Monday, 20 September 2010

The Lib Dems get used to power and responsibility.

In May Britain’s political sands shifted dramatically and members of the three main parties can be forgiven for appearing a trifle unsteady as they attempt to navigate an unfamiliar landscape.  Conference season provides a platform for their anxieties and gives leaders, who have shaped this new environment, a chance to help their followers find their feet.

Labour is engaged in a high profile contest to crown a leader, of course, and looks set to draw all the wrong lessons from its election defeat.  Next weekend the result will be announced and the party’s membership will be asked to galvanise around its chosen Miliband in a very public coronation.

The Conservatives convene in early October and the atmosphere is likely to be less than celebratory, despite the party's return from a long spell in the political wilderness.  A growing band of Tories resent the dependence of their government on coalition partners and Lord Ashcroft owns the most high profile finger of blame to point at David Cameron.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats provide the season’s first conference, meeting in Liverpool this week (PDF).  And there is ample evidence to suggest that the party faithful are more disorientated than any other group by the new dispensation.

Dissent has been fairly muted so far, but there are rumblings and high profile figures, if they were so minded, could provide a rallying point.  Former leader, Charles Kennedy, has made no secret of his scepticism about early cuts to the deficit, telling activists this weekend that he remains ’an old Keynesian’.

So far Lord Ashdown remains onside, claiming today that a delay in Trident shows that Lib Dems are having an influence in government.  But he is another influential former leader Nick Clegg will be eager to avoid aggravating.  After all, Ashdown did once consider joining a cabinet headed by Gordon Brown.

Along with power comes responsibility and it is true that, in the short-term, doing the responsible thing can bring unpopularity.  But allowing its ambitions to be shaped by political realities can help the Lib Dems grow up as a party.

Ignoring Labour deficit deniers like Ed Balls, and trade unions, whom Danny Alexander correctly identifies as ’spoiling for a fight’, the coalition is on the right side of the financial debate.  Nick Clegg is correct when he claims that the scale of cuts and the damage they will inflict are being exaggerated for political gain.      

As coalition partners the Liberal Democrats must stand to one side and let the scare-mongers scare-monger.  It’s a test of nerve, but it’s the responsible thing to do and, for all the short-term discomfort, it could yet bring its own rewards in the long-term.


K D Tennent said...

Couldn't agree more really. Better to be in government and have a squeak than out of it. As a supporter of the Lib Dems I've developed a pretty thick skin over the years. However, to get the SDP faction of the party onside, and other sceptics generally, I think the coalition need to make some positive promises about what people will gain from 'austerity' by 2015. If we end up having to cut 25% people have to feel there is a good reason for it.

Ulster Liberal said...

This article has a complacent and vaguely nasty right wing tone to it. The Lib Dems have failed to moderate Tory policy line in any way shape or form. I don't particularly blame them for it as their success as a party depends on the success of coalition governments in Britain. In addition, being in government for the first time in 65 years they can hardly be seen to be playing a destructive role. The fact remains however that this government has taken a more right wing view on cuts than Thatcher did in the 80s, convienently using the Lib Dems as a fig for their embarassement. So Ed Balls is a 'defecit denier' for believing growing your way out of recession rather than cutting is the correct way to proceed? What meaningless platitudeness rubbish! We built millions of council homes and a welfare state on a larger defecit in the post-war era. And I think the trade unions have shown remarkable restraint in the last few decades, having been routinely buggered senseless by the establishment.
To conclude I predict a significant volume of public disorder once these cuts bite. But at least Cameron and his silver spoon chums get their idealogical fervour for a smaller state eh.

Seymour Major said...

Ulster Liberal,

Your reference to the budget deficit being higher in the post war era is confused. You may be mixing up the budget deficit with the National Debt. The latter was at its peak (about 250%) in the late 1940s. With the exception of 1946, the UK had consecutive budget surpluses right up until 1975. The budget surplus, with the exception of 1946 is a record in real terms since the war.

As to the National debt, it is set to rise, even under this Government. What the people on the left do not also seem to appreciate is the pension time bomb. If things are left as they are, without the Government breaking the terms of the so-called post war settlement, the National debt will rise above that 250% within the next 20 years.

The left dont care about that. They are happy to squander when it is their turn to be in power and make themselves look good whilst the Conservatives clear up their shite when it is their turn. There will come a day when the electorate is too sophisticated for that king of populism. I hope it is soon, for all our sakes.

Meanwhile, to suggest that Ed balls is a deficit denier is being kind.

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