Lib Dems – idealists or realists?


Image © Liberal Democrats


Like many people I am not a member of a political party but did vote for the Lib Dems on the grounds of their opposition to the Iraq war and their promise to abolish tuition fees.

In an article (Times 14th) Daniel Finkelstein took time out to refer to the historic march against the Iraq invasion and said ‘Almost ten years ago, idealists young and old congregated in capital cities all over the world to protest against the forthcoming invasion of Iraq’. Well, sorry Mr Finkelstein, but events have shown that we weren’t the idealists, we were the realists. The idealists who took us to war have created a situation where, following the chaos created in Iraq, Iran fills the vacuum and threatens to become the dominant, nuclear armed, state in the region.

Many of those who marched were from the middle classes and many duly voted for the Lib Dems because of that party’s opposition to the war and because of the party’s promises to eliminate tuition fees.

Yes, tuition fees again, but this time the issue is what it did to the party.  Mr Clegg took those (middle class) votes and used them to gain his party a position where they could hold the balance between the Tories and Labour. But when it came to the crunch he used those same votes to turn his back on promises he had made over tuition fees. From that moment on he lost the support of thousands if not millions of middle class voters.

What was worse and not foreseen was that he sent a message to David Cameron, which Mr Cameron was not slow to understand. The message was that when push came to shove Mr Clegg was a man who would not fight to the end for what he professed to stand for.

Mr Clegg would have you believe that his party has achieved something whilst in power. In truth they have achieved very little. What they have claimed credit for is what the Tories have allowed them. Taxing the banks, the alternative vote system, the ‘mansion tax’,  restricting tax relief on pensions to the basic rate – what has been achieved or not on these issues reflects what the Tories would have done anyway, with or without the Lib Dems.

One of the main proposals, the ‘alternative vote’ was soundly defeated in a referendum. If this wasn’t a ‘get stuffed’ vote by the electorate to the Lib Dems, it must have seemed like it.

 For details (with prices) see Lib Dem Manifesto pages 100-101.

And what of tuition fees?  The subject is now apparently taboo. The skeleton has been locked away in a cupboard and is not mentioned, particularly at party conferences. But it rattles still.

Because the breach of voters’ trust by Mr Clegg on tuition fees has alienated middle class voters, he no longer appears even to try to appeal to them. Instead he champions the cause of the lower paid, calling for the tax threshold to be raised for the ‘hard working’ but lower paid (as if the middle classes don`t work hard). No one denies that this is desirable (it’s a no-brainer for most of us) but the fact is that it will only happen if George Osborne thinks it can be afforded.

At the same time Clegg rails against those who are fortunate to be very well off (and they may also be hard working). He invents catchy phrases like ‘mansion tax’ or ‘tycoon tax.’ Why doesn’t he go the whole hog and call it a ‘big bad monster’ tax?

But he doesn’t address the middle ground any more. He appears unable to even look them in the eye. The fact is that he, and through his actions, the Lib Dems, have lost the support of the middle ground.

The Lib Dems can be saved as a party but not with their present leader.

Realistically, the course that the Lib Dems should now follow involves several steps

  • Removing Nick Clegg as leader.
  • Searching for a potential leader who has clear (liberal) principles, is prepared to stand by them and who can articulate them forcefully.
  • Apologising to the electorate which they betrayed.
  • If the coalition collapses, taking the sound beating from the electorate that they deserve.
  • Beginning the process of rebuilding trust in the party.

Idealistically the alternative is to attempt to restore the party’s reputation and persuade voters that the Lib Dems have achieved something in government, whilst Nick Clegg remains as leader.  This is doomed to failure for the reasons outlined above. And if Lib Dems continue trying to bale out the sinking ship, they should not be surprised, as the water closes over their heads, to see the captain rowing off into the distance, swathed in new ermine robes.


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