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Creating a coalition narrative

By Simon Goldie
May 16th, 2011 at 9:29 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in coalition, Conservatives, Government, Liberal Democrats

If the coalition partners accepts that they needs a separate narrative separate, and it is unclear if they do, how would you create such a story?

The story has to begin with the wishes of the voters. No party was given an overall majority and given the economic conditions the country faced in May last year, the parties came together to govern in the national interest. This is territory already well trodden by Nick Clegg and David Cameron. The trickier part is to find a way to explain the aspirations of the coalition while allowing for the narrative to show the different identities of both parties.

Both Clegg and Cameron have talked about changing the relationship between the State and the citizen.  On some policies they clearly agree while on others they have opposing views on the best way to remake the State.

A framework that allows the parties to discuss the coalition and explain to the electorate what it is attempting to achieve, may also be one that can give each party the space to distinguish itself. The remaking of the State could be the the thing that will drive that story.

There is a further narrative possibility here as well: the new politics. Cameron made it clear when he was in opposition that he wanted to move away from ‘Punch and Judy’ politics that characterises Westminster and turns off voters. A politics that recognises that not everyone agrees with everything, that no one person can have a monopoly on good ideas is one way of explaining why politicians who sit around a Cabinet table may argue but can work together too.


A miserable night for little compromises

By Andy Mayer
May 6th, 2011 at 9:54 am | 7 Comments | Posted in AV referendum, coalition, Election

The counting is ongoing, but early election results seem to indicate a bad night for the Liberal Democrats, modest success for Labour, and a good result for Conservatives, holding their own on an already high base. The AV referendum will likely be lost. Not much has changed in Wales, bar a small and anticipated Labour advance.

In Scotland the success of the SNP against everyone, potentially securing a small majority under a proportional voting system, is extraordinary and could be game-changing. Either it will give them the momentum they need for a proper debate about independence. Or it will be a bubble akin to Cleggmania, popped rapidly when they find they cannot possibly deliver pre-election promises made without concession to economics.

The biggest loser tonight though would appear to be coalition politics. The retention of the bipolar first past the post system aside, third parties, the Liberal Democrats in particular, will find little in these outcomes to encourage future collaboration.

Governing alone the SNP have advanced, where Labour and the Liberal Democrats fell back after their coalition government. In Wales Plaid have fallen after co-operating with Labour, and Labour have not advanced much. The Liberal Democrats, across the country, have suffered after co-operating with the Conservatives. In the Council elections smaller parties across the board have lost ground to the two big beasts.

As Lord Ashdown noted last night:

“We believed, perhaps a little over-optimistically, that the British people would understand the difference between compromise and betrayal.”

The party case, ‘we had to do this because of the economic situation’, has received a resounding raspberry in response. Would a future Liberal Democrat leader be quite so keen to do a deal for government, with any party, on this result?

It is important to conclude, that the liberal left preference for a deal with Labour, should not be seen as more attractive by this result. There is no reason to believe that the party’s “first mid-term for 80 years” would have been less painful as junior partners to Miliband and Balls, let alone an ongoing Brown premiership. It would quite likely have been worse, the party is far more exposed to advances by the Conservatives than Labour.

It does though merit some soul-searching as to how the party prepares for and engages in future opportunities like 2010. Are there examples of coalition relationships that have boosted the junior party, and what can we learn from that? Or are we better off on the sidelines until the day one of the major parties faces the kind of collapse that demolished the Liberals in the 1920s?


Introducing the next leader of the Liberal Democrats : Norman Lamb

By admin
April 11th, 2011 at 7:15 am | 9 Comments | Posted in coalition, Liberal Democrats

 There’s not a vacancy, of course.

And nobody’s talking about a vacancy.

We’re all backing Nick. Some of us still dust down the “I agree with Nick” banners, T-shirts and badges. They bring a tear to the eye. They remind us of those dreamy days when, with just a couple of weeks to go to polling day, the LibDems were at over 30% in a cluster of opinion polls.

Much has changed since then, of course. If a week’s a long time in politics, a year is, in rough terms, about 52 times as long.

But, most likely, if you had to put your house on it, you’d probably shove it on Nick Clegg leading the party into the next election. And if you knew he wasn’t going to – and have to bet your mortgage on someone else – you’d probably have to edge towards Chris Huhne or Tim Farron as his likely successor.

Every loyalist insists in public, of course, that such tittle tattle is just the media making mischief.  But – in our heart of hearts – we know that’s totally disingenuous.

Bar room gossip at party conferences quite often turns to the topic of who the next party leader might be. It’s not plotting. It’s just idle speculation. But that doesn’t make it illegitimate or poisonous.

Everyone involved in politics is interested in how things might “pan out” and telling Jeremy Paxman that you “don’t answer hypothetical questions” is just a cop out. Virtually everything we think about and discuss is based on hypothetical questions.

So, consider this.

Imagine – for whatever reason – that Nick Clegg doesn’t continue as party leader for the next decade. You don’t need the imagination of an Arthur C. Clarke or a J. R. R. Tolkien to see how this might happen. Maybe he just gets cheesed off with the whole thing. Maybe there is some enormous internal party revolt at some stage. Maybe there is some recalibration of the way the Coalition operates. There’s a zillion ways it could happen, even though, on balance, it probably won’t.

Step forward Norman Lamb. He is an almost complete unknown outside of the LibDems. But then so was Nick until the first TV debate.

Crucially, he’s fairly independent. He’s not put all his chips on the Coalition succeeding, which many other possible leadership candidates have had to (partly because, of course, he was shamefully overlooked for ministerial office when the Coalition was formed).

He’s also essentially a party loyalist, but with Orange Book and mildly eurosceptic tendencies.

His television profile is rising. He’s an obvious choice for party-orientated media (by-elections etc) and also strong on his former health portfolio. Yesterday, he broke cover to make a splash on his concerns over the Lansley NHS reforms. Not in the terms of some tedious conservative Luddite, but for fear they hadn’t been fully thought through.

About a year ago, here on this very blog,  Norman was described as a media superstar.  Objectively he is not that – not yet. He’s occasionally a bit defensive and slightly hesitant. But he does have the common touch and doesn’t talk in jargon. Additionally, I’m not sure that “macho” politicians – displaying Ed Balls-style certainty in the face of all credible evidence to the contrary – are very popular anywhere any more.

He also has a few other things going for him. Typically, LibDems seems to vote for more establishment middle-of-the-road candidates rather than firebrand radicals. Despite their many strengths, Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne have now both lost two leadership elections from “the left”. To run for a third time for the party leadership surely puts one in the “Ken Clarke” position – widely considered charming, but unlikely to ever actually inherit the crown.

The lefty-leaning, charismatic, activist-adored and media savvy Tim Farron, only narrowly defeated the more establishment Susan Kramer for the party’s Presidency last year despite running an enormously more impressive campaign.

Norman also has a pretty hardened and impressive political CV – both at the coal face of Westminster and at the grassroots level. He had to deal with the growing disquiet over Charles Kennedy’s difficulties with alcohol (having been his PPS) – and was one of the very first MPs to publicly call for Charles to quit. He also has the battle scars of the frustrating Ming Campbell period, serving as his chief of staff in troubled times.

At local electoral level, Lamb’s achievements are staggering. He first contested North Norfolk – a rock solid Tory seat with a 10,000 majority in 1992. He cut this to around 1,000 in 1997 and just won it with a majority of 483 in 2001. In 2005, he saw off Tory blogger Iain Dale and increased the LibDem majority by over 2,000%. He increased his majority again in 2010 to an eye-watering 11,626.

If the shift in votes which have occurred in Norman Lamb’s seat since 1992 had been replicated across the country last May, the national vote share in the 2010 General Election would have been LibDem 46% Conservative 20% Labour 17%.

He may need simply to find a little more self-confidence and a bit more steel. And no doubt his surname gives rise to a whole string of dismissive newspaper headlines and dispatch box jibes. But the next time you’re speculating about who might lead the Liberal Democrats next, give Norman Lamb serious consideration.

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Is Laws set to return as Clegg’s consigliere?

