Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coalition: hope bounces back from its election trouncing

Nick Clegg is Deputy Prime Minister. Wow! I like the sound of that and it also scares the hell out of me.

Who would ever have thunk it? The leader of the Liberal Democrats not only in a coalition Government but in a coalition government with THEM and in the Cabinet. We don't know yet if he has another Cabinet portfolio, but in this kind of delicate arrangement it probably needs the leader of each party to be mainly concerned with strategic overview.

When the coalition between the Liberal Democrats and Labour was announced in 1999, I had a similar attitude to the one I have now - although I'm not as angry as I was then - to give the new Government a chance.

One of the things that helped me to come to that conclusion then was that Iain Smith, MSP for North East Fife, someone who really wasn't keen on the Labour Party to put it mildly, was prepared to support it. Similarly, the fact that this deal has the support of my friend, whose judgement I trust Duncan Borrowman.

We haven't seen the coalition agreement yet but we know that it contains a fair few Liberal Democrat policies, important concessions from the Tories. Work on raising the tax thresholds, fixed term parliaments, the sorting out of the banks, the end to the detention of children, something that is rumoured to be very like our Freedom Bill.

What really pleases me is that Calman lives to fight another day - the Tories on their own were trying to wriggle out of it.

We don't get all of that without some pain on our part - we have to accept most of what they say on immigration and, shudder, have to implement their welfare reform in full. I can fully foresee me campaigning strongly against that one. Making Steve Webb chair of the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee might be a good idea. MPs, get on to it.

£6 billion cuts this year is scary and there's a risk they could have a disproportionate effect on Scotland where around half the working population is in the public sector.

The marriage tax break survives which is very much ungood and something which makes me mad as hell but at least we don't have to vote for it.

And we get five Liberal Democrats sitting round the Cabinet table - although the downside is that there don't seem to be very many women it, but perhaps this will be remedied with the distribution of ministerial posts. It better be.

It's a hell of a risk for us - our party's head is on the block with a large axe poised above it, with the first test in Scotland being very soon, a Council by-election here in Livingston after the election of Graeme Morrice as MP. Then there's the Big One next year, the Holyrood elections. We've taken that risk, though, because you have to in order to change things.

Last week's election result was a triumph of fear over hope. This coalition deal shows that hope is alive and kicking and ready to bite fear on the bum.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, made a statement in the middle of the night well after I had gone to bed. Here it is in full:

"Tonight the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party and the Federal Executive of the Liberal Democrat party have overwhelmingly accepted my recommendation that we should now enter into a coalition government with the Conservative Party."

"Before I say anything more about that coalition government I would like to express my thanks and admiration for Gordon Brown. He has been a towering figure in British politics for well over a decade. And the manner in which he has acted over the last few days has demonstrated immense dignity, grace and a profound sense of his public duty.

"We are now going to form a new government More importantly than anything else, we are going to form a new kind of government; I hope this is the start of a new kind of politics I have always believed in. Diverse, plural, where politicians with different points of view find a way to work together to provide the good government for the sake of the whole country deserves.

"That was what we were asked to do by the people of Britain in the General Election last Thursday and that is what we will deliver.

"I want to thank David Cameron for the very open, constructive and workmanlike way in which we have come together to make this agreement on how we can come together in this coalition government. We are obviously politicians from different parties. I believe we are now united in seeking to meet the immense challenges that now face the country and to deliver a fairer, better Britain.

"Of course there will be problems along the way; of course there will be glitches. But I will always do my best to prove that new politics isn't just possible - it is also better.

"I'd like to say something directly to the nearly seven million people who supported the Liberal Democrats in the General Election last week. I am now acutely aware that I carry your hopes and aspirations into this coalition agreement.

"I am sure you have many questions, maybe many doubts. But I can assure you I would not have entered into this agreement unless I was genuinely convinced it was a unique opportunity to deliver the changes you and I believe in.

Fair taxes.
A fair start in life for every child.
A new approach to our discredited banking system and the prospect of green and sustainable economic growth.
And new, open politics which you can trust once again.

"So I hope you will now keep faith with us let us prove to you that we can serve this country with humility, with fairness at the heart of everything we do. And with total dedication to the interests and livelihoods of everyone in this country."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The LibDems have betrayed Scotland. You will not be forgiven.


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