In the Autumn Statement, a Tory Chancellor will announce a set of Liberal Democrat policy initiatives, and, all things considered, be congratulated on his foresight and wisdom by his Labour Shadow.
I’ll let you all chew that over for a moment. OK? Right then, onward…
Up until May 2010, the easiest way to poke a Lib Dem into fury was to announce, “I often ask myself, what is the point of the Lib Dems?”. I seem to recall Anne Leslie was especially good at putting a lot of vitriol into it. I’ve no idea what was said next, as I was too busy shouting at the TV by then.
Since the last general election, everyone has found it rather too easy to answer that question.
If you’re on the left, then the Lib Dems are a bunch of never to be trusted pseudo Conservatives determined to shove a right wing regressive agenda on an unsuspecting public.
If you’re a Tory, then we’re a crowd of yellow livered wets stopping them thrust a fiscally driven tidal wave of horrid tasting medicine down the throats of Britain.
In truth we are neither of these things. But we did leave a bit of a vacuum — so we’ve no one to blame but ourselves.
For 12 months, pursuing a line of “not a cigarette paper between us” did indeed make us look like we were interested in pursuing nothing but a Tory agenda. This was not true and the grassroots hated it. But a narrative was set.
Fortunately, since the nadir of May 2011 — and our own dose of electoral medicine — we’ve started pointing out the opposite is true. Now we get credit all over the place for stopping the Conservatives doing all they want – from the Conservatives. Here for example, is the delightful Nadine Dorries
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Democrats make up 7 per cent of this parliament, and yet they seem to be influencing our free school policy, health — many issues — immigration and abortion. Does the prime minister think it’s about time he told the deputy prime minister who is the boss?
Anyway, while we’ve delighted in playing the role of Tory handbrake, going forward it does beg the old question of what we’re “for” once again. Because we can’t just be seen to be playing defensive to the Tory bouncers. We need to get on the front foot — and remind people what we’re actually about.
So how lovely it is that we’ve started setting the agenda.
Last week, Martin Bright (once of this Parish) wrote a good summation of the Youth Contract entitled “So this is what the Lib Dems are for“.
And now we’ll see George Osborne announcing a whole heap of other initiatives — infrastructure investment, raising the bank levy, extra school places, cheaper borrowing for businesses — that have Lib Dem stamped all the way through them. And which Ed Balls, to his credit, has welcomed as the right things to do.
No doubt there will be a ton of measures announced by George Osborne tomorrow that grassroots Lib Dems will find difficult — any freeze on tax credits, for example, will be especially hard to swallow.
But at least there is clear yellow water between plan A and Plan A+, with A+ combining fiscal accountability with social responsibility.
Which is what the Lib Dems are for, by the way.
Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference