The unravelling of the Lib Dems – Part I

In the run up to the General Election, the Liberal Democrats styled themselves as the relative left-of-centre option for the electorate.  Though this was always a bit of a fiction, few foresaw their immediate copulation with the Tories in a brazen trading of principles for power.  That the Liberal Democrats are now facilitating the biggest assault on the welfare state in a generation is apparent to all… except, of course, the Liberal Democrats.

Here at Cheltenham Against Cuts we believe that a key part of the anti-cuts struggle is to highlight the moral bankruptcy of the Liberal Democrats’ position, and, with a bit of luck, ultimately bring down the coalition.  To this end, activists have recently engaged local Liberal Democrats, with some revealing results…

First up is a brief exchange with the office of Martin Horwood MP, though please note: it took WEEKS to get responses to the questions posed, and when they eventually came, they were not penned by the MP but by his unelected aide (standard operating procedure, sadly).  Anyway, here’s the exchange, with the Lib Dem prevarications edited out to save the reader’s sanity:

————

Dear Martin, David and Claire,
 
 1) The local Lib Dem rag dropped through my letter box today. I don’t have it to hand, but I do believe the Comment section contained the claim that Labour overspent by “150 billion every year”! Can you explain please how this nonsense figure was arrived at?  And will the Lib Dem office be issuing another mail-shot to correct this ludicrous claim?  [I’m not a supporter of Labour, but I am a stickler for accuracy.]
 
 2) Would one of you care to explain the economic logic of cutting while in a slump? I’m not a trained economist, but I know enough to appreciate that cuts sap demand and raise unemployment, leading to decreased tax revenues and increased welfare payments, which almost inevitably increases the deficit and – ultimately – the national debt. In other words, cuts are exactly the wrong policy, as trained economist after trained economist has made clear.  Recent figures would suggest that the UK economy is already tanking, yet the cuts and VAT rise haven’t even registered yet!  All of which begs an important question: are the Lib Dems calculating accomplices to Osborne’s ideological assault on the welfare state, or merely economically illiterate?
 
 3) In discussion with constituents prior to the General Election, Martin was asked whether the Lib Dems would go into coalition government in the event of a hung parliament. He said “no” – the Lib Dems would simply go “issue by issue”, which, he said, would be “very healthy for UK politics”.  In the propaganda rag just dropped through my door, however, Martin says that coalition government is a “more grown up kind of politics”. Would he care to explain this glaring about-turn?
 
 Look forward to hearing from you.

———–

To deal very briefly with the three points you raise:
 
 1. According to official figures the budget deficit in the last year of the Labour government was £156 billion.
 
 2. One can find an economist to support any economic policy you choose to mention. There is no consensus. In the end it is a matter of judgement.
 
 3. I have asked Martin about the meeting. It is his recollection that he said that a coalition was very unlikely because he could not see that either of the other two parties would be able to make enough  concessions to make a coalition agreement work, and that in the event of a hung parliament it was most likely that the Liberal Democrats would support a government on an issue by issue basis.
 
 David Fidgeon
 Assistant to Martin Horwood MP
 01242 224889

———–

David,

1. According to official figures the budget deficit in the last year of the Labour government was £156 billion.
 
Ok, but this isn’t what your publication said, is it. It said that Labour handed over a government overspending by “150 billion EVERY YEAR”. Every year?? This is absolute nonsense. You know this, and you should issue a correction in your next mail-shot if you wish to avoid the charge of wilfully misleading readers. At the same time, you might also mention that the 156 billion is directly attributable to the collapse in tax revenues associated with the recession, and that the national debt this added to is not large by historical standards and lower as a percentage of GDP than a great many other developed nations’.
 
 2. One can find an economist to support any economic policy you choose to mention. There is no consensus. In the end it is a matter of judgement.
 
This isn’t very persuasive, David.  In fact, very few economists have argued for cuts to public spending, and their reasoning is rooted in mainstream Keynesian economics. Keynes may not be the economist of choice for western elites today, but that doesn’t make his insight into recessionary dynamics any less relevant.  Interestingly, the neoliberal ideology that all three major political parties in the UK currently subscribe to was, for a great many years, considered dangerously extreme within economic circles, since it so clearly served the interests of the rich and powerful, at the expense of the poor.
 
 3. I have asked Martin about the meeting. It is his recollection that he said that a coalition was very unlikely because he could not see that either of the other two parties would be able to make enough concessions to make a coalition agreement work, and that in the event of a hung parliament it was most likely that the Liberal Democrats would support a government on an issue by issue basis.
 
This is disingenuous. Martin didn’t simply describe what he thought would happen in the event of a hung parliament – he openly endorsed the “issue by issue” approach, stating it would be “very healthy” for UK politics.  But, no matter. I suppose the reality here is that there never was the gulf between the Tory and Lib Dem leaderships that people supposed, and on the issue of economic policy, there evidently turned out to be consensus: structural adjustment, as hard and as fast as possible.

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