Why looking back on the 2005 Lib Dem manifesto depresses me. And why The Orange Book means the 2015 manifesto will be better

by Stephen Tall on June 25, 2014

What did the Lib Dem manifesto in 2005 propose? I asked myself the question when reflecting on the legacy of The Orange Book 10 years after it was published.

I remember Paul Marshall, the book’s co-editor, dismissing it at a Lib Dem fringe debate a couple of years ago as a combination of unrealistically high spending commitments and “bribes” to constituencies such as students. He read out the list of 10 pledges around which the party’s election campaign was framed, and I recall there was an uncomfortable shifting in seats as even those not particularly keen on The Orange Book realised he had a point.

Here they are in full, as they appeared in the 2005 Lib Dem manifesto:

lib dem 2005 manifesto

Individually, most of the policies are defensible. Collectively, it’s shockingly unambitious. A bit more money here, some more staff there, and don’t worry you won’t have to pay an extra penny in tax. In fact, almost everybody will be better off.

Let’s remember, this was just two years before the financial crash which almost totalled the entire British economy. If it lacks all credibility with hindsight, it suggests the party was lacking some foresight as well. And I say that as someone who was devoting almost all my non-working leisure time then to campaigning for the party and is therefore complicit in it.

For those tempted now to look back on the Lib Dem glory days of 2003-05, when we mopped up the anti-Labour protest vote while the Tories were still down-and-out, it’s a salutary reminder quite how complacently lazy much of our policy development was at the time.

The Orange Book helped wake up the party, stimulating a much better quality of debate across the spectrum of views. Without The Orange Book, it’s doubtful we’d have the Social Liberal Forum. Without SLF, Liberal Reform wouldn’t exist. I like dialectic in political debate and the challenge and counter-challenge which often (not always, but often) ratchets up standards. Certainly it gives me confidence that our 2015 manifesto will be a marked improvement on its 2005 version.