Let’s talk about the Liberal Democrats… September 4, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, The Left.
I’ve been reading “Whatever it Takes: The Real Story of Gordon Brown and New Labour”, by Steve Richards of the UK Independent. It’s an interesting, even entertaining, book – and a welcome relief from the events of the past week or so in this state – concentrating on Brown but casting its net much wider. Whatever one thinks of Brown and his politics, it provides an educative lesson in terms of what those of us further left than the British LP might do if we got a sniff of state power. The incredible caution of Labour during that period, the manner in which redistributive policies were implemented to a limited degree by Brown almost covertly (and it would seem in opposition not merely to the Conservatives, or the Tory inclined media but also Blair and many of his proxies) is a telling indication of just how much the social democratic project has gone into reverse in this generation.
But enough of that. There’s an excellent Introduction that details the way in which the Liberal Democrats negotiated their way into power with the Conservatives despite, on paper at least, being closer to the Labour Party – and it points up just how close to the Tories Clegg and his clique were and how that was played superbly by Cameron who eventually wound up giving little enough away to the smaller party in terms of concessions.
Clegg is in the news at the moment due to the precipitous fall in LD polling figures, and perhaps for him more acutely, the fall in his ratings. Vince Cable seems to wait in the wings, there’s rumours of leadership challenges, the increasing coolness between the coalition partners and all told the future looks grim.
It struck me that given the predictions that their vote is going to fall over a cliff at the next election – and how little they’ve achieved in government on their big ticket items, electoral reform being but the most obvious, would their going into Coalition government with Labour have been a worse option? At the time the argument ran that because the LP had come second in terms of votes and seats it therefore had lost the election.
It’s a cute line – albeit enormously expedient given who was using it, but it is enormously problematic because the logic of it suggests that that being the case the Liberal Democrats as third party should have no hand or part in government. Of course, as we know, that’s not how it worked out. But the fear from the LDs point of view is that they’d be hounded by the press and it would be somehow regarded as an illegitimate government. Problem is that in some ways it is already perceived as, if not quite illegitimate, certainly exotic. And also inept. The omnishambles quip is a neat one, but appropriate.
And although trying to work out alternate outcomes is a bit of a mugs game, it’s also good craic. A number of obvious gains for the Liberal Democrats would be as follows. A Labour party behind (in the main – though it could have seen significant splits among their MPs) electoral reform, rather than merely the commitment without any support to electoral reform that the Tories offered. Less stringent economic policies as regards austerity. The LD’s upped the ante during the negotiations calling for cuts in public expenditure immediately should an LP/LD coalition take power, and this caused enormous unease in the LP, but one suspects that such a coalition would have been less wedded to that economic approach than Cameron and – in particular – Osborne. The latter has effectively pinned his reputation to the current policy of austerity – an approach which has caused concern elsewhere because unlike other EU states the UK was in markedly better shape. Nor, and this is central to the point being made here, does it appear that that policy has worked. Quite the opposite.
Anyway, more on this and the most recent polling data on them in the near future.
One last quick thought, Richards makes an excellent point about political activity, something that is worth considering.
In opposition parties have only words for ammunition.
And it’s fundamentally true (and we’re getting a demonstration of this closer to home). In order to win by-elections, to shift attitudes, to win over hearts and minds the only way forward is words. Of course those are supplemented by activities, whether community or campaign based, but without words such activities are futile (one can look at the – thankfully – sorry state of neo fascist parties in the UK for an example of how important shaping a message is. Mind you, one can look at the somewhat healthier but by no means blooming situation of further left parties there for the same).