Where next for Lib-Lab cooperation?

Two former Labour leadership possibles-never-contenders have talked in the past week about the future prospects for the Lib Dems and the Labour party forming a coalition at some point in the future. Their differing stances say a lot about the current state of British politics. But what they say about the future?

First up, John Denham, the shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, who made plain his anger at the Lib Dems last week, according to a report in The Independent:

Labour would demand the resignation of Nick Clegg before doing a deal with the Liberal Democrats in a future hung parliament, a senior Labour figure has said. … Mr Denham told the Fabian Review: “The Lib Dems have ceded all right to say they are a progressive party. If we use the next years to address the parlous state of the Labour Party, and if the Lib Dems change, that might open up possibilities.”

And then comes James Purnell, yesterday appointed the Chairman of the centre left think-tank ippr:

This is a critical time in our politics. Following election defeat, Labour is choosing a new leader and starting the process of coming up with new policies. Ippr will be central to the debates about how the centre left rebuilds and becomes a stronger force for change. At the same time, the new Coalition government has made much of its commitment to progressive ideas. Ippr has good relations with the new administration and we continue to aim to develop ideas that are adopted as policy, in Westminster and beyond.”

There’s no doubt the Coalition has ruptured the old politics-as-usual.

Labour views of the Lib Dems seem to sit somewhere between cold fury and hot indignation that Nick Clegg’s party could have dared contemplate agreement with the Tories. Lib Dems are responding in kind with any one or more of the following combination: a shrug, a look of reproachful hurt, reciprocated anger, guilt, confusion, or the hope of future rapprochement.

Myself, I veer towards the latter. The past two months have been painful ones for those closely involved in party politics, who care deeply about their parties. The visceral tribal repsonse that’s been provoked has been, I guess, inevitable.

But it’s also been unhealthy. Unhealthy not just because that kind of petty, knee-jerk, my-party-right-or-wrong attitude deters sympathetic, unattached voters; but also because it stultifies creative thinking. There’s little doubt Labour was, after 13 years of government, tired and in desperate need of intellectual renewal. There’s equally little doubt that, with little or no experience of government, the Coalition is going to make some naive mistakes by dreaming up new policies which experience will show don’t work in practice, however neat they appear on paper.

What we need is some creative tension, a dialectic which allows space for compromise not simply within the Coalition, but also between the Coalition and Labour: an open Purnell approach rather than a closen Denham one.

Healthier dialogue between the Lib Dems and Labour will be good in its own right. But there’s a practical reason, too. The two parties need each other, more so than either perhaps recognises at the moment.

The Lib Dems cannot always carry on in coalition with the Tories: the partnership will inevitably end. Maybe constructively, and by choice. Maybe messily, in bitter divorce. The Lib Dems need an alternative to the Tories. More importantly, the Labour party – for all its faults, and they are too numerous to mention – will act as a corrective in the next five years. That, after all, is what opposition is and should be about.

And while Labour might be happy right now to cruise on the back of doubts about the Coalition and the concerns of Lib Dem sympathisers, there will come a time when they, too, will want a partner to talk to. Sure, Labour may tell themselves all they need do is elect a new leader and wait til the next election. And perhaps, just perhaps, that will work. But sooner or later the Parliamentary arithmetic will need them to think about talking to the Lib Dems. And just as Labour will act as a corrective to Lib Dem thinking, so does Labour – if it wants to be progressive – need a liberal counterpoint.

For all the sound and fury of recent weeks, then, the Lib Dems and Labour need each other. The real question is: can we find ways in the next few years to work together without being at each other’s throats?

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85 Comments

  • There was a time when Ed Miliband had my hopes up for a constructive Lib/Lab approach, but he has since nailed his colours clearly to the mast. He wants to break this current government at any cost, get Lib Dems onboard the Deficit Junky boat and force us to ignore the realism, savage cuts and pragmatic politics that have dominated Lib Dem policy for the past few years.

    Thanks, Ed. But no, thanks.

  • Given that Nick Clegg was instrumental in getting Labour to dump Brown, I don’t think we (or he) could complain if a resurgent Labour party were to demand his head as the price of talks. Unless our vote and seats share was rising, we would have difficulty refusing. And of course the next election could give one party a majority – Labour have never needed us to form a govt after an election, and they may not for many years to come.

  • The Lib Dems will only ditch Clegg if they are crushed at the next election. If the LDs are crushed, then there wont be a hung parliament, and coalition talk is irrelevant. Ergo, if there is a hung parliament (a good result from a LD point of view) Clegg will be in there. If Labour refuse to deal with him then they are effectively walking back into opposition in that scenario. Labour MPs demanding Clegs head will then have to explain to their voters why they wont get a Labour-led government.

    The Lib Dems will work with any party that offers a liberal program and has the number to make a majority. If the Tories are the only party offering that – as they were this time – then they will be the only option.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Jul '10 - 1:08am

    “But sooner or later the Parliamentary arithmetic will need them to think about talking to the Lib Dems.”

    Though perhaps not for another generation, if you subscribe to the Mervyn King school of thought.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 1:37am

    @MBoy

    Every word that you wrote above is true. Putting aside its cynical and insincere rhetoric, Labour knows it, too.

  • Labour need to change before the Lib Dems could even consider a partnership. Economic policy depends on circumstances, available funds, international conditions and the general health of the economy. Although cuts may be the work of the devil to some, the coalition economic policy is medicine for the economic disease this country has.

    Liberalism, human rights and freedom does not depend on external factors or economic conditions or funds available. You either respect human rights or you don’t. Labour don;’t respect human rights at present and didnt for 13 years of government. If we ever formed a coalition with a Labour party complicit in torture, extraordinary rendition and illegal wars then the membership card would definately be in the bin.

