What are the Lib Dems for?

What are the Lib Dems for?

A guest slot by ex-Labour MP, Nick Palmer

First a quick word on where I’m coming from. I’ve been a Labour partisan for 40 years, but not one of the ultra-tribal kind who hates everyone else. In particular, if Labour didn’t exist, I’ve always assumed I’d vote LibDem. I’d also concede that they’ve sometimes been right in the past when we were wrong (Iraq is the obvious case) and that they’re traditionally better and more interested in some things that aren’t Labour’s strong suit, such as localism.

However, I’d like to suggest that there is a genuine LibDem problem at the moment that goes beyond poor opinion polls. Traditionally, the LibDem vote comes from three sources:

  • (1) People objecting to the other parties for specific or general reasons
  • (2) People who really like specific LibDem policies
  • (3) People who are attached to the general idea of liberalism and the centre ground – my dad was one of these.
  • The problem is that all three of these are under pressure at once. If you dislike the big parties, then being in coalition with one of them isn’t great. If you like specific policies, then the obvious ones are STV (not on the agenda, maybe AV (likely to go down), tuition fees (say no more) and opposing nuclear power (oops). If you like the centre ground in general, then being harnessed to the great shift from public to private sector and benefit cuts is awkward unless you see positive things to balance it.

    The standard response to this is that it was necessary to form a coalition (yes, there’s a case for that) and the Labour option wasn’t very convincing (agreed also). But those are both past reasons, what about now? As Mike pointed out, the Tories have hung on to their solemn and binding commitments from bus passes to winter allowances, while LibDem commitments have gone out of the window in the name of compromise.

    Each party needs a core message which inspire the core voters even when things are tough: the Tories say they’re about lower taxes and good management, Labour says it’s about equality of opportunity and fairness. What are the LibDems currently about? It’s possible to argue that a pure Tory government would be more right-wing, but “vote for us so the others aren’t so bad” isn’t a very compelling slogan.

    The danger, it seems to me, is that the LibDems will start to lose not only their tactical vote but also their core vote. They need to find a way of showing that they’re achieving stuff in government that is primarily their thing and the Tories wouldn’t do anyway. That’s why Clegg’s line of collective solidarity is risky for the party – they really need to be seen to win a few battles in Government, or they’ll start to be not hated, not feared, but simply irrelevant.

    Whatever your own party preference, don’t you think that’s objectively true?

    Nick Palmer has been a regular poster of PB since 2004 and was the first MP to post above his own name here. He narrowly lost his seat at Browtowe at the general election.

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