The blogging Labour MP Tom Harris had a rather uncomplimentary piece about the Lib Dems yesterday entitled: "LibDems to retain meaningless promise". In it he claimed that the pledge to abolish tuition fees is meaningless:
“LibDems keep tuition fees pledge”? Now, technically, the headline is correct. The Liberals have decided to keep their tuition fees pledge in their party’s programme.But away from the Liberals, back in the real world, the phrase about “keeping” a pledge would normally mean “honoured”. In other words, parties can “keep” their promises by enacting in government whatever promises they made before polling day.Given that the Liberals will not win the 2010 general election, the headline would have been more accurate had it read: “LibDems to retain meaningless promise to scrap tuition fees”.
I hear/read this line of reasoning from members of the two main parties frequently. That any pledge from the Lib Dems is pointless because they are very unlikely to have enough seats to form a majority government after the next election.
Of course Tom is technically correct about the last point. We currently have 63 seats and we would need 326 after the next election to form a government on our own. Barring a political earthquake it is not going to happen. However he is being extremely dismissive and in fact contemptuous of our political system in this country.
Just a few months ago, the government reversed its decision on allowing the Gurkhas to remain resident in this country. It is unlikely that would have happened without the Lib Dems championing their cause both inside and outside parliament. Is it really very far fetched to think that if the tuition fees policy proved very popular and starting moving serious numbers of voters towards the Lib Dems that one (or perhaps both) of the two main parties would modify their own policies to counter that trend? It's not like it hasn't happened before.
Perhaps even more importantly though given some of the recent polls it is also not beyond the realms of possibility that there could be a minority (or even coalition) government after the next election. In that situation the Lib Dems could have even more influence and perhaps even some of the party's policies could find their way into a Queen's Speech. That possibility surely calls into question Tom's "meaningless" charge.
Of course if Tom is so dismissive of the Lib Dems as they are unlikely to form a government on their own any time soon then that must equally apply to all other political parties except Labour and the Tories. So by that reasoning, the Greens, UKIP and all the other UK-wide parties having policies is even more pointless.
Tom's message is clear. No matter how poorly the two main parties represent your views you should just pick the least worst one and vote for them. Never mind if you find yourself ideologically much closer to one of the other parties.
They are meaningless.