Leading article: Lib Dems: Credit where it's due

Share
Related Topics

When Lehman Brothers went bust a year ago over- engineered financial derivatives were not the only things that went down the plug hole. Any hopes that Nick Clegg might have had of getting decent coverage of the Liberal Democrats disappeared, too. As soon as the news hit on the Monday of the party's annual conference their agenda was sucked into the black hole known as the credit crunch.

This year, he must have his fingers crossed that the Sugababes or Katie Price do not steal all the headlines. The party certainly deserves a fairer hearing than it has received over the past year.

Since it was founded, this newspaper has been sympathetic to the Lib Dems, and over the last 12 months the party under Mr Clegg has proved itself worthy of that approval. He and Vince Cable, his deputy, have done a good job of being straight with people without escaping too easily into the irresponsibility of opposition. They have been more specific about which items of public spending should be cut than either of the two main parties. As Danny Alexander, the MP for Inverness who is Mr Clegg's "chief of staff", said when he mocked the Tory leader's plan to end subsidised food at the House of Commons: "The Liberal Democrats have proposed not renewing Trident; David Cameron wants to increase the price of salads."

A decision to give up Britain's nuclear deterrent – if that is what Mr Clegg proposes (he has left himself a little wriggle room) – is not one to be taken lightly. But it can no longer be dismissed as mere oppositional posturing. Such is the appalling state of the public finances that those in the two main parties who want to renew Trident are obliged to spell out how they would save an equivalent amount of money – or how they would raise the same amount in taxes.

Not all of the Lib Dems' fiscal proposals are watertight. Mr Cable was caught out last week on the differences between a pamphlet he has written and official party policy. But they are far ahead of Mr Cameron, who is in turn some way ahead of Gordon Brown, who only reluctantly brought himself even to use the word "cuts" last week.

If honesty about spending cuts is hard enough, only Mr Cable, who is interviewed by our political editor on page 27, is willing to speak plainly about the need for tax rises. Mr Cameron and Mr Brown are equally in denial about that salient feature of the political landscape of the next parliament.

Nor is this Liberal Democrat straight-talking a pose adopted safe in the knowledge that the party would never have to take responsibility for it. We know that a hung parliament has been predicted at every general election since 1974, but the next election really does offer the greatest chance of an inconclusive outcome since at least 1992. If there is to be an emergency Budget soon after the election, in a situation where no party has a majority, it may well depend on Liberal Democrat votes.

On other important issues that will face a new government, the Lib Dems have adopted positions at the leading edge of realism. Mr Clegg, advised by Lord Ashdown, the grand old man of modern liberalism, has asked the hard questions about the Nato mission in Afghanistan, and Britain's part in it, that Labour and Tory leaders slide round. On civil liberties, strong Lib Dem representation in a hung parliament should either buttress Tory liberalism, which often seems opportunist, or dilute Labour's authoritarianism.

Above all, The Independent on Sunday believes that the Liberal Democrats are the most environmentally friendly of the three main parties. Indeed, this weekend the party is making a bold pitch that it is the real Green party. Mr Clegg launches a direct appeal on page 37 to anyone who is thinking about voting for the Greens to "lend your vote to the Liberal Democrats in 2010, to stop climate change". It is a powerful argument: that the time has come for those that care about environmental sustainability to do more than use their vote to "send a message"; that, at this election, the Liberal Democrats are the greenest party with a realistic prospect of gaining a share of power. Mr Clegg claims that a Green vote is a wasted vote. Well, that is certainly untrue in Brighton Pavilion, where Caroline Lucas, the Green Party leader, is standing. And it is an impertinence for a Liberal Democrat to use the "wasted vote" line against an even smaller party.

But, this week of all weeks, the Liberal Democrats' arguments on the environment, on the economy, on civil liberties and on a liberal internationalism deserve to be heard.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

Recruitment Genius: Conveyancing Fee Earner / Technical Support

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced Fee Earner/Techn...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This law firm is seeking a happy, helpful and ...

The Jenrick Group: Production Supervisor

£26000 - £29000 per annum + Holidays & Pension: The Jenrick Group: Production ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'