Leadership and the C-word

Venn diagram of Lib Dem/Tory influence on Coalition policies“Two non-entities” – the curt analysis of historian David Starkey on the Lib Dem leadership race seems unduly harsh. But as a semidetached

Lib Dem looking for an excuse to reattach I have at the very least been struck by just how similar the two Lib Dem leadership candidates are.

The Lib Dems are now a very new and fresh party in the sense that most members have joined in very recent years or even months. For those of us with decades of libdemmery under our belts, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson almost feel like extended family. They are resilient folk who have been around for ages. Both of them are very much to be admired for withstanding the humiliation of losing their seats and then clawing those seats back.

White, middle-class, Oxbridge/Russell group, neither at first sight really exude life’s hard knocks. In fact, both have put forward moving accounts of just how searing real life can be. Jo Swinson’s speech in Parliament on combining politics and early motherhood was an astonishingly frank tour de force. Ed Davey’s poignant radio interview on his experience of early bereavement was truly memorable.

But, and it’s a very big but, how do we process their work in coalition? There is a poverty of debate in the party about the Coalition and about… err… poverty. The Lib Dems dropped austerity unceremoniously in 2015 (almost as suddenly as it was adopted back in 2010) and by 2017 it was almost as if the Coalition had never happened.

There is a small but growing academic literature on the Coalition, especially the disproportionate effect of welfare cuts on women, but at the leadership hustings in London last night the Coalition was barely mentioned. Housing was discussed but not the bedroom tax. Education was discussed but not the Coalition’s abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance. Maternity rights were discussed but not the Coalition’s axing of the Health In Pregnancy grant. The most important role that British liberals have played in government for a century has been neatly papered over only four years after it happened.

Jo and Ed are the ones who need to provide some more coherent answers on what they did in Coalition, what the consequences have been and what they might do in Coalition in the future.

* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East


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