Opinion: Let’s enjoy being in government

I joined the party in 1991. Like most readers I didn’t join the party out of a mad lust for power or a desire to do well in the opinion polls. I just wanted to make the world a fairer and freer placer. And I quickly learnt that it is very difficult to win elections as a Lib Dem.

But I’m surprised at how little credit we are giving ourselves for our achievements in government. Even the Observer, in the midst of a mainly negative editorial on the Lib Dems yesterday, admits that in six months we have achieved:

raising the income tax threshold for people on low incomes; capital gains tax loopholes closed; a referendum on electoral reform; a decision on renewing Trident shelved; a “pupil premium” for schools taking on poorer children.

I’d add to that

  • Ending children being in jail for immigration reasons
  • Abolishing ID cards
  • Fixed term Parliaments
  • Restoring the earnings link for pensions

And there’s much more, whether it’s action on homophobic bullying or many great environmental policies.

It’s not easy being in government, and all of us will see policies implemented that we don’t agree with. But it wasn’t easy being in opposition either, when at worst we were completely ignored, and at best our policies were occasionally copied, without credit, by the government.

So this Christmas let’s be proud of what we’ve achieved. And I’ll see you all in Oldham.

Rob Blackie was the party’s Director of Research from 2003-2005. He has been active in London politics for 11 years, including running the only campaign to win a council seat from third place in London in 2010. Rob writes a blog on e-campaigning at www.rob-blackie.blogspot.com.

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48 Comments

  • Steve Simmons 13th Dec '10 - 12:03pm

    “capital gains tax loopholes closed”

    Reality: Lib Dem capital gains tax proposals watered down.

    “a referendum on electoral reform;”

    Reality: Probably going to lose this as a result of Clegg giving a demonstration of how coalitions can go badly wrong.

    “a decision on renewing Trident shelved”

    Reality: Kicked along the road until after the next election

    a “pupil premium” for schools taking on poorer children.

    Reality: Is almost meaningless given the cuts to the schools budget.

    Ending children being in jail for immigration reasons

    Reality: Still hasn’t happened

    Abolishing ID cards

    Reality: Tory policy, so it wasn’t much a of a Lib Dem achievement.

    Fixed term Parliaments

    Reality: Is this what the public actually wants? I’m under the impression that most people see this as undemocratic.

    Restoring the earnings link for pensions.

    Reality: Tory policy, so it wasn’t much a of a Lib Dem achievement.

    You seem to have forgotten to mention tuition fees. The new proposals are regressive above middle incomes. Not only that, but owing to the 80% reduction in the teaching budget from general taxation (fiscally progressive) being replaced by tuition fees (fiscally regressive), then the new system is actually MORE regressive than it was before, in complete contradiction to (a) Lib Dem policy of replacing regressive funding with progressive taxation and (b) the complete lies being peddles by the government in stating that the new system is more progressive.

  • Everyone is of course free to adopt a ‘live now – pay later’ approach, however what has already been demonstrated is that a strong Party [plenty of seats] can greatly influence coalition partners now and in the future. If the Party had 100 seats, it is likely that this influence could extend to many administrations in the future. If the current strategy is continued, reason dictates that the number of MPs returned after the next GE will be significantly reduced and the current power to influence will be just a passing blip. Future administrations will be free to overturn any good done during this administration.

  • A good piece – we should be trumpeting this stuff at every opportunity.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 13th Dec '10 - 12:48pm

    To those who think that this coalition is something to be proud of, I say ‘enjoy it while it lasts’.

    Have a good Christmas. I won’t wish you a happy new year; I don’t think that ‘s a realistic expectation.

  • Leviticus18_23 13th Dec '10 - 12:50pm

    And don’t forget that great environmental policy of selling off forests that we can look forward to being pushed through.

    Hip! Hip!… Meh…

  • paul barker 13th Dec '10 - 1:08pm

    Going slightly off-topic, I see another example of our curious lack of self-confidence in the reaction to the cancelation of our London regional conference due to the threat of violence from demonstrators.
    The reaction, by & large was silence, almost embarrasment.
    My hope is that we can focus on the Good we are doing & stand up for ourselves a bit more.

  • I thought the Lib Dems were enjoying being in government to the extent that they care about very little else. They certainly don’t care about pledges made prior to the election.

  • Counting chickens before they hatch is foolish.

  • excellent piece. why are our MPs not doing more to trumpet the achievements of the Coalition?

  • Steve Simmons 13th Dec '10 - 1:19pm

    @Rob Blackie
    “Steve – I somehow don’t feel that you’re a Lib Dem supporter. ”

    Well observed. I used to vote Lib Dem, but not in the future.

    “But if you want to see an impartial analysis of tuition fees from IFS, look here: http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/5366

    The title of that piece (that I’ve already read, along with many other reports – thank for the patroinising comment , but it isn’t actually me that’s being ignorant here) “Higher education reforms: progressive but complicated with an unwelcome incentive” is misleading. The report describes how the proposals are more progressive than the previous system. However both systems are regressive above middle incomes (in the only accepted definition of progressivity/regressivity – percentage of gross income), so it is more accurate to describe the new system as less regressive. Howvere, that in itself does not take into account the fact that the cap on fees has been increased substantially (and teaching budgets cut by 80%) and as such the burden of paying for HE has shifted from progressive general taxation to regressive tuition fees. Therefore the new system is actually more regressive when looked at holistically. It is the complete opposite of the Lib Dem policy aim of replacing tuition fees with progressive taxation.

  • Steve Simmons 13th Dec '10 - 1:25pm

    @Rob Blackie
    I’d also like to point out that the original IFS report on the Browne proposals was entirely misleading in its definition of progressive taxation: “http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/5307” http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/5307
    The report describes the proposals as progressive on the basis that the cumulative payment over 30 years increases with income, whereas the definition of progressive taxation is the cumulative payment as a percentage of gross income over the 30 years, meaning that the proposals are regressive above middle incomes.

    ‘impartial analysis’ my bottom.

  • Yes enjoy your time in government because it’ll never happen again.

  • Rob Blackie,

    If you really are “enjoying” being in government, then I suggest you join the Conservative Party.

    Clegg is quite clearly determined to destroy the Liberal Democrats (I am a founding member, btw) and merge what remains of it with the Tory Party. We are only 9 months into the “coalition” and we have lost two-thirds of our support already. Worse catastrophes undoubtedly exist in politics, but I am hard-pressed to think of one. Clegg’s defence of his tuition fees deception seems to be: “Hah, hah. Had you there, dreamers! Politicians tell lies to get votes. That’s life, isn’t it? You were dumb enough to get scammed. Tough. Grow up and get used to it.” Yes, the man is so shameless he even has the nerve to insult his victims.

    Either we exit the “coalition” and get rid of Clegg, or we wind the party up. Which is it to be?

  • @SESENCO why on earth would Nick C join the Liberal DEmocrats if we wants to destroy it? why not just join the Tories?

    perhaps despite being a founding member you havent got used to the fact that we don’t go into politrifs to have good poll ratings. we go into politics to get things done. Liberal policies in fact which is what is now happening.

  • Oh dear, the pupil premium seems to have been another accounting trick. It’s been revealed that school budgets will be no different, despite the previous claims.

    From the BBC website:

    “But with the revelation that the schools budget will not now rise above above inflation, it is clear the pupil premium is not on top of what schools had before.”

  • John Roffey 13th Dec '10 - 1:51pm

    @ SMcG

    Tory support seems to be holding up well! Wily politicians the Tories – they probably can’t believe the L/D members of the Coalition are so ready to be the fall guys! What for – a brief moment in the limelight!

  • Liberal Neil 13th Dec '10 - 1:55pm

    @Steve’s points about tuition fees are correct. However I assumed the post was effectively saying “Yes, folk are unhappy about tuition fees, but there is a lot to be positive about”, which i think stands.

    @RichardSM – it is now the case that what was expected to be an above inflation rise, based on forecast inflation at that time, will not be ebcause inflation is now expected to be a bit higher. This is down to a change in forecast, which is not the same as an ‘accounting trick’, as most people would understand.

  • Nick/Lynn – better that we approach things as if these next four years will be our last, rather than do as Labour did and behave as if we’ve bought the undying gratitude of our supporters. Then we might just find that they’re not our last.

    Steve/Richard – I don’t think the pupil premium funds are meaningless in the context of the need for deficit-cutting. I also think the Lib Dems did well to get through the CGT changes that we did in the face of some pretty heavy lobbying against.

  • SMcG wrote –
    “why on earth would Nick C join the Liberal DEmocrats if we wants to destroy it? why not just join the Tories? ”

    Probably because he didn’t like the Tory attitude to the EU, other than that I really can’t think why he didn’t join the Tories, he’ll feel more at home there (with the added bonus he wouldn’t have to deceive other party members about his intentions)

  • The ‘now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t’ pupil premium has gone in a matter of weeks. It’s a joke.

