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The Death Knell of the Lib Dems has not yet been sounded – despite what some people may think

Utopia. It is such a beautiful place. In a lazy piece of blogging here is how the ever reliable wikipedia describes Utopia. ‘Utopia is a name for an ideal community or society possessing a perfect socio-politico-legal system. The word was invented by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. The term has been used to describe both intentional communities that attempted to create an ideal society, and fictional societies portrayed in literature. It has spawned other concepts, most prominently dystopia.’

We all have different views of what Utopia is and what is should be. The lefty part of the Liberal Democrat Party are deep down all utopians. We want to create the perfect society where everything is perfect and people live in peace and harmony with one another. Sadly Planet Earth is not Utopia – nor will it ever be – hence forth we (I say we as I am a Utopian deep down) shall never be content. We shall never be happy with the way things are. Things can always be better. Then along came Nick Clegg. A man for whom we clung to as leading us into a new land and a new way of thinking. He was the Pied Piper and we were the rats (and latterly his children) following him with his magical tune. He promised the Earth and we fell for it hook, line and sinker. He didn’t deliver and therefore we hate him.

But wait a minute. I don’t.

Whilst I am a Utopian by nature I am also a realistic and a pragmatist. Utopia wasn’t built-in a day and society and the country are not exactly in a position where a lick of paint will cover up the cracks. Deep changes need to be made and I believe that the best way to do that is to implement as much Liberal Democrat policy as possible. So to do this one of two things had to happen. A groundswell of Liberal Democrat upheaval to sweep the party into power or a mistrust of everyone allowing a coalition to be formed. The latter happened and after a lot of talking in May – the Liberal Democrats joined the Conservative Party as an albeit junior member of a coalition.

This meant that Liberal Democrat policy would be backed by the majority in the House and would become law. Good times for the Lib Dems surely.

But wait. It hasn’t been.

The elephant in the room was the NUS Pledge to not raise tuition fees. A pledge that all Lib Dem MPs are believed to have signed. Now I know for a fact that not all Lib Dem PPCs signed the pledge so I wonder why did all the elected MPs? By this point surely they knew that they were going to be in a coalition? It was a mistake that has hurt the party no end. I said the other day that people can say and do things one day that they fully believe but do the opposite at a later date when faced with actually making the decision. Comment is easy when you have no ability to act on it. The Lib Dems though now did.

When a couple gets married they stand before God (or before a local official or whomever) and declare their love for one another and how they will be faithful until death do they part. One third of marriages end in divorce. One third of people are therefore liars. Did all of them know they when they stood before all those people that they would be unfaithful? No they did not. They truly believed (well the vast majority) that they were standing with the person they would love, cherish and be with forever. However in time that proved to be an untruth. The Lib Dems were in a similar position. They truly believed (and to be frank – they still do – anyone that says they do not is a moron and doesn’t understand the nature of coalition politics) that education should be free for all. Had the Lib Dems swept into power in May then you can be sure that they would have honoured that pledge fully and found the money – most likely from the Trident budget.

However they did not. So they were faced with a gut wrenching decision. Do they honour that pledge and make the students and parents who voted for them on this one issue happy or do they take a big gulp and let it go for the greater good of other Liberal Democrat policies? That is the question that the 56 MPs had to decide (Chris Huhne was away from the HoC so did not vote – he would’ve voted yes though). Is honouring the pledge worth losing out on the rise in the Income Tax threshold? Is honouring the pledge worth losing out on House of Lords reform? Is honouring the pledge worth losing out n a referendum on a new voting system for the House of Commons? Is honouring the pledge worth losing the Green policies that Chris Huhne is working on? Is honouring the pledge worth losing out on the most important Liberal Democrat policy of all – the Pupil Premium.

The answer is quite clearly and emphatically no.

For those that do not understand coalition politics I shall once again quote from the bastion of knowledge that is wikipedia – ‘A coalition government, in a parliamentary system, is a government made from a coalition of parties. This means the union of different political parties or groups for a purpose, usually for a short time.’

The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives formed a coalition government for two reasons. Firstly the public had said quite loudly that they did not know who they wanted in office. They didn’t want a pure government made up of one set of policies. Secondly they formed a coalition because at the time of the election. Greece was burning and the economy was on a knife-edge – any minority government would have been weak – had it been a Tory, Labour or Lib Dem government – and therefore the markets would have panicked (and they would have – anyone who doesn’t believe this really has no idea how the markets work) and we would have been plunged into a long and deep recession.

Here we are in December and the country is no longer in recession. The recovery is steady and whilst I agree that there is a long long way to go – the green shoots of recovery are not just isolated patches – they are very visible. This is because the Lib Dems and the Tories worked together for the greater good. Country before Party. It is a new kind of politics. Maybe it isn’t the one Lib Dems thought they were getting when Nick Clegg spoke about it but it is certainly one that has without a shadow of a doubt helped the country in the short-term.

