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Can Orange Bookers save the Liberal Democrats?

May 11th, 2011 Posted in Leadership, Liberal Democrats by

In 2015 it is extremely likely that the Liberal Democrats will not reap electoral dividends for the good work they have done in Government. Some have predicted that when this electoral cataclysm comes, it will leave a social democratic rump which will either slide into self-important irrelevance or merge with the Labour Party.

With the crushing AV defeat this may very well be the case if the Liberal Democrats continue to present ‘being distinctive’ only in terms of ‘appealing to the left’. For too long the Liberal Democrats have proclaimed left wing policies in the Labour heartlands and right wing policies in the Tory South.

The local election results are the proof of how this strategy is now dead. If the Liberal Democrats fight on a left wing platform for the future whilst defending a centre right record, political oblivion will be inevitable. Liberal Democrats now have a choice: to become a Liberal Party or a Social Democratic Party.

 Nick Clegg should be looking to set out a new ‘Coalition Agreement’ which contains new, radical, and liberal policies from the Liberal Democrats. This could include basing the immigration cap on a free market mechanism as set out by Gary Becker in ‘The Challenge of Immigration’; greater powers for local government; and a greater emphasis on direct democracy.

Danny Alexander could pursue a more liberal tax policy by replacing property taxes with a Land Value Tax, as well as introducing a Carbon Tax to end emissions controls.

 There also has to be a major communications overhaul. The Liberal Democrats need to emphasise their achievements in government. According to the BBC, despite 75% of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto being implemented, with the Conservatives having only implemented 60% of theirs, 63% of people think that the Conservatives are making most of the decisions.

In a recent speech Clegg said “I relish the opportunity to…make the Liberal Democrat imprint and influence on government more visible”. Clegg’s reputation as a weak and ineffective individual hasn’t been helped by his comments in the New Statesman saying “I’m a human being, I’m not a punch bag – I’ve of course got feelings”. Clegg needs to show that he has the courage and mettle to lead his party and the country. To put it simply, he has to become more like a Leader.

The succession to Clegg will be crucial. Currently he’s politically toxic, but if he steps down as leader in 2014 but remains as Deputy Prime Minister until 2015, with a strong five year record in government, he will hopefully have respect as well.

If a social democrat like Christ Huhne or Tim Farron succeeds then the Liberal Democrats will suffer in 2015. However, if an ‘Orange Booker’ becomes leader then the Liberal Democrats will be able to have the support they need to maintain a presence of at least 20 MP’s.

I would suggest Norman Lamb as the most suitable successor with his sound liberal credentials, his experience as Clegg’s special advisor, and his easy accessible persona.

 The Coalition is going through a new phase and the Liberal Democrats must not retreat into a social democratic comfort zone which can only entail political annihilation, but must progress forwards as an economically and socially Liberal Party which promotes a free economy, protection of the vulnerable, and individual liberty. Only then will the Liberal Democrats face a chance of survival.

Guest post from David Cowan, an intern at the Institute for Economic Affairs, writing in personal capacity

18 Responses to “Can Orange Bookers save the Liberal Democrats?”

  1. John Says:

    Do you really regard Farron as an `orange booker`? How could someone who wasn’t fight elections with a 12,000 majority in the Lake District. It’s hardly left-wing territory. As a party operative I’ve telephone canvassed for him and there’s never been an easier job.

    I do get fed up with people defining others as `orange bookers` or `social liberals` when life is far more sophisticated.

    I agree that parties win from the Centre – it depends what `radical centralism` is and it’s conjunction with winning votes that are based on a pragmatic programme.

  2. John Says:

    I meant do you really NOT regard….

  3. neil bradbury Says:

    Whilst I’m interested to hear the views of a teenager from the IEA, his understanding of politics and how campaiging works is pretty limited. As John says, the idea that Tim Farron doesn’t understand how to appeal to people from across the political spectrum is silly. Norman Lamb is great but is still a pretty obscure MP. Tim and Norman are reasonably close I believe. Both of them wrote the textbook on how to take seats from the Tories and make them ultra sound.

    Nick Clegg may be unpopular now but he was walking on water a year ago. Things are very fluid now. Of course we need to emphasise our achievements. We would easily achieve 20 MPs even if there was an general election today. In short don’t panic! When is Liberal Vision turn into a genuine forum for more economic minded Liberals rather than a pulpit for Littlewood and his chums (whether they are Liberal Democrats or not)? This article makes lots of sweeping generalisations and is low on any evidence.

  4. scotty Says:

    The Lib Dems ONLY gained votes and seats by positioning themselves to the left of Labour.I’m amazed you feel this strategy is now bankrupt as I see it as the LDs only chance to recapture any of their former electoral popularity.

