Apologies to those readers from outside the UK, and those with little interest in politics, but I feel the need to speak on a non-MR topic. I have been a member of the LibDems (via the Liberals) since 1976, an elected Councillor since 1983, and have stood as a parliamentary candidate for the LibDems three times – so I feel I have a significant attachment to the LibDems.
The key issue for the LibDems is that we need to recognise that the breaking of the pledge on tuition fees was a much bigger issue than the traditional concerns about politicians breaking promises. The signing of a pledge to oppose higher tuition fees for students attracted support because it was more than a promise, LibDem candidates, including the leader Nick Clegg, were pictured signing it. After the election, about half of the LibDem MPs (28 of them, see the list here) voted with the Tories to bring in a 200% increase in student fees. Those 28 MPs made themselves liars. I do not say they are liars, I do not say they were lying when they signed the pledges, but by choosing to vote for the increase they chose to make themselves liars and they tarred the party with the same brush.
The breaking of a pledge is a major issue for a democracy. How can voters decide which party to vote, or which candidate to vote for, if they cannot believe even the most emphatic promise, a written pledge signed in public? The damage Nick Clegg and the other 27 LibDem MPs who voted for the increase have done is not just to the LibDem Party (although that damage is pretty severe) it is the whole democratic process. There is little point having representative democracy if the voters know they can’t believe anything the candidates tell them.
I have concerns about some of the policies the LibDems are following in Government (some of the cuts, the withdrawal of EMA, and the attacks on the NHS), but that is to be expected. There has never been a time when I agreed with everything the leadership of my party did and said, but tackling the pledge issue is fundamental to future of the party and will have an influence on politics in general.
BTW, I do accept that the cuts are caused by Labour almost bankrupting the country and I am aware that Labour would have made very similar cuts. Once Labour refused to go into coalition I think there was no choice, for the country, for the LibDems to make and alliance with the Tories. I think there is more that we could have done to protect our left of centre position and that must be addressed going forward, but that is a lesser issue, compared with the breaking of the pledge.
I think the only way that trust can start to be restored in the LibDems is for all 28 LibDem MPs who voted for the increase to be de-selected by their local parties, and for the wider LibDem party to make it clear that they will not vote for any of the 28 for any party office. Amongst the 28 there are some people I have respected for years, and perhaps they were too easily led, but it would be wrong to make excuses for any of them.
The road back for the LibDems will be a long road, but I believe it should start by say sorry to the people who rightfully feel betrayed and deceived, and it should be matched by the sacking of the 28.