Is a Liberal and Conservative marriage possible?

Cameron and Clegg – a marriage or a codependent relationship?

It is not just going to be a fight about proportional representation. There are core philosophical differences between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, however those differences are not fully insurmountable. This is not a marriage between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.

The Leadership positions of Clegg and Cameron are not hugely removed from each other, nor are their manifestos, the problem both Leaders face is that their Party membership strongly believe that they are very far removed from each other.

In terms of US Party equivalents, the leaders are probably nearer to a marriage between Reid and Bayh. Their membership (on both sides) see it as a marriage between Bernie Sanders and Sarah Palin or in UK terms Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher.

The National debt and budget deficit.
This is where the party membership sees the Parties having the greatest difference, where in reality it is the area that all Parties were, if truthful the closest together.

All of the Parties essentially misled to the electorate on the scale of cuts they would introduce. The Liberal Democrats just told fewer white lies than the others.

There will be cuts whoever is in charge. Brown’s promise of no cuts for a year were a complete and utter lie as any university will tell you.

The Liberal Democrats were the most honest about the scale of cuts needed and provided some solutions.

Both parties propose scrapping tax credits for the better off.
Both parties would scale back child trust funds, the Conservatives proposed a cap on who qualifies, the Liberal Democrats proposed scrapping them.

Both have proposed caps on public sector pay, including limits to the maximum salaries of top Local Authority Executives. The Liberal Democrats proposed a maximum public sector pay increase of £400, which protects the lowest paid.

The Liberal Democrats have identified more than £15 billion in efficiency savings, the Conservatives identified £6 billion. All parties have somewhere around £60 billion to find.

The Conservatives promised to meet the 0.7% International Aid requirement, produce real term increases in health service expenditure, increase defence expenditure, pay for the replacement to the trident nuclear weapon system, fund extra schools and provide increases in the education budget AND protect and increase state pensions and keep all the pensioner goodies (free tv licence, bus passes etc, etc).

The Liberal Democrats want to have a more substantial stimulus bill to kickstart the very slow recovery. Other than the stimulus, the Liberal Democrats say that there should be no sacred cows and that given the scale of the deficit there should be a multi party Council on Financial Stability to examine where cuts should be made. One of their easily identified cuts was the Trident missile system. The Conservatives and Labour remain absolutely committed to replacing Trident.

The Conservatives propose an Office of Budget Responsibility which is not that different in principle to the Council on Financial Stability. The key difference is the Conservative proposal is more of a Civil Service solution, the Liberal Democrat solution is more political.

To help clear the deficit and to “get the money back from the banks” both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives propose a bank tax, in line with the banking reforms proposed by President Obama. Labour will only do so if the USA passes their proposal. The Liberal Democrats want to go further though than any of the other two Parties. The Liberal Democrats want to break up the big banks, so that they are never again “too big to fail”. The Liberal Democrats also propose caps on bonuses including an effective ban on cash bonuses.

Further complicating things are their proposed tax cuts. The Liberal Democrats propose increasing the tax allowance to £10,000 paid for by increasing corporation tax. This is a key part of their programme for a fairer taxation system.

The Conservatives propose reducing Corporation tax and increasing the starting point of paying inheritance tax from £600,000 to £1,000,000, paid for by a tax in non dom tax exiles.

The Conservatives would not be opposed to the Liberal Democrat tax cut but would most certainly be against the Liberal Democrat method of funding it. The Liberal Democrats would not be philosophically opposed to increasing the starting rate of inheritance tax but they would certainly question whether it is a priority given current finances. They would not however be opposed to a tax on “non doms” which would be a popular move.

Civil liberties
The easiest and most obvious area of agreement is the abolition of the ID card scheme. This also serves as an easy financial saving.

The Conservatives want to replace the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights. This appears to be more of a sop to the old hang em and flog em wing of the Party because even if the Human Rights Act is scrapped, it remains in effect because it is a fundamental part of EU membership.

Both Parties are committed to rolling back the surveillance state. They both agree on reducing the size of the DNA database and removing those innocent of crimes from it. Both parties would also scrap the child database and the NHS database.

Both Parties support a stronger and reformed Data Protection Act.

Both Parties are in favour of reforming the powers of Local Authorities to snoop on individuals by reforming the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the grim RIPA.

So the only area of disagreement is the Human Rights Act. It is up to the Conservatives to decide if they really need that red meat for their members.

Energy and Environment.
Both parties support “green energy”. Both parties want a climate change deal and seek to reduce carbon emissions. Both Parties recognise the need for energy security. The election of the environmental activist, Zac Goldsmith will help bond a coalition here.

On the downside, the Conservative Party is pro nuclear party, the Liberal Democrats are not. That is a real philosophical difference that would be nearly impossible to surmount, however on the flip side of that New Labour is a pro nuclear party and supports providing subsidies to the nuclear industry. If Gordon is the price of a Labour deal that support or the nuclear industry may disappear. Although New Labour is pro nuclear, the Labour Party is not.

Both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are against more airport runways. They both oppose a third Heathrow runway. They are both against second runways in other areas.

Both Parties want to replace the individual air passenger tax and replace it with a tax on airlines, designed to reduce the number of half full aeroplanes.

The Conservatives want more high-speed railways connecting the big Cities. So do the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats want more rail subsidies though and they want to reduce rail fares. The Conservatives do not.

Liberal Democrats favour an expansion of road pricing. Conservatives are opposed. This is more of a pro – car driver stance than a philosophical stance, again largely in response to the tabloids. Philosophically, Conservatives should be in favour of road pricing. In practice their membership and the media requires them to be pro-car.

The Conservatives also want to end the road fuel tax accelerator and this would go very much against the Liberal Democrat green agenda.

Foreign Aid and International Affairs.
This is one of the areas where the Conservative Party Leadership differs significantly from the Party membership. It is ironically where the Liberal Democrats are closer to the Conservative membership but for very different reasons.

The Conservatives are committed to meeting and protecting the international requirement to provide aid at a minimum of 0.7% of GDP. It is not something that Conservative membership would want to protect.

The Liberal Democrats have made clear that they are not in favour of ring fencing the International Aid budget. Their membership would however be more supportive of protecting it though.

Both parties support writing off debt of third world nations. Their manifestos on combating aids and malaria are nearly identical.

The Conservatives see themselves as “naturally” more pro-American and the Liberal Democrats are more Euro-centric. Many key members of the Conservative campaign team worked on the Clinton and Obama campaigns.

The Conservative leadership is very Euro-sceptic, although rather less so than its membership. The party membership is much more Euro-sceptic than their Leadership. However a lot of Conservative MP’s, in particular, Kenneth Clarke a party giant is very pro Europe, although not as described by the Mail a Europhile.

The Conservatives want to seek to repatriate powers from the European Union, especially with regard to immigration. The membership is fundamentally opposed to the Euro and they have moved the leadership away from their old standard of considering joining subject to a referendum when the time is right.

The Liberal Democrats were in full support of joining the Euro during the late 1990’s and prior to 2010. They have now adopted the old Conservative position of joining subject to a referendum when the time is right.

The reality is that given the state of the national finances, Euro membership is not open to the UK. It may not however be enough to convince the membership of either sides members.

One area the Euro sceptics will agree is the Liberal Democrat proposal of a referendum on either leaving or fully supporting the European Union. The Conservative membership would strongly support such a referendum (it would also kill off UKIP opposition in many Tory marginals), they would however find themselves on very different sides of the battle to their Liberal partners.

Local Government and Housing
Under Margaret Thatcher, the Conservatives were highly sceptical of local authorities. After 13 years of Labour and after having won large numbers of Councils up and down the Country, they are very much less sceptical.

An easy cut in the budget, both parties propose closing the regional Government offices. Both parties want to get rid of the indicator driven and not service driven inspection regimes.

Both parties want elected police authorities. The Conservatives want more elected Mayors. Liberal Democrats are silent on this.

The Conservatives support referendums for Council Tax increases.

The Liberal Democrats also support a local income tax and a new property tax (the mansion tax as the Tories call it). The Conservatives oppose both very strongly.

The Liberal Democrats also support returning business rates directly to Local Authorities. Something that is opposed on principle by Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats support more council house building. The Conservatives do not. The Liberal Democrat position on this is to allow Councils to build more local authority homes. So this is not something that would block any deal. If councils can and want to, let them.

Both Parties would expand shared ownership, under a variety of names. Both parties also support getting rid of Home information packs.

Both parties do accept the urgent need for more house building although the Conservatives want to abolish targets for individual local authorities, they would however reduce planning restrictions on new home building.

The Liberal Democrats want to end the axe discrimination there is in the system that encourages the building of new houses as opposed to restoring empty homes. To do so they propose introducing a lower level of VAT on new house builds. This would be opposed philosophically by Conservatives.

Public Services – Education and Healthcare
The Conservatives encouraged and enabled many of the Blair reforms to schools and hospitals. In part because they agreed with the proposals and also because it helped to create a wedge in the Labour Party as it enabled Labour MP’s to rebel against the Whip.

The Conservatives remain committed to implementing many of the Blair reforms in full. The Liberal Democrat proposals are also very similar.

Both political parties propose a “pupil premium” for poorer children. The amount of funding a school would get would increase if schools accepted more children from poorer areas. Currently the best state schools are unacceptable to those from the poorest families because of catchment area rules. The nearer you are to a school, the greater the chance of entry. Therefore family homes near good schools have a massive (up to 30%) price premium.

Both parties want to keep testing of children but they also want to substantially scale the tests back. Schools have been teaching to the test and not the subject which means that although test results are improving, standards of education have fallen.

Both parties also want schools to be given more freedom on pay to encourage teachers to poorer schools.

On health care the Liberal Democrats want local boards to determine NHS expenditure. The Conservatives propose a national board. The Conservatives are committed to real terms increases in NHS expenditure, the Liberal Democrats are not. As part of their proposals for cuts they have identified the huge increase in NHS administrators, directors and managers employed under Labour.

The Conservatives would not be philosophically against reducing the number of bureaucrats employed by the NHS, especially if it allowed them to deliver an increase in the numbers of nurses and doctors.

The manifesto positions and the views of the membership are exactly polar opposite of how each of the Parties membership sees each other. Liberal Democrat members would view Tories as big cutters and a threat to the NHS, Conservatives would view Liberal Democrats as big spenders. On the subject of health care the Party membership on both sides certainly do not trust the other side.

In 1997 the Conservatives proposed introducing either fees for universities or student loans as a replacement to grants. Labour said that they opposed both proposals. When they came to office they introduced both fees and loans.

The Liberal Democrats want to scrap tuition fees. The Conservatives opposed Labour on this but never committed to repealing them.

The Liberal Democrat proposals to scrap fees are however phased over a period of six years. So the proposal is not unaffordable and it would be popular among students.

The Big Society
The Conservative “big idea” was the “big society”. Allowing residents to take over and or sack the management of public services.

In reality that is very little different to the Liberal Democrat idea of Mutuals, co-ops and their Social Enterprise Bill. Liberal Democrat official position is very close, even though their membership would be highly suspicious of why Conservatives propose their big society. The membership sees it as a trojan horse way of dismantling the welfare state.

To tackle the problem of large numbers of young people not in employment, education or training (NEETS), the Conservatives proposed a form of voluntary national service. That is something that Liberal Democrats would oppose on very strong philosophical grounds.

They agree on free universities and generally both parties leave the BBC alone. So both parties are best to avoid that area. The status quo is fine, although Channel 4 needs urgent funding reform.

The Liberal Democrats would not object to Conservative proposals to roll out ultra fast broadband.

Pensioners and pensions
The Liberal Democrats here are tougher than the manifesto position of Conservatives in this area. The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are committed to tackling the deficit in public sector pensions by targeting the pensions of the very highest paid but the Liberal Democrats proposed restricting the payment of the Winter Fuel Allowance to those on lower incomes, the Conservatives promised to protect the winter fuel allowance. They propose this to better target those on lower incomes.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both propose to link increases in state pensions to earnings, the Conservatives propose to do that by raising the retirement age by a year, Liberal Democrats propose to do that by reducing some of the tax breaks on pensions.

Areas of key agreement are scrapping the requirement for pensioners to buy an annuity.

Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats support compensating pensioners and their families who lost out when Equity Life nearly collapsed.

Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are not far removed from each other on care for the elderly. Differences can be resolved by the Liberal Democrat cross Party panel on care for the elderly.

Business and regulation
Liberal Democrats want a green infrastructure bank. Another state bank would not be supported by Conservatives. The Conservatives propose targeted corporation tax cuts, tax simplification and NI relief to encourage green jobs.

Both parties are supporters of deregulation. For every new piece of business regulation they propose scrapping another.

The Liberal Democrats also want a public interest test introduced for mergers and acquisitions from abroad. The need for this was seen in the recent Cadbury’s takeover. A bailed out bank lent money to an American firm to make British people redundant. This legislation would be popular with a lot of the Tory membership but would be seen as too restrictive by some Conservative MP’s. There is also the possibility that other Countries would impose tit for tat legislation or that such legislation would be ruled unlawful within the European Union.

Children and families
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat proposals are very similar except in one key area. That key area is however a fundamental area of red meat for the Conservative papers and the Party membership.

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have proposals to
expand youth services, free up maternity leave and tackle on-line bullying. The Conservatives and Liberals both want to target the state run sure start nurseries towards lower income and middle class parents. The Conservatives want to do this to fund Sure Start health care workers. All very good pro family policies. The Conservatives have a big problem though. The Conservatives are committed to introducing a financial recognition of marriage in to the tax system. Liberal Democrats would be fundamentally and philosophically opposed.

This is a sop to the Daily Mail and the old guard of the Conservatives who elected Cameron. The Cameron proposal was not even worth much to a married couple. £156 per year. It was however a recognition of a conservative principle to award marriage. Unlike American conservatives this tax allowance would have been payable to gay couples in a civil partnership.

Getting people back to work
The Conservatives want a carrot and stick approach. Big expansion of training programmes, tax cuts for employees to take on new recruits, state backed loans for th unemployed to help them start up their own business and mentors. On the flip side they propose big cuts in benefits for those who “refuse work”.

