Liberal Democrat Newswire #22: Lib Dems block further welfare cuts

So reports The Spectator:

George Osborne told MPs in his Budget statement that there would need to be a further package of £10 billion cuts in welfare spending over the period of the next spending review, and the IMF has made similar noises, too.

But I understand that this is not going to happen because the Liberal Democrats will not let it go through. Sources are emphatic that those at the top – Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander et al – have blocked the £10 billion of cuts for this parliament. ‘It’s just not going to happen,’ says one senior party figure.

One of the reasons it is possible for the party to be so emphatic on this subject is that next year’s comprehensive spending review will not go ahead in the traditional sense at least.

The issue of that spending review – and its delay – is something I covered in Liberal Democrat Newswire #22, which you can now read in full here:

Mark Pack

Coalition 2.0 dwindles away to a Q+A session

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Dear Friend

Welcome to the 22nd edition of my monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

Thanks for reading,


Coalition 2.0 fizzles out; big row in 2013 instead

The original grand plans for a Coalition 2.0 this year are fizzling out, with little more than a Q&A session due to be held at the Lib Dem autumn conference.

Talk had been of a major new legislative program being drawn up for the second half of this Parliament, with some extensive preparatory work undertaken, not to mention lengthy internal party debates and a ping-pong exchange between the Federal Executive and the Federal Policy Committee in the Liberal Democrats over the procedure for debating the draft program. However, a combination of factors have seen these plans gradually whittled away until not very much is left.

In part it is the reality of being in government – things are taking longer than expected, so the original Coalition Agreement still has plenty of life in it as a source of policy plans. Moreover, the state of the economy is dominating the government’s work and means there is very little scope for any policies that involve spending money.

In addition, for both Cameron and Clegg there is a strong incentive not to have a grand negotiation. For Clegg the calculation is simple: he is in a weaker negotiating position now than in May 2010 so the less that gets reopened the better. For Cameron a similar calculation exists, with a more internal focus – any new deal would up the pressure from his right-wing for him to deliver the sort of policies that a coalition with the Liberal Democrats would simply never agree. Having demands made of him that he could not meet would simply increase Cameron’s party management problems.

As a result, the Liberal Democrat policy making focus over the summer is very much about the economy, with the new chair of the party’s Federal Policy Committee, Jo Swinson, asking party members to send in their ideas on promoting growth. The Treasury too is hunting around for new ways to fund infrastructure investment, whilst both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have been giving the sort of priority in their rhetoric to housebuilding that is unprecedented in the party’s history. Rhetoric only so far; the summer policy making will see whether that becomes action too.

But if the summer and autumn of 2012 will therefore be spared big debates over the coalition’s future course, 2013 is set to bring a huge battle: a new spending review.

Spending reviews are never easy when there is not much money to go round; throw in coalition politics too and the fizzling out of Coalition 2.0 becomes the calm before the storm.

The 2013 review will be a year earlier than envisaged in the original 2010 ‘Plan A’, but the economy is not performing as was then planned. Moreover, the review will necessarily require widespread agreement between the two parties over much of government. Bringing it forward to 2013 leaves more time between it and the next election for the two parties to once again diverge somewhat and play up their differences.

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Cable and Featherstone top party members survey

The latest survey of party members by Liberal Democrat Voice saw Vince Cable and Lynne Featherstone take the two top spots when members are asked to rate the performance of leading party figures.

Cable’s sky-high ratings confirm his Teflon-like qualities amongst party members, many of whom strongly disagree with the tuition fees policy that he so strongly pushed but nonetheless do not hold that against him.

The top five ministers in the survey were:

How would you rate the performances of the following leading Liberal Democrats and government ministers?

  • Vince Cable +80%
  • Lynne Featherstone +55%
  • Steve Webb +53%
  • Edward Davey +47%
  • Norman Lamb +44%

Unjustified credit: Matthew Elliott

The story that the Liberal Democrats vetoed the appointment of Matthew Elliott as a Conservative Special Adviser has been doing the rounds in the media.

It is easy to see why the party might have wanted to do this given his background in the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the No2AV campaign.

But this is a rare case of the media getting the story wrong and doing the Liberal Democrats a favour in the process.

The decision not to appoint him came from the Conservative part of the coalition and not from a Lib Dem veto.

Big test over online snooping plans

Julian Huppert threatens to block Communications Data BillSo far, the outcome for the Liberal Democrats on the Draft Communications Data Bill can be described as a pretty good result on the process and a very poor result on the content. The Bill is poor, but it is so far only a draft.

There is potential for a massive row within the party, triggering widespread dissent and resignations, if a Bill pretty much the same as the draft ends up being put to Parliament and Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians are whipped to vote for it.

