Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Ed Vaizey Talks Sense Shocker!

Now it's not often I post long articles by other people on this Blog, but this deserves it. Yesterday I posted a brief piece on Ed Vaizey's comments on a possible future co-operation between the Conservatives and the LibDems. 27 people felt moved to comment. A similar debate was had on ConservativeHome. Today, Ed has clarified his remarks on the Guardian's CommentIsFree Blog. Here's what he had to say. Do read it, because it's very thought provoking and in my view 100% on the ball...

"My brief post on the future relationship between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats seems to have set a few hares running. You know you're in trouble when: the Mirror and the Mail ring to say "we just wanted to check it was you", with a note of mild incredulity in their voices; your remarks set off heated debates on the two must-read Conservative blogs, Conservative Home and Iain Dale; and a former senior Conservative official drops you an email "as a friend" to tell you you're an idiot. Just for the record, yes it was me, and no, I didn't clear it with David Cameron. They were my own unvarnished thoughts, which might be the problem. Comment is free on Guardian Unlimited, but it shouldn't be glib. Let me expand my views a little. To start with, a little trite political analysis. First, the third party tends to do well in British politics when the opposition is weak. SDP, QED. Secondly, when it does well, it tends to attract some people who, in different times, might have joined one of the two main parties. Most Conservative activists could probably name at least one local Lib Dem activist or councillor who is really a Tory, but joined the Lib Dems when we seemed beyond the pale. I know I could. Third, when the main opposition gets its act together, the third party tends to start to decline. Its internal contradictions become more obvious, and some people leave to join the main parties. As far as I can recall, both Roger Liddle and Danny Finkelstein were at one time both members of the SDP. Both went on to become senior advisors in the Labour and Conservative parties. What's happening today? As I said in my post, it is too early to talk of a sustained Conservative revival, but we have passed our first test with flying colours. Similarly, it would be bonkers to assume the Lib Dems will never win another by-election. But their flatlining at the council polls appears to show that they have stopped their ascent. A lot of this is down to the Conservative revival. And some of it has to be down to their choice of Menzies Campbell as leader. While Blair and Cameron kick-started their parties with a bit of "shock and awe", Menzies appears to have adopted the tactic of "yawn and bore". Leading Lib Dems must realise that their party is in trouble. They may try and oust Campbell as the election approaches. But quite a few must be looking wistfully at the Conservative party. At the very least, they must be thinking about the direction of their party, and whether its default position would be to support Labour, as it is in Scotland. Are they asking themselves the tough questions? Do they still support the euro? Do they still want higher taxes? Are they opposing the education bill out of opportunism or because they genuinely believe that schools should have less independence? (Incidentally, look at the Lib Dem thinktank Centre for Reform's comments today on tuition fees to see how far some of the Lib Dem thinking is going at the moment.) Do they really belong to the same party as Simon Hughes? Now for my rowing back bit. I am not proposing any kind of formal coalition with the Liberals, but I can see a Conservative governmentworking with some centre-right Lib Dem MPs. And Dale and Conservative Home are absolutely right to say we should oppose any deal that involved PR, and that the Lib Dems' pro-Europeanism (again, certainly not shared by all their MPs) would be a huge stumbling block to future co-operation. But politics is changing quickly. The old landscape is altering fast. Lib Dems like Charlie Kennedy who always said "never" to the Conservatives will have to start to think again. Because if that's what he still thinks, then quite a few of his colleagues are in the wrong party. Oh, and just for the record, this column hasn't been cleared with Cameron either."

So what do you all think? Is his analysis right? And before I end. Ed, if you got this far, sorry about the headline - it's called 'luring the reader in'!


Ross said...

{I am not proposing any kind of formal coalition with the Liberals, but I can see a Conservative government working with some centre-right Lib Dem MPs.}

That is obviously what the Tories should try to do, but I can't see why the Lib Dems would go along with it. If I were a member of a 3rd party that held the balance of power I would not be too pleased with MPs who squandered that position of strength by making individual deals with the government.

Pete Bridges said...

Good set of posts Iain.

I'll come clear, I'm a Lib Dem with some right wing thoughts (free market, family first) but I am proud to belong to the same party as Hughes (Iraq, ID cards, prison isn't working).

I think Ed's analysis about 3rd parties is correct and I'm sure you will see some defect. Likewise if the Tories start to do well you'll see some defect from Labour too.

The issue is should members of the 3rd party effectively give up and join one of the big two - or should they battle on for genuine three party politics. However long that takes. Put it another way, do you want power or ideals?

After the last 30 years, I'd like to see ideals put before power.

Harley said...

This is far more a case of the Lib Dems needing to associate with us than us needing to reach out to them. Ed's analysis of the Lib Dem side is correct, but still...

I say let the buggers dangle. If there are Lib Dems who find that they have common cause with the Conservative Party, then our door is always open.

David Cameron Mp said...

So mr Bridges you are proud to associate yourself with a liar and support the idea that criminals need to be trated with kid gloves?

greenwich.watch said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ellee Seymour said...

