May 27, 2015 12.22 pm This story is over 106 months old

We’ve got some tough decisions ahead in the next five years

Rough seas ahead? On the day when the queen is to give a speech at the State Opening of Parliament 2015, Liberal Democrat Councillor John Marriott looks ahead at decisions on the table.

With the dust now beginning to settle after the traumatic events of the night of May 7, those of us who would not normally expect to vote Conservative in a general election must be asking ourselves where we should be considering placing our vote in future.

I, like many people, convinced that the polls leading up to the election were correct, and believing that the so called ‘incumbency factor’ would see around 30 Lib Dem MPs returned together with a handful of UKIP members, felt a bit like Lord Ashdown did after seeing that infamous exit poll, although eating hats is not one of my specialities.

I felt sorrier for him when, on ‘Question Time’ the following evening, he wondered whether any smaller party would enter a coalition with a bigger one again if this was the result.

In actual fact, the opinion polls were not wrong when it came to the smaller parties. The percentages were about right. Unfortunately, they were not reflected in the distribution of seats.

What they did not anticipate was the swing from Labour to Conservative, which made all the difference, plus the fact that the Lib Dems were wiped out in their so called heartlands of the West Country by clever targeting from their erstwhile partners.

For those who can remember, it was a bit like the 1992 result in reverse, when most people expected John Major to lose. I wonder whether this ‘victory’ might, like John Major’s, prove to be a poisoned chalice for David Cameron. We’ve got five years to find out.

When you step back, several interesting facts emerge. It apparently takes over 3 million votes to elect one UKIP MP and around 20,000 to elect a Tory. The Tories achieved a small overall majority in parliament with the support of about a quarter of those eligible to vote. The SNP, north of the border, with 50% of the vote, actually won around 98% of the seats there.
So, clearly, it’s the voting system that is at fault.

However, getting Dave and his crew to agree to support a change to some form of proportional representation is about as likely as getting the Pope to convert to Islam.

If only the Labour Party, which does appear genuinely to have lost its way at the moment, could be persuaded to support change, we might get a result after 2020 if things stay as they are. Certainly all the other minor parties are on board.

So, it looks as if nothing will happen in the next five years unless rough seas ahead and a few by elections change the balance of power significantly. So let’s move on and stop speculating about what might have happened. We’ve got some tough decisions to make as a nation in the next five years. Here’s my top three, in no particular order.

For those of us who currently serve in local government, one is how to manage even more cuts in public expenditure that are in the pipeline and are likely to be implemented by a Tory government with a working majority.

Secondly, it is possible that the referendum on EU membership might be brought forward to 2016, which brings with it the question of immigration and employment.

Thirdly, it is the threat posed by terrorism worldwide and, more locally, the apparent aggression of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Domestic issues such as how we pay for our health care, how we build enough homes for future generations or how we provide proper education and training for our youngsters will, in my opinion, depend on how much more we are prepared to pay. As I have said before, many of us currently expect Scandinavian levels of public services on North American levels of taxation.

I am increasingly of the opinion that we can only sort out our local government through fundamental reform both of structure and finance. If the new government is really serious about devolving power to local communities these communities have to have an administrative structure to cope.

That’s why it is sensible for the Lincolnshire County Council to look at all options, including cost saving measures such as Unitary status, before something is imposed on us, similar to what George Osborne is proposing for his ‘Northern Power House’ in Manchester.

Are we in the shire counties really prepared to be offered only ‘devolution lite’ compared with our big brothers and sisters in the larger urban areas?

In order to pay for our services, we need to take a hard look at the Council Tax for a start. Increasing the number of bands would make sense as the tax has never been reviewed in England since it was introduced in the early 1990s.

To make our democracy work better we also need to think seriously about establishing a Federal United Kingdom, with each nation playing an equal part and, in the case of England, consideration being given to either an English parliament or several regional legislatures. These could be filled by nominations from other elected bodies rather than being subject to direct election.

The referendum on EU membership, whether or not we get treaty change, will undoubtedly chart our nation’s course for several generations. For those of us in favour of staying in, let’s not make the same mistake that the NO to Independence campaigners made north of the border and assume that the facts alone will win the argument.

Many Scots just did not believe the No campaign, their default position being to accuse its members of scare mongering. Clearly the case for staying an EU member, in terms of jobs alone, is massive; but it is also necessary to appeal to the heart.

Let’s not forget that, only twenty years ago, those eastern European countries whose citizens seem keen to come and work here now, were then part of the Warsaw Pact, with Soviet controlled nuclear missiles on their soil pointing west towards us.

Also, we need to accept that everything in the EU garden isn’t rosy. Indeed, I reckon that quite a few countries agree with us when we say that we need to roll back the European super state and return it to something like the concept that we voted two to one in favour of (me included) back in 1975.

Renewing the means of delivering Trident is unlikely to stop a Jihadist with a bomb in his rucksack; but it might encourage Mr Putin to hold back from trying it on with the Baltic States.

I wonder whether he would have grabbed bits of the Ukraine if that country had not agreed to give up its share of the nuclear arsenal left over when the Soviet Union disappeared. Many of us hoped that, with the symbolic collapse of the Berlin Wall signalling the end of communism, the world would become a better place. How wrong we were.

There is a strong case to be made that we live in a far more dangerous world today than we did during the Cold War, and that’s not even mentioning global warming and climate change, some of which is undoubtedly man made.

John was a councillor for thirty years, finally retiring in 2017. A schoolteacher by profession, he served on the North Hykeham Town Council (1987-2011), the North Kesteven District Council (1987-1999, 2001-2007) and the Lincolnshire County Council (2001-2017). He was also a County Council member of the former Lincolnshire Police Authority for eight years until standing down in 2009. In 1997 he was the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Sleaford and North Hykeham. He is currently not a member of any political party.