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« Omigod. What have I done? | Main | Ferdinand Mount casts another vote for primaries »


Dave J

Doesn't all this sort of speculation have to hinge on Kennedy's future as Lib-Dem leader? Or am I imagining that he said he would absolutely never under any circumstances bring his party into a coalition with the Tories? The fact is, despite the other members you mention, the Lib-Dems are not what they used to be under Owen and Steel, or even under Paddy Ashdown, but are mostly firmly to the left of Labour. But I suppose stranger things are possible, just like the prospect of the CDU-CSU and FDP in Germany forming a coalition with the Greens to lock out Schroeder.


Francis Maude is so consistently useless that if he were to say something interesting or sensible, it would be by mistake, or as a way of backtracking over previous mistakes. In this case:

Stifled cheer number 1: all he is doing with talk of primaries (which I 100% support) is to blur over his soon-to-fail assault on democracy

Stifled cheer number 2: why start talking about working with Lib Dems at the very moment when they are looking as weak and confused and disappointed as us? If they emerge from this next year or so as a true powerhouse (either in terms of popularity or strong ideas) then yes, we should consider our relationship with them. But right now? These two lame ducks need to get themselves healed, not start quacking together for mutual comfort.

Let's hope that the rumours of Howard's pre-conference resignation are true - and that Maude (and Mombiot) go with him. If we're going to have anarchy, let's make it a genuine revolutionary anarchy, not another Maudite Mess.

James Maskell

I dislike the idea of any informal pact with the Lib Dems. The public will see it as desperation on our part and the Lib Dems have already said no coalition. Didnt Kennedy say that the Lib Dems are best when they are independent?

Why is Francis Fraud now going back on his own proposals? Sounds very shifty to me and I am now suspicious of anything Howard, Monbiot or Fancis Fraud say.

Selsdon Man

James, get real. The Editor is right.

The party needs to win 60% of the seats in England (assuming little or no progress is made in Scotland and Wales) to have an overall majority.

With the gains that the Lib Dems have made there is little chance of that happening at the next election. The Lib Dems are second to Labour in over 160 seats. They leap-frogged us in May to take our target seats like Falmouth and Camborne, Leeds North West and Dunbartonshire East.

The Lib Dems will not reveal their hand until after the votes are counted. If there is hung Parliament, the negotiations will begin. It appears that the "Orange Book" Lib Dems are keener to do a deal with us. Quite frankly, if that is what is needed to kick Labour out, so be it.


Totally agree with you Selsdon.But looking at the Lib Dems this week I sncerely doubt they would want to have anything to do with us.A few of their MPs seem sensible but the majority of the their party look utterly clueless and wouldn't have the first idea what to do with power if they were offered it.

Jonathan Sheppard

I'm all for modernising many aspects within the party - but cannot support the concept of primaries. I remain to be convinced that they would be a panacea to electoral success.

Labour have won the last three elections without primaries. The Lib Dems have made gains without primaries. What evidence is there that primaries would help the Conseravtives?

James Hellyer

Seats like Falmouth & Cambourne are hardly typical examples. The local Conservative association collapsed into infighting, with much of its executive campaigning for UKIP. Moreover the Conservative candidate was attacked on the grounds that he was gay and from the Big Smoke (we're quite parochial in the Westcountry).

Add to these local issues the Iraq factor and the Lib Dems had a one off big advantage. As long as Kennedy is their leader, and most of the seats they are second in are Labour held, they'll tack to the left - not least to keep the seats they took from Labour.

This should create tensions between the rural and urban Lib Dems that we should take advantage of. Kennedy's policies and positions do not appeal to many of these people. His leftism will increasingly repel "Yellow Tories".

As for coalitions, I'd rather leave Lib and Lab to the mess of that kind of politics, just as Merkel would be well advised to avoid a grand coalition. It would inevitably collapse and rebound on its parties, even though none of them got to do what they wanted in power.

Jonathan Sheppard

Interestingly I had a chat with a senior member of the Lib MP at their Conference who suggested that there is no way the Lib Dems will move the to right in an attempt to win over Tory voters - and it was just becuase some of his colleagues were getting jittery that they were having to work harder in recent years to hold on to their Southern seats.

Selsdon Man

Malcolm, I take your point. The activists have made it clear that they will have nothing to do with the Orange Book policies. Steve Webb and Susan Kramer, although they contributed to the book, are on the left of the party. The free marketeers are small in number but hold key positions.

The Left could use conference to put pressure on Kennedy to give power back to them. It will be interesting to see how Kennedy reacts. In the meantime, our frontbenchers should be seeking to work with the Orange Book free marketeers in the House. There may come a time when they get fed up with activists infantile leftism and defect.

James Hellyer

Jonathan, a lot of the Westcountry Lib Dems have little in common with Kennedy and the modern party. My former MP, John Burnett, was euro-sceptic, pro-hunting and pro-market. North Devon's Nick Harvey takes similar positions. One of the key points intheir losing our seat, was the selection of a more left wing candidate from London.

Selsdon Man

James, Falmouth was the exception rather than the rule. You did not comment on the other examples that I gave.

The Lib Dems hold most of the rural seats that we used to have in Scotland. In some cases, we are in third or even fourth place. There are similar seats in Wales and England.

Kennedy's leftism has not put off "yellow tories" in South West London, Norfolk , Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. There are some big majorities in seats that we used to hold. They also made progress in some seats that we currently hold. The Lib Dems remain a real threat.

James Hellyer

Gee Selsdon, I'm sorry I don't have an indepth knowledge of local conditions in all seats in Britain...

"Kennedy's leftism has not put off "yellow tories" in South West London, Norfolk , Dorset, Devon and Cornwall."

You're not talking about "yellow tories" in a lot of those seats, especially the urban ones. Furthermore, your comments on the Westcountry are inaccurate. Progress was made against Lib Dem parliamentary candidates in most seats in Devon, for example, with the onl real failures like North Devon being attributable to yellow tory sitting MPs and abysmal Conservative campaigning and candidates,

You're point also ignores the fact that the Lib Dems weren't running their local campaigns on left wing policies. Instead they ran on a mixture of local issues and Iraq. The latter simply won't be a factor in 2009.

It's thjeir ability to dig themselves into a constituency that makes them a threat, not the attractiveness of their policies. Overall the tension is going to grow between the needs of their traditional heartlands and their new seats.

Sean Fear

A defection strategy might be a good idea. It happens a lot at local government level. The Lib Dems are good at getting local community leaders to stand for them in council elections; yet often, those same people go the Lib Dem conference and realise they've got nothing in common with the hard leftists, single issue fanatics, and weirdos who turn up in such huge numbers. That may be true of some of their MPs.

Actually, we did make some progress among yellow Tories in the South. We did after all regain 5 seats, and also came within a whisker of regaining both seats in Sutton, Eastleigh, Portsmouth South, Romsey, and Torbay. The Lib Dems are vulnerable on the issues of Europe, crime and tax, and people are now starting to look seriously at their policies, which they never did in the past.

James Hellyer

Some of our most successful pieces of literature were the ones that said "A vote for your local Lib Dem is a vote for this..." before listing and referencing their law and order policies.


Any talk of coalition with the Lib Dims is utter madness. For a start their leader has ruled it out. For us to be talking in this way at this time makes us sound desperate, if not barmy. What would they expect to get out of it? - P.R. for a start!

We would be much better off in opposition than in coalition with that shower. Coalitions in local government are a totally different thing, because councils work in a much more limited area, and it is much easier to agree on a way of working for the benefit of local people, but nationally the gulf is too big

Wat Tyler

I agree with many of the previous comments- Buxtehude in particular on why any cheers for Maode should be distinctly muted.

The whole feel I get is that the LibDem protest ragbag is looking very fragile indeed. Iraq will disappear by the next election (please God), and now they are bigger, they're getting much more scrutiny.

Their a la carte policy menu makes them extremely vulnerable. In May- in a decapitation target- we were able to pick them off with a dual track of hitting their LIT proposal in the affluent areas, and their softness on crime on the council estates. I had people asking me for EXTRA copies of the leaflet that ripped into the latter.

As others have pointed out, they have to give their local candidates huge freedom in shaping their message- eg their pro-foxhunter who unfortunately won back Taunton. We can surely have much more fun pointing up the contradictions- I'm looking forward to next time...

No problem with some of those Orange Bookers, but no deals with the LDs. We just need to prepare a warm welcome for the large numbers of them who will be seeking asylum with us over the next 4 or 5 years.

James Hellyer

It's also worth noting that a lot of council defections are based on personality clashes rather than political differences.

Jonathan Sheppard

James - That is the key to the internal problems within the Lib Dems. There are teh likes of the economically liberal Cable - and others who are more socially left wing. I was told that the party certainly as a national approach, wouldn't be allowed to move more to the right. Indeed the members highlighted this by rejecting plans to reform Royal Mail.

The Lib Dems are in more turmoil than you would imagine - and its provides us with a great opportunity to push forward once the leadership election is complete.

Selsdon Man

I agree that we made progress in some Lib Dem seats but we went backwards in others - Taunton, Cheadle, North Norfolk, Twickenham, Teignbridge etc. The net improvement was not as good as it should have been. We need to get back all the seats we have to lost to the Lib Dems since 1992 to return to power.

Kennedy, Hughes and Campbell will do a deal with us. Cable would and Oaten or Laws probably would too. My preferred strategy is to try to cause divisions and then defections. Then we have a real chance of picking up those seats!

Selsdon Man

Sorry, I meant that Kennedy, Hughes and Campabel would never do a deal with us. The activists, in their current mood, would not support it either.


For the time being, it doesn't hurt to play footsie with the Lib Dems. And in fact, it's a great way to cause divisions: the more the Leftist core of the party suspect that Cable/Laws/Oaten want to cut a deal with us (=Satan), the more they'll lash out Leftwards and kick against the Orange Bookers. We'll cause them to fracture and go off gently into the Left-wing night.

But please, let's never forget that we can flirt with them, but that's all it should be - unless the Lib Dems were to change so radically we wouldn't mind them supporting us.

There's also one other aspect to this - the next election's going to be fought FPTP. How do we do a deal with the Lib Dems, then - what do we trade? The critical marginal-seats battleground for them is in head-to-head confrontation with us; and if they swing Right, then that's the territory they're going for. But we aren't going to just give them the south, surely?

Richard Hyslop

The Conservative Party under David Davis (hopefully) and the Liberal Democrats will have nothing in common. While we will be championing lower tax, freedom for schools and hospitals, tougher policies on immigration and taking a stronger stance on crime, the Liberal Democrats are pushing for higher tax, more rules, more regulations, they are soft on crime, soft on drugs and they are very pro-European. Why should we want to have anything to do with them? We should have confidence in ourselves and in our policies. We can and should beat the Liberal Democrats. Shame on any of you for thinking we should start kissing up to them!

Daniel Vince-Archer

Richard, those were the positions the parties adopted for this year's elections and the Liberal Democrats did rather better at reaching out to a wider cross-section of the electorate than we did.

Sean Fear

Save for the fact that they gained 10 seats and we gained 33.

Daniel Vince-Archer

Yes, Sean, that is true, I'm not saying they achieved a better result, I'm saying they reached out to a wider cross-section of the electorate. We merely built upon our core vote.

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