Thursday, December 02, 2010

LibDem MP: 'We'll Look Stupid If We Abstain'

Last night I had LibDem MP Gordon Birtwhistle on my programme - he's also PPS to Danny Alexander. We were discussing the Liberal Democrat stance on tuition fees. Here's the exchange...

Iain: Gordon, would you accept the point though that Vince Cable, the Secretary
of State in charge of universities, doesn’t support his own legislation then it
just makes the Liberal Democrats look stupid?
Gordon: Yes. I agree with that.
Iain: You do. Credit with you for saying that. No one else has had the
guts to say it.
Gordon: Well as far as I am concerned, I mean, I am a Liberal Democrat. I am an MP. I was voted to make decisions, I won’t abstain I will either vote for or against.
Iain: My respect for you grows by the minute.
Andy Love MP: Please tell Vince Cable how he thinks!
Gordon: Well Vince Cable will know that, Vince knows, I mean I have been Leader of the council for 28 years and as far as I am concerned you are put in place to make a decision. Whether people like the decision or don’t like the decision, those decisions have to be made. And as far as the tuition fees are concerned the decision will be made. That’s end of story for me.

What a pity Danny Alexander couldn't articulate this position on Question Time just now. He gave a pathetic answer, as John Seargent said. It's about time he learned that his party can't have it both ways. To govern is to choose. It is not to abstain.


Simon Lewis said...

IS this the straw that will break the camels back?

Lossie Beachcomber said...

Nope, cos it seems that most Lib Dems have no spine to snap!

Agree with Mr Gordon here. Any effective leader makes decisions, for good or bad you choose a direction and go with it. If circumstances change and you have to change your mind then you must have the courage to do so and articulate the reasons.

Yes Lib Dems may have said they are against tuition fees, but guess what they didn't win the election and had to make a set of compromises and bargains with the tories to form a government.

If people don't like the fact that a political party had to compromise on a manifesto pledge then they better hope to hell that AV doesn't become a reality or the chances are that after every election whole swathes of manifestos will be getting jettisoned and the electorate will be constantly feeling cheated by the breaking of promises made only a week before.

I think the most frustrating thing about this whole tuition fees saga is the inability of the government to ariculate the reality of how the fees will work. So far they have allowed the Labour party to bang on talking errant nonsense about the new fees system without actually putting out the correct facts and figures.

David said...

Abstaining at controversial choices is a Liberal tradtion. 1000 years ago when I sat on the London Boroughs Grants Committee, it was split with the Libs chairing and having the balance of power. Whe the oommittee was considering some crap organisation (on the lines of 'black lesbian police monitoring action group' or whatever) the chairman would refuse to use his casting vote - meaning that the application went to the appeals committee. The appeals committee was chaired by me (Conservative) - so everyone knew that I would have no compunction about using my casting vote to send such references down....but it wasn't the Liberals' fault, oh no.....just those nasty Tories again.....

Anonymous said...

Quite right. And I think Nadine Dorries articulated it perfectly and concisely when she said ... nah, just kidding, of course she didn't!

Robert said...

The Libdems have form when it comes to abstaining. The abstained on the vote for a referendum on Lisbon despite their manifesto promise.

Anonymous said...

Correct - but an option was put in the coalition agreement. And the fact is we do have a coalition agreement and the LDs are the minor - the very minor partner. So why go to the trouble to drag them backwards through thorn bushes naked? what is your big oh so sensitive beef about this Mr Dale?

So what is the fuss? The LDs do need to grow up and realise what power is all about - maybe that will stop them making fatuous promises. But given their election stance and their support of economic measures (and the fact that even Huhne has ordered construction of nuclear power stations) I really think that we can leave it to the lefties to spit their feathers in peace.

BTW - the logic of never abstaining is absurd. In opposition its easy to vote against something since you know that mostly its not going to affect anything - the law will still pass. You may not believe in something so it makes sense to vote against it.
However alternatively you may have a preference for a course of action but recognise that an alternative is not disastrous (and it may have been recommended by an enquiry) - so its perfectly logical to abstain.

Iain Dale said...

Trevorsden, it would help if you actually read the coalition agreement before writing that. It may give an option to LibDem MPs to abstain, but it most emphatically does not give it to Vince Cable. Read the relevant clause and you will see what I mean.

DespairingLiberal said...

I don't think I've ever come across quite as pathetic, weaselly and downright childishly evasive an answer as that given by Danny Alexander on QT last night. Is he trying to get some kind of award for "most pathetic performance ever on a British political programme"?

Must be fun being in the Coalition cabinet. I bet they have a laughing room for the PM and Chancellor to go to at breaks.

Unknown said...

The Lib Dems are obviously in an impossible situation here.
Maybe the best course of action is simply to bury their heads in the sand and appear to be shambolic, while hoping that everything blows over.
When it comes to the vote I guess that the best course of action would actually be for some of the ministers to vote for and some to abstain with the rest of the MPs voting against or abstaining.
In other words a bloody good fudge up.

tory boys never grow up said...

"To govern is to choose. It is not to abstain"

Funny I thought the Tories agreed to the coalition agreement to govern which allowed absentions/non choices on a number of matters by both parties.