A thought experiment for the Libdems


11:05 am - October 22nd 2010

by Stuart White    


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Imagine a parallel universe to our own. This universe is exactly like our own with just one difference: the Conservatives won a solid majority in the May 2010 general election.

So, in this parallel universe, George Osborne got up in the House of Commons just as he did yesterday and delivered exactly the same speech and spending review policy.

Having imagined this alternative universe, I would like Liberal Democrat readers to ask themselves a question. (As we will see, I hope, in posing this question I am not trying to be confrontational or self-righteous.)

In this parallel universe, how much, if any, of this policy would you support?

Hand on heart. Be honest. To be more specific, can you, hand on heart, in all sincerity, say that you would support:
– Removing contributory employment support allowance after one year for those on this benefit who have been assessed as ‘capable of work’ (but who have not yet found work)?
– Ending security of council house tenure?
– Tightening the already extremely tight eligibility conditions for disability living allowance?
– Making cuts to local government funding that will seriously hurt social care provision for the elderly and disabled?

Indeed, can you say, hand on heart, that you would support the basic deficit reduction strategy – its pace and/or its split as between spending cuts and extra taxes?

Would you regard the Lansley reforms to the health-service as part of an exciting ‘power shift’, or would you be more critical?

Psychologists talk about ‘adaptive preference formation’. People don’t like living with the discomfort of being constrained to do things that conflict with their preferences. So, when they find themselves uncomfortably constrained, they adapt their preferences. They try to convince themselves that what they must do is what they actually, really want to do.

When Nick Clegg tells the Lib Dems to stop worrying and ‘enjoy’ being in government, as he was reported saying at the recent party conference, this sounds to me like a big, warm invitation to his party to get cracking in adapting their preferences. Indeed, Clegg’s own thinking, such as on welfare, seems a model of adaptation, as he conflates the Liberal value of independence with the Thatcherite value of ‘self-reliance’.

But while comforting, this kind of adaptation to circumstances carries a risk of dishonesty or disloyalty to one’s underlying beliefs and values. Down the line, in future years, one looks back and says: ‘How on earth did I manage to fool myself into thinking that was a good idea?’

I should know. After all, many of us in Labour have had precisely this thought about the Iraq War in the past few years.

So if I were a Lib Dem right now, and I wanted to avoid an adaptive, comforting betrayal of my deepest convictions, I think I would apply the parallel universe thought experiment to government policy on a daily basis.

The implication is not necessarily that by asking this sort of question the Lib Dem will stop supporting the Coalition (though she or he might). In some cases, she might decide that, yes, she would still support a particular Coalition policy. Or she might decide that she should be more critical of specific policies but that the Coalition is worth sticking with to get, say, electoral reform.

But by posing the question I would at least make sure I was being honest with myself about the Coalition’s costs and compromises. I would avoid self-delusion. And, in this way, I’d be more likely to stay true to my liberal principles.

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About the author
This is a guest article. Stuart White is lecturer in Politics at Oxford University, based at Jesus College. He blogs at the Fabian society's Next Left
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Libdems ,Westminster

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Reader comments


As a party that faces two ways most of the time I would imagine U-turns and broken pleadges would trouble them not one jot.

Damn my typing! I meant ‘pledges’.

Why would you do that? We are where we are, if you judged your entire life along the lines of “what would happen in a parallel universe” you’d never ever get anything done or be satisfied with anything.

“What if” is the oldest and stupidest game around.

Interesting, thanks.

Perhaps you should also ask Labour what they would now be saying about the cuts Darling would now be announcing?

3

Or of course, you are just amongst those who don’t really want to have to examine your conscience, or admit that there is an alternative?

A supine acceptance that “we are where we are”, or that you are making the best fist of a bad hand of cards might make you feel better, but it might also mask the fact that you are doing exactly what the OP suggests.

Galen if the alternative is to grow a beard, support the Green Party, nationalise everything and borrow even more to fund a massive expansion of the state so even middle class mums can continue getting their child benefit to spend on horse-riding lessons, then yes, there is an alternative – but I just dont see it catching on.

7

It must be comforting to see the world in such manichean terms, as though this was all a zero-sum calculation; the Coalition way or the loonie left back to nature boogie man. No shades of gray, no way of trying to come up with solutions short or radical surgery.

I don’t know which is more depressing, the fact that people sincelerly believe the “no alternative” cant, or the fact that the more recent converts in the LD’s are so unashamed.

true … although being involved in any coalition (except a coalition with a party indistinguishable from oneself) involves supporting some policies you would otherwise oppose.

sometimes I get the impression that some people who have long argued for voting reform (PR of some sort) are now surprised and dismayed by the reality of coalition government.

although things things are a matter of degree, and you may well argue that the degree to which the coalition has departed from Lib Dem policies is too great.

I’m a Lib Dem member, and I’d say (with the possible exception of lifelong/inheritable council house tenancies) that generally I wouldn’t support any of those policies given my partial knowledge of them. I certainly don’t support the general fierce deficit reduction strategy, and every time Osbourne says something about being on the “brink of bankruptcy” or anyone in the coalition says “there is no money left” I feel less and less convinced of their competence.

I have been a bit shocked by the CSR I have to admit. But on the other hand, I’ve not seen a hugely impressive response from Labour as of yet. There hasn’t really been enough focus on sob stories of people on benefits who will be sympathetic to the general voter (seriously disabled, pensioners), and they are really not explaining the risks of harsh retrenchment in an economic downturn (Johann Hari did a good piece on this recently). What would they have done differently? What would they do differently if they were in power tomorrow. Saying “we’ll have a 60:40 spending to tax ratio” sounds good to me, but still isn’t specific about what they’d cut and what they’d protect, and doesn’t exactly grab the attention. I still always think of Darling’s “we’d cut worse than Thatcher” quote, even if it isn’t official policy anymore. Without concrete explanations, I still don’t know how progressive Labour would try and be. After 13 years of the last government, I certainly can’t just take it for granted that their heart is in the right place.

I don’t know what I’m going to do really. Wait and see how it goes I suppose. I’m not holding out much hope. Apologies for length etc.

@ luis enrique

Despite all of what I’ve written above, I’m still personally in favour of coalition government, and am surprised how much influence the LDs seem to have had on the current government up to this point. They seem to have unleashed the liberal side of a lot of latently liberal Tories as well. It’s generally been a surprisingly positive experience as well. With a fairer voting system I suspect a Lab/LD coalition would have been possible at this election, and if it had been possible maybe the Lab and LD teams would have actually engaged with each other. I suspect that would be a more natural coalition for most Lib Dems.

10 Thomas

I think you, and many other LD members who presumably share your views, are in a difficult position. From what you are saying, I don’t think I could stay in the party if I felt that way, but obviously every individual will have different levels of what they feel is tolerable, and what isn’t.

Perhaps if enough of those within the party who feel as you do rise up and make your disapproval known it might make a difference….. but frankly I don’t give much for your chances of bringing about a change of direction.

I always thought going into Coalition would be disasterous for the LD’s; I’m only surprised it has taken so long for those who no longer agree with Nick to say so.

It is very clear what the LibDems have sacrificed to be in the Coalition.

It is not so clear what the Tories have sacrificed, apart from the miserable concession for an AV referendum, a system that nobody likes, conflated in Parliament with aggressive boundary changes. Maybe there are other LibDem “gains” – the LibDems should lay them out. It looks as if the Tories have manipulated them mercilessly.

I am a Green, and must confess to standing down as candidate to try to let the LibDem in, and so I voted LibDem. Won’t do that again.

However, Comohaontas Glas, the Irish Green Party, went into coalition with the Irish Tory party, and they have been faced with the same horrendous contortions that the LibDems are facing.

Given that coalition governments are the usual product of PR, which is deeply to be desired, we have to learn some lessons about coalitions.

It seems to me that the rule should be, for any party with even the slightest interest in progress, Do Not Go Into Coalition with Conservatives.

In preparation for this Greens, Respect, Labour, progressive Nationalists and even the decent rump of LibDems should start talking now about unified opposition to the cuts, agreeing, if possible, an alternative package, and if at all possible, agreements on not competing against each other in selected winnable seats.

This is not as easy as it seems. Political parties are nothing if not tribalists, and (as I found to my cost) standing down to let another party through is by no means a simple matter. However, the seriousness of the damage that the Coalition is doing to the fabric of our nation as sink back into recession drives us at least to consider this course of action.

14. George W. Potter

In answer to the article, if we were not in Coalition I would oppose the items this article lists and argue that they could be avoided by, for example, scrapping trident. On the other hand, I would still support things like the bank levy, protecting overseas aid funding, cutting the police budget, protecting science funding and capital projects, the green investment bank, the bank levy and much more.

15. George W. Potter

P.S. I’d also quite like the way in which the budget is cutting 19% from departments on average as opposed to Labour’s proposed 20%.

P.P.S.

It’s all moot though since without the Coalition Osbourne would have delivered a far tougher, more right wing, ideological budget.

“sometimes I get the impression that some people who have long argued for voting reform (PR of some sort) are now surprised and dismayed by the reality of coalition government.”

Correct, if this comment is anything to go by:

“It seems to me that the rule should be, for any party with even the slightest interest in progress, Do Not Go Into Coalition with Conservatives.”

At least this person has been honest enough to admit that their agenda is to lock out the Conservatives for good. Indeed, I believe Polly Toynbee has admitted to favouring PR on the basis that it would lock out the Tories. Given that the logical outcome of such a scenario is permanent Labour rule I don’t think that this is particularly good for democracy.

The ‘nice’ Lib Dems have really shown their true colours since they sold their souls to the devil. The tories can’t believe their luck (except for the rather stupid ones on the far right) They get to do pretty much what they want and can then claim it is “progressive.”

I don’t know about a parallel universe, more like an alternative universe where up is down , and left is right, and black is white.

13 Richard

I’d agree with the statement that “the rule should be, for any party with even the slightest interest in progress, Do Not Go Into Coalition with Conservatives.”, and I suspect most LD’s prior to the election would have too. They certainly seem to have sold themselves cheaply given what has happened since, and the only ones to balme for this must be the LD leadership which signally failed to wring anything like enough concessions out of the Tories.

Whether the disaffection of enough LD’s will translate into any meaningful rebellion or defection to help construct the alternative coalition you envisage must be open to considerable doubt. It would be good to think that enough of them would be prepared to take a stand, but I’m not overly hopeful!

I accept that PR assumes coalition governments and hard choices; I’m just not convinced that in this case it was either necessary or desireable. Clegg and his team could and should have named a much higher price for their support.

As a party I think they face a stark choice; prove your progressive credentials and ability to change the direction the Tories want to take us in, or risk electoral oblivion.

@Galen10
It’s OUR party – really our party – one member one equal vote. How on earth did Labour Party members stay with the party, whilst it put more people in to povery than Maggie, liberated billionaires, trussed up the rest of us with 3,500 new criminal offences, allowed the yanks to extradite our citizens without producing evidence of an offence. Labour most likely colluded in kidnapping and torture;
Labour sacked Britain’s ambassador to Uzbekistan after he complained that the regime was boiling its prisoners to death; gave aid to a Colombian military that collaborates with fascist death squads; decided to waste our money on replacing Trident. But worse, far worse than any of this, it launched an illegal war in which hundreds of thousands have died. Being in coalition with the Conservatives nationally isn’t going to be comfortable and at times leave a bad taste in the mouth, for me and many other Liberal Democrats; but it’s a thousand times better than either an unfettered Labour or unfettered Conservative government.

16 Richard

I think you have to draw a distinction between never going into a coalition with Tories under any circumstances, and not going into coalition with a Tory party which was either too right wing, or was not prepared to alter it’s policies enough.

I agree that the former is untenable in the long term under PR, but the latter does describe the situation prior to the most recent general election. I wouldn’t exactly be unhappy to see the Tories locked out of power for a generation or so…. but remember that the alternative needn’t necessarily be New Labour either.

@Galen, oh go on then. What’s your magic wand alternative?

Read what Luis Enrique says. There are only so many ways to sort out the economy.

@Richard Lawson

Didn’t you stand down as a Green candidate to let the Lib Dem win? I think you’re on here with a guilty conscience.

19 Steve H

Well, since it’s really “your” party, we’ll know who to hold responsible won’t we?

I have no love at all for the nauseating New Labour project, but the fact remains that your party has abjectly failed to have any more than a trifling influence over the Tory party’s plans.

Come back just before the next election and tell us how much better things have been for us all as a result of the LD’s throwing their legs in the air for the Tories so enthusiastically……………. you may find that it’s one thing to do what is absolutely necessary and another to be caught enthusiastically collaborating.

21 blanco

I’ve never said there was a magic wand, but it is symptomatic of a guilty conscience perhaps that you have to cling to your mantra that there is only one true path?

What I and many others are saying is that there ARE alternatives to the policies outlined in the CSR, even if you weren’t going to go for the “full-on” approach advocated by some that no cuts at all are needed. We surely have a right to expect the supposedly progressive LD’s to stand up for a fairer balance between cuts and taxation?

Instead we’ve seen a party perform political gymnastics to convince us that their breathtaking conversion is because there is no other option.

I’ll ask again, Galen: what’s your alternative?

Stuart,

An interesting argument, and I’ve no doubt you’re onto something.

ESA – Quite possibly I would support this, but I’d want to do more research into this ‘capable of work’ judgement. I’ve heard plenty of experts say it fails to adequately deal with individual circumstance.
Council house tenure changes – I probably would support this
DLA – Would not support this
Local Government Funding – Would not support this.

But, as a Lib Dem supporter of the coalition, you have to understand that these things are not my “deepest convictions” – they are my verdicts on just a couple out of hundreds of political issues, shaped by the political necessity to decrease the deficit in order to preserve future public spending.

There are aspect of my own party’s policy I disagree with – I’m pro-nuclear power (unless we suddenly get evidence that climate change is not anthropogenic), but also more reformist on drug policy, for instance, and more in favour of Labour’s licensing reforms than the Lib Dems are. Just because “hand on heart” I know this, and knew it before the election, doesn’t mean I felt ‘disloyal to myself’ because I am a Lib Dem member.

I added up what I wanted, and came to the conclusion that the Lib Dems are the best vehicle for the kind of change I want to see in the country and the world. I’d like to see more Greens in Parliament, I’d rather a Labour Government (an EdM one, not a TB or GB one) with Lib Dem influence than a Tory one and I still dislike most of what the average Conservatives stands for – yet still I support the Coalition, because I understand it is a compromise, understand that some Lib Dem influence is better than none (and despite Labour’s hysterical taunts, don’t feel the party has sold its soul) and understand that although we will be electorally slaughtered, we would have become a complete joke if we had chosen to have no influence and picked the ‘purity’ of opposition (and, self-interestedly, would have done abysmally at a re-run election this year anyway)

People must also understand how on many issues close to liberal hearts, the Coalition has been a success where Labour was a huge failure.

I still always think of Darling’s “we’d cut worse than Thatcher” quote, even if it isn’t official policy anymore.

In another parallel universe Gordon squeaks back with a small majority and Chancellor Darling embarks on a slash and burn policy with regard to the deficit because it is the consensus among responsible persons that this is what needs to be done. Brown and Darling are commended for their courage in making tough choices by the Murdoch press, desperate to get back into favour after supporting Cameron. The new Tory leader Dr Liam Fox condemns the government for not cutting enough and for raising taxes and Sunny Hundal joins the Lib Dems after a corscruating speech by Vince Cable about Labour’s betrayal of the worse off.

@ Richard Lawson [13] and Galen10 [18]

I think you, and Galen10 in particular, do not think that any realistic price would have been a satisfactory one for coalition with the Conservatives – there is only so much you can demand as the very minor partner in a coalition. If the LDs would have pushed the Tories too far, they’d have said “OK, never mind, we’ll do supply and confidence”, this would have lasted barely any time at all, and another election would have been called. The Tories would have probably won the next election handily (they have a lot more money and would have been able to say “we are the only party who can change things”, and the LDs would have looked childish), and we’d be looking at a more severe budget as George Potter notes.

Worst of all, coalition politics would have been seriously damaged by the failure to form a coalition at a sensitive time where everyone was talking about how important stability was for the economy. Goodbye electoral reform.

I agree with Richard Lawson that PR is the ideal situation, and the only reason we ended up with this coalition was because of the distortion of FPTP. But forming a coalition was necessary, and there were no other options. Personally I’m quite impressed with how much the LDs seemed to get out of the agreement at the time (despite what people say, getting an AV referendum out of the Tories was pretty impressive). I’m less impressed by the backpedaling on some elements of it (i.e. support for the Browne Review when they were within their rights to reserve judgement or even criticise it).

Good article – thought provoking at least. Simple for me, voted Lib-Dem and got Tory. Serves me right really as I’ve never accepted Labour’s (SDP) retreads being accepted into our well meaning, incompetent, disorganised lovable old Liberal Party.

Why you ask ? We were honest about our political intentions and trusted for what we were – shortcomings accepted. We did of course have one or two leadership hiccups but thankfully not many remember that now !

Personally I think the public in general are going to see through this shambolic deceit and justifiably punish us all at next years local elections.

blanco @ 3 –

Priceless. A “what if?/parallel universe” argument against the usefulness of “what if?/parallel universe” arguments.

“if you judged your entire life along the lines of “what would happen in a parallel universe” you’d never ever get anything done or be satisfied with anything”

=

What if you judged your entire life along the lines of “what would happen in a parallel universe”? You’d never ever get anything done or be satisfied with anything.

or

Imagine a parallel universe in which you judged your entire life along the lines of “what would happen in a parallel universe”. You’d never ever get anything done or be satisfied with anything.

We can be fairly sure that a tory-only government would have had harsher cuts, and as Labour had said it planned on bigger cuts than have been announced, articles like this serve for good amusement right now. If we’re imaging parallel universes, one where Labour members have to defend even bigger cuts is much more interesting.

What’s funny-peculiar is that I used to argue with my far-left chums in favour of the Lib Dems. They said “oh they’re just yellow Tories” etc etc and I attempted a defence of the LD party as a valid alternative to the Conservatives. I’m not so sure I would be able to do that anymore.

Y’know the LDs used to have some good ideas. Penny on income tax; local tax to replace council tax; scrap Trident; no rise in tuition fees and a phasing out of them eventually; votes for 16 year-olds; PR-or-nothing; hell I think they even discussed legalising cannibis once upon a time. What happened to that party?

Galen, what’s your alternative?

This is why we need AV so that Tories and Libs can support each other second.

35. Chris Baldwin

The Lib Dems really need to leave the coalition right now. Not just for their sake, but for all our sake.

24 & 33 blanco

My alternative would involve less slavish following of the Coalition’s chosen dictum that their way of dealing with the deficit is the ONLY one: it’s not. Any honest Liberal Democrat, or at least those with any shame, would realise that the answer to the questions posited in the OP about how many of these policies do you actually support is “not many”.

Granted, it is probably too late to complain about the spilt milk of the LD’s selling themselves too cheaply post election… but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have more of an impact than they have.

So, the alternative shouldn’t be too difficult. There are plenty of economists and experts out there who disagree with the balance between cuts and taxes, and it would have been nice to see the LD’s trying to promote a progressive rather than regressive programme…. they are SUPPOSED to be a progressive party aren’t they? It’s not as if they would support a programme which is regressive would they?

If they can’t make any difference to the Tory agenda, what is the point of being in a Coalition anyway? They might as well have waited for a minority Tory administration to collapse of it’s own accord rather than end up as Cameron’s bitch.

@Galen

You still haven’t said what you’d actually do about the economy, that differs in any significant way from the current government. Do you have any ideas at all or are you just going to hide behind Krugman or the New Economics Foundation?

FWIW the Lib Dems said ages ago their ratio of taxes to cuts would be 0:100

37 blanco

Look, I never said there was a magic wand, or that I have some detailed proposal. I’m not an economist, and I’m sure there are many people out there much more versed in these things than most of the casual readers of, and contributors to, LC.

I’m making a general point that (as discussed in the “Why Labour should admit its part in the economic crisis” thread on here) that there are other ways of reducing the deficit than those detailed in the CSR, or than New Labour would probably have investigated either.

The balance should certainly be much more heavily weighted in favour of taxes than cuts in my view, but we should also be raising the top tax rate for those on more than £110k, cutting back on tax evasion, and finding ways to make the richest 10% bear more of the burden. Of course things like cancelling Trident are a no brainer….

So you have no actual alternative? You’re sitting there, quoting attacks on the government’s policy that you don’t understand yourself, and attacking Labour for not having a policy that blows all your dog whistles, and you don’t actually have an alternative idea or proposal. Just some token leftist proposals like “scrap Trident” and “tax the rich 98%”. Grow a pair, Galen.

@blanco

A quick glance at the Lib Dem manifesto has an alternative to the Tory policy if you’re keen to read one.

If I was being sympathetic I would see Clegg and the Lib Dems were put in an impossible position by the election result.

Their key long-term goal they want to acheive is proportional representation. To convince the public of this, they have to show Coalition Government is stable and “works” and that Lib Dems are serious potential Ministers (see treatment of Lembit as a leper).

Given the election result, the only realistic Coalition was with the Tories. Clegg had little choice if you assume Coalition was a must.

The Tories must know they have Clegg over a barrel because of this, knowing he cannot afford to let Coalition be a disaster (along with blame
for ‘creating instability’). As a result, they are remorselessly taking the piss out of him by presenting incomplete information (HMT
laughable budget graphs demonstrating “fairness”,
the lie about the pupil premium), making him abandon most core Lib Dem pledges (tuition fees, Darling-speed deficit reduction, fairness, no VAT rise etc etc), and leaving him to defend these policies and get the blame for them while Cameron and Osborne disappear like Cheshire Cats.

In addition, we hear Clegg’s office is desperately under-resourced and has no chance of keeping tabs on these Tory shenanigans.

So I understand Clegg’s dilemma, even though I think the Lib Dems would get far more of their policy through negotiating issue by issue with
a minority Tory government

Andrew Mullin reckons in his book that 20 Labour seats are held by the Asian vote.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/View-Foothills-Diaries-Chris-Mullin/dp/1846682304/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276646108&sr=8-1

The maths on those numbers give a conservative victory.

So in a sense, your imaginary parallel universe is the universe where Jack Straw didn’t roll out the red carpet to the central Asian hordes during 1997-2010 for his own ideological ends.

Simpler version of the thought experiment:
“If Wayne Rooney had signed for your team, would he still be a bastard?”

Obviously doesn’t work for Man U fans. But the point stands that if you still support the Lib Dems after all the 180’s they’ve pulled of late, then you might as well just admit that you support them in the same way that you might support a football team. Through thick and thin and regardless of direction.

39 blanco

Touched a nerve have we? Being told to grow a pair by an LD is a tad rich given what your party has pulled since the election.

Why are you so exercised by the fact that I don’t have a fully costed 150 page alternative document readily to hand?

At least unlike some people I have some principles that aren’t for sale blanco, I’m not the one who is having a meltdown trying to defend the indefensible.

More evidence of the scale of murder, violence and torture against civilians in Iraq appeared this morning. How the hell can anyone who supports Labour tell themselves that they are anything but the utterly vile and nasty party? Get your repulsive snouts out of your state sector troughs and be very very ashamed of yourselves. Stop telling the rest of us that the way you’ve been taking money from the poor of Britain to fund your cushy lifestyles and your authoritarian dreams was anything but a national nightmare.

@ 41

“I think the Lib Dems would get far more of their policy through negotiating issue by issue with a minority Tory government”

Spot on. The tories are smart enough to know they could not have gone for another general election if they failed as a minority government.

46

Exactly. The LD leadership couldn’t jump into bed with the Tories fast enough post election. It’s one thing to convince yourself there is no alternative, but another to actually enjoy being taken advantage of.

48. Chaise Guevara

48

“It’s one thing to convince yourself there is no alternative, but another to actually enjoy being taken advantage of.”

Do they, though? I think a lot of Lib Dems are putting a brave face on it for tactical reasons. If the government is seen to be rendered ineffective due to the coalition, that doesn’t bode well for the AV vote.

48

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are many LD’s who are holding their noses and hoping for the best, who have profound misgivings about the CSR in particular and their lack of real influence within the Coalition more generally.

We’ve heard from not a few LD’s in here who are having something of an existential crisis as they see the leadership jettison so much of their platform.

It also has to be said that there are obviously some within the LD’s who are actually rather enjoying themselves, more even than might be expected from people who have sincerely convinced themselves that they had no alternative.

I expect many more LD’s are now convinced that going into coalition, rather than letting the Tories try to govern with a minority, was a mistake.

Chris @ 45

“Stop telling the rest of us that the way you’ve been taking money from the poor of Britain to fund your cushy lifestyles and your authoritarian dreams was anything but a national nightmare.”

*Sigh*

Chris: my family were among the poor of Britain in 1997 – two adults and two kids living in a rented shithole on £900 a month after tax. We were deemed too well-off to get any help at all – no Family Credit, no help with housing costs, no nothing. We were basically living at dole level in spite of me working full time.

Then Labour introduced Tax Credits and our income jumped by £350 a month. We and millions of other families ceased to be poor overnight.

