Monday, 9 March 2009

Where should the Lib Dems Stand ?

Over on, Mike Smithson has posted an article - the thrust of which is that while it appears that some Lib Dem activists are still more anti-Tory than they are anti-Labour this is dangerous because it goes against the grain of the current public mood. In other words, anything that suggests the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg would want or prefer to maintain a Gordon Brown-led Government in power in the event of a Hung Parliament would be seized on by the Conservatives and would cost the Lib Dems dear in the seats they were seeking to defend against the Tories.

The thrust of the article is valid but rather simplistic. First, it would be absurd to derive the bulk of activist thinking from a handful of probably well-edited voxpops. Anuone who has actually listened to Nick Clegg will know he is diametrically opposed to Labour and its corrupt, authoritarian, illiberal policies.

However, and this is important, being opposed to Labour doesn't automatically lead to support for the Conservatives. There is much about the Conservatives that Liberal Democrats don't like and one key part is the overweaning arrogance of the party's activists for whom words like humility and respect aren't in their dictionary.

The second point is that many of the activists now at prominent positions in the party joined or cut their teeth during the Thatcher/Major years. Even though it's easy for some to say the Conservatives have changed or have been decontaminated, those who remember the past or sometimes have to deal with them now find that hard to accept. Indeed, one could go further and say that while David Cameron may be able to play "Mr Nice" in Opposition, there's no doubt in my mind the "Nasty" side of the party will return once in Government.

The fact is that most Liberal Democrats find BOTH Labour and Conservative parties distasteful and it's not hard to observe that the feeling is strictly mutual. All of that said, the fact retains that one outcome of the next election COULD be no overall majority for any party.

My view has long been that as long as they are the largest party, David Cameron and the Conservatives will form a Government. They may even be able to do so if they are close behind Labour and gain either SNP or DUP support.

I also think the Liberal Democrats cannot prop up a Brown-led Labour Government and must state publically that we would vote to bring down a minority Labour administration led by Brown. As for a Conservative minority Government, the same can be said safe in the knowledge other parties won't want to force a second election so quickly.

Equidistance isn't a cop-out - it's a recognition that neither of the alternative Governments on offer can deliver the changes the country needs. However, there must also be a recognition that the country needs governance and Government. If the Conservatives form a minority administration, there will be some proposals that the Liberal Democrats can and should support but others that will have to be opposed.

The priority for the party must be to maximize its vote and seat numbers at the next election and that means making it clear to the electorate that while Labour has failed the Conservatives don't have the solutions. Currently, Tory policies are hardly being scrutinised and it seems Tory activists are determined to prevent such scrutiny. That speaks volumes.

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