I have a huge problem with the coalition government. My problem is that, notwithstanding some of the measures in the budget, like the dodging of a meaningful capital gains tax increase, I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with much of what is being done. This is a difficult position to be in when I want to maintain my independence and critical faculties.
When a British government owns up to the fact that prison doesn't work you have to cheer. It is easy for the nay-sayers to climb onto their tired bandwagon and mention the need to incarcerate rapists and murderers while ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of people in prison are there for petty crimes - unpleasant for the victims and annoying for society but not necessarily meriting imprisonment at huge cost, both financially and in terms of their lives and the lives of relatives and children. Alternatives can be considered for some people - not everyone - and it is quite shocking to have heard this honest assessment from a Conservative government minister. When Michael Howard opposes it, you know in your heart it must be the right thing to do.
As a reminder of how much of a shift this is for the Tories, the ridiculous Ann Widdecombe was on the radio this morning arguing the very point that restorative justice, which has had demonstrable, measurable results in Scotland and Northern Ireland, will not work in every situation. Well, what a stunning revelation that is and what a pleasure it is to remember that Widdecombe is no longer an MP.
When a Liberal Democrat minister, the exalted Vince Cable, announces a policy for a graduate tax to head off calls from a tiny number of rich universities who want to manage entrance to their hallowed halls through a crude financial mechanism of higher fees, instead favouring a system which will ensure that people from all backgrounds can study if they are up to it, you have to cheer. The fact that this proposal was welcomed by the notoriously left-wing NUS offers a pause for reflection about whether this is the right way to go but fundamentally this is a Liberal Democrat proposing to ensure that people can have a decent, affordable education. Cable has also been honest enough to accept that not everyone will be able to go to university and that some universities might close. Labour screech like banshees on the sidelines but they cannot avoid the simple truth that Cable is being honest, acknowledging that this is not where the LDs wanted to be but we live in the real world of coalition compromise. How deliciously refreshing.
When another Tory minister proposed abolishing tiers of NHS bureaucracy and putting control of the NHS into the hands of the people who work in it, I almost fell off my chair. This policy is entirely validated when the likes of the execrable Ed Balls and the ineffectual Harriet Harman rail against it. The policy announced of GP commissioning is radical, it will have problems - let's be honest, it might not work - but it is at least an attempt to address the rising costs and bloated bureaucracy of the NHS while trying to maintain standards and, to repeat, giving more control over the service to the people who work in it. I fought the election on that principle and it is wonderful to see it being applied. This particular path will not enjoy a smooth progress but it is at least a step in the right direction, in the humble opinion of this blogger.
Finally, it is delightful to see Nick Clegg speaking passionately about liberal principles and how he wants to see the country change fundamentally and become more liberal in the hoped for five years of the coalition. That's been one of my key problems with our party for years: we don't shout from the rooftops about how we want to change society. What is nice about this government is that we are, here and now. What's not to like?
Well, George Osborne, obviously but him aside things do seem to be going very nicely. That said, a moment's reflection reassures you that even having Osborne in Number 11 Downing Street is 'A Good Thing'. The Tories have tried desperately to deflect blame for the budget on to the Lib Dems but in the end Chancellor Osborne has stood out from the crowd as the sallow, inexperienced man at the heart of the really bad decisions which Lib Dems have gone along with as payment for some of the things we want, like the raised tax threshold.
So here's to the good times - while they last. We have Tories displaying principles most of them were unaware they had, Lib Dems in government doing stuff, rather than talking about it and Labour in total disarray with no prospect of a revival any time soon, given their choice of leadership candidates.