The Lib Dems’ despicable bargain

A clipping from the Daily Mail showing the headline "At last! Plastic bags will be banished" and in smaller type: "Victory for Mail's six-year campaign as Ministers force reluctant supermarkets to impose 5p charge". Above the clipping is the slogan "Banish the bags" and the Daily Mail's name in its usual masthead font.I sometimes regret the fact that I still live in a fairly affluent part of outer London which has been, for most of the past generation, a Lib Dem stronghold, particularly when I see people elsewhere get enthusiastic about the Corbyn project and realise that I won’t have a chance to vote for him, because there aren’t enough Labour voters round here to do more than split the anti-Tory vote. Generally speaking, Edward Davey was a good and responsive constituency MP for decades, only to throw away years of building up people’s trust to throw in his lot with David Cameron’s Tories in 2010. He lost his seat (to a Tory) in 2015, only to win it back in 2017. This past week, during the “plastic straws” debate, a former Lib Dem strategist (now director of Demos) named Polly Mackenzie boasted of how they had managed to get David Cameron to agree to their “5p tax on carrier bags” idea while in government: Cameron wanted their support to tighten up the rules for benefit claimants, and got it (though the rule change found to be illegal and never went ahead; whether the Lib Dems knew that would happen or not, I don’t know). The full thread on Twitter starts here and ends here. Incidentally, the Daily Mail had been campaigning for a ban on plastic bags since 2008.

Polly Mackenzie claims that the plastic bag ban was “popular and impactful in equal measure” despite having been watered down with exemptions by the Tories. I’m not sure how popular it is, although people have not resisted it despite plenty of opportunity as there is not always someone watching when you take that bag, especially at a self-service checkout, although some retailers have simply taken the old thin bags away and replacing them with stronger ones that can be reused more than once. I certainly did not just use the bags once; I would use them for shopping more than once and then use them to dispose of food waste or other personal waste, for which I now have to use bin bags which, of course, cost money — the whole thing has been a money-spinner for the supermarkets who do not have to produce bags for free anymore. As with the plastic straws, the biggest issue with plastic bags was not plastic ending up in the ocean and killing fish (that plastic comes from down drains, such as fibres from synthetic clothing when washed, microbeads from some body wash products and traces of non-stick pan coatings); the bags were ending up in landfill, but often they were ending up there full of rubbish, as the bin bags that replace them now will, and other waste bags can still cause environmental damage on land or at sea when not disposed of properly.

Plastic straws, the latest thing the government wants to ban for the sake of environmental brownie points, are often vital for disabled people to be able to enjoy a drink without help; the alternatives do not work as well (paper straws disintegrate and do not bend, reusable straws are not always easy to clean, especially of drinks such as fruit juices that contain sediment, and so on). There are a whole host of reasons why people need straws and as with any physical impairment, they are not always obvious — one Twitter friend wrote of having Reynaud’s syndrome and being unable to pick up a cold glass, while others lack the physical co-ordination to be able to do so without risking dropping it, and so on. It would be hugely burdensome on them to have to prove their disability to obtain a simple drinking aid, much as when using the “blue badge” parking spaces they are legally entitled to use, and so on.

It fits the coalition era pattern of the Lib Dems securing a few concessions from the Tories (mostly on things that appeal to middle-class voters), such as a referendum on the alternative vote (which nobody wanted and was heavily defeated), while capitulating on austerity measures that largely did not personally affect their voter base even though they might have felt strongly about them (hence their not voting for the Tories) but which caused widespread poverty, hardship and stress to families in poverty and people and families dealing with disability and long-term illness as well as the “hostile environment” immigration policy that is now resulting in people being expelled from the country, or threatened with expulsion and prevented from working, receiving healthcare and so on, when in fact they are citizens or are here perfectly legally. Labour (with a few exceptions, most of them now in Corbyn’s camp) also waved that bill through, reflecting their usual fear of appearing “soft on immigration” in the right-wing commercial media.

Which should really be a salutary warning to anyone thinking of voting for them because they find Jeremy Corbyn unpalatable (especially over anti-Semitism which, as explained previously, is vastly outweighed by more overt racism on the other side); if offered a bone by the Tories they will take it, and will go along with the most extreme Tory policies for the sake of the trappings of power; and if the Tories force through Brexit and destroy the Human Rights Act, there will be no concessions for the Lib Dems to wring out of the Tories anyway. If you’re even thinking of doing this, make sure the candidate has a record of dissenting on coalition policies or has not been around that long, because otherwise you are voting for an unprincipled politician who will accept any bone from the Tories if that’s how the pieces fall at the next election — and the longer the Tories remain in power, the fewer concessions the Lib Dems will be able wring out of them anyway.

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