Cheap shots aside, Adonis claims that Labour and the Lib Dems have much more in common with each other than we have with the Conservative party. As part of the proofs on offer, he admits that Labour has often stolen Liberal Democrat policy and put it into law. All very gratifying but Labour has not been shy of doing this with Tory ideas either. Blair and Gordon Brown have rightly been called Neo-Thatcherites, for they have continued with light-touch financial regulation and the privatisation of public assets that would have made even ex-chancellor Ken Clarke blush with shame for the modesty of his own ambition. From health, defence and prisons, if it isn’t screwed down by union interest, Labour has sold it; usually through the mechanisms of PFI initiatives. Shall we then talk about the levels of debt incurred as a result of these policies? Something that the Conservatives were supremely unconcerned with but an issue the Liberal Democrats have been raising since the early part of the decade. Now are we all Keynesians again in the face of the economic storm but in order to be true Keynesians, the government ought to have been saving during the good times. Instead they were like the pools winners whose motto was “Spend spend spend!” Whoever is in power next will have to cut cut cut, for as a country we are totally spent. It is still not clear that we will avoid the fate of Greece and become another IMF basket case. But we have been there before; last time under the leadership of James Callaghan and Denis Healey in the 1970s.
On the matter of defence, although Andrew Adonis would like to place Iraq firmly in the history books, I don’t think the British people would agree with him. Blood, both of the British service personnel who were killed and injured, the Iraqis who died in their hundreds of thousands, and all those who are still suffering today, is not so easily washed away. On the political front, the whole business shows a massive failure of judgment, with an all-powerful executive able to hoodwink and railroad most of parliament and a large part of the country into an illegal and aggressive war. With honourable exceptions on both sides, spineless Labour MPs were followed by gung-ho Tories through the lobbies in support of Blair and Bush’s crusade. It was the proudest moment of my political life so far when we Liberal Democrats stood up and with one voice said “No!” to war. And in other areas, Labour and Tories stay united, wedded to the military demands of a Cold War mentality, refusing even to consider the prospect of a Britain without Trident.
Lord Adonis writes “The Lib Dems and us are united by a common antipathy to the values of Tories.” As illustrated above, is there such a large difference between Labour and Conservatives? Twitter is awash with the (rather clunky) term “Labservative” but there is a point. Since Labour renounced socialism, the democratic debate has been considerably narrowed in this country. He accuses the Lib Dems of self-interest with our demands to change the voting system. Not of course there is any self-interest in Labservatives wishing to keep the first-past-the-post system(!). But the main point in changing the voting system to proportional representation is to strengthen democracy in Britain. For instance, in their domestic policies, Labour has very little environment ambition in evidence, nor do the Tories. There should be room for smaller but entirely representative parties in Westminster. But under the current system there isn’t. So proportional representation is not the pure self-interest that is claimed. Nor do the Liberal Democrats support Labour’s Big Brother vision for Britain, nor their repression of social mobility through the vastly inefficient families’ tax credit scheme.
The problem with Labour is that they are addicted to power and are cynical in their pursuit of it. Perhaps Andrew Adonis feels well placed to appeal to Liberal Democrats since he was a Lib Dem counsellor himself once. I have to ask though whether he really understood the party of once he was a member. Sure, it is possible to become a high profile politician by being a Lib Dem but we have to fight tooth-and-nail for any real power that the public might entrust to us. Not so with the other two parties. Since World War Two, all they have really needed to do was to wait a generation for their turn in the ministerial limousine. This is not a political system worthy of the people of Britain. One has to wonder however, if it wasn’t such a temptation that motivated Adonis’ switch to Labour in the first place and whether it still is behind his desperate appeal to us today.