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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why were Labour not serious about the progressive alliance?

This morning's Western Mail reports that a deep split within Labour scuppered any post-election deal with the Liberal Democrats and consigned them to a period in opposition. This is confirmed by Plaid Cymru who complain that the “tribal loyalties” of some Labour MPs had undermined the possibility of an anti-Conservative government.

Despite that Peter Hain was on Radio Wales this morning spinning the line that it was the Liberal Democrats who had walked away from these talks. The fact is it was Labour Party who were not interested in a progressive alliance of the left. They were not prepared to make any concessions on fairer taxation, extra early years funding for poorer children and political reform. A decision that made the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition inevitable.

Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have entered government on the basis of principle and after securing major concessions on all their four priorities. My understanding is that we have got the agreement of the Conservatives to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000 taking 222,400 people in Wales out of tax altogether, whilst 839,280 taxpayers will be £700 a year better off. We have also secured billions of pounds extra for education, targeted at the poorest pupils, a commitment to link the old age pension to earnings, a fixed term Parliament, no more finger printing of children, and substantial concessions on civil liberties and the green agenda.

This is not a Conservative government it is one in which the Liberal Democrats will play a major role in moderating the more extreme policies of the Tories whilst putting many aspects of our own agenda into place.

Obviously, I have not yet seen the full policy document or the impact it will have on Wales but so far the only conclusion that can be drawn is this is a good day for the United Kingdom.
I think Clegg's done really well and he deserves our support. So, has Cameron to be fair. Both men did what their old guard would never have done and compromised for the sake of the country. I'm pleased that we now have a whole new generation in charge after all those years with the Boomers running things. As the Independent predicted last week (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/jonathan-pontell-cleggs-rise-is-the-sound-of-generation-jones-clearing-its-throat-1961191.html) “the torch has been passed” from the Boomers to Generation Jones. Cameron, Clegg, and a big chunk of the new Cabinet and Parliament are all GenJonesers, I don’t think there could have been an alliance if Boomers were still running the parties and it will be interesting to see how this generational change affects things.

I think a lot of us need to catch up in understanding who this long-lost generation between the Boomers and Xers is to fill out the picture of the nature of our new leadership.

Here are a few links I found helpful in that regard:

Jonathan Ross is funny talking about GenJones:

Lots of major press about GenJones:
Peter, I've just read the agreement. What you don't mention is that the Liberal Democrats have agreed to accelerate the reduction in deficit spending with the emphasis on reduced spending. You've also agreed to the £6 billion extra cut this year. Both decisions will have a profound effect on the Assembly's budget and public services within Wales. There is no promise of billions for education. Instead there is a promise of a premimium for disadvantaged pupils which will come from outside the schools budget in England but I'm assuming from savings in other parts of the education budget which will probably make it cost neutral in Barnett terms. The Tories have also only given you the right to abstain on the future Browne recommendations for tuition fees.It's widely expected that these will allow universities ot charge more. On constitutional reform we get the referendum and the Calman Commission in Scotland. I'm not surprised because the more power given to the devolved bodies not only chimes in with traditional Tory thinking on local government now they know there is no threat to the union but also disperses the blame for any policy decisions. But at the same time we are going to have fewer MPs in Wales and a commission on the West Lothian question. This suggests that if there is a yes vote for lawmaking powers Welsh MPs will have restrictions on the issues they can vote on. The result could be a permanant Tory majority on many issues affecting England.

Only time will tell whether your party will benefit from the coalition deal in electoral terms with the first test coming in next year's Assembly election. We can only wait and see what happens.Your argument that somehow the coalition is all the fault of Labour I put down to spin. In reality the Tories won last Thursday. The numbers were not there for a Rainbow coalition of the left of centre. The only possible alternatives were the present arrangement or a minority Tory administration. It was the choice of the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrats alone to go for coalition with the Tories. Whether it will be of benefit to the country and the Liberal Democrats only time will tell.
Jeff, you are right that it was our choice to talk to the Tories and go into coalition with them but there was no alternative and I was seeklng to emphasise that in the face of spin from the likes of Hain that we could have gone with Labour instead. We could have allowed the Tories to form a minority government but that would have left us with instability and would not have helped economic recovery. I believe that we did the responsible thing.

On your specific points, cuts will not be to frontline services and will only happen subject to advice from the Treasury and the Bank of England on their feasibility and advisability. How they impact on the Assembly depends on where they fall. You will note a commitment to a real terms increase in health spending and more money for education.

The money for education will not come from within that department but across the board. I would anticipate a Barnett consequential for Wales.

On tuition fees the agreement says it will wait until after the higher education review before making proposals – and any proposals will be judged against our aims of increasing social mobility, reducing student debt and attracting a higher proportion of poorer students into university.

We are not backtracking. Unlike Plaid who went into government on the basis of reducing student debt and ended up extending it further.

The full programme will be published in two weeks and will contain more on Wales.
Jeff, surely the point is not that Labour is responsible for the coalition, but that a few leading Labour figures held out false hope of a LD/Lab Alliance, knowing that there wasn't even a majority of their own party in favour. Now Peter Hain is trying to rewrite history.
Given the "Welsh" Liberal Democrats (or at least your) constant crticism of Plaid for selling themselves cheaply in the Cardiff Bay coalition it's worth seeing how much the Liberal Democrats have sold out for in this instance.

£6 billion in cuts more or less immediately, which you claimed to be against, with an almost certain consequential impact on the Assembly budget when you had supposedly argued in favour of increasing the Assembly budget

£100 billion spend on Trident which you claimed to be against

A referendum on a voting system that neither Conservatives nor Liberal Democrats support

New nuclear power plants which you claimed to oppose.

cap on immigration which you claim to oppose

No euro

More privileged schools within the state sector (presumably not to apply in Wales??)

Health spending to rise annually with inflation(actually I'm pleased with this but it must be gutting for the Liberal Democrats given that Vince Cable had argued for cuts)

reduce Child Trust Funds

You must be so proud.

In fairness the £10,000 free of tax is a good idea (the best Liberal Democrat policy of the campaign by a country mile) but is to be "worked towards" i.e quietly ditched a little further down the line

Clegg is Deputy PM but with no actual Portfolio. Even John Prescott as DPM was actually given something to do by Blair. Cameron thinks Clegg is even more of a risk with a portfolio that Blair thought of Prescott.

The coalition will last.
I joined the Liberal party as was and became active at college, roughly the same time as you, Peter. While reluctantly accepting the arguments for coalition with the Tories on the grounds of creating stability, the fact that having argued cogently against the £6 billion cut this year throughout the election campaign, to accept it as a price for joining the government seems to demonstrate a lack of principle from our negotiators and leader. Personally, my misgivings about the impression of power before principles, cause me to question my continued membership of the party.
David, your comment is so full of inaccuracies and distortions that it is difficult to know where to begin. I would however start by pointing out that this is neither a Liberal Democrat nor a Conservative Administration. You will know from the process of forming a coalition in Wales that both sides have to compromise and nobody gets everything that they want. I have never claimed that Plaid Cymru sold themselves 'cheaply' in the One Wales Government deal. What I did say was that the agreement was unaffordable, a claim that is being borne out from experience and that on a number of key issues in that agreement the government is failing to deliver. On your specific points:

The coalition agreement is explicit in saying that we will try to avoid front line services in making savings. These savings were inevitable given the economic situation we are in and would have had to be done by whoever was in power. We have guaranteed health expenditure and we are putting more money into education through the pupil premium. We will be looking very much at cutting waste to find this £6 billion if that is possible. The Assembly budget is guaranteed for this year I believe.

On Trident we have said all along that we would hold a full defence review, and we have negotiated with the Conservatives to keep Trident under review

The referendum on AV is the best we could get. It is not perfect it is a start. If we had 326 MPs we could have done better.

We have the right to abstain on nuclear power plants. Interesting criticism considering that Plaid are split on this issue with your leader in favour of nuclear power.

On immigration we could not get everything but we will see what is workable I suspect this policy will need to be finessed.

I doubt if going into the Euro was feasible anyway given the current economic climate.

School policy remains devolved to Wales.

Vince Cable had never argued for cuts in health spending that is a lie.

We have always been opposed to Child Trust funds arguing it is better to invest the money in early years education where it will have more impact.

The £10,000 tax threshold is in the agreement and will be achieved within the five year Parliament. It was never time limited in our manifesto.

Clegg has rsponsibility for the reforms to politics. Quite a big job.

Alex: see above. We are seeking to keep the cuts away from front line services.
Cable argued that Health shouldn't be ring fenced - it's much the same thing
I can see a theme popping up where the 'tax cut for the poor' is a bit of a winner in this coalition. It's a bit of a red herring.

The original Lib Dem policy was for a tax cut for the poorest to be paid for by increasing the tax on top earners. That's social democratic wealth destribution in action.

The policy that's gotten into the agreement still features the tax break across the board but WITHOUT the increase on top earners, so it is not wealth redistribution.

And sat alongside the accelerated spending cuts that Jeff Jones refers to, this kind of populist measure spells doom for our public services, whilst cynically going down the populist route of giving people 'a bit more in their pocket'.
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