Monday, July 05, 2010

Two months after the vote:
The Lib Dems' side of the argument

Part seven of our series. The LibDems have been taking some serious stick over the Coalition deal. Today, Mark Thompson sets the record straight and explains the LibDems' side of the argument.

In the immediate aftermath of May 6, I was expecting the Lib Dems to have performed better. When the exit polls came out I was sure that they would be proved wrong, but in the end they were almost spot on. In fact they had been a bit generous to us.

I spent most of the night in the National Liberal Club amongst other Lib Dems. Generally the feeling seemed fairly flat as the bad results came in. However, as the night wore on and it started to become clear that the Lib Dems would hold the balance of power, I got more excited. I was hoping for it to end up a doubly hung parliament (where the Lib Dems could have formed a majority with either of the other two parties) which would have given us maximum bargaining power however it was not to be.

I knew though as I walked out into the street at around 7:30am with fellow party members that politics was about to change quite fundamentally and I was very excited.

Later on, the news that a deal was being struck between David Cameron and Nick Clegg took a bit of getting used to, but it was the only game in town in the end. I blogged on the Tuesday morning when it was still looking possible that the party could try to strike a deal with Labour that we should take the Tory deal.

I am certain that a wobbly rainbow alliance built on the foundations of a minority Labour/Lib Dem coalition would have been disatrous. In the end I am a political realist. The deal we struck was the only politically viable one and I think we actually got a good deal all things considered.

And here is why. The country and its finances were (and are) in a mess. We have to get them sorted. The way that the public voted has ensured that no single party can command a majority. So the Lib Dems went into coalition with the Conservatives I think primarily to ensure that there was stable government for the country.

However we have got more than that. We have been able to get a significant chunk of our programme into government. We have already seen in the budget an increase in the tax threshold for the lowest paid by £1,000 and I fully expect that to rise further in later budgets helping the lowest earners and increasing incentives for people to work too. We have seen capital gains tax increased from 18% to 28%. Neither of these things would have happened if the Tories were in power on their own.

There are lots more policies as well as these headlines when you drill down and this will continue to be the case for the lifetime of the government.

In addition to this, we have 5 cabinet ministers including the universally respected Vince Cable in charge at Business and Chris Huhne who has impeccably progressive green credentials as Environment Secretary. Huhne has already assured our party at conference that there will be no public subsidy for nuclear, for example. I am far from sure that would have been the case under a government with a solely blue hue.

To those that keep crying "betrayal!" at the LibDems, this is what I have to say.

Firstly, I am not really clear what my party is supposed to be betraying. We are not some adjunct of the Labour Party. We are our own political movement with our own traditions and political identity. We are fighting in government for as many of those to be put into practice as possible.

The other thing I would say is that, if you are in favour of electoral reform, then accusations of this sort are rather baffling. A more proportional system would inevitably lead to coalitions where parties from different traditions have to come together and compromise.

Of course the Lib Dems have to defend what the party is doing in government (and I do not agree personally with the whole programme by the way) and fully expect the opposition to hold us to account. But I think it should be on the policies themselves, not some notion that we have betrayed something or someone. That is singularly unhelpful and I think will eventually backfire on Labour.

As for the leadership race within the Labour Party, I think the major problem that Labour have is similar to that of the Conservatives in 1997. All the main contenders are very closely associated with the previous discredited government. There needs to be some fresh thinking.

One of the reasons I could never have considered joining Labour is their woeful record on civil liberties. It was visible again the other day when Ken Clarke made his comments about prisons questioning whether banging up more and more people was the right approach. Straight away Jack Straw wrote a piece for the Daily Mail painting the government as "soft on crime".

This is the sort of approach that people are sick of and the new leader whoever they are needs to get a grip of. Otherwise Labour are risking spending another decade or more in the political wilderness as the world moves on without them and they are still fighting the political battles of the Blair/Brown era.

Mark Thompson is a Lib-Dem member and activist. He blogs at "Mark Reckons".


Newmania said...

I think its fair to say that New Labour have been notably authoritarian , the Bulger case is a horrifying example of near Fascist mob populism . I accept the Liberal party have been allied with Conservatives in opposing gross state controls . Liberals have not however been present to oppose micro controls at Council levels where busy bodying is their MO. Health fascism and political correctness not to say super state unaccountable bureaucracy have all been enthusiastically supported by the Liberals , soi disant
Neither have the Liberals consistently opposed the real expansion of the state . In the Blair period there was an unofficial alliance with Liberals critiquing from the left , if at all , whilst negotiating to join under Paddy Ashdown . The structural deficit, that is New Labour`s appalling legacy ,would, ,in other words, have been a lot worse if anyone had been listening to the Liberals .