As for the Liberal Democrat Party. It is as dysfunctional as a family can be. The idealists believe now that there is a new messiah – who it is they’ve yet to decide but Tim Farron seems to be a name on everyone’s lips. He voted against the tuition fees bill so he must be great. He knew (and did all the MPs on the government side of the house) that he was in a no lose situation. He could vote against it and make a public stand to be rejoiced by the people without any worry of the government losing. Had the vote been expected to be a squeaker then I wonder how many would’ve chosen to abstain instead of vote against – quite a few I’d imagine.

This is because for the first time since 1922 Liberals were getting policies into law. Not all of them that were in their manifesto but more than enough to justify being part of the coalition. Was tuition fees and the pledge the point to draw a line in the sand? Clearly it was not. Not everyone voted for the Lib Dems solely due to them signing this pledge (I know – the media would lead you be believe differently). I voted Liberal Democrat because I preferred the bulk of their manifesto compared to that of the other parties who were field a candidate in Southend West. The bulk of that manifesto isn’t becoming law – but more is than would be if we weren’t on the government benches. That is why I continue to support the party and what they are doing.

I shall leave you with this. There are around 1.7m full-time students in this country at universities. If they on average now have to spend £3000 more for their tuition then that equals around £5bn. The Pupil Premium is set to give out £2.5bn to the schools that take the most disadvantaged youngsters of this country to ensure they get better education. So the question is – if it came down to a straight choice, should Liberal Democrats prefer to spend that £2.5bn on helping the 18+ university students or should they spend that helping to ensure that everyone from the age of three upwards gets a good level of education?

Personally. I think that there is no point investing in people at 18 if we aren’t to invest in them at the age of 3-18.

There are four and a half years until we go to the ballot boxes against for a Westminster Election. A lot can change. If the Lib Dems can point to their success in the Pupil premium, Income Tax Threshold, Parliamentary Reform and Green Policies – as well as helping the country get back on it’s feet then the damage can be repaired. If people are still fixated in 2015 about tuition fees and can’t see any of the other policies that will be in place due to the Lib Dem part of the government then I’ll be surprised. You have to ride the waves to get through the storm – and that is what the Liberal Democrat Party has to – is to and will continue to do.

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  1. Strong? Only a naive UK national with a polling card in their hands would vote Lib Dem confident that their manifesto, or any part, will be fulfilled.

    Stupid? Being a rioting student, blind to the fact that NUS and Labour weren’t brining in massive fees and cuts plus higher repayment charges than those proposed by the Coalition.

    Reality? Over 400,000 graduates unable to find equitable employment.

    Likely? The parting of the ways for Lib Dems members in two directions; The smart towards No. 10. The belligerent towards Victoria Street, London.

  2. Tommy Tommy

    You’re correct in that breaking a promise isn’t the same as lying. I’m perfectly sure Obama was genuine when he said he was going to close Gitmo, for example.

    The problem your party has, Neil, is that pretty much everything that you’ve listed for which they’ve sacrificed tuition fees seems very wonkish and abstract, whilst tuition fees was a signature issue with high visibility and appeal to a specific constituency who made up a large part of the Lib Dem’s base. Make no mistake, the Lib Dems didn’t capture a huge swathe of the student vote on the basis of their worldview, or the pupil premium. Those people voted for the Lib Dems because of their position on tuition fees.

    It’s going to be very hard, for instance, to isolate the effects of the pupil premium, good policy though it is, from the success or failure of coalition education policy in general. Same with tax policies and the economy in general. Electoral reform isn’t going to put more money in anyone’s pocket, and they may well lose that referendum too.

    Their actions may well have been right, and courageous. I think so. Problem is, an overwhelming majority of people who think this are Conservative voters anyway.

    Meanwhile, people who actually voted Lib Dem are very, very annoyed right now.

    • Oh I agree with pretty much everything you said. A significant % of Lib Dem voters were voting on one issue (which I always think is dumb anyway – certainly when the Lib Dems were unlikely to outright win an election). Without a doubt there is a tonne of unrest within both the party and a percentage of the electorate. However four and a half years is a long long year. If the party can point towards all the good they have done then it gives them a real chance to not only survive – but flourish – but it’ll be a long haul.

      We could easily have shut up shop and sat on the opposition benches and kept that support – but we then would’ve lost the support of people who believed in our other causes as they would think that we didn’t have what it took to take hold of power – and that in future it would be a wasted vote. Lab or Con all the way.

      We were stuck between a rock and a hard place and we chose this path – as a party we need to stick with it otherwise we look like nobodies.

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