Friday, September 19, 2008

Nick Clegg wins the battle, but will he win the war? (or is it the other way round?!)

Today I have had the great privilege of being a judge in the Children and Young People's Services Awards. It was inspirational, and although I am sworn to secrecy about who we shortlisted, suffice to say that we read of many many wonderful projects going on up and down the country to improve the life chances of children and young people. But, I also met a fellow Lib Dem, someone who unprompted told me she was planning to leave the party in the light of what she perceived as our drift to the right. She was proud to be part of the party that was prepared to raise taxes for the rich to invest in excellent public services. She was happy with the 1p for education and 50p rate. She was at a loss to understand what was happening with our apparent about turn. I hope I persuaded her to stay..........but I left worrying about how many other members up and down the country are, as we speak, wondering about renewing their membership.

I fear this position on tax may only be a hairline fracture in Make it Happen, but it is a fault line that runs all the way through it and has the potential to develop into a chasm. A chasm between us and the electorate (we lose our credibility when we can't cost promises) and a chasm within the party. The amendment very clearly sought to be a uniting amendment. To get the whole party behind what is an excellent document. The deliberate misrepresentation of that amendment and the decision not to accept it for what it was, left nearly half of us feeling ignored and disaffected. Make it Happen is the lynch pin for our party, it is the Standard around which we should be massing, if ANY motion should have been passed unanimously in Bournemouth - this was it!!!! As well as clearly being very upset at the lack of diversity in the debate, at times I wondered if I had been teleported two weeks hence and I was sitting in the Tory conference! Frankly, if you closed your eyes you could have been forgiven on many occasions for thinking you were listening to Tories. It chilled me to my bones.............

I am at a complete loss to understand why Nick Clegg made it such a leadership issue, wheeling out the "big hitters" Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, Simon Hughes. Clearly there wasn't quite the nervousness there was over Trident as Nick didn't need to make a surprise intervention himself. Yes, Nick won, he would have either breathed a sigh of relief or jumped for joy, I know not which.............but at what cost?


Alix said...

I hope she doesn't leave. I'll tell you why (tell her next time you see her!): I am a self-identifying liberal who backs the tax cut idea over and above the blank-cheque-for-the-state idea. But I need her to inform my point of view.

I wouldn't like to be part of a party which wasn't informed by both the liberal instinct AND the social democratic instinct. They can't function properly apart. The two ideologies need each other, to keep each other honest.

I sometimes wonder if it's a generation thing, in the sense that I can't really remember a world without the Lib Dems in it, so I don't see what you describe as a "fault line". To me it's just the way it is, and it's why our policy-making process is so robust. I just can't see this in terms of a split. Disagreement is healthy (in spite of what other political parties think, with their lack of genuine debate) and it promotes strong, rational policy discussion, with genuine challenges from both sides. This is a good thing.

Laurence Boyce said...

Linda, I beg to differ. How could the amendment have been misrepresented? It was there on the order paper in back and white (presumably). It read as follows:

“Conference further resolves that any reduction in overall levels of public expenditure should be a lower priority than measures to reduce inequality in British society, improving public services, including in particular health, education, child care and public transport, and making the urgent investments needed to tackle accelerating climate change.”

If that was supposed to be a unifying amendment, then it would surely need a complete rewrite. To say that reducing inequality and tackling climate change should take priority over tax cuts is, in effect, to say that there will never be tax cuts. We could massively increase public expenditure and arguably still not be doing enough on inequality and climate change. Those things are endeavours virtually without limit.

I’m so sorry we disagree Linda. I wish there was something I could do to make us all one big happy family again. But Alix makes an interesting point. We need each other more than ever!

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