Friday, 31 December 2010

Osborne's spending cuts are seriously hurting the Lib Dems

Not long ago the Lib Dems triumphed in their successful campaign for fair treatment for the Gurkas. Then at the last general election we witnessed "Cleggmania" - which lasted briefly but was sufficient to bring in many new members to the party.
It all went wrong on May 6th. The general election result saw a net loss of seats for the Lib Dems, and then of course coalition with the Tories. A coalition with Labour was not an option once Labour decided to exclude the SNP. The Lib Dems need some good news stories, but with the possible exception of winning the AV referendum, it is hard to see where any will come from.
Some claim that this Coalition was a triumph, despite a dramatic drop in the opinion polls. After all, government is about making difficult decisions, you cannot continue to be all things to all people. In any case they argue, the Liberal Democrats are now delivering on many of their manifesto commitments.
However the problem was not so much what was in the manifesto, it was what was not included. Premature and radical cuts at a time of fragile growth threaten to throw the economy into reverse. Radical reforms of the NHS that have never before been debated with the Lib Dems and have not been tested by pilot projects may go horribly wrong. Radical changes to higher education finance - not just student fees but the marketisation of course funding will also have unpredictable results. The cuts in local government are devastating and the impact will not only be regressive, but runs counter to what the Lib Dems stand for in local government. The policy in supporting academies and free schools is against the policy of the Liberal Democrats and this was reconfirmed at the last conference by a 10 - 1 majority.
Of course in a Coalition you will not always get your way, but these are big hits. The concern is that Nick Clegg is not fighting our corner. This is important not only in relation to Lib Dem members and activists, but also to voters.
On the issue of Equality Nick Clegg has played down our commitment to reduce poverty and focussed instead on social mobility. His advisor Richard Reeves dismisses the research in The Spirit Level which shows that only countries with low levels of poverty also have high level of social mobility.
On localism Nick Clegg tells us that the Big Society also equals liberalism. It does not. The Big Society is a welcome advance by the Tory party compared to the centralising days on the 1980s, but the suspicion of local government is still there and without democratically elected bodies with the ability to raise funds locally, this is not good enough. Indeed policies like Free Schools and Academies are likely to benefit the middle classes more and work against any gains the pupil premium may bring to social mobility.
So the question is this; is the current state of affairs sustainable?
We hope the vote on AV will be won, but if not Nick Clegg could go in 2011.
If he remains he still has the reputation issue to resolve. His agenda setting speeches on Equality have not yet won him any popularity and it is hard to see how he can improve things for the Liberal Democrats. Many new party members are scheduled to renew from next March, and if they don't we could start to see a weakening of the party, combined with big losses in the forthcoming local elections.
Even if we win the AV referendum it remains the case that Nick Clegg has to find a way of recovering his reputation. The party cannot go into the next general election at less than 15%. Labour is facing up to a dreadful general election in 2010, but the problems for the Lib Dems look substantially worse than that.

No comments: