It is widely assumed that politicians are predominantly motivated by greed and vanity rather than by public service. I do not share that assumption. Therefore I hope that even as they cope with the pain of defeat, the substantial contingent of Lib Dems who lost their seats this week will still regard taking part in a coalition with the Conservatives in the last Parliament as the right decision.
There were plenty of Conservatives who would have preferred a minority Government. But that would not have been stable. Nor would it have been as radical in being able to deliver some of the vital reforms the country needed. Many of the most important reforms on education and welfare would simply not have got through the House of Commons. In Government the Lib Dems helped to vote them through. Had they been in opposition they would have helped to vote them down. We would have had five wasted years.
What did they get in return? There was the AV referendum, of course. But that didn’t do them much good. There was a committee who produced proposals for reform of the House of Lords. But these were voted down.
However, there was plenty achieved over the past five years that both parties were very happy to agree on and for which they should share the credit. The important liberation of pensioners to choose what to do with their own money was led by a Lib Dem – Steve Webb, the Pensions Minister.
Mr Webb said:
“If people do get a Lamborghini, and end up on the state pension, the state is much less concerned about that, and that is their choice.”
Good for him.
Rather than always being a road block the Lib Dems sometimes encouraged greater boldness. These were the Orange Bookers such as David Laws – allied to Liberal Reform.
Norman Lamb, as the Lib Dem Health Minister, demanded that greater priority be given to mental health including a waiting time standard. It is important for the Conservative Government to vigorously continue his work.
The Pupil Premium has contributed in the pressure on schools to drive up standards for all children.
Then, of course, there is Nick Clegg who generally resisted the temptation of some of his colleagues (such as Tim Farron to attack their own Government). Had some of his colleagues not behaved like grumpy passengers they might have made his – and their task – easier.
Sometimes differences were contrived. For instance the Lib Dems claimed credit for lifting three million workers out of paying income tax altogether. They presented themselves as favouring tax cuts for the low paid, while the Conservatives only favour tax cuts for the rich. The truth is Conservatives want lower tax for everyone – that should become clear in the next five years. Localism is another shared cause between the parties. Also the boost in apprenticeships.
Many of the achievements of the Coalition Government will only become apparent in the future – for example the transformation that Universal Credit will represent in rewarding work.
It is right and proper that the General Election highlighted differences between the parties. There were certainly plenty of frustrations for the Conservatives in sharing office. In general though, 2010-2015 was not about fudging, or splitting the difference or postponing difficult decisions. It was a period of dramatic advance for our country – on a scale quite hard to imagine given the state of affairs five years ago.
There is a great deal that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats achieved together and of which they can be proud.