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23 March 2012

It’s time for the Lib Dems to shout a lot more

Clegg is right to say that our priorities are not the Conservatives'.

By Richard Morris

I suspect George Eaton was right when he described the tax transparency proposals outlined in the Budget as a political masterstroke. But credit where it’s due – and that credit isn’t the Chancellor’s. Nor, funnily enough, is it all the good work of Tory MP Ben Gummer, who Osborne credited in his Budget speech. For this policy was part of the 1997 General Election manifesto – of the Lib Dems. So excuse me while I reclaim it for our good selves.

Why am I bothering? Because from now on, we’re going to be a lot more territorial about policy.

As I blogged earlier this week, something of a Rubicon has been crossed in the last few days. Who can guess what the last straw was (though I’d lay odds it’s the ongoing grassroots fury over the Health Bill). But anyway, Nick inserted an important line in his letter to members, post Budget. It said:

Of course, this is a Coalition Budget and we did not get our own way on everything. Conservative priorities are not ours.

And talking to people in the centre, going forward it seems that finally, finally, finally we’re going to start telling people which policies are Lib Dem policies – and just as importantly, which are Conservative ones. Taking two million people out of income tax – the Lib Dems. Cutting the 50p rate – Tories.

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The grassroots have been doing it on their own for some time – this infographic, now updated post-Budget, of Lib Dem wins in government is proving a popular crib sheet for Lib Dem activists all over the country.

And now it looks like the party in government are doing the same thing.

Restoring the link between pensions and earnings? Lib Dem policy. The biggest rise in the weekly state pension in a generation? Lib Dem win. Freezing of Age Allowance – all your own work, George.

I’ve been here before. And been wrong. We’ve hinted at this approach – and then screwed it up royally. Telling people that ‘”It is not a Liberal Democrat health bill but it is a better bill because of the Liberal Democrats” is a sound bite in which the words that stick are “Liberal Democrat Health Bill”. With that and tuition fees we’ve got a lot of rowing back to do.

But this time, talking to people at the heart of government, they really seem to mean it. We’re drawing a line in the sand, marking our own policies, and letting the electorate decide whether we’re right or wrong.

Let’s see if we pull it off.

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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