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Lib Dems: The Opposition Party

Lib Dems: The Opposition Party

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Published by Paul Nižinskyj
There's something of the Greek tragedy about the Liberal Democrats. A fitting fate, you might say, for that most European of British political parties but their present predicament of being torn apart by that which they desired most - namely, government - is irresistibly reminiscent of King Midas.
There's something of the Greek tragedy about the Liberal Democrats. A fitting fate, you might say, for that most European of British political parties but their present predicament of being torn apart by that which they desired most - namely, government - is irresistibly reminiscent of King Midas.

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Published by: Paul Nižinskyj on Apr 23, 2011
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There's something of the Greek tragedy about the Liberal Democrats. A fitting fate, you might say, for that most European of British politicalparties but their present predicament of being torn apart by that whichthey desired most - namely, government - is irresistibly reminiscent of King Midas.The shock of 
Cleggmania
, too, (in which the party actually supersededLabour in a couple of opinion polls) and its crashing obliteration at thepolls is just another rerun of the classic Lib Dem 'so near, so far'melodrama. And, while the millions of cold feet at the ballot box werearguably not their fault, Lib Dems, like the great panda, seem to have acurious preponderance towards their own demise.The party's Liberal predecessors wer masters in this regard, of course,having cast Liberalism into the political wilderness some 90 years ago. And, while it's true there are a number of historical factors behindtheir third-place relegation, it is fair to say many of these were, if notorchestrated by Liberal politicians, certainly exasperated by them. At the end of the nineteenth century, for example, the party'spredominantly middle class leaders consistently ignored calls toincrease the representation of working people in the party and to field working class MPs. Naturally enough, these activists eventually decided they had had enough and established the LabourRepresentation Committee, in 1900.Given the political context of the time it was an understandable, if notentirely agreeable, position for these bourgeois industrialists to takeand the LRC could have withered into historical insignificance. But,rather than ruthlessly wiping out a rival (as Labour would do 20 yearslater), the Liberals actively nursed the LRC's nascent spark with a Lib-Lab electoral pact in 1903 that increased the number of socialist MPsfrom two to 29.
 
This was done just as the party was beginning to tear itself apart overthe issues of Irish Home Rule, 'new' and 'old' Liberalism and, later,coalition with the Conservatives. The latter would eventually broker aformal split of the party into two camps; one under Herbert Asquithand the under David Lloyd George.The two factions reunited under the banner of free trade for the 1923general election - which produced a hung parliament - just in time to be superseded by Labour as Britain's principal left-wing party. But,despite having only 33 fewer seats, Asquith decided to support aminority Labour government rather than force a Liberaladministration. The following year the party's representation in theCommons collapsed from 158 MPs to 40. What sort of a party would pursue such fevered, kamikaze tactics, Ihear you ask? Well, as the Lib Dems were declared the legal successorof the Liberal party in 1988, I can say with confidence it is the very same party that is, even today, plotting to cast itself back into politicalpurgatory.The 'big tent' organisation of both Labour and the Conservatives hasprompted many a political commentator to question what exactly isthe point of the Liberal Democrats but you really do have to ask  yourself what purpose a party serves when it seems so offended by theidea of political power. Vince Cable is the absolute living embodiment of this poor, confused,mentality. It really is very difficult to understand what exactly he ishoping to achieve by constantly undermining the government in whichhe serves.
 
In the most remarkable flouting of collective responsibility, he hasegged on the Prime Minister to sack him by calling him 'unwise', bragging with the most astonishing hubris that he can 'bring down thegovernment' and declaring he would quite happily leave office as he would double his income.Such an ostensibly intelligent man ought to know there is only oneoutcome from such childish behaviour: oblivion. His exit from theCabinet - either through his own doing or the PM's - will result eitherin being ignored by his party colleagues as a once-promisingembarrassment or, if they follow him, by the wholesale massacring of Lib Dem MPs in a general election the Conservatives would, givenLabour's highly opaque alternative, almost certainly win.Lib Dem councillors, too, seem possessed by an Ouroboros complex of failure. There is such delicious irony, for example, in former LiverpoolCouncil leader Warren Bradley urging Nick Clegg to leave the coalitionto 'regain the party's independence' when his party has campaignedfor almost 100 years on changing the voting system to one in whichcoalitions, and thereby compromises, would be guaranteed. It seemsto have escaped Cllr Bradley, too, that his party would almost certainly  be the perpetual junior partner in these coalitions.Lib Dems like Cable and Bradley need to grow up and decide whetherthey wish to remain in the real world and continue to exert thedisproportionate influence they have over coalition policy - whilerespecting collective responsibility and that sacrifices must be made -or go back to their beards and sandals; to a cosier world where they can continue to make outlandish promises on abolishing tuition fees without ever having the inconvenience of being called to account onthem.The choice is yours, fellas.

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