Friday, February 10, 2006

 

Lib Dems benefit from swing of political pendulum

Whoever said politics was dull? Last night's events confirmed for me why I study the subject: what a turnaround! When I was a teenager I recall thinking the Liberals were a bit irrelevant- only 6 MPs and nothing much to say. I was not wholly uninterested in them though as Clement Davies, the former leader of the mini-party in the early fifties, was a distant relation. Then came the Orpington by election and everything went Liberal bonkers for a few months. This pattern has been repeated ever since to some extent: sudden surge at a byelection followed by fading of Liberal star and, often, loss of seat itself at next general election.

So the party should not get too euphoric but I don't blame them if they do. After May last year they had been hugely reinforced by election victories. Then came the whispering against Kennedy and his sad, dignified but still humiliating farewell. Then came the Mark Oaten revelations- rent boys and all- followed by the Hughes saga and the admission that he had lied about his sexuality. Lib Dem poll standings fell from around 20 to 15 then to 13, 11 and downwards to who knew where. Dunfermline West Fife was a safe Labour seat with an 11000 majority, Gordon Brown sits for the adjoining constituency and had campaigned vigorously for the Labour candidate. While the thought of a greatly reduced majority was certainly expected by Labour, defeat was not. This must go down as possibly their greatest ever byelection victory- and won very much against the odds.

This is a body blow to Blair as he struggles to reassert his political credibility, win the razor close contests to install his reform agenda and leave with legacy in place. The poor showing of the nationalists seems to confirm that devolution has drawn that movement's sting; the desultory vote for the Conservatives reveals Cameron, despite his Scottish name, is no miracle worker. As for the leadership contest, this too is hotting up to be a surprise. When it started I gave Chris Huhne no chance at all and thought his candidacy a little presumptuous- even though my constantly punting mate had backed him at 7-1. He's now 8-11 and scarcely worth backing so assured does his victory seem. The former Guardian journalist stuck to it, campaigned cleverly and doggedly and now polls suggest he'll beat Ming to the finishing line, probably with the help of Hughes' second preferences. Iain Dale's blog comments on the debate- I missed it as I was in the pub- suggests Huhne did OK but was not a sensation in last night's Question Time.

So the whole face of politics continues to change radically. Cameron started it by torpedoing the Thatcherite right; Kennedy continued it by standing down; Huhne has inherited the mantle of 'youth' bestowed on the zeitgeist by the youthful Etonian and Blair has continued to appear like a prime minister who is, to use a cricket analogy, playing out time for a probable score draw. Within a period of 18 months from last autumn- to, say summer 2007- the political terrain will be so changed as to be unrecognisable.

Comments:
Good post - two things spring to mind: when will we start to have a debate on exactly what MPs in Scotland represent anyway - and - at what point did John Hutton become the public face of the Government? He's on everything!

Steve
 
Thanks Steve
I was struck by the fact that the local issues which moved voters- especially the bridge tolls- were not the responsibility of Westminster politicians but of the Scottish Parliament. Seems Labour getting payback for local incompetence rather than the (usual) other way around.
 
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