    I can stomach a coalition with the tories because I believe there is common ground on some issues of principle. With labour, there may be a common aim of equality, but the approach is very different, and completely incompatible.

    Leave them to talk to the Greens and the BNP – they have far more in common with labour than we do.

  • Andrea Gill 21st Jul '10 - 2:43am

    @Mike – overall agree but at least Darling was realistic as far as the economy is concerned.

  • Labour? Here comes the authoritarian socialists.

  • I went to see An Audience with Mandy last night – very few surprises but an enjoyable hour anyway. One thing I did find a little surprising was over the question of future Lib-Lab co-operation. Peter did not show the anger of his colleagues, and hoped that the two progressive parties could work together in future, after the Lib Dems’ little “diversion” was over. He also opened the question of whether two-party politics was indeed, finished.

  • @Stephen
    A good piece – one of the more insightful to appear on here since the election I would suggest. It is a shame that many of the comments point in an entirely different direction.

    You say that “The Lib Dems cannot always carry on in coalition with the Tories” but my major concern is that Clegg and Alexander are carrying on as if this was the desired objective. Deliberate or inexperience? People seeing them appearing to try out-Tory the Tories, they do not see the tension within the Coalition. We are widely portrayed as human shields, fall guys and all manner of other disparaging descriptions. I would suggest that unless Clegg can find a way of ensuring some distinctiveness and distance within the Coalition then there is no way he could be part of any future arrangements with Labour. My suspicions are that he would not want to be anyway.

    We seem to be over focused on the national aspects of the Coalition. But as we prepare for local elections in May 2011 we must begin to work out how we respond locally. In some constituencies Labour are already targeting our council seats, leafleting , canvassing etc and we have to find a new voice that cannot pretend that we are apart from the Coalition but somehow has to enable an element of criticism.

  • Christine Headley 21st Jul '10 - 9:14am

    @Tim Leunig
    “Given that Nick Clegg was instrumental in getting Labour to dump Brown”.

    Would Brown really have carried on as leader, having lost the election, whatever we had said? I agree that we precipitated the timing, but I don’t believe he would be leader now in any circumstances, given the outcome of the election. He might have vacillated for a few days, but I don’t think he would have been there for the first PMQs.

  • Excellent piece.
    Surely it is never too early to start thinking about future options.

    I firmly believe that (independent of the voting system we’ll have after the referendum) two-party politics is not going to return. I can’t see at the moment how the two big parties will get back to the kind of vote share they (accumulatively) achieved some decades ago. In a world where they add up to somewhere between 60 and 70% (and falling), coalition politics is not going to go away.

    In such a context Nick Clegg’s future is not going to be decided by Labour (as MBoy has pointed out so well), since the LibDems, as currently the only ‘third party’ of sufficient size, have a good chance to be in a good negotiating position again – assuming the party doesn’t implode in 2015, but I hope that we can avoid that!!!

    Of course, it’s difficult to tell whether Nick Clegg has already so much become part of the ‘personification’ of the coalition that he will find it difficult to go on as leader after the coalition dissolves/collapses. I think he has done exactly the right thing to help the UK get used to coalition politics at all – but how effective could he be in opposition against Cameron after all *those* pictures, all the ‘liberal conservative’ talk and speeches echoing each other? My guess is that Clegg is more likely to have to go if the Conservatives win outright than if Labour wins and needs the LibDems for a coalition!

    Anyway – Labour has to shout a lot now, as long as its leadership election is going on. The next leader (or the one after that?) will have to find a way of communicating with the LibDems in a more constructive way. I think in the end, Labour’s indignated screeching won’t do them any favours, and although I see tricky times ahead for the LibDems, I don’t think that it’s going to be Labour which is going to do the most damage. I am a lot more concerend about a continuing distinct identity of the LibDems in that warm embrace of the Tories….

  • Labour will not need the LibDems. Like I have said, you LibDems are in denial. No articles on here about your current standing with the voting public. You don’t seem to realise that you are only in government because you are hanging on to the coat tails of the Tories. AV which you are now championing, even though not that long ago you were very dismissive of, will not happen. And once you have lost that vote, what next for the LibDems? Your vote is in free fall, and this before the real pain of your collusion with the Tories is felt.

  • Vincent Smith 21st Jul '10 - 11:18am

    Lib-Lab co-operation is dead and buried for a generation and probably forever- this brutal train wreck of a government will be make it impossible for any future Labour leader to contemplate working with you barring the departure of the entire Lib-Dem leadership, all of whom are deeply implicated in the back-of-an-envelope war on the public sector the Cameron, Osbourne, Gove et al are currently launching. As a party, you are stuck with the Tories in Australian style two-party right-wing bloc and there is no real exit option. I only wonder how many of your will manage in some way to swim back to the left when the ship goes down.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 11:30am

    @jayu

    No one cares about polls. Lib Dems are used to being unpopular. The next General Election is 5 years away. And Labour is talking itself into a dead end, that and it’s disastrous record in government condemns it to a slow death, clinging onto a dwindling number of trades unionists and a loyalty based on birth that has been eroding for decades. In the end it will fail to find new causes to add to its confection of disaffection. I doubt that Labour will ever form a majority government again – and indeed support for the blue and red Tories has declined strongly from the 1950’s with 95% or more of the popular vote to 65% now. In May 2020, perhaps less than 60%.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 11:33am

    Basically, they are all a bit weird. I mean, what they had in common wasn’t their political opinions – they covered the whole spectrum, from centre-left to far left – they weren’t united by any ideology or political belief.
    No, it was that they were all slightly strange people … strange personally, I mean. They were people who really did want to spend their evenings sitting in church halls or community centres agonising over quite arcane points of detail.
    And they weren’t just doing it that night, but every night – the committee for this, the committee for that, the council, whatever. They were sort of lonely and socially odd.

