Analysis: Three lessons from the Lib Dem 'lines to take' cock-up

An accidentally emailed internal document reveals what the Lib Dems are thinking
An accidentally emailed internal document reveals what the Lib Dems are thinking
Alex Stevenson By

It's all very post-modern, isn't it? After years of perennial complaints from the press about the stage-managed nature of party conferences, even the Liberal Democrats have taken bold steps to make interviews with the press even more predictable.

Emailing out the confidential 'lines to take' document to journalists wasn't actually a noble-spirited effort to cut out the middle man, however. This really was an accident - as a close look at the text reveals.

Here's three points which show what the Liberal Democrats are actually thinking: by revealing what they want us to think, they've inadvertently let slip their post-2015 ambitions. They've shown the extent of their ambition to bash the middle classes. And they've pointed to who their real enemies in the Conservative party are...

The Liberal Democrats are hoping to remain in government forever


Or another five years, at least. Before the 2010 general election Nick Clegg triggered national laughter by boldly declaring his ambition was to be Britain's next prime minister. Now the era of coalition politics has dawned, it seems Britain's third party has more limited goals. Here's the key line:

We are planning for a second term in Government as the only party capable of delivering a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

There are two themes at work here - and they are not at all related.

The second term in government is being planned for because neither the Conservatives nor the Labour party look sufficiently strong to win an outright majority in the Commons, let alone the popular vote across Britain.

What this has to do with the twin differentiation strategy of dissing both Labour and the Tories is far from clear. Lib Dems, as this sentence makes clear, like to think they are pursuing a decent economy (unlike Labour, who can't be trusted) without being cold-hearted business types (unlike the "nasty party" Tories). Having a distinctive policy doesn't by itself legitimise their claim to govern, however much they suggest it does.


Someone in the Lib Dems, somewhere, is incompetent

Let's say you earn £50,001. And your partner, preferring to stay at home and look after the children, doesn't work. According to the party committed to fairness, you are among the richest ten per cent and so deserve to pay more tax:

We are looking at how the richest 10% of people, those earning over £50,000, could make a further contribution. The vast majority of people in the country would consider £50,000 a very large salary: these are not the middle income earners.

This is hugely problematic. A joint income of £50k is enough to survive on, that's for sure, but in these economically strained times it's a long way from being comfortably well-off. Were Clegg and co to actively push tax hikes for those earning over £50,000, their middle class support would become more than a little strained.

The tax motion currently being debated doesn't contain mention of £50,000. In fact, this looks like it has come out of the blue. It is a "gold-plated cock-up", one spokesperson said. Simply writing the policy down on paper was a bit of an error. Emailing it out to assorted journalists is an agonising error.


Which Tories to target?

Vince Cable's no-holds-barred attack against his Conservative Cabinet colleagues this morning was powerfully delivered and horribly dangerous for Nick Clegg. The deputy prime minister was unable to nod firmly in agreement for much of the business secretary's speech. Why? Because Cable was deviating more than a little bit from the official party line, as this email shows.

The problem with the Conservatives, it explains, is they are slightly bonkers. Lib Dems are encouraged to highlight some of the ideas from the alternative Queen's Speech, compiled by a group of right-wing Tories.

Tory backbenchers have shown their true colours in recent months, not least when a group of them released their Alternative Queen’s Speech, which included plans to:

•         Bring back the death penalty

•         Ban the burka

•         Privatise the BBC

•         Introduce an annual 'Margaret Thatcher Day'

These are almost laughable policies. They avoid the real conflicts dominating life in coalition - particularly that over immigration policy which Cable doggedly raised in his conference speech. The business secretary's criticisms of "dog-whistle politics" were not targeted at backbench irrelevances. They were aimed at Theresa May and Chris Grayling.

The Lib Dem 'lines to take' have a clear meaning: they want their party to focus their attention on the Tories out of power, not those in government. Not that it's stopping Cable.

Comments

Load in comments
Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.

Newsletter update
wa