Having somehow ended up on a Liberal Democrat email list, presumably because I accidentally voted for them on a couple of occasions, on Wednesday I received the following message from their respected leader, Nick Clegg. By way of personal response, and to address the various items point by point, I have decided to add my own reply to each paragraph.
Nick Clegg’s letter begins:
Today’s Queen’s Speech has again shown that the Liberal Democrats are punching way above their weight – and we can be proud of that.
So here begins my carefully considered reply (interspersed paragraph by paragraph, as already explained):
You really think so? Are you living on the same planet as the rest of us…
It included many of the long-term reforms we’ve campaigned for, such as reform of the banks. These will help build a sustainable future for our country.
Reform of the banks. Yes, good idea. And you say you’ve campaigned for this already? Can’t say that I remember, but good luck with the new initiative.
I trust that you will begin by pressing for a clampdown on the totally out of control financial derivatives market, and especially the sorts of “over the counter” derivatives that have enabled fraudulent practices to reach unprecedented levels. Since the cause of the crisis was the growth in such trading, and aside from bringing in regulation to stop future problems of this kind arising, I presume that you also intend to press for a full investigation of the banks responsible, with necessary powers granted to bring later prosecutions. Here’s a government petition that you might also like to sign.
In 2010, we took the decision together to enter into a Coalition Government so we could do the right thing for the country at a time of economic crisis. Today we’ve focused on helping families and supporting growth and jobs.
This is certainly the justification you’ve repeatedly given for tearing up the election manifesto and then signing up to a new manifesto that no-one actually voted for. I’m sure you did this with the best of intentions, and no doubt those at the top of the party know best.
“Helping families and supporting growth and jobs” sounds very reasonable, if a little vague. It would be helpful here if you might give a few more concrete examples because mostly I’m just aware of your unflinching commitment to wholesale and damaging “austerity measures”, combined with the accelerated privatisation of the NHS and our other public services (including, perhaps most worryingly, the police force).
Vince Cable will regulate the banks so they can no longer be in a position to hold the country to ransom when their financial gambles don’t pay off. And Ed Davey will establish the world’s first Green Investment Bank and introduce electricity market reform to protect consumers, support low-carbon energy and invest in renewables.
It is pleasing to see that Vince Cable is now rehabilitated after being caught bad-mouthing the venerable Rupert Murdoch. I suppose that this is in part thanks to the Leveson Inquiry, which will presumably at some stage call your close friend David Cameron in for questioning.
I trust that Vince Cable will now hasten to regulate the banks so that, as you put it, “they can no longer be in a position to hold the country to ransom.” My main concern here being that, and as you no doubt recall, Vince Cable has candidly admitted that he totally failed to see this present crisis coming, in which case, I fear that he may not be the best person to solve the crisis now. Hopefully, Vince will prove me wrong.
Regarding green initiatives, here’s something else we can all support, and I take it that these new initiatives will have nothing to do with granting permission for widespread natural gas fracking under our beautiful countryside. In any case, I feel confident that your government would never sacrifice our country’s energy security for the sake of a few inadequate wind-farms, and that altogether more temperamental, although wonderfully green alternative, nuclear power.
Incidentally, the simplest and most effective way to introduce electricity market reform would be to entirely renationalise the industry. Are you also thinking along these lines?
We’re also helping some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Steve Webb will help pensioners by introducing a flat-rate pension. We’ll propose a way to modernise adult care and support, finally ensuring dignity in old age.
Well, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to call you on this one. You say that you are “helping the most vulnerable people in our society.” To the untrained eye, however, it looks as if you are instead committed to slashing public services and to raising the pension age, which will automatically disqualify many vulnerable people from receiving the money that their National Insurance contributions had supposedly paid for. I must also confess that I have never heard of Steve Webb but hopefully he knows what he’s doing.
Today also clearly set out our collective determination to reform the House of Lords, an historic commitment of our party.
This one sounds like an excellent idea, at least in principle. The removal of an archaic and self-serving elite is something we can all get behind. And this was in the Queen’s speech… that’s right? The question remains, of course, how will we ever replace our lordships?
An elected second chamber? I’m not sure if such a change would guarantee any significant improvement and offer up, as an example, the current failings of the American system. When both houses are elected this can lead to a situation in which all members are holding party political allegiances, and in any essentially two-party system (which as you know, Britain still remains), this has the unwanted effect of bringing the two houses into closer alignment, which is, often as not, to the detriment of the wider democratic process.
However, since some kind of reform is unquestionably desirable, perhaps we might allow ourselves to think a little more outside of the box. Here then is a radical proposal of my own: perhaps the future members of a “House of Lords” might be decided not on an hereditary basis, but modernising the process, by means of a national lottery. After all, in our prospering casino economy, pure luck has become the preferred method of wealth distribution, so why not apply a similar system to apportioning a little more of the political power?
More seriously, verdicts in our highest criminal courts are already reached by the agreement of twelve randomly selected members of the public, and not thankfully by panels of appointed judges. So why not take this same tried and tested formula to the next logical level? Britain would lead the world again. And with the House of Lords being thereby democratised in the fullest sense of the word, just imagine the renewed public interest in politics. We could even have regular votes on which lord to evict, say every six months or so, like on reality TV, but actually real, just imagine that… the viewing figures!
Well anyway, just off on flights of fancy, sorry, I’ll cross that last bit out and get back to the more serious matter of replying to your letter – oh, and before I forget, “Dear Friend”, thanks buddy… the personal touch is so often missing in this non-stop, 24/7 age of cut-and-paste efficiency.
There’s so much more I could highlight: Sarah Teather’s work on improving support for children with special educational needs, our support for flexible working and shared parental leave and our proposals to strengthen the hand of farmers and other suppliers of supermarkets through an independent adjudicator.
This Queen’s Speech has a firm Liberal Democrat stamp on it, delivering on what we’ve passed at Conference and pounded the pavements and knocked on doors for.
Nick Clegg MP
Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister
“This Queen’s Speech has a firm Liberal Democrat stamp on it”, you write, and I certainly was most pleased to see that the government seeking to reform this country’s overly stringent libel laws. For some reason, however, you have failed to mention this piece of good news in your letter. Whatever – I’m sure you won’t forget to pass the legislation.
You have also failed to mention that at the same time, the government are pressing ahead with the Draft Communications Bill which according to BBC news: “Plans to make it easier for the police and intelligence agencies to monitor e-mails, phone calls and internet use…” Does this proposal also have the “firm Liberal Democrat stamp on it”?
Now if I’m being perfectly straight with you, this Queen’s speech does leave the impression of a government intent on rather a lot of fiddling around – setting up new quangos here, there and everywhere – but then I suppose the public should be shouting a bit louder: “Fire, Fire!!!” Something like that.
In any case, presumably Ma’am wasn’t handed the relevant pages wherein her government outlines its bolder plans to halt our never-ending slide into a surveillance society, and to restore just a semblance of social justice. Perhaps you mislaid them yourself, and forgot to mention all this in your letter.
Anyway, chin up on those local election results, and keep the yellow flag flying high!