No single party won last year’s general election: Labour certainly lost it, but nobody won it.
The decision taken by Nick Clegg and his colleagues to join a coalition with the Tories, who had won most seats in Parliament but not an outright majority, was a responsible one. I would argue that it was the right decision for the country.
The biggest challenge facing any incoming government was the huge budget deficit bequeathed to us by Gordon Brown and his friends, including Ed Miliband, who had failed to take the necessary action to bring public expenditure back under control (although it is interesting to note that the difference between what Labour promised they would cut in their 2009 pre-budget report and what the Coalition Government actually cut in their budget last year is just £11bn – out of a total budget of over £750bn!). It was important for decisive action to be taken to restore international confidence, gain the support of the financial markets, and prevent the country from sliding into the economic mess which Greece , Ireland and other European countries are in.
No single party could have taken the necessary action on its own to reduce the huge borrowing deficit which was hanging over us, and which would be crippling the lives and futures of our children and grandchildren.
The Lib Dems took the brave decision to join a coalition to begin dealing with this mess, and to use the opportunity to introduce a genuinely different, fairer and more progressive form of politics into British life.
In the eight short months they have been in government, the Lib Dems have already succeeded in carrying out a large proportion of the pledges they made prior to last year’s election, and for which we have been campaigning for many years:
- the income tax threshold is being raised, so that by 2015 800,000 low-paid workers will be taken out of income tax altogether;
- an extra £3.6bn of cash is being put into schools funding (the “pupil premium”), giving directly to schools an additional £430 from April for every child on free school meals or in local authority care, with this sum rising to £1,720 by 2015;
- ID cards scrapped, together with the intrusive national data-base being prepared to store over fifty pieces of personal information on every one of us;
- the restoration of the link between earnings and state pensions, increasing the value of old-age pensions;
- a tax on bank profits, and new measures to close the loopholes used by the super-rich to avoid tax;
- a huge investment in green energy, including offshore and rural wind farms;
- the scrapping of the third runway for Heathrow;
- and finally, a referendum in May on a fairer voting system, which, while it certainly falls short of proportional representation, will ensure that every MP elected is supported by at least 50% of those who cast their votes.
I see this programme of achievements as a real and decisive force for good within government, influencing policy and introducing many of the progressive values which we Lib Dems have been arguing for.
Whether this new form of politics endures in our national life will be up to the voters. But I and my fellow Liberal Democrats are proud that, after so many years of being put down or ignored, we now have a real opportunity of delivering what we have fought for and believed in – a genuinely different and fairer future for this country.