In recent weeks there have been various discussions and speculation about the future of the Liberal Democrats and their relationship with Labour. Some have made a comparison between Labour’s position in the 1980s and the Liberal Democrats today. The theory goes that those who remain as Lib Dem members will be inspired by the failings of their leaders to do better in the future.
For that reason, some say we should cosy up to the Lib Dems and avoid conflict with them in case we want to form a coalition after the next election.
But that presupposes Labour cannot win outright on its own. I don’t consider myself complacent but I do not share that defeatist view. Labour is in great shape to win an overall majority next time. Under Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour is reinforcing its historic purpose as the only credible vehicle to deliver progressive legislative change.
Since being elected MP for Derby North, I have been struck by the determination and unity of purpose inside and outside Parliament to win back the trust of the British people. Surely Labour’s task over the next three years should be to consolidate its support all over the country? The party’s membership is growing and large numbers of those new members and new Labour voters are former Lib Dem supporters.
Furthermore, there are enough Tory seats with a majority smaller than the Lib Dem vote to give Labour an overall majority at the next election. Labour’s message is resonating with growing numbers of the electorate and we are now the only party with a genuinely nationwide appeal. So why should Labour offer a lifeboat to the Liberal Democrats after they scuttled their own ship by facilitating the most vicious, ideologically-driven rightwing Government since the second world war?
They have betrayed virtually everything they claimed to stand for and have obliterated any suggestion that they are a progressive political party. Let’s face it, if Cameron and his cronies are Thatcher’s children, then Clegg and his cohorts must be the nieces and nephews.
Nobody forced the Lib Dems to jump on this ride and nobody’s making them stay on board, but they are hanging on like grim death.
People are now asking: just what do the Liberal Democrats stand for? Indeed, what did they ever stand for? The truth is they are essentially a franchise with no underlying value-based ideology and don’t actually stand for anything. They win votes by claiming to be an alternative to Labour in Tory seats and an alternative to the Tories in Labour seats. In reality they’re not a genuine alternative to either.
In the last two years, for the first time, the Lib Dems have had a chance to make a difference, to implement their policies and show some political leadership. Instead, they have shown their lack of competence, lack of policies and lack of values by jumping through Tory hoops and doing exactly as they’re told.
From the moment Nick Clegg stood with David Cameron in the walled rose garden of 10 Downing Street, the Lib Dems have been all too willing agents of Conservatism. As a consequence they are as culpable as the Tories for every shameful decision made by this Government and are deservedly on their knees right now. So it makes no sense for Labour to offer them any salvation when most people who lent the Lib Dems their votes regard them as fraudulent tricksters. The Tories chose to go into coalition with the Lib Dems because they were desperate for power and it was their only route to claiming it. I don’t believe for a moment the majority of Labour members would consider it palatable to share a table with the Lib Dems now.
Moreover, so long as Labour remains focused on the values that the party has always held dear, values which are driving up membership and increasing support, fate will decree that we will not be reliant on the support of others in any case.
Chris Williamson is the Labour MP for Derby North