I was out drinking with a couple of Tory councillors the other day. This is not a frequent occurrence and has become no more frequent since the Coalition.
I learned that one of their acquaintance had resigned her Conservative Party membership because of the Coalition. She is a Thatcherite.
The days and weeks after the toughest budget for several decades were bound to be uncomfortable. None of us expected to see our Party lauded by the press.
The Guardian lambasted the budget for its effect on the poor, the Mail for its effect on middle England. I gave up and bought the FT, which was more measured but again flagged up concerns about the effects on the more vulnerable.
This weekend’s Observer is a study in intellectual dishonesty. ‘Now economists working in conjunction with left-leaning Fabian Society have created a model [that] concludes that the poorest will be far the biggest losers …’ This would be the Fabian Society that is affliliated to the Labour Party, presumably? The model in fact assumes that spending cuts will be spread evenly across departments – but makes no allowance for what might happen within departments.
On the front page it trumpets the fact that (well, a YouGov ‘fact’) that 22% of people who voted Liberal Democrat are ‘much less likely’ to support the Party because of the increase in VAT. It does not disclose whether Labour voters were asked whether they were ‘much less likely’ to support Labour again now they know that the previous Government crashed the economy into a brick wall.
Elsewhere the Labour leadership contenders are asked ‘What is the Main Weakness in the Coalition Budget?’ but are not asked what the main weakness was in Alistair Darling’s last budget.
There were things, including the rise in VAT, which I did not like. It is not after all my Party’s budget, it is the Coalition’s. But I did like most of it including some of the omissions (for instance massive cuts in inheritance tax and the introduction of a marriage tax allowance).
There are challenges for our Party is registering dissent. The Social Liberal Forum has found a useful role and has made a number of thoughtful interventions.
The role of the Federal Policy Committee is less clear. There are going to be formalised parliamentary teams which will include local government and FPC representatives. These will have a major impact on internal policy making and may help hold Lib Dem ministers to account. But will FPC continue to produce policy papers (especially on reduced resources)? If so, is it working for the Government or the Party?
Clearly FPC, the elected policy arm of the Party, must continue to draft policy for Conference to determine. It must not be a loyalist claque. Equally, however, it will serve no useful purpose in being a disloyalist claque. Some of the interventions this week have been purist self-indulgence.
We must all do better than that.