The Lib-Dems have policy for banning strikes in public services, and imposing compulsory arbitration of all disputes there.
During the BA dispute, Lib-Dem leaders accused Labour of being "in hock to militant unions" (if only it were true!). When Simon Hughes, supposedly the left-winger in the Lib-Dem leadership, stood for Mayor of London, his boast was that he would "sort out" the Tube workers' union, the RMT.
The Lib-Dems' policy on cuts tries to position them neatly between Labour and the Tories. They want "cuts, cuts that are savage and bold" (Nick Clegg, September 2009), but not as fast as the Tories.
They cite as their model of how a government should deal with a budget crisis the Liberal government in Canada in 1993-8. It made huge cuts, resulting in decayed public services and cardboard villages sprouting in Toronto.
The Lib-Dems opposed the national minimum wage when Labour first proposed it, and came to accept it only grudgingly.
In 2004 a right-wing faction in the Lib-Dem leadership published a manifesto, the Orange Book. That right wing, in the persons of Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, now controls the Lib-Dem party.
The Orange Book proposed something which is considered way out even in the Tory Party - the outright scrapping of the National Health Service.
Clegg and Cable would prefer to replace the NHS by a "social insurance" system, as in many other European countries on in Australia. Under "social insurance", health care is provided on the market just like any other commodity, the only difference being that there is compulsory enrolment in a government-run BUPA-type scheme which reimburses you for what you spend like an insurance company reimburses you for losses.
For health workers, that shift would mean full exposure to "market forces". For everyone, it would mean that health care would depend on having the cash upfront and be willing to wait for reimbursement; and it almost certainly soon mean that health care became partly paid-for, just as insurance companies always have little deductions and "excesses" to take off your money.
In Australia, for example, which has a "social insurance" scheme:
- Many (and increasingly many) GPs - and that may include the only GP you can reach - charge more than Medicare, the "social insurance" scheme, will reimburse. You have to pay the difference.
- Medicare does not cover ambulance costs.
- You have to pay extra taxes if you do not have private health insurance.
"Social insurance" schemes are by their nature vulnerable to that sort of erosion at the edges.
The reason why the Lib-Dems appear left-wing is that they are more left-wing (or at least less right-wing) than New Labour on some important issues; and the media has publicised those issues more than the economic issues on which the Lib-Dems are as right-wing as the Tories or more so.
The Lib-Dems are against the Trident replacement (though they want to continue Britain's nuclear arsenal: they just say they could find some, unstated, cheaper way to do so).
The Lib-Dems are for an amnesty for "illegal" immigrants settled here (though not for any substantive easing of Britain's restrictive and racist immigrant and asylum laws).
The Lib-Dems have a better record on civil liberties, opposing some of New Labour's "anti-terrorist" laws.
The Lib-Dems are "for Europe" (though for a bland bourgeois cosmopolitanism rather than for Europe-wide workers' unity).
If the New Labour leaders are paralysed from raising the economic issues on which the Lib-Dems are so right-wing by fear that we'll look at their own record, why don't the union leaders speak out?