Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’

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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What to expect from Tim Farron

23/09/2015, 10:20:10 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Commenting on Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats on BBC Daily Politics on Monday, Kelvin MacKenzie claimed, “it’s like that line about the Pope. How many divisions has he got?” He meant, “he doesn’t have enough MPs to matter”. But if MacKenzie reflected on the origin of the quotation, he might come to a different conclusion.

While Stalin asked this question of the Pope in 1935, the Catholic Church remains and the Soviet Union does not. If all that mattered were divisions, this would not be so. Ideas matter too. Ultimately, more than divisions. The ideas of the Soviet Union weren’t strong enough for their divisions to sustain it.

During this Liberal Democrat conference week, the question ought to be: Do they have compelling enough ideas to avoid the Soviet Union’s fate?

It’s easy to mock their dearth of divisions – even MacKenzie can do it. It’s harder, yet more important, to assess the force of the ideas that sustain them.

The idea that Farron is selling is “social justice and economic credibility”. Listen to him on TV and radio this week, he keeps coming back to this very New Labour couplet. He’ll do so again – and probably again – in today’s speech.

It ill behoves me to comment on Farron without acknowledging the crushing defeat that he inflicted on me as Labour’s candidate in Westmorland and Lonsdale in 2010. I was road kill on Farron’s ruthlessly efficient transformation of a safe Conservative seat into that now very rare thing, a Liberal Democrat citadel.

“The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy all his furniture”. Michael Jopling may be best remembered on the national political scene for being reported in the Alan Clark diaries as saying this about Michael Heseltine. In Westmorland, he is better remembered for consistently riding on the back of truck at the County Show and making sure that everyone knew he was there. Vehicle aided, this could be quickly accomplished, a good lunch doubtless earned. His successor, Tim Collins, is said to have later spent more time at the show but lingered uncomfortably throughout in the shadows of the Tory tent. Accustomed to Jopling’s routine, voters enquired, “where is our MP?”

They’ve never had cause to ask this of Farron since he defeated Collins in 2005, a campaign in which Collins maintained all shadow ministerial commitments across the country, confident that Westmorland would remain blue. Tireless pavement politics put Farron into parliament and allowed him to spectacularly grow his majority five years later.


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The smaller parties should be careful what they wish for. It always ends badly for the kingmaker

16/04/2015, 09:57:12 AM

by Atul Hatwal

We are approaching peak minnow for the campaign. Yesterday the Lib Dems and Ukip launched their manifestos and this evening there is the five-way debate featuring the smaller parties minus Nick Clegg but inexplicably with Ed Miliband guest starring at the front of the coconut shy as the designated representative of Westminster’s failed big party duopoly.

But as much fun as the SNP, the Greens, Plaid and Ukip will have beating up on Ed Miliband the smaller parties should be careful what they wish for.

They might be eyeing eventual roles as kingmakers or junior partners in government, but history has a harsh lesson: it always ends badly.

In peacetime, every time there has been a coalition, confidence and supply agreement or any type of deal for support in the last 100 years, it has been electoral poison for the minor party.

On three occasions there have been coalitions in the last century and one period of less formal support to sustain a government.

All involved the Liberals, with the SNP and Plaid Cymru also becoming mired in the mess of the 1970s Callaghan government.

The results speak for themselves.

Minor party fall


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If you’re not rich, you’re not coming in

11/10/2011, 04:11:28 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

For a man whose avowed aim is to reduce the salience of immigration as a political issue, David Cameron spends a lot of time talking about it. Yesterday’s speech was light on new policy, so we must assume the point was to send a message: that despite growing public scepticism – a recent YouGov poll found 78% of people thinking it “unlikely Cameron will deliver his immigration promises” – he remains personally committed to doing so. The strategic judgment must be, that while he is unlikely to hit his chosen target of reducing net migration levels to “tens of thousands” by 2015, his policies will have made enough of a dent that voters will feel that, in contrast to the other two parties, at least the Conservatives tried. For now, the coalition has settled into a pattern, where it suits both parties to pretend that it is the Liberal Democrats that have prevented greater progress, rather than the deeper structural problems with their approach – though this is unlikely to fool voters for long, and there are signs that the commentariat have rumbled it too.

