Why shouldn’t we call out LibDems for their ‘betrayal’?

11:00 am - June 25th 2010

by Claude Carpentieri    

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Is the Left’s job that of opposing measures that we deem unfair, or do we simply find ways of not disagreeing too much with the Coalition lest “we push the LibDems further towards the Tories”?

Stuck between the obvious ideological clashes between those who think such “brave” and tough measures are the “inevitable” legacy of the Labour years, and those who instead call the Budget “reckless” and “dangerous for the recovery“, there appears to be a third category of people.

Yes, you guessed it: LibDem MPs. We don’t really know where the Lib Dems stand, do we?

Less than two months ago they were kicking and screaming that the planned Tory VAT rise was a “bombshell“. They even started a poster campaign about it and incur the wrath of many a Tory hack, including The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson who slammed it as a “dishonest” and “misleading” campaign (see here).

Labour, for instance, can hardly lecture anyone when they signed up to Tony Blair’s ‘Encyclopaedia of Amazing Betrayals’ for a whole decade. But even Tony Blair waited two or three years before making a mockery of the now infamous Labour manifesto promise over tuition fees to mention but one of his “pretty straight” deeds. And that’s saying something.

My problem isn’t with the Tories. I respect the fact that they’re doing what they have to do as a Tory party. They may have kept a couple of things quiet during the election, but they are a Conservative party, we all knew their history and their beliefs and what to expect from them.

The Conservatives are simply practising what they’ve preached all along: the importance of a slimmer state. They believe in it. You can’t say fairer than that. But the LibDems. What do they actually believe in? If they can change their mind so quickly, easily and radically over the timing, scale and quality of cuts, VAT, tax, state benefits, or the best way to achieve recovery, what tells you that they won’t change their mind over anything else if a dogbone is dangled before their eyes?

Sunny says “screaming betrayal at the LibDems won’t work” and that’s this is not only a sign of “tribalism” but also “downright silliness”. They add that “all [this] does is push Libdems further towards the Tories”.

But by focusing on the red herring, he glosses over the devastating consequences of what the LibDems did: following the fine Blairite tradition of turning yet more election manifestos into disposable arse paper that can be dismissed within weeks on the basis of where the most rewarding political wind blows.

Sites like Liberal Conspiracy often go out of their way to find any inch of Tory wording or semantic that would justify lashing out at anything vaguely Thatcherite (that’s not tribalism, is it?), so why shouldn’t Lib Dem politicians be harshly criticised or exposed when their political errors are so obviously blatant and their votes crucial for Tory policies to be implemented?

When the LibDems and the Labour left where (rightly) slating New Labour over Iraq, PFI or tuition fees, did Sunny write “easy with calling Tony Blair ‘traitor’ or ‘Bliar’ or else we risk turing these policies into a Tory monopoly”?

At which point does the game of triangulations end and principles can be asserted to the point that we can call a crap policy or an obvious betrayal by their name – that is, a crap policy and an obvious betrayal?

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Claude is a regular contributor, and blogs more regularly at: Hagley Road to Ladywood
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Reader comments

You shouldn’t do it because it is utterly disingenuous.

The record deficit is Labour’s doing, and all parties went into the election with massive cuts planned. If you think there was an alternative to that, let’s hear it.

And if we are at the mercy of the bond markets today, that is Labour’s doing.

Betrayal, yes, maybe that is the right word.

Why did anyone put their trust in the LibDems in the first place? Why look in the crystal ball when you can read the (Orange) book?

I’ve had motto which has served me well down the years – which is, ‘Never trust a liberal’.

As Phil Ochs sang

Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I’ve grown older and wiser
And that’s why I’m turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

Oh you’ve read the Orange Book. Excellent. What did you think of the chapter on pensions?

The Tory plan is to transform the Liberals into the British equivalent of the German FDP. The Orange Bookers probably sympathise with this idea. What will the activists think though? More importantly, what about Lib Dem voters?

It’s a coalition. This means you have to make compromises. Not every policy will have the support of th full coalition – you give up some things to get other things. We all knew, since the original coalition document, that the Tories were going to get the budget their way. I’m not sure why this is a surprise to anyone…

I’m sure Keynes’ quote “When the facts change I change my mind, what do you do sir?” has already been and will continue to be posted ad nauseam, but it seems to be a lesson that a minority of Labour die-hards won’t learn. We are obviously not seeing the budget that Lib Dems would like to see in a time of plenty; I expect we are not seeing the budget that Vince would come up with today given free reign, but it is a reasonable mix of Tory and Lib Dem policies and, although it is a compromise on the part of both parties, I wouldn’t describe it as a betrayal of either.

You said you respect the Tories for sticking to their principles. They haven’t. Do you think any raise in CGT was on the table for a pure Tory budget? You are simply more comfortable with the Tories because they have had to swing towards your position, whereas the Lib Dems have had to swing away from it.

What do the Lib Dems believe in? Freedom and democracy. We will see their influence on these in the repeal bill and the voting reform referendum. On economic policy there are those in the party to the left of Labour and those to the right of the Tories. Which of those positions then becomes party policy is voted on at conference. Democracy again. Simples.

Feel free to rail against parties that try to solve problems appropriate to the economic and political challenges given to them rather than dogmatically singing from a 1920s hymn sheet but that is a style of politics I hope we will soon see the end of as coalition government becomes the norm.

Screaming betrayal will not push the Lib Dems closer in policy to the Tories, but it will make claims that the Lib-Lab coalition was ever a likely outcome look ridiculous.

This is one of the best LC article for months.

This is about right.

The LibDem leadership are neoliberals and (as Conventrian rightly says) have made this explicitly clear with their orange book.

The fact that Sunny opposes opposition to the LibDems and sees their coalition as sensible speaks volumes, but is utterly unsurprising. It has nothing to do with tribalism, but simply with spotting the obvious rightist path that the Liberals have now taken. Anyone who now (after the election – perhaps some before it, too) defends the LibDems (particularly the parliamentary party) is a neoliberal stooge who is part of the problem this country (and the destruction of the public) is facing.

In any case, I doubt the LibDems will be of any relevance following the next few elections right up until the next general election. They will disappear off the map, which is just about what they deserve following this ‘inevitable’ budget (yes, inevitable, if one puts orange book authors into a position power).

The fewer Cleggs, Cables, Laws, Huhnes etc, the better for Britain.

“The fewer Cleggs, Cables, Laws, Huhnes etc, the better for Britain.”

yes more of the Blair, Brown and Milliband brand of neo-liberalism. At least Lib Dems are honest about the different ideological strands that make up the party. They don’t masquerade under the facade of a ‘progressive left’ like the Labour party and then resort to right wingtry to please the galleries at the Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch.

I am just trying to work out which one of liberal or democrat should be taken to mean socialist. Because otherwise, I can’t see why this budget is not in line with Liberal Democrat beliefs.

Wow – the liberals turn out to be liberal.

Who would have thought?

What do LD activists think?
Ha – who cares?
None of the leaderships cares one whit about their activists, do they?

What do voters think?
Well, judging by the early post-budget polls, they’re reasonably happy.

But even Tony Blair waited two or three years before making a mockery of the now infamous Labour manifesto promise over tuition fees to mention but one of his “pretty straight” deeds.

Well, ish.

April 1997, Tony Blair “Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education”
July 1997 Tuition fees legislation started.

2001 Manifesto: “”We will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them.”

2003: Top-up fees legislation started.

13. Luis Enrique

If you are starting from the assumption that the Lib Dems are guilty of betrayal (betraying who? their supporters?) and this post is arguing against Sunny’s position that it would be bad tactics to focus on that message, then what’s the criteria in use here? This post seems to be arguing that in principle there’s no good reason not to call them out for betrayal, but good tactics aren’t defined by principles, they’re defined by effectiveness, and I can’t see much in this post to support the idea that screaming betrayal is going to be an effective tactic.

Of course plenty of people aren’t going to cede the position that the Lib Dems are guilty of betraying anyone. If their supporters don’t feel betrayed, and the broader electorate is supportive, then who have they betrayed? Labour voters? One reason why screaming betrayal might be a bad tactics would be if it doesn’t resonate with voters, but again I don’t see either you or Sunny really making an argument about what kind of message is going to be persuasive with voters,

Sunny seems to have been talking about what we ought to accuse the Lib Dems themselves of, but not clear whether the aim is to get Lib Dems to change their behaviour, or to change what voters think of the the Lib Dems behaviour.

You want to persuade Lib Dem supporters that they ought to feel betrayed, fair enough, that’s just about getting into the argument about whether policies that they are enabling via the coalition are so bad that anybody claiming to hold Lib Dem “principles” (whatever they are; as you note, it’s not clear) should not accommodate them … by pointing out “you claim to believe X but you are actually doing Y” … that makes sense to me, but is it the same as “calling them out for betrayal”?

I can’t keep track of what people are arguing over here – you end by saying we ought to be able to call crap policies crap policies, but did anybody suggest otherwise? When Sunny wrote that because Lib Dem “activists” are loyal “they’re not going to go along with the betrayal charge this early”, did he mean the left ought to somehow not criticize Coalition policies?

There’s a difference between attacking a politician and crying “betrayal”, though.

I think it’s entirely legitimate to call the LibDems out for backing an iffy budget or backing things they said two months ago would be a disaster.

But betrayal… who are they betraying, exactly? Clegg was very careful to triangulate through the campaign, his pitch was never specifically to the left. I feel irritated. I don’t feel betrayed.

“But the LibDems. What do they actually believe in?”

Well, quite….and not as snark, but as an important point. what do they believe in?

The great fault line in British politics is, at least in my view, between the liberals and the authoritarians.

And that fault lin runs right through the middle of the Lib Dems.

Sure, there are plenty of economic liberals in the Tories, plenty of social liberals in Labour. But there aren’t all that many economic and social liberals around and most of those that there are are the Orange Book liberals. Sadly, they’re in alliance with the (possibly) socially liberal but not economically liberal Democrats.

It’sd no wonder you find the Lib Dem party as a whole being slightly schizophrenic on so many subjects. They don’t know what they believe, let alone the rest of us being able to divine what they do.

I’m confused by the constant (and reverent!) use of the word ‘belief’. If that is what people want politics to be defined by then we will end up with the irrational and sectarian conflicts that the church has constructed for itself.

Politicians have a job to do: a careful balancing act to keep as many people as safe, free and prosperous as possible. It always requires compromise and its execution is completely dependent on the economic, environmental, cultural and technological environment of the time.

Rather than searching for the elusive Lib Dem “10 Commandments for all time”, how about looking at the manifesto in the first instance and the coalition agreement document in the second instance to see, respectively, what Lib Dems would like to do and what they are prepared to compromise on.

When they introduce 90 day detention without trial and fight against electoral reform is when I will scream ‘betrayal’.

The record deficit is Labour’s doing

Look, I hate that bunch of mendacious slimebags as much as the next guy, but practically everybody’s got record deficits at the moment. Unless you believe they were running every economy in the world, blaming them exclusively seems a little silly.


Well, how about their policy commitment to removing top up fees (which I even as a Labour PPC supported, depending on it being paid through a business education tax)?

They are now part of a Government that will triple them. Doesn’t that represent a betrayal?

How about their main policy pitch, ‘fairer taxes’? They are now responsible for a hike in VAT. If they hadn’t have joined the Government, the Tories would have never got that through.

What about Trident? Doesn’t that represent an utter about-face?

The only thing I can actually identify from the Lib Dem manifesto that seems to be making it in is a severely watered down version of their CGT increase, cuts to tax credits which will undermine the political sustainability of this redistributive measure, and the dropping of ID cards, which the Tories agreed with anyway.

All of the rest represents something close to the complete opposite of the manifesto upon which they campaigned.

It is difficult to see how this does not represent a betrayal of their own voters and democratically mandated policies. That being so, the only reason for not ‘screaming’ it (nice emotive language there) is tactical. Nothing wrong with admitting that.

Their may be merit in such a case, but I would make that decision based on the evidence.

The idea that because Tony Blair was often completely off doesn’t mean that Labour shouldn’t be able to criticise the Lib Dems. Firstly the Lib Dems did it for many years to Labour, with great relish, and without being chided by Sunny, for the ‘nice party’ can do no wrong.

Secondly, many of us in the Labour Party also criticised Blair where we felt he was wrong; this is clearly not mirrored within the Lib Dems, who are utterly supine as a result of their locally based systematic opportunism.

It is part of the party culture to fall into line, partly because they have no unions tugging them the other way, and partly because they think thousands of leaflets about dog turds and the right of minors to act in porn films are more important than massive job cuts.

That culture will take a drubbing to change, so if you want to see a better Liberal Democrat party, I suggest you campaign for Labour to give them one, but keep a critical mind.

Just saying, like.

Labour, for instance, can hardly lecture anyone when they signed up to Tony Blair’s ‘Encyclopaedia of Amazing Betrayals’ for a whole decade. But even Tony Blair waited two or three years before making a mockery of the now infamous Labour manifesto promise over tuition fees to mention but one of his “pretty straight” deeds. And that’s saying something.

As far as I remember one of Blair’s first acts in power was to cut benefits for single mothers, and you can add to that privatisation of air traffic control, private prisons, PFI – all things which Labour strongly opposed in opposition but embraced as soon as they got into government. None of which gets the Lib Dems of the hook (assuming they are actually on it) but Labour can’t exactly take the moral high ground on this.

The great fault line in British politics is, at least in my view, between the liberals and the authoritarians.

And that fault lin runs right through the middle of the Lib Dems.

Motes and beams Tim! You fancy defending UKIP’s burka-banning policies as being remotely socially liberal? There’s a fault line through that party too: with you on your lonesome one side, and a few thousand Colonel Blimps on the other.

I voted LibDem, and I don’t personally feel betrayed. If they had formed a majority government by themselves and produced the same budget I probably would. But given that the Tories basically won the election, it’s not so surprising to see some tory policies being implemented.

The fact is, when the election results came in, the LibDem leadership had two choices: agree to a coalition and try to get some liberal policies implemented, or allow the Tories to form a minority government. The latter would almost certainly have resulted in a second election very soon, in which the Tories would have won an outright majority – having neatly shown that hung parliaments and coalition politics don’t work in Britain.

Now you can argue about how well the LibDems have negotiated their hand in the coalition (personally I don’t think too badly – provided the electoral reform bill doesn’t disappear. The budget is not progressive but it is considerably more so than a tory majority one would have been). But to feel betrayed because some LibDem policies and stances have fallen in the negotiations is to misunderstand how politics works.

How much I agree depends on how literally we’re meant to take Sunny’s article. If he is calling only for a lack of hysterical screaming, then he’s right (although that’s a bit redundant since hysterical screaming is hardly ever a good idea).

If, on the other hand, he’s not just talking about tone, and is going to redefine any criticism into the screaming hysteria category, then that should be resisted as the same sort of pernicious nonsense where legitimate criticism is dismissed as partisan.


“given that the Tories basically won the election”

No, despite the fact that they were the bigger party, they didn’t have a majority of seats.

That’s kind of the whole point?

“There’s a fault line through that party too”

Very true….although in a slightly different manner. We’re agin’ the EU….and disagree on lots of other things.

The line through the Lib Dems means that there are people in the same party with diametrically opposed worldviews….with almost no points of agreement.

@22 They won over 300 seats, enough that no other grouping could possibly have produced a majority.

Seriously, what option did Clegg et al have? Tell the electorate “Sorry we don’t like how you voted. Please try again.”?

The betrayal was in the early 80s. This isn’t a betrayal- this is completely in character. I say cut them off, don’t consider them part of Britain’s progressive culture in the same way we don’t consider the Tories to be part of it. We don’t want to woo them- an influx of Lib Dems can only push Labour further to the right (it’s telling when a Lib-Lab “reallignment of the ‘left'” was something Mandelson and Blair were looking for) and then they’d just bugger off again after eating all our biscuits.

Treat them as another party we oppose, because their policies are those of a party we should oppose. Don’t treat them as prodigal sons.

olching (8): “The LibDem leadership are neoliberals and (as Conventrian rightly says) have made this explicitly clear with their orange book. … Anyone who now (after the election – perhaps some before it, too) defends the LibDems (particularly the parliamentary party) is a neoliberal stooge who is part of the problem this country (and the destruction of the public) is facing.”

See, the thing is I hadn’t spotted any alternative to neo-liberalism being on the table in the recent election, including from Labour. I certainly don’t like the budget at all, but the idea that it is ‘betrayal’ is a bit ridiculous – as you point out yourself the neoliberal views of many leading Lib Dems are hardly a secret. To me the Lib Dems are still the best of the main three parties on a variety of issues, and probably despite their support for the budget remain more open to alternative economic ideas than Labour.

Sure, I’d rather we had something more akin to the Green Party as a serious option in elections (outside a couple of constituencies), but we don’t. Yet.

28. margin4error

Will A

One option was to agree not to back a vote of no confidence and thus allow the tories to rule as a minority government, making the case to other parties for each area of policy they act on.

The argument from Cameron and Clegg that it was better to form a coalition because they share the same vision for the country hardly speaks highly for the Lib Dems as a progressive force.

29. George W. Potter

@5 and 20

Spot on.

30. Ken McKenzie

Actually, Will (and others), Clegg did have another option, although it was tougher and wouldn’t have got him a nice office.

