The Liberal Democrats: Liberalism in the European sense only
Tue 16th Oct 2012
After months of activity and apologies, the message from Nick Clegg to the left of centre voter was this: "We are not the party for you."
At least, this was the message I took away with me. Not just from the week long Lib-Dem conference and PR campaign, but also from the New Statesman article by Richard Reeves, Clegg's former director of strategy, suggesting a long-term strategy to move to the political centre or centre-right. If correct, this shows an intentional shunning of millions of ex-Labour and just plain progressively-minded voters who looked for a more consensual and progressive home in the Liberal Democrats.
For these million-plus voters who have swollen Lib-Dem ranks in the last two elections, the Reeves gave this startling advice:
Anybody who wants a centre-left party will find a perfectly acceptable one in Labour.
To fully understand the significance of that statement, consider the article by pollster Peter Kellner of YouGov where he notes that not only do solid Lib-Dem supporters make up just 43 per cent of their overall vote , but that the exodus of ex-Labour and other non-affiliated supporters equates to as much as 4m votes potentially lost. And for a party that need 23 per cent of the popular vote to hold just 8 per cent of seats in Parliament (as Nick Clegg impatiently reminded me when I asked him about tuition fees) you'd think they'd be at least moderately alarmed rather than simply telling those voters to go back to the party that let you down in the first place. This is largely the reason why they are languishing at 10 per cent in the polls and look set to be reduced to a rump of MP's in 2015.
The discrepancy between their Social Democratic and Liberal traditions has been exposed, and the party leadership seems to be pushing the party towards European Liberalism along the lines of the German Free Democratic Party (also languishing in the polls at the moment).
I write about this rejection by the Lib-Dem of their soft-left support mainly because I was one of those voters. Or more precisely almost was. During secondary school, when the TV news seemed to be all about Iraq and top-up fees (raised to an unbelievable £3000!), Blair's New Labour seemed like a party far removed from me and the town I lived in. What little I saw of politics didn't appeal to me: Blair's presidential management and his endless replies that it was the "right thing to do", the far-left's obsession with Iraq and other dedicated, but abstract, causes, and the Tories' with their harsh rhetoric, harsh opinions, and their inexplicable love for a sport revolving around killing a woodland creature didn't make sense to me.
Then I saw Charles Kennedy host the BBC programme 'Have I got News for You'.
To my teenage self, the leader of this Liberal-Democrat party seemed to have humility, moderation, and a sense of irony and self-deprecation that I felt lacking in most politicians I saw.
He and the Liberal Democrats also looked like principled campaigners, being the only party to stand wholeheartedly against the Iraq war throughout the Commons votes. While I never got round to supporting them (due to promising to vote Labour for my family), I always thought that if I were ever to become interested or involved in politics, it would be through this party.
But now the Lib-Dems under Clegg are not only kicking away those notions of principled protest but also the bridges to the generation that felt let down by British politics in this first decade of the new millennium. As the platitude goes, time makes fools of us all and this was especially true of my generation who, after watching or participating in protests in London 2003, went on to find themselves as demoralised students in 2010 watching and participating in yet more protests as if there had been no change in government at all.