Thursday, September 27, 2012

 

Lib Dem Conference Musings

I never used to concentrate when earlier Lib Dem conferences were being held. They were merely 'voices off', something to be aware of but not necessarily to focus on. Well, now I do; as one leg of the coalition-even though the Tory right-wingers hate to admit it- some won't even try- they have a veto over whatever Cameron and Osborne might wish to do.So what has this year's event told us?

Quite a lot I think. Firstly the party has decided it's too late to sever the connection with the Tories; they are in it for the whole nine yards. It might have been possible to pull out a year ago, when things were still in a kind of flux, but now, their future is inextricably bound up with the coalition and that means with the prospects that the economy will recover by 2015. It's a huge gamble, which maybe not all party members- what's left of its membership- fully realised they were committing to back there in the rose garden in May 2010. Secondly it follows that Nick Clegg intends to continue to lead his party through until the election. He is the least popular politician in the country but his party, rather as Labour had to with Gordon, has to stick with him. He still has support from the senior figures including Ashdown and maybe even his rivals might like to see him absorb some more of the inevitable flak before making any move against him. Inevitably Vince Cable is now established as the guy most likely to step up to the plate in the event of Clegg going, for any reason.

But I don't think Vince is telling Nick to 'stand aside' Gordon Brown style. His disloyalty is being disguised as loyalty until the moment for real disloyalty arrives... which might not be until 2015. And who knows how many seats any leader will have at that time to preside over or to make alliances with? One column this morning suggested Nick 'is trying to turn the Lib Dems into a party that can win by first past the post. This is a really silly suggestion as it must be clear that every leader of the Liberals and their successors has been trying to do just that- it's just that they have been unable to attract more than a small percentage of the vote. And, as all the polls suggest, it might be very small indeed by 2015.

What about the chances of a coalition with Labour? Well, a really interesting analysis of this possibility is offered today by Martin Kettle in The Guardian. He is all in favoiur of one as soon as possible and suggests work begins on the project immediately. I wonder if Ed is listening and will emit a signal from his Manchester conference. I suspect that if it comes, it will be aimed at Vince rather than Nick.

Comments:
I was moved to blog at the end of August, when Lord Oakeshott called for Clegg to be replaced, that the Lib Dems should forget their left wing altogether. The voters who deserted the Lib Dems over the coalition won't forgive and forget easily and certainly not in time for 2015.

Instead the Lib Dem right should press home its advantage and clarify the party's identity as European-style Christian Democrats. This would enable the Tory right, perhaps with help from UKIP, to align the Conservatives as US-style Republicans.

Those associated with the Lib Dem left could then either join Labour or, more likely, retire. They don't have the credibility to launch a new party of the left.

In addition all this talk of coalition with Labour seems to assume another dead heat in 2015 plus a significant Lib Dem presence. Before 2010 everyone wrote of a hung parliament as if it were a near impossibility, now they write as if it is a near certainty. The truth is hung parliaments, while not as uncommon as all that, remain relatively rare and the likely collapse of the Lib Dem vote makes it all the more unlikely.
 
Stephen
Thanks a lot for this comment. I agree LDs need to reposition or recast themselves in a big way if they are to have any kind of future. Maybe giving up on their 'social democratic' tendency and nudging into the space slightly to the left of the Tories offers a way forward but I'm not sure they have a) the realisation they are in such dire straits (still delighted to be 'in government' is what I hear) or b) the leadership needed to escape to a new place. Maybe David Laws or Danny L might deliver such a thing?

As for another hung parliament, the number crunchers seem to say that unless a party can command 40+ % of vote they cannot gain an overall majority. Agree the decline of LDs makes an overall majority more likely but with UKIP and nationalists plus the occasional fringe seat it's still likely to be a big gap to clear in order to get those 325 plus seats required. My bet would still be on another hung Commons at this stage of the game.
 
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