I really shouldn’t watch the Liberal Democrat conference. There is something repellent in the extreme about a party which once claimed to be radical celebrating its achievements of voting through one Tory measure after another. Tuition Fees? The lies are now part of British political mythology. NHS? Liberal Democrats in Parliament continue to vote through a Bill that will allow the effective privatisation of a service that Liberal Democrats swore to protect. They couldn’t even summon the conference floor votes needed to debate it. Lies, hypocrisy, gutlessness, spin. Birmingham 2011 has it all.
But nothing quite hit the depths of pure mendacity of the performance by Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone. It was presented as a rallying-cry for equality – equality throughout the world.
But there was one crucial omission – women in the UK. Not one word. The multi-millionaire Equalities Minister did not have one word to say about the perfect storm of benefit cuts, cuts in services and cuts in public sector jobs which are estimated to be reducing the real incomes of the poorest women in society – in a society where women already bear the brunt of poverty – by nearly 20%. Not one word. Not one word about the benefit cuts – while in the ideological playground of the DWP Ministers are advised by Phillipa Stroud, defeated Tory election candidate who believes that homosexuality can be “cured” by prayer. Not one syllable about the price being paid by women for the Coalition’s neo-liberal experiment.
This was the purest grandstanding – grandstanding by a Minister who has simply failed to live up to her brief. It can’t be easy being the Equality Minister in this Government – a bit like being the token art teacher in a boys’ public school, in the institution but not of it. But the outcomes make it clear – this is a Minister who has failed to fight her corner. She should have come – even to this gathering of the clueless and morally-compromised – to apologise, not to crow.
Under the Coalition things have got vastly worse for women, and will get worse still. You have to be on a different planet, or a Liberal Democrat, not to notice that. The Lib Dems’ regular low single-digit votes in council by-elections is perhaps a sign that reality is about to bite back.