons not just with each other, but also with the conservatives. Labour has got much to answer for, but I always considered Conservatism are more natural enemy… Conservatism always has been the natural enemy of British Liberalism (though not that silly ‘liberatrianism’) , and making the party seem indistinguishable from the conservative party just to take pot shots at labour, many of which are contrived and reek of hysterical whattaboutery, will really get us nowhere.

    Not to say that I don’t recognise the need to ‘get along’ with our new partners. Yet Nick Clegg’s answer to the lady at the conference who brought up the same poitn was woefully slef-contradictiory and inadequate. It is perfectly fine to not ‘endorse’ every Conservative decision, sometimes you can point out what you’ve done to minimise its more harmful effects, rather than suggest you really really want it. It would be better for Clegg to say that he has copromised on x… and seem gruding about it,,,, rather than do a complete about face on all his pre-election speeches and pretend he really held the opposite opinion all along.

    A little more dissent on this site would be nice to see, on occasion. I know, as a Lib Dem voter who has just been told to ‘get stuffed’ because I am ‘left-leaning’…. I have a lot of questions to ask and I would make many points if I had the writing skills and the elevated position to do so. FOr one… why does Clegg feel that it is acceptable to tell there is no room in the Lib Dems for disaffected Labour voters, when essentially the majority of the support for the Lib Dem party has come from the ex-SDP wing. He essentially is telling the SDP wing of the ‘LIberal Democrats’ (not the ‘Liberals’) to get lost. I know several other Lib Dem who are not happy with the situation,… some who have sworn they wont vote for clegg at the next election. I can’t believe that this website can’t even find one questioning or dissenting voice to give a different opinion other than ‘Clegg is always right’.

    Mr Tall, if Nick asked you to jump off a cliff would you do it?

  • Everytime the Lib Dems talk about the cuts being needed, I cringe, because two parties prior to the election vehemently argued that the cuts should be delayed to encourage growth, and one of them was the Lib Dems, you can’t change your mind so quickly on an issue like that and maintain widespread respect, it’s too big an issue.

    Ireland and Portugal aren’t doing well after making big cuts, this is a very dangerous road to tread and the biggest losers politically will be the Lib Dems over this, the Tories said they’d do it.

    As for Nick Clegg’s speech, he made some good points, id cards, bank levy, coalition working together, and it has to for any chance of electoral reform but I really cannot see the country going for electoral reform if the Tories and Labour campaign against it, many will see it as a chance to give the Lib Dems a bloody nose, not so much for getting into bed with the Tories, but for following the Tory line on the cuts when they were so opposed to it, people’s jobs and livelihoods are far more important than electoral reform.

  • The real issue of course is that the Lib Dems have since their creation been pretty much ‘dead centre’. Yet that meant that they were initially opposed to the ‘Thatcherite consensus’.

    What has happened over the last ten years is that Labour have accepted the ‘Thatcherite Consensus’, the conservatives have continued with it…. and the Lib Dems in the economic centre have been economically left of both.

    That is why, for example, Lib Dems opposed deregulation, as Labour should have done (and would have done pre-Blair)…. whilst the consensus asked for even more deregulation than Labour was willing to provide.

    So, I’ll repeat, bcecause Labour switched over to the right-wing on many issues, the Lib Dems in the traditional centre (to the right of socialism, but inhabiting the Liberal Keynes’ position)…. were perceived as ‘left-wing’.

    What Clegg has done, with a few of the Orange Bookites (but perhaps to the ire of some like Cable)… is accept the right-wing ‘Thatcherite Consensus’ and moved the party back over to the right of the Labour party.

    I’m not saying that it wasn’t inevitable that with the Neo-Liberal consensus politics would move increasingly to the right economically, that was foretold long ago.

    What gets me is that the right-wing consensus exists in the first place, when it didn’t really achieve a democratic mandate. A lot of people claim the last election was a victory for the right, I would say it was a victory for the left.

    Whether you like to admit it or not, Clegg’s platform was essentially centrist and left of Labour. Many voters, myself included (although I have always supported the Lib Dems) I think were thrilled with the possibility of a ‘Liberal’ government that respected civil liberties whilst taking a more effective approach to both financial regulation and social inequality than Labour has been. They were looking for a ‘left-leaning’ party wheading in a different direction from Labour. If we consider that the Lib Dems campaigned on a platform to the left of Labour, and we consider Labour to be, in our current false consensus, a centre-left party… and we take the Greens and the SNP. The majority of people voted for left-leaning or centrist parties, with competent economists like Darling and Cable… not for even more right-wing vodoo economics and Osbourne’s ideological agenda.

    That is why the Lib Dems are suffering now, they are in a government with no mandate… just as a policy maker for the Lib Dems indicated at when queationed at the conference (look on CIf on the guardian).

  • @Rob: Its an interesting analysis, but flawed by your own admission. The idea that Labour 97-10 were a centre left party is a victory for rhetoric over analysis, they have pursued consistently policies in a third way centrist to centre right vein. We are living in the age of the post Thatcher consensus now, but you’re absolutely right that 2010 wasn’t it’s victory, 1997 was. The LD’s as a post Thatcher party is not a very recent development either, it’s at least partly a result of the infusion of right wing Labour members from the SDP.

  • @Thomas

    You are probably right and I was oversimplistic.

    Perhaps I am too idealistic in rooting for a change in the consensus, not socialism…. just not this (I don’t think it’s going anywhere). I did think the Lib Dems offered something different (sill perhpas post Thatcher, but more responsible), I still do… but I wonder if we will be in a position to campaign on it in a few years.

    And I would just like to apologise if my first post was insulting against the authors here. Mostly I find sound analysis, and Mr Tall seems like a great editor…. but I feel there isn’t a forum for liberals who object to the direction of the coalition… and I feel that there is a tendency for some people to bend over backwards in order to justify things they were against before the election…. essentially to support Clegg.

    That said, I can understand how people get annoyed both by Labour supporters who come here to troll, and I can see how Lib Dem auithors becoming ‘harbingers of doom’ for the coalition would not just be unhelpful but extremely demoralising. Perhaps what I really want is for more lib dem writers to represent lib dem opinion more accurately as it is within the grass roots…. and for us to have a more genuine debate. The debates we are having always seem to have been concluded in favour of the coalition policies before the debate has even began…. a case in point might be ‘free schools’ which most of us seem to oppose but which the government has already started to irrevocably implement, even though it is not in the coalition agreement.

  • And I do apologise for my atrocious spelling. I am genuinely dyslexic (believe it or not) and a fairly poor typist.

  • Liberal Neil 21st Sep '10 - 4:46am

    I thought it was a very good speech.

  • Andrew Suffield 21st Sep '10 - 7:32am

    but I feel there isn’t a forum for liberals who object to the direction of the coalition

    Find some liberals who think that way and set one up. It’s a free internet, anybody can create a website.

    Bottom line is that the “liberals who object” have almost always turned out to be Labour activists, and actual party members are broadly supportive of the coalition (with varying degrees of objection to individual policies).

    It’s also worth noting that there’s also a forum right here on this site for liberals who are actual party members. (What it says about the coalition is none of your business unless you’re a party member). So you’re only talking about “liberals who are not Lib Dems”, and yeah, there doesn’t seem to be a site for those. I’ve never actually met a person like that who wanted one; liberals who aren’t Lib Dems tend to also not be very interested in discussing politics on the web.

    (Somebody here wants one? The wordpress link is at the bottom of the page, you can set one up in a couple of minutes)

  • James J Paton 21st Sep '10 - 8:38am

    I do detest the triumphalism after the speech i.e. as if we need to be seen to be giving the leader a standing ovation – for what?
    Do I need to remind people how we have complete sold out on the values in the manifesto and party.
    Party members really do need to remind themselves that the Party is the Party and not Government.
    Government is made up of some, a very few, Liberal democrat MPs, who are still answerable to their constituency parties , and for nomination as PPCs.
    Jonathan Hunt’s considered and careful analysis is spot on. what can we say on the doorsteps.? ‘We are all in this together?’ – Not! Unless Clegg is unemployed, lost or losing his job, his house is being re-possessed and in,or facing poverty, or facing repatriation as a failed asylum seeker, i do think he is in ‘it’ at all.
    Does he think that by saying ‘it’ – ‘There is no alternative.’ – often enough all of us, like the media, particularly the BBC, will believe it.
    We therefore can only take our personal values to the doorstep and not act as apologists for a few misguided MPs, who happen to currently lead the party.
    Clegg’s actions are of course fundamentally neither liberal not democratic.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Sep '10 - 9:11am

    “Bottom line is that the “liberals who object” have almost always turned out to be Labour activists, and actual party members are broadly supportive of the coalition (with varying degrees of objection to individual policies).”

    Of course it’s nonsense to say that commenters have “almost always turned out to be Labour activists.” That’s something you have no way of knowing. What you mean is that you have almost always accused them of being Labour activists.

    A YouGov poll of party members provides some rather more objective data:

    According to this survey, 50% said that after the election a full coalition with the Conservatives had been their preferred option, but another 45% would have preferred another option (and 4% didn’t know). Now 30% say they strongly approve of the decision to go into coalition, and a further 48% “tend to approve” (7% strongly disapprove).

    As far as the central economic issue of deficit reduction goes, only 29% think the government’s policy is right in terms of both timing and the balance between increasing taxes and cutting spending (35% would prefer tax rises to play a larger part, and a further 28% think the deficit should be cut more slowly).

    On the left/right question, on average the members see themselves as significantly to the left of Nick Clegg (and closer to Simon Hughes). Interestingly, asked about options in a future hung parliament in which Labour and the Tories had roughly equal numbers of MPs, 46% said they would prefer a deal with Labour, against 26% for a deal with the Tories.

    These results really do make me wonder how representative the vocal loyalists who post on this site are. It will be interesting to see the comments of the LDV editorial team.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Sep '10 - 10:06am


    A little more dissent on this site would be nice to see, on occasion. I know, as a Lib Dem voter who has just been told to ‘get stuffed’ because I am ‘left-leaning’…. I have a lot of questions to ask and I would make many points if I had the writing skills and the elevated position to do so. FOr one… why does Clegg feel that it is acceptable to tell there is no room in the Lib Dems for disaffected Labour voters, when essentially the majority of the support for the Lib Dem party has come from the ex-SDP wing. He essentially is telling the SDP wing of the ‘LIberal Democrats’ (not the ‘Liberals’) to get lost.

    Here we go again, someone else fooled by the Orwellian re-write of history into believing “Liberalism” was always this right-wing politics which I say would better be called “Economism” because it is certainly NOT the ideology of the Liberal Party I joined in 1978.

    To make it even weirder, it’s the second re-write of history, and Rob also seems to believe the first re-write as well. In the first re-write of history, the Liberal Party at the time it merged with the SDP was a left-wing loony party, but something small and mainly confined to the more obscure parts of the country, with the SDP being the active force bringing in the votes.

    These people trying to rewrite history by spreading these LIES which then are believed by people like Rob have one agenda – they want to turn Britain into a one-party state in which that one party has three wings indistinguishable in all but minor details of policy, and all holding essentially to this “Orange Book” politics – as I said, let us call it “Economism”. It is the ideology which believes the businessman and his way of thinking is all that matters and there is no problem that cannot be solved by “put it out to the market and competition will drive up quality”. It is an insult to the people who built the decent moral force that was the Liberal Party to say THAT is all its ideology ever was. Those pushing this ideology can do so because they have the money and control that our centralised economy gives them. If we let them get away with this, they will simply push it further – see the USA Teapot Party for where using lies and power of control to drive fools in to extreme ideology whose real aim is just to serve the super-rich to them gets you.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Sep '10 - 10:26am

    OK, now to the practicalities.

    In the 1980s it was the Liberal Party rather than the SDP that was pulling in the bulk of the votes. The SDP was pretty much a flash-in-the-pan, but it was the party of the Westminster Bubble elite, so the Bubble continued to push it and denied what was happening at grass roots level. The reality can be seen by the fact there were many more Liberal councillors than SDP councillors. It was Liberal Party activists who were drafted in as foot soldiers to get the SDP by-election victories – and to run their more successful campaigns. The SDP admitted defeat in its real aims within months of its foundation when it started demanding “a fair share of winnable seats” – that is, seats were Liberal Party activity had ALREADY built up a substantial third party vote. The SDP simply did NOT bring in the votes from Labour supporters it was set up to do. It was in fact the Liberal Party, most obviously in Liverpool, but also in other places like Tower Hamlets, which had set up urban campaigns and was winning votes in places which had before then been almost one-party Labour states.

    This first rewrite of history which tells the lie that it was the SDP that was the driving force of the Liberal/SDP alliance in the 1980s involves writing out the 1974 elections which were more clearly the turning point showing that third party politics in Britain was not a historical relic, though the slow build up in the previous decade should also be considered. So fooled were the Bubble by their own lies that when David Owen and his band of nutters formed their own party after the SDP merged with the Liberal Party, they really did think that party was an equivalent force to the party which took in nearly all the Liberal Party activists and mos of the more effective SDP activists who by then had learned from the Liberal how to play the third party game. It took the Bootle by-election and the Monster Raving Loony Party to demonstrate to the Bubble how clueless they had been. Not that the Bubble ever admits to being wrong, so the lie was continued to be pushed in order that fools who were not there now believe it rather than the truth.

    That, Rob, partly ties up your claim that “essentially the majority of the support for the Lib Dem party has come from the ex-SDP wing”, but the second lie needs dealing with to fully do the job.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Sep '10 - 10:41am

    Here then the second lie – the big fat lie, the lie that illustrates so well what George Orwell was putting into fiction in 1984 – that the pre-merger Liberal Party supported extreme right-wing economics, and that opposition to that came from the SDP. We are even seeing Charles Kennedy – Charles Kennedy! – being put forward by teenage scribblers now as somehow the lead voice on the left of the Liberal Democrats as coming from the “SDP wing”.

    When Charles Kennedy was elected leader, he was the darling of the right-wing media, much as Nick Clegg was when he was elected leader. He was the darling of the right-wing media, who pushed him and pushed him as “obviously the best leadership material” because he came from the SDP, so had none of what the media would call “loony left” that they would see in the Liberal Party. Those of us on the left of the party at the time tended to put hm low in our order of preference in the vote for leader.

    The SDP was to the right economically of the Liberal Party. David Owen in particularly had come under the thrall of economism. This was indeed a big reason for many of the anti-merger camp in the Liberals for their position – that the SDP was closer then to what was likely to be called at the times “Thatcherite” economics.

    Yet now we are seeing a determined campaign to try and pretend “Liberalism” means that sort of economics, and part of that campaign involves telling the lie that the pre-merger Liberal Party had that sort of ideology. I was there, it did not. But now, people like Rob, taken in by this sinister lie, describe those in the Liberal Democrats who are not on the “Orange Book” wing as the “SDP wing”. Here is the Orwellian triumph – even those opposed to the sinister forces that are spreading the lie believe the lie.

    All that I am saying here is simply a matter of history, what I say can be verified from easily obtainable sources. Yet I am finding idiots like Rob telling these lies because they know no better and because they gave been fooled into believing them.

  • Back to the speech chaps:-
    I had to think for a while about bringing the proportion of public spebding ONLY back to 2006 levels. Then i realised it was probibly a statistical trick.

    In 2006 all was fairly well with the economy tax revenues were high unemployment benefits were low . It is expected that a governmebt HAS to spend far a greater proportion just to stand still in times of deperession. So comparisons ‘things just being like they were’ in 2006 are grossly misleading . Nick surely must have know this comparison was not a like for like one and yet he still throws it into his speech . How very disingenious our leader has become.

  • Also noted that its reprted in the guardian today. That sources from Clegg says he’s not going to take a bit of notice about the vote on Free schools. (IF any knows that these sources ae wrng please say) . his is getting more and more Blarite …do we really have a leader who has no respect for his own party ?

  • Bottom line is that the “liberals who object” have almost always turned out to be Labour activists, and actual party members are broadly supportive of the coalition (with varying degrees of objection to individual policies).
    @Andrew Suffield

    Your comments are a disgrace to the whole style of Liberal democrat debate . (Argue robustly by all means Andrew but dont insinuate)What are your Liberal Creditials by the way . I’ve been in the party for 25 years what about you ?

  • @Rob
    Why don’t you test the this sights open mindedness by writing an article for it. I am pretty sure Mr Pack and co will be open minded to fresh material . I honestly dont believe their any bias here (please dont prove me wrong Mark if he does send you something 🙂 ) . Its just perhaps that there a few on the right that make a point of commenting on absolutely everything.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Sep '10 - 11:59am

    tony, to cite Liverpool as an example is particularly stupid, because the Liberal Party took control of Liverpool City Council 8 years before the SDP was even formed. This illustrates very well just the point I was making – that the Liberal Party was ALREADY doing what the SDP supposed it was going to do, and was doing a better job of it. So to use the term “SDP” to describe that is just repeating the big fat lie? Why, tony, why? Can’t you see what this lie is all about? It’s about re-writing history to pretend that Liberalism was historically this economism stuff when it wasn’t? So that is why the liars want you to have the “perception” that the opposition to Labour in Liverpool was “SDP” rather than the truth which is that it was Liberal, because that helps them steal this word Liberal from where it really belongs.

    Now it may be that there was a latant mancaster tendancy within the Liberal Party but come on, up untill the Cleggmaster the party really was left of centre and large chunks of it still are, am certain that there are those in Liverpool that really hate the Tories with a passion but voted Lib Dem, am abserloutly certain that there are peeps all over like that.

    No, there was not much of this “Manchester tendency” in the pre-merger Liberal Party. That is why it is so important we fight the liars who pretend there was, and so not use their language by using the term “SDP” to mean people who were members of the Liberal Party, proud to call themselves “Liberal”, and if anything rather hostile to the SDP.

    The Liberal Party which merged with the SDP in 1988 described itself as fighting “enslavement by poverty, ignorance or conformity” which is a very different way of thinking than those idiots who think the only barrier to freedom is the existence of the state. This sort of shrieking “evil state, throw everything to the businessmen” way of thinking did not exist in the Liberal Party then, nor even was it what the Liberal Party was about in the 19th century (and, of course, the Liberal Party of the late 20th century was what was left of that after big chunks of it had gone over to the Conservative Party). This way of thinking is essentially an ideology dreamed up by big businessmen and repackaged and sold to fools, sometimes with a populist wrapping. We can see an extreme version of this in the USA Teapot Party, which paints itself as all about the little people fighting the state, but is backed by big business money from Fox News and the like, and all the power of mind control they can exert. Those who want to steal the word “Liberal” from us and use it to mean this extreme “state is evil” line are the UK equivalent of the Teapot Party and we must FIGHT, FIGHT and FIGHT these people – and most obviously the very first step we can do in this is to see through their Orwellian trickery rather than go along with it by using “SDP” to mean what was left-wing and even centre-right liberalism, and using “Liberalism” to mean what was at best a right-wing fringe of liberalism and at worst (e.g. as put by Ayn Rand) avowedly anti-liberal.