However, that is some way off as we have a draft Bill which will go through a lengthy and public pre-legislative scrutiny process. Promisingly, the pre-legislative scrutiny committee has two Lib Dems on it, both with impressive civil liberties credentials: Julian Huppert MP and Lord Paul Strasburger.

They will need to fix the many problems with the Draft Bill. It includes plans for an expensive and risky collection of data from innocent people against whom there is no hint of a suspicion, on the off chance that at some point in the future they may fall under suspicion. It would be like putting a tracking device into every car to record all journeys, in case at some point in the future the data might be useful.

The safeguards in the draft Bill are meager: some welcome improvement when it comes to local councils, but allowing extensive use of the gathered information for a very wide range of offences (not just the more serious ones, but even including non-payment of charges levied by any government department).

Moreover, there is no reform to the failed Information of Communications Commissioner, who is a strong contender for the title of ‘most failed regulator’ for not only repeatedly failing to regulate the sector properly, but also for failing to investigate evidence of widespread law breaking – and yet concluding that there is no problem with how he goes about doing his job.

Huppert himself has been extremely bullish about the process saying that if the draft Bill does not become something the party is happy with, the Bill will be killed. People concerned about not only the civil liberties but also about the future state of the Liberal Democrats are very much hoping he is right.

Better childcare support for working parents

Nick Clegg’s drive to recruit an extra 65,000 nursery workers (no jokes about the nanny state please) has been followed by plans to make the free childcare entitlement for working parents more flexible, allowing them to better choose the hours and days that suit.

In addition, the provision of free pre-school education for two year-olds in ten pilot areas is being speeded up.

Lords reform: little change to the plans

For all the talk in the media about trouble brewing over House of Lords reform and changes being made to the government’s plans, the Bill being put to the Commons is in fact very little changed from the original plans. Three main changes have been made, but they are not deserving of the rather over-excited language in some press reports.

First, there is making clear on the face of any legislation that the House of Commons remains the predominant half of Parliament. That has always been the intention of the plans, and explains many of the other details already in it. Putting this more directly into the legislation is perhaps a sensible change, but it is not a dramatic one.

Then there is the confirmation of using regions as the constituencies for electing the Lords rather than smaller areas. Again, this isn’t new. Senior Liberal Democrat sources I’ve spoken to about the details of electoral options over the last year have consistently expected that we will end up using the same constituencies as for the European Parliament elections – Scotland, Wales and the English regions.

Again, saying this at this point has some merit as it will help reassure those MPs who in the guise of the national interest are keen to avoid the possibility of an elected Senator for a smaller area breathing down their neck week in week out in “their” constituency.

Third, and partly as a result of the practical implications larger constituencies has for the operation of STV, the electoral system has been changed from STV to open lists. Any Liberal Democrat member who has wrestled with the enormous ballot papers in some of the party’s internal committee elections will know how unwieldy STV gets for the voter when the number of candidates on the ballot paper is well into double figures. That switch in electoral system has therefore long been the expectation of many Liberal Democrats in Whitehall.

If all this counts as “watering down” the legislation, it is a remarkably arid version of watering down. Meanwhile, the noises from No.10 continue to be that Cameron is willing to use the Parliament Act if necessary to get House of Lords reform through, as befits the leader of a party which for three general elections in a row has itself promised reform.

Regional pay: Danny Alexander’s change of heart is complete

When the government first started pondering introducing regional pay variations for the public sector (or, more accurately, additional regional pay variations as there is already some limited regional pay in addition to the widespread use of London-weighting), the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander expressed some very positive views:

[It] brings with it the potential to support a greater number of public sector jobs for the same level of spending and help local businesses become more competitive and expand…

Differences between public and private sector pay can mean that public money is not always allocated as effectively as it could be within local areas – which may in turn have a detrimental effect on the total number of public sector jobs.

This may also adversely affect the private sector labour market, when private sector businesses need to compete with higher public sector wages.

This view was not shared by other Liberal Democrats, including Nick Clegg, triggering a rare display of public disagreement between these two political allies. The rejection of the idea by Nick Clegg and others has now been followed by Danny Alexander throwing cold water on the idea too:

[Danny Alexander] made it clear that the idea of regional public sector pay rates (or local market-facing pay as he referred to it) is also a distant and unlikely prospect… “We have been looking at local market-facing pay in the public sector. That is an issue which we have referred to the individual pay review bodies to consider. “But they would have to be come up with some pretty overwhelming evidence for us to move in that direction”.

That is all rather different from Alexander’s previous urging for the issue to be seriously considered and rather more in line with Alexander’s recent very successful speech to the GMB trade union’s conference. As I wrote at the time:

The full speech is well worth a read, because the success of it comes from its general tone and approach rather than any particular individual line or initiative. It’s a tone of respect towards responsible trade unionism – and rightly so, as the idea of people combining together to strengthen their voice and to change their communities sits not only at the heart of trade unionism but also at the heart of community politics. Alongside the traditional Liberal and then Liberal Democrat disdain for seeing the world as one of bosses versus trade unions, there is also room for some shared aims and values…

It was a liberal – and successful – speech, holding out some olive branches to trade unions. There is a touch of irony about that as the speech came from someone who has attracted rather a reputation amongst some party members for sounding much too keen much too often on Conservative policies in media interviews. This was instead the Danny Alexander who won plaudits from across the Liberal Democrats during his time chairing the Federal Policy Committee (FPC) for successfully bringing together, rather than driving apart, different outlooks within the party.

Elsewhere from me…

  • History of the party: I’m one of the authors of Peace, Reform and Liberation, a one volume introduction to the history of the Liberals, SDP and Liberal Democrats.
  • What the Lib Dems are achieving in government: see my popular infographic.
  • Political news in one place: get all the latest political news and blogs headlines on one page.
  • My other email lists: aside from this monthly newsletter, you can also sign up to other lists such as more frequent blog post digests.

Liberal Heroes: Margaret Wintringham

Margaret Wintringham was the third woman to be elected an MP, the second to take her seat and the first to be a Liberal for her two female predecessors in winning election were Countess Markievicz (Sinn Fein, did not take her seat) and Nancy Astor (Conservative, first female MP to take her seat).

Yet despite her path breaking achievement as the Liberal Party’s first female MP, her name now – as it has been for decades – is almost never mentioned.

During her time in Parliament she campaigned for the voting age for women to be reduced from 30 to 21, for women to be allowed to sit in the House of Lords, for the state’s education scholarships to be available to girls too rather than only boys, for female police officers and for equal pay. Her main legislative success was helping to ensure the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, which improved legal protection for young girls.

You can read more about her in the full piece I wrote as part of the “Forgotten Liberal Heroes” series.

101 Ways To Win An Election

Coming out in just a few days times is a new book on how to win elections by myself and Ed Maxfield.

Ever wanted to get a better deal for your community? Ever watched politicians and thought ‘I could do a better job’? This book reveals the secrets and skills you need to take the first step to power – getting elected.

Written by two experienced political insiders, it is a grass-roots guide to running an election campaign. It draws on successful tactics from around the world and presents the lessons in a digestible format.

Find out:

  • What vegetable marrows tell you about political campaigning
  • Why a picture isn’t worth a 1,000 words
  • Why the best form of advertising is also the very worst, and
  • Why communicating is like cooking

Be amongst the very first to benefit from the book, and get 10% off the cover price*, by ordering it now from Amazon.

* At time of writing. Amazon have had rather a habit of reducing the discount just after I send a message mentioning it. I take the repeated reductions in the size of discount as a good sign as to how many copies Amazon are selling, but you may also want to place your order sooner rather than later in case they cut the discount again!

Campaign Corner: giving plain brown envelopes a good name

Plain brown envelopes do not have a good reputation.

They have become known for containing bills or dodgy wodges of used banknotes.

However, they can also be a very useful political campaigning tool, as Kingston Liberal Democrats demonstrate:

What Kingston does is give everyone [canvassing] a supply of these, so that if you find yourself at a block of flats with a communal letterbox, you can quickly address an envelope for each leaflet you need to leave behind – making sure it has a much higher chance of getting to the person you want and being looked at by them.

Nice touch, and one that compliments my tips for getting the most out of delivery sessions.

For more campaign tips, see my full list of Campaign Corner posts.

And in other news…

Who reads which newspaper?

Another gem from the Yes, Prime Minster archives: “I have decided to respond to all this criticism about a scandal in the City,” says Jim Hacker, prompting a speech on newspaper readership.

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Thank you for reading

I hope you’re found this newsletter interesting, informative, useful – or all three!

Best wishes,


6 responses to “Liberal Democrat Newswire #22: Lib Dems block further welfare cuts”

  1. They won't stop the utter destruction of their party because they allowed the most punitive and vicious thuggery by the Bullingdon Club.

  2. "So reports The Spectator: George Osborne told MPs in his Budget statement that there would need to be a further package of £10 billion cuts in welfare spending… But I understand that this is not going to happen because the Liberal Democrats will not let it go through. Sources are emphatic that those at the top – Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander et al – have blocked the £10 billion of cuts for this parliament. ‘It’s just not going to happen,’ says one senior party figure."

  3. All a bit too late I fear. The LibDems have contributed too much already to the Tory project to dismantle social provision. BTW when did you become an organisation, Mark?

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