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Viewing cable 09LONDON604, LIBERAL DEMOCRATS LOOK AHEAD TO THEIR ELECTION
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|09LONDON604||2009-03-09 15:03||2010-11-30 23:11||CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN||Embassy London|
VZCZCXRO4257 PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHLO #0604/01 0681522 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 091522Z MAR 09 FM AMEMBASSY LONDON TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1662 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 LONDON 000604 SIPDIS NOFORN EO 12958 DECL: 03/09/2019 TAGS PGOV, PREL, ECON, PINR, UK SUBJECT: LIBERAL DEMOCRATS LOOK AHEAD TO THEIR ELECTION STRATEGY, POSSIBLE COALITION PARTICIPATION, AND OFFER THOUGHTS ON U.S.-UK RELATIONS Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Greg Berry, reasons 1.4 (b/ d). ¶1. (C/NF) Summary and comment: Emboffs attending the Liberal Democrats’ (Lib Dems) Spring Conference heard much in corridor conversations about the Party’s strategy for the next general election (which must occur no later than June 2010) and whether participation in an electoral coalition made strategic sense for the Party: - The Coalition Calculus - Labour is “competition,” but the Conservatives are “opposition:” Most Lib Dems are instinctively hostile to the Conservatives and would not agree to join a Tory-led governing coalition, should the next election produce a hung parliament or an offer from either party to join in a governing coalition. Propping up an “exhausted” Labour party led by Gordon Brown is seen by most Lib Dems as “political suicide” because it undercuts the Lib Dems’ appeal as a party of political change. For now, an informal arrangement that does not commit the party to working with either Labour or the Tories in a future government is seen as the approach likely to give the Lib Dems the most policy influence, although a formal coalition with Labour under new, non-Brown leadership has not been ruled out. - Amplify Cable’s Voice on the Economy: Party members are pleased Lib Dem Deputy Vince Cable has become a national voice on the economic downturn and is now garnering retroactive praise for his Churchillian warnings over the past few years about the instability of the UK financial system. The Lib Dems are now working to broaden his credibility so it spills over to the party as a whole and translates into electoral gains. - The Death of Cameron’s Son Changes Election Strategy: The Lib Dem counter-Conservative strategy in the next election was to attack Tory leader David Cameron as “fake” and “out of touch” with real life. The passing of Cameron’s son Ivan has eliminated the ability to use that line of attack, according to Lib Dem members, as well as muted the willingness of the UK media to discuss “character attacks” against Cameron. Attacks on the Conservatives will now have to take a different course and most likely be about the issues. On UK-U.S. relations, the Lib Dems welcome the USG’s recent “constructive engagement” with Russia, Iran, and Syria. Several party members saw allowing Prime Minister Brown to be the first European -- though not the first world leader -- to visit the U.S. was a way “to let the (UK) down lightly” in favor of what they expect will be a more multilateral U.S. approach to foreign affairs under the Obama administration and one less focused on bilateral relationships with traditional allies. Lib Dems supported new USG focus on climate change and hoped that it will translate into deliverables in Copenhagen. ¶2. (C/NF) Summary and comment con’t. Although the Lib Dems do not have an electoral issue that can strongly define them as a Party for UK voters in the next election, as the party’s opposition to the Iraq war did in the 2005 election, the Party also does not come to the next election with the same baggage that Labour and the Tories both carry with many voters. Distrust over the Conservatives’ ability to handle the economy while ensuring social equality remains strong with many voters, and discontentment with Labour’s failure to stop the economic downturn continues to grow. Against this backdrop, the Lib Dems hope to gain electoral ground as a party of change, especially amongst blue-collar workers who are frustrated with Labour and distrustful of the Tories. End summary and comment. Coalition Calculus: Labour is Competition, Conservatives are Opposition --------------------------------------------- ------ ¶3. (C/NF) The Lib Dems’ agenda-light, March 7-8 Spring Conference in Harrogate garnered a brief up-tick in national media coverage for the party; conversations outside the conference hall focused heavily on the party’s electoral strategy in the next general election. Lib Dem front bencher Norman Lamb explained to Poloff the party’s thinking about participation in any possible governing coalition, should neither Labour nor the Conservatives win an outright majority in the next election: “We see Labour as our competition, and the Conservatives as our opposition.” Most Lib Dems, he said, are instinctively and ideologically against a coalition with the Conservatives, including “right-wing members of the party like myself.” On the other hand, “propping up” Labour under Prime Minister Brown - after an election in which the LONDON 00000604 002 OF 003 voters have significantly reduced its number of seats - is “political suicide,” especially since the Lib Dems’ main campaign message is a call for change. If there is no clear majority in Parliament after the next elections, Lamb said the Lib Dems stand to gain the most by an informal arrangement whereby the Lib Dems could select and negotiate support for various policies, as they do not see the benefit of a more formal coalition arrangement. Lamb admitted, however, that a coalition with Labour under new, non-Brown leadership had not been ruled out. And Our Leaders Just Don’t Get Along ------------------------------------ ¶4. (C/NF) Lamb said that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Tory chief David Cameron do not get along personally. Lamb said Clegg thinks Cameron is dismissive of him and Clegg refused an “aggressive” invitation to dine at Cameron’s house. Upgrading Cable --------------- ¶5. (C/NF) Chief Economic Advisor and Speech Writer Chris Saunders told us that Lib Dem Deputy leader Vince Cable has become a national voice on the economy, in part because he is now seen as one of the few UK political leaders who warned about the weaknesses in the UK financial regulatory system before the downturn began, but acknowledged that it is unclear if the broader public associates Cable with the Lib Dems or sees him as a lone voice. In order to translate the public’s recent faith in Cable’s views on the economy into support for the broader party, the Lib Dem leadership plans to work improving Cable’s Lib Dem “branding.” A New Strategy Is Required to Attack Cameron -------------------------------------------- ¶6. (C/NF) Both Saunders and Nick Clegg’s Speechwriter and Policy Manager Polly Mackenzie said that Cameron’s clear vulnerability was the public perception that he is “fake” and “out of touch” with real life. The Lib Dems strategy had been to attack Cameron on these lines and make much of his insulated, upper class persona. However, the death of Cameron’s son Ivan not only eliminated these vulnerabilities in the eyes of the public but also made the media skittish about character attacks that Cameron does not have experience of real life. Mackenzie said the Lib Dems are still recalculating, but their attacks on the Conservatives will have to be focused on the issues, especially the enduring perception that the Conservatives cannot be trusted to run the economy and ensure social equality. Saunders and Mackenzie agreed that Labour would like to hold off calling for general elections until Spring 2010 in the hope that the media’s undeclared but apparent gentle approach with Cameron after his son’s death will have subsided. U.S. - UK Relations ------------------- ¶7. (C/NF) Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey, his Deputy Jo Swinson, and Development Spokesperson Michael Moore all welcomed the USG’s “new constructive engagement” in foreign policy, especially with regards to Russia, Iran, and Syria. Swinson said the appointment of a Presidential Climate Change Envoy was “a good thing” and hoped it would mean serious deliverables at the Copenhagen conference. ¶8. (C/NF) Moore said the USG’s decision to host Prime Minister Gordon Brown as the first European leader in Washington was a way “to let the (UK) down lightly” in favor of a new Administration preference for multilateralism. Moore thought relations between the U.S.-UK would remain very warm, but that the USG would likely pursue foreign policy objectives through multilateral institutions rather than through coalition building and its traditional partners. (Embassy comment: Former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean’s presence at the Lib Dem conference, as well as his delivery of a keynote address on liberal politics, gave the conference a decidedly more pro-American tone than past Lib Dem conferences have had. End comment.) Focused on Domestic Issues, but No Clear Message Yet --------------------------------------------- ------- ¶9. (C/NF) With UK voters’ focusing on education, health care, and the UK’s sharp economic downturn, the focus of this year’s conference was on domestic issues, not foreign policy, in stark contrast to previous conferences where the Lib Dems have been able to raise their profile, and their support among UK voters, by defining themselves in opposition to LONDON 00000604 003 OF 003 Labour’s foreign policy on Iraq and involvement in the rendition of terror suspects. Party leader Clegg’s main speech closing the conference appealed directly to voters dissatisfied with Labour and the Conservatives, telling them they should look to the Lib Dems for change and new answers: “If you feel let down by Labour and see the Conservatives will never be a party of change, turn to the Liberal Democrats.” Clegg positioned the Lib Dems as an alternative party that would replace the “failed policies of Thatcher, Major, Blair, and Brown.” Commenting on the current financial crisis, Clegg called on Britain to break with the past and embrace a new political order - though a new order he never successfully defined -- by supporting the Lib Dems, the only party, Clegg said, open to new thinking on how to guide the country out of economic ruin. Clegg ended by calling on voters to take a “leap of faith” with the Lib Dems. A leap, however, that the UK media’s reporting on the conference argued might still be a jump too far for most voters as long as the Lib Dems continue to lack a galvanizing issue or policy that demonstrates “new thinking” and would justify turning away from the UK’s two main parties. Visit London’s Classified Website: http://www.intelink.sgov.gov/wiki/Portal:Unit ed_Kingdom LEBARON