Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 5 July 2010

Two months after the election - my thoughts on the coalition

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

The Hagley Road to Ladywood blog has been publishing a series of guest posts in the last few days from across the political spectrum to mark two months since the general election that has changed the face of our politics so radically.

They have published a guest post from me today to contribute to this. It was formed from a number of questions that I was asked and responded to. I recommend reading the other contributions and have reproduced mine here:

In the immediate aftermath of May 6, I was expecting the Lib Dems to have performed better. When the exit polls came out I was sure that they would be proved wrong, but in the end they were almost spot on. In fact they had been a bit generous to us.

I spent most of the night in the National Liberal Club amongst other Lib Dems. Generally the feeling seemed fairly flat as the bad results came in. However, as the night wore on and it started to become clear that the Lib Dems would hold the balance of power, I got more excited. I was hoping for it to end up a doubly hung parliament (where the Lib Dems could have formed a majority with either of the other two parties) which would have given us maximum bargaining power however it was not to be.

I knew though as I walked out into the street at around 7:30am with fellow party members that politics was about to change quite fundamentally and I was very excited.

Later on, the news that a deal was being struck between David Cameron and Nick Clegg took a bit of getting used to, but it was the only game in town in the end. I blogged on the Tuesday morning when it was still looking possible that the party could try to strike a deal with Labour that we should take the Tory deal.

I am certain that a wobbly rainbow alliance built on the foundations of a minority Labour/Lib Dem coalition would have been disatrous. In the end I am a political realist. The deal we struck was the only politically viable one and I think we actually got a good deal all things considered.

And here is why. The country and its finances were (and are) in a mess. We have to get them sorted. The way that the public voted has ensured that no single party can command a majority. So the Lib Dems went into coalition with the Conservatives I think primarily to ensure that there was stable government for the country.

However we have got more than that. We have been able to get a significant chunk of our programme into government. We have already seen in the budget an increase in the tax threshold for the lowest paid by £1,000 and I fully expect that to rise further in later budgets helping the lowest earners and increasing incentives for people to work too. We have seen capital gains tax increased from 18% to 28%. Neither of these things would have happened if the Tories were in power on their own.

There are lots more policies as well as these headlines when you drill down and this will continue to be the case for the lifetime of the government.

In addition to this, we have 5 cabinet ministers including the universally respected Vince Cable in charge at Business and Chris Huhne who has impeccably progressive green credentials as Environment Secretary. Huhne has already assured our party at conference that there will be no public subsidy for nuclear, for example. I am far from sure that would have been the case under a government with a solely blue hue.

To those that keep crying "betrayal!" at the LibDems, this is what I have to say.

Firstly, I am not really clear what my party is supposed to be betraying. We are not some adjunct of the Labour Party. We are our own political movement with our own traditions and political identity. We are fighting in government for as many of those to be put into practice as possible.

The other thing I would say is that, if you are in favour of electoral reform, then accusations of this sort are rather baffling. A more proportional system would inevitably lead to coalitions where parties from different traditions have to come together and compromise.

Of course the Lib Dems have to defend what the party is doing in government (and I do not agree personally with the whole programme by the way) and fully expect the opposition to hold us to account. But I think it should be on the policies themselves, not some notion that we have betrayed something or someone. That is singularly unhelpful and I think will eventually backfire on Labour.

As for the leadership race within the Labour Party, I think the major problem that Labour have is similar to that of the Conservatives in 1997. All the main contenders are very closely associated with the previous discredited government. There needs to be some fresh thinking.

One of the reasons I could never have considered joining Labour is their woeful record on civil liberties. It was visible again the other day when Ken Clarke made his comments about prisons questioning whether banging up more and more people was the right approach. Straight away Jack Straw wrote a piece for the Daily Mail painting the government as "soft on crime".

This is the sort of approach that people are sick of and the new leader whoever they are needs to get a grip of. Otherwise Labour are risking spending another decade or more in the political wilderness as the world moves on without them and they are still fighting the political battles of the Blair/Brown era.

1 comment:

Emma Burnell said...

Hi Mark,

I have posted my thought on part of this here: