I joined the Liberal Party in 1979 having torn up my application to the Labour Party as I could not stomach the bigoted racist attitudes of the 1970’s Labour and Trade Union movements. I simply could never have been a Conservative. My parents were in domestic service on a country estate in Northumberland – not quite Downton Abbey but posh enough. The one thing my parents drummed into me was I was no different from the kids at the ‘Big House’ and I could do anything I wanted to. Money of course was a bit of an impediment.
I am a Liberal. I’m not a Socialist but I do see a role for nationalised industry. I never quite understood, and still don’t why Government run industry needs to be synonymous with bad management and mega loss. I am a capitalist and I do believe in a prosperous economy and the ability of business to create wealth not just for a few but for everyone. I do passionately believe equality, compassion, and the role of the state in providing healthcare, education, and welfare. A society can choose to pay for what it wants and can afford a decent healthcare system and can afford education if it chooses. The thing is not one ever grasps the nettle and says we have a choice. We are told it’s either too big and badly run (in which case fix it) or it’s all because we’re aging and medicine costs too much partly because we can treat so much more so costs rise (in which case hey we have to pay more). Tinkering with taxes and cutting to make ends meet is not the answer.
We need to create a thriving economy and a tax system that is fair and pays for what we need even if that means more (which by the way I don’t think it does). Equally I have no idea what the propose of trusts and free market has to do with providing healthcare or education. I do think student loans was a fundamental mistake. Breaking the commitment of society to provide ‘free’ higher education was simply wrong. It was never free anyway and there were other ways to pay for it than student loans. Again, if society wants to it can pay for anything. And here’s a mind-blowing thought I don’t think we are far off needing to work on what a world looks like where work can’t be the only way people earn money as the need for physical labour decreases as technology increases. The benefit state we moan about might actually need far more thought that we can possibly imagine however we’re stuck between a ‘left-right’ argument over costs.
I spent nearly 30 years in Liberal politics. More than a dozen in elected office as Vice-Chairman of the National league of Yo9ung Liberals, on the party National Executive and a member of staff in Parliament and HQ. My question is what happened to my party and where the hell is it now?
How did we go from a party about liberty and about social priorities whose natural ground was an enemy of the Conservative Party and an alternative to Labour to a junior partner in a Tory Government and ceding the entire progressive ground to Corbyn! I won’t call it left and right because I’m an awkward Liberal but equally there’s no time for a pseudo intellectual argument. Essential point is in my view is that we had our heritage and our clothes stolen by Labour… well given away by our beloved Lib Dem Leaders.
Now let me have a go at Nick Clegg and Co. Nice man… should never have been leader. Let me ask you this Nick. What exactly did you not see coming when that equally nice man Mr Cameron rang you up and said how would you like to be Deputy Prime Minster? Nick, did you perhaps not ask yourself why? Clearly not Nick. I know Nick it was all about doing the right thing for the Country and being all grown up (yawn!) Not of course the shiny Cabinet seat or a place in history (sorry cynical me!).
Until the last Tory general election campaign in what I thought was the biggest political blunder of this generation going into full blown coalition with the Tories was right up there. Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly! Now let’s see Nick… I’m Mr Cameron and I need you guys to make up a majority…let me see …what shall I offer you?
Shall I let you suggest a ‘supply agreement’ whereby Nick you provide me with votes when I need them, but you stay independent and by the way retain huge power to influence the course government. Far more than from within. No perhaps not!
Or shall I say come on in sit at the table, be a real partner (let me be sick at this point) and come inside my nice cosy spiders nest while I suck the life blood out of you and your colleagues helping me run my (oops sorry our) Tory government (err sorry I mean Liberal Conservative Coalition). Throw is a handful of now we must all act collectively and for the good of the Country and you Nick are kippered! You’re now effectively junior Tories busy running Government forgetting what as leader of the Liberal Democrats you are there for which is to further the interests of your party and secure a LibDem future Government because actually we are not Tories and we believe we can Govern best alone. An electoral numerical opporuntiy such as the Tories losing their majority was not a chance to proper the Tories up it was a chance to stand on their throats as you climb for the chance to win a Liberal majority.
You have basically given away every ounce of power to influence the government by thinking you can do it best from inside. I know it’s all very non-PC to speak about power but that’s what politics is all about. As leader of the Lib Dems your job is to further our agenda not someone else’s. Nasty politics it may sound but holding a gun to Cameron head over every vote would have concentrate the mind far more than anything else. Taking that gun away and leaving it at the door of Number 10 was exactly what the Tories wanted. I know this is what happened – just talk to those like Steve Hilton and Francis Maude who I have and ask them about the scenario planning they did months in advance in case this happened. Again, did you Nick really think they hadn’t thought all this through in advance and weren’t already prepared with the trap before they rang you.
What Nick did you get to show for all this? ‘It wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been’ or ‘it was a bit less Tory than it could have been’ is hardly a rallying call for what we achieved in Government. Oh, and to cap it all you committed pollical suicide over student loans.
Open the written coalition agreement and there is black and white the agreement allows the Lib Dems to abstain on Student Loans recognising how important our opposition has always been. But hey no because we must be seen to support the government – which we are now completely part of we must throw that away. And who was a big part of arguing for that catastrophic U-turn well the fragrant saint Vince Cable who can of course do no wrong!
Where did any of our (the Liberals) big ideas go? Where did any radical reforming agenda go? I don’t mean again still born by our Tory partners policies like electoral reform but where did any of the vision of a better country go? Well wherever it went it’s left the Lib Dems a husk of its former self and left the ground wide open to Corbyn give people the idea of a better place to live and work. Utterly ill-conceived as much of what Corbyn talks about and not to mention the menace behind it of a return to unreconstructed 1970’s economic policy backed by a re-fanged militant trade union movement any young person or radical thinker has to be attracted by Labour if only because there is no alternative.
Bring back the campaign radical Liberal Party who though be ideas and had real passion. Take on the challenges of the future like what we really do about employment in a world with fewer jobs and how we pay for education and healthcare. Take on tax and say we need to pay for a fair and decent society but we need prosperity to do so. Think the unthinkable …flay tax maybe?
Whatever the answer to this is it’s not Vince Cable but it should be the Liberal Democrats. Someone needs to do something fast or Labour gets a free run at any alternative to the Tories which is not good for anyone.