All 10 entries tagged Liberal Democrats

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May 06, 2007

Lib Dem Failure = Lib Dem Power

It’s a strange quirk of the electoral system in Britain nowadays that the Lib Dems can do fairly poorly at an election and come out of it with so much power. In both Wales and Scotland, they hold the keys to power for Labour and the SNP respectively. The only difference this time round is that they’re considering rejecting the easy option in both cases.

In Wales, leader Mike German, under a great deal of pressure from his members (a leadership election is more than likely) has to decide, perhaps within a week, whether to prop up an unpopular Labour administration headed by Rhodri Morgan. He seems keen, but he could be deposed before he has a chance to sign off on it.

In Scotland, Nicol Stephen has a similar decision to make for the Lib Dems, although they would at least be propping up the SNP, who are on the up themselves. Even then, the SNP would still need the Greens to form a majority. The Greens support independence. The Lib Dems do not, and it could be a deal breaker.

Even in Westminster, it’s an open secret that the Lib Dems could have to do a similar job for Gordon Brown (or Cameron) after the next election.

It’s almost becoming the case that the Lib Dems are the bland, faceless party of coalition. They don’t seem to be threatening to lead any coalition in the near – perhaps even distant – future. And when elections become closer between the top two parties, their share of the vote often collapses.

There’s something to be said for coalition governments. But when the Lib Dems are so predictably the partner in any coalition, is there any value in voting for them?


My view is that there’ll be another election in Edinburgh within the year. The SNP’s majority is so flaky they’ll struggle to govern. Hold a new election and they’ll probably do even better. In Wales, Labour and the Lib Dems are going to struggle to come to a deal. Many in the Labour party are dead against joining with Plaid, and the Tories are of course a complete no-no. It’s going to be iffy here too.


I (honestly) wrote this before reading Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer. He makes the exact same point.

March 04, 2007

The Lib Dems could get crowded out in 2009

If the next parliament is hung, Sir Menzies could have either Gordon Brown or David Cameron or both of them at his door. The closer we get to the election, and the more the possibility of a hung parliament begins to intrigue the media, the more interest there will be in the Lib Dems. They may suddenly find themselves centre stage – Andrew Rawnsley, writing in today’s Observer.

Ming CampbellI agree with what much of Andrew Rawnsley says in his article, but not his conclusion. He says that with the Lib Dems a potential coalition partner in a hung parliament, they’ll become much more important to British politics in the next three years.

That may be true, but I’m not expecting much of a rise in their representation in Parliament.

If, as expected, the Brown v Cameron election is a close-run thing, perhaps resulting in a hung parliament, then I’d be surprised if the Lib Dems’ number of seats didn’t fall. The margins between Labour and the Conservatives will be so small, people will find it hard to ‘waste’ their vote on a party who will probably end up governing – at least in some small part – anyway.

The next election won’t be about the composition of the Commons. It’ll be a straight fight for who should choose the Cabinet. And in such a situation, the Lib Dems might be key players, but could also find themselves left out in the electoral cold.

March 03, 2007

Lib Dems' bonkers tax plans

At the last election, the Lib Dems wanted to scrap Council Tax in favour of a local income tax. There’s some sense behind this – many people, often retired, live in expensive houses but don’t have enormous incomes. Council tax in its present form ignores income and ability to pay, charging people purely on the value of their home.

Well now, they’ve come up with another proposal which sounds completely contradictory. They want to charge a Wealth Tax on people with homes worth more than £1m.

It’s a nice idea. It sounds like a tax against those nasty rich people. But it’s based on the same fallacy that makes council tax so stupid. It simply isn’t true that people in expensive houses are always rich. Many older people have lived in one house for more than half a century – and house price inflation has pushed their house value up to silly levels. That doesn’t mean they have a large income, and certainly doesn’t mean they’re able to pay – or deserving of – a wealth tax.

Surely a wealth tax on incomes would be far more sensible. And far less hypocritical.

July 28, 2006

Ming: 'A' for effort, 'E' for attainment

This week's ICM/Guardian poll wouldn't have made happy reading in Cowley Street, headquarters of the Lib Dems.

Ming's party have had a turbulent year following the removal of Charles Kennedy and Ming's subsequent election (not forgetting Mark Oaten's problems inbetween). But to be 4 points down compared with the last poll (at 17%) is pretty disastrous.

Ming himself accounts for a large part of the problem, but not all of it. Welsh Assembly member Peter Black has pointed the finger, arguing that "Ming has made little impact with the public at large", a fairly substantial criticism from an elected member of his own party.

But Peter is wrong when he says "if things go wrong then there is nobody else to blame". Because the party as a whole is partly culpable for its poll ratings.

While Cameron's Tories have managed to do very well without actually announcing any policies, the Lib Dems haven't managed to pull off the same trick. This is mainly because they don't appear to have any fixed principles with which to challenge the government. The Conservatives have carved out a 'message' without having to set anything in stone. Ming meanwhile is too involved in sorting out his own house to be able to set out what his party is.

The Lib Dems are an awkward coalition struggling to come to terms with the continued obsession with left–right politics in which they don't really fit. There's the right–wing 'Orange Book' group and the more socially conscious lefties in the party. Each is determined that the party needs to move in their direction to succeed, and in one way they're correct. Because for the Lib Dems, the middle ground isn't working.

Labour and the Conservatives are set to engage in a game of "who can best mimic the enemy" until the next election, where they set out policies which are remarkable alike, if not plain stolen.

So the Lib Dems need to be the real opposition, a term which they bandy about but don't seem able to fully grasp. While there is a fair amount of consensus in Britain at the moment, there's probably quite a strong current in the press and in current opinion which believes there's too much government. It's the traditional U.S. Republican stance, and one that is well suited to the Liberalism of the Liberals.

This is an area which fits well with many of their policies: ID Cards especially, diplomacy over military engagement, scrapping the council tax etc.

It would sit well with much of the public, and potentially out–Tory the Tories, without necessarily adopting the characteristics of the 'nasty party'.

There's no ground left to be fought for on the centre of British politics. For the Lib Dems to stand a chance, they need to have a stand and a message. In some ways they have it already, but haven't made it in the terms which would be attractive to the British public.

Ming probably isn't the right man to present this message, but until the party comes up with some idea of what it's about, it won't be able to find a leader who can do much better.

July 27, 2006

Lib Dems' poll ratings take a battering

According to an ICM/Guardian poll out today:

The most obvious observation is that people who supported the Lib Dems over the Iraq War are drifting back to the two major parties again following what has been a disastrous year and quiet few months for Ming Campbell.

But here's some other thoughts:

  • Labour is clearly banking on their new leader (assume it to be Brown) to take the lead back from the Conservatives when they take power. I think this strategy's a bit risky and Brown ought to be setting out his stall already, even if he's not in Number 10. There's a danger that he won't have long enough to impress the public before he's forced to call an election. Plus, he's about as charasmatic as cabbage soup, so needs all the help he can get.

  • Labour's rise (up 3%) also suggests that voters are forgiving the government for the many problems they've got themselves into recently. This raises the question of whether people care about or understand the cash–for–honours scandal. Until it directly smacks Blair in the face, I'm not sure voters will fully associate it with the government.

  • The Conservatives are continuing to do well under Cameron, although he still hasn't had much to do so far. When he starts talking about substantive policy issues people might see him as a turn–off. So far they've only heard him talk about bicycles, underwear and solar power.

  • Ming is doomed. While extremely competent with the Lib Dems' foreign affairs brief, he's clearly not got the right skills to lead the party on other issues. If the Conservatives can do well while not talking about policy, how come the Lib Dems are finding the exact opposite happening to them?

  • The Conservatives think they need 40% of the vote in order to get a majority. With Labour likely to receive a boost under their new leader, Cameron will know he hasn't done enough yet to avoid the possibility of a hung parliament.

  • Overall, there's cause of optimism here for the Tories and Labour. But the Lib Dems have got a problem. If they lose seats at the next election, which looks likely given how close the other two parties are likely to be, then they could enter a decade of soul–searching which could cripple the party.

April 10, 2006

Ming, Ming, Where are you Ming?

When Charles Kennedy disappeared for months at length, we knew it was because he was 'tipsy'.

But why Menzies Campbell has copied his schedule is a bit of a mystery… surely he realizes the Lib Dems only 'went dark' because their leader couldn't think of anything useful to say.

Certainly, you wouldn't expect to hear any new policy announcements so far away from a General Election. And to be fair their website has lots of recent press releases about dentists, Airbus (see below), hospitals in Wiltshire and other exciting issues.

And it's not implausible to suppose that Ming is buried away working away on the local election campaign.

But come the elections, people are going to be asking why they should vote for the Lib Dems when they haven't done anything recently. We need a few soundbites here, a little publicity there, or else the media will be forced into treating things as a two-horse race.

