Friday, 3 December 2010

On the Liberal Democrats

I have to say that I feel rather sorry for Nick Clegg. Out of all the ministers of the coalition government, he has been singled out as the target for the visceral hatred of the hard left. He is accused of betrayal, of deceit, and of taking his party in a direction against their political instincts - into coalition with the Conservatives and not with Labour.

Now, I am not a massive fan of the Liberal Democrats. I am not a massive fan of politicians per se, although I am right wing, and so tend to favour UKIP and the Conservatives more. But I will try to look at the situation impartially.

  1. No one won the General Election. This is a crucially important point. Nick Clegg (and all other Lib Dems) stood for election on the basis of their manifesto, but they didn't win. It is therefore completely unreasonable for Lib Dem supporters to expect their entire manifesto to be implemented simply because they hold some political power. Likewise for the Tories;
  2. Although no one won the General Election outright, the Tories did win the highest number of votes, and the highest number of seats in the House of Commons. Surely, any believer in democracy will recognise that it would be an outrage if the country's most popular political party was excluded from Government? That is effectively disenfranchisement;
  3. A coalition with Labour would not have had a majority in the House of Commons, with such a Government requiring the support of the DUP, the SNP and Plaid Cymru to pass bills. This would have focused an enormous level of political bargaining power into parties with a small amount of representation and some with separatist tendencies;
  4. As a result of the coalition with the Tories, some Lib Dem policies are actually being enacted. The increase in the Income Tax personal allowance, the abandonment of the Tory plans to raise Inheritance Tax, the pupil premium, and a massive switch on civil liberties, including the abolition of ID cards, and a commitment to a referendum on electoral reform are all Lib Dem policies.

However, the Lib Dems are not without their own problems. Vince Cable, seemingly unable to deal with the psychological trauma of voting for higher tuition fees, is proposing to abstain from voting on a measure for which he is responsible as the relevant Secretary of State.

This is lunacy. The Government has always worked on the basis of collective responsibility - if a member of HM Government cannot agree with a policy of HM Government, then he or she should resign. If Liberal Democrat ministers feel that they cannot agree with jointly-determined policies, they should step down from the cabinet, not abstain from voting on measures they have presented to Parliament.

Of course, they won't do that. Resignations on such a scale could destroy the coalition, and trigger another election. And it is highly likely that the Lib Dems would be severely punished at such an election. Perversely, because of the inherent bias in the electoral system which has yet to be removed, such an election could result in a Labour Government.

 Ouch.

This is not a call for the Lib Dems to fall in line with the Tories. They should follow their own political convictions, and do what they think is right. But they should remember what they have accomplished in office thus far, and that the offices they hold come with responsibilities.