Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The end of the LibDems?

As they sign up to an agreement with the Tories, the Liberal Democrats may have just signed their own suicide note.

The temptation is to just go back doing music and TV reviews, like when this blog first started. It's a sad day for British politics and many people are feeling significantly let down. This is why:

1. Let's begin by saying that I'm fully aware Labour is to blame for the collapse of coalition talks with the LibDems (and the SNP as well). Too many party dinosaurs rubbished the idea in public and poured scorn over a range of policies, not least electoral reform.

2. I'm also aware it was never going to be easy for the LibDems. "Poor Clegg, damned if he did...", like someone remarked this morning in the Independent. The root of all crap began on May 6, when, quite simply, the LibDems failed to muster enough support.

3. The honourable (and legitimate) thing to do was to let the Tories form a minority government. The LibDems could have shown "responsibility" by not voting it down initially. This would have also been in the party's medium and long-term interests. Supporters of last night's agreement fool themselves that this way the LDs can keep the Tories' nasty side at bay. But they fail to register that a Tory minority government, quite simply, would not have the numbers to implement its nastier bits anyway.

4. Some people say that Nick Clegg was left with no other choice because they would have been slain by the press as "irresponsible", especially in the midst of a downturn and need for "strong government". But since when have we cared about what the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Telegraph think? They would tear to pieces anything left of Thatcher anyway. Also, imagine if the same yardstick had been applied when the LDs voted against the Iraq war. I don't recall any LibDem fretting anxiously that "now we’re going to be called wet and irresponsible at a crucial time for our nation".

5. The Lib Dems have been selling the deal on the basis that they manage to secure a number of important concessions from the Conservatives. This is, however, a mixed bag, and less of a victory that it would appear at first.

6. Yes, one of New Labour's worst ideas, ID cards, will be dropped. The LibDems also managed to grab a commitment to raise the tax threshold towards (but not at) £10,000 of income. The Tories dropped their appalling plan to cut inheritance tax for millionaires and made concessions on education and a mostly elected House of Lords too. Finally, the Tories agreed to a referendum on Alternative Vote (AV), a moderate type of electoral reform (nevertheless an improvement on the current system).

7. It is understood, however, that the Tory high-cadres are confident they can win the referendum. They have the financial backing, the media and the momentum behind them. If referendum on electoral reform is lost, the blow for the Liberals will be unprecedented.

8. Supporters of the agreement amongst the Lib Dems are being exceptionally naive in forgetting that, concessions aside, the government will remain a Conservative one. The Tories will get (and rightly so, they're by far the bigger partner) the lion's share of goverment posts and will set most of the agenda. Tory MPs, activists and supporters did not wait 13 years and a 97-seat gain to sit back and let another party -least of all the Liberals- call the shots. Not on your nelly.

9. When the coalition collapses (which could happen anytime over at least 145 factors including Europe, immigration, surveillance, Lords reform, cuts, etc) and new elections are called, the Tories will have little to lose. They're unlikely to perform much worse than they did on May 6. They have a massive power base and enviable media support. Even at their rock bottom (1997) they still managed to get together 30 per cent of the popular vote. The same cannot be said of the Lib Dems, whose recent good luck was primarily due to disgruntled "progressive" voters. Needless to say, after seeing their party actively propping up people like George Osborne, William Hague and Liam Fox, they can kiss most of them goodbye now.

10. I'm amazed at how the LibDem high ranks are failing to take the pulse of their grass-roots voters. Lib Dem MPs may have "overwhelmingly" given the Cameron/Clegg partnership the nod, but the disquiet amongst voters is massive. Of course, this is hardly statistical evidence, but 9 out of 10 LD voters I personally know are feeling immensely let down. And that's to put it mildly.

11. The most tragic thing is that more and more people, politically, now have nowhere to go. I hear genuine Labour supporters saying "come with us now", but the expression "goldfish memory" springs to mind. Were they hiding under a rock for the past 13 years? And anyway, even if that was a viable option...would that be to support non-entities like David Miliband and Tony Blair's other grandchildren?


