Lib Dems; so undermined, so important

Clegg has secured the Lib Dems a permanent fixture in parliament, so long as they don’t remember their values. 

By Nathan Lee

The general election in May 2015 is sure to be a close affair. A country disillusioned by the Tories and still hurting from the harsh bouts of austerity will be wooed by an opposition party that has failed to deliver the punches despite obvious weaknesses in the current political order. There’s only one party guaranteed another term in parliament, and that’s the Liberal Democrats.

After decades of one party rule that has seen the political pendulum swing from left to right Britain had its first post-war taste of a coalition government when Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats hammered out a power sharing agreement with David Cameron and the Conservatives in 2010. The press conference that followed in the garden of Number 10 Downing Street signalled a new era for British politics, one that may see the Lib Dems become political glue for two parties that have for centuries been at loggerheads.

But that’s only on the condition that the Lib Dems are comfortable overlooking their key values. Hazell and Yong say that to ensure success in coalition parties need to work together and, at the same time, offer a clear account of their own aims, achievements and identity. Yet as Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat Party President, argued the Liberal Democrats suffered ‘a loss of identity’ during their time as one half of the Con-Lib coalition and it’s hard to disagree. The party has disregarded its distinctive position on the deficit reduction, seen tuition fees trebled despite campaigning to scrap them, witnessed the NHS being dismantled and fallen foul to a host of other identity crises.

But all is not lost for the party, for like the political pendulum they may be able to swing back into power by piggybacking the middle left at the next election. Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey has predicted the next general election will produce a Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition government and I certainly think that would offer them a way of clawing back some of their identity on big issues. Although not all agree.

Simon Hughes told the London Evening Standard on Friday that the Lib Dems should be cautious that buddying up with Labour won’t deliver on their core values. However, as we’ve established already, getting pally with the Tories has hardly done that. The big question for me is, has the party of the middle missed a trick by making up the numbers on the left or the right? Clegg had really wooed voters in the run up to the 2012 election but has done more harm than good in parliament. Whilst recording 26.5 per cent support on 6th May 2010 the party’s polling has plummeted, dipping to just seven per cent on 11th February 2013 and rarely exceeding 12 or 13 per cent. So has his short-termism sacrificed what the Lib Dems could become for a moment, or moments, in the sun?

Fortunately for them dissatisfaction amongst the electorate is likely to push voters to use their protest vote in the shape of Nick Clegg at best and Nigel Farage at worst. But if the party wants to regain what shreds of identity it has left it really needs to side with Miliband come May 2015 or re-build from the ground up as the country suffers from the political turmoil that is minority governments.

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