He could have provided what we sorely lack at the moment – principled, credible, coherent Opposition. Incredible though it might be to Lib Dems, we actually already have a bunch of right-wing public-sector demonisers in Government – we didn’t actually need another, less coherent or focussed bunch to deflect the blame away (the Tories did, but you appear to have mistaken what’s good for the Tories – and you’re very, very good for the Tories – for what’s good for the country).

What we did – and do – need is an Opposition to what is now plainly an extremely ideological Government who had the credibility and moral force to make the case for the majority of the country who actually didn’t vote for what we’re now getting.

The Lib Dems could have filled that role. But for one reason or another you chose not to. You could argue that this was the only way you could fulfil policy committments. It might be good to save that argument for when some policy committment actually get fulfilled, of course. My feeling is that you looked at Government and you looked at Opposition, and the Lib Dems concluded that Government was more lucrative and easier.

margin4error @27

It’s a nice idea, but in the real world the end result would have been worse. The tories would have called another election when their budget failed, and almost certainly won it outright, with any possibility of electoral reform destroyed for another decade or two. And then they would have produced their own budget with inheritance tax cuts and nothing to protect the poor at all.

It’s a shame that pragmatism is needed, but given that we have an electoral system that shifts the centre of politics to the right of popular opinion it’s a fact of life.

32. Ken McKenzie


Lib Dem activists don’t seem to have grasped yet that, in the face of Tory opposition, their main hope of electoral reform lies with them convincing the Labour supporters that they’re currently insulting with gusto and alienating with policy, to actually vote with them.

One wonders when that particular penny will drop.


Well that may be true. Certainly if Liberal Conspiracy is anything to go by there is little love lost between the two parties at the moment.

But this site is supposed to be a place where people with liberal/left views can get together and actually discuss the real world. And I’m pretty sure once you get past the party politics and tribalism most members of both parties want similar things – just with slightly different priorities and methods of achieving them. So yelling betrayal at what was pragmatically the only choice just doesn’t seem helpful.

Isn’t there the prior issue of calling out New Labour for its betrayal of perennial Labour values?


You are right to an extent. But I don’t think any of the parties (at least the frontbench) made their commitment to neoliberalism so explicit and definite…and current: While Labour’s commitment still rested on the ‘New’ consensus of the mid-90s and the Tories on Thatcherite ‘values’ (for want of a better word) from the 80s, the orange book was penned in 2005.

I mean, think about this for a second: A good two and half to three decades after the neoliberal revolution in the UK, US, and some continental European countries (though never as explicitly) a section in the LibDem high-flyers decided to further this cause considerably.

One might even argue that Brown was moving away from this after the economic crash (hence his mauling in the city-friendly media who noted his shift away) while the LibDems were moving ever further to the right.

In any case, there are other parties that do not have the commitment to neoliberalism as the LDs espoused (Greens, nationalists outside of England, Respect, other fringe parties). They may not be your cuppa tea, but then I suppose what you’re saying in essence is that you prefer their neoliberalism to other parties’ reluctance toward it (at least if you defend the LDs now, as Sunny does).

And one more curious thing: Why was Cable praised so much by people who thought they were left-wing? It was always obvious that he was simply another neoliberal manager. Watching him on QT yesterday was hugely satisfactory.

@Ken McKenzie (29)

Explain to me how running a government department is easier than criticising from the safety of the opposition benches. Lib Dems trying to be ‘credible’ in opposition have been perennially drowned out by Labour/Conservative slanging matches. Being in power, while being a much harder job, at least pays off in policy terms. Although of course it’s all because they want the ministerial cars right?

and @Ken McKenzie (31)

You are saying that Labour supporters should deliberately oppose the most significant democratic reform for decades out of pique? I have a little more faith in Labour supporters that they will support the referendum on electoral reform because it is progressive, not because they have been persuaded by Lib Dems showering them with compliments.

Let me tell a true story. Yesterday I met a middle aged woman, who used to be on incapacity benefit. She has been put onto the flexible new deal. So she must have been a scrounger, then? She was able to work, but chose not work because of laziness, eh?

Well let me tell you her story and then you can decide. She was diagnosed with a rheumatoid condition that means the lining of her joints are severely inflamed. She finds it difficult to do anything constructive, even standing causes her extreme discomfort. When the pain gets too hard for her to bear, she is forced to take painkillers that render her unable to concentrate. When she was tested by a doctor who specialised in rheumatoid conditions, she was given the highest score possible. However a retired GP passed her fit for work.

In a last gasp attempt to perverse her dignity, she took her appeal to the panel in Gorgie Road in Edinburgh, however, her case was lost before she even got a chance to defend herself, the decision was already made before she entered the building. This is not a medical tribunal, this is a financial tribunal. Now we have a private company, ‘Igneous’ are now making money by forcing her to apply for jobs that she cannot do, has no skills to do it and would need to take painkillers that would render her useless for any employer, for what? Just to put an extremely ill woman through a living hell for the sake of a few quid? This is going on in every town, village, City and County in the Country.

The people who are attempting to dismantle the welfare state are winning if not outright won. In the meantime, whilst we are watching people being forced into hellish positions and stripping them of dignity, some people are suggesting that we ‘not rock the boat’ for the ‘decent’ wing of the Lib Dems? Terminally ill cancer patients are expected to attend back to work interviews and told they can work on the sayso of a panel who don’t even look at the evidence? The weakest members of our society are being attacked on a daily basis in this Country and we are frightened that questioning the vicious rulings may entrench the most bitter orange bookers?

