My pieces in The New Statesman have generally accrued the types of comment one might expect – it’s fairly easy at Conference to forget that the general level of bonhomie is not shared by much of the rest of the country and especially not by the readers of that august journal.
But then someone tweeted me yesterday with a link to one of pieces and a note that simply said ‘I’m with Frew on this one’.
So I thought I’d better nip back and see what Frew had said. Here’s what he (she?) wrote…
The previous commentators have all made some excellent points - misters Cobley and Wearing in particular - but as somebody who has voted in the past three elections for the Lib Dems, I thought you'd be interested in knowing why I voted, and not why yourself or Mr Clegg think I voted.
I voted for absolutes: for unwaving principles and not for policy minutia. People might well accuse me of naivety for doing so, and I may be mocked for an 'immature' political understanding or some such brutal bollocks, but I think core values and moral definites should hold sway above almost any other considerations when choosing who you would wish to run your country.
Which is why I feel so, so let down. Watching and reading all the conference coverage has compounded my disappointment even more. Nobody in the party seem to have any clue about the people who voted for them, or what they were assumed to stand for. They congratulate themselves on a few minor victories, yet they fail to comprehend why I and people like me would feel so sick at knowing that my vote has allowed a Tory government to implement most of the policies unchecked, particularly their agenda of economic cuts. It's so disheartening that the party still doesn't "get" it. I voted for principles, but I also voted *against* other principles: principles which your compliance has given authority to.
I'm ashamed to admit in public that I ever voted libdems now. Some of my fellow voters can barely look each other in the eye. You can talk about the heart and the head all you like, but unless you understand what a travesty your decision to shore up a right wing government was, you'll never come close to winning former voters like me back.
Now I think this is interesting, as I agree with a lot of what Frew has written too – though not all.
Firstly, it’s important to note that Frew is not a Labour supporter – they’ve voted Lib Dems 3 times in a row, so this isn’t some tactical Labour voter who went for us to keep the Tories out, and now feels cheated. This is a consistent Lib Dem voter who now feels cheated.
What’s more, Frew has not voted Lib Dem because of policy initiatives - this is a philosophical liberal, the core of the party vote. Frew asks if its naïve to vote for a party because of idealogical beliefs. Well, I don’t think it’s naïve to vote Lib Dem for that reason – I think the opposite. It’s the best reason possible.
Now I don’t agree with Frew that policy initiatives like taking 800 000 people out of income tax, the Pupil Premium or restoring the earnings link to pensions are ‘a few minor victories’. Nor do I think insisting on the implementation of the Vickers Report on banking or preventing the abolition of the 50p tax band are allowing a Tory government to govern unchecked.
But that really doesn’t matter. Because reality is perception and as far as Frew is concerned, that’s exactly what we’ve done (and on occasion – tuition fees or EMA – frankly, we’re banged to rights).
I’m very happy we’ve abandoned the ‘not a cigarette paper between us’ approach to governing – we are different from the Tories and we spent a year telling people we weren’t, and even providing the ammunition to prove it.
In the last three months, we’ve woken up. We are now owning policy and stopping the worst excesses of the Tories. And certainly the Tories have noticed.
But it’s clear there’s a hell of a lot of work to do to let even traditional Lib Dem voters know that we’ve woken up, that we are pursuing policies we believe in and putting the brakes on the Tories.
And – even though Nick said again on Sunday that he thinks about saying sorry every day, but it’s politically impossible – I think the sooner we get in a lot of apologies for some bad mistakes made in the first year of government and one (tuition fees) in particular, we’ll never win Frew back.
And I want people like Frew to come home.
PS Do read all of Neil Monnery's excellent review of his interview with Nick Clegg, but here's the key part on the apology - Neil, I hope you don't mind me re printing it, as it's very interesting.
On the other side of betrayal though he knows he has made a mistake that is deep and cutting. ‘I think about saying sorry every day’ says the Deputy Prime Minister about signing the tuition fees pledge. ‘I am a human being’ he pleads, ‘blood pumps around my body’. It is something that is still clearly haunting him and is something that will continue to do until he gets that outright apology off of his chest. The question is can he live with that gnawing away at him from now until the end of time or will the guilt overwhelm him and force him into an apology?
He doesn’t think he can openly say sorry because people will retort ‘well you were in Government so you could not have done it’ and that it would do no good. I got the sense that he deep down wanted to apologise but either he thinks – or his advisers think – that is just wouldn’t be credible. The signing of the NUS tuitions fees pledge was by far the worst decision the party has ever made under Nick Clegg’s leadership. It put the party in a position where if they formed a coalition – which was always looking likely – they would either make the tuition fees a draw a line in the sand issue or they would have to go against the pledge that they signed.