This, I notice, is my 100th posting on this blog.
Reviewing previous postings I am slightly surprised by the variety of themes that have been covered. However, I am still trying to convey a sense of what I believe are the core truths about the Liberal ideology and why I think that they are important.
For the Liberal Democrats the last few months have been a generally difficult time. There has been the concern that a reviving Conservative party will damage the Liberal Democrats next time. Indeed the local election results demonstrated that the Conservatives remain a force. Nevertheless the flat result for the Liberal Democrats masks some quite wide differences: success in Richmond, failure in Islington, considerable success in the north of England, a drift in the south.
However aside from the Conservatives mild revival, there have been many internal problems for the Liberal Democrats too. Some of this has come from the obvious sense of disappointment that more progress was not made in winning seats. Some negative sentiment was the result of rather chaotic and brutal removal of Charles Kennedy as party leader, combined with the unaccustomed whiff of scandal amongst our own MPs. The peccadilloes of Mark Oaten did not reflect well, although they generally added to the gaiety of the nation. More seriously, the Michael Brown affair has led to concerns that insufficient checks were made on donors to the party's campaign. This has left a sense that the party leadership in Cowley Street was losing its grip. To be honest the whole set up at the Party HQ has needed to be sorted out for some time.
Yet the result in Dunfermline also demonstrates the continuing appeal of the Liberal Democrats. The election of Ming Campbell too has steadied the ship- despite the personal attacks on him, he is, as I hoped, proving to be a collegiate and effective leader. More to the point is that he is a politician of substance and is crafting a policy agenda of substance. It is an agenda which is going back to the radical root of Liberalism, it is imbued with the Liberal idea that there must be explicit limits to state power in both social and economic spheres. This encourages me enormously, since it gives us a clarity which other parties lack.
The intellectual discipline of our business manifesto last time is spreading across all of our policy formation teams. The abolition of the DTi, the sunset clauses on new business legislation, the abolition of large parts of regulation- all were things that I campaigned for enthusiatically. The lazy and sloppy thinking of the current government, whose knee-jerk response to any problem is to create more legislation has only been echoed by the Conservatives. By contrast, the Liberal Democrats would abolish much of the bad and badly constructed legislation that has been this government's enduring legacy. Instead of the incredibly expensive and ineffective tax credit system, we would make the tax code simpler and reduce the general level of taxation, for example. No expensive and pointless ID cards.
Only in green policy would we create a new regulatory regime. Encouraging sustainability and punishing wasteful and polluting activity is critical to reducing CO2 emissions and reducing pollution. As Liberals we accept peoples rights to drive a 4x4 if they want to- but they can not force the rest of us to pay the price, and that is why these wasteful and inefficient cars would receive a stiff tax, to off-set the damage that they cause (and hopefully dissuade some people from buying one in the first place).
New ideas and imaginative policies- this is the key to the future of the party and of the ideology of Liberalism. In the face of the failures of the government and the policy vacuum of the Conservatives, it is refreshing to hear competent and well thought out policies coming through. The problems of the party HQ are now being addressed, and the new broom is beginning to address some of the tactical mistakes that the party has been making. I am much cheered by the progress that is being made.
We are putting our house in order. We are crafting an agenda of substance. We are using our ideology to create imaginative and radical ideas. This- and not the cynical blow dried vacuity of the Conservatives- is what will capture the attention of the voters. While the novelty of a Tory who does not look like a space alien has not yet worn off, it will.
By then we will be ready for the fight.