WHAT’S THE STORY, WHEN TIED TO A TORY?
We all know what the Liberal Democrat script was supposed be at the next general
It would have said that the country had been through some painful years of
spending cuts and unemployment – all made less painful by virtue of Liberal
Democrat participation in the government – but now, in 2015, the recovery was
obvious. It had been a price worth paying. Onwards and upwards.
That scenario was shot to pieces by the government’s Autumn Statement, which
admitted the economy would not now recover by 2015, and nor would spending cuts
The Liberal Democrats now face fighting a general election in which they must
tell voters that they have been through several years of pain for no reward they
can see, and face more to come. This is hardly the background against which
anyone would want to fight a general election.
The Autumn Statement in effect admitted that ‘Plan A’ has not worked, and that
the deficit will not be gone by 2015.
‘Plan B’ has offered some extra spending on infrastructure but, welcome as that
is, it will not by itself solve the basic problem of lack of demand in the
Nor will coalition ministers endlessly banging on about how poor the economy’s
prospects are. Every time they warn of hard times to come, another consumer
decides to postpone spending, and another business postpones investment.
One approach would be to channel money to those most likely to spend it, which
makes doubly offensive the Autumn Statement’s penalising of the poorest, as
exemplified by the Institute of Fiscal Studies finding that failure to index
some tax credits, and the reversal of real terms increases to child tax credits
“will leave some poorer families worse off and will lead to an increase in
measured child poverty”.
This is wrong politically, as it makes a mockery of coalition claims that “we
are all in this together”. It is also wrong economically; those with the least
money are the most inclined to spend what they have, and taking money from them
(or not giving it to them) directly hits demand.
The admission that things will still be grim in 2015 is also a danger to the
coalition itself. It was always most likely to come apart if and when a majority
of Liberal Democrat MPs believed that they were more likely to save their seats
outside it than inside. The Autumn Statement will not have increased the
The Federal Executive’s decision to have a ‘strong presumption’ against fielding
Liberal Democrat candidates in police commissioner elections is an act of
political lunacy unparalleled since the swiftly-reversed decision 23 years ago
to call the party ‘the Democrats’.
It is also an act of political cowardice that has no parallel in party history.
Is this really the party that was prepared to stand up for civil liberty
throughout the New Labour years, but which now has nothing to say on how voters
are policed or on how the police behave?
A variety of excuses, all of them pathetic, have been advanced. Chief among
these is that the party does not think policing should be a matter of party
At the last general election, the Liberal Democrat manifesto said the party
would “give local people a real say over their police force through the direct
election of police authorities”. Would the party really have created those, only
not to contest them?
In any event, who on earth does the Federal Executive think supervises the
police now if not police authorities, most whose members are local politicians,
some of them Liberal Democrats?
Another excuse advanced is that the party does not have the money centrally to
fight these elections. So what? There is no reason why central funding should be
available for local or regional elections (or at least not for places judged
Why not allow those localities and regions that feel they do have the resources
to run candidates if they choose, rather than impede them?
There are two unavoidable conclusions from this. The first is that the party
knows its policies on crime and crime reduction are neither simplistic nor
populist, and is scared to defend them in public. Liberal arguments will simply
The other is that, faced with massive constituencies in which it is impossible
to deluge voters with paper, the party has no idea what to do, and so has
resolved to do nothing.
As Bath and North East Somerset Council leader Paul Crossley argues in this
issue, these elections should have been a golden opportunity to find and test
some new campaign techniques. Instead, the Liberal Democrats will cede these
elections to other parties, to independents of questionable political outlooks,
and at worst to assorted vengeful buffoons.
And in future elections, it will remain a leaflet delivering cult, having
shunned the chance to try something new and learn from it.
Those who voted for the ‘strong presumption’ should be ashamed.
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