Three ways the Lib Dems could fail themselves if rumours are right

Rejection of “progressive alliance”, bottling out of cabinet places and electoral reform with a gove

This is clearly a very time-sensitive post, so let's get to the point. If the rumours about the Clegg-Cameron agreement are correct, there are three potential ways in which it would fail both progressive politics and, in the long term, the Liberal Democrats themselves.

1. By avoiding a "progressive alliance" with their natural bedfellows in Labour and others, the Lib Dems will have let go of the possibility of not just proportional representation and a number of seats -- perhaps six or seven -- in the cabinet. They will also have failed in the immense historic possibility of reunification between two movements -- Labour and Liberal -- that belong together and that were, once, together. From such a reunification, there might have flowed a fairer Britain, if not a fairer world, with a more progressive tax system and a more ethical foreign policy.

2. Much is being made of this bizarre concept of "supply and confidence", under which the Lib Dems would prop up a minority Tory government, passing through the "emergency Budget". The Tory-supporting press in particular is excited about it. Not surprising. But what is not clear is how it benefits the Lib Dems, other than to retain an element of their already heavily qualified "purity" as they avoid becoming tainted by a party with which they have been in intense talks for days. It is hard to see how a one-party government of the Tories would support the progressive politics advocated by people such as Charles Kennedy. Further, it would mean the Lib Dems have bottled out of sitting in the cabinet and making politics better and more plural. I do know some anti-Tory voters who are happy for a Tory-Liberal coalition, but -- far away from the Westminster village -- it has not occurred to them that there will not be any Lib Dems in the cabinet. "Supply and confidence", they would neither understand nor welcome.

3. Even if there is some sort of perceived Tory concession on electoral reform, it would be a mirage, not least because the Tory government would campaign for a "No" vote, resulting almost certainly in just that, and in the Lib Dems having squandered their most real chance in decades for genuine change.

Nonetheless, some version of the above seems likely to happen, if rumours are to be believed. If so, a progressive moment this is not.

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James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Who is responsible for an austerity violating human rights? Look to New Labour

Labour's record had started to improve under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. 

The UN has made it clear the Government’s austerity programme breaches human rights. This is not because of spending cuts - it is because because those spending cuts target women and disadvantaged groups, particularly disabled people and asylum seekers.

The degree of injustice is staggering. The Coalition Government used a combination of tax increases and benefit cuts to reduce the net income of the poorest tenth of families by 9 per cent. The cuts faced by disabled people are even more extreme. For instance, more than half a million people have lost social care in England (a cut of over 30 per cent). Asylum seekers are now deprived of basic services.

The injustice is also extremely regional, with the deepest cuts falling on Labour heartlands. Today’s austerity comes after decades of decline and neglect by Westminster. Two places that will be most harmed by the next round of cuts are Blackpool (pictured) and Blackburn. These are also places where Labour saw its voters turn to UKIP in 2015, and where the Leave vote was strong.

Unscrupulous leaders don’t confront real problems, instead they offer people scapegoats. Today’s scapegoats are immigrants, asylum seekers, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people. It takes real courage, the kind of courage the late MP Jo Cox showed, not to appease this prejudice, but to challenge it.

The harm caused by austerity is no surprise to Labour MPs. The Centre for Welfare Reform, and many others, have been publishing reports describing the severity and unfairness of the cuts since 2010. Yet, during the Coalition Government, it felt as if Labour’s desire to appear "responsible" led  Labour to distance itself from disadvantaged groups. This austerity-lite strategy was an electoral disaster.

Even more worrying, many of the policies criticised by the UN were created by New Labour or supported by Labour in opposition. The loathed Work Capability Assessment, which is now linked to an increase in suicides, was first developed under New Labour. Only a minority of Labour MPs voted against many of the Government’s so-called "welfare reforms". 

Recently things appeared to improve. For instance, John McDonnell, always an effective ally of disabled people, had begun to take the Government to task for its attacks on the income’s of disabled people. Not only did the media get interested, but even some Tories started to rebel. This is what moral leadership looks like.

Now it looks like Labour is going to lose the plot again. Certainly, to be electable, Labour needs coherent policies, good communication and a degree of self-discipline. But more than this Labour needs to be worth voting for. Without a clear commitment to justice and the courage to speak out on behalf of those most disadvantaged, then Labour is worthless. Its support will disappear, either to the extreme Right or to parties that are prepared to defend human rights.

Dr Simon Duffy is the director of the Centre for Welfare Reform