In the old days it was simple, you had two political parties, representing two different views and classes, at two ends of the political spectrum – a clear choice to make.
The Conservative party were the party of the wealthy, the privileged, the gentry, the business leaders, the chief executives and the managers. They believed in small government, low taxation, low public spending, the free market, sink-or-swim, privatisation and, above all, nothing should ever change.
Meanwhile the Labour party were the party of the poor, the workers, the pensioners, the unions, the sick. They believed in big government, high taxation, high expenditure, interventionism, subsidising industries, nationalisation – an active administration creating jobs and building houses. Aiming for a more just society
But times have changed. The Conservatives have not, of course. They still back their vested interests as much as ever. But since the days of Tony Blair, Labour have moved away from their traditional beliefs, ditching nationalisation and Clause Four, and moving towards traditional Tory ground – they now talk of the ‘squeezed middle’ and matching Tory economic policies.
The traditional choice that voters had is gone – but all is not lost. In my view, it is the Liberal Democrats who are now the party of the poor. It is the Liberal Democrats to whom the workers and the disadvantaged can look to for help. Low income households, pensioners, children in poorer areas, are all now benefiting from having the Liberal Democrats in government. We should say it loud and say it proud – the Liberal Democrats are now the party of the poor.
For example, let us look at what the Liberal Democrats have brought into the coalition government, and ask ourselves in each case – who does benefit from this?
The threshold at which tax starts will be £10,000 (and hopefully higher) by 2015 – taking a million out of tax completely. Main beneficiaries: those on lower incomes whom pay less tax or no tax at all..
The pupil premium puts money aside specially for disadvantaged areas. Main beneficiaries: children and schools in poorer areas.
The pensions to earnings link has been restored – with a ‘triple lock’ system to ensure pensions never fall behind again. Main beneficiaries: anyone, present or future, on a state pension.
A green investment bank to invest in projects and create jobs. Main beneficiaries: the unemployed and those who care about the future environment.
We are fond of saying that these and other measures would never take place under a Conservative government. But we have to also ask, had Gordon Brown won the election, would these measures take place under a Labour government? I am not so sure. The pensions link, for example, was never restored in 13 years – and it took us a week.
Would the next Labour government continue to raise the tax threshold and take the poorest out of paying tax? Would they retain the annual pupil premium? Would they continue Lib Dem efforts to improve social mobility? We await Ed and Ed’s answers to these questions.
But, I hear you ask, what about the tuition fee raise and the abolition of the EMA? Do these measures not hit the poor? Well, I would agree, and have said much on this elsewhere. But in coalition you can’t get everything you want – clearly under a Liberal Democrat government these measures would not have happened.
And what do we hear Cleggy talking about recently? Measures to improve social mobility – campaigning for interns to get a wage so that they are open not only to wealthy families – abolishing school names on application forms to avoid the old school tie syndrome – pushing for workers to have shares in companies and being able to decide on the salaries of directors and chief executives. He is constantly coming up with the sort of ideas and proposals that should have come from the Labour party – but they will no doubt line up alongside the backbench Tories in opposing them.
Our record is quite good considering the small role we have in government. The media obviously won’t thank us – they have never forgiven Nick for winning the first debate or for getting in the way of a Conservative majority.
So it is up to us to get the message out there, to be loud and to be proud. The Liberal Democrats are now the party of the poor – and while we are in government, we will continue to look out for their interests.