Remember the “new” politics? It was all about pluralism and parties leaving behind tribalism to work together in the interest of a better way of doing politics. It was – frankly – yet another way that Lib Dems liked to kid on that they are different. They aren’t “tribal” like Labour. Yeah right.
Huhne and Warsi put the new politics on the critical list in the summer with the Press Conference of Hate. During this conference they displayed quite clearly that tribalism was back with a vengeance, and that the only difference was that they were now part of a joint and bigger tribe.
Yesterday, the life support machine of the New Politics was turned off by Tim Farron, in his refusal to even contemplate working with Labour to ensure that either a future Labour government would have policies that the Lib Dems had influenced, or that a future Lib/Lab coalition had pre-arranged common ground.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a tribalist. I get where Dan Hodges is coming from when he says that he doesn’t want to be a Lab Dem but political realities involve doing things we don’t like. Ed’s right to say that Labour doesn’t have the monopoly on good policy. The Lib Dems had a few before the election, but they’ve been junked in favour of damaging cuts and ministerial limos. But there are good Lib Dems who want to promote liberal policies on civil and human rights finding themselves very uncomfortable as they watch government by police baton being carried out in their names.
But yet again, the Lib Dems have proved that the tribe comes first (in fact the best justification for Farron’s actions was that it made the activists feel good – if that’s not putting the needs of your tribe above the needs of a better politics, I don’t know what is). Equidistance used to be a sensible political positioning for the Lib Dems. It’s obviously been permanently damaged by having to pick a side, and day by day their positioning and what made them unique is further eroded by being used as human shields (and when Channel 4′s Faisal Islam and Today’s Evan Davies are openly discussing this on Twitter, you know the Lib Dems have a real problem) you need something that will give you some distance from the Tories and a space to reassert your social liberal credentials.
Farron’s snapping like a spoiled brat may have given his activists a brief warm glow. But frankly it suits Labour fine. Firstly, we are continuing to reassert the true narrative of the coalition negotiations, and as the Lib Dems are branded more and more as liars, this kind of childishness reaffirms the Labour account of what happened. Secondly, while the offer is genuine and real, it is also generous. It looks good and the Lib Dems can either take it and share in some of that or reject it and continue to look like petulant children. Either way Ed wins.
I think what has been shocking me most since May, and the reason I focus so much more attention on the Lib Dems at the moment than the Tories (wait until the cuts start to really bite) is that I am baffled by just how bad at politics the Lib Dems really are. From a party that ran arguably the best election campaign to this endless shambles in just a few short months is just astonishing. As a partisan I find it amusing, as a political observer I find it fascinating. Just how much more can they mess this up…?