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August 02, 2004


Tom H

Interesting article. Talking to realistic thinking Liberal Democrat workers, they believe that if, as expected, the Tories start to gain seats at both the next election and the the 2008/9 vote, a Labour/Lib Dem government in a hung parliament is likely in the future. Lib Dems would demand PR as a condition of joining- and the landscape could be changed forever. Will it happen? I don't know, but there is a good chance it could.


Ah a mugshot!

The evidence presented for a split within the Lib Dems is strong. But I'm not sure whether that supports arguing that it will scupper the Lib Dem's ambitions.

Couldn't you find splits and tensions within both the Tories and Labour, just the same?

Custos Morum

Tom H,

You say that 'realistic thinking' Lib Dems are waiting patiently for a hung parliament before demanding PR but post-war electoral history shows that to be rather unrealistic. There's only been one post-election hung Parliament since the War.

Moreover, the strong possibility (to put it as politely as possible) exists that the Lib Dems do not support PR for reasons of constitutional vigour and good health but rather for the more human and narrow reasons of party advantage. If the Lib Dem presence continues to grow in the House then we'll doubtless see a corresponding toning down of those principled calls for PR.

Sean Fear

There are two difficulties with your analysis, Tom.

1. Would it be in the interests of the Lib Dems to prop up a government which had just lost a general election? Would they not become tainted in the eyes of many of their voters?

2. Could Labour actually deliver PR, given that they would be asking many of their backbenchers to vote themselves out of a job?

Tom H

Let me try and respond to a few points.

I understand many of you disagree with my views. I know Lord Rennard, a hardly unbias voice, has said that he wants Charles Kennedy at the top in two elections time. Even as as Lib Dem, I don't think that will happen, but I can realistically see us in a joint Govt with Labour.

DMT states that there has onlt been 1 hung parliament since the war. I would argue that (despite it sounding like a cliché) the political landscpe is changing. Lib Dem poll ratings are consistently around 22%, compared to around 15% at this time before 2001. There is a 3 way split occuring, and I can see a 310 Labour, 240 Tory and 95 Lib Dem split (roughly) by 2009.

Paddy Ashdown was very pro intergration between Labour/Lib Dems. Charles Kennedy worked against this, very successfully. Of course the Lib Dem leadership is generally closer to a Labour viewpoint than Tory, and would, if the chance of Govt was thrust upon them with Labour, go for it on balance ( in my view). If popular Lib Dem policies were delivered (axe council tax, no student loans etc) then I believe the public would still vote Lib Dem, and distinguish between them and Labour. I have a sneaky feeling that Lib Dems will be bowled over with the idea of being a Government, and would, perhaps unwisely, jump at it.

As for the backbenchers, that is a major problem. Can't answer it. But I do feel that, in the future at least,the Lib Dems that hold the key to politics in the UK, if not the power itself.


I'm more pessimistic about the Lib Dem's chance at power, but for different reasons.

I feel their best chance at government was a Lib-Lab pact. Blair and Ashdown were keen on that, and supposing that Labour's majority dwindles after next year, and further throughout the next parliament and the general election, such a pact would come into play.

It was certainly one of Blair's ambitions before he got such a huge majority in 1997. I heard that in each election before '97 he'd predict the winning majority, and in each would be proved correct by 3-4 seats. Before the '97 election, he honestly believed he'd win a majority of 60. He wanted to join with the Lib Dems to defeat the Tories and push them out of the political debate. After winning the 170 majority, he didn't need to.

So, in 2008/9 say, if he's still in power with a much-reduced majority, might he come back to that ambition?

That's the only hope for the Lib Dems I believe, but it won't come to fruition. Firstly Brown will be in by then: not a Lib Dem fan. Secondly, the course Kennedy has taken the Lib Dems on after 1999 has been strongly anti-Labour. If you're boring and you check the Commons voting records, there is quite a distinctive shift in Lib Dem voting around 1999 (interestingly, it doesn't match exactly Charles Kennedy taking over as leader) going from voting mainly with Labour, to voting with the Conservatives. Given that, the politics of a pact become difficult and unlikely.


According to this it seems it is the Tories who the Lib Dems should be looking towards hung parliament deals with.


Very interesting article. Who thinks the Lib Dems could withstand such a change in policy? Seeing as the grassroots are students and Guardian-types, how would they manage it?


What did that Guardian article say about moving the party on from being a single-issue party (Iraq)? Here's a tidbit of info on the forthcoming Lib Dem conference - half of all the prime debating time will be devoted to Iraq: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/section/0,,172,00.html


None of the Guardian article is new or outrageous. In fact, none of it break majorly from mainstream thinking- I say this as a Guardian-reading, recently graduated student, who is a Lib Dem. It isn't Tory, it is- as Oliver Kamm points out- being a consistent liberal and Keynesian!!


Yes Simon, I agree that they are liberal principles (small 'l', if you like), but they haven't been Lib Dem principles. The Lib Dem base is left-libertarian, and the Thatcherite ideas suggested by this article have drawn worried responses from Lib Dems (note Lord Greaves' - they're a just bunch of pseudo-Blairites - comments which Oliver identitified previously).

Curiously, I read Mark Oaten's 'tough liberalism' speech, and he doesn't appear to be advocating tougher stands on social issues (say, harsher sentencing), but instead to be suggesting the idea that Lib Dems need to be tough and brave enough to stand for liberal and liberatian principles in spite of the howls from the Daily Mail and so on.

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