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Monday, 7 January 2013

My Mid Term Review

I'm not normally a fan of arbitrary "stock-taking" exercises, especially when they mark random things like "the first 100 days." I grudgingly accept, though, that there is a bit more logic to the "mid-term review", particularly in the context of a coalition where the yardstick is the negotiated coalition agreement, rather than a single party's manifesto.

I had hoped to be able to blog in some detail about the review itself, but I've not had the chance to have more than the most cursory of glances at it so, for now, I'll review to Stephen Tall's piece on Lib Dem Voice. That has a somewhat depressing conclusion - and I fear that he may be right.

Anyway, here are some comments by way of my own Mid-term review:

It's the Economy, Stupid. 

Well, it always is, isn't it. And, of course, we came into power to "clear up Labour's mess" Since then, growth has failed to materialise, we went back into recession, and the deficit reduction plan has had to be extended. And the fault for this?: international events, the Euro Crisis and sluggish economies elsewhere.

I have a couple of problems with this narrative. I understand the politics of it but I think it's disingenuous to blame Labour entirely for the economic circumstances into which this government stepped. But they can be lamed for fiscal mismanagement prior to the events of 2008 and, in particular, of spending the surplus which had been accumulated in the early years of their tenure.

And whilst it's not fair to ignore the international aspects to the 2010 situation, it's not fair to only blame the international circumstances since. We should have done, and need to do more, to encourage growth: through limited capital expenditure (as well as the much-vaunted guarantee schemes) if necessary.

That said, there is no magic bullet to encourage growth - and Labour lie when they suggest as much. Continued public expenditure at the levels it was at would have led to market confidence (such as it was) evaporating and our costs of borrowing escalating, along with a deficit creating artificial growth: a vicious circle which would have left us only marginally better off than Ireland, Greece et al.

There are signs of stabilisation in the economy but there's no getting away from the fact that things will remain rocky here (and in most of the developed world) for a long time to come...

Wasn't it supposed to be about Freedom, Fairness and Responsibility?

I'm going to say no more on this, other than to link to this post in which I urged Nick Clegg to meet campaigners against Closed Material Procedures. I am, and will remain, a Lib Dem to my core but Secret Courts are not being enacted in my name and I will be supporting Lib Dems Against Secret Courts motion to Spring Conference and a Special Conference if necessary.


Let's not talk about Constitutional Reform.

Best not. And best not too much at the next election either. And best not make it feature of any coalition deal that follows (should that happen, should it even be desirable). No one believes in major constitutional reform more than I do but next time we have the chance, let's spend on political capital on other policy areas. I'm not suggesting giving it up, just giving it a break.


It could have been much, much worse.

I know things are far from perfect. 

I know that we have alienated the soft support from those who lean to the left. 

I know we have made enemies in the chattering classes, the Guardianistas and comedians and panellists on Radio and TV news review programmes.

I know there is going to be an electoral price to pay.

But I also know a Tory (or Labour) Government would have been worse in their own ways. It may feel worse at times, as we're seen as (and are) complicit in things that go against our grain but stop for a moment and imagine what the ideologues in the Conservatives would have done without a restraining hand. And what they wouldn't have done without a kick up the proverbial.

And, for the avoidance of doubt, I think that many of the battles we've had with the Tories would have been fought with Labour, had a viable coalition been possible. Not least on Tuition fees but also on Civil Liberties  (ending ID cards, Data Communications, Secret Courts). They may have been more amenable to fiscal policy which taxed the rich and cut welfare less but we'd have still, for example, seen VAT rise. And don't forget, they laid the foundation stones of the NHS and Education reforms which the Tories have built on and awarding Atos a contract to do assessments for the DWP in 1998.

FTW

Ending Child Detention. Increasing the Personal Allowance. Canning the Draft Data Communications Bill. The Pupil Premium. Equal Marriage. Increasing Capital Gains Tax Rates. Green Investment Bank. Instigated a "triple-lock" on State Pension Increases. Stopped the Tories freezing benefits (although conceded a 1% cap). Fought to keep a 5.2% increase in benefits in 2011 Autumn Statement against Tory resistance. Scrapped ID cards. Ended compulsory annuititisation of pensions at Age 75. Introduced Shared Parental Leave. Fought Tory "fire at will" proposals.

In summary.

We've made political mistakes. The coalition's made policy mistakes. But two and a half years on, whatever way you cut, the alternatives in 2010 were worse than what we have. We could have done things better, but things are better - for the country - than if we had sat in opposition. And for the party - at least in Westminster - as we would not have been forgiven at the polls if a minority Tory administration had gone to the polls again the Autumn.

Andrew

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