27 September 2012

The Lib Dems: from willing collaborators to neoliberal lemmings

My view on the Liberal Democrats is evolving with each party conference.

In 2010, I accused them of being spineless collaborators with the Tories.

In 2011, I amended that to saying they were willing collaborators with the Tories.

Now, I just think they've got a death wish and are incapable of independent thought.

How else do you explain the party's willingness to stick with the completely discredited Nick Clegg, thus virtually ensuring that their vote collapses to less than half of its 2010 level at the next election in 2015? On a uniform swing this would all but annihilate the Lib Dem parliamentary party. Of course the swing is unlikely to be uniform and some of the party's MPs may be able to survive on a strong local vote - particularly if they are seen as mavericks who opposed the general thrust of collaboration with the Tories. However, 2015 is likely to be a yellow bloodbath under Clegg however the local voting breaks down.

Many commentators had expected open revolt at this week's Lib Dem conference - and given the general quality of political commentary, that was almost a guarantee that such a revolt wouldn't happen. In the end the only people seriously agitating for a coup were: (a) people who've been critical of Clegg since 2010 - e.g. Lord Oakeshott and Lembit Opik, who can safely be locked in the box labelled "serial troublemakers"; and (b) the very worthy but in-the-wrong-party Liberal Left group (have a look at Labour Left and the Green Party guys, and then Make Your Choice.) A floor motion aiming to commit the Lib Dem leadership to a "Plan B" and an end to austerity failed abysmally when put to the vote. I'd argue that the weakness of the Lib Dem left is what statisticians call a "sample selection" effect - a large proportion of the left of the Lib Dem party walked out after  the decision to collaborate with the Tories, and what you're left with is the right-wingers. It's the same thing that's happened to the Lib Dems' share of the national vote.

In the end, Lib Dems must be hoping for a miracle - that somehow the economy will start growing quickly between now and 2015 and they will reap the rewards. I think this is highly unlikely - we may well escape "triple dip" recession, but growth will be sluggish at best. And the signs from the Eurozone crisis are that it is likely to get worse - perhaps much worse - before it gets better. Meanwhile, almost no-one left of centre in the British electorate (which is over half of the Lib Dems' former voters) will trust Nick Clegg with their vote again - ever. In short this is collective lemmingmania from the Lib Dem grassroots and MPs alike, for which they will surely pay a heavy price in 2015. And the main gainer will be Ed Miliband, who can't believe his luck; he's secured around a 10 point increase in vote share from 2010 to 2015 without having to do anything at all.

Clegg's contempt for everything his party used to campaign on was shocking in his speech yesterday. Opposition to tuition fees, for example, was dismissed as "protest politics". Now there are arguments for and against tuition fees, but just to dismiss the whole issue like that - coming from someone who relied on the policy to get elected! - is contemptible bollocks. And the old lies on taxation were wheeled out again - "we have taken x million people out of paying tax" whereas in fact the switch from income tax to VAT results in the poorest paying more, not less. It's straight-down-the-line lies like this, coming from someone who espoused the "new politics" in 2010, that have made many voters feel that, if this is "the new politics", give us back the old politics, please. At least Labour and the Tories never pretended to be anything other than cynical grab-yer-wallet bastards.

I've written about this shower for long enough now so this may well be the last post for them (in more ways than one) until the election campaign. Let 'em rot.

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