There’s no doubt about it, we Liberal Democrats are different to the others. We had a bit of a rough time over Christmas, losing Charlie Kennedy and launching ourselves into an unnecessarily messy leadership election. The other two main parties and the media wrote us off, expecting us to implode.
But we didn’t. Without a leader, we just got on with the job – and in February we won possibly the most spectacular by-election win ever. Willie Rennie achieved a huge 16% swing to take Dunfermline from Labour, who suffered a massive blow in the seat where Gordon Brown lives and in a campaign in which he featured prominently.
Winning without a leader shows that Lib Dems are more independent and less deferential than the other parties, and we can get along just fine on our own. We don’t have to wait for our boss to tell us what to do – we can see what needs to be done, and we just get on with it. Paddy Ashdown once remarked that leading the Liberal Democrats was like herding cats – and if you’ve ever tried to persuade a cat to do what you ask, you’ll know what he meant.
Gordon Brown, who is now lucky enough to have a Lib Dem as his MP, put his foot in it by attempting to interfere in Scottish affairs – in particular, the issue of tolls for the Forth Road Bridge.
Delegating power to the lowest possible level is at the heart of our liberal philosophy, and it is something that the other parties just don’t understand. You cannot devolve power to a Scottish parliament and then try to tell them how to use that power.
But if Dunfermline was bad for the Labour party, it was disastrous for the Tories. David Cameron travelled to Dunfermline in person to invite Lib Dem voters to vote for his new ‘liberal’ Conservative party. The voters obviously misunderstood his message, for they deserted the Tory camp and voted Lib Dem. The Tory candidate was within 3% of losing his deposit, as the meagre 4400 who voted Tory at the general election dwindled to 2400. More and more, voters are getting the message that if you want Lib Dem you have to vote Lib Dem.
The result proved that:
- three party politics is here to stay across Great Britain
- people want a better choice than Labour or Conservative
- the appeal of the Liberal Democrats for a fairer, greener and more democratic Britain has growing support.
Our leadership election reinforced the same themes. All three candidates emphasised the need for greater fairness in our tax system, for more action to protect the environment, and for a stronger democracy.
None of the contenders suggested that we should that we should aim for the vanishingly narrow gap between the other two parties. We are a progressive and radical party, and we will remain so!
For Labour and the Tories, politics has become an argument about marketing and management. They seem to have forgotten about principles and values.
Look at Gordon Brown’s budget.
It turns out that the £200 rebate offered to pensioners last year was a one-off. It is unclear why pensioners need support in an election year, but not in the year after. This means every pensioner household in Rayleigh faces a £200 rise in their bills this year, in addition to the (nearly) 5% extra we all have to find. The Liberal Democrats would scrap council tax and replace it with a system based on ability to pay. That seems to us to be fair and just.
The Chancellor did nothing to address the unfairness that the top 20% of earners pay a smaller proportion of their income in tax than the bottom 20%. The tax system also remains unfair and vastly overcomplicated. The Liberal Democrats do not see the need for the overall tax burden to rise, but we do believe that the burden should be distributed more fairly.
No justice for pensioners and low-earners, then. How about everybody else? Well, one issue which affects us all, young and old, rich and poor, is the environment. And all we got from Gordon was a token gesture in the direction of road tax for new cars.
Green taxes have fallen as a share of overall taxation under this government. Liberal Democrats believe that we need a proper system of green economic incentives, incentives that encourage people to change the way they live – and ensure that the polluter pays.
Under this Chancellor, the polluter isn’t paying. Our CO2 emissions are higher than they were in 1997, and they are continuing to rise.
These three examples – pensioners, the low-paid, the environment – illustrate the complete lack of principle and values in our government. Sadly, Cameron’s Tories offer no better.
So if it’s principles and values you want, the Liberal Democrats are your only hope! To see how our principles apply in practice, try www.onlinefocus.org