Tuesday, 6 September 2011

National death of the party?

One of my friends stated the other day that he would like to see the Liberal Democrats completely destroyed in 2015. Well I'm sure many echo this statement but is it a fair prediction of our fate?

The national party may die or be severely wounded. ( I hope the electorate will keep the MP's who work wonders for their constituents) We may be set back twenty or thirty years back to the days of Grimmond's ascendancy but we still have the local councillors who do an excellent job and one day we will be back.

Since the Liberal Democrats have been in power we have put through legislation that was in our manifesto including cutting income tax for the first £10,000 you earn and shifting tax to those who ear more, ran a referendum on electoral reform, getting rid of the ID database, end of house arrests,  putting through reform to the house of lords into an elected house, pupil premium, Free pre-school for under privileged kids... In short the party is carrying out the promises it made in the manifesto a year ago, in fact 75% of our manifesto is being worked on by the current government rather than the 68% of our Coalition partners.

Apart from the obvious good that these policies do the further good is that the electorate now know who we are and what we stand for. We no longer sit on the side lines only attracting malcontents, humus eaters and idealists. We can finally hold our heads up proudly stating we have made a difference and are the serious party we were under Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith or Grimmond.

However we have not done ourselves any favours with the electorate. In Medway I have recently learnt of some of the tricks and misleading behaviour of the party of yesteryear. ( thanks to John Ward, local font of all local political knowledge. His blog post on the subject http://wwwjohn-m-ward.blogspot.com/2011/09/way-they-were.html with links to contemporary posts makes very interesting reading and should serve as a warning to future Focus writers!)  The so called "Dirty tricks guide" that was circulated some ten years ago has been fully embraced by some local party groups and even some running for general  election and it has come back to bite them on the arse.

We have also discovered that some of the policies and ideas that we have put forward in our manifesto and indeed in long term aims are not workable in National Government at this current time but unfortunately it makes the party look like bounders and liars. The big sticking point was Tuition Fees and, if the fear mongers are right, the up coming Health bill. As the Junior partners in the Coalition (and the ones who have signed up with the Conservatives to let them into power) we are the ones the Public are drawn to every time something bad happens or the Tories push an unpopular policy through. It is "clearly Clegg's fault" and they will remember this when it comes to the 2015 election and forget the good work we have done and the fact that we inherited a broken system and have done what we, as a party, thought was best.

Nick has become a hate figure, the media and press mock him as Cameron's lap dog and a sell out of all that he/we believe in just for personal power. I see him as more of a martyr for Liberalism, drawing all of the fire for the coalition but at the same time making our policies happen and getting the best deal that with Cameron to make policies as acceptable to the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.

The big hope of keeping the National party alive in 2015 is the individual actions of MPs and where they stand on the issues and how they represent their constituencies. The party relies on being there for the people, the people they represent at a national level and the MP's right to vote against the Party's aims. MP's like Tim Farron (party president), Greg Mulholland, Julian Huppert have voted against tuition fees, others, as I revealed yesterday, are going to vote against the Health bill. We can but hope that the public will judge wisely when it comes to the General Election on the individuals actions rather than accept another parties vitreol about "Fib-dems!"

We still have people we represent. Though Liberalism is a principle, a method of governance not a group to represent however its' voice is being lost. The middle ground is being encroached upon by the Conservatives and Labour and we are losing voters as well as members. In conversations with a local Conservative councillor recently we were talking about cross party defections and he said that the Conservative party were not what they once were and a more "Open church, you would be welcomed." I don't intend to jump ship anytime soon, though I thank them for the compliments. The very real problem is that we could suddenly find ourselves without a base to represent. We need to address this quickly or we shall cease to have a purpose and die out.

I have faith that the local parties and the good local councillors will keep the party alive as they tackle local issues and in a way that does translate to the national level - such as Greg Mulholland asking about the closure of the Leeds heart ward. It will be the life line that can save the good constituent MPs and keep the party alive, it may just save us from death and allow a rebuild.

So where there seems to be darkness there is a faint light but as Gandalf once said;

There are many who live that deserve death, and there are many who are dead that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Do not be to hasty to meat out death and judgement.


  1. It's food for thought, but an unduly pessimistic post.

    I also wouldn't rely on the self interested 10 year old ramblings of a former Tory councillor - most of which is pretty threadbare material. The idea that the mere fact of campaigning against post office closures is a 'Lib Dem dirty trick' is frankly risible.

  2. Assomeone who joined the party shortly before a period when we were routinely at 4% in the polls I tend to take a more sanguine view of us being at 10-15%, particualrly as we ended up getting 18% at the following general election.

    And a brief bit of history - 20 years would take us back to Paddy Ashdown's ascendency, 30 years back to David Steel's. Grimond's ascendency was 50 years ago and the Liberal Party rose to 12 MPs and 8.5% of the vote under his leadership.