Arguments that every Liberal Democrat would do well to hear

By Jim Grundy

Look, you and I are not going to agree; probably not even on the time of day. You think you’re noble…. I think that you’re facilitating the nastiest, most regressive administration in post-war history. And most people agree with me by the way …

Ah, but there was no choice, you claim. Think of the economic crisis, you say.

In 1945 the country was in a far, far, far worse economic state than it was in 2010 (when the national debt was lower than Labour inherited in 1997 – really, yes, really).  And yet, Labour created a universal welfare state, the National Health Service and built hundreds of thousands of much needed new homes. All this was done because it was needed and it also helped stimulate the economy. You are now doing the polar opposite and for no better reason than you either want to or don’t care to do anything different because it would upset your Tory chums.

You seem to think we’re engaged in a jolly little debate, one that is somehow concerned only about hurt feelings and politicians attacking each other. Many times I – and others – have tried to point out that your support for the Tories – or at least your wholly ineffective ‘opposition’ to them – is having appalling consequences to the lives of people across the country. You can’t deal with that and bring it back time after time to how noble you Lib Dems have been and how hurt you’ve been by attacks by those who think you’ve betrayed the country by supporting the Tories (‘cos that’s what you do when you vote for them all the time). I’m struggling to think of anything more pathetic.

You ask what was the alternative? Simple. You should have allowed the Tories to form a minority administration and support them or oppose them according to the issue. Yes, that might have led to an election before now – what’s wrong with that (oh, but you fixed that, didn’t you with your changes to confidence motions and five-year fixed term parliaments – odd, you haven’t addressed that)? That way you might have protected yourselves against the charge of being nothing more than opportunists; of abandoning any kind of principle in pursuit of power. You didn’t. And, you know, there’s been one or two indications from the electorate that they don’t share your perception of Lib Dem honour. Have you noticed that?

You bound yourselves to the Tories so tightly that they know you daren’t do anything other than support them or face anihilation at the polls. But you still might have the chance to ditch Clegg and co., pretend it was all a horrible mistake and go to the nation and seek the people’s verdict. You’re afraid of that, though, aren’t you? You know how much you are hated, ok, mistrusted – but that isn’t a badge of honour; it is not a symbol of suffering in a higher cause; and I think you know that, for all your protestations.

The Lib Dems are finished. Your party will fragment, its support drain away, as it has done every time you’ve got into bed with the Tories. I don’t need to tell you the history of your own party – or do I?

What has been done has been done. Don’t for the sake of any kind of credibility that you might seek to hold on to pretend it was done for a noble cause.

You have not the slightest idea of my background. I’ll give you a clue – I’m a socialist. Clegg and his ilk (and they are found in lots of different groups) are in it for themselves. Not for any party; they’re not hide-bound either, you see. They’re tribal in a different way – their own tribe comes first, even when it has only one member.

I don’t know you either. One thing I do know, however, and that it’s far easier to fool someone, than to persuade them that they have been fooled. I think you’ve been fooled. What you describe as pragmatism, I call the betrayal of the ordinary working people of this country on the basis of an appearance on TV and a lie that there is no choice.

You might describe as noble putting up with the abuse that has been poured upon Clegg and co. I call it wholly predictable and understandable – and, yes, deserved. There are precedents. What is happening now has happened before. You might wish to believe that you are not ‘pinned down’ by anything but you are indeed a prisoner, of events, of your Tory captors, of one of the biggest deceits every perpetrated upon the British people. So don’t feel wounded when things come back to bite you – and don’t be surprised if some of the biters are Tories either. You don’t think they’re grateful to you for your ‘self-sacrifice’, do you? No, they’re laughing at you. They hold you in nothing but contempt – and you know that, don’t you?

I am not appealing to you or anyone else to accept without qualification everything that any party stands for – or what you believe it stands for – but for principle. A good start is that the most vulnerable should not suffer at the same time as the wealthiest are benefiting from the policies implemented by any government. And I am sure you must accept that the rich are indeed getting richer and the poor are indeed getting very much poorer, not by accident but by design. How else can you explain a tax cut for the better off and a hike in taxes, accompanied by a cut in pay and benefits, for the worst off?

If you or anyone else doesn’t understand the very real suffering that many people are being subjected to is all too real – and to dismiss that as ‘collateral damage’ is just unacceptable – then you won’t understand why there is genuine anger at what is being done – and who to blame for it. And it is being done by those with no electoral mandate whatsoever to act in the manner they are doing.

“Fairness” & “Progressive” were two words repeated time and again in the early days of the Coalition and, even, “we’re all in it together”. No-one seems to be saying that now. Does anyone need to explain to you why that might be the case?

How about investing in growth, rather than paying to prop up failure for a start? Have you not seen the latest (record) borrowing figures? Who had heard of the national debt before 2008? (Despite Gordon Brown paying such a large slab of it off during his time as Chancellor. Odd that so few people seem to know about that, isn’t it?)

The idea that debt is, by definition bad, is a simply wrong. Do you own your own home? If you do or if you know others that do, how many of those people bought those properties with cash? Does that acquisition benefit them or beggar them? Most people believe owning property, having some equity, something to pass on to your children is a good thing. But, for the vast majority of people, that has only been possible by people getting into debt. Are they all in the proverbial? Thought not.

