Y’know those stories about the death of the Lib Dems? Turns out, they might’ve been exaggerated…

As Samuel Ellis Rees points out today:

And as I noted last week, after the Lib Dems had gained four seats from the Tory party:

And yes, before the Lib Dem-baiting starts in the comments below, I’m well aware that local council by-elections need to be taken with a liberal pinch of salt and that none of this alters the party’s flat-lining poll ratings. But the main point remains: in spite of everything, the party’s still alive. Speculation of our demise, as so often in the past, is premature…

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Tom Richards 14th Dec '12 - 11:15am

    Although worth bearing in mind a lot of them were gains from the VERY low base of May 2011

  • How many of them were gains from the Tories (or ‘condependents’)? I’ll bet the majority. In which case this could simply reflect their support base drifting across to UKIP, not to parties on their left – which might bring short-term results but is not so good news for you in the long run as it suggests prevailing attitudes are hardening away from the LD position. There is a certain amount of poetic justice for the Tories with the AV fiasco, of course…

  • On the local byelections, a more reliable indicator is the change in vote share, particularly in seats we last fought in may, so far the average change is around zero, suggesting we hit bottom in the summer. The reason we have been gaining seats is that while rises were outnumbered by falls the rises were bigger.

    On our death, remember 1989, the greens got 15% in the euros, we got 6%. The media was full of talk of us being “replaced” by the greens, sound familiar ?

  • I always vote LD in council elections, because I always trust the ‘domestic’ issues of the borough to be handled best by them. The Focus newsletters tell, what LD’s are trying to achieve locally, and transparently tell what has, and has not, been achieved. And for what it is worth, I too walked the garden paths a decade ago, avoiding the teeth of angry Chiwawas’, to deliver those Focus newsletters.
    However my perception of local LD’s and national LD’s, is that they appear so removed from each other, as to be almost two separate political entities.!
    Words like demise and collapse have an inherent immediacy about them. But a building can collapse in 30 seconds, and an Empire can collapse over 30 years. So any demise of the LD’s can appear slow, and quite ‘glacial’.
    Considering Clegg and the Liberal Democrats national policies,.. and their rigid views on Europe in spite of the complete opposite in public opinion, (at least 56%), and the coming elections in 2014 & 2015, I am reminded of the 1985 film Runaway Train.
    In the final scenes Jon Voight, climbs atop the diesel train that has no brakes and very little track left, and begins to ‘surf ride’ the train into the mist, knowing full well that oblivion for him, and the train, looms.
    It’s a poignant, tragic, and thought provoking end.
    Maybe, the lesson to be learned, is that at a national level, LD’s, are way,.. way out of their depth, and should perhaps stay local.? Whatever the case, I will continue to vote LD in council elections, and UKIP in all other elections, (despite the fact that I hate the UKIP party).
    I and 56% of the population, are desperate to rid ourselves of this EU, sovereignty and cash, sucking Death Star. And it is your fault,.. the fault of the three main parties, by denying us a vote, that we have to resort to voting for a party, we frankly can’t stand, in order to wrench from the grasping, avaricious, megalomaniac hand of Europe, some semblance of true democracy back.
    If only I’d known back in 75, what I know now. *..Sigh..*

  • Peter Watson 14th Dec '12 - 1:34pm

    No Lib Dem supporter takes joy in the dire performance in the polls. There appears to be a split between those who see evidence that the party must change its direction, and those who believe everything will turn out fine so steady as she goes. That is what underpins every debate about opinion polls and minor elections.
    The big question is how the party should approach the general election in 2015, and beyond.

  • Cllr Colin Strong 14th Dec '12 - 1:37pm

    12th October 1990: The Thatcher dead parrot sketch at Conservative conference.
    18th October 1990: Lib Dems gain Eastbourne from the Conservatives in Parliamentary By-election.
    22nd November 1990: Margaret Thatcher declines to run in 2nd ballot of Tory Leadership election and effectively resigns as PM.

  • Colin Strong
    Yes, I remember Eastbourne well. I spent one morning of my few days there canvassing (and having a brief pub lunch) with a not very well known activist, called, I think, Vince Cable. The level of motivation in the party at that time, to emerge from the dark days of competition with Doctor Death’s (rather right wing) rump non-SDP, was extraordinarily high. I did not get a feeling of members drifting away, of lack of enthusiasm, that is evident now. Above all, there was a desire to hit Thatcher, and Thatcherism, very hard indeed, which is little to be seen now. Instead we see coalition support for the neo-Thatcherite Cameron, and many in our party whose economic prospectus is little different.

