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Posts Tagged ‘James Forsyth’

This weekend has seen yet another series of pronouncements from journalists and politicians on the future of the Liberal Democrats as an independent party. Here’s a round-up:

Labour leader Ed Miliband is appealing to disaffected Lib Dem supporters, an appeal that follows one earlier this week by the First Minister Carwyn Jones , urging Lib Dems to ‘come home’ to Labour. And the week before, unveiling a Welsh Lib Dem councillor who was defecting to Labour, Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said there was ‘an open door’ to party members who felt betrayed by their party leaders.

In this week’s Spectator, James Forsyth reckons that UK politics is returning to a two-party model, arguing that the very construction of the House of Commons chamber makes it almost inevitable. In the same magazine Nick Cohen claims that ‘the two-party system is beginning to reassert itself.’

Forsyth’s prediction goes something like this. The party’s right-wing, sometimes known as Orange-Bookers,  are ‘the political descendants of the Peelites’ and no longer hostile to David Cameron’s socially liberal Conservative party. Forsyth says it’s easy to see these ‘modern-day Peelites’ returning to the Tory fold.

Social Democrat Lib Dems, Forsyth claims, will head back to the Labour party, like the Welsh defector John Warman I mentioned earlier. It might also mean something that there are reports that the former SDP leader David Owen has been in contact with Ed Miliband.

Meanwhile there was a heated discussion on this morning’s Week in Westminster programme on Radio 4 between Conservative MP Mark Pritchard and the Liberal Democrat MP Chris Davies about allegations that the Conservatives had held back in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election to give their coalition partners a better chance of winning.

Mark Pritchard said that he was in favour of such arrangements between the two parties in Westminster by-elections although only for as long as the coalition lasts and not in Welsh Assembly or Scottish Parliament elections.

Chris Davies rejected that out of hand. If Lib Dem leaders even talked about making that sort of agreement, he said, it would ‘split the party.’

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Following on from my previous post about where the tuition fees row leaves the Welsh Liberal Democrats in relation to their party’s leadership, it’s worth highlighting a flurry of comments and articles that may shed a little more light on what could be going on inside the party.

In today’s Observer, the former director of policy for the Lib Dems, Richard Grayson, urges grassroots members to ‘engage’ more with Ed Miliband’s Labour. He writes

Most of the party defines itself as being ‘centre-left’, so how did the party end up so badly split on an issue which has previously united it? This split stems not just from a different approach to fees, but from a wider division between centre-left and centre-right liberals. Those on the right generally favour privatised and marketised policies. On the left, we really do take the view that we are all in it together. We seek democratic and localised policies and yes, we do generally favour higher spending and more redistribution.

When Grayson talks about “most of the party” you can certainly include the Welsh party which regularly defines itself as centre-left and never more so than over the course of the last week.

Richard Grayson pops up in this week’s Spectator too. In the paper version of the magazine, Political editor James Forsyth puts him at the centre of an already-established “internal resistance campaign”:

When the Lib Dem left saw the direction that the party was heading in under Clegg’s leadership, they decided to take over the committees. They knew that they could use them to wage a policy insurgency against the leadership.

Grayson is quoted as saying that ‘the social liberal wing of the party realised that it needed to get organised’ after the 2008 conference decision to drop the commitment to a 50p higher tax rate. Forsyth returns to his theme today when he talks about ‘the Lib Dem insurgency.’

But in his Spectator article, Forsyth argues that Nick Clegg, elected leader by 20,000 members, has more of a mandate than the Federal Policy Committee formerly chaired by Grayson, which was elected by just 1,731 members. And he urges Clegg to assert his authority:

Those closest to Clegg are telling him that to turn the Liberal Democrats into a credible party of government he must reform these party structures. Clegg needs his own version of Blair’s ‘Partnership into Power’, the reforms that broke the stranglehold of the left over the Labour party. As one Lib Dem minister puts it, the current arrangements ‘don’t allow the leader to lead.’ For that reason, they must go. No party that aspires to be a party of government can bind the hands of its leader.

Rounding up what he calls a grim set of Sunday papers for Nick Clegg, Forsyth’s Spectator colleague Peter Hoskins says that ‘this particular error has cast the Lib Dems into their most difficult internal dilemma since May.’

So where do the Welsh Liberal Democrats fit into all this? They exist as an autonomous organisation within a federal party. In today’s edition of BBC Wales’ Politics Show, Welsh leader Kirsty Williams says she was pleased her MPs had honoured their pledge on tuition fees and said that was ‘the beauty of devolution’ (in party as well as government terms). She said she doesn’t ‘expect to dictate to federal colleagues’ nor does she expect to be dictated to.

However, as I suggested in my previous post, voters may not make the federalism distinction. The question raised by that post was, how do the Welsh Lib Dems get the message across that they take a different approach to their ministers in the Westminster government? Let me add a further two questions.

If there is such a thing as an internal ‘insurgency’, what is the role of Welsh Liberal Democrats? They certainly share the views of those who are said to be resisting moves to the right. And if Nick Clegg does assert his authority over the ultra-democratic structures of his party, where will that leave a proudly distinct Welsh party?

 

 

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