Monday, 26 May 2014

It's the fees, stupid

(Yes, that's my real signature)

Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems ran an admirable European election campaign. It is clear what they stood for in leaflets and in broadcasts: "the party of in", in their well-honed words. Clegg was even prepared to take Farage and UKIP on directly in two TV debates. For people who believe, the disaster of the Euro project notwithstanding, that the EU is a good idea, here was a party prepared to make that case bravely and forcefully.

Labour, by contrast, had nothing to say on Europe. Literally nothing: their election leaflets were concerned only with domestic issues, and they bizarrely chose not to attack UKIP at all, despite the open goal that their "Thatcher on steroids" worldview presents, not least in areas in the North where they are now challenging Labour's traditional strongholds. I admire Ed Miliband in many ways, but it's hard to argue that their campaign this time round was anything other than dismal.

And yet I couldn't bring myself to vote for the first lot.

A cursory glance at Lib Dem Voice suggests that many, if not most, of their activists think they are being punished for making the case for Europe. This couldn't be further from the truth: the European case resonates well with the ex-LD voters they desperately need back. They've been stuffed despite their European stance, not because of it.

Others think it is an inevitable consequence of being in coalition. Wrong again. While the Lib Dems undoubtedly did lose a swathe of protest voters the moment the government was formed, most reasonable people understood that the maths didn't support a hook up with Labour and were willing to give this new-fangled coalition thing a chance.

The real problem dates back further than that, to the infamous tuition fees pledge that Clegg and the rest of the leadership signed in the full knowledge that they didn't believe in the policy and would drop it like a stone during coalition negotiations. You don't get a second chance when you do the dirty on the public like that.

Now a group of Lib Dems are calling for Clegg to be replaced. They are absolutely right that they will not get a fair hearing for as long as he is in charge, and they will undoubtedly do better at the next election if they get their way. I live in a marginal Lib Dem seat held by an excellent MP who has rebelled in all the right places. I for one would be far more inclined to vote for him at the next election if he is not led into battle by the likes of Clegg, Alexander, Laws and all the rest of the economic liberal brigade.

For the greater good of the left, though, I hope Clegg stays on. The only way we will get a left-wing government next time round is if Labour hangs on to its Lib Dem switchers while the right splits between the Liberals, Tories and UKIP. I've previously argued that Clegg is an undercover agent for Labour, and long may he continue his noble calling.

And if Labour really piss me off, well, there's always the Pirates...