Friday, June 25, 2010

Unprincipled opposition

Simon Hughes draws a line in the sand and declares that should the coalition government (props D Cameron and N Clegg) decide to cut the benefits to pensioners - Winter Fuel Allowance and the rest - he will rally the might of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party (those not on the payroll or angling for a position when somebody else jumps ship) to fight these proposals. Given that this comprises an entire gundeck of loose cannons who hold more terrors for their own party than for the opposition, this is hardly the most worrying prospect for the leadership, not least because Hughes has more chance of herding cats than forming an effective guerilla alliance with that lot as the strike force.

As shrewdly as they have used the Liberals as human shields, the Tories have seduced them into government, with 40% of the Liberal Democrat MPs having some formal role in the coalition, thus ensuring that they can't escape and claim to be innocent passengers on a ship of state hijacked by a mad, piratical crew of free market ideologues. That is why they have been appointed as fully-fledged officers with responsibility for punishing the lower ranks. If the Osborne gamble with our future does go wrong, blame is spread amongst the guilty men. And when you have Prof David Blanchflower, Paul Krugman and Will Hutton all sounding alarm bells, then failure looks like a serious possibility. Not that this will faze the Cabinet much, as the overwhelming majority are millionaires - a fact that makes Cameron's refusal to accept the Prime Ministerial pension utterly meaningless as an example to others - if not just simply insulting and patronising.

But the upshot is that as the leader of the Liberal Democrat internal opposition, Hughes has laid down a marker. You can hammer the poor, the sick and the unemployed, you can slash public services and cut benefits. You can risk dumping the country back into the depths of a recession, but don't you even think of touching the pensioners' bus pass. I suppose that by the time we get to 70 and can retire, then that's the least they can do. And I do mean the least.

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