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Sunday, September 08, 2013

A battle hardened party of government

Like many Liberal Democrats activists I am starting to get things ready so I can head up to Glasgow on Friday for five days of politicking at the Federal Conference. I know that this could be one of the more controversial conferences for years, with crucial decisions waiting to be taken on nuclear power and tuition fees that could challenge previous orthodoxies within the party.

Like it or not the party has changed because it is in government. That does not mean that we have to make unacceptable compromises in a dash for the bland middle ground, but it does place a duty on us to ensure that our next manifesto is properly costed, is deliverable and that there are no longer hostages to fortune in there in any future coalition discussions. At the very least, those negotiating for us must take account of key policies and not gloss over them as happened in 2010.

The Independent editorial understands this and seems to be impressed by our seriousness. They have focussed in on one policy which will not be controversial but does show that we are mean business when we say we want a more equal and enabling society:

Something interesting is happening to the Liberal Democrats. Because they are in office, their policy-making has become tougher. At their conference in Glasgow starting on Saturday, there are fewer glib and wishful utopian motions and more serious proposals that have survived a long, hard march through the institutions of government. Hence the party's plan to extend free childcare to all one- and two-year-olds, which we report on today, is no well-meaning wishlist, but a battle-hardened piece of legislation-ready policy.

The plan emerges from the struggle between the coalition partners over the last spending round, which was announced by George Osborne, the Chancellor, in June. Nick Clegg pushed for a better childcare deal, but eventually had to concede that NHS, schools and infrastructure spending were higher priorities. However, the result is that Lib Dem ministers were forced to refine their ideas, which means that the motion from the party's Federal Policy Committee has been thought through.

This is part of a wider preparation for the election, now just 20 months away. One of the little-appreciated decisions made by the Lib Dems at an early stage of the spending round was that it would cover one year only, 2015-16. That frees the coalition parties to set out different tax and spending priorities for the next parliament. Thus we can see the Lib Dem manifesto for the election coming into shape. Extending taxpayer-funded childcare will be one plank of the platform. Another is the mansion tax, for which Mr Clegg pushed but which David Cameron ruled out emphatically. A third example is that the Lib Dem leadership has admitted its error in allowing the extension of secret courts in the Justice and Security Act to go through and now wants to pledge to reverse it if it were returned to government.

The hardening of Lib Dem policy-making, which is still more democratic than that of the other main parties, means that disasters such as the tuition fees U-turn would be less likely. It also provides a more solid basis on which to conduct coalition negotiations, should there be another hung parliament. And what is interesting about the childcare policy and the mansion tax is that they are both subjects on which it is easier to imagine Labour and the Lib Dems reaching agreement than a continuation of the present coalition.

The fact that we are having to consider these policies for the next Parliament shows the compromises that have to be made in coalition. Nevertheless it is hard to disagree with the Independent's conclusion that our childcare proposals suggest that the party has matured in office and will still have a distinctive and attractive programme to offer at the next election.


Surely the news that Sara Teather is going to quit parliament saying she is "Absolutely desolate" with the party on the same day as .this blog Points to the Lib Dens being shell shocked rather than battle hardened.""14
I fail to follow the logic of that comment. Sarah Teather is one individual who has become isolated within the party because of her opposition to equal marriage and who has become uncomfortable with some policies, that are incompatible with the views of her constituents and herself. If anything the party's reaction to her news underlines the point that we are battle hardened.
You appear too be suggesting that Sarah Teather is quitting largely because of her opposition to same sex marriages . If that is so it is disingenuous of you.

Clearly from her statements she's quitting because she feels the leadership has betrayed the party's values on social justice. Which unlike her views on equal marriages, I suspect a large number of your party share.
That is not what I said at all. Try re-reading it in the context of the earlier comment. Sarah Teather has her view. I and many others disagree with her view.
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