How long will it take for the Lib Dems to recover?

How long will it take for the Lib Dems to recover?

Henry G Manson on the junior coalition partner

This summer Nick Clegg said he wants his party to become a “fully-fledged party of government”. Despite that his party faces wipeout in 2014 and 2015 on top of the electoral hammer blows it’s received since it formed a Coalition with the Conservatives.

More than half of the people who voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2010 have deserted them. The party has fewer than 3,000 councillors for the first time in Liberal Democrat history and has lost control of flagship councils such as Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle among others in local elections. In the recent South Shields parliamentary by-election the Liberal Democrat candidate finished seventh which was rightly described by the party’s President Tim Farron as “a shocking result”.

The latest party membership figures have been published and show that the Liberal Democrats have lost a third of their membership since 2010. Losing councillors and members can lead to a dangerous spiral of decline for any party. There are fewer troops on the ground to get your message out and keep opponents on their toes, new talent either doesn’t come through or isn’t cultivated, resources are reduced and more pressure lands on the shoulders of a depleted number of party activists who remain. There is a clear political cause for this.

When you look at the Liberal Democrat record in government it’s one of resounding failure. House of Lords reform has been shelved. The alternative vote was killed by public referendum. University tuition fees have not been reduced by instead have trebled. VAT has been hiked to 20%. Environmental policies have been undermined by the government with ‘fracking’ now top of the agenda. Discussion on Europe has been led by UKIP and the Conservative Eurosceptics meaning debated is focused on either leaving the EU or repatriating powers. There is no mansion tax and income taxes for the wealthy have instead been cut. The NHS is being fragmented and privatised through the Health and Social Care Act. Record numbers of people are being fed by food banks, civil liberties are being eroded, charities and voluntary organisations are closing due to cuts and immigrants are being told to ‘go home’ by Home Office advertising vans. This is not a liberal conservative government.

Given everything the Liberal Democrats have stood for, has there ever been such a pitiful record of any UK political party when in government? And how can they possibly turn it around? I can’t see how the party has any hope of recovering while propping up a classically right-wing Conservative government and with Nick Clegg as its leader. To the outsider, the lack of consideration of a new leader and approach in the Lib Dems seems more to be one of weary resignation rather than of unity, pride and purpose. That will delay the party’s recovery and could even be fatal to its future.

Henry G Manson

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