The Liberal Democrats “Pre-Manifesto” makes for disappointing reading. Certainly those Conservatives who suspect that the General Election next year is likely to result in another hung Parliament will be depressed by it. Such a scenario suggests that, even if the Liberal Democrats lose many of their seats, they could still prove kingmakers.
Thus within a few hours this depleted rump would have cast off their electoral humiliation and be back to their duplicitous game of shuffling from one Whitehall office to another to see what deal they could get.
A year ago I was mildly encouraged by the efforts of the Gladstonian faction Liberal Reform. The success of the Coalition Government’s economic policy had vindicated their stance. The Orange Bookers were fighting a sentimental battle for classical liberalism rather than statism to be the philosophy of their party. While feeling that these days classical liberals clearly belong in the Conservative Party it was churlish not to wish them well. The role of the Schools Minister David Laws in writing their manifesto was heartening news.
However the resulting prospectus is grim. Via whatever Byzantine processes the Lib Dems have chosen it is a socialist document – one that surely Mr Laws must be embarrassed by.
The crucial notion in the document is that the key to securing good public services is to spend more taxpayers money on them including public sector salaries. That increased state spending (rather than the Gladstonian ambition of allowing more money to “fructify in the pockets of the people” through lower tax) was the goal:
“Once we have balanced the books, we will ensure that overall public spending grows again in line with the economy. This will ensure we can improve key public services and enable public sector workers to receive fair and affordable increases in their pay. We understand that public services depend upon high quality and dedicated staff.”
I would argue that this Government is to be commended for the showing that it is possible to “improve key public services” without increased public spending on them.
For example spending on schools has fallen slightly – the IFS calculate by one per cent in real terms. On the basis of the dreary determinism of the Lib Dems “Pre-Manifesto” that would imply that the schools have got one per cent worse. But it strikes me that under this Government school standards have improved.
What does the Schools Minister think?
This Lib Dem for increased state intervention extends to economic policy. It says that “Government must strengthen the foundations for growth” adding that “we” (presumably the taxpayer rather than shareholders using their own money) “must invest
in growing sectors like manufacturing.” The 1970s gave a measure of the consequences for manufacturing when the big idea was to pour in ever more subsidies.
When it comes to taxation there is the assertion that a Mansion Tax and increased Capital Gains Tax was raise revenue. The implication is that the rich would pay up however much more was demanded. How is that working out in France?
Amongst other illiberal proposals there is backing to state regulation of the press.
The upshot is that the Liberal Democrats are in a mess. They are in a Government which has had some success with allowing greater individual liberty. Yet the Lib Dems will fight the election next year demanding more state control.
The Lib Dems will be campaigning against their own record in Government.
That leaves no coherent reason to vote for them. If voters want socialism surely they will vote for the Green Party or Labour?