Last week wasn’t a great week for the Lib Dems. Three Westminster by-elections and no MPs and even one lost deposit. No Lib Dem PCC’s and I don’t think the Lib Dems even got down to the final two in any of the races. It is sounding glum but cheer up folks as the Lib Dems actually made five gains at local level and even held three seats. If you don’t believe me maybe you’ll believe Helen Duffett writing it up for Lib Dem Voice? She is generally regarded as more trustworthy than I.
Anyway I also blogged last week on the fact the Corby result wasn’t as horrific as everyone wanted to make out. The fact UKIP gave the Lib Dems a bit of a thrashing (and not the good kind from a ginger haired beauty wearing a PVC or latex corset stroking her various whips whilst I’m chained to a Saint Andrews Cross*). No this was a thrashing in the political sense that humbled many Lib Dems and made Labourites proclaim the party as a non-entity whilst UKIP men were willy waving that they were now in fact the third biggest party in the land (yes based on one by-election) and UKIP women were doing whatever they do (they obviously can’t willy wave due to you know the fact they don’t have willies).
I have been roundly lampooned for this piece because people do not actually want to delve into the numbers. They just take the raw numbers as is and that is all that matters. The Lib Dems were never going to win in Corby – not because the people in Corby are not liberal – heck I even know a Lib Dem member in Corby – but more due to the fact the two big parties saw this as a huge seat and worked extremely hard and the Lib Dems were not seen as a protest vote any more and that is something we as a party have to understand and adjust to. The Lib Dems are not a protest party any more.
The Lib Dems can’t simply win seats either at council level or at national level just by saying ‘look we aren’t the Tories and look at how bad Labour are too – we’re different – vote for us.’ That time has passed and the Lib Dems have now grown up past their cute inoffensive stage and are now fully fledged teenagers in political terms. We are generally disliked and written off by many who are waiting for us to either become young and cute again or to just by-pass the next decade or so and go straight to adulthood.
In general people don’t like teenagers. They are spotty, they are smelly, they have a terrible crisis of confidence in one hand but on the other think they are most important and interesting beings that have ever set foot on this planet. Teenagers in general are the most trouble but also they provide the greatest hope for the future. You can still see the sparkle and the idealistic eyes gazing back from them. It makes the teenage phase of life one of the most demanding for a parent and one of the most uncertain for the teenager in question. We’ve all been there and we know exactly what it is like.
The Lib Dems are now teenagers and they are growing up very fast. The party now has to stand on its own two feet and can’t just say bad things about the other two major parties and expect that to be enough. This is a very important time for the Lib Dems not only externally but also internally. Plenty of Lib Dems quit the party due to the coalition and then the tuition fees issue. Many more followed after the NHS Bill and no doubt more over the Welfare Bill. I can’t sit here and type with a concious and say that some of the things the Lib Dems are helping to do is good but I am saying that the alternatives might actually be worse.
I’m young enough to still be idealistic – heck I’m a Utopian at heart – but I’m also rough enough around the edges to know that we don’t live in a Utopia and that hard decisions will have to be made. Look at local level and budgets being slashed and poor councillors are pretty much screwed whatever they do. To balance the budget councils up and down the land will have to cut front line services. There is not a lot they can do about this apart from try and spread the load so everybody feels a little bit of pain instead of a small percentage of people getting severely burned. However as we all know people are all NIMBY’s and would prefer those who aren’t them – or people they know and care about – to take a disproportionate share of the pain. I do genuinely feel for councillors up and down the country.
Nationally the budget also needs to be balanced and to do so people will feel pain. Some say that balancing a budget is pointless and we should ensure that no-one feels any pain and ignore the problem and it will eventually go away. Well I don’t agree with those people. I think we should be grown up and that is why I’m a coalition backer and can even swallow the bad things knowing that walking away would in most likelihood lead to far worse. If someone said to me that I could have my arm broken but that would be it but if I chose not to have my arm broken then in all likelihood I’d have both my arms and legs broken down the road I’d take the arm brake and deal with the pain for long-term health. This is kinda how it is like nationally.
Yes I’d like more pillaging of the rich to ensure as few people at the poorer end of things get harmed by cuts. For example those people who are saying they are losing child benefit even though they are earning £50,000 a year…you know what shut the expletive up. I’d prefer for you to have a few fewer theatre trips this year than for single parents to not get help with child care. I hate the benefits cap idea and this deserves a whole paragraph of its own so…
The benefits cap isn’t about fixing the budget. It is primarily about willy waving (yes I got it back in – willy is the word of the day) to Middle England who think that those on benefits are on benefits because it suits them. Well you know what Middle England? That is true in only a small percentage of cases. The vast majority of people are on benefits because they need them. The biggest concern to me is housing benefit. What the Tories want is to create ghettos where poor people live so the rich people can live in the expensive areas without those poor folk hanging around. That is deep down what they want and this is what they are going to get come next April as people are told they can’t afford to live in certain areas any more.
