I had the weekend off – I’ve had a good snooze and a good time with Erica and my granddaughter Eva so now it’s back to work with the question, “Where do we go from here?”
For the last few months I have been using the WWI question of “Do we stay in the trenches or go over the top”.
Sadly, in my view, too many of our colleagues decided to be defensive and stay locked into the trenches. They were battered and bemused by budget cuts – especially the half witted front loading of cuts to councils in England. They refused to campaign either on the reasons for the deficit and therefore who created it or the many, many good things that this Govt is doing.
In an earlier blog I pointed out that I had taken a different view. Every one of my Focus since May 2010 has included reference to the Government. At times it has been critical but it has also recorded the many things that the Government is doing in which I take great pride.
In my view what we do now takes on the words of a WWI song, “Keep right on the end of the road, though the way be long let your heart be strong”.
There are three options being thought about by a few in the Party but massively whipped up by the media:
- Ditch Nick Clegg. I back Nick and his team in the majority of what they are doing In May 2010 they had a massively difficult choice. The national economy was going down the tubes. The international money markets were waiting with bated breath to see what happened with a view that the £ would be marked down and interest rates marked up within hours if a government was not formed. By now we would have been Greece, Ireland or Portugal with massive and permanent costs to the economy and the markets.
- Ditch the coalition. Well that would now make no positive difference to our standing and would probably make it worse. After taking all the hits of doing the difficult stuff we would not be around when those difficult decisions bear fruit and the economy starts to recover. There would have been all pain with absolutely no chance of gain for our Party.
- Carry on but carry on better. Well this clearly my chosen option. I agree with 80% of what the government is going. Nick and his Ministers have introduced more of the ideas that I have fought for during the last 12 months than in the 44 years that preceded them. Civil liberties; fairer taxation, better pensions; localism; democracy in the National Health Service etc etc etc.
In carrying on though we must be far more effective at showing our differences from:
The Labour Party. Both coalition parties have been ineffective in pinning the tail of the budgetary problems on the donkey that caused them. Everyone in politics knows that there would have been massive cuts under Labour. They deliberately inflated public sector spending to keep the economy from diving into a recession. That was the right thing to do but there are consequences that would have need picking up by any government. Consistently Labour has said, “We would have made cuts but fairer ones than the coalition”. BUT they have then opposed every cut.
But even before the financial crisis there was a structurally unsustainable overspend. We were already using the national credit card to pay for food whilst borrowing more money for a holiday!
The Tory Party. I don’t, by and large, like Tories in Westminster although I get on very well with most Tories in local government. During the last week of the election I came under attack from three right wing newspapers that apparently had senior political staff regularly reading my blog! Well I came through that and I will not be intimidated by them. I have already made known my views on Pickles and Shapps and am pleased that the title Laurel and Hardy seems to be sticking. They have little understanding of our sector and little experience at converting policy and law into reality. That is the real problem with Tories at the moment ideologically based but little practicality.
Let’s just take education. I have great respect for the integrity of Michael Gove but his ideas are not workable or practical. I have no problem with the concept of ‘free schools’ why should the state be a monopoly provider? It isn’t, for example, in housing. The idea however, that this can be purely demand led process able to take any building for the purpose is just bonkers. We need to deal with the needs of all and not the few but need to do so in the concept a multiplicity of providers, ideas and mechanisms which are knitted together by the council as the strategic authority.
So as I go to our first group meeting tonight; as I get my ‘Thank You’ Focus printed; as I get ready to go back to London for my final 3 months as Leader it’s going to be business as usual. I am going to spend even more time on the streets of my Ward and Liverpool telling people what I believe, campaigning for them and their communities, preparing to deliver localism with all its new opportunities. As David Penhgaligon used to say, “If you’ve got something to say put it on a piece of paper and put it through the letter box”!