Tuesday 8 May 2012

The Liberal Democrats: Recovering From Schizophrenia

If you've read one article by a left-leaning Lib Dem bemoaning the fact that his/her party is involved with the coalition, you've read about a dozen. However, this one by LibDem Voice's Robin Fenwick at Iain Dale is a particularly interesting example.
The party which Robin Fenwick once loved is headed for disaster, and there's only one thing for it - it's time to leave the coalition.

The Liberal Democrat leadership have lost their senses. They can't see or hear supporters who have turned their backs on the party. They can't smell the putrid stench of inevitable electoral punishment in 2015, and they're certainly out of touch with public perception.


Nick Clegg and his acolytes have disastrously shifted public perception of the Lib Dems from being a distinctive party of the centre-left, to an identikit party of the centre right.
Have they?
The party is in danger of becoming a toxic brand. The local elections again demonstrated that Nick Clegg's calamitous dance with the right is dragging down the fortunes of all associated with the title "Liberal Democrats".
Does it?

Casting an eye over Lib Dem marginal parliamentary constituency battlegrounds, I have to say that it's not that black and white.

In areas where Lib Dems traditionally battle a Labour candidate, they have been caned, no doubt. Rochdale, Manchester and Leeds would be places where Lib Dems could probably forget holding seats they have done previously - they lost councillors galore. Having said that, it could be argued that it was merely payback after profiting from Labour's abject shambles at the 2010 general election.

However, it's a different picture in marginals where Lib Dems are up against Conservative opposition. Hotly-contested seats such as Romsey or Westmoreland (where they actually gained council seats) look like they'd be held just as their council representation was on May 3rd, while Solihull also saw little disruption.

In Eastleigh, Lib Dem councillor numbers were boosted by another two, and they weren't affected in Cheltenham either. In Portsmouth, they also gained three seats from the Tories.

There was little voting going on in the West Country where the Lib Dems are strong, but they have been since time immemoriam as that is the last bastion of true classical liberal voter patterns. Even in the pre-SDP years when the old-style Liberal Party had all but collapsed, Cornwall and Devon were happily returning Liberal MPs. I can't see that changing anytime soon.

Contrary to Fenwick's opinion, very many voters apparently see the Lib Dems to have traditionally been a classic liberal entity rather than a 'progressive' one; nearer to a centre right party, than centre left.

So, the Lib Dems are less likely to be 'heading for disaster' than re-aligning themselves with the party which many people still believe them to be. You know, an entity which can carry the tag 'liberal' with some degree of confidence and a straight face. All that is happening is that those who have fallen for the lefty spin, and now take the word liberal to mean heavy government regulation and high taxation, are just returning to where they should have been in the first place. Labour.

It's an identity crisis that the Lib Dems have held off for quite a while. There are two distinct wings of the party and those holding true to the roots of history are still quite content. It's only those who thought it had been hijacked into a Social Democratic Party in all but name, with the label of 'liberal' being a handy cloak, getting all grumpy about it.

So off the likes of Fenwick might toddle with his "broadly progressive ticket" agenda, but Lib Dem MPs in LD/Tory marginal constituencies won't care too much. Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Paul Burstow won't lose any sleep. They'd worry more if Fenwick was deliriously happy.

It's how the hierarchy at Lib Dem HQ react which will be very interesting. Do they move visibly to the left and risk losing the voters who backed them on May 3rd despite Tory opposition, to chase lefties who are running away with chips stubbornly stitched to their shoulders? Or carry on as they are, safe in the knowledge that their voters in Tory marginals are of the opinion that current policies are precisely what Lib Dems should be doing in government anyway?

What should certainly not be surprising - especially to a Lib Dem member - is that there is a fracture between two sides of the same party. It was widely predicted at the time of the coalition agreement, after all. Something had to give in the hugely diverse Lib Dem membership - if they had entered coalition with Labour it would still be happening, but with Richmond, Carshalton & Wallington and Solihull going blue in 2015 instead of Bradford East, Birmingham Yardley, and Manchester Withington probably turning red.

It was fine for the membership to hold their wildly differing personal views of what a Liberal Democrat is supposed to represent while not in office, but it is simply impossible to please all people all of the time. Once in government and making policy, the political schizophrenia had to end.

Hurting as he may be, for Fenwick - and those who share his views - to claim that Clegg is "dragging down the fortunes of all associated with the title Liberal Democrats" is plainly wrong. Many will be largely unconcerned that Fenwick types will be voting differently in the future (SNP, apparently, if it were an available choice!).


RooBeeDoo said...

Dick, sorry off topic but have you been over to Frank Davis' site?  He up to something that's right up your alley.

Clarissa said...

Since the start of the collation I have been of the opinion that this spell in government will be both the best thing and the worst thing that could have happened to the LDs.

Being the 'buffer' for disaffected voters from the other two big parties, they could quite happily get away with pleasing the disgruntled types as they never really expected to be in a position to have to make good on any of their promises.

Now that they are sharing power, the fragile join between the social democratic wing and the liberal wing is being tested to destruction and may well cause the party to splinter before the next election (assuming things go the distance).

I have a sneaking suspicion that Cameron thinks this as well which is why he invited them to join him in government.

If the split does happen, I hope that the potential choice of 2 big state, left-of-centre and 3 smaller state, right-of-centre parties (assuming UKIPs polling holds up) will be good thing for what passes for democracy in this country.

Not that I'm holding my breath.

junican41 said...

FOR GOD'S SAKE! WHO GIVES A SHIT! They are all the same control freaks who are ignorant.

It really does not matter until a genuine alternative appears. When will that be?