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Cablegate: Uk's Liberal Democrats: Looking for Influence Not

VZCZCXRO0983
RR RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHLO #1886/01 2001423
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 181423Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9222
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 LONDON 001886

SIPDIS
NOFORN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/18/2018

TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR UK

SUBJECT: UK'S LIBERAL DEMOCRATS: LOOKING FOR INFLUENCE NOT
POWER, FOR NOW

REF: LONDON 1771

Classified By: Political Counselor Richard Mills, reasons 1.4 (b/d).

1. (C/NF) Summary. Britain's third party, the Liberal Democrats, launched July 17 their "Make It Happen" campaign to communicate the party's core values and vision for the UK. In what is clearly Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg's latest attempt to build an ideologically consistent platform for a party often perceived to have muddled policies, the campaign focuses on moving beyond Labour's approach of big government as service provider to decentralize decision-making to communities and individuals. In a stunning U-turn, Clegg has jettisoned the party's long-held "tax and spend" policy for a more conservative tax regime, looking to eliminate GBP 20 billion in nationally-funded public programs. The aim is to define the Lib Dems on the national political scene as the pro-family, pro-community party of real change through decentralization.

2. (C/NF) Summary continued. At the same time, Liberal Democrat insiders report the party has been clarifying its thinking on foreign policy. To maintain credibility on defense and security issues, while remaining true to its core tenets of libertarianism and responsible multilateralism, the party continues to support Britain's role in Afghan reconstruction while also calling for improved benefits for soldiers. Although Iraq is no longer the high-profile issue it once was, Lib Dem insiders say the issue has changed the way the party makes foreign policy decisions. Lib Dem views on U.S. foreign policy are being shaped by two concerns: the view that the UK's "special relationship" with the U.S. prevents the UK from engaging fully in the EU, a problem for the pro-EU Lib Dems; and that U.S. post-cold war foreign policy has departed from the values the Lib Dems share with the U.S. - democracy and individual liberty. Just a year or so ago, when the polls indicated a real possibility that neither Labour nor the Tories would win an outright majority in the Commons, the Lib Dems were seen as potential power brokers in a coalition government. The Tories' commanding lead in the polls, however, has diminished media and political attention to the Lib Dems, and Clegg's efforts go all but unnoticed. With only 63 of Parliament's 646 seats, the party continues to struggle for a defining voice in Westminster and to differentiate its policies from Labour and the Tories. End Summary.

Clarifying Thinking on Foreign Policy and Security --------------------------------------------- -----

3. (C) The party sees maintaining "credibility on defense and security issues" as crucial for the party's viability, especially because of the party's stated doctrine of "liberal interventionism," which allows military action only as a last resort and when authorized through multilateral institutions (reftel), according to Greg Simpson, Head of Policy and Research for the Lib Dems. To be seen as "tough on terrorism" and "credible on defense and security," the party plans to continue its support for Britain's involvement in Afghan reconstruction as well as adopting a strong message of support for the individual soldier, calling for better pay, living accommodations, and family support. The Lib Dems do not want to be seen as anti-war, but for responsible military action through credible multilateral institutions. They see the UN as the only institution that should authorize "proactive aggression;" whereas, bilateral use of military force should only be for defense.

4. (C) Acknowledging the Iraq war is no longer a salient issue the Lib Dems can use to rally support against the Labour government, Simpson said the run-up to the war in Iraq has changed the way the party approaches foreign policy issues, especially ones related to UK national security. The party now assesses intelligence judgments differently, considers the legality of international actions, and wants the UK to act so that multilateral institutions maintain their centrality to decisions on international military action. At its September conference, the party will consider for adoption a security policy that outlines these thoughts, calls for more long-term thinking in security policy, and notes the importance of "close consultation" with the U.S., European partners, and NATO.

