Opinion: Reflections on local and national power

Well, Autumn Conference in Liverpool was an interesting experience. Bumping into Ministers and asking them to sort out issues was strange. An odd aircraft carrier here, and regeneration scheme there. Who knows if these discussions had any effect, but at least we could ask the people who might make the decisions. Few of us now remember the last time this happened. The 1929 Liberal Assembly seems a long time ago now.

Being in coalition has this upside. To be able to influence decisions is what we stand for elections for. We think our ideas are better than those of the other parties and we want to see them implemented. It’s tougher than just being in opposition, but, if we are serious about our ideas making the lives of people in the UK and the world better, then we have to make power work.

It’s clear that there were three choices of government after the elections. A Lib Dem/Labour government, a minority Tory government and a Lib Dem/Tory government. I worked hard to get a Lib Dem/Labour government with a Labour Minister, but Labour MPs like Blunkett and Reid opposed this and that killed that option. We would have needed every single Lib Dem and Labour MP on board all the time for this to work. My understanding is that Ed Balls was very clear with our negotiating team that there was no deal possible. You just can’t do a deal with people who don’t want one.

With the Tories it was either a minority Tory government and another General Election in October – probably leading to a majority right wing Tory Government – or a coalition where we try to limit the most lunatic and right wing ideas of the Tories.

I am now in my twentieth year as a councillor, and I’ve never been in opposition yet. I’ve worked in majority controlled Lib Dem councils (which we are now in Portsmouth), in coalitions and in minority control. The principles are pretty much the same throughout. In power, the job is to deliver the best services and policies possible, but also to make sure that you are not unfairly blamed for things that are not your fault.

It is also essential to make sure you get the basics right. In Councils if you can’t collect the bins properly and make sure the finances are OK then voters won’t trust you with anything else. In national government the same is true.

Coalitions have a strange juxtaposition. On the one hand you work very closely with people who have been your enemies, and on the other hand you have to keep a sense of independence. Working closely together day by day means you build working relationships that are often good and close even between people of different parties. In my view this will be the thing that binds the coalition government together for the next five years. The problem is over elections. If one group or another feels damaged by the coalition and are worried by the outcome of the next election then cracks might appear. So for us we need to make sure that we are winning elections, against both Tories and Labour, today, tomorrow and on.

Gerald Vernon-Jackson is Leader, Portsmouth City Council

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3 Comments

  • Patrick Smith 31st Oct '10 - 10:28am

    Gerald Vernon-Jackson leader of L/D led Portsmouth Council speaks from years of running the local public services experience and is right on all counts that the residents want and deserve the `best services and possible’.L/Ds always have a more closer approach with the local people and listen.

    It is also essential for the L/D`s to continue to assert their independence heritage,in winning elections across the board, against the Tories and Labour.

    When coalitions are made they are innevitable and are done only , in so much for the sake of good governance and to make sure the bins are emptied on time.

    I agree with the fundamental that even given that many sought a Coalition deal with Labour this was never on the table .

    There had been no evidence of any willingness in a collegiate approach in standing up for the national interest in the hour of need from Brown and those in his bunker.

  • Patrick Smith 31st Oct '10 - 10:28am

    Gerald Vernon-Jackson leader of L/D led Portsmouth Council speaks from years of running the local public services experience and is right on all counts that the residents want and deserve the `best services and possible’.L/Ds always have a more closer approach with the local people and listen.

    It is also essential for the L/D`s to continue to assert their independence heritage,in winning elections across the board, against the Tories and Labour.

    When coalitions are made they are innevitable and are done only , in so much for the sake of good governance and to make sure the bins are emptied on time.

    I agree with the fundamental that even given that many sought a Coalition deal with Labour this was never on the table .

    There had been no evidence of any willingness in a collegiate approach in standing up for the national interest in the hour of need from Brown and those in his bunker.

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