One part of the 2014 Queen’s Speech – or rather one absence from it – neatly encapsulates the Liberal Democrat experience in coalition government, both good and bad. It is the absence from it of an immigration (dislike thereof) bill.
A solo Tory government would have introduced one and – thanks to Labour’s attitudes towards immigration – even a minority Tory government might well have got an anti-immigration bill through Parliament. It’s the Liberal Democrat presence in government which has stopped it.
That’s not only good for liberalism, it’s also good for our economy. It is why, whispered quietly, some Conservative MPs who have been listening to the views of business are rather pleased the Liberal Democrats have vetoed the ideas coming from their colleagues. It’s even – as former Liberal Democrat MP David Howarth has pointed out – an attitude that is popular with those who are willing to consider voting Liberal Democrat.
But the elephant sized but in all this is that it’s something that has secured almost no attention.
We’ve done the right thing, secured the right outcome and will get all but no electoral credit for it.
In part that is the peril of trying to turn the absence of something into a positive reason for support. It’s tougher to persuade the public by pointing to something not having happened than to something concrete you’ve achieved.
It is also, however, in part the party’s own fault because much of Bill Le Breton’s critique of the party’s absence of campaigning to secure credit for Steve Webb’s pension work applies on immigration too.
The one significant disagreement I have with Bill’s piece however, is how narrowly top down its perspective is. After all, just because the party at the top isn’t doing something doesn’t stop campaigners at the grassroots doing it themselves – and I say that as someone who recently sorted thousands of target letters from Steve Webb about his pension reforms (with thanks to Steve for his swift cooperation on that).
Yes, the party centrally could and should be doing better (and here are some of my ideas on that). The party’s internal communications with campaigners before, during and (so far) after the Queen’s Speech aren’t going to win any awards for brilliant planning and execution.
But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t get on with it anyway at the grassroots. Indeed, we have too, for as the immigration example shows, there’s an awful lot of work to do.