Search This Blog

Friday, 24 December 2010

Lib Dems not ready to be Ministers. The country not ready for Coalition.

Norman Baker - fighting against apartheid?!
One of the delights of starting Politics A-level at my old school was the political engagement of so many of the pupils. One of the most frustrating aspects of it though was their inability to think about politics as shades of grey, only black and white, good and bad. It's the same with the country, and in particular many parts of the media, as they try and deal with the fact that the UK is governed by a coalition. Either it is working seamlessly, or it is a "sham", with nothing in between.

This shows naivety in the least, ignorance at the worst. Or, in the case of the Telegraph reporters who targetted Liberal Democrat leaders at their constituency surgeries, a sneaky, corrosive agenda that led them onto a fishing expedition which did, in the end, come up with something important (Vince Cable's lack of partiality as Business Secretary when it came to assessing mergers), but mostly has come up with comments that show at worst that some Lib Dems don't understand their responsibilities as coalition government ministers but at best that, hey, guess what...coalition means two DIFFERENT parties with DIFFERENT beliefs working together.

As Conservative MP Peter Lilley said, "We're going to have rough waters and we've got to brace ourselves for it and not be driven off course by every ill-judged remark,". From the start, many who are against the coalition (both within the Conservative and Liberal Democrats as well as Labour) have seized upon every single disagreement as a sign it "isn't working". Yet the coalition has done far more in its first 7 months than anyone could have expected it to.

More importantly, it has done so without silencing dissent. For journalists who had to endure 13 years of media-trained New Labour automatons claiming violent agreement with every single policy announced, it must be a pleasure that Government Ministers have been allowed to talk of their misgivings about policy. Debate has been permitted, and in many cases this has resulted in the Liberal Democrats being able to significantly influence many of the policies announced, in the process possibly making them more palatable to the public than they might have been had they been pure Conservative formulations.

Yes, they were hung out to dry over tuition fees. But then again I think tuition fees was the area in which the Liberal Democrats as a party had the most learning to do if they ever want to be a party of government, which is a lot harder than being a party of protest: You can't come up with pledges and promises which would be undeliverable should you be in government....because you might end up in government. However much I might argue that those who go on about "broken promises" possibly don't understand that coalition is a compromise in which both, or all parties HAVE to break some promises, this was a particularly silly promise to make.

But to argue that, as Norman Baker (Lib Dem Transport Minister) did - that he is like Helen Suzman - the South African MP who ought the apartheid regime, is particularly far-fetched. "She got stuck in there in the South African parliament in the apartheid days as the only person there to oppose it... she stood up and championed that from inside," said Baker. Comparing the need to deal with a £160bn deficit and £1 trillion pound debt with the apartheid regime may seem ridiculous, BUT it shows the lengths that Lib Dems are having to go to justify their "collaboration" (a connotation-laden word used by John Prescott) with the Conservatives.

Then we have Deputy Leader of the House David Heath commenting that "George Osborne has a capacity to get up one's nose, doesn't he?", and Local Government Minister Andrew Stunell talking about David Cameron and saying,  "I don't know where I put him on the sincerity monitor... is he sincere? I do not know how to answer that question."

There again, James Holt, the Lib Dem head of media, did point out that "In workplaces the world over, there will be personality clashes and differences of opinion.In this case, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are coming from very different points of view and they are coming together in the national interest."

And Lib Dem backbencher Adrian Sanders told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What is the point of being a separate political party if you don't consider that there are opponents to you? And the Conservative party is our opposition, in normal times."

The problem is that, faced by two young, female, pretty, giggling, fake Lib Dem party activists, these Lib Dem Ministers spoke completely candidly. They probably wouldn't have done so for two gnarled 60 year old bearded, sandalled Lib Dem activities, but then there wouldn't have been a story.

The Telegraph's readers don't like the Coalition, because it is watering down the Conservatism they want. That's their agenda. So they then set out to show it with this 'sting', but in the process relied upon the rest of the media and the country's lack of understanding of what coalition is and means to make it into a proper story.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has played this well, stepping into the Vince Cable affair by questioning whether his replacement on the BSkyB merger brief, Jeremy Hunt, who has been quoted on numerous occasions praising Sky, is fit to make the judgement to. He also used the word "sham" to describe the coalition, saying that "These are decisions of a Conservative-led government propped up by Liberal Democrat passengers. Passengers not in the front seat, not even in the back seat of the car, passengers who have got themselves locked in the boot," which is another open invitation to disgruntled Lib Dems to join Labour.

Miliband also opined that he would have sacked Cable for what he did. Many members of the Tory party wondered why Lord Young was relieved of his duties last month for saying something that was actually true (that some people had benefitted from the recession) yet Cable stayed within government. Miliband, of course, probably would have sacked a minister for doing what Cable did, had he been in charge of a majority Labour government. But he isn't, and neither is David Cameron, which is why it just wasn't as simple as that.

Also, Miliband is relying on everyone to believe that Coalitions are black or white. They are not. They are grey.

No comments:

Post a Comment