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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Why Deborah Orr is wrong about the Liberal Democrats

The by-line says it all - Deborah Orr is a Guardian columnist, and in that capacity she is obliged to find so many hundreds of words each day to bore us with her wisdom. It is easy to find fault, the hard part is to have something constructive and useful to say, as no doubt I will now prove.

In the latest diatribe, Ms. Orr lambasts Vince Cable for his failure to grasp the nettle ten years ago and save us all from the dreadful coalition government. She says that the best that could be said for Nick Clegg is that he was not Chris Huhne and alleges that the Liberal Democrats squandered their best chance to introduce AV, even though it is a half-hearted compromise and not party policy.

She says that by putting Cameron in power the Liberal Democrats set in chain the events that led to us leaving the EU, to the collapse of social justice and the reassertion of two party politics, which for so long we were the main alternative to.

Now counter-factual history is not an exact science, it is actually a form of fiction, so one would expect some justification for these conclusions. Instead Orr embarks on a more reasoned demolition of the first past the post system and why it needs to be replaced.

For, whatever else one might say about Nick Clegg, at least he tried to make a difference, at least he made the effort to put in place key Liberal Democrat policies. And yes, there were times when he was naïve, out-of-touch, when he failed to assert himself properly, and broke promises but I suspect history will prove far kinder to him than the rant that masquerades as Orr's opinion column.

The first question is what were the alternatives in 2010? A coalition with Labour was a non-starter, it would not have commanded a majority in the Commons, could not have provided stable government and would have quickly collapsed in its own contradictions. So it was a choice trying to influence government and put into effect Liberal Democrats policies with Cameron or walk away altogether.

If Clegg had walked away, my view and that of many others is that we would have had a minority Tory Government followed by a second General Election in which Cameron would have secured a majority. Austerity would have been more severe, without the constraining influence of the Liberal Democrats, the referendum on Europe would have come sooner and AV would not even have made it to the floor of the House of Commons.

In Government the Liberal Democrats achieved some important reforms, the green investment bank, the pupil premium, raising the income tax threshold to take millions of low paid workers out of paying that tax altogether, equal marriage, reforms to industrial policy and many more. They held back the sort of cuts to welfare that the Tories subsequently embarked on in 2015 once they had a majority and they kept the UK firmly within the EU.

There were negatives, the bedroom tax, the tuition fee debacle and NHS reforms amongst them, when Clegg should have listened to his party and put his foot down. But the balance sheet is one to be proud of not one to run away from.

At the end of the day it is the electorate that decides who should be in government, not the Liberal Democrats. Politicians do their best with the cards that are dealt to them. The mess we are in now is the result of forces that are reflected elsewhere in the world, the anti-politics movement, disenchantment with the establishment, the search (once again) for a form of messiah who will lead us to a promised land. To seek to blame it all on the Liberal Democrats is perverse in the extreme.

The one bright light in all of this gloom is the diminished band of Liberal Democrats MPs and the 100,000 plus members who continue to fight for internationalism, liberalism, social justice and against the forces of reaction. Vince Cable and my party offer hope. We are in no way the spent force Deborah Orr imagines.

I was surprised to see such a rant from Deborah Orr- she's often more thoughtful than that. What she said makes no sense unless you happen to be one of those strange people who see the Liberal Democrats as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Labour Party.
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