[T]he Lib Dems did not just “join” the tories, they enabled an economically extreme rightwing administration to assume power and achieve objectives that even the previously most extreme version of rightwingedness would never have even tried. As a consequence:
# over one fifth of the NHS is run for profit (but without (say) a Virgin Health or Circle logo, but under the re-assuring NHS banner so we do not notice or worry;
# Royal Mail shares have been sold cheap to enable and ensure that they are quickly sold-on to the venture and vulture capitalists who (at the last count) recovered over a 500% ROCE from buying and destroying the Dutch equivalent;
# Over £20bn of “other” state services have been handed over to for-profit operations, with over £15bn more planned over the next 12 months;
# 500,000 fellow citizens depend on food-banks for at least three days in every month.
# One million children have since May 2010 entered poverty “the scar that demeans Great Britain”.
# 83% of English NHS hospitals report “critically inadequate” levels of Consultant cover.
None of this would have happened had the Lib Dems more conscience and honesty than a lust for power and chauffeured cars.
What Britain now has is a blue-orange coalition, with the little-known Orange Book forming the core of current Lib Dem political thinking. To understand how this disreputable arrangement has come about, we need to examine the philosophy laid out in The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism, edited by David Laws (now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury) and Paul Marshall. Particularly interesting are the contributions of the Lib Dems’ present leadership.
Published in 2004, the Orange Book marked the start of the slow decline of progressive values in the Lib Dems and the gradual abandonment of social market values. It also provided the ideological standpoint around which the party’s right wing was able to coalesce and begin their march to power in the Lib Dems. What is remarkable is the failure of former SDP and Labour elements to sound warning bells about the direction the party was taking. Former Labour ministers such as Shirley Williams and Tom McNally should be ashamed of their inaction.
Clegg and his Lib Dem supporters have much in common with David Cameron and his allies in their philosophical approach and with their social liberal solutions to society’s perceived ills. The Orange Book is predicated on an abiding belief in the free market’s ability to address issues such as public healthcare, pensions, environment, globalisation, social and agricultural policy, local government and prisons.
The Lib Dem leadership seems to sit very easily in the Tory-led coalition. This is an arranged marriage between partners of a similar background and belief. Even the Tory-Whig coalition of early 1780s, although its members were from the same class, at least had fundamental political differences. Now we see a Government made up of a single elite that has previously manifested itself as two separate political parties and which is divided more by subtle shades of opinion than any profound ideological difference.