Saturday, 17 September 2011

Tough Liberalism - but not too tough.

One of the criticisms of the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition was that we were too ready to agree to Conservative policies even the ones we are supposed to be completely opposed to like Tuition, or the harsher Austerity measures. At the Spring Liberal Conference Nick Clegg stood before the party faithful and promised that we as a party in coalition would assert ourselves and show that we were not the lapdogs who nodded along to every line that David Cameron and the Conservative leadership fed us just so we could get a sniff of power.

Since then, and the failure of the AV referendum the party have stood firm over Human rights, House of commons reform, the 50p top tax rate and most importantly we argued the NHS reform until it was acceptable. The party has found its voice and is standing firm have taken criticism on board. However David Lawes has stated that too much opposition is a bad thing. He argues that if the party forms an opposition within the Coalition it could lead to disaster, not only electorally but for the nation.

"While it is essential that our identity is not lost, it would be a disaster if the Lib Dems were simply to evolve into an internal opposition, we will best serve our country as constructive front-seat drivers, not as grumpy passengers who are merely looking forward to the end of a bumpy ride."

The Coalition, like any marriage calls upon the strengths of each partner to reach a compromise and are stronger together than apart. Mr Lawes  says that;

In its second year the relationship between the parties has matured. We don't pretend that we agree on every dot and comma. there have been differences including the NHS. In spite of these differences we are proving that we can deliver. Indeed, this coalition works better than many previous single- party governments.

True enough. We all remember what the last days of New Labour were like with infighting and squabbling between various power groups, and indeed the last days of the Major administration. If a government were to fracture like that it ultimately means that MPs and ministers are concentrating their time on carving out power or serving anothers power base and not their constituency. This is bad enough when there is no major disaster going on but seeing as the nation, indeed Europe, is facing a massive economic problem and needs a steady hand to direct it. Don't get me wrong I think the work of the Backbench committee and MPs like Julian Huppert and Greg Mulholland and indeed the voices of Dr Evan Harris, Tim Farron MP and the Social Liberal Forum are wonderful, the very conscience of the party and one that reminds the leadership of what the party members want and believe but they shouldn't be lead to a position where they have to rebel or rebel needlessly.

David Lawes has kept his statement neutral so as not to offend the Conservative party and did not push the 50p Tax rate as anything other than "temporary." that's an issue for the leadership to debate. He did however state that we as a party are committing to George Osborne's Plan A for the economy. (or A+ as it is becoming.) Now Labour will say that we have tied ourselves to the mast but we are providing alternatives and are taking steps to protect the less well off, at Nick's insistence and yes, at the moment there is no plan B, but then it isn't up to us to have a plan B, it is the opposition's. Until Ed Balls and Ed Miliband actually write an alternative on their blank sheet of paper and debate it sensibly in parliament rather than constantly criticising and saying they would do things differently without going into detail we have to forge on ahead. In 2015 it will be shown that Coalition had a plan and for ill or good they carried out.

So we should keep our calm and not become to anti everything just for the sake of keeping a separate identity but we should maintain a them and us approach. Two partners married by circumstance working together, with both of our parties traditions and beliefs, for the "good" of the nation and not become one of those couples that begins to share an identity. A difficult balancing act but one that Nick embraced in his speech at the Conference rally today.

"We have not become the same and we never will."

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