LIB DEM CONFERENCE: TIME FOR LIBERALISM TO GO BACK TO ITS’ ROOTS!
Many voted Liberal Democrat (LD) at the last election thinking they would be getting an alternative to the Tories and Labour. However they got a Lib-Con Coalition in Government following Tory policies! Massive spending cuts, reduction in vital benefits and now no vote on genuine Proportional Representation will be allowed. Despite promises Nick Clegg has joined David Cameron in punishing the voters rather than the bankers for the economic mess.
Public expenditure will be cut leading to thousands upon thousands of jobs lost. Others will have benefits cut or removed. In their rush to reduce our national debt the Coalition will cut first and ask questions later.
National Liberals are not alone in our view. A recent poll says 42% of Liberal voters feel cheated by the Lib Dem deal with the Conservatives. Why?
Cuts in the wrong places…..
Whilst everyone accepts that the previous Government had to borrow to prevent the ‘financial system’ collapsing it was also unsustainable. Putting aside the debate over the efficacy of that system all parties agreed that the books had to be balanced. If it were not going to achieved by higher taxes (which we would oppose) it has to be via a cut in expenditure. However the Coalition will cut in all the wrong places.
The two areas that they have ring-fenced are International Aid (IA) and Military Expenditure (ME). The former, whilst aspects are controversial, is relatively small (£9bn) compared to the latter which stands at £37bn. Clearly there are savings to be made with IA which undoubtedly includes wastage but ME also includes massive expenditure on Trident (including the submarines) which is estimated at £2bn a year for the next 26. The cost of military operations in Afghanistan & Iraq are running at nearly £5bn. Do we really need Trident after the end of the Cold War and should we be fighting a losing battle in the Middle East? We don’t think so and we didn’t think the LD’s did either yet, despite pre-election criticisms, they are now supporting the ring-fencing of these budgets.
The ‘windfall’ bankers levy might raise over £1.5bn but it could have been double that but once again despite LD rhetoric Conservative sensibilities prevailed and the banks got off lightly.
Thus it is not surprising that many LD voters are deserting the party nationally. Fortunately for Clegg the local parties are weathering the storm… for now.
Sold out their principles
Listening to Clegg at the LD Conference you would think however that all was well and that the LD’s have introduced their values into the Government! Indeed the fact that they are in Government seems to be their main achievement rather than seeing it as a means to an end rather than the end in itself. In reality the LD’s sold out their principles for a share of the ‘status’ of power without actually being able to deliver very much.
One of these principles (shared with National Liberals) is electoral reform. Their proposed referendum on the Alternative Vote will either fail (the Conservatives will actively campaign against it!) or will barely affect future elections other than encourage ‘back-room’ deals between the establishment parties (to ‘buy’ second preferences)*1.
Man on the Inside
Clearly many of their activists are following their voters and are rebelling or even deserting. At their conference ‘our man on the inside’*2. says many fear electoral meltdown if their party becomes seen as only ‘The Coalition’ as voters will likely support the larger rather than smaller partner i.e. the Conservatives over the LD’s.
Our man says the conference vote against the Government’s ‘Free Schools’ scheme was delegates way of expressing their disquiet at meekly following their partner’s ideas.
Listening to their leader Nick Clegg’s speech one might believe all was well but many delegates were muttering sentiments such as “It’s all very well for him to say ‘stick with us’ when we are on the edge of electoral destruction” or “Nicks on the biggest ego trip of his life” or “Never have so few (20 LD Ministers) benefited from the sacrifices of so many (the Party)!”.
Paying the price
National Liberals support the concept of Coalitions if it is in the countries best interest*3. However it must be one where all partners get something of their ‘big ideas’ implemented rather than it be used as fig-leaf by the senior partner to push their more unpopular polices.
The long-term National interest would benefit from electoral reform (PR and more referenda) because an apathetic public will become more energised to take part in a politics where their viewpoint would achieve recognition e.g. referenda status/elected representatives rather than the ‘closed shop’ we have now. The LD’s deal with the Conservatives ‘missed the boat’.
On the other big issue of the day i.e. ‘balancing the books’ the LD’s seem to be dancing to the senior partner’s tune. Whilst the cuts and their impacts are yet to occur, Nick Clegg will hold the line but we hazard that once people begin to see that ‘alternative’ cuts were available but not chosen i.e. military expenditure (Afghanistan and Trident) the Coalition and the LD’s in particular, will pay the price.
*1 Rather than selling out for a crumb they could have have allegedly done a Coalition deal with Labour which would have delivered PR (see ‘Has Nick Clegg sold out on PR?’ http://nationalliberal.org/?p=244)
*2 If you are in the Liberal Democrats and unhappy with the Coalition join others in telling us what you think by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
*3 See ‘Hung Parliaments: Are Coalitions the future of British Governments?’ http://nationalliberal.org/?p=235. As fundamental principles National Liberals believe in preserving the independence of the nation and the personal liberties of the people.
Date: September 20, 2010