But here we are, just two years into a Conservative-LibDem coalition, and already the Government has passed the counter-productive Welfare Reform Act, gambled recklessly with our inestimable universities, and failed to fertilize the green growth that would invigorate this barren economy.
Now this weekend, Liberal Democrat voting representatives have shamefully failed to stop the Health and Social Care Bill, when it was within their power to do so.
Well, I'm not going to rehash the arguments here about why this is a bad bill. Instead I will simply point out that despite all the efforts of LibDems to fix its flaws, the Bill still lacks a mandate, it is still dreadfully unclear, and it still has no professional buy-in.
But there's a far bigger failure here.
In his first inaugural address, talking about the deficit facing the US, Ronald Reagan declared "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
He was wrong. Coming together as a country and electing a small group of people to make decisions to our collective benefit is, I think, generally better than not doing so. Where he might have a point is that in trying to do good, governments can often end up doing bad.
This isn't surprising. It's hard to get cost-benefit calculations right because even simple actions in complex societies can have unintended consequences, and because freedom, social justice and future states of affairs are so hard to quantify.
This means we as a country should be a little forgiving of governments getting things wrong. But if they fail to stick to their mandates, fail to study the research evidence, fail to engage with expert opinion, fail to commission pilots, and fail to be scrupulously transparent in their decision-making, we have every right to condemn them.
A key objection is that if governments take time to make laws, the Opposition seizes the media agenda and accuses the Government of dragging its feet, losing its way, being indecisive, etc.
Big deal. We shouldn't let the media management tail wag the legislative dog.
This is not a liberal or democratic way to make laws. LibDems must do better than this.
Doing some good
It is stupid to blame the LibDems for everything the Coalition does. The LibDems have very little power: the voters in 2010 gave them just 57 seats out of 650 seats.
So it is to the credit of the LibDems that they have managed to leverage this limited power to...
- shift taxes from low and middle earners to the richest
- get extra money to schools to help poorer children
- create more new apprenticeships than Britain has ever had before
- create the world's first Green Investment Bank
- restore the link between pensions and earnings
- set-up proper regulation of the banks
- restore many of the civil liberties thrown away by Labour
- increase social housing for the first time in 30 years
- halt Labour's post office closures
Do you think the Conservatives would have done these things if they'd had unbridled power?
Even more shaming: why did it take a Conservative-led coalition to do these things that a Labour government should have been doing?
But is it enough?
When it comes to the next election, the voters will do their own cost-benefit calculations. They will look at the Government's success in tackling Labour's deficit, and the inevitable costs to society.
And the voters will also separate out the LibDems' role.
Sure, they will look at the good things that were possible because the LibDems were sitting on the Government benches.
But the voters will also look at the things the Conservatives were able to do because the LibDems weren't sitting on the Opposition benches: the tuition fees debacle; the stifling of green growth; the many spiteful cuts that save little money but assuage Daily Mail readers; the Welfare Reform Act 2012; and the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
Is it enough?
I don't know.
But I do know that our bad bill-making practices are not winning us the media war in any shape or form.
We must do better than this.
- "pray" by Samantha Celera [CC BY-ND 2.0].
- "Alastair Campbell talking to staff in Labour's HQ" by the Irish Labour Party [CC BY-ND 2.0].
- "Beavers Breakfast" by Property#1 [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0].
- The list of LibDem achievements is derived from Mark Pack's infographic.