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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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  1. LibertarianLou LibertarianLou

    It”s funny – I voted Lib Dem in the last election because they’re the party closest to my own views and values, but I don’t like Nick Clegg much at all. (Didn’t like any of the party leaders much so was pretty irrelevant). It was the first time I voted for them, though, because I have been cautious in the past about their fiscal responsibility, that they might be too pro-state, and their ability to rise to the challenges of government. I’m not worried about any of these things anymore, and unless something drastic happens, I will very likely be voting for them again.

    New votes are not gained by winning over your core voters. They vote for you anyway, usually. Labour won three elections by moving to the right. The Tories ‘won’ the last election by promising to protect the NHS and talking about climate change. There is a huge opportunity for the Lib Dems here, to position themselves as the sensible humane face of social democratic capitalism – not run by unions, not socialists, not authoritan, not anti-business, not in favour of crippling red tape and obsessive levels of taxation, not in favour of an intrusive state, but still in favour of supporting the worse off, supporting gay and trans rights, against war, etc etc…

  2. It’s a relief to read a sensible debate on this whole issue. The coalition agreement addresses the issue of H.E. fees and offers abstention as an acceptable route for MPs who are unhappy. The parliamentary party and indeed the whole grass-roots party endorsed this as the price for getting agreement with the Tories and for the adoption of many Liberal policies by the coalition government. In the current situation we win some, we lose some; many of us are prepared to accept an intrinsically fairer fees policy as a first step towards achieving our ultimate manifesto aim. Many of us are also prepared to accept AV as a step towards full proportional representation and the latter has been a Liberal rallying cry for generations.
    Indeed one might argue that achieving PR is a sine qua non for achieving the abolition of university fees, Trident, etc.etc.etc. and that that is where grassroots efforts and the energies of students should be directed.

    • That is what most people don’t seem to get – this is a coalition government – it is about compremise in the greater interest. We’ll get some policies and we’ll lose some. The Tories will get more and lose fewer but the electorate wanted it that way.

      We can’t win them all. It just feels to me as though some people want absolute power or none at all…

  3. David Ridgway David Ridgway

    Where was the student rebellion when student fees were introduced under Mr Blair? Nowhere, because that labour government had inherited a reasonably stable economy and no-one thought at the time that even the ghastly socialists would bu**er up the system so badly.

    Furthermore, how many students actually voted? If you aren’t in the game you should be removed from the commentary.

    As far as I am concerned, the LibDem policy (no tuition fees) is still the party’s policy. Is Labour still in favour of banning the bomb or not, this week? And do the Tories really dare to have a final debate on their position with regard to Europe. I mean these are both really “hokey cokey” policies.

    The media really hates the LibDem for actually doing things and taking hard decisions that they have been doing up and down the land in local councils (and Scotland, of course) for years. Yes the parliamentary party has stood up to the jibes, but the grass roots, well it is so very disappointing to see so many people lose sight of their senses and get embroiled on just one issue especially when the Tory heartland is suffering such angst over its part in the coalition be so “softie liberal”.

    Why should the students be exempt from the cause that we must all surely join. Their protests seem very NIMBY, but then the leftwing students were ever the most conservative. They are really acting in such a selfish and hypocritical manner.

    Mr Monnery is right. This matter should be revisited at the next election when I sincerely hope the LibDems include the scrapping of tuition fees in their manifesto.

    • I fully expect that the scraping of tuition fees will be in our 2015 manifesto. It is the Lib Dem policy and had we come to power then we’d have seen that policty implemented with money saved elsewhere – i.e Trident – however we didn’t win so it’s not a policy we can implement at this time. Manifestos are a parties goals for if they win power and a majority government – we failed to do this therefore our manifesto will not be implemented. Our biggest slight is that outside the manifesto we signed those pledges and that has caused the greatest uproar.

  4. David Wright David Wright

    Jennie is right. The issue is not whether the proposals are fair or not, it’s personal integrity.

    We said – and people believed us – that teh Lib Dems were different, and kept their promises. Our candidate (mostly) made personal pledges to vote against any rise intuition fees, and they must now keep that pledge. Otherwise how will people believe us in future?

    I think everyone was assuming the Browne report would either find a different solution, or be so bad that the Lib Dem MPs would all have a clear case for abstaining, as allowed by teh Coalition Agreement. They didn’t forsee a proposal which is better than the present system in many ways, but which has far far higher fees.

    But people outside Parliament won’t understand that; they’ll just understand EITHER that Lib Dem MPs keep their promises to vote against, OR that they failed to and are no better than other parties, despite claiming to be different.

    • I think like Jennie before you – the last line sums everything up.

      We are either liars with no morals or we are going against the coalition agreement. There is no middle ground in most people’s eyes and that is what I find upsetting.

  5. Jennie Jennie

    I know Huppmeister J is going to stick by his pledge, because it’s a pledge. SSuspect David Heath will too.

    Several more will abstain, because that was what was in the coalition agreement, and I think it is arguable that this is acceptable.

    But I was at conference the last time the leadership tried to change policy on tuition fees, and I knew when the coalition agreement came out that this would be a bumbite for us. The grass roots are very proud of the way we make policy in this party, and the leadership are pushing us very hard at the moment.

    The substance of the compromise doesn’t matter, and nor does the fact that the proposed system is better than the current one; it’s the fact that we are compromising on something we expressly said we wouldn’t.

    And the media are gleefully fuelling the fire and we are burning.

    Hey ho.

    If I hadn’t joined when I did I’d probably be thinking the same as you. But I did join, and the party is my (disfunctional and very argumentative) family now, and I love it still.

    • I think your last line has summed it all up pretty well. If I was already in it I’d be frustraited but I’d work hard with it – because I’m not yet in it I’m wary of stepping into the minefield. I know no political party is ever going to be pulling in the same direction all the time but the discord between the top and the bottom is just so much at the moment I don’t see much that I could do if I joined either way.

  6. Jennie Jennie

    My problem with the behaviour of the Lib Dem MPs is not the substance of the pledge they are breaking, but the fact that they are breaking a pledge so violently. Because of this, and the media furore over it, which is admittedly fuelled by the grass roots, we will never again be able to tell the electorate we are different from the others.

    A manifesto is an aspiration, but a cast iron pledge that you will do something come what may isn’t.

    Sure, they shouldn’t have signed the pledge. But they did. And now we all have to live with the consequences.

    • That is certainly a fair point. In retrospect I suspect might Lib Dem MPs wish they hadn’t of signed the pledge knowing full well they might be a junior partner in a coalition government.

      I do wonder how many Lib Dem MPs will vote against this bill and how big the rebellion might be. I think there is a lot of fluid votes out there amongst the group of MPs and I reckon we’ll see votes in all three camps.

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