Wednesday 8 October 2014

Liberal Democrats: Not Dead Yet

Clegg could have said "no one likes us and we don't care." Reviled by the Tories and Labour in equal measure is the lot of the Liberal Democrat. But now you're scrapping with the Greens for fourth place, and your main competitors are them and Farage's pint quaffing, poison-swilling rabble; this year's party conference might have had a touch of humility about it.

Nah. There was none. LibDems can "hold their heads high" said Clegg in a speech rivalling the late Tony Cliff for volubility and official enthusiasm. Promising a shopping list of policy from a welcome pledge on mental health waiting time to yet another raising of the basic tax threshold (what relief for those already taken out of tax?), and some stinging points against Theresa "Koba" May's embarrassing lurch into authoritarianism, Clegg was keen to put clear yellow water between his party and the Conservatives. Best not talk about how the LibDems have enabled the grotesque waste of taxpayers' cash on backdoor NHS privatisation, or their robust defences of the hated work capability assessment, or the bedroom tax then, because if they're not careful, sharper voters might make the connection.

The idea of the LibDems forming a government is as fanciful as finding mathematical literacy in George Osborne's brainpan. And yet the polls being the polls, Clegg knows that some pre- and post-May political footsie is in order. Hence the continued LibDem frame as the sensible small cog in the big machinery of government. If you took his rhetoric seriously, British politics is not unlike the 1930s. Polarisation is under way. Only hooking up with the liberals will prevent the Tories from privatising the air. Likewise, if elected to serve with Labour any socialism of nationalised railways and wind-powered gulags will remain ensconced in Red Ed's imagination.

In truth, there wasn't much in the conference's policy content that indicated who the LibDem leadership would prefer to romance. A conscious effort at appearing as something other than the Tories' mini-me, perhaps. Which is just as well for them because, forget the polling numbers, the LibDems are set to do better than their projections would have anyone believe. Scraping six and seven percentage points in Ipsos/MORI is rubbish for morale, yet in *actual elections* - namely the local authority by-elections I've been tracking for a couple of years - the LibDems scored a respectable (for them) 11.8% of votes cast in 2013's by-elections, and in the three quarters since they have polled 10.1%, 11.1% and 14.3%. As these elections "don't matter" and are more likely to register a protest, they might indicate LibDem electoral support shows greater resilience than suggested by YouGov et al.

Therefore, it's my sad task to report that political folk who are looking to see the LibDems crucified next year could well be disappointed. And, even worse, your party might cut a coalition deal with them too. So while for Dave or Ed, their speeches this year could be their last. But Clegg? He could be back for another disingenuous turn in 2015's conference season.

1 comment:

Gary Elsby said...

Surely, we should hope that Labour fails to gain full power without the need to call upon the Liberals?
Who in their right mind would want another five years of cuts?

At least the Liberals remembered the economy!