Monday, 12 May 2014

Punishment for the right reasons

Labour are spending a great deal of time and effort reminding us all about the "broken promises" of the ineffectual Lib Dems at the moment. Gleefully pointing out that our faeces stinks just like everyone else's, aside from being deeply cynical, is setting up yet another generation of voters for complete disillusionment with politics. And that's ignoring the fact that it's a little bit contradictory.  

Voters have every right to punish the Lib Dems in Westminster for the evils of the Coalition. The fact that we've failed to deliver on tuition fees, that we've allowed the Tories to deliver things like the Bedroom Tax (even if us private renters already suffered a version of it) and Workfare (which I personally believe is tantamount to slavery), and that our MPs have appeared so unrepentant in doing so is certainly deeply shaming.

One problem I have though is that the Lib Dems are being lambasted for being a minor party in a coalition that failed to deliver on a percentage of manifesto pledges and (spectacularly) failed to deliver on a separate pledge signed by a lot of its candidates (without a wider party vote on it I believe). It's as if we've somehow been afforded the power and responsibility of a ruling party, without any of the actual clout.

I do appreciate that it was both naive to sign the pledge and then deeply cynical of some of our MPs to choose to to break that pledge, but for me this isn't functionally much different from failing to deliver on any of the Party's manifesto pledges. And for me this is the crux of the issue I have with Labour's smug love in with students and the wider electorate, and the hypocrisy it represents, not least because they originally introduced fees.

Ultimately, whatever happens in 2015, the Lib Dems won't be punished for being the nasty party, or for breaking a pledge and delivering only part of our manifesto, we'll be punished for being just the same as everyone else. The Party will be punished for the fact that a bunch of career politicians, well versed in semantics and honesty averse, are standing for parliament and will probably bin much of the manifesto on their first day in office.

The Party and its MPs shouldn't really (though we will) be blamed for this. We're simply replicating a culture that has seen successive Tory and Labour Governments fail miserably to pay even lip service to delivering on their supposed core beliefs and manifesto pledges once the Westminster machine has its greasy mitts on them. They say children will be children, unfortunately Governments will be Governments too, a fact that UKIP is playing on magnificently at the moment.

There are of course notable exceptions amongst MPs, always good for a sound bite when the chips are down, but ultimately the culture at Westminster says it is better to play semantic tennis with questions than to admit you're wrong, or God forbid that you disagree with the Government line (especially if you're in on the cabinet meetings). It's no coincidence that dissent, descent and decent sound very much the same where Westminster is concerned.

It would be naive to think that we haven't brought this upon ourselves to a degree mind you. Being the conscientious objectors in Parliament is one thing, but we as a Party are perhaps guilty of implying that we are somehow a cut above the rest, which our time in Government has patently shown to be false. Being a party of compromise isn't a bad thing mind you, but reveling in it when it results in people suffering doesn't win you any friends.

People don't like the fact that our MPs are agreeing to the enacting of Tory policies in Government, but they really hate the fact that they're seeking to justify many of those policies and almost completely failing to voice their intense dislike for the policies they don't agree with. I suspect people would be a lot more inclined to accept that ours is a marriage of convenience if the Party spent more time saying what we find to be inconvenient.

But what has this to do with new voters you ask? Unfortunately, a generation of new voters is potentially going to throw their lot in with Labour in 2015. They won't be fooled by Farage's every man road show, but they may be fooled by Labour's holier than thou cost of living crusade. A crusade that will ultimately I believe prove to be a great sound bite, but nothing more than that as soon as Miliband gets into Number 10.

Ultimately 2015 isn't going to be about policy for me, it is going to be about who gets judged and to what moral standard. I'm hopeful that people will see through Farage, who in reality represents the working poor about as much as I represent the pinnacle of evolution, but I'm disturbed that the Lib Dems could be destroyed for not living up to a set of ideals that Labour and the Tories have never bothered to pay more than lip service to.

I'm also concerned that a generation of young people will offer their support to a Labour party that will ultimately show itself to be nothing more than New Labour lite, which in turn was nothing more than Thatcherism with a Blairite grin and a woeful attitude to civil liberties. As a result I fear that yet again young people will be betrayed by politicians, but that their only option will now be complete disengagement or, even worse, Farage.

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