Why Liberal Left?

My good pal Gareth Epps asked the question last week………..so I thought I would answer it for him. We are at a hugely important juncture as a party – nearly two years in – with little prospect of the Coalition not continuing until 2015 and what appears to be the start of the leadership’s “differentiation” campaign.  Nick Clegg and his aides are spinning the line more and more that we are a “centrist” party – a clear desire to move us from the centre left position we have erstwhile held and which has served us well in the past given two thirds of those voting for us at the last General Election described themselves as more in favour of left wing than right wing policies. It is interesting language that Nick is using, I well remember the time he used to talk about the fact that there was no such thing as left and right – so presumably that would make the notion of the centre a little redundant too?

So, there is important work for the grassroots of the party to do in ensuring we stick to our radical social liberal principles and policies. The Social Liberal Forum has been critical in this – and Liberal Left is set up not in competition with the SLF but in addition to. Those of us on the Liberal Left executive who are also members of the SLF council will continue to do so – there is no conflict of interest. But SLF has taken a line to be a critical friend to the Coalition rather than to oppose it outright. Liberal Left will offer a forum for those who want to be able to challenge more forcefully alongside building relationships with others on the left in order to ensure that by the time of the next election there is a realistic alternative if we end up with a hung parliament. One of the reasons many of the electorate, who voted for us either as an alternative to Labour or to keep the Tories out are angry, is because they never expected us to jump into bed with the Tories. My own view is that we were wrong not to say clearly who we would support in the event of a hung parliament because we are not and never have been, equidistant.

On Saturday I was on a Scouts Question Time panel with Nick de Bois MP representing the Tories. I was struck that on virtually every question I found myself in opposition to what he was saying – something that would not happen to a Lib Dem MP on BBC Question Time – and yet who would be closer to reflecting Lib Dem policy where it conflicts so clearly with Coalition policy? On the Health and Social Care Bill, on welfare and legal aid reform, on Free Schools and Academies, on EMA and tuition fees. Interestingly enough, I got the biggest laugh when I stated that party policy was still to abolish tuition fees – an indication of the mountain we have to climb in regaining public trust and in differentiating ourselves from the Tories.

Since last week we have attracted interest, support and vitriol – interesting that vitriol coming from the tribalists in Labour and the right wing bloggers in our party in equal measure!  But, no less than we expected. What is crucial is that there is an important debate to be had about the future of our party – are we going to hold to our declared values namely that “the Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” or are we going to morph into Tory lite?

* Linda Jack is a former youth worker and member of the party's Federal Policy Committee.

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88 Comments

  • If we want to safeguard a fair society then why do we want to get rid of tuition fees? Surely the rich (students) should pay for their own prosperity rather than the poor (non-students)?

    If we want to protect the poor then why are we opposing the benefits cap which takes taxation from the large numbers of people who don’t have a lot and gives it to those who get a lot for doing nothing?

  • Richard Marbrow 15th Feb '12 - 1:03pm

    You seem to be saying that the answer to not becoming Tory lite is to become Labour lite.

    Also your position seems to be that if the Tories offered us 90% of Lib Dem policy in a coalition and Labour offered us 10% you would still prefer the coalition with Labour. Which is not clever.

    The Party said we were equidistant, the Leader said in the election campaign that the party would first negotiate with the party with the largest numbers of votes and seats. Are you saying these things were wrong?

  • Richard Swales 15th Feb '12 - 1:12pm

    The idea David Cameron put around that we were Labour’s emergency backup squad was the biggest vote loser in the election. I know of people who preferred us to all other parties, yet voted Conservative because it was a clearer “Not Labour” vote.

  • OK, Linda Jack – let me ask you a question. How do you differentiate yourself from the Labour Party? What is so different about the Liberal Left (not a phrase I recognise personally)?

    My take is that you see the Conservatives as the Opposition and Labour as the Competition. Given what we know about Labour’s historical antipathy to the Liberal Party and its constant efforts to destroy it, where do you see our future as an independent party if we are to live constantly in its shadow?

  • Look no further than May 1997 if you want to see how far Labour’s overtures will ever go. I remember all the things we were offered … seats in the cabinet, a grand realignment of the left, a referendum on AV+ …

    What did we get?

    Nothing. Nil. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

  • My only issue with what you say is the logical consequence of it. If we are to say that we can only work in a coalition with Labour then (i) our negotiating position with Labour is reduced to nothing and (ii) we will prop up a de-facto one party state. Both of these would do us great harm.

    How do you square remaining on the SLF Executive but agitating for something they are opposed to? How long do you think this stance is tenable?

    I am no fan boy for the coalition and I have grave concerns about many things that it is doing. But, leaning on Monty Python, becoming the Judean People’s Front within the People’s Front of Judea will not resolve those issues.

  • @Tommy
    “If we want to protect the poor then why are we opposing the benefits cap which takes taxation from the large numbers of people who don’t have a lot and gives it to those who get a lot for doing nothing?”

    Because education is more than individual prosperity eg: when you educate a doctor we all benefit.

    “If we want to protect the poor then why are we opposing the benefits cap which takes taxation from the large numbers of people who don’t have a lot and gives it to those who get a lot for doing nothing?”

    To make sure it always pays to work, some families cant afford to get a job and leave benefits at the moment.

  • “the Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”

    So what part of that says a left leaning party?
    So what part of that says a right leaning party?

    All I want to see is a Liberal Democrat party that espouses issues before rhetoric. Yes the coalition has done some horrible things, but I shudder to think what the tories would have done by themselves.

    Yes we could have effectively forced another general election – I really do not think we would have done very well out of that.

    We could have formed a coalition with Labour – they did not want us.

    Why can you not just be proud to be a member of the liberal Democrats, a proud party with a long history, actually working at the heart of government to try and build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. Unfortunately we are doing it in coalition with a quite extreme right wing conservative party, yet we are putting some real policies in place.

    No more factions, it does not help.

  • Growler has beaten me to the People’s Front Of Judea comment. It was the first thing that came into my mind, and it clearly isn’t just me thinking it. This all smacks of the sort of divisions that pulled the party down in its early years and what’s frustrating is there are plenty of outlets for people with all sorts of views about the coalition within the party already.

    Equidistance – this was always something we preached. You seem to want to abandon this. That would be a grave mistake, much like the foundation of a group that has an oxymoron as a title. Liberal Left?

  • Growler – you’ve put me in mind of another aposite quote from LoB:

    Mother: Huh…Naughtius Maximus* his name was. Hmm…promised me the known world, he did. I was to be taken to Rome, house by the Forums, slaves, asses’ milk, as much gold as I could eat. Then he, having his way with me he had; voom! Like a rat out of an aqueduct.
    Brian: He’s a ba5tard!

    * – AL Blair Esq.

  • mike cobley 15th Feb '12 - 1:41pm

    I’d rather be in a truly centre-left party because most of the problems that we face, nationally, regionally and globally, derive from actions and policies and out-&-out moonbat lunacy emanating from the Right!

    As for Labour’s antipathy towards the Liberal party (and therefore the LDs), it seems to me that we are witnessing from the Clegg leadership support for antipathy towards Labour’s postwar social democratic policies, as expressed in the NHS, state education, and welfare/benefits. The Attlee government put in place much of the social infrastructure which freed vast numbers of the poor and low-paid from the grinding squalor that characterised their lives pre-WW2, along with extensive legislation on health and safety, environmental matters, rights to abortion, etc etc etc. The Wilson governments, in which Roy Jenkins played leading roles, extended the rights and benefits of ordinary people and made possible avenues of health and education previously unknown to those lower down the ladder. Yet it has become abundantly clear over the last 2 years or more that there are those in this party who can scarcely conceal their dislike for anything created by the Labour party, however beneficial it may have been, because anything that can be tarred with the word ‘socialism’ just needs to be ripped out and thrown away.

    So forgive me if this retort seems to ramble, but the point needs to made, that we are living with and benefiting from the legacy of the pre-Thatcher Labour party. And it is no longer socialism – it is merely the way that we do democracy here in Britain.

  • Mike Cobley

    I suspect you’re not a party member. I had wrote a long and reasoned response to your obvious tilt for Labour Party membership, but I’m not sure you’re disposed to listen.

    I shall keep it to the suitably brief 1) remember where Atlee got his ideas 2) he mis-implemented those ideas creating massive hostages to fortune and expectation that cannot be met and 3) even his ideals have been corrupted in the current morass that is our taxation and welfare system.

  • *I had written*

  • Foregone Conclusion 15th Feb '12 - 1:54pm

    “The Wilson governments, in which Roy Jenkins played leading roles, extended the rights and benefits of ordinary people and made possible avenues of health and education previously unknown to those lower down the ladder.”

    Would that be the Roy Jenkins whose 1968 budget reintroduced prescription charges and put off the raising of the school leaving age in the name of economic prudence?

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Feb '12 - 2:10pm

    Nick Noble

    We could have formed a coalition with Labour – they did not want us.

    It was not just that – such a coalition would have lacked a majority, so would always be scrabbling around trying to secure support from the Northern Irish, SNP, PC and Green MPs. It would have been run down by the press as a “coalition of the losers”. Due to this and the hard decisions it would have to make, the Tories would be soaring in the opinion polls, and would win a landslide once they’d got the Ulster Unionists (after the government had thrown billions in to NI to try and keep them sweet) to back them in a No Confidence motion on their choice. I can imagine Caroline Lucas playing the Frank Maguire role (younger folks – go and look in your history books, sorry web pages, 1979 was the year). Plus it was time for a change of government, Labour had been there long enough. I say this as someone who given a choice with no other factors involved would definitely go for coalition with Labour rather than with the Tories. Let’s get away form the childish jibes that this must mean I am indistinguishable from Labour or a closet socialist or whatever – reality is that unless we have an outright majority, we have a choice only of a coalition with one or the other.

    What the 2010 general election showed was that a “hung Parliament” does not come down to us having a free choice of which of the other to form a coalition with. It depends on the balance of the two big parties, the number of minor party MPs, and the willingness of the other two parties. So, it showed that the endless question “Who would you ‘jump into bed’ with?” we were always being asked was a bit silly – it just does not work like that.

  • “OK, Linda Jack – let me ask you a question. How do you differentiate yourself from the Labour Party?”

    OK, Tabman – let me ask you a question. How do you differentiate yourself from the Conservative Party?

  • Mike Beckett – “I like Linda’s contribution to the party ” – every pearl needs its grit 😉

  • Matthew Huntbach – “What the 2010 general election showed was that a “hung Parliament” does not come down to us having a free choice of which of the other to form a coalition with. It depends on the balance of the two big parties, the number of minor party MPs, and the willingness of the other two parties. So, it showed that the endless question “Who would you ‘jump into bed’ with?” we were always being asked was a bit silly – it just does not work like that.”

    Agreed. And its something that all wings and none should take note of.

  • mike cobley 15th Feb '12 - 2:48pm

    Tabman: “I suspect you’re not a party member.” And you would be wrong, good sir. Been a party member before, during and since the merger (with a lapse in the mid-90s). And I suppose you would be broadly right about my not being disposed to listen to apologists for unspeakable Tory policies. I mean, I bet you even think of Blair and Brown as being leftwing!

  • Does Liberal Left include any MPs? If not, isn’t its influence likely to be rather limited?

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Feb '12 - 3:07pm

    I have been shocked by the ferocity of the attacks on Liberal Left since it was formed – and the illiberal nature of these attacks. I would rather hope that true liberals would support diversity, and even if they did not take that position themselves would be able to appreciate that some Liberal Democrats find the current coalition harder to stomach than others.

    Since the coalition was formed, there has been much comment along the lines of the Liberal Democrats having betrayed their principles and having become Tory puppets and the like. I think this is unfair – a junior coalition partner has only a limited influence, particularly if there is no alternative viable, so we are not able to direct the thrust of this government, we can only fill in some details. Also ministers of the junior party are somewhat constrained in the lengths to which they can attack the politics of the senior party. However, it has definitely led to a shift in people’s opinion about the party, so I would have thought a force within the party dedicated to correcting that shift is no bad thing.

    If we are to go into the next general election as an independent force, the possibility of a coalition with the Labour party must be as open as the possibility of a continuation of the current coalition. If it is not then it seem to me inevitable that our party will wither away, because a vote for it will seem to be just another way of voting Conservative.

    I spent 12 years as a Liberal Democrat councilor in a Labour majority council, 6 of those as Leader of the Opposition. I know very much from that time why I am not a Labour party supporter and what it is I don’t like about the Labour Party. Just because on the whole I dislike the Tories even more does not mean I can’t see the faults with Labour or that I can’t stand up to them. I do regard myself as being on the left politically, but I am utterly opposed to the socialist model of political party, which says there should be just one party of the left and an atmosphere of moral blackmail applied to try and force uncritical support of that party from all who believe there is a need for the values of the left to be forwarded – those values being to challenge established power in our society, a belief that poverty is one of the biggest restrictions on liberty, and a belief that unrestricted free market economics is enslaving without strong safeguards for those who don’t have against the power it gives to those who do.

  • Richard Marbrow 15th Feb '12 - 3:20pm

    Linda,

    I note your comment to Louise Shaw. I also joined a centrist party. in 1988.

  • mike cobley 15th Feb '12 - 3:23pm

    “Some have suggested Liberal Left is really a staging post for people who plan to defect to Labour, and that what is being done is a deliberately staged plan to maximise damage to the Lib Dems, and maximise advantage for Labour.”

    Not attributing this to you, George, merely to respond that it is blackly, ironically hilarious. For who else, if not the Clegg leadership and its supporters, have ruthlessly kept us on a course that has inflicted appalling damage on the party’s strength, its popularity and its core integrity – as well as the terrible social and economic cost, of course.

  • Andrew Suffield 15th Feb '12 - 3:44pm

    Yet it has become abundantly clear over the last 2 years or more that there are those in this party who can scarcely conceal their dislike for anything created by the Labour party, however beneficial it may have been, because anything that can be tarred with the word ‘socialism’ just needs to be ripped out and thrown away.

    Hardly. It’s all about what Labour have done since they ripped out the word “socialism” and threw it away. People don’t feel any real need to conceal their dislike for the Labour of the past decade.

  • Al Williams 15th Feb '12 - 3:58pm

    I think the concept of left, centre, and right is unhelpful. As I see it, liberalism entails the freedom to think outside of an doctrinal straightjacket so as to arrive at radical solutions. The key thing about liberals is that we are moderate in the way we do politics, not in the content of our policies.

  • I value Linda’s continuing contribution to the party and as others have said we are a broad church and I hope we remain so. However, I can’t cheer the creation of Liberal Left the way I wholeheartedly cheered the formation of the SLF – though I’ll reserve judgment until they’ve settled in a bit 🙂

    I don’t agree with some of the more strident attacks on LL and I think they have as much right to make their voice heard as any other internal party grouping, but it’s also true that they’ve taken a deliberately – and publicly – confrontational stance. There is a difference between disagreeing and opposing, and Liberal Left have made it quite clear that they simply oppose our position in the coalition, and therefore that they oppose virtually everything our MPs do from now until 2015. I don’t think this is helpful.

    And while I think it’s very important that we rebuild a constructive dialogue with Labour in the runup to 2015 so that we have real options in the event of a hung parliament, I don’t think saying “ugh, we hate the Tories, please can we get into bed with you” is a fantastic opening position from our side. Not to mention that it really doesn’t represent the whole party, and I’d be surprised if it even represents a majority.

    I lean much more towards Labour than the Conservatives. I voted Labour (tactically, I hasten to add) in 2001 and 2005. In 2010 the boundary changes made my seat a safe Tory one rather than the Labour-Tory marginal it had been before, so I voted Lib Dem for the first time in a General Election (hooray). But if the boundaries hadn’t changed I might even have given Labour a tactical vote again, though it would have been a much closer call than when it was Blair vs Hague / Howard.

    In spite of that I would have been dismayed if we’d gone into coalition with Labour in 2010. The election outcome made it clear the country wanted a change of government and if we had blocked that change we would have been (justifiably) labelled as un-democratic. Especially since our leader said on countless occasions that he would give first hearing to whichever party won the most support in the election. The Conservatives won the most votes and the most seats. How on earth could we possibly have tried to prop up another Labour government under those circumstances?

    Furthermore, while I disagree with Cameron on many (many, many) things, he is by far the most centrist and liberal Tory leader in a generation, and probably the least right-wing Tory leader we’re likely to get for the forseeable future. If we had backed Gordon Brown over David Cameron we would effectively have been announcing that we would never, under ANY circumstances, even consider a partnership with the Conservative party. How would that make us anything other than Labour Lite? If we really want to take that position, we’d probably have more influence as an internal pressure group – perhaps called Liberal Left – in the Labour party.

    Finally – Nick de Bois? Really? I might equally say I disagree with everything John Reid or Charles Clarke says, therefore I have nothing in common with the Labour party. Would you really disagree with everything Ken Clarke says? Do you disagree with David Cameron over getting more women into boardrooms? How about Tim Montgomerie (hardly a representative of the Tories’ liberal wing) on his support for gay marriage? Surely we of all parties are capable of seeing the world – and politics – in colours other than black and white.

