Libdems are rejecting getting in bed with Labour


5:48 pm - September 17th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


      Share on Tumblr

Nick Clegg today published a paper by Demos called ‘The Liberal Moment‘ which, at 92 pages, is not exactly light reading alongside your afternoon tea. But I’ve skimmed through it. And unlike Dave Osler I have a few positive things to say about it.

First, the political positioning. I agree with James Graham in thinking that Nick Clegg is ending Lib Dem equidistance. About time too. With many on the progressive left arguing, with the impending wipe-out of Labour power, that Libdems and Labour should join forces to defeat the Tories, Nick Clegg points out why he won’t do so. But at the same time pointing out why ‘progressive’ (meaning leftwing) voters should support the Libdems.

Liberalism, he says, is about the distribution of power. That is music to my ears because I’ve always seen the left as more obsessed about the distribution of power than simply liberty (on the basis that there is little liberty without power). And it is with good reason that’s he making a pitch for former Labour voters: he points out that despite its stated intentions to help the weakest and poorest many of Labour’s policies has hurt them most, especially on tax. His points seems to be to tell Polly Toynbee at el: look, you have to understand where I’m coming from ideologically before you think I’m going to jump in bed with Labour to ward off the Tories.

That’s a good starting point because there are still far too many Labour tribalists willing to defend the government over its attack on civil liberties, its tax policies and other wastes of money like ID cards and Trident. Labour hasn’t gone far enough on developing renewable energy sources or forcing industry to cut its carbon usage. Labour hasn’t gone far enough in reducing the tax burden on the poor and increasing it on the rich. And it still remains too close to big corporations who set the agenda, rather than punishing them for wrecking the economy.

Nick Clegg think most Labourites aren’t really serious about his agenda and therefore if the Tories are warded off a Labour-Libdem coalition, Labour would go back to its bad old ways without learning anything from Libdem principles. I think he has a point.

What about the voters?
The main problem for Nick Clegg is that even though he seems to think this is the Liberal Moment, voters don’t. Despite Labour being very unpopular it is still 10% ahead of the Libdems in the polls. Once the Tories come into power and start moving right-wards, Labour will start becoming populist and inch up higher in the polls. After all, it can’t lose any more support.

And so while Nick Clegg is good at laying out the philosophical underpinnings for his argument, he has not managed to convince a significant percentage of the electorate that the Libdems are the natural opposition to the Tories.

That, in my view, will take moving more to the left and being very outspoken on bread-and-butter issues like social housing, poverty, the NHS, and the tax burden on the poor. Not to say Clegg hasn’t already – but right now he hasn’t made that emotional connection with left-wing voters who are still hankering for the return of the Labour glory-days.

Anthony Barnett is right on the money when he says:

The answer seems to be: It ain’t what you say, it is the way that you say it.

I recall watching what I think was their spring party conference. For a few flickering seconds, Clegg was in the top half of BBC News. We need an act of faith. It sounded good. It disappeared. I saw no other report. But who was to make the leap? He was calling on voters to bet their faith on him. But what he and his party need to do is to take a bet on the people. It is they who need to make the change, not the voters.

The party’s body language is way too Westminster. When push comes to shove, the Lib Dems are reasonable. Their leather radicals in the Lords look forward to an increase in MPs that will make them the arbiters of a hung parliament and their advice stifles the party – they are the UK’s last true Establishment.

Elsewhere on the subject
Sunder Katwala: Clegg’s realignment bid
Himmelgarten Cafe: 92 pages, you say? Sure, I’ll read it this morning
Caron’s Musings: Nick Clegg’s Liberal Moment
Libdemvoice: Nick Clegg’s The Liberal Moment: your blogosphere reader

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Libdems ,Our democracy ,Westminster

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


I wouldn’t get into bed with Labour either. They’d teabag you in your sleep and post it on YouTube. They have to go.

Lots of debate about Clegg’s pamphlet in which he rather unsurprisingly turns out to not like Labour and think that now is the time for the party that he, erm, leads.

But where’s the scrutiny of the rather more substantive (but wrong) pamphlet from “Saint” Vince Cable this week? Seemed to be of equal significance in terms of the political position the Liberal Democrats currently occupy.

