Stuck in the middle

Some Lib Dems have set up a new group called Liberal Reform, which isn’t at all interesting, except that the website says this:

“Voters intending to back the Liberal Democrats are now increasingly centrists, rather than the disgrunted left-wingers who we courted during Labour’s time in office. Leader Nick Clegg rightly says that “The Lib Dems never were and aren’t a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour Party. There is no future for that; there never was.”

We believe in Nick Clegg’s statement at our Autumn Conference in 2011 that “we are not on the left, and we are not on the right. We have our own label: Liberal”.”

So on the one hand they’re admitting they courted disgruntled left-wingers and on the other hand Nick Clegg is saying the Lib Dems were never a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour Party. Clegg is being totally disingenuous.

Of course they were.

In seats like Bristol West it was very clear that the Lib Dems won by presenting themselves as to the left of Labour on a whole range of issues, from tuition fees, civil liberties, Iraq (still), crime + anti-social behaviour, the environment, and the whole Vince Cable economic agenda (which seems to have vanished into the ether now that he’s in charge of BIS). Labour lost other seats to the Tories, i.e. Labour/Tory marginals, because some on the Left were disillusioned with the Labour government, and chose to give their vote to the Lib Dems, in what they saw as a principled stand and now deeply regret for two reasons: a) we’ve got a Tory-led Government and b) the Lib Dems have incontestably proved themselves unworthy recipients of those votes.

This isn’t true everywhere. In many seats in the South West, Lib Dems won by portraying themselves as a nicer version of the Tories, and courting votes from Labour people who don’t think we can win there. (Which is why they’re probably on a hiding to nothing in those seats next time.) The fact is, Lib Dems win by pretending to be what people want them to be, and saying what they think people want to hear. But now they’re actually in Government, and supporting everything this terrible Government is doing, they can’t keep up the pretence any longer.

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  • Simon McGrath  On February 13, 2012 at 9:43 am

    “Lib Dems won by presenting themselves as to the left of Labour on a whole range of issues, from tuition fees, civil liberties, Iraq (still),”
    You think Civil Liberties are left wing!!

    • kerrymccarthy  On February 13, 2012 at 10:49 am

      No – that’s silly – there is a right-wing take on civil liberties and a left-wing take, and you played to the left. Admittedly the dividing lines has been somewhat obscured by right-wing libertarians siding with the left on some issues, and what you would no doubt dub New Labour authoritarianism (but which was actually based in a genuine appreciation of what working class communities wanted/ needed – eg CCTV). But you definitely tried to capture the left vote on this, by posturing on certain issues in a typically sanctimonious Lib Dem way.

  • William Summers  On February 13, 2012 at 10:04 am

    I’ve heard this argument numerous times, that lib dems cynically change policy to suit local needs, and I’m still as unconvinced by it as the first time I heard it.

    Of course different issues are highlighted in different areas though – any half decent campaign targets its messaging to the audience it’s speaking to at the time. It would be ludicrous to spend time telling residents of inner London about your policies on farm subsidies, for example, just as it would to send leaflets to people in rural Cornwall telling them about lib dem policy on tackling gang violence. It doesn’t mean the two are conflicting policies.

  • hannah  On February 13, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    You are right that civil libertarianism can be considered ‘left wing’. But I don’t understand how you can allege that the LibDems pretended to be left wing in that regard. They are quite clearly much to the ‘left’ of Labour when it comes to civil liberties and stuff like that. Crime can be put in that bracket too.

    You are having a go at Clegg for saying “The Lib Dems never were and aren’t a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour Party”…. By that I would imagine he means that LibDems aren’t more socialist/left wing than Labour. Which is also true.

    I see the LibDems as being slightly to the left of New Labour, and slightly to the right of EdMiliband Labour, and much to the left of New Labour on civil liberties.

    I wouldn’t judge the coalition’s policies on what the LibDem policies are. They have 57 (or whatever it is) MPs out of 650…. This isn’t a LibDem led coalition afterall.

  • Paul Bemmy Down  On February 14, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Left wing, right wing, call it what you will. Labour lost because they lost their “core” vote, those referred to by Mr. Brown as bigots. Talk about out of touch. Dump your focus groups and speak to those who should always vote Labour, what were always known as the “working classes”. Then react to what they expect from a Labour Party. Relying on the fact they are anti Tory won’t work anymore.

  • Mike Beckett  On February 15, 2012 at 11:22 am

    If anyone is shot by both sides it is the Liberal Democrats as you prove in your narrative. Putting ‘local people’ before paymasters like ‘Tory’ bankers or ‘Labour’ Trade Unions means people in different places want different things including less authoritarianism.


  • By Responses to Liberal Reform « Liberal Reform on February 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    […] and perhaps leastly, Liberal Reform were picked up early by Kerry McCarthy MP (Lab, Bristol East) who claims party positions on issues like civil liberties and crime, where the party takes […]

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