If my Dad caught us children looking down in the dumps, he used to accuse us of looking like we'd "… lost a pound and found a penny." Whatever was good in our life at that moment (and there was always much to be glad of) it wasn't compensating for whatever was making us fed up.Liberal Democrats (I voted for them, remember!?) busily cheering themselves up at their conference this weekend, want me to jump up and down with glee because they've grubbed me up a penny. Sorry. I'm still mourning my lost pound. I have no fondness for the last Government (I voted against them, remember!?) and Sarah Teather is determined that I shouldn't develop any. At conference, apparently, she reminded us to judge Labour on their record in Government, not on their promises now. I suppose if someone's going to remind me not to trust a pre-election promise, a LibDem is an excellent choice. Nick Clegg's "vow" today on the 50p tax rate (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/clegg-in-vow-over-50p-tax-rate-2356732.html) prompted me to wonder exactly what a Clegg vow is valued at these days? No more, I hope, than the tuition fees "pledge" turned out to be worth. i.e nothing. (I note "more in sorrow than in anger" (ha!) that the Liberal Democrats communicated their untrustworthiness on the tuition fees issue very poorly. Had they been clearer that their "pledge" was just a convenient, vote-winning ploy, I might not have voted for them. They must be very sorry they didn't get their message across.) Because clear communication is so important, I really hope my next sentence is clear. I DID JUDGE LABOUR ON THEIR RECORD IN GOVERNMENT!!! That's why I voted them out. I can't vote Labour out of Government any more than they already are. So my attention is on the current coalition Government. That's who I am judging. On the rather reasonable grounds that it is they who are running the country. I'm judging them, and I'm not liking what I find. The Tories are – of course – doing nearly every horrid thing everyone thought they would do if elected, and a few other grotesque things no-one imagined they'd ever be able get away with. I didn't vote for them, remember!? Nor did millions of other people. And anticipation of the current mess is the reason why. But not winning the election seems to have done them no harm at all. Quite the reverse. With LibDems in tow anxiously wanting to prove that coalition "works", they are pushing ahead with an agenda from well outside their manifesto. Them not winning the election is a 'penny'. Them shafting us anyway is a 'pound'. About the manifesto….. "Did you read the manifesto?" (sub-text: aren't you really too ignorant to have an opinion on this?) I am asked. "75% of the manifesto is in the coalition agreement, though we've only got 8% of the seats in parliament". (sub-text: aren't we great?) I am told. Yes. I did. I read all the manifestos. Unsurprisingly, I didn't agree 100% with of any of them. Even the Conservative manifesto had one or two good bits in it though I can't remember what they were. The LibDem manifesto had lots in it to be pleased with, though many parts that I really didn't want. Coalition negotiation must be tough. Some decisions will be hotly contested. It follows that much of the Coalition's shared agenda will be those areas on which they saw eye-to-eye already. That makes it likely that a fair chunk of the 75% of the LibDem manifesto that's now part of the coalition work programme is made up of stuff I didn't like, even when I voted LibDem. As a voter, the 75% figure doesn't mean much to me, unless I also know which specific policy commitments were in that 75%, what was excluded and how many of those 'included' have lost something in translation. What also matters more than a percentage is which of the many loathed Conserviative policies made it into the agreement? What details have LibDems compromised on, and why? Which policies that were in neither manifesto are now suddenly being brought forward and with what justification? I've been back to look at both documents. There are more than 400 policy items in the Coalition Programme for Government, and more than 300 in the LibDem manifesto. A look at both, reveals what I feared. Important LibDem pre-election promises, don't make it into the agreement; of those that do, many are mealy-mouthed renditions that allow way too much flexibility to lurch rightwards; others are rendered specifically impotent in the move from one document to another (e.g. Electoral reform); many of those that are in the agreement show no signs of being actually delivered in the life of this parliament (banking reform) and others that have been "implemented" turn out to have been re-branding exercises, more than anything else (an end to child detention, except for – er – those inconvenient children still being detained). The re-read with the benefit of hindsight also revealed something troubling. There was a lot more in the LibDem manifesto that I didn't like than I remembered. When I voted, I was wrong in my thinking. I believed more in the headlines, which the party was trumpeting, than in the thickets of detail, even while I was reading them. In my head as well as my heart I assumed that the ones the LibDems were shouting about were the things they were most committed to and that smaller details were of less significance. In fact they are the small print of the contract that will let the party off the hook. The "understanding" I thought I had of the 'nice guys' in yellow overlaid my reading of many of their election commitments. So the section on supporting social enterprises, mutuals and co-ops reads to me like a gentle support for a different, less rapacious way of working than private sector aggression. What it doesn't read like is a commitment to the kind of destruction of public service outlined in the Open Public Services White Paper. Nothing in the section about school reform, with its emphasis on freeing schools from a central government 'stranglehold', begins to describes the aggressive, centralising Free Schools and Academies agenda. Local democratic accountability for education is disappearing. Where, I wonder, is the Education Freedom Act? What was it sacrificed for? The bottom line is that the LibDems seem to think that all manifesto bullet points are equal – but some are more important than others. They have dropped some of the most important ones. They seem to think that if – on a semantic level – it is possible to call what is currently happening the same name as they used in the manifesto, they can claim it as a triumph, even if it doesn't deliver what their voters must have thought were intended by the party's words when they cast their votes. Above all, the LibDems don't seem to recognise that the detail of the manifesto is history, as is the coalition agreement, since so much that the government is now doing doesn't originate in either (NHS reforms – yes, I can see the bits which cross-refer, but really!?). What truly matters are these things: – did you make life harder for the most vulnerable, those in greatest need, those with least resilience or did you protect them?
– did you make public service better, or did you just make it easier for private companies to syphon money out of it?
– did you help to heal our economy, or did you just prop up private capital's vested interests on the backs of the hard-working and low paid?
– are children safer, happier, better educated than they were, or have they been demonised, patronised, subordinated, and controlled?
– is our democracy stronger, are people freer, are our rights protected, or have you forgotten what you used to stand for. You scrapped ID cards. And ContactPoint. Thank you. I have found my penny. What the hell did you do with my pound?