It was also a thoroughly bad piece of work, full of terrible errors and internal contradictions – factually wrong as well as politically – that was just dying to be torn to shreds on the blogosphere. But because that didn’t seem to match people’s assumptions, it seems to have been strangely ignored instead…

Tks Sunny. Clegg is thinking and must have been told to piss off by the Tories over electoral reform. What else can I say but that if they ignore James Graham are they going to take an interest in what you (most of all) or I are saying.

@Hmm (that’s going to be confusing), I have a sneaking desire to read a line by line refutation of it, because I’ve not read it, and let’s face it I’m not going to, and I completely distrust the notion that anyone can possibly be right all the time (as, to his credit, does Vince). I’d rather St Vince was decanonised now rather than later, so if you can tear it to shreds, then let’s hear it.

Ending equidistance should have been done ages ago. I suspect the demise of Rennard has facilitated this shift in policy and it’s the right one.

One small point, if progressive means left-wing, why don’t they say left-wing. Are they embarrassed by the label? I say this tongue in cheek, but it is also a serious point. If you want to court left-wing voters, doesn’t it pay to tell them that you are left-wing?

Thanks for the mental image, Shatterface.

‘Thanks for the mental image, Shatterface.’

Be thanful I didn’t post a link!

@astateofdenmark, it’s to do with what his own party fall in with, I think. A lot of LDs do identify as left-wing, some don’t. Very, very few identify as right-wing (and I’ve never heard the self-identifier “right-wing Lib Dem” – “right wing liberal” maybe). But it’s still a little more mixed up than that. I think Clegg is right to use the wider term or he’ll confuse the hell out of us.

9. Denim Justice

Everyone assumes Vince Cable is right about everything when it comes to economics.

Ask the average man on the street who Vince Cable is, and they’ll either tell you he was a 70s pop star with long side burns who died of a heart attack in 2005, or that he’s a burly character from Eastenders.

If Cable was so “right” about the economic crisis, why are his party not doing better out of it?

Alix, by my definition you are left-wing & so am I. But I am sure there will be them as disagree on both counts.

I am on page 74. Nothing remarkable yet. But I suppose those who haven’t followed events closely & want a bit more might like to get some information as to just why it is that we slag Brown off.

Once the Tories come into power and start moving right-wards, Labour will start becoming populist and inch up higher in the polls. After all, it can’t lose any more support.

Wrong. Labour can certainly lose more support. It will probably take a decade to get the deficit under control, and a generation to pay off the resulting debt. Through all that time, the Tories will be able to blame Labour for any unpopular decision they make whatsoever. And they will.

Any time Labour attempts to complain about anything, the Tories will turn round and blame it on the Labour Debt Mountain.

Only the Libdems will be immune from that counter-attack.

I like this bit about “the security crisis” as far as it goes. I would like a more explicit slagging off of prohibition & explanation of why it causes problems, a thorough standing up to the Mail. Also a bit about secularism & opposition to Labour’s “faith-based” utter shite. But I suppose this is politics.

What we have learnt from Obama, whom I voted for*, is that it isn’t enough to just go to the ballot box & expect hope & change to be brought about. The right-whingers are out there lobbying every day, funding their organisations, getting whispers in politicians’ ears, counting on you staying at home & doing fuck all.

http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=1548

* No, not literally, obviously. But I am invested in that sort of shite. Hoping the right-whingers are held at bay in 2010.

8 Alix

But it’s not about confusing you, it’s about winning votes. If you run your party for the benefit of your members you will atrophy. If the Lib Dems are going to identify as Centre Left, they should say it loud, proud and regular. Otherwise your centre left voter will always wonder what you really stand for.

Hm, so “progressive” not good enough, eh? Ok, how about a pony?

Sunny said of Labour “And it still remains too close to big corporations who set the agenda, rather than punishing them for wrecking the economy.”

Punishing those responsible for ‘wrecking the economy’? Spot of self-flagellation for the red team.

Wrong. Labour can certainly lose more support. It will probably take a decade to get the deficit under control, and a generation to pay off the resulting debt.