    It is, of course, welcome to make these several unexpected gains from the Tories (mainly), but let’s not get carried away that members and potential supporters are going to support the (neo) Liberal Democrats in sufficient numbers to make much impact in a General Election.

  • “On the local byelections, a more reliable indicator is the change in vote share, particularly in seats we last fought in may, so far the average change is around zero, suggesting we hit bottom in the summer.”

    For what it’s worth, it suggests support isn’t very different from what it was in the Summer, but that’s hardly surprising, considering the polls have been showing Lib Dem support at about the same level for the past two years. To conclude the party has “hit bottom” can’t be more than wishful thinking – obviously no amount of local election results will tell us what’s going to happen in the future.

    At the risk of stating (or rather repeating) the obvious, by-election results are almost bound to be better than they were a year or two ago, because the seats were mostly last fought in 2011 and 2012, after the post-election decline in the party’s popularity. Of the by-elections in November and December shown on the ALDC website which can sensibly be compared with the previous results, I reckon 32 out of 35 were last fought in 2011 or 2012.

  • Liberal Eye 14th Dec '12 - 3:36pm

    Congratulations to those who made these results possible. It illustrates once again the gulf between local activists who do well DESPITE everything and a national party that’s wholly unfit for purpose. This isn’t new; it’s a long-standing situation that’s been exposed by being in government.

    I first got involved back in the 1980s because I saw that Thatcherism was a false prospectus (although I couldn’t have provided chapter and verse of precisely why back then) and felt there had to be a better alternative. All the national party has done since then is row in circles while a small cabal at the top plotted how they could attain some pittance of power. Their eventual conclusion? Evidendly not by working out a liberal alternative but by going native and joining the neo-Thatcherites.

  • Public opinion rarely keeps pace with events. In the case of current opinion poll ratings the wider public (ie media) is only starting to wake up to the full consequences of the 2008 financial crunch.

  • I thought, John Dunn, you were told fairly forcibly when you last wrote this UKIP – inspired rewriting of 1975 etc history, that what we were voting for was a political Europe rather than the EFTA version of “trade Europe” (seen as the alternative at that time). I know it is much more straightforward to think in terms of “they have moved away from what we voted for”, but I’m afraid it just ain’t so.

  • 1990!
    Those were the days! Before New Labour, obviously before the post Brown revival of Labour’s shallow enticements to liberal thinkers. When pro-Europeans could still have a career in the Conservative Party.
    It was before the Liberal Democrats became such a professional party that could really focus on winning elections.
    We are now free from crackpot ideas that can be ridiculed. But sadly free from the chance of putting forward policies that could be seen to offer a visibly alternative agenda. Policies that might appal some people and but really inspire others.
    Could it be that the Party’s core is a bit smaller now?

  • @Tim13
    The referendum on Europe (EEC), (Common Market), in 1975, should go down, as the most shameful, deceitful, miss-selling scandal, in all of British history. And I will do everything I can, to rectify that error we boomers made back then.
    The 56%, will, have their day.

  • paul barker 14th Dec '12 - 5:41pm

    @Chris. I wasnt trying to suggest that we had risen significantly since the summer. The evidence is sparse but does suggest that our decline stopped, probably around august. That might mean that we continue bumping along the bottom or that weve started to rise – there just arent enogh by-elections to say yet.
    My firm beleif about voting intention polls is that, apart from the 4 or 5 months before each general election they tell us precisely nothing.

  • Paul

    I think you miss my point. I’m saying you can’t say the party is at “the bottom” without knowing what will happen in the future. And neither local by-elections nor national opinion polls nor anything else can tell you what will happen in the future.

  • markfairclough 14th Dec '12 - 8:21pm

    2 of the first byelections wins this year for the LIBDEMS were in WESTHOUGHTON & were LABOUR seats in a a Nortwest Labour held constituency.
    The party across the country in all those council byelections held every Thursday is doing lot better than all those opinion polls tell anyone.
    The truth his certain media & yes especially the beloved auntie BEEB only highlight anytime Labour or UKIP win a seat

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Dec '12 - 11:25pm


    Those were the days! Before New Labour, obviously before the post Brown revival of Labour’s shallow enticements to liberal thinkers. When pro-Europeans could still have a career in the Conservative Party.
    It was before the Liberal Democrats became such a professional party that could really focus on winning elections.

