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Tuesday, 12 January 2010

There Is A Real Alternative To Punch & Judy....

Think of the cheery and hopeful yellow of the Liberal Democrats, and it is hardly a thought that naturally lends itself to association with risk. But over the last few days, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg MP has steered the Liberal Democrats onto what the party’s detractors may see as a risky course indeed.

Over the last fortnight or so, we have been forced to endure an endless media deluge of interviews with the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown MP, and the Conservative leader, David Cameron MP where the two have dragged each other into a passionate and energetic race to the bottom, both desperately trying to outdo the other by making statement after statement, empty promise after empty promise, vague soundbite after vague soundbite. Both claim to have the best interests of the country at heart. Both claim to be the best person to lead this country out of the economic doldrums. Both claim to be the great panacea that our rotten parliament needs.

Neither though, is prepared to commit fully to the change that our failing politics are desperately crying out for, if we are to avoid our democracy, and our most integral institutions becoming irrelevant.

When pressed on the subject of parliamentary reform, both of these political leaders have shied away from really grasping the nettle, instead choosing to bow to pressure from their own self interested and recalcitrant back benchers. Gordon Brown, and David Cameron have bottled out of the greatest and most important issue facing the regulation of parliament in living memory. On the one occasion when the country looks in hope toward those who are granted extensive privilege by being elevated to the higher echelons of our political system, they turn their backs on the path of real and true radical reform, and instead they dither and tinker, their actions being slowed by fear of upsetting their fellow members of the disembodied political elite.

In reaction to the global economic crisis, the subject of which I have explored in an earlier blog, both leaders waste time, energy, and public money and ailing confidence throwing insults at each other, and seem too preoccupied with picking holes in the word of their opponent rather than focussing on being open and honest with their paymasters, the electorate, with regard to what their policies clearly are.

Both leaders have claimed that cuts will have to be made in the planned spending programmes of the various governmental departments. Both have claimed that the other is not prepared to either go far enough, or to do what is necessary to safeguard our fiscal viability as a major player on the international political scene. Curiously though, both have failed spectacularly to be frank and honest about where it is that they expect the financial axe to fall in relation to the proposed policies which will feature in the forthcoming general election campaigns.

Contrast the confusing and mathematically implausible approach of both Labour and the Conservative parties respectively, with the recent announcements made by the Liberal Democrats.

Over the last few days, there has been much media interest over the fact that the Liberal Democrats have changed some of their existing election pledges in the face of the financial circumstances within which the United Kingdom finds itself.

Nick Clegg stood before the assembled media yesterday and detailed the changes in party policy. Gone is the commitment to a ‘citizen’s pension’ gone is the commitment to eradicate tuition fees, gone is the commitment to introduce free personal care for the elderly.

‘Deferred’ maybe is a better term, but either way, the policy of the party has been modified decisively in reaction to the state of the nation’s finances.

Of course, the tories and labour immediately seized on this as being supposed proof that the Liberal Democrats are indecisive and cannot be trusted. However, this courageous and somewhat risky move by the Liberal Democrats truly is the first time that any of the main political leaders have attempted to treat the electorate as anything like adults.

I contend that Nick Clegg has done something that is not only quite remarkable, it is quite courageous, and if handled correctly by the party’s election team, this could be a move that could earn the party extra respect, and much extra support come polling day.

The fact that the Liberal Democrats have made alterations to their commitments is not proof of indecisiveness, or of the party being untrustworthy. It is quite the opposite.

What has happened here is that we, as a nation have encountered the most severe financial crisis since the 1930s. This has had, and will continue to have a profound effect on the public purse for years to come. Both Labour, and the Conservatives still refuse to detail how this effect will impact upon their central election pledges. Both refuse to treat the electorate like responsible citizens, capable of making a rational decision based upon the stark and unambiguous facts.

The electorate need to be paid due respect by the political classes, especially given the extent to which these very same people have been caught with their hands well and truly stuffed in the cookie jar.

The Liberal Democrats are the only political party that have had the guts and the integrity to come out and say;

“We would love to abolish tuition fees. We are still committed to the principle, but right now, the country simply cannot afford it”

The Liberal Democrats are the only political party that have had the guts and the integrity to come out and say;

“We would love to introduce free personal care for the elderly. It is still a long term objective of ours, but right now, the country simply cannot afford it”

The Liberal Democrats are the only political party that have had the guts and the integrity to come out and say;

“We would love to maintain our pledge of a ‘Citizen’s pension, it is still a policy that we intend to implement in the medium to long term, but right now, the country simply cannot afford it”

(For the record, the commitment to restore the link between pension payments and average earnings remains Liberal Democrat policy. It is in my opinion, nothing short of a travesty that this link was not restored years ago when the Labour government took power)

This is not ‘dilly dallying’. This is not flakiness on the part of the party’s leadership. This is the demonstration of qualities that have not been apparent in British politics for a long time;
Honesty and Frankness.

How can a political party be trusted if they do not have the ability to modify that which they believe to be achievable in the face of a change in the financial situation within which they would be expected to work?

How can they be trusted if they are not prepared to be honest about their true intentions with the electorate?

(Ask yourself; If you applied for a job, and attended the interview, would you expect to get the position if you refused to answer the questions of your would-be employer?)

The Liberal Democrats have shown that when it comes to honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness, they truly are a real alternative to the same old corrupt, ‘punch and judy’ style politics of Labour and Conservative.

One of the things that require immediate and fundamental change is the electoral system within which we operate. There are far too many seats across the UK that are considered ‘safe’

In most cases, the incumbent MPs in these constituencies have the freedom to operate with impunity, as they know only too well that there is basically no possibility that they will be voted out, owing to the archaic method by which votes are counted, and seats won.

They also know that there is no way in which the local constituents can ‘sack’ or ‘recall’ an MP who falls short of what is expected of them. This is also something which the Liberal Democrats propose to change, and it is something that I support enthusiastically.

As a result of the lack of accountability that currently reigns, constituents get short changed, important issues get ignored, and democracy slowly keeps on dying.

Yes, electoral change would bring challenges and potential problems, but it would definitely reflect the demographic of those who make up the constituencies far more accurately than the current system.

In this system, the only winners are the occupants of safe, almost hereditary parliamentary seats.

In a fairer electoral system, not only would we as constituents and consumers receive a better level of representation, democracy would thrive, and enthusiasm for politics would once again start to grow.

One of the things that drew me to the Liberal Democrats was the frankness and sensibility that runs through, and underpins the main policies of the party.

We have real, progressive, equitable and fair policies that would transform the United Kingdom, cutting class sizes, improving accountability and efficiency of the NHS, improving the chaotic and failed privatised railway network, revitalising a creaking law and order system, and restoring our confidence in the ability of our legislators and MPs to do the job that they are paid very handsomely to do, on our behalf.

All of these policies have been carefully costed, and the true effects of those costs will be laid down before those who would have to foot the bill – the electorate.

We have a broad church of perspectives, personal history and backgrounds, not just in terms of our candidates, but also in terms of ordinary working men and women across the UK who have realised that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is not a vote gone to waste.

A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for fairness, equity, true and radical democratic reform, openness, and a financially stable, confident, more vibrant United Kingdom, secure in its national sovereignty, playing a leading role as a true democratic, financial and industrial powerhouse in Europe.

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