I really enjoyed York conference and absolutely loved meeting plenty of old friends and a few others for the first time. The conference tradition of the SLF pushing a social justice motion continued in the form of the Food Poverty motion, which was rightly passed. Some might treat this as a change in fortunes of the SLF, with them having lost the major battles of the last few years to the party establishment - finally they’ve chalked up a big, controversial win!
Well, sort of. The motion was a really good one and it’s good for the party and the country that it’s been passed, but it’s not all that controversial. I think the SLF were hyping up the controversy of the motion because they knew it couldn’t fail and needed a big win. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it was no battle on the scale of the 50p tax rate vote or the bedroom tax vote. The SLF has had victories at conferences since 2010 but I can’t help but feel that the right of the party has been winning most of the arguments.
Simon McGrath of Liberal Reform tweeted that conference cheering tax cuts was evidence of the ‘orange bookers’ intellectual victory, and I suspect he’s right. I’d define the left of the lib dems as those that feel the state does not need reducing in size. I certainly have no real issue with the size of the state, I think the balance between taxes and spending is about right at the moment. I certainly think that cutting taxes for the wealthy while cutting spending on the poorest is immoral. I support the raising of the income tax threshold because it means more money in the pockets of ordinary people who’re struggling to make ends meet, but I suspect that others also support it because they like tax cuts for the sake of tax cuts. I don’t say this very often, but Danny Alexander was right to say we need to go further in raising the threshold, but it can’t be the centrepiece of our agenda forever because you can’t keep on doing it forever. There comes a point where it stops being about the redistribution of wealth and becomes all about rolling back the state.
Of course, we’re Lib Dems and we all see the validity of each others’ arguments so even if you are on the left you probably support most of the leadership’s agenda. But the centre-right of the party, or the orange bookers, or the leadership, or whatever you want to call them, have won a massive ideological battle and the left is out in the cold for now. A lack of strategy and unity has meant that the left have failed to chalk up many exciting wins since the coalition was formed. Even though there are probably more Lib Dem members sympathetic to their point of view than not.
The party narrowly voted last year to retain the 45% rate of income tax. This, while cutting spending on the very poorest in society. By supporting cuts and opposing any increases in tax, the right has rather shown its ideological underpants. If we’re to put the fortunes of the most vulnerable in society, who won’t benefit directly from any changes to income tax, back at the forefront of our agenda, we need to speak up.
In 1989, the Liberal Democrats (or the Social and Liberal Democrats, as they were known at the time) polled only 6.2%, coming fourth behind the Green party (Ecology, at the time) and winning precisely 0 MEPs under the FPtP system used at the time.
That’s really bad. I’m sure many readers will actually remember the election and the disappointment and frustration that must have followed. Five years later, things went a bit better and the party nearly tripled its share of the vote and managed to win 2 MEPs. It wasn’t until 1999 that PR came in and the party was able to gain a respectable slate of MEPs.
No incumbent Government party has polled a plurality in a Euro election since 1984 when Thatcher’s Conservatives beat Kinnock’s Labour by 38.8% to 34.7%. Since then, the Euro polls have been won by the official Opposition in every election. If Labour fail to top the poll this May, they will have made history in their own way. If the Conservatives manage to win the poll, they will have made history too.
What of the Liberals? Well the party will very likely poll in the single figures, which isn’t the end of the world as in 2009 the Liberal Democrats got only 13.8% and managed a healthy showing of MEPs, but if the party comes fifth, behind the Greens, that will shake its activists a little. I imagine the Greens will poll about 8% as they’ve made no advance in popular opinion since 2009 so the benchmark for the Lib Dems should be to poll over (about) 8%.
We can probably look forward to the BNP being wiped off the map. It’s an interesting election, really: the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP jostling for the top spot with the Lib Dems and the Greens duking it out for fourth place.
I’ve been selected as a council candidate in my home ward of Wanstead, Redbridge, which I’m excited about so I feel a little more invested in this particular election than usual!
If you have any letters or comments about the Euro elections or the Council elections, email them to me on Rich@richclare.org.uk