Monday, 20 September 2010

An open letter to Liberal Democrat conference delegates

Dear Lib Dem Delegate

When Nick Clegg addresses your conference in Liverpool this afternoon, he’ll be doing his best to convince you that his coalition with the Conservatives is in the best interest of your party and the country. I fully understand why you want to believe him and why, indeed, you need to believe him. I’m also fairly certain that you have grave misgivings – even those of you who supported the birth of the ConDem administration a few months ago. So let’s nail some of Mr Clegg’s specious arguments from the outset.

“We had no alternative...”

This is probably the biggest of the whoppers you’re being told. While it’s perfectly reasonable to say that the Lib Dems shouldn’t have propped up Gordon Brown – a mathematically problematic coalition anyway – there was always a third option. Clegg could have allowed the Tories to form a minority administration and only offered support for their programme on a case-by-case basis. The argument in favour of ‘strong government’ and the desperate need to cobble something together over a few sleepless nights is thoroughly anti-democratic. Australia recently spent weeks agonising over its future government. The Netherlands likewise.

“We are influencing the programme of the coalition...”

Yes, in much the same way that a dummy influences the pronouncements of his ventriloquist. The programme of the coalition is more right wing, ideologically libertarian and damaging than even that of Margaret Thatcher. It’s not merely the scale of the cuts programme. Look at initiatives like Michael Gove’s ‘free schools’, for example. These are designed to change the social and economic structure of the UK fundamentally.

“We will achieve electoral reform...”

If everything goes very well – which seems improbable – the United Kingdom may introduce AV, a system which most Lib Dems have long criticised as being unproportional. And where will you be if even this modest step forward is rejected by the electorate?

“We retain our distinctive identity...”

You’ve probably noticed the insipid blue that bedecks your conference stage. This is a ConDem conference rather than a Lib Dem one. Clegg will promise that you will fight as an independent party at the next election. But on what basis? In numerous constituencies, you only ever get elected because you explain to Labour voters that you are the anti-Tory party. What do you intend to tell the electorates of Eastbourne, Twickenham and Wells next time around?

“We could still form a coalition with Labour...”

I’m afraid you’ve blown that one. When people see you acting entirely without principle, it takes a generation to regain their trust.

A few months into the coalition government and Vince Cable has already said he is at the ‘limit of collective responsibility’ over immigration policy. Your Tory partners are fuming over the possibility of a delay over the commissioning of a Trident replacement. The next period will see disputes and heartaches galore as policy clashes continue and the cuts programme gets under way in earnest.

This coalition is a pack of cards and even a moderate breeze could consign it to history. It’s a thought worth considering when you listen to Nick later today.

Best wishes

Phil Woodford

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