  • Tony Greaves 15th Feb '12 - 5:08pm

    The Liberal Party and Liberal Democrats have been on the centre-left at least since the early 1960s and arguably for most of their existence. Just a fact.

    What this means is that some members are more left and others more centrist but all are Liberals. But it means that rightwingers are not at home here.

    Liberty, equality and community, taken together, are distinctly leftwing concepts.

    This is not socialism, it is not labourism, and it’s certainly not New Labour Blairism. It’s the distinctive radical Liberal tradition we have in this country. There is the Liberal left and the socialist left (and indeed some others).

    Tony Greaves
    (a fairly leftwing Liberal)

  • Bill le Breton 15th Feb '12 - 5:17pm

    There have been a lot of changes in our party in the last four years – a real changing of the guard in terms of leadership and direction. One of the political skills which I think has been lost in the process is that of party management. Not a glamorous job but essential in effective party politics.

    I think the sudden arrival of all these bodies reflects that. They could be helpful, but they could be dangerous – especially if party management continues to be ignored.

    Perhaps the new guard would say that they are conviction politicians rather than pragmatists. Or perhaps they just didn’t realize that this kind of management is an important function.

    Part of party management is ensuring that people who are opinion formers are neither excluded nor allowed to feel excluded. All their experience, creativity and energy needs to be harnessed for the good of the whole.

    The Ashdown and Kennedy leaderships were proficient at this. They understood the need for balance in all appointments, for listening to opposing views, for reconciliation and the widest possible involvement.

    Power makes the need for such management even more necessary. It does not look like it is happening and it needs to.

  • It’s an interesting thought that, out of government, we always took pride in the fact we didn’t have factions within the party (or at least those that were there were so small as to be insignificant.) Now, within 2 years of being in government, there’s at least three clear groupings emerging – is there a connection?

    Someone likened this to the People’s Front of Judea / Judean People’s Front. An strong analogy, particularly given that this part of “Life of Brian” is itself a satire of the Left’s unnatural ability to split and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It concerns me that while we have both the SLF (which I support) and Liberal Left we’re more likely to end up trying to shout at each other rather than try to get centre-left policies which we all claim to support into the Government programme. Indeed, others have pointed out that some of the Liberal Left spokespeople (not, it has to be said, Linda) will only provide fodder for the cannons of the Telegraph and Mail.

    I’ve always seen the Liberal Democrats as a centre party. I remember the Spitting Image sketches of Paddy:
    “Paddy, how would you like your cup of tea?”
    “Neither with milk nor without milk, but somewhere in between.”
    We always had left-of-centre people (Simon Hughes, Charles Kennedy) as well as right-of-centre (Ed Davey, David Alton.) I consider myself as left-of-centre, but I’m quite happy sharing the party with those on the right (except those who really should be in the Tories!)

  • Joe Donnelly 15th Feb '12 - 5:24pm

    @Tony Greaves

    Shock horror Tony Greaves claims wing of party he’s supported and pushed for all his life is only wing of party allowed to exist and use the parties name.

  • Joe Donnelly 15th Feb '12 - 5:26pm

    Continuing from last comment…

    I’m not sure right-wingers are right to be in this party either to be honest…

    I just suspect we have very different definitions of what right-wing is.

  • Tony Grieves – “Liberty, equality and community, taken together, are distinctly leftwing concepts.”

    Ermm … we’ve just had a century dominated by leftwing governments all around the world that didnt figure very highly on the Liberty scale.

    Equality? Of opportunity, yes. Of outcome, no. That way Labour lies.

  • Joe Donnelly: “I just suspect we have very different definitions of what right-wing is.”

    Easy: authoritarian, nationalist, socially conservative, anti-meritocratic, economically protectionist.

    Together with left wing: authoritarian, nationalist, socially conservative, anti-meritocratic, economically protectionist.

  • KL – best spitting image sketch ever:

    David: So how are we going to decide the merger?
    David: Let’s take one word from your party, and one word from mine.
    David: Yes?
    David: We’ll have “Party” from your party, and “Social Democrat” from mine.
    David: and the leader?
    David: we’ll take on word from your name, David, and one from mine, Owen.
    David: so we’ll be the Social Democrat Party led by David Owen?
    David: yes, that’s right
    David: Oh David, you’re so masterful

  • Well done Linda for speaking out for those of us on the Left of the Party who thought we were being sidelined, marginalised or ignored by the MPs and leadership!

    I certainly support LibLeft as our only hope of survival as a distinctive political Party, and the caucus of a future and necessary (esp in view of Labour’s implosion) realignment of politics to oppose Tory unfairness and return to Thatcherism and selfish anti-society ‘I’m all right Jack’ greed and self interest!

  • Nick (not Clegg) 15th Feb '12 - 5:57pm

    If I were still a member of the Liberal Democrats I would find the above debate extremely depressing; as I am not, I find it highly entertaining: “those whom the gods destroy … ”

    Perhaps the diminishing band (or should that be bands?) of Liberal Democrats should set up a commission to find out what they are.!

    Peoples’ front to Judea of Judea? I don’t think so: you’ve got more in common with the Ouslem Bird

  • David Orr – “selfish anti-society ‘I’m all right Jack’ greed and self interest”

    Quite amusing given the author’s name 😀

  • NnC – methinks you doth protest too much; given how much you love hanging out with the people you’ve left

  • Charles Kennedy warned one the eve of the Birmingham special conference that the Party risked “loosing it’s political compass” from aligning with the tories too closely in Coalition – at the time I didn’t understand what he was worrying about – surely with sound principles, clear policy underpinned by the democratic support of our conference, a carefully crafted coalition agreement, independently minded Peers, MPs in touch with their voters and communities who put them there, strong Ministers in the frame, and dealing with “new” tory party wrapped in compassion and fairness narratives, the story was simply that we would be arguing for lib dem values, principles and policies within Government, shaping the agenda accordingly and pushing at open doors to implement progressive policies …

    But now I am in no doubt that coalition with the tories has skewed our values and priorities – on so many issues (and especially areas of policy outside the coalition agreement as most of the legislation currently before Parliament is) we’re sounding, looking, talking and voting like 1980s tories using their language and justifications. We’ve walked into all their traps and have very little to show for it. We’ve voted, and in some cases cheerleaded, for whole swathes of Government policy and legislation which contradicts agreed lib dem policy. Our ‘partners’ have run rings around us.

    You may have a pop at LL for their strategy, style, presentation and arrival on the scene – but on the big issue of who the hell are we as a political movement now – lightweight tories or heavy weight progressive radicals, LL have called it exactly right.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Feb '12 - 8:05pm

    Catherine

    Furthermore, while I disagree with Cameron on many (many, many) things, he is by far the most centrist and liberal Tory leader in a generation,

    No he is not. The sort of politics he is pushing would have been regarded as loony right back in the days when Margaret Thatcher was leading the Conservative Party. Apart from being more relaxed on gay rights, I find it hard to think of anything where Cameron is more centrist than his predecessors. The claim that he is “more centrist and liberal” is pure propaganda pumped out by his friends in the right-wing press to try and make his extremist politics seem centrist. Why do so many members of the Liberal Democrats (or people who say they are) seem so keen on believing this Tory propaganda line?

  • Nick (not Clegg) 15th Feb '12 - 8:30pm

    Tabman: “equality of opportunity -yes, of outcome – no!”. What a meaningless slogan. Please explain how you expect to achieve equality of opportunity in a society where the outcomes from preceding generations and hence the starting points of this and subsequent generations are so unequal.
    Sadly, that is not where Labour lies; the Wilson, Callaghan, Blair and Brown governments did little or nothing to address the issue. And, although Clegg mouths the words “equality of opportunity” from time to time, his actions in supporting the policies of the present government are such that his words are, at best, empty rhetoric.

    No, LibDems, I am not happy to hang our with you. Prior to 2010, i never visited this site; i was far too busy campaigning. The LibDems are now practically defunct as a campaigning entity in my area and I have no desire to help revive them. I therefore have time to waste occasionally reading entries on this site (today I combined that activity with listening to cricket on TMS) and, less frequently, commenting on some of them

    Louise Shaw – it must be nice to feel that there is one party worth supporting. and that it is somehow different from the other two. But consider this: Blair made the Labour Party electable (for a while) by turning it into a second conservative party. Clegg has made the LibDems unelectable by turning them into a third conservative party. What possible need is there for two and a bit conservative parties?

  • paul barker 15th Feb '12 - 8:37pm

    A lot of the confusion around this debate come from the existence of 2 very different Left Traditions, one based on Ideas & Values & the other on Identity.
    We say “Vote for us if you agree with our Ideas or share our Values.”
    Labour say ” Vote for us if you feel you belong to or identify with one of these Groups”.

    Its a completely different & opposed view of how Politics should work, its why Labour often see us as “Traitors” – they cant get our motives.
    The “2 Lefts” are as far apart as either is from The Right.

  • ‘OK, Linda Jack – let me ask you a question. How do you differentiate yourself from the Labour Party? What is so different about the Liberal Left ..’ Really! I am sure you can read? Mr. Tabman (or whatever your real name)? lol

    ‘(not a phrase I recognise personally)?’ – actually quite an easily recognisable phrase and in common usage

    ‘I joined because the LibDems are a centrist party.’ (Linda Shaw) Oh dear! Have you read the Party’s manifestos? Well I recommend some bedtime reading and there are some good biogs. on Jo Grimond, David Steel et el plus some books on the post war Liberal Party. The modern post war Liberal Party (in fact you can go back to the Yellow Book of 1929) have traditionally and esp. since the time of Jo Grimond supported a welfare state, NHS, free comprehensive education (which Academies/free schools serve to undermine and (un)democratise), pro-EU (leading to a united Europe), internationalist, Civil liberties/human rights (which previous Labour government undermined and where Tories would love to do the same) ; mixed economy (against for instance rail privatisation); Keynesian Economics, anti-nuclear power, anti-nuclear weapons, green ecology and green energy; care for the environment (in which both Tory and Labour in power have run roughshod); federalism; electoral reform by the STV, elected Upper House and a host of other reforms too numerous to mention – but Linda non of the above would really suggest the Liberals are exactly boringly middle of the road centrist.
    Finally and to quote the old adage if you sit in the middle of the road you just get f…….g run over by the next passing truck! Sadly that is what the current leadership especially Ministers seem hell bent on doing – perhaps they should read a bit of the Party’s history, long held beliefs and philosophy. Or is there a hidden agenda to morph into an adjunct of the Tories and get a few crumbs from the rich man’s table – didn’t we see that in 1920s?

  • I am finding it hard to see realism in this debate. We have people defining themselves as centrist, in bitter disagreement with people who define themseles as centre-left. Presumably a centre-leftist would naturally prefer to oppose the Tories, while a centrist would prefer to keep an open mind on which of the other two parties, if either, they could work with in government.

    If we were anywhere near either of these two positions, I would be reasonably satisfied. We are not. Our leadership is clearly determined to embed us into the Greater Conservative Movement in perpetuity. That is the elephant in the room which this debate is desperately trying to overlook.

    Thanks to Liberal Left for beginning to wake up and smell the coffee!

  • Paul Westlake 15th Feb '12 - 10:38pm

    Which Labour policy on tuition fees do Liberal Left find most attractive?

    Do Liberal Left think Labour’s conduct during the AV referendum single them out as people we can do business with?

    Does any prominent member of Liberal Left work in the private, wealth-generating sector?

    I’d be interested to know.

  • David Off – “‘OK, Linda Jack – let me ask you a question. How do you differentiate yourself from the Labour Party? What is so different about the Liberal Left ..’ Really! I am sure you can read? Mr. Tabman (or whatever your real name)? lol”

    Indulge me and answer the question.

  • Ah, David Allen, I do love a good conspiracy theory.

  • This launch of Liberal Left is nothing other than a stunt – it’s founders are already well-known for working with the Labour party and other left-wing groups. This is nothing new.

    We must stand in elections not with a policy of equidistance, but a strong, liberal agenda. If the Tories are closer to our Liberal agenda, so be it – we shouldn’t budge.

    By forming our agenda around other parties, we dilute both message and influence, and we allow other people to write our story for us.

    Rather than form groups trying to drag the Lib Dems into the arms of another (non-liberal) party, why not write a manifesto and campaign on policies which free people from ignorance, poverty and conformity and take a view on coalition-building based on a) the will of the electorate and b) which other parties will help us achieve these goals.

    Independence, not equidistance….and certainly not an annexe of a clueless party who support and oppose everything at the same time. It just won’t work.

  • If Liberal Left’s inbox is anything to go by the main concern should not be the nonsense about who is planning to defect to Labour but the steady stream of ordinary members who are leaving the party altogether. A very significant part of the party feels battered and bruised by the battles on EMA, ESA, childcare tax credit, child benefit, abolition of the social fund, the NHS and tuition fees. It would be interesting to know whether there’s anything the Tories could do that would alienate certain contributors to LDV. War in Iran?

    Geoffrey Payne’s post is very thoughtful but he asks what is the point of talking to Labour in 2010? Well mainly because it’s actually 2012 and we are already so closely identified with the Tories in the electorate’s eyes that if we don’t re-balance the situation we might as well have done with it and plan for a coupon election.

  • Ruth, a very significant part of our party also feels like we are achieving things we set out to do.

    I don’t need to list them all here, but some of us joined the Lib Dems to change things and to put our manifesto into practice.

    Interestingly, the members survey also shows a significant majority of Lib Dem supporters support the coalition’s curbs on benefits. Every poll on the subject shows that a majority of Lib Dem identified voters also support a benefits cap.

    Sure, I take issue with some of the specifics, but I’d hardly say that the Lib Dems as a whole have been particularly battered by the welfare reforms. Try putting out a survey with a ‘national issues’ section and see how many people want to see an end to the benefits poverty trap where going to work loses you money.

  • LondonLiberal 16th Feb '12 - 9:11am

    “two thirds of those voting for us at the last General Election described themselves as more in favour of left wing than right wing policies”

    that says it all – we are leftists, not centrists, or centre right-ists. and renouncing that fundamental truth is why we’ve lost so many members, activists, cllrs, voters….

  • Leekliberal 16th Feb '12 - 9:32am

    And the membership numbers of the ‘Liberal Left’ is ?

  • I am a centrist. Does that mean I am equidistant in all things from Conservative on one hand and Labour on the other? Of course not. The point is that I am free to make up my own mind as to which (if any) I am closest to on any issue – provided I fall within the broad church of overall Liberal Democrat principle and do not seek to destroy our current coalition.

    What depresses me about too many of the posts in this thread which are supporting the formation of Liberal Left is the distinct impression that they are railing against the reality of what it means to be in a coalition goverenment. Too many of them long for the comfort of opposition – with talk of “propping up the Tories” etc. Any different if we were “propping up Labour” do you think- especially a Labour Party that left behind socialism or anything like it many years ago?

    What we must not do is allow ourselves (in this period of coalition with the Conservatives which I regard as an immensely exciting and seminal period in our Party’s history) to become so alienated from Labour that it would be very difficult to do a deal with them after the next election if that is where the arithmetic points. We all know overall majority for us is a long way off. Therefore we need to make coalition government work. Announcing that we are in effect an offshoot of either of the other 2 major parties just doesn’t fit that agenda.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Feb '12 - 12:38pm

    Mike Shaw

    This launch of Liberal Left is nothing other than a stunt – it’s founders are already well-known for working with the Labour party and other left-wing groups. This is nothing new.

    Why the dismissive comment? It seems to me they have a serious point to make. I would like to think I am in a party whose members are gown up enough and liberal enough to accept that others may have different views from them, and they have a right to express those views, to be given a hearing, and to be taken for what they are saying unless there is very firm evidence otherwise.

    We must stand in elections not with a policy of equidistance, but a strong, liberal agenda. If the Tories are closer to our Liberal agenda, so be it – we shouldn’t budge.

    I don’t myself believe the Tories have a more Liberal agenda than the Labour Party. Until very recently, there was a lot of comment about the Liberal Democrats and “re-alignment of the left”, which seemed to assume we were closer to the Labour Party. In fact it seems to me that the abuse thrown at “Liberal Left” would have been better thrown at those who were full of such talk at the time of Blair’s leadership of the Labour Party. One might note that the firmest opponent of some sort if re-alignment which would find Blair and the then Liberal Democrat leadership together in one party or at least permanent coalition were the LEFT of the Liberal Democrats. So it would seem to me that it is those who are throwing abuse at Liberal Left who have the simplistic one-dimensional view of politics which cannot get round the idea that some people may be on the left politically and yet may make a firm distinction between that and being members of the Labour Party.

    By forming our agenda around other parties, we dilute both message and influence, and we allow other people to write our story for us.

    Well, it was you who wrote later “some of us joined the Lib Dems to change things and to put our manifesto into practice”. Personally I would prefer a move away from thinking of political parties in Leninist terms where they put forward Five Year Plans in manifestos, my opposition to that way of thinking is one of the things that puts me off the Labour Party. I would have preferred it had you put “values” rather than “manifesto”, but ok, I take your point. Now from that point follows that if we are practical people who must do what we can to get what we want done, we have to work with others. Again, that is something which divides me from Labour Party types. I don’t want to seize power and do what I want never mind how much of the population really supports me – I want an electoral system in which all shades of opinion are represented in proportion to their size amongst the people and policies are put forward after debate which ensures they have genuine majority support. So, if we are to work with others what is wrong with the idea that we must work with parties to the left as well as parties to the right? It would seem to me we need a new form of politics which is open to the reality of working with others, instead of one which is about forming a Leninist Five Year Plan as if we were going to come in with a revolution and force it without reference to anyone else.

    Rather than form groups trying to drag the Lib Dems into the arms of another (non-liberal) party, why not write a manifesto and campaign on policies which free people from ignorance, poverty and conformity and take a view on coalition-building based on a) the will of the electorate and b) which other parties will help us achieve these goals.

    Er, isn’t there a big thing you are missing here? Right now our party IS in a group which is dragging it into the arms of another political party, it’s called “The Coalition”.

    Independence, not equidistance….and certainly not an annexe of a clueless party who support and oppose everything at the same time. It just won’t work.

    So if we are to maintain our independence, surely we need to do something to balance that big thing. Why do you suppose merely opening up talks with “the other side” is to make us “an annexe of a clueless party” in a way an actual formal coalition with the one we are in coalition with now does not?

    The 2010 general election showed we do not always have a choice over whom we might have to go into coalition with. The coalition with the Conservatives surprised and shocked many people, but it was what the balance in Parliament following the 2010 election led to. Another time i could be the case that a Labour-LibDem coalition is viable but a Conservative-LibDem coalition is not. I would like to live in a country which was mature about such things instead of making endless accusations about “propping up” and “jumping into bed” if there is an sort of co-operation between different parties. Sad to say, because we don’t live in such a country, very few people outside the Liberal Democrats have taken a mature attitude to the formation of the coalition, hence the widespread belief that it means we have made a decisive political move to the right and it is a coalition of ideological partners rather than one brought about through necessity and acceptance of what democracy has given us. I believe this immature coverage make it even more vital that we do more to show we as a party have not closed down our thinking towards the possibility of alternative forms of co-operation in the future. I am shocked, shocked and disgusted, at the immature way people in my party, who I supposed were liberals, have reacted to this formation of a group which has that aim of keeping the other door open.

  • Simon Bamonte 16th Feb '12 - 2:03pm

    It seems, to me, that the response to LL (and I’ve seen the same response to the SLF on these pages) is completely illiberal. Have LL touched a nerve? To me, a left-of-centre voter, LL and the SLF are simply pushing for policy that we campaigned and stood on in 2010. I have seen people who support both the SLF and LL called names and accused of trying to wreck the coalition whenever they have spoken out against “tough decisions” we have made in government.

    You see, there are coalitions and there are coalitions. I’ve noticed how coalitions in Europe rarely get much done, are unstable and usually (apart from the case of Greece) are not very radical or reforming. This is because European parties in coalitions seem to keep their identities and put forth strong red lines which they will not cross. We have, in my opinion, pretty much given the Tories no red lines. Is there anything at all we are unwilling to compromise on? From tuition fees, the deficit, attacks on the disabled, massive unemployment and NHS reforms, we’ve given too much and received far, far too little in return. We’ve compromised on almost everything we stood on in 2010. We have, in my opinion again, lost our distinct identity. We’ve let the Tories run rings around us, use us, and humiliate us and for what? The Pupil Premium? What, exactly, are we or our supporters (the few who are left) getting out of this coalition apart from possible electoral wipeout? The NHS reforms are a case in point. The majority of the public, the medical profession and even our party do not want them. Over 130,000 people have signed the e-petition for the bill to be dropped. They were not in the coalition agreement and should not have ever gone as far as they have. But we seem stuck with them. Witness Clegg’s anger at Tory rebels on NHS reform, where he was quoted as saying it makes trouble for him!! He’s not worried about the effect these reforms will have on the public or the NHS, he’s worried about his own party rebelling on an issue we SHOULD be rebelling on. He is more concerned with keeping Cameron happy than he is his party, its voters and the public’s wishes.

    Now let us assume the Coalition lasts until 2015. What is our identity post-coalition going to be? How will we differentiate ourselves from the Tories when we have crossed so many red lines in coalition and failed to say “NO” to so many instances of illiberal Tory policy? How, exactly, will people be able to trust us in 2015? All the talk of us being in a coalition and a European-style party rings hollow when we have been willing to compromise on too much. Yes, coalitions about compromise, but they are also about saying “NO” when lines could be crossed. I simply don’t see our ministers saying no to the Tories often enough. Looking at coalitions on the continent, I don’t see parties there completely losing their identity and capitulating so frequently as we have (again Greece right now is an exception).

    So how will we “sell” ourselves in 2015? What will we point to to say “Look, we’re different from the Tories because…”? We’ve lost most of our left-of-centre vote (especially in the North, Wales and in Scotland) and they aren’t coming back in the near future. We could take the lead on binning the horrid NHS refroms, as I believe the SLF advocate. We could be on the side of the public by doing that and it would be great political capital in 2015 to be the party who saved the NHS. But Clegg will never let this happen.

    Like Clegg, too many people in the party are now too concerned with keeping the Tories sweet. They are business partners in this coalition and nothing else. The people we should be most concerned with keeping sweet are our voters, especially the ones who may have left. I myself have voted SDP/Liberal/Alliance/LD since the 1980s but as a left-of-centre person myself, I highly doubt I can support the party in 2015 if we keep on our current trajectory.

    We need to listen to all parts of the party. Especially those, like myself, who despair at the rightward drift and failure to maintain our identity and core beliefs in this folly of a coalition. If LL and the SLF still advocate policy we stood on in 2010, who, exactly, are the so-called “splitters”?

  • I keep seeing this assertion “two thirds of LD voters are left wing”; what evidence supports this?

  • LondonLiberal 16th Feb '12 - 4:15pm

    @ Simon – well said. a nice speech! i hope that’s the basis for somehtign at a forthcoming conference – those words need to be heard more widely (although one might argue that saying them at a libdem conference means no one will hear!)

    Tabman – i don’t have a specific source but that proportion accords with official polls and studies i have seen in the past. the indy (or was it the times?) used to do a left-right spectrum at conference time every year asking activists and voters of all the parties where they would place themselves on a left-right line, and libdems were to the left of labour (and obviously the tories) on activists and, i think, on voters. i think also the evidence that we have lost just inder two thirds of our support since the election suggests something in the region of that proportion as well, although there are obviously a lot of caveats to that.

  • London Liberal – I hardly think a sample of conference activists is representative of mainstream voter opinion. In anycase you’ve answered my point. No hard evidence.

  • “In anycase you’ve answered my point. No hard evidence.”

    As he said, opinion polls. To be honest I’d have thought this stuff was too well known to need spelling out.

    For example, here’s a BBC page giving polling data on second preferences in recent general elections. From 1997 onwards you can see the Lib Dem second preferences would have favoured Labour over the Tories by at least 2-to-1:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8506306.stm

    Of course, that wouldn’t be the case now, because you’ve lost the support of many of those left-leaning voters.

  • @Tabman

    “I keep seeing this assertion “two thirds of LD voters are left wing”; what evidence supports this?”

    I would be amazed if the proportion is so small. All ‘left wing’ means is ‘supports progressive change’. It is only rightwingers who have given it a perjorative slant, in which cause they conspire with state socialists who tried to claim the term for their own brand of conservatism. I am sure Tabman is ‘left wing’. It may just not be a term he chooses to describe himself.

  • Tony Dawson: “supports progressive change” =/ “left wing”

    We all know that phrases have wider meanings than those you might choose to give them (as my own vain attempts to argue against using “Orange Book” in the perjorative show).

    The people setting up Liberal Left know full well what the term “Left wing” means to them, and its not something to which I am happy to subscribe given its connotations with state socialism and repression.

  • Londonliberal 18th Feb '12 - 4:32pm

    Tabman- read my post more carefully. It was a poll each of voters and activists that was published round conference time, not of conference activists. And as a proper opinion poll, it is hard evidence. As is the loss of 13% in the polls.

  • LL – link or citation please.

  • Alex Macfie 19th Feb '12 - 2:48pm

    @KL:

    We always had left-of-centre people (Simon Hughes, Charles Kennedy) as well as right-of-centre (Ed Davey, David Alton.)

    David Alton? Really right-of-centre? He is best known for his stance on abortion, which is primarily what led to his break with the party — not per se his being anti-abortion, as there are also other prominent Libs and Lib Dems who are anti-abortion, but the fact that he chose to make it his No. 1 campaign issue. However, he also voted to lower the gay age of consent to 16 when he was still an MP. His Catholicism certainly influences his politics, but he is not, and never was, a straightforward religious fundamentalist.

    I used to have a book written by him (What Kind of Country?, published in the late 1980s), and apart from the chapter on abortion, its content suggests he was rather on the left of the Liberals at that time.

  • LondonLiberal 20th Feb '12 - 11:29am

    Tabman – sometimes you read things and remember them, and don’t have a URL to link them to because, hey, guess what, not everything that has ever bene written is necessarily on the net, and indeed not everything on the net is necessarily true. You can choose to believe me or not, i don’t really care. But if you want to look up the data, i’d start by searching the times or indy for our conference season from the early and middle years of the last decade.

  • LondonLiberal 20th Feb '12 - 2:47pm

    ok tabman, on the libdem wiki page a reference cites this source (as one of many potential ones i would imagine): 7.^ “Anthony Wells looks at our Lib Dem results”. http://today.yougov.co.uk/commentaries/guest/anthony-wells-looks-our-lib-dem-results. Retrieved 18 December 2010. . On a left right scale 65% of Liberal Democrat members identify themselves as being left-of-centre, with an average score on a scale of -100 (very left wing) to +100 (very right wing) of -32

    happy with that citation?

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Feb '12 - 4:34pm

    Alex McFie

    David Alton? Really right-of-centre? He is best known for his stance on abortion, which is primarily what led to his break with the party — not per se his being anti-abortion, as there are also other prominent Libs and Lib Dems who are anti-abortion, but the fact that he chose to make it his No. 1 campaign issue.

    Absolutely – Alton was always firmly to the left of the party. Abortion in those days was not seen as a definite left-right issue, and it should not now – there were then, and perhaps there are even now, Labour MPs who were hardline socialists well to the left of the party, but nevertheless anti-abortion. Alton is perhaps the great lost leader of the Liberal left – his personal views on abortion came to dominate his thinking, but he would see them as an inseparable part of the rest, and therefore not something he could sideline. The failure of the left to accommodate people like Alton is having the unfortunate effect of pushing many to the right who are rather cynically using this issues – maybe not so much here in the UK, but very much so in the US.

  • I know I am bit late to the party but need to get my 2c in.

    I was considering voting Lib Dem next election believing them to be a centrist party rather than a center left party. Reading the comments on this article made me think twice and after some research I can say with confidence the Liberal Democrats are in fact a left wing party and should probably rename themselves the Social Democrats.

    All the disillusioned centrist posters here should consider joining the (actual) Liberal Party (www.liberal.org.uk) . It may be tiny, but at least you won’t have to rub shoulders with closet Marxists.

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