Bob Piper said...

Claude, the coalition won't collapse. It can't. The Lib Dems are on a hiding to nothing. If they stay in coalition with the Tories they will suffer a real loss of radical support, but may well pick up some centre right support from those who cannot quite stomach the real Tories.

If the coalition collapses, they will be completely mullered! The whole exercise will have been shown to be futile, and will just have given the Tories power. The electorate will desert them in droves.

What I don't understand for the life of me is how someone who lives in Birmingham, where the Lib Dems have propped up a minority Tory party for six years, couldn't see this coming a mile away.

Labour will benefit enormously from this. As a smallish Ward Party with only 65 members, I had three new members signed up last night. However, I feel the country, and our public services, are in serious trouble.

claude said...


I put my hands up and concede that in backing the Lib Dems (though with much reluctance) I made the wrong choice.

I fooled myself that the Birmingham "experiment", was just that, a (wrong) one-off dictated by local circumstances.

I was wrong.

Bob Piper said...

Much respect to you for acknowledging it, Claude.

Bob Piper said...

Claude, I wonder if you could invite Andrew Hickey, who wrote the piece on 'Why you should vote Lib Dem' on your site to comment now on his assertion that...

"Also, we're the only major party that doesn't want power."


claude said...

the most pathetic thing is certain pro-LD blogs this morning stuffing webspace with "YAYs" and "HURRAYs" with delusional stuff like "Chris Huhne is going to make the best home secretary ever".

He's actually going to be Energy Secretary. Simply, all top government posts have gone to the Conservatives. Nick Clegg is going to be Deputy PM? So was John Prescott and what did he actually achieve?

"YAY" and "HURRAY" that Cameron agreed on fixed Parliament. Wow. But then the Tories have been given free reign to implement their "welfare manifesto" in full.

The best concession may be the referendum on AV. But that doesn't mean the referendum is going to be won. Not at all in fact, especially if the Tories campaign for the "NO" vote.

""Also, we're the only major party that doesn't want power."

I will pull Andrew Hickey up on that one, :-)

I have one question for you though Bob. What's your view on electoral reform and why do so many Labour MPs (ie. Tom Harris) still insist against change?

D.C. Harrison said...

I can't add any meaningful political comment, but I'd like to say "good post" - it articulates a lot of my own thoughts.

It seems most the people I know (here in South Manchester) who voted Lib Dem do feel very let down, and the general feeling is one of "they can get ****ed if they think I'll vote for them again after this."

But on the other hand, as you say, who else is there to look to?

Bob Piper said...

I've never been that much in favour of electoral reform, and I think Tom gives a relatively good explanation of the reasons. The AV vote system isn't really proportional, and wouldn't produce a much different result than FPTP (which is, I suspect, why Labour and the Tories are duping the Lib Dems with it). The issue in the UK tends to be more one of population dispersal, with the Labour vote concentrated in small, high density populations. To be truly proportional you have to take the vote over a much wider area, or even the country... and that loses the MP-constituency link, which I think is very important.

After the mess of the last 5 days, I suspect the country may well reject PR on the basis that they don't want a permanent mess like that where people vote for politicians, and the policies are agreed privately behind their backs.

But I'm not wedded to FPTP, (I got 57% of the votes, so it's not self-interest) and it certainly isn't perfect, but I can just see too many faults in the alternatives.

claude said...

If it didn't sound like clap clinic material I'd say the STV is a decent one.

Bob, I read Tom Harris' defence of FPTP and it deliberately skips important points. Much is made out of the possibility of the BNP gaining MPs.

But, very simply, most countries where elements of PR are in place adopt a threshold. This helps against excessive "fragmentation". In Germany and New Zealand, for instance, it's 5%.

Which is why the German far-right (which is stronger and better organised than the BNP) is miles away from ever getting a single MP.

Bob Piper said...

The 'keeping the BNP out' is the weakest argument imaginable against any form of PR. It also means keeping out greens, far left groups, and anyone else and confining democracy to the big three parties. My argument is more centred around the transparency of the process, (and this weekend hasn't exactly done much to change my mind, albeit under FPTP) but as I say, it's not a deal breaker with me.

Ian said...

I think ultimately this will mark the end of the Lib Dems. Their very poor election results are perhaps testiment to the fact that despite the hype, people don't really know what they stand for. In the end people voted for the core principles of the two main parties.

Nick Clegg now gets to be deputy PM (milk monitor in reality I suspect), and a few of his colleagues get a taste of power, but the coalition will be hard to maintain and the next few years will in all likelihood result in public disquiet as the inevitable cuts take place.

The tories may suffer at the next election to some extent but at least they have a core vote to fall back on. Labour can regroup with a fresh new leader, a strong core vote, and a blame-free five years and do well at the next election. The Lib Dems however don't have a strong pervasive core vote, and the floating voters they rely on will be sorely disillusioned in my opinion.

Stan Moss said...

Exactly my feelings, Ian.

The Lib Dems have fucked this up. Also, and this where we disagree, Claude, I think the bias was already against Labour.

I mean, what exactly is the weight carried by David Blunkett and John Reid? Let's be honest. They're not even serving MPs anymore!

There are more authoritative figures amongst the Tories who were dead against a coalition with Nick Clegg.

So I think yeah, some Labour figures made some ill-timed comments, but the die was cast already. Clegg had made up his mind pretty sharpish.

Ben E said...

Given the option of calling another election or a vote of no confidence in a minority goverment, the current arrangement may end up being a good thing. The fact is that the Lib Dems are a centre party and have a good case for going left or right. There are very few senior Labour MPs left that are capable of competent government and I'm not sure that the electorate would have still voted for Labour had they known this was going to happen. Nobody wanted to endorse Brown as he had shown unparalleled levels of ineptitude during his time in power.

I grew up on the wrong side of the poverty line in the 1980s so I'm painfully aware of the consequences of Tory government, but my initial sceptisism has been overcome by the concessions that the Lib Dems managed to get out of the Tories (particularly on tax). The list of policies in the Daily Mail article you linked to sounds (for the most part) like a wishlist of sensible and realistic governance. Clegg will get his way on immigration anyway because it's the only workable solution and the NHS has secured real-term increases (this is a big £20bn deal over 5 years). The only thing that worries me is Mr Cough in charge of the DWP - he's a quiet toff bastard and no mistake, but Labour's record on DLA, AA, and the CSA is hardly something to be proud of.

So long as Clegg holds his nerve and makes sure he gets what he's been promised I'll be glad I voted Lib Dem. Had either of the other parties secured a majority we'd be looking at unchecked micromanagement or rampant greed.

Bob Piper said...

Ben, I have no doubt Clegg will get almost anything he wants outside of the 'red lines'. This year.

Next year, when the Lib Dems are tied in, unable to force an election outside of the fixed Parliament, the big bad wolf will start to gobble up the silly sheep. No red lines then for the Lib Dems. No guarantees. No way forward, and no way back.

Bloody fools.

claude said...

Ben E,
I envy your over-optimism. I wish I could borrow your rose-tinted glasses.

Let's look about this whishlist of "sensible and realistic governance" as you so elegantly put it.

The Cabinet is packed with vintage right-wing Conservatives. Are you seriously cheering at the prospect of Theresa "Section 28" May as Home Secretary, George "flat tax" Osborne as Chancellor, Liam "Rambo" Fox as Defence Secretary", Iain "Back to Basics" Duncan Smith as Work & Pensions and William "SuperEurosceptic" Hague as Foreign Secretary?

You really went through the whole election campaign to get THAT?

"Oh but the policies", you're probably going to say.

The £10,000 tax threshold became a £7,500. The Tories "welfare programme" will be implemented in full and with IDS the homophobe right-winger in charge.
Cap on immigration (what number?) to go ahead And the LibDems will prop it up!). Referendum on AV: delusional (a- it's AV, b- the Tories will vigorously campaign against it with the media backing). Torture supporter Peter Ricketts in charge of National security (so much for civil liberties). Trident to stay. Nuclear energy. Compulsory welfare to work. Tax breaks for the married. Megacuts...etc

Well done. But at least I guess you'll be happy cos we'll have a fixed parliament...

