Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 16 January 2011

What a turnaround!

It was fascinating listening to "Any Questions" on Radio 4 yesterday.

Sarah Teather was batting for the Lib Dems and the mellifluously toned Emily Thornberry was doing likewise for Labour.

During the course of the programme, Thornberry repeatedly tried to turn every question into one about the "harsh cuts" being imposed by the government. At no point of course did she make any attempt to highlight what she and Labour would have cut instead as indeed they would have had to have done.

In the end Teather called her on this pointing out that Labour continually attack every single cut without having a credible alternative plan for what they would have done instead (see Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer today for more on this theme). It is opportunism of the highest order.

But how strange that we find ourselves at the start of 2011 in a political world where a Lib Dem MP (and government minister to boot) is lecturing one of Labour's rising stars who only just missed election to the shadow cabinet by one vote on realistic politics and government! For decades we have heard Labour (and Tory) ministers claim high-handedly that a vote for the Lib Dems is a waste of time because they are not a realistic party of government and will never be in a position of power. They cannot credibly make this claim in the future.

As an aside, I also just wanted to draw attention to something else Thornberry said during the programme. At one point she claimed: "Being in coalition is not an excuse to break your promises". This garnered a fair bit of applause from the audience. However it is an easy line that like her claims about the economy does not stand up to scrutiny. As I have said time and again, coalition is about compromise and by definition it is impossible for two parties to come together and for both of their programmes/manifestos to be implemented in full. Some policies and ideas from both parties will have to be modified or dropped for it to work at all. So it is another example of Labour being totally unrealistic about the realities of coalition governing.

Emily Thornberry gets added to the ever growing list of Labour spokespeople and activists who by their words are effectively ruling out their own party from ever governing in a coalition at Westminster.


Lib Dan 1975 said...

The piece of blank paper which Labour is putting forward as its solution to the cuts and their continual carping about broken promises wore thin after about the first three months. Another day, another highfalutin speech by Ed Miliband but we are still no nearer to knowing what Labour would do.
MPs such as Emily Thornberry are either very naive about the nature of compromise that coalition brings about or they are complete political opportunists - I think rather the latter.
People don't generally vote negatively 'against' something, they vote positively 'for' something and that is what Labour needs to wake up to.

JohnM said...

Labour have U-turned massively, haven't they? Have they not ditched their whole platform from last may and denied the last 13 years as some kind of aberration? Are they saying that if they had won, they would be against themselves?

Denny said...

There's a difference between a policy in a manifesto and "a promise", I think (although possibly there shouldn't be). The tuition fees pledge is going to keep being brought up every time this issue is discussed, because it went way beyond a policy 'aspiration' and well into 'a promise' territory.

As I think you said in a previous post, it should have been a red line issue in the coalition negotiations. The fact that it wasn't is going to dog the LD half of this coalition for as long as it lives, and probably longer, providing an easy and entirely correct target for this kind of criticism.

Mark Thompson said...

Denny - You're right, I did say it should have been a red line issue. Having said that, it is possible (as I think Lib Dem Kitty suggested in the comments on that post) that could have actually prevented the coalition from forming at all. She may well be right and I might have been being naive in thinking we could have pushed this one all the way.

In the end, there were 57 MPs elected who ideally wanted to fund tuition fees from general taxation (and the measures necessary to fund that) and nearly 600 who were not. It was always going to be a very difficult battle to win. What the party decided to do was to try and make the fees as fair as possible for those who have to repay them. It is a compromise. Not an easy message to sell to people when the current BETRAYAL narrative is in the ascendency but there will *always* be compromises and not all of them will be easy.

I think what will happen in future elections is that all parties, but especially the Lib Dems will be much more careful about what they "promise" and "pledge".