Today’s Independent carries an op-ed piece by Steve Richards which ostensibly focuses on the concerns of the Tory right about the prospect of an electoral pact with the Lib Dems. Richards argues that such concerns are unfounded. The basis for the argument appears to be that an electoral pact would undermine the Lib Dem commitment to pluralism.
In the process he summarizes why the Tory right should be happy with how things are shaping up. In doing so he encapsulates all that social liberals find so appalling about the Coalition:
As for the general direction of government policy, there is much for the right to cheer. Spending cuts are being imposed on a scale that is deeper than any equivalent country. The universities and the NHS are being privatised stealthily. Free schools will almost certainly lead to the return of selection in one form or another. The private sector will move in to run services dropped by councils starved by cash. Claims that tax policies are progressive are dismissed by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
The Conservative leadership would not have dared to show its ideological zeal quite so clearly if it were ruling alone. Admittedly in other areas, and partly thanks to the understated work of Mr Clegg, policies are not quite as pure as some Conservative MPs would like, although I note that Ken Clarke’s plans to reduce the prison population takes the form of a tentative Green Paper, while Andrew Lansley speeds ahead with his plan that over time will make the NHS a safety net for the poor while the rest of us will take out insurance to pay for a private sector in health that can hardly believe its luck.
The Lib Dems have recently produced a list of the commitments in their Manifesto that have been taken forward by the Coalition government. There are many positive developments, but many of them are quite modest. And that document contains a healthy dose of spin. Even where the commitments are of more fundamental importance, it would be interesting to reflect upon quite where priorities lie. Great, there is a possibility of genuine reform of the House of Lords. Oh dear, the cost of that has been propping up a government that has set in train the privatisation of the health service, a move for which no party sought a mandate at the General Election. In a straight trade off between the futures of these two venerable institutions – change both or change neither – I think I know which option would be preferred.
Delivering on manifesto commitments is important. But much of the profound change that is currently being pursued by the government was not mentioned in any manifesto, or was explicitly ruled out before the election. It is perhaps symptomatic of the where we are in terms of the credibility of current political discourse that Labour List has set up a Coalition Fib List, and appear not to be struggling to find things to add to it. Of course Labour are hardly blameless in that regard, but it serves no purpose to get distracted into mud-slinging. The point is that we should go beyond counting up how many specific manifesto proposals have been delivered and not lose sight of this bigger picture.
And it seems to me that Steve Richards has provided a plausible summary of the big picture. And that picture looks deep, deep blue from where I’m sitting.