Now, I get that certain people didn’t do so well out of Labour – childless people, people needing social housing – but they certainly didn’t take money from poor families like mine. On the contrary, they used the Tax Credits system to give such families billions of pounds extracted from the pockets of the better-off.

@50 = that makes blowing the legs off children in other countries OK does it? As for the ‘millions of families’, that’s just not true. Gordon Brown couldn’t get away with that lie and nor can you.

@ Chris, 51

“that makes blowing the legs off children in other countries OK does it?”

Of course not! I was responding to your point about ‘taking money off the poor’, not your point about Iraq. (That’s why I quoted that section of your comment.) As far as I can see, there’s no connection between those two things – their rightness and wrongness should be assessed independently of each other.

“As for the ‘millions of families’, that’s just not true. Gordon Brown couldn’t get away with that lie and nor can you.”

OK, I made too strong a claim there. Millions of people certainly *got* tax credits, but only some of them will have been moved from one side of the poverty line to the other; so I guess it won’t be true that millions actually came out of poverty as a result. However, it’s still a good thing that families that had been living well below the poverty line were lifted much closer to it, and that families living somewhat above the poverty line were lifted further above it.

Don’t get me wrong – I think New Labour were wrong over Iraq, over it being OK for the rich to get ever richer, over the 10p tax rate, etc., and as I’ve already said, I recognise that low-income people wthout children did worse under Labour than those with children. But it does infuriate me when people just avert their eyes from the massive redistribution of wealth from the better-off to the worse-off via the tax credits system; and it infuriates me when people presume to speak on my behalf (as a poor family on the receiving end of Labour’s tax and benefit changes) while dismissing what I have to say for myself. Like it or not, Labour lifted my family out of poverty.

blanco @39:

If the coalition’s cuts have the same effect as the similar cuts have done so far in Ireland – i.e. the deficit actually increases because the sudden austerity measures damage the economy so badly that the tax revenues fall by more than the cuts save – you may well also be among those casting around for new ideas.

I’m not a trained economist, but it is fairly obvious that cutting the costs by slashing benefit and dozens of other things that pump money toward poorer people is a bad idea economically. Money that goes to those with low incomes gets spent. It goes straight back into the economy.

Frankly, almost *any* other method of reducing the deficit would work better, and would be less likely to further wreck the economy. However, none of the alternatives are as politically acceptable, since they involve damaging the interests of those with the economic power to resist…

When I wrote “Do Not Go Into Coalition with Conservatives” maybe it should have been “Do Not Go Into Coalition with Free Market Fundamentalists”. Progressives would not go into coalition with the BNP for obvious reasons, namely that their philosophy is socially psychotic.

Similarly, FMFism is socially, economically and ecologically psychotic in the sense of detached from reality. . They are idealists, putting the market uber alles. That is why the LDs will rue the day they chose to go in with the Tories.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    A thought experiment for the Libdems http://bit.ly/bTIPrB

  2. Nicolas Redfern

    RT @libcon: A thought experiment for the Libdems http://bit.ly/bTIPrB

  3. Robert Morgan

    Lib Dems psychology:"They try to convince themselves that what they must do is what they actually, really want to do" Ha. http://is.gd/gczFa

  4. Mark Thompson

    Interesting article: "A thought experiment for the Libdems" from @libcon http://t.co/r6pEYjP

  5. Tom Sheppard

    RT @MarkReckons: Interesting article: "A thought experiment for the Libdems" from @libcon http://t.co/r6pEYjP

  6. Tory Dunn

    RT @MarkReckons: Interesting article: "A thought experiment for the Libdems" from @libcon http://t.co/r6pEYjP

  7. Mili

    A thought experiment for the Lib Dems http://bit.ly/bKXF3x

  8. Lee Chalmers

    RT @libcon: A thought experiment for the Libdems http://bit.ly/bTIPrB

  9. carboncoach

    RT @libcon: A thought experiment for the Libdems http://bit.ly/bTIPrB

  10. Alex Marsh

    .RT @libcon: A thought experiment for the Libdems http://bit.ly/bTIPrB > An experiment well worth doing!

  11. Will Worth

    RT @elmyra: A thought experiment for the Lib Dems http://bit.ly/bKXF3x

  12. Patrick Devlin

    A thought experiment for the Libdems http://bit.ly/dlHx1y /cc @feedly

  13. Patrick Devlin

    A thought experiment for the Libdems #http://bit.ly/dlHx1y /cc @feedly





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