The Liberal Democrats propose financial incentives to help people returning to work, primarily the £10,000 starting tax rate. There is no talk of a stick.

Unlike Labour, the Liberal Democrats would not support a tough work for welfare programme.

The solution to meet both their needs. Do nothing. Labour introduced the Employment Support Allowance. The legislation is already very firmly in place and in some ways tougher than that proposed by the Conservatives. Everyone on disability benefits will be re-assessed and a decision will be made whether they are fit for work. If they are they will be transferred to the lower paying jobseekers allowance. If they are not “fit for work”, Employment Support Allowance is designed to help people find work that they are fit for.

Although the harsher rules were meant to be implemented in January 2009, the Department of Work and Pensions avoided doing so at the peak of a recession.

At the time the legislation was passed, all parties agreed with it. No further action is needed.

The Conservatives propose an annual cap on non-EU economic immigrants, border police, transitional limits on immigrants from any new nation entering the EU and tougher visa rules.

The Liberal Democrats agree on the border police, want a region-based system so that migrants work where their employment and want to restore exit controls.

The Liberal Democrats would not agree to an arbitrary cap. Regional based immigration would be very difficult to enforce without being very illiberal.

The Liberal Democrats also propose an amnesty on those in the UK illegally. The Conservative Mayor of London supports this. Labour and the Conservatives are strongly opposed. There is a lot of sense there in that many of those here illegally are trapped in to the slave labour black market. It would however be a very difficult sell to Conservative membership, never mind the Murdoch press.

Law and order
After 13 years of Labour being “tough on crime and the causes of crime”, Britain is a prison society. More people are in privately run prisons on a per capita basis than the US. No other Country in the EU has as many prisoners as the UK.

Liberal Democrats want to significantly cut back on the number of six month or less prison sentences. They also want to scrap Labour’s prison building programme.

The Conservatives still want to be seen as the Party tough on law and order and therefore want to abolish the early release programme for prisoners.

Liberal Democrats and Conservatives agree with locally elected police chiefs and improved rehabilitation programmes.

The Daily Mail and Murdoch press remain an issue here. The Conservatives would not want to give Labour the ability to call them “soft on crime”, especially when they want to roll back things like ID cards, detention without trial and other Labour infringements on civil liberties.

Foreign Affairs
There are no policy differences between the Conservatives and Labour on the Afghan war. They are both committed to stay until the “mission accomplished” sign can go up. The Conservatives have criticised Labour’s funding of the war, Labour sent troops in and cut their equipment budget.

The Liberal Democrats are not opposed to the war in Iraq but have been critical of the lack of an obvious mission.

Conservatives want to replace the Trident nuclear weapons; the Liberal Democrats rule out a “like for like” replacement.

Both parties are committed to a full strategic defence review. If all options are left open, whether or not to replace Trident on a like for like basis, especially in light of the US-Russia arms negotiation could be put on the table.

Political reform.
The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are both committed to some of the very same policies on political reform. After the dodgy expenses fiasco all parties are committed to the allowing MP’s to recall Members of Parliament. The COnservatives and Liberal Democrats also support strong curbs on lobbyists, the worst excesses of Labour and lobbyists was the passing of the Digital Economy Bill, negotiated by Peter Mandleson and Lobbyists.

They are also both agreed that for tax purposes all peers are treated as fully resident. No more non dom Lords.

The Liberal Democrat proposal for a written constitution is not far removed from the Conservative proposal for a bill of rights. The bill of rights proposed by the Conservatives, is as stated earlier at the expense of repealing the Human Rights Act.

All parties now agree on an elected upper house, at least in part.

The most fundamental reform goes back to the very start, proportional representation for the House of Commons. The number of Conservative MP’s in support of this could be counted on one or two hands. It would be easier to find toothed chickens than influential Conservative Members in support of PR.

Conservative Members of Parliament would believe that they are signing their own death warrant. No political party has achieved over 50% of the vote since universal franchise. Sole party government would be ended for good.

The Liberal Democrats want it for that very reason.

The Conservatives have promised a cross party feasibility commission. The Liberal Democrats have had that proposal before from Tony Blair. He delivered on the commission but did nothing with the outcome. He however had a majority of 177 in the Commons and needed to do nothing.

Labour have proposed an alternative vote system, that sounds more “proportional” than first past the post but given Constituency make up would have given them an even bigger majority in 2005 and would have reduced the number of Liberal Democrat seats.

A referendum on PR is a possibility. Conservatives need not support it. Cabinet positions are also a possibility. Still the membership needs to be convinced and that will not be easy.

Liberal Democrats hate the Tories and Conservatives hate Liberal Democrats. It is tribal.They just spent the last few years fighting each other. They hate each other more than they oppose Labour.

Both of them face being out of power for many more years if they can not agree.

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