Tuesday, September 16, 2008

One Song Remains The Same To The Tune Of Another

Much has changed in my life over the two years and 101 posts of this blog's history, but my pleas of poverty when faced with the possibility of conference remain constant. And yet, while last year I enthusiastically abused BBC Parliament, this week I've found myself pretty apathetic to the whole experience.

You might conclude that this is because I, as an avowed left-winger, am unhappy about Make It Happen. Strange to report, the problem is almost the opposite; I'm unfussed either way about Make It Happen, because I'm not particularly convinced it actually changes anything.

Don't get me wrong, it's a very good document; at least one blogger described it as the best thing the party's ever produced and I wish I could remember which one because I tend to agree with that assessment. And yes, as a process geek who has had a hand in the production of an SAO's constitution, I do think the process was bad and the motion that went to conference was bad.

But I'm not convinced the poor process matters in this case because the change is so slight. For starters, we shouldn't forget that we've known about this pot of money for quite some time. Heck, back at the tail end of 2006 in my LDYS Policy Officer days, I attended an FPC meeting where Julia Goldsworthy briefed the committee about the search for this very money; indeed, I ended up getting into an row with my own Vice-President when she refused to identify specific savings despite my point that students at Freshers Fair stalls were smart enough to ask “So how are you paying for abolishing tuition fees?” and weren't going to take a vague promise of savings as an answer...

All in all, before Make It Happen we were going to save an amount of money, spend most of it on specific big ticket items and spend the remainder on that old fall back of “schools and hospitals”, an identity that in political semantics is rather vaguer than we tend to imagine. Now we've just pledged to spend that remainder on a similarly vague tax cut (probably a further increase in the personal allowance but it doesn't appear from the comfort of my sofa that it's been specified).

The importance of Make It Happen was firmly in the rhetoric, and not even in a shift to the right of the rhetoric. After the original tax paper, we got screwed with our pants on by the “what about two married teachers?” argument, and perhaps rightly so. Tax II: Attack Of The Revenue righted the policy, but by then the spin was too firmly established, that any Liberal Democrat fiddling with the mechanics of tax would screw those on middle incomes. We needed a firm commitment of an amount of money to a tax cut to change the story, to highlight the effect of everything else, and it looks to be succeeding.

There are big battles ahead, to be sure, most notably on tuition fees next Spring. But we should be clear that Make It Happen can definitely be sold on the doorstep and in the air war; that can only be a great leap forward for our party.

PS I'd link to Make It Happen directly, but as I write the Federal Party website is down. This could be a very good sign or a very bad one, but I'll leave that question to the philosophers...

No comments: