Sunday, March 06, 2011


Where do Lib Dems Go from Here?

Riddell's wonderful cartoon captures something of the Liberal Democrats dilemma, not to mention Clegg's. Rawnsley lists their woes: firstly they came 6th in the Barnsley by-election, their lowest ever result in such a contest and behind UKIP, the BNP and an independent miner candidate. All in all, 5 out of 6 voters in May 2010 decided not to vote that way in the by-election.

Secondly, this has to be a pointer for the May local elections, which, for better or worse, are always viewed as a pointer to what happens during Westminster elections. Thirdly the 'No' to AV camp is now 10 points in the lead, meaning that in the wake of awful local elections, the very rationale for entering the coalition will be snatched rudely from Lib Dem hands. Fourthly Clegg's poll rating is plumbing the depths, his effigy has been burnt in the streets and Rawnsley estimates that once the softer support is discounted 'core' support is no higher than 5%.

The problem is that the party of protest is now a party of government; protesters can find a handy little protest party seeking to get bigger in the form of UKIP, as Barnsley voters discovered. Personally I find Nigel Farage almost repellent but I have to admit he is a nimble and clever politician who might well fulfill his stated objective for his party of replacing the LDs as the 'third' political force in the UK. I say this also because each major European country now manifests a growing right-wing party which eschews violence. Officially so does the BNP but those videos of their supporters fighting on the pavements of Barking last May, not to mention their 'brutes in suits' image, rather opens the field up to Nigel's really very nicely presented outfit.

Where to for the Lib Dems? Definitely not upwards for the short and medium term future and maybe Simon Jenkins' prediction they are headed for oblivion will be fulfilled. A breakaway faction from the Coalition might have a chance of surviving as Clegg goes down with his ship but so far there are only a few discordant voices- no sign of schisms. Rawnsley suggests their only hope is to hope trhey can benefit from Colaition success in 2015:

Their best hope is to win credit if the coalition is broadly seen to have been a success by the time of the next election. By demonstrating that they are no longer a wasted vote and can be credible wielders of power, the Lib Dems may then find a new constituency among centre-ground and swing voters, including some who have not taken them seriously in the past and have reluctantly voted Labour or Tory instead because they didn't believe the Lib Dems had a chance.

History is repeating itself basically. Every time the Liberals have teamed up with the Tories in a coalition, the end results have been (i) a dramatic erosion in the party's support, and (ii) a split whereby a breakaway remnant fights on as an independent party while the party mainstream is absorbed into the Conservative Party (qv the 'National Liberals.') Nick Clegg will eventually join the Tories - he will have to do this by 2015 in order to stand any chance of retaining Sheffield Hallam - and it will be left to the likes of Simon Hughes, Tim Farron and possibly even Charles Kennedy to rebuild the party, Jo Grimond style, from the grasssroots.
Thanks Paul. Fascinating predictions
A more accurate prediction (make a note of the day !) is that Clegg will step down from the local parliament of Westminster before the next GE to be appointed/annointed as an EU commissioner & so return to his true home.

And as for placing hopes of a LibDim revival in the hands of a group of tired & emotional serial liars & expense troughers, don't you think the poor hardpressed taxpayers (copyright Gordo) deserve better ?

Kind regards
Intriguing suggestion David. If Cleggy and the Coalition part company because of manifold disasters yet to unfold, such a career trajectory would make a great deal of face-saving sense.
Oh dear, Mr Morris's comment is depressing! The British political system has too many rewards for failure and for voting "as their leaders tell 'em to" (as WS Gilbert put it a century ago) to be healthy.

The appointment mechanisms for the Lords, EU commissioner posts, ambassadorships and the like give huge power to the main parties' leaderships. No wonder so few MPs or would-be MPs step very far out of line.

Who would put a cosy retirement in "the Other Place", at a peaceful embassy or in Brussels at risk by flapping their lips too often on points of principle?
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