Monday, February 23, 2009

Are the LibDems a Political Party or a Pressure Group?

Congratulations to Nick Clegg and his wife Miriam on the birth of their son, Miguel. Clegg will now be taking a few weeks off in paternity leave. If he wants something to mull over while he is away, he could no worse than have a skaz at THIS article on ConservativeHome, in which Tim Montgomerie posits that...
Senior Tories are debating the extent of outreach that should be made to the Liberal Democrats in the event of the Conservatives becoming the governing party at the next General Election.

Tory strategists are hopeful that the next election will see the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party significantly reduced in size but they also believe that the Conservatives have a long-term interest in ensuring that Britain's third party looks as much to the Conservative Party as to the Labour Party as a future natural coalition partner.

I understand that a group of shadow ministers believe that one of Tony Blair's bigger strategic mistakes was to row back on co-operation with the Liberal Democrats when he won such a large Commons majority in 1997. These shadow ministers believe that - contrary to Labour's 'under-delivery' to the LibDems - the Conservatives should deliver more in practical co-operation in government than they promise in opposition.

The discussion is not of ministerial positions - although there might be some significant appointments to policy reviews - but of working groups on issues of shared interest. Action on civil liberties and on green issues are on the table.

The scorched earthers are already venting their spleen in the comments, but surely this is sensible politics? I remain of the view that a Hung Parliament is still a very likely result of the next election. Of course I would like to see the LibDems obliterated, but although they are likely to lose a few seats, I don't expect them to self combust.

It is sensible at this stage to see what levels of cooperation are both desirable and achieveable. If nothing else, it will force the LibDems to decide whether they are a political party or a pressure group. Pressure groups have the luxury of spouting forth on every issue of the day with no ability to ever gain power and change things. Political parties exist because they are hungry for power and want to effect change. The LibDems have just over a year to decide which they are.


Trend Shed said...

Personally I'd like to see the Labour party shrink in favour of an expanded Liberal party.

Labour is 90% funded by trade unions - who pay to change laws. The time for Labour has been and gone. Also - Labour have had their chance and very, very expensively failed.

I'd be happy to see the Conservatives give a leg up to the Liberals, to bring them more into the mainstream by embracing some elements of Conservatism.

If this were to happen, the Liberals could make a very serious opposition party to keep the Conservatives on their toes.

Labour, however, needs to reinvent itself or become extinct.

Letters From A Tory said...

Spot on.

The Lib Dems have a huge internal struggle between Clegg trying to pull the party to the right versus the party faithful who have no interest in pursuing such an agenda and want to remain centre-left.

Until the Lib Dems decide how liberal they really are both economically and socially, they won't impress anyone.

Bert Rustle said...

"Action on civil liberties", Liberal Democrats, Gert Wilders.

Which is the odd one out?

Newmania said...

I agree Iain , my fascination with Liberal Conspiracy is watching how good Liberal’s like Aaron who you recently featured are slowly realising that there is no place for them beside authoritarian collectivists like Sunny Red Hundal . The ares of disagreement are now very small really and the main one is Europe . Liberals are moving our way even on that
In this piece by Paul Evans he begins to accept that the left are against democracy

Tony said...

I struggle with this notion Iain. I cannot see how two parties that differ so markedly can be considered as future coalition partners. There are major planks of Lib Dem policy that should be anathema to Conservatives (and vice versa).

The last thing the country would need is a messy fudge of a relationship in government. The fact is the Lib Dems and Labour are more naturally suited as allies, coming from the same leftist tradition.

To me a Conservative - Lib Dem arrangement would feel like a square peg being driven into a round hole. The electorate would be unlikely to thank us.

Brom said...

This article is a joke lol. The Lib Dems have always been much clearer on what their policies and actions would be if they were in government than the Tories.

It's pretty laughable that you're having a dig at the Lib Dems about this when the Conservatives are probably a year away from power and I'm still not sure what they stand for or what they'll do differently than Labour.

Scouse & Proud #jft96 said...

"have a skaz"?

Really, darling... It ill behoves an editor to chav down in this way. Standards, dear Iain, standards!

Much Love (to all those needing a new company director)


Guthrum said...

Just want them to drop the word Liberal and come clean that they are Social Democrats after Huhne's support of the suppression of Free Speech

Unknown said...

I agree with Brom. The Tories have jumped from one bandwagon to the other and I genuinely don't really know what a Tory government would be about. And the only voice of reason on the economy at the moment is Cable - did you listen to Osborne this morning? And sorry to say it Iain, no mention of Ashcroft yet?

Unsworth said...

Frankly I don't want to see the Lib Dems 'obliterated'.

Neutralised, perhaps.

But we need diverse views in politics. Some of them are inevitably going to be silly, even hilarious. The Lib Dems fulfil this function very well.

Anonymous said...


