Saturday, May 08, 2010


All Four of Our Cast-Iron Priorities: Deal. Anything Less: No Deal.

My message to the Liberal Democrat Federal Executive, meeting this afternoon (mail yours to

In one line – all four of our cast-iron priorities: deal. Anything less: no deal.

In Full

I hate the Tories. I hate Labour. I don’t want a deal with either of them.

But we don’t have a Lib Dem majority, and we support a system that almost inevitably leads to coalitions. So we must listen to the voters and negotiate in good faith, because while we hate Labour and the Tories, the voters have given them larger chunks of power.

What happens if we don’t negotiate? A minority Tory government, sustained by the DUP. Can any Lib Dem honestly say that a Tory government made less horrible by Lib Dem participation would be worse for the country than a Tory government made more horrible by the Paisleyites?

So, the national interest is to bargain hard for a coalition.

Our party interest is not to touch it with a barge pole.

Clearly, we haemorrhaged votes at the last minute because voters say they like politicians talking to each other, but are terrified of us talking to ‘the wrong ones’ and were scared back to the Labour / Tory to stop Tory / Labour getting in.

If we deal with either party, we run the risk of splitting. And either way will help Labour, who deserve to be ground to dust after their appalling record.

Do a deal with the Tories and we give Labour a lifeline to be the only opposition.

Do a deal with Labour – however that would work, as we simply don’t have enough seats – and we give a lifeline to Labour to keep being in charge.

Either way damages us horribly.

How to Square the Circle

First, if we do a deal, it has to be for a formal coalition, for a fixed term, published out in the open. Otherwise the Prime Minister can just cut and run with a new election for party advantage, and we’re stuffed.

Second, we must learn from Scotland. We went into a formal coalition with Labour to get things done: we insisted on over 20 pages of over 80 firm commitments, so we not just got Liberal Democrat policies made real. We made Scotland better for it – and could point to our explicit achievements. We weren’t rewarded for it at the ballot box – but we weren’t hammered for it, as we would have been if we’d only propped up what Labour were going to do anyway. So any agreement isn’t secret, but written down for all the world to see and so the Tories can’t lie about it later.

Third, Nick’s made it very clear, as has our manifesto, what our bottom lines are. We get the four fairnesses, or there’s no deal. We should bargain for as much as we can of the rest of the manifesto – but if we don’t get those four bottom lines, we can’t possibly agree.

Cameron yesterday said warm words, but no detail at all – basically just the Tory manifesto bits that sounded a bit like us, but with no meat to it.

There’s no way that’s good enough.

Lib Dem tax cuts for low and middle earners, with increased taxes on the rich to pay for them.

Breaking up the banks and a green economy.

Solid money to support poorer kids in schools.

Big money out of politics, elected Lords and above all STV.

All those are hard for the Tories to swallow, but tough. They’ll have plenty of things we don’t like that we’ll have to give way on.

If we get a coalition with at least those four as a baseline, we would change Britain for good, and we can prove it to people. We will still be hurt, but we’d achieve something massive. It would be worth it.

If Cameron sticks to what he said yesterday, we should tell him we’d rather bring him down. Labour lied to us and the country for thirteen years over electoral reform. We would have to be lobotomised to listen to the same from the Tories.

They hate STV; we love it. Fine. Referendum, this Autumn, one question, for or against. Tories free to be against, us free to be for. Sorted. If they’re afraid to defend their system to the people, they’re weak and won’t afraid of the voters.

The Tories have just been given their fifth lowest share of the vote for 200 years. If they think that’s a mandate, it isn’t.

Cameron promises a “committee of enquiry” on electoral reform. That’s what Heath said in 1974. We told him to sod off, too (as quoted in The Independent today!).


Both Labour and the Tories are vile. But if we get our priorities, we get a less vile government. If we don’t, stuff it.

We should be very loud in saying – we told the voters every day what our four bottom lines were. We will stick to every one of them, and hope to deliver more of our manifesto, but recognise we have to compromise on that.

If the Tories say they can’t deliver, Nick should go for the jugular and attack Cameron as a weak prisoner of his extreme party:
“Mr Cameron – if your party want to act like spoiled children and won’t compromise, don’t pretend they aren’t extremists.
“If you can’t deliver your party in the national interest, don’t pretend you’re serious about governing.
“The voters did not give you the power to do whatever you like. Don’t pretend they did.”
Alex Wilcock
Liberal Democrat member
Former Parliamentary candidate, 1997 and 2001
Former member / Vice-Chair of Lib Dem Federal Policy Committee, most of 1993 to 2007

I am, of course, also working on a long version which may be posted later setting out exactly what I think. But the headlines above summarise what I think should be done.

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Reading this as a Rightish Wing Tory can I comment on your four points:
"Lib Dem tax cuts for low and middle earners, with increased taxes on the rich to pay for them"
I'd go with this since I believe that if you're working 35 hours per week and on the minimum wage, you shouldn't be paying tax anyway (NI yes) and it would be an incentive for many to come off the dole where they can often get more

"Breaking up the banks and a green economy." No problem with this. My parents used to bank with the British Linen Bank while my gtrandparnets were with Martin's Bank so I'd welcome them back

"Solid money to support poorer kids in schools.No problem with this". Our policies are close on it anyway

"Big money out of politics, elected Lords and above all STV." Its STV that's the main difference. No problem with big money. We wanted to place a maximum donation but it was the Labour Party who objected. We've supported an elected Lords and even gone as far as saying it should be elected with a different system.
Look we prefer FPTP with AM plus as second best although STV is far better than Gordon Brown proposed which is even proportional. Were I DC, I'd say set out the options and we'll take it to a referendum and argue our case and you argue yours.
Lib Dems should embrace this opportunity for partnership and Pushing for Proportional Representation now could be bad for Lib Dems a blog:
I agree with Alex and Ian. The line in the sand is a referendum on PR. Tories can campaign for one option and we can campaign for another - no problem with that.

We cannot go into partnership without it.
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