Not really, voters have short memories. Look at the US.

Laour largely represents the government employee and therefore is never going to be serious about reducing government expenditure which reduces the employment of it’s voters.The Tories represent finance and have no interest in manufacturing . The self employed and those who run and work in small businesses are the ones who are being hit by the credit crunch the most. Cable believes the situation is more serious than Labour admits and some £110B/yr has to be saved . The defecit is 13% of GDP and Cable believes it has to be cut by 8% over 5 years. The self employed and those in SMEs are vital if we have to rebuild our non finance and construction economy are highly likely to support any government which does not cut public expenditure which includes of state employees, their salaries and pensions.

If a governmemnt tries to convince a small manufacturer who has gone bust that the vast number of quangocrats and white collar admin types are vital to the future of this country, they will have problems. One of Clinton’s financial people was asked if he could be reincarnated what would he return as “The bond market ” was the reply. Unless any future government satisfies the bond market the UK will have to go begging to the IMF.

If the Liberals can obtain the support of the self employed and those in SMEs then support can substantially rise. Microsoft was founded in the 73/74 recession and today can be good time for starting up new companies. If we want to rebalance the economy away fom the S of England, finance and the construction industry and towards manufacturing and the former industrial areas with long term employment; then obtaining the support for labour voting administrators working in government will be of little use. If we are to build up our manufacturing, we need to recreate the sort of success enjoyed James Dyson but just repeated a thousand or so times, in a dozen industries.

If we are serious about transfering power the greatest peaceful change was during the Industrial Revolution. A relatively small number of well educated , largely Non-Conformist /Quaker craftmen developed a range of machines and technologies . In 1707 Darby invented a new method making btter quality iron at a cheaper price and in 1712 it was used to make steam engine made by Newcomen and so began the Industrial Revolution. The patent for Akwright’s Spinning Machine is considered by Melvyn Bragg as one of the twleve books which changed the world.

If Labour really want to empower people then we need a new Industrial Revolution which instead of breaking the power of the land owning aristocracy will break the power of the City and the government paper shuffler. I cannot the Labour voting government employed papers shufflers being of much use in this difficult task.

Not really, voters have short memories. Look at the US.

Well, it took more than a decade for Labour to trusted on the economy again after 1979 (and perhaps more – the Tories were still favoured in the polling on the economy in 1997). It took the Tories significantly more than a decade to recover from Black Wednesday. Voters aren’t quite as amnesiac as you seem to think.

@Alix – hard to know where to start, but in terms of being just wrong: Cable’s total figure of c£43bn ANNUAL savings includes c£30bn of ONE OFF projects, so the amount that he has found to shave off the year on year budget is actually quite small; he includes various things that he says the govt MIGHT choose to spend extra money on in future, and cuts them – but that’s not a saving on what the govt is budgeting for at the moment, so it’s not a way of CUTTING spending – just a way of not increasing it even further; he proposes abolishing various bodies that have in fact already been abolished and don’t exist any more; he doesn’t account for the costs of laying off the staff of the various organisations and programmes he proposes abolishing, let alone the costs of them being unemployed as a consequence; and he identifies money that “could be re-invested in education” (for example) but then counts them towards his total cut, so the same money seems to be being spent twice.

Then there’s the political side – more arguable here of course but, for example, I find it pretty incredible he can advocate abolishing almost all govt spending on skills and training, simply asserting that the market will step in to provide it. And I don’t think too many people on this site would back an indefinite freeze on ALL public sector pay – including the NHS, schools, councils, etc. Similarly, he advocates cutting out all industrial policy (or “state capitalism” as he describes it!) but I’m not sure where that leaves the green jobs agenda.

But without these things, there’s hardly any cuts left, at least in terms of year on year savings rather than one off projects.

He also proposes a new wave of privatisations, starting with the Royal Mail, but most incredibly including a long term plan to privatise the road network. Yes, you read that correctly…

Not really, voters have short memories. Look at the US.

I’d rather not. Almost anyone associated with US politics seems to be transformed into a swivel-eyed, splittle-flecked moron incapable of any emotion beyond fear and outrage and that’s not all – the Republican ones are even worse! Serious point: US politics might not be a particularly good guide to the future of British politics.

