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There is much for Labour to agree with in the Liberal Democrat manifesto

Although a formal Labour/Lib Dem coalition may not be on the cards, Labour must take the Lib Dem manifesto seriously.

As the Liberal Democrats publish their manifesto today, the Labour Party’s first instinct will be to pick holes. Fair enough. There’s an election on, and Labour will only become the largest party by winning ex-Lib Dem voters.

But today it is also important to remember how much common ground there is between the two parties’ policy agendas. After all, on 8th May Ed Miliband’s route to Downing Street may well depend on Lib Dem MPs: like it or not, the Lib Dems could well be the ‘swing vote’ in any post-election negotiations.

The media have started to present the hung parliament scenarios in terms of two opposing blocs - Labour/SNP versus Conservative/Lib Dem. This helps the Conservatives, by giving the impression they will have a right to govern, if ‘their’ bloc is the larger. But as things stand the Lib Dems are in no one’s camp and Labour must resist any narrative that appears to push the smaller party into the arms of the Tories.

Instead Ed Miliband must be ready to reach out to the Lib Dems. That’s partly because the electoral arithmetic may not mean Labour can govern with SNP support alone. But even if it can, Lib Dem backing might be important to demonstrate a new government’s legitimacy and stability, particularly when it comes to English and Welsh legislation.

The Lib Dem campaign is framed around their traditional strategy of equidistance, but the reality is that the party is far closer to Labour than the Tories in policy terms. In February the Labour-affiliated Fabian Society and the liberal think tank CentreForum published Common Ground?, a report which identified 100 areas where the parties were in broad agreement and precious few where a deal looked hard. The analysis was based on the parties’ ‘pre-manifestos’ but almost all of it will stand when the final manifestos are compared.

Although a formal Labour/Lib Dem coalition may not be on the cards, Labour must take the Lib Dem manifesto seriously. It will contain many ideas that the party can support and it could pave the way for Labour’s return to power.

 

Highlights from the Fabian Society and Centre Forum analysis

 

Key areas of agreement

 

1. Fiscal rules which permit the government to borrow for investment

2. A mansion tax for properties over £2m

3. Decarbonising the power sector by 2030

4. Major devolution of power and money within England

5. More free childcare for children under 5

6. Greater control over free schools and academies

7. At least 200,000 new homes a year

8. Restrictions on access to some benefits for EU migrants but support for student migrants

9. A higher Minimum Wage with the Living Wage paid by government departments

10. Withdrawal of the Winter Fuel Payment from the richest pensioners

11. An elected House of Lords, based on PR

12. Votes at 16

 

Significant policy divergence

 

1. Trident

2. Social care funding*

3. Electoral reform for the House of Commons

4. Airport expansion

5. Royal Mail

6. 50p top rate of tax

7. An energy price freeze

8. Repeal of the Health and Social Care Act

 

* The Labour Party manifesto quietly dropped the party’s previous opposition to the coalition’s social care funding reforms

 

Common ground? An analysis of the Liberal Democrat and Labour Programmes by Andrew Harrop and Stephen Lee was published in February

Andrew Harrop is general secretary of the Fabian Society.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

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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