Ben E said...

Bob -the fixed term parliament doesn't preclude change of government (through a 55% vote of no confidence) - it simply stops the PM cherry picking when the next election will be.

Claude - I wouldn't say I was optimistic, but the tail may wag the dog yet. I voted Lib Dem because, having had the experience of both, I didn't want a Tory or a Labour government. What we have ended up with is something that at least provides the scope for a difference of opinion in the Commons counting for something. It may well go horribly tits up but equally it could work - the fact is nobody knows yet.

As to the Cabinet - Ian Duncan Smith is the only one that really scares me as his incompetence is matched only by his intransigence. I've no doubt he'll find new ways to screw the vulnerable in pursuit of a populist welfare policy, but it has always been thus. For example, the last Welfare Reform Bill granted the CSA the right to remove passports and pursue debts without a court order - those kind of extra-judicial powers aren't even available to HMRC. The DWP also engaged the services of Atos, a private healthcare firm, to support withdrawal DLA on the most tenuous grounds. The rest of the new cabinet are no worse than Straw, Blunkett, Balls, Prescott, or Blears.

The policy mix may actually do some good, even if only by coincidence. Some of the stuff may look scary on paper but it's unlikely that it will happen for practical or fiscal reasons. The cap on immigration is just cloud-cuckoo talk. Too many hoteliers and land owners have a stake in cheap labour for the Tories to pursue it with more vigour than the former government. Likewise Trident, we can't afford it and once Osborne realises how much is already tied up in PFI defence projects it will fade away for a few more years. Peter Ricketts? Extraordinary rendition Mr Blair? Any step forward in voting reform is a step forward - which hasn't been made since the voting age was lowered to 18. Raising the lower income tax threshold was a big concession for a party that's just given up it's middle-class tax policies.

It may not be ideal, but shit is going to happen for a while yet regardless. At least this way it won't be guided by the kind of totalitarian self-interest that a landslide brings.

Simon said...

Many interesting points, I agree with much and not with the rest. All I will add are two thoughts:

1. Whichever party decides something in the coalition must make it public that it was their idea and that they met resistence from the other party/their idea wasn't listened to. It WILL lead to bickering, but otherwise the elctorate will never know which side represents them individually.

2. We will just have to wait and see how it goes. Let's not start slagging off either party yet.

Anonymous said...

I thought I would share my thoughts as they are right now on an ever-shifting platform...anyway here goes. I am a LibDem activist and have been a party member on and off since I was fourteen.

My mum stood for LibDem PPC in Bath and North East Somerset where Jacob Rees-Mogg (Uber-posh Tory won. She didn't win her seat but she improved her share of the vote quite substantially. For her it is a major let down though because she has spent her whole time there fighting the Conservatives, so for the Lib Dem exec to have formed a coalition with the Tories is a real stab in the back...however my views are a little bit more optimistic (perhaps naievely so I don't know). The fact is though we haven't seen any policies brought in yet from this 'coalition' so it is far too early to judge whether it was or was not the best decision for the country. I have some hope because I think Nick Clegg genuinely cares for this country and will try his best to pull through as many LIBDem policies as possible. Although on the flip side I do appreciate that the majority of the cabinet are Tory so at the top table we are the weaker side!

This I do still believe though, we need a substantial change to our voting system and we need to be able to convince people that their vote does count and does matter. The only way for this to become a reality is to bring in PR using the Single Transferable Vote system. Any other version of PR does not reflect the voting patterns of the British people. If full PR (using STV) is accepted then coalition governments will become the norm not the exception.

Rachel C

Dangerdan said...

The key to this coalition working is mutual dependency. As long as both Clegg and Cameron can see the benefit in the coalition (Clegg - influence in Government, Cameron - stable Government) then it will continue to function. I completely disagree on the point regarding the LibDems sealing their own "suicide". I think the LibDems have made the right move and hope they prove that to the sceptical over the coming years.