Remember the euphoria among Liberal Democrats in the lead up to the General Election this year? The excitement, the hope and the expectation would be dashed as the results came in showing an increase in vote but a loss of seats (typical FPTP result!). And to be honest we've been on the back foot since then. Every move we've made has been criticised from the left (TRAITORS!) and the right (OPPORTUNISTS!). And being the nice people we are, many of us have taken these attacks to heart, tried to make excuses, and ended up attacking our leadership to prove our "progressive" credentials.
I say no more! I've decided it's time for us to stop making excuses and apologising for things we're doing, to remember exactly what sort of people are making these attacks and start defending our record. The Liberal Democrats aren't just here to defend the policies of the Coalition, we're here as a real alternative to Labour and the Tories and as a party that is now ready for Government.
Remembering who we are up against is sometimes difficult. The bleeding hearts of Labour supporters seem so genuine that sometimes you really can feel like the bad guy. The claims of Lib Dem attacks on the poor and the needy hurt, because that is not what our party is about. But Labour's holier than thou attitude is betrayed by their record. Just look at the current furore over "forced labour for those on Jobseekers Allowance" (something I have my own concerns about and will blog about separately once the full policy is released on Thursday). You'd think the Coalition was reintroducing slavery given how manic some on the left have been about it. Where were these people when Labour introduced almost exactly the same policy two years ago?? Did these people betray and attack the poor and needy by voting for Labour at the last election based on this record? I'd say so.
Our policy to raise the income tax threshold has been adopted and during every year of the Coalition Government it shall be increased. That will help increase the take home pay of the lowest paid and help make work pay. We've restored the earnings link to pensions. We've introduced the pupil premium. Of course there have been things the Coalition has done that harms the most needy in our society. But when did Labour ever think about them as they poured our money into PFI schemes (that increased the costs to us and helped give massive profits to private companies)? When did Labour care about the students they now claim to represent when they introduced the tuition fees (that helped keep people like me out of university)? When did Labour care for the asylum seeker and the migrant when they were locking up their children, denying them appeals, sending them back to homophobic regimes if they were gay and sending out nasty leaflets attacking other races and religions???
By all means express unhappiness at some of the things the Coalition is doing, but remember not to let Labour forget their own part in backing business over people and pandering to bigots over keeping to their supposed values. Some in the Labour party have recognised this and called for change, but as an outsider looking in this call seems not be heard by most.
So we must remind people that Labour cannot be trusted. We've made compromises because we didn't win the election. We've only been able to stop the worst excesses of Tory ideology because we are the smaller partner in the Coalition. What excuse did Labour have when it lorded it over us all with large majorities? We've not broken promises because we DID NOT WIN nor does our party form a Government on it's own. Has Labour apologised yet for all it's broken promises, on electoral reform, on tuition fees and all the rest? No, and it's time to remind the electorate of that. Labour cannot be trusted.
And then we have the Tories. Our Coalition partners have been rather chummy of late haven't they? That's because they hope (and thanks to Labour and the left wing media they are succeeding) to pin all the blame and pain for their cuts on us! It's a typical tactic of the larger Coalition partner in coalitions across Europe. Don't let them get away with it. Whilst we're happy to support cuts where they are necessary, the Tories have embarked upon slashing and burning the state with a terrible glee. The bad stuff in the Coalition agreement isn't Liberal Democrat policy. It's Tory! We need to remember that we aren't the ones calling for benefit cuts for the disabled or forced labour for the unemployed. It's the Tories! That illiberal cap on immigration? It's not us! Remember our policy on immigration at the election, far more liberal and fair than Labour could even dream of. Of course we didn't want to impose this cap.
We must remind people that the Tories aren't "liberals". They don't believe in a "small state". They believe in a "no state" free for all , where the religious and the rich can dictate terms to the poor and the secular. They don't like Europe, they don't like immigration, they don't like individual freedom to defy social norms. They wish to use the poor, not to help them. We have, very successfully, kept most of these tendencies under control by being part of the Coalition and we should celebrate that. Imagine what the Tories would've done without us. It's time for us to stand up and remind people that if they don't like what the Coalition is doing, there is another way: vote Liberal Democrat next time! Labour will say all the right things in Opposition but their past record shows how they will not do anything different to the Tories, they'll just package measures more nicely. And the Tories on their own will just do more of the same. Much more.
We need to stop hiding in the dark pretending the Coalition isn't happening. We need to stand up and remind people that things can be different. If you are an Orange Booker or a Social Lib, you know the Tories and Labour are both wrong. We must present our policies once more and show people we are the progressive, sensible choice for our country. And we must stop apologising and start shouting from the rooftops: Vote Liberal Democrat. Be proud of what we've achieved in the Coalition and remember that there is much more we could achieve if only people would give us the chance.
If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist