Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mr. Clegg and the Vision thing

The latest Liberal Democrat conference has trumpeted the achievements of the party as part of the coalition government. Taken as a list, I think there is little doubt that the party has gained many policy victories. It may even be that the government is enacting more of the Liberal Democrat manifesto than that of the Conservatives.

Unfortunately that is not really the problem.

Where the Lib Dems have been defeated- especially on electoral reform- those defeats have been comprehensive, while many of the victories have been managerial executive victories, the defeats have been philosophical and principle defeats.

Talking to a senior Liberal Democrat  minister on the terrace of the House of Commons recently I was surprised how upbeat he was. However the reason for his positive view was deeply worrying. 

"This may be" he said "the only time in a generation that Liberal Democrat ministers can truly participate in government. He added "If it is the case that we are going down to defeat, then we owe it to our party, our voters and ourselves to genuinely seize the moment to make a difference"

It is, I think, an entirely laudable sentiment, and explains both the higher activity and the higher quality of the Lib Dem ministers, yet it is worrying, because he may well be right: the Liberal Democrats look almost certain to face heavy losses at the next general election.

The problem for me is that I did not join and do not support the Liberal Democrats because they would be more effective administrators within the current system. I joined because the party was advocating a radical change to the way in which Britain is governed.

In that sense, the comments from Vince Cable on the failure of the government to develop a compelling vision is accurate but very frustrating. In so many areas, the Liberal Democrats have very well worked out ideas, based on a profound Liberal vision: the party's ideas on constitutional reform in the context of greater self government for Wales, Scotland and  Northern Ireland have been years ahead of their time. Yet the time is now for us to articulate our long term vision of a comprehensive constitutional settlement for all of the UK, including England. It is frustrating that so few voters recognise that the Liberal Democrats believe in home rule for England too- a policy which would now be genuinely popular! We even run our party on Federal lines: but very few outside are even aware of this fundamental fact- and the guiding principle behind it.

The Liberal Democrats have become great administrators: we need to return to being great visionaries as well. It is time Mr. Clegg expressed this fundamental part of Liberalism more loudly.

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