Coming from a very Labour family, one that suffered serious hardship under the Thatcher era, being a Lib Dem black sheep is not easy.
Since the rise of the Tories to power, buttressed by a Lib Dem flank that couldn’t wait to get its hands on the tiller, I have been questioned on a regular basis by Labour people on “what d’ya think of that, then?!” – in that sneering way that only Labour people do best.
The problem to me was that most Labour members always assumed the Lib Dems would fall into bed with them in their hour of need. It is this rejection, combined with propping up Teh Evul Tories!!!!1 that has caused them such pain. Sadly for them, just like everything to do with Labour, their party leadership has not reflected their values for more than a decade.
What amuses me most about it is every time a new Tory minister, or David Cameron, says or does something, I am quizzed as if I am guilty of a crime. How dare you put them in power? They’re going to shit on the poor all over again, etc, etc.
I would like to dismiss these concerns as the usual partisan baiting. After all, as I wrote a few days ago, this could be Labour’s best opportunity since the death of John Smith. And yes, it’s callous to write that, but given it led to Tony Blair, three huge election wins and 13 years of power, it has to be true…
But a little bit of me is with them. A little bit of me dies inside when I see William Hague, handsomely rejected in 2001 for being so out of touch with the electorate, preening on the world stage with Hilary Clinton, embarrassing us all by talking about a non-existent “special relationship”.
My approach to the coalition is this. I am not at all apologetic for what my party has done. I share some of the concerns ably expressed by Rob Fenwick and Nich Starling. This coalition is going to put the Liberal Democrats under the most extreme stress. It might well be the end of the party. It might lead to it splitting back in two, especially if a form of PR is ever agreed upon.
But I’m not prepared to turn my back on the party. Not yet. It would have been easy to stick it out in opposition once more. That’s where we’re comfortable. We don’t deserve power, but neither should we refuse to take what may be the only opportunity in our party’s history to implement at least some of our policies because we’re afraid of the bogeymen that still lurk in the Tory cupboards from the Thatcher era.
The alternative? Labour did not want a coalition. The Tories could have governed on their own, but in return we would have extracted almost nothing, and worse, faced another election in a year’s time, when Labour are likely to be unprepared for an election, and a Tory landslide could ensue.
Don’t tell me that wouldn’t be worse for the country.
So when people ask me what I think of what’s happening in British politics, and whether I’m comfortable with what’s happening, I simply say: “I really don’t know yet”.
And none of us do. It’s way, way too early to guess what the outcome of this coalition will be. Nothing has really happened yet. When legislation starts, and we truly get a handle on the way Tory and LD Secretaries of State are going to govern, that’s when the evidence will roll in. Until then, we lie in wait like wolves. Waiting. Interminably waiting.
I freely admit though. If it’s a disaster, I will live forever with the shame.
But a part of me thinks it genuinely can work.
And that’s worth fighting for.