The Lib Dems’ growing pains

by Stephen Tall on September 20, 2005

Of course, Norman Lamb’s splendidly liberal proposal to save the Post Office was widely expected to be defeated. And so it came to pass. Or rather didn’t. The party still has a little growing up to do, it seems, before we reach economic puberty; let alone maturity.

Here in my council ward in Headington, Oxford, the postal service has become a joke. Bags of mail are lost or stolen by posties with little or no experience; sub-post offices closed without consultation; and the main post offices so over-stretched that queues form round the block. But at least now I know I can tell my residents what the Lib Dems would do if we were in power – we’ll have a bit of a think.

Perhaps those activists who vetoed Mr Lamb’s motion would like to put up an alternative vision to transform the fortunes of Royal Mail? Perhaps they would like seriously to address how Royal Mail will compete when, in three months time, the postal delivery market is opened up to full competition? Or perhaps they’re simply happy to put off a decision which isn’t universally popular, happiest when winning deferred success?

And perhaps they would like to resist the knee-jerk impulse to label as Thatcherism any proposal which will enable competing companies to deliver services through a free and fair market? Liberals can scarcely complain about the media’s pre-occupation with left/right labels if we indulge in such empty rhetoric ourselves.

The last time we were in government we were in favour of free trade. I hope we are when we next return to government. Today’s vote makes both those aims less likely.