At the beginning of the year I thought it would be useful for me to set out my thoughts of where my party, the Liberal Democrats, sit at the beginning of 2011. Reflecting on the state of the party I find that my views are very much the same as they have been throughout the latter part of 2010. If there has been any change it is that they have become more strongly held and, I think, confirmed by events.
Firstly, I still strongly believe that it was right for the Liberal Democrats to enter and form this coalition government. Although the political risks were, and remain, huge; it was the right and the responsible thing to do. Even if it results in a Liberal Democrat wipe-out at the next general election I will still believe it was the right thing to do. This is because at its roots, in entering the coalition, the party was acting in what it saw as being the national interest.
However, a wipe-out at the next election is only one of the potential outcomes. The assumption held by so many that the Liberal Democrats will automatically lose out from participation in the coalition is just that, an assumption. While it may be considered a brave thing to say given our current poll ratings, the possibility that we could gain, and gain significantly, when the voters come to give their judgements in five years time is a real one. A range of outcomes is possible and none of them are predestined.
I think that the electorate is cautious, nervous, and sceptical about the coalition and the Liberal Democrats role within it; but have yet to definitively make up their mind. The jury is still out. And yes, I still believe the coalition will last the full five years.
Secondly, I think that the coalition government is, taken in the round, delivering good government. I also still think that the Liberal Democrats are being playing an effective role within the government. While there are many issues where I am disappointed, frustrated or irritated by what the government is doing; I understand and I’m happy to accept the compromises.
My views are very similar to those held by my colleague and chair of my local party, Cllr Barry Neale, who wrote the following article; “”Defending the Liberal Democrats’ brave decision to join the coalition“.
There are many good things the government is doing that it would not be doing if it were were not for Liberal Democrats participation. The list of achievements is an impressive one:
I am pleased that we are seeing the introduction of some really healthy changes to civil liberties and political reform. For example, we have the AV referendum, I’m looking forward to the proposals for reform of the House of Lords, and was pleased to see in the last few days Nick Clegg’s comments on libel reform.
Yet, I know that it is the economy which will be key to whether this government fails or succeeds. If you scrape off the layer of party political rhetoric that surrounds discussions of the economy you will find that the differences between the parties, as was the case during the 2010 general election, are not as big as you might think. The need for measures to carry out deficit reduction is accepted by all. Actually doing it though is difficult. I will cause pain and hardship for many and lead to unpopularity for the government that carries it out.
Again, I have the issues with some of the details, but on balance I think the government is getting the economic judgements right. My key area of concern, however, is still economic growth. However sensitively and fairly the austerity measures are carried out, if we don’t get growth in the economy we are all, to one extent or another, screwed. So in policy terms for 2011 I will be less concerned about the nature of the cuts, I’m accepting that they will be bloody, and more concerned to see the government taking actions which will help to stimulate growth in the economy.
Finally, while accepting that we were right to enter the coalition and that in governing the country we are in general terms doing a good job, I remain extremely concerned about the political direction of the Liberal Democrats. Looking at our party organisation, our capacity to campaign, and our ability to clearly and effectively communicate an understandable and credible message to the public I think we are failing. It is in the realm of electoral and party politics where the Liberal Democrats are currently not stepping up to the mark.
It is here that I want to see change. The great challenge for my party in 2011 is to put that right and turn that around. Crucial in this will be the role of the new party president Tim Farron, but it is an inescapable fact that the lion’s share of the burden will fall upon the party leader. Where I have criticisms of Nick Clegg it is not of how he conducts himself as Deputy Prime Minister, they are criticisms of party management and political communication. In my judgement, in 2011 Clegg needs to make changes to those aspects of his leadership. In short, he has shown that he go do the governing, he now needs to show that he can do the politics.
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.