    But strangely we seemed to be better at winning elections back in those days …

  • Since I’ve already resigned myself to the high likelihood that the Liberal Democrats will be out of government in 2015 (one way or another), whether the Lib Dems have 15 or 50 or some other number MPs after the election is less interesting to me than what sort of party the Liberal Democrats intend to be in 2015, 2020, and 2025 — in terms of philosophy, ideology, policy, and their relations with other parties, large and small. That, it seems to me, is where the real debate is. After 2015, some people are going to have to pick up the pieces and move on. Who they will be, and in what direction they intend to go, is something I have a very poor sense of at the moment; partly because the forthcoming débâcle still hasn’t quite come into focus for some, and they are still trying to play the 2010 game and not the 2015 game.

  • David Wilkinson 15th Dec '12 - 8:52am

    With regard to Mark Fairclough post about Westhoughton and the 2 by election although we destroyed both the Labour and Tory campaigns we did miss out by 31 votes and an independent did win in the `1st by election, my apologies to Lib Dems members for being a bit rusty on that one, we have only had 3 by election before 85,98 & 99 we won all 3.
    I glad to say we sharpen up in August and won with 60% of the vote and an overall majority over Labour, Tory and UKIP. Both by elections had turnout over 30 % higher than the locals.

    We did have in these by elections the usual high moral tone from Labour, those of you who fight Labour in the north will recognise their methods.

  • markfairclough 15th Dec '12 - 9:07am

    @DAVID , exactly i,m in the North i recognise all their methods.
    sorry i did think we had won 2 seats in Westhoughton

  • markfairclough 15th Dec '12 - 9:33am

    In August we did win 1 seat from Labour in Westhoughton

  • And on the other hand, two new polls show the Lib Dems in fourth place, well behind UKIP – by 5 points according to ComRes, and 6 points according to Opinium:

  • Peter Watson 16th Dec '12 - 9:17am

    It appears that in a local byelection we can successfully campaign on.
    On a day of local elections across the country, under the the glare of national publicity, the party is hammered.
    What is the lesson to be drawn from this?
    In parliamentary byelections, we are not able to capitalise on successful local campaigning, so that cannot be the key. But those byelections do have a national profile.
    I would suggest that anything that reminds voters of the Lib Dem leadership and parliamentarians is electoral poison at the moment, and if that is not addressed, then parliamentary byelections, european elections, national local elections, and the next general election will all tell a similar story.

  • If nothing else, LD’s just love their stats. They can give you endless analysis to the (n-th), percentile of voting data right back, to when Gladstone was a glint in his dads eye.
    But I have to wonder if these same LD-data-philes, actually observe what is happening in the real world.
    Have they noticed a bit less spending in Tesco, and a bit more spending in lidl?
    Have they noticed that folk who maybe once filled their tanks with petrol once a week, now go fortnightly, and put in £40, irrespective of whether the tank is full or not?
    If they take the trouble to look over the top of their excel spreadsheet, they will find that (slowly but surely), people are beginning to HURT. and when people begin to hurt, they think differently, and VOTE differently. Hurting people migrate from the middle, to left and right, ( and more worryingly, sometimes the extreme of those poles ).
    It takes a while to wake the British up, but the economic conditions are undoubtedly, beginning to bite, and they [public], are beginning to get angry, and as they do, you will increasingly find that centre ground politics, (where LD’s like to sit), was ‘so last year’.
    Also, Council and National data comparisons, are as ‘chalk and cheese’.
    When it comes to filling pot holes in my road, I will always, ask a local (and exceptionally competent), LD councillor to deal with it. But LD’s are (I’m sorry), clueless, and increasingly out of touch with the public mood, at the national level, as you will tragically discover in 2015.

