The Lib Dems haven't retoxified the Tories' brand - they did that all themselves

As long as the Tories are directing their fire at UKIP and trying to attract their core vote back, they will continue to remind everyone that they are the nasty party.

Oh dear, I think the normally inestimable (for a Tory) Tim Montgomerie has had a bit of a senior moment. Writing in the Times yesterday, Tim laid the blame for the news that voters believe the Tories would have been very much nastier if they were governing on their own firmly at the feet of the Lib Dems. Apparently a few jibes from Vince and a list of the things we’ve stopped them doing in government have recontaminated the Tory brand.

Now, while there may be an element of truth to this, and I’m pretty sure Tim is now on top of Ryan Coetzee’s Christmas card list, I’m afraid the real reason lies closer to home; The Tories have done it to themselves.

Partly this is because of an endless stream of Conservatives who keep telling the world in general how we in the Lib Dems stop them doing what they really want to do. Eric Pickles is especially good at this. Maybe he’s the portrait in the attic to Tim Montgomerie’s Dorian Gray?

But it’s more than that. It’s also because they then tell the world just what they’ve got in mind. It wasn’t the Lib Dems who persuaded Theresa 'safe hands' May to announce that she wanted to launch an immigration bill that would  "create a really hostile environment for illegal migrants", leading the Institute of Directors to declare in response "It is pure sophistry to manipulate immigration figures by shooing to the door highly-trained international students with MBAs to make way for unskilled migrants from the EU."

Nor was it the Lib Dems who ran the 'racist van’ posters. The Tories didn’t even bother to tell us that was happening. Nor did we suggest they should be using words like 'scroungers' and 'skivers'. And it’s not all one-way traffic on the jibes front either - is it Mr Shapps?

But of course, there is a reason why the Tories have reverted to type and started dishing out the tough talk. It’s not the Lib Dems they’re worried about. It’s UKIP. Which is presumably why their hug-a-hoodie oak tree logo has metamorphosed into a Union Jack Bouffant, circa Thatcher 1983. And as long as the Tories are directing their fire at UKIP and trying to attract their core vote back, they will continue to remind everyone that they are the nasty party.

Frankly, Tim, that’s a lot more of a problem for you than a few Vince Cable jokes.

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

Michael Gove, Theresa May and George Osborne listen to David Cameron speak at the Conservative conference in Manchester earlier this month. Photograph: Getty Images.

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

Photo: Getty
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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

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.