Is this the front page of the next Lib Dem manifesto?

by Stephen Tall on October 21, 2014

Ryan Coetzee, recently appointed the Lib Dems’ General Election Director of Strategy, was snapped today clutching papers which look like they might reveal the party’s top four priorities for the 2015 manifesto.

The four priorities read:

Balance the budget
Balance the budget by 2018, protecting the economic recovery and bringing down Britain’s debt.

Cut income tax
Cut income tax by £400 for low and middle earners, paid for by taxes on the rich.

Protect mental health
Guarantee equal care and waiting times for mental health as for physical health, by increasing spending on the NHS.

Improve education
Ensure every child is taught by a qualified teacher and protec spending on nurseries, schools and colleges.

The accidental leak triggered much interest from journalists, more probably than if it had been emailed to them…

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Is this the front page of the next Lib Dem manifesto?

by Stephen Tall on October 21, 2014

Ryan Coetzee, recently appointed the Lib Dems’ General Election Director of Strategy, was snapped today clutching papers which look like they might reveal the party’s top four priorities for the 2015 manifesto.

The four priorities read:

Balance the budget
Balance the budget by 2018, protecting the economic recovery and bringing down Britain’s debt.

Cut income tax
Cut income tax by £400 for low and middle earners, paid for by taxes on the rich.

Protect mental health
Guarantee equal care and waiting times for mental health as for physical health, by increasing spending on the NHS.

Improve education
Ensure every child is taught by a qualified teacher and protec spending on nurseries, schools and colleges.

The accidental leak triggered much interest from journalists, more probably than if it had been emailed to them…

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

How you can take part in LibDemVoice’s exclusive party member surveys

by Stephen Tall on October 19, 2014

libdemvoiceLibDemVoice’s surveys of party members signed-up to our discussion forum have been running for over six years now. (I posted yesterday the final set of figures from our most recent poll.)

Our surveys are a way of testing members’ views on a variety of hot topics. And as they’ve been running throughout the four-and-a-half years of the Coalition they’re also an interesting record of changing views on how the Coalition is regarded within the party.

If you would like to take part in the LibDemVoice surveys, there are simply two steps you need to follow:
1) Be a current Lib Dem member, and
2) Sign up to LibDemVoice’s members’ forum.
You will then be emailed a unique link to our next survey enabling you to offer your verdict on a range of current matters.

I have compiled a Google spreadsheet summarising the results from our Coalition tracker — together with the satisfaction ratings for Lib Dem ministers and other leading party figures — which you can view here.

The full archive of our members’ surveys as published on the site can be viewed here.

Both my former LDV Co-Editor Mark Pack (here) and polling expert Anthony Wells (here) have assessed the reliability and credibility of our LibDemVoice surveys — for those with doubts about them (or indeed those who think they’re 100% to be trusted always) they’re well worth reading.

We hope you find the surveys interesting — certainly political journalists are interested in what our members have to say! And, as ever, if you have ideas or suggestions for topics and/or questions you would like to see included please do get in touch: stephen@libdemvoice.org.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

10 Years on from The Orange Book: What should authentic liberalism look like?

by Stephen Tall on October 19, 2014

Orange_Book“10 Years on from The Orange Book: what should authentic liberalism look like?” That was the title of a Lib Dem conference fringe meeting in Glasgow, organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), at which I was speaking alongside MPs Tim Farron and Jeremy Browne, Orange Book co-editor Paul Marshall, the IEA’s Ryan Bourne and ComRes pollster Tom Mludzinski. Here’s what I said…

I often describe myself as an Orange Booker. Like most labels it’s a short-hand. To me it simply means I’m a Lib Dem at ease with the role of a competitive market and who believes also in social justice. To many others in our party, though, Orange Booker is a term of abuse – Orange Bookers are thrusting, smart-suited, neoliberal Thatcherities, never happier than when mixing with red-blooded free-marketeers like the IEA.

What I want to do briefly is make a pitch for something that’s become quite unpopular among the party ranks: I’m going to make a pitch that the Lib Dems should be a party that’s unabashedly of the liberal centre.