  • The negative, in my last comment (if it gets though moderation), left me worrying about LD’s ~ wrists ~ and knife drawers. So for those willing to listen I do believe LD’s have a future, if they have the guts, to radically prune, re-think, and observe what is actually happening, rather than what they think, ought to be happening. It is a future that on the surface, appears at odds with everything we have experienced in the last 60 years.
    Any threatened species, should grasp the chance at adapting.
    As I have pointed out, LD National presence and performance, is abysmally poor. But your LD, LOCAL presence and performance is exceptionally good, and second to none.
    My next comment is going to appear quite odd, but please give it time.
    LOCAL, is the new GLOBAL.
    There are a new group of people, somewhat loose at this point, who are scratching around for the answers to ~ Society and the Economy – Where from Here? They do not have all the answers, but they DO know, that those answers, will be LOCAL. Ironically, LOCAL, as I have pointed out, is exactly the ground, where LD’s are acknowledged as exceptional, well connected, and best placed to help.
    LD’s, should search out these people, who need your help in creating templates for a future, and give them your valued experience at being, EXEPTIONAL at being LOCAL. Your starting point to finding them is here.:

  • The Liberal Democrats may try to differentiate themselves from the Conservatives but whilst the stories such as the story below persist, there will be a constant reminder of the Liberal Democrats role in the Coalition.


    Parents who look after grown-up disabled offspring face benefit cap

    Ministers confirm £500-a-week cap will apply to carers after children reach adulthood, forcing some into care

    There will be many stories such as above – where a woman informal carer looking after her adult son, with a mental age of 8 will be left with a choice of moving house to who knows where or putting her son into care at great cost to the state due to arbitary and ideological rule driven by the Daily Mail and Conservatives.

    Plus many other nonsensical and tragic stories created by Conservative and daily mail focus on a tiny number of families claiming a lot of benefit, which will appear over the next 2 years. Add into street homelessness. If the Liberal Democrats do not stop this, such as the poor woman above, then they will be held responsible alongside the conservatives.

    The Liberal Democrats may retain around 30 to 35 seats (20 to 25 seats under the Conservatives boundary changes) seats but will be a declining force. The decline will be uneven with occassional geographical gains but this should not blind the party to the direction things are taking.

  • It doesn’t really matter how hard the people at grass roots level work, in a General Election people will remember the lies about students fees. These fees will cripple future generations and todays students and parents will blame us not the tories. Clegg is a “dead man walking”, but the party – despite all the evidence – seems to think it will all be alright by 2015. If there is a pick up in the economy by 2015 the tories will get the credit and we will be remembered as the party that had the chance to scrap tuition fees and get voting reform, but managered neither. After the General Election, when we are left with a handful of MP’s, I fully expect Clegg to join Cameron and Osbourne in the conservative party – which is surely where he will feel at home.

  • Most people in this country are still internationalist, but may be skeptical of the EU, not the concept of European unity but the way the European Union tends, or is perceived to be, that of a centralist bureaucracy and therefore illiberal.
    We must remember that many European institutions and governments do not share our values and therefore their policies would be hard to justify and to do so just because they happen to be in Europe and the EU.
    The EU has brought this country benefits but is far from perfect. You can see the problems in Greece and elsewhere where the EU is seen as an arm of the international bankers. We need to combat this centralism and not just be seen as pro-EU under all conditions.
    We should stand and campaign for positive reform and devolution of powers in Europe and that is what we liberals believe in. The UKIP do not have any policies for reform for the EU except that they just want withdrawal from the EU which will still leave the EU to continue to exist in its current form – we should make that a point in campaigning.
    We should campaign for our liberal policies even if it conflicts with the coalitions, we are NOT Tories, we will NEVER be Tories and the public must see us as NOT see us as Tories.

  • coldcomfort 17th Dec '12 - 2:55pm

    Votes at local by-elections are real votes where the voter is interested in the outcome. PCCs and foregone conclusion parliamentary elections do not motivate. Opinion polls are just that. From the Daily Trash to the Sunday Politics the politicians & commentators are united in wishing to see the destruction of the LibDems. I’ve been a supporter (not always a member for professional reasons) for 57yrs & it was ever thus. The media will continue to perpetrate lies – like an earlier post banging on about how tuition fees will wreck lives – the students (except NUS activists who conveniently forget Labour’s role on this issue) that I talk to are realising that the present regime is a better deal – except perhaps for those that are going to become future political commentators. It has taken a relentless campaign – largely of lies like the use of jampots – from the Daily Trashes to convince just over half the voters that the EU is bad news. It is not. It is pure fantasy for UKIP & the Tory right to think we could cherry pick the good bits if we left the EU. Europeans are sick to the back teeth with us & rightly so. All we’ve ever done is bitch & obstruct. UKIP is NOT a UK Independence Party. It doesn’t give a toss about most of our industry; retail; property etc being owned by foreigners. It is just a virulent anti Europe party. LibDems must stick to their convictions & not fudge just to court popularity.