Hmm @19:

Cable’s total figure of c£43bn ANNUAL savings includes c£30bn of ONE OFF projects

Can you cite a source for this? I can’t find it in the Reform paper.

Rob – table of projected savings is here: http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=tgC0kUXLdUprknD2SPf94ZQ&single=true&gid=0&output=html

You’ll note that some of the one off projects are divided over the number of years that they are implemented, but others are just counted as a one off in the first year. TBF, it only lists annual savings in 2010-11, so it is true in a narrow sense, but that’s not the impression that was given at the press conference.

The basic point is that Cable hasn’t found a good way of cutting the running costs of the state, he’s just found a load of one off projects that he’d cut and then decided to bung on a general attack on the public sector as a way of making it all work out so he can still cut taxes.

“Nick Clegg today published a paper by Demos…”

Surely the other way around?

Hmm @22:
Fair enough. As you say, the ‘annual’ element does refer purely to what would happen in 2010/11, but the saving on A400M is up-front whereas, say, the saving on Trident is over 25 years. However, to counter that it could be said that 2010/11 will be the year with the greatest need for savings, which would diminish as the economy recovers.

I think there are three points here:

1) Is there any need to cut spending at all? Or can we continue to spend ‘beyond our means’ indefinitely? In the long-run, economic growth might eventually dig us out of the financial hole, I suppose. I think it’s incumbent on people proposing this view to explain whether they would ever support a reduction in spending under any circumstances.

2) If we do need to cut spending, which are the least harmful ways of doing this? Cable is suggesting those areas where he believes spending could be least harmfully reduced, as opposed to, say, reducing benefits or canceling hospital building schemes. There’s obviously a need for a debate here about whether the reductions Cable has identified are the best possible ones to make, but nobody else has put forward a serious proposal for comparison (well, except the TPA…).

3) If we can identify spending that can be eliminated, how much of that should be directed towards paying off debt and how much should be directed towards other spending priorities – either departmental spending, tax cuts or other forms of transfers (benefits, tax credits, etc.). Again, this is a debate we need to have.

I feel that debates on ‘the left’ often lack discussion of the fact that many of the things we’d like to pay for are actually quite affordable even without raising taxes – we just have to spend less in other areas. The process of systematically identifying and eliminating those bits of government spending that don’t really do any good tends to be ignored and if it happens at all it’s done on the back of a fag packet by the likes of the TPA, who inevitably come up with something like ‘scrap the NHS’ or ‘privatise the police force’. Likewise, there’s no real reason why an enforced reduction in overall spending levels has to be a complete disaster for society, provided we’re prepared to make a robust case about which elements of public spending we think are truly worthwhile, and which we can happily live without.

@Hmm, I think we can safely agree to disagree on the political points (and no, I don’t find privatisation of the road network at all unthinkable – not being a screaming petrolhead, I couldn’t care less what market mechanism emerges as the best way of getting me from A to B, but if you ever feel like teasing a libertarian I should give that one a try, point out that all roads are massively govt-subsidised, there’s a national network of car parks etc, and there is just a possibility that in a totally denationalised Britain, cars might turn out to be a bit shit as an efficient means of travel – it will confuse them no end).

On your first para though, some good points and some I’d take issue with. The one-off/long-term savings face-off is being unpacked in your other discussion, so I won’t comment, other than to say I find it depressingly redolent of spin if a 2010/11 plan is rather being presented as a long-term solution in a press conference, but it doesn’t mean the pamphlet is full of “terrible errors”, which was your original charge. I am, of course, taking your word for what Vince said at the press conference. I’d be rather surprised, to be honest, if he hadn’t prefaced everything with his usual caution that economic planning can only be firmly done in the very immediate future.

“he doesn’t account for the costs of laying off the staff of the various organisations and programmes he proposes abolishing, let alone the costs of them being unemployed as a consequence;”

Yup, if it’s true that his savings aren’t net of these costs, then this is an error. Of course, I imagine the cuts are still on balance profitable even with the costs netted.

