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Countdown to Conference #3

Welfare Reform & State of the Party

13th SEPTEMBER 2010

As the Liberal Democrats prepare for their first conference since entering coalition, the editor of The Liberal magazine today expressed concern that the party has become “the acceptable face of unacceptable cuts”. Benjamin Ramm warned the party that it discredits itself by maintaining that the emergency budget was ‘fair’ – a conclusion strongly contested by a recent report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, and in research published yesterday by the Trades Union Congress, which details how the poorest 10% in Britain will be hit by cuts 13 times harder than the wealthiest 10%. Ramm remarked: “The labelling of regressive measures as ‘progressive’ has got to end: it compromises the integrity and authority of all associated with the party”.

Responding to the news that the Chancellor has proposed a further £4bn of cuts to the welfare budget, on top of the £11bn announced in June and in tandem with a renewed assault on incapacity benefit, the editor queried the government’s priorities, suggesting that the weakest and most vulnerable in society deserve protection and assistance. Ramm placed the attack on benefits within the larger context of a war against the welfare state, noting that the advent of ‘free schools’ is emblematic of a drive to opt-out from the state provision of public services, thereby allowing wealthier members of society to question the legitimacy of progressive taxation. Ramm remarked: “If ‘we’re all in this together’, why is the coalition attacking universal benefits, a central tenet of shared citizenship?”. He argued that many who denounce benefit claimants do not recognise themselves as beneficiaries of shared social goods, at least until these services are threatened with cuts, and that the inability (or unwillingness) of Liberal Democrat ministers to challenge the Chancellor’s demonisation of welfare recipients has vindicated the magazine’s position that, failing a Lib-Lab alliance, the party ought to have forced a Tory minority administration, thereby giving the LibDems executive power about which cuts should – and should not – be enacted.

Reflecting on the current state of the party, the editor noted that the Left has been comprehensively sidelined by the ‘Orange Bookers’: four of the party’s most prominent left-wingers – Evan Harris, Phil Willis, David Howarth and Paul Holmes – are no longer MPs, and with the exception of two Junior Ministers, Steve Webb and Norman Baker, progressive voices are absent from government. Simon Hughes, the standard-bearer of Left, has become co-opted by the coalition, leaving only two younger parliamentarians – Tim Farron and Jenny Willott – and a handful of lesser known, more senior members, including Bob Russell, Mike Hancock, John Pugh and Roger Williams. As the polls show a deep dip in Liberal Democrat support, Ramm stated: On a wide range of key social and economic policy issues, the leadership in cabinet is not representative of the party’s membership or its voters. Consequently, there is a question over the extent to which Liberal Democrats are willing to defend the coalition on the doorstep”.

For further comment, or to speak with the editor, call (020) 8444 1944 or 07812 650 399.

The Liberal is an independent publication dedicated to the revival of liberalism. It has no affiliation with the Liberal Democrats, although previous contributors include Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, Simon Hughes, Menzies Campbell, Shirley Williams and Paddy Ashdown.


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