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English: United Kingdom's Deputy Prime Minster...

English: United Kingdom’s Deputy Prime Minster and Lord President of the Council Nick Clegg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Nick,

Hi! Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to make a video for me. This must be really important to you. Thanks. Really.

I’ve voted for the Liberal Democrats in general elections more often than I have voted for any of the other parties. In 2001 and 2010, I duly put my cross next to the Liberal Democrat candidate for MP (in 2005, I had just moved house and wasn’t yet on the electoral roll at my new address). I have never voted for either a Labour or Conservative candidate in a general election. Nor will I.

In 1997, I didn’t vote for Labour because they had abandoned Clause 4, and, apparently, all other principles as well. Their record as venal authoritarians desperate to dismantle the NHS and anything that survived of the public sector, always ready to try to outflank the Tories on the right of any issue meant that there was no risk of my voting for them once we’d all seen how they intended to use power.

So, in as much as I’ve been anything (on a national level) I’m a Lib Dem voter. Hello!

Thanks again for the video. I suppose it’s only fair why I let you know exactly why I think it’s not an apology, and to reiterate that I shan’t vote for you again (and explain why).

First, let’s clear something up. This is not an apology.

Or at least, it’s not an apology for the right thing. Voters like me are cross because you broke your pledge on tuition fees (and also, lest we forget, a manifesto commitment to get rid of them altogether).

When someone’s cross with you for breaking a promise, you don’t apologise for having made that promise in the first place. That isn’t the dishonourable part of your conduct. What was dishonourable was not doing everything that was within your power to try to keep your promise.

The problem people have with your behaviour is not that you made unrealistic promises (or, let’s say, fully costed manifesto commitments). It’s that you abandoned promises you freely made, in order to win some internal battle with the members of your party, or because the appeal of a ministerial car was too great, or simply because you just never believed the promise you made.

There was every opportunity in the drafting of the Coalition Agreement for you to make tuition fees a red line (although, as we’ve seen with ‘no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS’, you’ve got quite a flexible attitude to how linear those lines are, and what colour they appear to you).

Indeed , your claim in your ‘apology’ that you “couldn’t keep our promise” appears distinctly shabby, if not an outright falsehood. You say that there was no money available, but there was money to cut the top rate of income tax, to cut to corporation tax, to send a Gove Bible to every school in the country, to fund the Olympics (£6.2 billion).

Frankly, the Conservatives wouldn’t have been able to govern without your help. I don’t believe you couldn’t keep your promise. It’s just not the sort of thing that appeals to Orange Bookers. No, it’s not that you couldn’t keep it, but that, given the option, you wouldn’t keep it. And you didn’t.

Imagine, for a moment that we’re all a big family. You’re Daddy. The Tory party are Daddy’s new boyfriend, Eric. And the electorate are children. If, for example, you promise that next year we’ll all go to EuroDisney, but then you get together with the Eric, and say “Sorry. Money’s tight. Not only won’t we go to Eurodisney, I was wrong to think we ever could. What’s that in the drive? That’s Eric’s new yacht. I’m sorry for promising we’d go to EuroDisney, but I’m not going to feel guilty about it. Stop dwelling in the past, when we didn’t even have access to a yacht.”

Except, of course, it’s not EuroDisney, it’s university. And the 15,000 young people who didn’t go this year because of the changes you introduced.

Your answer, in this video, is to promise not to make any more promises like that. Your response to having betrayed your principles is to offer to have fewer principles, to state that you will do your best as a party to believe in even less, to achieve even fewer things. Let’s hope that this promise turns out to be as easily broken as those you have made before.

Let’s quickly look at the apology itself.

There’s no easy way to say this. We made a pledge. We didn’t stick to it. And, for that, I am sorry.

Which is so filled with sophistry that it made me quite angry. The “for that” could, clearly, apply to either of the preceding statements, depending on  whether you read it as:

We made a pledge – we didn’t stick to it – and for that I am sorry.

Or:

We made a pledge. We didn’t stick to it, and for that I am sorry.

The balanced way in which you read it makes it clear that it’s intentional that it can be read in two ways. Because, of course, deep in your heart of hearts, Nick, you don’t want to apologise for breaking that promise.

This whole little video seems like a dirty little attempt to brand the social liberals who make up much of your party’s rank-and-file (or did) as wildly romantic, impractical dreamers.

We can all see why it’s necessary to do this: your party’s uniquely democratic structure means that they get to decide your policies. Much better for everyone if they just learn to go with what you say is pragmatic, achievable, sensible. Much better if they cease to aspire to a better Britain at all.

You said that you “owe it to us to be up front”. Well, Nick, I’ll offer you the same courtesy. I don’t see that as an apology at all, just as a backhanded rebuke to the (many) members of your party who believed that higher education was important enough for the lives of young people that it should be available to all, no matter what their circumstances, free at the point of use.

I wasn’t sure I could have thought less of you. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

You finish with a statement of what your party believes in. That is, until it’s easier for them not to believe in it any more…

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