Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Liberal Democrats: Post-facto

The more I think about it, the more I'm struck by the fact that the Liberal Democrats - or at least most of their voters - have been left behind in British politics over the last 5 years. 

The tragic loss of Charles Kennedy reinforced vividly the memories of the days when the party was streets ahead and much more progressive than the two other major parties. The bitterness and anger felt by the progressive coalition of voters Kennedy and the wider party had built up since the beginning of the Blair government who had good reason to feel betrayed by the actions of the Lib Dems in government was the real reason for the electoral annihilation suffered by the party in May.

The biggest strategic mistake made was for Clegg, Alexander and Laws all too wilful capitulation to the Tory neo-Thatcherite mantra: that it was entirely Labour's supposed "profligacy" which caused a financial crisis, rather than a much more complex failure of US & UK fiscal regulation egged on by their rich and bent mates in the City of London. The lock-stock-and-barrel approach to this version of history vacated the field for the Greens and other (supposedly) "progressive" parties.

Secondly, on Europe, the supposed party of "radical" constitutional reform at home and "liberal internationalism" abroad was too often seen as either defended the status quo or offering highly muffled critiques of the manifest democratic deficit which is perceived to lie at the heart of the current European project. This continual error of judgement left the field open for UKIP and their appeal from outside the elite to the worst aspects of the English character - insularity and xenophobia.

The fact that the lack of a real say for at least two or three generations of voters has been at the core of British Euro-scepticism, was ignored. "Your political elite", voters were patronised, "knows best". Rather than arguing for the principle that it should be the British people who should decide our long-term future within or without the EU in a referendum, the party took a pass and muttered something about the future of Britain being at risk if such a plebiscite was held.

It remains to be seen what the future - if any - for the Liberal Democrats holds. It is possible that the party will die a quiet dignified death unless ways is found to re-establish the link between the progressive idealism of the past with the current attacks on the welfare state and the poor, and convincing voters that the decency at the heart of basic Liberal Democracy is still alive and kicking...


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