Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dear Nick, The Lib Dems are more than the sum of their Front Bench

Overnight there have been two stories which have had some of us rather exercised. When an issue has me on the same page as Lord Bonkers, the party leadership really ought to be worried! I have never made any secret of my opposition to the coalition, Jonathan is a supporter, but now even he finds himself questioning the dismissal of Matthew Oakeshott. For me, I think the most disturbing part of this story is the quote Jonathan cites from a party spokesperson "Both Lord Oakeshott and the party leadership agreed he could not speak for the party when he did not support the party's policy"..............ah, so now we get the measure of what is happening, Lib Dem policy is being conflated with coalition policy. It's all a bit Animal Farmish for me, before we know it we will all have morphed into pigs, I mean Tories.........and any of us who won't will find ourselves off to the knackers yard with Boxer! Actually Matthew Oakeshott, did support party policy, like Vince Cable used to, like Danny Alexander used to. I have some sympathy for frontbenchers who can't really come out against their government, but Matthew was not a minister, if he can't speak out who can? As a member of FPC I sit on two of the "Parliamentary Policy" committees - my understanding of the rationale for those committees was that those committees in general and their co-chairs in particular, were there to ensure party policy remained distinctive within parliament and that they were the standard bearers for our policy. Last night's events should really put the wind up the lot of us.

And then there is the letter, headlining the news this morning, from the 91 leading Lib Dem councillors, raising legitimate concerns but then being warned by Andrew Stunnell to effectively put up or shut up. Sadly he demonstrates his disconnect from the party by arguing that these councillors should "stop fighting amongst themselves" DON'T think they are fighting among themselves, quite the opposite, they appear to be agreeing with each other! And therein lies my is the FRONT BENCH who appear to have lost touch with the grassroots. It reminds me of my army days when pals got promoted and suddenly "went native" and forgot where they had come from. Or the brilliant colleagues I have known who got into management and suddenly saw their erstwhile co workers as the problem and started implementing the very policies they had argued against as practitioners. Andrew Stunnell would do well to listen to these front line councillors - an Egyptian "you can make bricks without straw" mentality is unfair and unwise and frankly counter-productive. One wonders for example whether in Norfolk the cost of getting rid of their youth service will end up costing them far more in the long run.

Yes coalition involves compromise but not subjugation - a lesson that our front bench would be well advised to learn, and learn quickly.


Frank Little said...

You're right.

Anonymous said...

I arrived at your post via a post at Liberal England, where Jonathan Calder was berated by one of the commenters for seeming to agree with people on the "socialist far left of the LibDems" like yourself. With a recommendation like that I had to check it out!

But this issue isn't (just) about the substance of the politics but also about democratic practice.

I agree with your post, and I would add that the report in yesterday's Independent about LibDem ministers using private polling to inform political positioning for the party adds further cause for concern. It seems to me to be just as questionable from the perspective of shaping party direction and liberal democratic practice.