  • @ Malc.

    “It doesn’t really matter how hard the people at grass roots level work, in a General Election people will remember the lies about students fees. ”

    And then they’ll look at Labour and realise that in voting for them they won’t get anything different and that they’re thinking of voting for a party that wrecked the public finances and made all the cuts necessary.

    Then what will they do?

  • The problem is that there is a huge gulf between our brand locally and perceptions nationally. I think this is because our Focus leaflets always deal with local matters.

    At present we have NOTHING that delivers our message on national issues and argues our side of things. For example we have people like Malc who clearly have all kinds of wrongheaded ideas about the background to the fees issue, what the current policy actually means and no idea what the other parties would have done instead. We are permanently squeezed out and misrepresented in the national media and shouted down by the left and right.

    We need a new national brand, parallel to the Focus leaflet, which allows us to deliver the real facts and our policies direct to people’s homes without all the lies and distortions about our leadership and what we have done in government. We need to start work on it now, because two years will be a very short time to correct the lies and distortions that have been put out about our party.

  • Peter Watson 17th Dec '12 - 5:04pm

    @malc “I fully expect Clegg to join Cameron and Osbourne in the conservative party – which is surely where he will feel at home.”
    Early in the coalition I wondered if one possible outcome would be the Lib Dems splitting and Clegg (plus some) joining the conservatives. I can’t see that happening now. I think the Clegg brand is too toxic for the tories to welcome him. Laws might still be welcomed but put off by the traditional tory response to same-sex marriage.
    I now believe that the Lib Dems will carry on as is. Clegg is obviously beginning the differentiation strategy that has been mooted for many months. It seems a bit cynical and calculated, but I don’t know what his alternative is. The fate of the party will depend on the 2015 general election, and will be determined by the MPs that are returned. Despite the gloomy prognostications it is hard to predict what will happen: once tactical voting and the vagaries of our first-past-the-post system come into play, then it might be better – or worse – than anyone expects.

  • RC
    “For example we have people like Malc who clearly have all kinds of wrongheaded ideas about the background to the fees issue,”

    Did the voters at the last election think that the LibDems pledged to end tuition fees?
    Did the LibDems make it clear they weren’t going to do this, but massively increase them?
    Did the LibDems not realise how bad the economic situation was? The rest of the country knew – the housing market and stockmarket had crashed, people were losing their jobs in droves, the high street stores were going bust – did Clegg not realise money might be a little tight?

    I’m afraid all the silly excuses about being misunderstood won’t wash with the voters as the polls and by-election results are showing. The party will be hammered at the next general election, but the public may go a little easier on us if we get rid of our “tory” leader.

  • “And then they’ll look at Labour and realise that in voting for them they won’t get anything different and that they’re thinking of voting for a party that wrecked the public finances and made all the cuts necessary.

    Then what will they do?”

    They’ll vote Labour. Those on the left who didn’t vote Libdem last time won’t next time. Those on the left who did will vote Labour not because they don’t see faults – major ones – in Labour but because they take it personally what the Coalition has done with their individual vote. I’m not as annoyed with the Tory part of the coalition because I never trusted them – I never voted for them; I never considered voting for them. Clegg – and to be more specific, Laws – him I trusted, entrusted with my vote. There is no rebranding, no explanation of the facts that will address this while the people who run the party, who gladly took my vote and then proceeded to operate in opposition to what they’d led me to believe are still in place. I don’t think I’m unique in thinking this way amongst disaffected ex-supporters. And perhaps the party no longer cares whether it has my vote or not. I’d also suggest that the importance of how the party deals with this disaffection is extremely longterm – that the Libdems risk being defined by this coalition much as the Tories were defined by Thatcher: a large number of voters will not come back for a very, very long time.

  • @ Malc.

    “I’m afraid all the silly excuses about being misunderstood”

    I don’t think that not being able to deliver something that wasn’t POSSIBLE to deliver is a “silly excuse”.

    @ Peter Watson
    “I think the Clegg brand is too toxic for the tories to welcome him.”

    Only because he has been consistently scapegoated and trashed on a very personal level by both the left and rightwing media ever since the first leadership debate in 2010.

