I’ve noticed a rather worrying trend at the moment for Liberal Democrats to treat the Tories as our friends, since we went into coalition with them. People praising Cameron’s performance at Prime Minister’s Questions and so on. Some are even talking about how at the next election we should campaign on the basis of a continuation of the coalition.
I think this is *hugely* dangerous, both to the party and to the country.
For the party, if the coalition lasts more than a single Parliament, then effectively we become just a branch of the Conservative Party – we become the National Liberals. If we go into an election campaigning for a continuation of the coalition, we’re campaigning for a Conservative government, and we might as well be the Conservative Party.
For the country, it is *imperative* that we distance ourselves from the Conservatives as much as is possible while still working with them constructively.
I think going into coalition was the right thing to do given the circumstances. I think the coalition deal we got was, on the face of it, an extraordinarily good one. I think this government will be better by far than the Labour government that preceded it, if only because they set the bar so disastrously low – if this government just manages to *not* destroy the economy for a generation, *not* mortgage the birthright of everyone under forty in order to placate self-obsessed baby boomers, *not* roll back a ton of rights we’ve had since Magna Carta and *not* kill a million brown people because a Texan psychopath told them to, then we’re still ahead on points.
But the fact is, while this government is going to do many good things (for example dropping ID cards , though see NO2ID’s response to the proposed bill) of which we can be proud, there will also be things which are outright evil. I didn’t expect, for example, that the commitment to not detain child asylum seekers would mean they might be deported to Afghanistan instead…
We may have to go along with these things to some extent – we’ve been given a choice of either a government doing some evil things and some good things, or of one doing some evil things and some other even more evil things, and it’s pretty obvious which of those you choose if you’re in the business of actual practical politics rather than moralising, but that doesn’t mean that what we have done isn’t a deal with the devil, and one for which we will rightly be punished at the ballot box. (With luck we will also be rewarded, rightly, for the good we’ve done).
It is *especially* important that we retain a distance from the Tories because in general those who will be hurt worst if the Tories behave like Tories always do are *not* the typical Lib Dem member/supporter – we are, all exceptions duly noted, a mostly white middle-class party. It would be very, *VERY* easy for me to just look at the good side – things like AV, which will benefit me – while ignoring the bad. As a white, heterosexual, cissexual, English-speaking male in a good job with no visible disabilities it is extraordinarily unlikely that the Tories will do anything that will cause me any significant direct harm in the first term (I can’t say the same for my disabled unemployed bisexual immigrant wife though…). That’s probably true of most Lib Dems, and there’s a very real danger that we’ll start to think “well of course obviously the asylum seeker thing is bad, *obviously*, but no ID cards!”
We need to be able to VERY firmly make the case that we will vote in Parliament, short term, for bad things because that’s what the coalition agreement says, but that we will continue to fight against those things and try to overturn them as soon as possible. We have to do this politely, and our parliamentarians at least must never use the phrase “Evil bastard Tory scum” (although I will feel free to continue to do so) because we have to work with them. But we *MUST NOT* allow ourselves to become assimilated by the Tories.
Right now, both major parties have pretty much the same ideology – anti-poor, anti-foreigners, anti-freedom . We have managed to get the Tories to work with us to help implement the ‘not enslaved by conformity’ part of our constitution, but we mustn’t forget the parts about ignorance and poverty in the euphoria of this – because we’re the only party with any national presence who are even *considering* those things.
This is why, while not having a side in the deputy leadership race (I don’t know enough about the role to know who would be best), I *do* support Simon Hughes’ proposals for MPs, which seem to me a sensible way of retaining our distance from the Tories while still working constructively with them.
This government has the potential to be one of the great reforming governments of all time, especially with Nick Clegg in charge of constitutional reform. But it also has the potential to do a great deal of damage to the most vulnerable in society. We need, as Liberal Democrats, to work with every fibre of our being to ensure it’s the former rather than the latter.