By Angela Harbutt
March 10th, 2011 at 1:09 am | 2 Comments | Posted in coalition, Liberal Democrats


Get ready to break out the champagne.

 The Independent reports in today’s paper that David Laws looks set to return to the heart of the Coalition Government. We at Liberal Vision can only pray the report is true. His presence has been truly missed.

According to the Inde, Nick Clegg and David Cameron have had private discussions about appointing Mr Laws to work alongside Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude in the Cabinet Office. 

 Amusingly the Daily Mail describes the role as  “..Mr Clegg’s ‘consigliere’ in Whitehall.” . Oh I wish.

The Inde reports, more soberly, that David will be  taking on responsibility for “co-ordinating and driving through all aspects of the Coalition’s policy agenda”  (a job currently undertaken by Danny Alexander).

Danny has been a good and loyal friend to Nick Clegg  for some time – so it would seem unlikely that he will raise any objections to Nick’s plans to return David to the heart of the Coalition. Especially as it comes with senior Tory approval. Surely its a win-win? Danny gets to focus more clearly on his work at the Treasury, whilst Nick gets one of the Lib Dems greatest minds (and Orange-booker) working on Coaltion policy (and future Lib Dem policy no doubt). 

The post is unlikely to be a “full cabinet position” – (that might upset the “Tory-Lib Dem balance” (yawn)),  but would allow David to attend Cabinet and would have influence over all areas of policy. That should be enough to be going on with.

As the Inde rightly points out, any comeback would be dependent on David being cleared by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards which is, as far as we can tell, STILL investigating whether David broke expenses rules. So when exactly is the investigation going to be concluded? Perhaps the conversations between Dave and Nick are an indication that the investigation is finally drawing to a close.

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“There is no blue without yellow and without orange”

By Leslie Clark
February 23rd, 2011 at 1:13 pm | 15 Comments | Posted in coalition, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy

Or so said Vincent Van Gogh.

Since its publication in 2004, and especially since the formulation of the Liberal-Conservative Coalition, there has been an astonishing  amount of guff written about The Orange Book. Barely a day goes by without someone decrying the influence of those supposedly unsavoury rightist ‘Orange Bookers’. However, Edward Stourton’s recent Analysis programme on Radio 4 was an intelligent and more measured approach to assessing its political impact. In short, it questioned whether yellow + blue = orange.

Personally, I’ve discovered that those most vehemently against The Orange Book are those most likely never to have read it. One of those interviewed in the Analysis programme was the historian and now Labour MP Tristram Hunt (post-Naughtie/Marr, I must ensure that I spell his last name correctly). His recent piece in The Guardian is a fine example of the hyperbole that surrounds it:

For these neoLiberal Democrats of the Orange Book school remain determined to junk social liberalism for economic liberalism. Their guiding light is the Gladstonian ideal of a low-tax, laissez-faire, “night-watchman state””.  And yes, he did say night-watchman state…

It is because of this that for the first and possibly last time on a Liberal Vision post, I’d like to propose to ban something – the unnecessary and overuse of the term ‘Orange Booker’ in political discourse.

For me at least, The Orange Book was just a coherent set of essays that looked to all strands of liberal history when devising future party policy; it was about looking at liberalism in its entirety – economic and social liberalism. It had nothing to do with Tory entryism in the same way that the authors of Reinventing the State weren’t closet Labour supporters. It certainly wasn’t an updated version of Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia.

Just look at those who penned chapters for The Orange Book: Steve Webb could hardly be described as a man of the right and both Chris Huhne and Vince Cable were ex-SDP and Labour members. Charles Kennedy wrote the foreword (one presumes he actually read the contents of the book prior to publication?).

Edward Stourton was correct in saying that the book may have had a profound effect on British politics. Many of its authors now sit round the Cabinet table. However, the formation of the Liberal-Tory Coalition in 2010 was as much to do with The Orange Book as with the modernisation strategy pursued by David Cameron to bring the Conservatives back into the centre ground of British politics.

(P.S Please include any ridiculous examples of the term ‘Orange Booker’ in the comments).