    – Deborah Mattinson referring to research commissioned by Labour as to public perceptions of Labour activists

  • I think that you would also have factor in the opinions of the grass roots and core voters (not to mention the unions) of the Labour party, they will not easily forgive those who they perceive to have done a deal with the devil, Labour would have to overcome their hostility before any Lib-Lab pact could even be considered. in the eyes of many, including those voters who ‘float’ between Labour and Libdem, we have become the Tories mk2, maybe something worse, I’ve heard this said in my local pub ‘trust a Tory to be a Tory but you can’t trust a LibDem at all’

  • Vincent Smith,

    Right. So you would rather stay in opposition than share power with the Liberal Democrats? Is Labour to be the “wasted vote” of the future?

  • Nige wrote:

    “they will not easily forgive those who they perceive to have done a deal with the devil,”

    Who is the “devil”? Not Dick Cheney, by any chance? And who did the “deal”? You are not referring to Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, surely?

  • Lol Sesenco. Come the next GE the LibDems won’t be in the position to share power with anyone. The LibDems are finished as a political force, if they ever were. That realisation will hit you sooner or later.

  • Jayu:

    It’s nice to know that the Oracle of Delphi has joined this forum!

    You should earn a fortune on the Futures market!

  • @ Sesenco
    LOL nice quip

    Yes your right of course however many, if not all, Labour supporters see the Tory party as the epitome of ‘evil’ They hate them with a passion, and yes, even more than Dick Cheney (those that have heard or him of course lol)

  • “Lib Dems are used to being unpopular. ”

    No. You’re used to being insignificant. What will come as a shock now, is how many people actively dislike the libdems. Including people that voted for them.

    Fail to acknowledge this, address it and engage and you’ll be looking for a coalition with the greens

  • @sesenco
    Good comparison. I would never again vote for a party that was led by someone who voted in favour of the Iraq war.

    For similar reasons (though of a different degree of magnitude) I would never vote for a party that was led by Clegg for his total lack of principles.

    I know. I don’t actually expect to vote at all for the next two GE’s.

  • I have more time for Gordon Brown than most but there is no doubt in my mind he had to go pretty soon after May the 6th. That was just a political reality. Nick Clegg was just stating the obvious. Furthermore the Lib Dems had
    to do some sort of a deal with the Tories and its stupid to pretend otherwise. The arithmetic and legitimacy questions meant there was no other option. I think they did a bad deal and they are being outmanoeuvred on every front by the Tories but its early days. The Lib Dem communication strategy at the moment is absolutely dire. Seems to me the Tories are taking a leaf out of the Republican/Bush playbook of 2000 and governing as though they had won a massive majority.

    I also think it is very unlikely that Labour could do a deal with Lib Dems with Nick Clegg as leader. But then I very much doubt the question will arise. Either the coalition will be seen to be successful in which case the Tories will get a big majority or it will crash and burn and Labour will get back in. Lib Dem wipeout is certainly a possibility but I would think they will retain a decent level of core support. In any case we are heading for a very polarising few years and I would think chances of a hung parliament next time are remote.

    Personally I won’t consider labour fit to govern until they thoroughly expunge their authoritarian tendency. How the govt of 1997 – 2001 ended up being on the wrong side of the civil liberties argument I’ll never understand. I’m pretty angry with some coalition policies but I haven’t as yet reached the transcendental levels of rage I reached over Labour’s enthusiastic embrace of the Orwellian state. Now the Lib Dems have been captured by the Orange bookers there is nowhere for me as a left leaning liberal to go. I wonder if what will unite Labour and Lib Dems in the coming years is a common experience of getting progressively and thoroughly disillusioned by the way their leadership act
    in government.

  • David Allen 21st Jul '10 - 1:03pm

    “The Lib Dems cannot always carry on in coalition with the Tories: the partnership will inevitably end.”

    When, I wonder, will Clegg make clear his agreement with that admirable comment?

    When hell freezes over?

  • AndrewR wrote:
    “Now the Lib Dems have been captured by the Orange bookers there is nowhere for me as a left leaning liberal to go”

    Agreed, I believe as time goes on more and more left leaning types will leave the party, unable to support the leadership. Yes I acknowledge that membership is going up at the moment but these new members are very probably ‘right’ wing, moving the party far closer to the Tory Party ideologically than I would feel comfortable with.

  • paul barker 21st Jul '10 - 2:28pm

    When it comes to Parties collapsing surely thats more likely to happen to Labour. They are the Party with debts of at least £10 Millions & no prospect of paying them off in the next 5 years. Thats not what I want, I would much rather see a gentle decline but if you look at what happened after 1979, History is not comforting.

  • “When it comes to Parties collapsing surely thats more likely to happen to Labour.”

    Keep telling yourself that, if it is of any comfort to you. Come the local elections next year, you will be needing something else to comfort yourself.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 3:15pm

    @jayu

    Who cares? 5 years.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Jul '10 - 3:27pm

    “Who cares?”

    Well, the local councillors who lose their seats, naturally.

    I’m starting to think you can’t have been in the party very long if you think the party’s presence in local government can be written off as of no importance. How long have you been a member, just out of interest?

  • What makes me laugh is that he thinks this sham marriage will last 5 years.

  • Jayu:

    “Come the local elections next year, you will be needing something else to comfort yourself.”

    The Oracle of Delphi speaks. Unlike Jayu, I cannot have knowledge of what is going to happen next May. But I can say a few words about what is happening now. In local byelections, Lib Dem support is holding up, contra the psychological manipulation of the Labour trolls on this site. Not only is Lib Dem support holding up, but Labour inclined voters are continuing to vote for us tactically as the party to keep the Tories out (an odd thing to do if they really think we are the same as the Tories).

    A test for the junior partners in the coalition will be “Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS”. Will Conference give it the thumbs down, and if so, will Clegg defeat it in Cabinet, much as Jim Callaghan defeated “In Place of Strife”?

  • “As a party, you are stuck with the Tories in Australian style two-party right-wing bloc and there is no real exit option”.

    A decade in opposition will shake that attitude out of Labour activists, just like it did after the 80s and 90s.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 3:56pm

    I was first a member back in SDP / Liberal Alliance days. I stuffed envelopes in York for the 1987 general election, which was contested by a certain Vince Cable. I spent many years abroad, in Germany, the Netherlands, in Estonia, but nevertheless kept a strong interest in the Liberal Democrats. I remember in 1992 at the central library in Amsterdam winning an argument with a librarian as to whether or not the library should obtain a copy of the Liberal Democrat manifesto for me, as I was considering voting for them. In 1997 I was back in England and remember trying to support the LD campaign in Runnymede, but gave up, and just voted for them, instead. The current Transport Secretary won handsomely for the Conservatives. In 2001 I did some stumping around Spelthorne for the Liberal Democrats, but in 2005, having moved into a London suburban constituency I just voted for them. In 2010, I tried to contact my local constituency campaign office, but gave up. No answer, and only one crummy leaflet during the whole campaign. I did, though, receive, somewhat mysteriously, an email from Sarah Teather’s campaign in Brent Central. After several attempts I made contact with her campaign office and then did some leafleting a few times. I was delighted that she won; she seems to be making a good fist of things at Education. Since then I have dropped by the local constituency office on three occasions, but it was closed each time, presumably due to my current constituency being particularly barren ground. I will eventually manage to join again, but I refuse to just click the link, as political parties are built from the roots up.

    I understand very well the short term damage that loss of council seats might do.

    However, I understand also very clearly the much greater damage that a failure to make the current coalition work will do. If the Liberal Democrats fail to make this coalition work, they will have negated the fundamental basic premise on which they are founded, which is that a proportional electoral system which accurately reflects the expressed wishes of the electors, should guarantee that no political party should ever be able to command a majority in parliament, and would force political parties to negotiate towards acceptable compromises in a coalition government. If the Liberal Democrats cannot last the course of this parliament in government, then they may as well disband, as they would have proved themselves to have no future in politics on the national stage.

    I understand very clearly, though, the rhetoric expressed regarding potential losses in council and devolved government elections. It is for the most part blackmail: if you don’t leave the government, then we shall threaten you with losses. Ultimately no government can ever allow itself to be deflected from necessary but difficult decisions in this way. And there is a certainty that those giving such advice are for the most part false friends of the Liberal Democrats: they will not vote for them or stuff envelopes for them in any case. And those that have voted for the Liberal Democrats in the past but won’t if they form a government with the Conservative Party are also very poor allies, too, as they defeat the whole purpose of the Liberal Democrats as an independent political party. They may as well vote Labour, because they present the Liberal Democrats with only one choice of government, short of an LD majority. Labour Lite is not a distinctive political identity and is not a credible platform.

    Ultimately British electors tend to back strong leaders, capable of maintaining a difficult course in government. They certainly do not back those that are too weak for the job.

  • Barry George 21st Jul '10 - 4:14pm

    @ paul

    Interesting insight into why you believe as you do. I respect your candid honesty but disagree that other than coalition’s the party is only left with one option apart from a majority.

    Minority governments can work with loose arrangments between parties rather than binding coalitions. I think the Liberal Democrat’s would have a stronger voice from such a position as concession’s from our party line could be argued from a position of strength.

    If you stand alone as a party then you don’t spend half your life defending someone elses policies. The minority Tory Government would not have called a snap election after 13 years in the wilderness and our opposition would have had teeth.

    It is fascinating to read about what makes you support the Liberal Democrat’s, so thank you for that…

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 4:15pm

    The Liberal Democrats are the only party that come anywhere close to representing me. They believe in giving all a fair chance, in lending a helping hand when needed and otherwise letting people do as they will. They do this without creating a hierarchy of deserving and they do this without creating a demonology of class either.

    What I treasure above all is equality. Equality of place, time and circumstance of birth, of belief, gender, sexual orientation, social status, wealth. Neither of the two main parties believe in this, they never will. They seek to divide, not to unite. It is their source of recruitment. I refuse and scorn both.

    I do believe that British politics will be changed permanently by the presence of the Liberal Democrats in government. One doesn’t need to look for spoor or hidden signs. The government’s policy is strong evidence, as is the direction of travel of the Labour party’s leadership candidates. The parties of the Establishment are searching for the new liberal lexicon, they cannot survive unchanged.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 4:17pm

    It has been interesting recently; many Liberal Democrats have been coming out of their closets and confessing their love for the party of the yellow rosettes. I have met many, it has been quite inspirational. I understand, also, all too well, that there are many that would prefer to strangle that particular renaissance stone dead. Smear the Liberal Democrats, belittle them, shout them down. The insults must be born and the future will deliver what it will.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Jul '10 - 4:20pm

    Paul

    So the answer to my question is that you’re not actually a member of the party.

    And your experience of campaigning sounds distinctly limited. To be honest I’m not sure that does put you in a position to appreciate just how damaging it will be if the party loses large numbers of councillors over the next few years. Certainly I wouldn’t expect many experienced activists to ask “Who cares?”

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 4:26pm

    @Anthony Aloysius St.

