Thursday, 31 October 2013

Lib Dem Broken Promises

I shouldn't even be writing this post – I have a huge pile of work to get through today and I haven't even had a cup of tea yet.

But I couldn't resist.

I had a brief conversation on twitter with a friend yesterday. He tweeted about the huge rise in tuition fees. I, like many supporters of the Lib Dems, sigh when I hear this because, as I replied to his tweet, 

"I lament at the number of people who say the LDs broke lots of promises and, having named fees, can't name any significant others"

And I really do. I lament for one thing because tuition fees is such a raw wound for a lot of Lib Dems. They'd proposed something neither of the other parties did: zero fees. But it became clear the others would raise fees. They pledged not to cave in to consensus (in fact, to vote against any rise – naïvely in the extreme). Then, votes cast, the only real potential for a coalition was with the party who wanted limitless fees. Nightmare.

Well, as they say, the rest is history. But I'll often hear someone say the Lib Dems have broken thousands of promises, I'll ask which, they'll reply, "Tuition fees..." in that rising voice that suggests a list could follow...

A list never follows.

Here is my friend's response to my list request:

"Trident, electoral reform, benefits reform, drugs, asylum practices (the list could go on)."

Now, this guy is one of the sharpest and most astute political pundits out there, so surely he's found some 'Lib Dem broken promises'? Well, no:

  • 1. Trident. We said we didn't want to replace Trident. Everyone else said they did. We haven't replaced Trident. (The blue stronghold of the Dept. of the Defence has throw a bit of money at R&D, with red support). We may be losing the argument, but it's hardly a broken promise.

  • 2. Electoral reform. We had a referendum. The reds and blues teamed up in a cabaret of political expediency and won convincingly. LDs then pushed for Lords reform, but the reds wouldn't support it (they almost always choose embarrassing the Lib Dems over supporting policies they, er, 'support'). We managed to give some important powers to local govt., fix parliamentary terms, bring in the right to fire MPs, devolved more power to Wales/Scotland & are pushing for votes for 16 year olds. Broken promises?

  • 3. Benefits reform. The main promises in the benefits section of the 2010 manifesto were to fix the pensions system & have no income tax on the first £10,000 people earn. We did both. The latter was criticised by both reds and blues, although it has been a huge success and the blues are now busily telling us all it was their idea. Broken promises? Exactly the opposite.

  • 4. Drugs. Nothing at all has happened here, so I'm unsure why it's included. Theresa May is well known for being hardline, whereas Norman Baker, the Lib Dem below her, is a firm reformist. It's a conversation that's ongoing, and eventually we will win, because evidence is on our side. Broken promise, though? Really? Scrapety-scrape.
  • 5. Asylum. I'm hugely proud that the first thing Nick Clegg rushed off to do after that rose garden speech was to get child detention (the locking of children seeking safety in Britain in prison) scrapped. Broken promise? The best promise you could ever keep.
  • 6. He finishes off with "the list goes on". This is often what people say when they have nothing further to add to a list. But in this case, the list hasn't really started yet, has it?

Oh, but then again, there was tuition fees. Lest we forget that.


UPDATE: The gentleman whose tweets prompted this post has written a response, which you can see here if you'd like to read some significantly better writing than my own.


  1. Of course, what the Lib Dems promised on tuition fees was more complex than the popular "zero fees" summary, including that it was a plan to abolish them slowly across two parliamentary terms.

    The NUS pledge in particular - people tend not to mention that it was promising to vote against higher fees AND for a fairer funding settlement.

    Once a proposal got put in the House for higher fees and a fairer funding settlement, which way to vote? Support the bill - break the first part of the pledge. Oppose it - break the second. Abstain - break both.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jen! I agree it was catch-22, yes. I suspect the famous pledge started life as a noble one, became more and more untenable as the financial crisis wore on and should have been dropped far sooner (but probably wasn't as it was a vote-winner).

      Hell of a learning curve, government.

  2. The pledge was not naive – as a signature policy the Party could have negotiated a freeze in tuition fees, but its leadership didn’t want to. If the friend really is one of the sharpest and most astute political pundits out there, why didn’t he list things like top down reorganisation of the NHS, public subsidiary of nuclear energy and signing up to Osbournomics? A tribal article which insults intelligence.

    1. Charming! I'm hardly a tribalist – you're welcome to read my other posts and confirm that. The point I'm making is that crying 'broken promise!' at every difficulty or compromise a government faces is the real threat to intelligent debate.

      If you read the well-put comment above, Jen's third paragraph answers your fees question. But it was undoubtedly a massive Lib Dem mess, and you could interchange 'naïve' for 'stupid' or 'reckless'. NHS changes were in the LD 2010 manifesto though LDs blocked the really dodgy ones; you've seen the very public efforts of LDs to avoid public nuclear subsidy. As for economics, well, if you're a no-cuts man don't vote Lib Dem. Or Labour.

      Sorry that neither the coalition nor my article has delighted you thus far, but if you want intelligence rather than football-politics, I reiterate, you'll have to do better than that.

    2. The leadership never supported the fees policy; the Lib Dem manifesto did not call for greater marketisation of the NHS, and only choosing between Osbouromics, Labour’s position (whatever that is) and no cuts is false choice. Lord Steel appears to suggest that the Party is suffocating under a mountain of uncritical hype and spin – I agree: