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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Clegg controversy

Today's Times highlights a new faux row within the Liberal Democrats which goes to the heart of the way that Nick Clegg has sought to reposition the party as a one of government.

The problem last time of course was the manifesto. It was not properly costed but more importantly key proposals did not have the wholehearted support of senior members of the party. As a result we got the tuition fees fiasco.

The least said about that the better, but if we are to learn lessons then we have to get the manifesto right next time. Acccording to the Times this is being interpreted by the party leader and his manifesto supremo as meaning that we need a set of policies that are compatible with possible coalition partners. They want to stake out and occupy centre ground.

The paper says that David Laws, who is drawing up the election manifesto, is “stress-testing” any policies to ensure that they are compatible with either Labour or the Tories but now has a fight on his hands in the run-up to the party’s annual conference in September:

In a letter to The Times today, Prateek Buch, director of the Social Liberal Forum, says it would be an “act of folly” to ditch traditional Liberal Democrat policies just to suit the two other parties. The left-leaning organisation said if the party scrapped its defining policies it would merely “become a pale immitation of the two old parties”.

Although I consider myself a Social Liberal I do not have much time for the Social Liberal Forum. It seems to me that they are often looking for an argument with the leadership so as to underline their own distinctiveness and do not engage constructively unless it suits them. I believe that this latest controversy is one of those occasions.

From my reading of the Times article the main consideration of David Laws seems to be to ensure that policies are affordable and workable. That shows that he has learnt the lessons from 2010. This does not mean that our manifesto will not be distinctive nor liberal.

An experienced practitioner and observer of coalitions such as Nick Clegg knows that if a smaller party is to benefit from working in government with a larger group then they need to demonstrate distinctive and tangible benefits both for the party and the general public. That is why tax cuts for the low paid and the pupil premium. both good liberal policies, have featured so heavily in the current coalition platform. These are Liberal Democrats policies being delivered in government.

I would envisage that the 2015 manifesto will reflect that approach. I expect it to be liberal and realistic, deliverable and costed. I also expect Conference and ordinary members to have a say in its approach. If we did anything else then we would be abandoning any pretence of re-entering government.
Our manifesto was properly costed in 2010.

The reason we couldn't afford all the spending pledges in it once we were in coalition was because we couldn't implement all income generators to match.

The Leadership have shot us in the foot by trying to blame the costings. Why should anyone believe us next time?
Well, we were certainly assured in 2010 that the Lib Dem manifesto had been costed. The implication seems to be that that was a lie.
As Neil points out it was costed, it was just not austerity proofed because all three parties were in denial at the time
I'm sure the university costings would have worked - we just would not have been able to send as many to university.

It should also be remembered that we were outnumbered ten to one on tuition fee abolition in the 2010 parliament. Labour actually went into that election with a report recommending no limit to university tuition fees.

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