I’m not one for regrets. I try not to dwell on mistakes made in the past, but instead focus on not making the same mistakes in future. But there’s one regret I can’t shake: I encouraged others to vote for Don Foster in Bath, and the Liberal Democrats elsewhere, at the last General Election.
At the time it felt like the right thing to do. Foster had a really fantastic voting record, and behaved like a man with integrity. He campaigned on issues he cared about, and he took a splendidly enlightened view of censorship and invasive laws. I was pleased to give him my vote, and I argued to others why I thought they should to. And now I can only see myself as complicit in the despicable results of that election, in the duplicity of the Liberal Democrats, and most of all, in the voting record of Foster since the election.
When I voted for him, my vote was carried over into every vote he’s cast since May 2010, of which all but six have been in line with the Conservatives. He’s rebelled a paltry six times, twice on matters of civil servant pay, and four times on what times Parliament should meet. He has not rebelled or abstained on a single vile policy that has gone through, endorsing the wretched cuts and evil targeting of the poor and disabled – those who Foster had purported to support before this government. His toadying has been horrendous to watch, and seen him rising the ranks of the Lib Dems over the last couple of years, as he appears to abandon all his previous principles. It’s been a miserable and humiliating sight, and one for which I hold myself responsible. Realistically, I couldn’t have known, but that doesn’t change where I put my X, and where I encouraged others to put theirs.
Last week I wrote to Foster to express my horror at his voting for the 1% cap on annual benefit rises – a real-terms cut in benefits for the poorest and most needy, as inflation rises far beyond the insulting increases. I’ve written to Foster before since the election, and in response have had the most dismissive responses imaginable, ignoring anything I’ve said, and instead listing Lib Dem “achievements” as if they mean anything in the face of their swathes of failures. The reply to my latest communication was the same, but this time so much more insidiously awful. I really can’t tell if Foster has successfully deluded himself into believing that the microscopic differences his party have made to Tory policy are really of great significance, and thus his voting in favour of the outcome is a noble act on his part, of if he is simply a cruel and terrible man who cares not at all for the poorest and most vulnerable. It’s so sad to find myself hoping for the former, hoping for a deluded quisling MP.
As you’ll see, Foster’s response to my asking why he does not rebel against policies he knows full well to be evil is simply to state pathetic compromise. It does not address the questions at all, obviously. That the Liberal Democrats have managed to change a Conservative policy from being “Burn all the babies” to “Burn most of the babies” does not make burning most of the babies a policy a Liberal Democrat should ever vote for. That he has the gall to boast of an going reduction in benefits to the most vulnerable as some sort of noble victory reveals something terrible.
Here’s my letter to Foster:
Dear Don Foster,
I have expressed my disappointment with your post-election voting record to you previously, and have of course only received responses that ignore arguments made and contain meaningless platitudes – that is, sadly, now to be expected. But I hope that you at least do read these communications yourself, and I write with that hope in mind.
This afternoon you voted in favour of a real-terms cut in benefits for the poorest people in the UK. You know this is a cruel and spiteful act, and you know it will only cause more suffering amongst those who suffer the most. You may repeat the transparent nonsense about how cuts have to be found somewhere, etc, as if that explains targeting Britain’s poorest and most desperate, but you still know the truth.
Once again you have participated in an act of evil. I don’t use that term flippantly, or with hyperbole. It is instead simply a pragmatic view of a choice. Right now you, and your colleagues, are being given clear moral choices. And each time you are choosing to side with a position that is openly abhorrent. You are aware of the complicity with the rich, of the ease with which the poor and needy can be demonised, and the despicable simplicity of taking from those with the least. But you are a part of it. You are voting for openly and obnoxiously evil decisions, complicit in horrors that you will have to look back on as part of your career.
I cannot comprehend it. I cannot fathom how the Don Foster I voted for can have become the duplicitous, destructive man who has so willingly voted with every Conservative plan since the election. You have rebelled six times since you came to power, once on a minor clause change to a bill, once on severance payment details for civil servants, and four times on whether you should stay at work a bit later. These are the matters that drove you to vote against your leaders, and not the brutal cruelty at the heart of this government.
I am horrified and demolished by what I am seeing happening, and I am enraged that my vote contributed to this terrible time. Please, I am genuinely begging you, please act like the man I thought you were when I voted for you, and stand up for what you know is right. Don’t let this evil be your legacy.
And here is his reply to me:
Dear Mr Walker,
Thank you for your e-mail of 9 January regarding cuts to the welfare budget.
First off, I can confirm that I do indeed read correspondence from constituents myself. Unfortunately, the media do not always cover the efforts the Liberal Democrats have made to mitigate Tory cuts, so let me fill you in on some of the things we have done:
We blocked George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith’s original plans to cut the welfare budget by £10bn and impose an absolute freeze on benefits. The welfare budget will now be cut by £3.8bn and benefits will rise by 1% .
- We have ensured that under-25s will still be eligible for housing benefit.
- We have ensured that families will not be penalised for having more than two children; Iain Duncan-Smith had previously argued that child benefit should be capped.
- We are protecting the most vulnerable by uprating disability benefits and the state pension in line with inflation or higher.
- We have increased taxes on the wealthy – lowering the 40% tax threshold; intoducing a new higher rate of stamp duty on expensive homes (something the Tories resisted strongly), and increasing inheritance tax to 28%.
- We have also increased the tax threshold for basic rate taxpayers to £9,440 making most taxpayers around £600 a year better off.
I hope this assures you that we are not standing idly by and just waving through draconian measures. If it weren’t for the Liberal Democrats, welfare recipients would have been much worse off.
With best wishes,