Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Coalition: it is alright to have doubts, isn't it?

There are those in the Liberal Democrats who are optimistic by nature. They believe that if you work hard and do the right things, no seat is unwinnable, no cause impossible. There are those, rather more battered by time and defeat, who are more pessimistic, who have seen a false dawn or two.

I suppose that I fall somewhere in the middle. For most of my political life, I've lived in places where Liberal Democracy has not exactly flourished, in Brent North and Dulwich & West Norwood. Ironically, both constituencies fall within London boroughs where, on the whole, we have done pretty well in recent years, just not in my bit of them.

So I hope for the best, and plan for the worst. Being part of the coalition is like that. I hope that the Conservatives will behave honourably, even though past experience is not entirely promising. I know that, as the junior partners, we cannot expect to get our own way much of the time, that there will be compromises, choices that I might not have made if it were in my power to do so. However, I accept this, because the choices were, in some cases, merely images and not reality.

In many ways, I see myself as being somewhere on the centre-right of the spectrum of Party opinion. I believe on sound money, I believe that people and communities should, where possible, take more responsibility for their actions and for the running of their villages, towns and suburbs. But I balance that with a deep-rooted belief that, as a society, we need to understand that choice and freedom cannot be available only to those that can afford it, that we have a responsibility towards the vulnerable and the weak.

My problem is that, regrettably, I'm not wholly convinced that our Conservative partners share that stance. No, I don't believe that they are evil, or malicious, or even uncaring, it's just that they think in terms of economics and markets, without quite appreciating that underneath those concepts are real people, whose lives risk being treated as guinea pigs in a societal experiment.

Of course, I'm hardly likely to say that I would have preferred a coalition with Labour. For the most part, they combined an apparent desire for social justice with a total inability to understand that society is made up of individuals, each with their own hopes, dreams and aspirations. They believed, and still seem to believe, that communities can be dealt with as though they were entirely homogeneous, that the government can and should do as much for people as it can. They appear to find it impossible to accept that a government has to live within its means over the long-term, or to face the brutal fact that government is currently doing more than it can afford to deliver. Indeed, the idea that people are inherently decent and well-meaning seems to be beyond their comprehension, leading to an inevitable restriction of our rights and freedoms.

So, unexpectedly, I find myself sitting on the sidelines, quietly rooting for the rebels amongst us. Not because I want them to win necessarily, but because they represent that sense of rebellion and contrariness that makes us stick with a Party which struggles for air time, which is treated harshly by its opponents and the media alike, and which has to fight for every ounce of credibility it can muster.

I suppose that I have a conscience, when all is said and done, combined with a sense of honest doubt. I worry that the decisions we take now may undermine social cohesion, leading to long-term burdens upon society and the State. I fret that we risk losing a generation to unemployment, that the young are driven from our rural communities in the search of work, that our public services become devalued and ineffectual. In short, I worry about the bigger picture, about what our nation might become, or fail to become, as a result of a short-term goal of spending reductio.n

These are big decisions, and daunting ones, probably of a scale beyond my ability to grasp. So, I have to put my faith in the Coalition, and keep my fingers crossed. However, it is right that I seek to hold our leadership accountable, to press for things that I believe in, to support those who seek meaningful debate on the political direction of the Liberal Democrats and the Coalition, even where I don't agree with them.

And it is for that reason that I find it hard to condemn the likes of Bob Russell and Tim Farron. I might not have found Tim's honesty entirely comfortable, and don't think that I would have said something similar myself, but he represents a strand of thinking within the Party which deserves to be heard. There are many amongst us who find coalition with the Conservatives hard, and here in mid-Suffolk, where Labour have become background noise for the most part, we see the Conservatives as our primary rivals.

Likewise with Bob Russell. He has been quite feisty in his views and I am sympathetic to his stance on VAT. It is regressive to some extent, although not as regressive as an increase in National Insurance contributions was. I personally find it difficult to condemn anyone for voting with their conscience, as he has done.

So, I'm not a blindly partisan cheerleader for the Coalition, nor am I an opponent, more a critical friend, with a desire to hold the administration to account. I want them to do better, to build a stronger nation, a more successful society where everyone has a part to play. There will doubtless be uncomfortable moments ahead, but I will engage with, rather than rage against, our leadership. It is, for this bureaucrat, the only honourable way to behave.

1 comment:

JohnM said...

A really thoughtful and well written post. I support the coalition but, like you, not uncritically so. I could not see an alternative and right now in a parallel universe were the Lib Dems chose a 'supply and confidence' agreement from opposition - whilst I think we would have been got more attention for our input - we would have been even more criticised for taking responsible decisions for the good of the country because we would have taken our position seriously.

A Liberals duty is constant vigilance, to defend freedom in all that it is especially against poverty, ignorance and conformity. There is nothing in the coalition agreement that says we must set-aside our values. What we must try to do is to distinguish our values, objectives and policies which are the stuff of Lib Dem majority government along with those policies we are getting thro and influencing in coalition, as reasons to keep on voting Lib Dem.

As for VAT, for me it's a low priority issue compared to 'say' protecting the true disabled against welfare cuts and the stress of casual assessments. Only a Lib Dem majority government would have been less likely to have raised VAT - and we should say that!. Time to get real on that one!

Don't waste precious gun-powder on marginal issues.