Should Libdems propose a ‘two-tier manifesto’ at elections?

1:00 pm - November 17th 2010

by Robert Sharp    

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All this chat about how the Libdems have broken their manifesto promises leaves me a little cold. Or rather, in the modern parlance, “a bit meh”.

I think my failure to become outraged or agitated stems from a sense that the Liberal Democrats have fallen into a semantic trap. ‘Manifesto commitments’ are things that you promise to enact when you have Power to do so in Government.

But the situation that the Lib Dems find themselves in does not seem to fulfill the sufficient and neccessary conditions to merit such a description.

A “U-turn” doesn’t really capture the essence of what has happened – It implies an agency and a mens rea that, by virtue of their Junior status, the Liberal Democrats simply do not possess.

This conundrum will have consequences for future elections. Now we have become used to the idea of coalitions (a prospect more likely if an AV or PR voting system is introduced), the way that political parties put their manifestos to the electorate could change.

The Liberal Democrats might present a ‘Two-Tier Manifesto’ to the voters (although they would never use such a crass term). First, they will present a more general statements of principles and ‘red line’ policies, which they would expect to be a part of any coalition deal.

Then they could present more detailed manifesto commitments, which they understand they may have to ditch if they were the minority partner in the Cabinet. The Greens, the Nationalist Parties and the Unionists might choose to do the same.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives and Labour could publish their own red-lines and general principles, signalling what is up for grabs in coalition negotiations and what would be out-of-bounds.

Such a convention would be a nightmare for those drafting the manifestos, and would lead to much factionalism within the parties around election time… but at least the voters would have a much better sense of what would happen in various coalition scenarios.


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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Elections2010 ,Libdems ,Realpolitik

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Reader comments

The Lib Dems did.

They had 4 key pledges, at the front of the manifesto, and when asked about coalitions Clegg said they were the 4 things that they would not enter a coalition without.

That’s pretty much what the Lib Dems did.

On the front cover, and on pages 6 and 7, are the LD’s “first priorities”, listing the 4 general policy areas they would seek to achieve in the first instance. The Coalition Agreement has significant concessions in all 4 of these areas.

Also note that University funding isn’t one of those first priorities.

It is not what the Lie Dems are not doing. it is what they are doing. Most of which is far right tory bullshit.

They could have let the tories form a minority govt on their own, let them set a budget and then watch them swing in the wind.

I’m sure all those teachers who voted lie Dem must be delighted that their party is now going to allow the tory policy of letting schools set different rates of pay for teachers. Clegg is a traitor. to the lib dem party and should be removed by his members. If not they are just as guilty of treason.

It is quite worrying that just like Brown with Labour no one in the party had the balls to remove these idiots from power.

Manifesto pledges aren’t really the problem for me. The *manifesto* pledge on tuition fees was to scrap them; the issue has been dropping the pledge to at least vote against any increase in fees (even if they weren’t in a position to scrap them).

In fact, I think one of the worst things the Lib Dems have done is *keep* their election pledge on raising the tax threshold. Even if that was a good idea when it was going to be funded by the mansion tax etc (which is debatable), to fund an income tax cut by raising VAT and cutting spending on welfare and higher education is just indefensible.

People dont follow politics closely and rely on a sense of gut feeling about what parties represent/do.
For the tories and labour people experience them in power or are close enough (in time) to the accounts of how they are in power.
This gives us broad beliefs like who is better for public services,economy immigration etc.

The LD’s have been building ‘brand awareness’ through a handfull of policy positions and we now see what they are like in power.
The problem for LD’s is that their brand image is often opposed to what they are doing.
No amount of LD’s explaining to those who voted for them and are now angry will solve that .

Yes, they may have been less clearly defined and have changed policy positions over the years without many people noticing (because they were never near power) but in May the music stopped and that was the ‘brand’ of LD’s that people thought they were getting.

Its not about detail , most people have better things to do than follow the detail ,they form perrceptions of parties over time that are hard to change.
They can only get away from being ‘liars’ by being consistent from now on – and that means consistent to the Coalition.

I have to say that I actually agree with Sally @3 in as much as “It is not what the Lie Dems are not doing. it is what they are doing.”

