I am a liberal in the true sense of the word. Liberalism for me is about strength and principles and the combining of the two to achieve change. The history of the Liberal movement is replete with examples of this as its philosophy was used to justify armed insurrection in America and France.
The early liberal thinker John Locke, who is often credited for the creation of liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition, employed the concept of natural rights and the social contract to argue that the rule of law should replace absolutism in government, that rulers were subject to the consent of the governed, and that private individuals had a fundamental right to life, liberty, and property. In essence it holds at its core the word "free" and the principle of consent.
So it is with horror that I witness the happenings at the Liberal Democrat conference this weekend.
I heard - largely via twitter owing to a paucity of coverage through any traditional broadcast media - of a party leadership that shamelessly high jacked a conference motion to exclude a vote on withdrawing the party's support for changes to the NHS. They did so by rolling out the party darling (and mine) Dame Shirley and tried to taint the member motion as a "gift to the Labour Party". Even with this extraordinary manipulation the Liberal membership spoke and voted in opposition.
So what now? Are we at last to witness a Liberal Democrat party that is energised by the support of its membership to use its power in Parliament to protect our freedoms?
Apparently the conference vote is not binding on the parliamentary party. They will continue to promote the Lib Dems in parliament and to provide support to the government over and above the coalition agreement.
Nick Clegg and others will say and have said that "we did not win a majority in the 2010 election" which we accept and also that the party is cooperating with the Conservatives in the national interest. That's all well and good but what about the national good?
The national good at the time was to take control of the country's finances and reduce our debts. In its pursuit we have had to participate in cuts some of which, for example the Education Maintenance Allowance, which undermine our basic philosophy of equality of access to education. We have even accepted with extreme reluctance the tripling of tuition fees. All of this is in pursuit of the compromise we agreed to.
So why are the Liberal Democrats in parliament, going beyond this and supporting change? Not to save money or meet some other threat, but in support of an apparently philosophical motive. Clearly the membership does not wish them to.
It is difficult to be a part of a government with whom you share only a partial agenda. It leaves those in parliament open to accusations of selling out and has led to tensions between parliamentarians and the rank and file. Pressures like collective responsibility in cabinet serve to submerge Liberal values beneath the all encompassing national good. If you wish to continue in government and maintain the essential collective responsibility, as a minority party, the compromise of values has to be complete.
So does Nick Clegg have a problem? I don't think so.
One prominent Liberal Democrat critic of the bill, Dr Charles West, told the BBC that the vote would "empower" Lib Dem MPs and peers to reject the bill completely; "This bill was never in the coalition agreement," he said. "Nick Clegg has now got a very strong weapon in his negotiations with David Cameron. So we've actually empowered Nick Clegg, we've empowered our MPs and peers, and we've empowered Liberal Democrats."
However, this empowerment can only be effective with a change of approach from the Parliamentary party and as always I have a proposal. Nick Clegg should resign as Deputy Prime Minister in the interests not only of the party but of the nation.
I want my Liberalism with some guts; by all means cooperate where it makes sense but everything not included in the coalition agreement should be subject to the normal party political processes. Nick Clegg as leader needs to rally the parliamentary party and ensure that they defend, not compromise away key liberal values.
This is about a good deal more than the views of a few hundred people at conference, important though the view of this group is. Twitter was alive with concerns and complaints regarding the party's position on the NHS amidst clear differences between these views and the conduct of the parliamentary party.
I genuinely believe that the country voted for an injection of liberalism into British politics at the last election. The thing that swung it for the Liberal Democrats and propelled them into government was the statement "I agree with Nick" what we got was "Nick agrees with Dave".
The Lib Dems can have their cake and eat it. They can remain in government in the areas where there is clear agreement but need to re establish their "point of difference" for the rest. This needs to be managed and led and it will be complicated. It is this complication that requires the sacrifice; by Mr Clegg, of his position as deputy PM but the potential rewards in terms of the restoration of the party's credibility and integrity could yet propel the leader to Number 10.
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