The Coalition Three Months On
For those of you wondering why I’ve not done many ‘fandom’ type posts recently, it’s because I’ve had no money, so was unable to pick up my comics for a few weeks, or to replace my broken DVD player. Payday is Friday, so the balance should return then.
Anyway, this post is one of the few I’ve ever done that’s at someone else’s request. Penny Andrews (who is one of the more sensible Labour people I know) asked me as a Lib Dem to post my views on the coalition three months in. I’m not sure that three months is adequate time to form a judgement.
To start with, my basic position has remained unchanged from three months ago. I am a supporter of the Liberal Democrats. I think it was right for them to go into coalition. But I am *not* a supporter of the current government. Long before I figured out my own political philosophy enough to realise it’s a reasonable match for liberalism, I knew that “the opposite of what the Tories want” is a pretty good rule of thumb.
I believe this will be a bad government. It will make things worse. But I also see enough concessions in the coalition agreement that convince me that the coalition government, if it keeps to that agreement, will be significantly better than a Conservative government with no Lib Dem presence would have been. I’m not hoping for or expecting good government over the next few years, just that we make it a little less painful.
I’m going to split this into three areas – economic, civil liberties/constitution, and impact on the Lib Dems. I would have added an ‘environment’ one, but frankly I’ve not seen anything, good or bad, on the subject from the government yet. I’m going to skim over a lot of stuff – this government has done a *LOT* in its first few months
Well, this is the hard one, isn’t it? No question, the emergency budget was fairly horrible. It wasn’t quite as bad as Labour are making out – there are some important Lib Dem concessions in there which will make a real difference, like the rise in Capital Gains Tax and the rise in the level at which you start to pay income tax – but nor is it the ‘progressive’ budget the Lib Dem leadership were spinning it as afterwards. The cuts announced – and the rise in VAT – will cause immense damage to some of the most vulnerable people. People will *DIE* as a result of these cuts. No question of that.
The question is, would more people have died had things been done differently? I have no way of knowing. What I do know, however, is that all three main parties were agreed before the election that cuts were necessary (Alistair Darling told Nick Robinson that there’d have to be cuts worse than those Thatcher made) – they were only arguing over small implementation details, not over principle, however much Labour wish to give a different impression now.
I suspect there were *possibly* ways of cutting less and taxing more, but that’s just a suspicion, and economics is my weak point.
Some of the complaints, though, have been motivated by sheer partisanship. Take the cuts in Housing Benefit. I can see why people oppose the new rule that will mean people can only claim the thirtieth percentile rent in their area, rather than the median – that might well hurt a lot of people. On the other hand, it could also drive rent down and get rid of what is in effect a massive state subsidy of private landlords. We’ll have to wait and see. But people are complaining about the cap being placed on the top housing benefit payments, as if it was somehow horribly regressive. They’re capping the rent at four hundred pounds a week.
To put that in perspective, the government are saying they’re not going to give people more in rent than I earn after tax – and I earn more than the average wage. Quite frankly, I agree with that. My current – very nice and quite spacious – two-bedroom flat costs four hundred pounds *a month*. Given the choice to pay for four flats of that standard for people who actually need it, or pay for one mansion on housing benefit, I know what I’d choose. (Even in London it’s perfectly possible to get somewhere decent to live for significantly under four hundred a week, and if we shouldn’t be subsidising landlords, how much more should we not be subsidising absurd regional inequalities?).
But many of the cuts *will* hurt people, and this government will quite rightly be punished for that. I just hope people remember that Labour would have done the same, and at least turn their protest votes to smaller parties that genuinely wouldn’t have made those decisions, if they’re going to protest.
Some of the other changes, I don’t want to judge. The changes to the NHS sound like more Blairism, frankly, while the simplification of the benefits system depends so much on the implementation details that it could easily be one of the best things ever to happen to the country if done properly, or it could be a cock-up of such gargantuan proportions that it ends up with people starving to death for lack of money. I’m going to wait to see how those shake out before judging.
Civil Liberties and Constitution
This is *MUCH* better. We’re getting rid of child detention for asylum seekers, we’re no longer going to deport gay people back to countries where they’d face jail or execution (this was sped up by a High Court ruling, but was in the coalition agreement anyway). We’re bringing in an upper chamber elected by PR, and a referendum on AV for the Commons. We’ve got rid of the ID Card scheme (though there’s still work to do there).
The coalition’s attitude to prisons and crime has been a complete U-turn on the last twenty years of insanity, with Ken Clarke (who is a Tory arsehole of course, but one who’s surprisingly liberal on social matters) talking a huge amount of sense here. Lynne Featherstone is making huge strides in equalities (though there’s still a lot of work to do there). We’ve got the Freedom Bill coming soon. We’ve agreed to stop collaborating with torture (and how I wish that was something that didn’t have to be said).
Were it not for the (apparently temporary) extension of 28-day detention, and the stupid, unworkable, *EVIL* plans for an immigration cap, this government is shaping up to be truly *great* in the areas of civil liberties, freedom and democracy, something I never thought I’d say about a Tory-led government.
Impact on the Liberal Democrats
We’re fucked, electorally, for at least one election. That’s worth it, if we manage to do some good/prevent some harm, but the problem is the leadership seem intent on worsening the situation.
We’re working with the Tories, but we don’t have to pretend we like it, and so far Nick Clegg in particular has been doing just that. There has been almost no clear distinction between what is Tory policy and what is Lib Dem policy in the media, and Clegg has done nothing to make that distinction.
It’s got to the point where some Tories (but, thankfully, no Lib Dems I know of) have been talking of the possibility of electoral pacts at the next election. Let me make something clear now - if the Lib Dems decide not to stand an official candidate against some Tories, I will personally stand as an ‘independent Lib Dem’ against the most high-profile of them, and pay the deposits of at least two other people if they’ll do the same. But I can say this confident that there is no way the party would do something so mind-bogglingly stupid.
Luckily, the back benchers haven’t been so complacent. While not making a fuss or being an ‘awkward squad’, decent Lib Dem MPs like Adrian Sanders and John Leech have argued in Parliament against bad policies in the coalition agreement (while of course still having to vote for them) and voted against bad policies that are not in the agreement. I’m particularly proud of Leech as he’s been entirely sensible in his public statements, while taking what seems to me the correct line in balancing principle and pragmatism in Parliament. He’s no longer my MP, but I spent several years in his local party and campaigned for his re-election, and am very glad I did.
We need *QUICKLY* to start establishing ourselves as an independent voice, separate from the Tories. I suspect this will start to happen with Autumn Conference. The question at this point is whether we’re only going to lose the five to ten percent of people who voted for us because they thought we were Labour-lite, or whether we’re going to do such a poor job of putting forward liberal values that we alienate our actual real supporters.
So overall, the coalition – horrible and evil on the economy, but quite how horrible I’m not yet sure, just like I’m not yet sure if it’s better or worse than Labour in that respect, pretty damn good on social issues, and terrible for the Lib Dems as a party. Exactly as I expected.