Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Who will weep for the Liberal Democrats this week?

As long-term readers may remember, I've voted for a whole array of weird and wonderful political parties in American elections (including a Vermont "separatist" party, you'll be thrilled to hear).  But in this country, rather boringly, I've only ever voted for the SNP.  I have a feeling that only independence offers the slightest chance of "liberating" me from that habit, because until and unless it happens the SNP will always look like the most rational choice.

However, I did once vote for the Liberal Democrats in a school mock election.  It may seem a rather quaint idea now, but back in those days I had the genuine impression that the Lib Dems were the most radical party on constitutional reform, more so even than the SNP.  I remember hearing Russell Johnston speaking about the state effectively withering away within Europe, being replaced by tiers of governance enjoying equal prestige, of which none would have absolute sovereignty vested in them, even on a theoretical basis.  So in Scotland that would mean four tiers of government sharing sovereignty - local government, Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels.  To the idealistic teenage me, that sounded like a more modern and forward-thinking vision even than independence within an interdependent Europe.

Although I moved away from the Lib Dems long ago, it's actually only been relatively recently that I've realised that they don't actually believe in any of this stuff - it's all just words.  (I'm only talking about the party leadership, by the way. I'm sure that many of the activists and rank-and-file members have much stronger convictions.)  With the enviable position of holding the balance of power in a hung parliament for the last four years, they've actually had the chance to do something to bring their vision closer to fruition, but almost every step they've taken has had the opposite effect.  They've propped up the most anti-European government this country has seen since entering the Common Market, one that is doing what would have seemed unthinkable just a decade ago - inching us closer to the EU exit door.  They moved heaven and earth to block a second question in the independence referendum, meaning the only option voters aren't allowed to choose in September is the one the Lib Dems are supposed to support.  And having achieved that perverse objective, they haven't taken the nuanced stance on the straight Yes/No independence question that the logic of their "federalist" beliefs demands, but have instead gone gung-ho for a No vote irrespective of consequences.

Their actions betray them.  When it really comes down to it, tribalistic British nationalism trumps everything for the Lib Dem leadership - it trumps federalism (a Yes vote would produce an outcome much closer to federalism than a No vote), it trumps electoral reform (a Yes vote would ensure that every tier of government in Scotland is elected by proportional representation), it trumps repugnance at an unelected second chamber (a Yes vote would lead to a wholly elected national parliament for Scotland, with no equivalent to the House of Lords), it trumps support for a written constitution and reform of the royal prerogative (only on offer with a Yes vote). Almost every constitutional reform that Lib Dem activists have pounded the streets to evangelise for over the last few decades is on the ballot paper this September - and their leadership is telling them to turn it all down.  Forever.

There's an opinion poll out from Opinium today suggesting that the Lib Dems will take just 5% of the vote in the European elections on Thursday.  That would probably be just about enough to ensure that they win no seats at all across the UK, and move them closer to the fringe status throughout this island that they've already been reduced to at Holyrood (Willie Rennie leads a parliamentary group that is smaller than the Scottish Socialist Party had in 2003).  Unfortunately, their relative strength at Westminster means that they won't become an out-and-out fringe party this side of the referendum, but anything that moves the morale-sapping voices of these phony "radicals" further to the margins can only be a good thing.

*  *  *

For what it's worth (not very much), here is the result of Opinium's small and unweighted Scottish subsample in the European election poll -

SNP 43%
Labour 23%
UKIP 14%
Conservatives 11%
Greens 5%
Liberal Democrats 3%

In terms of seats, that would work out as three for the SNP, two for Labour and one for UKIP.  Under this rather improbable scenario, the best hope of stopping UKIP would be to vote Tory - which hopefully illustrates further why attempts at "tactical voting" under a pure list PR system are soul-destroying and counter-productive.


  1. I did once vote for the Liberal Democrats in a school mock election.

    Spooky - me too.

  2. I voted for them once in a REAL election -2005. Largely tactically it must be said, to keep the Tories out and in utter disgust at the complete moral decrepitude of the Labour Party. The LibDem candidate won, and I would have voted for them again in 2010 if I hadn't already left the country. Like many others I was lulled into a false sense of radicalism, that they were actually further left of centre than Labour, but no one is going to fall for that again.

  3. I'm afraid I simply cannot fathom how anyone could remain a lib dem and profess any kind of concern for the poor and vulnerable after what this tory lib dem coalition in Westminster have done. It is shockingly hypocritical of them to do so. You would have thought any lib dems with an ounce of decency would have left long ago in protest at the incredible things Clegg and his ostrich faction have agreed to just for a nice ministerial car and a chance to feel important.

    You have to wonder how those repulsive toadies spinning for Clegg sleep at night because James only touches on the extraordinary harm the Clegg leadership has done when given a sniff of power. Not just the causes they once paid lip service to, but to their own party.

    Clegg posturing on Europe is clearly doing massive harm to that cause. You would think there might be one lib dem left with enough common sense to tell Clegg to shut the F*** up about Europe and stop damaging a cause the lib dems used to believe in. Every time he appears in an interview banging on about Europe tory Eurosceptics and kippers must be absolutely overjoyed. He is a complete liability to his own party and any cause unfortunate enough to have him speak on it.

    Even more damning is the fact that Clegg didn't put the EU front and centre because he believed in it, he put it front and centre because he thought it would help in his own doomed detoxification strategy. The Cleggites wanted Farage as a contrast because they thought someone as blatantly right-wing and controversial as Farage would make Clegg seem more palatable to the public in contrast. WRONG!

    Clegg is toxic. Simple as that.

    Since then Clegg has been all over the media still attempting to detoxify himself and adamant he will not quit no matter how badly the lib dems do.

    It's been the pattern all the way through the coalition too. Clegg ensured loyalty by buying off lib dem MPs with ministerial and junior ministerial positions. Clegg lost no time at all in briefing against the likes of Cable, Farron and anyone else who started to look too popular as he became ever more toxic.

    Clegg not paying the slightest attention to small matters like the creeping privatisation of the NHS. He didn't even bother to read Lansley's comically inept NHS reforms but when the lib dem membership began to wonder what the hell they were signed up for Clegg drafted in an aging Shirley Williams to put a gloss on it. Clegg all too willing to go along with Syria thus destroying the credibility the lib dems used to have on foreign misadventures after Iraq. Clegg agreeing to hard-line immigration legislation to pacify tory rebels. Clegg pointedly ignoring the lib dem conference on those and other matters. Same with Lords Reform. Incompetently handled by Clegg from the start. Same with AV, same with home rule, same with Europe, same with civil liberties, same with welfare reform. It's quite a list.

    Does Cameron seem unhappy at getting his own way time and time again while having an idiot like Clegg torpedoing the lib dem's own causes? Nope. He couldn't have planned it better if he tried.

    Everything Clegg does is to keep himself Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the lib dems. Everything else is secondary. Clegg's ostrich faction have such a blinkered view of reality that they will justify that as being the best thing for their party since Clegg is the party leader. However, the lib dem's laughable polling along with the year on year hammering of their base tells the real story. They are being destroyed and reduced to a fringe and their reputation will not recover for a long, long, time. If ever. Deservedly so.

    Clegg and his ostrich faction are no better than yellow tories.