We have learnt today what the Liberal Democrats want for their party conference. They want a plastic bag tax. We hear that the Coalition government may be about to grant them their wishes. The Lib Dems will be at home proposing a new tax with “green” associations. It’s not something Conservatives have been asking for at their party conference.
In government the Liberal Democrats have made a distinctive contribution in two crucial departments of state where they have the principal Minister. At Energy they have driven forward the dear energy policies of the green movement, keenly advancing windfarms against reluctant Conservatives. They have stayed true to their anti global warming instincts, presiding over closures of cheaper carbon based energy generation and substituting dearer intermittent systems.
At Business surprisingly their man designed and pushed through a scheme for higher student charges and loans. In the 2010 election Conservatives said they would keep Labour’s student loan scheme, and would consider higher charges. Lib Dems campaigned stridently in favour of abolishing student loans, and condemned any suggestion of increases. Dr Cable’s scheme and the Lib Dem 3 line whip to support it came as a surprise.
The Lib Dems main claim for themselves is that they have pushed through the big increase in Income Tax thresholds, taking more lower paid people out of Income Tax altogether. It is true they backed this scheme at the election and in government, but also true that Conservatives have been equally enthusiastic about this policy, pushed through by a Conservative Chancellor with the keen support of both parties. Had there been a majority Conservative government there would also have been Income Tax cuts for the lower paid.
Both parties have signed up to cutting the deficit and both agree that it should be made more worthwhile working. The best welfare policy for the many of working age is a job.
Conservatives helped the Lib Dems secure a referendum on the Alternative vote, which has settled that issue.
Lib Dems do not want to help cut the costs of politics by reducing the number of MPs, and no longer want to vote for a referendum on our EU membership, though they advocated one in opposition. They have succeeded in stopping the Coalition government doing either, even when the referendum is delayed until 2016/17. Conservative MPs have blocked the Lib Dem’s scheme for Lords reform, which did not establish sufficient support in the Lords either.
Conservatives have felt constrained by the Lib Dems most importantly over the matter of the EU. Most Conservatives want to get on with negotiating a new relationship with the EU now, and want to stop and curb the powers of Brussels in many areas. The Lib Dems in government as out of it have remained true to their belief that EU membership is good for us, and more EU government would be welcome.
Come the European election and the General Election there will be plenty for Conservatives and Lib Dems to disagree about, so the public can have a choice on big issues like the EU, the constitution and energy policy.