    consistant with lines of thought in Liberal Philosop[hy going bake to the 19th centuary,

    when the sort of big international corporations which dominate the economy now did not exist. It ought to be self-evident that tings said then no longer apply well now. The powers-that-be which Liberal were fighting then were the aristocracy and the established Church, and so small-scale businesses (almost all businesses were small scale then) could be lined up against them. The power that be now are the City fat cats – they are the enemies which true Liberalism should be fighting.

  • Andrew Suffield wrote –
    Bottom line is that the “liberals who object” have almost always turned out to be Labour activists,

    What a strange statement, one could equally say that the ‘Liberals that support’ have almost always turned out to be Tory activists. lol

  • Matthew,

    Don’t you think it’s about time to stop re-fighting the Liberal versus SDP battle, which is over twenty years old, and think more about turning our guns onto today’s enemy, who I think we should describe as Old Nick?

    The truth about history is many-sided. Some of our natural allies against Clegg, such as Kennedy and Hancock, come from the SDP tradition. Others, like Simon Hughes, from the Liberal side. Still others, like Cable, have a Labour past.

    On the other side, there are three famous politicians who started out as young idealists, and ended up as Tories in all but name. I don’t really see a huge amount of difference between the three of them. They are Blair (“Labour”), Owen (“SDP”), and Clegg (“Liberal Democrat”). I have put all their party affiliations in quotes, because none of these politicians have the slightest respect for the principles they signed up to when joining their respective parties.

  • @John Fraser

    Well I certainly would write something if I had the particular knowhow, importance and literary skills to do so. Since I don’t really have those qualities (even if I hope one day I might acquire some of them) I will leave the real journalism to people with more experience who better know the internal workings of the party than I.

    That said, would be great to hear some more conetition over some of the coalition’s policies, I do think that there IS some legitimate contention.

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    Please don’t call me an idiot… it isn’t all that necessary.

    DOn’t patronise me either. I am perfectly aware that the ‘Liberals’ in the tradition of Fox and the Whiggs, John Stuart MIll and Jeremy Bentham, Lloyd George, Bertrand Russell, William Beverage and JM Keynes has a strong egalitarian bent. I know that the ‘neo-liberals’ and the ‘liberatrians’, some ofwhom seem to have flocked to the party…. as well as now lead it…. are a relatively new development.

    That said, my point was about Clegg’s disrespect for ‘disaffected Labour supporters’. What were the SDP, which at the merger I beleive made up the majority of the party, if not ‘disaffected Labour supporters’. It shows a profound ignorance of his own party to make the sleight. Not only that, but it should be the position of the liberals to win over voters from other parties…. that is, to convince them that our parties policies, whilst not the same as Labour’s, are compatible with their world-view.

    To just disregard an entire demographic of voters, voters who were largely responsible for the Lib Dem rise at the last election (after already turning away many by joining witht he Conservatives, which several Lib Dem councillors and Mp’s assured would not happen), is not only callous, it is the height of stupidity from a realpolitik standpoint. Parties win election by taking votes from other parties.

    We will never see a substantial shift from the conservatives to the Lib Dems, partly because the Conservatives suit their demographic so much better than Labour suits its large demographic (from working class to upper middle class). To therefore move away from our main hope for increased support, that is to say ex-Labour voters, is just silly. I do not think these people wanted to make the Lib Dems another ‘Labour party’…. I think many of them were simply intrigued by a different approach to egalitarianism.

  • Again, please forgive the spelling…. I admit I’m not a great writer.

  • @Andrew Suffield

    And, by the way, I am a party member. I did not realise tthat only party members should view this site though, so as to have their pre-formed conclusions melifluously soothed and supported by other Lib Dem party members…. I did not think that was the purpose of the site.

    And… how can you say that all the people objecting to some coalition policies (I never said I objected to the coalition per se) are ‘Labour party trolls’. Not only does it seem to be incorrect, it is profoundly illiberal. You are attempting to stifle debate by poisoning the well…. which I can only think will impact negatively on Lib Dem support.

    Even if some ARE Labour party trolls… whilst I expect the right action would be to ignore some of them, if they do raise valid points perhaps they should be debated with and not dismissed off hand using the genetic fallacy.

    For my part, I know several Lib Dem voters, who never voted Labour, that said they will never vte for CLegg again. I have a more open mind than that, but at the moment I am very unimpressed both by Clegg and te reaction of some Lib Dems such as yourself to criticism.

  • @Dane Clouston

    Now I’m as left-wing as the next guy, but British Universal Inheritance is a pipe ream. Not that I consider it a bad idea personally, but all utopic ideas (and I only call this utopic, because it was in Plato’s Republic) have the problem that they go against general human nature.

    I think, ideally, it would be the best situation but frankly parents care about their children more than anything else, and the idea that their inheritance could be reduced to a standard level would be inimical to them.Most parents DO want to give their kids an advantage in life, that is part of human nature, now me or you might be able to ‘resist’ that, but what about someone who doesn’t? THis proposal wouldn’t have democratic support, so you are essentially calling for undemocratic direct state intervention into society. It may not be totalitarian, but would be seen as such.

    Then you have the purely practial point, that anyone who had wealth above the mean could probabyl find a way to shift it to another country. If the advantage of their children was at stake, they would do this. You would either need a totalitarian or a world government to enforce this law.

  • I read these posts to see what your party is thinking and after reading through the posts, I don’t know what to think. However, what can’t be denied is there are a few posters who consider themselves “left -wing” and they are not happy with Cleggy boy there are equally the party loyalist who would support him even if he started eating children (preferably Labour ones). Well time will tell, it always does but your strength as a party will not be proven by the phoney war but by the coming months and the cuts that you are implementing with gusto.

    If it comes off there will be a dividend, if it fails there will be a heavy price to pay. I do wish you good luck but I have a terrible feeling about this, I saw it all in the 1980s and this feels like deja vu.

  • @Dane Clouston: A question if I may? Why should anyone be guaranteed a financial inheritance? Why wouldn’t that money be better spent on high quality education and training programs for young people, lowering the costs of starting and running a small business, and so on? It seems like simply giving out the money would have an inflationary effect without necessarily improving the long term prospects of the young.

  • My opinion of Clegg’s speech? A stodgy, wooden apologia for taking his party into a Faustian pact. The audience in the hall, recognizing it for what it was, correctly responded with polite muted applause. Compare and contrast the enthusiastic response Simon Hughes’ speech received.

    Clegg’s speech was also puzzling in that he spent a significant part of it condemning the country’s debt situation and then proudly announced that Local Authorities would be able to borrow more against their business rates and get into……well……..even greater debt I suppose. Er . . .have I missed something?

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Sep '10 - 10:51pm


    That said, my point was about Clegg’s disrespect for ‘disaffected Labour supporters’. What were the SDP, which at the merger I beleive made up the majority of the party, if not ‘disaffected Labour supporters’.

    Well, there you go, you prove I was right to call you an idiot. What you have written here is untrue in every aspect, and I was actually there when all this happened, maybe you weren’t.

    1) The Liberal Party made up the bulk of the members of the Social and Liberal Democarts when tehy merged, and was always much the larger party in terms of activists, and also by far the more effective in terms of winning votes, throught the “Alliance” years.

    2) The SDP membership was mostly “political virgins”, and it showed. It drew its electoral support equally from people whose second choice was Conservative and people whose second choice was Labour. As I already wrote, it failed within months from its original plan to be “Labour Party Mark II”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Sep '10 - 11:04pm


    It shows a profound ignorance of his own party to make the sleight. Not only that, but it should be the position of the liberals to win over voters from other parties…. that is, to convince them that our parties policies, whilst not the same as Labour’s, are compatible with their world-view.

    Yes, I agree with you on this, and have very forcefully made a similar point elsewhere in these columns.

    Where I disagree with you and with tony, and in fact strongly object to what you have written is when you unwittingly echo the lies of our opponents on the extreme right who are trying to steal our party, by assuming the word “liberal” means what they sometimes qualify as “classical” or “19th century” or “economic” liberalism (but as part of their Orwellian trickery they are slowly dropping the qualifier), but I call just “economism”.

    The Liberal Party before the merger with the SDP was strong and vibrant, and way to the left of where the Liberal Democrats are now. Many Liberal Party activists disliked the SDP because they found it too right-wing. I write as one of them – a Liberal Party member in 1988 who voted against merger with the SDP. I am aghast and appalled to find history rewitten so that so many fools and idiots now think it was the SDP who were the left-wingers then.

    I have forcefully argued here and elsewhere for this more left wing interpretation of Liberalism which inspired me to join and work with the party back in the 1970s. How do you suppose I feel when you write off all of that and ascribe what was my sort of politics to the SDP when actually it was the SDP who started pulling our party to the right?

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Sep '10 - 11:20pm

    David Allen

    Don’t you think it’s about time to stop re-fighting the Liberal versus SDP battle, which is over twenty years old, and think more about turning our guns onto today’s enemy, who I think we should describe as Old Nick?

    I think you are really missing the point here.

