Saturday, 7 February 2015

Things fall apart when the centre cannot hold

I’ve voted for each of the main UK political parties at one time or another. Often it has depended on where I lived. Sometimes I’ve voted tactically, sometimes not. I’ve tried to keep this blog and my tweets reasonably neutral with regard to UK party politics.  I genuinely hope that each of the Better Together parties does well in Scotland, for that is our best chance of defeating the Nationalists. However, I have already made it clear that I am supporting the Lib Dems in Gordon, as I think that Christine Jardine has the only hope of defeating Alex Salmond here.

I’ve never been a member of the Lib Dems. Over the years I’ve agreed with some of their ideas and disagreed with others.  I’ve neither been a supporter, nor have I particularly been an opponent. However, as opinion poll support for the Lib Dems has declined nationally over the past few years I find my opinion of them has steadily improved.  One of the main reasons why I’m supporting the Lib Dems in Gordon is that I think their record in Government deserves it.

It’s not always easy to remember where we were five years ago. We’d just had the worst financial crisis since the 1930s and many economic commentators were predicting huge economic difficulties for Britain. Markets were becoming very wobbly. Some commentators were predicting a sovereign debt crisis. We had an election and the result was indecisive. It was fairly clear however, that the mood of the country as a whole was that Labour and Gordon Brown had had their chance and that it was time for change. I have no idea what would have happened if the Lib Dems had formed a coalition with Labour. Would that have been a good result for the economy or the country as a whole? Who knows? But there isn’t much point anyway arguing about what might have been. The fact is the Lib Dems formed a coalition with the Conservatives. Has it been successful?

It was obvious almost from the beginning that the markets preferred a Lib Dem/Conservative coalition even to the Conservatives ruling on their own. One of the reasons for this, is that senior Lib Dems immediately made it clear that they understood the extent of the economic crisis facing our country. Once it became apparent that the Lib Dems were intending to put country before party and rule in the national interest, supporting policies that they might otherwise have opposed, the coalition form of government became a source of strength rather than weakness.

It is in this context, above all, that voters today must understand the manifesto pledges that the Lib Dems made prior to the 2010 election.  No party that enters a coalition government can keep all of its manifesto promises. Each party has to compromise. But it’s also fair to say that prior to entering Government neither the Lib Dems nor the Conservatives were fully aware of the extent of the economic problems facing our country. Did any of us really realise that cupboard was quite as empty as it was? It was no doubt genuinely a surprise  for the incoming Chief Secretary to the Treasury to receive a note from his predecessor saying  ''I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.”

With the responsibility of Government the Lib Dems had to make hard choices. They had to do things they did not want to do. They could have ducked all of these tough decisions if they had simply decided to remain in opposition. But they saw that the country was in trouble economically and preferred to lend a hand. I’d always far prefer to have a party and a politician in Government who was willing to do what was right rather than what was easy. Wouldn’t you?

Much of the business of Government is dull. There have been some education reforms, some welfare reforms. Some of these have been popular, some less so. It will take time, perhaps decades before we fully see the results. Some progress, though less than hoped, has been made on the deficit. Consequently the national debt has increased. But the UK has the best rate of growth in the world among major economies and there is something of a job creation miracle going on. People from all over Europe are coming here precisely because the UK has the jobs which other countries do not. There is some way to go, but our economy is well on the way to recovery and if we keep on like this within a relatively short time we’ll have a surplus rather than a deficit. This didn’t happen accidentally. It happened in part because the Lib Dems made hard choices for the good of everyone.

For as long as I can remember, Lib Dems have sought to change the voting system. There was a referendum in 2011. Given the alternatives on offer the UK public decided to stick with the present system. To their immense credit the Lib Dems accepted the democratic wishes of the electorate. They didn’t create an enormous fuss. They accepted their disappointment and got on with the job of running the country. For this, and the mere fact that they've been working with the Conservatives the Lib Dems have seen their polling numbers crash.  Lib Dems might be forgiven for asking whether it was worth it.

If you’re a Lib Dem supporter, it looks rather as if Government has turned out to be a catastrophe. The party goes into the next election much weaker than the last. But if you’re an ordinary British citizen, you should be grateful that the Lib Dems joined the Government in 2010. The country is in an incomparably better shape today than it was then. This was not inevitable. We can see what poor Governments and poor political decisions have done to some of our colleagues in the EU. The Lib Dems have achieved more in the past five years than at any time since the days of David Lloyd George. They have made a major contribution to a helping the UK get back on its feet. Not only that, they played a significant part in defeating the greatest threat to the existence of the UK in centuries by helping us to achieve a No vote in the independence referendum. Lots of Lib Dem politicians have made crucial contributions to Government. It is frankly ludicrous that polls should suggest that someone of the calibre of Danny Alexander is in danger of losing his seat to an SNP member of the Highland Council. The UK has benefited from having people like Mr Alexander in Government. It has benefited from having the Lib Dems in power for the first time in decades.

Britain may well soon have another coalition government. The Lib Dems have shown that parties can work together for the good of all. Whichever of Labour or the Conservatives forms the largest party in the next parliament, I would far rather see the Lib Dems as their partners than any party on the extremes.  The last thing Britain needs is being held to ransom by parties with policies which would damage all of our prosperity. In Scotland there are a number of constituencies where only the Lib Dems can defeat the SNP. Those candidates if elected will contribute positively to the running of our country, rather than try to wreck it. Christine Jardine, Danny Alexander and others would be assets not only to the Lib Dems, but to the country as a whole.

It is my hope that No voters, including those who support other parties, will vote tactically for the Lib Dems. But if they should also look a little more closely at the Lib Dem record in Government, they will find positive reasons to vote for the party as well. The Lib Dems arrived in Government at one of the more difficult times in recent history. They will leave Government with our country in an improved condition. No party can do more.  It’s a record to be proud of. 

If you like my writing, please follow the link to my book Scarlet on the Horizon. The first five chapters can be read as a preview.


  1. I think many people, including many who formerly voted LD tactically, would profoundly disagree with your conclusion, whether they are Yes or No voters with respect to the independence debate. We've heard a lot from the LDs over the past five years that there was no realistic alternative after the 2010 election, and that (unpalatable as it was) forming a coalition with the Tories was the only game in town. This interpretation has become something of a mantra the closer the 2015 GE gets, as the LDs face the prospect of losing half they seats, and desperately try to justify their claim to having been an effective brake on the policies of the "nasty" party.

    This narrative, whilst understandable from the perspective of the LDs, is disingenuous however. There WERE real alternatives to a Tory/LD coalition in 2010, and it is by no means obvious that the path actually taken proved to be the best of this which were available. Many of us who had lent our votes to the LDs over many years warned against forming a coalition with the Tories. In contrast to your view, I believe history will prove we were right.

    A large section of LD support (most of the huge number that have deserted them since 2010) were left of centre "progressive" voters who were disillusioned with the lack of alternative presented by the NuLabour project. They honestly hoped that a large LD vote and bloc of MPs would result them being able to dictate terms to either of the larger parties, particularly with respect to introducing electoral reform, stopping Trident, abolishing university tuition fees and avoiding the kind of austerity plans the Tories were in favour of.

    None of these came to pass of course, because the LD got absolutely shafted by the Tories during the 10 days in May when negotiating the coalition deal. They sold themselves and the country short, and have reaped the whirlwind since. The rump of "orange booker" Liberal Democracy is headed for the dustbin of history, where it richly deserves to be. The way things are going, the Scottish accounting unit of the Labour party will be going the same way in May 2015. Few will mourn its passing either, except the dwindling core of diehard Blairites and Brownites who must be wondering (much like the "continuity" LDs left around the country) where it all went so wrong.

    The LDs didn't put country before party, any more than tactical voting by Scottish unionists to keep the SNP out at all costs represents an enlightened altruistic desire to preserve a wonderful system from the dangers of nationalism. The LDs took the easy option of forming a Coalition with the Tories, and got spectacularly "taken"; they failed to exact a high enough price, failed to restrain the Tories, and ended up abandoning their core principles and signing up for an approach to dealing with the recession and imposing austerity polices which saw their support fall from >20% to around 6%.

    Similarly, Scottish unionists, and particularly the Scottish Labour branch office, face existential threats from a combination of SNP voter and Yes supporters, precisely because they are viewed as cynically putting the interests of the Westminster system (which many of them regard as hopelessly corrupt and unfit for purpose) ahead of the interests of the majority of Scots.

    People in Scotland aren't necessarily going to be voting for the SNP in May because they want independence, or love SNP policies, it's because they are convinced only a large bloc of SNP MPs will protect Scottish interests, and possibly result in more progressive policies being brought in, and the promises made in Vow 1 & Vow 2 being honoured. Unionists and britnats would do better to reflect on why so many who voted No only 4 months ago are now going to vote SNP in May, rather than try to construct "anyone but SNP" coalitions which given current polling are doomed to failure anyway.

  2. Why not just tell the truth? You're a Tory and you like that the Lib Dems have become Tories.

    There's nothing wrong with being a Tory. I object very much to their ideology, but you know what you're getting if you vote for them, which can't be said for the other two.

    I've voted Lib Dem my entire adult life, and never will again. Obviously you have to compromise in a coalition, but the Lib Dems sold out EVERYTHING. What did they get, other than ministerial cars? Nothing. Tuition fees were trebled, there was no Lords reform and no electoral reform. They'll reap the reward they deserve.

    Clegg turned up in my hometown not long after the election. Quizzed on the tuition fee debacle he said he always knew they couldn't keep their promise, because whichever of the other two they got in with wanted fees raised.

    To which the obvious question is "If you knew all along you were going to go back on it, why make such an enormous deal out of the promise, getting photographed everywhere with your giant comedy oversized pledge cards?"

    To which the only possible answer - Clegg himself dodged the question - is that it was a knowingly cynical attempt to win student votes on the back of something that was a lie the day it was written. The absolute worst of politics.

    My own MP cried crocodile tears all through the Labour government about their attacks on welfare, then had the brass neck to walk into the DWP and vote for every one of the Tories' vicious, spiteful, inhuman cuts.

    But the most unforgivable sellout of all was over electoral reform. Clegg called AV a pathetic, pitiful little compromise, but then rolled over accepted it anyway for a meaningless title and some pomp and circumstance.

    Even if the AV referendum had been won it would have been a useless reform. Had the price of their souls at least been a referendum on REAL electoral reform they could have held their heads up if it had been lost, saying they put what they believed in to the people.

    But they asked people to back something the Lib Dems themselves had said - accurately - was a piece of shit. It never had a chance. The UK needs electoral reform more than it needs anything else, and 2010 was the best chance there's ever been. The Lib Dems will never be forgiven for the horse's arse they made of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, not just for them but for the whole country.

    This country is a shambles. The poor have paid for the bankers' greed, and the rich are richer than they've ever been. Tory policies did it, but the Lib Dems stood by when they could have stopped most of it. Fuck them, and fuck anyone who thinks they deserve to hold a single seat in May, let alone for such a dismal reason as "stopping the Nats".

    1. "This country is a shambles."

      Yet so many wish to make their home here, why do you think that is?

      "The poor have paid for the bankers' greed"

      And the 'poor' were mortgaging themselves to the hilt during the boom for purely altruistic reasons?

      "the rich are richer than they've ever been"

      It's the same the world over, not particularly specific to the UK is it.

      The French tried to 'punish' the rich and guess what, many just upped sticks and walked, ta ta Hollande - may as well accommodate and milk them as much as is fair and reasonable for the benefit of the wider society.

    2. Has it occurred to you that many of the people who come here (whether third world folks fleeing political, ethnic or religious troubles or EU migrants seeking more opportunity) come in spite of the thinngs which make it a shambles, not because of them? People chose the UK rather than other countries for many and complex reasons, chief amongst them the English language and our reputation for being a decent place to come, and even (as the mayor of Calais said the other week) a place that gave people better benefits than say France or Germany. Immigrants fleeing persecution or trying to improve their prospects and/or English language skills aren't likely to be too interested in the minutiae of our domestic political, constitutional and economic arguments. That doesn't mean they are unimportant however, or that we shouldn't be trying to to change things for the better. Failing to change things for the better when they had the chance is why people like Stu, Edinburgh Eye and me are attacking them, and why we can see how profoundly misguided Effie's analysis is.

      Blaming the poor for the actions of the super rich and the failure to have proper over-sight of the financial system is just crass. Nobody forced our political elites to be so "intensely relaxed" about it. Promoting equality and redistribution is good for the whole of society, even the rich.

      The rich being richer than they have ever been isn't specific to the UK, no. But it is WORSE in the UK than in most of the other advance liberal democracies, and the direction of travel is going in the opposite direction from the past, and many progressives would argue in the WRONG direction. You don;t have to be a raving socialist, or want to "do a Francois Hollande" to see that the happiest, fairest, most stable societies (ones we should be striving to emulate) don't look like our crypto-medieval, class ridden shambles, but places like Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands - not bastions of Stalinist socialism, but liberal democracies with an appetite for promoting fairer societies, not sitting on their hands trusting to luck that the elites will graciously allow the goodies to trickle down!

    3. Thanks for the visit Stuart. Most people on twitter think I’m a Labour voter. I’ve voted for them in the past. Some think I’m a Conservative voter. I’ve also voted for them, though not recently. I’ve said that I’m going to vote for the Lib Dems. I’ve done so on a number of occasions before, because Malcolm Bruce has been a good local MP. So what does that make me? It makes me someone who votes according to circumstance. I’m not that interested in party politics, but I am interested in economics. The Lib Dems have done a good job in government because the UK is in a much better financial situation now than it was five years ago. I know that’s tough to admit for independence supporters, but I’m sure you recognise in your home town that the economic situation is better than it was. With patience the same will be the case for the poorer parts of Scotland, just so long as the economy isn’t wrecked by mismanagement. Obviously we have different goals so you will excuse me for not answering in greater detail. We are not likely to agree, but I do appreciate your taking the time to comment.

    4. "I’m sure you recognise in your home town that the economic situation is better than it was"

      I'm pretty sure I don't.

    5. 'This country is a shambles.' Oh dear. I've just spent a week in North Wales, N W England including the Lake District and the less salubrious parts of Cumbria, and Scotland, from the border to Aberdeen via Edinburgh. I didn't see any shambles anywhere. And do you know what? It's amazing how all three nations of Great Britain are the same once you strip away the different accents and language. Still at least your belief in the shambles is more coherent than your unnecessary descent into the 's**ts'and 'f**ks' you seem to find necessary to conduct a political debate.

    6. So Roger, your contribution to the debate is to dismiss Stu's contribution because he may sometimes use a few bad words? Really? Do grow up! Your tour of the UK obviously didn't involve any analysis of how things could actually be better in our society. You shouldn't have to see evidence of societal breakdown or go in fear of your life to be able to engage positively in the debate and actually address the issues raised by posters here and elsewhere who disagree with Effie's analysis.

      Symptomatic of so much of anti-independence discourse, you'd rather play the man than the ball; so no discussion of the point raised, just an insistence that there are no differences between the Scots and English, Welsh and N Irish, despite all the evidence to the contrary, despite centuries of historical, social, educational, religious and legal difference? Despite differing political scenes, different views on Europe and the awkward fact that 45% of people voted a scant 4 months ago to dissolve this Union you appear to have such a rose tinted view of? Don't you read newspapers or listen to the radio or watch TV? Did the independence referendum just pass you by? What other explanation would you put forward for the success of the SNP, both at Holyrood and now amongst Scots as a whole in their May election voting preferences?

      All you can honestly come up with is "we\re all the same"?

    7. "Norway, Sweden, Finland"

      Many in the UK (and elsewhere) are sold a view of the Nordic's that has passed through rose tinted specs, the greener grass on the other side of the road. Monkey see monkey do is the modus operandi. But the rhetoric goes largely unchecked.

      I wonder how many are in tune with the comings and goings in these far away places or even bother to check.

      Sweden is in the throws of much change, part of which has been a debate that is challenging the state's culture of high taxation and generous state provision, to one looking increasingly towards the private sector and free-market (emulating the UK), the opposite vision of what is being actively sold to some populations here (misleading them in the process).

      Britain may be viewed as progressive then, but it is not blessed with the gift of seeing itself how others might see it.

    8. "Your tour of the UK obviously didn't involve any analysis of how things could actually be better in our society."

