Ah the Lib Dems. The sandal wearing, beard loving, irrelevance of a political party. When Millwall chanted ‘no-one likes us, no-one likes us, we don’t care’ they did so as a badge of honour. For the Lib Dems it was all very different, it was ‘no-one worries about us, no-one particularly dislikes us, no-one cares’ as the party bumbled along being relatively popular at local level across the country but when it came to national governance, people wanted to see the two big parties battle it out. There was no third way.
Then things changed.
In the space of a few weeks the Liberal Democrats suddenly became relevant and when they did so they got tarred with a big brush, the big brush of disappointment and that stain is one we find hardest to cope with.
The long and short of it is as we all know, a significant proportion of people who voted for the Lib Dems in 2010 nationally did so as a bit of a protest vote. They public were not convinced about Gordon Brown and Labour, nor were they enthused by David Cameron and the Conservatives. They looked for that third way and the fresh faced Nick Clegg provided that hope and aspiration that things could be different.
The thing is deep down the likelihood of things being different because the party were never going to either win a majority in the House of Commons and nor were they going to be the largest party in any governing coalition. The party could only prop up a Tory or Labour led government or sit in opposition. In essence they couldn’t ever be the party that people hoped they would be after 2010 because whatever way they went they were stuffed. Either they propped up an unpopular party or they showed they didn’t have the cojones for government. A lose/lose situation.
Why am I bringing this up today?
Well I read this piece entitled I am not a “Liberal Democrat” and it sums up the problems that, we as activists, and the party in general face. The good, unsullied name of the Liberal Democrats is now not so pristine and that is quite the understatement. A lot of people are angry that the Lib Dems didn’t change everything when they became the junior member in a coalition, a lot of people are just angry and aren’t exactly sure why.
The thing is, more people sit in the ground occupied by the Liberal Democrats on the political spectrum than any other political party. If people voted solely on ideological principles then the Lib Dems would be the ones to beat, but people don’t do that. They vote based on a multitude of things including trust, who they like/dislike personally, policies, ideologies, tactically, historically, I could go on and on but ideology has been pushed further and further down this list as the years and decades have gone by.
Now, in an age where people can learn more about the people on a ballot paper and the parties they represent, people actually learn less. The electorate are not as switched on as they were in the past. Now it is a lot to do with personalities and not policies and that brings us to the Nick Clegg issue. Nick Clegg is not toxic but his name certainly isn’t exactly helping the situation. He might actually be doing a pretty good job of steering the Lib Dem Westminster ship but if people refuse to listen to someone then what can you do? I am positive that there are people out there who would disagree with Nick Clegg if he did everything they wanted from a politician, quite simply because of who he is.
So that leads me to wonder what the best way forward is, not for the party per se for members of the Lib Dems to not feel as though they’ve killed puppies and kittens for fun. I speak to people who talk about the Lib Dems with more disdain than they would talk about murderers, I wish I was joking but it sometimes just feels that way.
The fact is that more people sit in the centre ground of the political spectrum than do any other and yet that advantage doesn’t equate to people going out and voting for the party that sits in their ideological spectrum. That is the biggest problem the party faces today. Nick Clegg isn’t exactly an asset but until we can get people to vote for policies and vision first and foremost above personalities, then we will struggle. Moving what a political party actually wants to do to the forefront of the debate and things will look much rosier at the ballot box and Lib Dems won’t feel as though they are pariahs.
They say one thing you shouldn’t do on a first date is talk religion or politics, I don’t need any help in screwing up first dates but the fact I’m a Lib Dem certainly doesn’t help, and if you think that is conjecture then I can assure you it isn’t, I’ve been told bluntly that is an issue, not because of the policies (bar tuition fees) but mainly because of the notion that the Lib Dems are now just Tories by another name.
Many people don’t get the nuances of a coalition government and there is often very little chance they’ll allow you to talk about it (by the way this isn’t my dating spiel, I don’t talk religion or politics on a first date, well unless they bring it up). The thing is many Lib Dems don’t get the nuances of coalition government. They think that if we disagree then we should stop it and only back Lib Dem policy. Wouldn’t that be a Liberal Democrat government and didn’t we only get 57 MPs at the last General Election?
Coalition isn’t easy and even harder than actual governing is trying to tell people what you are doing as the junior member of a coalition. Coalition has cost the party their innocence and their good name but on the other hand it has shown the party has matured and now isn’t just an ‘anti-everything’ option. Some people will acknowledge this but sadly many many more will now not touch the Lib Dems – or their candidates – with a ten-foot barge-pole, just like the vast majority of the female species with me.
So maybe the Lib Dems and myself are in the same boat. I think the bad name of the Lib Dems will sink them in percentage of the vote nationally but I don’t see a wipe-out. I see resources being very targeted and where the Lib Dems hold, they are actually well liked, both on councils and in Westminster. Elections are becoming increasingly localised and that is why I take little notice of national polls and projected national swings. They deep down mean jack and are just there to give politicos something to talk and write about.
The bad name of the Lib Dems won’t be vanquished overnight and may well stick around well beyond Nick Clegg’s departure – whenever that maybe. Still Labour now lead the polls just ten years after going into a very unpopular war and five odd years after overseeing the tanking of the economy. They are doing that with a leader who has zero personality or political nous and a shadow Chancellor who is, to be frank, vastly out of his depth. That says a great deal about how politics can ebb and flow…