My earlier blog entry on defectors and deserters got my biggest readership so far (thanks to all) and I have received some comments and feedback from various sources.
To re-cap, I was critical of two of our former Councillors who, because of the coalition, have decided not to continue the fight against the Tory giant, but to leave. This weakens our local party and so ironically helps the local Tories. I would have thought this point would have been obvious but alas no.
When Conservatives are unhappy with their party, they secretly plot and conspire.
When Labour people are unhappy with their party, they openly plot and conspire.
When Liberal Democrats are unhappy with their party, they run to the hills.
Internal debate is good and healthy - but people leaving doesn't help anyone.
So what have been the comments?
‘Liberal Democrats are afraid of power – that’s why they join the Liberal Democrats.’
This charge has been levelled at us for many years – mainly because people thought we’d never get any power. We have shared power in Scotland and Wales and control or share control of numerous councils but of course no-one thought we’d get in the UK government. Had we refused to even talk to other parties, the charge of being scared of power would be given more credence.
Power does bring unpopularity – and unpopularity requires strong wills and stomachs. But some do indeed prefer the cleanliness of opposition to the responsibility of power. Maybe this process will weed out the weaklings and toughen up the party for the long run.
‘I did not join the Liberal Democrats to see a Conservative government.’
Nor me. I didn’t want a Labour government either. But both those two parties got more votes than we did. The bottom line is – if we want a Liberal Democrat government, and get more Liberal Democrat policies, then we have got to get more votes. Leaving the party is not going to help.
‘The deserters probably don’t have the stomach to knock on doors to defend government policy.’
There are many parts of Lib Dem policy in the coalition agreement. Of course we didn’t want 20% VAT nor the free schools nonsense – but we’re not defending them. We can knock on a door and proudly defend raising the tax threshold, linking pensions to earnings, getting rid of ID cards and, hopefully, moving towards a fairer voting system.
‘The Liberal Democrats will be wiped out at the next election and we will be back to two party politics.’
It’s amazing how much time has gone into discussing the result of the next election. BBC’s Question Time seems obsessed with this topic. I don’t remember discussing the 2010 election in 2005 – and we would all have got it wrong anyway.
If a week is a long time in politics then five years is an epic. At the next election, the Liberal Democrats will produce a manifesto for the future term – as will the other parties – and then people can make a choice. We cannot possibly forecast what will happen between now and then.
‘I disapprove of this ‘lust’ for power.’
More than one person has said to me about our ‘grab’ or ‘lust’ for power as if it is a bad thing. I’m sure none of us went into politics to stay in opposition forever. Isn’t having the power to change things the point of all political parties?
‘They [referring to the two ex-councillors] will probably return next year when they feel it's time for a bit of work, but first they'll enjoy some time free from the tedium of meetings, doorsteps and the cold weather of autumn.’
I hope they do but there is much to do in the meantime such as campaigning on local issues, fund raising and a membership drive. Help with this would have been appreciated.
‘Once the Tories have got what they want, they will end the coalition and call an election.’
Obviously either party can end the coalition at any time so we can’t predict this. The Tories are famously ruthless dumping their leaders Thatcher and Duncan-Smith (and nearly Major) when the going got tough. If Cameron is also overthrown then all bets are off.
But what are Liberal Democrats supposed to do about this? For the moment, we should just do our best to form a stable government to get through the financial crisis. We can’t possibly predict the future plots and machinations of the Conservative party.
‘As there was no definite result, we should have immediately had a second election.’
And what if it was another hung parliament? Do we have a third election and keep going until someone gets a majority? Or should our politicians grow up and work together as they do in European countries with coalition governments?
As for the Liberal Democrats – we have no money. Labour have far greater resources than us and the Tory resources dwarf everyone. Lib Dems raise money, not through businesses and unions, but via quiz nights and boot sales. We always reach the overdraft limit at elections and then gradually pay it back over the next few years.
So with leaderless Labour in disarray, and Liberal Democrats having no money, only the Conservatives would have the resources and ability to campaign – and they would win comfortably.
‘We should have made a coalition with Labour to keep the Tories out.’
If I had a pound for every time I have heard this. Firstly, we had promised to talk to the party with the greater mandate. The voters are the kingmakers not us. Second, did we want to keep Gordon Brown in power? If not, we would be propping up another unelected Labour Prime Minister. Thirdly, are we saying we will only form coalitions with Labour - which will reduce our bargaining power in future?
But most importantly, Labour and ourselves combine 315 seats. Even with Sinn Fein’s non-participation it is still short of a majority and dependent day-to-day on the votes of the Northern Irish MPs and the Nationalists. Such a coalition would have been very fragile and would not survive the unpopularity that the cuts will bring. Far from keeping the Tories out, this scenario would have strengthened them to win with a landslide in 2011.