Why Cameron’s a credible candidate for 2010?s Liberal Voice award

by Stephen Tall on January 3, 2011

Lib Dem Voice is currently running our fourth annual Liberal Voice of the Year poll. The purpose of this award since we launched it in 2006 has been to find a liberal from beyond the ranks of the Lib Dems — a Good Thing for a party committed to pluralism.

Equally traditionally, this has attracted some flak. Last year, it was Peter Tatchell’s inclusion which sparked strong views from those irate that the Voice should have recognised one of the Green Party’s leading lights. This year it’s the inclusion of two Tories — Ken Clarke and David Cameron — which has attracted some ire from commenters.

I’m unrepentant (not that they were my choice). By nominating Messrs Clarke or Cameron, or Labour’s Bob Ainsworth for his support for liberalisation of the UK drugs laws, no-one’s suggesting they’re fully signed-up liberals. However, their nomination does recognise that Liberals do not have a monopoly on liberalism, appropriately enough for an ideology that believes in the dispersal of power.

David Cameron is the most controversial inclusion, unsurprisingly. After all, he’s the Tory leader, a “Conservative to the core”, who wrote the party’s ultra-right 2005 election manifesto. And yet…

And yet, I think his inclusion is justified on merit. Not because he’s a liberal (obviously), but because through his actions he’s enabling liberal achievements. His critics — and they are legion in Lib Dem ranks, regardless of the Coalition — will say that for him these are an easily-paid price for power: that he’s simply following his ‘born to rule’ lodestar. Quite possible. But does his intent, his motivation, actually matter?

Put it another way: on 6th May, David Cameron had another option. He could’ve played along with Coalition talks; feigned commitment to genuine partnership; and then have walked away from the negotiating table, claiming the Lib Dems had double-crossed him, and made unreasonable demands.

Such a version of events would’ve been lapped-up by the news media (right-wing and left-wing alike: which is all of it). The Tories would’ve formed a minority government, and introduced an emergency budget which gave some tax cuts to the well-off propertied classes, and cut back further on welfare ‘scroungers’. They would’ve engineered a populist cause (perhaps over Europe?) to justify a second general election last October. And they would have almost certainly won a working majority. The Lib Dems — shown to be untrustworthy and unready for government, and with no money left to fight a second election — would’ve been squeezed mercilessly.

That’s what I think would’ve happened. And those who still, today, think the Lib Dems would’ve been better off out of the Coalition are in my view wholly wrong in imagining the party would be in any better shape in the polls, let alone that any of the major policy achievements of the past six months would have been achieved.

Yet David Cameron didn’t choose that option. He didn’t choose to govern alone; he chose to govern in partnership. For sure, with the Lib Dems as junior partners — but, then, that’s how the public voted. The cynical will say he chose Coalition because it was the easier option (really?), or because it’s the option which allowed him to make history (maybe). It’s more accurate, I suspect, to say that the Coalition is more simpatico to David Cameron’s own pragmatic, moderate instincts. Quite simply, it suits him better to tack to the centre than to the right.

That a “Liberal Consevative Government” (his description) exists is, in large measure, David Cameron’s personal choice. Does any of this make him a True Liberal? Not in my view, no. But it does mean his inclusion as a nominee for Liberal Voice of the Year is fair dinkum.

I still wouldn’t vote for him to win this poll, though. I mean, c’mon people, look at the list. There are many more far deserving candidates.

The poll is still open — see the right-hand column — and will be for a few more days… so vote early, vote once.