A tale of two Governments
In 2010, after a shock result, Britain found itself Governed by a ConLib coalition. No one gave it much chance of working but it di, The Clegg/Cameron coalition brought considerable benefit to the country and was something of a “golden administration” for pensions.
In 2015 we had another election, this time it gave us a conservative majority (another shock). The markets reacted positively and we looked set fair for five stable years of further recovery from the financial crisis. HOW WRONG COULD WE BE.
The supposed weakness of the coalition was its strength, Nick Clegg and his team kept the conservative party focussing on what mattered – Britain – and away from local feuding.
Since the dissolution of the coalition we have had Britain has seen the most bitter internal division since the War of the Roses (I discount the Civil Was as that was fought on religious grounds). The disintegration of BAU Government over the past three months and the absurd “what do we do now” position we find ourselves in, is a consequence of an unwanted and unloved debate on a subject we know little about and cared less.
As with any war, the people who will be hurt most will be the civilian population and the most vulnerable were (and are) being hit hardest. I am writing to friends in my company who are of Eastern European debate to tell them they are wanted and wanted very much. But a substantial number of the people working in Britain today, will not get such comfort.
The efforts of society to drive out rascism and other forms of intolerance have been set back. It is now politically acceptable to blame the hard working for being hard working and to blame those who have risked much to work in Britain , for being foreign.
The decency of the coalition has been replaced by the new nastiness.
I sensed the change when I went to the Tory party conference last October. The ring of steel was surrounded by angry protestors, inside there was much drinking and self-congratulation but little progressive policy-making. Already the need to help the country had been replaced by a determination to “help yourself”.
As for pensions, instead of the social policy of Steve Webb, we had the “self-empowerment agenda of Harriet Baldwin. The Treasury had walked off with the trophy cabinet and were melting down the hard-won policies of CDC and pot aggregation in favour of dumbed down savings policies that had more do do with re-election than social purpose. The Pension Minister did not make it to Manchester, locked like Rapunzel in her Tower, the key in IDS’ pocket.
Can we learn this lesson?
The balancing influence of the Liberals on Conservatism kept the one nation, “all in it together” vision to the fore. Once it had been lost, the Conservatives disintegrated. Now they have no leadership, no vision and no short-term plan to get us out of the mess which their disastrously mis-managed referendum has got us into.
Sadly, rather than acknowledge the role of the Liberal party, the Conservatives decided not just to drop the pilot, but shoot him too. Almost all the great Liberal politicians of the coalition (Cable/Clegg/ Webb et al.) are now no more than commentators, not even commanding a seat in the house.
The ungrateful contempt with which coalition politics has been dismissed by this conservative administration, has no justification. For we can now look back at 2010-15 as a time when politics worked and look at the current Government as an example of how politics does not work.
I am a Liberal and a liberal. I believe in working together, of co-operation. I will support Tim Farron but I will also support this Government in any attempt it makes to reach out to those who it has so harmed and rebuild trust. I will support attempts to reach out to Europe, to Europeans working in Britain and to those who have voted in the referendum who now feel bewildered and betrayed.
George Osborne is lost, he has no credible position. He is the architect of his own downfall and his contemptuous attitude to the people of Britain renders him contemptible. He has only one word that I will listen to. That word is “sorry”. If he can admit he is sorry (as Cameron has) then – as Cameron has been, we can forgive and move on. We may even be able to move on with Osborne in charge of the money (he is competent if not trustworthy).
However, we cannot move on till we have checks on his behaviour. We cannot go back to the situation we have found ourselves in over the past year, where a Conservative Government behaves with such total disregard for the people of the country.
I hope that whatever is left of the Labour party, after they have had their playground fight, will regroup and come to the table. I hope that they will join hands with Tim Farron and the tiny rump of Liberal MPs and then go to Government and offer to help. We need something like a Government of National Unity at this time.
We need something like the coalition we enjoyed until so recently.