  5. Simon Rigelsford Says:

    John – here is Tim Farron, writing in Liberal Democrat News, Spring 2011: “While the Tories may believe that the state is over bloated and must be cut back, we don’t agree with them. We simply acknowledge that we cannot afford current levels of expenditure. There are many public sector programmes that we must currently shelve but as Liberal Democrats we are determined to bring those services back as soon as the economy is back on track and we can afford them.”

    So definitely not an Orange Booker. I’d rather have Chris Huhne as leader than Tim Farron. Norman Lamb would be a good leader, though personally I hope Nick Clegg takes us into the next General Election.

    David – I agree with most of the article. My view is that the Lib Dems would benefit from becoming a socially libertarian party. Adopting policies such as decriminalising all drugs or legalising cannabis would be more likely to win back the centre-left vote than e.g. dragging our heels on NHS reform. It would also allow us to take votes from a minority of Conservative voters as well.

    One thing I strongly disagree with is the idea that adopting Gary Becker’s immigration proposals would be a good idea. It would be electoral suicide – newspaper headlines of “Lib Dems want the rich to be able to buy their way into the country while shutting the door on poor people” are the last thing we need right now. Instead, we should be working to raise or eliminate the immigration cap. The Conservative leadership probably realises that restricting immigration is economic nonsense, but want to appear “tough” to win votes and please their support base. The coalition would give them an excuse to just do the sensible thing and open our borders.

  6. Lotus 51 Says:

    “The Lib Dems ONLY gained votes and seats by positioning themselves to the left of Labour.I’m amazed you feel this strategy is now bankrupt as I see it as the LDs only chance to recapture any of their former electoral popularity”

    You want the LDs to position themsleves to the left of Milliband & Balls’ union-backed Old Labour?

    Good luck.

  7. David C Says:

    John- I would just like to clarify- I didn’t call Tim Farron an orange booker or any form of liberal. I said it is very likely that Tim Farron (a social democrat/or any other generic leftie term you would like to describe him with) would succeed Clegg. My point is that if the lib dems don’t want to appear as a bunch of hypocrites then they need a centre right leader to defend a centre right record in government. One of the few centre right figures in the party not tainted by coalition, and has actually made a stand against the NHS reforms, is Norman Lamb and whilst being obscure at present he may very well have a good chance should a leadership election come.

    Neil- You are right that events are fluid and the Coalition may very well collapse before 2015 or Clegg might fight the 2015 general election. Now I’m not saying the Lib Dems have to fight on a platform proclaiming the rolling back of the state and radical libertarianism. They do have to fight from a position that reflects the government they’re a part of. Otherwise the electorate will ask the obvious question ‘Then why did you go into coalition?’ You don’t need a degree in campaigning to see that being left wing in the north and right wing in the south is a preposterous strategy. Since they are part of a centre right government it is only right that they fight as a centre right party and win over liberal voters who would otherwise go with the tories. That’s how they have managed to be a third force in British politics.

    Simon- I suggested the Gary Becker proposal merely as a possible compromise with the Conservatives over immigration. I would very much like to see more social libertarianism from the Lib Dems as well, but there are limits.

  8. Philip Says:

    “For too long the Liberal Democrats have proclaimed left wing policies in the Labour heartlands and right wing policies in the Tory South.” Yet I read on another blog that Lib Dems win against the Tories in the south by being ‘Labour Lite’ and against Labour in the north by being ‘Tory Lite’. Both these versions of the same canard can’t be true. Perhaps it’s just lazy thinking which undermines confidence in the rest of the analysis of anyone who’s repeating it.

  9. Alun Says:

    No, because the Orange bookers are scum who are crypto-Tories supporting the worst elements of Thatcherite economics.

    You are NOT the Liberal party, you are the Liberal Democrats. Your party has it’s roots in the Labour party, from whence the Social Democrats come.

    If you don’t like it, then LEAVE and join the Liberal Party, with all the other extremist right wing fruitcakes who think they can take us back to the 1850s.

  10. Alun Says:

    “Some have predicted that when this electoral cataclysm comes, it will leave a social democratic rump”

    Who would predict that then? Someone with little between their ears, apparently. The converse is more likely to be true.

    The social democrats are the ones leaving the party NOW, they will be the ones voting Labour in 2015 (if the coalition lasts that long).

    No, what will be left of the LDs in 2015 will be a few right wing economic liberals, and they are more likely to simply join the Tories.

    Well the orange Book is indistinguishable from the Tories anyway, with their pro-capital stance, their desire to remove labour rights, their support of the elite and the exploiters.

    You’d have us all living in slums, while you and your tiny band of elite capitalist paymasters screw us for everything you can get.

    You want to see kids working down pits, the abolition of universal healthcare, and the introduction of only private education.

    tell me, just how ARE you different to someone like Sarah Palin?

    Oh, I forgot, you’re not.

  11. Psi Says:


    How many people of any age are working “down pits” these days. Haven’t they all been closed and isn’t mining in the UK open cast these days?

  12. Philip Walker Says:

    “You’d have us all living in slums, while you and your tiny band of elite capitalist paymasters screw us for everything you can get. You want to see kids working down pits, the abolition of universal healthcare, and the introduction of only private education.”

    You forgot killing every second disabled person and our urban renewal programme which relies on smashing the Moon into Liverpool.

    If we’re that evil, I wonder why you bother commenting. I mean, plainly your righteousness is not going to have any effect on our wicked ways and we may even infect you with our hellish desire for liberty.

    You might want to consider that while liberals of all stripes tend to avoid going in for sententious moralising and an overblown rhetoric of evil, we’re really quite open to reasoned argument. Come back when you’ve acquired one, and we may even listen.

  13. Sam Says:

    Whilst I agree that the Lib Dems should go down the liberal route (mainly because I am a liberal and no party represents me), could the party as a whole really tolerate that? The social democrats in the party essentially believe in government run services not because it is neccesary, but because they believe it creates some kind of state enforced unity in society. They’re never really going to tolerate a fully liberal agenda, especially as there’s no proof it will be electorally successful a la New Labour carrying the socialist wing.

    Personally I feel we need new parties. All three parties seem to be rag tag coalitions of many different beliefs with no real vision for society.

  14. Londoner Says:

    I’m interested in the ‘greater powers for local govt’ line. There is no particular Liberal slant to such a policy and while most LG election turnouts are so poor, it’s a dubious aim. In particular, the important Coalition policy in relation to conversion academies goes in the opposite direction and is, I suggest, thoroughly liberal in origin. Ditto, free schools. Using local authorities as a vehicle for social change (eg through the now abandoned public sector duty on social disadvantage) is thoroughly Labour, costly, largely cosmetic and bureaucratic.

  15. Tabman Says:

    Alun is a most wonderful satirical creation. Bravo, sir!

  16. neil bradbury Says:

    Londoner – Liberals, Orange Book and more left leaning (BTW I have not heard a Lib Dem call themselves a Social Democrat for at least ten years), all believe that the UK is far too centralised for good governance.

    All Lib Dems I know believe in subsidiarity (hard to explain in a leaflet though!. We think some powers are best exercised at European or international level, some at national or regional level but overwhelmingly they should be at the lowest level possible.

    In much of England there is no democratically accountable level of government between Parliament and councils. Lib Dems will continue to support devolving power to Local Authorities whether we run them or not.

  17. Londoner Says:

    I’m not sure if Neil agrees with me about foundation academies or not. Since there will soon be 1100 of them (a third of state secondaries) & this figure will probably double over 18 months, Lib Dems need to take a view. My point is that the policy devolves responsibilities down to the lowest level & that it should be applauded. It is Labour that disagrees, on the basis that local authority control over education is a necessary and self-evident end, which must endure. Well, it won’t.

  18. neil bradbury Says:

    Labour don’t disagree with Foundation Acadamies surely. All of the current ones were built by them. I have no problem with academies intellectually but there are a few problems in practice.

    Firstly there is very little proof that they in themselves raise achievement. This is very pertinent when there will be thousands of them as Londoner says. Proper setting and good teaching are the key. This can happen in either system but Academies can, and do, fail kids in lots of cases. When there are thousands, the massive finaicial bribe that is there currently cannot be given to all and there are not hundreds of private sector sponsors for these schools, so the change is window dressing. In reality the LEA has very little control on schools and their budget is almost entirely ring fenced.

    Secondly, this is another London solution that will not solve the issues in my area, semi rural Northumberland. Here there is little choice in the state system. There is one secondary school you can send your kids to – all the rest are too far away. Whether the school is an academy is not important. It is whether it gets the urgent physical repairs it needs (it was excluded from BSF for being too high performing).

    So I think the issue of academies is not very important except that it will distract all the commentators and headmasters from the boring, dull but much more important job of driving up standards. Our schools are failing students but successive governments have tried to distract us with massive and fairly pointless reorganisations.

    In terms of democratic oversight of schools, the current situation doesn’t work. In an ideal world, I would let local authorities have oversight (but not necessarially run) local schools and take the department for Education out of the loop entirely but secretaries of state will never be able to resist meddling. An example when the local authority knows best in Northumberland was when central government tried to impose two tier schools on our rural communities as a condition of funding and local people were able to lobby the council to keep the three tier system. They would find that hard with an unaccountable academy.