Lib Dem manifesto 2015 – my takes for The Times and Total Politics

by Stephen Tall on April 19, 2015

Manifesto-Cover-2015This week was Manifesto Week — curb your excitement — and I offered my views on what the Lib Dems have to say to the electorate over at The Times’s Red Box blog

Commitments to balance the budget, cut taxes for the low-paid, invest in health and education, and protect the environment have long been trailed. This will disappoint some Lib Dem activists, who yearn for the party to trumpet its radicalism on issues like civil liberties and political reform. But Ryan Coetzee, the party’s chief strategist, knows what appeals to its target market – the “persuadables” who might vote Lib Dem – and is determined to stick relentlessly to the tried-and-tested “stronger economy, fairer society: opportunity for everyone” slogan.

“On message, in volume, over time” has long been Coetzee’s mantra. After all, it’s only when the political obsessives among us are bored with hearing a message that there’s a chance the voting public might have heard it even once.

And if the policies aren’t new, neither is Nick Clegg’s central campaigning message that the party will hold firm to the liberal centre: “The Liberal Democrats will add a heart to a Conservative government and we will add a brain to a Labour one.” What we used to call the Goldilocks strategy – not too hot, not too cold – has now morphed into the Wizard of Oz.

and for Total Politics magazine

This, then, is the new politics of realism. The manifesto is carefully calibrated not only to dodge the hostages to fortune of 2010, but also to offer plenty of scope for the Lib Dems to cut a deal with whichever party, Labour or Conservatives, are in a position to offer a second coalition. …

For some activists, the Lib Dems’ policy flexibility is a betrayal. What is the point, they ask, of a liberal party which dilutes its liberalism for the sake of power? Which would be fair enough comment but for the inverted question it begs: what is the point of a party which cleaves to pure liberalism at the cost of ever exercising any power?

As Tim Farron once put it to me when I asked how many of his ‘red lines’ had been crossed by the Coalition: “every one of my red-lines was crossed every day for 24 years when we were in opposition.”

The inescapable reality is that, for the forseeable future, there is only one way the Lib Dems will be able to put their policies into practice: in partnership with either the left-leaning Labour party, or the right-leaning Conservatives.

We are pinned in the liberal centre whether we like it or not. A radical manifesto — full of civil liberties and political reform and Trident cancellation — may sound nice in theory, but that’s all it would ever be.

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