by George Kendall
Since 1997, the Liberal Democrats have had an awful secret.
After 2001, we bitterly denounced the Labour government. We railed against their authoritarian policies on civil liberties and the illegal war in Iraq. In cities across the north of England, we were locked in mortal combat for control of local government.
However, when respective Lib Dems have gathered, after sidelong glances to ensure the wrong people aren’t listening, there’s something we have only admitted with hushed voices.
Sometimes we’d speak with comic evasions, “Of course,” we’d say. “I hated the Labour government.” And everyone would nod.
“Except the devolution to Scotland and Wales, but that was down to Robert Maclennan and Robin Cook. Labour only agreed with great reluctance.
“Oh, and the Freedom of Information Act, but we all know Blair hated it.
“I suppose they did reduce the number of hereditary Lords, but why not elect them?
“And why do they get credit for the Independence of the Bank of England? After all, that was shamelessly stealing our policy.
“They did introduce civil partnerships, but we’ve gone further.
“And they take all the credit for the increase in overseas aid, when that was driven by the Jubilee 2000 campaign. And that was founded by a Lib Dem.
“Fair’s fair, I suppose. The NHS did need more funding, even if they took a few years to get around to it.
“Electoral reform for the European elections may have been an improvement, but they should have introduced it to the House of Commons..
“I suppose the Minimum Wage was all right.” And we’d pause, unable to think what else to say.
We never spoke the obvious punchline. However, if we were honest, in the back of our minds, we could hear ourselves saying, “Apart from that, what did the 1997 Labour government ever do for us?”
Now, almost two decades later, the world has changed. Corbynistas rail against Labour’s record in government, and the Tories ridicule it. But, for us, sometimes the boundary between love and hate is narrower than we realise.
Despite all that has happened since, perhaps it’s time for some of us to admit that, in truth, we loved the 1997 government.
George Kendall is convener of the Social Democrat Group – a Liberal Democrat organisation to develop the social democrat tradition of the Liberal Democrats, and to build links with social democrats in the Labour party