Lib Dem luminaries should stay put

This week has seen a raft of luminaries, and even a genuine A-Lister in Colin Firth, announced their desertion from the Liberal Democrats. I think we do need to applaud anyone who makes a principled political stand – it does take a certain amount of courage. But it does leave me feeling a little sorry for the Lib Dems. And a little perplexed as to what these people were doing in the party in the first place.

Alongside Firth, the Lib Dems have seen Jeannette Winterson, fellow novelist Phillip Pullman, philosopher and sociologist Richard Sennett, and academic David Marquand retract their support for the party.

On the one hand, one does wonder what these people thought was going to happen at the general election, and whether they know anything about the UK’s (admittedly unwritten) constitution. A Tory victory without a majority was always likely, and in that context all MPs have a duty to the constitution to seek to form a stable government. There may be issues around the Lib Dems conduct in office but you do have to keep in mind they are a junior member of this coalition.

On the other hand, one also wonders whether they had actually given much consideration to who messrs Clegg, Cable, Huhne and Laws really are. Had they never read the Orange Book? David Laws indeed described his party’s short time in government with the Tories as an ‘oranging process going on at a rapid rate’. People think the Tories are cleansing their brand by getting into bed with the Lib Dems… equally, the Lib Dems are shedding their own image as a bunch of cuddly lefties, a la Charles Kennedy. This lot have always been in favour of small states and free markets; this is the return of classical liberalism to British politics.

I’m not criticising Clegg et al for believing what they believe (well, not today anyway) but rather the do-gooder tendency within the party’s base which never seemed to get what the new leadership intended to do.

That said, that doesn’t mean that these people should be deserting now. Political parties are by necessity broad churches – if they believe in what the party stands for, they should stay and fight to put things right, at least until they start invading places. By running for cover now just because their hands are getting dirty, they are only reinforcing the view that the Lib Dems aren’t really ready for the demands of high office – and as such, helping Clegg to justify why he got into bed with Cameron and Osborne.


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