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Friday, 6 May 2011

Notting my name

There's always one. The media always want someone, always falsely elevated (to make the story sound good) to the status of a senior Liberal Democrat, to say something negative when the chips are down and they can't find a genuinely senior figure to say it. This time round, it's our candidate for directly elected Sheriff of Nottingham, or whoever he is. Where's Robin Hood when we need him? I'm sure he's a good chap and a fine Liberal Democrat and he can say what he likes. It just amuses me to see someone who the Standard tells me is (or rather was) the leader of a group of six opposition councillors reported as if he is a person of such major significance. He doesn't speak for me, or for any other Liberal Democrats of my acquaintance.

So, a year on from polling day in last year's General Election (and that was a day and a half), here we are. Here we are. It's obviously very disappointing that so many Lib Dem candidates have been beaten, including many councillors who were doubtless very good and thus might have deserved to hold their seats. It's obviously disappointing that the No Campaign appears to have won the AV referendum. There's no point wriggling out of either of those facts, although I could say a great deal more about the electoral arithmetic of both. We lost the elections and we seem to have lost the referendum.

Why, therefore, do I remain so cheerful politically? Well, one reason is that the BNP has only won two council seats this time, which is down 11 on last time - good. Eleven out of thirteen of them thrown out by the electors - that's democracy. Anyway, more broadly, I am very sorry for Liberal Democrat colleagues who have lost, but I still see this Coalition Government as a great improvement on the government of Gordon Brown. I still see it as being good for Britain and good for the Liberal Democrats that we are in government. I remain convinced that, between now and May 2015, people can be persuaded of the merits of what has been achieved by the Liberal Democrats in government. Yes, we have compromised - and, eventually, before the next election, that can become a source of praise for my party, rather than a source of vitriol. Compromise is a good thing. We've actually delivered a lot of the things that were in our manifesto (not that many people actually read manifestos); the thing about not raising tuition fees wasn't actually in the manifesto, for what it's worth, plus (despite the headline rise in fees) the Coalition has actually introduced a better, fairer system of student finance than existed under Labour.

The polls currently indicate another hung Parliament, if there was a General Election today. That could mean another coalition. If the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition delivers the goods on cutting the deficit and renewing the economy, could the public decide that they would like it to continue for a second term? Could they then decide that they will vote Conservative or Liberal Democrat in different constituencies in pursuit of such a goal? Could the Lib Dems thus find themselves strengthened and remaining in government after the next General Election? I don't know. And nor do you. One hears, by the way, that yesterday, the Lib Dem vote held up strongly in those constituencies in which the Lib Dems actually have MPs, including Nick Clegg's seat of Sheffield Hallam (despite the loss of councillors in Sheffield over all). So there could be the same number of Lib Dem MPs in another hung Parliament at the next General Election, which, remember, is not expected for another four years. 

The Tory Lord Fowler was on the radio earlier saying not to read too much into local elections, as "we've all been where the Liberal Democrats are now". These things come and these things go. The reality remains very simple: the Coalition Government is tackling Labour's fantasy economics. Public spending is not falling. Labour was planning to increase it, but with borrowed money that did not really exist - and it is that projected increase that is being cut back, to get rid of the structural deficit. Harsh medicine indeed, but necessary, as Labour's fantasy economics was a disaster for millions of people in this country. 

When I first became politically aware in about 1985 (OK, I was fourteen!), Mrs Thatcher was running third in the polls and my party was running first. Two years later, she won a landslide General Election victory and my party came third with 22 MPs out of 650. The only thing that's predictable about politics is its unpredicability.

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