There are many things, in policy terms, that rank and file members will be expected to swallow as a result of the Coalition. There are Lib Dem red lines drawn in the agreement. There are abstentions arranged for the Parliamentary Party on particular issues. The cuts are to come, and we have Danny as Chief Secretary, with the enormous responsibility of managing this process, and making sure that Lib Dem guns are stuck to.
It is a huge opportunity and an unenviable task. What is more, the rationale for the various cuts have to be clear, and the PR of it all has to be absolutely of the top drawer. There will be so many Opponents of the Coalition looking to pull apart the numbers; the principles behind the numbers; the politicians behind the principles behind the numbers.
So, when The Times blared ‘Poorest families will miss out on free school meals under welfare cuts’ my stomach turned.
Progressives do not cut free school meals.
As it transpires in the smaller print, what is being cut is the previous Government’s proposal to extend the scheme from families in receipt of state benefits to those working families who are least well paid.
But let’s be clear, working families receiving £307 per week have an annual income of £15,964 – that’s just under £8,000 per parent if both are there, and both are in work. That is what Michael Gove is proposing to cut.
That is not progressive in my book. And I want Lib Dem members of the Government to be able to say as much; not just to leave it to Simon Hughes as our new Deputy Leader to say it – although I am sure he will do so very well.
Of course it is the case that lower earners will benefit from our proposed increase in the personal allowance for Income Tax. And the Pupil Premium budget (as I understand it) will itself be calculated on the basis of free school meal recipients. But the Coalition must not be guilty of giving with one hand and taking away with the other – as was its predecessor so very often.
This is one of the key traits of the previous Government which alienated poorer communities. It is one that, if repeated by the Coalition, will sink its claims to progressivism without a trace.
We, the Lib Dem grassroots, have a responsibility to rail at every proposed action of the Coalition which will imperil its progressive credentials. And whatever the strictures of collective responsibility, Lib Dems in Cabinet must find a demonstrable way of doing so too.
If they don’t, then the distinctiveness of the Liberal Democrat message will be even more seriously in jeopardy.
Nick Perry stood as the Lib Dem candidate for Hastings & Rye at the General Election and is a mental health social worker