  • Simon McGrath,

    “why on earth would Nick C join the Liberal DEmocrats if we wants to destroy it? why not just join the Tories?”

    But he did join the Tories when he was at Cambridge, didn’t he? And he remained a Tory until he discovered that if he wanted to fulfil his ambition to become a MEP he would have to be a Euro-sceptic, and he couldn’t stomach that, so he joined the Liberal Democrats.

    “perhaps despite being a founding member you havent got used to the fact that we don’t go into politrifs to have good poll ratings.”

    We go into politics to win, not to lose, and we are going to lose very big time indeed if we carry on propping up this right-wing Tory government.

    “Liberal policies in fact which is what is now happening.”

    You mean like the tripling of student tuition fees, the hammering of the poor and the stealth privatisation of the NHS?

    If you think that UK politics has a niche for a European-style right-wing liberal party perpetually propping up right-wing governments, you are sadly mistaken. We are a party of the centre-left or we are nothing.

  • “What I’d like people to discuss a bit more, is whether it’s better than what has happened before. I think it is”.

    Better than before? that would depend on if your disabled, a future student, or a social housing tenant, if your in one of these groups you’ll find that it is most definitely not better than before.

  • Steve Simmons 13th Dec '10 - 2:32pm

    @Rob Blackie
    “@Steve the IFS analysis fairly clearly states that ‘our analysis suggests that graduates with higher earnings would repay unambiguously more than their lower-earning counterparts.’ This is unsurprising given that repayments are linked to incomes. ”

    That isn’t the definition of progressive taxation (as I’ve already stated clearly above – did you not read my comments?). It is an important point to understand, given that it is Lib Dem policy to pay for HE through pregressive taxation and the changes being made to tuition fees result in a regressive taxation regime above middle incomes. The funding of HE tuition through general taxation (progressive) is being replaced by funding mostly through tuition fees (regressive above middle incomes), making the funding of HE more fiscally regressive above middle incomes.

  • Dominic Curran 13th Dec '10 - 2:38pm

    Rob,

    a helpful article, but i have to agree with Steve Simmons’ first post. Our ‘achievements’ are either wiped out in one budget (income tax thresholds and cap gains tax increases) or are Tory policy anyway (pupil premuim, ID card abolition, pensions). Once you take into account our participation in the slow death of council housing, punitive cuts to those at the bottom of the economic pile, VAT of 20%, the dismembering of the NHS, Pepsi and McDonalds in charge of obesity policy, and no doubt many more negatives by 2015, i think that, far from moderating these ignorant millionaires, we’ve enabled the most right-wing government since the war to re-shape the country in a way far more profound – and damaging, in my view – than a 38% share of the vote should allow.

    In the process we’ve consigned ourselves to a glass ceiling of no more than 15% of the vote for the next 20 years.

    I want my time, money and votes back from the party, please. (i resigned on Thursday).

  • Sesenco, I don’t buy your argument that Clegg is out to kill the party. For one thing, there are too many around him – Paddy Ashdown, Ming Campbell, Malcolm Bruce and Jim Wallace to name a few – who would have no hesitation in getting rid of him if he tried.

    You’re right, we’re not a party of the “centre right” – the description you used could easily have applied to New Labour. But we’re not really a party of the “centre left” either. In my opinion, we draw the best from both houses (the social policy from the left, underpinned by liberalism from the right.) So it’s quite right to try to trumpet where we’re having success.

    If you have a look at some of my previous posts, they’re not all in favour of the coalition – especially on tuition fees and housing benefit – but on the whole I still think it’s too early to call. Taking Scotland as an example, although the coalition had some effect initially on opinion polls they are roughly where they usually are about this time before a Scottish election. If there’s a disaster next May, then I’d agree we’d have to reassess, but until then we need to hang on in there.

  • This increasingly doesn’t wash – and is more evidence of the vacuum at the heart of the party regarding communications.

    This was Gordon Brown’s approach in the last, dark days of his regime. Keep repeating lists of Labour “achievements” in the hope that people think “Gosh; haven’t they done well”. For the Lib Dems to be doing this now smacks of desperation.

    Your list of “achievements” pale in comparison with what your voters have had to swallow – tuition fees being the obvious example.