    I find it really weird to find people who are too young to remember those days nevertheless using terms like “SDP” and “Liberal” to describe streams in our party – and getting it COMPLETELY WRONG in termsof how it actually was back then. But it’s frightening, because these people clearly really do believe that “Liberal” means a supporter of extrreme right-wing economics, and so just assume that it was like that back then – so they think it was the SDP pulling Liberals to the left when it was THE OTHER WAY ROUND !!!!!!!

    The reason it is frightening is that those liars using these Orwellian techniques have won if people like tony and Rob – who actually I very much agree with in terms of hating what Clegg is doing to our party – have been won over into believing those lies. The important thing now is that we have to fight against the Teapot Party types who think the only enemy of freedom is the state and who want to steal the word “liberalism” to mean their ideology. So, yes, we must show that that is NOT what Liberals thought back in 1988 or 1978, or 1928 or 1906 or 1878 or whenever. Far from re-opening the old Liberal-SDP wars, I’m accepting they are way over and that survivors from those days whatever side we were on then must club together to beat off the Teapot Party people trying to steal our party and their lying Orwellian techniques. That is why it is so important to point out that I was an anti-merger Liberal back in 1988, and my politics then and now is the complete opposite of those like Clegg who are pushing our party to the economic right. By that way we can show they are lying when they say their ideology is “Liberalism”.

  • Matthew your analysis is spot whilst not a Lib Dem I never considered them economic right-wing hawks be united fight for your party – Clegg’s mob has stolen it but stick with and you get it back. Good luck.

    Ps not all Labour supporters who comment here are “trolls” but this old Labour hack despises whats that self righteous prigg, Clegg has done to the very soul of your party. Previously I could easily vote for you but now – no way.

  • @Matthew

    I am sorry If I was wrong about the relative size and support of the SDP and the Liberals. I don’t think you were right to call me an idiot, though you may have been right to call me ‘wrong’.

    Since when have personal attacks ever bolstered an argument?

    My opinion was based only from the fact that I was not old enough to be politically active at the time. I got the impression of the SDP being larger because it seems to have been the background of many in the cabinet (Vince Cable, Kenedy etc.) and the fact that many authors of the time I have read subsequently, worngly (as you point out), seem to have attirbuted a greater significance to the SDP than the Liberals. I suppose I should have looked up the figures and checked the facts, but I got the impression that the SDP had a greater share of the vote than the Liberals.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '10 - 10:33am

    Rob, since I fought passionately against the SDP, I was as much insulted by you effectively calling me “SDP” because I am on the left of the party as you were by what I called you.

    But, now you know – everything you believed about those days is wrong. You believe it because the victors write the history, those in power over the media tell us what “truth” is. I as a witness, and I can hardly be the only one, it wasn’t that long ago, tell you what I have told you above and as I say, its truth can be found from readily available documents. Come on now, maybe you can find an old Whitaker’s Almanac from the 1980s and see, as it lists these things, how many Liberal councillors there were then and how many SDP councillors. Or go back a decade and see how many votes the Liberal Party got in 1974 and who ran Liverpool City Council then? From this it becomes obvious that the SDP’s contribution to the rise in third party support is way over-played, and the Liberal Party’s way underplayed.

    As I said in reply to David Allen, I make these points not to re-open old wounds. Rather, it is to make people like you think instead of trusting what those in power tell you. If you believed the lies they told you here, what other lies do you still believe because no-one told you they were lies?

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '10 - 11:53am


    also for crying out loud if they the right want to go back to the 19th century why not resserct some of your own thinkers, those that formed the Labour party 20th century, JSM from the 19th come on there must be others happyness and fullfillment might be a place to start today is topical so come on get out your copies of John Stuart Mills.

    Your idea that somehow modern Liberal Democrats don’t do this is rather insulting. And again, it’s alarming if this right-wing fringe which has recently tried to infiltrate our party has been so successful that you really believe most Liberal Democrats hold to a form of economism so extreme that you think they would regard JS Mill as an eye-opener.

    I recommend something more practical, however. Try actually looking at what real 19th century Liberals did and see whether this really fits into the Teapot lunacy that sometimes here calls itself “19th century Liberal”.

    So, what would a Teapot think about the idea of taxpayers’ money being taken to buy land to lay out as public parks? He’s scream in opposition to it, wouldn’t he? He’d say that taxation is “theft” and that public parks are nasty socialism. He’d recommend, instead, private enterprise opening parks which charge an entrance fee, and that would be much better as it would be all about freedom and the competition between the parks would drive up quality. And he’s say that these ideas of his were really “19th century liberalism”.

    OK, so now try this link:


    They have some of the dates wrong – the Mayor in question died in 1910, not 1940, and he cut the first sod of the park in 1902 not 1802. Plus, despite showing a graphic of original material in which his name is spelt correctly, they have spelt it incorrectly. But he lived and was politically active in the 19th century, and he was indeed a staunch Liberal, and the Hanley League of Young Liberals honoured him for that. And he raised taxes to provide this public service to the people of Hanley.

