The best kept secret in the Liberal Democrats

Bizarre is perhaps the best word for it, though a little more polite than some that have passed through my mind in the last few days as, once again, the party has drawn a tight veil of secrecy around the concessions Liberal Democrat peers have been securing in the House of Lords over welfare reform.

It’s not new – there’s now a lengthening track-record of requests for information or answers taking weeks to elicit any meaningful response or resulting in games of pass the parcel as each person points at someone else.

Silence, delay – even evasion – might be understandable if the news was bad. But in fact Liberal Democrat peers have secured numerous changes in the proposed legislation. The legislation is still very different from what a Liberal Democrat government would introduce, but this week’s changes, for example, are significant – as Sue Marsh’s detailed post explains, and she is far from a Liberal Democrat cheerleader.

As Sue Marsh’s own work shows, the credit for securing the changes goes much further than the Liberal Democrat peers. But some of it certainly rests with them as they’ve been at the front line of the Parliamentary talks and negotiations over what Parliament passes.

And yet… the official party position is basically, “we’re not going to say anything about the successes we’ve had”.

That would be odd at the best of times, but it’s positively self-destructive when legislation is going through Parliament and therefore the only yardstick by which people can judge them otherwise is the way they vote.

George Potter’s impassioned post, for example, is understandable, but wrong. Wrong – because he is judging the peers by how they voted and not by what changes to legislation they have secured before and after votes. When you are negotiating to secure concessions and get concessions in return for votes, you should really be judged by that overall trade-off. But it’s hardly fair to criticise George or anyone else for not judging by the overall package – because given this omerta-like news blackout, it’s not exactly easy to extract the necessary information.

As for why there has been this communications calamity, it looks to me to be the combination of several factors – communicating what the Liberal Democrats are getting out of behind the scenes talks in coalition can be tricky at the best of times, but added to that is a perceived ‘house style’ in the Lords that you don’t brag about your achievements and the fact that many (though in fairness, not all) of the Lib Dem peers never communicate with party members. No pieces in Lib Dem News, no posts for Lib Dem Voice, no tweets, not even a letter to Lib Dem News (surely the easiest and quickest communication option of all).

As I said at the start, bizarre is perhaps the best word for it, though a little more polite than some that have passed through my mind in the last few days.

10 responses to “The best kept secret in the Liberal Democrats”

  1. As a disabled person, Lib Dem and LDDA member, I could easily write an essay in reply! However, I shall keep my own counsel – until conference anyway. Needless to say I am not as chipper as you Mark about the future for disabled Britons.

    What I do find interesting, however, is that you make no mention of the Party's plans to 'reform' DLA; here's a quote from a 2010 policy briefing: "A more detailed assessment should be available to assess the additional costs of disability benefit". So I am not so sure how true your statement: "The legislation is still very different from what a Liberal Democrat government would introduce" is; of course we will never know, as we didn't win the 2010 General Election.

  2. I absolutely agree that the Liberal Democrat peers, and MPs too, have made some much needed changes to the Welfare Reform Bill. And however much good stuff there is in the Bill, I still think that the one year time limit was totally wrong and I hope that the Government has the good sense not to put it back in.

    Your general point about trumpeting the successes and the lack of rebuttal is spot on. Just before Christmas, there was a big stooshie in the Lords which resulted in headlines like "evil coalition robs disabled children". The truth is much more complicated – some children will get much more help, for example and nobody will apparently be worse off in cash terms – but where is the information on that? It took me a huge amount of digging to even find that out.

    A key element of Clinton's victory in 1992 was a decent rebuttal operation – and we need the same otherwise false statements which sit around unchallenged become accepted truths.

  3. Yes some changes have been secured by LD Peers. Surely the question is about whether these concessions have been enough to deal with the concerns raised to the extent that it is not worth Peers rebelling on votes or would be politically counterproductive to do so. That means looking at the "changes" and "concessions" in some detail and their practical impact etc and taking a judgement on this.

    On the issue of time-limiting ESA, the concession has been an "assurance" that people with degenerative conditions will be automatically entitled to a reasessment process wherebye ESA entitlement may be continued – but what of the assessment process, the guidance that goes with it, and how they relate to the statutory time limit? The DWP guidance is drafted in such a way as it makes assumption that people with a range of degenerative conditions (cancers, strokes, motor-nureone etc) have sufficient capability to be in the "Work Related Activity Group" (WRAG) – even if the evidence suggests they are in poor conidition and not fit to work at all – the statutory time limit will still apply to the WRAG and so they will still loose the benefit..I would be happy with the concessions and for our Peers not to rebel on this bit of the Bill if they had any kind of committment from Ministers to fundamentally revise the non-statutory guidance to make it fairer.

    So the intervention of our Peers has not solved the problem of legislating for a system that will very unfairly withdraw essential support to the people with the most serious disabilities – I'm not an expert in welfare rights but I do work with many welfare policy specialists (they have data suggesting the problem will not be dealt with) and it is important that our Peers speak candidly with the experts in negotiating for concessions.

  4. So… a post about how bizarre the lack of information on what concessions have been achieved… which itself reveals nothing about the concessions that have been achieved. Umm. So can I go on basing my views on how they vote then?

  5. "….that you don’t brag about your achievements".~~~~~With regard to the liberal democrats, iIt would be a challenge, for sure.
    "….very different from what a Liberal Democrat government would introduce," ~~~~. Now you are veering very seriously into the land of make-believe.

  6. Surely the only advertising of what concessions have been obtained should be too the general public instead of just to the faithful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.