What do the choices Tories, Labour and Lib Dems made this week on cuts to tax credits say about them?
Days after the election Nick Clegg gatecrashed an informal meeting of new Lib Dem members and others in a cellar bar in Westminster.
“Never ever let anyone questions the motives of the Liberal Democrats… we did the right things in government.” It was an important message because power without an underlying motivation is not worth anything.
Things we achieved: the pupil premium; Raising the tax threshold’ Shared parental leave – all things “liberal” Tories are now desperately
trying to claim credit for.
Things we were stopped from doing: changing our broken voting system and reforming the House of Lords – wrecked by Labour purely to create embarrassment for Lib Dems rather than for reasons of principle.
Before the general election Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander were ridiculed by the Tory Press Office for warning that their £8bn worth of cuts to welfare would hit the working poor’s tax credits, yet despite their public denials, that’s exactly what they were planning. What we have seen laid bare is political cowardice and chicanery of the worst kind.
As objections to tax credits from well-respected think tanks such as the Resolution Foundation mounted, self-styled compassionate Tories felt compelled to speak out, almost as though they too were hoodwinked by their own manifesto.
This left opposition parties with a choice – deliver a fatal blow to tax credits by whatever means possible or simply delay the decision to harm children and families.
Even in coalition Lib Dems held a consistent position, savings were necessary to mend the broken economy but measures which pushed to poorest into poverty had to be resisted by all means possible.
Yet, when Jeremy Corbyn’s new way faced its first serious political test, Labour sat on the fence on tax credits and its behaviour was indistinguishable from the abstentions on the welfare bill his supporters viewed as the work of discredited red Tories.
Tim Farron has shown astute judgement in his choices as Lib Dem leader (on the welfare bill and the refugee crisis to name two) but unlike Labour’s position on voting and Lords reform in the last Parliament it is not based on opportunism. They are positions Lib Dems have held consistently when in government and opposition.
Quite simply, Labour are not behaving like a serious opposition party. They have swallowed Tory threats about constitutional conventions and crisis. Even their own leader in the Lords called this ‘parliamentary bullying’.
If Labour can’t stand up to the Tories in Parliament how can they claim to stand up for British people in the country at large? That is not an opposition
Sadly tribal politics prevents Labour from doing the right thing; for too many Labour members tribalism trumps fairness.
As Baroness Northover tweeted at the time:
— Lindsay Northover (@LPNorthover) October 26, 2015
With Corbyn’s opposition by crowdsourcing replacing opposition by principle, Labour cannot decide what they are for let alone what they are against because it depends each week on his email inbox. They can no longer be trusted to hit the Tories where it hurts – in the division lobbies.
In an uncertain world, people look for leaders and political parties that show consistency and coherence in their positions.
I campaigned for the Lib Dems in the general election. It was clear that on the doorstep in Lib Dem/Tory marginals that voters were satisfied with what the Coalition government was doing.
They were conditioned into thinking voting Tory meant getting fiscal competence, protection of the vulnerable and all the other nice liberal things. It’s not surprising therefore that many of these voters, like the woman on Question Time a few weeks ago, now feel betrayed.
In politics, as in life, integrity shows through in individual actions – it is what you do, not only what you say.
When people ask us on the issue of tax credits, what did your party do – we Lib Dems can be confident our party did the right thing.
Here’s one of my favourite bands Chvrches covering ‘What Do You Mean?’ by Justin Bieber – as a good an instructional on Labour in opposition as I’ve seen: “you wanna go to the left but then you turn right?”