January 06, 2006

Hmm….. so much for my…

… prediction of "he'll be gone by 6pm".

Charles Kennedy – who sealed his fate?

George Pascoe-Watson, the new Political Editor of the Sun made the point on Sky News today (in a cosy interview/chat with his wife, Kay Burley, incidentally) that it wasn't the media's fault that Charles Kennedy had to leave his job. In his words…

we just report the facts!

But is this strictly true?

For a start, it's the pressure of 24-hour news channels (albeit only two of them now) that means the story has turned around so quickly. In the space of 24 hours, Kennedy has gone from being in the same weak position where he's been for months to one where his position is utterly untenable.

For instance this morning on the Today programme, the leader of the Lib Dems in the European Parliament said Kennedy was a "dead man walking". This led to more calls for him to resign, followed by the confirmation from Vince Cable that he believed he should leave immediately and finally the 'threatened' resignation of one of Kennedy's top team. All of this in under 5 hours!

Also, is the decision of Liberal Democrat MPs to challenge Mr Kennedy not directly as a result of the poor coverage that he has received in the press? Every newspaper today says he should go quietly, and his policies have not broken through the glass ceiling for months now.

What's more, Lib Dems know that the coverage that Kennedy gets is only going to get worse, especially given the very open in-fighting which is now taking place. See Iain Duncan Smith's slow exit of the Conservative party as an example of a political leader being on a one-way street to the backbenches.

So while it is Lib Dem MPs who have forced Kennedy into a position from where he must surely resign (by 6pm tonight, I predict), it is the media which has churned and spat out this story in 24 hours, rather than several weeks.


Incidentally, if Winston Churchill lived in a world of 24-hour instant news, would his alcoholism have been tolerated? I doubt it very much.


And also incidentally, a very good article about 24 hour news and its effects on the 'news cycle' by Mark Lawson in today's Guardian.

January 05, 2006

Charles Kennedy calls time

Charles Kennedy has followed the advice of many of his MPs (huh, was forced anyway!) and is holding a leadership election. He's angry because it'll detract from talking about important issues. But then when was the last time you heard Kennedy talk about important issues?

Take today. The main story put out about the Lib Dems was about a 12-year-old who has been named Chairman of his local constituency party. Yup. Luckily he said he was a Kennedy fan and thought he should stay. Handy, that.

Charles Kennedy has chosen an all-out leadership election because he knows no-one will beat him, that's if anyone else even runs. What Lib Dem MPs wanted was a vote of confidence, which he would have been far more likely to lose.

But it is not the 'distracting' leadership election which should be making Lib Dem supporters angry. It is Charles Kennedy's refusal to submit himself to a rigourous test of his leadership. A leadership election might sound great, but realistically, it's going to massively favour the incumbent. John Major used the same tactic in 1995 when John Redwood (yeah, who?) ran against him.

If Charles Kennedy wanted to do the best thing for his party, he should hold a snap vote of confidence, saying to his MPs "I want to carry on. Do you want me?"

Because it is better to be sure you have a solid leader than one who is holding on by a thread. Kennedy is doing his party no favours by holding his own position in a higher regard than his party's chances at the next election.

This leadership election will not kill off Kennedy's critics, and while he almost certainly will win, I'll be amazed if he's still around at the time of the next election.

December 18, 2005

Time, Charlie Boy

My take on half the Lib Dems' calling for a leadership election?

What took you so long!? The signs were there at the Party Conference, where Kennedy's speech was more of a begging letter than a path for the future. He's clearly lost his way, whether he thinks he has or not.

But the Lib Dems are almost scared of holding an election for a new leader. Why? Because they have no idea who to choose. Do they go for a centrist such as Ming Campbell or Simon Hughes, who will lead them chasing after Labour's disenfranchised voters. Or do they go the other way, and chase after Cameron.

Purely in terms of elections, I know which way I'd go. You can take your chances against a wounded government, not particularly popular with the public, and who got to power with the consent of only 22% of the population.

Or alternatively, you could go after a modern, attractive-sounding party who seem certain to increase their support in the 2009(?) election.


The Lib Dems aren't going to take votes away from David Cameron, who looks set to be 'Britain's saviour' at the next election (even if he doesn't win), but stand a good chance of beating Labour at a game they invented many moons ago.

Never mind the ideological reasons for avoiding the right-wing route, the Lib Dems need a moderniser like Hughes or Campbell, just because that's where the voters are waiting for them, even if it does mean far more hits on

P.S. Loving the effort at

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