The Lib Dems' family feud on welfare

Party activists are seething about the welfare reform bill.

An awful lot of the Lib Dem grassroots spent last week feeling the pain of the betrayed spouse. And it's nothing to do with Chris Huhne

Two weeks ago it was all chocolates and flowers from those on high with the promise of the raising of tax thresholds, and all the arguments and flirtations with other party's policies seemed like another life. We wandered around starry eyed...

...until last Wednesday, when we walked into the smack of firm government, as our MPs - with some very notable exceptions - undid all the good work of so many members of the House of Lords on the Welfare Reform Bill. And it's left a lot of members of the party feeling bruised, bloodied and ignored.

They're not taking it lying down. And it's not just the usual suspects - right across the party, folk are asking our Parliamentarians just what were you thinking?

And what's really riled the troops this time - over and above the fact that they fundamentally disagree with lots of the Bill - is that, particularly where Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is concerned, it flies in the face of party policy. A policy agreed not in some far distant conference in the long years of opposition, but last September, in Birmingham. And when they get answers - and it's to their credit that our MP's do front up - they don't like them much.

In other parties, policy is generally decided by a small elite. For example, in the Tories, it's pretty much one man, one vote, that man currently being called David. There are plenty in Labour who wish they could say exactly the same.

In the Lib Dems, it's meant to be different. In all those long years of opposition, the final decision on policy has rested with the members through conference. Which apparently worked fine then, but less well now we're in government - because our MPs appear to find themselves conflicted.

Should they represent the views of the party, their own opinion , or the will of the people -like it or not, the welfare reforms are hugely popular with the electorate at large. And to be fair, it's a conundrum Lib Dem backbenchers struggle with over and over again. Every single backbencher in the parliamentary party has rebelled against the government at least once since May 2010, bar one (step forward David Laws).

Nevertheless, there are a lot of disgruntled Lib Dem activists sitting at home right now seething about the WRB. And questioning the way we agree - and execute - policy as a party. There's going to be a right old barney about it, and we'll do well to keep much of it behind closed doors. But I hope we do.

Letting family feuds spiral into the public domain seldom ends well for anyone involved, does it....

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.