I was asked a question in the comments to the previous post by an “anonymous fan“. (A fan? Wowser.)
What do you make of the Lib Dems being in government and to what extent do you still support them?
I thought the question would be of wider interest, so I have decided to respond in a full blog post.
My previous three posts about the Liberal Democrats on this blog may give some clues as to how I feel. If you haven’t read them before I recommend you take a look:
- Why a Conservative—Lib Dem coalition may not be a bad thing
- Tentative thumbs-up for the Conservative—Lib Dem coalition
- Letting my Lib Dem membership lapse
Actually, just looking at those headlines tells a worse story than is actually the case.
I have supported the Liberal Democrats for a very long time — long before I could even vote. But I was only a member for a very short period of time — less than a year.
I joined the party mostly because of my involvement with the Dunfermline Liberal Democrats, which I did to keep myself out of trouble before I found myself a job. But I didn’t use my membership very much. I voted in the Mid Scotland and Fife list selection. But beyond that, the annual subscription would just have represented money down the drain in exchange for a flimsy membership card. My decision not to renew was driven by apathy and laziness, not anger.
Why I am at ease
I am not angry with the Liberal Democrats. In fact, I am sure I am much more at ease with the situation than many Lib Dem activists are — for several reasons.
Firstly, I voted for the Lib Dems in May fully expecting them to go into coalition with the Conservatives. Going by the opinion polls, the parties’ positions, what the leaders were saying, it seemed to be clearly the most likely option. I was quite surprised that most others seemed to think it was impossible to comprehend. So I didn’t have the same sense of shock that many others seemed to.
I didn’t believe that the Lib Dems were “Labour plus fluffy kittens, minus Iraq War“, as a lot of people seemed to think. I support the Lib Dems because they are a liberal party. This is the complete opposite of Labour’s core ideology, which is of big government and authoritarian encroachments on civil liberties.
In case you can’t tell, I despise Labour. The idea of them being in power right now chills me. They don’t even know what to say in opposition, never mind what to do in government.
So I am happy that the Lib Dems made the best choice in choosing to go into coalition with the Conservatives (not that Labour were ever interested in joining forces with the Lib Dems anyway). The Conservatives at least have a more liberal wing, which is lacking in Labour.
Of course, coalition government is not easy — but it’s not supposed to be. By its very nature it involves compromise, and not all of them are comfortable compromises to make. But this is the nature of the situation.
Damaged reputation is a blow to liberalism
The most painful aspect is the damage that has been done to the Lib Dems’ reputation, which makes it seem less likely that the party will do well in future. This is a big blow to liberalism.
Promises have been broken. But they always are, even in good economic times, even with a thumping majority. Just look at Labour. The SNP Scottish Government has managed it too, although they have the excuse of being a minority administration. The Lib Dems’ excuse is that they are in coalition.
Sadly, it seems like the political culture here is not yet mature enough to tolerate the idea of making compromises. That is a shame, as it is also a blow to the campaign for proportional representation, which faces a big moment in a couple of months.
In general, I feel quite sorry for Nick Clegg. I think he has done a reasonably good job in a no-win situation, and I haven’t found much to be angry about yet.
But I wouldn’t describe myself as a supporter of the Liberal Democrats. As I have said before, governments are to be opposed, not supported. It is quite right that the Lib Dems are scrutinised in government. Not all of the scrutiny has been fair in my view, but I am not about to push against the scrutiny.