A Westminster Life: Why is it so hard to like Lib Dems? Is it the sanctimony, or the hypocrisy?

Plus: Freemasonry of the Commons persists and is this the job for Nadine Dorries?

Share

I ought to like the Liberal Democrats. It's my moral duty. They believe in nice things like freedom and equality and bunny rabbits. They’d never go to war unnecessarily. Live and let live is their philosophy, and they would never resort to personal attacks in an election campaign. Among all the career politicians that inhabit Parliament they alone carry the torch for principle, for honesty and decency.

OK. Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but I’m being serious. For a Labour man there is a lot to recommend Liberalism. Our parties sprang from similar Victorian loins. The crusading Liberal government of 1906 owed its comfortable majority to Labour movement support. Today both parties are pro-European internationalists; we believe in action to tackle poverty and discrimination, and on matters constitutional we broadly share a commitment to democratic reform, with an elected second chamber and a written constitution.

And yet the things that divide us are heartfelt. Before 2010, Vince Cable might have advocated a virtually identical economic path out of debt and recession to that of Alistair Darling, but in the main the Liberal Democrats are economic liberals – and boy do some of their ministers enjoy preaching austerity.

I remember Ming Campbell going on Question Time and viciously attacking the very idea of the national minimum wage. It would put millions out of work, he thought. And Jeremy Browne, one of the more objectionably right-wing Liberal Democrat ministers, sneered at me in the library last week that every time he had “looked into socialism” he had found it wanting.

All of which has left a very sour taste in the mouth for many Labour members. We remember the piety with which Liberal Democrats espoused every unaffordable scheme in opposition, and feel scandalised when exactly the same air of sanctimony is adopted to preach the virtues of “tough decisions”. Somehow it feels as if they have gone from idealists to pragmatists without the necessary intervening period of penitential soul-searching. So when Steve Webb argues that God is a Liberal and Tim Farron proclaims his liberal credentials by tabling an Early Day Motion on LGBT rights in Russia even though he failed to support marriage equality here, the self-righteousness sticks in the craw.

But you know what? I want Labour to form a government again in 2015. We too shall have to do unpalatable, unpopular things and we too shall have to abandon piety.

Freemasonry of Commons persists

When the Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, was so drunk at the despatch box during the debate on the future of the House of Lords in 1909 that he could barely speak and had to be bundled out of the chamber, he got away with it because not a single MP breathed a word of it. Only Lloyd George and Churchill ever left a record of it. Only reading Hansard with hindsight can you tell what his opponent Balfour meant by Asquith’s “very strange performance”. But such was the wildebeest-style desire to protect one’s own from the prowling lions that the story never got out and Asquith survived another seven years as PM. Churchill called it the “persistent freemasonry of the Commons”.

I was struck, watching the Channel 4 Dispatches programme on Cyril Smith, the one-time Liberal MP for Rochdale who spent years abusing vulnerable young men in care, how long that freemasonry has lasted. Long after the years of deference to MPs had subsided, he was able to get away with destroying dozens of men’s lives with the connivance not just of his own party, but of political opponents too, as even Jack McCann, the Labour MP for Rochdale, seems to have leant on the CPS to prevent a prosecution. What was it? Squeamishness, embarrassment, a naïve refusal to see what was going on, the deliberate turning of a blind eye or a conspiracy? Rochdale’s new MP Simon Danczuk deserves praise for the relentless way he has eschewed such freemasonry.

Just the job for Nadine Dorries?

There is already much speculation about who will succeed Nigel Evans as Deputy Speaker. It has to be someone from the same side of the House as the Speaker (cue jokes about which side Bercow really comes from). That rules out Dame Sylvia Hermon. Charles Walker, the much-liked chairman of the Procedure Committee, has ruled himself out too, as he wants to drive through reform of Private Members Bills. I am sure the rumoured plot to bypass the rule that the whole House gets to vote by holding a Tory primary election and presenting just one Tory candidate will fail, as most Tories wouldn’t sign up to it.

So, who? Nadine Dorries, below, fancies her chances (and some ministers fancy the chance of shutting her up) and Brian Binley is getting Tom Watson’s support. But I’m backing the Tory I think will do the best job of chairing the House with calm independence, Eleanor Laing. Worryingly, Liam Fox agrees with me.

Tesco is not one to bear grudges

I’ve been trying to forget my contretemps with Tesco this summer. It wasn’t a pretty spectacle. An early draft of a speech on migrant workers got mangled and I ended up having to row back on what it seemed I was alleging about Tesco’s employment practices. I won’t bother you with the details.

Suffice it to say I’ve been presuming I’m not Tesco’s favourite politician. So when I got back from holiday I was surprised to see that Tesco had been trying to make a delivery to my home. What could it be? A horse’s head? It turned out I had won a £20 voucher, a strimmer and a barbecue at an LGBT fund-raising event – all courtesy of Tesco.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee