The opinion polls show that people are taking a long, hard look at the Conservatives and not particularly liking what they see. At the next general election people will have a clear choice between a Conservative Party that is selling a ‘Back to the Future’ program as ‘change’ and a Labour Party that, despite aspects of its record, remains a progressive force. Progressives that doubt that should look at the training Conservative candidates receive at their “madrasa” or maybe take a look at Michael Gove’s horrific agenda to replace education with state-sponsored indoctrination. They should look at the degeneration of the Conservative campaign into a miserable ‘core vote’ strategy; “blame the poor” (Broken Britain), “bash the immigrant“, campaign and ask themselves seriously if they want that governing this country.
Meanwhile, with all this going on, Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats sit above the fray; bashing Brown and, in coded terms, courting Cameron. If the Liberal Democrats help the Conservatives into government their claim to be a Progressive party will be in tatters. However, nobody should underestimate the Liberal Democrats, nor should they dismiss the people who support them; alot of them are progressives in heart and soul and they are, with a degree of justification, dismayed by Labour’s record. Asking them to sign-up lock, stock and barrel to the Labour record would be a step too far. However, asking them to seriously look at the Conservatives and asking them to support Labour in this struggle does not require such a great leap of faith on their behalf.
Clegg’s position of equidistance is increasingly untenable and he knows it. On the one hand he promises the financial markets stability – implying a formal coalition – but on the other he makes abstract noises and demands in a desperate attempt to preserve his ‘equidistance’. The reason for this is clear to my mind; personally he is sincere in his naive belief that the Liberal Democrats can replace Labour as the ‘Progressive party’ and this logically leads him to favour Cameron at this time. However, he knows it will split the Lib Dems in two; not only are most Liberal Democrat voters and activists closer to Labour in spirit (no matter how much they may protest to the contary) but Vince Cable, a figure who remains more popular than Clegg in real terms, has clearly adopted the Labour position on spending cuts.
The budget may well be the straw that would break the camels back: given that the Conservatives are more likely to call a snap second election rather than compromise on an emergency budget of cuts; if (and this is a increasingly big if), the Conservatives are in a position to form a minority government then something has to give. Clegg will either have to go against his personal wishes or Cable will have to reverse his stance against cuts and Liberal Democrats will have to swallow complicity in Cameron’s economic and social madness.
Many Liberal Democrat voters and activists consider themselves progressives; they are frustrated with Labour but want the same kinds of outcomes that the Labour Party wants. They should take a good, hard look at Cameron and the Conservatives and realise the danger that they represent to this country. Now is not the time to sit on the fence and now is not the time to be ‘equidistant’ and neutral in this fight; despite my disagreements with aspects of the Labour Party program I know that I could not.