Watching the Liberal Democrats in government is becoming rather akin to watching some kind of bizarre and, it has to be said, rather cruel psychological experiment to measure pain tolerance thresholds. You begin to wonder at what point breaking point will come at what point they will just collapse into a undignified heap onto the floor, blubbering, begging for mercy. Dealing with the unreality of their situation is requiring some amazing flip-flops on their part. Nick Clegg, who has something of a reputation for speaking with a forked tongue, genuinely cant seem to make his mind up whether he wants to be seen as a kind-of GI Joe figure or the 'sainted voice of reason' [sic]. Here, in this radio interview, he calls for rioters to be shown the 'full force of the law' in the course of being forced to admit he himself was guilty of arson. For those interested, the owners of the affected greenhouses mysteriously decided not to press charges.
Maybe this is what has prompted a subtle change of emphasis from Clegg:
"We are going to take our time to look at this. Of course you need to be proportionate, of course you need to be careful, of course you don't want to create unintended consequences where the taxpayer ends up footing more of the bill or we create more social problems or problems of law and order."
Suddenly, the Liberal Democrats have found their voices and decided evicting rioters and looters from their homes and thereby making things worse is probably not such a great idea after-all. The question remains however, what are they going to do about it? Sure, they will make some aggressive speeches, rock the boat a little, I am sure. Maybe, just maybe, they will vote with the opposition but the fundemental question remains, how long will they tolerate so much pain for so little gain? At what point do they become part of a government whose actions, which ultimately are in their name too, become so intorlerable that they cannot abide sitting on its benches anymore?
My initial reaction is that the answer is probably never, purely because the Liberal Democrat's have in a profound moment of opportunistic stupidity, gambled all their eggs on just the one basket. Like it or not their fate is tied inextricably to that of the government now and the increaseingly delusional hope of economic recovery before 2015 (or at least in good enough time for them to take the credit). If the government falls into ruin before then, Clegg and his motley crew inevitably follow and they know that; however, more long-sighted, sensible and principled members of the Lib Dems (if such a breed still exists) would do well to workshop some different scenarios.
This isn't going to turn into a appeal for them to join my Party, the Labour Party, I understand many simply won't want to do that but I would say that in all good conscience the least they can do is join the opposition to the government and take the first step in that direction by crossing the floor of the House of Commons and sitting with the opposition. In doing so, they might at least place a downpayment on the debt of broken promises they now owe their voters (most of them now ex-voters) and begin the long and painstaking process of rebuilding trust they have rightly lost. It may not be enough to salvage much of their shattered Party, it certainly won't be enough to save Nick Clegg whose career is truly in tatters, but it would represent a start of the process of rebuilding a future that has them still in it as something other than a rump political Party which is of no significance at all except as a historical curio.