“NICE PEOPLE, No Hope” was Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee’s take on the Lib Dems’ conference—wrong on both counts.
Already in power in a number of local councils, the Lib Dems seem well placed to try to capitalise on the massive and still growing disillusionment with Blair and New Labour by posing as the anti-war party with leftish social policies.
So they are not without hope, and they are also definitely not nice people.
At the core of the Lib Dems’ policies is what their shadow chancellor Vince Cable calls a budget in the tradition of Victorian prime minister Gladstone—a budget of “financial discipline and tough choices”.
“Markets must be allowed to work, trade should be free, and private enterprise should not be shackled by excessive regulation,” says Cable. Anyone wanting an end to the market in the NHS and our public services will have to look elsewhere.
This is what prompted the resignation earlier this year of Robert Taylor, who was advising the Lib Dems on workplace rights.
He claims the Lib Dems have been “hijacked by a coterie of laissez-faire economists” determined to reject EU minimum standards in the workplace.
Taylor claims he came under pressure from the Lib Dem leadership to support a ban on strikes in the essential public services.
Taylor says, “I left because I found every proposal was going to have to be tested against the most absurd liberal laissez-faire criteria.”
He was “told by the party high command that there had to be a preface to my proposals with a robust assertion of the supremacy of the free market”.
Cable’s economic plans not only accept Brown’s slaughter of 104,000 essential civil service jobs—he admitted that under the Lib Dems even more jobs could go.
“That is an inevitable consequence and we have never sought to hide that,” Cable has said. He also proudly boasts of the performance of Lib Dem councils around the country in making those “hard choices” to sack people and cut services.
The Lib Dems have proposed a small increase in tax for those earning over £100,000.
But the increase is smaller than even the modest increase in tax for the rich they proposed at the 2001 election.
Lib Dem shadow home secretary Mark Oaten has also sought to harden up the party’s image on law and order with his policies of “tough liberalism”.
This, for example, involves accepting the principle of the draconian Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.
At least a quarter of these orders have so far been made under Lib Dem councils.