The Lib Dems are planning to stop Labour from power in 2015, but is Miliband watching?


5:46 pm - September 17th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    


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The political press famously paid little attention to Liberal Democrat conferences before the Coalition in 2010. Even now, as Westminster is watching more closely, there is a lingering feeling in the air that says, ‘what’s the point? You’re heading for a meltdown anyway‘.

But this would be missing the point, and the Labour leadership in particular should be paying close attention because the Lib Dem strategy is clever and could deny Ed Miliband a chance at power after the next General Election.

Let’s look at this week’s events. It started with Tim Farron love-bombing Ed Miliband. Then we had advance newspaper briefings about raising the minimum wage, banning plastic bags and dealing with climate change. Major speeches at the conference by Ed Davey, Vince Cable, Jeremy Browne and even Danny Alexander veered to the left, focusing on raising taxes on the wealthy, helping the poor and dealing with climate change. Nick Clegg’s key announcement has been on free school meals. There are even motions on betting shops!

There’s a reason for this. Voters who opted for the Lib Dems in 2010 but are now veering towards Labour are central to Ed Miliband’s success in 2015. These people are disillusioned with the Lib Dems, highly unlikely to vote Conservative and favourable to Labour. They are the reason Labour is polling in the high 30s rather than low 30s and should be easier to keep on side than people who haven’t voted for the party recently.

But if the Lib Dem conference has one central message, it’s that the yellows aren’t about to give them up without a fight.

Of course, in many cases Lib Dems are arguing against policies they voted for earlier.

But voters are notoriously fickle who remember headlines more than voting records. They mostly just remember big betrayals (like the tripling of tuition fees), and given enough time will forgive those too (as many have done with Labour and Iraq).

The Lib Dems have three main arguments to ensure they don’t collapse in 2015.

First, ‘we had no choice in 2010′. The Lib Dems pledged to join the largest party in 2010 to stabilise the British economy. They were a minority partner so they didn’t get everything but they managed to push some key Libdem policies.

Second, ‘Ed Miliband’s Labour is the same as Gordon Brown’s Labour’. They’ll point out closer to the election that Labour have said little on civil liberties, the environment or taxes on low earners. At least the Lib Dems fought in government to make that happen, they will add.

Third, ‘we restrain the extreme ends of both Labour and the Tories’. They will say that voting Lib Dem is not longer a protest vote but a vote to ensure that neither Labour nor Tories realise their wild excesses in government.

These three arguments will almost certainly soften up the Labour vote even further and start tempting back ex-Lib Dems. As Fabian research has shown, Labour voters are “much more vulnerable to apathy and disenchantment” and desert the party before an election. Labour’s jump in support after 2010 showed how bad the party is at hanging on to sympathetic voters.

It doesn’t matter what their voting record is, from here until 2015 the Lib Dems will make loud left-leaning noises to appeal their abandoned base, hoping enough of them will return after reassurances.

The mistake for Labour would be to treat ex-Lib Dem voters like tribal Labour voters. These people may be sympathetic but they are also suspicious of Labour leaders and unlikely to just take them on their word. They won’t nod along at any criticism of Clegg by Labour MPs.

Labour has to fight for them and appeal to these voters too, rather than just hoping Britons will see through it. They won’t. Enough of them could go back the Lib Dems at the last minute and deny Ed Miliband any chance of power in 2015.

UPDATE: As I said, the Lib Dems are aggressively courting Labour voters…

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. Juggzy Malone

” civil liberties, the environment or taxes on low earners. At least the Lib Dems fought in government to make that happen, they will add.”

But this is a lie. The Lib Dems have not fought for these in government. One or two of them have rebelled against party procedures to vote against things which are antithetic to civil liberties or the quality of life of the low paid or unemployed, but they really haven’t been on the side of civil rights, low taxes or the environment at all.

and even Danny Alexander veered to the left

Here’s a picture of Danny Alexander grinning proudly as he opens a food bank, the need for which has been caused by the government he is a part of.

Few more here too:- http://wingsoverscotland.com/the-pride-of-britain/

The problem is the word “fought”. It implies a visible battle against the rest of the government, but in fact if it exists it has been invisible.

The fighting between different parts of the LibDems, on the other hand, is becoming more visible.

As a bog standard Tory I would advise no one to ignore the Libbers. We’ve had 2 elections since the general and it baffles me how well organised they still remain.

Ofcourse insult them but none of us are sailing in the safest vessel. I’m almost sure that this conference season could be the most boring yet.

@1. Juggzy Malone: “But this is a lie. The Lib Dems have not fought for these in government.”

I could contradict your words using a LibDem crib sheet. Which would be very boring.

But I must highlight that 2.7 million more people do not pay income tax than under Gordon Brown. And that Conservative policies would be fuck loads more stupid if Lib Dems were not in coalition.

If you want a liberal in parliament, vote for a liberal if s/he is on your doorstep.

As long as Clegg remains leader the LibDems will be known as the enablers of the most vicious right wing government this country has seen. They have restrained the Tories as effectively as a muzzle made of bacon restrains a hungry Rottweiler. They are political whores whose price is a ministerial limo, nothing is too sordid for them, no paymaster too depraved. If the electorate trusts them again the electorate truly will have the government it deserves.

@6 – Shmidt – Chin up, petal.

Aggressively courting?

You missed the main problem, which is trust. People may be sceptical about all politicians but now they know how hypocritical and unprincipled the Lib Dems are. You suggest that voters forget most details about parties as elections approach, which is a good point. What will not change in the public mind for many years is, for various reasons, a hatred of the Yellows.

DtP. Not even Denny Crane would dare to call Schmidt petal.
Cherub. It’s that snake-in-the-grass emblem that put me off at the beginning and now it’s everything about them.

@9. Cherub: “You missed the main problem, which is trust. People may be sceptical about all politicians but now they know how hypocritical and unprincipled the Lib Dems are.”

Do you mean the Lib Dems who moderated a Conservative government? Or the Lib Dems who delivered tax reform for the most poor?

Coalition government demands compromise. Perhaps in a few months, Labour will talk with Lib Dems.

@6. Schmidt: “As long as Clegg remains leader the LibDems will be known as the enablers of the most vicious right wing government this country has seen.”

What the fuck are you talking about?

Do you have any idea about how authoritarian governments work?

LibDems, in coalition with Conservatives, strive to be liberal and thoughtful. You do not manage that, do you?

12

“Do you have any idea about how authoritarian governments work?”

Lloyd George was the last Liberal prime minister of Britain. In August/September 1936, he went on a visit to Germany to meet with Herr Hitler at his retreat in Bertesgaden, Bavaria. On his return to Britain, Lloyd George wrote a piece for the Daily Express:

“I have just returned from a visit to Germany. In so short time one can only form impressions or at least check impressions which years of distant observation through the telescope of the Press and constant inquiry from those who have seen things at a closer range had already made on one’s mind. I have now seen the famous German Leader and also something of the great change he has effected. Whatever one may think of his methods – and they are certainly not those of a parliamentary country – there can be no doubt that he has achieved a marvellous transformation in the spirit of the people, in their attitude towards each other, and in their social and economic outlook. . .

“What Hitler said at Nuremberg is true. The Germans will resist to the death every invader at their own country, but they have no longer the desire themselves to invade any other land. . .

“The establishment of a German hegemony in Europe which was the aim and dream of the old pre-war militarism, is not even on the horizon of Nazism. …”
http://www.icons-multimedia.com/ClientsArea/HoH/LIBARC/ARCHIVE/Chapters/Stabiliz/Foreign/LloydGeo.html

From which we may confidently conclude that impressions can mislead even past Liberal prime ministers with their “liberal” values.

Hundal:

Enough of them could go back the Lib Dems at the last minute and deny Ed Miliband any chance of power in 2015.

Does this mean ‘deny Labour an overall majority’ or ‘Clegg is praying for a repeat of the 2010 election result’? If it’s the latter, then I can’t see how Clegg is going to appeal to Labour voters who feel they have already been suckered once.

“it baffles me how well organised they still remain. ”

Because those who still remain are the true believers, and they feel under siege from the media, the left etc who they don’t think are giving them a fair hearing. Motivated activists will knock more doors and deliver more leaflets than activists who believe their leadership doesn’t share any of their views.

13

“From which we may confidently conclude that impression can mislead even past Liberal prime ministers with their “liberal” values.

You may well have a good point, although Asquith was prime minister in 1914, the general belief is that Lloyd George was the force behind conscription, another “liberal” value!

There is nothing scaring the shit out of the New Labour leadership more right now than the prospect of winning the next election outright.

@ Charlieman

“2.7 million more people do not pay income tax than under Gordon Brown.”

It’s a con. A fig leaf for middle-class tax cuts at the expense of low income households.

In terms of tax policy, what’s happened is a shift from direct to indirect taxation – an income tax cut funded by a VAT rise of about the same value (c. £13bn). It’s a classic right-wing model, enabling the government to extract more money from the unemployed and underemployed, students, poor pensioners etc., and so keep taxes low for people higher up the income distribution (as the vast majority of income tax payers are).

In broader terms of tax *and benefits* policy, the picture is even worse. Under the influence of right-wing dogma (tax cuts = self-reliance = good, handouts = dependency = bad) we’re seeing a shift from targeted, progressive payments of tax credits to reduce the net tax burden on low- and middle-income households, to across-the-board tax cuts that benefit mainly middle- and high-income households. (Two thirds of the value of these tax cuts stays in the pocket of households in the top half of the income distribution.)

So the real picture is not one of lower earners being ‘lifted out of tax’, but of their net tax burden rising as a result of the VAT hike and cuts to their tax credits and benefits. The people seeing meaningful, more-money-in-your-pocket tax cuts are higher earners who benefit from the higher personal allowance but don’t lose out through cuts elsewhere.

19. Man on Clapham Omnibus

Anyone with a conscience would push for a UKIP victory in tory marginals.

20. Paul peter Smith

The next election could be the most interesting in a while, if UKIP takes votes from Labour and the Tories and the LibDems hold their ground we could be in for Italian style coalition musical chairs.

@13. Bob B: “From which we may confidently conclude that impressions can mislead even past Liberal prime ministers with their “liberal” values.”

I suggest reading “David & Winston — How a friendship changed history” by Robert Lloyd George. DLG’s visit to Germany is described on pages 214-217. It emerges that DLG had not read Mein Kampf and whilst opposing anti-semitism, he was ignorant of its extent. At the same time, DLG was broadly a supporter of the Spanish republican government. By 1937, DLG was a reluctant proponent of rearmament.

It’s also worth remembering that the Fabian Society were enthusiastic supporters of Stalin. UK politicians failed to comprehend the evil of both Stalin and Nazism although Orwell was getting into his stride. Here’s a link to “Homage to Catalonia”:
http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0201111.txt

I think your whole argument is flawed. You are missing the point that a lot of the folks that voted Lib Dems last time round were actually disillusioned Labour voters. Now we’ve seen how Lib Dems would sell their grandmothers for a sniff of power, people will either go back to Labour, off to UKIP or will fail to vote altogether.

LibDems have nowhere to go but down. They are no threat to anybody.

Charlieman: “UK politicians failed to comprehend the evil of both Stalin and Nazism although Orwell was getting into his stride”

The Conservative Baldwin government produced its White Paper announcing rearmament in March 1935 – the Guardian news report is on the internet.

Peter Clarke: Hope and Glory Peter Clarke: Hope and Glory: Britain 1900-2000 (Penguin Books): “The fact is that the rearmament programme was seriously begun under Baldwin, pushed along more slowly than Churchill wanted, but more quickly than the opposition advocated. Defence spending, pegged at about 2.5 per cent of GNP until 1935, increased to 3.8 per cent by 1937.”

The government sought a new mandate at a general election on 14 November 1935 and won with 53.7% of the total vote, the last time in Britain that a government won a general election with an absolute majority of the votes cast. George Lansbury, the Labour leader, who opposed rearmament on principle, lost his seat. His deputy, Clement Attlee took over as party leader.

We have this account by George Orwell of a public meeting in Barnsley addressed by Sir Oswald Mosley on 16 March 1936 in a research diary Orwell kept for a book that was eventually published as: The Road to Wigan Pier (1937):

“Last night to hear Mosley speak at the Public Hall [in Barnsley], which is in structure a theatre. It was quite full – about 700 people I should say. About 100 Blackshirts on duty, with two or three exceptions weedy looking specimens, and girls selling Action etc. Mosley spoke for an hour and a half and to my dismay seemed to have the meeting mainly with him. He was booed at the start but loudly clapped at the end. Several men who tried to interject with questions were thrown out . . . one with quite unnecessary violence. . . . M. is a very good speaker. His speech was the usual clap-trap – Empire free trade, down with the Jew and the foreigner, higher wages and shorter hours all round etc. After the preliminary booing the (mainly) working class audience was easily bamboozled by M speaking as it were from a Socialist angle, condemning the treachery of successive governments towards the workers. The blame for everything was put upon mysterious international gangs of Jews who were said to be financing, among other things the British Labour Party and the Soviet. . . . M. kept extolling Italy and Germany but when questioned about concentration camps etc always replied ‘We have no foreign models; what happens in Germany need not happen here.’ . . . ”
George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, Vol. 1 An Age Like This 1920-1940 (Penguin Books) p.230.

After completing the draft of The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell went out to Spain to fight on the Republican side.

Don’t underestimate the Lib Dems. There’s talk of a government comeback in the polls as we get towards polling day. We forget that the Lib Dems are the government too.
Yes, they’ll lose votes, but they will be comfortably ahead of UKIP come 2015…

“Don’t underestimate the Lib Dems.”

I never underestimate the LibDems. You’d have thought that with the tragic Victoria Climbie case in 2000 and other child protection cases since all councils would be especially anxious about ensuring a high priority for maintaining standards in child protection. It was therefore with horror when we read this last year in my local press:

A damning Ofsted report has criticised Sutton Council over how it looks after children in its care. An inspection in April uncovered “managerial oversight at all levels”.

Although a team of Oftsed inspectors did not focus on individual cases, the team, which included a representative from the Care Quality Commisson, said: “The overall effectiveness of safeguarding services is inadequate.”
http://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/archive/2012/06/01/9738134.Ofsted_critical_of_Sutton_children_s_services/

Any resignations from the council committees responsible for oversight of child protection – after all, the LibDems have been in control for over 25 years?

No chance – the chief official has already left, we were told. The local press, diligent on behalf of local residents, put in two FoI requests to find out how much the official was paid off.

No information was forthcoming. So much for political transparency in government.

I see this post is literally about a Liberal conspiracy! ;)


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