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Aug 18 2010

100 days later: A Lib Dem view

I woke this morning to the sound of a bandwagon rolling past, grabbing my keyboard I jumped aboard. It is 100 days since the Coalition formed following the General Election. For people wedded to the decimal system of counting 100 is a nice round number, for programmers of a certain generation 128 is preferable. Perversely the Marquis de Sade chose 120 days, but I can’t wait 20 days.

As a member of the Liberal Democrats for 20 years, I thought my opinions on a 100 days of partly Liberal Democrat government might be interesting to at least a few people. You can see my previous political postings here, to get a bit more context.

Things I’m pleased about:
Pupil premium; a rising lower tax threshold; increased capital gains tax; Ken Clarke sounding like a liberal on prison policy, an end to ID cards and over-enthusiastic lawmaking for every occasion; some hope of constitutional reform both in the Lords and for general elections;  no changes to the married tax allowance;

I’m also pleased by the very existence of a coalition government, it seems far more healthy to me that government is composed of members from two parties representing a majority of voters in the country, rather than one party who through a quirk of the electoral system has scraped in with a majority of seats based on a minority of votes. Far better coalition than more opposition where our influence is minimal.

I see my vote as delegating my views to the Liberal Democrats based on their manifesto, if they were in government alone I’d expect them to attempt to implement the entire manifesto (even if I didn’t like all of it). In coalition I expect them to negotiate using that manifesto as a basis, the fact that the entire manifesto is not being implemented is a result of them not achieving an overall majority. The inability to implement the entire manifesto is a fact of electoral arithmetic.

Things I’m not so pleased about:
fatuous comparisons of civil servant pay with the Prime Ministers pay; ostentatious “dipping of hands in blood” following the Budget, at times it felt like the only people cabinet ministers defending it were Liberal Democrats; David Laws’ rapid exit from government; Trident – I’m not particularly anti-nuclear but now was the perfect time to get shot of a piece of Cold War willy-waving.

As far as the economy is concerned, I believe we’d be in approximately the same place as we are now regardless of which party was in government prior to the election. The logic of this is also that regardless of who would have won the election they would have ended up doing approximately the same thing now (or in the near future): cutting government spending fairly dramatically. Arguments about timing are largely political; economics, it seems to me, is a “science” too imprecise to tell us much about the future and the fervent calls for cuts now, or cuts later are largely political. There is some marginal argument about the scale of the cuts, but given a Labour government we would be facing cuts of broadly the same magnitude.

I suspect there is a lot of departmental spinning going on at the moment: they’ve been asked to make fairly large cuts and they’re leaking the ideas for cuts that they know will be politically the most unpalatable in order to give themselves some leverage for the spending review.

There’s much enthusiasm about the LibDem’s apparent problems in the polls, however they’re generally at levels comparable with the last 10 years or so (see the Guardian Datablog). They are only low if you compare them to the heady heights of the election campaign which were quite evidently wildly inaccurate – the only accurate poll was the exit poll. I suspect a LibDem party in coalition with Labour would find itself in very much the same position.

It’s worth highlighting again the inequity of first past the post system: plug the latest opinion poll into the BBC’s calculator: (Lab:37% Con: 37% LibDem: 18%) and you get (Lab: 336 Con: 244 LibDem: 42). Labour get a 92 seat advantage over the Tories for an identical percentage of the vote and they get  8 times the number of seats as the Liberal Democrats for twice the vote. The Electoral Reform Society did a report for “Conservative Action for Electoral Reform”, on this subject – interesting conclusion is that equalising constituency size doesn’t really address the problem.

After the General Election the Liberal Democrats had three options: one it seems was unworkable, one was simply lazy, we chose to do the other thing. The only principle the Liberal Democrats have given up is the principle of not being a party of government.

5 comments

  1. twaza (@wassabeee on twitter)

    Ian,

    Your summary history of the past 100 days is spot on.

  2. SomeBeans

    @twaza – thanks! I removed some ranty stuff in this instance

  3. Nic

    Hi, I agree with what you say.

    With regards to the election calculator, Labour call themselves democrats but they can't stand democracy because they can't win and opposing the referendum bill because of equalising boundaries.

  4. SomeBeans

    @Nic – yes, suspect the Tories plans for correcting the balance will be very difficult in practice. Obviously everything becomes much simpler if you go for full-blown PR!

  5. Nic

    yeah, i sent the Political and Constitutional Reform committee evidence on what i think about the AV referendum bill and everything else about how we should reform our politics and constitution. They published it on their website and if you want to they're accepting submissions until 3rd September. If you have an MP like mine who can't stand democracy then its a good way of telling politicians without going through your MP.

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