I’ve always tried to be an open and accessible politician. Back in the mid 1990s I was one of the first councillors in Bristol to have an email address. I’ve had a web site for over a decade and am a Facebook enthusiast…and unlike many MPs I manage my own Facebook profile, rather than getting an intern to do it! I’ve been a blogging and Twitter sceptic and resisted constant urgings to try them out. But I’ve decided to cave in on the former and give it a go.
So why now? Well politics has entered a new era. The 100 day old coalition has changed the nature of political debate. I was on Radio Bristol’s breakfast show this morning talking about how politics had changed – the 2010 general election will be seen as a watershed moment. Many certainties about how we conduct politics in Britain have been shattered or at least severely shaken. I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching and mental adjustment myself. I know from my mail that many constituents have strong views on the coalition. Almost every conversation I have with anyone these days pretty soon gets to what I think of the coalition.
What’s really surprised me since the second week of May is how positive most people are about it. I expected a lot of abuse and hostility. Yes, I’ve been told that the Lib Dems are finished or “I think you’re great but I now hate your party.” But they are far outnumbered by people saying that they like the fact that two parties are working together and that the country feels as though it’s being governed in the national interest. But what’s good about all this is that people are discussing what the new government’s doing and are up for robust debate. The Leaders’ Debates in the election seemed to spark greater enthusiasm for politics and hopefully this can be sustained.
So I’ve decided to join the blogosphere and stir things up myself. One of the joys of being an MP is that no two days are the same. I meet a huge variety of interesting people and take part in and witness many events that shape Bristol or the country at large. Over the last 5 years I’ve written hundreds of web articles and Facebook updates but have left out a huge number of events or occasions that made it to my diary but have not been published. So I’ll now be writing a mix of serious political observations and personal musings. It may take a while to develop my blog style and I’ll be interested to receive constructive feedback!
So, what can I say about the Coalition’s 100 Days? Taking power against a backdrop of shattered public finances is not the best springboard for the first peacetime coalition since 1931, the last time political parties came together to govern. We couldn’t announce some uplifting aspiration such as landing a man on the Moon (OK, I know Kennedy made that pledge just after his 100 days) so have secured some more prosaic achievements. First among these must be stable and confident government. There were some dire predictions that coalition government wouldn’t work in Britain. The “markets” wouldn’t like it and most of the press commentariat were against it. But the new ministerial team have hit the ground running. They’ve announced plans to get a grip on the public finances, green the economy, restore our civil liberties and set in train the most ambitious programme of constitutional reform ever undertaken.
The Coalition Agreement already gives scope for this administration to be one of the country’s great reforming ministries. Events will happen, ministers will fly kites – some of which will deserve to have their string cut very quickly and I’m sure the ride will sometimes be bumpy. But both parties are determined to make the coalition work. After 100 days I’m getting more used to it, though not yet fully comfortable. But after another 100 days I’m confident that I will be able to be point to many ways that the government is changing things for the better because the Lib Dems are in the coalition.