A common misconception is that the Liberal Democrats are in the government solely to make the case for constitutional reform and civil liberties, while everything else comes from the Conservatives. This
analysis is deeply flawed, but it helps to explain why some political observers, who know little about the Lib Dems beyond the most lazy caricature, fail to understand what actually drives the government forward. Yes, constitutional reform and civil liberties are important to the Lib Dems, but so are many other areas of policy. The Lib Dems are certainly not trading off the whole of the rest of government policy in order to advance these two (fairly narrow) objectives. Nor is this a Conservative government
with bolted-on minor Lib Dem extras. Maybe that would be a comforting idea for some people, both Lib Dem supporters and detractors, but it is not true. There are some government policies which come primarily from the Conservatives, some that come primarily from the Lib Dems, some that have
shared ownership and some that may be inspired initially by neither party but have been embraced by both. Of course there are also some policies that have been enacted that would not have been implemented in the same form if either party was in government alone, but that is the nature of coalitions, and was as true of the Blair/Brown coalition as it is of the Cameron/Clegg version.
To illustrate my point, here are ten policy areas that (a) are not about constitutional reform or civil liberties, (b) are being enacted by the government, and crucially, (c) would have been enacted if the Lib Dems were in government alone without any coalition considerations:
1. Urgent deficit reduction
To be fair, this is the stated policy of all three parties, unsurprisingly when the government is still borrowing an extra £400 million every single day.
2. Reducing income tax for low and middle earners
More money for millions of people who need it most and who also value the self-reliance that comes from being properly rewarded for their work.
3. Protecting national security
Terrorist threats at home and abroad, plus major concerns like nuclear weapons proliferation, rightly preoccupy government ministers on a daily basis.
4. Reforming prisons to reduce reoffending
Increasing the focus on in-prison rehabilitation and education as well as post-release crime reduction measures.
5. Making healthcare effective and affordable in the longer-term
Keeping a universal health service which is reformed to accommodate an aging population, new treatments and increasing expectations.
6. A higher state pension
Helping to address pensioner poverty by increasing annually the state pension in line with prices, inflation or 2.5%, whichever is highest.
7. Tackling climate change and benefiting the environment
More adoption of renewable energy and investment at home, plus a leading role in international environmental agreements.
8. Improving social mobility and educational opportunity
A pupil premium to help children from poorer backgrounds and new freedoms for schools to increase standards.
9. Modernising public transport
New investment in intercity rail lines and crossrail to dramatically cut journey times and reduce emissions.
10. 0.7% GDP on international aid
Britain becoming the first G8 nation to meet the target for helping the poorest people in the World.
That’s ten, for starters. Of course some are not unique to the Lib Dem, but most political policies are not unique to a single party. Labour, governing alone, implemented policies which were not solely their own, such as independence for the Bank of England (shared with the Lib Dems) or the war against Iraq (shared with the Conservatives). But all ten are Lib Dem policies, which the party would be implementing if it were governing alone, and is implementing in any case, in government, right now. This is a core
prospectus for our country, and it is a wholly-owned Lib Dem prospectus. The Liberal Democrats are at the centre of the government, as, of course, are the Conservatives. It suits Labour to paint the Lib Dems as peripheral but, like their economic forecasts, what they say bears no resemblance to
reality. And if, in addition to this core prospectus, you also care, as I do, about constitutional reform and civil liberties, the added bonus is that the party that shares your view, the Lib Dems, is in government implementing the policies to improve our democracy and safeguard our essential freedoms.