If you are reading a Lib Dem press release, Lib Dem Voice or any number of Lib Dem MPs writing articles for the press this week ahead of the party conference, you could easily be fooled in to believing that the Lib Dems are responsible for the majority of what the new government has pledged to introduce. But the truth of the matter is that the Lib Dem influence is limited and strictly confined to areas of the government that do not affect the ordinary person on a day to day level.
Let's get one of the lies out of the way straight away. The "Pupil Premium" is not a "Real Lib Dem achievement", as Sarah Teather claims in this week's edition of Local Government First. It is a coalition achievement, but it is just as much a Tory achievement as it is well known and was widely published that the Tories supported the Pupil Premium. This policy would have happened with or without the Lib Dems being involved. It undermines the Lib Dems whole argument about the coalition to imply that the Pupil Premium wouldn't have happened without the Lib Dems.
I was interested to see a policy diagram that the Daily Telegraph produced before the General Election.
If you break it down in to what the Lib Dems have actually achieved from the yellow part of the diagram, the party has achieved just one of its policies. This being a partial move to a £10,000 income tax threshold.
If you look at the Orange area, the Lib Dems have achieved just one of these goals, with a fixed term for the next parliament. But in a major reversal, one of these goals, to continue spending until 2011, has seen a total about turn and this policy being abandoned. Nick Clegg likes to tell us that he knew that spending had to be cut earlier 10 days before the General Election, but it didn't stop the party putting out leaflets from Cowley Street warning that early cuts would lead to a double dip recession. This was the issue that made me feel back in May that we had been turned in to liars and fools by the way Nick Clegg had acted.
So in terms of what we have "added" to the coalition, it seems clear that we've achieved two things of note.
Some would argue that we've achieved much more because we are going to have a referendum on AV. Of course anyone with a modicum of intelligence knows AV is usually less proportional and was derided by Nick Clegg before the General Election. In AV the Lib Dems got a system them neither liked, supported or wanted. Much like the last prize in a raffle, its better than nothing, but only just.
The other policy trumpeted by Lib Dem bloggers as a Lib Dem success and reason to put out the flags and party is the ending of the detention of the children of Asylum seekers. However, the Lib Dems influence over this decisions was called in to question just a week ago with the announcement from Tory Minister Damien Green that the government would "minimise" child detention, not end it. Clearly when even our successes are reversed by the Tories, our influence on this government has been minimal.
We were told by the Lib Dem leadership that the Lib Dems would be a moderating influence on the Tory party, but a closer look at the Telegraph diagram of Tory policies shows very much the opposite.
In the blue and Purple areas of policy, those areas highlighted as being Tory policy not supported by the Lib Dems, the Tories have managed to introduce or announce
- A cap on non EU migrants
- Deep cuts in the first year
- Elected police commissioners
- Free schools
- Local referendums
- Toughen teaching qualifications
- Keep voting at 18
- National Youth Volunteer Service to be rolled out
- No cancellation of Trident.
What is galling for Lib Dems is that these policies are bitterly opposed by Lib Dems, but they are the sorts of policies affecting the police, schools and employment that affect people on a daily basis. They are to do with social policy and are visible policy areas, yet the Lib Dems are the ones saddled with voting and taxation. Where is the Lib Dems "voice of reason" toning down the Tories in coalition ?
The truth of the matter is that the Lib Dems have achieved very VERY little in government so far. A referendum on a voting system we don't really want and our one saving grace, a move towards a fairer tax system. But with the likes of Vince Cable already this week highlighting that the Tories policies are not working, where can the party go accept further down in the polls except down.
If people are to be convinced that the Lib Dems are making a difference as part of the coalition then the party and its leadership need to stop claiming credit for things the Tories would have done anyway and show what is happening that would never have happened under a Tory government. If it transpires that we are having no influence, then we should all ask the question, why are we in coalition at all !