About the only perk I get as Hon. President of my local Liberal Democrat Party is to give a little talk at each AGM.
Here's the gist of last week's:
1. We have absolutely nothing to apologise for in going into coalition with the Tories. No principles have been abandoned: rather the reverse. As a party we are passionate advocates of proportional representation, which means that balanced (not "hung") parliaments are both likely and logical, and coalitions inevitable. Natural justice demands that the party with the largest number of seats should make the first offer to the minority part(ies) and in 2010 it was the Tories. As Simon Hughes put it: "You have to play the cards the electorate deals," and that is what we did. In any case, the alternative of a partnership with Labour was not on:
a) because, although Gordon Brown was keen, Labour's tribal big beasts, with Jack Straw and David Blunkett to the fore, were dead against, like boys in the playground taking their bat home if the game couldn't be played according to their rules, and;
b) with the support of the nationalists and the one Green a "rainbow coalition" with Labour would have and a majority of only one. On average three MPs die each year so such a coalition government would have been fighting for its survival at every by-election.
It also follows that we believe a coalition legitimised by a majority of the voters provides a better government than a single party supported by only a minority. Even Polly Toynbee, no longer our friend, has admitted (Guardian 07/10/14) that without us the Tories would probably have:
1. Scrapped the Human Rights Act.
2. Further emasculated the BBC.
3. Held a fire sale of the NHS.
4. Maybe “Brexit” from the EU.
5. Made state funded schools available for private profit.
2. The gibe that Liberal Democrat leaders will "sacrifice any principle for a whiff of power and a ministerial car" is risible. No one with that as their priority would dream of joining the Liberal Democrats. Ours is the hard road. Ming Campbell fought five times before he won his seat. Nick Clegg was virtually offered a safe Tory seat by Leon Brittan, his boss when working for the European Commission, but turned it down because he, Nick, was first and foremost a Liberal. Those whose first priority is the trappings of power join Labour or the Tories.
3. So far I've counted 23 progressive achievements which would probably not have happened if Liberal Democrats hadn't been in government. They are:
- The fixed-term parliament.
- The triple lock on pensions
- Raising of the income tax threshold.
- Pupil premium.
- Shared parental leave.
- Increased provision for child-care costs.
- Detention of immigrant children stopped.
- Free school meals for infants in first three years.
- Loans to part-time students.
- Protection of ECHR retained.
- ID cards blocked.
- Civil liberties defended against Theresa May’s advances.
- Target for 0.7% of GDP to aid retained.
- Green investment bank.
- More powers for Welsh Assembly.
- Proposals for increase in minimum wage.
- Employers’ NICs for under- 21s discontinued.
- Vince Cable’s call for limits to executive bonuses.
- Equal treatment for mental health patients.
- Tied pub landlords freed to buy from any supplier (per Greg Mulholland)
- £200m to encourage and make roads safer for cyclists.
- £10m to promote electoral registration of students (rather than pensioners on the Costa del Sol).
- Unlike our government partners, we were and are unequivocally "the party of IN" on Europe, with the only leader prepared to take on Nigel Farage "head to head."
It's not been the government we'd have preferred, but we're proudly confident of what we have achieved with our mere 57 MPs, compared with the Tories' 300+.
So off we go, to face the electorate "with courage high and hearts aglow."