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Monday, January 10, 2011

Grown-up politics and a week of decisions

Julian Glover in today's Guardian writes about the realities of government and gives some indication that the mainstream media are starting to get coalition politics. As he says: In opposition it is easy to be absolute, excluded as you are from complexity. The convictions of shadow office – or of a newspaper columnist – are harder to maintain in power.

He is right though when he says that some of the rhetoric adopted by the Liberal Democrats in opposition is coming back to haunt us. He says that this is not the case on control orders where the manifesto was more restrained, though I suspect that whatever solution is adopted will be portrayed by the opposition as a u-turn:

Yet everything he (Clegg) does is being seen through the prism of sellout. In part, this is the fault of his own breathless pre-election rhetoric. On some issues – cuts, for instance – the excuses offered by new facts barely justifies the change of position. There is a gap between what Lib Dems said (and – not always the same – what their supporters believed they said) and what the coalition is doing. This does not mean what the government is doing now is wrong, or that Lib Dems knowingly misled at the time, but that the experience of power adapts people in ways which invite the caricature of betrayal.

All sides in the coalition need to stop this impression settling permanently. For every Guardian reader who objects to Lib Dem co–operation with the Conservatives there is a Telegraph subscriber who fears this government has sold out to the liberal left. But power cannot be managed in a staccato series of victories: 70% for the Tories, 30% for the Lib Dems, with no common ground in between. Nor did voters ask for this. There was nothing fair about a Labour decade based on a minority of the popular vote; there would be nothing fair now about Lib Dem triumphalism.

The best that can be achieved is the shared improvement of policy through co-operation. That is what has happened on control orders. It is what happened on tuition fees too, though few believe it. It is the point of coalition. Grownup politics must move on from a tale of winners and losers, and think about the territory in between.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat Leader has been on Radio 4's Today programme defending the work of the Coalition Government. He told viewers that people will take a "more rounded view" of its achievements by the next election. That does not help those of us facing election in May of course but it is some consolation I suppose.

Where I do agree with him 100% is in his assertion that there is a "clear liberal direction to this government":

He said the effect of the spending cuts would be "difficult", adding: "But I think at the same time there are signs that the repair job we are doing on the government finances and the general creation of greater confidence in the economy might also start showing itself as well.

"I think it will be a crucial year - a crucial year, yes, of some very challenging circumstances for millions of people in this country, but I hope the beginning of a real turnaround as we move forward and as we successfully implement the repair job on the economy."

2011 is going to be a major test for the coalition government. If we come through it in one piece then I believe that the Liberal Democrats will be much stronger as a party both organisationally and electorally. The first test is this Thursday. Can we defy the pundits who only a few days ago were arguing that the Liberal Democrats would come third in Oldham East and Saddleworth? I believe that we can.
"Can we defy the pundits who only a few days ago were arguing that the Liberal Democrats would come third in Oldham East and Saddleworth? I believe that we can."

Nothing like setting your sights low, is there, Peter? It looks like your weekend in the constituency has convinced you that winning is out of the question.
Actually I am setting my sights higher than virtually every other commentator. I am convinced we can win it but at this stage I want to be cautious given the polls at the weekend. The point I am making is that those who wrote us off as an also-ran a week ago are now having to eat their words.
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