Recess must have come as a blessed relief for the Liberal Democrat Education Minister, Sarah Teather. Just as people began to notice she hadn’t voted for the benefit cap, up went the Mace and she could take refuge in her constituency.
The reason Sarah didn’t vote for the benefits cap was that she was worried families would be forced out of their homes. Sarah: we all are, but Labour left a huge deficit which the people have to pay off and we are all in this together, remember?
Sarah knows full well that if she was really worried about the policy, the way to have dealt with it in a manner that was ethical and principled would have been to resign, not to absent herself from a vote only to return back to Parliament and her Ministerial job.
If Sarah had been a Conservative Minister she would have been told to resign or be sacked on the spot. Collective responsibility is how governments function, through good times and bad. You don’t get to pick and choose which policies you vote for. If you want that particular luxury the backbenches await, along with a much smaller salary.
However, it appears that Sarah’s one off ‘special abstension’ and Liberal Democrat members picking and choosing what to vote for may become a pattern of the future, a fact highlighted by David Cameron’s trip to France and the signing of the civilian nuclear power accord with the President of France, Nicholas Sarkozy.
There is a vast difference between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat positions on nuclear power and energy supply.
The Conservatives supported the previous Labour administration’s policy to develop new-build nuclear power stations, the Liberal Democrats did not. Instead, they have nailed their flag firmly and squarely onto the policy of renewable energy.
This includes the Wembley sized incinerator that the American waste giant Covanta are attempting – with the help of the former Secretary of State Chris Huhne – to impose upon my constituency, and half a dozen others. It also includes wind farms, which – ironically – have the same carbon footprint as nuclear powered plants but are nowhere near as efficient or unobtrusive.
The slavish pursuit of renewable energy has seen the cost of investment loaded onto the British home owner as the cost of heating bills rise. The worst victims of this being pensioners, some of whom now have to make the choice between heating their home or buying food. By 2020, the cost of renewables will add an estimated further £400 per household, the equivalent of an extra 2.5p on VAT, according to the think tank, Policy Exchange.
As part of the coalition agreement, it has been agreed that Liberal Democrats can speak about nuclear power in Parliament, i.e. support it and take the accolades, but Liberal Democrat MPs wont have to vote on it so as not to present ‘an issue of confidence’. Bless.
Apparently, this agreement provides ‘the Coalition with the certainty it needs to develop new nuclear build’.
Note the word, ‘coalition’ as opposed to ‘Conservatives’.
The Liberal Democrats work hard to appear to be all things to all men, or rather, all activists. This further voting exception is to allow Lib Dem MPs to go to their conference, face the activists and say ‘no way! I never voted for it! Nuclear? Are you mad?’ whilst at the same time reaping the wider rewards for moving towards an energy supply which is clean, low cost, provides us with energy security and has a low carbon footprint.
They want the best of both worlds, to soothe Lib Dem activists and to appeal to the public at large.
I think it’s about time similar exemptions were put in place for Conservative MPs on issues which they feel make life uncomfortable for them, especially in seats where it’s a Conservative/Liberal marginal. Or perhaps the Lib Dems could be made to play by the same rules as the rest of us? As it stands, we appear to be handing out electoral gifts to the Lib Dems at the possible cost of Conservative MPs and candidates.
By providing exemptions which remove them from the attendant responsibilities which accompany government and the tough decisions which have to be taken, certain Lib Dems are being allowed to emerge teflon clean.
Call me old fashioned, but I was rather hoping for a Conservative majority next time. Allowing the Liberal Democrats to have an unfair competitive advantage against our own candidates at the next election doesn’t seem to be a clever way to go about it. Unless of course, the Prime Minister’s long term plan really is to keep working in coalition. He possibly feels he can manage the double standards of expectations from MPs in both parties. If that’s the case, he may find a turbine blows him a fair wind which will bring him ill luck. Help the fickle Lib Dems, and after the next election, they will be just as likely, if not more so, to join in coalition with Labour. By which time, it will be too late.