Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Jeremy Browne and the rigour of government

The Liberal Democrats have "undergone a big transformation” since going into government - or so Jeremy Browne told BBC Radio 4's World at One the other day:
“If you’re a party in opposition, you get used to being oppositionist – you can see this with Labour, even after two and a half in year in opposition they are making a completely wild set of incoherent and uncosted pledges. 
“We’d been in opposition prior to 2010 for 70 or 80 years, so it’s not surprising the way that you become used to the lack of rigour that opposition entails. 
“We came into government in 2010 I think with some policy proposals that weren’t going to survive the rigour of being in government. But it is, I acknowledge, and Nick Clegg has acknowledged, it’s a learning process, it’s a growing-up process for the Lib Dems.”
Is this at all true? For several general elections now, the Liberal Democrats' proudest boast has been that their manifesto is "fully costed".

A more cogent criticism would be that in our concern for demonstrating economic rigour on details of policy we failed to articulate a wider vision or philosophy sufficiently cogent or appealing to persuade people to change their habits and vote for us.

You could say that all the parties were overtaken by events and that whoever had come to power after the election would have found it hard to fund new spending commitments. But that is also to say that the Liberal Democrats were no more at fault than anyone else.

But maybe Jeremy disagrees. Maybe he was worrying that the party's policy programme was unaffordable for months or years before the last election.

In which case, where was he? Certainly not on the Federal Policy Committee.

Which displays another weakness of the Liberal Democrats, at least in the days when I was on FPC, is that the MPs just don't seem that interested in policy. I never got the impression that the parliamentary party's places on the committee were hotly contested. Perhaps they have taken the hard-headed view that their chances of being re-elected have little to do with the details of the party's manifesto?

If Jeremy believed we were heading for trouble then should he not have spoken out sooner? He is increasingly being spoken of as a future leader of the party (if only by right-wing journalists), but there is not a lot of evidence of leadership here.

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