Wednesday 12 May 2010

A peculiar moment of radical opportunity

It is a bizarre feeling. I haven’t heard all the details of the coalition deal. But I have just watched a government take office involving the party I’ve been working for over three decades. It feels good. I keep poking myself to see if I really feel that, but I do.

As a Liberal Democrat, I am of course a manic optimist – but I wasn’t sure I would ever see the day.

There is another paradox I am aware of. I regard myself as a Lib Dem radical (not that I always find myself agreeing with other self-proclaimed radicals) but I find I am a good deal more excited about this coalition than I would have been about a link with Labour, with or without Gordon Brown.

Partly that is, of course, ignorance about what is going to happen – compared with the thought of grappling with what we know only too well: the dreadful stodgy blancmange that New Labour had become.

There are going to be seriously uncomfortable issues – immigration and the way we cut spending seem to be the sharpest. But I do have the sense of possibility, and three of those possibilities in particular. They may not be the issues that the press talk about tomorrow, but they are hugely important:

1. Tackling the banks: I hope Vince will do more than just put in place the banking levy, but will fulfil our commitment to break them up. We might even get the local banking infrastructure that France, Germany and the USA enjoy.

2. Localism: it wasn’t clear whether there was anything behind the Conservative commitment to localism. Now there is. If this can be done imaginatively, we may now get a real revolution in the way we are administered.

3. Low carbon economy: did Cameron know what this was when he used the phrase? That isn’t clear. But, at long last, we may now be able to push this forward in an accelerated way.

These may all be hugely disappointing, when it comes to it. Government tends to be. And yes, there are things I’m seriously worried about – of course there are. But what we have now is a radical opportunity, and I hope very much that we seize it. In practice, that is going to mean a great deal of effort to put policy flesh on the bones of the rhetoric. But we can do that...

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