Friday, 6 May 2011

Lib Dems: Checking out of the Last Chance Saloon

"Clearly what happened last night – especially in those parts of the country, Scotland, Wales, the great cities of the north, where there are real anxieties about the deficit reduction plans we are having to put in place ... we are clearly getting the brunt of the blame," (Nick Clegg) told reporters.

What in God's name did he expect?

The results in the batch of elections last night - in Wales and Scotland for their national assembly and Parliament and in England for a slew of local councils, confirmed what many progressives warned the Lib Dems about when they entered their Faustian Pact with the Conservatives almost exactly a year ago. Liberal Democrat voters did not vote for a rightwing government, wedded to monetarist economics and some pretty nasty, rightwing social policy chucked in to boot.

It is not just about the turnaround on tuition fees - its about economic slash and burn, the complete abandonment of decades of (Liberal) Keynesian thinking about investment-led recoveries with a social consciences; its about the destruction of the NHS with the introduction of GP fundholding, bonus schemes and profit-making; its about the ludicrous, Kafkaesque welfare review which is terrorising disabled people and the long-term unemployed; it is about the privatisation of the few remaining public assets, such as the post office and, in spite of a much-publicised apparent but highly misleading climbdown, the sale of large chunks of the national forests.

I could go on. But the bottom line is this - the Liberal Democrats naively think that their own and the Tories' fates in the Coalition are by necessity intertwined, gently nurturing each other, standing and falling together in the claimed partnership that the Lib Dem leader regularly trumpets. And yet they could not be more fundamentally wrong.

Because the Coalition is essentially delivering a full-on Conservative regime. It may be true, as they claim, that the Lib Dem Ministers do manage to moderate some of their wilder ideas, but thinking that somehow excuses their betrayal of their electorate simply demonstrates their naivete, as do their bold claims now that they will assert themselves within the Coalition - given their disastrous starting point, this will simply emphasise the extent of their climbdowns when they still reach some agreement with the Tories; and also the extent to which they badly underplayed their negotiating strength last year. Conservative voters are pretty much getting what they wanted - (ex) Lib Dem ones quite the opposite.

So the Lib Dem options now? With a collapse in Scottish support to barely 5%, and virtually eliminated from scores of local authorities - trailing behind the Greens in many wards in my own area of Kirklees - and with their prized referendum on the alternative vote overwhelmingly rejected  by 69% to 31%, they are now on a political life support machine. The clock is ticking and the plug will be finally pulled on the first Thursday in May next year if they don't quickly discharge themselves.

This is because the Lib Dems have taken decades to build up their stength through local government powerbases. The core of the party is their 3,600 councillors. Today, of the  1,600 up for election, nearly half are gone, in many cases decisively. By this time next year, the cuts agreed by the Coalition will be biting hard instead of just being in prospect as at the moment - the Lib Dem bloodletting will be potentially even worse and at the end of another night like the one just gone, there will effectively be nothing left.

And so they have only one realistic option - to ditch Clegg and ditch the Coaliton. Now. It may force an October general election, which on present showing Labour would probably win. That would involve a substantial decrease in the Lib Dem Parliamentary party, but in opposition again it might be just in time to shore up their desparately damaged local base next year.

But already it seems deeply improbably that they will do this - Clegg has reiterated the apparent need for the Coalition in the national interest, a sentiment echoed by past leaders like Paddy Ashdown and David Steel, and by Ministers like Chris Huhne. They seem set to recommit, rather like lemmings desperate to reach the sea cliffs.

And on that basis, as posted before, they are full set to become nothing but a virtual party - bereft of local councillors and activists, a head without a body, a zombie party.

Meanwhile, as he dismantles the welfare state, Nick Clegg perhaps can dust down his cv and begin the application process to become a formal Tory candidate, the only way he is likely to remain in the Commons, let alone power.

The third party is neutralised now pending its final rendering. Mission accomplished, Mr Cameron.

Zombie Liberals, focus-less near you now...

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you, as also that there is little or no chance of the LD's detaching themselves. They will stumble on with their coalition agreement to commit suicide, with every year that they do adding another five to the prospect that the Liberal Party will ever again be a relevant force in UK politics. Truly dismal.