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The Embarrassing Decline of the Liberal Democrats

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Do I still have permission to shine David’s shoes?

There’s a new verb in town.

“To Clegg, get Clegged or to do a Clegg” is to make a faustian and utterly destructive pact with a more powerful force. “After he got busted for spying on his mates he was totally clegged when the headmaster didn’t make him a prefect”.

Poor Nick Clegg.  There’s nothing like realizing you bought a bill of goods after agreeing to the most awful Faustian pact in British political history.  He seemed smug and happy with his own parking space outside Number 10 but he was fooling himself. Really all he was doing was keeping the conference table water glasses full as his Tory overseers slashed and burned the British public sector he had vowed only a few short months ago to protect, when suddenly the truth comes crashing in.

He’d been taken for a huge ride, and was thoroughly “Clegged”.  To make matters worse, he could have avoided getting on the bus, or could have got off at any time (which of course is part of the definition of Clegging). He went into business with a Conservative party that saw him as willing mark from the get-go. He shouldn’t have been surprised when they went after his AV caper with a vengeance. It was fair game.

The deal was that he would get his shot at a referendum. And that was it. But the very creation of that deal sealed its doom. Liberal Democrats weren’t numerous enough to make a difference for AV on the day, and in local elections were going to make the party pay for going from being the most progressive party in Britain to the willing, cap-doffing enablers of the most conservative. Labour, although not exactly certain what they want were out for revenge, and the old-school brigade trounced the more progressive AV wing of the party. By a whopping 69-31% margin, AV was unceremoniously disposed of. Clegg looks like a loser.

Cameron played a poor hand brilliantly, boldly predicting that the LD’s wanted power more than they despised his Thatcherism “with a smile” goals. He was right. Cameron played the Royal Wedding card, and diverted and distracted what little momentum a Yes vote on AV had. Now, it’s almost a point where he could conceivably go to the country, in the hope that he could cast off the husk of the LDs and go it alone. A weak and disorganized Labour Party could be sent reeling by a surprise attack.

Then there’s the question of how Vince Cable responds. Cable committed a firable offence a few months ago and was kept in the cabinet by Cameron, fearing that a furious and humiliated Cable  could bring down the coalition house of cards. Now Cable is furious that the LD’s he’d joined are sinking into the mire and he’s looking more and more like the willing dupe for heartless Tory policies. So does Cable make a move against Clegg for the LD leadership? Does he resign and bring down become a back bench force for ending the coalition? Does he make a secret deal with Milliband to return to Labour in return for one of the offices of State if Labour gets a majority? Whatever course he charts, he could be a major catalyst for top-flight political action.

There were numerous other implications of Thursday’s vote. Labour’s performance was half-hearted, the Tories made slim gains, and the Scots Nats astounding victory makes gloomy reading for Labour. They could be looking at a future without a dominant Scottish Labour contingent, and that’s a future that looks decidedly blue. Labour needs to act now to try and precipitate a new General Election so it can prevent Alex Salmond from establishning SNP power north of the border.

But staying with Clegg’s calamity, it gets worse. Not only has the party marginalized itself by cozying up to the Thatcherites now, but when they look back, they have to wince at opportunities lost. In 2005, when Charles Kennedy was leader, they had a huge chance to push over 100 seats and establish their power in a way that would have made their ability to negotiate true power on their terms that much stronger. Why? Because at the time, the UK public were up in arms about the War in Iraq, and the only party that had vowed to get British troops out was the Lib Dems. What they should have done was to have issued a manifesto of all the usual good Liberal stuff and then pounded the campaign turf with a single message. Only the LD’s will bring our boys home. They didn’t, and the results were a disappointing same-old, go-nowhere performance.

Since then, apart from a few months as the personal manservants of the new Thatcherite grandees, the party has lost everything.

As we say in America. They should’a seen it comin’.


Written by coolrebel

May 6, 2011 at 8:37 am

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