Lib Dems go beyond meaning well

Free childcare is a liberating option. It should not be a poor service for poor people

Share
Related Topics

Something interesting is happening to the Liberal Democrats. Because they are in office, their policy-making has become tougher. At their conference in Glasgow starting on Saturday, there are fewer glib and wishful utopian motions and more serious proposals that have survived a long, hard march through the institutions of government. Hence the party's plan to extend free childcare to all one- and two-year-olds, which we report on today, is no well-meaning wishlist, but a battle-hardened piece of legislation-ready policy.

The plan emerges from the struggle between the coalition partners over the last spending round, which was announced by George Osborne, the Chancellor, in June. Nick Clegg pushed for a better childcare deal, but eventually had to concede that NHS, schools and infrastructure spending were higher priorities. However, the result is that Lib Dem ministers were forced to refine their ideas, which means that the motion from the party's Federal Policy Committee has been thought through.

This is part of a wider preparation for the election, now just 20 months away. One of the little-appreciated decisions made by the Lib Dems at an early stage of the spending round was that it would cover one year only, 2015-16. That frees the coalition parties to set out different tax and spending priorities for the next parliament. Thus we can see the Lib Dem manifesto for the election coming into shape. Extending taxpayer-funded childcare will be one plank of the platform. Another is the mansion tax, for which Mr Clegg pushed but which David Cameron ruled out emphatically. A third example is that the Lib Dem leadership has admitted its error in allowing the extension of secret courts in the Justice and Security Act to go through and now wants to pledge to reverse it if it were returned to government.

The hardening of Lib Dem policy-making, which is still more democratic than that of the other main parties, means that disasters such as the tuition fees U-turn would be less likely. It also provides a more solid basis on which to conduct coalition negotiations, should there be another hung parliament. And what is interesting about the childcare policy and the mansion tax is that they are both subjects on which it is easier to imagine Labour and the Lib Dems reaching agreement than a continuation of the present coalition.

Indeed, The Independent on Sunday could support both policies. Good quality childcare, free at the point of provision, is a liberating option to offer parents. And it should be universal, to ensure that it does not become a poor service for poor people – unlike the current provision for two-year-olds, which is restricted to families on low incomes.

In one respect, the bad old days of Lib Dem policy persist, in that the childcare proposals are not costed. They would be expensive, but by allowing more parents to return to the workforce they would produce higher tax revenues and lower benefit costs – and the party is also proposing tax increases, such as the mansion tax, that could pay for it.

It has sometimes been suggested, most recently by the Labour peer Andrew Adonis, that the Lib Dems have been suckered by the coalition and have had their credibility destroyed in government. These childcare proposals suggest that the party has matured in office and will still have a distinctive and attractive programme to offer at the next election.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Isis in Iraq: Even if Iraqi troops take back Saddam’s city of Tikrit they will face bombs and booby traps

Patrick Cockburn
The Royal Mint Engraver Jody Clark with his new coinage portrait, alongside the four previous incarnations  

Queen's new coin portrait: Second-rate sculpture makes her look characterless

Michael Glover
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003