Opinion: We must not blame Party Leaders for acquiescing to the demands of Governance

Damien Shannon is a candidate for Vice Chair (Finance) of Liberal Youth.

It is a dispiriting sight to see the swell of twenty Liberal Democrat Ministers of the Crown – five of whom have taken on Cabinet roles – abandon with gusto the free thinking policies that secured the popular approval of twenty three percentiles of the voting public just a few short weeks ago. Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, David Laws, Chris Huhne and Danny Alexander will all have had a stark realisation of the tremendously constrictive machinery of government awaiting them when acceding to their respective offices. They will all – with the exception of Nick Clegg who, as Party Leader in the House of Commons prior to the election, will already have done so – have had to swear the Privy Counsellor’s oath of secrecy, will have been given a crash course in the notion of collective responsibility exercised at Cabinet level and will be forced to contemplate the truly awesome responsibilities that lay within the purview of a British Cabinet – contingencies for war, procedure for launching a nuclear strike or for being transported to one of various underground government bases in the event of a nuclear attack. Those with Ministerial office of their own will have enormous departments to contend with, alongside an army of Civil Servants putting into expression whatever policies their ministers manage to successfully pilot through a predominantly Conservative and undoubtedly difficult cabinet.

Great swathes of policy will fall along the wayside as casualties of this intricate process for the governance of Britain, and for this we cannot lay the blame at the feet of our party leaders. The Conservatives have had – as a price for a stable coalition – to abandon their plans for raising the threshold of inheritance tax, are becoming increasingly silent on the controversial issue of recognising marriage in the tax system and are having to contemplate acceding to the Liberal Democrat’s plans for linking Capital Gains tax to Income Tax (ironically, a policy last espoused by a Conservative Chancellor). These issues are bound to inflame the Conservative’s core supporters, much as it has the right wing press (the Spectator – never an upbeat publication at the best of times – is beginning to look like the hymn sheet for a choir of bitter reactionaries).

The Liberal Democrats are not immune from such dangers. The promise merely to examine the like-for-like replacement of Trident in “value for money” terms is essentially an abandonment of the pre-election policy of incorporating its utility into the forthcoming Strategic Defence Review (as Sir Menzies Campbell so eloquently put it in the House of Commons the day after the Queen’s Speech, what is the logic in conducting a strategic review and excluding your principal strategic weapons system?).

The pledge for a phased elimination of tuition fees is now totally off the agenda, and for a party which relies so extensively upon those affected by this policy change for its core support, the Liberal Democrats face a tremendous challenge in justifying the terms of the deal struck with the Conservative party (to simply abstain from voting on anything they cannot support, which if implemented would guarantee safe passage through the House of Commons for whatever of Lord Browne’s proposals is accepted by David Willets as being the most desirable).

The task facing Liberal Youth in the coming year becomes akin to one of herding cats – trying to explain that coalition governance never equates to all promises being fulfilled whilst assuring the rank and file that Nick Clegg hasn’t abandoned the principles of the Liberal Democrats (although his persistent overtones hinting at his being a Unilateralist with respect to Nuclear Defence Policy may have raised false expectations here).

Liberal Youth must succeed in calming already troubled waters throughout schools, colleges and Universities across the nation, whilst expanding membership, improving retention of existing members and appreciating the tremendous difficulties that lay ahead for the Liberal Democrat as a party.

As is now common knowledge ‘Short Money’ has been denied the Liberal Democrats owing to their being in government, placing a £1.7m hole in party finances. Liberal Youth must face the prospect of not being able to secure a generous devolved budget from the Federal Executive, whilst accepting that membership needs to expand and that other sources of income will have to be investigated. All this at a time when University places are being reduced, youth unemployment is at terrifying levels and the argument of simply blaming the government is no longer open to us.

The reality facing Liberal Youth is thus entirely commensurate with that which must have greeted Nick Clegg and his team of negotiators when the stark reality of our hung Parliament became inescapably apparent in the small hours of May 7th. It is one of balancing competing priorities and attempting to strike the best available compromise and – as will all things in life – relies on a certain amount of luck. Time will tell whether we are up to the challenge.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • “the popular approval of twenty three percentiles of the voting public”

    Percentile is ‘the value of a variable below which a certain percent of observations fall’ (Wikipedia), so either twenty three percent, or the twenty third percentile, not twenty three percentiles!
    One would hope that as potential Vice Chair Finance, Damien get this right….. 🙂

  • Thankfully grammatical perfection and statistical comprehension, whilst simultaneously desirable, are not totally inter-reliant, although I appreciate the concern.

    Dropping the word into Google is illuminating, since the explanation provided beyond that of Wiki opens with the bold words:

    “There is no universally accepted definition of a percentile.”


    You choose your sources to makes your choice.

  • An interesting and well written article.

    However, one which is policy light. The core theme – diversfying income – is presented, but no solution is presented.
    I hope that Damiens manifesto contains more detail.

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