Thursday, September 16, 2010

Welfare and the Poor: has Nick forgotten whose Party he leads?

Reading my copy of the Times this morning, I am confronted with a front page headline suggesting that the man I voted for to be Leader believes that the State must not "compensate the poor for their predicament".

I can't help but feel that he is either being wilfully provocative or foolishly naïve. And, ironically, the rest of his piece contains much that Liberal Democrats can readily agree with. He makes entirely valid points about marginal tax rates for those seeking to move from benefits to work, on the increasingly frustrating multiplicity of forms and rules, about the need for root-and-branch reform. But all of those good things are for nought when the headline reads "Poor must accept cuts in benefit, says Clegg".

I came into politics to improve the quality of life within my society and to build a more liberal state, where individuals have greater freedom. To my mind, that implies a degree of compassion, blended with altruism. It also means demonstrating that compassion and altruism, as opposed to just using the vocabulary of caring.

I'm not suggesting that we refrain from the tough decisions that reform of the benefits system demands. Increasing the amount of benefits paid by 40% has proved to be unaffordable. But we need to be much smarter about how we allocate those funds that we can afford, with the aim being to ensure that those in genuine need are sustained, and the vulnerable protected.

As Liberal Democrats, our task is to articulate that message, to deter Conservative elements of the Coalition from carrying out the slash-and-burn carnage that some, but not all of them, would like to see. It is consistent with our philosophy, indeed, it is consistent with my interpretation of 'The Big Society'.

And if I am expected to campaign for the election of more Liberal Democrats, including (hopefully) myself, it would be helpful if my Leader was just a mite more careful about the language he uses. This isn't an intellectual exercise, these are real people, with genuine fears. Labour will not hesitate to spread fear and despair in support of their efforts to defeat us. Feeding them with unimpeachable attack lines really isn't helpful...

2 comments:

Lib Dem Kitty said...

You do realise that the authors of articles don't get to write the headlines, right?

Just ask Mark Pack - he sure as hell didn't pick the headline "Lib Dems revel in a share of power" for THIS article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/17/liberal-democrats-power-conference

Mark Valladares said...

LDK,

No, I fully understand that the headline is out of Nick's control. The phrase 'not compensating the poor for their predicament' is his words, not those of the Times. My first impression of it was not favourable, and I'm on his side. The opposition will not be so forgiving. There is truth, and there is tact. Sometimes, one should favour one over the other.