Saturday, 3 December 2011

Are the Lib Dems really doomed because of the autumn budget statement?

Ugh. You go away for a few days and suddenly all sorts of interesting stuff happens without you around to blog about it. How will the world survive?

But seriously. Having got back I've seen some speculation how the announcement that deficit elimination won't be completed until 2017 will tie the Lib Dems into the tories and permanent destruction.

Well, sorry, but that just doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Yes, eliminating the deficit will mean that we have to go into the next election with £30 billion of cuts/tax rises in our manifesto. But so will Labour and so will the Conservatives.

This won't make things much different from the last election. All the major parties were agreed on the need for deficit reduction but there were huge differences on how they proposed going about it.

At the next election, the tories will no doubt put forwards a manifesto based on cutting public services, cutting taxes for the rich, cutting employment rights and selling national assets off on the cheap. In contrast to the usual tory idiocy, and the economic incompetence of Labour, it won't be hard to offer our own, credible alternative.

For example, there's already an ongoing project to work out how we as a party would like the tax system to look in 2020 and then working backwards to find out the changes we could make to get us there. Lib Dem tax priorities have long been orientated towards a redistribution of the tax burden - specifically towards taxing unearned wealth a lot more and earned wealth a lot less. This is a fundamental part of the belief in fairness that has underpinned two centuries of liberal philosophy.

Now, I don't know about you, but I think that a manifesto that promised, for example, significant increases in the personal tax allowance and a reduction of VAT paid for by an increase in taxes on land and property (after all, income can be moved into tax havens but land can't) would be rather popular. Maybe one which also promoted green issues by investing more in the green economy and in new green taxes which would be countered by cutting taxes elsewhere.

The fact is that £30 billion of savings can be found in a variety of ways. And there's also room for varying the time scale. We could say that, now the economy is improving, we can afford to slow down deficit reduction in order to reduce the burden on people. I'm not saying we should, but it just shows that being committed to eliminating the deficit doesn't mean our manifesto has to be identical to the tories'.

The other argument some have been making is that Ed Miliband will refuse to work with Nick Clegg in the event of another hung parliament and therefore necessity will force us to stick with the tories in some sort of electoral pact. Again, this is a load of nonsense.

The fact is that sticking close to the tories would mean a wipeout of most of our seats in the south east where we often depend on Labour supporters tactically voting for us. And Clegg, whatever you might think of him, isn't stupid.

I've blogged before about how I think that ditching Clegg ahead of the next election would be detrimental to us. But there's no reason he can't do a Gordon Brown and resign after the general election if that's what it takes to make a coalition work. After all, Clegg's already had an immensely successful career and, what with a minister's pension, a previous career in lobbying and the knowledge that he'd always be a likely candidate for a job with the EU Commission, I can't see any reason why he'd be determined to cling steadfastedly to a path that would be damaging to his party when instead he could leave frontline politics and be able to spend much more time with his family (something which, by all accounts, is important to him) while probably earning more money.

That's the cold hearted, cynical calculation of course. Personally, I really dislike a lot of Clegg's politics, but I still think that he has the best interests of the party at heart and I doubt he'd try to stay leader if it meant destroying the Lib Dem claim to the centre ground.

And let's consider a few options shall we? It's perfectly feasible that after the next election, if there's a hung parliament, we could: a) stay neutral, treating each piece of legislation on a case by case basis, compromising in order to achieve Lib Dem priorities whilst remaining unaligned, b) have a formal confidence and supply agreement with another party which would allows us to either keep or replace our leader as we saw fit, or c) enter a full blown coalition with another party, if necessary holding a leadership election while our Deputy Leader in the House of Commons filled the role of DPM into our next leader had been chosen.

It'd be foolish to pretend that the worsened economic situation and the impossibility of eliminating the deficit before 2015 has made our job as a party harder. But only someone utterly ignorant of the way our party can function would assume it automatically means our extinction.


  1. George, although there is not a lot to choose between them, Lib-Dems do need to make it clear whether it's Tory or Labour philosophy they prefer. Who have you in mind post Clegg? Not Huhne surely?

  2. Tia,

    We prefer neither. We prefer liberalism and we should be willing to work with anyone who is prepared to compromise and enable us to further the values of liberalism.

    And personally, I'd prefer Tim Farron as our post-Clegg leader.


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