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After Just 100 Days, The Penny Is Well and Truly Dropping on How Hard Lib Dems Fought in Government

13/08/2015 17:38 BST | Updated 13/08/2016 10:59 BST

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To mark 100 days of the first Conservative government in nearly 20 years, HuffPost UK is running 100 Days of Dave, a special series of blog posts from grassroots campaigners to government ministers, single parents to first-year students, reflecting on what's worked and what hasn't, whilst looking for solutions to the problems we still face.

We're 100 days into a Tory government and, let's be honest, they have been fairly clear on what they're about. Unfortunately, for the majority of us across the UK - those of us who didn't vote Tory - it doesn't look pretty.

A clear course has been set that puts the interests of the haves over the have nots, dismisses issues like the environment and migration as someone else's problem and enthusiastically paints the UK as an increasingly insular, ungenerous country ill-fit and unwilling to play its part in Europe. The penny is well and truly dropping on how hard Lib Dems fought in government - and how much of a difference we actually made over the last five years.

Heartbreakingly, week after week, we've seen the Tories roll back the tides on a whole raft of policies that we blocked in government.

  • Protection of housing benefit for those under 21 - gone;
  • Protection of child tax credits for larger families - gone;
  • Protection for the benefit rates for people with disabilities and health problems that make it particularly difficult for them to enter the job market - gone.
  • And, tragically, we know the Tories' ideological, unnecessary welfare cuts will hit the poorest families in the country - mostly hardworking families.

These changes are deeply unwise, deeply unfair and horribly divisive.

On the environment, David Cameron is now free to be every bit as good as his word, and, with a massive downgrade of the agenda that the Lib Dems championed in coalition, he absolutely has. So, we have already seen ten key environmental policies, developed by consensus over many years, watered down or completely scrapped.

  • Support for onshore windfarms - gone;
  • The green deal aimed at improving energy efficiency in people's homes - gone;
  • Protection for fracking in precious wildlife areas - gone;
  • And the decade long plan to make all new homes "zero carbon" by 2016 - suddenly, inexplicably, gone.

With the UK's housing stock already responsible for almost a third of our greenhouse gas emissions, the last policy puts it on course to rise to more than half by 2050. It's hard to see the upside. Sadly, we have seen this bull-headed, unscientific approach spreading through government departments like wildfire.

So, we have a home secretary committed to bringing back the snooper's charter that we blocked in government. And that is despite the findings of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation that deemed its plans to retain everyone's internet browsing logs - a move unprecedented across the Western world - as "undemocratic, unnecessary and in the long run intolerable".

We have a prime minister intent on scrapping the Human Rights Act, despite little information on what it would be replaced with, other than "a common sense approach" which to many of us, including large numbers in his own party, sounds frankly terrifying.

We have a Chancellor who wants to cull £20billion from Whitehall budgets with no clear vision for what public services will remain after departments have had their budgets slashed by up to 40%. And a health secretary who has silently - and without consultation or parliamentary account -kicked the cap on social care costs due to come in next year into the long grass.

In one stroke it has crushed the hopes of tens of thousands of older people and their families who will now face the catastrophic costs of care on their own. This was a policy that had been ignored and pushed back by governments for decades and which, thanks to Lib Dems in government, it looked like we had finally cracked. Instead, we've seen it consigned to the dust heap without any assessment of the costs to individuals or councils, and no plan to address the growing crisis in social care.

On housing the Tories seem intent on intensifying that crisis too. We need to build 300,000 homes every year for the next decade. But every policy so far announced seems to be part of a concerted campaign to sabotage the ability of housing associations to play any role in meeting this need.

The independent Office for Budgetary Responsibility has confirmed restrictions on housing association rents announced in June's Budget will reduce affordable house building by around 14,000. This is at a time when housing associations are also being forced to sell their desperately needed stock - incomprehensibly - at reduced rates, and supported by taxpayer subsidy.

And then we look to the crisis in Calais that has dominated the news. We see a government that's more interested in talking tough than playing its part in developing long term solutions.

Frankly, it does nothing for our standing in the world. The increasingly hostile and distasteful language that's been used by government ministers - and the Prime Minister himself - to damn the very vulnerable, very desperate people living in squalid conditions has rightly been condemned by a growing chorus of UN officials and by Ministers across Europe. And it absolutely should be.

When I went over to Calais I met some of these vilified people and the organisations working with them, the shallowness and cynicism government's approach was drawn into even sharper focus because the reality is that Calais is the tip of a humanitarian crisis.

Nobody is suggesting we 'let everyone in' but we need to take our international responsibilities seriously. Cracking down on benefits - including for our own citizens - and threatening to make people who come here homeless and destitute will do nothing to deter people fleeing for their lives.

The UK should be playing its part in finding genuine solutions by opting in to the EU's proposal on resettling "our share" of asylum seekers from Syria, Eritrea and Iraq rather than fuelling scaremongering that leaves no room for humanity.

In the face of Labour's shameful lack of opposition, the Lib Dems have been the only ones to front up and opposed brutal welfare cuts on the weakest in society. We are the only party showing compassion to desperate asylum seekers from war-torn countries and calling for an EU wide solution to a true humanitarian crisis.

The warning signs are flashing. This government has already been painfully clear about what it stands for. We need to fight back.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale

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