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There can be no truer example of the adage that power corrupts, in today’s UK, than that of the Liberal Democrats.
Now neither liberal nor democratic, that party’s leaders are telling their members to do whatever is necessary to keep them in government.
They may be in coalition with the Conservatives now, but the message is that they will seek an alliance with anyone who will have them, if that is what it takes.
For what purpose? We have already seen all the evidence we need that they will abandon any pretence of principles if it will curry favour with a larger, and therefore more dominant, political group. Nick Clegg may have apologised for reversing his position on student tuition fees, but that hasn’t stopped them rising (pointlessly, according to recent revelations).
They have proved to be as susceptible to the temptations of petty crime as anyone else – look at Chris Huhne, praised by Nick Clegg for his skills as a secretary of state, even after he was convicted of perverting the course of justice. That’s a serious crime. Clegg should not be praising anyone convicted of it.
But then, Clegg is in the muck right up to his own chin. He denied prior knowledge of the allegations against former party chief executive Lord Rennard, then had to go back on it. Now there are questions about when senior figures in the party knew of the allegations that Huhne’s ex-wife Vicky Pryce had taken speeding points on her husband’s behalf.
Undoubtedly there is more that we do not know (there always is). Undoubtedly there is more that we will never know.
Do you remember last year’s Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, when the Parliamentary party was instructed to vote against the then-Health and Social Care Bill, because of the harm it would do to the National Health Service if it every became law?
What happened about that? Oh yes… the Conservatives made a few mealy-mouthed promises and the Lib Dems voted it through without a qualm. That, in turn, led to Statutory Instrument 257 – the regulations that proved the Tories had been lying in their assurance that doctors would not be compelled to consider private-sector bids to run NHS services. Those regulations have been withdrawn for a re-write after the public – not the Liberal Democrats – protested.
Because the Liberal Democrats have changed in the last year. There is no similar moral crusade this time around.
Instead, former party leader Paddy Ashdown has told them to do everything possible to secure a second term in power. Commentators have taken this to mean they will whore themselves to whichever of the main parties secures the most seats in the 2015 election (if, again, no party gains a majority).
They’ve had a taste of power and found it addictive. “I want it to become a habit,” said Lord Ashdown. What a shame it seems to be the kind of habit we see in users of illegal drugs. They’ll do anything for more.
Ashdown went on to quote the party mantra introduced, to much hilarity in this blog, just after Christmas: “to build a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life”.
It’s about the least effective soundbite possible, considering the nation’s current circumstances. The economy has been deliberately weakened and society is becoming progressively less fair, thanks to the efforts of Conservative ministers, aided and abetted every step of the way by the Liberal Democrats. If you want evidence, read practically any entry in this blog since it was founded at the end of 2011.
The part about “enabling everyone to get on in life” is particularly sickening, considering the number of chronically ill or disabled people who have died as a result of Coalition policy on benefits.
If you think the above is enough to sink this once-great party for good, think again because there’s more. It goes to the heart of Liberal policy-making and shows that they are prepared to reverse the very best acts of the great Liberals of the past, just to service their own convenience now.
I refer, of course, to the words of Business Secretary Vince Cable.
He wants the government to stop protecting spending levels on the health service, and he also thinks that pensions should be means-tested or taxed.
The introduction of old-age pensions was the first step towards the modern welfare state, in 1907. That step was taken by a Liberal government (yes, the Liberals used to get enough votes to take office on their own). Current Liberal Democrat MPs aren’t fit to clean the shoes of those former ministers (and believe me, in comparison to today, 1907 was a barbaric time).
And of course the NHS was created in accordance with the report of Liberal William Beveridge, who recommended creating “comprehensive health and rehabilitation services for prevention and cure of disease”. The Coalition’s treatment of the NHS constitutes a comprehensive betrayal of that plan.
Incidentally, Beveridge opposed means-tested benefits, meaning that Cable’s plan for pensions runs against established Liberal philosophy as well. It’s also bone-headedly stupid for a member of a party seeking re-election because pensioners are more likely to vote than any other section of society. That’s why the Tories have always tried to avoid hitting them with benefit cuts (although that determination has eroded over the course of this government). Upset the grey vote at your peril!
And let’s not forget that the government’s claim to have increased spending on the NHS since 2010 has been questioned – most relevantly by the UK Statistics Authority.
As we enter the last day of the 2013 Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, then, it seems reasonable to ask: Just what do the Liberal Democrats stand for?
It can’t be the values that made the Liberals great (when they were great) – the current Parliamentary party is betraying those.
It can’t be the values held by the Lib Dems before the 2010 election either – the current Parliamentary party has betrayed those as well.
The only possibility left is that they want power for its own sake.
They should never again be allowed to have it.