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    What Happened to the Lib Dems?

    by Shariq on 8th June, 2009 at 11:09 pm    

    They had a lower percentage of the vote in the European election and lost councillors as well. Do the public associate the failures of Labour with centre-left politics? If thats true then its also very depressing, given how a lot of this economic bust has been due to Gordon Brown continuing the legacy of Thatcherism, by increasing the economy’s dependency on the City while championing ‘light-touch’ regulation.

    I still maintain that Brown’s biggest mistake was financing increased expenditure in public services through borrowing rather than raising taxation as well (not necessarily income tax, but it could have been something innovative such as some form of carbon pricing). The problem now is having the 50% tax band when not as many people are earning that much money anymore.

    Going back to my main point, how have the Lib Dems failed to capitalise on this? Vince Cable has been the most coherent politician on the economy and is seemingly trusted by the public. Is it because Nick Clegg comes across as the epitome of a well to do, upper-middle class politician rather than ‘man of the people’ Charlie Kennedy? Maybe its because he seems quite similar to David Cameron in appearance and speaking style.

    In any case, I thought that the only hope for the Lib Dems wasn’t proportional representation, but to overtake Labour or the Tories when they imploded. Well the Tories have already come back from implosion, while Labour are heading towards it now. Yet the Lib Dems are going backwards.

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    21 Comments below   |   Add your own

    1. oldrightie — on 8th June, 2009 at 11:26 pm  


    2. Shatterface — on 8th June, 2009 at 11:40 pm  

      The LibDems are just too bland and inoffensive. The public wanted to rub Labour’s face in the filth and the BNP were the only party filthy enough.

      Labour treated the public like racists, alternatively appealing to xenophobia (particularly where Muslims are concerned) and then berating them for their prejudices (on Eastern European immigration) when it suited their purposes, so the public turned around and said ok, we’re racists - what are you gonna do about it?

    3. Sunny — on 8th June, 2009 at 11:58 pm  

      They had a lower percentage of the vote in the European election and lost councillors as well. Do the public associate the failures of Labour with centre-left politics?

      I think it’s more that Libdems are not seen as the natural alternative for people who deserted Labour. Most of these are low waged working class people who migrated to UKIP, Greens or the BNP or in some cases Tories because they got sick of Labour.

      It seems to me that the Libdem problem here is that they don’t hawk their low taxation for the poor policy more aggressively enough. They should be focusing more on poor people, but I don’t think people see them as the alternative.

    4. Joe Otten — on 9th June, 2009 at 12:28 am  

      A vote share of 28% in the locals is pretty good for the lib dems. 14% in the Euros is going nowhere. Losing 4 council seats out of hundreds and gaining one MEP. Meh.

      As for why, you could be right. A few other reasons have been suggested:

      -Although our expenses record - claims and reforms - is better than the other parties, nobody has noticed. We haven’t said so because “not as bad” is no excuse - it sounds weaselly.

      -Also on expenses, right wing voters don’t mind so much, they are comfortable with bending the rules for tax avoidance. Left wing voters stayed at home in fury.

      -Our policies on Europe are not too popular.


      But I wonder if the real problem isn’t just that two-party thinking comes easily, and if you want to reject Labour then Tory is the obvious choice and vice versa. “Time for change” means please don’t think about what change you want.

    5. jim jay — on 9th June, 2009 at 1:08 am  

      I don’t think two party thinking can be to blame as the big winner of the night was UKIP.

      As a non-Lib Dem I’d say there’s a combination of factors;

      i) I don’t think people see you as centre left, even when it’s true, and certainly not the inheritors of Labour. For some voters that’s a good thing but I’m not sure it helps in Labour heartlands.

      ii) People do like Vince Cable, very much, but Clegg is a nobody, has no commanding presence and if he ever says anything worth hearing he says it in the blandest way possible.

      iii) I think people appreciate it when their personal MP isn’t crooked which, on average, will help you at the general - like in Cambridge where David Howarth has come out of it very well. But at Euro level everyone assumes they’re all on the gravy train anyway.

      At the end of the day all Parliamentary Parties have been damaged by this because members of all the main parties were involved.

      iv) politics. I don’t think the Lib Dems have anything to say politically outside of the Labour/Tory dynamic. It’s a nuance here, a flavour there, rather than something distinct that you have to pay attention to.

      People have an idea of where Labour and Tories stand ideologically - I don’t think that’s true of the Lib Dems and I don’t think that can be cured with a headline policy initiative. It’s more long term than that.

      For example the LD election broadcast was almost identical to the Tory one - just not as good.

      Does this help? You probably think I’m being snarky, but I’m not meaning to.

