Much has been made of the Telegraph‘s “sting” operation against various senior Liberal Democrat members of the government, who have been caught expressing their concerns over Coalition policy in recorded conversations. This follows yesterday’s revelation that Business Secretary Vince Cable was recorded declaring “war” on Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation, with the result that Cable has been stripped of responsibility for adjudicating over the proposed News Corporation takeover of BSkyB.
The official Liberal Democrat response to these leaked conversations is that there is nothing particularly surprising in the nature of these statements. Nick Clegg said:
I don’t think anyone should be surprised by the reports of what other ministers have said. There are differences of opinion in a coalition as indeed there are in all governments.
But for a party that has come under increasing criticism, both from within and without, over what is seen as seriously restricted influence over Coalition policy, the specific claims of Lib Dem members of government deserve greater attention.
Unfortunately for the Lib Dems, subjecting their claims to that kind of scrutiny does not leave them bathed in any kind of positive light. Take Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, for instance, who bemoaned the rise in student tuition fees, saying:
I signed a pledge that promised not to do this. I’ve just done the worst crime a politician can commit, the reason most folk distrust us as a breed. I’ve had to break a pledge and very, very publicly.
Moore speaks as though he had no choice but to vote for the proposals. However, as illustrated by the actions of Michael Crockart and Jenny Willott, there was indeed a choice open to Moore – he could have resigned from government and voted according to his conscience. That he did not do so, even while apparently opposing the rise, demonstrates only that he is more interested in his ministerial salary than he is in any point of principle or pre-election pledge.
Liberal Democrats in government who have misgivings over the approach of the Coalition should resign. To honestly believe that the government is broadly heading in the right direction is one thing; to support it despite one’s own reservations is another. All this does is reinforce the idea that the Lib Dems, both on an individual level and as a party, are more interested in power than they are in the platform upon which they were elected; more interested in toeing the party line than taking a stand for what they believe is right.
The Coalition has repeatedly claimed that Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have set aside their differences to govern “in the national interest.” But if the divisions among many of its members run so deep, that claim can hardly have any validity at all. It is not “in the national interest” to have a government whose parliamentary support comes from sheer careerism rather than principle.
This post started life as a comment over at The Green Benches.