Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The point of the Lib Dems

I haven't bought into the tide of anger over the "betrayal" of the Liberal Democrats. Or their inevitable demise, as predicted by Nick Cohen in the Spectator this week. On the contrary, I think, on the whole, they have embraced the responsibilities of government rather well. In time, that may be appreciated by the electorate.

The easiest part of politics is the gesturing, the spin and the sloganeering. It's also the cheapest. The most difficult part of politics is governing. My biggest problem with the third party is they could always appear to be all things to all people. Making silly pledges that sought to, for example, increase tax by 1p to spend on education, to call the Iraq War "an illegal war" and to, er, vote against tuition fees.

I've actually got more respect for those who backed such an unpopular measure than those who - like Charles Kennedy and Tim Farron - take delight in standing against it. Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Danny Alexander and our MP Andrew Stunell have stood up to their responsibilities to govern. They have taken a collective decision to face up to the need to reduce the deficit, to reduce the size of the state, the cost of the state, and what the country can afford. It's not a comfortable reality to confront, less to make choices about what to do, but they have.

The last election was the worst one in a generation to win. An era that needs to implement cuts and public sector reforms sees many in Labour very safely in their comfort zone, saying anything that springs to mind about the government because they can do so easily without having any kind of responsibility.

But but back to the LibDems. Simon Beard, here, argues that there is a point to the Liberal Democrats: Free trade, civil liberty and electoral reform. Issues he says that are popular, but ... "Instead they are far more interested in the wealth of services provided by the state, how they are run and how they will be paid for. In these areas the Lib Dems are far less distinctive."

At the moment, that's the issue. In four years time, it may not be. That's where liberalism can come to its fore. The biggest danger for the Lib Dems at the moment isn't how they are in government, but how they deal with the politics of it all.


raving adman said...

Great post. Whoever won the last election was going to be very unpopular in four years time. Damage limitation still leaves you taking the blame for the damage.
But the problem is one of demarcation. Parties cover a broad spectrum of beliefs, and many politicians find themselves going along with decisions that are against their personal beliefs "for the good of the party" - a state of affairs which is seen as honourable.
However, when they go along with a decision which crosses their party boundary from red to blue - no matter that it may be closer to their own principles than the extremes of their own party - they're seen as dishonourable and unprincipled.
Many Liberals might have been Conservatives but for a single issue (say, Europe). They may feel close to the Labour party but uncomfortable with the Spartist extremes. So it's unfair to put LibDems in a constraining box and then throw rotten fruit at them for occasionally putting one foot out of the box.
They're going to be unpopular at the end of this government anyway. But unlike the Conservatives, whom many may just feel to have been wrong, the Libs will also be seen as wrong and unprincipled.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Plenty of folk I know voted Liberal in the mistaken assumption that they were to the left of Labour. Right now people across Manchester are paying for that mistake with their jobs, starting with at least 2000 at MCC and countless others in the NHS.