The Liberal Democrats’ place in progressive politics | Letters

Readers respond to opinion articles by Vince Cable and Simon Jenkins

I would not be averse to being described as “centre-left, social democratic, liberal and moderate”, but I am unable to agree with Vince Cable (The centre-left parties must work together more closely, 17 December) that Labour’s manifesto was “advocating radical socialism”.

Proposing to raise the level of public expenditure to around that of Germany or France is hardly revolutionary. Its promise of public ownership and control of railways and public utilities is modest in contrast to the “commanding heights” of the economy run by governments during the 1970s. Even the offer of free broadband is positively Wilsonian in its faith in the “white heat of modern technology”. Overall, its range of practical and costed measures to deal with the modern day manifestations of “want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness” was firmly in the reformist tradition of Beveridge. Its intention to borrow at low interest rates in order to promote (green) industrial growth and full employment was essentially Keynesian.

On the other hand, when in office from 2010 to 2015, the Liberal Democrat party, pursuing its own “Orange Book” principles, shared responsibility for the imposition of neoliberal economic policies of austerity, in combination with the privatisation and fragmentation of public services.

As Cable was himself the minister who virtually gave away our Royal Mail to hedge funds and City institutions, he really needs to reflect on whether it is actually the Liberal Democrat rather than the Labour leadership that has made the radical departure from social democracy.
Simon Hinks

• I agree with Vince Cable that “excessive zealous Europeanism” was a huge error in their campaigning and a grave disappointment.

But for me it started with the crass T-shirts declaiming “Bollocks to Brexit” worn delightedly by their new tranche of MEPs. I am an ardent remainer and, if that ship has now sailed, this party needs to row back from such divisive messaging. I voted for the Lib Dems in the European elections because they had an unapologetic and stalwart remain stance, but I fear it went horribly wrong with the very idea of revoking article 50 and cancelling Brexit. Added to which, Jo Swinson’s arrogant position of who she would or would not do a coalition deal with.
Judith A Daniels
Cobholm, Norfolk

• It was probably about time we had the ritual call for a party of nice, civilised people. Up pops Vince Cable, right on schedule. As Liberals know from their fraught experience, there is a crucial distinction between working together and the enfeeblement of a distinctive Liberal party by narrowing its electoral opportunities, and that the first-past-the-post electoral system exacts a high price for any fragmentation of a worthy appeal. Vince Cable acknowledges this truth, but glosses over any renewed campaign to change the system.

The consequences of the recent election are not just unfair to specific political parties but, even more so, they traduce the electors. The Brexiters have repeated incessantly that the 52% to 48% vote at the referendum is a democratic authority for Brexit. How can they now claim that a 43% vote for the Conservatives gives them the authority to force Brexit through?
Michael Meadowcroft

• What a silly column by Simon Jenkins (The Lib Dems helped the Tories to victory again. Now they should disband, 16 December). If the Liberal Democrats had not won seats like Twickenham, Richmond Park, Kingston and Bath, who on earth does he think would have won them?

When a long-term Conservative government was defeated in 1997, their defeat was partly brought about by a series of Lib Dem byelection wins and the 28 gains made by the Lib Dems from the Tories in that general election (as well as a result of Labour members choosing someone with greater appeal to the electorate than Jeremy Corbyn).

It is arrogant to assume that if the Liberal Democrats did not exist, all of their voters would prefer Labour irrespective of Labour’s leader and programme. Who else would have solidly stood in support of our membership of the EU?
Lord Rennard
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords

• Simon Jenkins correctly recognises the problem of progressive disunity. Since 1945 regressives have only won a majority of the vote at one general election, yet have led 60% of UK governments in that time. However, his diagnosis represents the kind of domineering tribalism that has prevailed in progressive circles and serves us badly. It rejects the diversity of opinion that exists in Britain and compels the disunity to continue.

With Labour and the Lib Dems conducting leadership elections at the same time, there is an opportunity to lay foundations for a winning progressive realignment ahead of the next election. Two Lib Dem leadership candidates (Daisy Cooper and Layla Moran) already indicate they would steer the Lib Dems in an even more progressive direction (as occurred under Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown). Far from preventing a progressive victory as Jenkins holds, the Lib Dems could make a significant contribution. Of the 30 seats the Lib Dems are currently best placed to gain on a uniform swing, 26 are fights versus the Conservatives. Only two are versus Labour.

Progressive voters are already ahead of the parties, with many hundreds of thousands having voted tactically last Thursday and, in the process, they restrained significantly the size of the Conservatives’ majority. It is time the progressive parties caught up and stopped discarding the pluralistic and cooperative values we say we uphold.
Paul Pettinger
Council member of the Social Liberal Forum

• Simon Jenkins suggests that the Lib Dems should disband to give Labour a clear run. Here are the results for Cheltenham: Con 48%, LD 46%, Lab 5%, Monster Raving Loony 1%.

Perhaps Labour and the Loonies should shut up shop? I suppose Labour can celebrate the fact that they didn’t come last.
Nick Chiplen
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

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