Friday, January 01, 2016

Liberal Democrats will compromise and do want national power

Miranda Green has an article in the Guardian looking at the prospects for Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the coming year.

I was struck by this passage:
For the Lib Dems, polling day was cruel: not only a massacre of MPs, but a rebuke to the very idea of power-sharing. Coalition had blunted the party’s identity and destroyed at a stroke its appeal to anti-establishment protest voters. 
Tim Farron, never a minister, has chosen “a fresh start” as his new backdrop: while careful not to disown the Clegg era, he is more at home with the Liberal tradition of dissent than the necessary compromises of government. 
Activists in both opposition parties have dug out dog-eared copies of the old scripts: the one (Labour) rehearsing traditional scenes of internal feuding, the other (Lib Dem) doggedly clawing back council seats and denouncing Westminster as a distraction from local campaigning.
There are two questionable assumptions here: that Liberal Democrat members do not grasp the necessity for compromise in politics and that there is a conflict between local campaigning and winning power nationally, with those members' hearts being in the former.

First, compromise. For the 1983 general election the Liberal Party agreed to form an alliance with the SDP, standing down its candidates in half the constituencies.

A few years later the Liberals voted to merge with the SDP to form a new party that its leader hoped would be known as the Democrats. The SDP voted the same way, with a larger minority against.

And after the 2010 general election the Lib Dem members voted to join a governing coalition with almost no one against.

When I wrote my post saying we should "accept David Cameron's offer in some form" I thought a) I was being terribly daring and b) that we would go in for some variety of confidence and supply arrangement.

But it turned out that I was being timid and, for better or worse, the membership was keen to endorse Nick Clegg's wish for a full coalition. No sign of an unwillingness to compromise there.

On the contrary, at least in those Alliance years of the 1980s compromise had an almost mystical attraction for Liberals. Many gave the impression of believing that, if only we compromised on enough things, we were bound to win power.

Looking back, this may have been a generational difference. Many of the older Liberal activists I met had been brought into the party by Jo Grimond and were tired after years of campaigning. Not surprisingly, they welcomed the short cut to power that the Alliance appeared to offer.

Me? I was young enough to have energy in those days and stupid enough to find ideological purity appealing.

Second, national power and local campaigning. That enthusiasm for coalition in 2010 does not suggest any ambivalence about taking power nationally.

Nor is there any necessary opposition between the local and national. What was remarkable in the early years of the Lib Dems, particularly under the influence of Chris Rennard, was the way that local success was afterwards turned into victories in Westminster elections.

Besides, local campaigning is also about power - there was as a time recently when the Lib Dems ran many large cities across the country. If some party members became disenchanted with Nick Clegg it was in part because they felt he had lost them that power.

Nor was the party a stranger to power before Nick came along. We were in government at Holyrood before he was even elected to the European parliament.

The great problem with the Liberal Democrats is not the two discussed above: it is (and I suspect Miranda would agree with me here) is that we have failed to establish a clear identity in the public mind.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
But this post has gone on long enough and I will write about that another day.

Later. Miranda has kindly replied:

1 comment:

Frank Little said...

> with almost no one against.

I wouldn't describe Linda Jack as even almost no one.