A Christmas gift for Liberal Democrat voters.
Ah, the greatest of Christmas moments. James Stewart realises how much worse off the world would be without him and decides not to commit suicide. Clarence, the angel, takes him from the blackest of depressive episodes to euphoric joy at being alive. How? By showing him a world where he’d never been born.
Well, in the Christmas spirit, I wanted to do the equivalent for someone, so I thought to myself, who really could use cheering up right now? Who might be feeling, this Christmas, like just selling their souls to Mr Potter for a small, insignificant bit of gain, just to get it over with? Or perhaps there’s someone who feels like they already have?
Yes, the Liberal Democrats must be in serious need of some Christmas cheer. And, more importantly, so must their voters.
As Tim Farron has already pointed out, in every recent election, the Liberal Democrats have come out with absolutely none of their manifesto being implemented, yet their voters stood by them. Since the May 2010 election, 65% of the Liberal Democrat manifesto has been implemented. Yet most voters are talking of deserting them, because of the 35% not implemented.
Except actually, its not most of their voters. Lib Dem membership has gone up by 10% since the coalition formed. Diane Abbott sneeringly replied to Simon Hughes, “Aren’t most of them Tories, though?” when he pointed this out on Question Time. And yes, she might well be right.
A lot of people in Britain cannot forgive Labour for their intrusions into civil liberties, their crushing stealth taxation and unfair – yes, unfair – 50% tax rate for top earners. A lot of people have been forced into becoming reluctant Tory voters, despite the party’s history of homophobia, despite their lasse faire attitude to poverty, despite the apparent prizing of social class and status over meritocracy and aspiration, despite their tax breaks for married people and their support of an expensive last century style weapon instead of giving the money directly to our troops. Why didn’t these people just vote Lib Dem? Because the Liberal Democrats, the party of the rational, fair-minded, sensible centre, have been painted by the media as the loony left, largely because Labour have moved so far to the right. People didn’t trust them to be fiscally responsible, didn’t trust them to be up to the hard challenges of government, and – crucially – people didn’t believe it was actually possible, in the real world, to implement Lib Dem policies.
The coalition agreement has proved those floating voters wrong on all three counts. You might not agree with the scale of the cuts (I don’t) and you might not agree with everything the Tories are choosing to cut (I certainly don’t), but no-one can paint the Liberal Democrats as fiscally irresponsible now. Never again can politicians like David Cameron simply throw up their cheap shots at Lib Dem spending plans which they never had to expand on: “It’s a lovely idea Nick, but we can’t afford it.” (A cynical, hallow Cameronism from one of the TV debates, to which Clegg immediately explained exactly how they would fund the proposal in question.) The Lib Dems have shown that they are not lovers of big government. And it might surprise the Labour leadership; it might surprise a few ex-Labour rejects who flirted with the Lib Dems during the last election, but guess what? Neither are most of the public.
And while Clegg is hardly about to win any Statesman of the Year awards, the Liberal Democrats have shown themselves to be fairly formidable negotiators, whatever the press would have you believe. Remember that all the big newspapers back either Labour or the Tories (except the Guardian, who seem to be having a very healthy polyamorous relationship with both Labour and the Liberal Democrats): they are all opposed to the Liberal Democrats. But consider, the Lib Dems got 23% of the public vote. And yet they have managed to get 65% of their manifesto implemented. You want them to have more than that? Then more of you should vote for them.
So let’s have a look, in the spirit of George Bailey and Clarence the Angel, at what Britain’s government would look like without the Liberal Democrats.
First of all, there would have been cut in inheritance tax. That was one of the first things the Lib Dems demanded had to go. I do wonder what would a minority Tory government have cut from the budget to pay for it? Well, to pay for that, and their tax break for married couples, which they were also made to drop by the Lib Dems.
The cuts in higher education (which you’ve probably heard about, they’ve been given a tiny bit of press coverage over the past few weeks…) and cuts to schools would be happening without the pupil premium, which gives disadvantaged kids the help they need at the time they need it, not years later.
The elected police commissioners would not be held to account by anyone except their small electorate, which is fine, perhaps, if you live in Witney or Surrey, but not so comforting if you live in Barking and Dagenham. This alone is surely a reason to cheer. Once again, it might surprise the Labour party to hear it, and many in the Tory party, come to that, but many of us don’t want the police politicised, thank you very much. The Liberal Democrats flat out insisted upon ‘Police and Crime Panels’ to hold the police commissioners to account, a policy which Blair Gibbs of the Spectator describes as “a clear concession to the Liberal Democrats.”
Still not enough for you? The lowest paid would still be paying tax for the privilege of seeing their services hacked to bits. The Liberal Democrats have scrapped income tax for these individuals and families. A small joy, perhaps, but a real one.
Anything else? Well, Trident would, of course, be getting renewed without a review, using your taxes. Murdoch would be taking over BskyB without so much as a discussion. Britain would be selling murder drugs (or execution drugs, if you want to be less melodramatic), to the United States, even though we ‘officially’ deplore and denounce the death penalty.
Most importantly, the Tories would very likely have ended up calling a general election shortly after trying to form a minority government, and would very likely won a majority, giving them leave to do whatever they bleeding well liked.
So no, the Liberal Democrats are not running the country. It’s a democracy, and they didn’t win the election. They got less votes than the Tories. They got less votes than Labour. Why should they run the show? But before the Lib Dems go and jump in the river so that Labour can cash in on their life insurance (I sense I’m in danger of extending this Its a Wonderful Life analogy a bit too far…), take a breath. There are a lot of voters in this country who never vote Lib Dem for the third reason on that list: they believe Lib Dem policies, however wonderful they sound, can’t realistically be implemented in the real world. Surely the coalition is showing us that actually, at least 65% of them, and counting, can be?