Jeremy Browne writes: the Lib Dems are implementing our core agenda in Government

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.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Parliament.


  • 10 points to the first person that mentions “Scrapping HE Fees”

  • Malcolm Todd 18th Apr '11 - 3:04pm

    “There are some government policies … that may be inspired initially by neither party but have been embraced by both.”

    … also known as policies that nobody voted for but are being imposed anyway? Might find those buried beneath the platitudes of no. 5 …

  • LondonLiberal 18th Apr '11 - 5:01pm

    oh dear. jeremy, jeremy, jeremy. we waited all this time to get into government so that we could pursue distinctivly LibDem policies such as ‘deficit reduction’, ‘protecting national security’, and ‘investment in crossrail’? I’m pretty sure those are shared, indeed even instigated, by other parties. In fact I’m certain that not even libdems would call those LibDem policies, any more than not killing innocent people, not banning the colour red, carrying on breathing and blinking and using a knife and fork to eat are distinctively libdem policies.

    The remaining policies are slightly less meaninglessly ‘ours’, but the fact that you had to really stretch to find ten signs of our influence, and ended up with only seven (and that’s being pretty generous) speaks volumes, mate.

    You (by which i mean ‘we’) can do better, jezza.

    C- (that’s a grade, not text speak)

  • @Ben – sadly, given that both the Conservatives and Labour oppose the abolition of tuition fees, the Lib Dems on their own – 57 MPs out of 650 – were in no position to get that policy through. Maybe if Labour or the Conservatives backed the Lib Dem policy of abolition then we’d get somewhere.

  • matthew fox 18th Apr '11 - 7:57pm

    Deficit Reduction? £44 Billion in extra borrowing over the next four years purely because of Osborne’s budget.

  • No 7 on Jeremy’s list is “Tackling climate change and benefiting the environment”. On the same day, the Guardian reports that all current environmental legislation (including the Climate Change Act) is being considered for repeal, as part of the government’s great deregulation programme.

    What is more, the default assumption will be that the legislation will be repealed unless ministers make the case otherwise.

  • @Stuart

    Do you realise how stupid the lib dems appear with that line on tuition fees? You made a pledge outwith your manifesto. You promised to vote against fees in this parliament. You encouraged lots of students to vote for you on this basis. It was a lie. You’ve increased fees and put one of the worst ministers in government in charge of one of the worst set of policiesit has conceived. It’s probably your political epitaph.

  • Bill le Breton 19th Apr '11 - 9:53am

    At IMF Direct, the renowned economists Olivier Blanchard and Carlo Cottarelli list Ten Commandments for Fiscal Adjustment in Advanced Economies,
    Commandment 2 reads: You shall not front-load your fiscal adjustment, unless financing needs require it. This was our position during the election, i.e. halving the deficit in 4 years.
    In Government we have done the opposite, agreeing with Osborne’s policy of eliminating the deficit in four years. Nor did financing needs require it. The average term of our outstanding debt is 13 years, one of the longest averages in the world and so our short term financing requirement is one of the lowest and certainly not in the Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy league.
    By changing our policy on the speed of deficit reduction and front loading the cuts we have jeopardised growth and handed to future generations a smaller and weaker economy, poorer services, and frailer infrastructure than would otherwise have been the case. That is the true legacy of Osborne/Alexander economics.
    The try to ignore this ‘divide’ in possible economic paths with the statement that all parties agree about deficit reduction (1 above) is a feeble attempt to patronise readers.

  • OK – I put something similar on another thread, but it seems relevant here.

    That list that you put up there is reasonably impressive. OK, we can disagree on individual items on it (rich pensioners getting lollipops, for example), but that is politics – we don’t all agree 100% of the time and nor should we. So, there are classically Lib Dem issues that are on the government agenda, some of it is in line with the Lib Dem manifesto, boxes are being ticked and everything is OK, right?

    Problem is that government is not a tick-box exercise. Labour in 2009 could likely have put up a good list. Voters can make of what they experience whatever they want to. And I suspect that many who criticise the party (perhaps, to be more specific, the leadership) will recognise that there is indeed ‘influence’ there. What however they are also seeing is confluence with the Conservatives as well as the influence. Those people who were believed in a vision of junior partnership may well feel that the confluence they are seeing is not their expectation. I make no value judgment here on whether or not they are right or not. To my mind, the only really indefensible thing so far is HE fees, that was just poor by any standard. [Stuart, with respect, the contortions you go through on fees are part of the problem – it was a signed, personal pledge. It does not get any more specific, nor does it matter what the other parties say.]

    I suppose that part of this comes down to expectation. For me, during the 2010 election, there were no lies, no one was deceived or misled. But equally, anyone voting Lib Dem because they felt that they were voting for a party who would influence from the classic left of the political spectrum was never really put right. To repeat, no one lied – just a lot of people were allowed to believe what they perhaps wanted to.

    It is entirely true to say that no government is some sort of pure agenda, or that ownership of a policy rests with one party alone. And yet I think that there has been a degree of confluence with the Conservative world view that has left something of a bad taste in the mouth for many. Bill le Breton puts the confluence well in the case of deficit reduction.

    I am, a borderline optimist. But there are worries, the Barnsley result is a worry, no question. The truth is that the voters will take a much closer look next time, and the days of an easy protest vote are gone. Perhaps that really is how it should be.

  • @g more than half our MPs did vote against raising tuition fees. Certainly more than Labour can claim after they introduced top up fees after they won an general election outright in 2001 stating that they ‘opposed top up fees and had legislated to prevent them’.

  • @Peter1919

    No Labour MP signed a pledge, a solemn oath, outwith their manifesto promising to vote against fees then did the exact opposite in government. That at least some of your parliamentary party voted against them is irrelevant given that the policy passed thanks to Lib Dem votes and the Lib Dem minister in charge.

    But regardless of this, the policy is inept; it’s not been though through, the costs have been woefully underestimated and the only solution seems to be to reduce student numbers. You will go down in history as the first government in the western world to actively decrease the education of its workforce!

  • All Labour MPs in 2001 stood on a manifesto which committed them to opposing top up fees if they won the election outright, which they easily did. There was no other party forcing them to do this (unlike in our case where we had made a compromise with out coalition partners).

    Also Labour set up the Browne report and its terms of reference, it is obvious to me and anyone else that actually cares to look at the facts that Labour would have implemented its recommendations if they were in government but they couldn’t resist the opportunism of voting against them when in opposition.

    Frankly when it comes to tuition fees Labour do not have a leg to stand on being the party which introduced them in the first place and then raised the level of fees having made a manifesto commitment not to.

  • I wonder how much of this policy is being funded by the expansion of PFI to levels under this government higher than GB managed, now coming at a time when it represents poor value for money.

    Some bonus points on offer on who can tell me who said this …

    “a bit of dodgy accounting – a way in which the Government can pretend they’re not borrowing when they are, and we’ll all be picking up the tab in 30 years”.

  • @Peter1919

    Also Labour set up the Browne report and its terms of reference, it is obvious to me and anyone else that actually cares to look at the facts that Labour would have implemented its recommendations if they were in government but they couldn’t resist the opportunism of voting against them when in opposition.

    Except the coalition aren’t implementing the recommendations, are they? They’ve come up with their own plan, with much higher fees than the £6k Browne was considering, along with a massive concomitant cut in the the teaching grant.

    Perhaps less blaming of Labour and more scrutiny of just what your ministers have been up to might be helpful here…

  • 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.”

    May I compliment you on the wording of the above. It makes it sound as though you intend to reform the health service in such a way as to allow each individual to receive an equal access to the full range of health care and treatments as we currently enjoy but by omitting the fact that it will no longer offer cradle to grave service free at the point of delivery, actually commits you to nothing of the sort. It is an excellent example of political double-speak.

    The reforms being implemented by Andrew Lansley may result in a system that is effective and affordable in the longer term, after all the USA system is effective and affordable for those who it serves, it certainly will not be universal in the form that we currently understand ‘universal’ to mean. The white paper proposes funding social care privately or through individually funded partnerships, how universality is to be maintained in such circumstances is not mentioned. As the elderly receive a large proportion of their health care through mechanisms that are described as social care the Lansley reforms suggest that universality is no longer on the agenda. So the white paper actually suggests that we reform the system to accommodate an ageing population by removing universal free provision.

    The system being proposed lifts the cap on the amount of private work that foundation trusts will be able to do at the same time as introducing financial insecurity to those trusts by removing the levelling role of PCT’s who fill the gap in funding between what GP’s currently commission and what they actually use. This funding gap will be filled by taking private work ahead of state funded work. The incentives being introduced will therefore work towards finding more lucrative private work ahead of the ‘universal’ entitlements of state funded patients. If we want to see where this incentive structure leads we only need to look at our ‘universal’ NHS dental services.

    As we have seen in many of the debates on social housing and welfare benefits the instinct of many is to retreat to the minimal safety net as the only universal provision. The term ‘universal’ still is appropriate but it is not what most of us mean when we say it.

  • Re: the differences between the coaltion partners – I think this sums it up best.

    The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

  • daft ha'p'orth 19th Apr '11 - 7:29pm

    “You could just as well say that the Conservatives are only making a minor contribution to the Government because these ten big policy areas would be implemented anyway by the Lib Dems even if the Conservatives were not in the Coalition. That would also be unfair. Neither party should just be measured on the unique features they have brought to the coalition. They should both be primarily judged on the shared core programme. ”

    Well, we needed to transcribe the complete works of Shakespeare. So we bought a bunch of typewriters and made a deal with the local zoo. At first we were quite disappointed, as the resulting stream of text was found not to exhibit the hoped-for iambic pentameter. But then the chief scientist pointed out that we were blinkering ourselves unnecessarily by our myopic focus on the unique features that the monkeys had been thought likely to bring to the table. We should instead judge the team’s output on our shared core achievements, such as the fact that the approach indisputably generated sequences of letters, numbers and punctuation that, taken as a whole, could indeed be repurposed to form the works of the Swan of Avon.

    Every politician’s core agenda is fundamentally similar in much the same way that every politician’s daily intake includes dihydrogen monoxide. This is no more impressive than the fact that pounding on a keyboard produces a stream of characters (unless it produces a stuck typewriter). It’s inherent in the system. Like the clone presidential candidates on Futurama, pretty much every politician is “against those things that everybody hates,” so no party is likely to declare a policy of free hugs for terrorists, kicking senior citizens into the gutter, increasing reoffending rates, keeping the poor in the ghettos where they belong, artificially ageing the public transport networks and taking a massive dump on the environment. The devil is always in the details.

  • The complete vacuousness of this article is well illustrated by the first point which it admits was the case for all three parties.

    Just take some of those headline points – eg:
    3. Protecting national security
    5. Making healthcare effective and affordable in the longer-term
    6. A higher state pension
    8. Improving social mobility and educational opportunity

    Any of the parties would say that – can you actually imagine them saying the opposite? Eg
    Reducing national security
    Making healthcare ineffective and more expensive
    A lower state pension
    Reducing social mobility and educational opportunity.

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