Monday, 10 February 2014

Where do the Lib Dems go?

We are roughly one year away from the machine starting to creak into motion for another General Election, the first time we can be so sure in advance of when we'll be going to the polls. Just over 4 years ago I hoped that we would be heading into this time with a stronger democracy, more accountability at regional levels thanks to a better voting system. I hoped that we would have seen 4 years of principled coalition involvement by the Lib Dems that would have proved to the country, as well as to myself as a life-long voter, that the amount of support and effort that went into getting the party into that position of power would be rewarded.

It's easy to hope.

We don't have a better voting system. Worse than that our formerly broadly democratic governance at regional and local levels has actually been eroded away through the implementation of unaccountable (aside from every election) single PCCs and more directly elected Mayors. Lords reform has gone no-where and so if anything we have moved backwards rather than forwards.

I said that I care about other ongoing concerns... poverty, civil liberties, the economy, but that voting reform and democratic reform was the thing that would open the gateway for tackling those problems better in the future. Without the reform, how exactly are we faring here?

The economy is only just starting to recover, the continued assault on our privacy and on the freedom of the internet has increased in momentum, and for the first time in my memory we have actively tried to make those below the bread line poorer compared to the rising price of bread.

All around it's a fairly shameful record, yet with the Lib Dems as unequal partners in this game I am confused as to how it got this bad.

The official line is that without the Lib Dems, all of this would be much worse. The economy wouldn't be recovering as quickly (said the tortoise to the hare), the poor would have been screwed even more, and...well...perhaps we wouldn't even have an internet. I don't know. I'm struggling to understand how it could really be all that much worse.

To my mind the Lib Dems lost sight of what mattered to their supporters, people like me. We don't care that the government managed to navigate a slightly less choppy route through uncertain economic times thanks to the Lib Dems compromising, we care that the ship we're sailing on is becoming good for little more than scrap. What point is sailing the high seas if your vessel is corroded and falling apart?

Since 2010 there has been a real fragmentation of the support for the Lib Dems. Given that support never really came from the traditional "Left vs Right", the lack of action and integrity by the Lib Dem executive has scattered previous support in many different directions.

For some Labour weren't terrible, just needed to learn a lesson. It's clear that plenty of them are turning back to Labour thanks to some slightly more civil liberty "friendly" suggestions by the Labour leader. For others Labour is the absolute devil, and the Tories with them...and the fact Lib Dems are doing deals with either is enough to turn them to a lesser party in the future. Some remain sympathetic, while others remain almost bound in a self-imposed masochistic servitude. So where does this leave the Lib Dems going into 2015?

They are no longer the party that can claim a moral high ground on social justice. Benefits cut below the level of inflation, scrapping of legal aid, abandoning of the abused and poor simply because of an arbitrary age level, and bedroom taxes for people failing to live in smaller houses that don't exist. Any tempering this party did on such basic social issues is nigh on invisible.

They are no longer the party of civil liberties. Having the be pulled up by his own members, Nick Clegg and his exec team are so incompetent on modern civil liberties that he couldn't understand what was wrong with the "Snoopers Charter". While the "liberal" party has been in power we have seen defacto web censorship rolled out across the country under the guise of "protecting our children from porn", but actually reaches further than that, and far too little fuss was made over the secret courts laws that now mean people can be trialled and found guilty of something without ever hearing or knowing of the evidence that is held against them.

They are no longer the party of integrity and reason. Whether you agree with the new tuition fees situation or not (I happen to think the new system is better), the way the party went about that particular mess was plain stupid, and they backed this up with their lack of awareness on civil liberties infringing legislation that they used to bat down in their sleep, and through support of legislation that paves the way for badger culling against all expert and scientific evidence suggesting it is not the answer. Even on competence they have to be questioned in failing to bring through a single reform that they were calling for prior to gaining entry to government.

The Lib Dems can't talk about fairness any more, Labour will nail them on that easily. On civil liberties, from now on it will be hard to tell which technically-illiterate bullshit shoveller will be the one to trust the least from any of the main three parties. What is their USP? It can never be the economy, since the Tories will steal all of that limelight and more.

In this next year I expect to hear Nick Clegg talk about policies and ideas that might sound tantilising to those like me with a penchant for nostalgia and a somewhat broken heart. But I'm not sure that any of us are really falling for that again. So what can they do?

I think they've already showed their hand. I think the Lib Dems know that they can't fight Labour in 2015, and they know that who they really need to fight are the Tories (thanks to the voting system and where their main constituencies are). We will see a continued "Labour put us into this mess" rhetoric, but the Lib Dems will simply try to highlight the scant few good things that they've done and pretend that the Tories wouldn't have done something similar.

They will do this because they no longer have anything else to say of worth.

New policy ideas will be met with skepticism, a knowledge that they'll go through because they Tory/Labour middle can stomach them or wanted to do them anyway, or that they'll be quashed because...well...the Lib Dems have so few seats. Any claim of tempering should be laughed away as any bad joke should.

To my mind the only thing that the Lib Dems can do is ride by the seat of their pants. I said back in 2010 that the Lib Dems will live or die off of the resultant economy after 5 years of power. A poor economy would see the Tories and Labour collectively heap blame on them with voters happily following the trend, while a good economy would allow them to at least pick up scraps of credit off of a Tory government that has paved the way to recovery with the suicidal blood of the poor and homeless. If they manage to be in a coalition for another 5 years then maybe enough people will start to vote who don't remember or understand enough how poor the Lib Dems really were, and familiarity might be the party's new friend on the way to future support.

After burning almost every bridge that got them to where they are, it's time for the Lib Dems to hold on tight and pray.