People know that manifesto pledges (from all parties) are about as reliable as the British weather; what they find harder to stomach, and will ultimately punish the LD’s severely for, is the impression that they were not sincere about the “red line” policies the went on about so much, and that even worse according to Clegg had given up on even as they were still selling them during the election.

In the words of a Karine Powart song:

“And you kinda get the feeling that there’s nothing underneath
But you can’t believe a man would lie through such nice teeth”

It’s not the manifesto – it’s the personal pledges they made.

Not being able to carry out manifesto peldges is one thing, promising to vote against X and then voting in favour of it is entirely different.

If you were an average voter who is not a member of any party ,but keeps a general idea about what is going on , and you voted lib dem , did you expect them to

Raise VAT to 20%?

Initiate John Majors education policy from 15 years ago?

Allow teachers to be paid different rates by schools?

Do a 180 degree u turn on what they pledged to students?

Allow social cleansing of London for the poor?

Allow deregulation of welfare rules for animals?

Allow the tories to abolish 50 seats in The House of Commons without a referendum?

Bail out the Irish banks?

Even with a moderate eye on what is going on, I think you would be pissed off. And rightly so.


“Its not about detail , most people have better things to do than follow the detail ,they form perrceptions of parties over time that are hard to change.
They can only get away from being ‘liars’ by being consistent from now on – and that means consistent to the Coalition.”

Although I agree that the majority of the voting public isn’t that engaged with the detail of policy, I’d wager that the negative perception of the LD’s actions which has taken hold that since they formed the coalition WILL be hard to change.

However the conclusion I would draw from that is much different from yours: being consistent won’t save the LD’s, it will simply weaken them further. The original deal made with the Tories was so woefully inadequate, that as time goes on the LD’s will simply look more and more like enablers for Tory policies, and less and less like a meaningful restraining influence.

Anyone familiar with the work of Thomas Schelling will see the problem with this…

Consistency is overratesd and flexibility is the opposite.
I voted lib dem and in general I’m pleased with how they’re doing. I’m glad labour are out and I hope my family never has to suffer them again. All they’ve done for the past several months is continue putting the self interest of the party and its highest members over the rest of us (see the endless number of articles here and in the Guardian spinning everything to benefit Labour rather than making any effort to tell the truth and work for the benefit of citizens).
Business as usual and why I hope they’re gone for good.
I’d gladly see the back of the Tories too. Something overlooked in the criticism of the lib dems is that Labour and the Tories don’t really have an awful lot of difference between them, they both represent the interests of the richest at the expense of the rest, through slightly different methods.
The only policy the lib dems had which I personally had massive trouble with was supporting the rights of a small proportion of people to free higher education and hence improved prospects at the expense of those whose own prospects were diminished by the increase in graduates and its negative impacts on jobs, which ask for more establishment qualifications than is necessary or than most of us have. At the same time learning for its own sake, something which I believe in strongly, has been diminished. Credentialism kills education, and resources focussed almost entirely on establishment education, while community colleges and libraries are neglected, have made access to any education the privilege of the few.
So I’m okay with that ill thought pledge being left behind.
I’m concerned about cuts ti welfare, but not about cuts to middle class authoritarian and bureaucratic public service professions. Labour say its for the benefit of the poor but only because they ignore that so many of us see them as an imposition and an enemy. Fighting the NHS to be taken seriously or fighting the social services to be left alone. Fed up of being told that teachers and their unions best represent their pupils, or that hospital management represents the patients. Bollocks. Anyone with a basic grasp of logic should be able to grasp that our interests often conflict.
so anyway, I’m a libdem voter who plans to stay that way for the foreseeable, and who wishes more people had had the nerve to turn their backs on elitist, dishonestN authoritarian, murderous labour party and maybe we wouldn’t have had to suffer the tories at all.
Maybe next time.

Two-tier manifesto.

1 This is what we believe in when we have no leverage
2 This is what we believe in when we have leverage.

Problems start when 1 contains attractive policies which have disappeared by the time you get to 2.


“It is not what the Lie Dems are not doing. it is what they are doing. Most of which is far right tory bullshit.


Like helping block Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the 60% of Sky he does not already own for example?

Can’t see Tories/Labour on their own doing that.

“They could have let the tories form a minority govt on their own, let them set a budget and then watch them swing in the wind. ”

They could. Resulting in an election (probably) within a year and a substantial Tory majority. It suits a lot of people here to think otherwise, but a straight Tory government would have been a lot worse. There’s plenty of disappointment over in the blue bloggosphere about this. Here’s one about control orders for example:

Or perhaps Labour would prefer they were kept? After all, they introduced them. Just like tuition fees.

7. Agree entirely.

This article is largely irrelevant. People are entirely numbed to ‘broken promises’, it’s already factored-in; but to sign a personal pledge makes it a matter of personal honour not of party politicking. It’s an ‘I will . . .’ not ‘a Liberal Democrat government will . . .’

Add to this the fact that individuals making the pledge continued to campaign hard on that specific issue when they knew that a decision to ignore the pledge had already been made.

Wriggle all you like, this is just appalling behaviour, far beyond the usual double-talk.

People are perfectly able to see the difference and quite right to see it as a new low, even for our debased politics.


Don’t hold your breath!

For every happy LD voter there are plenty of others like me who will be giving them a wide berth in future, not because they went into a coalition as I accept that they are sometimes inevitable and can even be desireable, but because they made a bad initial deal, bottled it on major policies, and have signally failed to act as any sort of ameliorating influence on the Tories forcing through policies that would have had LD members burning Clegg in effigy prior to the election.

To paraphrase David Steel, go back to your constituencies and prepare for opposition.

As much as I’ve criticised the LibDems over the past few months, to be honest this is not at all their own fault alone.

This article explains how ALL three major parties completely made a mockery of any position they may or may have not adopted on tuition fees over the past 6 years, switching policies and swapping pledges and commitments.

The saddest thing is that Labour are in no position to even utter a word about the tuition fees fiasco.

As trite as it sounds, the only winner here is voters’ apathy.

Being all matey with Bush
Spying on children
Pretending london is the only place that exist in england
Fiddling Expenses
Ed Balls
The digital economy bill
Attacking home educating families
The dumbing down of education at all levels and the effect that that is going to have on us all for the next few decades
Jobcentre plus
Quangos galore
Failure to implement a living wage
Overreaction to potential terrorism
Diminishing civil rights
Sending troops out to war on lies and then giving them rubbish equipment to protect themselves with

Fuck all this ‘lie dem’ bullshit. They have a long way to go before they can even dream of matching the fucking abysmal example labour have set.


If blocking the Sky take-over (however much it is to be applauded) is one of the few things that can be pointed to as an LD success, forgive us all for being underwhelmed!

LD apoligists keep trotting out the “fact” that it would have been worse if the Tories had been governing alone, and that it would have led to another quick election with a Tory majority, but it ain’t necessarily so. The alternative counter factual would see the LD’s getting credit for having stuck to their (now jettisoned) principles, and possibly increasing their share of the vote at a second election, particularly if the Tories were painted as having brought it about by being unreasonable.

Finally, we all know New Labout were nauseating, and Newer Labout aren’t shaping up to be much better. If only there was a radical, progressive movement that could present an alternative….. faint hope!

14, rural rides:

“the fact that individuals making the pledge continued to campaign hard on that specific issue when they knew that a decision to ignore the pledge had already been made.”

This is not a fact and is not backed up by any evidence.

The LDs had planned to compromise on the manifesto commitment of scrapping tuition fees in the event of a Coalition. They had not planned to compromise on the NUS pledge of voting against a rise in fees.

Read The Guardian with a more critical eye next time.


Ok, the BskyB referral is one thing.

One thing.

And the problem with that is that it’s only the referral. We still have to wait and see whether Ofcom magnanimously decides that actually Murdoch can go ahead with the take-over.

The Coalition is becoming very good at Good Cop/Bad Cop government. And @Sally is right to say that the LDs have enabled the Tories to move further to the right than they would have been able to if governing in a minority.

Such an arrangement could quite conceivably have been sustainable (with a bit of maturity from the other parties) and would have reigned in the venal ideological excesses of this bunch of chancers.


“They have a long way to go before they can even dream of matching the fucking abysmal example labour have set.”

Come back and tell us how brilliant they are just before the next election.

