Monday, 21 March 2011

Budget Time.

Almost a year in to this car crash of a ruling Coalition we're facing another budget, this one a growth budget from Boy George and his posh mates. It'll be aimed at getting the small to medium businesses employing the thousands of public sector workers thrown on to the altar of free enterprise. Enough talk of cuts, now we focus on getting back in the race and back on top.

From where I sit, its a pretty funny race we're hoping to compete in. The world is changing and the old sureties about Europe and the West are changing with it, bad news for the West, but also for the world. The new leaders are the economies putting people second, those miracle workers in China and India that let industry flourish where human rights fear to tread. Those panting along in the chasing pack are trying to change pace by casting off regulation, talking up flexible working patterns but not, as yet, sacrificing human spirit and progress in an attempt to win.

Boy George will want to talk a bit about regulation. The more rapid backbenchers have been baying for the re-balancing agenda to take off, allowing the state to retire behind the crusading lines of resurgent private enterprise. What will the Liberals do then? Are they really so desperate to win the AV referendum that all thoughts of opposing yet another lurch to the right are ignored in favour of winning the one thing that might justify their co-operation? It would seem so.

The Coalition continues to benefit the senior party at the expense of the Lib Dems. The powers behind David Cameron's throne continue to urge the destruction of public services and the reward of private endeavour, albeit the private endeavour of large global corporations intent on private accumulation of wealth. George Osborne will tell us he's supporting growth but his real support goes to those who admire the lack of restraint shown by the aggressive developing countries. This recession will go on for some time but when the economy recovers, a lot more people are going to realise that it really no longer matters, that markets, not countries hold sway. In five years time, Liberals will have a lot more to worry about than AV.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Empty Room

The conference went pretty well for the rebels. The NHS radical overhaul was discussed, rejected and sent back to the Coalition, too late to save our NHS (about 10 years too late possibly) but not too late to start a fight. The party agonised over its new direction in the face of unpopularity and Nick Clegg was made to look stupid and ministerial in equal measure. He spoke about his new country 'alarm clock Britain' and rejected Thatcherism and Blairism, linking the Liberals instead with Mill, Lloyd George, Keynes, Beveridge, all people who must be sleeping uneasily with the present company their legacy keeps. At least the greatest, Gladstone, was left out of it, Clegg obviously has some respect.

The Lib Dems had a great conference actually, good for Britain if you believe they are part of Government. Their problem was, Japan had an earthquake. Real life and death struggles took over and Nick and his friends and foes alike were talking in an empty room.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Conference Ahoy!

The Liberal Democrats' spring conference is upon us. I used to enjoy a party conference - ridiculous dreamers espousing ridiculous ideas made all the more ridiculous because they were good honest ideas that had no place in Government. Remember the 1p in the pound rise in income tax? Ditching the Lottery? Oh how we made them laugh.

Well the spring conference has ditched all the fun. Out go the beards and jeans, in come the I-Suits, rolling up their tailor made sleeves to fight the good fight against backsliders, waverers and, above all, rebels. The party that used to celebrate diversity and open discussion is in town to lecture and brow beat those still loyal to Liberal values and it's going to do it with a heady blend of truth and hyperbole. I'm guessing the slogan will be 'Despite the mess Labour left us in......'

Liberal Democrat News was full of 'Despite the mess Labour left us in...' stuff. Let me tell you now, because it will save all of us time, for every £300 coming in the nation spends £400. I'm not sure why, in a leaflet which talks about £150billion extra borrowing year on year, they've reduced it to hundreds - why not 3p and 4p? - but the message is clear, it was this way when we took over. Labour got rid of the boom and left us bust. Well true. But let's be old Liberal about this. Who created the boom? What created the boom? Who benefited from the boom? Is boom good?

The Labour party should never be forgiven until it apologises properly for it's pursuit of Tory policies to their logical conclusion. Says who? Well, apart from me, Tim Farron, that's who, the party President. In the best bit of LDN, Tim Farron rallies the troops with a very Liberal piece (once we get the \mess Labour left us with bit out of the way) about the cause of our woes. Tony Blair, he writes, came to power, not with a new plan for Government, but with a recycled version of Thatcherism. He goes on 'While the Tories may believe that the state is over bloated and must be cut back, we don't agree with them, we simply acknowledge that we can't afford current levels of expenditure'. Great stuff, honest, confrontational, a real taste of the unease felt by all but those at the top over the Coalition state of affairs. One can only assume he's trying to keep us sweet (see, now I'm a cynical member of a bulk standard political party).

Why can't we afford current national expenditure? Where is the economic debate, where is the social debate? I think Tim and his mates are going to get a bit of it this weekend and he should listen before he becomes President of nothing and no-one in particular. The Coalition has members voted for by the non right leaning voters of the UK. It also has right wing thinkers in positions of real power prepared to remove the remaining barriers to free market lunacy. The conference is where Tim Farron, Nick Clegg, Uncle Vince and Danny Boy will finally meet the people they're supposed to represent and, despite all the gagging techniques put on them, the rabble will have their say.

One of the points being discussed will be NHS reforms. Taking another piece in the LDN by smoothie Paul Burstow, Minister of State for Care Services, the NHS reforms are all good and he has no intention of addressing the points made by health professionals and instead cherry picks the statistics he likes to prove he's right. His attitude encapsulates my opposition to the Lib Dems involvement in the Coalition. His points are Tory points, Tory propaganda, Tory idealism. The views from the ordinary party members, many of them public servants, are ignored under the convenience of Coalition  unity and 'the mess Labour left us'. The line that should frighten all of us, it scares me, is 'We believe decisions about your healthcare should be made by doctors'. The layers of deception in this simple statement are staggering. Being old Liberal again - They are now. The reforms change nothing. The System works well, the evidence is loaded (in fact much of the evidence is only there because the NHS is one of the few health systems to attempt 100% coverage, they're not allowed to exclude problems or ignore stakeholders). None of the reforms were in the Liberal Democrats' manifesto and none of the lies hastening the commercialisation of a battered NHS should be defended by Liberal Democrat MPs.
The attack on public services by the the Coalition will continue but this conference might give us an idea of whether the Coalition will. As Sheffield gears up for the show, lets hope the fight turns nasty. I'm not expecting much but in a week when Tottenham do better than Arsenal perhaps I can allow myself to believe in miracles.