Thursday, 20 May 2010

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The angsty teen of politics

With posts like "We do not belong to Labour" , "Refusal to enter Lib Dem coalition was Labour's final failure", and "Labour weren't serious about keeping the Conservatives out of office" over at Lib Dem Voice, and the noises we've been hearing from Lib Dem supporters in recent days, the party is increasingly sounding like a youth in the first flower of inept teenage rebellion.

I understand that you wanted to assert your individuality, Lib Dems- we've taken you for granted as a party of the left for far too long. I'm aware that many of you dislike this falling out. And I know you don't like to hear it, but your new friends are a bad influence- you've fallen in with a very dodgy crowd. You think I can't smell the champagne on your breath when you come in at all hours of the night?

But you have to decide if that's really you. Are you hanging around with the Bullingdon boys because you want to be like them or because you're angry at us? Are you discarding any progressive values you ever had because you no longer believe in them or because you want to teach Labour a lesson?

Whatever drove you into the arms of the Conservatives, you're old enough and mature enough to take responsibility for your own actions- none of this "you drove us to it! *Slams door*". Don't blame Labour for the coalition you chose to make if you have doubts, it's your business.

The New Politics

According to Shirley Williams-
So now we embark on a new politics. The generation I belong to, steeped in ideology and partisan commitment, is passing away. My own vision was one of equality and social justice advanced by state action. The new politics is pragmatic, innovative, suspicious of state power, and holds to values rather than dogmas.

We have a new politics everyone! Pragmatic (good), innovative (good), suspicious of state power (good), holds to values rather than dogmas (good). This is brilliant. Let's look at the first fruits of this new politics shall we?

The Liberal Democrats have been heavily pushing the rise of the income tax threshold to £10,000 as an example of their progressive credentials. It sounds good doesn't it? "Let's take the poor out of tax." It's a good progressive line, but that's all it is.

The fantastic Left Foot Forward has demolished it here.

There are going to have to be cuts in public services. This measure will cost £17billion- we don't know what the cuts in public services are going to be yet, but the most crucial £17billion could theoretically be saved without this measure.

The poorest benefit disproportionately from the extra public services that would have to be cut to fund this. The ones who benefit the most from this ConDem measure are the richest.

It is a middle class tax cut dressed up as philanthropy. It is the same as halting the building of a new council house and giving a tiny proportion of the money saved to the poor for the greater benefit of the middle and rich- the poorest might get the scraps from the table, but they will lose far more than they gain.

The Liberal Democrats have sold out their self-awarded "fairness" credentials by supporting a measure that, even taken in isolation without reference to the cuts that would have to come to fund it, increases inequality. The Conservatives have sold out their self-awarded "financial responsibility" credentials by supporting a measure in which only a small proportion of its cost goes to its stated goal.

It is not a measure aimed at helping the poorest. It is a hugely expensive measure aimed at allowing coalition politicians to go on the TV and say "we have taken the poorest out of tax." That is one expensive piece of spin, especially for times like these. The new politics is looking distinctly self-serving and grubby.

Traitors sneer?

There has been much from Liberal Democrat bloggers justifying their coalition- for example, this post at Liberal Democrat Voice does so by pointing out that some of their policies will get through and that experience in government will give them a stronger platform from which to fight the next election.

I'm not at all unhappy with the choice made by the Liberal Democrats in going into coalition with the Conservatives- as people have said, it was the only viable option, and the choice to open talks with Labour wasn't a waste- even if the idea of a Rainbow Coalition was doomed before the start it was a useful myth allowing the Liberal Democrats maximum negotiating leverage. All of this is fair enough, we have a new government and it is a government that fairly holds the confidence of the House of Commons.

But there is an issue with the way that the Liberal Democrats acted before the election. This is what the Liberal Democrats don't get. Their supporters, of which there were far too many, were told to vote Liberal Democrat "to keep the Tories out". They were told to vote Liberal Democrat for PR, for an amnesty for illegal immigrants- the Lib Dems in my area were aghast at any suggestion that they would go into coalition with the Tories despite Nick Clegg's self-indulgent pledge to give the party with the most seats the first go- which he did knowing full well that it would be the Tories. It was a way to make this coalition seem inevitable, to make Clegg seem like a principled man in difficult circumstances and appease idealistic, progressive supporters in case a Lab-Lib coalition could have formed a majority that was undesirable to the leadership.

In other words, "Not me, guv, it's the rules... that I was under no encouragement to commit myself to...but still, not my fault..."

They were aghast at any such suggestion- the idea that the Liberal Democrats could ally themselves to the children of Thatcher was readily dismissed as "Labour spin" and fearmongering by the very people now cheerleading this union. And Labour lost votes because of it.

Many of the votes won by the Liberal Democrats were won based on pledges and promises that they knew they would break. If they knew that this coalition was a possibility, which they must have done, then they should have made it clear to voters before the election. Is it really honest to declare the Conservatives to be allied with "extremists" to win votes during the campaign, and then prop up William Hague as Minister for Europe?

A coalition government is fine and well- but I would certainly feel betrayed if I had voted for the Liberal Democrats based on support for a policy that was later exchanged for a Tory policy. And the same goes for Conservative voters too.

I wonder, since the precedent this has set, how anyone will be able to take any party's manifesto at face value- and this is one of the things that makes me uneasy about PR and the prospect of eternal coalition. No party will make it clear to voters which policies are to be sold off in exchange for a role in government- so how can we vote based on policy? We'll have to rely on the feel of the party- how nice a person the candidates come across on the telly. If we vote in droves to support specific policies, it is always going to be a lottery whether they are implemented or not.

The Liberal Democrats may be in a stronger position at the election because of this coalition, we'll have to see, but British democracy is left a lot less meaningful.