Sunday, 11 March 2012

A Lib Dem logic question

Is not calling on peers to support a bill equivalent to calling on peers not to support a bill? Opinions don't appear not to not undiffer.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

How a Lib Dem meltdown could benefit the liberal left

At this weekend's spring conference, Lib Dem activists have perhaps their last chance to halt their party's self-destruction. While their MPs' born-again espousal of Osbornomics and trebling of tuition fees was a little upsetting for those of us who thought we were voting for the opposite, it is the NHS bill that really has the power to wipe the Lib Dems from the electoral map. Not just because they would be betraying the legacy of the great liberal William Beveridge, but because they would be doing so in direct contradiction of the terms of the coalition agreement: "we will stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care."

If the parliamentary Lib Dems truly believe in coalition government, they have a duty to vote this bill down. If they believe in saving their own seats, they should vote it down. If they believe it would be a jolly fine jape to play on Cameron, they should vote it down. They would be mad not to.

Unless ... perhaps the Lib Dem parliamentary party really are as decent as Tim Farron claims. Perhaps they're acting for the greater good of the liberal left.

It cannot have escaped their notice that Labour's remarkable recovery from 29% at the general election to around 40% in the polls today has come entirely at their own expense, having dropped from 23% to around 10% while the Tories hold steady in the mid-thirties. It is equally obvious that those who have jumped ship are the liberal left. If Labour are sensible, they will fight hard to keep this voting bloc, which means toning down the nasty authoritarian streak in their party - in effect, becoming more liberal.

The flipside is the Lib Dems have to decide whether to fight for them back. At the very minimum this would mean voting down the NHS bill. But maybe there is no going back even then; the Tory policies they have nodded through so far may have scared the lefties away forever. How, then, can the Lib Dems do their bit for the left?

The answer is obvious: take votes from the Tories instead of Labour. But that means becoming more right-wing, not less. They need to become the British version of the FDP, a classical liberal party, the model that Nick Clegg no doubt has in his Europhile heart. With the Lib Dems peeling off right-wing liberals and UKIP pressuring from the lunatic right, for once the Tories will experience the unfairness of first past the post. Sweet revenge for the AV referendum, and a more liberal Labour party in power. Everyone's a winner.

Like highly trained double agents, perhaps the Lib Dems are braver than we will ever know.