Earlier today a panel of leading Labour and Liberal Democrat voices debated the nature of pluralism in our politics. The Fabians and Centre:Forum asked, is the future plural? Lord Adonis, Ming Campbell, Jon Cruddas and Jo Swinson all said yes, but differences quickly emerged as the conversation moved on to other issues.
It was Lord Andrew Adonis, head of industrial policy on Labour’s policy review, who directly challenged the Lib-Dems to accept nothing less than a credible “Plan-B” for the economy in next year’s budget. He said that with the economy dominating British politics and the fact that plan-A had comprehensively failed, it was down to the Liberal Democrats to push George Osborne for a credible growth plan in next year’s budget or call a General Election “in the national interest”.
He laid out a credible scenario for circumventing the fixed term Parliaments act showing how the Lib-Dems can still call a normal vote of no confidence in the Government. If passed then Cameron has fourteen days to pass “any motion expressing confidence in any Government of Her Majesty” or an early General Election is called. Jon Cruddas didn’t endorse Lord Adonis’ scenario outright but did say that he believed Lib-Dem influence on the coalition Government had been “benign” and that perhaps they did not realise the power they held.
While Jo Swinson and Ming Campbell were careful not to support the Adonis plan, both agreed that further measures were needed to support economic growth. Swinson through her support of infrastructure projects and Campbell by calling outright for a “plan-B” – but noting that it was only possible because plan-A had “been held to for so long”.
Before we came to Brighton newspapers were well briefed that this was to be the start of the Lib-Dems differentiation strategy. Since there have been direct challenges to Cameron. Clegg told the Tories “you didn’t win the election” and called Conservative environment policy “a blue roadblock to green reform”, but Adonis dismissed these challenges as small beer because they avoided the biggest question facing our country today.
By raising the stakes Adonis showed how, with the economy the only game in town, changing course on growth and deficit reduction is the only way to truly mark out clear water between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party. As the focus moves from Brighton to Manchester next weekend will this be the message we hear from Ed Miliband and the rest of the Shadow Cabinet?