Liberal Democrat deputy leader and general centre Left head honcho Simon Hughes has been making headlines again, saying that Liberal Democrats should have a veto over government policy.
“If you want a coalition to deliver the vote then you have to make sure everybody has bought into that,” he told this morning’s Today programme. “It’s a matter of practical politics, the answer is therefore: yes, the parliamentary party, on behalf of the wider party, on big issues has to say, ‘No, we can’t go down this road.’”
Now, to paraphrase the words of his party leader, if Simon Hughes actually did something to bring about progressive policies every time he talked about the need for them, we’d be living in a social justice nirvana.
But he doesn’t. Today’s comments are a case in point.
Liberal Democrat MPs do, of course, already have a veto on government policy. It’s called the parliamentary vote. If they don’t like legislation proposed by the government, they are free to vote against it. If all Lib Dem MPs voted against a bill, there’s a good chance it would be voted down. It’s called parliamentary democracy – a novel concept, evidently.
There are a few honourable MPs on the Lib Dem benches who are not agog at the chance to take one of the plethora of ministerial jobs reserved for them, and have had the guts to vote against the government.
Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) and Bob Russell (Colchester) were at least willing to vote against the VAT rise in the emergency Budget.
Later Hancock joined John Pugh (Southport), Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and Poole N), Andrew George (St Ives), John Leech (Manchester Withington) and David Ward (Bradford E) in voting against the coalition over academy schools.
Note the absence of Simon Hughes from either list. Despite being widely reported as a VAT rebel, he actually spoke in support of the Budget and merely warned of possible amendments moved by Lib Dem backbenchers to make it fairer. Amendments that (correct me if I’m wrong) somehow failed to materialise.
The fact is that the parliamentary Lib Dems largely consist of Orange Book types who enthusiastically support the Conservatives’ cuts agenda (Clegg, Cable, Law etc), sort-of social democrats who generally don’t have the guts to vote against the leadership – and a third of their MPs who’ve been bought off with ministerial jobs.
Lib Dem grassroots members will have a chance to deliver a few vetoes of their own at their party conference this autumn. With any luck, they’ll teach Mr Hughes a thing or two.