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Calling on progressive Liberals to come home to Labour

Submitted by on 10 Nov 2010 – 12:15

By Emily Thornberry, MP for Islington South & Finsbury

I believe there is a progressive majority in Britain. And the Lib Dems have won many votes by pretending to represent it. No more. Since May, the division in philosophy within the Lib Dem Party has become clear. Many voters have watched with alarm as the economic liberals find cohabiting with Tories very easy indeed.  Lib Dem Councillors apologise for “reneging on everything in their manifesto”, and polls show more and more people switching from the Liberals to the two main parties. The party is dying.

Within the period of a few short months, the coalition has axed the Future Jobs Fund, cut 10,000 university places, and voted for a VAT hike. Next year, their vicious and reckless “Austerity Budget” will really start to bite – putting thousands out of work and stripping away vital public services. Independent analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies says these measures are “regressive” and hit the poorest the hardest.  The Liberals have gone back on their promise to maintain public spending to avoid a double dip recession, and around the country Lib Dem voters and activists can feel the pain of this Government’s cuts. Meanwhile, the Tories are on steroids – using fiscal deficit and their partnership with cuddly Lib Dems as their cover to attack state services like they have always wanted.

And what do the Liberals get in return? An Alternative Vote referendum. Congratulations.

Politics on the left is changing fast. Now we’re not in Government, the Labour Party is beginning to reassess our record. We’re proud of our achievements in Government like the national minimum wage, SureStart and the first ever Climate Change Act, but there’s a growing consensus that we need to think again about how we dealt with issues like Iraq, ID cards and stop-and-search.

Labour is on a journey to a different identity for the future: social democratic on economic policy; standing for redistribution and tackling inequality; and liberal in our respect for individual rights. When the Liberal’s have sold the family silver in their quest for power, Labour is the only progressive coalition in town.

It’s time for Lib Dem voters to pick a side. Labour will never win over hard-line economic liberals. If you believe in these Tory economic policies, then you should join the Tory party. But if – in the face of vicious coalition cuts – you believe in progressive values like a living wage, a national care service, the right to work, then come home to Labour and support us.

The coalition agreement said that “the days of big government are over” but the problems we face make this anti-government opinion dangerous and wrong.  Liberal voters know it, and the Liberal Party used to. “The market” would not have saved our banks two years ago and it will not secure the recovery on its own; we cannot tackle climate change by leaving it to businesses to regulate themselves. To face these problems we don’t need small government, we need smart government –protecting people’s jobs and fighting for the public services which we all rely on. To win progressive Lib Dem votes, that’s the alternative Labour needs to offer. Not just to Liberals but to everyone.