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Thoughts on UKIP

By Sara Scarlett
May 3rd, 2013 at 6:47 pm | 8 Comments | Posted in Election, Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

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The rapid rise of the UKIP vote and collapse of the LD vote does, I think, put the relative value of narrative and campaign tactics into sharp relief. Does anyone, for example, think UKIP activists out-worked or out-delivered the LDs in the last four years? Or even came close to doing so? I think not…

Similarly some of the big historic Liberal Democrat by-election wins begin to look more about capturing the protest Zeitgeist than out-leafleting opponents.


The Littlewood Plan: An interesting piece of kite flying?

By Angela Harbutt
October 23rd, 2012 at 2:30 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in Conservatives, Election, Liberal Democrats


Conservative home has got hold the November issue of Standpoint magazine, (released on Thursday), which, they say, carries an article by Mark Littlewood, (formerly of this Parish) advocating a pact between free market Lib Dems and Conservatives after the next election.

The Littlewood Plan would see Conservatives stand down in a Lib Dem seat where the Lib Dem MP agrees to pursue deficit reduction and free market policies, and signs up for a new coalition. He says (presumably addressing Mr Cameron) :

“The arrangement he should seek with free market-leaning (“Orange Book”) Lib Dem MPs should be unilateral but not universal. It would essentially amount to an offer to withdraw the Conservative candidate from those seats in which an incumbent Liberal was willing publicly to take a pledge to continue the work of the coalition beyond 2015, specifically in regard to swiftly completing the process of fiscal consolidation, preferably at a rather more rapid pace than at present.”

Con Home reports that Mark Littlewood argues this arrangement would particularly suit those Lib Dems in ministerial office since they will find it harder to distinguish themselves politically from their Coalition partners, and also have less time to spend campaigning out and about in the constituency. He also suggests that such a scheme would benefit the Conservatives – allowing them to focus their firepower on target Labour seats.

This idea has clearly caught Con Home on the hop. Unsurprisingly they dismiss the suggestion (as do those commenting on the blog) in quick order. Yet they can’t quite articulate a reason why they are against the idea, beyond the fact that any Lib Dem seat in electoral peril should be seized by the Conservatives at all costs. That’s it so far. Hardly a compelling reason to dismiss out of hand. Maybe they will have a bit of a think about it and come up with a somewhat more robust set of reasons to say no.

For our  part we like this out-of-the-box thinking. This far out from an election, it is little more than a  fascinating piece of kite-flying. But there is plenty of time for variations on the Littlewood Plan to be kicked about and mulled over.

Of course what we really want to see is Ministers on both sides knuckling down to the job of getting growth going with some thoughtful ideas that will actually work. But if Vince can engage in cross bench flirting with Ed Miliband, via text or behind closed doors, we should expect, nay demand, a little flirting within the coalition too, surely?

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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?


AV: Liberal Democrats should not panic

By Simon Goldie
April 19th, 2011 at 9:02 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Election, UK Politics

Members of the Liberal Democrat party have electoral reform in their DNA. No doubt, for some their first words were not mummy or daddy but single transferable vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies. So winning the AV referendum matters. Fellow Liberal Vision blogger, Andy Mayer set out clearly why he thinks people should vote yes. I have speculated in another place about the alternative vote and whether it will lead to a more liberal society.

Right now the polls don’t look that encouraging for the supporters of change. Polls can be wrong and there is still time to make the case but what if AV is rejected by the voters?

My fingers are hovering over the keyboard as I feel that what I am about to suggest is heretical. I should state clearly I am not arguing for a no vote by writing that members of the Liberal Democrats should not panic if the voters reject AV. In fact, it could turn out to deliver proportional representation in the future.

On Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, Norman Lamb argued that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the voting system. Some though believe that by adopting AV now Britain will eventually get STV. If Norman is right and the vote goes the Lib Dems way, our electoral system is likely to be set for a very long time.

Liberal Democrats believe our current system of first past the post (FPTP) is discredited. As far as they are concerned it won’t stop being discredited if AV is rejected. There is a belief that the Prime Minister will have to make concessions to Nick Clegg if the vote goes Cameron’s way. One concession might be reform of the House of Lords elected under STV. This will give voters a chance to become comfortable with a different system. If they like it they will be able to compare it to FPTP and make up their own minds about which system better reflects the wishes of voters.  In that situation, could we be looking at another referendum in 10 years or so on STV?

This time period gives the party a chance to prove itself in government, develop policies for future government and perhaps move from the third party to one of the main parties. Right now that may seem fanciful but this sort of thing has happened before.



Barnsley defects to Scotland

By Andy Mayer
March 4th, 2011 at 11:41 am | 23 Comments | Posted in Election, Labour, Liberal Democrats

Congratulations to Labour’s Dan Jarvis, who has beaten the nationalists into second place, to be coronated the next Labour MP in Barnsley Central. The Liberal Democrats came sixth. 

Were this a small town in Scotland it would not be an entirely unusual result, albeit still bad for the Liberal Democrats.

 The low turnout (37% versus 57% at the general election) was a factor. The 2nd place at the general election was only 17%, some 6 votes higher than the Conservatives.

The headline though is what matters, with echos of the SDP’s 7th place performance in Bootle 1990. The result that finally persuaded David Owen to dissolve the party.

It is hard though to draw any meaningful conclusion from the result beyond a sense that the UK like the USA is polarising. The US split is sometimes characterised as ‘the United States of Canada’ versus ‘Jesusland’, ours as ‘AngloSaxonia’ versus ‘Southern Scandinavia’.

Multi-party Scotland for example has proven curiously resilient to plural outcomes over the last 30 years with Labour regularly out-performing their national vote share, and widely predicted to return as the largest party in May’s Scottish elections.

Even in 2010 Labour secured 42% of the Scottish vote (versus 29% overall) with a swing away from the SNP. This after presiding over a financial disaster on a scale akin to the Scottish banking crisis that precipitated the Act of Union in 1707.

In that context it’s hard to see what trends or political winds it would take for a centrist or centre-right party to win big in Scotland.

Could some parts of the north of England be going the same way?

The North East has 25 Labour MPs and 4 from coalition parties. It’s hard to see that changing much, even with voting reform.

The South East conversely has 75 Conservatives, 4 Liberal Democrats, 4 Labour and 1 Green.

These are regions as divided on politics as Texas and New Jersey.

Such division is a problem for the Liberal Democrats. It means a centre-ground squeeze if we remain coherent, and (at least) two parties if we return to protest-vote opportunism.

Results like Barnsley Central, numerically irrelevant in themselves, will encourage defections and add fuel to the narrative of a liberal split.

There is a further problem in what to do about it. Ending the coalition or ditching Nick Clegg might appease typically Labour protest votes, but not win them back, whilst simultaneously alienating liberal conservatives and independents.

Reversing the tuition fees reversal would deepen tensions in the party (many MPs would be made to look ridiculous) and do nothing to restore public trust. That damage has been done.

Does it mean the party should always sit outside Government until it can win a majority? Maybe electorally, but this is unlikely to improve the party’s credibility as a future government, or make the case for electoral reform.

The unhappy advice surely then is that Nick Clegg must stick to his guns, do more to flesh out what his centre-ground liberal alternative looks like, and weather more Barnsley Centrals on the road to 2015 in the hope events and opponents will provide the opportunities for revival.

Whether or not the party let him do that remains to be seen.