    As you confessed some time ago to stating that you gave up doing any work for the party two years ago, as you understood they might form government with the Conservatives, I really don’t see what your point is. The Liberal Democrats are NOT a Labour party, which you fail to understand or accept.

    As for your activists may fear losses, they should fear utter irrelevancy even more. If they are a party only for opposition, then there is no reason for people to vote for them.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 4:34pm

    I recognise a patronising comment when I read one, but I also recognise it when that comment lacks wit and wisdom. It is quite obvious that a loss of councillors would be damaging, but talking up the prospect, which you do, makes it only more likely. And there is no reason to believe that that has to be the case for May 2011, unless you prefer to believe Harriet Harman and Jack Straw’s propoganda. People are worried at the moment, and politics has polarised, so the prospect of losses certainly exists. The solution lies in removing the uncertainty and publishing the departmental budgets and running a campaign of positive messages. However, if the Liberal Democrats leave the government, they will be thoroughly punished at the next election. That would be much more damaging.

  • “It is quite obvious that a loss of councillors would be damaging, but talking up the prospect, which you do, makes it only more likely.”

    So cocking a deaf ‘n makes it less likely?

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 4:42pm

    @Barry George

    From many LDs I detect this dichotomous belief that they can form a coalition with Labour but only allow the Conservatives to form a minority government. History belies that belief. Lib/Lab achieved very little for the Liberals, except tar them with supporting an unpopular Labour government. A coalition does involve collective responsibility, but it delivers genuine power, too. Large parts of the LD manifesto are being delivered; that would not have happened with support for a minority government, as it is almost always the rule that only government bills are ever enacted. You may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.

  • Barry George 21st Jul '10 - 4:53pm

    From many LDs I detect this dichotomous belief that they can form a coalition with Labour but only allow the Conservatives to form a minority government

    I wouldn’t be happy with a coalition with Labour either. I admit that I wouldn’t be quite so upset but a pact with Labour is not why I support the Liberals. If I wanted a pact with Labour then I would have voted Labour.

    Large parts of the LD manifesto are being delivered; that would not have happened with support for a minority government,

    I disagree. A minority Conservative would have had to come to us in order to legislate anything. They wouldn’t have turned to Labour so where else would they have got the votes ?

  • Richard Hill 21st Jul '10 - 4:54pm

    Being Liberal I think we should be open to talking and cooperating with anybody, As long as we stick to our beliefs, compromising when necessary to help in the advancement of good, I don’t see any problems. If other people will not talk to us that is their problem not ours.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 5:01pm

    @Barry George

    They would have passed their budget with LD support. After that they would have been under no obligation to do anything much at all.

    Certainly the whole civil liberties position would have been radically different to that of the current government’s. I can’t see Ken Clarke or Theresa May being placed in their current posts, nor can I see any prospect that whoever occupied their posts would have made the choices that they have. I can’t see much in the way of political reform having been placed on the agenda either. And I suspect that Chris Huhne will achieve great things that no Conservative would have contemplated.

    Finally, who do you think will refloat the banks that are currently mostly in public hands. Either Osborne or Cable. I hope that it will be Cable, that would be a great boost to the LD’s popularity.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 5:03pm

    Being Liberal I think we should be open to talking and cooperating with anybody, As long as we stick to our beliefs, compromising when necessary to help in the advancement of good, I don’t see any problems. If other people will not talk to us that is their problem not ours.

    Exactly.

  • Barry George 21st Jul '10 - 5:07pm

    Richard

    Being Liberal I think we should be open to talking and cooperating with anybody, As long as we stick to our beliefs, compromising when necessary to help in the advancement of good, I don’t see any problems.

    Yes I completely agree. However there is a huge difference between ‘talking and cooperating’ and forming a coalition. It is much easier to ‘stick to our beliefs’ outside of such a binding agreement.

    I don’t think people are as upset as they are because we were willing to talk to and cooperate with the Conservatives. It is the genuine impression (misguided or not) that we are failings to stick to our beliefs that is destroying the party

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 5:12pm

    Actually the policy of abandoning “equidistance” cost the Liberal Democrats many votes from electors who didn’t want Labour governments. The principled position of “equidistance” is much more credible and destroys one of the messages that the Conservative party always put out against voting for the yellow ticket. Clegg, with his protocol of allowing the party that gained the most votes and the most seats should have the right to make the first attempt at forming a government actually went some considerable way to defusing that particular mine. It would be a shame to lapse back into an asymmetric positioning with regard to the two major parties.

    The LDs need to formulate more clearly what they stand for and stress that they will work with whoever they have to to achieve those aims. Local parties going around promising only to support one party in one location and another party in another location, actually end up damaging the Liberal Democrats in the long run, even if it is temporarily expedient. Basically a more grown up philosophy and campaigning approach is needed, now the breakthrough into government, rather than permanent opposition, politics has been made.

    Under FPTP or AV they have to be a “centre” party keeping the balance between the two larger parties. The long term goal has to be a proportional electoral system and the break up of the big tent parties. That would then enable the Liberal Democrats to campaign on a more radically liberal position, without excessive triangulation or focus group based policy making.

  • Labour shouldn’t consider cooperation with the Lib Dems any more than with the Tories. If that means remaining out of power while the reactionary siamese twin rules, so be it. It can be a principled presence in parliament out of power rather than a neutered party pulled even further to the right sharing power.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 5:16pm

    It is the genuine impression (misguided or not) that we are failings to stick to our beliefs that is destroying the party

    Communication is a big issue. The Liberal Democrats are not getting any positive message across at the moment. I think it would help if you could persuade media friendly types like Charles Kennedy or Lembit Opik to get in front of the camera and make a big splash of the LD policies that are being implemented.

