The Lib Dem Dilemma (Part 373823)

18th January, 2013 11:23 am

On Wednesday it was reported that the Lib Dems are discussing a offering a lowering of tuition fees in their manifesto for 2015.

Now I don’t think much of the Lib Dems senior Comms and Strategy team. But even I don’t think they’ll allow themselves to enter their next election – and subject their 57 by election strategy – to that level of sustained ridicule. Like the Terminator, it absolutely WILL NOT STOP until they are politically dead (my guess is an approximate halving of their MPs to around 25). The Lib Dem air war is going to be hard enough. Their leader and Parliamentary party are a punchline, they broke promises and continue to behave in an incredibly excluding and superior manner to a large proportion of their former electorate. They are behaving not as a party, but as a faction. It is only the fact that – cult like – the members don’t protest as they are spooned the Kool Aid of electoral cyanide that stops them looking like Labour in the 80s. In this case- quite the opposite from those ghastly days – it might have been disunity that could have saved them.

So why aren’t more Lib Dems challenging the strategy and positioning of their leaders? My sense is that the reasons are two fold. Firstly, some – but not all – of the left Lib Dems have melted away. Leaving those still fighting that fight even further marginalised by the Orange Book leadership.

But more is the fact that Lib Dem members still cling precariously to their misguided belief in their Party’s “internal democracy”. In a polite but no-holds-barred exchange with my good friend and co-host of House of CommentsPodcast Mark Thompson We discussed the relative merits of our Parties internal policy making processes. The exchange took place before the Lib Dems Spring Conference and the fallout of the failure of their Party to follow the lead delegates gave then over the disastrous NHS Bill. You may notice that in that exchange I predict that Lords reform would fail. The current issue their leadership is in the process of ignoring members on is Secret Courts – my cynicism about their processes being robust enough to survive either government or coalition was clearly very well founded.

Yet they still cling to this notion and image of themselves like faithful believers. Which is why tuition fees are back in the headlines. The members wear their size and relative strength in government like a comfort blanket. “Of course we can’t have everything” they say, “we only have 57 MPs in the Government”. That won’t be true of the next manifesto. That can be – must be – 100% Lib Dem. No Big Bad Tories to hide behind here. What’s in or out is wholly up to the membership and the leadership.

So if the membership opt to support a promise – any promise – on Tuition Fees, Clegg will have to decide. Does it go in the manifesto – making them a laughing stock – or not – marking the final disappointment for those Member who still believe they have an internal democracy?

How many more disgruntled activists can Clegg afford to lose? How much does he want to avoid being an electoral punchline? Ground war or air war? Either way, one will be dented. The choice, when it comes, will be fascinating to watch.

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  • 1earthmother2

    Never forget this was the party that wanted to put VAT on childrens’ shoes.

  • AlanGiles

    Actually I think they will have rather less than 25 MPs after the next election – I can see only the “big names” surviving – Dr. Cable I should say is about the only “safe” name, and possibly Simon Hughes. We must see what the future holds for Chris Huhne elsewhere, and will David Laws constituents be as accomodating as the PM was over his jiggery-pokery.

    However, while it is true the LibDems are divided, between the Orange Bookers and the non-Orange bookers, I think it is fair to say there are certainly two Labour parties, and while they might be circumspect now that is not to say that this situation will continue. It might – prior to the election, but afterwards?…….

  • What somebody needs to do is a serious analysis of their local/by-election results in and out of the 57 seats they hold.

    The impression I get locally in a southern rural/commuter belt seat where they were the main challenger to the Tories but with no realistic hope of winning is that their local vote has way more than halved and they can no longer even find candidates for wards they always stood in and won before.

    But in the two neighbouring seats that have LD MPs and in the wards in ours that border them their local vote does seem to be holding up much more strongly.

    So I think what we may see is the total collapse of the Lib Dem vote in the 550 or whatever it is seats they don’t hold and had no hopes in – but that their MPs may still have more of an incumbency factor than usual.

    In which case the strategy suggested for them running the next GE as 57 by-elections may not be as dumb as it’s been presented.

    • robertcp

      I agree.

    • postageincluded

      There’s method to their madness. The aim is to keep the current coalition alive after 2015, and they’ll offer only token resistance in Tory held seats unless it’s to spoil Labour’s chances. The Tories will repay the favour by coasting in LibLab marginals. An electoral pact is being put together, bar the declaration.

  • Brumanuensis

    Perhaps there’s a Labour mole in the Lib Dem communications team?

    • There’s certainly a Lib Dem mole in the Labour List….

  • robertcp

    The pledge on tuition fees was a massive blunder and the Lib Dems will get a lot of well deserved ridicule at the next General Election. However, it would be almost as foolish for the Lib Dems to go into the next General Election with a policy of retaining fees of 9,000 pounds. Of course, that will be the outcome if the Con-Dem coalition continues after 2015 but a reduction might be possible if there is a government that does not include Conservatives.

  • Dave Postles

    What is Labour’s position in relation to the LibDems? Are overtures still being made?

  • robertcp

    Alternatives to reducing tuition fees could be reducing the percentage of income that is taken from students when they leave university and start working, increasing the amount of income below which loans are not repaid and reducing the number of years after which loans are written off.

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