Opinion: What price authenticity in our policy making?

As a mental health social worker, I have been trying to keep up with the debate, both within and without the party,  on the progress of the Welfare Reform Bill.

There are many commentators far more expert than I able to say how many different aspects of the legislation accord with party policy, or wider liberal views about the freedom and agency of the individual, or how far it falls short in respect of protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities.

This post is not about the detail of that.

I want to pose a question to LDV-reading colleagues as to how well we feel our parliamentarians are managing the job not only of talking up Lib Dem policy achievements, but of explaining where we have attempted to amend prospective pieces of legislation in accordance with Party policy and guiding principle and why we have not always succeeded in doing so.

Mike German’s piece on the Welfare Reform Bill is a case in point.  It’s fantastic that so much has been achieved by our teams in the Commons and the Lords. It’s important to explain, for example, the way in which integrating the Tax and Benefits systems will help individuals and families in the long run – and encourage people to work where they can. And that this has been a long-held Lib Dem objective.  And to demonstrate that it is part of our Lib Dem DNA to repeat at every opportunity that we are on the look-out, and working to ensure that the books are not balanced ‘on the backs of the poorest’.

But as one of the commentariat on Mike’s piece states, Coalition politics demands compromise – you get some of what you want but not all.  We have 57 MPs and the Tories have multiples more.  We don’t have the whip hand.  What were the things that we did not get out of the Welfare Reform Bill that we wanted?  This information is just as important for our Focus leaflets.

In the current political climate, surely it is part of our authenticity as a party not only to be able to speak clearly about what we have managed to influence in respect of Coalition policy or how much (usually in percentage terms) of our manifesto is being enacted; but also about where we have failed to achieve and why?

Conservatives (small c) might shy away from this, citing ‘collective responsibility’.  But, despite there being a drastic need for the re-interpretation of this concept for Coalition Government, it does not apply to internal parliamentary policy groups does it?

The likes of John Pugh and Andrew George in the Commons, as well as Baroness Williams and others in the Lords have demonstrated on Health issues that it is entirely possible to highlight in the national media where Coalition policy is likely to fall short of what we as Lib Dem members want to see enacted.

Surely to goodness we need to be doing this across a breadth of policy areas, and quickly?

* Nick Perry is an approved mental health professional and was the parliamentary candidate for Hastings & Rye at the General Election.

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4 Comments

  • Julian Tisi 11th Jan '12 - 8:11pm

    Nick

    I couldn’t agree more and I think this has been a real failure of the party. The public perception of politicians generally is so low that authenticity is a rare and wonderful thing. Sadly we’re perceived as ranking very low on the authenticity scale – principally because of tuition fees. We can complain about this all we like (we got a good deal, a fairer system than either Labour of the Tories would have got, Labour broke their own promises on tuition fees etc etc…) – it may be grossly unfair but that’s the perception. And here’s the thing – had we said at the time “this isn’t what we want but it’s the best in the circumstances” I think over time people would have understood us more.

    I feel sorry for Nick and our cabinet members because (quite rightly I think) they realise that they can’t whinge in public whenever they don’t get their way, or they won’t get their way very often. Having championed pluralist politics for so long we can’t be the ones threatening to take our ball home every time we don’t get our way. But somehow we need to walk the tightrope between championing Lib Dem achievements in government (and there are many – according to the lovely Simon Heffer this week we “run the country”) and admitting when we don’t.

  • Tony Greaves 11th Jan '12 - 11:12pm

    Yes. In the Lords I personally think we have lost our way a bit and to anyone outside we risk looking like a shambles.

    Yet on the Localism Bill for instance there were 104 pages of ords amendments that went back to the Commons, very many of them due to our influence inside and outside the Chamber, and not one of them a result of a government defeat in the lobbies.

    Some current Bills (Helath and Social Care, Legal Aid etc, and Welfare Reform) are more difficult.

    Tony Greaves

  • Another reason we should be doing this is to lay the groundwork for future elections; using our time in the limelight to tell people about long-standing policies and approaches even when we’re unable to implement them.

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