Keynesian economics are not a busted flush. We need a 21st Century New Deal, investment in public works, house-building programmes.  Programmes that will pay for themselves by creating employment, generating greater taxation revenues at the same time as reducing benefits. That has been proven to work. The ‘Future Jobs Fund’, one of the first to be scrapped by the Tories – with Lib Dem help (sorry if you think I’m rubbing it in but it is important to recognise the role of your party in all that has taken place) – has been shown (see links below) to have helped to do precisely that, even though on a scale far smaller than is required. But it was only one scheme. The investment in new housing, the ‘Housing Pledge’, and other schemes were delivering the same goal.

The country’s economic woes were not caused by excessive spending. They were caused by a collapse in receipts from taxation. To argue, as the Tories and Lib Dems have done, that the answer is to cut expenditure has served only to further reduce the government’s income, increasing the national debt, widening the deficit. It is economic insanity – but only if you think the sole agenda is to reduce the debt/deficit. What the Tories are about is to use this argument to justify the kind of cuts, the mass privatisation of everything from the police to the NHS, that you have been persuaded represent pragmatism. That is one huge lie and nothing more.

It’s a simple fact that the Tories hate public services. They believe that providing pensions, care for the elderly, etc., etc. are forms of evil, as is everything unless it provides an opportunity for private companies – those who pay for the Tory party – to make a profit. Have you noticed that no matter how poorly the utilities perform, how bad the trains are, they maintain the mantra that the public sector is inefficient, while the private sector is the ideal to be adopted everywhere?

Face the facts, the country is in a huge mess and those in the biggest mess are those least responsible for it. If people look at the Lib Dems and blame them ‘disproportionately’ for that, all I can say is that you can have no excuse for being surprised. Or for being disliked.

Our problem is that the very word ‘socialist’ has become a pejorative term put in the minds of many by a Tory-dominated media. And then we have the line that “it’s all very good in theory…”.

You seek pluralism but what does that mean? I think it misses the point about what society truly is. When affordable housing is slashed, that doesn’t just hurt those at the bottom. When benefits are cut, the pain isn’t just felt by a few. It damages society fundamentally to see the gap between the richest and the wealthiest grow ever wider.  That is not to speak of a fluffy Nirvana-style ideal, it is based on empirical evidence (see “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett).

Yes, there are gradations in society but this government represents only 1% of it. The rest are seeing a huge transfer of their wealth into the hands of the 1%. That is reality. The most vicious tribal class war might speak of the ‘Big Society’ but it is there solely to serve the aims of ‘big business’.

If I would say one last thing to you, it is this. What kind of society do you want to live in? Do you think it is right that people can’t afford to live in a decent home? Do you think that it is right for people to be unable to heat their own homes, leading to the deaths of thousands each year? Do you think that healthcare and education are rights, not privileges? Do you think that everyone should contribute to society – and pay their taxes? Put together a whole list of similar questions to yourself without reference to party or politicians. Consider your conclusions and then ask yourself if you can find that vision reflected in this administration.

Put aside the, “well, that would be nice, of course, but it’ll never happen,” kind of thinking. Pessimism is a disease and it blinds people to what can be done. If our ancestors had not dreamt of what they wanted and demanded it, we wouldn’t be having this argument. There would be nothing to fight for because, for example, we’d have no National Health Service to save in the first place.

What we have now – and are in the process of losing – is precious and it was not given to us by a noble elite acting in the public interest. All social progress has been made, not through the beneficence of the strong but won by the collective action of the ‘weak’. And that happened because people recognised that they were as valuable as anyone else, no matter what their background.

As was said in the Putney Debates (which should be required reading for everyone) in 1647:

“I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he”. That was true then. It’s true now and never let anyone stifle that belief by telling you, “well, of course, in an ideal world….”.

As Shelley wrote, “We are many. They are few!”

Softly, Softly, into Slums: New Law permits Councils to turn Homeless away

Who are these people?  www.lrb.co.uk

Chronically ill lung patient told to ‘get a job’ after benefits axe – This is the face of the swingeing benefit cuts being enforced across Wales and the rest of the country by the UK Government.

Atos killed my dad, says boy 13 – The devastated youngster believes the benefits assessors’ decision to deem his dad…

Geriatric and mental health wards threatened by NHS cuts – Telegraph – www.telegraph.co.uk –  – David Cameron faces a growing backlash against NHS cuts and the closure of A&E … 

The modern face of hardship – www.independent.co.uk – More than six million working Britons are living in poverty, according to a repo…

Related post – “We Take Care of Our Own” or What Labour Needs to Remember if it Wants to Win.

13 thoughts on “Arguments that every Liberal Democrat would do well to hear

  1. Excellent article. Everybody should read this, not just politicians. Too many people believe the rubbish that they are being fed daily by the Government and Media. When hasn’t a country run on debt? How many successful businesses have never used debt as a way to expand. When did the ordinary person in the street suddenly get so concerned with the country’s debt?

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