This May, the Liberal Democrats recorded their worst ever election result since their formation in 1988. It’s odd to think that little over 5 years ago, just after the first debate in the run up to the 2010 election, this was the party which was neck and neck with Labour when it came to the popular vote. Quite clearly the effects of being in power with a party unapologetic about spending cuts are starting to show. The latest polls puts them on 6%, a far cry from the party’s old successes.
I feel it is apt right now to mention how Nick Clegg once famously declared:
If the Liberal Democrats are to be seen as a credible party once more, it must make sure that doesn’t remain a party of few fixed principles. What I found particularly striking was how little we know about the Lib Dems and what they actually stand for. Party policy on Trident has yet to have been chalked up and while they have pledged to build an ambitious 300,000 houses a year, it has yet to explain clearly to the public how that will come about.
For me, it was their saying in the run-up to the election, “We’ll give the Tories a heart and Labour a brain” that made me realise that this was a party marketing itself simply as a mediating force; rather than talking about their own party it appeared that they wanted to focus on the shortcomings of others.
On a more positive note, I suppose Tim Farron offers a break from a lot of what the Lib Dems have been criticised for not standing up against. He voted against both the bedroom tax and tuition fees- the latter of which so infamously tarnished the party’s image as one which can keep its promises. Nick Clegg, who has led his party to into this oblivion is now suddenly calling branding his party as ‘comeback kids’. On what grounds he argues this, I don’t know. But it’s certainly a lot less bleak than what many others are saying.
Interestingly enough, Tim Farron recently remarked that there were people he was talking to:
Who have been members of the Labour party for as long as I’ve been a member of mine who feel that they don’t recognise their party any more and feel deeply distressed.
While I don’t disagree that further down the line there could a swing in his favour from Labour, I think Farron might be swallowing his words, as just only a Liberal Democrat councillor has defected to the Corbyn-led Labour party. The Lib Dems can, and I think will capitalise on Labour undergoing an identity shift but this exchange of members might not simply be one way traffic. With around 15,000 members having joined the party since May there is at least some consolation but that is not an excuse for complacency either.
On balance, one could say with quite some certainty that the Liberal Democrats will improve upon their most recent and dismal performance at this election, but it would also be premature to think that they’ll return to their former glory any time soon. It’s early days, and with the EU referendum coming up, they have been presented with a rare opportunity to make clear their views on the issue of our role in Europe. If they argue passionately and properly on the pro-EU platform which they are currently on, it could win them a lot more supporters.
For a party which has the same number of seats as the DUP and polls beneath UKIP, they are a political force that remains in the limelight. Only time will tell if they can make use of that.
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It was my understanding that the Liberal Democrats were supposed to be an alternative to both the Tories and Labour, two parties that were mired in ideology. Too bad the Liberal Democrats don’t come with a slogan like: “The Tories may have a brain and Labour may have a heart, but the Liberal Democrats have both a brain and a heart.” Then come up with policies that prove that.
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I was elected to my local parish council in Berkshire on May 7th, as a Liberal Democrat, though I failed in the borough council election on the same day. ( I know, these bodies don’t tend to be run on a political basis anyway, but it’s a start 😉 ) … I am in a strongly Conservative area. I think the overall issue is that many constituencies do tend to be either strongly Labour, or strongly Conservative. Although some are more marginal, and we did manage to build strong support for ourselves in some areas from 97 onward, that’s still the key issue. Both the electoral system and the general behaviour of the electorates in Britain, will tend to squeeze us out. People like clarity. What we call “balance” many might call uncertainty, or unclarity. Or fudge. Or now, post “tuition fees”, duplicity. It seems to me there is also something of an existential crisis for us – not surprisingly. We don’t seem to know ourselves, quite what we are. Or, at least, it is nowhere clear enough. For me, it’s simple. And it DOES follow naturally and logically from our name. 1. We very strongly believe in human freedom – freedom of speech and association, private religion, sexual behaviour and so on, but ALSO economic freedom – to set up and run private businesses, with suitable transparency and suitable safeguards. We are closer to the Conservatives than Labour in that particular respect, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what ‘Liberal’ means. 