  • A few points on the history of the SDP/Liberal Alliance:

    (1) The SDP’s original platform from the time of its launch in 1981 was very much of the left. There was stuff about industrial democracy and workers’ cooperatives (the latter much favoured by Owen), and Shirley Williams was calling for the suppression of private education provision. Owen Mark 1 (1981-1983) wanted to take the SDP further to the left. His supporters insisted that only he would win working-class votes and that he would give the party a “radical cutting edge”. Owen Mark 2 moved the party to the right. First, he obsessed with defence and the wonders of nuclear weapons, then he started praising Mrs Thatcher (he talked about “the gains of Thatcherism”), and called for the reintroduction of conscription.

    (2) The Liberal Party prior to merger was a fairly broad church. It included the so-called “radical liberals”, some of whom styled themselves “libertarian socialists”), and quite a lot of people on the authoritarian right who had joined the party through family tradition rather than ideological commitment. It was not uncommon to find Liberals who believed in capital and corporal punishment and bringing back the press gang, and who were rather sniffy about ethnic minorities. I never heard a Liberal in that era express free market “libertarian” sentiments. In the 1980s, those were the preserve of the Libertarian Alliance, the National Association for Freedom and the various think tanks that popped up around Thatcher.

    (3) I have heard Nick Clegg compared to David Owen on this site, and that is quite wrong. Nick Clegg is a nicer man. He doesn’t bully his subordinates the way Owen did, he doesn’t want to force people to join the Army, and he doesn’t claim that gays are mentally ill (as Owen once did). Clegg is a devoted free-marketeer, but unlike most Tories he is pro-European and internationalist, and he is socially liberal. Roy Jenkins once said of Owen that he talked about weapons systems the way other men talked about good wine. One could hardly say that about Clegg.

  • A couple more points:

    (1) During the period of the “SDP bubble” (1981-2), the opinion polls (for the little they are worth) indicated that most of the additional support that the Alliance was getting in excess of the Liberal “base vote” was attributable to the SDP. I do not think it is even possible to argue that the 51% scored by the Alliance in an opinion poll just after Crosby was the result of the early community politics practiced by some Liberals at the time. It is possible that if the SDP had not existed, the Liberal Party would have withered and died.

    (2) Liverpool was never a Labour one-party state. The city had been Tory right through the 1950s and still elected two Conservative MPs as late as 1979. Most of the wards now held by Liberal Democrats are former Tory wards.

    (3) The activists lost to Owen during the merger were not all useless. Some of them were good people who genuinely believed that Owen was a demigod and/or the Liberals were a bunch of unilateralist crazies who could not be trusted. There were Liberal-haters in the pro-merger camp, and one or two quite successful community politicians on the anti- side.

    (4) The reason why the SDP had so few councillors was twofold. Firstly, it failed to attract many defectors from the ranks of local government (Mike Hancock and Bob Russell being notable exceptions). Secondly, most SDP activists had little or no interest in local government – they tended to be armchair types concerned in the main about national, economic and constitutional issues.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '10 - 11:36pm


    The activists lost to Owen during the merger were not all useless. Some of them were good people who genuinely believed that Owen was a demigod and/or the Liberals were a bunch of unilateralist crazies who could not be trusted.

    Er ….

    er …

    er …

    I am trying and failing to understand that. How could anyone be simultaneously “good” and believe Owen was a demigod? On the other bit, modesty forbids, but I regarded that lot in the SDP who hated us Liberal lefties as thoroughly bad. Palaeao-Blairites and Cleggites.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Sep '10 - 3:05pm


    The reason why the SDP had so few councillors was twofold. Firstly, it failed to attract many defectors from the ranks of local government

    Er, yes, but there’s another way to get councillors – go out and win elections. Which the Liberals did far more successfully than the SDP.

    Secondly, most SDP activists had little or no interest in local government – they tended to be armchair types concerned in the main about national, economic and constitutional issues.

    Well yes, and that’s my point – the SDP sat in their armchairs achieving little, while the Liberals actually went out worked out how to play the third party game, part of which involved using local government as leverage. It was stealth politics, it worked, but it would have worked even better had it not been for the SDP waste-of-spaces who took up so much of our time and effort in the 1980s. It also had a good deal of natural selection in it. Since the votes did not come for free (unlike with the Labour and Conservative parties) those who were good at getting them survived, those who were not did not. So actually, sure, there were plenty of nutters in the Liberal Party as you say, but they got weeded out in this way.

  • Dan Rockfort 24th Sep '10 - 12:16pm

    It was just what you would expect – of a Tory party leader!

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