Sarah Teather is planning to throw in the towel come 2015 as her party has ‘failed sufficiently to fight for liberal values’ whilst in the Coalition. The Liberal Democrats’ recent stances on immigration have left her feeling desolate as well as catastrophically depressed and her party’s support for Tory welfare reforms are what apparently finally broke her. She is no stranger to acting a bit OTT, apparently sobbing on her first day as a minister at the Department of Education – “I’m a Liberal Democrat. I don’t know what to do. We were never actually supposed to be in government.” Considering Teather is a budding comedian perhaps her overuse of hyperbole is just a part of her act? But like her stand-up routine at the Lib Dem Party Conference, it’s just not that funny nor does it particularly make a lot of sense.
Teather’s ‘noble stand’ isn’t all that noble when you cut through the guff about depression and her supposed principles regarding social justice, and look at the substance and inconsistencies of her past political decisions. Her voting record is hardly that of a crusader against the ‘illiberal’ ConDem establishment, having rebelled only 3% of the time against the government. For someone that is so emotionally attached to her own belief of social justice, Teather has a voting record that doesn’t quite match up with her rhetoric. For example, she has consistently voted in favour of raising VAT – a tax that has been shown to be regressive and one that the poorest 20% of UK households spend a higher proportion of their disposable income compared to the richest 20%. She has also supported the Coalition’s line on tuition fees, legal aid cuts and did not even turn up to vote on welfare reform – hardly the actions of a truly dissatisfied MP.
The debate is not whether these policies are particularly illiberal, rather it is how hypocritical Teather’s position is – why is a welfare cap so demonstrably wrong and illiberal in her eyes but voting to cut legal aid is not? Teather’s position on equal marriage also doesn’t add up with her egalitarian image – how can you claim to pursue social justice when you vote against a policy based upon the principle that everyone is equal before the law regardless of sexual orientation?
If Teather really was as principled as she makes out then why has she not resigned now and triggered a by-election standing as an independent? Surely that would send a clear message to her party and would affirm herself as a real opponent of the Coalition’s current course of action. The evidence is stacking up against Teather – she is not standing down from her position on a matter of principle, she has instead decided to jump before the electorate pushed her out.