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My name’s Andrew, and I’ve worked with the Lib dems….
There, I have said it.
Against all the warnings of other Council Group Leaders and CCHQ, whose advice interestingly was “Never do it!” I did.
And lived to regret it.
Well kind of….
You see in Harlow before 2002 the town was ALWAYS run by the labour party. It was laughingly referred to by those who lived and worked around it, as the “Socialist Republic of Harlow”. So in 2002, when for the first time ever, the electorate delivered a council with the make up 12 Con, 12 LD, 9 Lab, not only did we cheer hard, but we had to think very hard about what that electorate were telling us.
We knew the years of disastrous profligate labour administrations had to end but I didn’t have the votes to do anything about it in real terms.We were driven by high ideals of changing our town for the better, of a once in a generation chance to stop the financial rot and actually achieve something for our voters. It drove us to “want” to work with the Liberals, just to ensure that our town had steady governance and we could actually put things right.
The Libs just wanted power. To be honest, I realise now that is all they ever want. I and my colleagues failed in our logic when we ascribed to them the same high ideals of “sorting the town out” that we had
The first six to nine months went well. There were successes for the “joint administration”, bringing in a council tax cut and starting to get committees working. But within 15 months the whole thing was on the rocks.
Because for the Lib Dems the grass was always greener, Labour were the more natural bed fellows of our left left leaning colleagues and the new Labour leader in the town was keen to offer lots behind close doors to the Liberals, who decided to turn on us with Labour in an orchestrated move to bring down the administration and frustratingly (we were a larger group by then due to a defection) put the smaller Lib Dems into a minority administration, just to “do over the Torys”.
Did it work for us? Well we knew that we had done “the decent thing”, we got the district council working, and gave residents a relief from the constant spend spend spend of Labour. But we got very burnt in the process. I doubt my group of councillors will trust another party in Harlow for many years to come.
Did it work for the Lib Dems? They got short term power off the back of it and even a couple of years coalition with the Labour party, but eventually the Lib Dem bubble has burst and Harlow has returned to a mainly two party system.
I see many parallels to the national situation to that which we faced in Harlow in 2002.
David Cameron has no choice morally, but to seek with the Lib Dems, unpalatable as it may be to many of us. It is the only sure fire way to get the Government working again. The Lib Dems are only interested in power and what they can get for themselves, and frustratingly we are going to have to give them that power;
My advice to David Cameron is do the deal for the sake of the country but know in the back of your mind that the Liberals will both plan to and try to do the dirty on us, so be prepared for it!