The head and the heart

The reasons why people choose the Lib Dems.

I asked Nick Clegg yesterday at conference for some shorthand for what we stand for. What is the liberal language we should be using in our everyday conversation? What's the elevator sell?

I rather like his answer.

"We should answer the call of the head and the heart."

By which he meant that we should deliver the fiscal rectitude the country needs (and Labour can't claim to have delivered) and also ensure that the life chances of every person are never blighted by the circumstances of their birth - everyone should have an opportunity for greatness. The 'caring' territory that the nasty party (not my phrase) would struggle to own.

Now, I'm presuming that core Labour and Tory supporters have nipped straight to the comments section (go on, knock yourself out). But to everyone else, 'the head and the heart' deserves a closer look than just a face value evaluation.

As Nick reminded me, as a party we don't have that cultural reserve of supporters who vote Lib Dem out of a sense of tribal loyalty, choosing us out of an intuitive sense of supporting the group they come from. Of course there is a core of supporters (puts own hand up, waves) who passionately believe in the principals of liberalism. But then there is also a large group who see how we as a party choose to express those principals through policy, and then decide to support us (or not).

Both of these groups have therefore found objective reasons to choose to support the Lib Dems. We don't have that base who support us out of a kind of visceral sense of belonging, which both the Labour Party and the Conservatives can boast.

So ensuring that we follow both 'the head and the heart' means that we deliver policies that both match the creed of liberalism, and the sense of fairness that draws supporters to the party.

We should be a party of hope, not fear and ensure that every child is given the chance to do great things.

You can shout all you like about whether we're delivering or not. I expect you already are.

But as a sentiment to take away from Birmingham, it's a standard I'd happily be held to.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which has been named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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