Monday, 19 September 2011

Liberal Democrats confer

Single figure ratings (9%) and 55% disapproval of the government’s record is not the best of starts for the Liberal Democrats annual conference in Birmingham.
Their slogan "in government on your side" captures the essence of their difficulty. Yes, of course they are junior partners in government. But their problem is the cognitive dissonance between their progressive voters and the shackles, of their own making, that tie them to a right wing political party.
Just like being part of “Labour led coalition” did little good for Plaid Cymru the same fate may befall the Liberal Democrats as part of a “Conservative led coalition.”
The hard times that many voters are experiencing makes “on your side" pretty meaningless. Liberal Democrats will use the conference to convince Joe public that they’re curbing the worst exesses of the Conservatives. But no matter how hard they push the message it is likely to fall on the deaf ears.
Ordinary party members will need to have a transfusion of optimism to find much to crow about. Apart from the few who find  their ample posteriors in the back of chauffeur driven government Jaguars, what have the rest of the party to show for their efforts?
Electoral reform, off the agenda for the foreseeable future; Liberal Democrat vote in Wales down to just over ten per cent in Assembly elections; 500 councillors losing their seats in the Spring local government elections. Not great returns for selling their political soul, me thinks.
However hard they try to talk up the influence they have on government policy.  Whether it be health reforms here or 50p tax rates there, it mounts up to little compared to - “it’s the economy, stupid.”
No, this is the one item that there is no pretence at a difference between the partners.  Both chant the mantra, no plan “B”. The cuts to public services are necessary and there won’t be a U turn.
After all it was on this prospectus that the partnership was formed and it is the issue on which the coalition government sinks or swims. It will be ‘the’ issue that voters decides where they put the cross at election time.
Liberal Democrats just won’t be able to distance themselves from the call they’ve made on the economy. 
Increasingly it looks like being the wrong call.
The truth is that the world economy is on the verge of unwinding and Britain is far from being immune from its consequence. The economy here is very weak - unemployment up, inflation up, exports down and investment down. No, it’s a sorry state of affairs and all the omens are that things are unlikely to improve yet awhile.
The Liberal Democrats have gambled their very existence as a party that the sunny economic grasslands will be reached in time for the next election. There are better odds on a Barry Island donkey winning the Derby than on this happening soonest.
Last week’s TUC conference showed that there is a lot of anger about and things are about to get quite nasty.
There will be polarizing in politics between the Right and the Left.
The Conservative led government will wrestle with industrial disputes; the Tory backbenchers will be pushing a right wing agenda on tax and Europe.
On the other hand Labour will push for a Keynesian approach of more investment to boost employment.  This approach will resonance more and more with the voters as unemployment increases.
As the two large parties slug it out for the hearts and minds of the voters there is a real danger that the Liberal Democrats will be marginalized.
By gum, it’s a rum and risky business to sup with the devil.

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