If I were to ask you to name one core value that unites each UK political party, what would you say? For UKIP, it would probably be Euroscepticism. For the Conservatives, perhaps low taxes and wealth creation. For Labour, you might plump with social justice and high public spending peppered with rampant antisemitism. How about the SNP? A simple blood curdling cry of “FREEDOM!!” would no doubt suffice, and “a small but virulent band of fruitbats” pretty much nails the Green Party in one.
But what about the Liberal Democrats? You know, those wishy-washy, fence-sitting, ex-coalition partners that were shot down in flames at the last General Election? What is it that they passionately, consistently and unanimously agree on? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be not a great deal, and this is where it all went wrong.
For those that aren’t aware, the Liberal Democrats are the bastard lovechild of the original Liberal Party and the centre-left Social Democrats – a short-lived Labour breakaway of the early 1980’s. Sensing a tactical advantage, the two groups forged an alliance in 1981 before formally merging seven years later. The new kids on the block quickly established themselves as the unassailable third-party – culminating in their first and (in all probability) last taste of government in David Cameron’s inaugural administration.
Indeed, getting into bed with the Tories proved to be a fatal ploy, and the party nosedived in the polls soon after. In particular, retrospective studies have shown that their emphatic U-turn on tuition fees dealt the decisive blow. Prior to the 2010 election, abolishing tuition fees altogether was the Lib Dems’ unique selling point, and consequently, the decision to triple them at the behest of the Conservatives was tantamount to treason in the eyes of the party’s ‘progressive’ rank and file.
Back then, the Liberal Democrats had (perhaps unintentionally) positioned themselves firmly on the left of the political spectrum – outflanking the then Blairite Labour Party in the process. Besides their commitment to scrap tuition fees, the Lib Dems’ staunch opposition to the Iraq War as well as the corruption of the word ‘liberal’ (now synonymous with ‘socialist’) all contributed to this costly misconception.
Historically, liberalism in the UK was a free-market friendly affair – exemplified by Nick Clegg and his influential ‘Orange Book’ branch of the party – comprised mainly of senior members. As a result, the ‘ConDem’ coalition made perfect sense to economists and political scientists, but the move baffled and angered the Lib Dem’s left-leaning laymen. This triggered a soap-dodging exodus of biblical proportions – with Milibands’ Labour, the Greens and the SNP being the main beneficiaries. Four years of punishing local and European electoral defeats for Cleggy boy ensued – topped off by a trouncing in the 2011 AV referendum.
Disowned by the left and with another hung parliament on the horizon, Clegg sought to realign the Liberal Democrats by shoehorning his party between Labour and the Conservatives for the vote in 2015. However, rather than concentrate on a platform of their own, Clegg focussed on the Lib Dem’s suitability as bedfellows with either establishment bloc. Unsurprisingly, the British public weren’t impressed, and I think we all remember what happened next.
Tim Farron picked up the baton after Clegg promptly resigned – choosing to persist with the ‘coherent party of the centre ground’ pap that worked oh so well for his predecessor. Nonetheless, the coincidental rise of Corbynmania gifted Farron with an almost immediate shot of redemption, but the party’s ratings have yet to show any signs of improving – a whole eight months after Jezbollah’s cabal took over Labour. Furthermore, their showing in this week’s ‘Super Thursday’ was stagnant at best.
The issue is that Farron has a deserved reputation as a mouthpiece of the Left – not the unifying moderate he is masquerading as. He is a man castrated by political correctness, and conversations concerning climate change, the migrant crisis or the introduction of a £12 minimum wage are the only times he ever talks with any real gusto. In other words, it is quite clear that Farron is lying to both himself and the electorate, and in doing so, he mistakenly embodies what the Liberal Democrats truly are: divided, opportunistic and deceitful.
Still, let’s put ‘Tim nice but dim’ to one side for a minute. Don’t forget we’re talking about the heirs of William Gladstone and co here. Does the party offer any refuge for the modern-day libertarian?
Superficially speaking, some good policies do indeed remain. As well as supporting the right to privacy and the full legalisation of cannabis, the Lib Dems have long spearheaded drives for proportional representation, devolution to local governments and an elected House of Lords. But in textbook fashion, all those positives are undermined by the party’s fanaticism for the European Union.
Contemporary Gladstonians see winning the upcoming referendum as a prerequisite to rolling back the state, devolving power and making the government more accountable. In fact, it is surely apparent to the most casual observer that we can’t effectively start pushing for a true ‘liberal democracy’ until we untangle ourselves from the EU.
But far be it from them to show any degree of logic, the ‘Liberal Democrats’ are – as we speak – throwing the kitchen sink at preventing this from happening. On top of that, they were the only mainstream party not to include a referendum pledge in their 2015 manifesto.
Honestly, are they even trying anymore? Can someone please ask them if banging on about regional assemblies and an elected House of Lords whilst absolving the appointed EU Commission is some sort of joke? And if not, tell them not to insult our intelligence by playing the ‘reformed Europe’ card – we all know that’s a complete load of bull.
Saying that, the question of Europe will be moot after 23rd June whatever the outcome, but the damage is already done. The truth is that libertarians, liberals and democrats no longer vote for the Liberal Democrats, and those few that still humour their rather abstract ‘ideology’ are evidently doing so out of lassitude, pity or a misguided sense of loyalty.
In addition, seeing as they fluffed their lines when we went to the ballot box on the subject five years ago, it looks like we’ll be subjected to first-past-the-post and its inherent duopoly for the foreseeable future. Naturally, this makes life difficult for any outsider, although UKIP and the SNP have both wobbled the ivory tower in recent times.
But those two have a recognisable brand, a clear vision for the country, a consensus on key issues, effervescent leaders and a propensity to fulfill their promises. The Lib Dems on the other hand have none of these things, and put bluntly, they have no hope in hell of atonement.
Tim Farron disagrees of course. He is under the illusion that his party “matter more than for a generation” – a thought echoed by Nick Clegg, who said in the wake of their humiliation last year:
“We can be the comeback kids of British politics. As dawn follows the darkest hour, there is now space in British politics for a Lib Dem fightback.”
Doubtful, chaps. But you could try being honest for a start.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty