Sunday, 15 March 2009

Where should the Lib Dems Stand ?

The discussion on this afternoon and evening has focussed on detail from this morning's YouGov poll which suggests that LD voters strongly favour David Cameron over Gordon Brown and that 50% of Lib Dem voters think that David Cameron is doing "fairly well" as Conservative leader.

From this, Mike Smithson posits, as he has done on several occasions, that the correct Lib Dem strategy should be to attack Labour and Brown far more and Cameron and the Conservatives far less. In other words, the Liberal Democrats should abandon equidistance and move to a strong anti-Labour position.

Now, as a fellow Liberal Democrat member, I respect Mike's viewpoint though I think relying on the findings of pollsters as the only method of determining party strategy seems a prime example of the tail wagging the dog.

I think that David Cameron is doing "fairly well" as Conservative leader - no objective analysis of his performance since the autmn of 2005 could come to any other opinion - but that doesn't mean I intend to vote Conservative and I suspect that's the view of a lot of Lib Dem voters. On the other hand, while I might recognise the quality of Cameron's leadership, it doesn't follow that I believe either he or his party to be an appropriate Government for Britain. They might well be an improvement on the current administration but that doesn't mean they can be given a blank cheque in terms of scrutiny or analysis of policy.

Listening to Tory activists, it's easy to think that being angry about the economy and the performance of Gordon Brown is the only reason needed to vote Conservative.

Unfortunately, for the thinking voter, it shouldn't work like that and nor should it work like that for the thinking Party.

Of course, we can condemn and criticise Labour and the performance of the Government and the Prime Minister (though fussing over whether Gordon Brown should say "sorry" is pretty trivial to be honest) and that's all well and good. However, that does not mean the Conservatives should be immune from scrutiny, question and analysis. Mike Smithson's analysis would carry David Cameron into Government on a virtual blank cheque and that's not how democracy should function.

As voters, we have a right to know what an incoming Government's priorities, principles and policies are going to be and, as these are announced and explained by the Conservatives, I believe it right to question and comment what is said.

For the Liberal Democrats, scrutiny of Conservative policies is as important as criticism of Labour actions. I also think it a useful democratic function. As a Liberal Democrat, I'm happy to see Nick Clegg ask the awkward questions about Conservative plans and policies. I also suspect a lot of Liberal Democrat voters are pleased to see this happen too. We KNOW how bad Labour has been, how authoritarian and illiberal. We need to discover how much different the Tories are going to be.

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