Like my Yes to AV balloon, the Lib Dems are in a sorry state. Thursday’s results were extremely poor for the party across the UK, but they could have been worse.
For a start, Dave Hodgson won his re-election as mayor of Bedford for the Lib Dems, and our vote in the Leicester South by-election held up reasonably well.
Nationally, although our 15% vote share was a disappointment, our opinion poll ratings have been a fair bit lower in the last six months.
Locally, although we lost Luddendenfoot ward to the Tories and Calder ward to Labour, we have the same number of Town Councillors as were elected four years ago (8 out of 18).
As various Lib Dems, notably Simon Hughes, have popped up in the media over the last couple of days bemoaning the lack of recognition for our policy successes within the coalition, I am reminded of a speech that Tavish Scott gave to conference a couple of years ago. He thoroughly berated the SNP for being a triumph of spin over substance – I can’t help thinking that our party’s communication skills have been so poor recently that some decent PR people wouldn’t go amiss. After all, look where the SNP have got.
With attacks in the media about Lib Dem U-turns and “going back on our promises”, it seems obvious that we should have had some kind of disclaimer in the manifesto, such as the following.
This manifesto contains policies that will be implemented if a majority Liberal Democrat government is elected following the 2010 general election. In the event of a coalition government in which the Liberal Democrats form a part, then compromises with the other coalition party(ies) will have to be reached, and it will not be possible to deliver every policy exactly as outlined in this document.
People just don’t seem to understand that a coalition government is all about compromise and that if the Tories and Lib Dems promised different things in the respective manifestos, then clearly one or both parties will have to go against what they promised prior to the election.
Today’s announcement that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are to form a coalition government represents a very brave decision by Nick Clegg.
The Labour party have taken the easy way out. They have made it clear that they weren’t interested in working with us in a progressive coalition, and they have opted for opposition at a time when the country needs a stable government to deal with the financial crisis. Labour already seem to be descending into infighting and disagreements and look to be stuck in the wilderness for years.
Once Labour were out of the picture, the only remaining options were a minority Conservative government, or a Lib-Con coalition. Clearly the latter is preferable in the interests of the country. It will lose us many votes at future elections, but the prospects of getting Lib Dem policies into law is exciting.
Initial indications are that we will get the basic level of income tax raised to £10,000 so that no one earning less than this pays any income tax at all. That is a fantastic achievement. We should also get a nation-wide referendum on AV (transferable vote), and ID cards should be scrapped. So far so good.
But of course there will be compromises. I’m not keen on George Osborne as chancellor. It will be interesting to see what cabinet posts Nick and Vince get. Beyond the initial policy agreements, we could be in for a rocky ride over the next few years – if indeed the coalition lasts that long.
Let’s be clear. As a liberal social democrat, I have an intense dislike of the Conservative party, but I have no time for New Labour either. Nick Clegg made it abundantly clear during the election campaign that he would work to deliver Lib Dem policies with whoever was willing to talk to him. It will be interesting to see how it all works out.
I wish him the very best of luck.