Richard Reeves's departure is a big loss for Clegg

Reeves was as much an ideologist of Cleggism as a strategist for the Lib Dems.

The Liberal Democrats have problems bigger than the departure of Nick Clegg's Director of Strategy, announced last night. Still, the loss of Richard Reeves will be felt keenly by the Deputy Prime Minister. Reeves is leaving for the US for family reasons (his wife is American) and any suggestions that the political health of the Clegg project might be a consideration are fiercely denied. Nonetheless, Reeves has been quite central to the Lib Dem leader in mapping out and articulating the strategic approach to coalition with the Tories. (Not surprisingly, given the party's poll ratings, that strategy is not universally cheered as a triumph in the party or Westminster at large.)

It was Reeves who effectively drew up the roadmap that started with maximum harmony with the Conservatives - to demonstrate that coalition was a viable form of government - followed by "differentiation" - carving out the party's autonomous position within the coalition - and later, some time shortly before a general election, separation. For more sceptical observers this looks suspiciously like a post hoc rationalisation of a process that started out as naive cosying up to Cameron and was followed by desperate clawing back of political identity in the face of possible electoral annihilation. In reality, like all political strategies, some of it has been planned and much of it busked. Reeves is certainly a good busker - always articulate, engaging, intellectually animated, clever and candid. Journalists like him for that reason.

But a problem has been the suspicion among many in the party that he is not authentically Lib Dem. Reeves is seen as a classic liberal, with perhaps tinges of New Labour - one of the many Blairite refugees floating around Westminster looking for the fabled centre ground of politics. That has played to anxiety in the party that Clegg is insufficiently sensitive to the wounded feelings on his party's old social democratic left flank. At its most extreme this translates into a suspicion that Clegg, encouraged by Reeves, would happily chase queasy lefties out of the party altogether.

That may be a little paranoid but it is a sentiment that Clegg needs to address in some way. It would certainly be simpler for him to run a slimmed down band of "Orange Book" liberals offering technocratic, centrist, coalition services to whichever big party happens to have the highest number of seats in Parliament. But that isn't the party he actually leads. Reeves, in that sense, was as much an ideologist of Cleggism as a strategist for the Liberal Democrats. It will be interesting to see whether the Deputy Prime Minister seeks the same service in a replacement.

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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By refusing to stand down, Jeremy Corbyn has betrayed the British working classes

The most successful Labour politicians of the last decades brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes but also an understanding of how free market economies work.

Jeremy Corbyn has defended his refusal to resign the leadership of the Labour Party on the grounds that to do so would be betraying all his supporters in the country at large. But by staying on as leader of the party and hence dooming it to heavy defeat in the next general election he would be betraying the interests of the working classes this country. More years of Tory rule means more years of austerity, further cuts in public services, and perpetuation of the gross inequality of incomes. The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Seema Malhotra, made the same point when she told Newsnight that “We have an unelectable leader, and if we lose elections then the price of our failure is paid by the working people of this country and their families who do not have a government to stand up for them.”

Of course, in different ways, many leading figures in the Labour movement, particularly in the trade unions, have betrayed the interests of the working classes for several decades. For example, in contrast with their union counterparts in the Scandinavian countries who pressurised governments to help move workers out of declining industries into expanding sectors of the economy, many British trade union leaders adopted the opposite policy. More generally, the trade unions have played a big part in the election of Labour party leaders, like Corbyn, who were unlikely to win a parliamentary election, thereby perpetuating the rule of Tory governments dedicated to promoting the interests of the richer sections of society.

And worse still, even in opposition Corbyn failed to protect the interests of the working classes. He did this by his abysmal failure to understand the significance of Tory economic policies. For example, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had finished presenting the last budget, in which taxes were reduced for the rich at the expense of public services that benefit everybody, especially the poor, the best John McConnell could do – presumably in agreement with Corbyn – was to stand up and mock the Chancellor for having failed to fulfill his party’s old promise to balance the budget by this year! Obviously neither he nor Corbyn understood that had the government done so the effects on working class standards of living would have been even worse. Neither of them seems to have learnt that the object of fiscal policy is to balance the economy, not the budget.

Instead, they have gone along with Tory myth about the importance of not leaving future generations with the burden of debt. They have never asked “To whom would future generations owe this debt?” To their dead ancestors? To Martians? When Cameron and his accomplices banged on about how important it was to cut public expenditures because the average household in Britain owed about £3,000, they never pointed out that this meant that the average household in Britain was a creditor to the tune of about the same amount (after allowing for net overseas lending). Instead they went along with all this balanced budget nonsense. They did not understand that balancing the budget was just the excuse needed to justify the prime objective of the Tory Party, namely to reduce public expenditures in order to be able to reduce taxes on the rich. For Corbyn and his allies to go along with an overriding objective of balancing the budget is breathtaking economic illiteracy. And the working classes have paid the price.

One left-wing member of the panel on Question Time last week complained that the interests of the working classes were ignored by “the elite”. But it is members of the elite who have been most successful in promoting the interests of the working classes. The most successful pro-working class governments since the war have all been led mainly by politicians who would be castigated for being part of the elite, such as Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Tony Crosland, Barbara Castle, Richard Crossman, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Tony Blair, and many others too numerous to list. They brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes (from which some of them, like me, had emerged) and reduce inequality in society but also an understanding of how free market economies work and how to deal with its deficiencies. This happens to be more effective than ignorant rhetoric that can only stroke the egos and satisfy the vanity of demagogues

People of stature like those I have singled out above seem to be much more rare in politics these days. But there is surely no need to go to other extreme and persist with leaders like Jeremy Corbyn, a certain election loser, however pure his motives and principled his ambitions.

Wilfred Beckerman is an Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and was, for several years in the 1970s, the economics correspondent for the New Statesman