Yes, I used the c-word: centre. Centrism brings out some liberals in a rash, among those who see it as nothing more than a soggy, split-the-difference mush of vague intentions. It can be that, of course. But it doesn’t have to be. The liberal centre can be a principled place. It is also a brave place – as Janan Ganesh put it recently in the Financial Times: “Centrism is despised as effete, but it takes steel to leave your ideological comfort zone”.

It also happens to be the only place from which the Lib Dems can fight the next election and thrive as a party.

But before I explain why that is I want to reassure you of my core liberalism. If I were that oxymoronic thing for a day – a liberal dictator – I would pass 10 general laws as follows (I’d flesh the details out afterwards):

1. I’d shift taxation away from earned income and towards wealth and property, including through a land value tax, as well as pollution;

2. I’d abolish any form of net migration target and welcome wholeheartedly those who choose to work here as fellow citizens;

3. I’d eliminate any protectionist taxes and tariffs, including the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which stifle free trade and discriminate against developing countries;

4. I’d devolve powers over budgets and policy for key services from Westminster to national parliaments, assemblies and local councils;

5. I’d scrap the Barnett Formula and ensure public spending was allocated on the basis of citizens’ need not a 1970s’ patching job designed to prop up the Callaghan government;

6. I’d introduce a Citizen’s Income, guaranteeing an above-poverty level of income to people who have no earnings from work at all;

7. I’d ensure local residents were properly compensated for new housing developments to break the logjam which pits housing need against understandable NIMBY opposition and prices young people out of the market;

8. I’d strip private schools of their charitable status so they could market their social cachet as the commodity it is without being subsidised by the state;

9. I’d legalise drugs and prostitution;

10. I’d bring in a Bill of Rights that enshrined civil liberties protections for individuals from an intrusive state – yes to the ECHR, no to the Snoopers’ Charter;

11. Oh, and no regulation of the press or Internet either;

12. And of course I’d bring in a written constitution, electoral reform, an elected second chamber, a disestablished church – oh and abolish the monarchy in favour of a republic as well.

(You might have noticed that’s 12, not 10, by the way: always under-promise and over-deliver.)

You won’t agree with them all, of course not. But those dozen measures are what I’d call authentically liberal. My kind of liberalism, anyway, which is what most people actually mean by authentic liberalism.

So that’s my authentically liberal policy platform. Now, who’s going to offer to write me the Focus leaflet setting all that out which will get me elected? Anyone? [No-one offered.]

And that’s my point. We have to accept that one of the reasons we Liberals are such good friends to minority causes is because we are one. Individually, I’d probably lose an election on the basis of any one of those policies. Taken collectively as a manifesto it’d probably even lose us Orkney, our safest seat.

So authentic liberalism is all very well, but we aren’t only Liberals – we are also Democrats. That means we need to recognise the majority will of the people. And if we want to move towards the Promised Land of milk and honey we may need to make do with semi-skimmed and marge from Lidl before we get there.

That’s where the Liberal centre comes in.

Yes, the Lib Dems should campaign as a liberal party with distinctively liberal policies: it’s what we’re here for and it’s what the voters have the right to expect of us.

However, I assume none of us is under the illusion we’ll win an outright majority next May? Which means we won’t get to implement any of those liberal policies unless we cooperate with either Labour or the Tories in government after 2015. And in that circumstance we’ll have to accept some of their illiberal policies we don’t much like, they’ll accept some of our liberal policies they don’t much like, and on the rest we’ll work out some kind of compromise. Sound familiar? It should do: that’s the last four-and-a-half years.

Let me put it like this: if Lib Dem members really want to remain in government after May 2015 then we will have to do a deal next time with either the right-leaning Tories or left-leaning Labour. We may not place ourselves in the centre, but our circumstances do.

It’s no coincidence that the areas where the Lib Dems have achieved greatest success in this Coalition — raising the personal allowance, the Pupil Premium, same-sex marriage — have been areas that are mainstream, centrist. To put it another way: they are popular with enough people to stand a chance of making it into legislation.

