I mostly wrote this post on the way back and from York for Lib Dem conference. This is the first time I’ve been for several years. This is mostly because I have busy. However, at least part of it is due to my reluctance to go along and applaud politics that on the whole I did not think much of.
I was among the small minority of Liberal Democrats to oppose going into coalition. And my misgivings increased massively after it took the party months to recognise that the Health and Social Care Act was going to be a disaster.
So while I stuck with the party, this was a matter of reluctant calculation rather than passion. However, that has changed for several reasons.
1. The Economy
As I’ve previously written here, while the return of economic does not necessarily vindicate past austerity measures, it does negate the need for further Keynesian stimulus in the near future. Therefore, I don’t see the party’s commitment to retrenchment as a problem anymore.
I am by Lib Dem standards a Eurosceptic. I am broadly happy with our current relationship with the EU, and have no desire for further integration – at least outside of foreign and defence policy. However, it is now clear that that relationship is under threat. It is menaced by a toxic combination of rapid Europhobia on the right, and apathy on the left and among the public. In such a situation, the strong pro-European voice we provide is very necessary.
It also helps that the EU itself seems to have found a clear purpose. After years of fumbling around in its response to the Eurozone crisis, its original mission of promoting democracy and human rights has renewed relevance. Rather than Communism, the present threat is authoritarian nationalism. This comes both from outside the Union (like Vladamir Putin) or inside it (such as Golden Dawn or Hungary’s Putin wannabe Viktor Orbán). Both situations need the EU: either in a co-ordinating role for the Union’s foreign policy or upholding its standards of governance. In fact, one of the best ways to punish Russia for its aggression might to spike its plan for a rival to the EU by expanding the real thing (and NATO) into Russia’s sphere of influence.
In short, the EU is too important to be diminished by a British exit. There needs to be someone working concertedly to stop it.
3. Labour is feeble
A recent Economist article summed up this problem when it says: “Mr Miliband’s headline solutions, uttered at the crescendo of his remaking-capitalism rhetoric, are so unimpressive as to cast doubt on his prospectus.”
For me, the totemic example of this is the energy price freeze. A policy that makes very little impact, disappears after two years with no lasting impact and potentially damages the environment.
I don’t think I am alone in my renewed enthusiasm. Party membership is (miraculously) up, this year’s conference had a nice vibe and Clegg’s speech was well received both inside the party and out. This is undoubtedly a difficult time to be a Lib Dem but it’s also an exciting one.