I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, but today’s announcement of the Government reshuffle has finally tipped me off the fence and into writing it. Back in June, I wrote a post questioning whether it was in the national interest for the Liberal Democrats to remain as part of the coalition government, and given what has happened since then, I’m now convinced that it’s not.
As I’ve said before, I voted for the coalition at the Special Conference in 2010 and given the circumstances at the time, it was the least worst option available to the Liberal Democrats. However, what we’re seeing now is not the coalition we were promised then, and errors made by the leaderships of both parties has contributed to the situation we’re in now.
The principal reason for the coalition coming into existence was because we were – and still are – facing a global economic crisis, and the national interest required a stable government that could take steps to deal with the economic situation. On that count – the prime mover behind the creation of the coalition – the government has failed. The British economy is at best stagnating and at worst going through the opening pangs of an overlong multiple-dip recession. The government’s plan for dealing with the problems has failed and there’s no agreement between the coalition parties over what we should do instead. Indeed, I don’t think there’s even consensus within the parties as to what to do next, and that’s not a recipe for a stable government in the national interest but for petty squabbling as the economy shrinks around them.
The reshuffle was a chance for a new direction to be put forward, for Osborne and/or Alexander to be replaced by someone with a different idea of how to get the economy moving forward that wasn’t just doubling down on the rhetoric of austerity. Instead, we’re going to get more of the same, and there’s clearly no situation in which George Osborne will be removed as Chancellor, no matter how badly the economy performs.
What’s also clear is that the Conservative Party we’re now in government with is not the same party we were promised in 2010. Remember David Cameron talking of the ‘greenest government ever’ and describing himself as a ‘liberal conservative’? Events have proven those to be in same category as Tony Blair being a pretty straight kind of guy. Now we have a coalition partner that’s talking about how the green agenda is holding the economy back and how what little that’s not been built on in the south east should become more airports for London, while the Home Office proposes taking more powers to snoop on people’s internet usage, an almost-liberal Justice Secretary is replaced by a homophobe and equalities pass from someone who worked for equal marriage to someone who’s consistently voted against equality. This is a Conservative Party that doesn’t even want to wear a figleaf of being green or liberal, and so the question has to be whether the Liberal Democrats want to spend nearly three years watering down increasingly right-wing proposals from them.
The coalition’s no longer about trying to come up with a joint policy programme, but about horse-trading and threats, and the problem is that there’s a lot more Tories in the Government than there are Liberal Democrats and they’re setting the agenda. It’s not about trying to get even vaguely liberal policies through – as the Lords reform debacle showed, the insanity of the Tory right and the shamelessness of Labour mean that won’t happen – it’s going to be about taking on Tory policies and trying to give them a veneer of normality before bending over backwards to get them through the Commons.
This is not the Coalition we signed up for, and it’s not a coalition that’s good for the country. If we’re going to work in the national interest, we have to accept that it’s time to withdraw from it and find a better way of moving forward. That may be attempting a different coalition with other parties, it may be using power over a Conservative minority government, it may be a whole new General Election to let the people have their say. As it is, this government is harming the country, and it’s time to drastically change the plan.