    And you think any other Lib Dem leader would have been spared the same fate? I think not.

    They just hated any third party getting in on their power duopoly and trashing Clegg all down the line has been their revenge for the Lib Dems having the temerity to get into government.

  • @ Bolano

    “They’ll vote Labour.”

    And then they’ll realise what they’ve done. They’ve been fooled into electing a party that will destroy the economy and the public finances again because it is too busy spending it on their voting interest groups.

    What will they achieve by switching to Labour? Nothing.

  • Actually Malc, I’d like to know who you’d choose to lead the party instead of Clegg.

    Because as soon as they’re elected they’d be jumped on and trashed in exactly the same way.

    This is about brutal power politics of Labour and the Conservatives trying to destrory us and pretending that if we changed our leader somehow we’d be given a fair hearing is just pure fantasy.

  • @ Bolano

    So we end up being defined as a “bad party” because we were left to sort out Labour’s mess? Sadly, I think you might be right there. But it doesn’t make it a fair situation and what you say doesn’t mean that people won’t be as disappointed in Labour as they were in the Lib Dems when they too have to carry on making cuts and don’t have any money to deliver all the unaffordable goodies they promised in opposition.

  • “I don’t think that not being able to deliver something that wasn’t POSSIBLE to deliver is a “silly excuse”.”

    If a coalition couldn’t deliver on at least one of the two main policies – tuition fees and electoral reform – the LibDems went into the election with, why did we go into the coalition with the tories? It’s no good going into government to carry out tory policies and just claim that we have managed to water them down.

    “And then they’ll look at Labour and realise that in voting for them they won’t get anything different and that they’re thinking of voting for a party that wrecked the public finances and made all the cuts necessary. ”

    I was no fan of Blair and Brown definately made mistakes, but the whole world economy went “pear shaped”, whichever party had been in power would have had big problems. So it’s silly to put all the blame on them.

    “Actually Malc, I’d like to know who you’d choose to lead the party instead of Clegg.”

    I would get rid of Clegg immediately and appoint Charles Kennedy on a temporary basis – if his health was upto it – if not Simon Hughes. It would be daft to have a full blown leadership contest before the election because many likely candidates could lose their seats. Hopefully any new leader would be be far tougher with the tories or leave the coalition.
    The party are currently at their lowest level in the polls since 1970 and there is no improvement in sight. Surely you must see that the party needs to get back to it’s Liberal principles and has no chance of that under Clegg who has become a laughing stock.

  • Mark Pack

    The great majority of voters don’t read manifesto’s. The headline policies in the mainstream media were the two I’ve mentioned and MP’s and Peer’s were all over the media promoting them, because they knew they were attractive to voters. I wonder what our headline policies for the next election will be. The Mansion tax or taking heating allowance and free bus passes from middle class pensions? As a longtime – but unlikely to be again – LibDem voter I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  • Richard Church 18th Dec '12 - 10:22am

    People re-write history, often unintentionally, to justify their positions. As Mark says their were 4 headline policies at the last election and tuition fees wasn’t one of them. Raising the income tax threshold to £10,000 was one of them, and was very widely promoted as such.

  • Richard Church

    Fair point that the £10,000 threshold was well known. However, I still maintain that to most voters we were known for our policies on electoral reform and tuition fees. I wonder how the MP for Withington is going to face the people when he’s campaigning – he won that seat purely because of the parties policy on tuition fees. Lets not forget that very public pledge on tuition fees – covered by all the television channels – by Clegg and Simon Hughes. I wonder why you think we are doing so much worse than the tories in the poll’s and by-elections. There must surely be a reason why we are poll rating are so low? As to unintentionally rewriting history, don’t you think that this also applies to people who seem to think that the “untruths” about tuition fees hardly matter?

  • I only remember three things about the Lib Dems GE campaign. The tuition fee pledge, Nick Clegg saying ‘No more broken promises’ in a TV party political broadcast and the ‘Tory VAT Bombshell’ posters. I think these three things were pretty high profile as I still have a mental image of them from the time.

  • Peter Watson 18th Dec '12 - 7:58pm

    @Mark Pack
    Amongst other things we heavily promoted during the election campaign was the warning against the tories VAT bombshell. Might not have been in the manifesto, but it was on posters and Clegg-fronted press launches.
    And we can’t really downplay just how much of an issue our candidates made out of tuition fees even if it was not a major manifesto item. They all went out of their way to be photographed signing the pledge. The party put out press releases warning that Labour and Conservatives planned to increase fees. The BBC page to which you link might not mention tuition fees but Clegg’s speech at that launch did.
    And we cannot forget that Clegg chose to front an entire party broadcast about “No more broken promises”, making headlines for its style as much as its message about a new kind of politics. He did not offer a point-by-point summary of our main manifesto items – he went for style over substance to promote brand Clegg.

    So I think it is disingenuous to suggest that the media misrepresented our policies or mischievously emphasised ones that we were hiding under a bushel. Clegg and his advisers played the publicity game brilliantly – and now it has come back to bite us all.

  • @ RC

    It’s not about the mess; it’s not about fairness; it’s not about Labour’s potential performance. It’s about how the Lib Dems portrayed themselves to attract disaffected Labour voters, and how they portray themselves now by participation in this government. The parliamentary party has effectively managed to get me (and others) to vote for everything I detest. That’s the issue the party has to confront and deal with to recover. And it won’t do that by a) telling me everybody else is just as bad or b) what I detest I really shouldn’t because I just don’t understand. I understand the changes in motability assessment and the enhanced rate going into PIP: I understand how it’s going to impact those close to me. When those changes are brought in it’ll be something else I’ll have voted for, unwittingly, stupidly. Every month brings another such delight – another reminder of what I did, what I contributed to. Labour will get in, they may well make a mess – but they won’t make that particular, most-offense-of-all-to-me, mess, of twisting my vote. Because the impact of that act on the fortunes of the Lib Dems – unless it’s addressed – will be very, very fresh.

  • Bolano, unless I am very much mistaken, it will not be addressed, at least until there is a change of leadership totally, because it has become a part of that leadership’s raison d’etre. It may not even be addressed while a substantial number of today’s parliamentarians are still around, because it will also rebound on them.

  • Mark

    Did Nick Clegg – along side Simon Hughes – on national television support the pledge on tuition fees?
    Didn’t Nick Clegg make a big play about ” no more broken promises”?

    I’m certainly not intentionally “hugely exaggerating” the tuition fee policy, but the LibDems raised the hopes of many working and middle class families and then – having got their votes – let them down. Clegg realised this with his poor attempt of an apology, but looking at the polls the voters are not going to let him off that lightly.

  • Peter Watson 19th Dec '12 - 12:18am

    @Mark Pack”For example, you say that, “They all went out of their way to be photographed signing the pledge”, which just isn’t true. Not all of them signed the pledge, let alone be photographed with it.”
    “Why say everyone did something, when they didn’t?”

    I apologise for falling for the hyperbole of “all“. I should try to use the more accurate but less brief “all of our successful Lib Dem candidates” or “more than 500 of our 650-ish Lib Dem candidates”. But compare that with the 16 or so tory candidates who signed it if you want to see party that did not make a big deal about promises to students.
    And I apologise for not realising that some of those candidates were shy and ticked the “No publicity” box when signing the pledge just in case there was the risk that their voters might find out what they stood for.

  • Jo swinson what are you doing, reducing the 90 days is just shocking, people thought lib dems were an alternative to labour, sorry you are worse than the Tories.

  • Michael Berridge 21st Dec '12 - 1:01pm

    Having just read a set of eminently reasoned & sensible comments to another recent LDV blog I turned to the above with enthusiasm. Imagine my disappointment at reading a series of rants from disgruntled ex-LD voters. John Dunn was the worst but I found the same prejudices and misconceptions re-hashed over and over again: tuition-fees betrayal (Labour took the initiative, the present system costs students less in the long run), Europe (we are not Norway or Switzerland), low standing in national polls (it’s the vote in key marginals that counts, not – under FPTP – the vote across the country). Congratulations to all local activists who keep working and winning!

  • Michael Berridge 21st Dec '12 - 1:04pm

    I’d like to make it clear I wrote the above comment as a continuing member of theLib Dems who still leaflets and canvasses for his local party.

  • Peter Watson 21st Dec '12 - 2:35pm

    @Michael Berridge “tuition-fees betrayal (Labour took the initiative…”
    And I admire the restrained way that Lib Dems welcomed Labour’s change of heart, and applauded them for implementing such a sensible measure to share the cost of education between society and those benefiting from it. Oh – we didn’t do that did we. We accused them of betrayal. We opposed the policy of top-up fees and tuition fees. We promised to vote against increasing fees, and we promised to look for a fairer alternative. It’s our party gleefully “doing a Labour” on tuition fees that rankles. What is Lib Dem policy now on tuition fees – for or against? Should I trust my Lib Dem candidate at the next election?

  • Michael

    “the present system costs students less in the long run”

    If a student goes to university and pays tuition fees of say seven or eight thousand a year and two years ago paid three thousand a year – how is that cheaper in the long run? Seriously, me and millions of students and parents would love to know how?

  • Peter Watson 22nd Dec '12 - 4:18pm

    @Mark Pack
    Off-topic, but –
    The complexity of fees repayment seems to contradict some of the other benefits claimed for the new system. Why would universities compete in a market in terms of price and value for money when there is such a disconnect between the notional cost and the actual repayment. If a student paying £3000 fees at Bash Street University could repay just as much or more than one paying £9000 at Oxbridge, then why did the government expect that any university would charge less than the maximum? (Actually I suspect that they did not understand the system or were simply being disingenuous hoping it would look like universities were being greedy). And the ultimate oddity for me is that in the new system, the amount of money floating around in the loan repayment system seems to dwarf the amount actually going to the universities: that just doesn’t feel right.

    Back on topic –
    regardless of the pros and cons of the new system, it is politically damaging for Lib Dems, and a bit of a no-win situation. Every time a Lib Dem says how great the new system is, the unspoken message is “Labour and tories were right, we were wrong. Or maybe we fibbed. Or maybe it is still our policy to change it again. Who knows?” With every other party opposing the Lib Dems and a hostile media, how on earth is the party going to get a simple message across to the voters on this policy when the party itself seems unclear what that message is? And the lack of trust engendered by this one issue undermines everything else the party says and does, no matter how much we might want to downplay the importance of fees per se.

  • Sorry but you – like the party leadership – are just playing with words. If the average student after 3-years at university has to pay tuition fees of upto £27,000, where a couple of years ago the fees would be upto £9,000 they are more in debt under the new system. You can play with words about not having to pay the debt back in certain circumstances or students being 12% better off while at university, but the bottom line is that average students leave university with a great deal more debt than before the LibDems came into government. The MP for Withington and others that hold seats that were basically won or held by their pledge on tuition fees, will have an impossible task if they try an use the normal tired arguments about how students are actually better off now. They would do far better hanging their heads in shame and giving a proper apology.

  • Mark Pack
    Sorry I forgot to address the above to you.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Jan '13 - 3:21pm

    @Mark Pack
    I’ve finally got round to taking a brief look at the IFS study to which you refer, and I find it less reassuring than you do. It does state, “The average graduate will be roughly £8,850 worse off over their lifetime” (which I believe is the NPV). Equally, the implication of “the poorest 27 per cent of graduates will actually be better off under the new system” is that 73% of graduates will be worse off. The associated graph ( Figure 1 on the IFS article http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/6346) shows this. Obviously it is subject to a number of assumptions about RPI and base rates, etc. I’d also query the use of the word “poorest” when we are discussing income rather than wealth, and I think that some commentators mistakenly (or deliberately) conflate the lowest earning graduates with students from the poorest backgrounds.

    At the end of the day, Lib Dems have introduced a scheme which:
    1. increases the size of student debt
    2. increases the rate of interest on that debt from the lower of RPI or BoE base rate + 1% to between RPI and RPI + 3% (dependent on salary)
    3. begins applying interest (at the highest rate) sooner, when the loan is taken instead of after graduation
    4. increases the repayment period from 25 to 30 years
    5. ameliorates the above effects by increasing the gross income threshold above which 9% is paid from £15000 p.a. to £21000.

    I have found it useful to look at this, as often the debates have circled around “Lib Dem betrayals” and “it’s fairer”. For me, the key points are:
    1. For about 3/4 of graduates the new scheme is more expensive. This might be a desirable outcome for supporters of the change – somebody has to pay for university education.
    2. Figures being reported today suggest this may be deterring university applications. This might be a desirable outcome for supporters of the change who believe too many students go to university.
    3. Lib Dem MPs did pledge “to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”. Although it can be debated whether or not the new system is “fairer”, it is clearly not an alternative to increasing fees, so most Lib Dem MPs broke a promise and will have to work hard to regain the trust of voters.

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