Sunday, April 29, 2012

Why you should vote Liberal Democrat

The tone of political debate in the UK over the past twenty years or so has grown ever more shrill and rancorous. This bitterness is partly, I believe, the result of the growing recognition that far from being all powerful, our political leaders have in fact ever less control over "events".

Political leaders, especially on the left, still put forward the view that they alone can provide detailed policy solutions to the economic and social problems of the day.

The Liberal Democrats have been no less guilty of this hubris than any other party.

However, there are two critical differences between the Liberal Democrats and the other political parties.

The first is that the Liberal Democrats recognized a long time ago that the problem of British politics is not in the party- or parties- of government, but in the system of government. We argue for major reforms of the constitution in order to create a political system that is more accountable to the voters and more flexible in the way that the voters can change the polices of different levels of public administration. We therefore want more local control of more local services than the other parties want, but we also want to change radically the Whitehall/Westminster oligarchy that controls the whole country. 

We would create a more open electoral system without the need for repeated changes to constituency boundaries, we believe that this would make MPs more directly accountable to their voters. The recent Parliamentary scandals have allowed MPs from safe seats to avoid much sanction, because the voters can not throw them out without also voting against the political party that they support. We do not beleive that people should have to vote tactically- perhaps ironically since, as a party, we have clearly benefited from tactical voting in the past. Our view was, and remains, that electoral and constitutional reform is necessary and important, and that it should be carried out as soon as possible.

The reason that we believe this is that we can only address solutions for the social and economic problems of the day if we have a political system that is capable of finding those solutions. 

The second difference between the Liberal Democrats and the other parties is integrity.

Despite the extraordinary amount of hatred that has been poured on the Liberal Democrats and the party leader, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats have done what they said that they would do in entering into a coalition with the Conservatives. No one party won the 2010 general election. Nick Clegg said all along that if the result was inconclusive- which it turned out to be- then he would talk with the leaders of the largest party first. The invective from the left- which has at times been outrageous, even unforgivable- should not distract either from this truth, nor from the truth that Labour rejected any serious discussion in the aftermath of their defeat. 

Although the Lib Dems promised too much at the outset of government, particularly in the face of the greatest economic crisis of our lifetimes, nevertheless they have served diligently in a coalition which we too find painful at times. That pain, we believe, is justified by the national interest. We knew that we would be vilified for entering into a coalition, even if the level of hatred that this provoked has at times been completely shocking. We knew that we would have to pay a price- and we have willingly done so, in the knowledge that we were serving the national interest.

Yet Liberal Democrat integrity also rests in the way that we have conducted ourselves both in opposition and in government. The Leveson inquiry has reawakened the contempt for politicians as a class: even Michael White of  The Guardian, who should know better, suggested that the Murdoch testimony was damaging to all parties. We hear on the door steps the mantra "you're all the same", "in it for yourselves" and so on.

Yet, as White and others well know,the Liberal Democrats are not the same. We have never asked for or taken the support of the corrupting influence of Rupert Murdoch's media empire. On the contrary, we have consistently and often bravely opposed him at every turn. Despite the blackmail and pressure that Murdoch has applied to British politics, in fact because of that pressure, the Liberal Democrats- on principle- have opposed the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of  an organisation that we feared, with good reason, was little more than a criminal racket.

So Rupert Murdoch, friend and ally of Tony Blair, David Cameron and Alex Salmond was, and remains an enemy of all of the Liberal Democrats. If David Cameron had listened to Vince Cable on the subject he would not now be facing the imminent loss of another one of his senior ministers.

So the Liberal Democrats have faced a difficult time in the coalition, but where we have made mistakes it is because we underestimated the difficulties of what is, after all, a new way of conducting politics. Our biggest mistake is occasionally forgetting that vision in the daily hurly-burly of government. Yet at least we still understand that we need a new way of doing politics. 

We need a new political system. Although the coalition is only a baby step in the direction of new politics, it is at least a step. The other parties, including the SNP, sold out to Murdoch a long time ago. 

I believe that The Liberal Democrats have the right vision for the future. I believe that the lessons of the Murdoch scandal demonstrate that the party continues to stand for integrity and justice in public life.  Nothing is perfect, least of all a political party, but the Liberal Democrats have not lost sight of their unique vision and that is why they continue to deserve your support.

This Thursday will probably see many setbacks and many bitter losses. We have been here before. The electoral cycle being what it is, we may perhaps begin to see a recovery before too long: indeed several  of the polls already show some progress, albeit not enough to avoid defeat on this occasion, but even if recovery remains elusive, we have chosen the right course. 

We will continue to speak out for the Liberal vision at all levels of government. Eventually we are likely to be as feted as we are now vilified. In the end though, politics is not only about what is popular, but what is right. 

Vision and integrity can be the bedrock for our recovery. Indeed without them, politics in Britain is as pointless, unprincipled and corrupt as Rupert Murdoch believes clearly it to be. 

No comments: