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The Lib Dem love that dare not speak its name

26/03/2016, 09:50:41 PM

by George Kendall

Since 1997, the Liberal Democrats have had an awful secret.

After 2001, we bitterly denounced the Labour government. We railed against their authoritarian policies on civil liberties and the illegal war in Iraq. In cities across the north of England, we were locked in mortal combat for control of local government.

However, when respective Lib Dems have gathered, after sidelong glances to ensure the wrong people aren’t listening, there’s something we have only admitted with hushed voices.

Sometimes we’d speak with comic evasions, “Of course,” we’d say. “I hated the Labour government.” And everyone would nod.

“Except the devolution to Scotland and Wales, but that was down to Robert Maclennan and Robin Cook. Labour only agreed with great reluctance.

“Oh, and the Freedom of Information Act, but we all know Blair hated it.

“I suppose they did reduce the number of hereditary Lords, but why not elect them?

“And why do they get credit for the Independence of the Bank of England? After all, that was shamelessly stealing our policy.

“They did introduce civil partnerships, but we’ve gone further.

“And they take all the credit for the increase in overseas aid, when that was driven by the Jubilee 2000 campaign. And that was founded by a Lib Dem.

“Fair’s fair, I suppose. The NHS did need more funding, even if they took a few years to get around to it.

“Electoral reform for the European elections may have been an improvement, but they should have introduced it to the House of Commons..

“I suppose the Minimum Wage was all right.” And we’d pause, unable to think what else to say.

We never spoke the obvious punchline. However, if we were honest, in the back of our minds, we could hear ourselves saying, “Apart from that, what did the 1997 Labour government ever do for us?”

Now, almost two decades later, the world has changed. Corbynistas rail against Labour’s record in government, and the Tories ridicule it. But, for us, sometimes the boundary between love and hate is narrower than we realise.

Despite all that has happened since, perhaps it’s time for some of us to admit that, in truth, we loved the 1997 government.

George Kendall is convener of the Social Democrat Group – a Liberal Democrat organisation to develop the social democrat tradition of the Liberal Democrats, and to build links with social democrats in the Labour party

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I don’t like the European Parliament or the In campaign. The EU is flawed. But I’m voting to remain

14/03/2016, 10:20:04 PM

by Robin Thorpe

The EU referendum is not really a Left-Right issue; it instead seems to separate groups of people on their age and level of education.

But membership of the EU does accord with one of the core beliefs  of the Labour movement: that we achieve more by working together than we do alone. Indeed the Labour Party rule book explicitly states that Labour is committed to co-operating in European institutions as well as the UN, the Commonwealth and other international bodies to secure peace, freedom, democracy, economic security and environmental protection for all. These are things that can only be achieved by international co-operation.

However, the Labour Party rule book (2013) also states that Labour works for “an open democracy, in which government is held to account by the people; decision are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect; and where fundamental human rights are guaranteed”.  The current European Parliament does not correlate with these expectations. I can therefore understand why some Labour supporters may also wish to leave the EU.

David Cameron’s negotiations, although largely insignificant, had one major outcome: that the UK would not be obliged to be a part of “ever closer union”. But for me this misses the fundamental choice that faces not just the citizens of the UK but all of the peoples of Europe.

Do we truly want a common market across Europe, or do we want to remain as independent nations. Because to normalise both access to the market and quality of goods and services across Europe then we will need a common approach to much more than just fishing quotas and standard paper sizes. In my opinion we should either accept that a truly successful European Union would look like a United States of Europe, or we accept that it is flawed and make the best of a bad thing. Which is why I think that Cameron’s negotations were a failure. They didn’t just achieve nothing of use, they focused the purpose of the referendum on immigration.

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The cult of the Labour doorstep does more harm than good

08/03/2016, 10:31:28 PM

by Jon Bounds

For the ‘sensible establishment’ supporters of Labour’s pre-Corbyn core comes a new standard to which the rest of Labour’s membership must be held: time on the doorstep.

The idea that knocking on doors providing up to date voter data (oh, and having ‘conversations’, although in what form we’re never really told) is the only route of activism available to the foot-soldiers.

Having an opinion is frowned-upon until a certain amount of dues-paying doorstepping has been completed.

A Red Wedge-style series of fund- and awareness-raising gigs with high profile names is dismissed as meaningless in electoral terms. Unless enough doors have been knocked on.

Labour far outshone the Conservatives in doorstep conversations in May last year. But, if knocking on doors alone won elections, it wouldn’t be the Labour party in power: it would be the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In coalition with meter readers and Betterware franchisees.

Social media may be an echo chamber, but its connections and volume still matters.

It’s where people are — but crucially most see no substantive delineation between platforms, between local and national issues, nor between ‘real life’ and the real people they communicate with online*.

That’s why Tom Watson’s digital project, and what it comes out with is so important: we do need to be able to understand how the psychology of people plays out as a whole. That includes conversations around unity in the media, and on the web. And it includes targeted digital interactions.

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If the Tories are to be beaten, Labour and the Lib Dems need to start working together

07/03/2016, 09:36:35 PM

by George Kendall

2015 was a disaster for the centre-left.

The Liberal Democrats lost a swathe of seats to the Tories. Moderate Labour members lost their party to the far left. Some are in despair, and are considering withdrawal from politics, perhaps to return once a viable moderate opposition to the Tories is re-established.

However, under first-past-the-post, such an opposition isn’t inevitable. Post-war Japan was run by a single right-wing party, almost continuously for fifty years. Nothing is forever, but, if we wait for change, we may wait a very long time.

Do we want to see the Conservatives in power for decades? If that happens, step by step they will shrink the state and cut taxes for the rich. They will edge the country ever closer to a dog-eat-dog capitalism where the rich enjoy fabulous wealth, but the poor endure desperate insecurity. It would not happen overnight, but it could happen.

The far left believe if they control the opposition, it is inevitable that they will eventually take power.

In a perfect storm, with a recession, and if Tories have an unpopular leader and are divided over a controversial policy, it might be possible, but I think it is very unlikely. Even in 1992, when the country was in recession after thirteen years of Tory rule, the Conservatives still won.

However, even if the far left are right about eventually winning power, it would be a disaster. Having raised unrealistic expectations, they would be hit by the harsh reality of our need to trade in a competitive world, and they would damage our economic and our finances by trying to square the impossible. Perhaps worse, their attitude to the USA and NATO would undermine our alliances, just at a time when new powers are emerging which have no respect for the principles of liberal democracy. They would then be decisively defeated, to be followed by another lengthy period of Tory hegemony.

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Labour’s latest party political broadcast is an incoherent mess

18/02/2016, 06:42:57 PM

by James Goldstone

Labour’s latest party political broadcast is a double tragedy; it highlights the hardship felt by many families today while also demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of why we lost the last election.

Released on the same day that figures showed UK unemployment has hit a ten year low, the five minute video makes the case that Britain’s economy isn’t working and people are being failed by the Tories. Sound familiar?

With a slew of elections coming up in in less than 80 days, it appears that team Corbyn would like to make these races into a referendum on Cameron and Osborne’s handling of the economy. The problem is that the Tories currently hold a two to one advantage over Labour on who is more trusted to run the economy – the same ratio they enjoyed at the last general election.

It is difficult to understand Labour’s thinking on this strategy. My guess is they believe that the economic suffering of many in society has not been pressed hard enough to the electorate and, much like Corbyn’s own PMQ style, have sought to make the case using real life case studies.

The case studies in the video are highly sympathetic and they represent hundreds of thousands of others across the country who do everything right but still struggle to make ends meet. But this shouldn’t be a revelation to voters as dozens of case studies like this were featured in Labour campaigns during the general election and they failed to bring about a Labour government.

There is the issue of blame. Many voters from all backgrounds believe, rightly or wrongly, that profligate Labour spending is the root cause of much of these difficulties. If you subscribe to this view then the video becomes an advert of why you should avoid voting for Labour.

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I’m a Conservative and Britain needs a credible opposition. Are we likely to get one any time soon?

09/02/2016, 05:53:16 PM

by John Wall

I was as surprised as many when the exit poll result was announced on election night although I’d experienced negative feelings towards Labour on the doorsteps.

It’s disappointing that elections have become presidential but Cameron consistently polled better than Miliband who reminded me of the earnest students I encountered at University, those for whom “out with the trots” didn’t mean an upset stomach. They burned with zealotry to right some perceived wrong and always seemed to be campaigning, protesting or expressing “solidarity”.

Despite claiming to support the many rather than the few, sufficient of the many, as Lord Ashcroft found considered that Labour “no longer seem to stand up for people like me”. Against a confident incumbent “Blair’s heir” who had a growing economy and falling unemployment Miliband’s failure is understandable.

Despite some glowing character references, largely from lefties (!), in Corbychev I see a cold, humourless lefty and there is a good reason for that – he is a cold, humourless lefty! He has the wearisome attitude of someone who wonders why he needs to explain his self evident “truths” to lesser mortals.

It’s difficult to see a fundamental difference to Miliband, the polls indicate that the more the public see of him the less they like him, and again he’s appealing to the few rather than the many.

From my perspective, and, yes, I’m “Tory Scum” who, come the revolution, will be first against the wall, I believe that a credible opposition is essential.

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Corbyn could surprise the Tories. I should know – I am one

01/02/2016, 08:00:00 AM

by Greig Baker

As a junior Parliamentary staffer working for the Tories in 2005, I drafted a Bill to raise the income tax threshold for low earners. I wanted my party to make a pitch to Labour’s traditional working class voters without compromising our principles on lower taxes. Cutting taxes for poor people seemed like a good way to do both – it was counter-intuitive and principled at the same time. Years later, a very similar measure was adopted by George Osborne and it went down pretty well.

Labour should use the same approach now. To be clear, I have no love for the Labour party and I don’t want to see it win in 2020. However, I do want there to be a realistic prospect of it winning. The Conservatives need to be kept honest and the government must be kept on its toes. To do that, Labour has to be an effective opposition and, to do that, it needs to come up with some surprising and eye-catching policies to appeal beyond the converted, without selling its soul – in other words, to be counter-intuitive and principled. Here’s what I suggest…

For starters, John McDonnell should stop thinking about what he wishes tax and spend was like, or even what it is like right now, and instead start thinking about what the Government’s approach to tax and spend will be by 2019-20. That’s when voters will be looking at his policies in detail and seeing how they match up to reality.

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For Ed Miliband, One Nation was a soundbite. For moderates it should be the rallying cry to take on Corbyn

11/01/2016, 05:30:25 PM

by Tom Clements

There is much to regret about the leadership of Ed Miliband; not least the election defeat and changes to leadership election rules that have led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. But for me, it’s the abandonment of One Nation Labour. At the time, I thought that this was the game changer. A genuinely inclusive and unifying offer with which we could change the country for the better.

I was wrong.

It wasn’t a genuine offer or an ideological framework. It was a cheap parlour trick. One that was designed to win a few headlines and embarrass the Prime Minister by taking a conservative idea and claiming it for Labour. That’s what makes me angry about Ed’s leadership.

It could’ve been so bold.

Instead, the idea fell up against the ‘predistributing’ instincts of Miliband. The instinct that the rich weren’t really part of Miliband’s One Nation. They were just there to foot the bill. He fell into that worst Labour tradition of implying that being rich and wanting to be rich was something to resent.

Not that there is anything wrong with the rich paying their fair share. Far from it, it’s the only way that a society can function in harmony. As the brilliant Senator Warren argues “no one gets rich on their own” and it’s there duty to give “a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid that comes along”. And that is right.

And it wasn’t just about the rich.

He forgot about the traditional working class; those who UKIP are trying to woo. We treated their concerns about immigration and benefits with suspicion not understanding. Suspicion that meant that the white van in Rochester was only the tip of the iceberg. Suspicion that meant they stayed at home or put their cross in a different box on election day.

And this is what cost us the election.

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Corbyn’s reshuffle shows how he wants to imprint his ideology on the party

06/01/2016, 09:00:08 PM

by Frazer Loveman

It’s quite hard to write anything original about the Night, then day, then night again, of Corbyn’s Knives, given that most topics were covered during the interminable, day and a half long re-organisation of the Labour top team.

In the longest re-shuffle since the emancipation of women (thanks to the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush for that gem) Corbyn made the grand total of two sackings, both of ministers with limited name recognition among the general population, while appointing one who is most notable for a Twitter gaffe.

It does make you wonder quite what the point of this reshuffle was. It was previewed two weeks ago as a ‘revenge’ reshuffle, with Corbyn planning to purge those who had disagreed with him over Syria.

This, actually, made a fair deal of sense. Corbyn, to his credit, had attempted to create as broad a tent as possible in the shadow cabinet in order to appease party moderates, but the idea of allowing dissent within his top team unravelled the moment Hilary Benn took the dispatch box during the Syrian airstrikes debate.

It stood to reason then, that Corbyn would want to bring his own people into the shadow cabinet, to bolster his position as leader. Again, fair enough, at least then the Labour Party could finally resemble a united front, whether the moderate sections of the party liked it or not. Corbyn is leader with, as we’re constantly reminded, a large mandate and he’s quite at liberty to mould the party in his image.

But, in the cold light of day, the new shadow cabinet doesn’t seem overly different to the old version.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Syria consultation was flawed and undemocratic

11/12/2015, 01:59:38 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The Syria vote debate has been dominated by events inside the Westminster bubble, but an important development in the Labour Party has so far flown under the radar. This was the attempt at a ‘consultation’ launched by the leader on Friday 27th November – five days before the vote on December 2nd. Part of the ‘new politics’ which are now developing, the exercise needs close scrutiny.

Although consultation of members is not part of the rules of the party, nothing precludes it. However on this case, as Corbyn had already said he would vote NO to the proposal, he had prejudged the outcome. Given that M Ps were to be given a free vote on the issue, correctly in my view, there could be no question that this would set party policy on the topic – and it is doubtful whether this could ever be legitimate as this form of exercise is not one that appears in the rules as part of the policy making process as far as I can see.

However even as a straw poll, the process had serious flaws. It had not been announced in advance and most members would be unaware of its launch. There was no deadline, members merely being asked to respond “by the start of the week”. More seriously, the survey form – which seems to have vanished from the Labour Party website – did not pose a clear choice to voters, which is standard practice in polling. While it is rare that there is a simple Yes No choice in politics, on this issue the issue was stark. Why there was no choice posed that could be answered by a vote, either yes-no or a range of options makes the exercise unscientific.

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