Supporting the next government - Red Lines for Social Liberals

Tuesday, 07 April 2015

In the most uncertain election for decades, only two things can be predicted with much confidence: Barring a major slip-up (or breakthrough) during the campaign by Ed Miliband, there will be no overall majority; and Liberal Democrat representation in the House of Commons will be significantly reduced. However, it is also likely that the party will do better than the public expects, for three reasons. First, public expectation is ill-informed. Plenty of intelligent people think a Lib Dem meltdown would leave them with only a handful of MPs. Similarly, talk of a UKIP (or Green) surge has led people to believe they’ll have 20-30 seats in the next parliament. In reality, the reverse is more likely. Second, low expectations for the Lib Dems have been accentuated by the media’s limited comprehension of polling data – and particularly of the long-standing lack of correlation between uniform swings and Liberal Democrat seat losses (or gains). 

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Why The Lib Dems must hold on to as many seats as possible

Thursday, 02 April 2015

It is no secret that the upcoming election is going to be a major test for the Liberal Democrats and that the outcome will likely see many good, hard-working MPs defeated and their staff on the dole.

For the first time in living memory the Lib Dems are heading into an election with a record which we will have to both defend and justify.

The decision back in 2010 to enter into the first coalition since the war was one that many people in the party, including myself believed was unthinkable.

Personally, I never imagined that it would be possible for the Liberal Democrats to go into Government with the Conservatives, a party I had spent the previous 32 years campaigning to keep out of Government!

My politics aren’t left or right, they are Liberal.  I grew up in the far South West following the likes of David Penhaligon, David Morrish and John Pardoe. I have always seen the Conservative Party as our natural opposition. Labour, on the other hand, have always been our natural competition whom we compete with to keep the Tories out of power.

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cash for peerages

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Rumours of ‘cash for peerages’ have long been rife at Westminster, and today's release by my two colleagues and I is an attempt to begin contributing some greater factual basis to the debate, rather than the usual “He said, she said” that such an important topic is usually reduced to.

By focussing on the ‘big picture’ and the numbers involved, rather than individual cases, our study made some startling discoveries, including the sheer improbability of so many people from the three parties’ small pool of big donors all being nominated to the Lords, which is equivalent to winning the National Lottery five times back-to-back. The relationship between donations and peerage nominations is statistically significant, and it looks spectacularly unlikely that something fishy isn’t going on. While the figures are not in themselves a ‘smoking gun’, and while none of the data should be used to reflect on any individual cases, the broader patterns are quite damning for how politics is done - and funded - in this country today. None of the three main parties comes out of this particularly well.

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Taking social liberalism in to general election campaigns

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Two SLF Council members are fighting hard to win seats that were until recently, held by Liberal Democrat MPs.

Helen Flynn, PPC for Harrogate and Knaresborough and Kelly-Marie Blundell, PPC for Guildford, share how they've been taking social liberal values to the heart of their election campaigns.

We wish them all the very best of luck. Please do help to get them elected. Details about their campaign headquarters and action days will be advertised in the next SLF weekly newsletter.  

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4 Key Questions about the process of negotiations for government

Monday, 16 March 2015

I’ve come back from the Party’s Spring Conference in Liverpool worried. My concern is about Party unity in the face of another unclear General Election result. The Party’s processes can be arcane but they really matter: Here’s why.

Article 15 of the Party’s constitution, sets out who needs to be consulted during negotiations to support a government. It is not clear whether or not this applies equally to confidence and supply arrangements as it does to coalitions or even to a one-off vote or abstention on government formation (I think it should).

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What's the bottom line, Nick?

Monday, 09 March 2015

Liberal Democrats enter the impending general election campaign with a sense of foreboding. Battered and bruised from our experiences in coalition with the Tories, we can expect to face the wrath of those left leaning progressive voters who, with some justification, feel that we gave too much in exchange for too little.

The value of Liberal Democrat ‘currency’ is probably the lowest it has ever been in my lifetime. I’ve spoken to many people who bought into the Lib Dem vision in 2010 who feel they have been short-changed. The U-turn on tuition fees has almost become a cliché for what our target voters perceive to be broken promises, unpalatable compromises and illiberal decisions in government. There is little political capital to be made from the good things that we have done because they simply aren’t listening to that message.

Against this backdrop, we are preparing for the worst in May 2015. Another hung Parliament looms, our opinion poll ratings are dire and Nick Clegg is the most unpopular party leader of modern times. Party strategists are basing our general election campaign on the premise that voting Liberal Democrat will keep the worst excesses of either the Tories or Labour in check, arrogantly assuming that the party will be involved in another coalition.

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Budget Debate

Thursday, 05 March 2015

The Federal Policy Committee (FPC) motion on the economy proposes, among other measures:

“Balancing the cyclically-adjusted current budget by 2017/18, on time and fairly, protecting the economic recovery and bringing down Britain’s debt as a share of national income."  (F6, 1 a)

The FPC’s present stance is that 60% of this balancing should be achieved by further cuts in expenditure and 40% by tax increases.  SLF is supporting an an amendment by Mark Pack that says the ratio of cuts to tax increases should be 50/50.


No Liberal, least of all SLF members, should be supporting this at all, even if the 50/50 amendment is accepted.  To compare it to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic is too weak a comparison:  arguing about the rules for marbles as the ship sinks would be closer.

The deficit is not an immediate problem. Accepting that it is is cravenly swallowing, alas along with Labour and most of the media, the very successful Tory PR spin.  Frankly, it never was our most urgent problem, even in 2010.  The comparison with Greece is and was ludicrous: their debt was mostly short-term and held abroad - ours is mostly long term and mostly held within our own economy, and our DEBT/GDP ratio was and is relatively modest.  The deficit is certainly not our most urgent problem now.

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A love letter to Steve Webb

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The SLF blog has received the following Valentine’s day message from a secret admirer of the Pensions Minister…

Dear Steve,

Most of the other boys (and girls) in the coalition have been something of a disappointment, but you have been a real star. While too many other Liberal Democrat ministers failed to deliver (House of Lords Reform, PR, drugs law reform) or supported the opposite of what they should have (tuition fees, secret courts, bedroom tax), you alone have delivered a truly Liberal agenda.

No more will British workers be discouraged from saving for retirement because of complex means-tested benefits, nor will they lose huge chunks of their savings to ludicrously large 'management' fees. And when they get to the finish line, their pension pots will be there to do with as they please, not automatically swapped for bad value annuities.

If only all ministers could be like you Steve - this government could have been a shining example of what Liberalism can achieve.

Keep on, keeping on Professor Webb.


A Liberal admirer

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moving closer to a social liberal economic policy

Friday, 06 February 2015

The 2010 election was notable for the failure of the three main parties to spell out clearly how they would reduce the budget deficit.  No-one wanted to scare the voters away. 2015 is already proving different. Nick Clegg has announced that Liberal Democrats would increase taxes by at least £8 billion and bring in a further £6 billion by tackling tax avoidance. There would still be up to £16 billion cut from  expenditure, £12 billion from government departments and £4 billion from welfare. Whilst not exactly a return to Keynesian economics, this is nevertheless a huge step away from the Tory approach which seemed to have dominated coalition fiscal policy. The balance between expenditure cuts and tax increases under Tory plans for the next parliament would be 98:2 whereas we will be proposing 60:40.

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Two spells that need to be broken

Tuesday, 03 February 2015

The days to come are going to be a severe test of the mettle and nerve of the party as we try to impress and connect with our voters. We are still a party of reasonable, idealistic souls set on improving our community, our nation in a way that balances individualism and free expression with the need to promote social harmony and the sheer joy of human togetherness. We are in a word still “Liberals”.

But we have been through some strange experiences that have scarred us and blurred the public view of who and what we are - so we fight under a burden. I am not talking about the perils of government and having to make tough decisions in severe financial circumstances. Nor am I talking about the misapprehension of those who formerly thought we were a brand of “Labour-lite”. I am glad people know we can make tough decisions and are not closet socialists. If our burden was just that, it would be not be heavy at all.

What slows our footsteps, weighs us down and holds us back in the polls is the result of the party falling under the spell of two dangerous enchantments or delusions.

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