Friday, May 30, 2014

What now is the point of the LibDems ?

The Party is called the Liberal Democrats. The "Democrats" bit comes from the SDP and so do, or did, many of its supporters and some of its leaders like Vince Cable and Shirley Williams. The SDP was Anti Conservative and only Anti Labour in regret. SDP had only one reason to exist - to promote Social Democratic values when it saw Labour as being too hard Left. Under Kinnock and especially Blair/Brown Labour moved to the centre Left and in effect became the SDP in all but name ! It still is. "Red Ed" is a preposterous inaccuracy. The Labour Party Miliband leads is Social Democratic rather than Socialist.

The LibDems in opposition were mostly "Labour Lite" - although on some issues they were actually a bit to the Left of Labour when the latter was in Government. Their opposition to the Blair wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was principled and got them a fair bit of support. In the 2010 General Election Nick Clegg ran a good campaign positioning himself as the energetic Left of Centre alternative to the exhausted Gordon Brown. If you didn't like the Conservatives, and you'd grown tired of Labour the LibDems were a rational alternative. Or so it seemed. Young (especially), softer Left and (especially as well) people with a good education voted LibDem in large numbers. The secured 23% of the vote (although "only" 57 or 6.5% of the seats in the House of Commons).

To enter into Coalition with Cameron's Conservatives ran contrary to LibDem values and history. The political spectrum in Britain ran, in 2010, from the Far Right (BNP/UKIP) through the Right and Centre Right (Conservatives) and then crossed the Right/Left divide into LibDem, Labour and Green Party territory. There was certainly a soft centre potential policy consensus embracing mainstream Conservatives, who under Cameron ran the Party, the LibDems and much of "New" Labour. But nevertheless there was a quite strong line down the middle dividing Left and Right. If there was to be a Coalition it seemed illogical to cross that line. Which meant, effectively, that the only Coalition option was a left of centre one - one that for old SDP members like me was the highly desirable realignment of the Left we had yearned for. A LibLab pact. A Coalition between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. It would, with only 315 seats to Cameron's 305, have probably struggled. But the ideological logic of it would have made sense and few voters from either of its constituent Parties would, I think, have objected.

The Coalition runs counter to everything the SDP stood for. The economic Liberal wing of the LibDems - Clegg, Laws, Alexander and the rest wanted it. But many of us ordinary LibDem voters, especially like me with SDP previous, did not. The compromises the LibDems made to their "values" to be able to form and then sustain the Coalition made one wonder whether those values meant anything at all. The 2010 LibDem manifesto was largely ignored by them in government. Did they put checks on the wilder Rightist policy ambitions of the Tories? I doubt it. Danny Alexander, David Laws and Nick Clegg behaved like straight down the middle economic Conservatives. Vince Cable did little or nothing to suggest that he was anything but a free market Tory at heart, despite his long history in Labour and the SDP. The Coalition ministers like Cable took to the pleasures of Power as if to the manor born - they couldn't believe their luck!

I see no need for the LibDems any more. The Cleggites can make their home in the Conservative Party and we ex SDP folk can return happily to Labour. The protest vote element of the LibDems (always important) has gone to the vile bigots of UKIP - this may be Clegg's enduring legacy. In the run up to the 2015 General Election the Tories will claim that the "successes" of the Government are Conservative successes and the failures are entirely attributable to the shackles of Coalition. And the LibDems? Well you work it out...!


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