Better in Cameron’s Black Book than on the Statute Book

“The Lib Dems have held us back, says Cameron” screams today’s Daily Mail headline. Yes, it’s the Prime Minister showing that he can play the differentiation game too.

If there’s one thing that David Cameron and Nick Clegg can agree on, it’s that the Liberal Democrats and the Tories have divergent views on many issues. Both will take every opportunity to point that out to anyone who will listen.

The Daily Mail quotes Cameron’s interview with the Spectator in which he says that Nick Clegg has stopped him doing all sorts of things he would love to do. None of this is a surprise to us. We know that, left to his own devices, Cameron would have rolled back human rights, slashed benefits way beyond the last tranche of welfare reform (which, by the way, was unacceptably tough for many Liberal Democrats) and cut taxes for the wealthiest. He said:

I think we could go further on welfare reform, to sharpen work incentives and get more people out of poverty, I think that on the European question I can see very clearly now what needs to be done in terms of our relationship with Europe, in terms of the European convention on human rights and the way the human rights act works.  I can see when it comes to building a pro-enterprise economy how we go further and faster on backing entrepreneurship, cutting business taxes, getting our economy moving.

I think we can realistically  interpret “building a pro-enterprise economy” as being Tory code for slashing employment rights, too.

What I find interesting is how Cameron and Clegg express themselves when emphasising the differences between them. Cameron talks about what he would like to do but can’t at the moment because of the pesky Liberal Democrats. Clegg is able to talk about what he has done to hold the Tories back.

In his speech to Autumn Conference, Nick listed those ideas, pushed by the Tories, that he’d stopped. These included removing Housing Benefit from the under 25s to the Snoopers’ Charter, to profit making schools to bringing back “O” levels to new childcare ratios to the ability for employers to fire at will. He was also able to list a whole load of things we had delivered such as raising the tax threshold, the Pupil Premium which gives more money in school for disadvantaged kids, investment in the green economy (heavily resisted by the Tories), equal marriage and expansion of apprenticeships and measures to help young people get jobs. That’s before you start on the revolutionary shared parental leave which is, as you can imagine, being heavily resisted by the Tories too.

Cameron doesn’t have such a stellar list of achievements to point out to his supporters. In fact, as Danny Alexander wrote on here, he spends time trying to claim credit for our policy of raising the tax threshold which he had denounced as unaffordable.

The Prime Minister says that he has a little Black Book of policies to introduce if he should get the chance to govern alone. I’d much rather that these measures stayed right there rather than found their way on to the Statute Book. The Black Book provides us with a glimpse of what the last three years would have been like without the Liberal Democrats in government.

He adds that he wanted to see more “accountable, decisive and active” government which struck me as strange. He actually thinks that if he had a majority, he’d be able to do what he wanted? I’m sure the likes of Peter Bone, Nadine Dorries, Edward Leigh and Bill Cash would have something to say about that. That he would rather deal with the burqa banning, Margaret Thatcher Day-ing, EU exiting right wing of his own party rather than the moderate and reasonable Liberal Democrats says a lot in itself. Has he forgotten the strife-ridden Major years?  He may have big ideological differences with his Liberal Democrat coalition partners, but at least the Government functions in a much more pragmatic way than it did back then.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that the Coalition has been plain sailing for the Liberal Democrats. I have my own “lock me in a cupboard with a bottle of gin” list of things that I find difficult to live with. There are, though, many things to be proud of and Cameron’s interview emphasises them.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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15 Comments

  • Samuel Griffiths 11th Dec '13 - 12:08pm

    This seems to be one of those “it could be worse” kinds of posts. Whilst I am sympathetic to the party loyalists who have stuck by their guns even with grinding teeth, there comes a certain point where you must face that a choice was made. The LibDem leadership could have – at any point they liked – prevented the ravishing of our country by business-lead austerity. They instead made the decision not to.

    The issue isn’t with the fact that things are not as bad as they might be – and don’t get me wrong! I fully accept the role the party has played in this. The issue is that the party took a heavy nose-dive to the right, and implemented the ideological policies of that position. So whilst I am sympathetic to Caron, and those like her, I don’t believe any excuses can be made for what has happened with LibDem approval.

    At the end of the day, austerity was a choice. These actions of government have all been full-knowing choices. And that must be held to account. I am a floating voter, for the record, who campaigned for my local LibDem at the last election.

  • Frank Booth 11th Dec '13 - 1:23pm

    So there is this hideous list of extremist policies that the Lib Dems have stopped. Areas Mrs Thatcher would not even have dreamed to go. And yet………… despite how hideous the Tories are, Nick Clegg would rather work with Osborne, Duncan Smith, Gove and Pickles than Ed Milibland? I find this inexplicable. The truth is that this is the most right wing government since Thatcher and it wouldn’t exist without Lib Dem support. After failing to win the election in 2010, Cameron got a message from Clegg that he could be as right wing as he wanted to be and Clegg wouldn’t pull the coalition down. It was a red rag to a bull. The Tories can be as right wing as they want but so long as we get some concessions, that’s all that matters as it shows Clegg is a good negotiator (ego) and the Lib Dems are ‘making a difference’. Meanwhile the overall picture is of a government (which wouldn’t exist without the yellows) moving the political centre of gravity in the UK to the right. Is that what LDs want?

    This is interesting:

    What I find interesting is how Cameron and Clegg express themselves when emphasising the differences between them. Cameron talks about what he would like to do but can’t at the moment because of the pesky Liberal Democrats. Clegg is able to talk about what he has done to hold the Tories back.

    Sorry but I have to laugh at this. People can (rightly) assume that the general direction of government policy is what Cameron wants. He’s got the vast majority of coalition MPs. Understandably he’d like to point out his vision of what he would do unencumbered by the Lib Dems. It’s a bleak, soulless vision but at least it’s his and at least he has one. Clegg points to the the things he’s stopped the Tories doing because he’s a cosy fence sitter who has no broad vision for the country. He’s just a guardian who’ll stop the Tories or Labour from venturing too far off the path. Who’d want to vote for someone as uninspiring as that?

    The European elections – proportional and not really about individual candidates – will be a good test of where Lib Dem support truly is. I don’t expect it to be pretty. 4th place? 5th?

  • Julian Tisi 11th Dec '13 - 1:59pm

    @ Frank Booth
    I’m guessing your belief that this is the most right wing government ever is because of the cuts or maybe because Labour says so. The reality is that Alisdair Darling warned before the last election that whoever came to power would have to make the most unpopular, drastic cuts in generations. I mention him because he was the one saying cuts would need to be worse than under Mrs Thatcher. Now in opposition Labour have been gleefully berating the coalition for the cuts that their mismanagement of the economy made necessary.

    But only thanks to the Lib Dems in government, the effect of cuts have been shared more fairly and more heavily on the richest than in any other country – see: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/comment/hamish-mcrae/hamish-mcrae-we-created-a-climate-where-the-poor-just-got-poorer–aint-that-a-shame-8876433.html

    Not that we expect much credit for this. It’s not much of a message to say “we’ve hurt people but we’ve tried as hard as we can to make sure that the pain is shared fairly”.

  • Frank Booth 11th Dec '13 - 2:15pm

    I didn’t say most right wing government ever, I said most right wing since Thatcher. The main problem with her wasn’t ‘cuts’ anyway. The 2010 budget was draconian and far more fiscally conservative than what Lamont did in the early 90s. Why? On the back foot for so long, the Tories saw this as their one big chance to reduce the size of the state. Look at Lansley on the NHS, Gove with his year zero on education, IDS on welfare. Give me John Major over this coalition any day. No wonder he came out and embarrassed Cameron. Even he’s not happy with the coalition.

    Of course cuts were necessary, but the government could have gone with more tax rises and a slower (less growth destroying) fiscal consolidation.

  • @ Frank Booth
    “And yet………… despite how hideous the Tories are, Nick Clegg would rather work with Osborne, Duncan Smith, Gove and Pickles than Ed Milibland? I find this inexplicable.”

    I think the reason you find it inexplicable is because it’s untrue. You have projected your own ideas onto the situation. When did Clegg ever say this? He didn’t, did he?

    “The 2010 budget was draconian and far more fiscally conservative than what Lamont did in the early 90s. Why?”

    Because the budget deficit was much larger in 2010 and there was a huge financial crisis on our doorstep as well. That’s why.

    Are you a party member or supporter? Because if not, you make a very good impersonation of someone chucking all the same old accusations Labour throw at us for purely tribal reasons.