    It is only the political nerds (like me I might add) who believe “why be in politics without power”. The electorate believes “why be in power if you’re making my life worse”. And believe me – the electorate is definitely in this camp at present. It’s only going to get worse when the cuts bite.

    Let’s look at a real-world example. 20% cuts to the police, announced today. Do you think that pledging to end child detention will wash if the numbers of police drops? Or heralding stopping (you can’t abolish something not introduced) ID cards when if the NHS waiting lists continue to rise at the alarming rate of recent weeks?

    Rather than herald a set of minor policy successes – you need to differentiate yourself from an ever-increasingly right-wing Tory party.

  • For an approach so much better than I could put, have a look at Millenium Elephant’s blog:

    http://millenniumelephant.blogspot.com/

    Knowing Elephant’s daddy (as I did in my SYLD days) I doubt he’d be allowed to publish such statements without agreement!

  • Cuse – ?? I’m struggling to see police cuts as part of an “ever-increasingly right-wing Tory party” agenda.

    But then again, Labour is coming out against redistribution (a.k.a. “robbing Peter to pay Paul”) so you never can tell.

  • Valeriet.

    Police numbers + funding fell dramatically under the Tories. She talked law + order, cut funding mercilessly but counteracted this cleverly by keeping the police onside. This government’s declined to do that – and is indeed looking for a fight with them with their ludicrous elected police commissioner concept.

    The ideology behind the Coalition is incredibly right-wing – And Clegg’s latest – that “the Big Society is liberalism” – schocks even me – an avowed Coalition objector.

  • John Roffey 13th Dec '10 - 4:43pm

    @ Tom Papworth

    In the context of that post it was the former – ‘the Lib Dems “living” now in government and “paying” in 2015 at the polls’ although, as you say, it might have applied to either.

  • Dominic Curran 13th Dec '10 - 4:51pm

    @ Cuse

    “The ideology behind the Coalition is incredibly right-wing – And Clegg’s latest – that “the Big Society is liberalism” – schocks even me – an avowed Coalition objector.”

    Insofar as Clegg means that the two concepts are about the government empowering people to do more for themselves, and about taking power back from the central state to the local level, i think it was a fair comparison. What exactly was your objection to this comment?

  • Objection?

    Putting the Localism bill into context.

    Councils have been asked to take an average 9% cut today. To fill this gap – the Big Society asks volunteers to take over running services – at no cost. It involves job losses, mass redundancies (Gateshead Council making 600 redundant 4eg) and a complete lack of accountability. It is classic Thatcherism.

    What I object to – is Clegg taking the terms liberal, progressive and fair and attempting to re-definine them to fit the Coalition’s agenda – and not attempting to influence the Coalition’s agenda to fit the more accepted definitions of the words.

    I also object to the increasingly bizarre ways that Clegg is attempting to tie himself ever closer to Cameron’s agenda. Mark Park on this site talks with eloquence about the biggest challenge to the party is in it’s inability to differentiate from the Conservatives. Yet Clegg continues to believe that it is his only hope. The Big Society has been up to now (by Clegg himself) and will continue to be laughed at by all and sundry for years to come. Yet Clegg decides to align the party with it?

    it’s bizarre.

  • Dominic Curran 13th Dec '10 - 5:35pm

    @ Cuse

    ah, thanks for that elaboration. I would agree with your general point that allying the party so closely to the Tories is not something that should happen. However, if there is one area where there is quite a lot of overlap between the coalition partners it is in localism and decentralisation, and in this sense i think there is genuine overlap between liberalism as envisaged in a practical sense by clegg and what i think cameron means by the big society. I hate the tories viscerally, but i will give cameron credit for what i think is a sincere attempt to redefine the relationship between the state and the individual in a liberal manner. of course, the extent to which it is liberal in the sense of empowering individuals to be able to enagge with the state effectively remains to be seen, but i think cameron is at least on the right track (if not actually at the destination). But i don’t think that saying there’s an overlap between the big society and liberalism is shocking. it’s a statement of the obvious, from what i can tell.

  • Emsworthian 13th Dec '10 - 5:41pm

    Surely in the perception of many people, we’ve ended with loads of stuff nobody actually voted for like doctors consortia, free schools and acadamies, police commissioners, a tripling of university fees and more. I’ve been in politics long enough to understand what changing horses in mid steam means but events since May would have made even Houdini envious.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Dec '10 - 5:48pm

    Our party has been very badly led since the coalition was formed. The idea seems to have been that the electorate would be so impressed to see Liberal Democrat MPs holding government office that they would rush to support us. Well, any fool ought to have been able to see the public would not be impressed by a politician enjoying power. It may not be fair, but what the public hates most about politicians is the way they seem to enjoy power first, and anything else they do comes after that. Nick Clegg seems to have been doing his damnedest to live up to all the negative stereotypes people have of politicians and thereby to drag the rest of us down with him.

    What we needed was a toughie at the top, someone who would not be a pushover, and someone in touch with the rest of the party. We needed in particular someone with ALDC links who was happy to use those to get wisdom from those who have experienced power-sharing, minority rule, coalitions and the like at local government level. Instead we have the right-wing media’s pet – someone who rolls over to them, but thinks being “tough” is being tough with us who put him there as our leader.

    A golden rule our party membership ought to observe is whatever the right-wing press tells us is the sensible thing to do will almost certainly damage us. The reality is, no matter how much we roll over to them and think it’ll mean they are nice to us, they won’t be. They’ll get us where they want us and then kick us all the more harder, just as they have done and are doing now.

    I accepted, like most party members, that the situation following the May 2010 election meant a Conservative-LibDem coalition was the only viable option for a stable government. That does not mean I accepted in advance everything our leader did while being deputy leader of that coalition. Sure, it inevitably means our Parliamentary party is going to have to give voting support to a lot of stuff we don’t really like in return for a little we like. But we simply did not have to paint it as Clegg did from the start and still does – as if it is all wonderful because his wonderfulness has a nice comfy job, and that everything the coalition is doing is wonderful, just what he always wanted to do.

  • Dominic Curran 13th Dec '10 - 5:50pm

    @ Emworthian

    I think most of those things were in the tory manifesto. the only one that wasn’t (fees) was implictly in the tory and labour ones as both committed to accepting the Browne review’s proposals (just as labour’s 1997 manifesto was committed to accepting the Dearing report). So although a majority of people didn’t vote for those things (we haven’t had a government with a majority of the votes cast since the 1950s) the most number voted for those things in that the tories got the biggest share of the vote.

  • @ Rob Blackie
    “So this Christmas let’s be proud of what we’ve achieved. And I’ll see you all in Oldham”

    Proud that water cannon may be used on protesters? Theresa May has not ruled it out. Proud of this in an article in The Telegraph by Matthew d’Ancona
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/matthewd_ancona/8196564/The-Coalitions-shock-therapy-demands-exemplary-bedside-manners.html
    ” As one senior Government source put it to me: “It is quite possible that there will be cases of suicide.”
    Was this a Lib Dem or a Tory, who can tell the difference. Proud? Has this word also taken on a new meaning as have ‘fair’, ‘progressive’ and ‘pledge’?

  • I have just looked at that pledge tracker and must say I am completely underwhelmed. A lot of them seem to be very woolly and actually do not commit to anything concrete. Also there are a number of things that are negated by the huge cuts programs (pupil premium is one) and others that have been kicked into the long grass (the civil liberties bill, real action against the banks). Also we have such things as the ‘commitment to non-violent protest’ which is a bit rich seeing the behaviour of the police last week – no difference from NuLab – and I have yet to hear one LD cabinet member criticise the police. We even have the first indications of water cannon (imagine the reaction of Clegg if proposed by John Reid).

    To be honest the 64% is irrelevant as it seems to be made up of generalisations which were not much different in any of the other party’s manifestos or are things that matter little in daily life.

    My main reasons for voting LD

    i. Tuition fees (0% achieved seeing the link to 80% cuts in university budgets)
    ii, Limited cuts more akin to Labour than the Tories (’nuff said)
    iii. Civil liberties restored (optimistic at first but less so as each day progresses)
    iv. PR (AV okayish but the referendum will be lost)

    The things that mattered to me have not been delivered and a number of things are being proposed which remove the positive points – NHS reform, massive cuts, limited action against the banks, ‘elected’ police commissioners etc etc etc.

    Labour still has a long way to go to detoxify the brand but bloody hell Clegg is trying to make it easy for them!

  • Can I also ask if the coalition’s policy regarding the cuts has changed. There now seems to be extra cash being found for this that and the other in order to ‘reduce impact’ – are they deficit deniers as well now or was it that it was all exaggerated to frighten the voters and allow ideological focused cuts to be made?

  • I agree with Matthew!

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