Don’t expect us to be impressed with the argument that they aren’t as bad as the nauseating New Labour experiment; being in bed with the Tories is hardly much of an improvement, particularly given the Big Society and the laughably small amount of power they deigned to give the LD’s within the coalition.

And @19 – We’re rather splitting hairs here. They made a massive song and dance about pledging to oppose any rise in fees. Now watch them do the opposite.

Galen10, you’ve twice eluded to the ‘woeful deal’ the Lib Dems got out of the Tories.

There are 91 policies in the Coalition Agreement that originate from the Lib Dems and not the Tories (and a further 80 policies that were common to both Coalition partners).

All I know is that I went from cheering labour in all those years ago to active hatred for them. The generation that hated the tories and will never forget thatcher has been joined by one that hates labour and will never forget blair, brown, balls, straw, atkinson, hodge, etc. If you think that the libdems even come close to that because some entitled students acted out on bad information – I don’t think so.

As ppl get disillusioned with the lib dems they’ll turn to smaller parties or not voting at all. People are mostly not so stupid or forgetful that they want labour back.

22, Davie, but there was no plan to do the opposite before the election as Rural Rides wrongly stated as fact.

I’ll stop splitting hairs when other people stop making up ‘facts’.

26. margin4error

there is always a lot in a manifesto that doesn’t happen. That can result from circumstances, a change of heart, or simply from such overwhelming opposition that it become impractical.

What’s alarming about the Lid Deads is that they made clear that every aspect of the direction they indicated they would take the country – has been reversed – and in reversing they are claiming this reversal is really what they believed in anyway and that they are part of a meeting of minds rather than a prop for the real government.

I left blunkett and mandellson off my list by accident but they won’t be forgotten in a hurry either.

And sorry but no, you can’t compare what the lib dems might possibly do badly in the nexy five years with what labour actually did do to us over more than a decade. Especially when the majority of the stuff scaring me now (atos, esa) is labours legacy anyway.

Vampires, socially, financially, emotionally. Manufactured outrage at clegg over tuition fees and the possible potential maybe future does not compare to the damage they have caused.

28. margin4error


I would imagine those most unhappy about the lib dems are not libertarians who thus hate labour over civil liberty – but scocial democrats who presumably quited liked massive investment and higher wages in the NHS and Schools.


Many of the things on the list are things they say they will do, or are broad motherhood and apple pie wishes, not done deals. It’s not about numbers of policies, it’s about the relative power and weight, and about how effectively the LD’s could or have “coloured” the Coalition.

In the real world, you achieved no major cabinet positions… not a single one! Even the FDP in Germany used to get Foreign Minister based on 5% of the popular vote! You achieved non of the really important LD policies as far as I can see… even on electoral reform, you had to settle for AV after a referendum, which given the soiling of your brand may not be won anyway.

Way to go!

30. Stuart White

This post ignores a key point made by Andrew Ducker at 7: when it comes to tuition fees, the Lib Dems didn’t just have a manifesto commitment, they made a specific ‘pledge’ .

Politicians want to be able to signal that they are particularly committed to certain things. Manifesto commitments indicate a certain level of commitment, but we have enough experience of parties breaking manifesto commitments in office to know that these aren’t very firm commitments.

So the Lib Dems decided to take things up a notch and signal that they really, really did have a commitment on tuition fees by taking the pledge they did. This was a way of elevating this particular commitment and saying ‘We’re really serious about this. No, really. We are.’

This is why their u-turn on tuition fees is no standard u-turn. They went out of their way to use a very specific, extraordinary institution – the pledge – to convey that their commitment on this issue was real and firm. By breaking the pledge they have severely weakened this institution. One more way that politicians had of signalling real commitment has been undermined. This is one reason to be disgusted by what the Lib Dems have done – they have damaged one of the few institutions left by which politicians could do this.

26. margin4error

“every aspect of the direction they indicated they would take the country – has been reversed”

171 of the 399 policies in the Coalition Agreement were Lib Dem policies prior to the election. Nice hyperbole, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

I mean – the only reason we have to suffer the tories at all right now is because labour fucked us all over for years and fucked up again at election time, did anyone really think brown balls and mandelson could win?

They hoped they would out of fear so they took that gamble rather than sorting their shit out. More concerned with power than ethics and responsibility, and now all they do is smugly spread shit from the sidelines while the lib dems take all the hits. But the lib dems didn’t get us into this mess, they took responsibility seriously by going into coalition even tho they knew it could really damage their party, and I do believe they are trying their very best to deal with a pretty crappy situation. I accept that its going to be a tough five years – I’m on incapacity and I’ve been scared for a long while nown long before the coalition came along. Ill feel the hit more than the majority of the students and public sector workers will, believe.

But I believe the lib dems are doing the best they can and I just hope that they don’t get dissuaded by being under constant attack from labour.

I also hope that lib dem voters have more vision for the long term and the big picture than labour, and that they put ethics over party and self interest. Like it or not, a lot of the lib dem voters I know believe that is exactly what they are doing, and that no single group (eg students) is more important than the whole.

When will the yellow Tories get what is going on.

Brothers and sisters to the nasty party.

I’m hoping we get something juicy before May’s election.

29, Galen10

I agree that the Cabinet lacks Lib Dem influence, and we haven’t got our fair share of top seats at the table. This is why it makes my eyes roll when the Labour rhetoric goes into “ministerial limos” territory. We’ve not got limos, we’ve got crappy old bangers.

I’m also disappointed by AV too.

But of our manifesto’s other first priorities, we have got action on a higher personal allowance, pupil premium, school freedom, restoring civil liberties, right of recall, elected Lords, and the right noises (but I’m suspending judgement for now) on closing tax loopholes, getting banks lending and a greener economy.

Nice idea really!
But probably impossible to implement as ultimately, the respective strength of the two coalition partners and their bargaining positions determine what can be achieved.

I genereally think that manifestoes are overvalued. After all, I elect one MP. As a person. I can try to find out his views and his philosophy before the election. Which MPs ultimately make it into the Commons is beyond my control as a voter, and so is the setup of any parliamentary group therefore.
As a voter, I cannot seriously expect all MPs of any group to have the same opinion on all issues. I want individuals in parliament, not robots.

It’s not about manifesto pledges – only a fool would imagine any party can spell out its policies for the next five years – it’s about the whole package. In May LibDems ran on an agenda of “fairness” and caution in cutting spending with the country barely out of recession. Six months on it’s obvious that fairness is the last thing we can expect from this government, while caution’s been thrown to the wind in the name of narrowing the deficit at all costs, even if it means a second recession. Instead of “opportunity and fairness for everyone” we’re seeing a succession of attacks seeking to impoverish the worst-off into jobs that don’t exist; massive benefit cuts for low-income tenants aimed at corralling them into no-hope ghettoes where Nick won’t have to see them, with those out of work facing a purely malicious further 10% cut; punitive sanctions that could leave jobseekers with nothing to live on for years; a million job losses making it impossible to create enough work for those who need it, with another million-plus to lose incapacity benefit. And where are the supposed two million jobs to come from? Nick & Co know it can’t be done except through poorly-paid part-time employment that’ll barely cover basic subsistence: no wonder they’re so keen on “slivers-of-time” working at Tesco; that’s their vision. What we’re seeing is an attempt to drive millions into a low-wage economy without a decent safety net, where those in work will feel the pinch as much as those without, as ever more are left competing for the scraps. Dave & Nick of course reason that they can do without the votes of those at the bottom, especially once they’ve been largely cleansed from more affluent areas that are more likely to back the Coalition (in practice, the Tories, since LibDems will find fewer seats where they can squeeze though the middle). What we’re seeing isn’t just a handful of inevitable U-turns, it’s an across-the-board programme of ever-widening social division, hammering the have-nots to secure a government majority of haves. And LibDems won’t be the winners.

labour are at least as nasty as the tories from where i sit. they both think people like me are scum. the only difference is that the tories would rather ignore my existence completely (including withdrawing any support), whereas labour want to harass me ‘for my own good’. constantly making up new rules to ‘protect’ my rights that they assume they represent, when every move they make actually takes something away from me.

i have never in my life felt as patronised and as disrespected and as despised as i have felt under labours army of jobsworth tickboxing ‘do gooders’.

i see it on this blog all the time. how the poor need labour to defend our access to university, how we need them to check our houses for health and safety, how we need them to keep records on our kids from the second they are born, how we need them to choose what our kids should be learning in school, how we need them to organise and access and keep track of every thing we do in our lives in the name of our own ‘rights’ and protection. and if we tell them to hold the fuck up we must be hiding something, abusive, stupid, whatever, we need sanctions against us and our privacy invaded still more.

and i may be uneducated, unemployed, and all the other markers than make me scum in labours eyes, but i’m mature enough not to say shit like ‘lie dems’, ‘nasty party’, even ‘liebour’, ‘gideon’, etc.

i bet nobody actually says any of that out loud, imagine that in conversation, ‘the lie dems’. i cringe for the people who write that vacuous rubbish. i always thought all the ‘honourable gentleman’ stuff in parliament was overdone and unnecessary, but its preferable to that sort of pathetic crap.

acknowledging that i swear too much for some, but i do encourage my kids to talk to and of people respectfully even in anger and disagreement, its a sad sight to see adults unable to do it.


What’s your solution? It’s all very well being angry and against everyone and everything (even “do gooders” – what’s wrong with doing good, as I always ask people who use that phrase) but what are your actual answers?


Apparently on the basis that New Labour were so bad, we have to just trust them that “things can only get better”……

…..haven’t I heard that before somewhere?

We effectively did that on fees (I say we, my membership lapsed over the summer and I can’t bring myself to renew it).

Our manifesto said that a majority Lib Dem government would abolish fees. The conclusion was come to that a coallition with either of the two pro fees parties was unlikely to give us this – and it was best to use the leverage to abolish up front fees for part time students (often the most disadvantaged). Whether you agree with this particular compromise or not it seems the kind that coallition makes necessary.

Then all the MPs signed a pledge saying they would not vote for a rise in fees. That was to be the red line. There was no ambiguity and there has been no major change in circumstances since the pledge was made. We knee we might be in coallition, we knew there was a financial crisis, we knew the universities needed more money. Yet the leadership, along with many parliamentary party have backed down on this.

And that’s the betrayal.

“Like helping block Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the 60% of Sky he does not already own for example? ”

That is the policy that has been agreed with Cameron is it?, Cable has referred it, but we will see what happens when a concrete decision has to be made. My bet is Clegg will sell out to Murdoch. He has sold out on everything else.

Anony “I mean – the only reason we have to suffer the tories at all right now is because labour fucked us all over for years ”

Err no, the only reason we have to suffer the tories now is because you surrendered to them. By the way, spare me the tears over Iraq, you are in govt with the tory party who supported the Iraq war, In fact IDS who was tory leader said we should invade Iraq even if they have no weapons of mass destruction. They were worse than Blair.

Fact is the British people gave no party a mandate to do jack shit. It is only because of the spineless Lie Dems that we are getting tory policy at all.


As eloquent a statement as you could wish for from a former member no less. This ought to be nailed to the door of LD HQ.

I imagine there must be quite a few people in a similar position. LD membership figures ought to make interesting reading going forward!

Have many of the commentators here actually talked to anyone from the majority viewpoint in the Liberal Democrats (liberals – the social democrats are a minority in the party)? Because they may be amazed to see that they think the party is doing a good job getting its manifesto through – but admit there are some things that have to give because the Conservatives will not tolerate them or because there is no money any more.

The public thought the lie dems were a centre left party. Clegg has shown that to be false. We will have to wait and see if the public agrees with them.

One thing we do know is that as long as Clegg is leader you can’t believe a word the lie dems say, and that they are tory lite.

i marched against the iraq war.
i voted for labour before it.
i have never voted tory.
i do however prefer the idea of cooperative coalition government to being forced to choose between labour and the tories forever.
i like cooperation full stop. i can deal with people having different ideas about things to me, as long as they apply those ideas to themselves and dont try to force them on me.
so i support coalitions, i hope for more influence from smaller parties even though i know i will sometimes have massive disagreement with them – because i accept that if i want my voice heard then i have to be prepared to spend some time listening too.

i wish it wasnt with the tories, but im glad its not with labour. and iraq cant be pegged on the lib dems!

mr s pill – i put ‘do gooder’ in inverted commas because i dont agree thats what they really do. theres a big difference between really helping out in your community and professional ‘do gooders’ protecting jobs that are usually inefficient and sometimes actively damaging to the ‘clients’.

there is a whole industry of self absorbed do gooders out there who we apparently arent allowed to criticise as a group because of the alleged do-goodiness of their job roles (teachers, social workers, nurses)

but some of them are cnuts, and even the decent ones work in systems that some of us feel are imposed on us rather than help us out. and so thats what i mean. i dont buy that they are all really doing good and selfless work any more than i think the police force is. they are agents of the state and sometimes you come across a good one whose struggling against the system rather than trying to defend it, thats about as good as it gets these days.

i agree with watchman – the lib dem voters i talk to are mostly very supportive of what the lib dems are doing, and mostly dont like the tories at all but see the whole thing as the lib dems trying to make the best of a bad situation. even the pissed off ones are still glad labour are out.


Without getting into the “kremlinology” of internal LD politics and factions (partly because I’m not a member and don’t know the minute detail, and partly because it’s probably pretty dull), I’m sure there are some classical “Liberals” who are pretty happy with the generality of coalition policy – a few have even posted here I think. they genuinely see themselves as liberals, not of the left or right.

If it is true that the Social Democratic aspect of the LD’s is withering as many on the left leave in disgust, then the LD’s risk returning to the days of the pre-Alliance/SDP small-ish Liberal Party. Perhaps that’s even what some of the purists would like, but I doubt it holds out much hope of them being even more of an after thought than they are in the current Coalition.

47. margin4error


That’s not actually true.

For example – one of the policies in their manifesto you might claim was agreed is the pupil premium – but it isn’t.

The tories had a policy called a pupil premium. The lib dems had a different policy called the pupil premium. The Tory one is going ahead. The Lib Dem one isn’t. But it is the same name so they claim it is a lib dem success.

This sort of stuff is a little opaque at times – and of course all three main parties, like UKIP and the Greens too – have some stuff in common in words that they can happilly all agree on.

People vote on the relatively small number of things they disagree about.

And on the things the tories and lib dems disagreed about – the tories are in charge. Which upsets a lot of the people who voted for them. (I’m not one of them – I’m proud to say I’ve never voted Lib Dem and have never considered doing so)

Assessing the Lib Dems tends to come down to this…

Name the things that are happening that wouldn’t happen if the Tories governed alone.

48. margin4error


I don’t think the Lib Dems will worry much about being under constant attack from Labour. They are quite happy to constantly attack Labour and quite like that sort of politics.

I would imagine they are more concerned at being attacked by the swelling ranks of former Lib-Dem voters – since those people are the ones who will cost them future elections.

m4e – funny, thats not what im getting from the lib dems at all. in fact, noone really seems to be talking about labour these days, which is partly why some people think they can get away with stuff like suggesting the lib dems bear responsibility for iraq, Atos, and tuition fees.

if you mean they were intensely critical of the labour government we just kicked out, thats positive in their favour.


If it is true that the Social Democratic aspect of the LD’s is withering as many on the left leave in disgust, then the LD’s risk returning to the days of the pre-Alliance/SDP small-ish Liberal Party. Perhaps that’s even what some of the purists would like, but I doubt it holds out much hope of them being even more of an after thought than they are in the current Coalition.

I am not sure it is withering, so much as reinventing itself (again) or moving back to Labour (which is a proper social democratic party at the moment). But the problem with this assumption is that it is an all else being equal (I’d be pretentious and use the Latin, but I can’t for the life of me remember it) assumption, in that you assume there is a stable constituency of social democratic voters that the Liberal Democrats need to draw upon. My general view is that the reallignment of the left since the 1980s has made this unlikely – that Mr Kinnock destroyed the need for a social democratic party in this country – and that the recent trend of politics towards new polarisations (state control versus localism; freedom versus security) means that most Liberal Democrats now sit together on the freedom and localism benches.


An interesting take on the issue. I suppose I’d class myself as a social democrat; the trouble is I don’t see Labour as a natural home, or the LD’s for that matter. I was never particularly convinced that bolting the SDP and Liberals together would work, and I’m even less convinced now.

In my constituency (Vince Cable) and borough (Richmond), we are very used to the perennial graphs ‘proving’ Labour can’t win here – “Vote LD to keep the Tories out” is the clear message. In our case, it is true that Labour would need a seismic shift to win even a Council seat. But these graphs are relentlessly replicated across the country.

Were/are there examples of ‘Tories can’t win here; vote LD to keep Labour out?’ Where and when (aside from over Iraq – where as above, the pitch was to the ‘left’)? This is a genuine question, because I simply don’t know.

When our local LD Councillors chose to make the council vote a referendum on their ‘right-wing’ policies on the Twickenham Riverside development-, they lost every Council seat in that ward and control of the Council. We were faced with the ostensibly counter-intuitive Tory slogan of ‘No to luxury housing; keep the site green and for public use.’ (BTW there was no provision for social housing).

Nevertheless, a lot of local people I talk to – not really very political, but vaguely left of centre, critical of Labour over Iraq and civil liberties – are spitting with rage about the LD role in the coalition. Again and again, they say that they feel their vote was ‘stolen,’ that the LDs knowingly lied over cuts and now over tuition fees. Even if they accept some degree of student contribution, they make the same point Stuart White makes at 30. . They certainly thought they were voting for a ‘left of centre’ party .and use the languqge of betrayal.


I agree with Elaine! 😉

..and I know she’s right; everyone I know who voted LD thinks the same.

47 “Name the things that are happening that wouldn’t happen if the Tories governed alone.”

Yes, that is the question all lie dems must answer. And not “oh well we are going to have a referendum on voting system,” because you will loose that. Except in your wisdom you have conceded the tory wish to reduce by 50 seats the house of commons. You should explain why the tories get what they want without a referendum.

@Elaine: “Were/are there examples of ‘Tories can’t win here; vote LD to keep Labour out?'”

That’s exactly what we got here in Edinburgh South (despite the fact that the Tories in 2005 were only 3,500 votes behind the Lib Dems, and 3,900 behind Labour). I think the last “Vote Lib Dem to keep Labour out” leaflet (of which I received several over the course of the campaign) came through my door at about 11am on election day. Labour held the seat by 316 votes.

Andy – interesting, We know LDs are very good at setting out different agendas in different areas of the country, but I am unclear from your post whether they used both slogans – vote LD to keep Labour out and vote LD to keep Tories out – with different charts at the same time in south Edinburgh?

Elaine, it was just “Vote LD to keep Labour out.” The implication of their literature (and indeed it was clearly stated in some places) was “The Tories can’t win here,” which was demonstrably false on the basis of the 2005 result. They also used their infamous bar charts, with the Tories missing (of course).

“The Tories can’t win here,”

Well now we know that yes they can, if you vote lie dem.

i take it the best thing to do with sally is just ignore?

60. margin4error


No – I meant their leadership attacking Labour in every speech they gave at the Lib Dem conference.

It is normal party politics stuff – and all good fun. Lib Dems are having to do more of it in their speeches now as they’ve lost their five minutes of attacks on the tories. (Coulson was hardly going to sign off on Lib Dem ministers giving speeches that attack the tories).

But my main point was that, as you say, the Lib Dems won’t mind the attacks from Labour. As I say, that’s all good fun.

They will be more concerned about the large numbers of people who voted Lib Dem but are now vehmently anti-lib dem.

That will cost them seats. Lots of them. Unless they can change something in the mean time.

61. margin4error

oh – and anony

the best thing for you to do might be to ignore sally. Many of us like her though and agree with her sentiment on some things. (not all, none of us agree with all of what anyone says)

@Sally – “They could have let the tories form a minority govt on their own, let them set a budget and then watch them swing in the wind.”

Guess we should be thankful you aren’t running the country. You do realise that if the government can’t govern it’s INCREDIBLY BAD NEWS for everyone, right? If we had done that the Tories would either have been able to do everything they wanted or government would have been gridlocked leading to either or both of the following; (a) fresh elections which the Tories win because they’ve public sympathy for being dicked over by irresponsible opposition parties and they’re the only party with money at the moment enough to fight an election campaign (b) government bonds would have been devalued to B-class causing major damage to the financial industry and almost certainly causing a second dip in the recession.

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