Both Labour and Conservative are entitled to suspect opportunism then, but for all that , the Liberals Party has discovered its own Classical Liberal roots . Nick Clegg and others began this process even while the leadership were adopting a pale pink cringe so credit is due.
Credit is also due for social Progressivism which Conservatives were slow to adopt , abortion on demand was a mistake , gay rights was not . The personal achievement of Clegg in retaining a large bock in a close fought race has been hugely under estimated because the numbers do not tell the real story. It was a triumph

All in all I happy with the coalition , as a Conservative , but I do object to every piece of Conservative input being characterised as 'bad' and Liberal input as 'good' by the BBC . It follows a long history of Liberal tactics of course but I think in this case they have got it wrong

The country is showing it is sick of irresponsible clap happy politics and wants reality back . If the Liberals over play their hand we will be back at the polls seeking a mandate . This is not a prospect that concerns Conservatives snot all about apologising to the rump of old style reds sulking in their ,soon to be broken up ,social housing empires.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Ignoring the ignorant troll above for just a second, the problem is Mark that an alliance was formed with a truly awful right-wing party with a terrible history f mis-governance, when more people than not voted for a left of centre party in the last election and what we have ended up with is a right-wing party that has already en-acted a pretty awful budget that plays to Tory strengths and punishes all with a VAT rise.

Worst of all, the Libs are a minor partner in the alliance, so yes, they can check some of the Tories worst excesses but they cannot hold them back at every turn.

I have no doubt that perhaps it was the only course of action for the Lib Dems, pragmatism is always important but for many of us, you included I fancy, politics is also of the heart and for some of us, what the Lib Dems did engages the heart and makes us feel let down and yes, betrayed.

claude said...

"The other thing I would say is that, if you are in favour of electoral reform, then accusations of this sort are rather baffling. A more proportional system would inevitably lead to coalitions where parties from different traditions have to come together and compromise."

This is the objection that I hear time and again from hardcore LibDem supporters.

And while there is certainly more than an element of truth in it (coalitions are at the core of almost every form of PR), it's also true that in countries with PR systems, future coalitions are discussed transparently.

You vote the Northern League in Italy, you know they're going to enter a pact with Berlusconi's Party. You vote the Greens in Germany and chances are they'll try to form some alliance with the Social-Democrats. Etc..

There is no such thing as party leaders publicly declaring loud and clear that they would never form an alliance with Party X in government or that we are the only viable alternative to Party X, only then to literally shit on the gullible masses days (not months) after and renege on their word.

This, you've got to admit Mark, contributes immensely towards widespread cynicism, apathy and the anti-politics mood that reigns supreme in this country.

thepatriot said...

This is where my beef with the Tories becomes unbearable. They've allied themselves with a totally pro-EU party, the WetLiberals and you can already spot the results. We had that fat toff, Ken Clarke now trying to flatter the WetLiberals with claims that prison is useless. He aint the one living in crime-ridden ghettos, is he? Then theres now no cap on EU immigration which is a massive betrayal of what at least 80% of the British public is demanding. David Cameron is another EU-stooge and New Labourite in disguise. The sooner the British public wake up and vote for the only pro-British option, the better for all of us.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...


The racist manages to drag in the EU again! Quell surprise.

And what crime ridden ghettos would they be racist?

You're also making up a percentage because you're mental.

Have some dignity please.

Someone put the old dog down.

NoetiCat said...

@Newmania "The personal achievement of Clegg in retaining a large bock in a close fought race has been hugely under estimated because the numbers do not tell the real story. It was a triumph"

Indeed people said it was a tragedy and failure we didn't win seats, but in effect the two party squeeze in this crucial "change" election could easily have lost us half our seats without Clegg's strong leadership and performance in the election.

JA said...


The Greens are in coalition with the CDU in both the Saarland and Hamburg. At national level the SDP spurns Die Linke but in Berlain ATM and in the past they have worked together in government. Likewise the FDP have governed with the SDP plenty of times at all sorts of levels in the past. There have been two Grand Coalitions at national level.

Further east in Slovakia the social democratic party was until recently in coalition with several neo-fascist groupings. Likewise the Netherlands was ruled for much of the last decade by a grand coalition of red and blue with support from a small Christian fundamentalist party.

In the UK Labour Tory alliances on councils are not uncommon Cumbria CC being a big example and both the LibDems and the Tories (as well as Labour) work quite well at local level in Scotland. Take a look at the NI Assembly for a really strange coalition!

Parties often come together with their sworn rivals, people they do not have much in common with for power and quite often it works.

Personally I think that Labour and the Tories are made for each other, but thats just me...