DO THE Liberal Democrats want to be a responsible party of government – or do they want to return to the political sidelines on the Opposition benches? This is the defining question that underpins the party’s conference in Glasgow, the last setpiece gathering of its kind before the 2015 general election.
It should be a week in which Nick Clegg and his party highlight the positive contribution that they have made to the coalition government, not least the implementation of tax cuts for the poor.
It also needs to be a conference in which the Deputy Prime Minister reiterates his commitment to work tirelessly until polling day to accelerate the economic recovery.
Yet the early evidence suggests that the Lib Dems seem intent on being the party of veto – even though their national support stands at just seven per cent (a marginal increase) according to the latest polls.
Mr Clegg says that the Lib Dems will, in the event of a hung parliament, not enter into government with a party that is pursuing an economic agenda that “penalises the working age poor” – he clearly believes David Cameron’s tax cutting agenda is unaffordable and should not be funded on the back of a public sector cuts. However, in the very next sentence, the Sheffield Hallam MP says he could not work with Labour because Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are still in denial about the budget deficit.
Those with misgivings about the influence of Lib Dems will also point to Mr Clegg’s opposition to new anti-terror laws and the suggestion that he will block Tory plans to introduce ‘English votes for English laws’ because such a move will, in his opinion, give the Conservatives too much power. As such, many will now question – with justification – the right of one party to hold the country to ransom on key issues, and will, in all likelihood, punish the Lib Dems next May. Is this what Nick Clegg really wants?
Kidnappers must not be paid
ONE FAMILY’S relief was another family’s inconsolable grief as British teacher David Bolam was freed by militants in Libya on the weekend that the world was stunned by the brutal beheading of aid worker Alan Henning in Syria. As well as highlighting, once again, the barbarism of ‘Islamic State’ jihadists and the merit of the air strikes being undertaken by RAF fighter jets in neighbouring Iraq, it also brings the payment of ransoms into sharp focus.
While Mr Bolam appears to owe his freedom to some form of financial payment that was paid through local political factions, the British and American governments are right not to accede to ransom demands.
After all, ISIS has built up its financial war-chest on the back of those European countries who have chosen to pay vast sums of money to release their captives.
Though well-intended, it has only served to embolden those jihadists who continue to show no mercy to innocent and harmless people like Mr Henning, a taxi driver who was helping deliver aid to Muslim victims of the violence when he was kidnapped and then killed in the most appalling circumstances imaginable.
The only crumb of comfort to Mr Henning’s family has been the response of the Muslim community in the UK. Imams have stood shoulder to shoulder with young Muslims to express their revulsion at this execution – and to condemn those UK-born jihadists recruited by ISIS. The words are even more powerful because they were spoken by the very community leaders who can use their influence to halt the radicalisation of the young and impressionable. They must now use this influence.
Plea to save Whitby landmarks
THE appeal for further public funding to save Whitby’s two historic piers from collapsing needs to be seen in this context.
Environment Secretary Liz Truss might regard the request for £3.8m as being an unreasonable one at a time of financial restraint – but she should think of the wider cost to the Whitby economy if the town flood defences cannot withstand a battering from the North Sea.
These piers have been helping to protect Whitby for 400 years and their disintegration is likely to make the town’s harbour even more vulnerable to storm surges.
After Defra’s reluctance to reintroduce dredgers exacerbated January’s floods on the Somerset Levels, it would be even more remiss if policy-makers did not take the necessary action to protect this town from rising seas. It appears to be a small price to pay if it means these wooden structures can continue to protect Whitby from Mother Nature for decades to come.