Friday, 28 May 2010

Is High Office Pulling Some Lib Dems To The Right, and Why Denis Skinner Has Shown Me Where The Life Boats Are

Regular visitors to my blog will have realised that it has been some time since my last update.

Indeed, many bloggers have been updating almost hourly with their takes on the recent seismic developments following the recent election.

I too must admit to feeling an urge to do exactly the same. Looking at the unexpected way in which the political strata have changed in the last few weeks, there has been much to digest, much to write about, and much to get the heart and pulse racing.

As a member of the Liberal Democrats, I have been watching with quiet anxiety as the party enters into a coalition with the Conservative party. My initial response was to run for the hills, such is my endemic mistrust of the Conservatives, and the ethos of those who make up the membership of the party.

Having said that, I fully accept that it simply would not have worked to try and install a ‘traffic light’ or centre left coalition into Westminster as an alternative.

Firstly, the numbers simply were not there in enough abundance to be stable in the turbulent economic times in which we find ourselves.

Secondly, it would not have been conducive to good government to have to pander to the nationalist parties of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in order to shore up the government on every contentious issue.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Labour lost the election. It would be of the greatest offence to those who decided that they had had enough of Labour for the party to cling belligerently to power.

As a proud and committed trade unionist, it was a bitter pill for me to swallow by not immediately tearing up my membership card, despite the fact that my hand was hovering above my card wallet. However, I was convinced, albeit in the interim by many party activists who adopted the view that it would be best to wait and see what the coalition talks produced, the reasoning being that the Liberal Democrats could seize this opportunity to actively shape government, and to act as a socially just brake, and curb the excesses of the tory party.

Deciding to swallow this bitter pill, and support the party leadership in this decision, I actively refrained from posting blogs whilst I waited to examine the detail of the agreement struck between the two parties. I felt that it would be an adventure in guesswork, hyperbole and disingenuity to do anything else.

Days have since passed, and slightly more detail is beginning to come forth from the coalition government, and I have to be brutally honest in saying that I am getting the distinct feeling of disappointment in the way in which so many vociferous advocates of Liberal Democrat policies have magically switched perspectives and are now preaching the contents of the Conservative manifesto.

Just weeks ago, the Liberal Democrats were hitting the headlines and siding with Labour on the issue of whether or not it was right to instigate £6bn of cuts to the government budgets this year. Both the Lib Dems and Labour were contending that cutting £6bn from budgets straight away would leave us at risk of a double dip recession. Both parties made this argument with great vigour and passion, and they made a compelling case.

Fast forward to the weeks immediately following the election result, and we have many of these hitherto committed Lib Dem voices now claiming that the very measure they were passionately arguing against is the correct thing to do!

At the risk of being cynical, I find it hard not to think that the experience of having one’s bottom on the seat of a ministerial limousine has altered somewhat the feeling of those Liberal Democrats who are showing such breathtakingly loose principles that they could well give the very worst excesses of New Labour a run for their money!

We had an almost total commitment to achieving proportional elections in Westminster, yet in return for propping up a tory administration, all we get is a non-committal referendum on the basic alternative vote and a cloudy half commitment to proportional election to a revitalised upper chamber. On this specific issue, the Lib Dems have changed from wanting a fully elected upper chamber to talking of 'mainly elected' peers.

I for one simply cannot understand how the sprit, ethos and rule of democracy can be used to propel some into a reformed upper chamber but not others.

Complete nonsense.

There are so many issues upon which the Liberal Democrats are so far silent. How, for instance, has the formation of the coalition changed the view of the party leadership on the subject of trade union protection?

Nick Clegg has spoken of unions as ‘vested interests’ and this worries me. It is, and always has been at the centre of my personal politic that the working man and woman should receive fairness and justice in the workplace. That is the guiding principle of trade unionism, and it is also the very example of fairness that would lift the cloud of scepticism that hangs so over Mr Clegg and the party that offered me fresh hope, along with many others.

I truly hope that the party leadership is not confusing the likes of Charlie Whelan and his fellow union power brokers with the hard working and vulnerable trade union members that are keeping this country moving (albeit slowly) toward economic recovery.

The Liberal Democrats are a party that is essentially of the centre left. This was the guiding principle behind me joining the party following me leaving the Labour Party.

If the leading figures of the party are now suddenly allowing the magnetism of high office to pull them to the right, I think that I will not be the only one who experiences a resurgence of that bitter taste that filled my mouth in the days following the election.

Before the election, the Lib Dems promised to vote against any rise in tuition fees, and by doing so attracted alot of student votes. Now they say that they will 'abstain' against any such vote. Abstention may well yield the same result as voting against, but that simply is not the point. This is a point of principle.

After a few encouraging noises at the inception of the coalition, the only noises coming through have been from Lib Dem ministers getting their feet firmly under the table at the expense of their election pledges, and I for one am finding it harder to resist the urge to cut and run.

Sir Menzies Campbell is the only one to have stuck to his principles when he maintained his commitment to vote against the tuition fee rise. Already, people within his own party are comparing him to John Redwood!

I have watched with unease as David Laws sets about swinging his axe at the flesh of the state. Nobody can disagree with the assertion that action needs taking to stabilise the nation’s finances, but the vigour with which he is going about the business of wrenching millions from the various government departments is unsettling. I think that when you are not sure whether it is the thrill of actually holding office that is causing his subtle grin of joy, or the actual stripping of cash from the budgets, it says alot about the mood music currently being played by the artisans of the coalition.

The party say that they will ensure that an agenda of fairness will prevail. I truly hope that they are right, and honest.

Denis Skinner pinned David Laws brilliantly in the commons in a diatribe that was indicative of everything that is great about honest and principled politicians. In fact, if more of Labour’s leadership had shown the same commitment to straight talking and principles that Denis Skinner showed in his political attack on Laws, and less devotion to lip service, political over correctness, and complete indifference to the grass roots, I probably would never have left the party.

If Denis Skinner could give me advice, I am sure that he would tell me to jump ship, and do it now.

Whilst I have, thanks to the display of principled politics by Ming Campbell, no imminent plans to throw myself overboard, Mr Skinner has at least underlined the compulsion I was already feeling to go and seek out the location of the life boats.

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