Turning to the detail of the speech, there were some good things; some misleading claims and unanswered questions; and a reminder of two big underlying problems.

The good things included a careful, incremental approach to the complex issue of forced marriage (though it will be interesting to see how the planned consultation differs from previous ones on the same subject); and a greater emphasis on British history and culture in the “Life in the UK” citizenship test which Labour introduced in 2005. Another proposal, to stop people bringing in more than one spouse or partner in quick succession, is an example of a policy which in an ideal world would seem unnecessary and invasive, but in the real world is sadly necessary. Finally, there was the resonant line that “immigration can hurt the low paid and the low skilled, while the better off reap many of the benefits”. This contains enough truth to hurt, and is a line which Labour really only has itself to blame for allowing the Conservatives to own.

But alongside these good things, there were plenty of misleading claims. The first was on overall numbers, where Cameron said that; “There are early signs in the most recent figures that the reforms this government has brought in are beginning to reduce the overall figure.”

Well, it is true – as I noted in my analysis of the most recent immigration statistics for Labour Uncut – that “the latest quarterly figures to June 2011 [show] a slight fall in people coming from outside the EU for work, down 2.7% compared to the year ending April 2011”. Most of this is from the closure of the Tier 1 General route, designed for highly skilled migrants who are not tied to a particular job, but qualify on their individual merits (on which more below). But this is less than 1% of total immigration. Cameron would be better advised to wait until next year, by when the changes to the student visa system, however ill-advised in other respects, might have made a more serious impression on overall numbers.

The second misleading claim concerned the skill-level of migrants coming under the previous system. In his determination to present that system as a “complete failure”, Cameron said that:

“One study showed that about a third of those sampled only found low skilled roles working as shop assistants, in takeaways, and as security guards. When this government came into office, we ignored the rhetoric, looked hard at the reality and simply closed down the whole of the Tier 1 General route.”

At best, this is a highly selective use of the available evidence. The independent Migration Advisory Committee, a Labour innovation which the new government has sensibly retained and praised, said in its comprehensive report in November 2010, that in the Tier 1 General route – the route which Cameron is talking about here – over 90% were working in highly-skilled work (see para 3.68, p.88).

Turning to the unanswered questions, the first concerns the detail of the proposal that people wishing to sponsor a foreign national to come here as a spouse or partner should be required to put up a financial “bond”. This idea has been around for years: it was in Labour’s 2005 manifesto, but was shelved in 2008. One of the problems was that it is tricky to set the bond at the right level. If you set it too low, it looks like a gimmick. But if you set it at a level that would credibly offset the costs to the public purse of a migrant who does end up being a “significant burden on the taxpayer”, that would mean a bond of tens of thousands of pounds. Requiring that upfront raises very significant issues of fairness (on which more below). (more…)

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Know your enemy

16/05/2011, 03:00:20 PM

by John Spellar

In a recent discussion on who we should be targeting, one Welsh MP told the old joke: “if you are standing on a cliff with a Conservative and a Liberal Democrat in front of you, who do you push off first, the answer is the Conservative – it’s business before pleasure”.

That priority is absolutely right because the alternative government next time will either be a Conservative or a Labour led government. However, a bit of a refinement of the approach is also probably necessary.

Of course, where you stand in politics often depends on where you sit and I’m sure that my thinking has been shaped by first winning a council seat on an outer London housing estate from the Liberals and understanding at a very early stage how duplicitous, irresponsible and thoroughly negative they are.

However, on a hard-headed practical view of the current political situation, any idea of easing up on the Liberal Democrats is probably premature. It’s certainly the case in Scotland that as the Lib Dem vote collapsed – most of it essentially being an anti Labour establishment vote – it mainly went to the candidates thought most likely to beat Labour, namely the SNP.

