One day the Liberal Democrats will be back in opposition. We’ll be back to raffles and quiz nights, back to local campaigning to keep libraries and post offices open, back to being ignored by the media, back to watching our two big brothers make all the important decisions.
Oddly many members would prefer this. Many deserters may even drift back once they no longer have to dirty their hands with power and responsibility. Those who told me ‘I didn’t join the party to form a government’ will be relieved.
But why can’t we make the most of being in government while we can? We are the junior partner in a business arrangement to run the country and form a stable administration at a time of economic crisis to steer the UK through recovery.
And we are making changes. I could list them all but here’s just a few.
Raising the tax threshold, the pupil premium, linking pensions to earnings/inflation whichever is higher, raising capital gains tax, an elected House of Lords, fixed term parliaments, a green investment bank, a referendum on voting reform, and so on. None of these would happen without Lib Dems in government. Even if the AV referendum is lost, it will be difficult for subsequent governments to overturn many of the changes that have been or will be made.
True, the tuition fees saga was a blunder. And there have been some things we did not like (VAT, free schools) but then that’s the price of partnership. Isn’t half a glass better than no glass at all?
Much has been said about May’s elections in that around the country we may lose many councillors. Indeed we probably will – government parties usually do in mid-term. We will of course campaign as best we can, but if the results go against us there is no need for panic – we are in government – government! – for four more years.
What about Nick Clegg? Every day I read somewhere that Nick Clegg is finished, that his days are over – yet equally every day I read of some new initiative or opinion from Nick, every day he continues to show his energy and enthusiasm for the role, every day he proves that he was after all too big for just the role of leading the third biggest party.
Previously when Liberal Democrat leaders spoke, it might get a mention on page 7 of the Guardian. But now things are different. Rarely a day goes by without a prominent picture of our Nick.
I think history will remember Nick Clegg for being a man of courage and vision. He was the first Liberal Democrat leader to adopt an equidistant position between the two other parties, he was the first to have the genuine ambition for power, and, given all the knocks over the last year, and the fact that he carries on regardless, has proved to possess great courage and resilience.
Would any other Liberal Democrat leader have had the vision to go into coalition with the Conservatives knowing that many party members would be opposed? Would any other leader know that this was the best way to make at least some changes, and to show that the Liberal Democrats are prepared to be a serious party, responsible for governing?
David Steel told his party to go back to their constituencies and prepare for government – and he was mocked for it – but it came true (although probably taking longer than he had imagined).
What is wrong with ambition? Nick Clegg had the ambition to take his party into power – not controlling a few councils, not being known just for being nice people, but to have Liberal Democrats around the cabinet table putting policies into practice.
I didn’t join the SDP and then the Liberal Democrats to always be in opposition, to always be watching on while others played politics. I want us to be in power – again and again – to put into place as many of the policies I believe in. I want to see a Liberal Democrat Prime Minister in Number 10. I want to see Liberal Democrats no longer as the ‘joke’ party or the ‘wasted’ vote but to be taken just as seriously as the other two parties as an option for the voters to consider when choosing a government. What is wrong with all that?
One day, when we are back in opposition, I think many party members will miss having the Liberal Democrats in power. I know that I will.