Saturday 6 November 2010

Four Rays of Liberal Sunshine

Four rays of Liberal sunshine have emanated from the coalition government in the past week: the decisions to share some defence capabilities with the French, to grant (some) prisoners the right to vote, to refer Murdoch's BSkyB bid to the media regulator, and the successful passage of the referendum on voting reform through its final stage in the Commons.

Of course, not all of these are cause for unalloyed Liberal Democrat joy. On defence many of us would like to see more determined steps towards disarmament, but the decision to share with the French is is a step in the direction of realism.The coalition can't take all the credit, as I believe the initial negotiations were started by the Brown government, but it is reasonable to suppose that, without Liberal Democrat support Cameron may not have had the strength to stand up to his chauvinist "Little Englanders" and carry the process through. Coupled with the earlier "decision to postpone a decision" on the like for like replacement of Trident until the next parliament, this is genuine Liberal Democrat progress.

Acceptance the ruling of the ECHR on prisoners' right to vote is another area where Cameron will have been grateful for Liberal Democrat backbone. Let us hope it leads to some improvement in the appalling conditions in our prisons and the purposeless incarceration of so many damaged a vulnerable people. Again, coupled with Ken Clarke's conversion to a more liberal policy, this is something for us to shout about, and shout about it we should. I hope that our Focus editors are not so scared of frightening the horses that they ignore it or, worse still, condemn it.

Thank goodness for Vince Cable's unhesitating action in referring the Murdoch bid to the regulator. We are told that the Tories are "much more relaxed" about the possibility of a further extension of the Murdoch empire, so Liberal Democrat steel has certainly been important here.

Finally, the "referendum on the voting system" bill may not be on the system most of us would have preferred, and it is unfortunately coupled with a reduction in the number of constituencies and a revision of their boundaries. This might reasonably be described as an attempt to rig the system against Labour and so give them an excuse for voting against the entire package. But it does give the lie to those who predicted that the coalition was not strong enough to get the bill through. Of course, it still has to pass the Lords.

In spite of all these reservations, these are four rays of kindly light to relieve the gloom encircling those of us who are dismayed and bewildered by Liberal Democrat support for economic policy which is the antithesis of common sense and all our traditions.

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