Sunday, 15 May 2011

Coalition Anniversary

A year ago, Nick Clegg and David Cameron stood before the world's media and announced they were forming the first coalition in British political history since the Second World War. Lib Dem activists were in a mixed mood, some were cautious about getting into bed with the Conservatives but an emergency conference saw the members present vote successfully to join as did the parliamentary party. I, like many were pleased and excited by the formation, it offered change and a breath of new life after the stagnant, almost living dead style of Brown's administration. I was doubly excited as my daughter was born the day of the Rose garden conference.

Now that Sophie has celebrated her first birthday with jubilant smiles and cake, how has the Coalition and more importantly how have the Lib Dems celebrated their first year?
Well the council results last week tell it all. I stood with colleagues and friends in a giant hall at the Medway Leisure park centre and watched the results come in. I saw a good man and councillor of 11 years lose his seat in Gillingham South to a Labour candidate that had not canvassed me or even delivered a leaflet. The chair of the Medway Lib Dems, Sue Hannant was quoted in the KM extra this week:

"There is no doubt the coalition did for us.
I personally think we should never have gone into it."

Her sentiment has been echoed by Lib Dems across the twittersphere and in party meetings across the land as they tackle the fall out. I have even echoed concerns with the way we are portrayed and conduct ourselves in my post:
But in the week that followed our defeat and the reversal of Cleggmania what have the party leadership and indeed our coalition partners made of it?

At the bottom of the pile are the observers and Lib Dem activists who have watched a party seem to betray its core values in Government, Nick Clegg a once dynamic leader become cowed into a Darth Vader style villain working with Cameron's Palpatine to crush the plucky British citizen with economic hardship and social injustice for just a ministerial car and office.  The parliamentary party seems divided as well, with ministers like Huhne and Alexander nodding in agreement whilst Dr Vince goes from one blunder to another vs. the Huppart's and Mullholland's of the party who stand up for their Liberal beliefs and speak their minds even if it is against the government's wishes. There also seems to be a third way... a grey central ground held by Simon Hughes and others who should disagree but instead stay strangely silent.
Norman Lamb, a leading Lib Dem and advisor to Mr Clegg has come out in recent days and described the party as a human shield for the Conservative party.  (  
People have told me that we are to blame for the harsh government economic measures, that we have a Liberal Chancellor - possibly from the amount of interviews Danny Alexander had to make. Even with the NHS reforms, a process our party members were quick to reject at the Spring conference we have been attacked for standing our ground;

"Instead of coming along after they had made the NHS bill and arguing about it, the Lib Dems should have argued against it from the beginning." Ed Miliband

Conservative back benchers, some of whom have been against a coalition with the Lib dems from the start, have been uttering displeasure at Mr Lamb's observations.

"One of them, Peter Bone, said the Lib Dem ministers had to show more "collective responsibility" and stop "bleating" about the Conservatives." (Ibid.)

Instead Mr Clegg has harkened to advice from the Lib Dem members, perhaps he even read this blog, (unlikely) and has announced a tougher more "Muscular Liberalism."

The following email was dispatched to Lib Dem members:

Dear Chris,
Earlier today I gave a speech at the National Liberal Club to party members and activists outlining where I believe we should go next in coalition. You can read the full text of my speech here.
The decision we took to enter full coalition with the Conservatives, a decision we collectively took, was absolutely the right one. However it is important to be clear that the current government is a coalition of necessity. The driving force behind the formation of the coalition was the need to act together in the national interest to sort out Labour's toxic economic legacy. It is not a 'national' government, but it is a government formed in the national interest.
In the next phase of the coalition, both partners will be able to be clearer in their identities, but equally clear about the need to support the Government and government policy. We will stand together, but not so closely that we stand in each other's shadow. You will see a strong liberal identity in a strong coalition government.
We will not define ourselves in relation to the other parties. We are defined by a century and a half of liberal politics. It is not left. It is not right. Not the anti-Tory party, nor the anti-Labour party, nor the anti-politics party. Instead a party of enterprise and fairness; a party which knows we can do more together than we can alone.
We are a liberal and democratic party. And we will stand our ground in the liberal centre of British politics.

Best wishes,

The Speech itself was a very good one, ('s_speech_to_mark_the_first_anniversary_of_the_Coalition&pPK=b06a3476-8433-42d4-83f7-cbcba784f4b5) and there were many good soundbites for the collected members of the Liberal club and the media as a whole.

It is quickly stressed that the Coalition was not one of convenience but of necessity because of the economic crisis, a crisis that Labour left behind, a party that the public had no real confidence in to sort it out.

 But the driving force behind the formation of the coalition was necessity: the need to act together in the national interest to sort out Labour’s toxic economic legacy. It is not a ‘national’ government, but it is a government formed in the national interest. - Clegg

Clegg, also reminds us what a golden opportunity the coalition is, it can show that we as a party are able to legislate, govern, generate ideas and are a good choice for government;

I am confident that by showing we can combine economic soundness with social justice – competence with a conscience – we will be an even more formidable political force in the future. -Clegg

He also acknowledges that the party has failed to be in the forefront of the media, telling people what we have done rather than what we have failed to do. Pupil Premium, free pre-school, moving for an elected house of lords, delayed Trident renewal, cutting income tax, helping pensioners... All of this has been lost in the quagmire of the media and cast into the shadow of Tuition fees.

In part this means we need to do a better job of blowing our own trumpet on policies such as cutting income tax for ordinary taxpayers; ending child detention; increasing the state pension; introducing free nursery education for disadvantaged 2 year olds; adding a quarter of a million apprenticeships; increasing tax on capital gains; reining in the banks; creating a Green Investment Bank and a green deal; and getting more money into schools to help poorer pupils.
In terms of policy impact, we are punching well above our weight. A recent analysis by the BBC estimated that 75 per cent of our manifesto is being implemented through the coalition agreement, compared to 60 per cent of the Conservative manifesto. -Clegg

I think that the AV campaign did dent his faith in the Conservative-Liberal partnership, the Conservatives did fight dirty and they did rally together, some with glee at the notion of crushing another upstart Lib Dem policy. I usually try to sit on the fence with party politics but I believe AV was a better system and I think to a degree people were hoodwinked and voted No for the wrong reasons. In fact I know some who did!
Clegg also taken steps to move away from the Conservatives and now that we no longer need to play nice for the AV referendum he is offering to stand up to the Conservatives a lot more over policy hopefully showing how separate we are.

"In the next phase, both partners will be able to be clearer in their identities but equally clear about the need to support government and government policy. We will stand together but not so closely that we stand in each other's shadow,"  -Clegg

This will be a good move! It will hopefully help to define us as a separate party again. Indeed on the doorsteps for the local election a Liberal Democrat councillor, with a Lib Dem Candidate badge and rosette was told by one householder in Gillingham South. "No thanks, I don't vote Tory."
If we can stand apart from the Conservatives a bit more, if we can show ourselves as the reformist party that we are we can win back the voters we have lost by 2015. We can honestly say that we have done our bit for the party and the country as a whole. We may not win every time but the proof is in the stance.

We are not just a prop to the Conservative party, we are the Liberal Democrat party and we have our own key core values and beliefs that don't always agree with the Conservatives.

However, and as much as I'd like to end on a triumphal Lib Dem surge, I should point out that we are still in coalition. As James Landale points out ( the coalition will only work if we don't let it turn into a marriage that has wilted into mutual distaste - marred with bickering and backstabbing, of anti- Tory or anti-Lib dem hacking. It is easy to hate each other and to bicker but we also need to work together too solve the deficit and bring in change and reform.
If anything we should not judge the Coalition on what has happened in the first year, and certainly not listen to the criticisms from Labour who cling to the comfort blanket of opposition, and who had just as fragmented party in government as the Coalition which is in fact two parties, we should wait and see how it develops and get involved and judge it on its merits.

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