Thursday, 10 February 2011

Lib Dem Councillors may re-define the Coalition

When the coalition formed last May, I know I wasn't the only Labourite shouting at the TV "Don't do it Labour!! Don't do it!!" I had my fingers crossed for so long, there were nearly amputations.

Let's face it, the numbers weren't there, but there was more to it than that. We were tired. People in return were tired of us. Did you see the white, fury of Adam Boulton and Nick Robinson when the Libs dared to even discuss a Lib/Lab deal? OK, the Adam Boulton/Alastair Campbell debacle has become the stuff of legends, but did you see Robinson? He was so outraged at the thought of Lord Adonis, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandleson being a part of the negotiations, that he demanded to become interviewee and screamed at the screen "UNELECTED, UNELECTED, UNELECTED!!!" He referred so often to a "coalition of losers" that I thought he'd been struck down with some form of trauma-induced tourettes. The writing was on the wall. A Lib/Lab deal was never going to happen and if it had, the media would have torn it down within 6 months with outraged  bile.

I confess, I knew nothing of the nuts and bolts of coalition and it turns out I knew nothing about the "Orange Book" LibDems either. Still, I'm a political geek and if I didn't know, then it's pretty certain that Joe public didn't know either. Nonetheless, it seemed that if I must endure a Tory government, then a LibDem upgrade could only improve things. I hazily imagined that coalition meant that each party would have to compromise and work together, ensuring that the unpalatable parts of either manifesto would be mitigated.

In fact what we seemed to get was a brand new political party with a whole new set of policies that no-one had voted for. The clever ConDem nickname is so popular not just because it's brilliant, but because it felt like a whole new name for a new party. When Dave and Nick emerged, shiny and new into the blossoming rose garden it felt all wrong. Surely we didn't need them to morph into one, we needed them to stay distinct? I'd hoped that where one party opposed a policy we would be spared the worst excesses, but in fact it turned out that democracy had been carried out in private for 5 days and all future votes in parliament had already been decided. There would be no abstentions, no votes against, no dissension, just one big ConDemNation.

The news today that 17 council leaders and 71 local party heads have spoken out against the devastating 28% local authority cuts should be celebrated, not opposed by the Liberal Democrats. I firmly believe that if indeed the public did vote for a coalition, then this is what they expected. When something seemed wrong, I think they wanted one or the other party to oppose it. Not destructively but passionately. Not to harm the government, but to strengthen it.

If I'm 100% honest, this was the only thing that gave a leftie like me a moment's chill. There is a strong conservative (with a small "c") streak in the UK public and that, tempered with the more sensitive, inclusive policies of the LibDems could, electorally, have been a force to be reckoned with.

However, in the 9 months of coalition that we've seen so far, this amorphous, undefined mess has given Labour little to fear. Policies are too ideological and ill thought through. The economic lack of policy is a car crash and the Libs have sacrificed themselves so often at the altar of "Strong and Stable (Insert "Tory") Government" that they risk becoming nothing but a subject of satire .

We could have had a Lib/Con coalition that took forward policies mandated in both manifestos. Everything where there was no joint mandate for could have been negotiated, then put to a free vote. A government like that might just have been able to pull itself through the most unpopular cuts agenda in living memory with some integrity. Today, these LibDem councillors could have made the first step towards a more viable UK political model - coalitions that allow parties within them to keep a distinct identity.

If Nick Clegg and David Cameron don't listen, then we don't have a coalition. We have a merger.

3 comments:

  1. I was a member of the LibDems until recently (I might still be, they don't seem to accept that I have left) and I had never heard of the Orange Book. I knew that I was aligned socially with the LibDems, but economically they were to the right of me; but this Orange Book shows just how far right from me. What we seem to have got in the ConDems is all the LibDem economic policies that I didn't like and none of the decent social policies.

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  2. If I may join this one, I shall stay a member for now as Lord Oakeshott and the councillors have reminded us that we are still here and of course there is AV ref and no mucking about with EU.

    In my ex country of NL, that is precisely what their Agreement contains - that you suggest (free vote for non agreed items). That;s what could and should have happened with tuition fees but the silly sods inserted a clause on 'allowing LDs to abstain' which created an impossible situation. Of course to think that the Opposition has not come clean on that issue does make me less censorious than I would otherwise have been. Politics eh!!

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  3. Isn't there a certain kind of irony that the Lib Dems went into the Coalition with such enthusiasm and now things are getting tough, they are turning to Labourt for support.

    perhaps all Labour supporters should wear those big badges, like they do in Asda - ezxcept instead of "Happy to Help", we could have "Told you so!"

    Read my blog at http://bit.ly/eLwJ9p

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