I think the Lib Dems will try and maintain their independence until after the next general election, after which it might be a different story, depending on the results.

It goes to show that we should not underestimate the power of the third party, this must be a very worrying scenario for Labour.

The odd Lib Dem might defect one way or the other, but in a way I feel our oppostion would be weakened with only two parties.

Pete Bridges said...

David, if we disassociate ourselves from politicians who lie Parliament would shut down overnight.

Prison simply doesn't work. Did you see the Howard League for Penal Reform report which said "Sending these young men to prison does virtually nothing to ensure that they will live crime-free lives on release." In fact 70% of young men re-offend.

As Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Howard League for Penal Reform report: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4983532.stm

david kendrick said...

The philosophical differences between the 3 main parties are easy to exaggerate. Given that, I cannot see why PR has to be bad news.

I am a member of a single issue party---UKIP. The last time there was a national vote, under PR, was the last Euro elections. The LDs were fourth. So why the LDs Euro-enthusisms would carry disproportionate weight under PR is a mystery.

Ross said...

{In fact 70% of young men re-offend.}

Well yes, but almost by definition they are the people least likely to be deterred by prison. It doesn't take into account how many people were deterred from committing a crime in the first place.

Bishop Hill said...

Re prisoner reoffending see this really good article by Jamie Whyte from the Times.

Bishop Hill said...

Oops, wrong link. Try this.

David Chappell said...

"{In fact 70% of young men re-offend.}

Well yes, but almost by definition they are the people least likely to be deterred by prison."

Then, by definition, prison doesn't work.

malcolm said...

Can't see what Vaizey is really proposing that is different from what happens now.We should cooperate with the LibDems when they agree with us for example on ID Cards and kick the living daylights out of them when we don't ie Tax,Europe,Local taxation,Devolution,Crime,Drugs etc etc etc.

Trevor Ivory said...

Good post Iain. Ed is spot on in his thinking. It is not just our resurgence that is likely to cause the tide of defections to turn. As we saw here in Norwich, the worst thing for the LibDems is to actually win power. They are without doubt the finest party of opposition that we have in the UK, but they find power crippling. Whilst every LibDem is able to unite around the goal of opposing the incumbent, when they actually have to set out a positive vision to govern and their policies start to attract closer scrutiny, they suddenly relise that they are a mixed-bag of characters with no common beliefs from which to develop a common manifesto. They either implode in a blaze of infighting or, as here in Norwich, simply dither about ducking important issues until the electrate allows them to slip quietly back into obscurity.

The tensions are already clear in the parliamentary party and this tension, combined with a more attractive Conservative offering, will bring the genuine liberals back where they belong and leave the others to perfect the role of a left-wing minority pressure group.

jm said...

Why don't I believe him when he says he hasn't cleared it with Cameron?

Neil Craig said...

I've said before that the Lib Dems, who me expelled for right wing deviationalism, should make more use of their position on PR & this item shows why. There is no argument put against PR because PR is very difficult to argue against.

If they still had Charlie, had genuine economic liberal policies (such as abolishing the DTI, far to radical for the new centrist Tories) & a principled position on the war they would be wiping the Tories. They still might though presumeably not under emperor Ming.

The idea that you will split the Lib Dems, annex the bits you want & march towards glory without accepting PR is nonsence. At their strongest the Lib Dems never looked like an easier route to power than joining the Lab/Tories. those that took the difficult route will not be seduced merely for the asking.

Without PR, Libs in a formal or informal pact are turkeys voting for Christmas. The Tories could have a historic rapprochement with the LDs by which both parties would tend to work together for at least a generation but they would have to do this on the basis that they could be trusted to produce a referendum on PR as Labour, who promised this in 1997, can't.

This would involve an intellectual acceptance by the Tories that the days when everybody was either a little Labourite or else a little Conservative have gone & that people will never again be satisfied with just 2 choices.

Richard Bailey said...

Ed is a clever bloke and he has a much more subtle agenda in voicing these comments.
While he may not have cleared the actual words, I'm thoroughly convinced that the strategy is sanctioned at the highest level.

Cameron et al believes, rightly, that much of the vote that he needs to win the next election is buried in the Lib Dems support. He also knows that there are some interesting figures on the Lib Dem benches that he would like on his own.
The strategy has always appeared to be one of tempting these people across the floor.

Ed's comments are well timed to make the most of the local election results in the hope that they can finally start the shock wave (of say Clegg and Laws crossing the floor) that they want.
There is no coalition on the cards. They are simply trying to shape a new landscape that gives the Lib Dem confidence to come aboard and bring those crucial election winning votes and parliamentary seats with them.

Praguetory said...

Is it tactically wise to encourage/accept defecting Libs at this stage of a Parliament? I prefer the long game. If Libs succeed in holding their seats it will only be by virtue of the presence of these "natural Tories" within their Parliamentary party that the Tories can secure their alliance if required (See Birmingham council). Wouldn't a significant defection - when it becomes clear that the Libs vote is truly collapsing -(a final nail in the coffin) be more devestating?