However, the picture is very different in other parts of the country. Across much of the North of England, and not just in the big conurbations, the Lib Dems have replaced the Conservatives as the main opposition to Labour. Indeed in many areas they are the sole opposition to Labour. This is also true in some London boroughs.

Therefore for Labour to consolidate our position and firm up our control of those seats, elimination of the Lib Dem political and organisational apparatus which is almost wholly dependent on their councillors is necessary.

This would also then feed into the bigger priority. If the Lib Dems have no hope in seats that they could win from Labour, then in order for them to survive they will have to focus their organisational and propaganda efforts against the Conservatives in many of their seats in the South and South West. We will then have turned round the Iain Duncan Smith paradigm of two coalition parties attacking the Labour party, to two opposition parties attacking the Tories.

Completely focusing on the Tories at the moment would be fine as the answer, if the question was, “how would you vote if there was an election tomorrow”.  However, courtesy of the fixed-term parliament bill we are fairly clear that it is not going to be till 2015. Therefore it serves our interest to consolidate our base over the next year or two while still focusing on our strategy of rebuilding Labour in the South.

It certainly is a sensible business model; it could also be a pleasure.

John Spellar is Labour MP for Warley.

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Where next for the democracy movement?

11/05/2011, 05:00:07 PM

by Emma Burnell

The question of electoral reform is now closed for a generation. Anyone who disagrees with this statement is part of the much wider problem that the democracy movement has.

The movement likes to believe that it listens and that it represents “the people”, but, generally, what that has meant in my experience is that people who agree with the aims of the movement get a hearing as to how their aims might be achieved, while those who question the priorities of the reformers are dismissed as dinosaurs and not engaged with to understand their reticence. And while the movement certainly represents some of “the people”, who deserve a voice as much as anyone else, the inability to grow from a niche to a mass movement demonstrates clearly that it is not the voice of all the people.

At the moment, the blame game is moving quickly. So far we have the mendacious No campaign, the toxicity of the Lib Dems and particularly the childish tantrums of Chris Huhne, the intervention of the prime minister and the split in the Labour party. All of which did – of course – play a part in why the Yes campaign failed. But for my money, the biggest reason the campaign failed is because it was run by people who don’t know the electorate and don’t understand what they want and what they fear. (more…)

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Sunday News Review

17/04/2011, 06:49:31 AM

Are Vince’s Coalition days numbered?

The Liberal Democrat Cabinet Minister is joining forces with Mr Miliband in a bid to win the May 5 referendum on changing Britain’s voting system. They will line up together at a Press conference in London, where they will issue a joint plea to scrap the first-past-the-post voting system to ‘make politics fairer’. The double act comes days after Business Secretary Mr Cable accused Mr Cameron of ‘inflammatory’ remarks over immigration, prompting calls for disciplinary action by some Tory MPs. And it is bound to lead to further claims that Mr Cable, who once worked for former Labour leader John Smith, has more in common with Labour than his Conservative colleagues in the Coalition. – Daily Mail

Business Secretary, Vince Cable, was “very unwise” and risked “inflaming” extremism. To listen to his detractors, you would think that Cameron was the Mr Benn of Westminster: on Monday, he was dressed up as Malcolm X; by Thursday, he had changed into the robes and pillow case of the Ku Klux Klan (Bullingdon branch). One hears him compared with Clare Short, a diminished figure who is better inside the tent than outside it, a novice at government who should be denied the martyrdom that part of him so obviously craves. All this, I think, reflects a cavalier approach to Cabinet collective responsibility and a failure to recognise its absolute necessity – especially in a Coalition government. – the Telegraph

Paddy hits out at the no campaign?

