Thursday, 14 July 2016

Why join the Lib Dems

Below is a response to a query from a discombobulated Labour supporter about the Lib Dems.  I claim no special insight nor rhetorical flourish but I trust this is concise and might prove of interest to others...

Why join the Lib Dems?  Well...

Our record in government
Apart from the foolish error of supporting the Tory policy to increase tuition fees (which, we should never forget, were originally introduced by a Labour government which had given a manifesto commitment not to do so), the Lib Dems in coalition were a roaring success, spending 5 years successfully reining in the excesses of the Tories which have played out over the past year now that the shackles have come off.  As David Cameron said on the record, 'I'd govern like a true Tory if it wasn't for the Lib Dems'.  Well, he got his chance over the past year and look how that has turned out...

  • In coalition, we had Vince Cable as Business Secretary, successfully focusing the British government on developing industry, increasing apprentices, setting up the Green Investment Bank and generally taking an active role on the economy.  He also disliked George Osborne - a qualification in anyone's book.   
  • We also had the excellent Lynne Featherstone, who piloted through the policy David Cameron likes to claim was his but wasn't - equal marriage. 
  • The Tories also like to claim credit for increasing the tax threshold so that those on the lowest incomes are removed from taxation and get to keep more of their money - a far more equitable system than taxing people then giving them some of their own money back in tax credits.  This is possibly the Lib Dems' most successful policy ever.
  • Social Care Minister Normal Lamb won plaudits across the board for his work on improving social care and for his focus on improving the status, waiting times and treatment for people with mental health, seeking to give it equal status with physical health.
  • A nod also needs to be given to Nick Clegg, who jointly piloted the coalition, held his tongue and did a very creditable job working with the Tories when he was being pilloried from all sides and his family abused.  As with his uncanny prediction about the referendum result, a growing number of people are finding that they do indeed still 'agree with Nick'.
  • Also, on the issue of tuition fees, the Tories wanted simply to hike them up - and still want to.  The Lib Dems in coalition managed to revise the policy so that tuition fees became widely regarded as a 'graduate tax', a far more equitable way for people to pay for their education by being affordable, only payable once people started to earn a decent income and written off after 30 years.  It was not what we wanted but we made tuition fees as fair as possible.

Our policy on the EU
The Liberal Democrats have always been an explicitly internationalist party.  We support international co-operation and we are 100% pro-EU.  No other party can claim this.  The Lib Dems now have a stated policy of returning the UK to the EU.  Given that there are 4 years until the next scheduled General Election and given how difficult everyone says negotiating Brexit is likely to be, with no Tory Prime Minister likely to want to enact Article 50 which starts the process of dumping us out of the EU, all the cards are most resolutely still on the table.

We are a united party
We may only have 8 MPs to choose from but Tim Farron is popular across the party.  Tim did not go to private school or to Oxbridge and he comes from the north of England, thus breaking the mould of the 'ruling class'.  The losing candidate, Norman Lamb, is, if anything even more popular for his sterling work in government.  What is clear is that they are not at each others' throats.

The NHS and social security
One of the great achievements of the greatest government this country has ever had, both of these were envisaged by a Liberal, William Beveridge, in his ground-breaking report published in 1942.  The report remains one of the best-selling books of all time in this country.  Social security and old age pensions had been introduced by a Liberal government in 1910 and it was a Liberal government which cut the powers of the House of Lords in 1910 to force these measures through.

We support fair votes and federalism
We have always believed in devolution and we want a federal system for the UK.  It's only now in this time of great crisis that the need for other centres of power is shown to be so important, with the 'one party' SNP turning out to be a surprising bulwark against the Tory Government.  With regard to Wales and Northern Ireland, they should obviously have equivalent powers to Scotland.  We also need an English Parliament so that all the parts of the country have an equal voice.  This is Lib Dem  party policy.

As for fair votes, Labour promised to introduce PR in 1997 and 2001.  Tony Blair got Roy Jenkins to write a report, then did nothing.  


And now we are reaping the whirlwind as this Tory government destroys our country and our international reputation.  The PR elections in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London very clearly demonstrate the value of fair votes, giving everyone fair representation.  Would a new Labour government introduce PR?  Not a chance, if you look at their past record.

The Iraq War
I am still immensely proud of the Lib Dems and Charles Kennedy for standing alone against this grubby war which has devastated a region and the consequences of which are still being felt in the daily slaughter in Iraq and across the whole eastern Mediterranean.  Those migrants are our responsibility.  Tony Blair can say he didn't know what would happen but Charles Kennedy set out all the risks in 2003 and was called a traitor for doing so.

We need an opposition
There is no question that the Labour Party is in no position to call itself a government in waiting, which is the primary job of an opposition.  The party faces years of division with a likely new battle with the Momentum faction.  A split would be best for the party but that is likely to be resisted on all sides, plunging Labour into further turmoil for years

Moderate Labour members and MPs have a home in the Lib Dems, a party which remains as much social democrat as it is liberal.  Fair votes, lowering taxes for the lowest paid, offering better life chances to young people, equal marriage - these are all achievements which any Labour member could applaud.

We're coming back!
We are where we are because we went into government when it was in crisis.  That remains the right decision, as time is now showing very clearly.  I hated it - we all hated it - but we did what was necessary and our MPs did incredibly well. They aced it.

In government the very small Lib Dems got stuff done, usually in the teeth of Tory opposition.  We have been knocked out before and we have returned because the country needs a strong liberal voice, now more so than ever.  

The party is growing like never before - we had 20,000 new members after the 2015 election and we have got 17,000 new ones since the referendum.  There is always room for more.

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