Monday, 3 September 2007

Matthew Taylor's appointment - Ming should put his foot down!

Liberal Democrat MP Matthew Taylor has accepted an invitation from the Prime Minister to lead a major review of land-use policy, with the aim of improving affordable housing in rural areas. Menzies Campbell welcomed the appointment, claiming it as a victory for Lib Dem policy, and as an admission of defeat by the Government:

I am delighted that Gordon Brown has once again recognised the knowledge and experience that Liberal Democrats have to offer in tackling major policy challenges that the Government has proved unable to solve.

His analysis is optimistic at best, and at worst, appallingly naïve. Gordon Brown doesn't believe he's failed, and he isn't particularly interested in taking the Lib Dems' advice, either. Ming should know - he gave the PM some pretty sound foreign policy advice last week, and was sent packing.

It doesn't take a genius to work out what Brown's up to. His announcement came at the climax of a speech this morning, where he promised a "new politics" based on consensus, and made lots of noises about the "centre ground". His political strategy revolves around defending the centre, whilst appearing open-minded, listening, and humble. This tactic is absolutely key to revitalising a 10-year-old Government which people were beginning to get thoroughly sick of. Brown will do whatever it takes to make the new image work, even if that means suffering the odd Tory or Lib Dem in his team.

Or to put it more bluntly: Brown is cynically using the Lib Dems. He's allowing them to get a little taste of power, but being careful to offer them jobs where there's already considerable cross-party consensus, and where there's little chance of them setting their own distinctive, liberal agenda. In return for pretty minor concessions, Brown gets to portray himself as a centrist and a moderate; he gets to look diplomatic and broad-minded; and he gets to tap into the tremendous public goodwill towards the Liberal Democrats.

He knows we're likely to accept whatever biscuits he chucks our way. As the third party, opposing a Government with a fair majority, we have precious little chance to change Britain. We hate being a glorified think tank, and are frustrated by the remote chances of getting into power anytime soon. We're ambitious - rightly so - and any of us would jump at the opportunity to make a tangible difference, no matter how specific the brief.

The danger is this: the rubbing-off can work both ways. As Labour can benefit from the Lib Dems' political position, and the general perception of us as a bunch of fairly decent people, they can also begin to offload their own baggage onto us.

More to the point, the eccentricities of the British electoral system put us in a uniquely awkward position. Our vote gets squeezed from both sides, and speculation about our relationships with the other parties, especially in the event of a hung parliament, can entirely derail us. Any form of collaboration with the Government, especially when they have a good majority of their own, could go very wrong indeed.

Our independence is far more important than the opportunity of improving rural housing, however worthy a cause that may be. At a time of intellectually stale politics, and a n ever-decreasing gap between the Government and the Official Opposition, our free-thinking and distinctive voice is more vital than ever. Ming needs to put his foot down. Active Lib Dems in elected positions should be working for their party, or for parliament, but not the PM.


Anonymous said...

Spot on, once again old bean. The parliamentary party's job is to expose Government failures and propose new solutions, especially in areas where the Tories and Labour have a nice cosy consensus, eg. the BAE corruption scandal.

If the people want our ideas & policies, they should vote for us. On what basis can we oppose a government at General Elections which we have advised?

Our job is not to give a lifeline to an ailing government which has run out of steam. It is to provide a viable alternative. We risk looking like we are in cahoots with Brown when we co-operate in ways such as this, which can only serve to alienate more people from British politics as they conclude that they have no choice at the ballot box, because the end result will always be the same.

Aaron Trevena said...

God forbid an elected MP should work on something important to his constituents.

How can we show the voting public they can trust us to deliver if they only ever see us throwing peanuts from the sidelines.

The most effective opposition (in terms of the people it serves, certainly not for the party itself) is one that works with the government on the good and opposes the government on the bad.

People do vote for the liberal democrats - we (myself included) voted for the Honourable Mr Taylor, precisely because he is a good MP backed by a party with good policies.

I'd sooner have we had less MPs if they were all as good as Mr Taylor, than twice as many if they were the usual party-first yes-men the labour party is made up of, and they would probably make more difference.

It's not all down to bums on seats!

Quality before quantity - that's why our lazy and lacklustre lib dem councillors were culled.

Jonny Wright said...

Aaron -

"The most effective opposition ... is one that works with the government on the good and opposes the government on the bad."

I agree entirely, but my idea of working with the Government extends as far as trying to reach a consensus where we can, supporting them in parliament when they do the right thing, and not just voting against them for the sake of it.

It really shouldn't extend as far as working for them, though!

Tristan said...

Spot on.

Brown is not interested in what we have to say. He's an authoritarian, he wants strong government not consensual government.

The best thing he could do would be to strengthen parliament and its committees. Allow real debate and dissension amongst MPs.

Of course, he's opposed to this so is making a big show of being 'inclusive' by having some MPs from other parties advising him which also means the other parties will be easier to taint (and he can use that old 'LibDems are just like us really' ploy to encourage people to vote Labour not LibDem)

Aaron Trevena said...

I think members of our party are right to say no to the collective responsability and tied hands of joining the cabinet, but advising and taking part in reviews is a positive step.

I'd really like to see a stronger westminster and stronger committees - I see Mr Taylors role as extending what can be with parliamentary committees.

Mr Taylor is working primarily for his constituents - I think that is a point many are missing here, he's certainly not "working for labour".

I'd like to see stronger teamwork and less "we can't help you, you're the enemy" party politics - particularly with the Tories in opposing ID Cards, and detention without trial.

Just because the other parties above such tactics doesn't mean we have should allow good to be left undone for fear of a little mud being slung in our direction.

I don't care about party political spin on this, what matters is what can be acheived, and if Mr Taylor acheives something worthwhile then it's a credit to him, rather than the party political bickering I see here.

monsterravingloony said...

The debate on here has been interesting. You can make coherent arguments both for an against.

The main argument in favour is that it gives the Lib Dems an opportunity to make a difference. The key question is just how much of a difference. If Brown is only allowing Lib Dems (and others) to tinker at the edges in policy areas where there is already strong consensus between the parties then just how much difference can non-Labour appointees make?

It comes down to whether this move is genuine, and opens up scope for a real departure from the policies Labour would otherwise have pursued, or is it just a PR exercise. Just proof that Brown is no less reliant on spin than Blair was.

I guess only time will tell for sure, but I am deeply suspicious of Brown and am inclined to side with Jonny Wright.

It is difficult to see what's in it for the Lib Dems. Certainly not real power in any truly important area. There is also the risk of losing votes as would-be Lib Dems voters might reason they no longer need to waste a vote on the Lib Dems if they can now get the benefits of Lib Dem influence via the back door.

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