In Nick Clegg’s “message to the party” on the first anniversary of the coalition he claims:
“…it is important to be clear that the current government is a coalition of necessity. The driving force behind the formation of the coalition was the need to act together in the national interest to sort out Labour's toxic economic legacy.”
This is a gross distortion of the truth, and unworthy of a party which stands for and has promised more honest politics.
As has been pointed out, in this blog, and elsewhere by economists and commentators including David Blanchflower, Martin Wolf, Joseph Stiglitz, and Paul Krugman and William Keegan, Britain’s debts are not historically high, (in fact the Debt/GDP ratio is quite modest by comparison with many similar economies,) Labour’s expenditure was reasonably prudent up to 2008, the year of the crisis, and the current deficit is a result of falling revenues arising from the recession rather than profligate expenditure. Above all, we are not Greece, Portugal or Ireland and are not and never have been in danger from “the markets,” who are, after all, largely institutions within our own economy, including many pension funds, lending to our own government.
The recent “No” campaign in the referendum has shown that political victories can be won by distorting and misrepresenting the facts, but I do not believe that we should be stooping to the same level. There are perfectly honourable and decent reasons for forming the coalition. No party had won an over-all majority, it was right that the Liberal Democrats should negotiate first with the largest minority, the parliamentary arithmetic meant that a partnership with the second largest minority was not viable, and significant concessions with respect to Liberal Democrat priorities were made (viz: a referendum on AV, a fixed term parliament, reform of the Upper House, a pupil premium, moving the lowest paid out income tax, retention of the Human rights Act and protection of civil liberties) for a coalition with the Tories to advance progress to a fairer and more liberal society.
This is the story we should be telling: firstly because it is honest, secondly b because many, including most Liberal Democrat activists, would like to see us reach out to Labour to form eventually a left of centre coalition, and telling lies about Labour’s record does nothing to further that aim, and most of all because only honesty will increase respect for and confidence in the democratic political process. If this sounds like idealistic “pie in the sky” then so be it.
Rather than distort the reasons for forming the coalition we need to learn from the mistakes we have made. First, any future coalition agreements should be negotiated over a period of at least 10 days rather than a weekend. Had this happened then the inadequacy of the agreement that Liberal Democrats could abstain from rather than vote against any rise in tuition fees would have been spotted. Secondly party managers should allow open debate at the conference to approve or otherwise a coalition agreement rather than railroad one through. Thirdly it should be understood that the coalition partners should not be required to give unreserved open and public support to all the coalition government’s policies: at the very least frigid disapproval via body language should be not only be permitted but encouraged on both sides for decisions that go against the grain.
In the first year the Liberal Democrat “mistakes” curve has been steep, and I suspect the learning curve will be shallow. But a start has been made and I hope that by the end of the second year our Liberal Democrat in government, and our party, will have learned to make a better shot of separating in the public mind the Liberal Democrat wheat from the Tory chaff.