“govt MIGHT choose to spend extra money on in future, and cuts them – but that’s not a saving on what the govt is budgeting for at the moment, so it’s not a way of CUTTING spending”

You’re right, I don’t see why it goes in the end cuts list – unless of course it has already been ring-fenced for such-and-such area of expenditure, and the govt simply haven’t decided exactly where to put it, which I gather is normal practice.

“he proposes abolishing various bodies that have in fact already been abolished and don’t exist any more”

Hm, that does sound odd. Examples/refs?

“he identifies money that “could be re-invested in education” (for example) but then counts them towards his total cut, so the same money seems to be being spent twice.”

Nah, I don’t buy that this is a problem. It’s perfectly correct to say that it “could be” reinvested. In his total list, it’s not, but he’s suggesting the option. This seemed to confuse people enormously when the Lib Dems did it with the £20bn cuts package of last year as well, and I can’t imagine why. Are we not all intelligent enough to understand that you can either redirect cut money or not redirect it and just let it go? The debate on what to do with it comes later, but for now, this is the cut that can be made by doing xyz.

Well, it took more than a decade for Labour to trusted on the economy again after 1979 (and perhaps more – the Tories were still favoured in the polling on the economy in 1997). It took the Tories significantly more than a decade to recover from Black Wednesday. Voters aren’t quite as amnesiac as you seem to think.

sure, but those were big shocks. Here, we haven’t had a big enough shock that can solely be blamed on Labour (the financial collapse wasn’t)

@25

“Examples/refs?”

Page 46, he lists education bodies to scrap and includes the NAA, which was abolished in 2008; and the LSC, which is due to be wound up next year.

Now fair enough, I don’t think this would make a lot of difference to the final figures as a few million here and there is like small change in the context, but when I see mistakes like that which I’ve just picked up from a skim-read and with only a passing knowledge of that particular policy field, it does make me wonder what else is in there – hence why I thought a more forensic examination might be in order.

He cites the work of his “education colleagues” here so perhaps it was simply a copy and paste job from an earlier education policy document.

It is slightly puzzling though because he also proposes abolishing the QAA, when Phil Willis had said it should be either strengthened, or abolished AND replaced by a new and more powerful regulator, rather than just cut entirely:

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=407618

Incidentally, the education cuts are another example of him proposing that the money all be re-invested in other educational areas, albeit with the word “could” carefully inserted – it feels disingenuous to me, but I guess we’ll have to differ on that one.

@16

Not really, voters have short memories.

Sunny, you appear to be saying that you think that Labours support will soon go up, because you think that the electorate is stupid and irresponsible.

Is this what you intended to say?

Politically, the Lib Dems have a bit a problem. It has become socially unacceptable to be seen to support Labour in the same way as it was in 1997 if you were a Tory voter. If Nick Clegg voices support, or even indicates a new “Lib-Lab Pact” then the party will leach votes and the Tories will have an even bigger victory. They were never really equidistant anyway. Much of Lib-Dem policies were to the left of Labour in the last few years. A Labour voting friend of mine votes Lib-Dem last time specifically because they were the left-wing party of the three majors.

The longer Brown refuses to do the decent thing and cal an Election the more likely Labour will be beaten into thrid place. A lot of the white working class northern voters will go BNP, the middle class left-wingers will go to the Lib-Dems or Green. The center-right Blairites will go Tory.

Labour is going to be in thrall to the nutters like Bob Crowe in the Trade Unions, as they will be paying the bills, and will become as unelectable as the Tories were for years.

It’s going to be carnage and I, for one, am looking forward to laughing at the Labour losers come election night.

Charlie2 If you are there could you email me anthony.barnett at opendemocracy.net
some good points. Thanks.

31. Richard Blogger

Well I was following your argument until I heard Clegg promising “savage cuts”. That is the talk of “austerity Dave” Cameron, and it shows that Clegg is jet another Tory in a yellow suit.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Article:: Libdems are rejecting getting in bed with Labour http://bit.ly/26SP2U

  2. Vince’s paper: brilliant « Freethinking Economist

    […] is plenty of debate or abuse about Nick’s more political-philosophical effort in the Blogosphere, while […]





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.