Birmingham today

Going off to the Liberal Democrat special conference in Birmingham today. This is the opportunity for Liberal Democrats in the wider party circle to give their views on the new coalition – and I am sure that they will be vocal and heartfelt. No doubt that some party members are upset – but the vast majority – just as the Parliamentary Party and the Federal Executive – will hear the facts and the offers from the negotiations – and I believe will arrive at the same conclusion as we all did. The vote in the Parliamentary Party (PP) and the Federal Executive (FE) passed overwhelmingly with only one vote (from an FE member) against.

Locally in Hornsey & Wood Green, one of my councillors has been out and about for the last two days taking the temperature of local people to this new arrangement. Initially quite hostile – he reports that the mood has changed to a much more positive one where the majority of people seem to be saying that this was the only viable option and give it a chance (concise analysis). This correlates with the analysis I read in the paper today – where they say 7 out of 10 people think it is the right thing – but don’t know if it will work.

Listening to the radio – apparently Charles Kennedy has revealed in the Observer today that he believes this puts an end to the long cherished dream of a realignment of the left and a progressive coalition and therefore felt unable to back it – albeit would also not vote against it.  What I have discovered over this last week of tumultuous political change – is that there was not a progressive alliance with Labour to be had. I suppose I should have realised a lot earlier that whilst there is a part of the Labour family who are genuinely committed to this – it certainly wasn’t the whole party. Witnessing the parade of Labour MPs on the media burying it with their words of dismissal for such an alliance as well as their opposition to Proportional Representation – Charles’ dream was never going to become a reality.

Like the 7 out of 10 – I agree this was the only viable option. Whether it will work – that is the challenge. A party like the Liberal Democrats who believe in Proportional Representation have a particular onus to give it our best. After all – if we had PR – coalition government would always be the result. I do believe in this. I hadn’t expected it to be with the Conservatives – but it is. I go forward with a good heart to give it my best efforts. If we cannot demonstrate that this ‘new politics’ works – then our cherished dream of PR somewhere down the line – will never be realised.


0 thoughts on “Birmingham today

  1. PR would have led to coalition but not just any old thing cobbled together. It emits a vapour of the Lib Dems wanting to be in government rather than being able to exercise power. True, there was no progressive alliance to be formed with Labour. But only a reactonary one can emerge from the dalliance with the Tories. A problem now is that the party having contorted to explain the decision is likely to perform even more contortions to defend it. The public is unlikely to be told by party leaders just how bad it really is. That task will fall to the whistleblower in the party. Then he or she wil be dismissed as a crank or trouble maker. This thing happens so often in political life that the script can be penned by rote.

  2. I have great respect for Kennedy (the Iraq war stance and all that) but what on earth would realignment of the centre-left look like? What’s its objectives? What would it be called? Who would it be prepared to go into coalition with? Would it be the ‘left’ sustaining a two party system?

    After 13 years of Labour and all the bad things they have done, post credit crunch, it seems like an out-dated idea now. I can’t see the draw?

  3. @ JohnM

    What are you on about? Was the Labour you are talking about always that Labour or was it Tony Blair’s Nu Lab?

    And tell me how often have the Tories being savers of the population and not after the same old private, white, wealthy sector?

    Do you even remember Thatcher?

    Sometimes I think you sycophantic lib-con lovers are deluded!

    (And I say this a Lib Dem member…well for now before I kicked out for being too left by the internet bullies)

  4. I think that dream of a lefty coalition died with “Big Brother” style New Labour. It also does not gel with the desire for PR and new politics -as JohnM rightly says, wouldn’t that just reinforce the 2 party system? Plus – perpetually wanting to ‘side’ with Labour out of pprinciple would lose us our identity.


  6. Also – the Tories under Cameron are no more the same as under Thatcher, than warmongering authoritarian Big Brother state “New Labour” are the same lefty Labour who inspired the outdated dream of a “progressive” alliance with Labour.

  7. @AM

    Do you really think Nick and the party did this because we desperately wanted government?

    Supporting a minority Government on a confidence and supply agreement would have an election in 6-12 months time and we would have been slaughtered.

    We’re not going to be the most popular party at the election in 5 years time, and are probably going to lose a significant share of the vote and a few seats (especially in Scotland).

    However right now it is what the country needs over our wants.

    Our country needs a strong, stable government that will guide us through some hard times. They didn’t choose us, Labour or the Tories. So a coalition was the only answer.

    Labour rejected it. Their MPs didn’t want it and their unelected (Mandelson, Adonis and Campbell) negotiators were unwilling to negotiate. Even then we would have depended on Plaid Cymru and the SNP. Add to that their record on civil liberties and their record on keeping their manifesto promises (where was the referendum on PR for the commons promised in their 1997 manifesto?) were they to be trusted? I think not!

    The Tories worked with us, compromised and we got the worst of their policies stripped out with some of our best policies put in their place. Their negotiators (like ours) were sitting MPs. Are they to be trusted? Time will tell, but they certainly offered us the better deal.

  8. Dear Lynne. Firstly, congratulations upon your re-election and your translation into the corridors of power. I particularly appreciated your capture of the Conservative Blue Rince brigade by publicly stating your opposition to semi-naked young persons in the MSM. Your reasons may be different from theirs, but it is an exemplar of how this coalition can be made to work – the agreed ends being more important than the due process.
    On the subject of the Coalition. Having had time to reflect, I’m strongly in favour. Conservative policies are levened by the Classical Liberalism of the Cadburys, Frys, Hume and Cobbett, and the idealism of the LibDems is restrained by the salt of Tory pragmatism. The marxist left of the Libdems goes back from whence they came when Blair made Labour electable, and the tory right has less say – provided the coalition is made to work by the party leaderships. Senior LibDems such as yourself get vital national government experience without having to shoulder the whole responsibility, and the Conservatives get the chance to support, in the medium term, a party which has the potential to be nationally electable but which is not connected with scientific socialism. It does mean that both sides will have to eschew tribal politics at local level for a time, but the change from slagging off to debating the issues in a polite manner will do neither party any harm. And we can gang up on the marxists to keep our avatars happy.

    I wish you all the best in your new (and unexpected) role. Doubtless you will be able to find the time to ensure that householders can clear the snow from footpaths without let or hindrance. As the World gets a bit colder, it will be as well!

  9. You repeat the mantra that ‘Labour made me do this’ – but they didn’t. You had a a choice. A coalition with the conservatives not the only option. The fact that LibDems voted in favour of this proposal can be interpreted as 1. it’s a great idea or 2. you were desperate for power at any cost.
    LibDems weren’t elected to Government. I’m sure lots of people would like to walk into jobs anyway even after failing the interview…

  10. ref rantersparadise

    “Sometimes I think you sycophantic lib-con lovers are deluded”! Who’s the internet bully now?

    No you won’t get dragged out of a Lib Dem conference by police for disagreeing – that’s a Labour thing!

  11. I don’t want to offend those (on other posts) who see anything less than unquestioning enthusiasm for these arrangements as childish or idiotic, so let me offer my congratulations to Lynne on her appointment. I share the amazement of others about how this will work and I am intrigued about where the common ground lies between Lynne and Theresa May, but I don’t want to be churlish, so I do wish you the best of luck.

    That said, I do find it very odd that you are critical of Labour and their supposed opposition to be PR – Lynne, you are in a government with a party that not only opposes PR but is likely to campaign against AV. So, you say a re-allignment of the left was never going to work because Labour weren’t up for PR, then support a Party even more opposed to the idea. This is completely inconsistent: you can’t hold these two positions at once.

    Also, please recognise that there are many of the centre left who disagreed passionately with some of the choices Labour made (e.g. Iraq, PFI), who do see that Labour made genuine improvements from the Thatcher/Major years and are now looking to re-invigorate the Labour party along more progressive lines. I challenge you to read Ed Miliband’s speech yesterday and ask yourself whether you find more common ground with his analysis of the world or with Osbourne’s/Hague’s/May’s/Grayling’s/ etc.

    Kennedy recognises there was an opportunity to connect the Lib Dems with this movement (or for this movement to connect with the Lib-Dems) but it has been lost because Clegg salivated at the sniff of power and made the wrong call. That means PR is lost for a decade at least as well as many of the Lib-Dems progressive ideas. Please – a coalition with the Conservatives was not the only option, it was a choice made by Clegg who has more in common with Cameron than you care to admit. Clegg is not a Kennedy.

    This coalition may well work for a bit and I am sure it will do some good things, but my feeling remains this was a momentous opportunity lost.

  12. ref BenC,

    I respect your views but it’s clear that what spooked Clegg was the concern at Labour’s (lack of) unity and ability to deliver support for PR inparticular. Reid, Blunkett et al delivered their “Exocets” overnight, on top of a poor performance by Labour negotiators. Whilst Clegg was under pressure from Ashdown, Steel, Ming Campbell, and Kennedy to try to get a deal with Labour but it became obvious that Labour could not deliver. He had to make a ‘best of it’ decision, he had to lead!

  13. JohnM – thanks for your reply. Agree that Labour weren’t in a position to deliver at this point. I also think if Labour had linked with Lib-Dems, people would have said this wasn’t legitimate – neither had enough seats and I think, amongst the many different messages from the electorate, one was that a Labour Govt wasn’t what they wanted. I agreed with Reid and Blunkett on this point.

    My point is not that there should have been a Lib-Lab coalition now – but more that a Lib-Con coalition wasn’t the only option. In fact, far from being the only choice, my view is that it is actually the most damaging option in the short, medium and long-term for anyone (lib, lab, green or other) who consider themselves to be a progressive who, by implication, rejects pretty much everything the Conservatives represent. A minority Conservative government, with the Lib Dems as a (more) powerful opposition would, in time, have delivered more of what we want than a short-sighted grab at power, with all the unpalatable and unacceptable compromises this has entailed already (let alone what is still to come!).

    We will have to agree to differ on Clegg – the press conference in Downing Street with Cameron did it for me. This wasn’t a difficult, ‘let’s make the best of it’ deal for him. It was a meeting of minds. And that really worries me.

  14. BenC – in what possible way could we have achieved any of our policies by letting the Tories govern in a minority government and remaining in perpetual and powerless opposition ourselves? I am genuinely curious as the concept of opposition isn’t one I grew up with.*

    * I grew up in Switzerland and mentioned this to my Dad on the phone today. His comment: “Well I guess you could say the SVP – our version of the BNP – are the opposition, because they always disagree with everything!”

  15. Hi Andrea Gill.

    A Tory Government does not support PR, never have, never will. They are the antipathy of what progressive people believe in. By joining with them, the Lib-Dems have had to sacrifice too much and will be required to support what I believe will be damaging, regressive, unpopular policies. This – in my view – will mean a serious down-turn in support for the Lib-Dems at the next election, which I think will be sooner than five years away. It will take years to recover from this.

    The Tories, as a minority, would have had to negotiate and compromise anyway. The Lib Dems could still have supported any of the Tory measures they considered necessary (i.e. those, ahem, ‘in the national interest’), while opposing ones they disagreed with and negotiating for a more ‘Lib-Dem’ solution in return for their support. There was no need form a formal coalition with them. Clegg made that choice because he is closer to Cameron than is comfortable. He’s tied his hands into something that will soon start to bite.

    Of course, this minority Government wouldn’t have lasted, but nor will this one. This would have left the Lib Dems in a stronger position – retaining their current support at the ballot box, gaining support from those who saw they were ‘mature’ and voted with the Government where they had to, and, critically, in a position to form a lasting, winning coalition from a centre-left position – with a much broader remit for implementing their polices as they would be aligned with others who share their broad outlook on the world and can negotiate from shared principles.

    I could well be wrong. But let’s see.

  16. Chris Mills,

    Unfortunately yes. Do you really think they did it for any other reason? Are you so new to the game that you could really think that? What would make your party so different that it has suddenly defied one of the laws of political gravity? That law being that opportunists will always sell the pass that they promised never to abandon when an opportunity to advance political careerism rather than the politics of the pass presents itself? We only have to recall the words of Nick Clegg himself – this coalition with the Tories would never happen. But it did and of course the veil has to come out to mask it. If ever there was a case to ban the burka it is here – the burka of political deceit which tries to present a political summersault as a vertical leap to a higher plateau.
    ‘now it is what the country needs over our wants’ Patriotism the last refuge of who? Spare us that Chris.
    The country did not ‘choose’ coalition, less so a coalition of this type. It is what it ended up with. A very small minority chose coalition – those that voted Lib Dem. The majority voted for one party government. Coalition was cobbled together after the election out of view of the country. So much for the leaders’ televised debate.
    The Tories might have offered you the better deal – better for yourselves rather than the country.
    It is much better to have a strong principled voice in opposition than a neutered voice in government.
    The last lines of Animal Farm strike me as appropriate: The electorate looked from Nick to David and back to Nick and no longer knew who was who.
    Chris, I don’t vote for a British party living as I do in Ireland. But it interests me enough to have watched events over there. Lynne was brilliant on the Baby Peter case and the Lib Dems the best on the defence of secular values against an increasing trend towards privileging superstition. I wonder if that will be lost as a result of this coalition.
    Your party should only ever have gone into coalition on the basis of having won its core demand – PR and nothing less. In terms of advancing the Lib Dems it was the only demand that mattered. Now it will never happen. The Lib Dems will not be strong enough to make it possible after this charade.

  17. As to Lynne’s point above:
    “…one of my(!) councillor’s….reading the temperature..the mood has changed to a much more positive one….”, reflecting the national mood of most people (7 out of 10) saying it was the most viable option….
    I wonder which leafy avenue he’s been strolling down to come up with this, as it certainly doesn’t reflect the train of thought (captured spot-on by Ben C) or conversations I’ve been hearing.

    But, to give the benefit of the doubt and assume that 7/10 people are actually in favour of the current state of play, are you not slightly worried about this?

