Thursday, June 24th, 2010 11:23 am
Most of what I could write here has already been written, so in lieu of financial analysis of the budget I offer you Millennium Dome, Elephant's take on it, and Mark Thompson covers most of the points I wanted to make about whether or not this is a 'betrayal' of Liberal Democrat principles.

This budget was always going to be a problem for Liberal Democrat supporters. People expect the Conservatives to tax the poor and let the rich off, so a budget that largely does the reverse comes as a pleasant surprise, and Lib-Dem-minded people like them for it. Conversely, the Liberal Democrats have always argued that early spending cuts and VAT rises are bad ideas, so when we end up supporting both of those things, it risks making us look hypocritical, indecisive and a bit weak. To people who broadly supported us during the election and liked what we were saying, this budget has had the effect of making us look as thought we've moved away from our position, while the Conservatives have moved towards it. And so they like us a bit less, and the Conservatives a bit more. In the short-term-memory arena of UK politics, that can be fatal. (I'm not saying that it's completely unreasonable; I think the effect is exaggerated, but if you voted for party X because of a particular policy, and then party X gets into government and doesn't implement that policy, you might well re-think your support for that party, depending on the reasons, and on whether there are other parties around that promise the same thing.)

However, that's an inevitable quality of coalition politics. It's not a surprise; I voted for the coalition expecting and accepting it. For the coalition to work, there are going to have to be occasions where Liberal Democrat MPs are going to have to vote for policies they'd vote against if they were solely in charge and, indeed, occasions where Conservative MPs are going to have to vote for policies that they'd vote against if they were solely in charge. With only a fifth of the MPs of the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats are probably going to have to do it more often than the Conservatives, and probably more often than we'd like.

That doesn't mean that the Liberal Democrats will have to vote for everything they don't like. Coalition isn't about agreeing on everything, it's about finding a programme that you can both support enough of to make it worthwhile, and which doesn't contain any red-line policies that you can't support. The programme may contain policies that the Liberal Democrats (or Conservatives) pledge to repeal or reverse at the earliest opportunity; it shouldn't contain any that either party is so unhappy with that it won't live with the policies for the next five years. (As a rule of thumb.)

It also doesn't mean I have to be happy when I get an e-mail from Nick Clegg in support of the budget that's weakly-worded, self-congratulatory, and strangely silent on the issue of welfare cuts or the VAT rise. I expect better. I realise that a letter to the membership is effectively public but ... well, we're not stupid. The Lib Dem membership can spot issues that are simply being avoided a mile off, and I think we deserve more respect than that.

There are things in that budget that come close to a red line issue for me; many of the benefit proposals will, inevitably, hit some of the most vulnerable members of our society who are exactly the people that the government should be protecting, and that's simply not something I want us to be doing at all. In a 'three strikes and you're out' view of my support for the coalition, this counts as ... well, less than a whole strike, but more than half of one. I'll be watching very closely to see what happens next. Ultimately, though, like Millennium Dome, I will support the budget with extreme reluctance, and an acknowledgement that my support for it carries responsibility for the damage it does.

Trailers for Channel Four's alternative election night coverage included, at one point, David Mitchell asserting that while most election coverage expressed the results in a series of meaningless statistics, on Channel 4 they were going to express them in terms of the number of people that would be likely to die as a result. As a result of this budget, people are likely to die. The combination of the benefit cuts (especially to housing benefit), the extra test for DLA and the VAT rise will cause a lot of vulnerable people to be financially worse off; if none of those die as a consequence, it will be a minor miracle. The only reason I can support the budget at all is the belief that more vulnerable people would die as a result of a Conservative-only budget, or from the instability that having no viable government at all would bring. That's not a comfortable conclusion; apart from anything else, it may be incorrect.

In conference motion terms, than, what I feel amounts to this:

Conference recognises that the emergency budget of 22 June was a compromise. Conference applauds the Liberal Democrat parliamentary team for implementing many Liberal Democrat policies in the budget, while also regretting that more measures did not make it, and that some that did were implemented less fully than Liberal Democrat policy would have wanted.

Conference deplores the many measures in the budget that go against Liberal Democrat policy. Conference accepts that the presence of those policies in a compromise budget did not cause the parliamentary team to reject the budget as a whole, and Liberal Democrat MPs who voted for the budget should rightly attract no censure for voting for those measures as part of the overall package.

Nonetheless, conference re-affirms its support for Liberal Democrat policy, and urges the Federal Policy Committee to include in any policy statements it makes a commitment to repeal those parts of the budget that go against Liberal Democrat policy.

Furthermore, as a more general point, conference recognises that as part of the coalition, the parliamentary party may be called upon to support measures that go against Liberal Democrat policy. Conference expects the parliamentary party to argue strongly for Liberal Democrat policy, and would not wish the parliamentary party to feel free to ignore all policy, but accepts that not all battles will be won, and that many compromises will be made. It does not believe this view is inconsistent with arguing strongly for all Liberal Democrat policy as a party, and urges all Liberal Democrats to do just that.


I'd vote for that.
Friday, June 25th, 2010 09:17 pm (UTC)
*reads Millenium Dome Elephant's post* It's not the fact that there are going to becuts that I dislike, it's the speed and the scale of the cuts. I'd also like there to be a better balance of tax increases and spending cuts.