“The Many Faces of the UK LibDem Party ”

“The Many Faces of the UK LibDem Party ” @rwscarter

Originally posted for UKProgressive on August 2, 2014 :http://ukprogressive.co.uk/the-many-faces-of-the-uk-libdem-party/article28730.html


The LibDems betrayed their morals and values by dropping their progressive side. They are a hollowed-out party. That they choose now, four years into their five of power to make progressive noises and seem to change, looks disingenuous. Let’s take a time machine journey to see just how far they have fallen.

We’ll set it to 2010, just before the last UK General Election. Gordon Brown is in power, Labour announces a stimulus package and is busily bringing forward investment projects such as building schools for the future to spark growth… before making planned cuts. The Liberal Democrats are broadly supportive. They pledge to cut tuition fees and gain more revenue from taxes. They strike a markedly different tone to the Tories whom they would later partner with to form a government. This was merely the start of their journey. Fast forward to 2014 and The LibDems are going through a soul searching patch; reversing or announcing policies that are more progressive and making more noise about Tory positions on privatisation, tax and spend.

When their journey began they fought an election to the left of Labour. They then shifted mid-campaign to claim to represent the all-important centre ground before lurching drastically to the right backing the Tories through voting lobbies. And this was not a Compassionate Conservatism. The LibDems fell in lockstep support of swingeing cuts, the bedroom tax and an expansion of state surveillance in the form of DRIP. It’s been a journey of broken pledges. But they now feel sorry for making them. They also accept that they were powerless to make the changes they promised.

Back in 2010 following the inability of either Labour or the Tories to gain a true majority, the LibDems and Nick Clegg where considered kingmakers. They held the balance of power. It was a nice position to be in considering their dismal third place electoral finish. Ed Davey, energy minister and prominent LibDem, forecast recently that they will be kingmakers again in 2015, but this time will most likely support Labour.

The party made a concerted effort to reshape their message:

  • pushed for a mansion tax,
  • withdrew support for the bedroom tax and
  • stifled the privatization of both the student loan book and the Land Registry.

NOW they’ve rediscovered their progressive voice? While these positions would the foundation of any future Lib-Lab deal, a new coalition is by no means certain.  Although the LibDems recently showed a return to their more economically interventionist and progressive roots, all of this hangs on Labour winning but falling short of a majority, thus creating a hung parliament. A complete Labour victory would leave the LibDems completely out in the cold.

The LibDems have grossly misunderstood and underestimated the anger of people who previously voted for them. While they claim to be an anchor in the Tory Government, they are rarely considered as one. There are even those who whisper that another coalition with the Tories is the only way to keep a level of consistency and not alienate what is left of their party.

When I speak to people who previously voted for Clegg’s party I hear them say they voted LibDem as an alternative to Labour. They were the party that took the moral high ground on Iraq, student tuition fees or often were needed just to keep the Tories OUT of power. The LibDems have suffered hugely at the polls although they expect a much smaller amount of protest votes this time around. Yet it is hard to imagine, with them polling in single figures, they would even win enough MP seats to be of numerical use to either party in the case of another hung parliament.

Many voters who would have been drawn to the liberals have moved to Labour who have done a much better job of positioning themselves in opposition to the Tories. While the LibDem motives may be more of what the public need and want, it may be too late for them.

This would leave Labour on its own to create progressive change in the UK.

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