To be honest I never thought of the Lib Dems as a party of the left. I never thought of them as anything other than opportunists. When The Orange Book was published it became clear that the Lib Dems had moved closer to the ‘libertarian’ wing of the Conservative Party. On the eve of the Lib Dem’s conference, Nick Clegg says in today’s Independent that there is “no future” as a left wing alternative to Labour. He says,
I totally understand that some of these people are not happy with what the Lib Dems are doing in coalition with the Conservatives. The Lib Dems never were and aren’t a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour Party. There is no future for that; there never was.
Really? Well say goodbye to your seat come the next General Election. The Independent notes that,
His comments suggest Mr Clegg is resigned to losing a section of his party’s support after departing from the strategy of Charles Kennedy, who opposed the Iraq war. An Ipsos MORI poll this week showed Labour and the Tories neck and neck on 37 per cent with Liberal Democrats on 15 per cent, down from the 23 per cent they won at the May election. Some 32,000 people have joined Labour since May, including 10,000 who formerly supported the Liberal Democrats. Although 600 members have quit Mr Clegg’s party, another 4,500 have joined.
I still find it hard to believe that the Lib Dems have attracted as many as 4,500. Nonetheless they have haemorrhaged over 10,000 members many of whom have joined Labour.
But it seems that Clegg isn’t prepared to learn the lesson of history: in the 1930’s the Liberal Party split 3 ways over support for the National Government. The Simonites, followers of Sir John Simon supported the government while the rest of the party followed Herbert Samuel and became the ‘Official Liberals’. The third Liberal group was led by Lloyd George and became known as the Independent Liberals and opposed the government. The Simonites would eventually be absorbed into the ranks of the Tory Party as Liberal Nationals or National Liberals. Clegg and his followers risk going down the path trod by Simon.
“He just reminds me of David Brent, he’s a terrible motivational speaker, real third rate,” declared Wire. “He’s a desperate politician, he’s desperate for power. [He’s] much worse than the Tories themselves. You know what you’re going to get from the Tories, there’s no surprise there, they just want to make loads of cuts and privatise things.”
When Clegg was given the non-existent portfolio of Deputy Prime Minister, I wondered what role he would play in government. In the last 4 weeks, we found out that his job consisted of going around the country and picking fights with the electorate under the guise of ‘listening to the people’.
The coming week is going to be a bumpy ride for the Lib Dems and as much as I would like to see splits in their ranks, this is unlikely to happen since dissent is no longer tolerated under Clegg.