David and Sue attended the Lib Dem special conference in Birmingham on Sunday. Although the national coalition with the Tories had already been approved by the Lib Dem MPS and peers and by the Lib Dem federal executive this conference was called to allow members to have their say. That’s how the Lib Dems do things. We are a very open, inclusive and democratic party.
The coalition surprised us all. Although with hindsight it’s something to be expected when there is such a divided vote and is more the norm in many other countries with forms of proportional representation it seems like no-one had really prepared themselves for the frantic negotiations which took place after the election.
The Lib Dems had 3 options. Option 1 was to enter into a coalition with Labour. The numbers really didn’t support this and it seems that the Labour negotiators didn’t really seem serious about doing the sort of deal which forming a coalition demanded.
Option 2 was to allow the Tories to form a minority government. This would probably result in another election later this year, would not enable any Lib Dem policies to be implemented and would probably result in the Lib Dems being criticised for not acting in the national interest.
Option 3, the deal with the Tories, is the most difficult for many Lib Dems to handle but has resulted in a coalition agreement (click here for a copy) which includes the implementation of many Lib Dem policies. It provides for a government which can be stable and address the serious financial problems which this country faces. It also allows Lib Dems to influence the way in which the country is run by virtue of their seats in the Cabinet and their many other ministerial positions.
Note that although it has agreed to join this coalition the Lib Dem party remains a 100% independent political party; it will continue to act as such in local government and will continue to contest both local and national elections.
David and Sue accept this situation although Sue took a little longer to come to terms with it than David. Both are concerned with some of the concessions made, especially related to secondary education and ‘free schools’ and undergraduate fees, but accept that these reflect the reality of a coalition.
The coalition has made an impressive start and has already enacted several policies close to Lib Dems’ hearts: there will be no ID cards and no 3rd runway at Heathrow, there will be no finger-printing of school children without parents’ consent and there will be no detention of the children of asylum seekers. We can expect action soon on the ‘pupil premium’, on lower taxes for the least well-off and, of course, electoral reform.
David and Sue insist that this will make no difference to the way which they serve the division. They will address local issues, they will work together with councillors from other parties where that is appropriate and they will forcefully challenge the Tory County Council when they feel that it’s not doing right for the people of Cottenham, Histon and Impington (including the Meadows, Oakington and Westwick, Orchard Park and Rampton).