Well I say ‘boo hoo’ to the bastards. If a few decent Lib Dems don’t like the consequences of their action been shown in sharp relief and the thought of people getting in their faces and attempting to prick their consciences, then sorry, they should have thought of that, BEFORE they got into bed with the Tories. The ‘chance to serve’ is what they wanted and the chance to serve is what they got. Well that is great, but guess what? I, for one, think they need to ask themselves if this is what they wanted. They may (or may not) feel uncomfortable at the thought that some of their decisions have left people destitute, but they shouldn’t be allowed to shut their eyes to that because it may upset them. Millions of their victims cannot get away so easy, so why should they?

From all accounts Simon Hughes appears to be the highest profile conscience of the Party left. If so, then we need to confront him with the grass roots issues that ConDem polices are producing. Had there been a Lib/Lab pact, I would expect Frank Field, Parnell or whoever to have the worse decisions rammed down their throats too.

If Simon Hughes decides that he is on the ‘progressive’ side of the divide, all well and good, he is an ally, if, on the other hand, he sides with the odious wankstains that infest his and the Tory Party, then he will become our enemy. Make no mistake, this is not some academic study we are having; we are looking at the defeat of Liberal democracy we have built in this Country.


They should have let the Tories form a minority Government, and used parliamentary pressure to oppose the cuts and tax rises they told the electorate they were against, and voted with that government if it complied. As should have Labour.

This would have put both Labour and the Lib Dems (well, the people who supported them) in a much stronger negotiating position – a position, given the scrappy nature of the result, that they deserved.

Even if you don’t think this was the way forward, you have to admit that this was a serious choice for the LDs, and not an obligation.

Being the second party, Labour was actually under a greater constitutional obligation to help the Tories form a government. Of course they wouldn’t, because they thought it would involve selling out too many who voted for their manifesto. This moral imperative was stronger than the moral compulsion to ensure Tory government.

Labour made a choice, and a choice far more honourable than many of those throughout the preceding 13 years.

The LDs had a choice to make as well, and they made it. They must now take responsibility.

‘The Tory plan is to transform the Liberals into the British equivalent of the German FDP. The Orange Bookers probably sympathise with this idea. What will the activists think though? More importantly, what about Lib Dem voters?’

Well, the FDP is currently polling around 5% so…

40. Ken McKenzie

@Ed on 35

Opposition would have been harder because you wouldn’t have the Tories doing all the work and telling you what to do. It’s a bit harder to just nod other people’s ideas through when your ‘partners’ don’t have any ideas.

You had the chance to show the country how Opposition could be done. But you lacked the conviction that you could do it.

And as to the AV vote, the other side of the coin is that you want Labour supporters of electoral reform to vote in an idealistic and principled way, because you think it’s the right thing to do.

So, the Lib Dems want supporters of another party to do as they say, but not as they do. In other words, it seems to be the stated view of their party that Labour supporters and MPs have more principles than Lib Dem ones, and, furthermore, you’re already gearing up to blame Labour if/when you lose the vote rather than face the rather sizeable blue elephant running against you.

@Joe Otten:

The record deficit is the inevitable consequence of propping up our economic house of cards, and if you think there was an alternative to that, let’s hear it.

The alternatives lie in the choice of how to address that deficit. The Lib Dems have sided with the Tories in targeting the poor for taxation. That’s what they’re being criticised for.

By the way, we Scots have known for a long time that the Lib Dems will renege on any core policy given a sniff of power, because we’ve had a balanced parliament for a while now.

42. Roger Mexico

There’s far too much of the narcissism of small differences going on here. Will A is right: those on the liberal left (carefully using small case) should be uniting to use the opportunity of a hung parliament to get liberal and hopefully left policies through.

As an outsider I haven’t noticed much insulting of Labour supporters from the Lib Dems. What has been attacked is the actions of the not-long departed Labour government; often actions that Labour supporters here attacked just as vigorously.

Does Jim somehow imagine that the heartless and bureaucratic invalidity system he describes has magically appeared in the last seven weeks? Indeed the Budget actually promised to scrap a similar system for Disability Living Allowance. (Yeah I’m cynical too)

A lot of the attacks on the Lib Dems (bizarrely combined with respect for the Tories) seem to be motivated by guilt at going round with Polly Toynbee’s peg on their nose for the last 13 years and unwilling to face the consequences of their actions.

Actually I suspect most Labour supporters and activists don’t share these views. The widespread rejection of Ed Balls, the most tribal of the candidates in the leadership race, is a sign of that.

Those on the left have a choice. They can sit back in comfortable opposition, striking attitudes about the evils of the coalition. Or they can work on various campaigns trying to get support from across the political spectrum (yes including many Tories) on issues such as the IB system Jim described. A hung parliament will make this easier than in the past.

why not? Because people aren’t stupid and they can understand given that labour did on spending review before the election that the coalition is faced with a different situation that needs a different approach.

It may be less than the whole truth, but it is labour government that made this bed, and trying to shout at lib dems who don’t have a majority say in the coalition as a response is clearly politicking rather than representing the opposition opinion of the nation properly

44. Ken McKenzie


Actually Labour are representing my opposition opinion properly if they’re currently calling the Lib Dems a bunch of spineless opportunist hypocritical bullshitters. Not only that, but they’re also representing a lot of other voters, including some Tories and even some Lib Dems.

Also, one thing about being in Government, Lee, is that along with the offices, you also get ‘responsibility’ for policies.

So, just as as a test, when George Osborne soaks the poor, and Nick Clegg goes along with it, who has just soaked the poor?

1. The Government?
2. The Opposition?

It’s not a difficult question, but it appears that you keep getting the answer wrong, and that is an excellent reason why some people are really not liking your party just at the moment.

@Ken McKenzie (39)

Again, you’re making it sound like AV is a Lib Dem policy that they’re going to have to ‘persuade’ Labour supporters to go along with. AV was a Labour manifesto pledge whereas the Lib Dems wanted STV. It is the Lib Dems that have had to compromise on electoral reform and, with the help of the Conservatives, may end up delivering a policy that was in the Labour manifesto but not in either of the coalition parties’ manifestos. What is there to do to persuade Labour supporters to back their own policy unless they are only opposing reform to score a party political point against the Lib Dems out of some weird kind of self-defeating revenge?

I didn’t get the point in your first paragraph. It seemed to imply that Labour had no ideas … ?

As for conviction to show the country how opposition could be done: they’ve done plenty of that for decades haven’t they? Lib Dems in opposition have been overshadowed by the larger parties desperately trying to exaggerate their differences in petty spats. In government they’ve already demonstrated their influence in a big way in the coalition document and in a small way in the budget.

I *would* personally like to see some credible opposition to coalition policies and would prefer a more progressive budget to what was announced. In an ideal world I’d like to see a left-liberal alliance. A prerequisite for that, however, is dropping the cheap, tribal point scoring approach (and hoping that the media do too) and pursuing individual policy points with multi-party support (as Roger Mexico (41) advised). The Lib Dems aren’t contractually bound to vote with the Conservatives on everything – those areas where they are are listed in the coalition agreement. If Labour can table small, realistic, progressive amendments to policy and can lay off the “B” word for five minutes (or, indeed, “class traitor”) then I don’t see why the Lib Dems can’t support those amendments in the Commons.

I think this is a misreading of where I’m coming from, and Luis Enrique and Jonn have sort of got to it.

Firstly, the Libdems ran on a specifically neo-liberal economic consensus (as did Labour of course), which was to the right of the party. Most members went along, they’re loyal.

Now they’re in power. Broadly, they’re willing to compromise. This is made easier by the fact that it’s a coalition and both sides can blame the other for not getting their way.

It’s legitimate to ask whether accusing them of betrayal is actually right, given that the biggest stone you can throw is VAT. Most of the rest Labour was also eventually planning to implement.

But my broader and more important point is about tactics.

Right now Libdems won’t listen to lefties, and if we want to convince wavering voters then turning our fire on the Libdems is a waste of time (they are junior partners).

Screaming betrayal might feel good but actually it has no material impact on anything. SImon Hughes will be slapped down and told to shut up. It’s only a few years down the line that the patience of Libdems will start to wear thin and they’ll be more willing to listen to left-wing critiques.

But Luis also says:
but again I don’t see either you or Sunny really making an argument about what kind of message is going to be persuasive with voters,

I made this exact point recently, and have been repeatedly on Twitter. I’ll expand on it next week.

I just think the ‘betrayal’ card is just one long angry rant that has little strategic value, doesn’t convince Libdems or wavering voters, and is a waste of time.

We should be thinking about proper intellectual and strategic responses. Just moaning is boring. And lefties do far too much of it.,

‘just think the ‘betrayal’ card is just one long angry rant that has little strategic value’

I don’t get the betrayal argument. If you go swimming in the sea and a shark eats you, you’d have to have a pretty unusual set of expectations of shark behaviour to consider that a betrayal.

Lib Dems always have been a right-wing party, a party that considers any kind of compulsory taxation to be an assault on civil liberties. A party representing the interests of those with money in the bank, second homes, jobs that are as much something to do as a required source of income.

They were just in opposition. The job of an opposition to criticise, so they did that, sometimes well. It’s a completely unrealistic expectation to think that means they opposed any of the things they criticised, would not do the same or worse if it was them making or influencing the decisions.

48. Chris Baldwin

All the condemnations of “tribalism” are pretty pointless now, aren’t they? There’s no “pluralist” option on the table. The Lib Dems have allied with the Tories, so the left is only Labour (even if not all of Labour is on the left). We are all tribalists now.

Lib Dems always have been a right-wing party, a party that considers any kind of compulsory taxation to be an assault on civil liberties.

This is a rubbish, and politically naive. There are strong socially liberal elements within the Libdems, and there are economically social liberals within Libdems, who may be convinced by left-wing arguments more than Tory arguments.

The trick is to convince the party and its base than an alliance with the left offers more value than Tories, even if they don’t get everything they want. I’m not convinced they actually like the party of Nadine Dorries and Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague.

Secondly, we lost them because we’re not churning out interesting intellectual arguments. It’s just lazy sloganeering right now within the Labour party. And then there’s the tribalists who didn’t even want to join the Libdems in a coalition.

The Tories are pragmatic. They’ll do whatever it takes to get power. That is a big stumbling block.

‘There are strong socially liberal elements within the Libdems’

True, if by ‘socially liberal’ you mean ‘under the age of 50 and not racist’.

‘and there are economically social liberals within Libdems’

And there are non-racists in the BNP. They are just there by mistake.

Engagement with those people means persuading them to abandon their current tribal affiliation, and back a political grouping that does better match their views. Labour isn’t a socialist party, and hasn’t been for a long time. So what could reasonably stop a believer in social democracy from backing it?

The big, zero-sum, pick one-and-only-one-answer question in politics is simple: on the whole, all things being equal and all things considered, should the UK should strive to be more like Germany (high tax, high productivity)? Or should it become more like the US (low services, low costs)?

You can’t really have a coalition, or political party, without consensus about that fundamental issue. Every last little detail will have a different right answer depending on which model you assume will be followed.

So for anyone who thinks a free-market economy works best when supported and enabled by the provision of universal and effective public services, they should be supporting Labour, or something leftwards of it.

For anyone who thinks a market economy is only free when taxes are as low as can be arranged, then they should be voting Conservative, or something rightwards of it.

For anyone who wants to ensure they don’t end up accidentally voting for a government that comes into power, there are a wide range of choices.

It’s just Lib Dem isn’t one of them any more.

Soru, you’re assuming a monobloc who all care about the same things as you.

My primary motivation in the last election wasn’t economic at all. I voted in favour of the Great Repeal Bill, the right to public assembly, the end to Control Orders, the primacy of Trial by Jury, the removal of innocent people from the DNA database, the end of internment without trial, the reduction of of pre-charge detention to 14 days, etc., etc. I voted in favour of a fairer voting system. I voted against an authoritarian government, and in favour of a liberal society.