    6. ceedee — on 9th June, 2009 at 7:54 am  

      LibDems desperately need to differentiate themselves from Labour / Conservatives in the *public* perception.
      For instance:
      * Top of the agenda: STV (or even AV+, if it’s likely to gather support from Labour rebels) - apparently even 40% of grassroot Tories support electoral reform.
      * standard expenses reports for all LibDem MPs published on LibDem website. Complete disclosure NOW! (How about video ‘tours’ of random LibDem MPs’ second homes?)
      * widely publicised, open meetings enabling all LibDem MPs to offer themselves for ‘examination’ by their electorate.
      * push Nick’s 100-day plan! Force Labour / Conservatives to join or reject. And if/when they reject it, form a rolling citizens’ panel to publicly debate each element.
      * push a simple list of policy promises (eg. Trident, ID cards, public transport, taxation, constitution) delivered to every home. No recruitment, no local issues, no propaganda. Just basic promises.
      * regular talking points / progress updates from Nick/Vince available for supporters to download (and RSS/email) with a real feedback channel. ‘What do your friends think of this idea?’ Tie in with following week’s press plan.
      * abolish those dodgy bar chart claims - they stink!

    7. W — on 9th June, 2009 at 8:27 am  

      It’s like this. Young Cleggy is a nice fella, helps his mother in the house and can be seen in the garden with his father and occasionally getting help with his homework over at Mr. Cable’s cottage.

      Leader he isn’t.

    8. platinum786 — on 9th June, 2009 at 9:40 am  

      The lib dems are too understated. They make no effort as far as i’m concerned. You never here them championing something, taking a stand, going the extra mile to get votes.

      Also for me personally, what puts me off is their performance in local elections. They won in our area but performed very poorly since, that made them appear very unorganised. Also the local level policies have not reflected their claims of being pro-poor.

      Let me give you an example. My father is a taxi driver. Apparently 20% of British Pakistani households make their income from taxi’s. For me and my community the industry is key. Here are examples of a few policies made by our Lib Dem council;

      1. They increased buses to run to small towns, villages, even at night. A lot of these buses run empty or with a handful of passengers, but those routes are still open and that is afecting the taxi trade. How green can a bus with 4-5 passengers really be?

      2. They’ve decided to bring in rules to ensure that you cannot drive a vehicle more than 10 years old as a taxi. Despite the fact that currently they have vehicles maybe 15-20 years old in Taxi, which they put through a thorough MOT every year. A new Taxi cab costs ~£35,000 a year, your average cabbie earns under £15,000 a year.

      3. They decided to put all taxi drivers through formal training for legal regulations and best practise. Fair enough, but the course they put them on was difficultly worded and a lot of less educated people struggled to pass it. My father’s been a taxi driver for 30 years in this city, he could write that course, but he struggled to pass it. I’m quite proud my dad’s got an NVQ. They should have made it a simpler worded customised course.

      The impression this gives me about them is, all the right ideas, but none of the right finishing touches.

      If they want to run buses, great, but do we need massive long buses with 5-6 people on them? Could they not run smaller more clean buses?

      If you want suitable vehicles, of course that is understood, but is a new vehicle a suitable vehicle. Are the people your asking to buy those vehicles going to be able to afford them? Why insist on only giving hackney carraige licenses to the LTI made taxi’s why not to electric cars or green cars, like the Toyota Prius? It’d cost less, and it’s green.

      If you want to educate drivers formally, that’s great, but if they can’t understand the material due to a lack of english skills, and i’ll tell you i struggled to understand some words, it was a proper copy paste job of legal mumbo jumbo, then what will happen to their income? Why not have a simplified, more customised course?

    9. Shamit — on 9th June, 2009 at 9:59 am  

      Sunny - Good post

      Platinum - Good comments.


      I think the Lib Dems have the right ideals but they are often not intertwined with pragmatism and hence they seem to lack a coherent policy package.

      Add to that their inability to prove good administrations of councils as you have pointed out make them simply unattractive to the voters as a party for governance.

      They still win votes as the high ideals party destined to be a minority opposition reflecting to some extent the electorate’s “better angels”. The massive support on the Iraq war issue which dwindled demostrates the natue of their support - small core with a issue based support from angry voters who float away.

      Also, their exuberance for EU in a country thats demonstratbly not much in favour of more power to Brussels does them no good.

      On economic policy while Cable is very good ( I think the best Chancellor Britain never had) I would like to see them be a bit more bolder. At least inject into the debate, that there should be some serious thinking to be done in terms of indirect taxes such as petrol, VAT etc which disproportionately hurts the poorer sections of our society.

      I think their target of doubling their parliamentary seats is an excellent target but they need an issue that brings those angry floating voters like 2005.

      The indirect taxation could be the issue which would help them connect with the so called “working class” vote who don’t want to vote Labour anymore, don’t wish to vote for Tories if they can help it and do not wish to be tarnished with the BNP association in any way.

    10. chairwoman — on 9th June, 2009 at 10:28 am  

      They (as usual) found their own level.

      Platinum, excellent points, well made :)

    11. cjcjc — on 9th June, 2009 at 12:40 pm  

      platinum - your pithy example shows how bureaucracy is out of control - I’m sure similar examples could be found in Lab and Con councils too, it’s not just or necessarily a LibDem thing

    12. Sunny — on 9th June, 2009 at 1:35 pm  

      It’s a post by Shariq, not me!

      Gotta make the author names more prominent…

    13. platinum786 — on 9th June, 2009 at 1:38 pm  

      cjcjc - Your probably right, but it doesn’t take much effort to change it. The Lib Dems have worked with the system, rather than try to make it better, and they’ve made a right royal mess.

      Another few examples;

      They’re closing public toilets to save ~£300,000 a year. We ahve a population of ~250,000 people, we can afford roughly a quid a head. And since when have loo’s cost that much to maintain?

      Another example is school buses. The credit crunch hits, The Lib Dem council insists, everyone pays their kids school bus fair up front annually, that’s like £6-700 a year up front. If you’ve got 2-3 kids in school where are you going to get upwards of two grand from? So what do they do, threaten to remove the bus service as nobody is using it. Double decker buses with only 7-8 pupils on them, whilst the street outside is blocked off due to the traffic caused by parents forced to do the school run.

      They lambasted Labour for threatening to close a local swimming pool, they got into power, and said, “they were right, we can’t afford to save this pool, it costs too much”.

      Looks like incompetency to me.

    14. Mango — on 9th June, 2009 at 1:40 pm  

      Excellent points Platinum. The Tories at least pay lip service to the notion that wealth is created by business & industry, as opposed to being ‘created’ by an ever more bloated State sector.

      What are the LibDem’s business friendly policies?

      Working on the other side of the fence (you know, creating jobs), Labour is worse than useless. They’re dangerous. I won’t bore you with the massive additional burden of compliance with pointless legislation….. As for the Greens, they live in a parallel universe of factories powered by unicorn sweat producing holistic mung beans.

      In any case, I’m going to enjoy and I mean really enjoy the sight of these ideology-free shysters previously known as the Labour Party, spend at least a decade out of power, doing the electoral equivalent of breaking rocks in a Gulag.

      I just haven’t worked out what precisely their punishment should be. :)

    15. Shamit — on 9th June, 2009 at 1:50 pm  

      Shariq -sorry Good post mate

      Sunny - thanks

    16. chavscum — on 9th June, 2009 at 2:42 pm  

      The Left is finished. They tried to make capital out of the recession, but its blown up in their faces, now that the extent of our debt and profligacy has been exposed. Vince Cable is popular because he has a wholesome, fairly right-wing image and he writes for the Daily Mail.

      There is real hatred out there for Labour and the Left.

    17. The Common Humanist — on 9th June, 2009 at 3:27 pm  

      If they had chosen Vince Cable for Leader on a permanent basis instead of Clegg they would be very on their way to replacing Labour as the major centre left party in the UK on a more permanent basis.

      He is the sharpest economic mind in Parliament and would make a v v good chancellor in anybodies Govt.

      Certainly more then Osbourne but then I have pencils with a better grasp then george ‘what we need is more financial deregulation’ osbourne………

    18. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells — on 9th June, 2009 at 3:50 pm  

      I’m lost now, I thought the bnp were left wing and were making huge surges (despite their vote being down) ?

    19. The Common Humanist — on 9th June, 2009 at 4:28 pm  

      I think its fair to say the BNP has a policy agenda that has elements that are far right and that are far left and very little inbetween.

    20. shariq — on 9th June, 2009 at 11:43 pm  

      Great comments Platinum. I think its an excellent example of why although lefties maybe right to reject libertarianism, we should be mindful of libertarian critiques of planning and regulation.

    21. Alex — on 10th June, 2009 at 3:02 am  

      “They increased buses to run to small towns, villages, even at night. A lot of these buses run empty or with a handful of passengers, but those routes are still open and that is afecting the taxi trade. How green can a bus with 4-5 passengers really be?”

      This complaint makes no sense. Firstly, a bus with 4-5 passengers is greener than a taxi with 1 or 2.

      Secondly, you complain that the buses are next to useless, carrying barely any passengers, but then if this is the case, then why is it affecting the taxi trade? It makes me doubt your claim that “For me and my community the industry is key”. If that industry was key in your area, then buses carrying barely any passengers shouldn’t have that much of an affect, unless it wasn’t key in the first place.

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