      Never mind the foodbanks, look at the lovely scenery!

  3. The Student Loan fiasco is the real killer for me. Both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems agreed to increase student fee loans to £9k. Unfortunately people in Scotland don't realise how much they will be subsidising english student loans for years to come. David Willets told the commons that 45% of loans won't be repaid. The IFS estimates that each student will be subsidised to the tune of over £17k. They further estimate that 300000 english students enrolled in 2912/13. Unlike scotland, which pays its students fees from current expenditure, english students pay through fees for university funding after the government replaced the grants with the increased loans. Scotland, in effect, pays for its own students and will, in the future, oay for english students through contribution to UK debt. Effectively, scotland is subsidising the rUK because of the duplicity of the Lib Dens and tbe iniquitous student loans system.
    They deserve to be smashed

    1. This is frankly a ridiculous statement. The reason there is no tuition fees in Scotland is because your government already pay the universities the money they need, and recoup nothing in return (not something I am actually entirely opposed to)

      Here in England the money is paid to universities just the same, but if you go on to be a moderately well paid graduate you pay some that money back in to the government coffers. If they earn a very high wage they pay a lot, or maybe for the top few percent all of it back. If they earn lower wages they pay very little or in the few cases none back.

      Everyone who pays tax is subsidising all students everywhere, except those of us paying tax not in Scotland are paying for the entire of their costs and getting nothing of those recouped after they graduate. We are subsidising Scottish university placements more than you are subsidising English ones... and we have been for years ever since Labour introduced tuition fees (and maintenance loans and then top-up tuition fees (which tripled them) - in fact, Labour are responsible for 55% of a student's total debt, despite the fees tripling).

      University funding was in dire straits and needed additional cash, if it hadn't come via student loans you would then be subsidising English university places almost as much as we all are Scottish ones.

  4. "But if you’re an ordinary British citizen, you should be grateful that the Lib Dems joined the Government in 2010. The country is in an incomparably better shape today than it was then. "

    You are dismissing the hundreds of thousands of ordinary British citizens who need to use foodbanks - and the millions living just above the poverty line who are not yet in such dire need - as not worthy of anyone's consideration? I suppose that's what it means to be a Tory.

    Since May 2010, the LibDems have joined the Tories as a party I would never vote for. First of all because they proved themselves to be solid Tory supporters: secondly, because their actions in coalition demonstrated that whatever the LibDems promise in their manifesto, their leaders will throw all the promises away if they're given a chance to get a ministerial salary and plume themselves about being "in government".

    1. And you are dismissing the hundreds of thousands more who would be jobless and relying on handouts and food banks had the economy tanked even further than it did.

      No-one is saying it has been painless, it hasn't and there are ways this country is worse than it was in 2009/10, but there are so many ways it could be worse. You accuse the Lib Dems of just following the Tory's on everything, yet the record says otherwise, in nearly every measureable respect the Tory's have been kept in check so that unlike the last time they were in power, the progression of things such as income inequality has barely wavered from the trajectory it was following under the last government.

      Yes I am saying that the record on some things is no worse (or better) than under Labour, but with Tory's in power and in the shadow of a global financial meltdown, that is actually a damn good achievement for the Lib Dems, who are outnumbered 1 to 5 in parliament.

      Lets also not forget that one of the reasons that the poorest are suffering is that Labour was paying for the welfare budget by borrowing money, even during boom years, leaving high debt repayment costs and the massive problem that if a credit crunch hit (and boy did it hit) the borrowing that they were relying on to pay for the welfare budget would dry up. That is wholly irresponsible and they share a good part of the blame for allowing people to end up without the means to support themselves.

      Anyway, you should take a look at the Lib Dem 2010 manifesto sometime and see how many things actually have been done.... as a minor party in a coalition. You say "all their promises" but I'm betting you can only really bring up tuition fees (again) when pressed for what these are.

  5. Thanks so much for a terrific blog Effie. Sadly too many fail to realise what a gift stable government has been at a time when the UK needed most. You eloquently described the very reasons why I myself am voting Danny Alexander here in the Highlands and passing in my regular Labour vote to do so. I simply feel I owe the guy!


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