Lib Dems a push over in Government? Civil liberties at risk, party reputation in tatters, time to take a stand?
2 April 2012 2 Comments
For all the talk of politicians being out of touch Mark Field, a Tory MP, has summed up the public mood better than anyone I have read since the formation of the Coalition by saying: “my instinct is that the nation feels a sense of resignation that the coalition is the best option we have” and it is probably equally true that Lib Dem members felt a sense of resignation that the Coalition was the best option they had. The public may wish there was a credible alternative as do Lib Dem members. The thing that is so depressing for so many people is that the Lib Dems used to be that credible alternative. For some many people they no longer look like an alternative but an addition or even annex to the Labservatives. For all the talk of differentiation, what we need is something more meaningful.
My problem with differentiation is that if it can be timed then it doesn’t seem very authentic. If we can disagree at times when we need to (because of political reasons), rather than when we should do (because of political belief), then we are not being true to our core values and principles. This is an inauthentic position to take and we inadvertently become part of the Labservatives in our desire to show that Coalition can work.
Tony Benn tells a good story and he says that there are two positions to take: That of a weathervane and that of a signpost. A weathervane points in the direction of the wind at that moment in time while a signpost points in the same direction no matter what the weather is like. For someone who wants to know what direction they should take a signpost is infinitely more useful. The problem is that taking the weathervane position is seductive.
For example, take this week and the so called pastygate. We saw the leader of the Tories and Labour rushing to the nearest Greggs for a photo op and to tell the journalists how much they love eating pasties. While this was utterly ridiculous and equally unbelievable it says a lot about the state of politics and whether they are being signposts or weathervanes. Cameron has always been known for his PR-isation of the ‘modern’ Tory party as he sought to manage the message, control the narrative, transform the image. In other words, be something you are not, pointing in the direction of the prevailing political wind at the time in the hope you will pick up as many votes as you go along. Miliband seems to be pretty much the same except looks more awkward telling people how much he loves going to Greggs.
What people loved about the Lib Dems was that they were the go-to-guys for a sensible comment knowing it would be based on sound values and principles. Foreign affairs they came to Ming Cambell. The economy they came to Vince Cable. For an honest conversation they came to Charles Kennedy. The Coalition has neutered our USP. I don’t think that the Lib Dems are being weathervanes in Government as I don’t see them pandering to the public/media fad of the moment but what people may see is something worse. Are the Lib Dems being blown over in the wind? Something that blows over in the wind is more useless than a weathervane; at least a weathervane as a purpose. Are they too often making deadly compromises in the name of making the Coalition work or showing they are a grown up party capable of government?
There are plenty of opportunities for the Lib Dems to demonstrate to the public that we believe in something, not some of the time, but all of the time. Not because we need to show people we are not the Tory party but because we are a different party all of the time. We need to be prepared to let the Coalition not work. Our values and principles are more important that the principle that the Coalition works. I would rather be part of a party that gets 5% of the vote and be proud of what we stood for than a party that gets 5% of the vote because we blew over in the wind and let things we don’t believe pass.
Perhaps this is the next test?
MINISTERS are reportedly preparing a major expansion of the government’s powers to monitor the email exchanges and website visits of every person in the UK.
If such a move comes to pass we will truly have blown over. Time to show we are a signpost in the storm.