Why are you in coalition with the Conservatives rather than Labour?
Throughout the election campaign, we said that in the event of a hung parliament that we would talk first to the party with more votes and seats, and we spelt out our four policy priorities on fair taxes, schools, the economy and political reform. It was also clear that the country would need a stable government willing to take the tough decisions to tackle the deficit. The Conservatives won more votes and seats than Labour, they were more willing than Labour to support our policy priorities, and they were more willing than Labour to take the necessary decisions to tackle the deficit. And because Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined did not have enough seats for a majority in parliament, a coalition with Labour would not have been stable.
Do the two parties now agree on everything?
No. The coalition is a constructive relationship between two parties with differing values and priorities but willing to work together in the national interest. It would be extremely difficult to make this work if ministers were publicly arguing with their own government. We saw how damaging the conflict between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was, and we are determined not to let our disagreements lead to rancour. However, we recognise that there have been problems of message and tone, and it has now been agreed that, in future, Lib Dem ministers will be freer to express distinctively Lib Dem views.
What influence are the Liberal Democrats having in government?
We are delivering on our four key policy priorities: reforming the tax system so that low earners pay less than they did under Labour; supporting the most disadvantaged children in schools through the ‘Pupil Premium’; investing in the green economy and reforming bank regulation; and fixing our broken political system with the right to recall MPs, fairer votes, and elections to the House of Lords.
We are engaged in all areas of government policy, with much of our manifesto being implemented, and the more extreme elements of the Conservative manifesto blocked. For example:
- This government is rebalancing the tax system so that low earners pay less and high earners pay more. Rather than lower Income Tax for low and middle earners, under a Conservative government we would have seen Inheritance Tax cuts for the richest.
- The coalition takes a moderate position on the European Union. It's likely that a Conservative government would have headed for a major confrontation with the EU, damaging the national interest.
- A Conservative government would have shown less commitment to civil liberties, and no interest in constitutional reform. This government has strong programmes for rolling back Labour’s encroachment on our freedoms and making our democratic institutions fit for purpose.
Is there a coalition between Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in Sheffield?
No. There are no Conservative councillors in Sheffield, and the Liberal Democrat councillors follow Liberal Democrat policy. They have a good working relationship with the coalition but are not part of it, and are not influenced by Conservatives. In Sheffield there is a simple choice between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Will the coalition parties merge?
No. Nor will there be any pact between the two parties at the next General Election. The two parties have not changed their values and priorities: we have simply found a way to work together. But there is no guarantee we will need or wish to work together, or be able to find so much common ground, after the next election. We would be just as willing to work constructively with Labour in the future if the circumstances were right.