Thursday, July 23, 2009

The axe of friendly fire

Sometimes in politics, one doesn’t agree with the leadership. I did not agree, for example, with our decision to abandon the pledge for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Nor the decision not to oppose David Davis at his self-declared by-election.

It was on the coach home yesterday that I opened the Evening Standard to see the headline that the Lib Dems were considering axing key pledges – and my heart sank to the floor. Free tuition fees – higher state pensions – all vote-winning eye-catching polices but were now ‘up for review’. In my mind’s eye I had the image of voting papers turning to dust.

It is difficult enough being a Liberal Democrat and getting your argument across to people without your leaders then saying that the message we have all struggled to project might not go ahead after all.

A criticism of the old Liberal-SDP Alliance was that it had no policies or beliefs. With the Liberal Democrats it is the opposite – not only are there too many policies, but they change so fast it is difficult for us members to keep up. I disagreed with the policy to reduce income tax by 4%, as I thought you could not make such a drastic cut coming into government. As I put my case to my local party, the policy was dropped – admittedly for a more sensible one.

I accept the argument that we must be responsible and honest with the electorate (although the other two parties do quite well without this) but with less than a year to an election, we cannot say to the electorate – ‘this is our programme but we might axe bits of it’. It makes us look confused and indecisive and provides ammunition to our opponents.

Faversham Lib Dem barbecue on Sunday. A good time to gauge some opinion from my colleagues over the burgers.

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