MP Sarah Teather’s Notice of Resignation is a test for Greg Mulholland.
Shock waves spread throughout the ranks of Liberal Democrats leaders and supporters when Sarah Teather, MP for Brent Central, announced that she had decided not to stand as the Lib Dem candidate for her constituency at the next general election. She is standing down on a point of principle – specifically, she says, she can no longer stomach the Liberal Democrats’ part in imposing unfair and unjust immigration and welfare policies in Britain.
In 2003, in the wake of Tony Blair’s government siding with the US invasion of Iraq, Ms Teather won a land-slide by-election and became the youngest MP in the House of Commons. She quickly became a popular and forceful MP who was respected across the House.
Ms Teather was appointed Children’s minister in the coalition government but was sacked in 2012 for speaking out loudly against much of the government’s ‘welfare reform’ policies.
It is clear that she had tried her best to make the Coalition work and had trusted her party to live up to its slogan, ‘Stronger Economy. Fairer Society’. However, on 8th September 2013, she announced that she would quit national politics at the next general election.
She cites two areas of significant principled disagreement with her party and the government.
A key moment for Ms Teather was when Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argued that some immigrants from “high-risk” countries should be asked to make cash deposits of £1,000 when making visa applications; the deposit would be returned when they left the UK was.
Ms Teather told the Observer:
‘It was spun like it was a bail-like payment linking immigrants, who were mostly just coming for a wedding, with criminals. I just felt catastrophically depressed. It took me some time before I began to communicate with Nick Clegg … It was an absolutely black moment. I couldn’t even move from my seat when I read it. I was so depressed, I couldn’t even be angry. I was utterly desolate.’
‘The official line on immigration has clearly moved a mile from where we (the Liberal Democrats) were in 2010, miles from where we were when we were arguing for an earned route to citizenship and were clearly and unambiguously a liberal and pro-diversity party. Yes, we wanted a better-managed immigration system with exit checks, but we didn’t faff around with our language, pretending that we were something we weren’t.’
Ms Teather thought the Lib Dem’s response to the benefit cuts agenda was driven by opinion polls, rather than by debate. As a London MP she knew the dire impact that the benefit cap would have on her constituents many of whom paid very high rents. She found herself in the position of having to build resistance to the cap in her constituency at the same time as her own party, in concert with the Tories, was implementing it.
‘I was in the most ridiculous position as a government minister, trying to get a campaign going on the outside in the hope that it would help negotiations happen on the inside.’
Writing on her own website, Ms Teather stated that she, ‘disagreed with both Government and official party lines on a whole range of welfare and immigration policies, and those differences have been getting larger rather than smaller.’
Interestingly enough, at the time of writing (15/09/13, pm), the official Liberal Democrat website has not acknowledged Ms Teather’s announcement; no thanks for her service.
Implications for Greg Mulholland
So why does Ms Teather’s decision have implications for Leeds NW MP, Greg Mulholland?
Well he’s an MP who also signed up to the Lib Dems ‘Fairer Society’ agenda writ large in the 2010 manifesto and on his website.
What his constituents would like to know is whether or not he shares Ms Teather’s anger at the way in which his party has trampled all over its ‘Fairer Society’ agenda?
Take for example the Government’s use of billboards on mobile vans that warn illegal immigrants: “Go home or face arrest.”
Sarah Teather said that her constituents told her the billboards were reminiscent of some of the most offensive graffiti and signs seen at the height of anti-immigrant racism in the 70s. Even Nigel Farage, UKIP’s leader, condemned the use of the signs as ‘nasty’.
So what does Mr Mulholland say?
Well, nothing in public, as far as we can tell.
Of course, the billboards were used in London but the last time we checked London is the capital city of the UK and the Lib Dems are supposed to be governing for everywhere, not just Otley.