Every few weeks you’ll see a story in the Daily Mail with a headline similar to this, ‘These Albanians are living in a £2million house in Kensington and yet this hard working Middle Class family with two kids have to get by living in a three-bedroom semi-detatched on the outskirts of London. How is this fair?’ The comments will generally call the Albanian family everything under the sun and my soul rots that little bit more. Are they saying that Albanians shouldn’t live in Kensington and the nice nuclear family should because that is what it sounds like. I like the idea of social housing. Heck I’m from a council estate myself but I don’t like the idea of being forced to live in certain areas and basically eliminating social housing from certain upmarket neighbourhoods because of a benefits cap.
This is really not good and yet it is going to come into force and I still won’t walk away from the Lib Dems because of it even though those in government have supported it. The reason is simple. The alternative could really be worse. The current situation of a coalition means just that. Two parties with two very different ideologies are sharing power and you can’t get everything you want because that isn’t what the public voted for. The Lib Dems are doing good things in government – they aren’t just pandering to their evil Tory overloads (use of evil and overlords used for poetic license – I think the Tories are neither evil nor our overloads) – they are making small steps forward. Issues such at income tax thresholds, pupil premiums, sharing of parental leave, new rights for mental health patients, gay marriage, things are getting done. Yes things are not all sweetness and light but the choice is simple – work hard to make life more fair and liberal for all as well as curbing the Tories tendency for self=preservation or walk away and allow a minority administration that could get nothing done leading to a deeper economic mess.
That doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. I don’t like working with the Tories (nor Labour for that matter as they are just as bad). I’d like to see a Liberal Democrat government but that just isn’t going to happen any day soon so the best thing to do is do the most we can as a party to bring our values to the government of the day.
This brings me back to the title of this blog (I think I went off track there for a brief moment – or 1,000 words or so but still…). The Lib Dems are growing up real fast and the people who are still with us are starting to grasp that and sitting back and saying ‘look, give us a try, we’ll do better than them’ just simply isn’t good enough any more. The protest parties are now the Greens, UKIP, the BNP et al. This brings me back to my blog post from last Friday. A nationwide UKIP assault in 2015 would actually be a good thing tactically for the Lib Dems because whilst the Lib Dems would be losing that protest vote – the most logical place for our protest vote to go is the Green’s or at a push Labour.
In the south against the Tories these options might not be available as the Green’s will not put up candidates everywhere and people will still vote tactically. The protest vote against the Tories will go towards UKIP instead of the Lib Dems whereas the Lib Dem protest vote will probably just stay at home at stick with the Lib Dems believing they are better than the other option. So the big question is will the Tories will more votes to UKIP than the Lib Dems lose to apathy/dissatisfaction or Labour? The answer to that question will probably decide the make-up of the government from the summer of 2015.
If the Lib Dems want to succeed then they’ll try and get through this teenage phase as quickly as possible. The Lib Dem core vote as not defected. It is either in hibernation or it is still there. People who vote LD because they agree with what they say will not defect easily to other parties as only the Green’s are a natural home and they won’t put up candidates across the land. The vote the Lib Dems have lost are from those who saw the party as a protest against the other two main parties. These people will now vote for the other protest parties as well as many who are simply ‘Anti Tory’ who will now vote for Labour but those people in Lib Dem/Tory seats are still reachable for tactical voting purposes.
Things might be bleak folks but the sun certainly hasn’t set on the party yet. The Lib Dems are evolving and this spell in government should harden many Lib Dems resolve that they can actually do good things and aren’t just a party full of idealists. If it can harden our resolve it can also seep into the minds of the electorate that whilst the Lib Dems are not as awesome as they thought when they thought they were simply an ‘Anti-Tory’ party in their minds – they might actually be a grown up party who can get on with the job and aren’t just playing politics.
This is the one thing that has always stood out to me as a Lib Dem voter – and subsequent member – that the Lib Dems politicise far less than the other two parties. Personally I’d prefer someone who is willing to get on with things for the greater good and not just blame the other party constantly. The Lib Dems might not be perfect on this (far from in fact) but they are better than both the Tories and Labour and if I can notice and appreciate that I’m pretty sure millions of people out there can as well – and they are the people who are still reachable from a Lib Dem viewpoint.
*My mother reads this and I’d like to point out this has never actually happened. More’s the pity. Also I am an equal-opportunity submissive so the lady in question doesn’t have to have ginger hair.