Sunday, 10 April 2011

On being a punch bag - part 1

I have watched with interest, stoicism and some dismay the spectacle of the LibDems journey over the last ten months or so.  I've also watched the Cleggster go from hero to zero if the polls are to be believed.  A good friend asked me what I made of it all over coffee in Costa Coffee the other day.

I answered, "I'll tell you in a couple of years!"  This seems to me the sensible answer.  Going into government off the back of the credit crunch and going into government with arch rivals and arch villains the Conservatives was never going to be easy.  A process based on deficit reduction and gradual delivery of policies and vision - especially as a recovery (I hope) emerges is always going to take time.  We need to be bold and hang on and not just press the panic button  at the first wobble.

I am struck by the solidity of the party - I attend meetings and talk to plenty of them and people are still in surprisingly good spirits.  Hardly anyone has left.  I believe a few people who joined around last year's GE are not renewing but that is pretty much it.

I also said, "what did we expect to see?"  The Governor of the Bank of England said before the GE last year that whoever got in could expect to be out of power for the next generation because of the dirty work they would have to do.  We knew it was likely to be bloody!!!

We also knew if you go into coalition as a centre party your left wing will desert if you go blue, and your right wing will desert if you go red! Problem is the Lib Dems are a slightly left of centre party.  A believer in freedom and free enterprise but also I am a believer in public services - free at the point of delivery - a believer in community and of helping equalise the odds for people.  I am a believer in equality of opportunity.  A sort of enlightened capitalism we like to see.  For decades we have set our stall out as the non Tory alternative to socialism.  The point is non Tory!!

Yes, yes! This also means non socialist. No big state, centralist, blunt inefficient solutions for us.  Freedom from tyranny does not mean being replaced by workers controlling the means of production - ie self appointed new oligarchs!

But we are part of a progressive family that believes in helping folk, social justice and tends to believe in Keynsian economics. (Keynes is after all one of the great Liberal icons and part of our DNA and credo).

Being a LibDem  also I believe means being practical and open minded and not slavishly following any dogma.  Horses for courses! If a more supply side is needed as the solution or part of the solution then so be it!

We also have a Gladstonian tradition after all - Retrenchment, Peace and Reform.  And you still see the influence of that in our philosophy today.  Peace - our policies on Iraq and Trident - which many many people see the sense in!! Reform - our belief in decentralisation and reform of the house of Lords and civil liberties - bit policy wonky but history is usually on our side - especially in crusty conservative old Britain which likes to stick with what it knows at times.  Retrenchment - well here is the fault line.  This is the origin of us not liking clunky authoritarian inefficient statist solutions - but it is about public sector cuts.  the orange bookers are Gladstonian.  Most of the party is not really.  Though we can be persuaded of the need to retrench from time to time.  This is my position.

I am also conscious that after two - or was it three - elections of going with a penny on income tax to pay for education - we had to adapt to changing economic circumstances.

I thought Cable and Laws had a good, well thought out economic view at the last election.  Taking the tax burden off less well off folks, making work pay and being serious about addressing the deficit.

The structural deficit! My understanding on that one was it was massive, massive!!!  We spend far more than we can afford.  the bank bail outs have slaughtered us in the same way as reconstruction after a war of national survival.  I f not addressed, the bond markets will turn on us and destroy our economy.  To do nothing is not an option!!!

And the added complication is that these are changing times! Globalisation, the rise of mega economies like China, Brazil, India.  The rise of the East, the decline of the West (relatively).

The Western economies are adapting and we may face a period of low growth and something of a jobless recovery.

I am not sure if the simple Keynsian idea of spend, spend, spend works on its own this time! It is not post war reconstruction.  The world markets are not there for us, turbo charging growth as we spend!

So, I think avoiding deficit reduction is not an option and Labour would be doing it too! The only real arguments are around depth of cuts and over what time-frame!   

So, in terms of where we were in 2010 I think we had no option and I think the coalition agreement was sound.

Labour had had a colossal defeat and Brown was unpopular - and I think, great thinker and idealist that he is, somewhat dysfunctional as a leader.  Going with Labour was not possible.

Cleggster good ratings at a couple of debates but lacking roots meant it disappeared like snow off a dyke in a few days!

That was how I saw things.

So what if anything has gone wrong?

I'll leave that to the next post!


  1. LDs will score 18% at the next election. I placed quite a large wager on it some time back

    Labour are hypocrites because they were following darling's plan which is more less what Osborne is doing..

    History will absolve Clegg, as must as I detest him :)

  2. Thanks Eoin,

    I will refer to your prediction and blog in part 2.

    I have no idea if history will absolve Clegg! Don't think he is a bad man or a fool. I think he has some achievements to go. But he may be judged to have made a big mistake with student fees.