Thursday, June 24, 2010

LibDems now like VAT hike - but don't call it a 'betrayal'

Is the Left 's job that of opposing measures that we deem unfair, or do we simply find ways of not disagreeing too much with the Coalition lest "we push the LibDems further towards the Tories"?

Much has been said over the coalition's Budget as announced by George Osborne two days ago.

Stuck between the obvious ideological clashes between those who think such "brave" and tough measures are the "inevitable" legacy of the Labour years, and those who instead call the Budget "reckless" and "dangerous for the recovery", there appears to be a third category of people.

Yes, you guessed it: LibDem MPs. We don't really know where the Lib Dems stand, do we?

Less than two months ago they were kicking and screaming that the planned Tory VAT rise was a "bombshell". They even started a poster campaign about it (see image) and incur the wrath of many a Tory hack, including The Spectator's Fraser Nelson who slammed it as a "dishonest" and "misleading" campaign (see here).

Remember this was in April 2010. Unless I've totally lost it, this was a mere two months ago.

Now, we've all heard of turncoats, politicians performing gravity-defying somersaults, u-turns and about faces. Labour, for instance, can hardly lecture anyone when they signed up to Tony Blair's 'Encyclopaedia of Amazing Betrayals' for a whole decade.

The novelty here though is that never - ever - before has a political party managed to shed so many of its ideas (or "principles", if you like) as quickly as the LibDems are. Even Tony Blair waited two or three years before making a mockery of the now infamous Labour manifesto promise over tuition fees to mention but one of his "pretty straight" deeds. And that's saying something.

The LibDems are now actively supporting the Tories' VAT hike to 20% which, they concede at the Treasury, will mean an average tax increase of over £500 per household.

The jaundiced party claim that they didn't realise how bad the state of public spending was until they entered the coalition. But that's the lamest of excuses available. Maybe they should just stop treating the public like a mass of imbeciles and simply keep up with their daily job of nodding in the Commons whenever Cameron and Osborne speak .

My problem isn't with the Tories. I respect the fact that they're doing what they have to do as a Tory party. They may have kept a couple of things quiet during the election, but they are a Conservative party, we all knew their history and their beliefs and what to expect from them.

When the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the impact of the Budget on the poorest section of the population will be five time worse than the impact on the richest by 2015, there is no surprise there. The Tories are implementing their ideas.

When huge cuts across government spending are implemented and the civil service goes through "a bit" of a diet and courts and police are axed, the Conservatives are simply practising what they've preached all along: the importance of a slimmer state. They believe in it. You can't say fairer than that.

But the LibDems. What do they actually believe in? If they can change their mind so quickly, easily and radically over the timing, scale and quality of cuts, VAT, tax, state benefits, or the best way to achieve recovery, what tells you that they won't change their mind over anything else if a dogbone is dangled before their eyes?

So, some people like Sunny from Liberal Conspiracy may reiterate the point that "screaming betrayal at the LibDems won't work" and that's this is not only a sign of "tribalism" but also "downright silliness". They add that "all [this] does is push Libdems further towards the Tories".

But by focusing on the red herring, they gloss over the devastating consequences of what the LibDems did: following the fine Blairite tradition of turning yet more election manifestos into disposable arse paper that can be dismissed within weeks on the basis of where the most rewarding political wind blows.

How else do you call something like the VAT u-turn? Why shouldn't it be attacked outright? Sites like Liberal Conspiracy often go out of their way to find any inch of Tory wording or semantic that would justify lashing out at anything vaguely Thatcherite (that's not tribalism, is it?), so why shouldn't Lib Dem politicians be harshly criticised or exposed when their political errors are so obviously blatant and their votes crucial for Tory policies to be implemented?

The harm that the LibDems caused to the hopes and beliefs millions of potentially leftist voters is immense. The PR work that Clegg & co have done on behalf of the Can't-Be-Bovvered/Apathetic Party is also incalculable.

When the LibDems and the Labour left where (rightly) slating New Labour over Iraq, PFI or tuition fees, did Sunny write "easy with calling Tony Blair 'traitor' or 'Bliar' or else we risk turing these policies into a Tory monopoly"?

So this is the big question: is the Left (and the Labour Party)'s job that of opposing measures that we deem unfair and harmful for the least well-off, or do we simply have to find ways of not disagreeing too much with the Coalition governments lest "we push the LibDems further towards the Tories", whatever that means?

At which point does the game of triangulations end and principles can be asserted to the point that we can call a crap policy or an obvious betrayal by their name - that is, a crap policy and an obvious betrayal?

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