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Day: October 17, 2010

Why I’ve chosen not to join the Lib Dems

I was on the verge of joining the Liberal Democrats. I have been for a while in all honesty. It was more of a fait accompli really. It was going to happen. However the title of this blog is ‘Why I’ve chosen not to join the Lib Dems’ so clearly something has happened in the meantime that has stopped me nailing my colours firmly to the mast.

Now let me first get this out of the way – my decision is not based on what the political party are doing. I am proud of the MPs for being grown up and dealing with the financial crisis in the correct way. There are things that I don’t like going on but you can’t get everything you want in life – the same is true of a political party. I ideologically disagree with tuition fees, with renewing trident without even looking at other alternatives, the cap on immigrants flat out disgusts me but the fact of the matter is the Liberal Democrats did not win this election. No party won the election. Therefore either we had a weak government at a time of genuine financial upheaval or we had a strong government, which my party of choice were part of but we’d have to go along with a few less than ideal policies.

I prefer the latter of the two options. I’m not one of those who is sticking his head in the sand and thinking we can spend our way out of debt. Those that think that know nothing about debt. So therefore savage cuts are needed for the short to medium term to get the country back on its feet. Yes there has to be investment in certain areas but in others for the next 5-10 belts will have to be severely tightened.

So we get on to why I’m not tossing my hat into the political arena at this juncture. In essence it is because of the babyish way many Lib Dem members are acting at the moment – in the main regarding the tuition fees row. They are saying that they were lied to and that the Lib Dems are screwing the poor by backing this policy where tuition fees could rise. Well yes – it is not ideal. The Lib Dems believed (and still do believe) that higher education should be free. However when you only have so much money in the coffers you have to pick and choose what to spend money on. The Higher Education budget was getting savagely cut by whichever party or parties got together to form a government.

So there are three choices – allow universities to raise more through tuition fees and keep up the quality of our courses. To stick as is and let the qualities of the courses slip and therefore make our degrees less worthwhile or we could dig our heels in for our ideological goal and basically say ‘no tuition fees and make all the universities pretty shit’. The big unis would always survive due to the fact they can raise revenues in other areas. It would be the small to medium size universities that would go to the wall. Now whilst I personally believe that too many people go to university these days (a significant % that go – just go for the lifestyle and not to enhance their career) I will defend anyone’s right to go. In a lot of these places the universities are a significant employer and bring in money to local businesses. So killing off universities isn’t ideal.

I myself went to a very small university – at the time it was the smallest university in the country that gave out its own degrees. These days it has merged with other art colleges and is larger in pupil size and based over five campuses. This was only a few years ago and I lived with my dad and we were poor – therefore the council paid my tuition fees – otherwise I doubt I would have gone to be honest and that is the thing – councils will still pay for the poorest to go. The IFS say that the poorest 35% will actually be better off under these proposals. Also they are raising the point on where you start repaying your student loan from 15k p/a to 21k p/a – that is extremely significant. Basically most entry level positions will not see graduates start paying anything back. This was overlooked by people in my opinion.

Nick Clegg announced £7bn for the ‘Pupil Premium’ last week and that hardly raised an eyebrow amongst Lib Dem circles. They were all still up in angst over tuition fees. When it comes down to it – if you asked me what is more important – giving the poorest a better start throughout pre-school, primary and secondary schools or whether universities should be free to all then it is a no brainer. Everyone deserves a start in life. I was lucky – I didn’t come from a rich background – not by a long shot but I had good parents and good schools (well my final school wasn’t great but still – I’d had a start). If we don’t invest in pupils from the age of 3 up then what is the point of investing in them when they get to 18? Give the kids a chance in life and that is what we are doing. I am proud of that. Yes I’d love free education for everyone – at every level – but when you can’t afford it then you can’t afford it.

Now obviously this is how it is today. If in 5-10 years the country is back on its feet then I would seriously look at things again. Throw tuition fees on to the bonfire and rejoice. Heck I’d even be down with an extra 1p on Income Tax to pay for a better and fairer state run education system. People though don’t like tax rises and to pay for university education then people would be up in arms. However they are also up in arms that people have to pay for higher education. So people want everything without having to pay extra for it. Sadly that isn’t how it works.

So there we have it. I have chosen not to join a political party at this juncture not because of how the party are acting – but because of how the grass roots are. All these Lib Dems saying that Nick Clegg is a Tory and now Vince Cable is a Tory and I’ve even seen lots of comments over Danny Alexander today. It screams of throwing the toys out of the pram. Lib Dems would prefer to be in opposition so they can bash the government and not take any responsibility rather than put into action some of our core values. We can’t afford them all and even if we could – we didn’t win the election so the country doesn’t want us to.

Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Danny Alexander et al are all Liberal Democrat MPs and members of the Cabinet. Yes they would like to do some other things than they are but in the real world that isn’t how it can go down. Do you want a Liberal Democrat party who can in part help to shape the country or do you only want a Liberal Democrat party that can do everything it wants? I prefer the former but from what I read the majority only want us to do and get everything we stand for. I can’t agree with that and so for now I can’t join a party where the grass roots do not agree with my Point of View.

So instead of getting involved in local politics and let’s be honest – I have a serious interest in that area and possibly even more. I will spend the autumn and winter working on another time consuming project. When that is finished at some point in 2011 I’ll once again survey the landscape of the Lib Dem party to see if the grass roots have grown up or whether they prefer to stay in their cocoon, where they prefer to moan at the things we don’t want to do than praise the fact that we are doing some genuinely good things.

I find this all a little bit disappointing butfor now that is just how it is.

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