    If we had a true democratic set-up, and we were able to return to the ballot box following the conclusion we received but didn’t vote for, there be a 30% swing from Liberal to Labour.
    This would obviously have voted in the labour candidate in either voting system.
    So, are you still happy and comfortable with the claptrap that is; ‘oh it’s in the best interests of the country etc etc’?
    To exercise the true definition of PR, are you still representing the people of Hornsey and Wood Green?

  18. Comres poll shows that a quarter of LD voters would not have done so with the benefit of hindsight, even as the activists are enthusiastic in Birmingham… On today’s results, you would have got less than 50 seats.

    I can’t help feeling that you have lost the plot. This is not a slight “offense”. Nobody is offended. It’s potential electoral suicide and a almost certainly a long-term setback to the progressive cause.

    I would love to be convinced otherwise. Talk to us seriously, Lynne.


  19. AM if we had entered coalition on the basis of PR only then we wouldn’t have entered coalition with anybody.

    I don’t call 23% of the voters a very small minority. That’s 6% less than Labour. Not much when you look at it like that is it?

    And please don’t patronise me. I’m no 18 year old voting for the first time. I’ve lived through Thatcher’s Britain, through Major, through Blair and Brown.

    I’m not saying this is a great option for us. It isn’t. I think it’s better to put it as the least worst option.

  20. Chris,

    This is the point – no need to enter coalition with anybody. You make it out that coalition was an imperative without which calamity would ensue. Not so. Should have held your ground and forced the issue at an appropriate juncture rather than being the Tory stepping stone to power.

    That you are not 18 merely makes matters worse. If you have lived through so much how come have you seen so little? The Lib Dems are not reinventing the wheel here. How often have we seen the tail marching off to wag the dog only to serve as the dog’s bum wipe?

    David Clegg, Nick Cameron – the voters, old chap, let them eat cake. Pink gin all round. Helps blur the difference.

  21. There is nothing in my posts on this issue which cast an aspersion on the personal integrity of Lynne Featherstone. I am discussing the wider political issues not LF’s decision. No politician gets it right all the time. The best we can hope for is that a majority of decisions are progressive and the cumulative effects of those that are not do not outweigh the cumulative effects of those that are.

  22. AM- I agree with all that you say. I think you’ve captured what more than the ‘supposed’ 3/10 are thinking!
    Whilst I’ve never trusted any politician, more so following the expenses issue, i do have a problem with my MP’s ease to operate under a person/party whose philosophy on life is the complete antithisis to the standpoint professed to have been taken on these pages over the year’s- which have formed the basis of an ideology many people may have supported.

    We all have choices to make in life I suppose, I sincerely hope Ms.Featherstone’s was as naive as it was misguided

  23. I’m agreeing with Andrea – I’m amazed at the number of people who seem to think we would have got a better result from confidence and supply with a Tory minority government. How?

    I see myself as a leftie. I grew up under Thatcher in Yorkshire. There are STILL places around here which are not recovered from what she did, and I fully understand the visceral hatred some people have for the Tories. The thing is, David Cameron is not Margaret Thatcher. The times are different, the people are different, and just maybe, the result will be different than it would have been in the eighties. All right, maybe it won’t, too. But condemning it before the new parliament has even sat is just ridiculous.

    Nearly as ridiculous as the idea of a progressive realignment with the current incarnation of the Labour party. The Labour party is no more a vehicle of the left than the DUP. As Alex Wilcock keeps saying, I would love to see a progressive rainbow coalition, but unfortunately 57 Lib Dems and 1 Alliance MP do not add up to a working majority, and there ARE no other progressive options in parliament. However many good people there are in the grass roots of the Labour party, they have been comprehensively shut out by the authoritarian leadership. Labour is not a progressive party at the moment. I hope the afore-mentioned good people get it re-aligned, but it’s not up to us to help them. We are a separate party, not Labour’s little helper, and I for one and sick of being guilt-tripped by people who expect us to behave like Labour will be our saviours, and I include Chuckie K in that.

    I worry about what this government will do, of course I do. But I trust Lynne, and Nick, and Vince, and David. And I think this government is orders of magnitude better with them in it than it would be without them.

    BTW, Lynne, your speech yesterday was awesome.

  24. Nick,

    it is just so frustrating. Time after time positions are abandoned in the trade-off for a place in government. And what is the reward? The smaller partner becomes the government sandbag strategically positioned to take the flak. LF has little option but to bang her shoe on the table when it all goes pear shaped so that society can hear the alarm. All will be lost if she opts to use a muffler.

  25. On a local level i’m glad that Lynne is back in as MP but gutted my Lib Dem vote has contributed to the tories getting back in. I wont be making that mistake again !