After this budget, the Lib Dems are all over the place

by Amanda Ramsay

The focus today has been on George Osborne. Understandably so. But one of the stories in the days to come will be how this budget has exacerbated the cracks that were already spreading through the Liberal Democrats and the instability this will bring to the government.

Like them or loathe them, the Conservatives have made their position known. As NEC candidate Peter Wheeler puts it: “Tories make it clear what their priorities are – Tax cuts for the rich and pay cuts for the north.”

But they are burdened by a partner who lacks their self-assurance and discipline.

Long-suffering Tories, already struggling with David Cameron’s leadership, are tiring of having to put-up with on-the-hoof Liberal Democrat solo policy announcements such as Vince Cable’s off-piste mooting of a mansion tax that was never going to happen.

This may have been political point scoring on Cable’s part, but even whispers of such a tax will have wrought terror in Tory heartlands, particularly in London where such talk could cost Boris Johnson’s political life.

It’s part of a pattern of ill-disciplined behaviour that has increasingly dismayed Tory MPs. For example, there was the failure to support their own leadership line from Nick Clegg over the health bill, not to mention February’s leaked letter from Vince Cable, when the business secretary told the prime minister and the deputy prime minister that the government lacks a “compelling vision” for Britain.

For restive Tory backbenchers and political advisers, all of this will have steeled Tory determination to make this their budget.

“Osborne had to do one important thing today,” a senior Tory source explained to Labour Uncut, “demonstrate that the Lib Dem tail is not wagging the Tory dog. That meant scrapping the 50p tax rate and finding some way to soften the blow of the child benefit raid on Tory voters. Doing both secured at least two cheers from backbench supporters.”

Liberal Democrats themselves would be hard pressed refute Tory complaints. The past few weeks have been characterised by splits, leaks and confusion for Clegg’s party.

The debacle over the Health and Social Care (NHS) Bill at the spring conference in Gateshead was followed by a little-reported rebellion in the Commons last Tuesday, when five Lib Dem MPs voted with Labour, not their Tory masters in government.

Liberal Democrat Andrew George MP was one such rebel. He didn’t want the health bill, disagreed with dropping the 50p top rate of taxation and isn’t happy about scrapping national pay bargaining. And he is not alone.

Given the fiasco over the health bill at the Lib Dem conference this month, how long will their membership put-up with controversial laws like the Health and Social Care Bill, now due royal assent in May?

Meanwhile, unable to agree on which Tory policies they should back, do the Liberal Democrats at least have a clear platform of measures of their own?


The chaos of Gateshead finished with little in the way of direction, exemplified by post-conference news of a “tycoon tax, which owed more to the simple appeal of alliteration than it did thoughtful policy formulation.

This proposal for a rate for the highest earners seemed to be as much news to Liberal Democrat MPs as it was to unsuspecting commentators. And in any case, the government would have to get rid of discriminatory domicile rules for this minimum rate tax to be effective and Tories were never going to implement that.

And it gets worse. Further divisions within the Liberal Democrat camp are evident in the mayoral referenda campaigns. Liberal Democrat MPs in government voted overwhelmingly for the Localism Act, yet now their MPs, Councillors and members are all over the place on this issue too.

Birmingham MP John Hemming is running an almost hysterical campaign to persuade the public not to vote yes in the referendum there in May. Meanwhile, his Bristol West colleague Stephen Williams MP goes one step further in the opposite direction and has actually said on the BBC that he would like to stand if a November poll goes ahead, presumably fearing his chances at the next general election.

Even within a single city they cannot agreed. In Bristol, councillor Tim Kent is running a “no” campaign, whilst another Liberal Democrat, Jason Budd, heads-up the “yes” camp.

And as for elections for the police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in November, the Liberal Democrats are not even fielding candidates in each area.

All this from a party in government nationally and who actually voted for the new structure. It’s all rather shambolic.

No doubt Lib Dems will cling to the rise in personal allowances announced today as a sign of their influence in government.

But when this is set against scrapping the 50p rate, no sign of a mansion tax, no sign of a “tycoon tax” (whatever that is), no vision for growth and an extra £10bn of welfare cuts, it doesn’t feel very Lib Dem.

The combination of Lib Dem chaos over the health bill, schizophrenia on the localism legislation and their minimal impact on the budget mean that now, more than ever, the Lib Dems are all over the place.

As they struggle to hold together, Tory impatience will grow and the rows in government will increase. Not a pretty sight.

Amanda Ramsay is a former Labour councillor and cabinet member

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6 Responses to “After this budget, the Lib Dems are all over the place”

  1. Nick says:

    Tax cuts for the rich


    Are there any? They have put up income tax 10%, now dropping to a 5% increase.

    Where is the tax cut for the rich?

    Stamp duty? A rise to 15% for the rich.

    Yep, its tax rises for the rich, to pay for the feckless.

  2. swatantra says:

    In your dreams. This Coalition is rock solid and Dave and Nick stand shoulder to shoulder. In fact only the other day Danny and George were planning the next Coalition after 2015. It hurts me to say that but the truth always does.
    I noticed Dave have a little snigger at mention of his helping out his old bullingdon chum in London. These old boy friendships forged in the dorms of prep schoolshavea habi of lingering on and on. Theres nothing worse than letting the side down.

  3. Anon E Mouse says:

    I notice Lib Dem support is up and can’t believe this is all down to the incompetence of the current Labour Party but after hearing Ed Balls on the radio this morning I now think it probably is.

    Will Labour reintroduce the 50% tax rate or not?

    Simple question and if they can’t answer Yes or No they don’t deserve any support…

  4. swatantra says:

    Its about time that stock answer of ‘ .. we can’t predict what we will do … in 3 years time .. or even next year …’ nonsense was buried once and for all. The point about a policy is that you should be saying categorically what you will or will not be doing, for example: We will re-introduce the 50p tax; or we will scrap Trident; or we will Re-nationalise Rail and Public Transport; or we will introduce minimum price on alcohol; etc etc etc Then the Public might well start believing in what you say. I said last week that Balls’s days are numbered and that Chuka should become Shad Chancellor.People don’t like being asociated with failure.
    Lib Dems know that all they have to do is tough it out for another 2 years and things will get better; they always do; its a fact of life. But there is a third of their Party that permanantly whinge and don’t like responsiblility and don’t like taking tough decisions. We’ve got people like that in Labour as well.

  5. With Lib Dems getting the finger pointed at them for wholescale leaks. Simon Hughes distances Lib Dems from 50p tax cut: “The Chancellor took a view he wanted to do things that mattered a lot to Conservatives.”

  6. Anon E Mouse says:

    Amanda Ramsay you say:

    “With Lib Dems getting the finger pointed at them for wholescale leaks. Simon Hughes distances Lib Dems from 50p tax cut: “The Chancellor took a view he wanted to do things that mattered a lot to Conservatives.”


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