  • David Allen 21st Jul '10 - 5:17pm

    @Paul McKeown

    “I understand very clearly, though, the rhetoric expressed regarding potential losses in council and devolved government elections. It is for the most part blackmail: if you don’t leave the government, then we shall threaten you with losses.”

    Oh, come on. The Labour commentators on this site are of course going to try and threaten us with losses whatever we do. The Lib Dems, like myself, are not engaging in blackmail. They are concerned about the losses!

    “And there is a certainty that those giving such advice are for the most part false friends of the Liberal Democrats: they will not vote for them or stuff envelopes for them in any case.”

    I’ve been pounding the streets for the Lib Dems and their predecessors since 1981, chum. I’ve even found ways to carry on working even if the local constituency office might happen to be shut when I ramble along there.

    “And those that have voted for the Liberal Democrats in the past but won’t if they form a government with the Conservative Party are also very poor allies, too”

    Two months ago I took the same view as that expressed by Ashdown and Campbell amongst others. Despite misgivings, I thought we should give it a go. Cameron’s urbanity, together with an apparently comprehensive and generous coalition agreement, suggested a truly liberal conservatism, akin to Macmillan’s “one nation” approach, which we could rub along with. Since then, they’ve torn it all up. Osborne’s onslaught on the welfare state, Gove’s rush toward central control of schools, Lansley’s revolution for the NHS, have all emerged – miraculously fully formed in a few short weeks. Unmentioned, for the most part, in the dodgy dossier that Cameron and Clegg put their names to. Any bets as to whether these recent changes came as a total surprise to Mr Clegg?

    @ AndrewR

    “Now the Lib Dems have been captured by the Orange bookers there is nowhere for me as a left leaning liberal to go”

    There is a massive political gap between a government to the right of the Thatcherites, and a discredited and disorganised Labour Party. We have to believe that we can win our Party back and fill that gap.

    This movement was split 20 years ago by Owen, who perished, despite a charismatic personality. The reason was because his party didn’t have a real niche of distinctive beliefs, separate from the Tories of the time, and so he didn’t get support from a real niche within the electorate. The same will happen to Clegg. We can either go down with his ship, or else launch the rescue boats!

  • Barry George 21st Jul '10 - 5:20pm

    Paul

    They would have passed their budget with LD support.

    I agree , unless you meant ‘without’ in which case that would be impossible with 307 MP’s

    Finally, who do you think will refloat the banks that are currently mostly in public hands. Either Osborne or Cable.

    Bit of a loaded question but I will give you the answer you want… Cable

    But that’s about making the most of a very bad situation that we could have avoided.

    Although I am Anti-coalition I am not a lost cause. I could be persuaded by a much more vigorous pursuit of our policies and a significantly clearer dividing line between the parties in which (as George Kendall has pointed out) we spell out our differences with the Tories more clearly and explain in detail why we are willing to support policies that we don’t actually agree with.

  • Richard Hill 21st Jul '10 - 5:24pm

    It is only some people that are upset, some of us, or maybe only me see it as a challange. We have talked and decided how to cooperate for the next five years, After that time we can decide, as individual parties, what we want to put in our manifestos for the next five years and then let the electors choose. Now is not the time to winge, now is the time to work twice as hard. What we should be trying to do is push labour into third place. Why do you think they are attacking us so much and not the tories.

  • Barry George 21st Jul '10 - 5:26pm

    sorry about the poor formating , I am sure you can work out which bits are quotes from Paul… And my final comment isn’t a quote from George Kendall , Just my understanding of his comment on a different thread.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 5:28pm

    @David Allen

    The LDs are only obliged to support what is in the coalition agreement. Anything beyond that, they are, of course, free to oppose, as it was not signed off by the parliamentary party, nor by the federal committee. It would be sensible only to do so on serious matters, en bloc and with forewarning.

    I have no idea whether or not Clegg knew of “surprises”. Do you?

    Tell me, do you seriously think that this government is taking any decisions that Labour in government had not already planned? Apart, that is, from questions regarding civil liberties. I don’t: the plans were all laid out.

    On what do you base your belief that Clegg’s beliefs are no different than those of the Tories? Is that based on personal knowledge or prejudice? Could it be that he believes in what he preaches, including collective cabinet responsibility?

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 5:31pm

    Barry,

    Yes, I do not disagree.

    I also admire George’s perspicacity and good intentions and hope that something good comes of it.

    Richard,

    Full agreement.

  • David Allen 21st Jul '10 - 5:42pm

    “Tell me, do you seriously think that this government is taking any decisions that Labour in government had not already planned? Apart, that is, from questions regarding civil liberties. I don’t: the plans were all laid out.”

    What, you think Labour were up for free schools, GP commissioning, abolition of the Food Standards Authority…?

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 5:42pm

    @David Allen

    Without wishing to rehash old arguments, I would actually like to understand what you violently oppose. You list:
    a) Osborne’s onslaught on the welfare state
    b) Gove’s rush toward central control of schools
    c) Lansley’s revolution for the NHS

    Is Osborne genuinely carrying out an “onslaught” on the welfare state? Explain why you think that to be true and what you believe a “pure” or “largely” LD government would do.

    Is it true that Gove is trying to obtain central control of schools? If that were true, then it would naturally be something that LDs should oppose, and as it is not stated in the coalition agreement they could certainly oppose with clear consciences.

    Lansley’s plans are certainly not in the coalition agreement and can certainly be opposed by LDs, but, putting all the hyperbole aside, I am unconvinced that they represent a move away from universal service provision. Can you explain your fears, I would certainly like to hear them.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Jul '10 - 5:55pm

    “It is quite obvious that a loss of councillors would be damaging, but talking up the prospect, which you do, makes it only more likely.”

