This week in Brighton the Lib Dems have met for their annual conference. Inevitably, such annual events invite an assessment of progress made over the last year.
The opinion polls suggest that the public has yet to change its view of Nick Clegg and his party. While Labour has made progress at the expense of the Tories, the Lib Dems remain becalmed on 9-10 per cent – exactly where they were a year ago. YouGov estimate that the party has lost almost four million votes since the general election.
In the past it was a commonly held view that it didn’t matter what policies the Lib Dems developed as they would never have the opportunity to implement them in government. Now in government all too often it seems that they remain unable to stand firm on the things they believe in.
Government is hard and coalition government is probably harder but to simply claim credit that they are a counterweight to the baser instincts of the Tory right hasn’t convinced many working people.
Yesterday, the Liberal Democrats overwhelmingly passed a motion opposing regional or local pay. Yet in 2010 the same conference voted unanimously against free schools because they risked ‘increasing social divisiveness and inequity in a system that is already unfair’. Only two months previously, of 57 Lib Dem MPs only three voted against the legislation establishing free schools.
Past experience of regional and local pay proved costly and chaotic. Similar experiments are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past – further depressing regional economies, demotivating public servants and requiring a costly replication of among administration and negotiations. Such impracticalities will then be used to justify the complete pay flexibility that many on the Tory right really wish for.
Conference resolutions that stand up for working people will always be welcome but if the pretence is maintained that somehow the Lib Dems can say one thing to the public and do another in government they will continue to be punished in the polls.
Joining Labour in clear and uncategorical opposition to regional and local pay could be the first stage in regaining public trust. Or might we see another Nick Clegg apology for promising one thing and doing the opposite?
Chris Weavers is principal official (parliamentary and trade union liaison) at NASUWT and tweets @ChrisWeavers
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