Thursday, 19 August 2010

101 Days

Most of yesterday's comments on the first 100 Days of the coalition concentrated on the severity or the cuts and the chemistry between the coalition members. The mistake Liberal Democrats in government are making is that, in the interests of that chemistry, they are defending all that the coalition does. Whilst, as the junior partner, they cannot over-rule the mistaken policies undertaken by the majority, rather than giving acquiescence, which appears dishonest and damages Liberal Democrat credibly, they should concentrate on presenting to the public those achievements and aspirations for which they were elected. These are considerable.

In the field of constitutional reform the achievements are massive. We have a fixed term parliament - an end to hundreds of years of unfairness where one of the runners is in charge of the starting gun. There is to be a referendum on electoral reform which, if passed, will enable electors to vote for the candidate they most favour without letting in the candidate they want to stop: another massive step forward which will greatly reduce if not eliminate the need for negative voting. There is, at last, to be a completely or mainly elected second chamber, and it's to be chosen by a proportional voting system.

The need for these basic reforms in a society that claims to be modern and democratic has been evident for a least a century, but neither of the other two parties has done much about them. Now, with Liberal Democrats in government they are likely to happen.

In the area of civil liberties Labour's proposal for compulsory identity cards has been abandoned, the Human Rights Act is to be retained and the wings of the surveillance society are being clipped. In the law and order area so beloved of Conservatives and Labour in the past the Daily Mail agenda appears to have been abandoned and a more rational and reforming approach to the punishment and rehabilitation of wrong-doers adopted.

We have a long way to go in achieving a fair society but the raising of the income tax threshold and the introduction of the pupil premium are steps in the right direction.

It is arguable that constitutional reform and the preservation of civil liberties are, in the long run, more important than the mishandling of the economic situation. Of course I'm aware of Keynes's famous acknowledgment that "in the long run, we're all dead," and I regret the distress that premature cuts are likely to cause the bottom twenty per cent of our society, and Liberal Democrats in government should be pressing to ameliorate such harm. But a reform of the system, rather than panic measures to avert an immediate alleged crisis, are what Liberal Democrats should see as our ultimate goal. This is a difficult priory to "sell" to the public, but we must try.

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