There is not a politician in the country who won’t tell you they want to improve politics. But as the conduct of the current referendum on adopting the alternative vote shows, judge them by their actions, not their words. I will be voting yes because I believe that changing to AV will substantially improve our democracy. I disagree with those advocating sticking to the current first-past-the-post system, but respect their right to their point of view. What I am perplexed and deeply disturbed by is that those running the no campaign haven’t once put forward a positive case for the current system and instead have spent their time lying about AV. I have seen principle-free machine politics in action many times and it is never a pretty sight. But this time really is different. – the Observer

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown has accused George Osborne of trying to “frighten” voters off changing the voting system. He said the chancellor and Conservative colleagues had resorted to “bizarre” and “tawdry” tactics. Voters will go to the polls in just under three weeks in a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system. It comes as a survey suggests a significant hardening of public opinion against the switch. Mr Osborne sparked anger last week when he said it “stinks” that the main backer of the pro-AV camp was the Electoral Reform Society – whose commercial arm Electoral Reform Services Ltd (ERSL) runs election services. He claimed that it stood to benefit financially from a switch, something ERSL has denied. – BBC News

A very Royal conundrum

The Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday that the rules of royal succession could appear “a little old-fashioned” to most people and a change to the current arrangements was worth considering. But Nick Clegg stressed it would be a complex process that needed careful thought, with other Commonwealth countries on board, and that it could not be done overnight. He said the Prime Minister and himself were “sympathetic” to change and that it was worth looking again at the rules which dictate that the first-born son and not a daughter inherits the throne. The current arrangement means that if William and Kate were to have a daughter, followed by a son, the son would be in line to become king. – the Scotsman

Britain’s Government says it has begun the process of reviewing the ancient, discriminatory rules of royal succession, so that if Prince William and Kate Middleton’s first child was a baby girl she would eventually become queen. The current rule that puts boys ahead of their sisters “would strike most people as a little old-fashioned,” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said overnight. It is just two weeks until the prince and Middleton get married at London’s Westminster Abbey, and Mr Clegg said many people may agree that the rules should be changed so that if the couple’s first child was a girl, she would eventually inherit the throne – even if she had a younger brother. “I think most people in this day and age would think it’s worth considering whether we change the rules so that baby girl could become the future monarch,” he said. “I think that would be in keeping with the changes that are happening with society as a whole.” – Fox News Australia

Lib Dems regrets

More than a third of people who voted Liberal Democrat in last year’s general election wish they had chosen differently, an Independent on Sunday poll shows. The finding underscores Nick Clegg’s unpopularity and alarm among his party’s grass roots at the political direction he has taken in the Tory-led coalition. While 54 per cent of Lib Dems are happy with their choice at the ballot box, 37 per cent, a significant proportion, have deserted Mr Clegg. In a local election campaign speech in Newcastle yesterday, Ed Miliband seized on the Deputy Prime Minister’s woes by appealing to Lib Dem voters to switch to Labour after a year of “broken promises” on the tuition fees, the NHS and VAT. – the Independent

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Elwyn Watkins would have unsuccessfully lobbied himself on tuition fees

06/01/2011, 11:44:36 AM

Last night the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg interviewed Elwyn Watkins, the Lib Dem candidate in Oldham East and Saddleworth. He gave lots of silly answers but the following section stood out – highlighting the ridiculousness of the broader Lib Dem position:

LK: At the time though during the general election when you came within a whisker you were standing just as a Liberal democrat. You were against tuition fees, you were against big cuts in this financial year. Now you would be an MP as part of a coalition that’s gone against many things that the Lib Dems are campaigning for in the general election. How are people on the doorstep here meant to believe what you’d say to them this time?

EW: …In a coalition you have to compromise and most people I’ve talked  to say given the financial mess that we’ve got ourselves to try and deal with it’s about time parties co-operated and they looked to try and  get things done on behalf of the country rather than for party political advantage.

LK: But on something like tuition fees for example, on the doorstep here in the general election you would have been saying that you’d vote against any rise in them. How would you have voted if you were in Westminster then?

EW: Well I would have fulfilled the coalition agreement, but my view of tuition fees hasn’t changed, I still think they’re wrong and if I was an MP I’d still campaign against them. But when you’re in a partnership with another party sometimes you get what you want, sometimes they get what they want.

So, if Elwyn Watkins had become an MP in May he would have voted for tuition fees – BUT – campaigned against them. What? What do you mean Elwyn?

How can you campaign one way but vote another? How would he have campaigned against himself? Picketing his own office? Shouting at himself? Sending himself furious letters? Distributing leaflets saying “Do not vote for Elwyn Watkins – only the Lib Dems can win here”?

And all the while having to do all this campaigning without trying too hard, in case he convinced himself, and ended up not voting the way he intended.

The Lib Dems are past masters at double-think and double-talk. Recently they added a massive double-cross. But this raises to the level of madness their already vertiginous bar of duplicity and deceit.

It all probably sounded jolly clever when Cowley St gave Elwyn his lines, but hearing it back surely even he must realise that it is rubbish. What a fool.

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Students are paying the price of this arranged marriage

08/12/2010, 02:30:37 PM

by Andy Dodd

With tomorrow’s vote on university tuition fees seen as the first major test of the Tory-Lib Dem government’s arranged marriage, it is timely to consider exactly what the vote could, or should, mean for Labour.

To begin with, it is a perfect opportunity to expose the increasingly bizarre contortions of the Lib Dems, who cannot seem to make up their mind whether they are the government or the opposition. Many did not expect the coalition to run smoothly, but they did not anticipate that it would wobble so soon and so dramatically. Increasingly, the notion that Nick Clegg’s party could apply its manifesto as part of an alliance seems fanciful. Nobody cares about the soft touches round the edges when the grand design of the Conservative majority is so brutal.

As Lord Paddy Ashdown pointed out yesterday (BBC Radio 5 Live Drive, 6 December), Lib Dem MPs should be duty bound to vote for raising tuition fees. The policy was included in the coalition agreement which was unanimously agreed by all members of the Lib Dem parliamentary party. In agreeing to form the government, each knew very well that they would have to compromise on election manifesto pledges. And yet they made that deal.

So, please spare me the hand wringing of the Lib Dem minions who are learning the hard way that you cannot run the country by cherry picking. Spare us, too, the convoluted logic of a secretary of state who develops a policy that triggers mass demonstrations across the land and then admits that he may not even vote for it. This is a travesty of government. (more…)

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The old cancer at the heart of the student riot

11/11/2010, 09:00:18 AM

by Luke Akehurst

THE SAD lesson of the hijacking of part of Wednesday’s NUS demo – by a small minority who turned it into a mini-riot – is that some of the iron laws of left politics from the last time there was a Tory PM still hold true.

The mainstream left, whether that’s the Labour party, its affiliated trade unions, NUS or other organisations campaigning against the cuts needs to know that the bad guys are not all to our right on the political spectrum.

Idealistically, we might have thought that the sheer horror of the cuts being proposed by the Tory-Lib Dem government would mean all forces on the left in Britain could unite to protest and fight to protect key public services and benefits.

Wednesday’s behaviour killed that idealistic dream as it probably killed the political enthusiasm of some of the 50,000 ordinary students on the march.

On the plus side 49,000+ of them marched peacefully. By any stretch that’s a remarkable political mobilisation. The entire membership of all the student political organisations in the UK plus non-student supporters and non-partisan student union activists does not get anywhere near 10,000 people. So 80% or more of the marchers were “real people” driven to political protest by the government, not long-term political activists.

This should therefore have been a marvellous opportunity to get an entire new generation involved in politics, inspired by participation in a powerful protest that would have got their case all over the media and put fear in the hearts of the Lib Dem MPs who betrayed their erstwhile student voters. This should have been the start of a campaign that would have seen those 50,000 marchers go back to their colleges and work to either stop a government policy in its tracks or failing that contribute to mobilising their fellow students to evict Tory and Lib Dem MPs in university seats in the next general election. (more…)

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