Gauging the depths LibDems will go in pursuit of power

The LibDems’ annual conference, the Liberals’ first get-together for nearly a century when they have at least held the semblance of power, begins this weekend in Liverpool.

Times is tough, we know. The question is whether a Government which was never elected with any mandate for savage public spending cuts, should be allowed to impose such rabid Tory doctrine. Many will be watching for signs of cracks in the LibDem leadership over the next couple of days.

To see why, a blog entry posted in May of this year by leading Croydon LibDem Steven Gauge might be instructive.

A former Croydon parliamentary candidate, Gauge is extremely well-connected within the LibDems – to the point where he was coordinating Nick Clegg‘s campaign bus when everyone, including David Cameron and Gordon Brown, were still saying “I agree with Nick”.

So Gauge’s comments less than four months ago, as the LibDems rode the crest of the pre-election wave, are quite instructive given what we know now.

“Over the next few years, life in local government will all be about cuts. Councils of every political shade will be forced to shed jobs to save money. Local public sector partners will also be in the same boat. Redundancies, outsourcing and restructuring will be at the forefront of every chief executive’s mind.

“Yet local authorities and their partners will also have to deal with the impact of putting thousands of people out of work. As the public sector shrinks to help pay the deficit, there is no guarantee that the private sector will pick up the slack. Unemployment and its side effects could have a major impact on demand for public sector services of all kinds.”

So far, so conventional. Then Gauge takes his “left” turn…

“An alternative approach is needed.

“Forward thinking local authorities will be asking, ‘How do we save money without creating new social problems and increasing our costs?’ Some will look at ways of creatively addressing the issue.

“For the economy to be turned round at a local and national level, there is probably a need to rebalance the ratio of public to private sector jobs. Traditional free market economists might just wait for the market to sort that out on its own. Cut public sector spending and wait for the spirit of free enterprise to fill the vacuum. As Norman Lamont once put it, any resulting unemployment could be seen as the ‘price worth paying’.”

That’s a nice, knowing in-Westminster dig at Call Me Dave Cameron, who after going through school at Eton, got one of his first jobs as Lamont’s fag at the Treasury.

This was around the same time that the Tories were last bungling with the economy, including raising interest rates by about 140 per cent in a day (I may exaggerate a tad, but if you were there, or had a mortgage at the time, you’ll remember how it felt).

So Cameron was complicit in Lamont’s heartless “price worth paying” line.

Gauge continues by offering an alternative to the current Tory dogma.

“Or we can do something else as we seek to radically restructure the public sector. We could identify ways to support those currently being paid by the taxpayer to make the transition into the private sector, bypassing the dole queue on the way.

“A full-scale programme to encourage innovation, business development and job creation should be developed. Training, seminars, coaching should be offered to public sector workers at all levels to see if any could create the new industries and new jobs that will be needed to turn the economy around.”

Sound good to you?

There’s some even better bits to come.

“Local authorities with their twin responsibilities of saving taxpayers money and supporting local economic development are well placed to provide an alternative approach. The ones that act first will be reap the rewards as we climb out of the recession and back towards sustainable growth.”

And then along came the ConDem Government.

In the coming weeks, Croydon Council, one of the biggest local employers, is expected to make 1,400 people redundant, as it obeys Tory doctrine and cuts 25 per cent of all jobs.

There’ll be no “innovation”, no “business development” – indeed, the Tories running Croydon Council have already moved to close Croydon’s business development agency – and don’t hold your breath for any “training, seminars, coaching”.

As the party of Gladstone and Lloyd-George – or, for that matter, Charles Kennedy and Simon Hughes – helps the Conservatives to introduce socially divisive cuts, is it any wonder that people around the country who voted tactically LibDem in an attempt to keep old-style Tories like Tricky Dicky Ottaway out of parliament might be feeling a bit betrayed?

The question at this week’s LibDem conference is how many from within that party are feeling equally betrayed.

via Gauge opinion: May 2010.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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