Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dear Lib-Dem hating leftie friends...

Come on, Left. I know it's fashionable to hate the Lib Dems right now, but after a couple of exchanges on Facebook about the NHS reforms I've decided enough is enough. By all means, challenge and question the moderating effect that coalition government is having on Tory hideousness. That's a legitimate debate to have. But the self-justifying disdain some people now seem to be harbouring, to the extent that when Lib Dems clearly are moderating a policy we all oppose, you have to find ways to explain it away and carry on hating them regardless, is frankly just silly.

Two arguments I've seen to play down the Lib Dems' role in forcing a rethink of the NHS reforms, and why I think they're both wrong:

  1. This has happened because the policy is a political liability – the Lib Dems had little or nothing to do with it”

Um, Iraq war anyone? I worked in parliament for nearly two years, which admittedly does not make me a world expert - but my experience with majority governments was that they pretty much do not give a shit what you think. If they want something badly enough, they will push it through regardless of public opposition. We are talking about a government that didn't feel the need to consult the medical profession before launching this thing at Parliament in the first place. Why should things be any different six months down the line? And why is everyone so conveniently keen to forget that the original 'pause' in the Bill's passage through Parliament was announced not following some cataclysmic protest, but shortly after the Lib Dem Spring Conference overwhelmingly rejected the proposals?

  1. Yeah, well, pity they didn't start opposing it before they got slaughtered at the elections”

Um, except they did. See above. (As an aside, the Lib Dems' policymaking process is one of the really brilliant things about them. It's kind of like how I imagined parliament ought to work before I started working there and all my illusions were shattered. Ordinary members bring motions to conference. Hundreds of delegates sit and listen to a reasoned debate. Then they vote on the motion and any amendments, and if they pass it, it becomes party policy. Might sound trivial, but to my knowledge no other major party still does it.)

Fair enough, Nick Clegg signed off on the White Paper: the proposals needed his support to get off the blocks in the first place, and that at least puts him legitimately on the hook. And fair enough, he does seem to have grasped the urgency of the issue rather more immediately since May 5th. But there is a distinction between party leadership and party itself, and that's exactly what's so great about the Lib Dems' policymaking process. At the first opportunity it got, the party rank and file told him in no uncertain terms that the reforms were unacceptable. And, from pretty much that point onwards, things started to change. This is democracy in action, and you can be damn sure nothing like it would have happened without a coalition government. How much things will change remains to be seen – but, at the very least, reserve judgement until the outcome is clear.

I don't think the Lib Dems have got everything right in the last twelve months, far from it. All I'm saying is, I wish people would reserve their contempt for the people who are actually contemptible and their anger for the things worth getting angry about. Give credit where credit's due and, more importantly, recognise an ally when you see one.

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