    You don’t honestly think that the comments posted here have any tangible effect on anything that happens in the real world, do you?

    And as for your accusing _me_ of being patronising, it really is a bit rich coming from someone who preaches endless sermons to everyone else, and turns out not even to be a member of the party! A bit rich, and more than a bit funny.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 5:57pm

    And now you mention the abolition of the FSA. I understand that the BMA supports the ideals of the FSA. It pursued a traffic lights scheme at the European level, but was defeated a year ago, and the food industrialists have succeed in imposing their preferred recommended daily amounts scheme, which is much less immediately informative. The question needs to be asked, as to whether the FSA actually achieved anything during its ten years of existence, despite a staff of two thousand and an annual budget of 135 million. Surely if such schemes cannot be achieved at arms length from government, then government itself must take responsibility? I remain sceptical, like yourself, that this Conservative government has the will, but it would certainly be something for the LDs to champion. The question remains though, why pump money into an ineffectual organisation, is it not just money wasted?

  • David Allen 21st Jul '10 - 6:50pm

    a) Osborne’s onslaught on the welfare state

    Have a look at

    http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/campaigns/policy_campaign_publications/evidence_reports/er_benefitsandtaxcredits/not_working

    and then recognise that Osborne has moved to make the tests even tighter. For the many people who are nominally well enough to work, but in practice too frequently sick (often with mental problems) to hold down a job, the future is grim.

    b) Gove’s rush toward central control of schools

    An academy which isn’t under the supervision of a local authority becomes, effectively, a centrally controlled school. Whitehall will have to pick up the pieces when things go wrong, as they always do on occasion. Don’t you find it amazing that we had no Green Paper on this, the Bill is going through Parliament before summer, but the idea of free schools wasn’t even official policy until a month or two ago?

    c) Lansley’s revolution for the NHS

    This guff about saving 45% of the management costs, it’s just incredible. If GPs suddenly take on a huge new admin workload now being undertaken by PCTs, they will have to take on staff as well. If we’re liucky, just as many staff. if we’re not lucky, more staff. Actually, they’ll engage private providers to do the commissioning. Whether that will necessarily move us away from universal provision is a moot point, but, the move toward a market economy threatens the consequnce that increasingly it is money that will talk.

    Once again, the stealth in itself convinces me that evil is afoot. If it wasn’t afoot, there wouldn’t have had to be the stealth.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 7:03pm

    @Anthony

    The irony that escapes no one is the number of people exactly fulfilling the stereotype portrayed by the old enemies of the Liberal Democrats, that they full of great ideas, nice people, but too weak to govern. Anyone that thinks government is easy and a matter of tying ribbons on puppy dogs is fooling themselves. The best that a political party can do is to govern as best as it can, guided according to its philosophies. The Liberal Democrats have changed the national political discourse quite dramatically now that they have entered government, only many feel cheated, because they cannot accept the painful compromises that they must make with a rival philosophy. It is a moment of growth into political maturity: no one should ever have believed that that was going to be easy.

    My experience has been that many people are now prepared to admit to being a Liberal Democrat voter; six months ago that was not something anyone in the general public spoke of, as it would have sounded foolish, like supporting a team of losers. It is something to build on.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 7:10pm

    @David Allen

    The Liberal Democrat parliamentary faction is entirely free to vote down anything not in the coalition agreement. If sufficient LD MPs felt this way, then they should get the backing of their colleagues, or failing that the mandate of the federal committee, do it as a bloc of 57 MPs (the parliamentary party must remain united to a man and woman, as they must hang together or hang apart) and they should warn their coalition partners of their resolve to do this. They are not bound by anything, at this early stage, not in the agreement, but they must weigh up the damage that the feel the legislation would cause, against the damage they might do to the government. Ultimately they must do this in a way that actually does not come to a vote, but results in ameliorated or dropped legislation, in other words, behind closed doors.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Jul '10 - 7:32pm

    “The Liberal Democrats have changed the national political discourse quite dramatically now that they have entered government …”

    I’m not sure about that, but they have certainly changed their principles quite dramatically now they have entered government.

    If things as elastic as that can properly be described as principles, that is.

  • David Allen 21st Jul '10 - 7:33pm

    Paul,

    Let’s see if anything like that happens. As you say, unity would be strength. A leader with any sympathy for the considerable tide of dissatisfaction amongst his MPs would now be looking for at least one suitable lead issue on which to mount an effective challenge, and opening up discussion within his party on that topic. Do we see that form of leadership? From Simon Hughes and others, yes. From Clegg?

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Jul '10 - 9:26pm

    “Labour views of the Lib Dems seem to sit somewhere between cold fury and hot indignation that Nick Clegg’s party could have dared contemplate agreement with the Tories. Lib Dems are responding in kind” etc etc

    As a Labour voter who started reading LDV the day the coalition was formed, mainly as I was interested to see what Lib Dem members genuinely thought about what was going on at the time, I have to say that the above was not my perception at all. From day one – at a time when Labour were licking their words and saying very little about *anything* – the amount of venom being directed from the Lib Dems towards Labour was striking. Even worse was the endless stream of LDV posters earnestly explainnig why they were philosophically much closer to the Tories than to Labour, and that the coalition was just about the most natural thing that could ever have happened.

    I found all this somewhat diasppointing and quite surprising; not so much because of the fact that I’ve always had a sentimental belief that Labour and the Lib Dems were both positioned on the correct side of the left-right divide (how terribly old fashioned I know); but more so because I knew that opinion poll data going back about thirty years had *always* shown a significant majority of Lib Dem voters favouring Labour over the Tories. Though this majority had obviously shrunk during Labour’s incumbency, it was still pretty strong right up to May 2010. On the eve of the election, YouGov found that 42% of Lib Dem voters named Labour as their second preference, with only 27% backing the Tories.

    Incidentally, this was reciprocated; Labour voters were far more likely to say that Lib Dems were an acceptable second choice than Tory voters were.

    So the question I have been wondering since the election has been: what has changed? Why is there so much hostility between the two parties? Are LDV readers just an unrepresentative bunch, or have Lib Dems as a whole experienced a shift in attitudes?

    I think it’s a bit of both. Politicos like us obviously have different preoccupations from the electorate at large. Difficult though this may be for Lib Dem activists to understand, it is a fact that civil liberties barely registers as a major issue in voter surveys; yet Labour’s supposed “authoritarianism” is an obsession for folks on here, and provided an important philosophical underpinning for the coalition.

    General voter attitudes have certainly shifted as well. When YouGov repeated their research after the coalition was formed, they found that Lib Dems were now slightly more likely to choose the Tories rather than Labour as second choice – hardly surprising during the coalition’s honeymoon period, and it will be interesting to see how this figure shifts in the years ahead. Strangely, the second preferences of Tory voters have not changed at all, which may suggest that the Con-Dem love affair is strictly one-sided. Beware. The number of Labour voters who would put Lib Dem as second choice has halved since the election.

    The real impediment to future Lib-Lab cooperation – as I wrote in my very first post here, and it seems more true by the day – is the sheer enthusiasm with which Lib Dems have aligned themselves to the Tories. It didn’t have to be like that. The Lib Dems could have formed an effective coalition *without* feeling the need to contort themselves into unfeasible positions such as their sudden conversion to being pro-VAT rise. If the Lib Dems defend every single thing the Tories do – and many are even defending the most socially damaging education policy in living memory – then it’s obvious that people are going to say they are no different from the Tories, and will vote accordingly.

    It’s impossible to predict where this will lead. At the moment, it looks like we’re heading for old-fashioned two-party politics under FPTP after 2015; but all that could change. I’m not too worried about Labour’s current position because I spent the whole of the ’80s thinking we would never see a Labour government again. British politics always undergoes another sea change – eventually.

    I agree with the thrust of the main article. Labour and the Lib Dems *could* need each other one day. Electoral arithmetic might demand it. Lib Dems might come to the conclusion that their attempts to impose “fairness” on Tory social policy are as effective as an elastoplast stuck on a gaping machete wound. One day, Labour might even be seen as being stronger on civil liberties than the Tories (as they were in the past). I certainly hope so. I just hope that both Labour and the Lib Dems can pull back from the current nastiness before they reach a point where future cooperation becomes impossible; then we’ll all be in trouble.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 9:52pm

    @George Kendall

    “savvy” – that is the exact prescription

    Coalition government is both a partnership and a poker game. If the balance shifts too much is either direction then it will fail. The better gambler will make it lean as much in his party’s direction as possible, without upsetting the cart.

  • Andrea Gill 21st Jul '10 - 9:57pm

    A minority government would have lasted until about now, and then we’d have an election as soon as the ratings were good for a majority Tory victory, with them being the only party with enough funds left to compete. The resulting government would then have relied on Tory right wingers instead of Lib Dems, and as a result been far more right wing than many, including I suspect David Cameron, would have been comfortable with.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 10:00pm

    @Stuart Mitchell

    I agree with the thrust of your piece that the spat between the Liberal Democrats and Labour will eventually be healed. My strong perception is that the Labour front bench has decided to target the Liberal Democrats for criticism and abuse rather than the Tories, and Labour activists are following suit, the thinking being that the smaller party, the Lib Dems may prove to be the weak link. It is rather natural then that the Liberal Democrats will circle the wagons under such an attack.

  • Paul McKeown 21st Jul '10 - 10:02pm

    @Andrea Gill

    That is how I see things, too. For those who think this government is too right wing, they should read what the natives are saying on ConservativeHome, from time to time. They might learn how right wing the neutralised balance of the Conservative party is.

  • @Paul “That is how I see things, too. For those who think this government is too right wing, they should read what the natives are saying on ConservativeHome, from time to time. They might learn how right wing the neutralised balance of the Conservative party is.”

    True, very true.

  • The House of Comments podcast from last week was very interesting on this subject: http://houseofcomments.com/2010/07/34-labours-dilemma/

  • Barry George 22nd Jul '10 - 7:14pm

    @ George

    I think a minority government would have been possible, but not in the present situation

    I disagree, but for the sake of keeping this thread on topic, I will agree to disagree.

    doesn’t mean we can’t be more politically savvy about how we present our separate political identity. Fighting our corner in the same way the Tories have theirs, for example in trying to torpedo the Graduate Tax.

    I agree and I know some of you dislike polls but yesterday’s YouGov Poll putting support for the party at 13% is highly disturbing to me. Week on week we are loosing support from the electorate and which damages the moral justification for pushing Liberal Policies if only 13% of the electorate support them.
    We need to be out there selling ourselves to the public. But first we need a clear idea of what we are selling. The coalition is clearly not working as well for us as it is the Tories.
    In Fact if the Tories had set out to destroy our support on a national level by forming a coalition and using us as the sweetener for draconian policies, then they have succeeded.
    A massive and complete overhaul of how we approach the coalition and the populous is urgently needed.
    Its is all good and well the people forgetting who we are after an election when we are in opposition but we are in Government now and our profile needs to be massive.
    I see a very rocky road ahead for the party unless a change of course takes place. And that’s before Labour even have a permanent leader to appose the government.
    I would like to hope that things can only get better but our first few months in office have been a public relations nightmare..

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