5. (C) Given the current UK economic crunch, the party does not think that foreign policy will feature prominently in the presumed 2010 elections, according to Lib Dem Foreign Policy Researcher Ben Jones. He characterized the Lib Dem's goal in most of its foreign policy statements as keeping consistent with Lib Dem ideology, but phrasing the message in terms that will attract media and public attention to the party. He LONDON 00001886 002 OF 003 cited as examples Lib Dem Shadow Foreign Secretary Ed Davey's recent call to strip Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe of his knighthood and characterizing the UK's frosty relations with Russia "as a classic case where the EU cannot get its act together."

6. (C) Simpson said the tension that exists between the Lib Dems and U.S. foreign policy is somewhat intrinsic to the party's anti-establishment roots but has two main veins. First, the "special relationship" with the U.S. is largely seen as the reason the UK does not engage more fully with the EU, which is a problem for the very pro-EU Lib Dems. Secondly, many Lib Dems feel that U.S. post-cold foreign policy has departed from the values the Lib Dems share with the U.S.: democracy and individual liberty.

Making It Happen on Domestic Issues -----------------------------------

7. (C) In Clegg's July 3 speech to the Local Government Association, he outlined how the Lib Dem's want to decentralize power and taxation to communities, saying "Britain is stifled by our micro-managing, centralizing government." He argued that Labour's big government approach to service delivery increased taxes, but not the quality of services and that local communities could manage service delivery more efficiently. He called for localization of tax rates, the replacement of council tax with local income taxes, significant cuts to central taxes, and for local communities to have the power and freedom to raise their own resources. Danny Alexander, Clegg's Chief of Staff and MP for Inverness, explained to Poloff "devolution needs to go further than to the (states), straight down to the individuals." Cutting central taxes, he argued, gives individuals decision-making authority, and local government should offer flexible services that allow individuals to make choices based on their own needs.

8. (C) Alexander said the Lib Dems are currently reviewing the national budget to find GBP 20 billion (USD 40 billion) in savings, "not through government efficiency, but by cutting entire government programs." He offered the Labour Government's plans to roll-out a several billion pound national identification card program as one example of needless national government expenditure.

9. (C) Simpson said the party is also trying to define itself as the pro-family, pro-community party through decentralization, which resonates well with voters, by calling for greater autonomy for schools, lower tuition rates, universal child-care programs, and work-life balance campaigns. Civil service reform, Simpson said, will also feature prominently in the party's messages because of the large number of civil servants who support the party.

10. (U) In addition to tax cuts, improved government service delivery, and decentralization, Clegg's July 17 "Make It Happen" campaign also highlighted dealing with climate change, privacy and personal information security, and improved community security as core Lib Dem values.

But Why a Third Party? ----------------------

11. (C) Alexander acknowledged the Lib Dems have trouble distinguishing themselves from Labour and the Tories. This has been especially problematic since the Tories have "stolen Lib Dem rhetoric" on social issues and climate change. Alexander said the Lib Dems' only defense has been to argue that the party has a track record on environmentalism and has substance behind its policies, while the Tories do not. At its origin, the Lib Dems were established as a libertarian party, supporting the prudent tax policies of the Conservatives and the liberal social values of Labour. That distinction, however, became muddled in the run-up to the 2005 elections when the Lib Dems, similar to Labour, supported a tax hike.

Comment -------

12. (C/NF) Holding only 63 of Parliament's 646 seats leaves the Liberal Democrats struggling for an influential voice in Westminster on both domestic and foreign policy issues, and they continue to have problems distinguishing themselves from Labour and the Tories. Clegg is proving to be a decisive leader, having announced the party's new tax policies without consulting the party's rank-and-file. He may be able to increase the party's influence in Westminster in the run-up to the 2010 elections, which seems to be the party's goal at LONDON 00001886 003 OF 003 present, and thereby increase the Lib Dems' electoral prospects. That said, with support for Labour falling and the Tories resurgent, the Lib Dems find themselves in a difficult pre-election position. They have yet to find a defining issue to replace the boost their strong opposition to the Iraq war gave them over the part several years, and the Conservatives seem to be picking up Labour's loses. Cleggs' new campaign, for all of its fashionable rhetoric on empowering individuals through choice and decentralization, does not, on first glance, appear to provide a new defining issue for the UK public. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX TUTTLE

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