The Apology Nick Clegg should have made

I’d like to take a few moments of your time to clear the air. It is obvious to me that significant numbers of people who voted for the Liberal Democrats at the last election have felt let down by how the Liberal Democrats have behaved in government. The reality is that we have let down not only those who voted for us but most particularly those who worked hardest to put Liberal Democrats in parliament. The time has come for me to put on record my thoughts about this and then make some suggestions as to the way forward.

Firstly, there is no doubt that people have been disappointed that we formed a coalition with the Conservative Party. I make no apology for doing so. The country needed a stable government, we believe that coalition government can be a good thing and I’ve fought every election because I want a share in power in order to implement liberal policies and make the country a better place for all. However, the manner in which we entered into this coalition was not good for the country. People needed to be able to see that we were fighting within the coalition for the values we hold dear. Instead of that, people saw us as those who were enabling the Tory party to have its way, cutting much needed taxation, promoting policies to benefit the few rather than the many  such as the removal of essential benefits and further emphasising the North-South divide in the UK. We should have been much more cautious. We should have opposed such plans both publicly as well as privately.

Secondly, it is obvious to everyone that we made a big mistake on tuition fees. We should not have gone back on our pledge to vote against tuitions fees. It was not merely foolish politically to be photographed making those pledges, it was fundamentally wrong to break them. I now take full responsibility for advising others in the party to do so and I will take the consequences of those decisions. I make no apology for wanting the best eduction system in the world and wanting the fullest access to be available to it regardless of the income of students. My generation benefitted from easy access to Higher Education and I believe it is necessary not merely for the well-being of students but also for the well-being of the country. We need to educate in order to grow.

I apologise for ever suggesting that the country could not afford this. There was always money available in the form of increased taxation. We were uniquely placed for making the case to the country that investment in our educational establishments and in our young people was an investment that Britain could not afford to avoid making.

Thirdly, I have heard that voices who say that we were not ready for government. Unfortunately, they were right. However, engaging in politics at the highest level teaches you hard lessons and the fact is that we are now a party of government and Britain needs a strong liberal force in parliament. Whether as a loyal opposition or whether we are in government, we need to bring creative liberal answers to the problems which beset us. However, it is clear that we will be unable to do this whilst the country does not trust us.

I take full responsibility for these mistakes. The people of the UK need our values. Many trust our values and many more will come to believe in what we stand for. However, this can only happen if trust can be rebuilt in the public sphere.

For these reasons, the time has come for change. I am sorry for the mistakes that I made. I know that a liberal Britain can only come about if I now step aside and allow other more trusted colleagues to put the case to the people. For this reason, I shall resign the party leadership and concentrate my efforts on retaining my Sheffield seat. I want a party I can feel proud of. I want a country I can feel proud of. And I commit myself to building a better future where the all the people of the UK are free to prosper.

Thank you.

The Joy of Tax

I voted in yesterday’s local election. I’ll readily confess that it was less of a pleasure than it usually is as I was not particularly excited about the vote I cast. However, civic duty is civic duty and the fact that I can vote matters more than the actual people I voted for.

I had two predictions about these local elections in my New Year Predictions. In January, I said:

  • There will be further significant losses for the Liberal Democrats who will face a wipe-out in local elections north of the border. The message from party leaders will be that we need to keep on with current policies, times were bound to be hard, it was always going to be difficult, government is tricky but it will all be worth it in the end. Activists will pour scorn in private and increasingly in public. The country will refuse to be fooled (this time).
  • Labour will lose control of Glasgow City Council but Obama will retain the White House though America will seem more divided than ever. We might hope that he governs more bravely if he does get four more years.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Obama manages to retain control of the White House, but I don’t think I’m going to be far off when it comes to the rest.
The reality of the situation for the Liberal Democrats is that they are not going to be elected at any level unless there is a new leader and one who represents a clean break from the past. Yes, it is boring to say so, but the Tuition Fees debacle really was that serious a loss of trust. It was that serious because it was such a potent symbol of trust being lost on other issues.

One of the interesting things about the prediction I made in January is that some of the Lib Dem activists that I know said rather mournfully to me, “Yes, it will be bad in Scotland but, you know, this isn’t playing out as badly in England – it isn’t going to be as bad down there, just you wait and see”.

Well, I harumphed a bit about that in January and I harumph about it now.

The most frustrating thing about the local elections this time for me has been the absence of any real debate about local taxation or local services. I don’t feel as though I’ve been engaged by any of the political parties about that. The SNP seem more interested in the idea that winning Glasgow might be a stepping stone to independence than about providing adequate services to the city. Labour have seemed intent on ripping their local party to pieces and establishing one remnant as a permanent opposition. The Tory party are not a local fighting force. The Liberal Democrats, whom I do still, despite everything, feel supportive of, are being harried out of existence. Then there are the other parties – the Green’s whom I always feel I ought to want to support, Britannica, which I certainly don’t feel I want to support, various socialist factions and a ghastly right-wing Christian party that chills the blood.

One cannot say one wants for choice.

I’ve been very frustrated by the main players making a big deal out of freezing council tax this time. However did we get into a position where council tax has been frozen? Populist it may be. Stupid it certainly is. Freezing council tax hands power away from local government to the next tier up – Holyrood in our case. It also means squeezing public services beyond recognition.

When I was a local government candidate, I spent a lot of my time on pavement politics. It was said at one time that there was not a single pot-hole in Bridge of Allan that was so unglamorous that I would refuse to have my photograph taken by it. However, I was trying to make a point – that local services matter.

Last week my car had its MOT and needed quite a lot of work done on its suspension. “Ah, pot-holes!” said the garage manager with a fair degree of pleasure.

I’d rather pay a couple of pounds a year more in council tax and get decent roads than have a frozen council tax and a large bill when it comes to the MOT.

And therein lies my frustration with local government at the moment.

I believe in the joy of tax but, more geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.