And that’s what makes being a minority party such a challenge. We have constantly to set out our liberal vision, to remind ourselves of the authentic philosophy which makes us distinctive. And then we have to work out how to translate that into practical ideas that not only get approved by our conference here, but also have a cat-in-hell’s chance of Labour or the Tories living with them too.

There’s sometimes a temptation in our party to wish for ideological purity. Orange Bookers wishing themselves rid of the social liberals, social liberals wanting the Orange Bookers to go privatise themselves. And yes there’s comfort to be had in being surrounded by people we agree with, wrapping our confirmation bias around each other. But you know what? I’m glad we have MPs like Tim Farron and Jeremy Browne, each representing different wings of the party, offering different — but, in their own ways, just as authentic — liberal visions.

The tension within the Lib Dems (when we keep it civil) is a healthy one. The Orange Bookers were quite right to sound a warning 10 years ago that too much Lib Dem thinking had grown flabby, that our answer to every public service problem was simply to say spend more money and hire more staff, to try and out-Labour Labour.

But I’ll tell you something else. I wish we’d listened as hard to the social liberals who warned, rightly, that the Bedroom Tax was a harsh and senseless way to cut the welfare bill and free up social housing.

We might sometimes be all too obviously two ill-fitting parties in one, a smart jacket combined with scruffy trousers pretending to be a suit. But we need the authenticity of both economic and social liberals within the Lib Dems: we are ourselves a coalition which is, how best to put it?, Better Together.

If you want to get a flavour of what was said by others, the meeting was covered by the New Statesman‘s Anoosh Chakelian and also by Lib Dem blogger Alex Marsh.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Economic liberals or social liberals? Pragmatists or ideologues? How Lib Dem members describe their own political identity

by Stephen Tall on October 18, 2014

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Almost 600 party members responded to this set of questions – thank you – in a supplementary poll ran just before the party conference.

How do Lib Dem members think of their own political identity? I asked this question in April 2011, when the Coalition was less than a year old. With less than a year of the Coalition left, I thought it was time to revisit it.

60% social liberals, 29% economic liberals; 64% pragmatists, 16% ideologues

We asked… Please tick any or all of the descriptions below that you would be happy for someone else to use to describe you: (Comparisons with April 2011 in brackets.)

    90% (+3) – Liberal
    73% (+13) – Internationalist
    72% (+7) – Progressive
    64% (+9) – Pragmatic
    60% (-4) – Social liberal
    59% (+7) – Reformer
    49% (+4) – Centre-left
    45% (+1) – Civil libertarian
    47% (+3) – Radical
    47% (+6) – Green
    34% (=) – Social democrat
    33% (=) – Moderate
    33% (+3) – Moderniser
    30% (+5) – Keynesian
    29% (-6) – Economic liberal
    25% (-2) – Centrist
    16% (-4) – Ideological
    15% (-6) – Libertarian
    13% (-1) – Free marketeer
    10% (+1) – Centre-right
    9% (-7) – Mainstream
    1% – None of these
    0% – Don’t know

This is the kind of debate which can to easily become bogged-down in semantics, with some phrases (eg, economic liberalism, social democrat) loaded with historical baggage not always inferred by those using the descriptors of themselves. Nonetheless, there are some interesting findings here.

First, let’s look at the two terms with greatest currency at the moment to describe the different ‘left/right’ wings of the party. Six-in-10 Lib Dem members identify themselves as ‘social liberals’ (‘left’), twice as many as the 29% who self-identify as ‘economic liberals’ (‘right’) — though, interestingly, both labels have declined a little in popularity since 2011. However, centre-left (49%) is a much more popular self-descriptor than centre-right (10%).