I’d love to have a Lib-Lab coalition, which took Labour’s caring side and the Liberal’s dedication to freedom, but sadly it wasn’t to be. But you couldn’t have paid me to vote for Labour at the last election.

52. Roger Mexico

I’m sorry Soru, but that’s the sort of dichotomy I wouldn’t expect from even the most rabid American tea-bagger. There is some middle ground between the Worker’s Paradise and disappearing up Ayn Rand’s arse, you know.

Across all the parties, yes even the Conservatives, there are different opinions about the best mix of private and public provision and in what areas. There are also views about the right mix in the economy between sectors. But – just as not everyone in Germany has a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering and not everyone in America works in McDonalds – it’s a continuum of views.

Now I happen to believe that the coalition is falling victim to its own rhetoric; though it’s basically fantasies about “waste” rather than the “small state” which is fuelling the delusions about cuts and their consequences. I also think all governments of the last thirty plus years have treated Big Business and the City like some overgrown spoilt brats whose every whim should be pampered. (Ironically some of the whims were responsible for a lot of the above “waste”).

But that doesn’t mean that I think the current lot are planning to abolish the welfare state. In fact the main problem seems to be they have most of the illusions of their predecessors.

53. Ken McKenzie

I take your point Sunny, and I do see where you’re coming from. But to echo Andrew’s point – which is a good one – I voted for the party that I judged most likely to fulfil my key political goal, which was to me, the party most likely to try to keep unemployment down.

What I actually got was a Government which considers high unemployment – coincidentally disproportionately spread amongst the kind of people I grew up with, live amongst and work with – to be an acceptable price to meet its own goals. I can’t accept that.

Now, I fully expected a Conservative Government to do this – not because they are Teh Eeevul, but because their priorities are different. I had hoped, however, that the Lib Dems might care a bit more about this than they do, but so far not a cheep from anyone in that party about the potential impact of unemployment. When David Willetts (who I do rate, to be fair, although I’d be a little more comfortable if he actually looked a bit more like acting on the contents of his own book) cares more about a key aspect of social justice than, it appears, your entire party, members and activists combined, then I think it’s fair to say that you’re not a party likely to convince me of your good intentions.

In short, the Lib Dems did betray me and people like me. They led me to believe that they shared our vision of social justice, but they didn’t. I’ve no problem calling them out for it because people – hundreds of thousands of people – are going to lose their livelihoods, quite soon, and the Lib Dems are going to be doing it.

And if you can’t call people out for that, what can you call them out for?

‘I voted in favour of the Great Repeal Bill, the right to public assembly, the end to Control Orders, the primacy of Trial by Jury, the removal of innocent people from the DNA database, the end of internment without trial, the reduction of of pre-charge detention to 14 days, etc., etc. ‘

So, you list 7 right wing measures, all, in the classic US libertarian style: place authoritarian restrictions on the tax-funded part of the economy, while (completely coincidentally, of course) almost all serve to reduce the chance of conviction after due process of economic criminals: fraudsters, tax evaders and so forth.

Perhaps you have a model of the world where somewhere in the heart of the machinery of government there is a button marked ‘fuck people’s shit up’. And the art of good government lies almost entirely in not pressing that button.

With the LibCons, not only have you got what you voted for, it is currently popular, and has a lot of journalistic and blogger support. So it is hardly surprising you don’t feel betrayed.

Obviously, being a sincere right-winger, you believe those right-wing measures will work, serve to make society better (or at least more to your liking).

The point about political disagreements is that those of us who disagree with you _don’t think that will be the case_. Transfer of power, in the US style, from elected politicians to the multiply-lawyered rich will not, in our view, lead to increases of freedom or welfare.

Those of us who disagree with you (variously and clumsily called left-liberals, social justice liberals, or social democrats) predict that what you will see is an increase in the numbers of those deliberately held in punitive unemployment ‘pour encourager les autres’. We think it would be unprecedented if that did not lead to increases in the crime figures, bigger police budgets, and more abuses by stretched police forces. Just as every prison has a punishment block, every society with imposed mass unemployment will have to have something worse.

In the US, 3.2% of the adult populace is in jail. Most of them are probably guilty; even if all of them were, that’s still simply wrong.

It is quite likely that if something like that situation comes about here, the overstretched police will lose all institutional ability to adopt new progressive measures, leading to a total disconnect between high-minded official policy and what actually happens on the street and in cells.

Now maybe we are wrong, and in 5 or 10 or 15 years time, you will be able to point at some newly emergent facts that will change most of our minds, with only a few stubborn holdouts denying what most feel is self-evident.

Or maybe vice versa.

Sunny talks of political tactics, and on those terms I think he is plain wrong. For 10 or more years now, New Labour have been playing ‘poll and rush’: work out where this weeks political consensus is, and rush to agree with it. Whether or not that involves a long ball that only a few unusually skilful politicians can deliver accurately.

The limits of those tactics have become thoroughly exposed, the way to defend against them made obvious to even the weakest team, and in any case Beckham has retired.

It’s time for a change. Treat the truth like a good team does the ball: something to keep possession of, not to be kicked away. Don’t say things you don’t think are true, just because they are the only things that might lead to a scoring chance right this moment.

Build slowly, make the opposition run around, have them come to think the next goal is just a matter of time.

So, you list 7 right wing measures, all, in the classic US libertarian style: place authoritarian restrictions on the tax-funded part of the economy, while (completely coincidentally, of course) almost all serve to reduce the chance of conviction after due process of economic criminals: fraudsters, tax evaders and so forth.


soru, your political analysis in this case is appalling.

Ken: In short, the Lib Dems did betray me and people like me. They led me to believe that they shared our vision of social justice, but they didn’t.

First, as a Libdem voter who made a big song and dance about it, you’re not the only one appalled by the budget.

