LibDems: A Torysvestite Party
“If you listen to some, then apparently because I am in coalition with the conservatives, or ‘in bed with the Tories’ then I must be a Tory.” complained Tim Farron in his speech to the Liberal Democrat delegates yesterday. “Are they mad?”, he continued, “Look, for flips sake, I share a bed with my wife, it doesn’t make me a woman.”
This is true, Tim. But if you started wearing your wife’s clothes and talking in her voice, if you started growing breasts, legitimate questions may be asked.
The conference was touted as a difficult balancing act for the party’s leaders, by the party’s leaders. The overwhelming vote against the proposed NHS reforms, the protests outside and the Barnsley result (or any of the recent polls which point to the obliteration of their vote) added to the number of spinning plates. They responded to these challenges in the traditional way of British government – by largely ignoring them. The resulting image – to use a current analogy – was of Nick Clegg standing on the beach, watching the Tsunami coming in and responding by putting on a snorkel.
But perhaps plate-spinning is not their act. Perhaps it is sleight of hand. How else can I explain this subtle, but at its core incredible, change of language?
The LibDems seem to be taking to government like ducks to orange sauce. In the BBC Politics Show, Chris Huhne MP, standing in the lobby of the conference hall, was asked regarding the opposition to the NHS plans:
Q: Does Andrew Lansley need to re-think his reforms?
Huhne: Well, I think that whenever you go through a big reform of the sort Andrew has put forward for the Health Service, there is always debate. I’m sure since he is a very sensitive and good politician that he will be taking on board the remarks that were made here.
Q: So you would like him to re-think.
Huhne: I think the fundamentals don’t need re-thinking.
Q: Shirley Williams said, following that vote, “It means that Nick Clegg has to go back to Lansley with the other members of the cabinet and say: I can’t get this through my party. We will have to make amendments.” Are you going to be part of that delegation?
Huhne: Well, that wasn’t the lesson I took out of the NHS debate. I thought that the motion very clearly stated that this party wants to stand on the founding principles of the NHS, that it should be free at the point of need for anybody who falls ill, that’s absolutely crucial, and that is respected. And I think that is respected and is what the government has put forward.
An oily response, which mutates the truth of the motion for which the conference voted in a way that any Blairite publicist would be proud of. The message is clear. The LibDem members of the cabinet are so utterly besotted with power that they are willing to do anything to prolong this love affair.
Never mind that Dominic Carman, their own candidate in Barnsley writes of his experience of going door-to-door: “Clegg is variously described to me as a coward, a traitor, a turncoat, a liar, a hypocrite, Tory scum and Cameron’s lapdog – most comments being spiced with expletives.” The response is the mantra: we are making difficult decisions, so the country is bound to hate us. It is handed down by Dave and chanted by Nick, like a hypnotised member of a religious cult.
For me, at least, the answer is not that simple. The reason I loathe – and after this conference I can use that word – the LibDem members of the cabinet is quite different. They either ignore or deny that a significant slice of their support was from Labour voters who wanted to keep the Conservatives out. Pre-election, this was something they fully accepted; used; fostered. They published tables of constituencies in which one should vote for them. They printed thousands of “Liberal Democrats Winning Here” posters. They said it explicitly in speech after speech and interview after interview. It is the complete denial of this part of their mandate that I find totally unpalatable.
In his opening speech Nick Clegg said: “I never expected the Conservatives to embrace negotiation and compromise. But they did and it does them credit. David Cameron showed he could think beyond his party and help build a new kind of politics.” My sympathy goes to the hard-working, honest members of the party who have to go door-to-door in the next couple of months and peddle this tripe. Clegg must believe that there is a wave of senility sweeping through the country.
And maybe there is. Maybe I am the only sap that remembers Clegg’s speech from the Spring conference only a year ago and his words about the Conservatives: “the world’s first offshore political party. It used to be a British party. Now it’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lord Ashcroft, a man who collects tax havens the way some people collect beer mats. How can David Cameron claim to clean up politics, when he can’t even clean up his own party chairman? The label still says Made in Britain, but the money says Made in Belize.”
The sad fact is that by (what is the verb of coalition? collude? no coalesce – meaning to grow into one body) by coalescing with the Tories, the LibDems have denied the country a third voice of true opposition in the House of Commons which is sorely missed. They have hurt the political plurality they so valued. If the Iraq situation arose today, I don’t even know how they would vote. I don’t think they do either.
So, no Mr Farron; getting in bed with the Tories does not make you a Tory. But in the light of what you thought of them a year ago, I can legitimately draw the conclusion that you must have been pretty desperate for a fuck.