Why not go the whole hog and call him Fernando?

There are a few leading libdems who might be considered left of centre conservatives - butr the mass of the party, such as it has one, its activists and councillors, are as left wing as most labourites. And just as nannyish bossy and authoritarian. probably more so. They are not liberal and there is precious little democracy about them.

Unknown said...

The LibDems are neither a pressure group or a political party.

In the words of Richard Littlejohn, 'the libDems are a franchise, not a party.'

Anyone who has campaigned against them locally knows how they shamelessly tailor their message to the make up of the constituency often in total contradiction to national policy. Their low visibility at national level allows their candidates to get away with this tactic. Ask most Tory or Labour candidates or activists and they will confirm this.

They also use disgusting smear tactics. For instance, in Portsmouth South in the 2001 GE, they campaigned on a 'union jack' message destined to go down well with a military town like Portsmouth. They also viciously smeared the Tory candidate as the 'man from Dorset', implying he had just been parachuted into the constituency he knew nothing about. In fact although he had been born in Dorset he had been living in Portsmouth south for 17 years and had a good track record of grassroots political and voluntary sector work behind him.

The LibDems were ahead of the two other parties when it came to the moral corruption of the political class. For this reason alone they are simply not worth considering as a sensible party at all.

Old Holborn said...


Obviously an unplanned pregnancy

22/02/09 minus 9 months equals a May conception

Nick Clegg and Wife holiday on Costa Brava May 2008

Anonymous said...

The last thing we want is a hung parliament. We're effectively going to be in a one party state unless one of them really wants to rock the boat, which they wont. The three main parties are generally far too close to each other, there being very few differences separating them from the rest.

All Seeing Eye said...

Miguel is the name of a Spanish beer.

At least Beckham named his kid after where he had shagged, not what he had drunk beforehand on the Costa Brava.

The poor kid is going to get the crap beaten out of him at boarding school.

bryboy said...

Does it matter? There is very little meaningful difference between any of them. Our real masters lie in Europe so whoever gets elected are only acting out a puppet performance.

David Lindsay said...

Clearly no fantasies about a Cameron landslide here.

Lib Dems are mostly local communitarians and populists, and giving each of them the little thing that he or she wants on his or her patch would not necessarily be the worst way to shore up a majority, to say the least.

Individual Lib Dems also do sterling work on pet causes, and again a government could do a lot of good by striking the relevant deals in order to keep itself going; look forward to the opening up of the family courts, to a Coroner's Inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly, and so forth.

No one can deny the Lib Dems' prophetic voice against the lunatic foreign policy of the Blair years, a significant and most welcome break with their own record in the Nineties.

And dare we even hope for Vince Cable, if not as Chancellor, then certainly in a very senior position dealing with economic policy?

But the Lib Dems AS A PARTY are Eurofanatical, anti-family, pro-crime and pro-drugs. So yes, they are the perfect coalition partners for David Cameron.

Simon Gardner said...

I reiterate that despite your comments (again) a hung parliament is highly improbable. It always is. It looks just as improbable now. (OK the number of Lib Dem and other third party MPs has increased and will increase but notwithstanding, our FPTP electoral system is highly undemocratic and whatever the feelings of the electorate, their votes are never translated into parliament.)

But if it were to happen and it’s a very big if, then the only possible deal would be between Tories and Lib Dems:

(1) Nick Clegg is himself very right-wing;
(2) No way will the Lib Dems be seen to be propping up a Labour Government that has been seen to be rejected by the voters.

The last one makes a Lab/Lib coalition a non-starter.

The comments about the party membership and activists being well to the left of the present leadership is correct - but so what?

I also don’t see the Tories (nor Labour) conceding even a Speaker’s Conference on electoral reform. So even if there’s a hung parliament, all that would happen would be a minority [Tory] government followed by a 1960s-style second general election.

Shane Frith said...

It is worth looking at the tactics of the newly elected New Zealand National (conservative) Government. Despite a result which allowed them to govern (under an awful PR system) with two small right-of-centre parties, the Prime Minister reached out to a centre-left party and brought them into government.

I'm personally still unsure of the wisdom of his approach. If it works, it could ensure a long living centre-right government (hard under PR). However, it may also retard the ability to deliver good policy.

For those bent on the destruction of the Lib Dems, the history of PR in NZ since 1996 has not been kind to "centrist parties". It is easy to avoid tough decisions while in opposition. Once in a coalition government, collective responsibility and reality starts to take hold. A populist party, that managed to cling to government office (with National and Labour) through much of the past 12 years failed to return to Parliament last year.

For the Lib Dems clamouring for PR, I say, be careful what you wish for!

Blackacre said...

Cicero's Songs has a good post commenting on this and turning the point around. It is certainly the case that the Lib Dems are more than a mere pressure group as Iain alleges.