I’m just saying this. On an emotional level you have a right to be annoyed. Although if you thought they shared that vision then perhaps the Labour hierarchy is more to blame for not doing more to keep them on side.

In about 2-3 years time I think Libdem patience will wear thin when they realise that they’re allied with a bunch of crooks. But they have to find out that themselves. Labourites screaming at them won’t really further that process – it actually makes later rapprochement (which I want) more difficult.

57. Rhys Williams

Isn’t the Liberal party just reverting to was it was in the 19th century.
Gladstonian liberalism.

58. Ken McKenzie


I agree, actually. I am venting a little here because it’s a good place for it and partly because I am interested to see if there is a solid Lib Dem justification for their behaviour so far (apparently not).

However, away from here I am fortunate enough (if by ‘fortunate’ you mean ‘spent a great deal of time and effort making sure I was’) to be in a position to actually try to, if not do something about those issues that bother me, at least highlight them.

But whilst, like you, I felt the ideal Government this term would be a Lib/Lab coalition, I do think it’s necessary not just to tell Labour voters to tone down the rhetoric but to remind that in a few months, the Lib Dems really do need to get Labour onside for the reform vote instead of, as the poster upstream is doing, taking Labour goodwill for granted.

Because before the election I thought ‘electoral reform – that’s a great idea as it will give the Lib Dems more sway in national government’

Now I think ‘electoral reform – it’ll give the Lib Dems more sway in national government. Not sure if I want that now, actually’

I really don’t think they realise that might be a problem – or if they do, they’re covering it up by suggesting that changing viewpoint might be someone – anyone – else’s fault but theirs.

59. Roger Mexico

Soru – you’ve been at the dichotomies again.

This time it the old one between negative freedoms (“freedom from”) and positive freedoms (“freedom to”). Now I know the philosophers love to contrast them and regard them as opposites but in reality it’s nothing of the sort. Certainly those societies who claim to concentrate on the former, usually manage those freedoms only for a small affluent elite. And those who claim to go for prosperity for all, usually end up with just for a small affluent elite.

The truth is the two types of freedom reinforce each other. Equality spreads the ability to make the negative freedoms meaningful. Those democratic freedoms in turn help the relieving of want and poverty. That’s why India had famines under the British, but hasn’t had major ones since 1947.

Of course there are tensions between the two kinds of freedom, but then there are between different freedoms of the same type.

Isaiah Berlin eat my shorts.

60. Chaise Guevara

“Isn’t the Liberal party just reverting to was it was in the 19th century.
Gladstonian liberalism.”

The Liberal Party? I didn’t know they were involved in the coalition.

The truth is the two types of freedom reinforce each other. Equality spreads the ability to make the negative freedoms meaningful. Those democratic freedoms in turn help the relieving of want and poverty.

You agree with that, I agree with that. But not everyone does, and in particular the libertarian wing of the Lib Dem’s don’t.

They just don’t get, at either a rational or gut level, how economic changes play out in terms of consequences for liberty as well as welfare, and how that then spirals back round with either virtue or viciousness.

If your economic model is a poor match for reality, the best of intentions mean little.

If that view is not entirely wrong, that’s going to be evidence to anyone with eyes to see in a few years. But for people to recognise it when it is in front of their eyes, it needs to be said now.

OK soru, so that accounts for a tiny handful of Lib Dems, who are irrelevant to the party’s position. The rest of us take precisely the view of Roger@59. (Well tbh more than a tiny minority elevate positive liberty too far above negative liberty.)

Here’s another thing. The whole budget and coalition situation is less about some grand debate over the size of the state, and more about the size of the budget deficit.

If Labour had really been about a substantially bigger state, they would have raised the taxes to pay for it. Borrowing and spending are the easy parts – raising the taxes is the hard part.

OK soru, so that accounts for a tiny handful of Lib Dems, who are irrelevant to the party’s position.

So you, presumably from insider knowledge, say ‘all but a tiny handful’.

Without access to those internal discussions, I would have said ‘only Simon Hughes’.

Interesting contrast in perspectives.

64. Charlie 2

If one wants to consider freedom , then aspects whic are often ignored are the education and skills required to obtain work. Since 1945 , the Labour Party and the Unions ( apart from the EETPU) has ignored the impact of advancing much to hasten the decline of technology and globalisation. The end of empire did much to hasten the decline of the Lancashire Industry as countries set up their own capability. The “Brain Drain” occured in the 50s tp 70s because other countries wanted the skills of British scientists, engineers and craftsmen which were often superior to those of people trained in their country . If tThe skills had not been adequate , there would have been no brain drain. The more and greater degree of skills wanted by employers, a person has , the more opportunities for well paid employment. Clive Sinclair pointed out in the 70s and 80s that the UK was producing too many electrical engineers but not enough elctronic engineers. Hence electronic engineers were better paid. Even with the huge expansion of education numbers under Labour there is a shortage of many craftsmen, technicians, engineers and scientists . I think Dyson has spointed out that only 4% of graduates become engineers. In Germay skilled car workers can earn $41 per hour. A craftsmen who had reached an adequate skill level was called a journeyman as he had the skills to move around looking for work.

Is it not time people considered what skills are needed by employers in order to maximise their opportunities in life?

It’s very simple.

Abandoning all your social-democratic principles in favour of Tory-lite policies, then turning round and saying “Well at least our rosettes aren’t blue”, is something only the [Labour / LD – delete as applicable] Party is allowed to do, and it’s a shocking betrayal when it’s done by the [LD / Labour] Party.

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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Why shouldn't we call out LibDems for their 'betrayal'? http://bit.ly/aJ9lsf

  2. Judy Smith

    RT @libcon: Why shouldn't we call out LibDems for their 'betrayal'? http://bit.ly/aJ9lsf

  3. Nicholas Stewart

    Why shouldn’t we call out LibDems for their ‘betrayal’? http://j.mp/dAOgdN

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