Cynics expected us to back away. Instead, we confounded those who said that coalition Government was impossible. We created a Government which will govern and govern well for the next five years.
I don’t recall many people saying that Coalition government was impossible. However, I think that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have indeed created a Coalition that can last until 2015. I simply don’t agree with people who say it won’t last the full distance.
Of course there are those who will condemn us. We are challenging years of political convention and tradition and our opponents will yell and scream about it. But I am so, so proud of the quiet courage and determination which you have shown through this momentous period in British political history. Hold our nerve and we will have changed British politics for good. Hold our nerve and we will have changed Britain for good.
Yes, this is the sentiment that I get from genuine LibDem members and supporters all the time, that the torrent of abuse about the Coalition is pretty unselective and continuous. The “Yell and scream” phraseology I’m sure is to picture Labour members as thick yobs, but that doesn’t obviate the fact that Labour has to be highly disciplined and well-mannered in its selective criticism.
Just think what we’ve done already. We’ve ended the injustice of the richest paying less tax on investments than the poorest do on their wages. We’ve guaranteed older people a decent increase in their pension. In November, we will publish a Freedom Bill to roll back a generation of illiberal and intrusive legislation. By Christmas, Identity Card laws will be consigned to the history books. From New Year’s Day, the banks will pay a new levy that will help fill the black hole they helped create. On 1 April, 900,000 low earners will stop paying income tax altogether. In May, the people of Britain will get to choose their own voting system. And this time next year, there will be a pupil premium so the children who need the most help, get the most help.
The Freedom Bill I think will be a good move, as Labour did screw up on civil liberties. Many sane people thought this rapid progression into a super-surveillance state was ridiculous, as well as the intensity of over-criminalising people. I welcome the Freedom Bill, not because it will be a popular piece of legislation, but because it is inherently sensible after Labour has eroded civil liberties. Labour managed to achieve this in an insidious manner, including of course the ID cards scheme which some or all of the Labour leadership contenders themselves voted for.
Remember the four big promises we made in the election campaign? For the first time in my lifetime, Liberal Democrats are able to deliver on those promises.
We promised no tax on the first £10,000 you earn. We’ve already raised the personal allowance by £1000. And in the coming years we will go further to put money back in the pockets of millions of low earners.
We promised more investment in the children who need the most help at school. It will happen at the start of the next school year.
We promised a rebalanced, green economy, a new kind of growth. Already we’re taking action on the banks. We’ve set up a regional growth fund. There will be a green investment bank to channel money into renewable energy. These are the first steps to rewire our economy. New jobs, new investment, new hope.
And we promised clean politics. We’re giving people the chance to change our voting system, cleaning up party funding and finally, a century after it should have happened, we are going to establish an elected House of Lords.
Those pledges we made, together, in the election of 2010, will be promises kept in the election of 2015. The Coalition Programme, which commits the government to making all these changes, is not the Liberal Democrat manifesto. But it is not the Conservative manifesto either. It is our shared agenda. And I stand by it. I believe in it. I believe it will change Britain for good.
These are all impressive. However, the agreement with the Tories on Afghanistan, Trident, immigration and asylum, and free schools have been far from impressive. But then again – I am not totally clear on the views of the five Labour leadership contenders on these important matters.
The new politics – plural politics, partnership politics, coalition politics – is the politics our nation needs today. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are and always will be separate parties, with distinct histories and different futures. But for this Parliament we work together: To fix the problems we face and put the country on a better path. This is the right Government for right now.
The pluralism card was always going to be played by Nick Clegg in justifying the Coalition. It seems a perfectly reasonable one to play, in my opinion.