  • Frank Booth 11th Dec '13 - 2:38pm

    I voted Lib Dem in 2010 whent he party had a far more moderate fiscal stance than the Tories and Clegg warned that the Tory plan would choke off the recovery. Sorry but trying to eliminate a much bigger deficit in a much smaller amount of time (Osborne compared to Lamont) was silly. If it took 7 years to balance the books in the 90s, surely 8 or 9 would be more appropriate in 2010? Osborne’s 2010 plan was historically anomalous at a time when borrowing was at record lows.

    There was no feasible Lib/Lab deal in 2010, but Clegg could have given Cameron confidence and supply. Or at least conduct the coalition negotiations more successfully – not wasting political capital on AV! It was clear from the off that Clegg would never leave the coalition and so Cameron had carte blanche to be as right wing as he wanted. It’s like the husband who can keeps cheating on his wife because he knows she’ll never leave him. Of course it suits Clegg that he can stop some of the barmier right wing stuff so he can tell everyone what he’s stopped the Tories doing, making himself look really important.

  • Frank Booth 11th Dec '13 - 2:42pm

    Caracatus – I’m sure Labour’s fiscal stance would have been moderated. But the governemnt’s austerity drive reduced GDP by 3%, reports say. And you are ignoring the fact that as an economy recovers, cuts happen naturally. Fewer people claiming benefits etc. Under Labour’s plan (by no means perfect I’m sure) we could well be borrowing less.

  • Tubby Isaacs 11th Dec '13 - 5:24pm

    Not again.

    You haven’t stopped anything. They agreed to loads of stuff in the Coalition Agreement they didn’t remotely believe in. Most ridiculously, they let you think they’d democratise PCTs, and then abolished them altogether.

    You could have bailed out yonks ago, moved to a “confidence and supply” arrangement. If (contrary to what you said when running for election) you really think there’s a fiscal crisis, then you could have voted against all the expensive stuff like the NHS reorganisation, Free Schools, Academies.

  • Tubby Isaacs 11th Dec '13 - 7:52pm

    “You mean that it could have been working as well as the French Socialists’ plan is clearly working?”

    Please set out the similarities, please, between Darling’s plans and Hollande’s.

    In any case, Hollande’s had 2 years. Don’t recall you looking too sharp in 2012. One quarter of growth out of 4, wasn’t it, and that with the Olympics.

    He’s, among other things liberalising labour law- which Sarko and Chirac failed to do.

  • Frank Booth 11th Dec ’13 – 2:38pm
    There was no feasible Lib/Lab deal in 2010, but Clegg could have given Cameron confidence and supply. Or at least conduct the coalition negotiations more successfully – not wasting political capital on AV! It was clear from the off that Clegg would never leave the coalition and so Cameron had carte blanche to be as right wing as he wanted.

    Frank Booth is right to point this out.
    This is why Clegg has to go and we have to take back our party

  • Mick Taylor 13th Dec '13 - 9:48am

    John Tilley and Frank Booth are both wrong.

    If the Lib Dems had offered confidence and supply then three things would have happened>

    1. We would have been pilloried in the press for being ‘frit’ of going into government and this would have confirmed majority view that we were not serious politicians
    2. We would have had no influence on the policies that the minority Tory Government would have brought forward and would have been blamed for all of them
    3. There would have been a general election with a year where 1 and 2 above would have been used successfully against us.

  • Mick Taylor 13th Dec ’13 – 9:48am

    Taking Mick’s points as he has numbered them ;-

    1 Yes – We would have been pilloried in the press. But only for that and it would seem ‘old hat’ by now. Whereas with coalition we are now “pilloried in the press” on a daily basis and carry responsibility for top down NHS reorganisation, for privatising the postman, for student fees, for smashing up The Guardian’s computers, for being gung-ho about bombing Syria, failing to reform the Lords, the bedroom tax, for shooting badgers, for the the freeze on pay (now into its 5th year for the people I used to work with), and cuts and cuts and cuts …
    2 I cannot agree to this.
    3 There may have been a general election with a year and 1 and 2 may have been used against us But we would not have sold our soul and we would not have to spend the next 50 years explaining to people why we propped up an appalling Tory regime who have lumbered them with a new generation of nuclear power stations to the benefit of French and Chinese state corporations but paid for by increased energy bills for poor sods who cannot afford them.

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