Where next for Lib Dem ‘muscular liberalism’?

Over on the BBC News site, BBC political correspondent Norman Smith has written a piece looking at how the Liberal Democrats will continue to exert their influence in a more public way within the coalition after the combined effect of the AV referendum, the local election results and the success of the party’s push to re-think the NHS reforms.

As Norman says:

From the top to the bottom of the party, there is a hankering for clear yellow lines running through government policy.

However, where those lines should be drawn to best reassert the Lib Dems’ independence, is much harder to agree.

There are clearly several potential areas where there is scope for Lib Dem radicalism to emerge within government. The Voice’s Mark Pack suggests that it is over the issue of banking reform where we should be aiming to exert our influence now:

“It is one of those issues that’s very dear to people’s hearts and is also a substantive issue that’s really important to get right for our future economic health and well-being,” Mr Pack says.

“I think overall the public is much more on the side of people like Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable, who are saying the banking system really needs to change radically, than those Conservative traditional types who really seem to think: ‘Let’s just let the finance sector do what it always does’.”

And what of tuition fees, the policy that has come to dominate the Lib Dems’ first year in government?

Lorely Burt, the MP who chairs the Lib Dem backbench business, innovation and skills committee, acknowledges the party will need an internal reckoning on the issue before the next general election.

But she is wary of revisiting the government’s policy.

“It’s been a source of very great regret to us and by the next general election I’m sure we’ll come out with another policy but I don’t want to go there yet – my wounds are still healing on that one,” she says.

But with key details about the new higher education scheme still to be agreed, including how places at universities are allocated, Ms Burt insists MPs’ reticence on the issue does not mean the Liberal Democrats are bowing out of the debate altogether.

“We are very much looking forward to the White Paper. That is an area we’ll be very keen to look at from a fairness and Liberal Democrat perspective,” she says.

You can read the piece in full – including contributions from David Hall-Matthews and Councillor Chris White – over on the BBC News site here.

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