What there’s no evidence for in this survey is the party membership ‘lurching to the right’, as is sometimes commonly assumed must have happened during the course of this parliament as Lib Dem membership declined by one-third. As we didn’t ask the question before the Coalition was formed, it’s impossible to know what an equivalent survey in 2009 would have shown (and of course our surveys are self-selecting, not a random sample). But it’s certainly not obvious looking at this data that the notion all those members who’ve left in the past four years were from the party’s liberal-left is sustainable. If that had been the case then you’d expect to see the proportions swing away from ‘social liberal’ towards ‘economic liberal’, but they don’t.

The biggest increase in self-identification is with being ‘internationalist’, up from 60% in 2011 to 73% today. That’s not surprising, and presumably is a reaction against the rise of Ukip and the prominence attached to anti-European / anti-immigration views in particular in the right-wing newspapers (ie, almost all mass market newspapers). Also increased significantly is identification with being ‘pragmatic’ — up from 55% to 64% — a sign perhaps that members are increasingly comfortable with the modus operandi of being in coalition.

And (as I mused in 2011) interesting to ponder what such a survey of the party 27 years ago, when we were the SDP/Liberal Alliance, would have shown: my guess is fewer than 90% of party members would have been happy to call themselves ‘liberal’, and more than 34% would have self-identified as ‘social democrat’. That latter descriptor appears to have more or less replaced by the term, ‘progressive’, which 72% of members willingly ascribe to themselves.

We then asked: How would you describe your own politics?

Almost 500 of you responded with your own free text description. Here’s the collective Wordle of how Lib Dem members describe ourselves:

ldv wordle identity

  • 1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 586 completed the latest survey, which was conducted on 2nd and 3rd October.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

    LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 7

    by Stephen Tall on October 18, 2014

    Congratulations to George Murray and Jon Featonby, who lead the LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League after Week 7, with 421 and 419 points respectively. They’ve opened a bit of a gap at the top — but just 18 points separate the next 8 places.

    LDV FANTASY FOOTBALL_7

    There are 149 players in total and you can still join the league by clicking here.

    * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

    Danny Alexander, not Vince Cable, designated Lib Dem shadow chancellor (oh, and no Lib Dem reshuffle)

    by Stephen Tall on October 18, 2014

    speech danny alexander 6The Guardian’s Nick Watt reports today the long-trailed announcement that Danny Alexander, Lib Dem chief secretary to the treasury, will take on the role of the party’s shadow chancellor at the 2015 election:

    Nick Clegg has decided that Alexander, his closest ally in the cabinet, will be the Lib Dem Treasury spokesman during the campaign and will face George Osborne and Ed Balls in any television debates on the economy. … The Lib Dems insisted that the election roles for Alexander and Cable were consistent with their cabinet roles. A Lib Dem spokesman said: “We are enormously fortunate to have two talented and well-known ministers on economic matters that are recognised and respected by the public. By the next election Danny Alexander and Vince Cable will have both served for five years as chief secretary and business secretary respectively, so they know their areas inside out. It therefore makes complete sense that they should continue in those roles during the election.”

    I’ve made no secret of my view on this: there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Vince Cable should have continued in the role he held in 2010 as the party’s shadow chancellor. He is, quite simply, head and shoulders above any of his colleagues when it comes not only to understanding the British economy, but, just as crucially, explaining it in a way that is both credible and distinct from the Tories.

    When we polled Lib Dem members last month on who they wanted to lead for the party on economic policy the answer was overwhelming: by 65% to 24% they preferred Vince to Danny. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the real reason Nick has passed over Vince is because they don’t get on, rather than what should be the most important reason: what’s best for the party. Badly done, Nick.

    Elsewhere in Nick Watt’s article, there’s confirmation of what I’d previously reported here — that there will be no Lib Dem ministerial reshuffle:

    The Lib Dems announced the election posts as the party confirmed that Clegg had decided against a reshuffle of ministers before the election. There had been speculation that Jo Swinson, the business minister, would replace Alistair Carmichael as Scotland secretary, making her the Lib Dems’ first female cabinet minister. But Clegg, who has a high regard for Carmichael’s energetic role in the Scottish referendum campaign, believes it would be unwise to make changes while the Lib Dems work to ensure that the vow to devolve further powers to Scotland is honoured. “Alistair helped to support a phenomenal referendum campaign,” one source said.

    It’s an understandable decision in some ways. The best time to promote Jo (and there’s no doubt she deserves to be in the cabinet on merit) would have been a year ago, when Nick reshuffled his ministerial team. That would have given her 18 months in post, time to achieve something in office. However, she was just about to go on maternity leave. Promoting Jo now would mean she has just six months in post at a time when she’ll want to focus all her political energy on retaining her marginal East Dunbartonshire constituency.

    But the decision not to reshuffle does mean the Lib Dems will have gone an entire five years in government without a single one of our female MPs becoming a cabinet minister. That’s not a record in government of which we can be proud.

    * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

    My must-reads this week October 17, 2014

    by Stephen Tall on October 17, 2014

    Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention this week…

    Mori’s Sir Bob Worcester increases his forecast for Lib Dem seats in May 2015

    by Stephen Tall on October 16, 2014

    Sir-Robert-WorcesterYes, you read that headline right: founder of MORI, Sir Bob Worcester, increased his forecast of how many seats the Lib Dems would win in May 2015 when asked for a prediction at last week’s Lib Dem conference.

    I’ll be honest, though: I don’t think he meant to.

    Last year, you may recall he predicted the party would win 24 seats. I certainly remember: Bob Worcester forecasts Lib Dems to be reduced to 24 seats in 2015. I’ll run naked down Whitehall if that’s the result (17th Sept 2013). I further, erm, nailed my colours to the mast on the BBC’s Daily Politics: Lib Dem blogger pledge ‘to run naked down Whitehall’.

    I’ll be honest again. I’m a little less cock-sure than I was a year ago. But, still, I don’t think it will be as bad as 24. And neither, apparently, does Sir Bob now: this year he forecast the Lib Dems would win 25-30 seats. I was careful to make a note of it at the time:

    So it seems I (and the denizens of Whitehall) will be spared a sight none of us wish for next May: a disappointing poll.

    * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

    Does everyone want to live in London?

    by Stephen Tall on October 16, 2014

    20141016_161511_resizedThat was my deliberately provocative question asked at The Guardian / British Academy round-table on immigration I took part in last week at Lib Dem conference – reported in the paper here under the headline ‘A numbers game that does not add up’.

    One final – and telling – point came from Stephen Tall, co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

    He asked all the members of the panel to consider whether they were indeed representative and whether they could actually understand the views of other people, from different backgrounds and parts of the country.

    Tall said that there was always a danger at a “Guardian roundtable” at a Liberal Democrat conference, of the contributors all coming from the same viewpoint and not understanding the mentality of those who came from elsewhere.

    “There is a tendency for us to assume that everyone would want to live in London and have a metropolitan lifestyle; I am not sure they do,” he said.

    I am, of course, as pro-immigration as they come: not just the economic benefits, but also the principle of open borders. But I’m a minority (a not very visible one).

    The more uncomfortable cultural question is one I’ve been thinking about more since moving house last year. I left very multi-ethnic East Oxford, where I’d lived (very happily) for a decade and re-located to the monocultural Horsham in West Sussex – and I love it there. Working in London as a commuter – leaving the house at 6.30am, returning at 7pm or later – I’m really enjoying the semi-rural tranquility. I get my dose of raucous urban life during the day: I’m more than happy to escape it at night and the weekends.

    London is a powerhouse, an immense force for economic good, where children from low-income backgrounds are more likely to succeed than anywhere else in the country, where people of every different race and religion rub along together well, a cultural mecca. But I don’t want to live there, thanks. And I’m not alone.

    None of which means I’ve changed my pro-immigration mind. But it suggests those of us who do believe in open borders need to do a bit more than simply point out the economic benefits of the UK being such an attractive migrant destination.

    By the way, it’s well worth reading the contributions from the other participants at the table – including Vince Cable, Brian Paddick, Ros Lucas and Suzanne Fletcher – also available here.



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