Mehdi Hasan asks “what’s the point of the Lib Dems?” Citing five issues on which, in his opinion, the party has “sacrificed their distinctive beliefs and principles and received little in return,” Hasan claims we’re irrelevant. So what is the point of the Lib Dems then? To find out, he should:
1) Ask the nearly 1 million low-paid workers who have been lifted out of paying income tax altogether thanks to a Lib Dem manifesto commitment delivered in government. With the prospect of further significant reforms to come to make our tax system fairer and more progressive, this policy makes people hundreds of pounds better off in difficult times. Consider the counterfactual too – a Tory-only government cutting inheritance tax and the 50p rate for its rich pals whilst doing nothing for the low-paid. Not with Lib Dems in government.
2) Ask the millions of children, parents and teachers who are benefiting from the pupil premium & expanded childcare provision as part of the government’s investment in crucial early-years facilities. Another Lib Dem manifesto commitment, delivered in government, making a real difference to the worst off and those in need of support.
3) Ask patients and doctors who’ve seen NHS principles protected from worst of Andrew Lansley’s reforms. Of course the Health and Social Care Bill isn’t yet perfect, but it’s a significant improvement on the purely market-oriented reforms originally set out – largely thanks to Lib Dem conference in securing vital safeguards for accountability, integration and public health. Consider the counterfactual too – a Tory-only government turning the NHS into nothing but an unaccountable purchaser in a for-profit market. Not with Lib Dems in government.
4) Ask those who want safer banks and tough action on high pay – would either happen without Vince Cable pressing for the implementation of the Vickers reforms and the recommendations of the High Pay Commission? Consider the counterfactual too – a Tory-only government caving in to the influence of its City donors, evading the measures needed to make banking safer and tackle income inequality through transparency, accountability and stakeholder empowerment. Not with Lib Dems in government.
5) Ask the nearly 600 Labour and Conservative – or should I say, Labservative – MPs who for decades have happily aligned against Lib Dems on all five of Hasan’s core issues, even if it means acting against national interest like on Europe and Iraq. Consider the counterfactual too – a Tory-only government, or Labour-only for that matter, either of whom would have removed the cap on tuition fees instead of introducing what is effectively a capped graduate tax; no attempt to reform our electoral politics as they oppose changes to the voting system, to the Lords and to party funding; likely withdrawal from the EU as either party caved in to its atavistic Eurosceptic wing; and of course the disastrous war in Iraq which both Labour and Tories enthusiastically supported against the wishes of the Lib Dems and the country as a whole.
Yes of course we want to see Liberal Democrats deliver more of our values and policies in government and to stop more Tory madness like that seen over Europe recently – that’s precisely what the party’s mainstream has been calling for through the Social Liberal Forum.
Prateek Buch is a Lib Dem activist and blogger