Coalition – tackling long term issues not playing short term politics.

Lords reform, an issue all the parties believe in and the public believe in, but which the proposed solution, by Nick Clegg, is viewed as not the right type of reform, not allowing enough time for scrutiny or just at the wrong time. I’m being generous to those who are purely playing party politics with this issue!

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Lords reform is a big deal and Liberal Democrats want to see it delivered, not because we benefit, but because it’s the right thing to do. However, if we can’t get support for it, we should not enter into tit for tat politics with the Conservatives.  There are other things we need to get done, so lets do them rather than get bogged down on an issue seen as honourable but not a wider priority.

I want to see the drive to renewable energy, properly supported. As reported in the Guardian, the Treasury and Conservative backbenchers are blocking proposals, despite the promise of this Government being the “greenest government ever”. Increased certainty is needed for companies to invest in green technology, certainty we are not providing.

We can work together with the Conservatives, we have delivered:

  • Increase the income tax threshold to £8,105, taking 2m out of paying tax, and a tax cut of £546 to 21m taxpayers
  • Pupil premium for the poorest primary school children, worth £600 each
  • Driving the agenda for banking reform
  • Green Investment bank with £3bn of initial funding
  • Pension rises of 2.5% guaranteed or the rate of inflation, average wage increases if these are higher
  • Simplifying future pensions, so everyone gets £140 a week, no means testing

Coalition requires compromises, but as Andrew Rawnsley said in the Observer “by and large, it is the Lib Dems who have been the grownups of the coalition and the Tories who have been the juveniles”.Ultimately the Conservatives are behaving and wanting to enact policies of the party of old. In reality they could use the coalition to show that they have modernised, in actions not just words.

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A journey with no clear destination is the reason for Lib Dem jitters

Almost from day 1 of the new government, there has been constant press reports of tensions from the coalition parties, how the grassroots are reacting, mainly from the Liberal Democrats. This is partly true, the Liberal Democrats believe in fairness and our current thoughts are that some of the cuts are more ideological than necessary and changes in government spending could be implemented better (for example I would re-examine Child Benefit as a universal benefit). 
I’m of the impression, despite the polling, that most people are pretty agnostic about the coalition government, not the best preference but ultimately it’s not Labour and not as bad as a full Conservative government. What many Lib Dem members and voters cannot see is the end game for the Liberal Democrats after this term in government. 

  

For the Conservatives it’s a stepping stone, although it would appear that the core Cameron team are actually very pleased with the actual outcome. The Conservative right are very disappointed with the current situation and some of the policies which are being pursued such as restorative justice, alternatives to short jail sentences and a pragmatic approach to Europe. However, they can see that by staying tight and hopefully winning the next election outright they can exert their influence.  

For the Lib Dem members and voters it is less clear how our influence on government will be seen by the general public. It is true that the Liberal Democrats have been less influential than I hoped, partly this is to do with visibility, but also that we did not secure the big jobs of State (Treasury, Home, Foreign Office or Education and Health Departments). These dominate the news, and although we have Ministers in those departments it’s not the same as running them.  

As analysed by Andrew Russell and Edward Fieldhouse Lib Dem voters are neither left nor right, whatever the party’s chosen path we would have disappointed many of our voters. There were very few options actually open to us, my firm view is if the Liberal Democrats are not here to try to govern, if the opportunity is available (and a rainbow coalition was never on), then what are we for?  

It will be a long and rocky path and the party leadership is right that we need to reach out to the voters to explain ourselves. I also believe that the Government (as noted by Jackie Ashley) needs to spell out what the vision is and it’s guiding principle, only then will voters understand what the coalition are trying to do and the Liberal Democrats role within the government. 

Politics like life involves compromises

I must admit I never expected a coalition, but at the end of the day it is probably the least worst alternative.

We could not have done nothing. There is a country to be run.

Supporting a Conservative minority government would have been possible but it would have been fragile, most Liberal Democrat policies would not have been enacted and there was the consdierable risk of another election within 12 months.

A coalition with Labour would have been ideal for many supporters but was never practical due to the parliamentary numbers and lack of support from the Labour party itself. A coalition with the Conservatives, although difficult should lead to many Liberal Democrat policies introduced (such as the £10k income tax threshold) and Conservative policies curbed (marriage tax allowance and inheritance tax threshold increase). All the details have still to be announced but this is what coalition government gives you compromise, hopefully of the important and best things for the country.

It’s also why voting for what you want, can make a difference. Although the electoral system is still against the Liberal Democrats, we can point to the 23% of people who voted for our policies when we were negotiating with the Conservatives, it gave us weight to get what our supporters wanted.

I don’t know what the road ahead will be like but at the very least we can say Liberal Democrat policies will have been delivered, we have experience of government and that coalition government can work (hopefully…).