2 We ALSO very strongly believe in support for public spending on health and education – because you can only have a properly free market if people don’t need to worry about those things so much .. so that makes us slightly more like Labour in that particular sense … that’s part of “Democracy”, alongside our usual support for civil and political liberties … 3. We tend toward peaceful relations with other countries and cultures, up to a point … but 4. We WOULD be prepared to defend democracy and freedom if need be… It MATTERS to us. I am hoping most of that is not particularly controversial … but 5. We also favour small organisations, and networks rather than vast monoliths in business OR in trades unions etc. We would not be as beholden to monolithic big business as the Conservatives, even if we would be equally likely to support local businesses … 6. I think we want to be seen as forward looking and innovative, and that means proposing more clever changes, that would address real problems. We didn’t have enough specifics – more the “we will damp the other lot down” sort of messages … We can’t keep hanging on to ideas of our 18th, 19th and 20th century forebears … 7. We definitely need to push the green agenda more strongly, particularly in terms of carbon, solar/wind/tidal and other forms of electricity generation, home based energy production and electric / hybrid cars … as well as public transport re-developments … 8. I want to see some sensible statements about how we feel about the welfare budgets. YES, it is essential in a civil society to look after people facing difficulties … but we want to help people OUT of their bad patches, and we want to see as many as possible in a position to take a full and meaningful role in society – balancing education or work, family life, and recreation in whatever ways the individuals find optimal, so we want to control welfare, but genuinely for the positive benefit OF THE RECIPIENTS not for the narrow/selfish / financial interest of the State … we’d improve programmes to help people get ready for work, and thrive in modern working environments … 9. I think we can have some sensible ideas about what it means to be British, and how people need to behave if they live here – that can’t be THAT difficult in the 800th year since Magna Carta, surely … and it DOES matter what ideas hold people together, across our society … we CAN have unity and cooperation and peace and rule of law, as well as cultural and ethnic diversity … and lastly 10. I think we ought to have a proper debate about the European Union. Don’t get me wrong, I am PRO international cooperation. But many people believe that the EU is too bloated as a bureaucracy, and if not a bit corrupt, is at least questionable as a positive, reforming force. It is like it is a bad example of Big Business, in itself, and many voters just don’t like that. We ought to be very much more clear than we have been, about what procedural changes and policy changes we might like to see in the EU, rather than turn into a simple minded pro- or anti- “foreigners” discussion. How silly. We need to help the UK political sphere to become far more mature on this issue, and not just accuse other ( well meaning people ) of xenophobia and such like…
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As a fellow Liberal, you hit the nail on the head.
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Thank you kindly Hashmi. Kind of you to say so.
Nick Clegg may be a genuine ‘nice guy’, but anyone with political nouse could see he fell into a trap of his own making, taking his party with him. He represented the EU autocrat, whilst claiming democratic credentials and embarking on what might have been laudable objectives, without gauging their achievability or political consequences. He was prepared to accept position without power and his biggest mistake was to renege on the promise he made regarding student loans. The fact that he had invested his own personal reputation in it, and to a youthful group of voters significant to the result, that he betrayed, became an indelible stain on his credibility. Everyone could see that his line that all the other ‘good things’ the party had managed to do, would be sufficient to expunge this one act of treachery, was fatally flawed from the beginning. He then failed to ‘read the runes’, which if he had, he would have seized the opportunity to resign the leadership well in advance of the next election, allowing a new leader and new brush, uncontaminated by his failures – that of course extended beyond this notable one – to ‘repaint the walls’. So the initial mistake of being tied into a marriage of convenience, instead of a looser tacit arrangement of retained independence and support, was compounded by a failure to take the only step that might have saved the party at the polls the next time around. Clegg can only be viewed, sadly, as a naive and tragic figure in British politics. He enabled a party with perhaps only about a quarter of the electorate’s support, to govern disproportionately in the interests of the wealthy few, whilst hacking away at public infrastructure and services; encouraging factional disintegration within the United Kingdom and paradoxically eventual exit from the European Union itself; and leading his own party – potentially at last in sight of the big prize of Government, that had eluded it for nigh on a century – to oblivion. Not much of a C.V. to crow about really.
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I agree with some of what you say but not all of it. I do think the tuition fees issue was a very significant breach of trust, or at least was perceived that way (and if that’s wrong, the communications was clearly at fault). I don’t accept that the Liberal Democrats should have gone into coalition with Labour rather than the Conservatives, when the latter won more seats. And inevitably, with a Conservative PM and Chancellor, that was going to set a different tone from what the Liberal Democrats on our own might have done. We could have been a bit less cozy and collegiate with them, but that might not have worked much better for us either. But actually the 2010-15 UK government did some good things, of which we can take our share of pride. And so can Nick C. But we clearly do need to do much, much better in future years. I am not really sure we have the strength of mind for that. Very many people among Lib Dems are happy to shake their head and roll their eyes slightly about “the Tories” or “Labour” … but that simply isn’t anywhere near credible. Where is the CLEAR, POSITIVE agenda?
I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the LibDems gaining party members. I believe that this is all to do with the population becoming more politically aware due to the Torie’ policies. It started with the SNP after the referendum and continued into the Labour party, with the surge to elect Jeremy Corbyn. The voters are still the same. They have simply decided to actually join the parties they always voted for.
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